Friday, June 1, 2012

Guest Blog: Cooking English Novels With Exotic Seasoning by Edith Parzefall

Sometimes I wish I'd become a cameraman, uhm woman. See, that's where the trouble starts already.  Words can be such a nuisance. While German is my mother tongue (hm, my father tongue as well), I've wanted to write in English ever since attending the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA.

Writers are taught to pay close attention to how people speak, act, behave... Well, there is no better motivation than being thrown into a foreign culture. Of course, in school I'd been taught British English as the more sophisticated, original flavor, sorry flavour. Well, ask Shakespeare how modern British English sounds to him.

In the US, I quickly adapted. Gotta fit in if you don't want to hear the question, "Oh, where are you from?" every time you open your mouth. Very important survival strategy since your answer might prompt a lengthy explanation of a complete stranger's family history. After a few weeks, I'd mastered a perfectly pronounced "Hi" that didn't raise questions.

Around that time I started thinking and dreaming in English. Years later, when I seriously attempted writing fiction, I started in German, but English phrases kept popping up in my head, particularly for dialogue. Naturally, I'd never listened to Germans so carefully, assuming they all talked like I do, which of course they don't.

Nudged and encouraged by American friends, I switched to writing in English. To add a little language challenge, I set my thriller Strays of Rio in Brazil, sprinkling in Portuguese, and my psychological suspense Crumple Zone in Chile, spiced with some Spanish. Fairly easy in comparison to what lay ahead.

A few years ago, Francene Stanley invited me to co-write a post-apocalyptic fantasy with her. Born in Australia, she has been living in the UK for decades. Since Wind Over Troubled Waters is set in Cornwall, I had to revert to British English--while I was still editing Strays written in American English. Fortunately, Francene never complained when she had to fix any of my slips into American spelling. In return, I weeded out her Australian instances of 'no-body'.

Since a US or UK publisher would have been far too boring language-wise, our Australian-German-British novel ended up with Canadian Double Dragon Publishing. I half-expected a South African editor for further coverage of English language flavors. Maybe for the next book in the series.
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Edith Parzefall can be contacted via her blog or website.


Francene Stanley said...

Very illuminating post, Edith. Language is a difficult subject but you manage it masterfully. I keep promising myself I'll learn a new German word every day. ... I'll start tomorrow.

Edith Parzefall said...

You'll start 'morgen', Francene, as in Guten Morgen. :-) Oy, now you've learned two words already.

Thanks for inviting me over to your blog, Rick. An honor and a pleasure!

Rhonda Kay said...

Great post. Love it!

Rick Bylina said...

Danke. (Now Francene has two words.) Appreciate you stopping by and giving us the benefit of your experience. Du bist der Zauberer mit das worten. Ach Menche! Over 35 years without speaking German hurts the brain in the morning. Write on!

Bob Sanchez said...

Danke for an entertaining post, Edith.

Edith Parzefall said...

Oh, wow, so viele deutsche Krümel hier. :-) Vielen lieben Dank!

Rosalie Skinner said...

Hi! There, no explaining accent needed. Great post Edith. Guten Morgen and Danke for a great insight into why you write in English, when German is your parent tongue. :P
I look forward to Reading Strays of Rio after enjoying Wind Over Troubled Waters so much. What a great collaboration. I wait patiently for Strays to find a home on my shelves.

Edith Parzefall said...

Thanks so much, Rosalie! You might have to help me out with the Aussiecisms, when I write my Australian adventure with people drinking from tinnies, wear thongs on their feet, and not only the sheilas.

I better stop the earbashing now. :-)

Peter Bernhardt said...

I certainly can relate to learning Oxford English in my German Mittelschule, then starting to dream in English during my eight-week stay with a family in Bournemouth while attending English language school (when I was not hanging at the beach or the pub acquiring a taste for Best Bitter). Then when I came to the US six months later and attended college, I had a headache every day for weeks, trying to understand the funny way the Americans spoke. Once I adapted to US English I had a hard time with British movies. Full circle. Now I'm considering translating The Stasi File into German though having been gone for over 45 years, I suspect my German is way behind the times. But the professional translators I checked with want something like 10,000 euros. Peter Bernhardt,

Rebecca R said...

I am always impressed you can keep them straight. I have a horrible time keeping English and Danish straight and have been known to e-mail my American family in Danish. Whichever language I should be using, I often run into challenges when a word or phrase from the other language feels like a better choice than anything the intended language allows.

I can't wait for more of your books to come out.