Editor Alison Weiss in conversation with Lawrence Schimel

Fall 2020 sees the launch of a new imprint aimed specifically at “Bringing the best translated Young Adult & Middle Grade titles to the US”: Arctis Books. Today on the blog, Lawrence Schimel talks to editor Alison Weiss about Arctis’ launch book, THE END by Swedish author Mats Strandberg, translated by Judith Kiros, which is due out in October.

Lawrence Schimel: Thanks for being willing to answer a few questions for the World Kid Lit blog, Alison. We’re excited to hear from you, especially since while we’ve focused a lot on the experience of translating kidlit from the translator’s perspective, and we’ve also spoken with some publishers of translated lit, we haven’t really covered what it’s like from the editorial side.

You’ve recently worked on YA novel THE END by Swedish author Mats Strandberg, that’s the launch title from Arctis. To start with, can you give us a quick summary of this pre-apocalyptic thriller? What made it stand out so much it’s the lead title?

Alison Weiss: THE END is a taut, thought-provoking thriller that takes place in the weeks leading up to a comet colliding with Earth. With everyone suddenly knowing the exact moment the world will end, they’re all processing their reactions in different ways, including protagonists Simon and Lucinda. Simon just wants to spend his last days with his girlfriend, Tilda, partying and living up every moment, and he’s not doing well with his moms’ demands that he pass this time with family. Lucinda had slowly cut ties with her friend group when she got her cancer diagnosis, but now that she’s facing a death that’s the same as everyone else’s, she wants to reconnect again. And reaching out to her once-best friend, Tilda, seems like a good place to start.

But then Tilda’s found dead, and the rumor is that Simon’s the killer. Lucinda and Simon both want the truth and they’re running out of time. But what they uncover about Tilda’s final days and the secrets she was keeping, makes them question how well they really knew her and what they really want for themselves.

I was drawn to how Mats works through the question How would you spend your last days if you knew exactly when they’d run out? The novel proposes many different answers, and is underpinned with sharp social commentary that makes the story feel eerily prescient.

The End is an international bestseller and has received a great deal of critical acclaim overseas. I’m so glad that Arctis is bringing this brilliant story to the American market.

LS: You’ve edited over 100 books in your career, both in house and then as a freelance editorial consultant, and running the gamut from picture books, chapter books, middle grade and YA novels. Did you have much experience before in editing books in translation?

AW: I began my career at Egmont USA, which was the American arm of Danish multimedia company Egmont. There, we worked very closely with our British and Australian sister companies, so I had a lot of experience with transitioning a book from one English-speaking market to another. But editing a book in translation is a bit different! I guess the closest I came was working on Malcolm McNeill’s THE BEGINNING WOODS, which was first published in German. THE END was my first foray into really editing a book in translation.

LS: Did you have much contact with the author directly during the editing process or did you mostly work just with the translator into English?

AW: Mats and I actually had a lot of direct contact, which was really wonderful because we were able to discuss the nuance or feeling he’d intended so that we could land on an equivalent that would evoke that same response for American readers. He’s also very funny, which made the experience even more enjoyable.

LS: What differences are there in editing a text when you don’t know the original language?

AW: I think making sure that the adjustments you’re proposing are still doing justice to the intended imagery. It’s a careful balance between honoring the author’s intention and ensuring that those subtleties will make sense and come across to a reader who may not be at all familiar with what’s being evoked.

LS: What about the novel is intrinsically Swedish and what about it do you think will make it work for an English-speaking audience? Also, were there many elements of Swedish culture that needed to be explained or adapted during the editing process? Or had the translator already glossed most of these?

AW: The way Mats paints the world of THE END feels so universal that, in truth, I sometimes had to remind myself that this wasn’t set in some American town like the one I grew up in. I think that’s a testament to the perceptiveness and relatability of the book.

There were a few details that were particularly tied to Swedish culture that we looked at more closely. Some we tweaked—in the U.S. we don’t generally have high schools with a sports focus like the one that the characters in the book attend, so we turned that into a school with a strong swimming program. Some we explained a little or left as is, like references to St. Lucia’s Day. I think the thing we went back and forth on most wasn’t so much an issue of differences in culture so much as figuring out the right name in English for a key location in the book. I knew exactly what was intended—finding just the right word was a little trickier, but we got there in the end.

LS: I know some editors don’t like translations because there is a feeling that they are more “work” than a text originally written in English. Has the experience been a positive one for you? Are there any other translation projects on the horizon for you?

AW: I didn’t feel like it was more work. For me, editing in translation is just using a different set of skills. I find it satisfying bringing great stories to readers, and I’m particularly excited that Arctis is investing in making that possible with stories from other cultures and experiences.

I’m working on a few other projects for Arctis that will be coming out in Spring 2021, but you’ll have to stay tuned…

Alison S. Weiss has been in publishing for more than ten years. She started her own editorial consultancy in 2008, working with publishers including Arctis, Simon & Schuster, Pixel+Ink, and Audible as well as private clients. Prior to that, she was Editorial Director at Sky Pony Press, where her list included William C. Morris Finalist Devils Within by S.F. Henson, the Project Droid series by New York Times bestselling author Nancy Krulik and Amanda Burwasser, illustrated by Mike Moran, the popular Timekeeper trilogy by Tara Sim, and the Mahabharata-inspired Celestial trilogy by Sangu Madanna. In 2016 she was named a Publishers Weekly Star Watch Honoree. She’s been trying to live up to the title ever since. You can follow her on Twitter @alioop7.   

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