Reading Portuguese Novels

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Yes, I have other posts burning a hole in my head, so this week might be post-rich.

I also figured out what’s delaying the writing. Until I recover my IP from Baen I’m not continuing my mainline novels in those universes (there might be others, but it seems kind of pointless, since it would be new characters anyway, and so, in a way, starting anew, while in the same universe, which has fans who would be upset at starting anew.  Though there might be a sub-series called USAians, starting in the 22nd century. Haven’t decided yet.)  I have two other worlds, one fantasy-sf (don’t ask) and another a vast overhanging universe that will probably consume all my other future space operas, even if they seem unrelated.

Having started a novel in each, I came to a grinding halt.  Why?  Well, that took me time to figure out.  It boils down to this (beyond weird medicine interactions that made both my ADHD and depression unmanageable, and wedding and other life stuff that I haven’t talked about here): for the last fifteen years, I’ve written in long-established worlds that I knew like the back of my hand (whether my own or others) or historic stuff which has its own worldbuilding.  So, the stutters I’ve been experiencing are when I run up against …. something.  Like “She comes from an expensive, ultra-developed world, named…. named…” And then the ADHD takes over and I go off to clean toilets.

So today, the writing will happen with a Rocket book notebook (you type in it, then take a picture and it does handwriting recognition, even for my horrible handwriting) at my elbow, for notes when I hit an unknown unknown.  It’s a self-generating world bible.  Since I’ll probably spend the rest of my life in this world (with expeditions to DST, should that ever come back to me) at least for space-opera, I might as well build the foundations right.  Yes, it’s a lot like work and I’m lazy (duh, I’m a writer.) But it has to happen.

Anyway, so that’s been the hold up (on top of everything else.)

Now to the topic on hand: how much being born and raised in Portugal influenced my writing.

My fan eventually came back with the “But I want to know what great Portuguese literary works influenced your writing.”

So let’s talk about that.  You see, the problem is not that Americans are ignorant of other countries. Every country is ignorant of other countries.  It is that Americans, born and bred, tend to not realize every country is not the US.  The concept of how foreign and bizarre things can get is not even in the compass.

As I tried to think of one, just one, Portuguese literary work that influenced my work, I came up dry.  Sure, there were some children’s books and fairy tales that influenced me, but they are few and far between compared to foreign ones even there.  I’d say when I discovered fairy tales my favorite were grandma’s editions of the Countess de Segur.  (And I only discovered fairy tales at 16 or so, realizing I had a hole in my upbringing.)  If you’re into fairy tales, google her.  Her stuff is in Guttenberg, and frankly deserves better editions.

It’s not that I didn’t read Portuguese books. I did.  If they came near me, I read them.  It’s more that I don’t remember them/didn’t read them preferentially.

I have a theory for that.

Mostly I read Enid Blyton (all of them, even the boarding school books my brother disapproved of) then graduated to Rex Stout and Agatha Christie, and eventually fell headlong into SF/F.  Other things fell in along the way, including but not limited to Sir Walter Scott and Dumas.  But in general those were my influences.

Portuguese prose writing (more on that later) tends to have a really slow tempo and a weird, kind of flat reminiscent voice.  This is not just 19th century (most of the works kicking around) it’s what allowed me to detect Portuguese writers using English names in US or UK anthologies.

The more recent Portuguese work is all message fic, and the message is very po-mo, very left, and I already got a surfeit of that at school, so literature classes became “How little can I read of this while passing the test.”  For novels, at least.  Most short stories are short-shorts, and usually also message fic, or “done for the shock or twist ending.”  Those often have a decent voice, but the genre is limiting.

The reason for the state of Portuguese literature is this: there is no money in it.

It’s not just that Portugal is TINY (Brazil is bigger, but the language can grate.)  It’s that most Portuguese aspire to write SOMETHING.  So Portuguese publishers are determined not to shell out a cent for the work.

Under such conditions, popular literature doesn’t exist.  Amusing the public is a DISTANT and remote thing.  The publishers are going to make some money off these free books, anyway, and why bother?  They try rather to publish things that schools will put on their reading program.  The results are predictable. These aren’t things (by and large, short-shorts excepted) you read for fun.  They are more for display than for reading for adventure or fun or… anything.

In this day and age, I’ll be a dog if I understand why a bunch of Portuguese would-be writers don’t band together, arrange for having their work translated into English, and start putting out dual-language anthologies.  If I had more time, I’d suggest it/run it myself.

And maybe that would change things.  But maybe like news/opinion blogs it is too weird for the European mind?

Anyway that’s Portuguese prose.  Its fate is what always comes to things that are not monetized: they become display items to the elite and ossify.

I used to be really sad — and my dad is heartbroken, particularly on the mysteries — that none of my books were translated into Portuguese.  Until I found out how few they have of Pratchett (and those only in Brazilian English) and none that I can find of Correia.

Portuguese poetry was always an exception, because the language is suited to it, and Portuguese write poetry like they breathe. So there’s always a ton of Portuguese Poetry that I like, and I own several books.  And it has influenced me to the extent I use rhetorical tricks first learned from memorized poems.  I not only think well of Fernando Pessoa: if I ever have the opportunity I’m going to make him four versions of a time traveler that got lost (those who know his poetry will appreciate that.)

Anyway, this concludes this dive into the origins of my writing.  And now I need to go do some of it. (GROAN.)  I hate the work, but it’s the price I pay to get the stories out of my head and make money to keep a roof over my head.  See you tomorrow.

……. First, coffee.

77 responses to “Reading Portuguese Novels

  1. Given your recent expenditures I would fully expect this week to be post-rich. Here’s to hoping you can quickly work your way back to solvency en route to actual, tangible wealth — without speculation as to what “wealth” might constitute beyond a year’s expenses in the bank and no significant debt.

  2. But everybody writes in Ireland, the publishers pay peanuts (or folks were doing indie or vanity press), and everything is super-entertaining and/or deep!

    (Well, at least they all used to write, because I used to get a lot of emails and such. Do not know about it now.)

    • Irish write in English, so there’s a massive market, and the chance, maybe, of getting big in the US.

      • The success of a few, such as Yeats and Shaw, help the English market for Irish authors, as does the proggy joy of wallowing in the misery inflicted on the Irish by their English conquerors who ruthlessly suppressed the Gaels’ natural inclination to kill one another.

        There is some dispute over whether Jimmy Joyce wrote in English, with at least one claim that the multitudinous linguistic abuses in Ulysses were due t the typesetter (although the idea that a publisher would blame the author for typos seems challenging to swallow.)

      • Not the ones who write in Gaelic. Dialectal Gaelic. And even a lot of the books in English are awfully inside baseball. But they assume you the reader will be interested, and they do usually write in an interesting way. (The academic stuff can be boring, though usually not.)

        I think the Irish just like to yak, even on paper, and it is a high prestige activity that requires no justification. Not much gatekeeping, and that probably helps.

    • I wonder whether the Irish suffer a higher than usual incidence of peanut allergies. That would make the publisher paying peanuts quite credible, considering the common attitude of publishers toward authors.

    • TheOtherSean

      Ah, suburbanbanshee, good to see you’re still with us after last night’s storms.

  3. “But I want to know what great Portuguese literary works influenced your writing.”

    There’s a “Shakespeare in the original Klingon” type of jest to be made here, but I’m not gonna do it.

    Nope, not me.

    Ain’t gonna do it.

    Not happening on my watch.

  4. John Patterson

    It’s true, Sarah. Reading this and trying to think of any Portuguese fiction read over the past 40 years, and zero. Read a lot of poetry and much history, even textbooks, but even Portuguese friends read fiction translated into Portuguese.
    Favorite book was Lusiades. Enjoyed being forced to read older, (archaic?) Portuguese.

  5. If reversion falters, I have no great issue with jumping Universes, if it matters. I do not even expect my simulcrum to survive, if that advances story, etc. On the other hoof, I am not looking for “How many ways can I kill Orvan?” either. I might just be crazy, that, however, does NOT mean that I am stupid.

    Also: Moo!

  6. I am pretty sure it’s a rule that US writers are influenced by UK writers, and vice versa. So.maybe Sarah was just splitting the (future) difference.

  7. “She comes from an expensive, ultra-developed world, named…. named…”

    .. named Fred, as somehow, for some unfathomable reason, it was named by fool with all the imagination of an ox. And not a very bright ox at that. An ox so slow he’d wind up working for ACME – until the inevitable explosion, anyway. While the name Fred might be dull, the rest of the world tended to be interesting, so…

    [I hereby release any and all rights to the above nonsense to S. A. Hoyt.]

  8. “It is that Americans, born and bred, tend to not realize every country is not the US.”
    Oh boy, is that ever true. Which can be a real problem if you’re working in a foreign country for one of those types of American bosses; and he orders you to do something you suspect isn’t going to end well with the people in that country’s culture.

    The planet Fred, eh? As in Fred Flintstone (Neolithic culture)? Fred Rogers (Good Christian Culture)? Fred Reed (Libertarian Mexican Culture)?

    Oh geeze, I had to go look up the meaning and etymology of the name. Fred is short for Frederic, derived from the Germanic frid “peace”, and ric “ruler”. So the planet Fred could be considered the planet Peace’ and who wouldn’t want to live on Planet Peace? Uh oh. Cue the uneasy music. “Welcome to Plane Fred. The best place to live in the universe. But something is rotten in paradise. And Dee Dee Alameda going to root it out or die trying!”

    Ditto on the release etc.

    • An appalling number of Americans don’t even realize that America is not one homogeneous whole, a vast suburban sprawl with a few relieving cites interspersed. Oh, and some scattered resort areas, such as Vale, Aspen and Disneywhatever. Describe to them the Plains or the various boggy areas and you get a blank gaze and “Whatev!” in response. Should you be so deplorable as to physically toil for your wages you are obviously too neanderthal to understand the virtues of producing Arugula as an alternate crop or that cauliflower is a colonialist intruder.

      • For those unaware, go out and find yourselves a copy of The Giant Spider Invasion (MST3k did a swipe at it, so it shouldn’t be *too* hard). Now… Gleason is real. And the folks on MST3k making fun of things? They were being kind. The locals, during the filming, were much more savage. I was Rather Young then, but even so I recall a night on the curb outside Merrill Monument (in film, the “rock shop”) where they mocked the nonsensical line regarding carbon content and diamonds. And even at my Tender Age (single digits), I fully understood why the mockery was deserved.

        Later experience resulted in my learning that Bill Rebane raised his son almost as well as he made movies.

      • Why are we all picking on cauliflower? I mean, I hate the stuff, and I’ve started to hate it even more since I’ve had to go low carb and people try to serve it as a substitute for rice or potatoes (no, just because it’s white doesn’t mean it’s anything like rice). But the way people like Occasional Cortex are going after it makes me want to leap to its defense.

        • I put in 8 or 9 cauliflower plants this weekend. We’ll see how many survive transplantation, how many survive the white broccoli predators, and how many produce heads that are big enough to feed more than a two year old.

        • I like Catalina dressing on salads. No, Russian is not an acceptable substitute, even if it’s the same color…

        • I personally love it.

        • Cauliflower is an excuse to eat melted butter. If you can still see the white stuff, there’s not enough butter. Also, lemon pepper. And alfredo sauce.

          Planted one once… discovered it’s not as advertised. How did this huge thing grow from that tiny seed?
          –If it doesn’t freeze real hard, it’s a perennial.
          –The entire plant is edible, and all tastes the same.
          –It had roots like hausers, about 14 feet long at the point where they broke off and still over an inch thick.
          –There are nodules on the roots, indistinguishable from the flower.
          –The reason you’re not getting nice big flower heads is because the durn thing attracts mice, which eat them cleanly out from between the leaves. Mice were why I finally pulled it up… and up, and up, and up, where the hell do these roots think they’re _going_ ??

      • William H. Stoddard

        I don’t care about the politics, but cauliflower tastes like dirt.

        • To me cauliflower tastes like taste-free. But if you don’t want your broccoli, may I have it?

          • William H. Stoddard

            Sorry, but I actually like broccoli, especially as an ingredient in stirfry.

    • > So the planet Fred could be considered the planet Peace’ and who wouldn’t want to live on Planet Peace?

      I read that book. Kratman, right? 🙂

  9. c4c

  10. Naming places . . . I really surprised no one’s ever commented on some of mine.

    The distant town is Havwee(gotten there yet?)

    The town that’s further away? Farofo

    Fascia, guess what government I had in mind.

    Discordia, troublemakers.

    Having a twisted meaning behind the name helped me remember them.

    • In one of my D&D campaigns (I think SuburbanBanshee might have been in the group at the time) I had the characters starting out in the city of Newtown, ruled by Prince Havin D’Vagust (Haven’t the vaguest.)
      The D’Vagust are now a common family in my games.

  11. William H. Stoddard

    The only Portuguese work I know of by title (I haven’t attempted to read it yet) is the Lusiads, by Camões, if I recall correctly. From what I’ve heard about it it might be a plausible work to steal from if you wanted to do fantasy adventures. But for all I know it could be appallingly dull.

    • When Herman Melville served on an American sailing warship, his immediate superior (Jack Chase, captain of the maintop) was a huge Camoes fan, and knew a lot of the Lusiads by heart, though I think only in translation…at least that was the way he recited them.

  12. BobtheRegisterredFool

    So, even once one makes pro, one can be challenged by “I don’t know or have forgotten how to do this, or am out of the habit, I don’t realize, so I will go do something else that I am skilled at”.

    Hearing this helps me.

  13. So, Baen will no longer publish books with you as sole author, due to poor sales I’m sure, and having nothing to do with the incompetence they have demonstrated in the bungled releases of the last several of your books.
    Yet they would hold the rights to your current books hostage for why?
    Current US tax code prohibits businesses from keeping large inventories of product except at great cost. So can’t be that they have warehouses full of your books, which anyway would be remaindered in a heartbeat were they not selling. I’m sure whatever their reasons are they must have your best interest at heart.
    Sometimes I think the only reason the Earth doesn’t self destruct is that fortunately Robert Heinlein and Jim Baen are spinning in opposite directions and thus balancing the forces out.

    • Guessing digital copy, does not count as “inventory” …

      • I’ve been assured there’s paper inventory, too much of it to revert. Though 50K (at half price) would ransom it.
        If I have to spend 50K I’ll get WAY more creative than buying books I’ll never sell, because I don’t do enough cons to sell that many paper books.
        So pfui.

  14. Okay, dumb question, Sarah. You’re the linguist here, you have full command of Portuguese… so why not do your own translations for the ebook market? sounds like you’d have a near-monopoly on adventure-type books in Portugal (seriously, your family can’t be the only ones reading such stuff on the sly, so the demand has to exist), and by doing your own you’d know the translation got the nuances right.

    • Typically in the past an author of English fiction would sell foreign rights to a publisher in the target country who would then be responsible for the translation and often new cover graphics. Really a niche market.
      As Amazon and e-books spread in Europe become more popular this will most certainly change, but from what I’ve heard they aren’t there yet.
      In any case, pulling numbers out of thin air, I’d estimate the English as a first language potential market somewhere around 3/4 billion people; US, UK, AU, and most of Canada. Add on a goodly share comfortable in English as their second language and the pool probably doubles.
      Foreign language editions as said are a niche market, actually a large collection of very small niche markets.

    • Ah. Because I CANNOT translate INTO Portuguese anymore. It’s been 34 years, and my family laughs at my attempts to SPEAK Portuguese. Seriously. I’m no longer fluetn enough for this.

  15. “if I ever have the opportunity I’m going to make him four versions of a time traveler that got lost”

    I don’t know if this would be a short story or a novel but it sounds interesting to me.

  16. There is a Russian/American epublishing house, Iron Dome Books, that does nothing but translate Russian litrpg books into English and German. (With nice-ish cover art.) Pretty much set up by fans for fans.

    Anyway, it would be nice to find out how they do what they do. They seem to be a bright spot in the world of publishing houses.

  17. Sarah said: “So, the stutters I’ve been experiencing are when I run up against …. something. Like “She comes from an expensive, ultra-developed world, named…. named…” And then the ADHD takes over and I go off to clean toilets.”

    Its like we’re twins! ~:D Except I go cut the grass. There’s a sea of it out there!

  18. I am trying to train my ADHD to go into reverse – to get bored with rotating the cat and wander off into imaginary worlds instead. Mixed results so far; it’s going to other worlds, all right – just not the ones (I think) I should be getting things done in.

  19. So are news and opinion blogs too weird for the European mind because they are conditioned to only accept news an opinion from Proper Pedigreed Sources rather than a free citizen voicing his opinion? I.e. things should be Dictated From On High By The Right People…

    • I actually have no idea. I just know that while there are dating blogs, mommy blogs, craft blogs, there’s NOTHING like what we have here. The difference… worries me.