Catching up to the Past

Three years ago almost to the day, I published my novel No Portrait in the Gilded Frame. It had taken me four years to write it so I was very happy when it came out, both in print and on Kindle. I spent the next several months marketing the book, asking for reviews, and talking to libraries and book clubs.

Since I was born and educated in Romania, I wanted the book to be translated into Romanian and become available there as well. The subject matter was relevant, and it felt like an obligation I had to fulfill. I decided to translate the novel myself. I had started my writing career in Romania, but having lived more than forty years outside the country, I was keenly aware that while fluent, my language abilities had suffered. English sometimes influences my Romanian syntax and word usage, and the slang is no longer current. It took me a few good months to complete the translation, and when I finished, a Romanian editor looked it over and bled profusely all over the place. Yet I enjoyed the exercise. Not only would I touch the literary marketplace of my native country but writing in one language and then translating your own work into another offers a unique perspective over that work. It’s like reading something very familiar and foreign at the same time. Mistakes come to the surface and structural weaknesses are revealed. Being the author, I was free to address such shortcomings and correct them, even if the translation departed somewhat from the original. For instance, the Romanian title doesn’t have the word ‘gilded’ in it — in my opinion in Romanian it sounds better that way.

It was time to find a publisher in Romania and there I experienced a major setback. They were willing to take on my work, but when it came to its distribution, they all said they couldn’t assure it. ‘The market was overloaded. Too competitive,’ they said. Since I wasn’t there myself to promote the novel, it would die on the shelves. In the end, I gave up.

Time zoomed by. Work on a substantial new novel that has kept me fully occupied ever since. Yet somewhere inside me I knew that my previous mission had been abandoned and I carried a hidden regret.

Two weeks ago, I traveled to Bucharest for my high school reunion. Aside from the excitement and emotion of the main event, another lucky meeting took place. My wife’s cousin, who lives in Israel, happened to be in Bucharest at the same hotel and we had breakfast together two days in a row. A while ago she had read the finalized manuscript of my translation and had sent me an email with an enthusiastic review. I mentioned the fact that I had never published the novel in Romania. ‘I might be able to help,’ she said.

A few days after I returned home, I received an email from a gentleman in Israel, Adrian Grauenfels, suggesting he would be willing to publish my novel, sight unseen, based on my wife’s cousin’s recommendation. He owns Saga,a publishing house specializing in art books and literature in Romanian. Essentially what he does is connect the author with an American self-publishing company, and, for a nominal fee, facilitates the preparation and design of the material. The book becomes available on demand, on paper and as an e-book. No inventories, and no shelf space. While this was not exactly the same as publishing in Romania, this solution would ensure that my friends and Romanian readers could gain access to the novel, and that was good enough for me. I also might reach the Romanian speaking Israelis.

We proceeded at dizzying speed. I forwarded Adrian the manuscript and within twenty-four hours I received a cover proposal and the interior design. I sent a few comments for the cover and was presented with new options in a manner of hours. Once the cover design was agreed on, my biggest challenge came next — the review of the interior. In other words, I had to read the entire manuscript one more time, all 105,000 words. I did not want to delay the publisher, so I tried to read as fast as I could. During one of our phone conversations I asked Adrian how come he was so quick. ‘I start my day at 5 in the morning,’ he said. My wife’s cousin says the man, who is also a poet, writer and art critic, hardly ever sleeps. I finished my reading in two days), found a few typos, one chapter title that was in error, and made a few last minute changes to the text. Then I sent him a detailed email with my comments. Sure enough, not too much later I had the revised work on my screen. Yesterday, with his guidance, I uploaded the novel to the self-publishing site. In a few days, I will receive my own review copy on paper to see if there is anything else that needs modifying and then my work is done. Adrian posted it on Facebook. That’s how easy it was.

And I feel happy and satisfied. Mission accomplished. The book is on the launch pad. Now I have a new worry: will anyone find it, read and enjoy it? Will it take off?

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