“Translators Live in the Mind of an Author for a Long Time,” says Lisa Carter

Rafa Lombardino

During the 54th annual conference organized November 6-9, 2013 by the American Translators Association (ATA) in San Antonio, I attended a 3-hour pre-conference master class on Spanish-to-English literary translations. It was presented by Intralingo's Lisa Carter, who introduced the work of award-winning Mexican author María de Lourdes Victoria for the class to discuss writing style and an author's voice.

The excerpt in question was taken from María's debut novel Les dejo el mar, published in 2006. Now that seven years have passed, publishing rights were returned to the author, who decided to self-published it as Los hijos del mar and have it translated into English.

Lisa initiated the debate by calling for the definition of writing style: Vocabulary, punctuation, register, mood, and structure were some of terms that came to mind. But style also brings out emotions from readers, while presenting cultural elements and introducing characters and content in a certain way that can be very peculiar to the author.

“It is like the background sounds, or the soundtrack to a movie,” Lisa summarized. “It's a signature that identifies the author. It gives the story purpose and it is not just informational; it evokes reactions.”

We then discussed how the author has an audience in mind, while the audience of a translation will be most likely different. The demographics may be similar, but sometimes the Marketing Department of a publisher can get involved in creating a new niche in the target audience for the translated version of the book to thrive.

Focusing on the role of translators when it comes to writing style, Lisa also introduced the idea of ghostwriting. “Like ghostwriters, translators live in the mind of an author for a very long time,” she said, explaining that even through translators have a background and can't help but bring some of their own vocabulary into the text, they must make certain decisions that will either have a translated book keep the flavor of the original or read as if it had been written in the target language in the first place.

About this very subject, Lisa mentioned how Gabriel García Márquez had praised his translator, Gregory Rabassa, for translating his books as if they had been written in English―which is certainly the highest praise a literary translator could ever hope to hear from an author.

As we read a few paragraphs of “Sin Pilar,” the first chapter of Les dejo el mar, and had an animated debate on our translations, word choices and attempts to reproduce the author's style, Lisa read a letter in which María talks about how she herself perceives her own writing style: “I write the way I talk and I finish my sentences; there's no stream of consciousness.”

In conclusion, Lisa left us with an important consideration to reflect upon: “Style creates voice and voice comes through the style.” And while she says some of the authors she has talked to may not have realized the structure of some parts of their speech and how it may be interpreted in different ways, style is most often deliberate: “Authors rarely don't notice that they did something different.”


RAFA LOMBARDINO is a translator and journalist from Brazil who lives in California. She has been working as a translator since 1997 and, in 2011, started to join forces with self-published authors to translate their work into Portuguese and English. In addition to acting as content curator at eWordNews, she also runs Word Awareness, a small network of professional translators, and coordinates two projects to promote Brazilian literature worldwide: Contemporary Brazilian Short Stories (CBSS) and Cuentos Brasileños de la Actualidad (CBA).