"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Robert is back!

It was almost a year ago when I met Robert Stermscheg, a lovely man whose last name I live in eternal fear of misspelling. When we last met Robert in a guest post, he had completed and released his father's memoir, POW#74324, and treated us to a sample of the prologue. It was truly an exciting start to his tale of surviving in a German POW camp, only to be released after the war to a life in politically corrupt Yugoslavia.

At the time, Robert had also translated two of Karl May's books from German into English. A year later, he's finally completed and published his third translation, Buried Secrets. He asked if he could be my guest again and I was more than happy to oblige. Nice guy that he is, he even provided a list of questions and answers, as my little brain has been ping-ponging around my skull for the past few weeks and shows no signs of settling on any one task for longer than a millisecond.

So, without further ado (what does that even mean?) let's learn about what Robert's been up to:

Q. I believe this is your third translation project. Can you briefly describe the process of not only translating a work into English, but taking a story written in the last century and bringing it to today's reader?

Robert: Process is aptly put. First, you need to have an understanding of the time period. In my case, 19th century France and Germany. Second, there are elements of romance in the story, which the original author handled discreetly and with subtlety. As a translator, I have to be aware of that and not gloss over it. Karl May also employed idioms from his time (1880s), that not only stemmed from German tradition and folklore but also presented a challenge in conveying them into modern English. That was perhaps the most difficult. I chose to retain the idioms, as they added ‘colour’, and provided explanation notes at the end. Also, the German language is structured quite differently than English. Karl May often employed long paragraphs and run-on sentences that had to be broken up and reworked into a more coherent format. That was certainly time consuming.

Q. Why did you choose Karl May as an author to translate and share with North American readers?

Robert: Easy. I “grew up” with Karl May. As a boy, I was naturally drawn to his thrilling stories, many taking place in North America, often in the “Wild West”. They depicted the Indian tribes as noble savages, clearly the victims of the “White Man’s” insatiable thirst for land. As much as I enjoyed stories about cowboys and Indians, I also delved into his other works, some of which took place in the old Ottoman Empire, dealing with conflict between the French and the Germans.

Although I also read Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I seemed to gravitate back to Karl May. I suppose I was attracted to his keen sense of adventure, portrayal of humanity, and his rendering of history through his novels.

Q. Now that you've translated several Karl May books, will you continue with this author or are there other authors that you want to translate?

Robert: Actually, I’ve completed three translations, which have been published thus far. The fourth book, POW #74324, is my father’s memoir and deals with his experiences during WWII and then post-war Yugoslavia. I’ve committed myself to doing the Hussar’s Love series, spanning five novels. I may do more in the future, but I also want to expand my writing in other areas, exploring other interests, such as historical fiction from the WWII era.

Q. No doubt you've grown a great deal as a writer through this process. Can you share what you've learned, and has this helped you to develop your style and honed your craft?

Robert: That is an understatement. If truth be known, I can honestly say that I had no idea what I was getting into (laughs). In my former career as a police officer, I naturally wrote a great deal. However, much of it was very structured and concise, leaving little room to express my thoughts outside the confines of the police report. The funniest thing about writing, and writing to be published is that everything takes on a new importance. All of a sudden you’re forced to pay attention to previously overlooked things like spelling, syntax, and of course grammar. In short, I took the whole thing more seriously and endeavoured to put out the best effort that I could. Secondly, I started paying a lot more attention to other writers: how they developed their storyline, pacing, character development, even the use of dialogue. I wasn’t shy about getting advice from other writers, and willingly applied many of their suggestions. Becoming a writer is the start to the learning process.

Q. Has this experience influenced you to venture away from translation and into writing a novel of a different genre?

Robert: My initial drive was to translate this series so that family and friends could appreciate the works of Karl May. But as so often happens, (perhaps it was just me) we get inundated with all sorts of ideas. I’ve actually had people come up to me at book signings and comment on their bizarre ideas, and one lady in particular told me I needed to, no, I had to, write a certain story (laughs). During the process, I did however have inspiration to write my father’s memoir. He was a WWII veteran, and this was quite the departure from writing fiction. So, yes, it did inspire me to venture into other areas, including writing short stories for magazine publication. I’m currently working on a WWII thriller, entitled Stealth. It deals with an experimental jet fighter the Nazis were developing. The novel delves into human conflict, pitting a few ‘good’ Germans against Hermann Goering’s war machine. It promises intrigue, adventure, even a little romance.

Q. I noticed that you’ve self-published the books in this series. Please share the best and the most challenging parts of that process?

Robert: As with many new authors, the challenge is to find a publisher who will take on your project and then walk you through the maze of the publishing industry. What I quickly learned was that few are willing to take on new authors, and fewer still if their initial work exceeds 100,000 words. My first novel (translation) had just over 150,000 words. Further, what complicated my entry into the world of publishing is that my first work was a translation. In my search, I ran into all sorts of vanity presses, that for a high price promised all sorts of things, including marketing, but delivered little in the way of real promotion, and certainly virtually nothing in terms of distribution. For any author, particularly in the early stages, you need to be available for book signings, and that means distribution into book stores. It was a real learning process. My advice to current writers and aspiring authors, is to seek out established authors and ask lots of questions. Also, keep reading (expand your repertoire), and of course continue writing. And perhaps most important, be prepared for the long haul and the many rejection letters (emails) that are sure to come.

One of my first highlights was to see my first novel prominently displayed in a local bookstore. The thrill of signing those fist few copies was a wonderful experience and made all the work worthwhile.

* * * * *

Thanks, Robert, for sharing your enthusiasm and passion for your work. People who write translations have my utmost respect, not to mention a little awe. It's not just that I'm amazed at anyone who can translate from one language to another and maintain the voice of the original author - I'm agog that anyone is brave enough to tackle it.

Robert has offered up a free e-book copy of his latest, Buried Secrets, to one of my blog followers. He didn't give me any directions on how to choose someone, so I made up my own rules, which are as follows: Leave a comment, either here or on my Facebook page, about why you are the best person to receive this e-book.

The contest will be open for a week, mostly because I will be at a horse show on Thursday and Friday, then a jazz festival on Saturday, so I will not be able to read and respond until next Tuesday.

In case you're waffling about whether you might want a free e-book, here's the jacket cover for Buried Secrets:

In the spring of 1870, France is preparing for an imminent war with Germany. A French cavalry officer, Bernard de Lemarch, has been given the delicate task of approaching a high-ranking Prussian officer, hoping to glean vital military information. But what he doesn’t know is that the Prussian High Command has been forewarned…. and is expecting him. Posing as a painter, the disguised officer meets up with a bungling landscape painter forming an unlikely friendship, one that unwittingly propels both men headfirst into unexpected danger, while resurrecting a secret from Lemarch’s own past.

Richard von Löwenklau, aided by Franz Schneeberg, finds himself in the heart of enemy territory, tasked with trying to stop the build-up of arms and uncover the establishment of a new para-military presence, the franctireurs... headed up by none other than the irrepressible Captain Albin Richemonte. His task is further complicated by the arrival of a new enemy, Colonel Rallion, who’s bent on supporting Richemonte’s war efforts, while hampering Löwenklau’s plans.

Admit it. You know you want it. Come in and tell me why Robert should give it to you.

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