Sunday, September 7, 2008

Lost in translation

By guest blogger, Alafair Burke

burke-alafair So I got an email today from an editor with my UK publisher, which will publish Angel's Tip in November under the title City of Fear. All of my prior books were published in the UK in the identical form as the US editions. This time, however, the UK editor has ach-bunk suggested deleting cultural and  commercial references that might not be recognized on the other side of the pond: e.g., deleting an Archie Bunker reference and changing Tasti-delite, a ubiquitous NYC not-quite-ice-cream-like "food," to a Starbucks.

starbk I honestly don't know whether UK versions of US-based books are typically changed to delete cultural references. Are they? Should they be? If I read a book based in the south and a character chows down on some ridiculous fried something or another at a food shack called Lucy's, I don't need to know about Lucy's to get the general picture. On the other hand, if readers in the UK don't want to feel left out of the story, I can certainly understand. What do you think?

Alafair Burke is the author of what the Sun-Sentinel has hailed as "two power house series" featuring NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher and Portland Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid. A former prosecutor, she now teaches criminal law at Hofstra Law School. She is a graduate of Stanford Law School and frequently serves as a legal and trial commentator for radio and television programs. She lives in New York City.

Note: Join us in the Sunday Kill Zone when our guest bloggers will be:
Allison Gaylin, September 14
Allison Brennan, September 28
Chris Roerden, October 26


  1. As Archie would say, "Aw, jeez..."

    Personally, I like the kind of references you're talking about; it gives the book a more defined sense of place to me. I'm always cruising the internet when I can't draw on personal experience, reading online menus of obscure restaurants so I can drop an oliveburger on someone (Cal Harbor Restaurant in Chicago), or fries by the half pound (Budacki's, also in Chicago). Not everyone has to "get" the reference; they'll have some idea what it is. I also like the idea of providing "Easter eggs" to readers who might unexpectedly see a reference they never expected to find in a book.

    Of course, I'm not published, either. As a reader, I still like to see those things. Why read an Icelandic mystery if it sounds like it took place in New York?

  2. I have a couple of Scotland- and British-born characters in my series, and I always get questions about them from my US editors. In one case, I changed a guy from Scottish to Irish, just because I couldn't get the Scottish style "down" right. Most Americans might not have noticed the difference, but it counts to those in the know and the "not know". P.s., I didn't know what Tasti-delite is, either, but it wouldn't have made a bit of difference to me in my enjoyment of the story. I actually try to avoid most well-known chain names, because they usually wind up being the setting for something odd or humorous in the story. Wouldn't want to insult anyone!

  3. I think it boils down to the skill of the author to incorporate specific references so that even if the reader doesn't get it directly, they get the significance of the reference and how it helps to build character or advance the plot.

  4. I like the cultural references - otherwise it can sound so generic and readers are savvy enough to know when it works or not. So I agree...jeez!

  5. Same here. I like to think I'm learning something getting a genuine cultural experience through words that are slightly different or unfamiliar "brands."
    Strangely, it makes me feel like more of an insider.

  6. Hey everyone. Thanks for the feedback. I am going to try to keep these references in. It was so helpful to get others' opinions. And thanks, Joe, for the opportunity to post a brief guest blog in the middle of the tour for Angel's Tip. I appreciate it!

  7. It's interesting that you used Archie Bunker as a reference as he was the Americanized version of an English TV character Alf Garnet. :-)

  8. As a UK reader and reviewer I get really annoyed when US authors and UK authors are asked to change stuff in their books. I personally think that it is wrong and that you should not have to do so. I hope Alafair that you do not have to make the changes. If you are reading a book by a US author then things should not be changed and vice-versa. When your UK publishers decided to publish your books they knew you were an American author. I hope that you are able to stick to your guns about this. I always feel pulled out of a story when I am reading a US author and I see something that is typically British in a book that should not be there. It is rather disconcerting.

  9. Hey there, everyone. (Cheers!) I'm pleased to report there was no controversy (con-TRAH-versy). The book will still have its recognizable (recognisable) NY/"American" flavor (flavour) when published as City of Fear in the UK. They had to remove a direct quote from the song lyrics of a TV show because apparently the Brits don't have an analog to the fair use doctrine, but otherwise, we're cool (brilliant).