Skip to content

A Change of Pace

October 24, 2015

For a change of pace from my usual posts and guest spots, I’m pointing to another blog –

Cheryl Cooke Harrington invited me to be a guest on The Write Spot and share a little corner of my world. Follow the link above to see where I sit to daydream and make up stories.  Looking at it with an objective eye, I realize that it’s pretty utilitarian, but it’s MINE. Stop by if you have time and are so inclined.

While you’re there, why not scroll down and see other Write Spots. It’s kind of fun to see where authors birth their novels.SAM_0882

Just for fun, here’s another photo that gives a hint of my special space – not to mention my housekeeping philosophy.

Enjoy your day!


Meet Marilyn Levinson

October 15, 2015

Marilyn LevinsonMarilyn Levinson  is a former Spanish teacher who writes mysteries for adults and novels for kids and young adults.

Her Twin Lakes mystery series includes A MURDERER AMONG US and MURDER IN THE AIR.

MURDER A LA CHRISTIE and MURDER THE TEY WAY are the first two books in her Golden Age of Mystery Book Club Mystery series.

Some of her books for young readers include AND DON’T BRING JEREMY, which was a nominee for six state awards, NO BOYS ALLOWED, and RUFUS AND MAGIC RUN AMOK, an International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council “Children’s Choice.”The Devil's Pawn

She likes traveling, foreign films, reading, knitting, Sudoku, dining out, and talking to her granddaughter Olivia on Face Time. She lives on Long Island.

Her latest book, THE DEVIL’S PAWN, was released on September 28.

I met Marilyn last spring when we both attended Domestic Malice. We shared a lovely dinner and had some great conversation. I knew immediately that I wanted her to write something for Birth of a Novel. Happily, she agreed. Here’s what she has to say about writing for kids:

Why I Write About Magic and Horror in my Kids’ Books

We Earthlings love stories. Stories explain great events. They draw on our emotions. As far back as we can remember, our stories are filled with other-than-human characters, both good and bad. In Beowulf, possibly the oldest Old English epic poem, the hero defeats a monster named Grendel and later on a dragon. Our folklore abounds with elves and fairies, dragons and trolls, zombies and werewolves—creatures we’ve never seen with our eyes except on the screen. Yet they’re as real to our inner lives as the flesh-and-blood neighbors who live on our streets.

Kids love to read about monsters. They also love to read about humans with magical or super powers. Superman, Wonder Woman and Spider Man are just a few of the well-loved icons of our society. These characters have special powers that enable them in their fight to defend the weak and downtrodden against the evil In the world. Each of our superheroes has an Achilles heel that make them vulnerable to their enemies. A struggle is expected, but good will always triumph, leaving kids hopeful that they too will triumph over bullies and the problems in their lives.

Rufus Breckenridge, the protagonist in my young YA Rufus and Magic Run Amok, an International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council “Children’s Choice”, is an ordinary boy until he discovers he has magical powers like his mother, grandmother, and aunt. Rufus is ambivalent about his newfound powers. Having them means he’ll have to take lessons to keep them under control. Even worse, he’s supposed to use his powers to help others and perform good deeds. Not exactly what a ten-year-old kid wants to do.

Rufus discovers that having magic is fun! Magic is power! He likes upsetting Big Douggie, his nemesis, who used to chase him home from school every day. He enjoys moving objects around. But as his power grows stronger, the objects move too fast and too far, wreaking damage and landing him in trouble. When magic runs amok, Rufus wishes he knew how to control it so it doesn’t control him.

In Rufus and the Witch’s Slave, Rufus and his friends discover that an evil witch is draining the magical powers of a young girl named Violette, and using them for her own illegal purposes. Rufus must convince Violette to stand up for herself and not go along with the old witch’s plans. That having magical powers is not something shameful, as she’d been taught, but a means of doing good in the world.

In The Devil’s Pawn, Simon Porte must develop his special powers in order to save his own life and stop the slaughter of innocent young girls. Evil lurks in the heart of his uncle, Raymond Davenport, the most powerful man in Buckley, NY. Like all Davenports Raymond has magical powers, but they cannot prevent him from dying. Draining the life force of nine-year-old girls only helps him temporarily, and so he tracks down his brother’s family and brings Simon, his fifteen-year-old nephew, to live with him. Raymond hypnotizes Simon repeatedly, each time implanting his memories, values, and abilities into his nephew’s mind. When all is ready, he will live on in Simon’s healthy body.

Locked into a situation that’s threatens his very existence, Simon must develop his powers to defeat his uncle. Knowing nothing about his father’s family, Simon relies on his instincts and smarts to do what he can to avoid becoming his uncle’s pawn. Help comes along in the form of his dotty great-aunt Lucinda, who teaches him how to develop his extraordinary abilities and block his uncle’s assault on his mind.  With Lucinda, an odd pair of twins and his younger sister Lucy, Simon takes down Raymond and his cronies.

Children love reading about young heroes who, despite great odds, defeat evil uncles and bullies. Even if they can’t retaliate against a bully in real life, reading about a character that can empowers young readers and shows them it can be done. Rufus doesn’t use magic to defeat Big Douggie, but his own personal strengths, strengths he doesn’t realize he has at the start of the novel.

Simon’s adversary is older and more experienced than he. What’s more, Uncle Raymond is a respected member of the community with henchmen committing crimes on his behalf. The odds are daunting, which makes the story more exciting for young readers. Young people like to read about protagonists forced to fight huge battles, usually more dangerous battles than they encounter in their own lives. They cheer the hero on at the same time they identify with him. The elements of magic and horror drive up the stakes and make for a more exciting adventure. At the same time, readers have nothing to worry about. Deep down, doesn’t everyone know that magic and horror are only make believe and that good will triumph in the end?

In both The Witch’s Slave and The Devil’s Pawn, children are victimized by adults. A scary topic, but one familiar to children. They’re familiar with the bullying older brother, the sarcastic teacher, the too-strict parent. We try to shield our children from the evil in the world but they encounter it every day—in school, on the school bus, even at home. Reading about the trials and tribulations fiction characters must endure helps kids realize that they are not the only ones with problems. The magical and horror elements are far enough removed from real life to help them understand: “This is a story. It’s not real. At least I don’t have to deal with a wicked witch or an evil uncle like Raymond.”

Wise words, Marilyn. Kids need all the help they can get learning to deal with the problems in their lives. Fiction is the perfect way to do this. Thanks for sharing your insights with us.

To learn more about Marilyn Levinson and her books:

Barnes & Noble:
itunes, ibooks:

A Canadian Mystery Writer in London, England

October 5, 2015

Tracy WardI’m pleased to welcome Tracy Ward as my guest this week. A  former journalist and graduate from Humber College’s School for Writers, Tracy Ward has been hard at work developing her favourite protagonist, Peter Ainsley, and chronicling his adventures as a young surgeon in Victorian England.

Now, here’s Tracy:

I don’t know about you but my writer’s mind never shuts up. I find myself constantly dreaming about other places and the lives of other people, mainly characters conjured by my own imagination. I must confess it can be terribly annoying, but also wonderfully enriching.

Because of the constant chatter happening in my head I am always on the lookout for new material and I have found traveling a great way to replenish “the garden of good ideas”. One of my favourite spots on the globe is London, a good seven-hour flight from my nearest airport and so not easily visited.  To make the most of my limited time there this past May, I created a whirl-wind schedule of stops which included The Sherlock Holmes Museum, The Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garret and The Florence Nightingale Museum at St. Thomas Hospital.

Even though I visited a number of other places in and around London (The Tower, Hampton Court, Westminster Abbey, Churchill’s War Rooms etc), the three stops mentioned above were of most importance to my books and my research.HolmesParlour

Tucked on an unassuming commercial block, The Sherlock Holmes Museum takes up residence on Baker Street, 221b Baker Street to be exact. It tries to replicate the flat of rooms Mr. Holmes and his good friend, Watson, shared as they were described in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved tales. Because Holmes and Watson are fictional (heartbreaking, I know) the rooms were never inhabited by the famed detectives and share no historical connection to the stories other than its address. Despite this, a line up for entry was out the door and halfway down the block even in the pouring rain. The furnishings and décor are time period appropriate and reflect the novels and short stories remarkably well. In Holmes’ room in particular you can find a plethora of pipes, a violin and a book on beekeeping. The museum gift shop next door can’t be missed. This museum was my very first stop and did much to help set the mood for my stay in London.

The Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garret is not as popular as the flat of rooms on Baker Street but it is just as intriguing. A hidden gem in London’s Southwark neighbourhood, the theatre and garret are IMG_4434accessed via a tight, circular staircase complete with worn, rickety steps and femur-thick rope handrail. The rooms inhabit an attic space, once hidden among the rafters of the old St. Thomas Hospital before it was moved to Vauxhall, another of London’s neighbourhoods. The lightest and airiest of the rooms is the operating theatre, a crowded space where medical students stood, supported by handrails, to overlook surgical lessons performed on cadavers, donated to science or otherwise procured. The ceiling overhead is frosted glass which allows copious amounts of light into the space and even the walls were painted a light yellowy-beige creating a bright room compared to the recesses of the garret. On display are a number of Victorian medical instruments as well as jarred specimens ranging from the typical to the downright macabre. This quirky museum deserves its own line out the door, not just the six other people who were there during my visit. It is quintessential Victorian London.

Where St. Thomas Hospital stands today another small medical museum beckons visitors. The Florence Nightingale Museum commemorates the life and achievements of one of history’s most beloved nurses. Ms. Nightingale was the voice of change for the nursing profession and helped to set the tone for IMG_4455improved training for her chosen profession. The daughter of a well to do family, Ms. Nightingale was an unlikely candidate for nursing, a profession that historically attracted drunks and reformed prostitutes. She led a group of nurses to Crimea, where she and others treated the soldiers who fought in the war there. It was her book and regular communication with those back in England that garnered her fame which ultimately paved the way for a higher standard of cleanliness for her fellow nurses and improved care for the men and women in their charge.  The museum has a number of articles that belonged to Ms. Nightingale which includes her pet Owl, Athena, who died just after Ms. Nightingale left for the Crimean War.

London is rife with hidden and not so hidden history hotspots around every corner. From the Roman-built wall behind the Tower Hill tube station to the pub that overlooks the old gallows, London is a historian’s playground. It’s also the perfect place to dream up my next book.

Portrait of young beautiful medieval woman in red dress

Portrait of young beautiful medieval woman in red dress

Thanks, Tracy. I doubt if there’s a mystery writer (or reader) anywhere who isn’t fascinated by London.

Here’s a little bit about Tracy’s latest book, Sweet Asylum, #4 in the Peter Ainsley mysteries: Unable to shake the oppressive atmosphere of the city after a life changing case, Dr. Peter Ainsley retreats to his family’s country estate near Tunbridge Wells to find asylum and perhaps forgiveness. The discovery of a strange girl in the back woods introduces him, and his sister, Margaret, to the peculiar Owen family with a questionable reputation in town rooted in nefarious gambling activities and a long family history of discord amongst townspeople.

Link to Sweet Asylum:


Maia Chance’s Creativity Tool Belt:

September 1, 2015

MAIA CHANCEI’m delighted to welcome Maia Chance to Birth of a Novel. Maia writes historical mystery novels that are rife with absurd predicaments and romantic adventure.  She is the author of the Fairy Tale Fatal and The Discreet Retrieval Agency series.  Her first mystery, Snow White Red-Handed, was a national bestseller.  Her latest releases are Cinderella Six Feet Under and Come Hell or Highball.

And now, here’s Maia:

The name of this blog—Birth of a Novel—got me thinking about all of the things that go into producing and promoting a book.  Self-discipline, organization, stamina, social skills, good research habits, and beefy thesauruses all play a part.  Yet the bottom line is, book-birthing is a creative enterprise, and so I spend oodles of time trying to figure out how to encourage that special, juicy, synthesizing state.Snow White Red Handed

Here are three of the trusty standbys in my creativity tool belt:

  1. Read Weird Stuff. I love cozy mysteries, which is why I write them, but I don’t read very many of them. I read other stuff, because I need to keep replenishing my well.  Believe it or not, I get ideas for my novels when I read critical theory and history for my academic work, and biographies on Wikipedia.  Truth will always be stranger than fiction, and there is a limitless crop of ideas just ripe for the picking in those biographies and history books.
  1. Be a Health Nut. When I was a teenager and writing my first (luckily never published) novels, I had heard that some famous authors—Ernest Hemingway?—wrote drunk. So I tried it.  That lasted about 10 minutes before I went to bed.*  Over cinderella 6 feet underthe years I have become, increasingly, a health nut and one of the huge driving forces behind this is I really, really, really want to be able to think clearly.  Being creative means making snappy connections.  Being creative means being able to dip your cup deeply into that well of ideas/feelings/memories/words inside of you.  Being an efficient writer means being able to zoom in and out from the micro (comma!) to the macro (plot arc!) and back again.  Over and over.  Sadly, I have discovered that I can’t do that while eating chocolate chip cookies, or without having worked out.

*As a former musician, I do get that creative people need ways to turn off the inner critic.  I wish I had an amazing tool for that.  Right now my tactic is: “give your inner critic the finger and keeping plowing forward on all sixes.”  It works okay.

  1. Follow Your Most Bizarre Ideas. They say “follow your dreams”; I say, “go with the idea that sounds too outrageous to work.” Because do you know why it sounds too outrageous to work?  Because you haven’t seen it done beforeSome of the parts of my books that turned out the best were the ideas that, at first, made me throw back my head and laugh with Come Hell or Highballdisbelieving, quasi-diabolical glee.

There is nothing new under the sun, sure, but there are infinite new combinations of ideas. My goal is to bring familiar ideas and settings to the cozy mystery genre, where they haven’t been done before.  My Fairy Tale Fatal series, for instance, explores classic fairy tales within the structure of adventurous whodunit plots.  And my Discreet Retrieval Agency presents F. Scott Fitzgerald-ish, jazz-age motifs within the structure of humorous mystery capers.  I also enjoy bringing Hollywood devices—like the “chase in the marketplace with overturned fruit carts”—to the cozy mystery.  These devices are simply recognizable chunks of “story” that are available to writers as they assemble their own, unique mosaics.

Stoke the fire, replenish the well, gas your guzzler, feed the chickens, and happy reading and writing!

Thank you, Maia, for sharing some of your writing secrets with the readers of Birth of a Novel. Love the sound of your books – fun titles and intriguing covers.

Readers, you may visit Maia on the web at:

Lethal Journal – an excerpt

August 16, 2015

The ebook version of Lethal Journal, a Jennie Connors/Riverview Manor  mystery, is on sale now. Here’s the first chapter for anyone who might be interested.


JLethal Journal - printennie Connors stood for a moment at the turning of the corridor, assessing the activity in the large open area that served as a lounge. Voices hummed in an easygoing camaraderie, providing soundtrack for a series of tableaux that, for Jennie, defined the retirement community known as Riverview Manor.

In one corner, a few of the more serious residents stared at the TV, their expressions bemused and skeptical, while a political know-it-all held forth on the all-news station. At a round table near the window, the tea ladies had their heads together, no doubt plotting something Jennie would, at some point, be asked to subvert. In another corner, a foursome studied the Scrabble tiles in front of them with calculating solemnity. Near the window, with the sun shining on him like a spotlight, Nathanial Pynchon strutted back and forth, declaiming eloquently: “Wherein I spake of most disastrous–”

“I wish you’d go ‘spake’ somewhere else,” one of the TV watchers called out.

Nate rolled his eyes and lowered his voice, but only minimally.

The TV watcher held out the remote and clicked the volume up a notch. His action was, in its own way, as dramatic as Nate’s theatrics.

Everyone else ignored the old actor.

Jennie smiled. Each scene hinted at mild conflict, but taken together, they reinforced her feeling that all was well in Riverview’s world. Not quite all. Where’s Jake? She looked away from the lounge, slightly to her left, down the long hallway that housed residents’ bedrooms. At ten thirty on this Tuesday morning, most doors were open. At the far end of the hall, a glassed-in area looked out over a construction site. Beyond the glass, giant yellow machines were gouging holes in the earth, preparing a foundation for the new activity center that was being added in conjunction with repair work necessitated by a recent fire.

In front of the window, half a dozen low chairs were mounted on swivel bases so they could be turned outward to watch the construction or pivoted toward each other in a manner more conducive to conversation. Only one chair was occupied. Not surprising. Noise from the construction site made conversation impossible and most of Riverview’s residents were of a sociable nature.

Jake Appleton was the exception. He sat alone, with his chair turned toward the window, holding a pair of binoculars against his chest with one hand and scribbling in a spiral notebook with the other. Viewing him in profile, Jennie saw that his lips were moving and knew from his expression that he was dissatisfied about something. “Sour Appleton”, the nickname given him by Nate, sprang to mind.

“Morning, Jennie,” Georgie called to her from the tea ladies’ table.

Doreen pivoted her wheelchair a quarter turn and waved. “Care to join us?”

“Wish I could,” Jennie called back, “but I have a couple of things to do first.” She headed down the hall toward Jake. As Activities Director, it was her job to keep residents busy and engaged in Riverview’s social life–a job that would soon belong to someone else. Jennie had just been named Assistant to Executive Director Leda Barrons, and would assume her new duties as soon as her replacement was hired. Jake Appleton was a relative newcomer and a real challenge–the one resident Jennie hadn’t been able to integrate into Riverview’s social fabric. She stopped when she reached his chair. “Morning, Jake. Anything I can do for you?”

“Doubt it.” He spoke in his customary brusque manner, keeping his eyes on the notebook and not bothering to look at Jennie even when she stepped around the chair so they were face to face. He moved his hand so that his fingers hid the words on the page.

She ignored the rebuff and tried again. This was a nut she was determined to crack and she was running out of time. “Why don’t you join the Scrabble tournament in the lounge? They could use a little new blood down there.”

“Blood! That’s what you’re going to see if somebody doesn’t start paying attention.”

Jennie pushed to the back of her mind the thousand and one things she had on her plate and pulled up a chair beside the old man. “I’m paying attention.”


If that response had come from any other resident, she would have been discouraged but, from Riverview’s resident grouch, it was actually encouraging. At least he was willing to acknowledge her presence. She pasted on her best smile and asked, “Still think the construction company’s cheating us?”

“No doubt about it.”

“Anything specific?”

He closed the notebook and waved it in the direction of the window. “World’s full of crooks.”

There was no doubting his conviction. Jennie looked out the window, trying to gauge what had prompted it. To her, it looked like any construction site. Cumbersome machines made jerky progress amid clouds of dust. Workman dodged around the equipment. Everything and everyone was in motion. She glanced back at Jake. His eyes seemed focused on some point beyond the activity. She looked outside. A flash of heat lightening illuminated the sky.

She said, “Maybe we’ll finally get that rain they’ve been promising.” No response. Maybe he hadn’t heard her. She tried again. “Hope so. We sure could use it.”

Finally, he brushed his fingertips over the notebook. “It’s all in here.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

After a few seconds, he squared his shoulders and looked at her. “Some other time maybe.”

Jennie waved to the source of the recurring booms. “Lot of racket out here,” she said. “How about your room? Later this afternoon?”

“Well, I–”He stopped abruptly and looked over her head.

She turned to see what had distracted him.

Lizzie Stafford and Bruce Appleton, Jake’s children, along with an older man she didn’t recognize, were standing in the hall a few yards from her. She’d been so intent on wooing Jake that she hadn’t heard their footsteps.

“Hi.” She smiled at Lizzie and Bruce. “Nice to see you.” She extended her hand to the older man. “I’m Jennie Connors. I don’t believe we’ve met.”

He grasped her hand and gave it a firm shake. “Bob Walthman. Jake’s brother-in-law.” Walthman was a handsome man with an easygoing, hale-fellow-well-met manner. He directed an engaging smile at Jennie.

The smile set off an itch in her memory. She’d seen him before. Where?

Before she had a chance to pursue the thought, Lizzie said, “Uncle Bob, Jennie’s the woman I told you about. She’s been wonderful to Dad.”

“Good,” Walthman said with another huge smile. “Appreciate that.”

Jennie returned the smile, uncomfortable that the family was addressing her instead of Jake, who hadn’t said a word to any of them yet, nor they to him. Instead, he sat ramrod straight in his chair, scowling out the window and grasping the notebook in both hands.

Hoping her departure would lighten the mood, Jennie said, “Sorry, Jake, I don’t mean to steal your family’s attention. We’ll talk later. Say about three o’clock?”

Jake nodded and tilted his head down the hall. “My room. No privacy out here.”

Jennie said, “Fantastic. I’ll be there.”

The whole time they were speaking, intermittent booms intruded from the work site. An unusually loud blast stopped conversation. A whirl of dust rose to engulf one of the yellow giants. About ten yards from the work area, flames licked at the top edge of a metal drum used to burn trash.

Jennie leaned closer to the window, examining the area around the base of the drum and was relieved to see that it was clear. The last thing Riverview needed was another fire. August in Memphis was always hot and frequently dry, but this year threatened to set a record on both counts. She sent up a silent prayer that the weather gurus had it right and the area would get rain overnight. The sky looked promising. To the west, a bank of clouds hovered above the river. Jennie studied the darkening billows. She loved watching the many moods of the river, but there wasn’t time for that now. She smiled at Jake, patted his arm and said, “See you later,” then headed down the hall.

Nate, grinning his most wicked grin, waylaid her. “Dragon Lady’s looking for you.”

Painfully aware that she was poised to become Assistant Dragon Lady, Jennie swallowed the first response that threatened to spill out.

The rat-a-tat of stiletto heels approached.

Jennie stood a little straighter and pushed back an errant curl.  Despite the fact that she was pudgy and not much taller than a ten-year-old, Riverview’s Executive Director inspired best-foot-forward demeanor. Every day. Every encounter.

Nate scurried off in the opposite direction as fast as his arthritic knees would allow.

Leda reached Jennie just as another boom sounded. She waited for the echo to subside before she spoke. “Jennifer.” She pronounced the name in three perfectly-enunciated syllables as she always did and paused, making sure she had Jennie’s full attention. “We need to work on finding your replacement. I’ve set up an interview for Thursday afternoon. One thirty. I want you to look this over.” She waved a crisp sheet that Jennie realized with a heavy heart was a resume.

It was almost three thirty by the time Jennie made it back to Jake’s room. The door was firmly closed. She grasped the doorknob, but knocked before she turned it.

No response.

She tried again.


She figured he was angry at being kept waiting and prepared to humble herself. She tested the knob. It turned easily so she pushed the door open a couple of inches and called out. “Sorry I’m late. I got here as soon as I could.”

Still no answer.

“Jake?” She pushed the door another six inches and knocked again. “You decent? Okay if I come in?” She listened, heard only the radio, tuned to a station that played oldies–real oldies–big band music and the sweet love songs of the forties. She listened a little longer, reflecting on the inconsistency of his taste in music with his cynical outlook.  Another tap on the door, this time louder. When he still didn’t answer, she had no choice but to go in. As much as she hated to violate a resident’s space, especially one who guarded his privacy as jealously as this one, in a retirement community, safety concerns trump modesty.

She called out, “Coming in,” and pushed again. The door moved another couple of inches, then refused to budge. She leaned into it. It still didn’t give, but something on the floor did. She glanced down. A shoe-clad foot. Omigod! He’s fallen. No wonder he didn’t answer the door. Jennie squeezed through the narrow opening. And froze in her tracks. Jake Appleton lay on his back. His face and head . . . She averted her eyes, unable to look.  The floor in the area surrounding Jake was dark red. One silver curl stretched like a question mark in a pool that had to be blood.

Jennie’s scream merged with a boom from the construction site.

Would you like to read more?

Amazon Kindle:

Barnes and Noble Nook:


The Hidden Art of Translation

August 3, 2015

I’Carmen Ferreiro Estebanm pleased to to welcome my friend, Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban, to Birth of a Novel. Originally from Spain, Carmen now lives in Bucks County, PA where she works as a writer/translator. She recently published the Spanish translation of her paranormal romance Immortal Love (Crimson Romance, 2012) under the title Bécquer eterno. You can find it at She’s also the author of Two Moon Princess, a YA fantasy, which she hopes to translate into Spanish some day.

Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban: Like writers, translators are wordsmiths. They use words to communicate. But, while writers are the creators of their stories/articles, translators are like mirrors; they must render the source document into the target language without distortion, that is, without altering its meaning.two_moonpb_hires

Doing so, it’s not as straightforward as it sounds.

A text is made of words that convey a certain meaning. But, even in the simplest of texts, a translation of meaning cannot be accomplished by a word-by-word translation of the source text. In most cases, this would originate an awkward and, most probably, inaccurate sentence in the target language.

Among other reasons:

  • Because words have synonyms that are not interchangeable. Babies don’t wear “sombreros”, nor baseball players “berets”. Although both are translations of the word hat.
  • Because the order of the words in a sentence is sometimes inverted. “The white house” translates as “The house white” in French or Spanish.
  • Because even ordinary expressions are different in different languages. In English a person “is x years old” while in Spanish “she has x years.”
  • Because idioms are specific to each language. Do people turn blue when they are sad or green when they are jealous, in China?
  • Because we don’t mean what we say, literary. It never rains cats and dogs and we do not build castles in Spain, nor cry over spilled milk.

Carmen's book Spanish 2All these reasons apply to all kind of texts from the very technical to the highly poetical.

But when we talk about the translation of a lyrical text, a poem or a song, we must consider an extra level of sophistication. For the translator must find, not only words that translate the meaning, but words that translate the sound and length of the original ones; she must translate the music embed in the original.

The words maybe different from the ones the author used, but the feeling the poem/song/story elicits in the reader must be the same.

It’s in this context, that a translator transcends the source and creates his/her own piece and translation must be considered art.

A great example of a perfect translation is, in my opinion, Leonard Cohen’s rendition of the poem “Pequeño Vals Vienés” by the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca into the haunting song “Take This Waltz”.


Thanks, Carmen, for sharing your expertise with us. I never realized how complex the process is and I have a feeling I’m not alone in that.

Here’s a link to Carmen’s Amazon Author page:

Willa Cather – A Strong Woman

July 30, 2015

Willa CatherIn the summer of 2013 I set aside a month to immerse myself in the work of one writer and chose Willa Cather. It was a good choice. Note: this is a repeat of a post I wrote a little over a year ago, but since I’m now engaged in a similar reading experiment, I decided to re-visit and re-post my thoughts about this exceptional woman. If you’ve already read this and want to skip it this time, that’s okay – you’re excused – but I do hope you’ll come back.

Why was Ms. Cather a good choice? For me, reading is all about characters. The books that I love and go back to again and again are those with strong characters – people with whom I fall in love and cheer for, or sometimes hate and jeer at. Either way, these people real to me. After I close the book and turn off the light, I worry about them. When the book is finished and back on the shelf, I savor their triumphs and regret their disappointments. And when it comes to creating strong characters, nobody beats Cather – especially strong female characters.

My favorite examples of Cather’s strong women are portrayed in the books known as the Prairie Trilogy: Oh Pioneers!, Song of the Lark, and My Antonia. If you want to understand the history of our country, read these three books. They tell the story of a country – growing, changing, and forging itself into a nation. The characters are not heroic in the usual sense of the word, but they, through the lives they led, the hardships they endured, the perseverance they displayed, are the foundation of this country. Their strengths and weakness are at the heart of who we, as Americans, are. In each of them, there’s a strong woman, a woman who’s not afraid to take charge of her own destiny.willa cather - prairie

 Song of the Lark is a little different from the other two in that it looks at the less than admirable side of life in a tight, closed community. It’s the story of an artist, nurtured by the prairie she loves and, at the same time, constricted by the expectations of the community and stifled by small-town life. I couldn’t help but wonder how much of Cather’s own experience went into this one.

To round out the month, I read a collection of novellas that included A Lost Lady, The Professor’s House, and Death Comes for the Archbishop. They were all good stories, but I have to admit about half way through Death Comes for the Archbishop, I began to skim. It’s set in an earlier time than the others and was an inspiring story in many ways. The archbishop traveled all over the southwest, including some Native American sites that I’ve visited and found fascinating. I’m not sure why I lost interest. Maybe I was just maxed out on life on the great prairies – in other words, too much of a good thing.

All in all, I enjoyed immersing myself in Willa Cather’s books. She was a wise woman, and a fine writer. A few of her observations that I thought worth jotting down:

“There are some things you learn best in calm and some in storm.”

“Where there is great love, there are always wishes.”

“It does not matter much whom we live with in this world, but it matters a great deal whom we dream of.”

“There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.”

No fancy language – just seemingly obvious statements, expressed in simple, declarative sentences. Yet I found them provocative. All in all, I enjoyed immersing myself in the books of one author enough to do it again. This time around, I’ve picked Pearl Buck, another strong woman. More about her in a future posting.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,461 other followers