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Note from the Author/Translator

My unseeing gaze traverses from my editor’s email on the computer screen to the weary old chest standing on the floor next to my desk, pretending innocence. Logic, once my dear and trusted friend, shies back in revulsion from what my mind knows to be true. I spit the bite of mouldy pizza crust that my hand must have picked up on its own accord into the paper bin. The remainder of the slice follows close behind.

Again, I squint at the email, this time noticing the date in the header with a feeling of disbelief. It certainly does not seem like three weeks since I stubbed my toe on the chest in front of my apartment door on my way out. It doesn’t seem that long since I picked up the topmost book from the first of three dusty piles inside, not realising that the first of them, chronologically speaking, was on the bottom. Assuming that it was my editor’s misguided attempt at realism, or humour, I opened the book. Vaguely, I remember picking up the phone to call her, to complain that she could at least have the author type up his manuscript, and that she has worked with me long enough to know the languages I can and cannot translate. Yet even while the phone was ringing, I took a second glance at the cramped handwriting, and what had seemed an unreadable mess of characters in a foreign alphabet only a moment ago dissolved, and became… what I now know as “Common”. I recall flicking back to the first page of the loosely bound volume, and the strange-looking symbols now making sense. It was my name: Kentos. No, well, not my name exactly, but the name of the Quemin I became for the time it took me to translate all three stacks, whose joy and despair, whose triumphs and tragedies I have lived, whose tropical island home – and entire world – seem far more real than the rain now splattering against my dirty window.

I wonder whether these memories that engulfed me so completely will fade like a dream. At least I typed the translation even as I read each volume; the huge document on my hard drive is proof of that. I open it, look up the word count, and frown at my fingers: they should be bloody stumps from typing so furiously in just three weeks. Did I sleep at all? Or, come to think of it, dare I sleep now, lest I wake to find no document, no manuscripts, and no chest, other than in my mind? Will I still be thinking in base eight and say “shelf” and “eighting” instead of thinking in base ten and saying “sixteen” and “sixty-four”? Will I continue to divide my days and nights into eight hands each after a good night’s sleep?

To distract myself from these useless questions, I re-read the email.

I don’t know what to say. I’m blown away. It’s enough for a trilogy. But before we go anywhere with this, I have to know… is it a translation (if so, from what, and from whom?!?) or is it your own? God, I need to get some sleep.

It’s unsigned. Very unlike her, not to be formal, even in emails. I can’t believe she didn’t mention the fact that I sent the document off without any editing, not even bothering to run a spell checker. But what’s more, if she didn’t have the chest deposited outside my door, then… who did?

Rusty hinges squeak in protest as I once again open the plain chest’s rectangular lid. Perhaps another look at some of the pages between the reddish ox-hide covers, with “Academy” stamped on them, in Common of course, can give me a clue as to their origin. As I did three weeks ago, I pick up the topmost volume – are there more now than there were when I closed the lid after finishing the translation? – and let it fall open at random.

I whimper in helpless dismay as I realise that I am again looking at symbols I don’t know at all. But… I still know Common, and even Quemin. This large, bold and aggressive hand bears no resemblance to Kentos’ tiny, meticulous writing style. Have I missed one of the books? I turn back to the first page, and my heart simply refuses to continue beating.

“I know you!” I whisper hoarsely when at last it jump-starts again. “I almost killed you.” My hands are shaking so hard that I almost drop the book. Suddenly, I know. I understand. With great care, I place the book on the floor, then the next on top of it, continuing until I am holding the last book of the first pile in my hands. I open it, and, somehow, a new document is already open on my screen. I prepare to again immerse myself in that other reality, to become someone else once more, knowing that what little of me I leave behind in this reality will take care of me, from bodily functions to keeping up with translating the experiences flooding my mind.

Then again, I am clearly no expert on what is real and what is not.

Chapters – A to Z: C

C is for Chapters. Chapters typically divide distinct sections of a book so that words, sentences and paragraphs that belong together form a logical piece of a book. We all know what chapters are, but have you ever given much thought to how many different ways there are to use (or not use) chapters?

The grouping of pieces of a book into chapters can happen for a number of reasons, such as different points of view, different spans of time, to give the reader a natural time to take a break (or intentionally the opposite, with a mini-cliffhanger at the end of a chapter), or simply because the author wants to emphasise a change of pace, or attitude. A chapter can be a single sentence, or dozens of pages long.

There can be “special” chapters: the prologue and the epilogue to start and end a book, respectively. Often, these can be separate from the main story, or tell a piece of the story that lies outside the “normal” narrator’s knowledge, to offer the reader special insight to what’s going on.

Some authors don’t use chapters, even in rather long books. Wilbur Smith’s African-themed adventure novels come to mind: they’re usually divided into sections (separated by a row of a few asterisks) that can be any length, but no chapters. Many authors number their chapters, but some don’t. A chapter can be called simply “Chapter 5”, or it can have a heading of its own. It can be numbered or not; chapter titles can be unique or repeated. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, for instance, uses the name of the POV (point of view) character as the chapter heading but leaves them unnumbered. Some books, especially in sci-fi, can use dates or timestamps instead of chapter names.

Some authors use simple chapter titles, some use very descriptive or poetic ones. In some cases, chapter names or numbers can even be used to give the reader meta-information of some sort. The number of chapters can be significant or completely coincidental. Wikipedia’s article on book chapters has some interesting examples of unusual numbering schemes. Robin Hobb’s Farseer and The Tawny Man trilogies use short “meta-story” excerpts describing the first-person narrator’s experiences as he is writing the main story. Her Rain Wilds Chronicles use short letters sent by bird between the world’s birdkeepers; taken together, these tell a “meta-story” of their own. Patrick Rothfuss prefixes some chapter titles with “Interlude” to emphasise that these lie outside the main story, in the “story around the story”. Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story has 26 chapters, beginning with the letters A to Z, with fancy-looking drop caps specifically designed for the book by an illustrator – how fitting is that for the A to Z Challenge?!? 😉

The Neverending Story, Chapter 3

The Neverending Story begins each of the 26 chapters with a full-page drop-cap letter of the alphabet; Chapter 3 begins with “C”

Which chaptering style do you prefer a) in books you read, and b) in your own writing? Let me know in the comments.