Friday, March 22, 2013


When I think of the "Old West," I imagine dirt. Yep. Lots and lots of dirt, dust and cactus and flies. No trees. Flat dry land. Yep, even though that's not the case at all - given the Rockies, the trees along the creeks, the hills and gorgeous prairie flowers, the variety of grasses and habitats... remember RANGO? The dust and dirt in the movie reminded me of "the Old West" image hammered into my brain. I must have watched too many Hollywood movie and TV westerns as a kid!

Mind you, I'm an eastern greenhorn. We have lots and lots of trees. We have dirt, too, but you don't see it much. You gotta dig for it. But the point of my rambling is not the actual dirt, but the "down and dirty." In language. The cuss words that a lot of western characters use in westerns - books, movies, etc. And also HOT stuff - sexy romance, even erotica - in western books and movies. Now don't get me wrong, I've read and seen plenty of family-friendly westerns, both books and films. But it's a wide open range out there. Let's face it. Sex sells. I'm not into 50 Shades of anything, except on a paint canvas.

Someone sent me a note recently that surprised me. "It's rare to find a western these days that isn't filled with cuss words and adult situations." I was glad, and grateful, that a reader enjoyed Double Crossing. If they buy the sequel, they'll find the same thing in Double or Nothing. When I first considered a publishing contract, I made a commitment to writing clean fiction. And I'm not judging others' books or films. Write and publish whatever you're proud to put your name on. Read what pleases you. I choose clean fiction for both.

It's a personal choice.

Do you realize how hard it is to *not* put in a cuss word when you have a cowboy hero? However, I wrote both books in the Double series in First Person Point of View -- and Lily Granville is a lady. Back in the Old West, men would never have cussed in front of a lady. In fact, when Ace first meets Lily, he's recovering from being knocked cold by a muleskinner, and has to be prodded into remembering "there's a lady present." Since my publisher for Double Crossing, Astraea Press, is all about clean fiction so I took out the cuss words (hell and damn, pretty minor.) I applaud their commitment, too. I also feel free from having to worry about what my family, my daughter, my friends and neighbors, my church family thinking about any sex or cuss words in my books.

Now, for Double or Nothing, I have a scene between newlyweds. How "sexy" could I get without really getting into detailed "pink parts" or more? It was quite a challenge! But I have to admit, it worked -- it can be done. I could have included an excerpt, but it might make you blush. (wink wink nudge nudge - just kidding, of course!) It's a bit too far into the book, and has a spoiler or two. Sorry!

As for cuss words, I've learned to suggest them. My cowboy hero has to be realistic, after all. Here's an excerpt from Double Crossing, when Lily is talking with Aunt Sylvia and her husband Lord Vaughn, right before Ace Diamond enters the picture.

“Lily, you have no idea of the dangers. My husband traveled to Nevada earlier this year,” Aunt Sylvia said. “Neither you or Mr. Mason have considered the impropriety of this.”

     “He’s a gentleman for escorting me.”

      “I can see for myself what you both are—”
     A blood-curdling yell, similar to what I’d read about an Indian war cry, stopped her cold. The moment I glanced up, the window exploded. Shards of glass rained on us and a man rolled over the table. Scattering plates, flatware, cups and teapot, before he crashed onto the floor—unconscious, and half-draped in the tablecloth among the broken china and glass.
     Mere inches from my feet....
Horrified, I stared at the young man on the floor. Bright scarlet blood streamed from a deep cut above his left eye. I grabbed a clean napkin from a nearby table and knelt to staunch the heavy flow. Tossing the soaked linen aside, I grabbed two others.
     “Good heavens, Lily, you’ll ruin your suit,” Aunt Sylvia chided. “Get up this instant.”
     Ignoring her, I untwisted the young man’s arm behind him but he failed to wake. “It’s obvious he needs help. It’s my Christian duty. And yours, Charles.”
     “He may be a criminal for all we know,” he said, but handed me more napkins.
     Sir Vaughn huffed. “Quite right, Mr. Mason. He’s bleeding all over your skirt, Miss Granville, so leave him be. The proprietor will carry him out to the street.”
     “He’s waking up.”
     I surveyed the young man’s calloused palms and fingers, his blood-stained knuckles, the sawdust in his tangled dark hair which needed a barber’s clippers. The crack of one boot sole proclaimed a man down on his luck. He smelled of sweat, leather and tobacco. Stubble on his cheeks and square jaw added to his gone-to-seed appearance. He opened one blue eye.
     “Oof.” Wincing, he raised a hand to his head in slow-motion, and then let it fall back against his shoulder. Fresh blood stained his shirt. “What the—”
     “Shh. You’re hurt.”
     He rolled to one side as if he hadn’t heard me, groaned and then sat up. “That stinkin’ muleskinner packed a punch. I’ll be da—”
     “Watch your language,” Sir Vaughn said and prodded him with his cane. “There are ladies present. Now take your leave or we shall send for the local sheriff...”     

Meg Mims is an award-winning author and artist. Her first book, Double Crossing, won the 2012 Spur Award for Best First Novel from Western Writers of America and was named a Finalist in the Best Books of 2012 from USA Book News for Fiction: Western.  Double or Nothing is the sequel.

Meg also wrote two contemporary romance novellas, The Key to Love, and Santa Paws – which reached #6 on the Amazon Kindle Bestseller list for Dogs.


  1. For my first reviewer review, she had a problem with Lily in a wet chemise and crouching down. Hmm. I guess clean is what you deem clean to be. It's a mystery!

  2. Hi Meg,
    I enjoyed your excerpt very much--first person is hard to do sometimes, and do well. Looks like you have it mastered! It sure drew me in and made me want to read more.

    I write all kinds of fiction, and use the language and sexual situations as are, (in my mind), required to make it realistic. I probably would never try to write anything erotic, just because I don't think I'd be good at it. LOL

    Great post! I enjoyed it.

  3. Good for you, Meg. Must admit to a damn once in a while, but mostly not. Afraid I'd not be able to write a screen play for Deadwood. Keep it up!

  4. Meg - I agree with your policy of no swearing or explicit 'adult situations' in my own writing. It seems the culture today almost insists on these, but I think it takes more skill to imply course language than it does to actually write it. That most self-respecting cowboys cuss is a given. The trick is to let our readers know that without actually doing it. I learned from the masters - Louis L'Amour, Elmore Leonard, etc. But, like you said, it's a personal choice.

  5. I'm so old I can remember when writers had to defend themselves for using profanity. Now, they must defend themselves for writing "clean." I hate the use of the word "adult" to mean that a novel contains scenes of graphic sex. In many cases,though not all, there is nothing "adult" about these novels.

    Thanks for the great post, Meg!

  6. I try to convey the language and situations that the characters in the story I'm telling would naturally say or experience. For most of my westerns, this means an occasional damn or hell, rarely anything stronger. Some readers were therefore shocked by my Civil War novel GOOD REBEL SOIL, about notorious Confederate guerrilla Champ Ferguson (which was no more graphically violent than the court transcripts about him were, by the way.) There really was a legend that he pooped on the grave of an enemy... and as I explained to a dismayed reader, if he was the kind of guy who would stab you in your sleep, he was probably the kind of guy who'd call you a *^&%. My own Aunt Essie was scandalized by the language and sexual content of my crime novel CROSS ROAD BLUES, about blues musicians caught up in drugs and organized crime. Verisimilitude, I calls it. But, on the other hand, different strokes for different *^&% folks :-)

  7. Nice post, Meg. My father has glaucoma so my dear mom reads everything I write... out loud. That calls for considerable application of the backspace key during writing sessions.

    I must admit to a little more colorful language than you have but I am pretty danged careful. I draw the line at the F bomb and the Lord's name in vain. WIth other words, well, I'm judicious.

    In my contemporary stuff, one of my characters is a Marine Gunnery Sgt. Instead of having him curse a blue streak at every turn, I gave him a strong willed wife who only allows him five "non-Bible" curse words a month. So far, in four Thrillers, he's rarely used one--but the struggle is always there. My hero--in this story at least--hasn't cursed yet. I can't take any sort of moral high road though. If my books were movies, they would still be R rated because he kills a lot...and I mean a lot of people.

    I find that I can put my people in sexual situations without showing the, as you say, pink parts. If my gunny character calls his bride to see if she's up for a game of "escaped convict and the wardens wife" we know what they'll be up to without peeping in on their game...

    Anyway, good on you.

  8. Meg, I enjoyed your blog and the excerpt of your latest novel. My respect for you tripled, I might add. I, too, have vowed to dig deep into my skill as a writer to bring page-turning fiction with colorful characters and thought-provoking plots to young adults as well as adults... WITHOUT nary a blood-sucking vampire, zombie, dragon, fallen angel or sexual deviation. Personally, I believe it presents more of a challenge to engage a modern reader, especially a younger one, without those elements.

    I salute you!

  9. Meg,

    Good for you. I write my Texas Ranger novels in the same style. And for some reason the reviewers in WWA Roundup always describe them as "squeaky clean" or "snow white", but to me the implied sex scenes should still be rated PG. No cuss words in books written under my name, but I will admit using mild cuss words in my chapters for the WF Wolf Creek series and The Ranger for WF. Since the style really needs to match the other contributors, I do use mild cuss words. Still feel uncomfortable doing that, since I don't cuss at all. If the stories weren't written under a house name pseudonym, I wouldn't use the cuss words nor the one (tame by today's standards) sex scene I wrote. Don't change to match society. Maintain your standards.

    Jim Griffin

  10. I sprinkle cuss words in here and there, not enough for most people to notice and too many for some of my family. But I decided to go with the flow--vulgar bad guys talk like vulgar bad guys, although I do put a lid on religious slang. Good guys let a damn or hell out every once in a while, but never around a lady. So if I were writing a first-person with the heroine (who's a lady) being the viewpoint character, there wouldn't be any cussing, same as yours. Which, BTW, I enjoyed.

  11. Hi Meg,


    Keeping it clean is just as difficult in a crime/mystery story as well. I try to avoid cuss words like the plague in my stories. The closest I come is something like "You son of a..." You've proven you don't need cursing or "adult scenes & situations" for a book or short story to sell. I try to write my stories so that anyone in my family or frienship circle, including those from church, can enjoy them without fear of reading a scene or words that would make them uncomfortable. That may put us in the minority among todays writers, but I'm fine with that.

    It's the story and characters that will sell your book or short story. Not a proliferation of four letter words.

    Keep it up.

  12. Great post, Meg. I enjoyed it.

    When I first thought about the West I also thought 'dirt.' Indeed, my third western was entitled Double-Dealing at Dirtville. The cuss words in it are pretty tame, however, and (as far as I can recall) there are no adult scenes. Just action.

  13. I've had lots of "Are there dirty words in your books?" from blue haired ladies at book signings, and I always answer (in regards to my westerns) "No, ma'am, there may be one or two S. O. B.'s but thats it." And my sex scenes consist of the dropping of a boot. I vent my street language frustrations in my thrillers.

    I HATED Deadwood and think it revisionist history at it's worst. In every journal I've read that applies, a man would be horsewhipped in the street for using that kind of language in front of a lady in even the last half of the 19th century. My favorite cusswords of the time in any media were "You scumsuckin' pig" by Marlon Brando in One Eyed Jacks. It said all that needs saying.

  14. My only question here would be who is your audience and who do you want it to be. In today's world, cursing is pretty much out there everywhere. While I can appreciate the desire to write "clean" novels, if you want the younger generation to forge ahead and keep westerns alive, at some point there has to be a turn toward blending today's language into yesterday's times. Granted, I think a lot of the core group of western fans and readers are older, they are going to die off, and so will the westerns if there is not a little meeting in the middle on these subjects. It doesn't have to be the entire make up of the book. Someone mentioned Deadwood. I enjoyed it very much, but even I, who can swear with the best, got tired of the overusage of the swearing. It wasn't needed. Seems to me literature should still be for the literate, but some well placed and timed curse words and some heated, but not too graphic sex scenes bridge a needed gap to keep the western alive.

  15. I know that a lot of our members have written many "adult westerns," and still do. I think there is an audience that wants "old-fashioned clean" stories, and should have them, and there should also be writers producing stuff (even westerns) for those who prefer rougher stuff. I don't think that because a particular book (or writer) leans one way or another, it is somehow more valuable than one that takes the other tack (whichever tack that is) if that other is well-written. To each his own.

  16. I would add that "High Plains Drifter" has rough language from all concerned, and a fairly graphic (and pretty rough) sex scene. And it's an awesome movie. On the other hand, so were many of the films made before the 1960s, and a lot of stuff made in the last few years for the Hallmark Channel. As Donna said, it depends on the audience you're aiming for and your own integrity as a writer (and "clean" and unclean" could make equal claims to their own integrity, I think.)

  17. Well said, Donna and Troy.

    Donna, you are so right about captivating the interest of the younger crowd and keeping it. It's harder and harder in these times to convert younger readers to wanting to read westerns, because so many of them were not brought up with them in the household as many of us were and don't have the interest to begin with, either in movies, tv, or reading. I use curse words and have sex scenes in my writing--and it's a wide range of genres that I write. Each story dictates what is appropriate to ring true.

    Troy, High Plains Drifter is my favorite western movie of all times because of the uniqueness of the story line and the realism of what is happening. If the Drifter hadn't been harsh an controlling, as he was, the story line could not have worked. It was all about those people doing ANYTHING to keep themselves safe, and him getting his revenge at the same time. I don't think of my writing as "clean" or "unclean"--I think of it as being true to the circumstances I'm writing about, and the characters. A lot of my characters are not lily-white by any means, though I'm sure they would pale in comparison to what some others might write. That's the great thing about this world of ours--everyone likes different things. I've often said, if everyone liked the same thing, we'd all be lined up at B&N to buy the very same book.


  18. Wow - lots of comments to keep up with, and I can't answer them all. But I can say I wanted to reach any reader between the ages of 15 and 105, without offending those who prefer not seeing excessive (or even mild) profanity, or graphic sex scenes. For me, the story "root" is the mystery -- so I keep to that. The relationships are important, but not beyond the bedroom door. Like I said, it was a personal choice.

    As for westerns, I hope to write others in the genre that are a bit more traditional - with horses, cowboys, etc. I may sprinkle a few dagnabbits or come hell or high water, but not much beyond that.

    Regarding the younger crowd, until western films return, or zombies, vampires and werewolves invade the Old West... ;-D