Murph stalked down the sidewalk, heading back toward the train station. He knew a lot of bad words, and he used all of them to describe Hermit. He used his four-letter ones, his seven-letter one, and even uncorked a twelve-letter whopper that was the worst word he knew.
Cherry and Henry were chasing him down the sidewalk. He stopped to let them catch up.
"Hey," Henry said, panting. "Why'd you run away like that?"
"He's an asshole," Murph said.
"Murph!" Cherry said. "Don't say that! That's a horrible thing to say!"
Before I sent the book out, a few readers suggested I remove the word "asshole." I almost did, but in the end, I just couldn't. It was absolutely true to the character and the moment. And I don't know how many 12-year-olds you hang out with, but these kids today ... I'm sorry, I mean these whippersnappers today are pretty advanced. When my 13-year-old kid is telling me about the movie Saw -- which he hasn't seen, but almost all of his friends have -- then obviously things have changed.
They say YA is getting edgier, but I'm not sure if this is a chicken-and-egg argument. Maybe YA is getting edgier because the kids are getting edgier, and the books just reflect that.
Whatever. The fact is, I told myself I'm not striking that word until an acquiring editor tells me it has to go (one can hope, right?). And even then, I'll probably squawk weakly in protest. As far as Murph is concerned, Hermit is an asshole. Simple as that.
So what do you think? If you're writing for the younger motherfu$#@rs, when is it OK to swear? And when will it hurt the book's prospects?