I have the old notebook in front of me right now. Chapter 1 of Ladislav Fuks' Burner of Corpses, started 11/27/2004. It now seems incredible to me that I would just up and start translating, but that's what I did. Perhaps I'm placing too much importance on the date--I'd tinkered with passages before, trying to make sense of what I was trying to read--but that was the day that I started the Fuks project, which has become the Fuks and Capek project, which now involves some Klobouk short stories and has involved Slovak papers on stainless steel machineability and German webpages on Finno-Ugric language resources and spirals merrily out of control.
I am a translator. I'm thankful for this. This is where I come from.
It took me forever to get through a page in those days. I had to look everything up. I left blanks. Question marks, cross-outs, [bracketed sections that were placeholders] until I thought of something better. Of late I fear I'm moving away from the handwritten first drafts in favor of marking up photocopies of the original in advance and then typing a first draft directly. I feel like I'm gaining something good even as I'm losing something good. These drafts are tangible reminders of the incremental nature of the work and of the need for patience and stubborn, stubborn single-mindedness.
This is what I have done in four years, in order of completeness.
Burner of Corpses. My earliest work, perhaps the one in the most literal, stilted style, but I love it to death anyone. I was so uninhibited I filled it with self-indulgent footnotes I haven't done anywhere else, and launched myself with reckless abandon into the chapter where most of the dialogue rhymes. My most complete piece.
My Black-Haired Brothers. A short-story cycle about a young boy and the fates of his Jewish classmates in a Czech high school during World War II. The ends of three of the six stories still make me cry.
Death of a Guinea Pig. A collection of early short stories. Black humor abounds. Probably needs some touch-up.
The Way to the Promised Land. A raft of Jews escaping Czechoslovakia sail down the Danube on their blissful way to freedom. Bliss does not ensue.
Mr. Theodor Mundstock. Fuks' first novel, about an elderly Jew living alone in Prague and looking for meaning in the face of imminent deportation to the camps. This is trapped between a first draft and a second.
The Painting of Martin Blaskowitz. Story-within-a-story about a pair of boys, one Czech, one German, and their vow of friendship. Oh man this has rough points too. I'm about half done a handwritten first draft, and have most of the rest marked up on photocopies. If I'm lucky, and if I'm good, I could finish draft one by New Year's. That may be optimistic.
Natalie Mooshabrová's Mice. This barely counts as anything: I have the first 400 words done of what is likely to be about 120,000. I shouldn't even be including it. I have written about it here.
Fables and Understories. Cute vignettes on life from various perspectives on the one hand, humorous short stories on the other. Available from here.
Almanac. A serious of newspaper columns collected and edited posthumously to describe the cycle of one year. Got some stuff hidden away; this is my "secret" plan to give away/post on-line during the course of 2009. Yay side projects.
And not a bit of that includes the work I'm now starting to get that pays me: so I've got enough to keep me busy for a long time. Sometimes I wish the weather weren't so pleasant here--but the rainy season waxes, and with it my desire to sit in coffeeshops scribbling all day.