novels

Distractions : Match the Author’s Pen Name

I am completely inundated with books to read and review, novels to write, Kahlua iced coffee to drink, but I have taken an afternoon pause. Shouldn’t you, too? I just finished playing “Can you match the pen names with the authors’ real names?” I got one wrong! And that one is nagging me. But, I hope you can enjoy a quick literary break.

It’s been a few months since I last posted a Distraction. If today’s doesn’t suit your taste, try the archives.

The Translator | Nina Schuyler

TheTranslatorOf course, my interest was immediately peaked by Nina Schuyler’s newest novel when I saw the title and then when I read further, the description did indeed outline that this tale was focused on a Japanese-to-English translator.

The Translator is about Hanne, a middle-aged woman who grew up in Europe speaking German, Dutch, and English who had moved to the US where she mastered Japanese. Hanne is finishing the translation of a popular Japanese novelist when she has a head injury. She awakes in the hospital only speaking Japanese. She is unable to communicate in the languages of her youth and only in this language she learned later in life. (what was quite odd about this was that on my second day into the novel, I read an article about a man in Florida waking up after an accident only speaking Swedish and unable to speak in his mother tongue.) Frustrated, Hanne takes off for Tokyo to attend a conference she initially turned down. During a lecture she is giving, Hanne is interrupted by the incredibly frustrated Japanese novelist she had been translating. He hated her translation and continued to publicly shame her.

The story flows as easily as a leaf falling from a tree branch. Somehow Schuyler has weaved a mystery through the plot as well. As Hanne is trying to sort through how she could have gone terribly wrong with this translation, small slivers of detail surrounding the main character’s estranged daughter–also a polyglot–are an essential part of Hanne’s journey in Japan.

After being shamed at the conference, the bond that Hanne formed with the protagonist of the book within the book, is something she must deal with. She thinks about Jiro and Schuyler included bits of the supposed translation. How could she have gotten it so wrong? is the question she continues to ask herself.

I enjoyed the book immensely, however, the opening pages (mostly chapter one) could have used a bit more ironing out. It was a bit too heavy with Hanne’s translation fragments to really grip onto, but once I moved on from this, I felt safe in the hands of Schuyler. Also, I refuse to give the ending away, but here I also found myself trying to grasp onto the novel. What had preceded the ending was so marvelous, I thought the end odd. It was definitely an answer to all of the questions raised earlier and it made sense. Yet, I felt pulled out of the story. It did not leave me hanging, it did not leave me wanting more, it just left me wanting something else. Regardless, though, I enthusiastically recommend The Translator. It won’t take long to read and it will be a pleasure for both translators and lovers of literature alike. I particularly liked Hanne’s observations of translation,

She has found no other way to be in the world, only the movement of words from one language to another. She knows most people don’t even think about translation, and when they bother to, they don’t assign it much value: a mechanical process, substituting one word for another, a monkey could do it; worse, a computer. She’s tired of defending it, of explaining that even though she’s tethered to an already-assembled drama, her role is akin to being an author.

Distractions : Vintage Librarians

Even while running around all week trying to tie up loose ends in anticipation of my super sunny vacation, I paused to go through the Flavorwire 25 Vintage Photos of Librarians Being Awesome.

Favorite? #2 for obvious reasons. Enjoy!

2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

14 January is the opening day for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. An English-language, international contest, the categories include general Fiction, Romance, Mystery/Thriller, Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror and Young Adult Fiction. The grand prize winner receives a $50,000 advance plus publication and four first prize winners will receive an advance of $15,000 plus publication. All of the details and rules are up, including the pitches from past years’ winners. So let’s get cracking. You can find more details and rules on their website

Distractions : The Cheever Letters

I once had a roommate whose mother didn’t find Seinfeld funny at all. Needless to say–and for various other reasons–I did not like this roommate’s mother. She couldn’t even explain herself! (she also didn’t like New York City and thought Los Angeles was the greatest place). What a loon!

I love the references to New York City-specific things but also, they have great literary references every now and then. Enjoy.

Distractions : Philip K. Dick, Gogol, and the thrifty library

As a poor writer of no importance, I must keep my spending in check. Of course, I wish I would have an endless supply of cash money and one of those fancy home libraries that  really only exists in the movies. So, to help with my compulsion, I check out the cheap books that the sellers on the New York streets offer, utilize the public library, and hit up those wonderful organizations like my favorite Project Gutenberg, et al.

I have been stuck in ¡total distraction! perusing the many free titles on Amazon’s Kindle store. When I think of free books, I generally think of books in the public domain–classics, mythology, etc. Yet, yesterday, I came across a ton of stories by Philip K. Dick that are being offered for free. If you’re like me, the summer is time for some plotty fun. Perfect!

Also, not for free but for $0.99, are The Works of Nikolai Gogol, which includes the short story, “Viy,” which was made in to a fantastic film in Russia in 1967.

What’s the Opposite of Writer’s Block?

I’m not sure if there is a term for the opposite of writer’s block but I think I have it. Let me explain.

For the past two years, I have been working on the same novel. A writerly friend once told me that an author said to her that it takes five years to get through your first 50 pages. I was skeptical but now that I’m two years in and still working on the first 50, I understand what he means.

What I planned was a slim, little absurdist novel that involves a quirky narrator set in present day NYC. The only thing that remains is the quirky (somewhat off-kilter) narrator and the main plot thread that ran through the narrative. The characters’ names remain the same and their relationships to the narrator are still intact but everything has become more complicated!

There is much more research than I originally envisioned, I have so many redrafts of those first 50 that I need to consolidate into one file folder and the characters have become much more fleshed out. Since I first started, I knew the plot from beginning to end, and many of the key points remain the same but everything is even more specific–events have changed and people have switched sides…

The reason why I say I’m experiencing the opposite of writer’s block is because I’m not having a shortage of ideas to write about or no project to work on. I have countless notebooks filled with my scribbles; my character profiles alone keep changing moment-to-moment.

How do people accomplish National Novel Writing Month?!? I know that the novels written in November are just first drafts and need to be worked on further but come on. I can see why professional authors employ research assistants. A corner in my bedroom is just library books.

Scrivener is helping me organize myself and not lose track of where I am in the manuscript (besides a ton of historical research, there are no chapters to divide the narrative). I was speaking with an aspiring playwright and she told me she uses a program for her “daily targets.” The name of the program escapes me but I also think this is a good idea.

Perhaps, in February, when I have nothing important due (I say that now), I will dedicate the month to my own version of NaNoWriMo. I just need a clever acronym or whatnot.

Distractions : Pseudonymous Authors

In celebration of everyone’s 30 Day Winter Break Reading Marathon, today’s post will be a Distraction. I submitted my last book review of 2011 to my editor this morning and she said to just let her know in January when I would like my next. Phew! It’s nice to know one thing is knocked off the list. All that is remaining is for me to type up some of my recently translated pages and send them off to the German writer.

So back to the celebration. Maybe in between pages 72 and 73 of your current read, take a break and try out Pseudonymous Authors. Enjoy!

And We’re Off!

The Frick Collection

I started my 30 Day Winter Break Reading Marathon a day early! My first contender is Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White. I’ve owned this novel for several years, schlepping it with me from place to place; I even read about 100 pages last December before I got sidetracked. But this is it. It has begun. I was on the fence because I still have one more book review to write (I will be requesting some time off from Publishers Weekly and not accepting other offers for articles so my brain doesn’t feel as schizoid as it has lately. I’ll try to knock that bad boy review out tomorrow morning and then I’ll be in the clear).

Today was a perfect day to start this monster sized novel. NYC was a bit on the chilly side: 26 degrees. It was a hat-and-turtleneck day. The novel was just calling out to me to take it from the mantle. So I succumbed 24 hours ahead of schedule. I’m pumped for what many people refer to as the first “English Sensation novel.” I’m also excited to be taking a break from my freelance writing and translating for the next 30 days or so to concentrate on my own fiction and finally some books for fun (by the way, thanks for all of the suggestions; I’ll be referencing back when I’m finished with this book).

If you’re also up to it, The Woman in White is available at a bargain price of $5.95 on Amazon or for free on Project Gutenberg. The book is available in multiple formats at Project Gutenberg: online, ebook, and mobile versions.

Tis the season for a good book! So pump the radiator up and drink a glass of pinot noir and maybe put on some classical music… p.s. I’m so excited for fun reading that I even changed my quote on the top of the sidebar.

 book covers courtesy of www.wilkies-collins.info

The Elusive Ghostwriter

About four months ago, I was chatting with the young woman cutting my hair and I asked her how she got into the hair business. She told me she was tired of her previous job working at a firm that matched their clients with in-house ghostwriters. We all know the dirty secret of political memoirs or when Nicole Richie chooses to pen a novelghostwriters. According to Merriam Webster, the term was first used in 1927 but history tells us that the concept pre-dates that.

\ˈgōs(t)-ˌrīt\

intransitive verb: to write for and in the name of another

transitive verb: to write (as a speech) for another who is the presumed author

I found our chat to be super fascinating. She didn’t name names about specific clients, but she shared anecdotes of tumultuous relationships between the pseudo-famous clients and the poor writers that had been assigned to them. The whole business seemed sleazy and I could see how she chose to leave the biz and try her hand at hair.

Recently, I had been thinking of ghostwriters because a fellow writerly friend had been assigned to review Newt Gingrich’s Gettysburg: A Novel of the Civil War. He was understandably skeptical but ultimately enjoyed it. Newt shares the front cover with his co-writer, William R. Forstchen. I’m definitely not the first person in line to defend Gingrich, but I feel that his method was much more reasonable than slapping just his own name on the final product. At least, there is an image of co-authorship and a team effort.

The way the woman at the salon described her former profession was in my shadier terms–one person taking ownership of another’s work by producing a non-disclosure agreement and a modest payola. This whole business conjures up images of unscrupulous dealings and unethical behavior (maybe a bit of a stretch but still).

But in the grander scheme of things, do we ever criticize a politician for using a speech writer or do we poo-poo an unfunny and stilted Oscar presenter for their pre-scripted lines? The answer is no, but I can’t seem to shake this feeling of intellectual inauthenticity.