Not Translating

3 July 2002

I was (sit down, this will shock you) working on the Not The Moose Book yesterday, and I became aware of a translation problem again. In some passages, some long passages, my characters are speaking nothing but Finnish. Very little Finnish appears in this book, if any, of course -- it's always either translated or noted that something was said that the point-of-view character didn't understand.

Thing is, what do you do with things like "We-ell...."? You know that an American can draw "well" out like that, and it will sound generally all right. But there are some words that don't draw out like that, and I'm not sure there's an equivalent to a "stalling well" in every language. I wouldn't assume so, anyway. However, it's not like I have a Finnish text in front of me and am translating it. I'm giving the reader an English sense of what some Finnish people were saying.

But right now, metaphors are bothering me, not in the narration but in the dialog. If a bustling old American woman would say, "Honey, sit down! You're as white as a sheet!" and a Finnish woman of the same age would say "snow" or "flour" instead, or would omit the "honey" while giving the same feel with intonation...what do I do? Things that would be cliches in Finnish might be fresh in English and give a totally different feel to the exchange. And I don't want it to all scream, "Foreign foreign foreign foreign!" Not the point. Since I am determined not to let myself get bogged down, right now I just write down whatever seems right for the character at the moment, and I'll deal with it all in the editing process.

We watched VH-1's Top 100 Shocking Moments of Rock and Roll. Well, we watched 65 or so of them. Missed the first bits, but they'll be on again (and again and again and again). It's funny -- I think we were too young for this show, because most of the heavy metal stuff wasn't shocking, it was childhood. Of course they bite the heads off things, that's how they are. (And Alice Cooper is so hysterical in interviews. If he had a show, I would watch it. I have no interest in Ozzy Osborne, but Alice Cooper just slays me.) I was telling David about our top ten shocking moments, things like "the day Courtney Love did no drugs" and "Madonna wears sensible shoes and a big ol' sweatshirt," and he called it the shock of the normal. I do like that. The shock of the normal. It's coming, I tell you.

Oh, hey, my cousin Julie is heading the CDC now. That's nice for her. And for the CDC, I would think.

Well, I finally finished The Symbolic Species, and boy was that a relief. Bad book. I kept waiting for him to go somewhere interesting and justify it. There's a difference between speculating and theorizing, and the author did not seem to know the difference at all. It was disjointed and largely unjustified, and it had so much attitude about what it was doing or challenging: "Take that, dominant paradigm! I will tell pointless stories about brain-damaged sea lions, rraahhhhh!"

Whew. So I read Bhagavati, which was on a par with Goa and Bijapur. I kind of wish she'd used anything but Classical mythology to combine with Hindu elements, because it seems like Classical mythology is forced upon other systems as a template all too often. (Repeat after me: Hermes is not Loki. Aphrodite is not Freyja. And nobody, nobody, nobody in Norse myth is Zeus.) But Dalkey didn't actually do anything particularly annoying with it. I just get wary whenever Classical mythology is combined with other mythological systems.

Anyway, now I'm reading John LeCarre's The Looking-Glass War, because it popped up repeatedly when I searched on "Finland fiction." And, you know, there are worse things than reading a novel about British spies in Finland. Except...right now Finland could just as well be the Yukon, because it's Not Here and Cold, and that's about it. The Finland of this book is almost nonexistent. It could be a sound stage in the London suburbs, and I'm about halfway through the book. So...mildly entertaining, but not really my cup of tea, nor what I was looking for.

So I have the Wallflowers, the Barenaked Ladies, and James Taylor on my play list for the morning (having finished up the Violent Femmes album), and it's back to work for me. It's good stuff, though, this work. I'm grooving with it. Last night I was freewriting and ended up doing a conversation from my book in the middle of it, and then back into the rest of the flow of the freewrite. Timprov thinks that means that what I'm really "deep down" thinking about is the book, and I think so, too, and that's probably a good thing. Heh. Probably.

It does mean that I'm going to be semi-useless to my writing group for the next few months, in all likelihood. But they can deal with that for a few months, I think. Everybody has times when they're not writing as many short stories. The thing that bothers me, though, is that we currently have no stories and no meeting date for this month, and we still plan to meet. Hmm. Avi asked everybody to vote, but he has not himself voted, and I'm the only one who's written to the list since then, and that was with an anti-vote (They Might Be Giants concert countdown: two weeks!). So...we'll see. Someone may just have to jump in and be decisive.

The advantage of writing sequentially, I think, is that you have an automatic gauge of how much longer it will take. But I really think I'm on track to have it done by fall. It would be nice to be done by WorldCon. And then I could be a bright-eyed young go-getter with four books instead of three. That would be nice indeed. But not nicer than having a good book. I'm past the point in my life when I need to worry about if I'll leave a book half-finished, not yet to the point where I need to worry about it seriously in the other direction. So the question is getting it done right.

And to that end, off I go.

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