My First Book Signing

Steven Deeble signing copies of 'Persistence of Vision'.Last night I had my first book signing at Timeless Pints Brewing Company in Lakewood, California. Two of the bartenders, Ken and Rae, had purchased my book on Amazon and when I was signing them, I got an idea.

“Do you think the owners would consider doing an author event here?”

They said they’d ask and the next day I had the green light.

Timeless Pints is my local. It is a community hub that is family-friendly (Dog-friendly, too). The minute I walked in the place Rae had me in the palm of her hand. I’ve met some cool people there. So when they agreed to host my first book signing, I was thrilled.

Tami Shaikh, an author I met through the Southern California Writer’s Association, gave me some tips on how to set up for Point of Sale transactions and what things I would need to have on hand. My friend Vanessa’s daughter, Judy, handled all my sales. Judy an enterprising, bright, and charming 11 year-old, I just sat next to her and signed books.

Oh, and people bought me beers. That was also pretty great. Lots of people from my high school graduating class came, which was nice. We gave away the first copy as a door prize at our reunion a couple of months ago. Some folks from work came and brought others. Even made a couple of sales to people I didn’t know. The place was packed and everyone had a blast.

As we were about to shut down they got a call from a woman who identified herself as an ex-girlfriend from high school who was on her way but had been stuck in traffic. She asked if I could stay a while. I hadn’t seen Rosella in 40 years. What a trip.

So now I’m working on the next event – a book signing fundraiser for the Historical Society of Long Beach, to be held at the cemetery where they do their annual Halloween tour. I have family buried in that cemetery so I’m really looking forward to it.

‘Persistence of Vision’ Book Signing at Timeless Pints Brewing Company

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be signing copies of my first novel, ‘Persistence of Vision’, at Timeless Pints Book Signing for 'Persistence of Vision' at Timeless Pints.Brewing Company in Lakewood, California, on Saturday, September 23rd, from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Timeless became my local the minute I walked in the door. Bartenders Ken Jones and Rae Carreiro welcomed me, as did Stacy and Patti. When the book came out, Rae and Ken bought copies and I asked if the owners would consider doing an author event. They asked, and the owners agreed. I am so fortunate.

Rae has booked a Peruvian food truck for the afternoon. Timeless features 13 of their own craft beers that are brewed on-site. Books will be available for purchase and I will be there to sign them. Well, and to drink beer. It’s a brewery, after all.

So come on down and bring your friends and family. There are games for the kids. And beer for the grownups.

Did I mention there will be beer?

Literary Agents on Author Platform

Author PlatformA few years ago I was writing my first novel, Persistence of Vision’. I started thinking about what I was going to do with it once finished. A friend who’d taken a shot at publishing told me that if you can’t get one of the top-tier literary agents, it wasn’t worth it. I decided to do some research to see what agents wanted.

I pulled out my most-current copy of Writer’s Market (I have three at any point in time). There is an entire section on literary agents, including a detailed listing of agents and agencies. I marked that place in the book, thinking that with the advent of the Internet it had to be easier than going through a listing that looked like the white pages (Dating myself, I know). I went to bed that night resolved that I was going to learn what it takes to get a literary agent.

I had been doing video production on ‘Hollywood-style’ book trailers and writing screenplay treatments for vanity publishing house Author Solutions. The next day I was part of a video production team. I had taken the gig without knowing what it was, as a favor to a producing partner. What it was…we drove around Southern California interviewing LITERARY AGENTS about what they were looking for. Seriously, I couldn’t believe it. What I was hearing was from their own lips.

My friend’s comment about top-tier literary agents referred to the fact that it is their contacts in the publishing houses that make them valuable to authors. They know people, they have lunch with people, and that is how literary agents make their percentage.

At the time, they collectively downplayed self-publishing, which was in its infancy. I don’t think Amazon had CreateSpace yet. Of course self-publishing cuts agents out of their commission, along with the percentage taken by publishing houses. Circumventing the establishment in publishing was a one-way ticket to Remainderville, according to these literary agents.

And yet every one of those same agents explained in no uncertain terms how the changing economics of the publishing industry was putting more and more weight on the author for promoting their books. This was the first time I heard the term ‘author platform’ and I heard it all day long.

Author platform was taking up the slack in promoting books that publishing companies could (or would) no longer underwrite. So, instead of that glamorous ten-city book tour, you blog. You blog and post to social media. Maybe you’re on Facebook. Maybe Twitter. Maybe you do Skype readings. This is how authors can interact with their fans. Without the travel expenses.

So here’s the thing: Everything those literary agents told us authors need to be doing now that publishing companies have cut their marketing budgets? Well, those are the same things an author who self publishes needs to do to promote their book. So it only makes sense to build your platform, no matter whether you are seeking an agent or you are self-publishing. The fact you have a platform and that you understand how to use social media to interact with your readers is what they want to see.

There’s no excuse. Start building your author platform!

Evolution of a Screenplay: The Shining

To understand the complex process that Stephen King’s novel The Shining went

Stephen King conceived The Shining at the Stanley Hotel.

Stephen King conceived The Shining at the Stanley Hotel.

through to become Stanley Kubrick’s  The Shining, we need to go back to the night it began in the mind of the famous horror writer.

King based his first two novels, Carrie, and ‘Salem’s Lot, in small towns in his native Maine. He wanted a change, so he and his wife, Tabitha, traveled. He flipped open an atlas and pointed at Boulder, Colorado. They stayed at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. It was the end of the season and they were the only guests in the hotel. The Stanley was closing down for the season and the Kings had the run of the place.

They stayed in room 217 after hearing it was haunted.

An early attempt at a novel, Darkshine, had stalled. That night, King’s story of a psychic boy came to him again.

They ate dinner in the grand dining room alone. There was only one entrée, which they ate to taped orchestral music. The other chairs were up on the tables. After a nightcap with a bartender named Grady, King had a dream of his son running through the hotel, looking over his shoulder and screaming. He woke up and in the time it took to smoke a cigarette, he had the book in his mind.

The Shining: Stephen King’s Novel

According to Laura Miller’s ‘What Stanley Kubrick Got Wrong About the Shining’, “Jack Torrance, the deranged aspiring writer played by Jack Nicholson in the film, is the most autobiographical of all his (King’s) creations.”

Miller defends Stephen King’s complaints about Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of King’s book.

“That two such different men as King and Kubrick were able to see themselves in this character indicates what a remarkable creation Jack Torrance is.”

It also suggests why King would be particularly sensitive to the manner in which the book was adapted into a screenplay.

“King himself was suffering from alcoholism at the time he wrote the novel, therefore giving a strong autobiographical element to the story. He has expressed disappointment that his novel’s important themes, such as the disintegration of family and the dangers of alcoholism, are less prevalent in the film.”

Jack Nicholson’s famous identification with the character of McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) led King to think audiences would anticipate Jack Torrance going mad. King felt an actor like Jon Voigt, Christopher Reeve, or Michael Moriarty should have played the role, which he saw more as an everyman, whose subsequent madness would be more disturbing

Stanley Kubrick’s Treatment for The Shining

Kubrick made copious notes in his personal copy of ‘The Shining’. He produced an 81-page treatment. The treatment is divided into ten parts, the first nine parts being fairly well delineated. Part Ten, however, is skeletal. It sketches what is to happen during the finale loosely, leaving great gaps.

In Kubrick’s treatment there are repeated acts of physical violence against Danny and Wendy by Jack. These, along with scenes showing Jack’s fight with a student and his dislocating Danny’s shoulder didn’t make it into the film. Here are some of the more significant differences:

  • As in the novel, Jack discovers a large scrapbook that mysteriously appears on his writing table. It provides the history of the hotel. The early images are of its grand opening, but the book begins to paint a lurid picture of the events that have taken place there. Later, he shows the scrapbook to Wendy, telling her he thinks the history of The Overlook Hotel would be a good subject for a book. Then Wendy asks him where he got it and he tells her he picked it up in the lounge. The scrapbook only appears in the background and is never referenced in the film, as was the notion of Jack writing about the history of the Overlook.
  • The lights go out and Jack has to start the diesel generator. He and Wendy go to the basement. He is frustrated by the generator’s complex instructions. They discover some strange things in the basement, including a teddy bear hanging by its neck, belly slashed open. Jack is ultimately unfazed by the experience, which only frightens Wendy more. After Jack gets the generator going, they return to the lobby, Wendy expressing concern over who could make such a horrific display. Jack returns to work, not even caring if the phones work. This scene did not appear in the film.
  • The scene in the ballroom with Lloyd, the bartender, ends when Jack hears the lobby telephone ringing and goes to answer it. A water ring from the bottom of a glass stains the bare bar top. Jack answers the phone. Wendy tells him Danny has become lucid again and told her what happened in room 217. She is afraid to leave her room because she believes there is a homicidal maniac on the loose in the hotel. Jack tells her to stay in her room and goes to investigate. This scene changed from a telephone conversation to one where Wendy approaches Jack at his writing table.
  • Jack goes to room 217. A bloated rotting arm draws back the shower curtain and an old woman rises from the tub. In the film she is beautiful, until Jack embraces and kisses her.
  • The conversation between Jack and Daniel (sic) Grady, waiter, takes place at the bar, instead of inside the red restroom. The dialog in the treatment is very similar, if not the same. But the change in location, that amazing red bathroom, was significant.

The Shining: “How Do You Like It?”

Part Ten of the treatment begins with a variation on what has become one of the most famous scenes in the film. Wendy discovers the radio doesn’t work and goes to the lounge where Jack does his writing to confront him, but he is not there. A thick stack of typewritten pages – Jack’s manuscript – sits on the table next to the typewriter. Wendy grabs a fistful of pages and throws them on the floor. They scatter, float and fall in a hundred different places. She yells for Jack. Then she notices one of the pages on the floor. She moves around the room, taking in the pages and what is written on them: ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A DULL BOY.

When Jack confronts her threateningly, Wendy pushes Jack down the staircase, instead of hitting him with a bat. Then Wendy and Danny drag Jack through the hotel to the kitchen and into the larder.

Later, Wendy searches the kitchen for a padlock and key, but finds the door to the larder open. Jack grabs her around the throat from behind and strikes her head against the larder door. She drives her boning knife backwards into Jack’s belly. She gets away from him.

From Stanley Kubrick’s Treatment for The Shining

“A dying Jack creeps slowly in pursuit of a battered, nearly unconscious Wendy, the details of which are to be worked out, and which will end in Jack’s death.”

From here the treatment deviates from the novel AND the final film.

As Jack dies, Wendy hears the sound of a Snow Cat. She drags herself to the lobby where she finds the doors open, flapping in the wind. There is no sign of a Snow Cat. Suddenly she realizes Danny is alone in their room.

The door is open and Danny is not there.

Dick Hallorann moves along the corridor, casting a terrifying shadow on the wall. He is the fearful figure from Danny’s visions. Grady greets him.

The treatment then describes, in various levels of detail, an ending completely different from the one in the book or the film. Halloran goes crazy with an axe, Danny flees for his life, and Wendy wields her kitchen knife. As she progresses she becomes a ‘maddened demoniacal figure’.

She flings open doors, revealing scenes of the past evils of the hotel. At the conclusion of the chase, Danny sends Hallorann a psychic ‘Stop Dick! Don’t!’, giving Wendy the opening she needs, as Kubrick wrote in the treatment, ‘so that the old lady in Psycho will look like a pushover in comparison.’

Wendy takes Danny from the carnage. Hallorann falls to the floor. The camera moves in on Jack’s writing table, to the white scrapbook that lays open upon it. There is the photograph we all know, showing Jack at the Overlook in 1919. The sound of the Snow Cat starting outside mixes with the sound of a dance band.

A hand enters the frame, closing the scrapbook. The book is picked up, taken from frame. We hear the sound of footsteps fading in the distance.

How Stephen King’s Novel, The Shining, Ended (WITH SPOILERS)

Dick Hallorann rushes back to the Overlook after receiving a psychic distress call from Danny. Hallorann is attacked by topiary animals and then severely injured by Jack. As Jack pursues Danny through the Overlook, the hotel causes him to smash his face beyond recognition. Jack neglected to relieve the pressure on the boiler. Danny informs him that it is about to explode. As Danny, Wendy, and Hallorann flee, Jack rushes to the basement attempting to vent the boiler, which explodes and destroys the Overlook. The injured Hallorann guides Danny and Wendy away from the hotel to safety.

The treatment ends with a tag that appeared following the final scene in the hospital that was lost when Kubrick cut the ending:

“The Overlook Hotel would survive this tragedy, as it had so many others. It is still open each year from May 20th to September 20th. It is closed for the winter.”

The Shining: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson’s Screenplay

According to an interview in the New York Times, author and ‘The Shining’ co-screenwriter Diane Johnson, says Kubrick approached her initially about making a film of her recent novel, ‘The Shadow Knows’.

“Kubrick was thinking of making either the Stephen King or my novel, ‘The Shadow Knows’. And, you know, he ultimately decided on the King.”

Johnson was an interesting choice for a collaborator. She was novelist who had written several novels. ‘The Shadow Knows’ was well reviewed when it came out in 1974. But she had never written a screenplay. Ever.

Kubrick described their collaboration in an interview with Michel Ciment.

“Diane is an American novelist who has published a number of extremely good novels which have received serious and important attention. I was interested in several of her books and in talking to her about them I was surprised to learn that she was giving a course at the University of California at Berkeley on the Gothic novel. When The Shining came up she seemed to be the ideal collaborator, which, indeed, she proved to be.”

Johnson described Kubrick’s approach to engaging a writing partner:

“You know, you get these calls from Kubrick and then he proposes a meeting, and then he proposes you come in and write a script. And, so I did. And I spent, oh, I don’t know, a couple of months . . . I guess eleven weeks all together, so almost three months in London, working everyday with him, and it was . . . I really learned a lot I think about narrative and film-making. It was a great experience.”

“I had already been working on the treatment of the book, prior to her starting, but I hadn’t actually begun the screenplay,” said Kubrick. “With The Shining, the problem was to extract the essential plot and to re-invent the sections of the story that were weak. The characters needed to be developed a bit differently than they were in the novel.”

Kubrick: Adapting Novels, and Why ‘The Shining’ was Different

For Kubrick, this is where great novels become less great films. The point of a novel is the quality of the writing. This doesn’t translate. The film language is based on a different symbology. Also, the author’s insights contribute greatly to the novel.

According to Kubrick, The Shining was different. Its virtue was the plot. He and Johnson didn’t have much trouble adapting it into a screenplay.

“Diane and I talked a lot about the book and then we made an outline of the scenes we thought should be included in the film. This list of scenes was shuffled and reshuffled until we thought it was right, and then we began to write. We did several drafts of the screenplay, which was subsequently revised at different stages before and during shooting.”

The screenplay was revised so often (sometimes twice daily) that Jack Nicholson gave up reading it entirely.

One of the external sources that influenced Kubrick’s choices in adapting ‘The Shining’ was a story by American author Stephen Crane.

“Stephen Crane wrote a story called “The Blue Hotel.” In it you quickly learn that the central character is a paranoid. He gets involved in a poker game, decides someone is cheating him, makes an accusation, starts a fight and gets killed. You think the point of the story is that his death was inevitable because a paranoid poker player would ultimately get involved in a fatal gunfight. But, in the end, you find out that the man he accused was actually cheating him. I think The Shining uses a similar kind of psychological misdirection to forestall the realization that the supernatural events are actually happening.”

The original ending of the film, adds an even stranger layer to this, by making it apparent that, whatever supernatural forces are at work in the hotel, there is a very human presence guarding it.

“To be honest, the end of the book seemed a bit hackneyed to me and not very interesting. I wanted an ending which the audience could not anticipate. In the film, they think Hallorann is going to save Wendy and Danny. When he is killed they fear the worst. Surely, they fear, there is no way now for Wendy and Danny to escape.”

It is interesting to note how Kubrick changed Hallorann in the treatment with a similar twist. We think he’s coming back to save Danny. But he comes back as a devil instead of a rescuing angel.

Kubrick described the maze and how that ending may have orginated.

“The maze ending may have suggested itself from the animal topiary scenes in the novel. I don’t actually remember how the idea first came about.”

The topiary scenes, in which the plants trimmed to look like animals come to life, were deemed too difficult to render on film with the special effects that were available in the late ‘70s.

The Shining’s Original Ending

Slate published the only known fragment of the film’s shooting script (Scripts available on the Internet are ‘Postproduction’ scripts – created after the fact by transcribing the finished film). The article describes what happened following the film’s release:

“Back on May 23, 1980, when The Shining was first released, audiences saw something slightly different from what viewers obsess over today. That’s because the next weekend Stanley Kubrick did an unusual thing: He re-cut the film, removing about two minutes from the ending, even though it was already in release. Those two minutes, like so much at the film’s ghoulish hotel, are now lost to time, unlikely to ever be seen again.”

Overlook manager Stuart Ullman visits Wendy, along with her son Danny, at the hospital where she is recuperating. Ullman tells Wendy that nothing out of the ordinary was found when investigators searched the hotel. He tells her she must have been hallucinating.

“After inviting, Wendy and Danny to come stay with him in Los Angeles, he begins to leave, but remembers that he forgot to give something to Danny, and throws him a yellow ball.”

That yellow ball, or rather the hand that tosses it, is a direct through line to the hand referenced in Kubrick’s treatment, closing the scrapbook, and the footsteps moving away down the corridor. Having tried to turn the amiable Hallorann into a monster in the treatment, it seems like Kubrick and Johnson transferred a little of that darkness to the Overlook’s general manager.

The appearance of the yellow ball at The Overlook led Danny to find the murdered Grady daughters. Ullman appears to be trying to lead Danny somewhere else.

It seems the hotel still wants Danny, and Ullman is intent on getting him for it.

The Shining: The Secret of Room 237 Revealed

According to the website of the Timberline Lodge in Oregon, there was a change made to King’s story that neither Kubrick or Johnston had anything to do with creatively. The Timberline served as the exterior of The Overlook Hotel in the film.

“Kubrick was asked not to depict room #217 (featured in the book) in The Shining, because future guests at the Lodge might be afraid to stay there. So a nonexistent room, #237, was substituted in the film. Curiously and somewhat ironically, room #217 is requested more often than any other room at Timberline.”

 

 

Gained in Translation: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Stanislaw Lem and Umberto Eco

TranslationConsider The Bible.

The first list of books of The Bible was assembled at the Council of Rome in 382 CE. Saint Jerome was commissioned to produce translations of the original Greek and Hebrew texts into Latin, later known as the Latin Vulgate Bible.

I don’t read or write Latin. So I’m reading one of the English translations – The King James Bible, for example. There are approximately 7000 languages in the world today. The Bible has been translated into over 500 of them. According to Wikipedia, there are 120 complete translations in English alone.

That’s a Lot of Translation

According to Yardenne Greenspan, writing in Plowshares at Emerson College, the Hebrew language is profoundly steeped in biblical references, passages and turns of phrase. In her article ‘Out With the Old and in With the Ancient: The Bible as Literature in Translation’, she writes that no other language has so many such allusions.

“When translating Hebrew literature, these allusions would usually be transformed into an equivalent English phrase or slang, whether biblical itself or not. While ‘hoseh shivto sone bno’ would be translated into ‘spares the rod, hates his son’—an accurate translation of the same biblical quote, equal in meaning and awfulness—a phrase like ‘b’rachel bitha haktana’, which originates from the story of Jacob and Rachel and translates literally as ‘in exchange for Rachel, your youngest daughter’ (used in Hebrew as a metaphor for being painstakingly clear about one’s intentions), would probably be translated in the context of a non-biblical story as ‘explicitly’ or ‘no two ways about it’—leaving the matriarch entirely out of it.”

Translating Culture: The Advent of Translation Studies

The challenge of translation transcends merely finding words to replace words. The greatest challenges facing translators occur when language is being pushed to its limits, in poetry and word-play. Translators have been around for centuries, but translation studies as a formal pursuit is still relatively new. In translation studies they talk about the SC and the TC – Source Culture and Target Culture.

In her paper ‘Translating Culture: Problems, Strategies and Practical Realities’, Ana Fernández Guerra wrote about the theory behind translation studies:

“One of the problems a translator can face arises from the fact that some words or phrases denoting objects, facts, phenomena, etc… are so deeply rooted in their source culture (SC) and so specific (and perhaps exclusive or unique) to the culture that produced them that they have no equivalent in the target culture (TC) be it because they are unknown, or because they are not yet codified in the target language (TL).”

Further, some theorists support untranslatability when terms are so culture-bound as to defy translation.

Translation practice and theory have been split. The study of translation (usually literary) saw its origins in comparative literature and has expanded greatly.

In ‘On linguistic aspects of translation’, Russo-American structuralist Roman Jakobson (1896–1982) described categories of translation: ‘The first, intralingual translation, is an interpretation of verbal signs in the same language’.

Consider this expressing a concept ‘in other words’. You are trying to express a concept within the same language, but seeking other words to express the same concept.

The second type is interlingual translation – translation proper. This is the focus of translation studies. The goal of interlingual translation is to achieve “close lexical fidelity” between the SL (Source Language) and the TL (Target Language).

Finally, intersemiotic translation, or ‘transmutation’ – ‘an interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of non-verbal sign systems’.   Emphasis is on the overall message that needs to be conveyed rather than the ‘words’. Thus the translator, instead of paying attention to the verbal signs, concentrates more on the information that is to be delivered.

Translating Garcia Marquez and the Language of Magic Realism

Gregory Rabassa is referred to as ‘the translator’s translator’. He translated Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, ‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold”, and ‘Autumn of the Patriarch’.

The challenge he faced wasn’t so much translating the author’s work from Spanish to English. The challenge was translating the surreal sensibilities of ‘magic realism’. This is a genre in literature and art in which realistic narrative and naturalistic technique combine with fantastic elements of dream.

According to Rabassa, the translator is invisible. The translation never calls attention to itself.

“I am not sure that I have any technique. I certainly have no strategy (I am more of a tactician, if it comes to that) and I am not sure whether I have an approach or not. It is really very simple: I just sit down with paper and a dictionary handy and go to work. About the only preliminary effort expended was a reading of the book. Sometimes this had taken place a while back so that it is all a bit hazy. This might be to the good, if my experience is any example.”

While Rabassa has engaged in convoluted processes involving as many as five drafts back and forth between author and translator, he has also worked quickly and instinctively.

“I must confess, and I have confessed to Julio (Cortazar), that I translated Hopscotch as I read it. I did have to go back and change some things, but only a snippet here and there, nothing important. I think that this bears out my contention that a translation is nothing but a close reading, perhaps the closest reading possible. When I do a book I go along as fast as I can, trying to get the meaning down so that I can use this first draft with confidence. If a phrase resists me I put it down in some awkward but accurate form to be dealt with later. More to give myself a break in routine than anything else (although it enables me to ship chunks of translation off to the author periodically), I will stop after twenty or thirty pages of manuscript text and go back over it for the re-write.”

Translating the Poetic Science Fiction of Stanislaw Lem

Michael Kandel has translated the Polish author Stanislaw Lem’s work and has received accolades for his abilities with the difficult material.

Writer and Editor Franz Rottensteiner described Kandel’s work:

“The quality of his translations is considered to be excellent; his skill is especially notable in the case of Lem’s writing, which makes heavy use of wordplay and other difficult-to-translate devices.”

As with Rabassa struggling with Magic Realism, Kandel’s greatest challenge translating Lem’s writing was the totally original and complex universes Lem conceived and described.

Kandel, a fan of science fiction, explains how he approached this aspect of translating Lem, as well as the work of other authors.

“Well, if you know that this happens in science fiction, then it’s not so strange and you don’t have a problem with it at all—in fact, it’s almost easier to make up words because you know how to do that, to come up with something that corresponds to what the author’s made up.”

Kandel described the frustration of finding so many words he didn’t know when reading an early Lem novel.

“The first book I read in Polish that was SF was Lem’s The Invincible, and I really had a hard time getting through it. I thought it was a great book, but I spent a lot of time looking through the dictionary, and later someone told me, those words aren’t in any Polish dictionary!”

Relay Translation vs. Direct Translation

According to the blog ‘Life in Translation’, one of Lem’s most famous novels was once only available in poorly translated versions.

“Now it turns out that the only available English version of Stanisław Lem’s 1961 Polish science fiction novel Solaris had been relay translated from a poor French version. The Guardian reports that a new direct translation by Bill Johnston has just been published which ‘removes a raft of unnecessary changes and restores the text much closer to its original state’.”

Umberto Eco Translates Himself

Umberto Eco’s work, both fiction and non-fiction, has been translated from Italian into many languages. In addition to writing extensively on semiotics, the language of symbols, he has written several novels, including ‘The Name of the Rose’ and ‘Foucault’s Pendulum’.

Eco has written extensively about his experiences with the translation of his work, and the phenomenon of translation in general. In his book ‘Experiences in Translation’, Eco expresses a similar notion to the one presented earlier by Michael Kandel.

Matteo Poles, writing about one of Eco’s speeches on the website Terminology Coordination, describes Eco’s observations about translations and translators:

“He (Eco) concludes that even though the Italian translator failed the translation, a reader, even though not so experienced and skilled, will always perceive the ‘world’ of the book. Eco states that in his search for the perfect translation he first tried to use images taken from his own cultural world and only afterwards he counted on his linguistic knowledge, in order to verify if the pun can have an equivalent in Italian.”

Eco enumerates his ‘commandments’ for translation:

“A translation, Eco states as a first commandment, is not simply the comprehension and an interpretation of a text. Second rule, an interpretation introduces us to multiple possible “worlds”: an idea that Eco, as semiotics professor, had always underlined in his essays. Third, in the translation of a book it seems legitimate to violate some rules in order to produce the same effect the original author intended.”

Eco provides an additional rule: the translation can be more complex than the original text.

He points out that in Italian there is only a word for the concept of nephew, while in English we could have niece, nephew, grandson or granddaughter, which define more precisely the family relationships and the sex of the person.

Tune in Tomorrow: How Authors of the Classics Built Platform Through Serialization

Vintage Magazine Cover

The Century Magazine published Jack London’s ‘The Sea Wolf’ in installments.

When we think of the literary works by the great authors of Western civilization, we usually think of them as novels born complete from the writer’s mind and pen, and then typeset into print as volumes adorning the shelves of bookstores. The fact is quite different. While some writers did publish their work as complete volumes (Often paying printing costs themselves), many of the novels we think of as ‘classics’ were, in fact, originally serialized in periodicals.

This practice had already been an accepted method for getting published for a century by the time Charles Dickens ‘‘The Pickwick Papers‘ began serialization in 1836. Over the course of its publication, circulation went from 1,000 to 40,000.

In 1851, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ was serialized in an abolitionist magazine, ‘The National Era. Herman Melville‘s publishers refused his novel ‘Israel Potter’. It was serialized in Putnam’s Monthly Magazine in 1853. Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’ appeared in installments in La Revue de Paris in 1856.
Alexandre Dumas ‘The Three Musketeers’ and ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov’ were also each serialized.

By 1878, publishing a novel in serialized form was not just the last resort of authors wishing to get their work before the public. According to an article in Scribner’s Monthly, “Now it is the second or third rate novelist who cannot get publication in a magazine, and is obliged to publish in a volume, and it is in the magazine that the best novelist always appears first.”

It is well known that the stories of Sherlock Holmes appeared in The Strand magazine. His first novel featuring the great detective, ‘A Study in Scarlet’, was published en toto in ‘Beeton’s Christmas Annual’ and met with a lackluster response. The follow-up novel, ‘The Sign of Four’, was also published complete in an installment of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine and did considerably better. Following the publication of many of the Holmes short stories, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ was serialized in ‘The Strand’ beginning in 1901. The first Holmes story to be published following the character’s death was so well-received that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle decided to bring him back by publishing stories that had ostensibly taken place prior to Holmes’ demise at Reichenbach Falls.

Several notable 20th and 21st Century authors saw their work appear in magazines. Dashiell Hammett’s first novel, ‘Red Harvest’, was serialized beginning in 1927 in the pulp magazine ‘Black Mask’. After a long career as a journalist and author of non-fiction books like ‘The Electric Koolaid Acid Test’, Tom Wolfe’s first novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, ran in 27 parts in ‘Rolling Stone’ beginning in 1984. Michael Chabon had already published several novels (Including ‘The Mysteries of Pittsburg’ and ‘Wonder Boys’) when he serialized Gentlemen of the Road in The New York Times Magazine in 2007.

Novels already have full stops to the narrative and so naturally lend themselves to serialization. The return to the practice of serializing novels makes sense in a world of sound byte mentality, where we rely on infographics and factoids to give us information packaged for bite-sized consumption. It would provide print magazines with content that could potentially increase sales.

But beyond physical (And electronic) distribution of serialized novels in magazines, the web has a voracious appetite for content. A web site is a kind of ‘magazine’, if you will. The site Mousehold Words provides Dickens and others in serialized form. Amazon has a Kindle Serial program stocking a variety of titles. DailyLit e-mails installments of books on a daily or weekly schedule. They were bought in 2013 by the serialized-fiction outlet Plympton.

Five Films About Writers, Writing and Publishing

buster-keaton-396846_1280This list is by no means complete.  There are many other films about writing.  ‘The End of the Tour’ is a recent film about the late David Foster Wallace‘Adaptation’, written by Charlie Kaufman, portrays the process through which twin brothers adapt Susan Orleans‘ book ‘The Orchid Thief’ into a screenplay.  ‘Misery’, a film by Rob Reiner, is based on the novel by Stephen KingAlan Rudolph’s film ‘Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle’ is a feast of writers surrounding Dorothy Parker, from the golden age of acid wit.  ‘The Front’, and more recently ‘Trumbo’, confront the Hollywood blacklist, in which writers were identified by friends and colleagues as members of the Communist Party.  And there are many, many more..

If you haven’t seen the films in the following list, be advised that I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, but there may be plot information revealed ahead..

 

The Shining

Stephen King didn’t care for the film that director Stanley Kubrick made from his book, ‘The Shining’ (1980).  The film stars Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall as a wannabe writer and his put-upon spouse.  Danny Lloyd played their son, Danny, whose psychic ability the hotel’s cook (Scatman Crothers) shares.

Jack Torrance is King’s most autobiographical character.  So it makes sense he would be particularly sensitive to changes in this material.

Jack Torrance has ideas.  He just needs to sit down and write them out. So Jack gets a job as the winter caretaker at a remote mountain hotel, where he’ll be able to use the ample down time to work on a book. Little Danny quickly discovers he is able to see things he’d rather not see in a place that seems to be the nexus of some dark passage to the underworld.

In addition to ideas, Jack has demons.  He is a recovering alcoholic with at least on episode of physical abuse against Danny on the record.  He descends into madness as the hotel exerts its supernatural forces on him.

Kubrick co-wrote the screenplay with novelist Diane Johnson.  They did depart from the book, but in doing so created some of the most frightening moments in screen history, not to mention several nuggets of popular culture.

In their book ‘Stanley Kubrick, Director’, Alexander Walker, Sybil Taylor and Ulrich Ruchti quote Kubrick:

“The perfect novel from which to make a movie is one which is mainly concerned with the inner life of its characters.  It will give the adaptor an absolute compass on which a character is thinking or feeling at any given moment.”

They also discuss the role of the screenplay once production began.

“For all its author’s concern with ‘control’, a Kubrick shooting script is no cut-and-dried affair. With each successive film, it seems increasingly to resemble a talisman rather than a set of imperatives; a prompt copy, so to speak, for a collaborative effort between himself and his stars.  It is used to incite Kubrick and his actors to respond to the spontaneity of the creative moment, to the inspiration, discoveries, and inventions that their creative partnership is able to generate, rehearse, and catch on film.”

Laura Miller, writing in Salon, observed: “The two men (Kubrick and King) represent diametrically opposed approaches to creating narrative art.  One is an aesthete and the other is a humanist.”

During the first two weeks of the film’s release, Kubrick ordered that the final scene in which the hotel manager meets with Wendy in her hospital room be cut out of the prints and returned to Warner Brothers.  All subsequent prints were struck without that final scene.

Dr. Sleep’, the sequel to ‘The Shining’, was published in 2015.

Barton Fink

The Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarrentino are two sides of the same coin in a way.  They are both great lovers of film in all its forms, and the bodies of work they have created are as much about films as they are the characters and situations within them.  Of the two coin sides I have to express a preference for the brothers Coen.

Barton Fink’ (1991) takes this to the extreme.  Barton (John Turturro) is a playwright with a critical and popular Broadway success and a ticket to Hollywood to work for $1000 a week writing scripts.  He rooms next door to an insurance salesman (John Goodman) in a run-down hotel.  This is contrasted with the opulent lifestyle of his producer, Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner).

Fink makes the acquaintance of another writer, W. P. Mayhew (John Mahoney), a successful novelist drawn to Hollywood by the money.  His career is on the brink as he drinks himself into a downward slide.  Many people see the two characters as representing Clifford Odets and William Faulkner, who both spent time as script writers in Hollywood, Faulkner on ‘To Have and Have Not’, and the classic noir film ‘The Big Sleep’ and Odets on ‘The Sweet Smell of Success’, among many others.

‘Barton Fink’ comments on the low/highbrow comparison between motion pictures and more ‘serious’ entertainment, like the theater. Fink wants to write important stuff, but Lipnick has him working on a wrestling picture.  Fink wants to maintain touch with ‘the common man’.  He selected his hotel because it is ‘less Hollywood’.

Fink is blocked, distracted by all manner of strange sounds coming from the insurance agent’s room next door.  He is unable to write a single line.  He runs out of time and enlists the aid of Mayhew’s assistant (Judy Davis).  She confesses to Fink that she wrote all of Mayhew’s screenplays, and she helps Fink write his wrestling picture.

Those aforementioned nods to old Hollywood aside, the film defies categorization.  It seems noir.  But it also has surreal qualities.

The project came into being while the Coen brothers were writing something they called ‘The Bighead’, Like Fink, they were stuck.  They took some time away and when they came back, they’d written ‘Barton Fink’, using their writer’s block in the script.
‘The Bighead’ was revisited, retitled, and began production as ‘Miller’s Crossing’.

Ronald Bergan, in his book ‘The Coen Brothers’, quotes the brothers jointly:  “Perhaps it was a relief from ‘Miller’s Crossing’, it came easily. Certain films come entirely in one’s head.  You know how it will look.  Even if you don’t know the ending. You have an intuition about the conclusion.  In contrast, other scenarios are like a voyage where you don’t know exactly where you’re going. We just sort of burped out ‘Barton Fink’.”

The Player

Michael Tolkin adapted his own novel for Robert Altman’s film.  This satirical comedy skewers the film industry, particularly in their treatment of writers.

The Player’ (1992) lives mostly with the suits.  Studio executive Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) hears pitches from writers, deciding which projects get greenlighted.  The opening five minute shot roams around the studio offices as he hears pitches from a variety of writers, including Buck Henry, who wants to do a sequel to ‘The Graduate’.

Mill has been receiving threatening post cards from a writer he believes wrote a project he rejected.  Mill is convinced the writer is David Kahane (Vincent D’Onofrio) and seeks him out at a local art house theater.  After the movie (Vittorio De Sica’s Italian neo-realist masterpiece ‘Bicycle Thieves’), Mill and the writer go to a bar where Kahane gets drunk and berates Mill.

Mill follows the writer to the parking lot, where he knocks him down, and then kills him.  The next morning the head of studio security(Fred Ward) briefs Mill – the police know he was the last person to see Kahane alive.  And before Kahane’s body is cold Mill receives a FAX from the threatening writer, who is still very much alive.

Mill begins an affair with Kahane’s girlfriend, a frosty artist called June Gudmundsdottir (Greta Scacchi).

New exec Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher) threatens Mill’s position at the studio.  Two writers pitch a project called Habeas Corpus to Mill, who sees an opportunity to kill Levy’s momentum by convincing him of the project’s merit and then having him shepherd the film into a mass career grave, with Mill showing up in the last reel to rescue the project.

A year after getting away with killing Kahane, Mill gets a call from Levy pitching a writer with a great idea.  Mill hears the pitch, from his old nemesis, about a studio exec who murders a writer and gets away with it. Mill agrees as long as the writer can guarantee a ‘happy ending’.

It’s a cynical film about a cynical business.  As Robert Altman described it, “It’s light satire.  Nobody gets hurt”.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times published in 1992, Tolkin knows the ‘business’. His mother was an entertainment lawyer at MGM and Paramount. His father was head writer on the old Sid Caesar TV shows–during the period when they boasted what many feel was TV’s all-time greatest writing staff. Among others, his father’s colleagues included Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Lucille Kallen, Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner and, toward the end, the young Woody Allen.

The Wonder Boys

The Wonder Boys’ (2000) was Curtis Hanson’s follow up to ‘L.A. Confidential’Steve Kloves adapted Michael Chabon’s second novel, published in 1995.  I have to admit to being in Mr. Chabon’s thrall – I’ve read almost everything he’s written.

The eponymous wonder boys are Michael Douglas and Tobey McGuire, teacher and student at a small eastern college.  McGuire is the young rising star, mentored by Douglas, whose own wildly successful and award-winning first novel is still awaiting it’s follow up years later.

The characters gather for the college’s annual writer’s conference.  ‘The Wonder Boys’ is about the whole magilla – the dream of getting published and the fear, once published, of having to do it all over again.  It’s an ensemble cast without peer.  Robert Downey Jr. steals this one, but he has to fight McGuire for it. Douglas plays the novelist whose new book has been years in the making, leaving his agent the laughing stock of the publishing industry.  His marriage is over and his affair with the college chancellor, Frances McDormand, just took a turn as she informs him of her pregnancy by him.  Richard Thomas, the dean of the English department, is the engine behind the conference.

Also, Rip Torn is fantastic as the acerbic Quentin ‘Q’ Morewood.

In his article ‘Screenwriters Find it Hard to Adapt’, Sean Mitchell, writing in the Chicago Tribune, quotes screenwriter Kloves on adapting Chabon’s book into a screenplay.

“I think it’s fair to say that no one at Paramount was overjoyed to be buying the book in the first place and certainly not overjoyed to learn that I would be the one adapting it,” says Kloves, the humorous, self-deprecating writer-director of ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’ and ‘Flesh and Bone’.”

“The danger of a good book is that it is the voice of the author, and the language and his or her craft is what’s making it evocative, and, absent that, when you put it on the screen it just won’t work. So you have to find a way to bring that voice into the screenplay and onto the screen.”

Sunset Boulevard

Billy Wilder wanted to do a movie about Hollywood.  In Cameron Crowe’s excellent book ‘Conversations with Wilder’, he describes his inspiration.

“I wanted to make things a little harder for myself, I wanted to do that thing which never quite works—a picture about Hollywood.  Originally it was a comedy.”

Former Life magazine writer D. W. Marshman Jr. came up with the idea of Joe Gillis (William Holden), an unsuccessful screenwriter, drawn into the fantasy world of former silent star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson).  Wilder and his writing partner, Charles Brackett, then wrote the screenplay.  ‘Sunset Boulevard’ (1950) skewers Hollywood in a manner not unlike ‘The Player’.

By casting Swanson, Wilder was able to make use of footage from an unseen silent film of hers that was produced by Joseph Kennedy Sr.

Norma plots her comeback.  Her faithful valet, Max (Eric Von Stroheim), basks in her light.  He was once her husband, and also the director who discovered her. The cast includes a number of actors and Hollywood notables playing themselves, including Buster Keaton, Cecil B. DeMille, and columnist Hedda Hopper.

The film begins with the narrator floating face down in a swimming pool, dead.  He begins to explain how he got into this predicament.  He is Joe Gillis, who tries to write screenplays but is not successful.  He makes the acquaintance of Miss Desmond, who hires him as a script doctor on her comeback screenplay, Salome.  She convinces him to come live with her in her decaying mansion filled with the tattered ruins of her career. Gillis comes to find she is deluded in thinking she can resuscitate her career.  Her script for a new SALOME is awful.  She is also deluded into thinking he might be interested in her romantically, when he discovers he is the only guest at a party she’s thrown.

The more time Joe spends with her in her mansion, the more he comes to see that she has “slipped the slivery bonds”.  She watches prints of her old films screened by Max.  One of the benefits of using Swanson was that Von Stroheim, who played Max the valet and her former husband, had directed the film Kennedy Sr. produced and was, in fact, fired by Kennedy from the production.

Norma delivers a draft of the script to her former director, DeMille, who indulges her because of their shared history. She has been putting off a studio executive, thinking he is calling about her project.  When she finally takes his call she finds he is simply trying to rent her unusual Italian limousine for a film.

Joe meets and falls in love with the girlfriend of a friend.  They begin to collaborate in more ways than one.  When Norma finds a screenplay with both of their by-lines on it, she loses control and goes on a rampage.  Joe finally tells her the truth about everything and starts to walk out on her. Norma shoots him three times, sending him sprawling into the swimming pool where we met him.

Mae West supposedly turned the role of Norma Desmond down.  Wilder claims Mary Pickford did as well. It almost went to Pola Negri. And, as Cameron Crowe writes in his book, “Almost fifty years later, there are few stars as famous as Wilder’s fictional one”.

Philip K. Dick and Stanislaw Lem: They Might Be (Literary) Giants

Image

I do not consider myself a fan of science fiction, but please don’t hold that against me. I’m not a genre reader – I read good writing, in all its forms. I have read some of the classics, like ‘Fahrenheit 451’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’…I’m already reaching.sphere-163623_1280

As it happens, two of my favorite writers are considered to be writers of science fiction. Stanislaw Lem wrote many books, and some of them deal with astronauts and space travel. But what attracts me to Lem’s work is the psychology of his stories and characters. Lem began writing ‘science fiction’ because the communist regime didn’t take it seriously. He could express ideas in that genre that would have been censored or gotten him imprisoned. Lem’s book ‘The Chain of Chance’ features a former astronaut as it’s protagonist, but his mission is to find out whether a colleague’s fall from a window here on Earth was murder or suicide. Lem’s ‘Solaris’ has been made into feature films twice (Once in the USSR by Andrei Tarkovsky (The ‘other’ great science fiction film of the late ‘60s with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey’) and more recently in the U.S. by Steven Soderbergh).

Philip K. Dick is better known to the general public, since several of his books have been made into feature films (Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, based on Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ is perhaps most well known). Most recently, Amazon Video produced a series based on the Hugo Award-winning novel ‘The Man in the High Castle’. Dick also aspired to write beyond the genre, even going so far as to say he didn’t care if it took him 30 years to achieve any success at it. ‘The Man in the High Castle’ is the perfect example. The book is an alternate history of the United States, positing what might have happened had the Axis forces won World War II and taken over our country as the spoils of war.

These two writers have some other things in common, not the least of which (To me) is that I had ‘Ships passing in the night’ experiences with both men. In the late ‘70s I wrote for the student newspaper at the community college I attended in Long Beach, California. During our Thursday afternoon review of the week’s issue I discovered a small story about Lem visiting classes on campus. Lem was from Poland and his opportunities to travel outside the country were few. That a door had opened in the Iron Curtain allowing him to briefly come to my town on the other side of the world was a miracle. But, like I said…ships in the night.

After college I lived in Tustin, in Orange County, California (Fans of ‘Lost’ will know this as the location of John Locke’s box factory). I learned after I’d moved that Phil Dick had lived right around the corner from me and I didn’t even know it. I could have stopped by his apartment on my way to get a Slurpee at the 7-11. If only I’d known who he was then.

Rick Kleffel, of the Agony Column (www.agonycolumn.com), introduced me to these and many other excellent writers. I’ve been an avid reader since childhood, but Rick has helped direct my exploration of both literature and film). If you ever see me in the science fiction aisle of your used book store, Phil Dick and Stanislaw Lem are the reasons I am there.

In addition to my reading, I also like to research the artists, writers, filmmakers, and musicians/composers who have inspired and influenced me. I was very surprised to discover that there was a connection between the two writers of which I had been totally unaware.

Apparently Lem had high regard for Dick’s writing and had been responsible for getting some of Dick’s work translated and published in Poland. He also made sure that Dick was paid, albeit nominally, for the work.

Those familiar with Dick’s history of mental health know that – he had issues. He made the aluminum foil hat, but he made his with a satellite dish in order to receive the communications. This became the subject of the ‘Valis Trilogy‘, which is Dick turning his mind inside out.

To learn that Dick had issues with Lem wasn’t so surprising. Dick came to believe that he was being shorted on his royalties from the Polish editions and he blamed Lem. In fact he didn’t believe that Lem was a person at all. He had come to the conclusion that Lem was a facade for a committee of the Communist Party bent on mind control, even going so far as to write a letter to the FBI stating this.

For more information on Stanislaw Lem, visit his official website at www.lem.pl. For more information on Philip K. Dick, put on your aluminum foil satellite dish. His official site has shut down and the domain is for sale. But check out www.philipkdickkfans.com for discussion forums and updates on all things Dick.

On Sharing Sherlock

Sherlock Holmes By Michael Stewart

Sherlock Holmes By Michael Stewart

My weekend ritual used to be making the circuit of the used bookstores in downtown Long Beach.  On one trip I discovered a collection of the Sherlock Holmes short stories.  I showed it to the woman at the counter who owned the shop.

“It’s a facsimile edition,” she told me.  “They reprinted the stories and illustrations as they originally appeared in The Strand Magazine.”

I was thrilled by my find, and produced my checkbook and ID.  She waved off the license as I slid the check across the counter.

“Really?” I asked.  “You don’t need to see my drivers license?”

She smiled.  “You’re buying a Sherlock Holmes book.  How bad can you be?”

I was in elementary (!) school when I read my first Holmes story.  It was ‘The Adventure of the Red Headed League’.   The summer I entered ninth grade I read the 56 short stories and four novels in a two-volume set called “The Annotated Sherlock Holmes”.  Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce thrilled me on Sunday afternoons, in a series of old Universal films that shifted Holmes slightly ahead in time from the original stories and novels in order that he might stand against the Nazis.

As an adult, I enjoyed Jeremy Brett’s portrayal of Holmes in the Granada Television production.  With all respect due Rathbone, to me, Jeremy Brett will always be the Holmes.  And if you get that reference, then you’re part of a special group of people who are passionate fans of the greatest literary detective, and the most loved character in all of Western literature.

Only now there seems to be a lot more of us.  There has been a tremendous increase in interest in all things Holmes as a result of the terrific series ‘Sherlock’ airing on the BBC in Great Britain and on PBS in the states.  Robert Downey Jr. has appeared in two recent features as Holmes.  I must admit I was a little worried when I heard about the deluge of Holmes projects, especially the modern updates.  But I’m very happy with the BBC series (And enjoyed the first of Downey’s films).

Of course a trip to the Sherlock Holmes Museum was mandatory on my London itinerary.  The sign on the door says 221B but it’s not really the address.  That’s the name of the corporation that runs the museum, a period reproduction of the rooms of the world’s first consulting detective.  One of the odd things about Holmes is how many people believe he was a real person (The Royal Mail Service began delivering Holmes’ mail to a bank just down Baker Street practically from the character’s inception).

And when Arthur Conan-Doyle decided to do away with his character, he discovered that Holmes was so highly regarded that ten years after his fall at Reichenbach, people still hounded him to bring Holmes back.  And Doyle did.

I was beside myself as I mounted the stairs and climbed to the sitting room.  There was the Persian slipper stuck to the mantle with a letter opener.  Bullet holes in the wall outlined the initials ‘V.R.’  The picture of Reichenbach Falls over the mantle.

I signed the large ledger used as a guest book, noting line after line of names and addresses from around the world.  I wondered how many people came each year and flipped pages to the front of the volume to get an idea.  The ledger was not for the year – it was for the month.

Which is by way of saying that I’ve really been sharing Sherlock all along.