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Oakdale Confidential:
An As The World Turns Novel

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


On Page 8 of "Oakdale Confidential," you will find the following passage:

"(Jack) stood between Gregory's inert body and the crowd, effectively blocking everyone, except for Ben Harris, who was the first doctor to reach Gregory. Ben felt for a pulse along Gregory's wrist. Then, his fingers moved to the base of Gregory's neck. In retrospect, that was Katie's first clue that maybe there was more than mere public drunkenness going on here. Drunk people, she suspected, still had detectable pulses. Ben lifted Gregory's eyelids for a peek at his pupils. Katie suspected that wasn't a very reassuring sign, either."

Dr. Ben Harris goes on to declare the detestable victim dead, thus kicking off our (hopefully) exciting tale of "Who Dunnit?"

Ben doesn't resurface again until a few chapters later at which point, because the scene is less frantic than the whirlwind opening, I finally get around to mentioning that the good doctor is Black and, even then, I initially did it strictly through dialogue.

My editor wasn't very happy with this. She thought that we should know earlier, and that it should be part of Ben's initial description. (As a tie-in writer, I didn't even have the lazy author's option of just making him non-Black, since Ben's race isn't strictly a part of the story. However, the actor who plays Ben on "As The World Turns" happens to be Black and, as you may have surmised, taking liberties with a character's ethnicity in a tie-in is a bit of a no-no). We eventually compromised in that it became a part of the narrative, but still didn't pop up in the prologue.

Because, as far as I was concerned, in a scene where the town millionaire arrives at a soiree honoring his family and tumbles out of the limousine dead in front of hundreds of people, there was simply no time to pause for a lengthy description of anyone, Black or White.

And if the description wasn't lengthy, it would, IMHO, feel forced, ala:

"(Jack) stood between Gregory's inert body and the crowd, effectively blocking everyone, except for the African-American Ben Harris, who was the first doctor to reach Gregory."

Or "Ben felt for a pulse along Gregory's wrist. Then, his coffee-colored fingers moved to the base of Gregory's neck."

Neither approach shrieks of subtlety.

But my struggle to insert Ben's ethnicity in a non-anvil-dropping-on-your-head manner led me to the following query: Are all fictional characters initially presumed Caucasian?

After all, at no point in the story do I ever describe anyone as White. (Yes, I realize the three leading ladies' photos are on the cover of "Oakdale Confidential," so the answer is obvious in this case, but I am working for a more universal point here).

So I turn this question over to you, the reader. When you pick up a novel, assuming the situation and setting doesn't obviously pinpoint the lead's ethnicity, do you presume everyone is automatically white, until proven otherwise?


kyradavis said...

The short and the long answer is yes. I assume they're White and I'm a Multiracial woman. I guess you could say that this is a sad statement about society but I don't take that position. In this country most doctors are White. Most people in this country are White (although that may change soon). If the book was set in Mexico or Kenya I would assume that all the characters were of the majority race of those countries until told otherwise. OTOH I don't think that it's necessary to get a complete physical description of each character in the first few pages so no harm no foul.

9:46 PM  
pcmacintyre said...

It wasn’t your use, or non use of Ben’s ethnicity, that bothered me, although I do recall an awkward mention of his skin color in one section of the book. I was more disturbed by the rewrites to his history.

Ben Harris was introduced to the show as a famous in 1996. He would have been at least in his early 30s at the time. There was no way he could have been in high school only five years prior to that. Furthermore, Ben was a contemporary of Mike’s older brother, Mark, not Mike himself.

There are a number of such errors in the book relating to Henry, Margo, Carly and others, and I don’t see how they fall into the whole “Katie wrote a novel” plot being played out on the show.

Perhaps you can elaborate on the writing and decision making processes involved in writing the book.

9:24 AM  
Max said...

I get cues from the novel's setting. If it's set in, say South America or India, then I wouldn't presume everyone is white. In the US, white is a safe default, unless otherwise specified.

10:46 PM  
thesoapgoddess said...

As a librarian, thus an avid book reader, I would say it depends. And, being in an urban library, many of the books I read are by African-American authors, so I frequently read about black characters.

Since this is a tie-in book, I could easily picture each character, hear their voice, etc.
Most books may give you subtle cues to ethnicity. For example, if the writer states "she brushe her blonde hair out of her eyes to see..." I would assume that person was white.

In the Oakdale Confidential scenario, I don't see where it matters. The viewer knows Ben is black. And, since the storyline isn't race related, it hardly an important point (e.g. Ben isn't a suspect because of some racist incident in the past between himself and Gregory, the victim).

7:05 AM  

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