Disclaimer

It’s been a few years, and there’s a chill in the air. When the time comes and my current books are launched, they may have to include a new paragraph on the copyright page. To whit:

Dear Reader:

This whole work is about me — my story about as much of the world as I’ve experienced. The world is vast. Imagining, let alone claiming, that I’m trying to speak for or in the voice of you or your family or your kinfolk, tribe, culture, religion, conspiracy theory or whatever you identify with or as — well, that’s about you and the alchemy of storytelling. If you find yourself in this work and dislike what you find, don’t make it about me. Write your own story. That’s where you’ll find what you’re looking for.

— the Author

Courage

I’ve been struggling a bit with my emerging writer’s identity. I realized that, while I have many clear ideas for children’s books that I could be pitching and selling quite readily, that’s not my primary motivation right now. I’m so full of secrets that I need to tell. This is very scary. What if they get me in trouble? What if no one cares? 

In this mood, I think about Bobby McFerrin, the musician who got famous for his song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” He is one of the bravest artists I have ever encountered. I remember the first time I saw him in performance, online in a video recorded after he’d repudiated “Don’t Worry.” He stood before a huge audience on an empty stage with nothing but his self and a mike, and brought the universe of human music down to earth. Every person in that dark audience, including me, was persuaded to enter his dream with dancing hearts.  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_McFerrin

And in this video, look at how he rejects the efforts of the people behind him to turn what he is doing into mere amusement, that old shuckin’ and jivin’ for the Man. The audience, after that first spontaneous tonal jump, is 100% with him, learning what he has learned, delighting as he delights. The men in the chairs — you feel sorry for them. They’re trapped in a nervous, tittering hell of their own making, while McFerrin and his happy flock are playing in Paradise.  

Earlier in my life I turned my talents to making a living. Now, with the wolf farther from the door, I have space to make art. Dark stage, invisible audience, just my mind and my words. Cue the spotlight. Here we go.

Author’s Note

In one of my writing projects, characters sometimes speak or think in a language other than English. As a writer, I need to be able to use that language when I feel it is necessary and I hope that reader will receive (consciously or subconsciously) the flavour or meaning that I am trying to convey in my choice. Of course, I understand, actually hope, that most of my readers won’t understand it. Small interjections that resemble those of English are pretty easy to figure out, and repeated words become familiar through context and use. But a whole sentence is a challenge that we both, writer and readers, will need to find a way through. 

There are various techniques for dealing with the use of a language other than English in a story, according to my experience as a reader. 

Glossary. Before the story if not much of the language is used, at the back if there’s a lot of it. To parse a sentence the reader looks up individual words until she gets the jist of the whole sentence.

Repeat in English. Give the phrase in the other language, then repeat it in English.

In-story translation. A creative variation on the above. Have a bilingual character repeat the question in English before answering it, or respond in such a way as to make the other speaker’s meaning clear.

Footnotes. Use the other language as desired, providing a translation in a footnote.

Endnotes. Same as above but using endnotes, either at the end of the chapter or chapter-by-chapter at the end of the story.

Instant translation. Introduced by e-reading. The publisher of the digital version of the book provides a pop-up translation feature that the reader can access by selecting the relevant word or phrase. 

Reader initiative. The reader enters the word or phrase into a translation app or asks someone who know the language to get the meaning. 

I confess I am an impatient reader and will guess at and or skip over foreign words and phrases until a sense of missing out on something begins to irritate me. Only then will I bother to use the tools the book provides. This includes footnotes; I’ll look at a few but ignore most of them, especially if the few I’ve looked at haven’t added anything significant to my reading. Endnotes even more so — I simply can’t be bothered to interrupt the flow and flip to the end of the chapter or the book. However, I will review them when I’m done reading the story. Same with glossaries — I’ll read through when the story is done to see if I missed anything.

What I’m saying is that I don’t think I’m the best guide as to what approach is the best here. So, I’m putting it out there. What should I do?