My Writer's Journal

Words Matter

January 25, 2011

I spend my days trying to choose exactly the right words to put into the mouths of characters as diverse as Cleopatra (she spoke Greek), Mary, Queen of Scots (French, and a Scottish version of English), and now Victoria. And so I am always interested in the choices made by other authors, writing in other times. In HUCKLEBERRY FINN, Mark Twain used what we are now prissily calling "the N-word" more than 200 times. A professor of literature, claiming that the offensive word is too strong for young readers, and too difficult for their teacher or parents to explain, has decided to rewrite Twain's classic, substituting "slave" for that offensive "N-word."

I share a home page on Twitter with a black rapper who tweets about every fifteen minutes and uses the N-word in about half of his tweets. It's an ugly word that makes my teeth ache, but I disagree with the professor (and with the rapper, too).

A week ago I saw THE KING'S SPEECH, nominated for a whole string of Academy Awards. It's a wonderful movie--a particularly wonderful movie for kids. But it has an R-rating, meaning that anyone under 17 must be accompanied by an adule. Why? Because it's got that "F-word," which of course is never uttered in the presence of tender young ears. (It's very funny in the way it's used, but there it is.)

Meanwhile, TRUE GRIT, which I also enjoyed because it uses language brilliantly, is littered with dead bodies, chopped-off fingers, and quarts of blood--I would call it fairly violent. It has a PG-13 rating. Go figure.

These are the kinds of things I think about as I write. Victoria was not allowed to associate with a whole passel of young cousins, children of a duke who was not properly married to their mother, because they were--in the word used in that time--bastards. Can I use that word in my novel? Or will readers--or their parents or teachers--become upset?

Fiction for Young Adults

Fiction for Young Adults
Dowdy Peggy White reinvents herself as a glamorous photographer, capturing memorable images during the 1930s Depression and 1940s World War II
Three gutsy girls go looking for adventure in the West in the 1920's
Anastasia and her three sisters are the privileged daughters of the richest man in the world, until their world begins to crumble.
YA Historical Fiction
What's it like to be the daughter of the most beautiful woman in the world? When Helen of Troy elopes with Paris, her daughter, Hermione, stows away on a Greek ship in search of her mother, hoping to bring her home--and perhaps to find a love of her own.
The future queen of England lives a life of privilege, but privilege comes with a steep price of isolation and loneliness--until she meets Albert.
She leaves Scotland as a child, is sent to France to marry the future king, returns to Scotland as a young woman to rule; a wild queen in a wild country.
First published in 1992, my first historical novel, has been reissued with a new cover.
Cleopatra has been chosen to be the next queen of Egypt, but she faces ruthless competition from her sisters. (Watch a video of Carolyn on this page)
The dizzying rise and horrific downfall of the last queen of France. Young Royals series
Who would not fall in love with--or at least have a mad crush on--young Will!
Marie van Goethen was a dancer in 19th century Paris and modeled for Degas's famous sculpture.
A fictionalized account of the early life of Charles Darwin, narrated by Charley himself.
Mozart's talented sister, Nannerl, struggles to achieve life she deserves--in music as well as in love.
Contemporary YA
Four characters, four big issues, four compelling stories: BECAUSE OF LISSA; THE PROBLEM WITH SIDNEY; GILLIAN'S CHOICE; THE TWO FACES OF ADAM

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