INTERVIEW: Tatjana Jambrišak

Interview with Tatjana Jambrišak
Bulb beach © Lina Theodorou
Jambrišak is one of the most active Croatian authors of speculative fiction (a term was coined by the theorists of science fiction and fantasy in order to circumvent the stereotypes of these two main subgenres of SF). Her writing style varies from 'cyberpunk meager utilitarianism' (usually in stories) to a gentle, musical, almost hypnotic poetic, with a more unusual turn of phrase, in her poetry. Her stories are told from women's perspective and teem with finely brushed portraits of real women; she writes about girls who are desperate computer hackers, about the urban and cyber adventures of the psychic detective Una Razum, as well as about ordinary women in extraordinary love situations. The quality of her stories has been commended by literary experts - the editor of the SF&F magazine Ubiq, Tomislav Šakić, has said in an interview: "Stories by Darko Macan and Tatjana Jambrišak engage with global trends and then take them even further, in the spirit of the most modern and avant-garde SF circles in America." Here, we ask her to comment on gender distribution in SF.

As one of the few successful Croatian SF writers with a recognizably female fiction style, do you have a theory on why this genre is more interesting to male than to female authors?

That's not necessarily the case. According to some research and to the distribution in the anthology of 30 years of SF in Croatia, Ad Astra, one quarter of authors are women. There is approximately the same proportion of women in "fandom". I, personally, find it a lot, because in 1987, when I joined the SF club SFera in Zagreb, there were only three of us. When we started editing and publishing annual collections of Croatian authors, there were also only three or four women authors. This has increased significantly over the years. And regarding the interest for speculative fiction, I believe women read it, but perhaps socialize and comment less [than male enthusiasts in SF circles].

Besides writing, translating and editing, you also make computer art. Have you considered any larger projects which would combine your talents? And considering the lack of interest from the wider public (in Croatia) for SF production, have you thought about translating some of your work, digitizing and repackaging it and then offering it to a large foreign publisher? The F&SF genre forms a large precentage of the global book and comic market.

Two of my stories were translated into Spanish and published in Argentina, that is, on the Internet and in an anthology of world short stories titled Graegas. There are now also two in English, and my 3D computer art site is also in English. Some of my illustrations are have been used as book covers, some on other people's web pages. I believe the Internet is useful for all kinds of contacts, business as well. Until recently I have been translating other people's words, but now I have got the chance to publish my own work in English. There is some work in progress on my own site - the plan is to create a "treasure box" with everything in it, as well as having space for new work, and to translate all this at a reasonable pace. I believe, eventually, it will catch someone’s eye.

Tell us about your experience as a translator.

Over the last twenty years I have translated all kinds of texts, but I find the greatest joy in comics, graphic novels and literature. Luckily, I have worked with excellent publishers who provided everything necessary for me to enjoy the process. I have been reading comics as long as I remember, but I entered the business translating them by proof-reading and editing scripts by Darko Macan for various foreign publishers. I am also proud of my more recent translation work: The Road and Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, Olive Kitteridge, Amy and Isabelle and Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout, From Hell by Alan Moore and Maus by Art Spiegelman.

How much does your own literary output - two collections of short stories, two books of poetry and then some - assist you in your translation work? Or does it distract you? Are you sometimes tempted to correct the original, and should translators fight this urge?

It assists me, because by modifying my own texts, making them concise, changing sentence structure, selecting words, we acquire skills in our own language. This helps with that recoding of content and sense prior to typing the translated text. The point is to keep this modifications to the minimum; sometimes a more elaborate modification may be necessary, even in grammatical structure, if this would carry the meaning more accurately. This is, I believe, the true nature of translation - even in comics - to transport the author's thought to the mind of the reader in another language. Compromises should be kept to a minimum, but not feared; the same is true when it comes to offering one's own alternative version of an expression. Speakers of different languages do not think in the same manner. Absolute material fidelity in any text is not imperative - what should be translated is the attitude, the feeling, and the images which caused this original character to begin speaking in the first place.

What is the joy in writing and translating? Are there any anecdotes from all those hours of sitting at a computer? Something you are especially proud of?

Oh, with each title a new joy! If this were not so, I would probably tutor grammar. :) ... For example, Ralf Koening often writes in verse. German is a wonderful language for rhyme, owing to the small number of various suffixes, owing to the morphology of the language. And Koening is funny. His song about Neanderthal man, written in strict rhyme and metrics, made me sweat, but also laugh. As did an angry and cynical Christmas ode on broken Star Wars toys in Robinson's Box Office Poison. On the other hand, there is Maus, with a very ominous topic of the Holocaust and life thereafter, which requires the reader, and especially the translator, to actually relive those events, to "be there", to experience them. Still, there are many more jocular works to enjoy, for example the story of a merry prostitute Clara, which I recommend to all women. As well as Love and Rockets or Halo Jones, comics I loved at first reading and was lucky enough to get to translate later. The best quality of good comics, of good literature, in fact, of all kinds of art, is the awakening of emotions; in any way, by any means. If it moves you, warms you up, overflows with discomfort or makes you shudder - that's it. This is what one must strive to achieve in translation. And in good literature. Emotions of all kinds, they are the key.

In the eighties the reading culture blossomed. But despite many new magazines, things are different today. Considering the latest wave Internet publishing, is the future of literature at all connected to the print media?

It is. The new media serve the purposes of communication and, although many of us are techno-freaks, the majority of us still love the atavism of paper, books. We get lost on the Internet, we roam, but the books are there on the shelves, being read, borrowed, collected. It is not the same.

When we consider the history of SF production, we start to think that the classic authors were not only visionary; sometimes it seems they actually knew the future of the Earth. As an SF author - and thus an expert - when do you think the first contact will occur?

I am not an X-Files fan, but I am Carl Sagan's. If we add up, statistically, all the stars with all possible planets in all galaxies, it becomes absolutely improbable that life sprang up only on our planet. I do not believe the ETs are among us, but they may be watching and waiting to see the outcome: will we survive ourselves and our technology. As far as I am concerned, I have been ready for the first contact for ages.

Recently, you wrote some comic scripts. One horror story has recently been published, as well as a monthly page in a children's magazine. Is the art yours as well?

No. Artwork is best done by those who actually know how to do it. I am interested in stories in all forms and see no great difference between a short story or a comic in several issues, or between poems and single-page comics. This monthly comic for children comprises my poems and short texts, adjusted to the reader's age. Still, I find it exciting that an artist can perceive and create something which would not occur to me in a million years - so the finalized product has more than one (my own), dimension. Many times more.

You edit other writers' texts and collections, participate in literary workshops, and at university you majored in two great world national literatures. How important is it to have a formal education, a degree in literature, a command of the theory?

Formal education and theory are, however unpopular among young writers, still an invaluable help for understanding literature. It is so much easier once you recognize how and why an author presented his thoughts. Naturally, not all aspiring writers need to study the theory; it is quite possible to be a autodidact. However, rare are the geniuses who do not require knowledge of previous achievement and theory in their field. How is it possible to be certain of your own originality if we lack the awareness of that before us? As in all crafts, the skills acquired speed up the process to mastery. Talent helps, of course! I believe both are necessary and important. As are literary workshops - there is no better training for a writer than recognizing mistakes, first in somebody else's text, and then in his own. Besides, the feedback here is the fastest. And that is why I believe that writing on the Internet is a kind of a workshop. As well as reading, reading, reading other people's work.

Last year you published three books and another one this year. What are working on at the moment?

I have written many more texts; various kinds. I take an interest in many things, and allow myself to comment widely. For me it is important to let as many stories out in the open as it is possible; but I keep them short, concise, because I have realized that this short, blog format suits me best. And it is easy for me. There are several hundred shorter texts - squabbles on gender chitchat, travelogues, and essays on other media, such as music, art or film - all pending editing and publishing.

Compiled and edited for Transcript by Tatjana Jambrišak.

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