Peter Bernhardt, author of The Stasi File and its sequel, Kiss of the Shaman's Daughter, shares new perspectives on the craft of writing, gained from translating his first novel for a German edition: Die Stasi-Akte: Oper und Spionage: Eine tödliche Kombination. While you enjoy his guest blog, consider ways to apply it to your writing.
Translating Novel Affords New Perspective on the Craft of Writing, by Peter Bernhardt,
"Four years had passed since I published my first novel, The Stasi File, when I finally gave in to what had been niggling at me: the desire to translate the book into German. After all, it deals with one of the most monumental events in German history—something most post-WWII Germans never expected to see realized during their lifetime—the unification of the two German states. Add to that the evil machinations of the most hated and feared institution in the former communist East Germany—the Stasi, which took the Gestapo methods of surveillance, coercion, and torture to new levels—and German readers who had suffered under the totalitarian regime, or who had relatives who did, would surely take notice.
"However, it was not until after I had published the sequel, Kiss of the Shaman’s Daughter, and had written close to a third of my third novel, that I turned my attention to publishing a German edition.
"At first I considered translating the novel myself, but after delving into the first chapter, I had to admit that having departed Germany at age twenty-three and having lived in the United States for forty-six years, my German was out of date. So I engaged a translator and an editor who were up-to-date. I was fortunate in working with a great team. Edith Parzefall from Nürnberg translated, and Berliner Kathrin Brückmann edited. While my primary motivation was to make the novel available to German readers, I certainly won’t object should I reap financial rewards from Die Stasi-Ake.
"At first blush, translating a novel does not seem to have any relevance to the author of an English language manuscript. However, a closer look will reveal a connection, meaning there are tangible benefits to revisiting a manuscript penned some time ago.
"Depending on your point of view, rereading your creation can be a negative or a positive experience. A successful author, whose name escapes me, has been quoted as saying (paraphrasing here), “My idea of hell is for an author to have to contemplate his own works in eternity.”
"One could certainly despair when seeing the flaws in one’s early work. However, I choose to see the positive, which is how much I have learned since writing my first novel.
"You obviously need not translate your work to appreciate how much you have grown as an author. Simply study something you wrote a while back and you will discover what I did. That is, the sheer number of filters that are present in one’s first attempt at writing fiction. Then having gained experience, one is able to express in a succinct phrase what previously took several sentences to convey.
The list goes on: tag lines that are not needed to identify the speaker; dialogue that can be tightened, made sharper, reveal more character, advance the plot better, and is not mundane; bringing descriptions to life by having the characters interact with their environment; getting rid of over-explanations that deprive the reader of the greatest reading pleasure that comes from engaging one’s imagination.
"These are just a few of the endless examples of how much an author can gain from reexamining a novel. I’m not suggesting that we must wait years like I did, but simply that letting a manuscript sit for a few weeks or months before giving it one final read-through will make the novel infinitely better, i.e., more polished.
"I have put my experience into practice by taking advantage of the ever existing opportunity to revise my novels printed on demand.
"While readers of my books as initially published have not pointed out any shortcomings in the writing, I do feel it’s important for me as the author to make it as perfect as possible, even if I’m the only one who is aware how something could be phrased better. As I’m halfway through penning my third novel, I’m ever mindful of the lessons I have learned during the translation process.
The Stasi File and Kiss of the Shaman’s Daughter, polished to the best of my ability, are available in paperback and Kindle format on Amazon. For reviews, reader comments and list of awards please check Amazon as well as my website.
Happy reading, writing and editing.
Peter Bernhardt, Author:The Stasi File: Opera and Espionage: A Deadly Combination,
Quarter Finalist 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award; Sequel: Kiss of the Shaman's Daughter
Die Stasi-Akte: Oper und Spionage: Eine tödliche Kombination (German Edition)