Ooh! That’s Interesting!: Flow

One of my favorite psychologists is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. For one thing, there’s that wonderfully unpronounceable and unspellable Hungarian name. More importantly, though, he pioneered research on the concept of flow.

Flow is the wonderful experience of becoming completely immersed in whatever you are doing. So much so that you temporarily lose your sense of self, and the rest of the world drops away. While you’re in flow, you essentially become what you are doing.

In order to achieve flow, you have to do something that you perceive to be challenging and that you believe you are skilled at. It might be achieved while playing a sport, repairing a car, painting a mural… or writing a story.

I don’t always achieve flow when I write. Some days I have to barehandedly wrest every goddamned word from bedrock and lay it bleeding on the page. Some days hitting my minimum word count goal–2000 words–is like wrestling alligators in a pit full of porcupines, and I’m certain that every word I do write sucks. But then there are the days when the words just, well, flow. The story enfolds gorgeously in my head, the pieces of the plot fall together, the characters shout their dialogue gladly, the metaphors leap right into my lap. On those days, I clack out paragraphs as fast as my poor typing skills permit. I write five, six thousand words. My record is over 7000 words in one evening.

I think reading a really good book can put us in the same mindset. When I was maybe 12, I sat on the little patio outside our house, deep in a book. I can’t remember what I was reading and I don’t know how long I sat there. But I do know that when I finished the book and rejoined the world, I realized that a spider had anchored her complex web between me and the edges of the chair. That’s how still and unaware I’d been.

What activities give you the flow experience?

Ooh! That’s Interesting! When local flavor doesn’t work.

Like many authors, when I write I try to give an authentic flavor of the location in which my story is set. For readers who are familiar with those locations, this makes a story feel more real. And for those who are unfamiliar, the details help them get a good sense of place.

Sometimes I can give a sense of place with the specific minutiae of daily life. Examples of this include the bewildering (to foreigners) way in which groceries are bagged in a Venetian grocery store (Venetian Masks), the frustration of getting stuck when the bridge is up and you’re in a hurry (Good Bones), or the rituals of drinking coffee in 15th century Bosnia (The Pillar) or modern Croatia (Dei Ex Machina–due out in October).

Another way to give authentic flavor is by using local terminology. For instance, Southern Californians use definite articles when referring to freeways–“There was a huge traffic jam on the 5 today.”–while those of us to the north never do. Local phrasing is great, except sometimes those terms may bewilder or confuse readers. That’s when I have to step back–often at my editors’ suggestion–and reevaluate whether to use a particular phrasing. Here are a couple examples I can recall:

–In Violet’s Present, a character originally stated that a relative had moved “out state.” Eastern Nebraskans use this phrase to mean Western Nebraska (which, incidentally, irritates some Western Nebraskans). But to everyone else it probably looks like a typo for “out of state,” so we changed it.

–In Astounding! (to be released next month), it’s raining hard in one scene and a character has bark dust on him. One of my editors asked how there could be dust in the rain. Ah. To folks in the Pacific Northwest, bark dust means large chunks of bark used in landscaping. Why it’s called “dust” I’ll never know. Anyway, we changed it to bark mulch, which everyone can understand.

–In Corruption (to be released June 12), a character is in Kansas, standing among fields of milo. One of my editors pointed out that Milo is a brand of drink powder in Australia. Australian readers might imagine my guy surrounded by acres of green cans and packets. Not quite the picture I was aiming for. So we substituted another name for the crop, sorghum.

What are some of the terms used where you live that would get outsiders scratching their heads?

 

Ooh! That’s Interesting!: Saura on Spanish translations

Today is the third installment in my series of interviews about Dreamspinner Press’s translations program. I am delighted to present to you Saura, who coordinates the Spanish translations.

Si quieren leer la entrevista en español, pueden hacerlo aquí.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Hello! My name is Saura Underscore and I’m the Spanish Language coordinator and Social Manager for Dreamspinner Press Spanish. I was born in Madrid, Spain, and I’m old enough to have lived under a dictatorial regime for a very little bit. I am one of those who grew up with a new democracy and liberties, but that still had to fight for our rights. I’m married with the love of my life, who is very supportive with every madness I come up with, and I have a small hyperactive kid.

I have a degree in English that allows me to teach in primary schools, and they were crazy enough to give me a bilingual certificate that allows me to give classes only in English. I’m actually pretending to study to get a permanent position at a public school, and right now I’m teaching English to 5 years old children.

What are some of the things you have to worry about when doing translations?

The most important thing to worry about is that all our translations must follow the RAE rules of writing, grammar and spelling. RAE is an official institution that is dedicated to create Spanish dictionaries and Spanish grammar rules that everybody must follow. During these two and a half years, for example, our first books have a tilde (the small dash on top of some vocals) in some words that RAE decided they don’t have it anymore, and we have to make sure they don’t have it now!

After that, we need to make sure that our books use standard (neutral) Spanish. We sell both in Spain and everywhere in Latin America. Even though the foundation of the language is the same and we all follow RAE rules, the kind of Spanish we speak is very different. The way to use “you” in plural comes to mind right now  (I know Ariel already spoke of the fact that we have to ways of saying “you”, one formal that we use for meetings, when we don’t know the person or they are old, and one informal for friends and family). In most of Spain they use the informal “you” form in plural. Everywhere in Latin America and the Canary Islands, for example, they use the formal “you” form in plural. You can tell if the translator is from Spain or not just for this!

And then you have the wording. There are words that you can say in Spain that means another thing completely in Mexico, for example!! “Coger” (take, catch, pick up, ride) is one of them. In Mexican, for example, “coger” means “to have sex”. You must be careful not to “coger” the bus!!

Finally you have the slang, the accents, the phrasing and the titles from the English versions. Just like Ariel explained some of them are impossible to translate to Spanish (how can we convey the Southern accent so that it makes sense for a Bolivian reader?). Some cultural jokes don’t make sense for us either and they have to be explained in a foot note or translated to one that makes sense to all of us in a lot of different countries. About the titles: sometimes we needed to speak with authors to change them completely. They are especially difficult when they play with words that have a lot of different meanings in Spanish, but not the same word to be able to translate it. Dex in Blue for example. There were four possible different translations for it, and I can tell you none could cover the whole meaning of the title!

What are some of the exciting things about translating?

For me, the most exciting is to read a book I really liked in English, read it in my own language and see that the translator and proofreader made it justice: that they managed to give a voice in Spanish to the author and the characters, and that it’s the correct one.

Also the possibility of chatting with authors and helping them to speak with their Spanish readers, speak in Spanish. That’s fantastic.

How do you find translators?

 

We used the word of mouth at first. Those who applied were made to translate a complete small story that used difficult phrasing and slang, as well as a very particular and located festivity that doesn’t exist in Europe or Latin America, to check just how well they could transform those into readable, with sense Spanish. Unfortunately for us there are no positions open right now.

Are there any special challenges with the Spanish language?

I think we would love to sound “local”. We would love our readers not to know if the translator is from Chile or Venezuela or Spain, and to sound as the reader would love us to sound. That’s why we use the international expressions. But I fear that it’s impossible.

What genres are popular for Spanish readers?

It depends on where you want to focus your attention. Contemporary novel is probably our best seller, along with Changeling and Vampire histories in most of the Latin American countries. There’s a lot of interest in Wresters there too. In Spain the readers go more for both Contemporary and Historical. I think we all agree on the interest for Crime Fiction thrillers and mysteries.

The trickiest challenge we have as a project is to meet everybody’s tastes. We are probably the hugest potential market, but our tastes differ from one country to the next, and even from one city to the next! Making everybody happy is extremely difficult, even though we try.

What can you tell us about the Spanish market for m/m romance?

It’s a difficult market, especially considering it all as a whole thing, instead of independent markets divided in countries.

I think the worst part comes for promotion: even though in Spain, for example, gay marriage is legal and we are supposed to be open minded enough to be able to say we are reading m/m romance, it’s not true. Gay editorials, even those that have been on the market for long like our partner “Complices”, have a lot of trouble going to book fairs and find a clear spot to sell. Big book stores don’t sell gay romance, or have it hidden in dark shelves or unable to find in their websites. Don’t get me started with countries where being gay is still a punishable crime!

In Latin America we found trouble with payments specially. Not all countries allow their people to have a credit card easily and having access to a paypal-account, something that apparently is so easy, is not when your money is being controlled. The new tax that has set in Europe is not helping us either.

However, the Spanish is a market that devours books and love to comment on them and to their writers. When doing a chat with an author, you can feel that love!

Spanish is so widely spoken! What countries do most of Dreamspinner’s Spanish readers live in?

According to our numbers Perú is the country were DSP has more fans. Then Venezuela is the second country and Spain comes on the third place. We even have US citizens buying us in Spanish!

One last question: What places are on your travel bucket list?

We are planning to make a family trip to France this summer, but everything is on the air for now. I’d love to visit Italy and Greece, which are the only two countries in Europe I haven’t visited yet. And we have a lot of friends in Germany, UK and USA, and even we’ve been there already, a visit is always something we are ready to do plan.

 

Ooh! That’s Interesting!: Emanuela Piasentini on Italian translations

 

078As you might know, my book Brute came out in Italian this month. Although I unfortunately don’t speak Italian, this translation is especially exciting for me because my grandfather immigrated from Italy. So this week I have another special treat for you. When I was in Orlando last month, the lovely Emanuela Piasentini agreed to sit down with me for an interview. Emanuela is the Italian translations coordinator for Dreamspinner Press.

 

Me: Tell us a little about yourself.

Emanuela: I’m a tax accountant. By night I check translations and coordinate social media and translations in Italian. I studied languages in school. I was one of the first people to buy a Kindle in Italy. I was recommended Bareback by Chris Martin. From that moment on I was sold. I’m single and I don’t need a guy to save me. I couldn’t read het romance any more.

What are some of the things you have to worry about when doing translations?

Emanuela:Translating the title literally doesn’t always translate the real meaning. Specific cultural references like Isle of Wight sounding like a earworm song or Lord Maudit [from Brute] sounding like a pop song. Or the title might be impossible for Italians to pronounce. Dealing with gendered nouns is also difficult. Many translators read the book first to find consistent concepts so words can be used the same. Translating words with multiple meanings can be hard, too. Like “fruitcake”, which can mean both crazy and gay in English. We need to find an approximation rather than a literal translation.

What are some of the exciting things about translating?

We are changing the language in some ways, such as with the concept of being in the closet. We drop hints to get people used to the idea.

When characters have regional accents, we use bad grammar to signify that.

How do you find translators?

We do tests. They contact Dreamspinner first. We have some who are better with different genres. We also need to find a proofreader who works well with that translator.

Are there any special challenges with the Italian language?

Italian abhors repetition, so we have to avoid “he said” over again.

Words for sex in Italian are either flowery or very dirty. You don’t want to be too fancy. We use more direct words in dialogue, more neutral words in description.

What genres are popular for Italian readers?

Contemporary is popular and westerns. Westerns work better in gay romance than in het. Scifi isn’t popular and neither is steampunk. They’re difficult to grasp. And they’re hard to translate into Italian.

What can you tell us about the Italian market for m/m romance?

The readership is very passionate about m/m. We publish one book per week and the market is growing by word of mouth. The first impact is often negative because it’s women writing m/m or because it’s gay. People ask are they romantic or is it just sex. There are a lot of prejudices and preconceptions to overcome. There’s still a cultural stigma for gay. But Dreamspinner Italian’s Facebook page has gotten 1200 likes in 2 years.

Grazie, Emanuela, for taking the time to chat with me!

 

 

Ooh! That’s Interesting!: Dreamspinner Translations

I have a treat for you today! Ariel Tachna is Dreamspinner Press’s translations coordinator–and a lovely person besides. Ariel has kindly agreed to answer some questions about Dreamspinner’s translation process.

  1. Tell us about yourself, please.
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That’s Ariel in the middle, with the delightful Anne Reagan on the left and the wonderful Venona Keyes on her right.

I’m Ariel Tachna. I’m the translations coordinator at Dreamspinner Press. I live outside Houston, Texas, with my amazingly supportive husband, our two kids, and their two dogs. Yes, their dogs. We told the kids they could have a dog if they’d be completely responsible for them. In eighteen months, the only thing I’ve done is take the dogs for walks sometimes, since they outweigh my kids still. I have a degree in French and English from Wake Forest University and a Masters in French Education from University of Houston, so when Dreamspinner decided to start in-house translations, I was the logical choice.

  1. What sparked your interest in translations?

I’ve always loved languages. I started studying French when I was twelve, and it took me about three weeks to decide that whatever else I did in my life, I would speak this language. That passion only grew through high school. I was blessed to have three incredible French teachers over my six years of language study in middle school and high school, so the transition to college French and eventually to living in France was an easy one for me. I had two opportunities to live and work in Dijon, France, once as a student and the second as an English teacher in a French high school. When I was there that second time, I made it my stated goal to never again hear “You speak French so well for an American.” I always said thank you if someone made that comment because they always intended it as a compliment, but for me, it was proof that I had made a mistake that gave me away. Unless of course they knew me or I had just been introduced to them by my French host family as their American daughter. Then I just grinned from ear to ear.

  1. Tell us a little about the process of translating a book.

The translation process is both simple and incredibly complex. From the simple side, we send the English version to a translator. Then we send the translated version to an editor. Then we do a final proofread on it and publish it. The complicated part comes in when the English version isn’t simple. As native speakers of a language, we play with our words, our phrasing, our use of structure and colloquialisms, accents and even deliberate errors, to create effect. Our translators are tasked with finding ways to recreate those effects in a language that doesn’t have the same structures, phrasings, colloquialisms, or other devices. An alliteration in English won’t be one in French. A rhyme in English won’t work in Spanish. And when you start getting into slang? Don’t even get me started! That means that often we do more than one edit on a book. Sometimes we have a book get to the final proofread only to realize some portion of it still needs more work than that stage entails. Sometimes we send a project out only to find that the project and the translator are a poor match and we have to start over. Still, it’s exciting to see it take shape beneath the loving hands of my dedicated team.

  1. What languages would you love to see DSP titles translated into?

This is going to sound silly, but I’d love to see our books translated into Russian because that would mean that the political climate has changed enough to allow that.

  1. How do you find translators?

Very carefully.

To be a little more detailed, it started completely as word of mouth. We had contacts in Spain, France, Italy, and Germany, native speakers who we trusted to help us get the word out and also to help us evaluate potential translators. All of our applicants complete a sample translation that is then thoroughly vetted by our language coordinators before we offer them a translation project.

And you didn’t ask, but just in case your readers are wondering, we are currently hiring translators and proofreaders in German and we have one open translations spot in French.

  1. In one of my books, a character’s name means “cursed” in French, so we had to change his name a bit for the French translation. How often do little stumbles like this occur?

We’ve had it happen a few times with names. We’ve had it happen more times with titles. Maybe the title is a play on words (Hair of the Dog comes to mind) or maybe it’s a structure that works in English but is incredibly awkward (or completely unfeasible) in translation (The Isle of… Where? is an example of that). Fortunately our authors have been fantastic about working with us to make sure we do justice to their ideas while still reaching the market we’re aiming at.

  1. What are some of the special considerations when working on translations?

The biggest consideration for all of our translations that simply doesn’t exist in English is that moment when formal becomes informal. All of the languages we translate into have two ways of saying you, one for close friends and family and one for acquaintances and business settings. In a romance, unless it’s friends to lovers, the moment when that transition happens is telling. And if you add something like BDSM into the mix, where the relationship is artificially formalized at times, that movement back and forth between the different forms is a decision the translator must make. Sometimes it’s a really obvious spot. Other times, not so much. When it’s fairly clear (or it’s a contemporary between younger people who aren’t as strict about the “old” rules), we leave it up to the translator, but for a historical or for a book when one or both characters has a reason to adhere to the rules of formality, we will consult with the author to find the spot that best fits the author’s vision of the relationship arc.

  1. What can you tell us about the market for m/m romance in non-English speaking countries?

It’s a booming market! We have seen spectacular growth in the French, Italian, and German markets. The Italian market most closely mirrors the English-speaking market, with contemporary romances being the most popular. Interestingly, the French and German markets are far more genre-driven. Our current all-time bestseller in French is a historical. And anyone who knows anything about the gay romance market in English will tell you that historicals are a hard sell here.

  1. What are you (personally) working on right now?

I’m editing the fight Lang Downs book, and then I’m moving back and forth between two works in progress. One is a contemporary May-December romance set in Montréal. The other is a mystery set deep in the Louisiana bayou. Mostly what I’ve been working on personally, though, is getting ready for the launch of our French paperback line that will debut at the Salon du livre next week.

  1. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I need to give a special thank-you to my four language coordinators. Without Jade, Saura, Petra, and Emanuela, we wouldn’t have a viable translations program. They are my rock, my right hand, and the heart of everything we do in the translations program. If you interact with the social media in the languages at all, you’ve talked with them, and you know how amazing they are. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for? They’d love to hear from you!

 

Ooh! That’s Interesting!: Surprises and a 35% off sale

I’ve known my husband since I was 15 (which is terrifying, considering that my older daughter is now 15). He has completely surprised me only four times:

1. The summer after my freshman year in college he took me out to dinner at an Italian place. We rode on his motorcycle. And over the minestrone, he got down on his knee, pulled out a ring, and asked me to marry him. We didn’t actually get married until I graduated, but it stuck. This June we’ll celebrate our 27th anniversary.

mick12. Big time gap. Biiiiiiig time gap. We were planning to get a new car for me. I had everything picked out–I wanted a red Mini Cooper with a black top and black bonnet stripes. He negotiated endlessly with various dealerships. Then one Saturday he announced we were driving to Roseville–100 miles away–to place our order. We got there and he sat me down with the salesmen to get the details. meanwhile, hubby volunteered to entertain the kids by wandering the lot. A while later, he returned and said, “Honey, there’s one on the lot pretty close to what you want. Come see.” So he drags me out there… and there’s my car. Which he’d decorated with balloons and with photos of Spike. I still have that car. Best car ever.

3. We were heading down to Palm Desert to spend Thanksgiving with the in-laws. First night there, hubby hands me an envelope. Inside? Tickets for a 4 night cruise leaving the next day out of Long Beach. We went to Catalina–I’d always wanted to go–and Baja. Kids stayed with the grandparents. I finished writing my second novel, Flux, while on the ship. Which was perfect because that book begins and ends on a ship.

4. We were all driving to Vegas for a long weekend. I’m not a huge fan, but fine. Only, when we got to Barstow, hubby veered right instead of left, and he told me to look under my seat. There was a manila envelope with directions to…

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Another place I’d always wanted to go.

And that surprise was especially cool because it gave me a plot bunny, and that plot bunny turned into this book:

Motel.PoolFS

Which you can buy today only for 35% off!

It’s a ghost story with–I promise you–a happy ending.

Ooh! That’s Interesting! Author perks

There are some huge upsides to being an author. Sometimes people send me fan mail or write nice reviews telling me they enjoyed my stories–or were moved by them. And I’ll tell you, nothing improves a crappy day like reading those emails or reviews! Plus I get amazing cover art. And another perk is getting to hang out with–and fangirl over–other authors.

Last weekend, Dreamspinner Press had its annual author workshop. Look at some of the wonderful people I got to talk to!

066 You can read the nametags on this one.

067 Yes, I may be holding a pomegranate martini. And yes, I’m shorter than everyone.

069 Grace Duncan and Melanie Hansen.

070 B. Snow and Skylar Cates.

071 K.C. Burn, Tara Lain, and Eli Easton. Sorry for the lighting. The room was very orange.

080 Amy Lane and I wore the same scarf in different colors.

081 Dinner in a fake castle! With Lex Chase, Bru Baker, Michael Rupured, Charlie Cochet, and P.D. Singer.

093 And there was Disneyworld after, of course.

Ooh! That’s interesting!: Shoot

So if you want to know the truth, I’m way more of an ACLU type than an NRA type. Until last weekend, my entire experience with guns had been learning about some of the forensics aspects of them (for the Evil Day Job) or, once when I was in college, getting robbed at gunpoint.

But soon one of my characters is going to have to shoot a gun, and it’s hard to describe that accurately if you’ve never tried it yourself. Plus, there was a Groupon coupon. So my husband and I spent an hour at a shooting range.

First we had to drive to downtown Ripon, which reminds me of Disneyland’s Main Street (only with a gun shop and Mexican food).

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At first I chose a 9mm Beretta, but I have really small hands and it was hard to hold. So my husband took the Beretta and I got a Browning instead. Then we shot things.

011Do I look all badass and Dirty Harry-esque? Well, no, because he had a .44 and no lime green ear protectors or plastic safety glasses. Also, I am a five foot tall middle aged woman.

I was a little overwhelmed at first because a gun is a serious tool. But the girl who showed me how to use it was sweet and didn’t make me feel at all stupid for being new to this. I got the hang of it pretty quickly. Turns out shooting a gun isn’t all that hard–which is a good thing or bad, depending on how you look at it.

012I was also pleased to discover that my aim wasn’t awful. I nailed this guy. So if we have a zombie apocalypse, I’m set.

Shooting turned out to be a lot of fun. I’d do it again. Maybe next time I’ll try a different caliber weapon. And if you read about someone using a 9mm Browning in one of my stories, you will know that the description is accurate.

Ooh! That’s Interesting!: Houseboat

I’ve always been a little fascinated by houseboats. If you’ve read Bone Dry, you know that a houseboat features in that book. But until last weekend, I’d never had a chance to sleep in one.

My friends and I booked the Yellow Ferry for a girlfriends getaway. Now berthed in beautiful Suasalito, it’s the oldest surviving ferry on the west coast. Back in the 1880s, it made its home in Puget Sound. You can read all about it here.

So first off, this is the sunset view:082 I took that pic with my iPhone and didn’t play with it at all–that’s exactly what it looked like. Reminds me of one of those hand-colored photos.

And this was my view when I woke up: 095 A paddlewheel! You can open the window to touch the paddle, which is extremely cool.

The inside of the ferry was almost as amazing as the outside. I loved the big living room. I wish I could live there all the time and write there. 122

We had nice neighbors: a sea lion and a lot of birds. I especially liked this pelican, who was pals with the cormorants (those are ducks on the far left).

106 143

We couldn’t, alas, go on the roof:

110

But we were all vastly entertained by this toilet.  I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a toilet quite so much, in fact. 🙂

092

And now I want to run away from home and live on the ferry forever.

 

 

Ooh! That’s Interesting!: Tattoos

There’s something fascinating about tattoos, isn’t there? I guess it’s the concept of using the body as canvas, of applying art permanently to skin. The fact that someone chooses to get a tat says something about that person–although the specific message changes with time and culture–and of course the chosen design also gives insight into a person’s history and psyche.

I don’t know how long ago humans invented tattooing, but I’d guess it was thousands of years ago. We like to mark walls and we like to mark ourselves–symbols of permanency in an impermanent world.

I think it’s interesting how the perception of tattoos has changed in the US in recent years. Used to be, sailors, criminals, and people of questionable moral character got them. Today, some people still frown on them. I know my local sheriff won’t hire deputies with visible ink. If they have arm tats, he makes them wear long sleeves even if it’s over 100F out.

But the fact is, lots of folks have tattoos nowadays. Including middle-aged university professors who also write m/m romance. I have three:

tat3 tat1 tat2The first one is because I have degrees in law and psychology (see the Greek psi?) and because I’m an academic. It’s a pretty nerdy tattoo. The second one is because I love travel–and also to remind myself I don’t need to carry the world on my shoulders. The third features the first 3 words from my first novel, Stasis. I might get a fourth tattoo someday, if I can decide on a design.

I find tattoos sexy, especially men with sleeve tats. Like Cleve from Venetian Masks:

venetianmasks_final011

 

Notice how one of Cleve’s designs includes wings? When the artist, Shobanu Appavu, made that amazing cover, I don’t think she knew I have similar wings on my arm.

What are your thoughts on tattoos? Do you have any? Are there any you hate? Do you share my slight fetish for sleeves?