It was a voice mail and it alarmed me.
In early autumn, 2008, I came home from work to find a terse message on our answering machine: “This is your mother. I need you to call me right away.”
My immediate assumption was that something had happened to my father. Dad was in mid-stage Alzheimer’s at the time and was given to wandering. When a dementia patient “sundowns” and get lost in an urban area, that’s dangerous. Only Mom and Dad lived on a 400 acres farm in central Oklahoma, where wandering is equally dangerous and it’s pointless to put out a “silver alert” sign. And even though Mom had become the official operator of all vehicles, Dad was not above climbing up on the tractor for an unannounced excursion or deciding he needed to sneak a ride in the truck to “check the culvert” or “see if the water in the pond is down.”
It was a relief to me—momentarily—when my father answered the phone. Then, as soon as I identified myself, the other shoe dropped.
“Oh,” Dad said, “is this ‘smut boy’?”
I knew immediately why my mother left me an urgent phone message. Several days before the call came in I had sent my folks copies of my first two novels published by Second Wind Publishing: Lacy Took a Holiday and The Medicine People. Each of those books had a love scene that was—in my view—tasteful, realistic and nicely written (and maybe a little arousing). Mom found those passages, along with a few scattered naughty words here and there, to be unacceptably graphic. We spent half an hour on the phone having an intense discussion about poetic license, the expectations of fiction readers in the third millennium, and the fine line between appropriate and inappropriate language and sexuality in a novel. My mother also warned me that my “day job” might suffer. I was, after all, the senior minister of a church and she cautioned me that the congregation might find out about my books and the naughtiness therein and, yea verily, fire me. When none of that impressed me, finally Mom fired up the big guns.
“Listen, son. I want to give your books as gifts to your aunts and uncles for Christmas. And I can’t do it with those words and all that sex in there.”
Hmm. Well, the books were still in proof. So I did what I thought I would never do as an author. I cratered. I had the publisher remove a couple paragraphs and a few words from each of the books. Mom was happy. For me it was strangely defiling. I did not feel embarrassed at content of my novels before I censored them, but I did after I took out those couple paragraphs. I felt as if I sold out.
Next year, on the sixth anniversary of the release of Lacey and Medicine, I’ve decided to reclaim my literary prerogative. Along with a couple new titles I’ve written, Second Wind will rerelease my first two novels with new covers and with the original text intact.
What about my aunts and uncles? What about the sensibilities of the congregation I pastored? Well, between them my surviving aunts and uncles have sixteen children and more grandkids than I’ve ever been able to count. I’m pretty sure there’s no physical act I described that they haven’t experienced—and probably weren’t embarrassed at the time. And I have retired from the ministry. A couple from my former church bumped into me a few months ago and discovered during our conversation that I had completed a sequel to Lacey Took a Holiday, called Caddo Creek, which is about to be published. As the dear lady expressed her delight, I had to warn her: “Linda, I’m not a preacher anymore.” She didn’t get it right away, but her husband roared. I think he understood what I was getting at.
Smut boy lives! Well, actually, I never was smut boy. I’ve reclaimed my right to write as seems right to me. So I guess that means “smut boy” is dead and Lazarus has risen to write again.