I did another interview and this one is all about writing, about “Prodigy”, about the process behind it… also a bit about one of my current works in progress. Have a look at it HERE.
Everyone who follows me elsewhere on social media knows already that I will be publishing “Prodigy” in February.
And lo’ and behold! There’s a trailer for it (on my brand-new never-before-used Youtube channel):
Watch it! Like it! Share it! And buy the book when it comes out!
I made a book cover for “Prodigy”. This is a combination of traditional art (me actually cutting paper and glueing it together like a collage) and digital work.
I think it looks pretty neat (even though I still hope my artsy friend will be able to make something much more awesome).
I lately witnessed a debate on one of my writer’s forums which was pretty much the following: If describing a person’s skin-tone, don’t resort to food. I have seen this done before. I have seen it done in a way that I would deem okay. I also have seen it in a way that was horrible and objectifying (and I am not in the least surprised that the latter example came from a New Adult romance/erotica novel – there’s a reason why I don’t read that genre unless you hold a gun to my head or threaten me with life-long cookie-withdrawal).
Now, some POCs seem to be completely fine with their skin-tone being depicted as “caramel coloured skin” whilst others feel massively offended. I am white and caucasian, so I like to err on the safe side of political correctness. While editing “Prodigy” I came across a passage that looked problematic. I had referred to one of my side characters, Joaquin, as having “dark honey coloured skin”. What I had in my head was the colour you get when you have bees who only collect honey in the forest and then you spread that out evenly about half a centimeter thick and this is exactly the colour I imagine this character’s skin to have. Joaquin is mixed race as are several others in the book. I realized I couldn’t go with the honey-thing and asked for other words and descriptions for exactly that colour.
Entrance politically correct writer number 1 (WPCW#1) – who is just as white and caucasian as me – and asks whether I have to go out of my way to describe the skin-tone and whether I am doing it for all characters.
Firstly, this doesn’t answer my question.
Secondly, I actually gave this question some thought.
I have to say that, yes, I need to describe their looks. I am not going out of my way to do it, but I actually have face-casts for my characters (I have a file with photos I stole from the internet and use as references) and I also believe that it is necessary for my reader to know what they look like. Not only does it create a better picture of the character, but it also tells you something about the world that the story is set in. With “Prodigy” I am writing a near future world which has undergone massive changes due to the Climate Catastrophe. The setting of City 5 is in the middle of Europe, in what used to be Berlin.
So if I give this to a caucasian reader who has a mostly white circle of friends and I don’t give them descriptions that hint at a character’s ethnicity, they will – by default – think everyone in this story is white and probably also central European. I have somebody from Spain though, a few Scandinavians, my mixed-race Africam/European boy with the problematic skin-tone, someone with a Native American background and one of my protagonists is half-Japanese. A well-versed person can guess their ethnicity from their names in most cases, but I know that I have whitewashed characters in my head before, if their ethnicity wasn’t clearly stated. It might be the easiest way to just not write about a character’s skin-tone and hair-structure in order to be super politically correct, but it doesn’t suffice. In my opinion, diversity is not the default in all reader’s heads so if you want a diverse cast, you will have to write them as diverse.
As to the issue I had with the “dark honey coloured” skin, I got some helpful feedback from people. One POC person told me, honey-coloured was a great description (not helpful, but thank you anyways). Someone else suggested “old gold” as a solution. I had an epiphany in the end and have used “dark amber coloured” now, which I believe is pretty perfect for Joaquin.
I am not a native speaker. This usually comes as a surprise not only to people who have only known me by writing but also to people whose mother tongue actually is English and who met me in person. When I went to Canada for a holiday, most people assumed I was British. The Brits tended to think I was Australian for a while and nowadays just go by “you have an accent – but I have no idea what it is”. One of my Canadian friends even believed I was raised bilingually until I explained to him that no, I had started learning English when I was already eleven years old.
I lived in Edinburgh in 2010/2011 and did my masters degree there. It was probably the most amazing year of my life so far and it opened up so many new doors to me. I also met many lovely people from many different countries there whom I have done my best to stay in contact with.
Today, about fifty percent of my friends are international. Even though I live in Germany, at least half of my communication happens in English. I write fanfiction on the side and have done so for years. It never once crossed my mind to do that in German. I dream in English, I think in English and there’s literally no more effort involved in writing a story in English than there would be in writing one in German.
Considering the fact that almost everyone on this planet speaks English and hardly anyone speaks German, the choice which language “Prodigy” would be written in was pretty easy.
Most of the time, my stories start with a character. That character will walk into my head and demand a story to be written around them. A few characters have been in my head for a long while now and I still haven’t found the right story for them. Believe me, I tried. I even got a few chapters down here and there, but then found that they didn’t fit into the world I had built them after all. “Prodigy” was different. It started off with a Facebook message from my friend Josh. He sent me an article about a very expensive and famous violin having been stolen in Berlin. It was just a very short article, but it somehow triggered an immediate idea.
“You know,” I remember telling my partner, “this would make for a really gripping story.”
“Prodigy” turned out to be something very different from what I first thought it would be, but it became something good and something I am damn proud of.