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Category Archives: translation

Fanmail Q&A: Why does it take so long to translate the book?

Greatings Mr. Rothfuss,

My name is Daniella, and I´m a big fan of yours although i´ve only read The name of the wind wich brings me to my question, why does it takes so long that the wise man”s fear is published in spanish?

you see, I´m from México, and my english is not all that well, so, I can´t read it in english, besides, I think a book is more enjoyable in your own native language, anyway, all I want is to be able to read it I hope it comes out soon please Mr. Rothfuss do not forget your Spanish-speaking fans.

Daniella, I’m sorry to say that I don’t know when my book will be out in Mexico.

I know it sounds silly to say, but I don’t know the exact dates my books are published in a lot of countries. The Wise Man’s Fear is being translated into about 30 languages, and I don’t keep track of them all very closely. I only know it’s coming out in Spain on November 3rd because it says so at the end of the trailer I posted up last week.

But I’ll tell you what. I’ll look into it, and I’ll see if I can get an estimated time of publication for book two in all the different countries, then I’ll post it up here in the blog, link it in the FAQ, and update it whenever I get news from some of my publishers.

Sound fair?

In the meantime, Mondadori, my Spanish publisher, has set up a page for the book in… well… Spanish. It could be the information you’re looking for is over there.

As for your second question… well, you’re not the only one who is curious about that.

Pat,

I am one of your many fans in Spain and I am perishing out of waiting for your book. I love the first one! Can you please say when the second does come out in my country?

I would read your English copy but my English is not enough to read your book. Why must the translating be so long?

I know it is a big book. But it is months now. I know, it is not so long. But I am 17, and it seems a long time for me.

Would you please answer me back? Please?

Maria,

Maria and Daniella and dozens of others have e-mailed me, asking this question.

So here we go.

There are several reasons it’s taking a long time to The Wise Man’s Fear.

  • Translating things is really hard.

I’ve talked about this in a previous blog, but it really bears repeating.

So I repeat. Translating things is really hard.

  • The Wise Man’s Fear is very, very long.

Obscenely long. Almost 400,000 words long.

How long is 400,000 words?

Well, if you mashed together the first three Harry Potter books, then threw in The Hunger Games, too. It still would still be less than 400,000 words long.

Yeah. The Wise Man’s Fear is long. Really, really, long.

  • My books are a pain in the ass to translate.

Why? Well….

1. My names.

Names are important things. And real names, names that actually exist in the world, don’t make a lot of literal sense. This is because real names tend to accrete and evolve over time.

I work hard to create real-seeming names for things in my world. Names that give a strong impression without actually saying anything. Names like Mincet lane, and Cricklet, and Downings.

These real-seeming (but in reality made-up) names sound really good in English, but they’re a huge pain to translate.

2. I have an odd turn of phrase.

If you haven’t noticed, I tend to make a lot of anormal word usements.

Take, for example, the very first page of the book when I say, “It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.”

How do you translate that?

It’s the sort of thing that, if taken literally, makes absolutely no sense at all. Flowers, with rare exception, do not make sound. Sounds are not sentient, so they can’t be patient.

Stuff like this is a bitch to translate.

3. I rely heavily on implication in my writing.

Or, to put it another way, I try to imply more than I explain.

I do this intentionally, as I believe it makes for a more engaging reading experience. While he’s narrating, Kvothe rarely says something clear-cut and expository like, “Wilem obviously thought I was a fucking idiot.”

Instead, Kvothe describes what Wilem says and does. Maybe Wil makes a sarcastic comment. Maybe he looks disproving. Maybe he raises an eyebrow.

If I do my job right, it should be abundantly clear what Wil thinks of Kvothe. Best of all, it has more of an effect on the reader because you see it and know it for yourself, rather than having it poked down your throat by a narrator.

But it’s a delicate thing. And it’s hard to translate.

Because  I’m aware that my book is a pain in the ass. I try to make myself available to the translators. Since I have over thirty, I’ve set up a forum where they can all come, ask questions, and read the answers that I’ve posted up in the past.

Last night, for example, I answered about 20 new question on there. So far, there’s about 300 question-and-answer threads. The FAQ we’ve compiled is more than 60 pages long.

Here’s an example of the sort of thing that comes up fairly regularly in the forum:
[Fair warning: What follows involves a discussion of some minor events very early on in book two. There’s really nothing spoilerish in there. Nothing is given away. But still, if you haven’t read it yet, and you’re an absolute non-spoiler purist, I thought I’d warn you.]

*     *     *

Dear Pat:

In the middle of page 47, during the exchange between Kvothe and Kellin, it reads:

“Outside his field of vision, Denna rolled her eyes at me.”

Just a few lines below, you can find:

“You’re too kind,” I said, and gave her a much more earnest bow than the one I had given to Kellin. She rolled her eyes at me this time.”

That made me wonder if, in the first sentence, maybe it was meant to be “Denna rolled her eyes at him” instead.

Thanks,

Gab

_____________________

Gab,

Ah. This is just an issue of ambiguity in the language.

In the first line, the “at me” means that she rolled her eyes with the intention of Kvothe seeing her do it.

In the second line, “at me” means “because of me” AND that she had the intention of Kvothe seeing her do it.

I didn’t abbreviate the first use to “Outside his field of vision, Denna rolled her eyes.” Because the implication there is that Denna is just being bitchy at Kellin and Kvothe sees it accidentally. That implies that Denna really doesn’t like Kellin and she’s hiding it from Kellin.

But “Outside his field of vision, Denna rolled her eyes at me.” makes it clear that Denna is doing this for Kvothe’s benefit. The interaction is between Kvothe and Denna. She’s effectively engaging in clandestine communication with Kvothe, saying, in effect, “Yeah, he’s full of himself. But what are you going to do?”

Technically, she’s rolling her eyes *at* Kellin *to* Kvothe. But that reads so poorly that it almost doesn’t make any sense.

Does that help?

pat

_____________________

Yes, it does, thank you.

I’ll try to use two different prepositions or to reword one of the sentences a bit to reflect this.

Thanks,

Gab

*     *     *

Now on the surface, this might seem like a small thing. But it has fairly big implications.

It’s just a small piece of body language. And it can be clarified with a different preposition or two. Just a couple words.

(A couple words out of the 400,000 you need to translate the whole book, mind you.)

But if it’s done wrong, the whole scene takes on a different feel.

Written one way, Denna is sharing a private joke with Kvothe. It shows a connection between them.

What’s more, it shows that Denna knows the guy is a bit of an ass, but it’s not that big a deal. Since she’s making fun of it, it’s obviously nothing too serious. It shows that Denna has her eyes open, and, ultimately, that she’s in control of the situation.

Lastly, it shows her relationship with Kvothe is much more intimate than with this other guy. First, because she’s engaging in some clandestine communication with Kvothe. But more importantly, when Kvothe is a bit of an ass and she rolls her eyes at him, she lets Kvothe see it. That shows that she trusts Kvothe more than she trusts Kellin. She’s teasing him, and it shows that she considers Kvothe a friend.

(Did I mention the whole implication thing? That I kinda do a lot of it? Yeah.)

If the scene is written the other way: if Denna rolls her eyes at Kellin and Kvothe just happens to see it, that’s an entirely different type of interaction.

That implies that Denna really doesn’t like Kellin. It shows Denna being passive-aggressive and implies that she’s two-faced and spiteful.

Even worse, it could imply that Denna is afraid of Kellin. That, in turn, implies a whole lot. If Denna is on the arm of a rich man that she hates and fears, that paints a really horrible picture of her life.

Witness the double edged sword of implication. When it works, it’s great. But it can go dangerously astray at times.

And, of course, all of this is made ten times more important because this is Denna’s first scene in the book. The impression she makes on the reader now will carry forward through the whole book.

And you know what I just realized? Now that I think of it. All of the important things Denna communicates in that first scene are done non-verbally.

So what’s your point, Rothfuss?

I said it before, and I’ll say it again.

Translation is tricky.

pat

P.S. Signings in MI, this weekend. Just in case you hadn’t heard.

Also posted in naming, the craft of writing, The difference between 'slim' and 'slender', the man behind the curtain | By Pat85 Responses

New Additions to the family….

We have a few new additions to the family that have come in over the last couple months, so I thought I’d share them here.

This one is really new, and just showed up a couple weeks ago. It’s the Taiwanese translation of The Name of the Wind.

As always, it’s more than a little baffling for me to see the book in an absolutely foreign character set. I can’t even pretend to sound it out. Even harder for me is the fact that I don’t know how to type in those characters into babelfish so I can find out what that 79 on the cover refers to.

The Taiwanese translation is in complex Chinese. The simplified Chinese translation will be coming out in China pretty soon. I saw the cover art a about a month ago and it was pretty cool.

Next we have the Serbian translation:

This one’s pretty. I love it when the publisher goes out of its way to do a new cover for the book. I don’t know what to make of the different spelling of my name, though.

The next one is Hungarian:

I dig the cover. It’s subtle. And I couldn’t for the life of me tell you why, but it looks a little magical. I think it might be because the vines behind the title have a cleverly implied pentacle in their shape.

Either way, I like it.

Lastly, I can’t remember if I posted up the Brazilian version of the book before.

Just in case, here it is:

This one is an odd hybrid for me. The cover is the same as the French version, and the language is the Brazilian dialect of Portuguese.

I think this brings the translation total up to…

<pat goes to look at his vanity shelf>

Wow. 21 translations of the book. 22 if you count the UK version. I wouldn’t have guessed that many, if you’d have asked me.

I know we’ve sold the translation rights for The Name of the Wind to about 30 countries, but when you do that, it doesn’t mean 30 foreign copies of your book show up at your house in a week. Even after you make a deal with a foreign publisher, it takes a long time for the book to come out.

First there’s the paperwork, then they have to translate it, proof it, lay it out, pick a cover…. They have to fit it into their publishing schedules and market it just like we do here in the US. All of that takes a long time, and sometimes it takes me a month or two to get my author copies after the book comes out in these other countries.

As a result, the translations have sort of trickled in one every couple months over the last couple years. So yeah. 22. It’s weird if I think about it too much.

That’s all for now.

pat

Also posted in foreign happenings | By Pat71 Responses

A New Addition to the Family – Russia

Every once in a while, I get a package from my agent. And honestly, it’s always a little like Christmas.

I spent so long trying to get an agent, you see. Now, not only do I have an agent, but he’s a really good agent. And the people he works with at the agency are really good too. We get along really well, and they help me sell my book all over the world.

So when they send me something, it’s cool by default. They could mail me a gum wrapper and I’d be happy. Why? Because getting a gum wrapper from your awesome agent is roughly a billion times cooler than getting form-letter rejection from yet another agent rejecting your book.

It doesn’t hurt that I’m new enough to this whole professional writer thing that everything is still fresh and new.  Foreign contracts are still interesting to me. I get an envelope in the mail and think, “Yay! I get to read an 8 page contract detailing the sale of the Brazilian rights of my book!”  Even the cryptically opaque royalty statements are fun.

But my favorite things to get in the mail are new foreign editions of the book.

I’ve talked about some of them in previous posts. The German version. The Portuguese version. Japanese, French, Danish

I love them all. Even the ones I’ve gently mocked.

But just a couple days ago I had a new experience. A book showed up and I couldn’t figure out what country it was from.

(Click to Embiggen.)

Usually if I don’t know which country a book is from, it’s not that hard for me to figure out. If worse comes to worst,  I just google the publisher’s name. For example, if I search on “Argo” and “Rothfuss” I find out that “Jméno Větru” is the Czech version of my book.

But this book had nothing on it that I could use. The foreign character set completely flummoxed me. Normally when I get a book, I can at least read my name on the cover. Not so with this one.

I was pretty sure it was Russian. I needed to be *really* sure. If I was wrong I’d look like a real idiot. It would be like introducing your own child using the wrong name.

Eventually I took an educated guess and decided that Патрик Ротфусс was a transliterated version of “Patrick Rothfuss.” But even then, it took me a long time to figure out how to type “Патрик Ротфусс” into google.

So, after a little bit of research, let me introduce the Russian Version of the Name of the Wind: Имя ветра.

It’s a pretty book. Good paper and a nice binding. It doesn’t have a book-jacket either, the art is printed directly on the cover of the book. I kinda like that.

Also, join me in enjoying the cover art. It isn’t to-the-letter accurate, but it’s not that bad, either.

I’ve become philosophical about cover art over the years. I know that its main job is to catch the reader’s eye. If the picture isn’t entirely true to the story Kvothe tells, if it over-dramatizes a bit… I can live with that. I comfort myself with the knowledge that if the cover doesn’t fit Kvothe’s story perfectly, it’s probably pretty close to the version Old Cob would tell….

Later folks,

pat

Also posted in book covers, foreign happenings | By Pat70 Responses

A New Addition to the Family: Portugal

The Name of the Wind just came out in Portugal. They tell me that at the beginning of the month it was actually #7 on the bestseller lists over there. Which, I will admit, gives me a little bit of a tingle….

I haven’t actually held one in my hands yet, but the cover looks pretty cool:

I always like seeing new covers for the book. Especially when the art has obviously been commissioned especially for the book.

Though I’ve only recently become a father, I’ve compared writing a book to having a baby for years. My mom used to refer to it as “her grandbook.” And one of my friends used to ask about it in those terms. We wouldn’t see each other for months, and when we got together and caught up on the news, she’d eventually ask, “And how’s the baby doing…?”

Now that I’ve been a dad for a couple of weeks, I realize that the baby analogy is better than I thought. Before I was mostly referring to the emotional connection you feel to your own book. But now, having dealt with a newborn, I realize that writing a book is not entirely dissimilar to actually raising a child.

You feed it. Change it. Cuddle it. Dress it. Undress it. Change it. Feed it. Change it. Change it. Get it to take a nap. Change it.

And then, at the end of the day, you look at it and realize that it’s pretty useless.

Don’t get me wrong, you love it. You love it like nobody’s business. But unless you’re an idiot, you realize this thing really isn’t good for anything yet. You’re going to have months and months of thankless, repetitive work before it’s capable of going out into the world on its own.

Later, when your book is published, it’s very cool and very scary. That’s when your baby has grown up enough to leave the nest. It’s out there, meeting people all on its own. If you’ve raised it properly, it hopefully makes a good impression. Hopefully it makes friends.

But the foreign editions of the book are… different. It’s still my baby, but it’s not *really* my baby. It’s like someone has cloned my baby and dressed it up in lederhosen and made it smoke a pipe for marketing reasons.

Yeah. The analogy really starts to fall apart after a while, I guess.

What was my point? No point. I don’t always have to have a point, you know….

Wait! I guess I do have a point. It’s that sometimes they make your baby smoke a pipe and you have to shrug it off. You don’t know what sells books in Bangladesh, or Berlin, or Brigadoon. For the most part, you have to trust that the publisher knows what they’re doing. For all you know, those Doonies are loonies for pipes…

But it’s nice when you see the marketing and it appeals to your aesthetic. Like the trailer I posted before. Or this picture that I stumbled onto when I was googling up an image of the cover for this blog.

(Click to Embiggen)

I’m guessing this is a promotional poster. If it is, I wish I had a copy. I like the tagline across the top. “Kvothe: Magician, Musician, Thief, Assassin and… Hero.”

Hell, if I’d have been able to come up with promo copy like that on my own, it wouldn’t have taken me five years to sell the thing.

Later, you hoopy froods….

pat

Also posted in babies, book covers, cool things, foreign happenings | By Pat55 Responses

Signings in Rome and Amsterdam.

Okay folks, I’ve got the first round of foreign book signings organized.

First off, we’ve got two in Rome:

Location: Le Storie
Date: Saturday, May 9, 2009
Time: 6:00pm – 7:00pm
Street: Via Giulio Rocco, 37/39
City: Rome

Here’s the link to the appropriate facebook event, if you’re into that sort of thing.
And a link to Le Storie bookshop.


Location: Fanucci Bookshop

Date: Sunday, May 10, 2009
Time: 6:00pm – 7:00pm
Street: Piazza Madama, 8
City: Rome

Here’s the facebook event.

Then we’ve got one in Amsterdam.

Location: American Book Center – ABC Amsterdam
Date: Thursday, May 14, 2009
Time: 6:30pm – 8:30pm
Street: Spui 12, 1012 XA
City: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Here’s the link to ABC bookstore.
And the facebook event.

In Amsterdam, because more of the locals speak English, I’ll actually be doing a little bit of a reading, then a Q&A session before I sign books. I love doing Q&A.

Even better, my Dutch translator will be be making an appearance at this signing too. Lia Belt was my very first translator. Not only did she really hold my hand through the process, but she helped me understand a lot of the dangers of translation. It’s because of her that I’ve made a point of getting in touch with all my other translators since then, trying my best to work with them so as little is lost in translation as possible.

So I’m excited to meet her. I’ve invited her along to sign books too. After all, the Dutch version is more than half hers, and it’s always seemed like a shame that translators don’t get more credit for the work they do.

Edit: Additional: my Italian translator will be around during the Saturday signing in Rome.

Anyway, those are the first three signings we have planned. If you know anyone that might be interested, you’d be doing me a great favor if you passed the information along to them. We’re setting these things up pretty quickly, so there isn’t much time for word to spread.

(This illustration has nothing to do with a book signing.
I’ve merely inserted it here to confuse you.)

Despite the cool cover, I won’t be doing any public signings in Paris. It’s just too early. The book hasn’t been out long enough there for people to want to show up for that sort of thing. And if there’s one thing more depressing than sitting in a bookstore for two hours while everyone tries to avoid eye contact (As was the case in many of my early US signings) it’s sitting around in a bookstore in Paris while people avoid making eye contact.

And for those of you in England, fret not. Things are in the works. Fabulous things. We’ll have at least one in London, and hopefully a few more scattered around the rest of the country.

I’ll post details as soon as those plans firm up. Soon.

Best,

pat

Also posted in appearances, BJ Hiorns Art, foreign happenings, signing books | By Pat42 Responses

The Perils of Translation: Babelfish.

Alright folks, while I’m dealing with the aftermath of the fundraiser, here’s a question from the mailbag.

Pat,

You’ve mentioned your translators on your blog before, generally in glowing terms. I don’t really see what the big deal is. You wrote something great. You made something out of nothing. But they’re not doing that. They’re not really making anything, they’re just…. copying it.

Plus, don’t you think that what they do is rapidly becoming obsolete? They already have programs that can translate languages. One wonders why they bother having people translators at all.

Your fan,

Steve

At first, Steve, I thought you might be pulling my leg with this e-mail. “Nobody could really think translation was easy,” I thought to myself. “He has to be putting me on.”

Then I realized that I’ve been having a crash course in the perils of translation over the last year and a half. And I remembered that most Americans are pointedly, painfully monolingual. And I remembered one of my friends saying as a joke, “How hard can it be to learn French? French babies do it all the time….”

So I’m going to take this question at face value, Steve. The truth is, translation has got to be one of the hardest jobs there is. Period.

First off, you have to be fluent in two languages. Not just kind of fluent, but *really* fluent. You need to understand the culture of the language you’re translating from, and the idiomatic speech.

Like what I said up there in my first paragraph. “Pulling my leg” is an idiom. It doesn’t mean what it actually says. If you’re pulling my leg, it mean you’re playing a joke on me, teasing me.

There are a thousand little things like that stand in the way of true fluency, and you can’t just copy them over into the new language and have them make any sense. For example, if I said, “You have a bird,” in Germany, I’m not actually saying anything about a bird. What I’m actually saying is that you’re crazy.

Secondly, you have to decide if a translation is going to be true to the letter of the work, or true to the spirit of the work.

What do I mean by this? Well… I’m reminded of what one of my favorite professors said when I asked him which version of the Odyssey I should read. I was looking for the best translation, and I trusted him, because he had a good old-fashioned classical education and could actually read Latin and Greek.

“It’s not really an issue of the best translation,” he said. “My old classics professor used to say, ‘a translation is like a woman. It can be beautiful, or it can be faithful, but it can’t be both….'”

Sexism aside, I think this strikes to the heart of the issue. A word-by-word translation is going to be clunky and awkward. But a beautiful one isn’t going to actually say the exact same thing as the original. A translator needs to walk that fine line between. Or rather, they have to dance madly back and forth over that line.

And as for translators being replaced by computer programs? I give a hearty laugh. Translation is not a science, it is an art. And as such, it belongs solely in the realm of humans.

Most everyone knows about Babelfish. Let me show you what something looks like when I use that program to translate something from English to German and back again. If this were as simple as plugging numbers into an equation, we should end up with the same thing we started with, right?

Here’s a paragraph most of you probably recognise:

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me.

After Babelfish.

I stole princesses back of sleeping truck kings. I burned down the city of Trebon. I spent and with my reason and my life left the night with Felurian. I was away-driven of the university at a recent age, than most people are inside permitted. I step ways by moonlight, which others are afraid, in order to speak during from the day to. I spoke loved women and written Lieden, who let the Minnesänger cry with Gods.

They can have heard of me.

And that’s using German, a language so closely related to English that if they were people, it would be illegal for them to get married.

Look what happens when you do the same think with a language that’s *really* different, like Japanese:

I stole the king woman from wheelbarrow king of sleep. I burnt under the town of Trebon. I passed the night of Felurian, my sanity and went away with my life both. I was discharged rather than being able to allot most people from the university of a younger age. I the other people between day step on the road with the moonlight which is feared in order to speak concerning. I God, to the song by the document which makes the woman and the wandering minstrel cry who are loved spoke.

It can inquire about me.

Yeah. I think the translators’ jobs are safe for another year or two.

pat

Also posted in Ask the Author, Fanmail Q + A, foreign happenings, my oracular impulse | By Pat69 Responses

A New Edition to the Family

It goes without saying that becoming a published author has changed my life.

If someone were to ask how, specifically, I’d probably mention one of the big things. How surreal it is when people recognise me in public. Or when I show up to a reading or a signing and there are dozens of people there. I could mention how I travel a lot more now, or the fact that I can spend up to 5-6 hours a day just keeping up with my e-mail correspondence.

But truthfully, one of the thousand small changes has been how I feel about getting the daily mail.

Up until about a two years ago, when all this publication stuff started, my mail was pretty normal. Most of it was junk: fliers, credit card applications, cupons. The stuff that wasn’t junk was usually unpleasant, like bills or notifications about my student loans.

Yeah sure. On some rare occasion something nice would show up. A card from mom with some cash in it, mail order something-or-other, a letter from a friend. But those were few and far between.

But now I love to get the mail. Every day is like a potential Christmas. I get all sorts of cool things. I get foreign contracts that I read and sign and mail back. I get free copies of books sent to me with the hope that I’ll read them, love them, and blurb them.

And I get checks in the mail. I won’t lie to you, that’s really cool. A lot of my life I’ve been pretty poor. Not *really* poor, of course. But student poor. I spent 11 years as a college student, and there were a lot of times when I was broke, the next paycheck was three days away, and the credit card was full. I’m sure a lot of you have had similar times in your life.

I remember getting sick once, and not having enough money to buy aspirin or orange juice. Another time, I remember digging through my cupboards, examining the cans of weird food. The food that you have left because you hate it. I remember thinking, “How old is this can of vegetable barley soup? Will it kill me?” Once I got behind on my rent and my landlord burst into my little one-room apartment, waking me from a dead sleep and threatening to throw me out onto the street.

Fast forward to now. Sometimes I pick up my mail and there’s a check in there. A check for money. A check for money that I didn’t even know would be showing up. Best of all, it’s money that I don’t immediately need for something, like paying my overdue phone bill, or buying groceries, or settling a debt with a friend who lent me a little bit to get by.

But perhaps even cooler is when things like this show up without my expecting it:

(Click to Embiggen)

I didn’t know the Danish version of the book was close to being finished. I’d never even seen the cover until I opened the envelope a couple days ago and found this inside.

I think this is translation number… six? Let me think, so far I’ve had editions in the UK, the Netherlands, Italy, Japan… Number five then. Six will probably be the German version that’s coming out later this month. I’m excited to see that one too.

Later all,

pat

Also posted in foreign happenings, My checkered past | By Pat36 Responses
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