Tag Archive | Chinese

Language switching and “Empress Matilda of England”

empress-matilda-of-england-full-cover

As Matilda prayed King Henry quietly slipped into the chapel, “You are still in mourning, Matilda.”

Matilda turned to him and bowed her head respectfully, “Mein König!”

“You are not empress and this is not Germany.”

“Ja, mein König.”

“Stop calling me that and speak English, Matilda,” growled King Henry sternly.

“Pourquoi?”

“Parce que je suis le roi d’Angleterre et vous êtes ma fille!”

“Oui, sa est ta fille, Henri,” confirmed Queen Adeliza as she strode out from behind one of the chapel’s many columns. Adeliza curtsied to Matilda, “Guten Morgen, meine Kaiserin. Fröhliche Weihnachten.”

“Fröhliche Weihnachten,” smiled Matilda before switching to English, “You must be my step-mother.”

If you are a fan of the Legendary Women of World History Series, you are probably familiar with quick language switching from the above except from “Empress Matilda of England” that hallmarks the series. Historical persons speak many languages in the Legendary Women of World History, a reflection of their personal histories and the world around him. Speaking in one’s native tongue, at least occasionally, helps us remember who people are.  Language is a core part of our identity, our psychology, even when we are not conscious of it. Words carry not only their direct meaning, but a cultural subtext that literally alters how we think.  One of the many benefits of speaking multiple languages, at least partially, is the way each language forces us to work from a different point of view.

Chinese, for example, uses the same verb form regardless of singular, plural, or when something happened.  In Chinese things these are signaled through nearby words. For example 我说中文 means “I speak Chinese.” 说 is the verb “to speak.” 她们过说中文 means “they [female] used to speak Chinese. In spoken Chinese the words “he” and “she” are pronounced exactly the same. The ideas of “he” and “she” are contextual in Chinese. 她们过说中文 and 他们过说中文 sound exactly the same and in English are translated the same since English does not distinguish gender in the third person plural unlike French which does (ils sont verses elles sont).

Specific traits from our native language shape our view of the world. Gender is not immediately obvious in spoken Chinese (only in written Chinese) unlike many Western European languages where gender is instantly recognizable. Welsh often begins sentences with the direct object and puts the subject last. A famous example of that from Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd is my favourite line, “Cymraes dw i,” which means I am a Welsh woman. Cymraes means Welsh (person) in the feminine form (the masculine is Cymraeg which is the same word as you use for the Welsh language). Dw i means “I am.” Welsh often mutates. “Gymraeg” is the same word as “Cymraeg” and which one you use depends on context — and is one reason why the language is best learned in person with native Welsh speakers.

It is this massive role that language plays in our lives that requires the persons in the Legendary Women of World History series to occasionally speak a few words of her or his native tongue.  When Baron William Fitzgerald calls Matilda, “F’arglwyddes!” she and you along with her immediately know that William is Welsh. F’arglwyddes, if you haven’t guessed, means “Milady.” Incidentally “Fitz” in a name means “son of” and is the French equivalent of Welsh “ap” in a name.

Fortunately, most of the non-English in the LWWH can be figured out through context. Contextual reading is not usually the way Americans are taught to read, but it is critical skill to develop and one more reason why the LWWH make excellent texts for home schools. Contextual reading means you are working not only on the word level, but the sentence and paragraph level to discern meaning. In chapter one of Empress Matilda, I kick this up a notch in a single scene.

“Guten morgen. Sie müssen Matilda sein. Ich bin Heinrich, der römisch-deutsche Kaiser.” Smiling Emperor Heinrich looked into Matilda’s grey eyes, the blankness on her face making clear to him that she did not understand what he just said. Slowly Heinrich knelt beside her to meet her eyes, his voice soft and reassuring. “Ich werde dich nicht verletzen. Hab keine Angst. Ich bin derjenige, der dein Mann sein wird. Ich bin jetzt dein Kaiser und wenn du alt genug bist, wirst du meine Kaiserin.”

Here we are confused and meant to be confused. Matilda is eight years old and suddenly ripped from her home and family in London to be presented to Kaiser (Kaiser means “emperor” in German) Heinrich V to whom she is to be wed. Like most royal brides of the middle ages and early renaissance, she does not speak a word of her future husband’s language. Because we do not understand on a sentence level what he is saying to her, we share in her terror and confusion and in her relief when, soon after in the scene, the English ambassador steps forward and summarizes what Heinrich just said, telling her that this is the emperor to whom she is to be wed and conveying to her his reassurances that he means her no harm.

This is context on the scenic level which is the level that we operate on when in social situations. For example, a simple “Merry Christmas” can express completely different ideas and intentions depending on who we are speaking to, when, our tone of voice, and our histories with the person or persons we are saying it to.

This is the level you are sometimes asked to work on when reading Empress Matilda of England. This is a major reason why Matilda is for ages twelve and up; it requires a more advanced reading proficiency than the six previous books in the series.

Whether Empress Matilda of England becomes your next favourite book or not, it is my sincerest wish that you will never stop reading, never stop learning, and never stop seeking to make tomorrow better than today. Let’s roar!

 

 

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Going Global: A Look at Translation Options for Independent Authors

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received as an author was to publish as many books in as many places as possible and to sell on as many websites as possible.  The writing profession is a numbers game.  To win it (meaning making a living as a writer) you need to be where the customers are and sell what they want to read.  You cannot achieve it with a single kindle book sold exclusively on Amazon.  It won’t happen — or perhaps it could but your chances of winning the lottery or becoming president of the United States are greater if you lay only the one literary egg and sell it from a single basket.

One efficient way of maximising your exposure is to publish in multiple languages, opening your books for sale in more markets with more readers.  As popular as English is with Americans, the reality is that globally there are far more readers outside of the United States, readers who prefer to read in their native languages — not English.

For independent authors, there are three primary methods of reaching this global audience in the form of translated editions 1) contract with a traditional publisher offering translation services, 2) Utilize a royalty share-based translation platform, and 3) hire an independent and professionally certified translator.

I personally use all three.  Here are the pros and cons of each.

Traditional Publisher

My Chinese language editions are published with Fiberead, a Beijing-based fusion  publisher slash translation service using royalty share to pay the translation team.  It works similar to many self-publishing platforms.  You fill out a form about your book, provide Fiberead with both the current and blank versions of your cover art, and upload it to their system.  A team of translators is recruited and eventually your book is published in Chinese.

Pros:  Getting a contract is relatively painless.  It’s a straight forward process setting up your title with them. Publishes to Amazon China, iBooks, and several Asia market retailers unknown to most Americans. No upfront costs to the authors. All the technical details of the publishing process is handled by the publisher; once submitted the author does not touch her book again. Cover art is done by in-house designers from the blank cover provided by the author.

Cons:  Once your title is set up, you have little to no control over the book.  Author has no input on the translators chosen or quality of the translation.  Contract empowers Fiberead with broad editorial powers, including over book content (they can re-write your book if they wish to). Royalty share rate is (currently) 30% for the author — forever.  Fiberead forbids translators from providing authors with copies of the final work.  Authors cannot control or even suggest the sale price.  So for example Boudicca, Britain’s Queen of the Iceni sells for just 1 RMB. Converted to USD the sale price on Amazon China is about 12 cents.  At 30% of 12 cents, the per copy payment to me is 3.6 cents USD.  It takes 55 copies sold to equal the royalty paid on just 1 copy of the book in English on Amazon.com.  Once a book sells, Fiberead does not release any funds to the author until the author earns $50 USD.  As you can see from the above figure, that takes a long time.  Fiberead does not promote your book either — that’s your responsibility.  And if you want a copy to quote from, you must buy it yourself.

Royalty Share Translation Program – Babelcube

Boudicca German webThe second option for independent authors is to use a royalty share translation platform such as Babelcube which is what I use.  Very similar in format to Amazon’s ACX audiobook publishing platform, authors fill out a form with book details and the book copy for consideration by translators in several languages including Spanish, French, Italian, German, Japanese, and Portuguese.  Not every language is offered, notably Chinese, but authors are able to upload books published in any language so long as the book is sold on Amazon. Once the book is completed and approved, authors initiate the publication process on both digital (primary) and paperback options.

royalty

Babelcube’s incremental payment scale.

Empress Wu Spanish webPros: royalty share works on an incremental scale based on royalties earned, no upfront costs to the author, creative control over the final published work, ability to edit pricing and other details by re-publishing after the initial publication, some control over who translates the work. Authors are able to leave reviews for each translation.

 

Cons: authors need the technical ability to custom format their own work and correct certain errors that can come up in the publishing process. Not all the translators are professionally certified nor in possession of appropriate technical skills. Not all desired languages are available.  Some languages offer very few translator choices.

 

Independent Translator

Boudicca Welsh webThe third and final option is, in most respects, the most traditional. Translators are available globally and discoverable online through search engines, social media, or in the case of my work with Gwenlli Haf of Cyfieithu Amnis Translation, through a personal recommendation from a mutual professional acquaintance.  Translation fees are typically word count based, a format familiar to authors who hire professional editors.  A down payment is typically required at the time both parties sign the contract.  At project completion translators then invoice the author for the balance due.  Only upon payment in full is the work released to the author for self publication.

Pros: translators are typically professionally certified with some level of guarantee built into the contract. Authors and translators are able to negotiate precise terms for the project so the details (such as publishing rights) are clear before the work begins. Upfront payment to translator; the author keeps all royalties upon payment of the invoice unless other terms are specified in the contract.  Creative control across the entire process.

Cons:  word counts in different languages are not uniform, making it easy for the author to underestimate the final word count for the translation.  Translators and authors are typically residents of different countries and using different currencies with exchange rates and currency exchange fees varying widely.

Analysis/Summary

Independent authors benefit greatly from expanding into larger, more global marketplaces by offering their books in multiple languages.  In my personal experience with all three options, hiring a translator offered me the most flexibility and creative control which I, like many independent authors, tend to value. The professionally certified skills of independent translators offers security and confidence in the quality of work offered.  However as with any upfront professional service such as editors and illustrators, this option requires considerable pre-publication investment.  Of the royalty share options, the translation publication platform offers a balanced approach.  Though great care must be taken in choosing the translator, the author is able to avoid upfront costs while maintaining creative control.  The royalty share split is typically fair to both author and translator.

One important lesson learned from all of this:  traditional publishing contracts offer less and less value to independent authors.  Therefore 21st century authors seeking to prosper in the new publishing market increasingly thrive by handling as much of the publishing process as possible rather than defer to traditional publishers whose contracts increasingly work against the author’s interest, costing authors more while offering less value.

 

Ghosts of the Past: the Dark Side of Medieval politics

Ghost of the Past Chinese webLast week the Ghosts of the Past debuted in Chinese language edition thanks to the careful work of some of the best translators in all of Beijing.  One measure of feedback I received from my editor was just how dark and sexy the book was.  Given my well deserved scholarly reputation as a historian, Ghosts of the Past and its equally saucy sequel Princess Anyu Returns might seem out of place from the rest of my work.  Out of place until you look deeper into history and explore the treacherous realm of sexual politics that was the experience for most medieval noble and royal women.

Life for women has always been somewhat of a treacherous experience filled with dangers.  With few or no legal rights or protections, women rarely decided for themselves who to have sex with, let alone marry.  Instead the men in their families, their governments, and their religions held almost complete control over their bodies.  Among women of high social status this meant that women’s bodies were tools for gaining wealth, power, and social status by those in position to use them.

Ghosts of the Past cover webThis social and political reality for women underscores the sometimes brutally dark sides to Beinarian society.  Sex and childbearing are tools the villains (both female and male) use at their leisure to impose their will on others, advancing mysterious agendas that only become clear after Princess Anyu Returns from her exile.   These agendas add spice to both Ghosts of the Past and Princess Anyu Returns with twists and turns around every corner.  Villains use sex and violence freely to achieve their goals, predating on the innocent and using every method at their disposal to thwart the heroes and heroines.  They are just as likely to kill as seduce and use offspring created at the expense of their enemies as weapons against them.

It is a dark, dystopic realm where only the bravest dare tread.

Are you brave enough to travel there?

 

Find the Ghosts of the Past in English on Amazon, Barnes/Noble, Smashwords, and iTunes or in Chinese on Amazon, Chinese Amazon, and Douban.