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Note #69: First sign of blossoms (2012.5.22)

May has been, and will continue to be, a very busy month for me due to a number of projects that I have committed myself to on top of my normal teaching duties. Last week I finished one of these projects. This is cause for celebration in and of itself, but it also happens to be a project I am very excited about, so I wanted to write about it briefly today.

The project in question is the translation of Kim Young-ha’s novel, Black Flower. I have talked about the translation sporadically over the years, but the first and last time I mentioned it by name was at the beginning of 2005, when I was getting ready to begin the translation in earnest. I’m looking through my files now, and I see that the translation sample I submitted to the KLTI is dated 30 December, 2004, but I didn’t officially begin the translation until 2005. The bulk of the translation was completed by the end of 2006, and in 2007 I made revisions in response to suggestions by readers from the KLTI.

If this were a crime drama, though, the next line would be: “And then the case went cold.” The author had a three-novel contract with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and had already published his first novel with them (I Have the Right to Destroy Myself). When my translation of Black Flower was finished, though, the second novel (Your Republic is Calling You) was already in the pipeline. The author assured me that he was just as interested in seeing the translation published, but unfortunately there were no immediate prospects of that happening.

So Black Flower lay dormant and one year slipped into the next. I gave up hope of ever seeing the translation published. Well, I don’t know if that is entirely true—I guess it would be more accurate to say that I made no effort to nurture that hope, mainly because I didn’t want to be disappointed. I figured that if something happened, it would happen, and worrying about it wouldn’t do anything to accelerate the process. So I went on with life, which wasn’t difficult, seeing as the dissertation was occupying more and more of my time anyway.

Then, at the beginning of 2011, something finally did happen. I was contacted by Kim’s agent—it had come time for HMH to choose the third and final Kim novel, and Black Flower was in the running. It was a tense time, waiting to see if the translation I had poured so much of myself into would see the light of day. But the waiting paid off and Black Flower was chosen.

This was just the beginning of what would turn out to be a long road. I received the first edited manuscript for review in September, which was good timing, since I had only just published my dissertation in August. I worked with two different editors over a period of about seven months, and last week I finally sent the executive editor my final comments on the proofs.

This means that the book is now out of my hands. It is far from done, of course—last I heard, a proofreader was still going over the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. As far as I know, the book design is more or less complete (I was even given a sneak peek at the cover, but my lips are sealed on that), but there is a lot to do yet before the book hits the shelves at the end of October. All of this will be up to the very capable people at HMH, though, not me.

There are so many things I want to say about Black Flower. I want to talk about the translation process itself, I want to talk about the enlightening and rewarding experience of working with the HMH editors, and I want to talk about how I feel about the prospect of having a novel translation published by a major publishing house in the States. Well, the last one I can sum up as “equal parts excitement and terror,” but for the most part those discussions will have to wait. I don’t have a lot of time to write these days, and I really don’t want to rush those entries. Since the book won’t be coming out for another five months and change, though, I’ll have plenty of time to write what I want to say. I just wanted to share with you today this milestone, that I have reached the end of a very long journey—or, at least, the end of one journey before beginning another. Something that has long been a dream is finally on the verge of becoming a reality.

Oh, and before I forget: tomorrow is my brother’s birthday (the maker and purveyor of handcrafted candles brother, aka “the chandler”). Brian will be a gut-wrenching 36 years old. Congratulations, Bro: you’re teetering on the brink of your late thirties. Happy birthday.

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