Photo: Christian Kurzeder
OMKRING ROMANEN Freak city
Mention three fun facts that your fans maybe don’t know about you
I make the world’s best chocolate pudding
I worked exactly one evening as a waitress and was subsequently fired for being unsuitable for the job
I’ve written all of my books at the same table (a old kitchen table that was given to me by a friend many years ago)
When did you know that you wanted to become an author?
Actually, I’ve always known it. I loved literature as a child. It offered me access to a world that would have otherwise remained closed to me in the little village where I grew up. I learned a lot about life through books. It had always been my dream to write my own books later on and to show readers these different worlds!
How long have you been writing? And what started it?
I had already started writing as a child. As a teenager, I ran the school newspaper and published articles. At the same time, I was writing a stage play that was performed at my school. That was the first, small success! My first real book publication was many years later, however.
Who discovered you? (Did you contact publishing houses? How was the process?)
At the time, I was working at a publishing company, and my job was the public relations work for the authors. It was the very first time that I got to know living authors personally. I gained insights into how professional authors work, how they earn their money, how they submit manuscripts etc. I wrote my very first book during summer vacation. It was a children’s book, since at the time I worked for a publisher of children’s books. I submitted it anonymously to the editorial department and claimed that a friend of mine had written it. The response was quite positive and the publishing company wanted to start selling it immediately. At that point, I admitted that the text was actually mine. I stayed on for another year at the publishing company as a press representative. Then I took a chance facing life as a freelance artist.
How many books have you published (so far)? And which genre?
I’ve written approximately 25 books. My focus is on realistic books for young people. I’ve also written many children’s books and texts for early readers, however.
Why this story? What made you choose this specific theme?
My books for young people actually deal with all socially critical topics.
I wrote “Freak City” after I had met a woman who worked as a sign language interpreter. She told me about the suppression of sign language in Europe, and I was outraged! I learned sign language myself in order to communicate with deaf people. The insights I gained were unsettling: the deaf are treated rather horribly in our society, they are deprived of opportunities and, as in the past, sign language still remains to be taken seriously. It was important for me to shed a bit of light on the difficult situation of the deaf in Germany, and at the same time to present a strong and self-confident deaf person.
What inspires you to write? Which authors have inspired you? (Music, art, things in life?)
I’m inspired by everyday life. I live in a housing project in which 45 people of various ages live together. Each individual has an exciting biography. Encounters are a powerful driving force for me. I want to write stories that could also happen in real life.
What is the message of your book? How should the reader interpret it?
“Freak City” actually deals with the topic of “being different”. It’s about what it is like to suddenly be a “freak”: to be the one who is excluded and doesn’t belong. It was fun for me to reverse the roles in the story. My protagonist, who is able to hear, becomes immersed in the world of the deaf, thereby becoming an outsider himself. An absolutely normal guy, of all people, is forced to deal with being different. The second thread of the story deals with silence. Yet it is not the kind of silence that surrounds the deaf. It is the silence that prevails in utterly normal families. Although Mika is able to hear, there is hardly any communication with his parents. I wanted to show that one doesn’t necessarily have to be deaf in order to feel very lonely and unheard.
How do you identify with the character(s) in your book?
I create very definite character descriptions in advance. I look in magazines for photos of those who look the way that I imagine the characters in the book to be. I also write lists containing the preferences, hobbies and qualities of the characters. This helps me to put myself in the shoes of the characters. Aside from that, I also add personal experiences. As with anyone else, I have also experienced being the outsider, the stranger, in certain situations. That is why I often know exactly how my characters feel – even if I am twice their age!
What are you currently reading?
At the moment, I’m reading an anthology by Will Eisner. He is the inventor of the graphic novel, and I’m a big fan of the genre.
Mention 3 book titles that you wish to recommend!
Bobette Buster: Do Story. How to tell your story so the world listens.
Anne Lamott: Bird by bird. Some Instructions on Writing and Life.
Christopher Vogler: The Writers` Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.
When is your next book going to be published?
I’ve just finished writing a new manuscript. It is not a simple topic: it involves depression, psychiatry and suicidal young people. The next step is finding a publisher for it. Keep your fingers crossed for my search! Even though I’ve had many books published over the years, my topics don’t always have an easy time of it!