Susan Wilson

Archive for the ‘On Writing’ Category

Lost in Translation

Posted on: June 5th, 2010 by Susan No Comments

This blog first appeared in the Martha’s Vineyard Times

I had the most interesting email conversation with the woman who is doing the Brazilian Portuguese translation of One Good Dog.  Professor Regina Lyra emailed me with a question about a reference to the actor Lawrence Olivier and we ‘got talking.’

As she writes:  “Translation is, sometimes, a sort of puzzle and maybe that’s why it’s such a fascinating craft. I’m also a professor of literary translation at the Catholic University in Rio and these are the kind of difficulties that surprise my students as well, although they have been reading translations all their lives. As a matter of fact, readers do not give translation any thought, unless it bothers them, preventing the illusion that the book has been originally written like that – in other words, when the translation is bad.”

One of her first problems was that there is a specific word for the term sister-in-law, which created difficulty as the difference between sister and sister-in-law is a key element in the plot and without it, a lot gets lost.

Lyra writes: “The solution that came to me, after a sleepless night, was:  ‘If only she’d been attentive enough with regard to that critical, essential, defining information when she listened to the message and then transferred it to the slip of paper… Sterling’s sister – and not his sister – had called suggesting a surprise party.’”

The Olivier reference that gave Prof. Lyra a little pause was, as she explains:  “There are also the cultural differences. For example, the name of Lawrence Olivier is familiar to people of my generation, but not for most of the younger generation, so I also changed that for: ‘my performance was worthy of an Oscar.’”

I had never given much thought to the challenges posed to the translators of American fiction into Portuguese, French, Spanish, Norwegian, or any of the other languages my books have been translated into.  I guess, being the poor language student that I was, I thought that it was a word for word process.  Not so.  This is an intellectual Suduko exercise.  Evidently, America idioms are not always comprehensible in other languages.  For Prof. Lyra, translating the sentence “on the other paw” was its own challenge.  Because the familiar, to Americans, idiom ‘on the other hand’ means something, substituting the word paw isn’t incomprehensible to the reader.  But, because the sentence didn’t actually have the word “hand” in it, not only was it hard to translate, but the joke is lost too. She writes: “The same goes for some alliterations, like ‘greasy wheat sheaves in a breeze,’ for which, as of this moment, I haven’t yet decided what to do.  That’s what the adage ‘lost in translation’ is all about.”

Good translation from English or into English requires more than an excellent comprehension of the language—the words— but the more instinctive quality of understanding the culture into which the words are being translated.  It’s not just language; it’s also customs, experience, national identity, and nuance.  As a reader of translated works, such as the outstanding Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (Ut og stjæle hester), a 2003 Norwegian novel that was translated into English in 2005 by Anne Born, I was unaware of the transition between the author’s language and the words on the translated page.  That’s good translation.  I even thought that at the time.  On the other hand, I have read British authors whose work has been ‘translated’ into American English that absolutely stunk because it was so obvious, and obviously unnecessary.  It’s why some books do well in some countries but not others. 

What’s really cool for me are the translations of the titles of those of my novels I was lucky enough to have sell in other countries.  Beauty became Passion Interdite (Forbidden Passion) in France.  Hawke’s Cove has become Salatut tunteet (Hidden Feelings) in Finnish, Verao na Enseada (Summer in the Cove) in Brazil and Jestrabi (Hawk) in Slovakia where I became Susan Wilsonova.  I kind of like that.  I can’t wait to see what One Good Dog becomes.


Reading: Alive and well in the 21st century

Posted on: June 5th, 2010 by Susan No Comments


Huffington Post!

Posted on: April 21st, 2010 by Susan No Comments

It is quite a thrill to be invited to blog on the Huffington Post.  I wrote this little essay about becoming an accidental advocate of pit bulls.  See what you think.

Bad Language or Art?

Posted on: April 7th, 2010 by Susan 1 Comment

I was taken to task by two readers for using, what they termed, potty language in ONE GOOD DOG.  In both cases, I defended myself by saying that 1) I write for adults and, 2) in order to draw authentic characters, one must write as real people behave.  Yes, there is an f-bomb or two, but used exactly as a man would use it, under the circumstances that would make it unthinkable that a man wouldn’t use it.  If I’d substituted ‘doggone it,’ well, it wouldn’t have been believable and it would have diminished the carefully constructed character that used that language.  Dialogue isn’t random, it’s chosen to reflect the character that’s being written.  If a word is out of character, the illusion that this is a real person is threatened.   I did put that word in the mouth of an angry teenage girl; but again, it’s what a furious, frustrated, young woman at the end of her rope might scream as she runs out the door.  And, yes, I did use a term for excrement that might have offended.  But, again, when Adam steps in it, that’s the word that comes into his head–wouldn’t it come  into yours?

At heart, I think that a generational disconnect is partly what prompts this complaint.  And the fact that woman has written those words.  But I can assure you, the use of ‘bad language’ isn’t gratuitous.  In today’s world, when used judiciously, such language is authentic.

Nor’easters galore

Posted on: March 31st, 2010 by Susan No Comments

I think that it’s finally stopped raining.  Watching the news last night makes me feel so lucky, no washed out roads, flooded basements or power outages that I know about here.   That seven miles of water that separate us from them also seems to separate us from the disasters that befall other communities, especially those close to moving water.  We may get high tides and barrier beach openings, but we’re already cognizant of the hazards of coastal living.  We watch miles of beach erode, and keep moving lighthouses back from the edge, but it’s never a surprise.  For us it’s a dramatic ride along the beach road, observing the fury of nature first hand.  Then go home and make dinner.  We aren’t out on the water; we aren’t watching the river crest and fill our basements.  We are safe and just enough above sea level to go to bed without worrying.   If only our insurance companies were so complacent.  By examining their computer models, many of them have dumped island homeowners on the once in a millenium forecast that the island might sink.  True.  I wonder now if those people in Freetown or Stonington’s Birdland will be dumped by their insurance companies now that their roads have washed out and their homes are swimming pools.  Let’s hope not.

Who would have dreamed….

Posted on: March 23rd, 2010 by Susan 1 Comment

Next to the birth of my granddaughter, or that of my own children, the launch of ONE GOOD DOG has been the most exciting thing to happen to me in a long time.  I remember being so excited at the launch of BEAUTY in 19whatever, but I can honestly say that OGD has received so much more enthusiasm and love from everyone involved, that I’m humbled.  When I received word that the book had made the New York Times bestseller list for the week ending March 13, landing at #30 out of 35 on the extended list, well you could have knocked me over with a feather.  I honestly thought that I’d drempt it.  When the fabulous bouquet of flowers arrived from my friends at St. Martin’s Press, I knew that I hadn’t.  Their cheering squad is the best ever.

This week and next (March 22-April 4) I’ll be chatting on Library Thing.  Go to the author chat button and scroll down till you find me.  I’d love to hear what your thoughts are and answer any questions you might have.


Posted on: March 9th, 2010 by Susan 1 Comment

This article first appeared in the Martha’s Vineyard Times in February 2010.
The build up to the release of ONE GOOD DOG has me going in a vastly different direction than any of my previously published books ever did. In the olden days—BEAUTY was published, gasp, sixteen years ago—I had little or nothing to do with marketing or publicizing the book other than making contact with my friendly local press. Since the publication of SUMMER HARBOR in 2003 the world of marketing has changed in remarkable ways. Back then, print advertising was the key to the mint. Publishers allocated a certain amount of money for advertising, and the more they would do in the print media the better because that’s where people saw your book. This print advertising meant that you had a product the publisher was willing to back. A book only has a six to eight week ‘shelf life’ before being yesterday’s news. Back in the day, an expensive print advertising campaign could determine an author’s make-or-break.

Even then, it wasn’t all about the paid ad. Word of mouth, also called hand-selling, is perhaps a more important determinant in a book’s success. Readers are the best salesmen. If the book grabs the attention of those readers who love nothing better than to recommend, who tell their friends, who then tell their friends that Moby-Dick is a fun read, Melville is suddenly on everyone’s lips. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society is one of those books, now enjoying residence on the best seller list, long after initial publication.

Today the internet is the marketing tool of choice. It harnesses both the visual impact of print advertising and, best of all, is the electronic version of word of mouth. The ‘buzz’ travels greater distances and with greater speed than ever possible before the advent of social networking. However, an author’s make-or-break chance of success is dependent upon his or her willingness to use this tool. The internet is an interactive medium, and it is up to the author to use it. I’ve already written in this column about my reluctance to join Facebook, pooh-poohing its relevance. In order to write that column, I had to walk the walk, and thus set up a Facebook page with every intention of cancelling it once the column was published. I didn’t. I found that it was kind of fun to reach out to people, check out their baby pictures and get a head’s up about upcoming events in the community. Even so, I rarely visited it, or paid it too close attention except on the rare occasion I’d get a notice of someone ‘writing on my wall.’ That’s all changed. I’m ‘friending’ and being ‘friended’ every day. My marketing maven Monica sent me a laundry list (do people still write laundry lists?) of internet sites I must join. So, being the responsible and obedient author that I am, I’ve now got accounts on Twitter (dear God, help me), BookArmy, GoodReads, IndieBound and other book-centric social networks, plus this blog.

Relentless self-promotion is a very difficult thing for me. When we visit bookstores elsewhere, it’s always painful for me to sidle up to the main desk and offer to sign any of my books that might be on their shelves, it feels too self-serving, requiring a chutzpah not native to me. (And I’ve learned to make sure they have copies before I really embarrass myself.) But, as I have been reminded time and again, it’s critical to make contact. On the other hand, there are writers who go into a bookstore and blatantly ‘face out’ their books. Isn’t Facebook essentially the same thing: putting my book—ONE GOOD DOG, in case you can’t remember its title—face out on your shelf?

Is all this tweeting and Facebooking, chatting, blogging, crying out in the wilderness going to help? Yes. Better than all the paid ads in the world, this social networking gives my audience the opportunity to connect with me about the book, to ask questions, make comments. And it gives me something that the authors of a bygone era had in only the limited way of fan letters forwarded on by publishers—immediate, direct, two-way personal communication with readers. And that’s very exciting.
So, if you’ve a mind to, visit me. Friend me on Facebook; follow my tweets. I promise I won’t write drivel.

Just one last word. It’s been a long time since the last book came out. A long road of distraction and failed attempts. Finally, twenty months or so ago, the right idea came to me, I got the right advice and direction; and, best of all, the right editor at the right publishing house. All along the way people have been patient, kind, understanding, supportive, and not once did anyone suggest I give up. I thank you all.
ONE GOOD DOG is on the shelves—of real bookstores and those in the e-commerce world.

You may kiss the bride…..

Posted on: March 2nd, 2010 by Susan 2 Comments

A lot of people have compared a book launch to having a baby. It’s a fairly apt analogy: conception, long months of growth and a few ultrasounds along the way. A couple of scares. Finally, finally, something to show. But, that’s a very tired, if comprehensible, simile.

I prefer to think of it as planning a wedding. You meet your intended, in my case, a new editor introduced to me by a yenta, otherwise known as my agent. A long courtship follows, promises made, a common goal in the future. A date is set. Like most modern weddings, the date is nearly two years in the future, but that allows for lots of dresses to be tried on, cakes to be tasted, wedding party to be chosen. My bridesmaids are my marketing maven and, if he’ll excuse the gender bending, my publicist. Maid of honor, my agent, naturally. Today I walk down the aisle (of my bookstore) and on the altar of commerce is ONE GOOD DOG. Sweet!
What’s next? After a suitably long honeymoon….a new book!

Posted on: February 26th, 2010 by Susan No Comments

Next week I get to guest blog on  This on-line resource for readers is just full of book giveaways and author blogs.  You really get a feel for what everyone out there is reading–and thinking about reading–in a clever format with up-to-the minute opinion and buzz.  Take a look following and watch for my guest blog next week.

The Big Day Cometh

Posted on: February 25th, 2010 by Susan No Comments

If my life was a movie, the soundtrack would consist of beating drums, the volume and intensity letting the watcher know something is coming……
And that something is the launch date of ONE GOOD DOG. After what seems to be an eternity, suddenly March 2 is on the horizon and OGD mere days away from appearing on shelves and tables at every Barnes and Nobel, Borders, and independent bookstore.
I’ve been invited to participate in a number of blogs as a guest blogger. I’ll be visiting Library Thing, Bookbloggersdiary, and Bookreporter next week. Also, and so far this one has been my favorite…Bark ‘n’ Blog. I was interviewed by a dog. Sounds corny, but it gave me a chance to use Chance’s voice one more time. How sweet is that?
Here’s a list of the blogs and the expected date of my visit. March 2 March 4 March 5 March 8 March 10
I’ll post others as I get them.