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Morningside professor sleuths out novel translations
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Morningside professor sleuths out novel translations

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SIOUX CITY | A private eye has been hired to look into the shooting death of a lumberyard cashier. The official explanation of a botched robbery doesn't hold water and, soon, the detective is on the trail of duplicitous military officers, international arms traffickers and a cadre of corrupt government officials.

Is this the plot for the newest James Patterson novel or is it another espionage epic from the mind of John le Carre?

No, "La Oscura Memoria de las Armas" ("Dark Memories of Arms") was written by prolific Chilean writer Ramon Diaz Eterovic in 2008.

Morningside College Spanish and modern language assistant professor Patrick Blaine is currently translating Eterovic's Spanish-language novel into English.

"There is a surprisingly large market for English translations of international books," Blaine explained. "This is especially true for thrillers which, as a genre, have a naturally large fan base."

However, providing English translation for a no-nonsense detective named Heredia is a new experience for Blaine, who previously translated academic materials and legal documents.

"It's very challenging, exacting and very time-consuming," he said. "It's also a lot of fun."

Blaine decided to become a translator of long-form fiction after learning about AmazonCrossing, a full-service publishing arm of Amazon.  

The largest publisher of English-translated international books, Amazon offers mysteries, romance, historical fiction, young adult, fantasy and science fiction by writers from around the world.

Blaine said tapping into the English-speaking market can be advantageous for both new and established authors. It also helps the English translator, who gets a cut of the translated book's royalties.

Still, it's not an easy gig for Blaine, a professor with a busy work schedule as well as a 9-month-old son named Sebastian at home.

"The trick is to capture the Chilean flavor of the original work without completely confusing English-speaking audiences," he said. 

That means being cognizant of the fact that certain phrases are impossible to accurately translate from Spanish into English.

"It's like working on an elaborate puzzle," Blaine said. "You suddenly find yourself looking for all of the different ways to say 'hat' in Spanish. Is (detective Heredia) wearing a sombrero or is he wearing a fedora?"

Currently, Blaine is able to translate 4,000 words on a good day and, perhaps, 6,000 words a day whenever celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is on TV.

"My wife Monica enjoys watching reality cooking shows," he explained. "I've discovered that the best time to write is when (Ramsay's) 'Hell's Kitchen' or 'MasterChef' is on."

Once he's finished with the translated manuscript, it will go through several rounds of editing before it hits the market.

"It's slated to be published sometime in the fall of 2017," he said.

Blaine said he'd like to translate other books because there's a growing market for it. 

Even more than that, he said there are plenty of authors deserving greater worldwide notoriety.

"A translated book will give readers the chance to explore a place they've never been before," Blaine said. "It will also give them a chance to read an author they'd wouldn't ordinarily be reading."

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