What a Weird Business

I’ve been working on my current novel most of the afternoon, after having completed my emergency management duties for the day. (Mostly I accomplished a two-paragraph transition between scenes, before I gave up and loaded the dishwasher, ate some cashews.)

But today’s email included one of the most delightfully random, or perhaps randomly delightful, messages I’ve received in a while. It began as follows:

Dear Dr. Childress: I am pleased to inform you that we have issued a translation license to Rye Field Publications, via Chinese Connection Agency, for a complex Chinese-language edition of THE ADJUNCT UNDERCLASS.

Well, how about that! Perhaps the very last development I ever imagined regarding this book is that it would be translated into any other language. (U. Chicago Press has already sold a different set of rights, for the creation of the audiobook. Now, if someone wants to make a movie out of it, I’d totally be on board for that… an eight-episode Ken Burns documentary about the end of American higher education.)

I’m interested in this notion of “a complex Chinese-language edition,” as it seems to carry political overtones. Rye Field Publications is a Taiwanese publishing house. According to Wikipedia, Taiwan has never adopted the simplified Chinese characters emerging from the People’s Republic, and the government prohibits its use in official documents. So my book will be one more twig added to the scale of the decades’-long balance between independence and unification. Not its intended purpose, of course, but our writing is almost never used for its intended purpose. Readers always get to decide what our work is for.

As I wrote in my last post, so much of what happens in publishing takes place within a sealed box, invisible to readers and writers alike. It’s fascinating when a cover panel gets removed once in a while, and we get a look at the gears.

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