Get off that hill, Lardass!

In honor of banned books week, the theme this week will be censorship. We encourage you to join the Virtual Read-out! The centerpiece of this year’s Banned Books Week celebration (Sept. 24-Oct. 1) is a virtual read-out. Everyone is invited to create a video of themselves reading from their favorite banned or challenged book and upload it to a special Banned Books Week channel. Videos of challenged authors and other celebrities will be posted on both YouTube and our Videos page in coming days.

Censorship is an interesting topic with so many layers. It's especially interesting for me when the book-to-be is still at a manuscript stage. At that point, there are still choices to be made by the author that could lead to a book being labeled "controversial" or even "banned." In talking about this with the Muses, it seemed to all come down to one question, "Is this the hill you're willing to die on?"

Here's an example. I'm not much of a cuss-er -- probably because of years of working as a teacher/administrator in PK-12 schools and my fairly conservative Southern Baptist upbringing. So, there are very few words that would be judged "bad" in my book, SKINNY. However, in working through editorial notes, I found one example - "lardass." My wonderful editor, Aimee, made it very clear it was my choice to change the word, however, it might appeal more to bookclubs if I selected a different word. Hummm... a choice. Did I think "lardass" was an appropriate, realistic word choice for the character? Yes. Did I want my book to be in the bookfairs? Definitely. Was "lardass" a hill I was willing to die on? No.

I changed the word (but I will say there aren't a lot of synonyms that work for lardass).

Here's another example. My book, SKINNY, is about a teenager who weighs over 300 pounds and chooses to have gastric bypass surgery. Potential publishers said it was controversial. Maybe too controversial. Couldn't she just chose to love herself and believe she's beautiful at 300 pounds? Did she have to chose surgery as the way to lose weight? Humm... a choice. But in this case it really wasn't a choice, because this was my story. I wasn't willing to change it for a potential publisher, even if it might mean my book would not sell. Was this a hill I was willing to die on? Definitely.

Luckily, I found publishers (Scholastic/EgmontUK) who also believed this was a worthy story to tell, even if it might be viewed as controversial.

Writing for publication is full of choices and decisions. The choices you make as an author could limit your chances for publication or book sales, but they are still your choices to make. You are still the boss of your story. Where will you draw the line? What hill are you willing to die on?


I had this problem in my last manuscript. There were quite a few college student characters who would freely use the F-word, but many readers weren't comfortable with that. I ended up taking most of them out, because they weren't always necessary.

That question, "What hill are you willing to die on?" is a great guide - thank you!

I don't think I'll know what hill until I'm forced to stare up it. Hang on--that's not true. Oh, now you've got me thinking...

I work at Random House Children's and as someone who recently had lap band surgery, I'm especially looking forward to your book. I'm glad you kept it so that your main character goes through the surgery the changes that accompany such a major decision. I can't wait for the ARCs to come out!

You made my day! It's so wonderful to hear that someone is looking forward to reading SKINNY. I just turned in copyedits this week, so hopefullly ARCs will not be too far behind.

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