Carve The Mark Isn’t Racist • Opinion

I finished Carve the Mark last week and I sat down today to write a review on it. I have a normal enough process; finish book, jot down my thoughts, check out other reviews to get a feel of what everyone is saying and then write review. This time around I noticed a huge amount of articles on how Carve the Mark is racist, and although this isn’t a topic I usually like to get involved in, I felt like I needed to give my two cents because of all the misinformation being spread.

First of all, I don’t understand how people can call this book racist, truly. They either haven’t read it carefully enough or they opened it looking for something to come across as racist. If it’s the former, they should have paid more attention, and if it’s the latter, that’s incredibly sad in my opinion. I personally think it’s an unhappy marriage of both, but it’s also because many of the articles I read have the misinformed notion that the book’s Shotet people (known for their barbarity) are dark skinned and the Thuvhesit people (known as a peace loving people) are white. This is not fact.

Most of the articles I’ve read calling out Carve the Mark for its supposed racism (like this popular one by Justina Ireland that I disagree with) base their article on the idea that the Shotet people are dark skinned. Far from being true, there is huge diversity in both the Thuvhesit and Shotet people. The villain of the series, Ryzek, who is a Shotet person and the head of the cruel Noavek family, is constantly described as white, pale, and skeletal. Cyra, on the other hand, who is described as dark skinned like her mother is actually the hero of the story. Akos, who is a white Thuvhesit person kidnapped by Ryzek’s goons, is not the hero and this is obvious to anyone who has read the entire book; he is a main character for sure but he consistently fails in his attempts to escape and would never have done so had Cyra not been as heroic and self-sacrificing as she is.

carve the mark isn't racist
Art of Ryzek Noavek by Gabriel Picolo (@_picolo on Instagram)

Not only does she put herself in danger numerous times to allow Akos to escape, she also puts aside the revenge she wants so that Akos can try to save his brother. Cyra is a completely selfless character constantly trying to help Akos despite the fact that if he left her, she would always have to deal with the excruciating pain her currentgift inflicts on her. She is willing to forever bear her pain so that Akos can be free. She is a hero in every sense of the word. So far we have a dark skinned hero, a white villain and his white slave; how exactly is this a racist book?

Eijeh and Cisi, Akos’ brother and sister, are both described as having brown skin despite being (the supposedly all-white) Thuvhesit, as is the chancellor of Thuvhe, Isae, who has light brown skin. As well as this, Shotet characters Teka, Zosita and Yma are all white characters described as having pale blonde hair. They are Shotet, not Thuvheist, so again, how have people come to think that the Shotet people are all dark skinned? Honestly, readers who claim Carve the Mark is racist are betraying their own deeply rooted prejudice, in my opinion, particularly because many did not finish it. It seems once Cyra was described as being a dark skinned Shotet person (a people known for their barbarity), they assumed the rest of the Shotet were also dark skinned. That says more about the reader than it does about Veronica Roth.

The only thing in this book that came across as remotely problematic to me was the description of Cyra’s mother’s hair, when Roth said it was “so curly it trapped fingers”. Now obviously this is an attempt to describe natural afro hair and although I don’t think Roth did a particularly good job at explaining this, I think it’s a far cry from racism. She’s not inferring her hair is inferior because of how curly it is, she’s simply trying to describe it, though I agree it could’ve been written much better. There is a great website called Writing With Colour that really helped me when writing characters of colour in my own novel, so check it out if you’re having trouble with descriptions as well.

carve the mark isn't racist

I think this book actually has a very important message; that what we don’t understand, we fear. The Shotet and Thuvehesit people do not understand each other at all, and they have created so many rumours and lies about each other over the years that both sides have different versions of the truth; they have opposing origins for who started their feud, who is the hero and who is the villain. This is in parallel with our own real lives where many of us have irrational fear for other cultures we know little to nothing about. It is an expression of reality, and reality is not always pleasant or fair.

The people who allow fear to lead them – and in this case both of Carve the Mark’s cultures fall prey to this – will always be blind. It also shows us that hatred is learned, that prejudice is taught, and that whole cultures and whole groups of people can’t be tarred by the same brush. The Shotet and Thuvhesit are not divided by skin colour, they are divided by culture and prejudice.

You may disagree with me, but I read this book very recently from cover to cover and even went over passages again to check characters’ skin colours and confirm what I’ve said in this article. This isn’t something I thought I’d find myself doing when I first bought the book, but so be it.

Finally, Carve the Mark is not perfect by any means, but by that I mean the overall plot and pacing of the novel. It’s sloppy at times and a little inconsistent, the world building is quite blurry and it’s often plagued by a slow pace, but it’s not racist and it doesn’t encourage damaging, problematic tropes of dark skinned people being aggressors.

Getting My Mojo Back • Writing Thoughts

Any time I see or write the word ‘mojo’ in any context, an image of that crazy monkey Mojo Jojo from the Powerpuff Girls pops into my head. Wouldn’t it be great to take over a word and make it so indistinguishable from your character that anytime someone sees it they think of your creation? That’s the dream, right?

writing mojo

Well, it may be the dream but it’s something that feels very very far away from my abilities at the moment. I’ve been on a downer for the past week and I’m kind of ashamed to say I didn’t write any more of my novel. Not one single word. Nothing. And it’s not like I just forgot about it, it’s been on my mind all day every day.

I don’t have an excuse except that some of my old fear has crept back in. This fear that has masqueraded as writer’s block and crippled my progress for years cannot be allowed back in. If it settles in the most insecure parts of my mind it will rot away at my confidence until my motivation to write is just a distant memory.

writing mojo

I know why this is happening, too; I’m so depressingly consistent in my insecurity that I can pinpoint exactly why this fear has returned, but knowing why I’m scared doesn’t do much to eradicate the fear.

I’m so close to finishing my first draft, something I’ve never even come close to before, and the thought of completing my book only to be rejected is enough to make me want to stop completely so I never have to face it at all. If I can honestly say I never managed to finish my book so it never got a chance to be queried by an agent or publisher, it’s not quite as bad as total failure and rejection, right? The thought of my book going absolutely nowhere except a file on my hard drive and knowing that I’m not good enough to be published is enough for that fear to return.

writing mojo

I know it’s really just a defence mechanism. It’s something to protect me and my dream from being crushed. If I was the same writer that I was a couple of years ago, sure, I’d probably let my fear and insecurity take over and push the pause button on my book for yet another few months or years, but I’m not that writer anymore. I’m so scared of failure, but my dream is to be a writer and I can’t just let myself down because of fear.

J.K. Rowling was rejected many times before she was finally published, and her books are some of the most beloved stories of all time. She and countless other writers faced rejection again and again before seeing their stories on the shelves. I know logically that even if I’m not taken on by an agent or publisher that that doesn’t mean I’m a bad writer or that my story is bad, but I’m very sensitive when it comes to my work and I’m just worried that rejection after rejection is going to crush me. I know, I know, it’s useless to obsess over it before it even happens, but for whatever reason it’s all I’ve been thinking about this week.

writing mojo

I’m going to do myself a favour and kickstart my motivation today. I’m going to put on the kettle, settle down in a comfy chair and bang out at least 1000 words. Hopefully it’ll set me on the right track to get my draft finished or, at the very least, to banish some of that crippling fear.

Wish me luck!

 

Outlining A Novel And Getting… Somewhere • Writing Thoughts

I’m a pantser. Always have been, and probably always will be. Recently, I’ve taken a more ‘pantser/outliner’ approach, particularly in the last month. What I’ve discovered is that it definitely helps me visualise the big picture a lot better, and I give it the good ol’ college try, but ultimately I go back to old habits.

I’m not saying winging it is a bad thing, it can be a fantastic way for your characters to meander and for you as the author to explore their personalities, but when it comes to putting together a 70k+ novel, you can’t just be a pantser (though I believe Stephen King would disagree with me here).

pantsing author

I’m nearly finished my first draft. I have about 20k left to write (approximately) and with my word goal of 1k per day, I believe I’ll have a wonderfully messy, infuriatingly scattered manuscript ready for editing by the end of the month. However, I’m several weeks away from my deadline and I still don’t have an ending.

Something about picking a path for my characters to walk that leads to the end of the book is terrifying to me. What if I get it wrong? What if I have a solid book up until the last few chapters and I screw it up at the final hour? That’s the kind of thinking that stops any half decent writer from getting anywhere; fear. Useless, taunting fear that offers absolutely no benefits to an aspiring writer. All it does is make you stumble and stall and, for some unlucky souls, it can make you quit.

pantsing author

While I’ve been half-pantsing and half-outlining my novel from almost the very start, but I have a hope that it isn’t too late to get my thoughts together in the form of a clear, concise outline. I have my beginning, my middle and now I just need a solid ending, so that’s my plan for tomorrow. I’m going to sit down with a pen and paper and plot out what’s going to happen to my characters; who’s going to live, who will die and what shocking event is going to happen to bleed into the sequel.

Are you a pantser or an outliner? Which do you prefer and why? Comment below!

So Close To The Finish Line • Writing Thoughts

NaNoWriMo finished over two months ago and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel (finally!), and in case you were wondering, yes, my novel is filled with cliché, overused phrases just like that one. However, the only reason I’ve even gotten this far is because I’ve put the editor in me firmly on the back burner and allowed myself to just write. 

Many authors agree that the magic of writing is in the re-writing, and I couldn’t agree more. I know there are lots of problems with my draft and there will be plenty of things I’ll have to change, polish or re-write entirely, but for now I’m happy just to finish. That is the goal for this next month, and hard as it is sometimes, I do see myself with a full draft by the end of the month. I’m very excited!

It’s now officially the 5th of February so I have approximately 3 weeks left. In saying this, I’m not going to hold a rope at my own throat. If I don’t finish in the next few weeks I’m not going to make myself feel like a failure. I have a planned deadline that I don’t want to go over (and I don’t think I will unless I come down with dreaded writer’s block), but as long as the draft is mostly done by the end of the month, I’ll be happy enough.

This is just an update as to where I’m at with my NaNo novel (honestly I didn’t think I’d get this far). Once I get the first draft polished, I plan on re-reading it and making more changes, then I’ll approach an agent and publishers. After that, I’m going to go back to my initial story (check out my M.A.D. section to find out more about my first attempt at writing a novel) and create a proper outline for it (I think I’ve finally abandoned the ‘pantser’ life). Then for Camp NaNoWriMo I’m going to try for 50k again!

Phew.

That’s the plan. Fingers crossed for me!

Drawing Maps & Growing As A Writer • Inspiration Wall 02

This was a great week for me in terms of writing. Scenes have been flowing better, I’ve plugged a few plot holes and I’m more confident in the path I’ve put my characters on. It’s a win all round! I don’t like to risk jinxing myself but I think I’ll finish my first draft by the end of next month! I’m definitely feeling very positive.

novel writing

Growing as a writer 

I wrote an article last year on ‘author envy’ – that overwhelming feeling of jealousy when you hear that another writer (especially if they’re the same age or younger than you) has not only finished writing their book, but they’re about to get it published. This exact situation happened in my life in the past year; a girl I know worked hard and finished her book and then she got a publishing deal. I couldn’t bring myself to be happy for her, I just couldn’t. All I felt was my undeniable failure in the face of her success.

novel writing

I think this is just something every writer goes through, and it’s nothing to do with the great achievement of the other writer. It really isn’t. It has everything to do with insecurity and feeling like you’re not good enough, like you’re never going to achieve your dream. It’s odd isn’t it? You’d think seeing someone succeeding – someone who is in the same boat as you – would only serve to motivate you more? For me it didn’t.

I was kind of down for a while afterwards, but I pushed on with my writing anyway. I’m so glad I did as I’m now near the finish line and, as a nice bonus, I can now say that I am truly happy for the girl I know who is soon to be a published author. It really is wonderful because, like me, being an author is her dream. You should keep an eye out for her upcoming book called The Space Between which will be published by Little Island. She’s a fabulous, unique writer so I’m sure it will receive rave reviews!

Map making 

Inkarnate.com is a really fun tool to use if you’re planning out a world and you want to get all your visuals down on paper, so to speak. The software allows you to put a basic map together and you can even add things like castles and different types of trees and land (swampy, desert etc.) to personalise it even more. I had a bit of a tinker with it and came up with a fun visual for me to work off of while I’m writing.

I spent approximately 5 minutes on this so it would be infinitely better if I committed real time to it, but it does what I want it to – it allows me to have a good idea of the sizes of the countries in my book and their proximity to each other.

inkarnate world building

Everything is falling into place 

When I first started writing my novel I was worried about the ending. Mainly because I didn’t have one. This is where the ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ style of writing is inspiring. It can take you to a part of your story that you may never have thought of while carefully planning each scene.

When I was a kid I just wrote any old thing that popped into my head. Planning had absolutely no place in my “process”, so to speak. Now I plan a little and wing it a lot, but one isn’t better than the other. They both have their place, and lots of writers prefer different kind of methods.

I’ve never gotten this far in a story before (65+k), so I’m pretty sure that I’ve found my sweet spot. Here’s to many more thousands of words next week!

novel writing

Using Irish culture 

As I mentioned in my first Inspiration Wall, I’ve been looking into my culture more and taking a few elements that I find really beautiful and fascinating to weave them into my story. Some of these things are really small – just details, really – but it’s not just the big, obvious parts of a tale that make it so memorable to the reader. I want to make my story unique.

One of the things I plan on using are ghillies, which are little black Irish dancing shoes that you lace up under the sole. One of my characters dances in an inn and she’ll mention these in one of the scenes. Another thing I plan on including is a rag tree, which you can find in many areas of Ireland. Rag trees are regular trees (usually near a Holy Well) where people with problems or illnesses tie a piece of their clothing/a rag to the tree. It’s said that the problem or sickness will go as the rag rots.

rag tree novel

I loved that Leigh Bardugo included some elements of Russian culture in her Six of Crows duology, as I looked up a lot of the words she used out of interest. It would be fantastic if someone unfamiliar with Irish culture looked up aspects of it because they read my book!

Also, it’s not surprising but I’ve been listening to a lot of Enya this week (LOVE her, she is a national treasure!) and if you’re writing fantasy scenes featuring elves or witches or magic then this music will inspire you. She’s responsible for helping create the stunning LOTR score so, you know, trust me on this one.

 

What gave you inspiration this week? Let me know in the comments below!

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo • Review

Although I didn’t reach my goal of 50 books read in 2016, I still read plenty of great novels that I otherwise may not have picked up. One of those books was Six of Crows, which is about a group of ragtag ruffians and thugs on a mission to break into an impenetrable fortress in a foreign land. I absolutely loved it and when I found out there was a sequel, Crooked Kingdom, I knew I had to get my hands on it right away.

It was in this way that I fell head over heels in love with the world and characters created by Leigh Bardugo. I’d go as far as to say she’s now one of my all-time favourite writers. She has such immense talent and a gorgeous flow to her writing that you just don’t see that often anymore.

A friend of mine picked up the first Grisha novel, Shadow and Bone, for me for Christmas and I finally sat and read it yesterday. I couldn’t put it down and finished it in a few hours. The story follows an orphan girl called Alina Starkov as she discovers a unique power within her that thrusts her into the world of the magical elite. She must trust the mysterious and dangerous man known as the Darkling in order to destroy the Shadow Fold, an area of darkness that is slowly destroying the war-torn nation of Ravka. Along the way, she must face up to her love for her childhood friend, Mal, the feeling that she doesn’t belong and her attraction to the fearful Darkling.

I loved the character of Alina from the get-go and I especially loved how she was described, her personality and her simple goals. Alina isn’t a stunning beauty like so many other protagonists in fantasy novels, she’s fairly plain but sometimes pretty when she gets enough sleep and uses her power. When she says no, she means no, and she’s complex and insecure and worried about not just herself but her childhood friend and her country. She isn’t self-absorbed and she’s just so likeable. I could see myself being friends with her.

There are plenty of twists in the story and many things I didn’t expect, particularly in relation to Mal and the Darkling. I love being surprised by the direction a story takes. Naturally, this book is still full of the type of clichés us fantasy YA readers are used to at this stage – female protagonist with power she didn’t know she had, two love interests, a palace with an incompetent royal family etc. – but Bardugo takes those clichés and writes about them in such a way that it feels so fresh. Her storytelling is unexpected, surprising and at times completely delightful.

I loved learning more about the Grisha that Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom introduced to me, and I’m eager to re-read the series to see what Easter Eggs I can spot! Alina Starkov actually made an appearance in the book through the eyes of Nina Zenik, the homesick Grisha Heartrender trying to save a man she wronged and her fellow refugees.

Overall, I really loved this book. It really made me visualise what Ravka is like and I’m looking forward to seeing how Bardugo expands her world further in Siege and Storm & Ruin and Rising. Her characters are memorable and complex and full of life and I’d be practically hyperventilating with excitement if someone dropped book 2 and 3 in my lap right now. It’s the start of what I have no doubt is an excellent series, and I heartily recommend you read it if you like stories with magic, war and dangerous love.

Writing People of Colour & Irish Culture • Inspiration Wall 01

I’ve decided to do a weekly Inspiration Wall so that I can talk briefly about writing resources I’m using, pictures that inspire me, books I want to read, things I’m listening to etc. during the week, so read on if you want to know what I’m up to in between writing sessions!

Firstly, a few inspirational quotes for the week!

writing quote writing quote writing quote

Writing people of colour

In my novel for NaNoWriMo – which I’m currently still working on (note to self: must come up with title) – one of my main characters is a black girl with natural afro hair. One of the things that’s always made me a little nervous about writing is how to describe different ethnicities, particularly East Asian and black characters.

Obviously I don’t want to write characters in a way that’s offensive (not only is that insensitive, it takes away from who the character is rather than what they look like) so I decided to search online to see if there were specific words that were particularly frowned upon to be aware of when I’m writing.

I found a great site called Writing With Color, which discusses different suitable and unsuitable words used to describe people of colour. One of the words in particular that I had intended to use was “kinky” to describe my character’s hair. I thought it was a good descriptor but the people who run the site aren’t super fond of it, and I actually picked up much better suggestions while scrolling the site.

writing people of colour

Other words not recommended for usage included “nappy”, which is a derogatory word for natural afro hair, and “wooly” due to the animal connotations. Needless to say, I learnt a lot on the site and I’m glad I checked it out as I feel much more confident about writing people of colour now.

There are so few people of colour in fantasy books that I don’t want to create a black character and then describe her in a problematic way. Quick research like this is so easy to do and can make a big difference to readers who don’t often see themselves represented in fiction; there’s really no reason not to do it.

Main character inspirations 

I have certain ideas in my head of what my characters look like, but I love searching for models/pictures of people who resemble them so that I can properly visualise them as real people.

I’ve finally found three girls that look very similar to how Anika, Neave and Thea look in my head. Thea is the girl with long black hair, Anika is the red head and Neave is the girl with natural afro hair that I spoke of above.

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I’m currently about 60,000 words or so into my story and I know I’m nearly through the tunnel (and into the trenches for the many editing sessions that are coming my way!) Here’s to the next 60k for book 2!

As well as looking for character inspiration (I find that sitting in a café and people-watching is a fantastic way to round out existing characters – the mannerisms and habits and flaws of real people can help make your character seem more 3D) I love checking out aspects of different cultures that I could weave into my stories. I’m Irish myself and we have a very rich cultural tapestry spanning thousands of years, so I’ve been looking into Celtic myths and legends lately.

Irish myths and culture irish culture

One thing in particular I’d like to add to my current story is the style of Irish dancing dresses. If you’ve never seen one, they’re quite short and covered in triple spirals and Celtic-inspired designs. They’re also usually very colourful and bright (and topped with a curly wig). I wish I was any good at art as I’d love to draw out my idea for traditional dresses worn by the women of the country I’ve created in my novel. Basically the colours will be muted in comparison to the loud and proud hues of traditional Irish dancing dresses, but they’ll still feature the heavy spiral designs and they’ll be floor length.

Music to set the scene 

I’ve also been taking some inspiration from sean nós singing – which is a very old, traditional style of singing as gaeilge (in Irish) – as well as Enya (pretty much her entire body of work) and choir music. I don’t know if you write while listening to music, but I’ve recently gotten into it and find that it can really help set a scene in your mind.

Wish listbook wish list

I’ve heard so many good things about ‘Binti’ and ‘Akata Witch’, both written by acclaimed writer Nnedi Okorafor, but I’m not exactly flush with cash right now so I’ll have to wait to buy them.

What has inspired you this week? Let me know in the comments!