Yo Soy Un Profesional

//www.brividocafe.it/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/fog.miniatura.jpg” non può essere visualizzata poiché contiene degli errori.I was talking with Danilo Arona, yesterday night.
The Wolfman Jack of Italian imaginative fiction, he’s one of the most intelligent persons I know, and a great writer, with an impressive brace of titles on his CV.
It was a rainy night in Alessandria and we were waiting for some book presentation to start and I mentioned one of his stories will be up for translation soon (well, soon-ish).
“The big idea is to try and sell our stuff to the Yankees,” I told him.
He gave me his classic warning grin.
“That’s the closest market on earth,” he said. “Because they are totally dedicated to professionalism.”

Which means you are a writer when you earn your living writing, and a translator when translating is what gives you your daily bread.
Here in Italy, a precious few are up to that – many keep their day job throughout their whole career, and so are “teacher and writer”, “journalist and author”, “doctor and novelist”…
Translators are either part-time creatures or spend their lives chained to the keyboard, alterning a chapter of historical novel with a chapter of true confessions and one of popular science, to be able and reach that minimum page-count per month that will let them survive.

This state of affairs means different timetables for the publishing world – you can’t ask for fast churning out of novels to someone you pay so little he has to work an eight-hour day and then set down to write.
It also means a different attitude of the publishers towards the writers – a bunch of amateurs, after all, right?
And translators?
In the age of computers, if we can do without editors and proof-readers, what do we care for translators? Just go and hire someone fresh form Languages High School…

So, will this Anglo-tongued version of Alia crash and burn under the weight of the unprofessional attitudes of all those involved?
Will the Yankees, and the Japanese, and whoever else, look down upon our landing on their shores (metaphorically speaking), and dismiss our offer as a deliettante effort?

The only thing I know is, if we never try it, we’ll never know.

Published in: on April 18, 2008 at 3:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Northern Dream – Ezo

Some minimal historical annotations.

Max’s story is set against the background of the Ezo Republic, a democratic state set up by former Tokugawa personnel (including French military advisors) in the cold north of Japan’s Hokkaido.
A short lived political experiment – the sort of thing the winners call “revolt” – Ezo never questioned the Imperial power, but was designed as a second state loyal to the crown, guarding the northern gate of the nation…

The farmers and merchants are unmolested, and live without fear, going their own way, and sympathising with us; so that already we have been able to bring some land into cultivation. We pray that this portion of the Empire may be conferred upon our late lord, Tokugawa Kamenosuke; and in that case, we shall repay your beneficence by our faithful
guardianship of the northern gate…

As it was to be expected, the subtlety escaped most Meiji politicians, and Ezo was in fact shut down by brute force by the Meiji government – while the rest of the world sat back looking.


This gives the story a steampunkish and vaguely political flavour, which is good.
It does not add to nor subtract anything from the translation, and is a fine piece of antiquarian finesse – not many know about Ezo outside of Japan.

It’s now two years, almost, that we talk about jotting down a few notes and writing a learned booklet on the subject – but so far our engagements have been too many.
And yet, it would be another worthy pursuit.

Published in: on April 16, 2008 at 1:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Northern Dream – local flavor

One arm badly injured, so my translating work is slowing down but not stopping.
I’ve made a commitment.
And what the heck – this is fun.

One of the things that make translating Max Soumaré’s stuff fun is his penchant for peppering the text with Japanese words.
Now, as he’s telling a story set in Japanes, it is pretty obvious some Japanese names should come up, but there’s more than that.
Max uses well-placed Japanese words to give the reader an extra portion of local flavor, deepening the sense of place.

It is the sort of quick-and-dirty technique that can turn easily into a cheap trick, a gimmick.
Authorial discipline must be applied – in cartloads – not to overdue the thing.
Max is a pro because he knows when enough is enough, and being a good translator, he uses the Japanese to convey in a single word those multiple, multi-layered meanings that cannot be summed up in as briefly in Italian, or in English.

The translation must of course adapt to this technique, somehow supporting it, and letting the phrases unfurl so that the single exotic word causes the expected vibrations.
It’s tricky, but that’s why it is fun.

On the down side, this practice sometimes requires notes – something I normally accept only from Jack Vance in fiction.
But then again, there are ways to sidestep the need for notes – a good witty afterword, for instance.
We’ll see….

Published in: on April 11, 2008 at 2:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Northern Dream – first chapter

//www.macalu.it/verde/pagine/antola-faggi.jpg” non può essere visualizzata poiché contiene degli errori.First steps translating Max Soumaré’s short but thick story.
As I already said, you won’t find an author farther from me in terms of style – and in fact the first chapter opens on a slow beat and with no dialogue.
Just a man walking in the woods and history unfolding around him, and in his past.
Details are sparse.
Sensations come and go.
A solid mix of data-dump and atmosphere, the scene has a the sepia-tones of old photographs, and is a great mood-setter.
What will come next… well, we’ll see.
For certain, this will not be a comedy.

But right now is just long phrases, passive forms and the sensation of a great storm gathering.

Translating such a diverse style of prose is an exercise in both translation and writing.

I’m currently going slow due to a problem with the articulations of my right arm.
But I’ll see this book transalted if I have to type with the tip of my nose.

Published in: on April 8, 2008 at 7:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ogres, Oni & Demons

I spent the day minding other business – I’m working on a book I hope I’ll be able to publish by the end of the year, so no translations today.

//www.versacrum.com/artecultura/fantgiap/oni_gif” non può essere visualizzata poiché contiene degli errori.But Max Soumaré, the author of Northern Dream, was kind enough to send me a brief note.
The first part of the story is called “L’Orco della Shinsengumi” – The Ogre of the Shinsengumi.
It’s the nickname of a character, you see.

Now the author informs me that the Japanese word is Oni, which is translated as “Orco” (Ogre) in Italian, but that the Americans probably translate “Demon”.

Now isn’t this just wonderful?
I have yet to start my translation, and already the frigging author is butting in, thinking he knows better than me how to translate his work.
I love this job.

And there’s another ten in line after him…

Published in: on April 6, 2008 at 8:13 pm  Comments (1)  
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Who’s Next – Massimo Soumaré

I’ve been knowing Massimo Soumarè – who I sometimes call Max, sometimes Soumarek the Stygian – for about twenty years now.

We never went to school together.
We never lived on the same street or in the same block.
We never did the same job – if not in the most loose sense (we both teach, write, translate).
We never dated the same girl – as far as I know, that is.

Quite simply, we have interests in common – many of them: literature, imaginative fiction in particular, history, the East and Japan in the specific, comics, movies…

Now Max is an ace Japanese teacher and translator.
Best in the biz.
He’s the man responsible for Alia Japan, a contact powerhouse and a hard man to match.

We sort of play Fafhrd & Gray Mouser in the Italian literary underworld.
He’s the Mouser.

When it comes to writing, you won’t find an author more different from me than Max.
Sure, each and every writer on this anthology is a true original, but some point in common can always be found.
But Max and me?
Different style, different themes, different techniques, different pace and rhythm, different approach to writing, different “school”, different “voice”.

And what’s Max’s entry in our anthology?
An alternate history, a historical fantasy, with strong ties to actual facts and half a page of references.
Just like mine.

We’ll better place a few stories between our titles.
We don’t want to bore the readers.

Not that boredom is an issue with Max’s story – which is short and sweet and athmospheric, and is called Il Sogno del Nord.

Northern Dream.

But Northern Dream was a 1971 Bill Nelson record.
Hell, another title to rework….

Published in: on April 4, 2008 at 9:33 pm  Comments (4)  
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Clad in Steel and Thunder – final chapter

The last chapter of Clad in Steel and Thunder is the longest and most complicated.
The action moves around a lot, point of view following the survivors from the previous chapters as they take part to the final siege of Bellegarde – my own belated, mecha-oriented version of the battle of Crecy.

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Past and present meet on the ramparts of Bellegarde.
This spells the end of the chivalry andallows this world to enter a more modern, hopefully more democratic phase.
Gundam-style, is time to scrap the battle suits and think about reconstruction.

Once the deed is done, the action sort of unwinds.
I do not believe in Star Wars-style throne room scenes and triumphs – after the battle come fatigue, desperation, sense of loss for all those that were lucky or fast enough to survive.
I tried to put some of that in the story, without giving in to angst.

By monday, the story will be done.
I’ll pass therefore to the next in the line – about which, see the next post.

Published in: on April 4, 2008 at 4:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The way I do it

Writing styles, translating styles.
I just found out my friend Massimo Soumaré (more on him as his story comes up for translation), usually does a paper review of the pieces he has to translate – marking out in pencil words or phrases that need particular attention or care.
Of course, he normally translates from Japanese, so I guess some dynamics are different.

I normally work directly on file.
I do not use any hip translator helper – like memories for oft-used words or stuff.
I just make a copy of the original and replace the text as I read it on the screen, one phrase at the time.
Working like this makes for fast going – hands on my keyboard, I am actually reading and writing the same page, instead of jumping between an open book, say, and the computer screen (sometimes I have to work like that and it is pretty uncomfortable – and very bad for the book spine and pages).
This technique also has a strange effect on names – which act like some kind of hardpoints in the page.
The temptation to let them be altogether, and work around them is strong, but often, shifting from the Italian structure to the English or vice-versa the whole sentence has to be completely rewritten and rearranged on the page.

To make a weird simile, it’s like the page was a wooden board with lines and lines of holes – one line per line of text. Some holes are occupied by peg-like names, dates and other elements that do not change, do not need translation. Each phrase is like a piece of string connecting those pegs.
The game is changing the old string with the new one, moving the pegs around as needed.

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Which probably does not make sense at all, but at least I’ve invented some strange boardgame to use in a future story.

Published in: on April 3, 2008 at 2:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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Authors list

The first translation is almost finished, time to pick the next.
It will probably be the turn of my old friend Massimo Soumaré.
But ho knows….

And as I am at it, I can publish the preliminary list of authors that will be printed in the English-language Alia anthology.


In no particular order…

A few others are waiting in the wings, but the line-up above should represent the backbone of the anthology.

Published in: on April 2, 2008 at 10:02 am  Leave a Comment  

7000 words – Chapter Five

//www.ilsegretodileonardo.it/ita/images/leonardo.jpg” non può essere visualizzata poiché contiene degli errori.Chapter Four was fast, much faster than anticipated, but it will need revising.
The text is ok, but something came up as I was translating, and I want to follow it up.
I’m working on Brock’s speaking patterns, to make him sound more German, but I don’t want to end up using the usual accent cliches. Something pretty good can be achieved by using slightly longer words than usual, and arranging the words in a slightly unusual, old-fashioned order, so that they still read all right but sound… foreign.

Cheap tricks.

In the meantime, on to chapter five.
Casale Monferrato has just revolted and a band of Flemish mercenaries are trying tomake themselves scarce with a minimum of fuss.
The last pieces of the puzzle fall into place – courtesy of Leonardo da Vinci, who comes center stage but remains incognito.
Leonardo also serves as sort of a clear-headed anchor in this whole story.
Which is pretty needed, considering that the moral compass of the narrative is debatable and the ethics of most of the characters are uncertain.

By the weekend, this story will be translated, and I’ll send it along to the proofreaders.

Published in: on April 1, 2008 at 7:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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