I sat down to have an interview with Shapeshifters author Laura Bitterlich, who is an accomplished writer in Germany. At just nineteen, she is a published author and an intelligent thinker of various social issues including gender and sexuality. Her writing is mature, well-thought out and gripping. Focusing her energies on the genre of fantasy, she pays keen attention to her readership and uses her big imagination to transport us all to the universe of Shapeshifters. In this part of the interview, she relays her in-depth views about her ideas on relevant social issues.
You use your writing to address social issues as well. An example would be Leara serving as a strong, feminist hero. Why did you choose to do that?
To be honest, I didn’t plan on doing that in my first book. Yes, the second one was written with social issues in mind (treatment of homosexual people in smaller communities versus big cities, new settlers taking advantage of the natives and enslaving them) but the first one was basically a book I wanted to read. I was 13 when I started it and a little bit sick of the stereotypes of the fantasy genre. It’s always either “boy has a special fate, saves everyone, marries princess, becomes king” or “girl has a special fate, meets boy, falls in love, saves kingdom and becomes his queen”. Swap “kingdom” for any other group of people that can be saved and you have your usual story. Yes, my main character, Leara, has a kingdom to save. But she doesn’t want to. And romance is something she really has no time for, not with all the problems she has. During the story, she encounters several situations that could lead to a romance, but nothing ever happens. She does what she has to and, in the end, refuses to follow the wishes of everyone else, because she wants to choose herself how her life continues.
I never saw that, what I wrote, as especially feminist. It just felt right, that was how it’s supposed to be. Only through others I realized, that female heroes don’t always get this treatment and usually have to accept that their wishes can’t come true, for the greater good.
Do you think fiction is a good platform to address social issues?
Absolutely! One of my favorite authors is/was Terry Pratchett. He passed away last year, which made me very sad. His “Discworld” series does exactly that: It uses fiction to address social issues. You see, most issues aren’t exactly visible most of the time, if no one points them out for us. We are so used to it, that we just accept it the way it is. But then, we read a story in which the characters face issues that make us angry. That hurt us, because we love the character. We want the character to be okay, to be happy. And then we realize “Wait that issue exists in the real world. There are people who actually feel like this. Why don’t we do something against that?”
Especially fantasy attracts mainly young readers, which makes it so important that social issues are not only addressed, but also explored. Why do people act like they do? No one is truly evil, every villain thinks they do the right thing.
Another important aspect is, that we recognize ourselves in the characters of a book, or at least we try. And if there is a character, who struggles in the same way as the reader does, it’s somewhat comforting. After my first book, I decided that I wanted to give young readers something to identify with. That’s one reason why I slowly put more and more LGBTA+ characters into my stories (slowly, because I don’t know how publishers think about it, and an unpublished book helps nobody). Most books about this kind of characters use their sexuality or identity as the main focus of the story. That gets boring fast, because they often don’t get other personality traits, as if their sexuality is everything important about them. This hypersexualisation of LGBTA+ people can only be harmful, especially for teenagers. To describe experiences of those characters as accurate as possible, I always make sure that I have at least one test-reader, who actually has a similar experience. One of my current readers is asexual and keeps a close look on a girl in my current story.
Are you working on anything new?
Yeah, I hinted at it several times already. It won’t be a sequel though, “The Shapeshifters” is finished. It’s a fantasy book again, the current title (translated from German) is „Day of the Demons“. I’ve already fallen in love with most of the characters and I’m looking forward to finishing it, to experience the reactions of my readers. Because in the end, that’s the reason I write: Providing people with new stories they love.
Catch up on Part 1 of the interview here!
By: Fatima Ahmed