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Writing with no sex or swearing? That’s just crazy enough to work!

July 18, 2012

A while back, I wrote about Amazon purchasing Avalon Publishing. Avalon’s titles include mystery, romance, and westerns, but are more notable for what they exclude: primarily sex, swearing, and alcohol. According to their guidelines page, “There is no explicit sexual content or profanity in any of our novels” (emphasis theirs).

In other words, there’s no actual sex in your romance. Aside from avoiding explicit language, the love scenes must have “tenderness, emotion, and perception.”

In your mystery, the street thug and the cop can’t sprinkle their dialog with f-bombs. More to the point, heroes must be heroic and heroines must be strong, independent, and possess strong values. In mysteries, there must be a dedication to truth. In romances, the heroine must have “an interesting profession or career.” And both heroines and heroes must be likable.

And the characters and plots must not be cliched.

That approach sort of leaves out a lot of the atmosphere created in many current best-sellers. Cynicism, disillusionment, crawling into a bottle to get away from your troubles, and using sex as anesthesia won’t work for them. Their characters are expected to embody truth, justice, and the American way.

How can someone with abs like that get so little action?

Superman fell out of grace for a while because while he is the greatest superhero of them all, he’s kind of…boring. His value system is relatively simple. He doesn’t lie. He takes the time to rescue kittens from trees. And he’s completely monogamous to Lois Lane, even though in most story universes, they never come close to intimacy. In the cynical post-Eisenhower era, that seemed too quaint and cliched.

But now everyone has the skeleton in the closet. Cynicism is ubiquitous. And there’s plenty of sex. Now the anti-cliches are becoming cliches–the alcoholic loner trying to rise above his jaded cynicism to finally connect with someone.

So maybe Avalon is onto something. Maybe the old cliches are the new fresh approaches. Maybe Superman can be cool again.

An industry guy I know said that the coming thing in juvenile fiction will be happy endings. In the past ten years, we’ve gone seen just about every pillar in society crumble–government, clergy, industry, even baseball players. We’ve lived through September 11, the Great Recession and all its damage, Hurricane Katrina, two wars, the Beltway Sniper, SARS, bird flu, massive earthquakes with tsunamis and nuclear meltdowns, the clergy abuse scandals, Jerry Sandusky and the fall of Joe Paterno, and the early rounds of American Idol.

Maybe it’s not just kids who need a happy ending. And maybe as writers, it’s up to us–if we choose to–to figure out a way to stand for truth, justice, and the American Way without seeming cliched.

  1. July 18, 2012 9:27 am

    Write on! Boy, do I agree!

  2. July 18, 2012 12:16 pm

    I agree about a need for happier endings, particularly in reading fare for children/young adults. The level of cynicism in titles written expressly for the under 18 set amazes me.

    But Avalon is not changing anything or doing anything fresh or new. They’ve always had that caveat. That, and that their books sold primarily to libraries. Now, through the Amazon purchase, their books will be available to a much larger audience.

    Similarly, Harlequin’s Love Inspired imprint offers romance, historicals and suspense with no profanity or sex. And these two aren’t the only ones. They’ve always been out there. Perhaps it’s simply that the pendulum is swinging back in their direction.

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