Lawrence Schimel (New York, 1971) writes in both Spanish and English and has published over 100 books as author or anthologist, including Fairy Tales for Writers (A Midsummer Night’s Press), The Drag Queen of Elfland (Circlet), Camelot Fantastic (DAW Books), and Streets of Blood: Vampire Stories from New York (Cumberland House), among many others. He has won the Lambda Literary Award (twice), the Spectrum Award, the Independent Publisher Book Award, the Rhysling Award, and many other honors. He lives in Madrid, Spain where he works as a literary translator.
Rachel Cordasco: How did you first become interested in translation?
Lawrence Schimel: Like many translators, I fell into it by accident: I ran into a comics publisher I knew, whose regular translator had passed away suddenly from a heart attack, and who was searching to find someone with immediate availability to translate a graphic novel that was already scheduled. Translating comics and children’s books is often more challenging than prose translation, where you “just” need to try and recreate the author’s voice, because there are often limitations of physical space or language or rhyme or etc. that require inventive solutions. It’s almost like solving a sudoku or some similar puzzle.
I find translation, in many ways, to be the closest reading of a text that one can do. It’s also a way to champion works I love, even though this can be exhausting, too–in the English-speaking world, often the burden falls on the translator to find a work, get permission to translate it, translate it on spec, then submit it until finding a magazine or other publisher for it. So every author one translates becomes a whole other career, as it were. It’s hard enough juggling submissions for one’s own work, much less doing so for so many other authors, often in so many different genres (I translate a lot of poets, which I love doing, but this generates even more work to be submitted very quickly).
I primarily translate from Spanish into English, although I do occasionally translate into Spanish–primarily for children’s books or poetry, both of which I write and publish directly in Spanish.
I am in the curious position of having works that I’ve written in my “stepmother tongue” have been translated into English by other people. My children’s book ¡VAMOS A VER A PAPÁ! illustrated by Alba Marina Rivera and published originally by Venezuelan publisher Ekaré, was translated into English by Elisa Amado and published by Groundwood in Canada. And my new book of 100 erotic microfiction, UNA BARBA PARA DOS, published in Spain by Dos Bigotes, is being translated into English by Sandra Kingery, who’s been placing the stories in journals like Words Without Borders and the Río Grande Review. (It’s so nice to be on the “other” side of that relationship, and letting her do all the submitting–the part I hate most about the process for the authors who I translate!)
RC: Who are some of your favorite authors to translate and why?
LS: Although I’ve not had a chance to translate very much by him yet, one of my favorites is Mexican author Ricardo Chávez Castañeda. I just love his voice, and he writes such powerful stories. An excerpt I translated of the opening of his THE BOOK OF DENIAL, published by Ediciones El Naranjo with wonderful design and illustration by Alejandro Magellanes, was published at Words Without Borders (http://www.wordswithoutborders.org/article/the-book-of-denial) although we haven’t yet found a publisher who wants to bring out the entire book. I’ve also translated the opening of a middle grade non-fiction book he wrote about death (EL LIBRO QUE SE MUERE, published by Norma), which is very good (although difficult to interest a publisher in, especially in the English-speaking world where it’s such a taboo subject to mention to kids).
I also love the stories of Mexican writer Raquel Castro, best known for her award-winning children’s novels. She’s got a great sense of humor, but also a strong sense of wonder and magic and awe, which I think works really well in her often very-short pieces. She is a big fan of zombies, and loves to play with and invert the stereotypes of zombie fiction (among many other tropes). I’ve translated maybe a dozen stories by her, although without much luck (yet) in placing them. I haven’t given up hope, though, and keep sending them out (in my haphazard fashion).
RC: You yourself are a prolific writer in many genres. Do you prefer a particular one? How does writing across genres help you grow as a writer?
LS: I am not sure if growth as a writer is the point of writing in multiple genres, but rather that different genres are better for expressing certain ideas or stories. I do think that READING across many genres and kinds of writing is beneficial to one, for growth as a human being and also as a writer. I am a very omnivorous reader. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten to the stage where I can give up on a book–either temporarily, if I’m not in the right mood for it, or forever, if I decide I just don’t like it (how it’s written, its message, the characters, whatever). Reading things I don’t like is part of how we cultivate and develop our own personal taste and criteria, instead of just adopting wholesale a cannon that we are given by teachers or critics. And just as we’re not always in the same mood, what we want to read (or why we read) varies from day to day and moment to moment. I may want a text that will challenge me, or instead (and given the state of the world this is very common lately) to comfort me, either re-visiting characters I already know or reading a mystery, a genre predicated on the restoration of social order after a crime has occurred, where the concept of justice (even if not always legal justice) is valued and considered worthwhile. This is the opposite of the extrapolatory nature of science fiction, which at its best is about re-visioning the world we know, expanding it and how we conceive it and what it might contain. Sometimes I want (or need) the one, sometimes the other, or something else entirely–humor, romance, poetry. They’re not incompatible, and can in fact even be blended or mixed together. So no preferences or limitation to a single genre or mode, as writer or reader.
RC: Having translated Spanish-language speculative fiction (by Teresa P. Mira de Echeverría, Domingo Santos, Lola Robles) what would you say are some of the main themes/concerns/interests among these writers?
LS: I’m not sure that one can make any generalizations about these writers I’ve translated recently, especially since the stories and authors come from such different time periods, countries, approaches, etc.
The Domingo Santos novelette “My Wife, My Daughter” which appears in CASTLES IN SPAIN (Sportula) was first published in the 1980s. And as such it has a somewhat “dated” feel to it, even if many of the ethical concerns about cloning and relationships might still be relevant today.
Lola Robles, another Spanish writer, dealt with similar issues concerning relationships and power, but involving a robot lover instead of a clone, in her novelette “Diedre,” which appeared in English in TERRA NOVA (Sportula). The fact that this relationship takes place between a woman and her gynoid is just one evidence of the intervening decades between when these two stories were written. One of Robles’ most-recent stories, “Sea Changes,” which is forthcoming in SPANISH WOMEN OF WONDER (Palabaristas), continues to explore themes of love through a science fictional lens, in this case, the impact of technology on trans bodies (if not hearts). Her linguistic SF novel MONTEVERDE: MEMOIRS OF AN INTERSTELLAR LINGUIST (Aqueduct Press, November 2016), published originally in 2005, is very much in the tradition of feminist science fiction writers like Ursula K. Le Guin and Naomi Mitchison.
Teresa P. Mira de Echeverría is an Argentine writer, very conversant with classic science fiction from the English-language traditions, whose work is extremely innovative and groundbreaking in her ideas and extrapolations, even if she sometimes writes in pastiches or homages of writers like Ray Bradbury, such as in her novelette MEMORY (Upper Rubber Boot). Her new novelette, “Terpsichore,” forthcoming in SPANISH WOMEN OF WONDER, is an exploration of quantum physics told in her unique style: non-binary queer subversion mixed with classic language, references, and tropes.
RC: What projects are you currently working on?
LS: I’ve recently translated a fun middle grade novel, THE TREASURE OF BARRACUDA, by Spanish author and dramaturg Llanos Campos, that’s forthcoming in October from Little Pickle Press (www.littlepicklepress.com/product/the-treasure-of-barracuda/). Narrated by an eleven-year old orphan named Sparks, it’s a Roald Dahl-esque adventure about a pirate crew who discovers that learning how to read proves to be the best treasure of all. The novel won the Premio Barco de Vapor in Spain, and was also chosen for the White Ravens, and many other honors. I’m hoping it does well so I can get to translate the sequels. (The second is already published, and the author has told me she’s revising the 3rd installment right now.)
My translation of Lola Robles’ MONTEVERDE: MEMOIRS OF AN INTERSTELLAR LINGUIST, which I mentioned above, will also be out this fall from Aqueduct Press.
And forthcoming from Shearsman Books is my translation of a poetry collection by Jorge Humberto Chávez with the really long title I’D ASK YOU TO JOIN ME BY THE RÍO BRAVO AND WEEP BUT YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT THERE’S NO LONGER ANY RIVER THERE AND NOR ARE THERE TEARS. This collection won the Premio Aguascalientes in 2013, and in it Chávez (who was born in Ciudad Juárez) explores life on the borderlands between Mexico and the US.
Thanks so much for the interview, Lawrence!