As I write this, I am three days away from taking a long-delayed vacation to Quebec with my wife, so as you’re reading this, I am likely already drinking and stuffed with poutine and maple-based foods. Be jealous.
Anyway, in the interest of having something of note this week, since I am somewhat in-between projects, I’m going to mention that I recently made a small but important change to one of the Action Figures novels — specifically, Issue Seven: The Black End War.
Early on in the story, Carrie drops the phrase “get woke” in conversation with one of the extraterrestrial characters. It wasn’t a throwaway bit of dialog; it had a point. The story relied on that old sci-fi trope of universal translator technology, and I wanted to have a moment to illustrate that it was imperfect tech and couldn’t always accurately convey the meaning behind euphemisms.
I went with the phrase “get woke” because, at the time I wrote the story, it was common slang that referred to becoming educated and enlightened, particularly in regard to issues impacting marginalized populations. I generally avoid trendy slang because it has a habit on not aging well, but it was the first phrase to come to mind.
I should have listened to that instinct, but I couldn’t have foreseen that right-wing pundits and conservative politicians would co-opt the term and turn it into a mocking, sneering turn of phrase intended to belittle anyone who displays empathy toward people of color, queer people, etc.* It became something ugly and mean-spirited, which didn’t fit the story at all anymore, so I changed it. It still exists in older print and Kindle versions of the book and there’s no going back to fix that, but all future versions will have the new language.
It’s not the first time I’ve deleted problematic language from one of my books, and I would be surprised if it was the last time. That is both the beauty of language and the danger of language: it changes over time, and innocuous words and phrases can evolve (or devolve) to have new and more damaging meanings. Some authors would balk at changing their finished works because they prize the sanctity of the text above all, and generally speaking, I believe that once a book is finished, it should be left as it is and not constantly tinkered with, but in this case, I couldn’t let the text stand as it is. There was simply too much negative baggage associated with it, and it risked taking people out of the story, so it’s gone.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to change every single little thing that strikes someone as problematic. Someone is always going to find fault and I’m not going to agree with every criticism, but it’s incumbent on me as a writer and a human being to be mindful of problematic language in my work and make changes when they strike me as just and reasonable.
* = If you don’t know by now my personal politics skew left, I don’t know what to tell you.
Action Figures – Issue Two: Black Magic Women: Work on the audiobook edition has begun, with Bethany Boles returning as narrator.
Action Figures – Issue Eleven: Draft two is done. Scheduled for a mid-to-late 2022 release.
The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot – Elfish Motives: Work has begun on the audiobook edition. Tentatively set for a 2022 release.
APPEARANCES & EVENTS
- None scheduled.
If you’d like to make sure you don’t miss any news from me, remember that I have a weekly newsletter that features some of the stuff you see posted here plus new, newsletter-exclusive material. Click this link to sign up.