ABOUT THE BOOK:The country of Anglina is teeming with social upheaval, and its officials have found an unlikely national hero in a philosopher and social activist named Horace. The Anglinian government has appointed the effeminate, irreverent, and stubborn scholar to undertake a journey around the world to learn the secret of other countries’ success. Unfortunately for Horace, most of the societies he visits turn out to be drastically different from what he expected, and he repeatedly sends scathing but witty reports about his travels and the people he encounters.
INTERVIEW WITH EMMA STEIN
Emma, do you write every day?
I would like to, and in a way I do as a translator. I take terribly complicated German technical texts and make them more logical and easier to understand for English-speaking readers, but that is hardly the same as working on my books. At the end of the day, I don’t even want to look at the computer or my keyboard, so I often find myself making sketches or illustrations for comics instead of drawing. It is a frustrating situation, but very few can make ends meet as artists these days. I hope to be working as a web designer next year or the following year, which pays much better and which would be a creative outlet in and of itself so I have more time and energy for writing.
What would your main character say about you?
Gregor from Unspeakables wouldn’t say anything unless it’s to the flute player or to Sven, but I bet Horace from Into the Void would write a nasty letter to Addie about a most sarcastic artist who drew a rather unflattering, and therefore accurate, caricature of him.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to write?
Job applications have always been challenging. Not only have I had to write them in foreign languages, I have actually had to sound competent and interested in more than my paycheck. I think the application for part-time barkeeper in Bremen topped it all.
You can be any fictional character for one day. Who would you be?
Gregor Samsa, of course. He is the first literary character I have any memory of, except perhaps Oliver Twist, as I found out about him when I was three. I actually despise insects but hope that spending the day as an enormous one would help me treat all creatures with greater respect, corny as that may sound.
Have you ever been to a fortune teller?
No, but the beggars outside my office have offered to tell my fortune, which I assume means distracting me while an accomplice searches for my wallet and keys.
What’s the worst thing someone has said about your writing? How did you deal with it?
“This sounds like poorly translated medieval dialect . . . I resent having to make these comments again.” These two remarks from my teacher addressed aspects of an essay I wrote when I was fourteen. I was dumbfounded that my teacher would phrase criticism in this manner and showed the comments to my mother. As a dedicated English teacher, she also could not understand how the comment was supposed to help me grow as a writer or thinker. Most importantly, my mother encouraged me not to be discouraged by such remarks.
What's your relationship with your cell phone?
The most recent casualty is probably still somewhere on the B76, a federal highway in Northern Germany.
If you could only watch one television station for a year, what would it be?
One station? We can narrow it down to one show: South Park!
How often do you tweet?
I fear I’m a mammal, not an avian, so the few tweets that I do emit are a bit wanting.
How do you feel about Facebook?
I would have left long ago had I not felt the need to create an author page. I think it has made quite a contribution to reducing friendship and acquaintances to typing a few characters and/or pushing a button.
What scares you the most?
Oddly enough, two of these things normally bring people great joy: dogs and having a family. Loud noises also head the list.
If you had a swear jar, would it be full?
Not only that, my bank account would be empty. I am a great fan of South Park and find myself, as something of a technical translator/troubleshooter during the day, making great use of Eric Cartman’s vocabulary when I don’t find the buttons and items our developers cite.
What do you love about where you live?
In many regards, Kiel is the place I always wanted to live as a child. It is green here, I live on the Baltic Sea, and I am not dependent on the car. We even get those eerie mists that I always imagined but had never experienced when I read fantasy books in my youth. Additionally, I get to speak German every day, I can go to the doctor without endangering my life savings, and there are lots of seagulls.
The trade-off? “Schietwetter.” Yes, it’s a cognate.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
What's your relationship with your TV remote?
It’s still waiting for me in a package at the store.
What's your favorite treat for movie night?
Masala chai and Rapunzel’s Nirwana chocolate. The latter is organic dark-milk chocolate with a truffle filling and is the very definition of what Germans refer to as “Hüftengold” "– hip gold.”
What's the biggest lie you ever told?
“I’m happy to be here.” It has served me well in any number of situations for about 24 years and doesn’t show any sign of becoming any less useless as the days roll on.
What is the most daring thing you've done?
It’s a toss-up between packing my bags and setting off to study in Russia, packing the same bags and setting off to teach in France, packing some of the same bags and setting off for graduate school in Canada, or setting off to study in Germany with the intention of staying.
So instead of deciding from among those options, let’s say marching into Immigrations and telling them the inefficiency of that particular office (not representative of Germany’s system, I should add) was not going to cost me yet another job offer, so they had all better scrounge up somebody to address my case because I was sick of being treated like a farm animal. I then turned to the family beside me and said “Are you sick of this? Are we people or are we cattle?” I was asked to turn over my passport and feared the worst, but luckily it was only so they could have someone look at my case.
Good for you! What is the stupidest thing you've ever done?
I keep doing it — I keep letting myself get swamped with fulfilling other people’s/institutions’ expectations and working side jobs so I can try to make ends overlap, as opposed to just meeting.
What’s one of your favorite quotes?
“Can’t fix stupid.” That’s what my uncle says, and although it is not lofty, I find myself using it more than my old favorite quote from Dostoevsky (“Красота мир спасет”/“Beauty will save the earth.”)
How many hours of sleep do you get a night?
One too few.
What are you working on now?
Probably too many projects, but the literary ones are Unspeakables and a series of comics in German and in English. Unspeakables, which is a bit further along than my social satire cartoons, is about a translator named Gregor who stutters terribly and can speak only to two people. One of these people first replaces Gregor as the marketing manager at his company and then as his lover, and the novel addresses Gregor’s struggle to come to grips with what he sees as a double betrayal. This all sounds very dark, but the conversations are laced with irony, and Gregor finally does figure out he is worth more than the sum of his translations.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Emma has lived in Germany since 2011. She currently resides in Kiel, where she continues to surprise the natives with the historically inspired clothing that she designs and wears.
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