mount_oregano: Let me see (Default)
Back in the Middle Ages, tales about King Arthur reached Europe from Wales, and soon everyone was telling them – and they also told spinoff stories. In Spain, one spinoff dealt with Amadis of Gaul, a knight who lived (supposedly) after “the passion of our lord Jesus Christ” but before King Arthur. In his day, Amadis was the greatest knight in the world.

That story came down to us in the form of a fat novel called Amadis of Gaul. I just finished translating it from medieval Spanish into English as a blog. The final post went up today. You can read it here.

Amadis of Gaul became Europe’s first best-seller and created a genre that persists to this day in such works as Game of Thrones.

I began translating it eight and a half years ago, posting a chapter or partial chapter weekly, and I had fun. The story offers adventure, love, and magic. It’s also very medieval, with a huge cast of characters and intertwining stories. While women had a set place in society, that place might be commanding a realm or dispensing sorcery. There’s humor, but at times laughing at the suffering of others or telling jokes whose punch line we’ve forgotten. And there’s romance and sex. Amadis was born out of formal wedlock, as was his son.

The story teaches a lot about a society long ago and far away, both different and similar to our own in unexpected ways. Knights sometimes felt troubled by the violence of their duties, and the burdens of office weighed heavily on those who directed and defended realms: it has always been known that governing is complicated.

The blog will remain up for all to read and savor. I’m now working on getting the four-book novel out in paper and ebook format.

For years, I’ve spent my Fridays working on Amadis of Gaul as a seemingly never-ending challenge. I’m glad I did, and I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labor.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Default)
I’m a writer, and after you write a story, you send it to publishers. Often they send it back, saying no. Rejection remains one of the most disappointing aspects of writing life, an ongoing source of sadness and even despair.

Rejections and fun clearly don’t mix – except this one time.

I wrote a horror story about vampires and started sending it out. The story made the second cut in an anthology, but not the final one. Oh, well. I sent it out again right away and got a response of “close, very close” from the editor. Not bad!

Then … the very next magazine rejected it with a note saying it was “cruel and evil.” Evil? A vampire horror story? Isn’t that the point? I laughed about it with my writer friends, and for a while I was known as “evil Sue Burke.”

The next magazine rejected it with (this was by snailmail) a preprinted note saying: “We CELEBRATE your achievement!” Although the editors couldn’t take the story, the note said, they wanted me to know how proud they were of me for having written it and taken part in the furtherance of literature. Or something like that. I think they meant it because they dropped a sprinkle of confetti into the envelope – really cool confetti. I used it to decorate my desk lamp.

I kept sending the story out, got rejections both bland and encouraging, and on the 21st try, I found a magazine that loved it and took it. A few years later the story was even reprinted in an anthology. All’s well that ends well.

I learned four things from this adventure:

1. Confetti should accompany all rejections. Or, now that we send most manuscripts out via internet, a picture of a cute kitten. How hard would that be?

2. Rejections are about the story, not about the writer, which is too bad because I really enjoyed being evil.

3. As we all know, rejections are a necessary step toward publication. We can even make a game out of them. I wish I could remember who I learned this from so I could give her credit: Try to see if you can achieve a certain number of rejections in a single day. She suggested five, so I made that my goal. The most I’ve ever gotten is three.

4. I need more rejections if I’m going to win the rejection game, which means I have to get more submissions out there – so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go write something. As a parting gift, here’s a picture of a cute kitten. Celebrate your next rejection with it. We all deserve a little fun.

Also posted at the Red Sofa Literary blog.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Default)
April 23 was El día del idioma, the day to celebrate the Spanish language (because Miguel de Cervantes was interred on that date in 1616). If you forgot to celebrate, here’s another chance.

If you studied Spanish, the first thing you learned is that nouns have gender. “The moon” is la luna (feminine) and “the sun” is el sol (masculine). Some words change their ending to accomodate gender: “the boy” is el niño and “the girl” is la niña. There’s not always a lot of logic behind this – why is “speed” feminine, la rápidez, and “waste” mascuine, el derroche? – so you simply have to memorize the gender.

But wait! There’s (always) more to learn.

Some nouns are epicene. That means they have the same article (el or la) and the same word for both sexes. For example, “the goat” is la cabra. If you want to specify the sex, you say la cabra macho, “the male goat,” or la cabra hembra, “the female goat.” A number of animals are epicene, such as “the squirrel,” la ardilla, and “the vulture,” el buitre. There’s no logic, so rote memorization is your only recourse.

Some nouns are gender common. That means the word stays the same, but the article changes to show if the person being referred to is male or female. Quite a few words fall into this category. “The artist” is la artista or el artista, “the soldier” is la soldado or el soldado, and “the martyr” is la mártir or el mártir. When you memorize the word, you have to memorize how to use it.

A smaller list of words are gender ambiguous. “The sea” can be masculine or feminine, la mar or el mar, as can “the sugar,” la azúcar or el azúcar. If you have any free brain cells left, memorize these details, too.

(Some words change their meaning completely depending on whether they are feminine or masculine. El cometa is “the comet” and la cometa is “the kite.” Memorize these if your brain hasn’t exploded yet.)

Finally, Spanish has no neutral nouns, but it has some neutral pronouns: esto, eso, aquello, ello, lo. But now we’re getting into grammar, and I’m not going there today. Mercifully.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: and let me translate (translate)
When you’re translating, the little words can be big problems, especially “you.” It’s one of the hardest words to translate. In Spanish, the word “you” can be tú, usted, ustedes, vosotros, vosotras, os, ti, vos, se, te, lo, le, la, uno, una, los, las, les. I know how to translate “you” by the context, although at times I need a fair amount of context, and expressing the precise meaning in English can be another challenge.

In under four minutes, this TED video explains why there are so many possibilities. Who knew it was so complicated?

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (ImFeelingBlue)
I’ve read the new Terms of Service for LiveJournal, and they aren’t encouraging. They will also never affect me directly in all likelihood. Three thousand user accesses in 24 hours, which is what it takes to trip the most odious provisions? I’m not that popular. They also may not apply to someone with a paid account, which I have.

In any case, I doubt the rules will be enforced on anyone in the United States. Russians restricting the free speech of Americans in America? Not a good way to win friends and influence people. (Facebook is still diputed territory, though.)

Still, LiveJournal is now under Russian law, which bans “gay propaganda” and political solicitation, among other things. (Such as depicting Putin as a gay clown.*) Again, this has more to do with Russian politics than anything else. At the same time, American politics don’t fill me with confidence right now, and American-Russian relations could move in any direction without notice due to as little as a witness testifying at a US Congressional committee.

For that reason, I’ve created a Dreamwidth account: I haven’t done much there yet. It takes time to set up an account, and I have paying work to do and fiction to write. Still, I’ll be cross-posting. I want to be prepared for whatever might happen. I like LiveJournal and don’t want to give it up, so I’ll be here as long as I can.

But we live in troubled times.

— Sue Burke


mount_oregano: Let me see (Let me see..)
Writers often fear being edited – actually, we fear bad editors. Every writer needs an editor. Our work can always be improved by a good editor, but it can also be damaged by a bad editor. What’s the difference between good and bad?

I was once asked my opinion of another editor on a team project who had become enraged by the same repeated error in the text. I said, “He must be inexperienced, because experience teaches humility.” I only need to think about how often and how stupidly I have erred to know how humble I need to be. I learn new things about writing every day. Humility matters, but how can we make humility operational?

One way to understand humility is to understand that writing is a test with many right answers. An editor who wants to make things “sound” right without a thorough, humble justification for those changes may have marked a right answer as wrong – unjustifiably. Probably, that editor wants to make the text’s style sound more like he or she wrote it: some editors unhumbly and perhaps unconsciously impose their own style. But writers have the right to their own style, which is created by seemingly minor word and punctuation choices.

The first thing, I think, is to fix only those things that are objectively wrong. For example, something might be misspelled or incorrect according to an authority like the Chicago Manual of Style, or it might cause problems for reader comprehension.

To identify what’s objectively wrong, an editor needs to know what’s objectively right – and there’s the rub. I can illustrate this on the sentence level. Consider this opening sentence from a newspaper report from a war:

It was a lovely false spring day when we started for the front this morning.

Is “lovely false” too flowery for the news? I have some doubts about that, but I’m going to hold them in abeyance for now. I can always come back.

Then the article describes a war plane overhead, which doesn’t try to kill our reporter. Instead, it flies on.

But, as we watched, came a sudden egg-dropping explosion of bombs, and, ahead, Reus, silhouetted against hills a half mile away, disappeared in a brick-dust-colored cloud of smoke.”

First, isn’t it wrong to begin a sentence with a conjuction? No, it isn’t. In Modern English Usage, H. W. Fowler calls that “rule” a superstition and fetish, and he adds, “to let oneself be so far possessed by blindly accepted conventions as to take a hand in enforcing them on other people is to lose the independence of judgement that would enable one to solve the numerous problems for which there are no rules of thumb.” So in an effort to protect my independent problem-solving judgement, I’ll approve that “but.”

I’m a little unconvinced by “egg-dropping.” I think it sounds better to say, “explosion of bombs like dropped eggs,” but I’m not the writer here and “egg-dropping” is not objectively wrong nor does it confuse the reader, so on that standard I’ll let it pass unchanged.

The comma between “and, ahead” is optional, although the strictest rules do call for it. If this were my own sentence, I’d leave it out due to the proliferation of commas in that sentence. But I’m not the writer, and the writer has the right to opt his own way. No violence has been done here to the English language.

Beyond a doubt, the sentence contains inverted word order and other complexities. If this piece were intended for people whose grasp of English is weak, such as language learners, I might want to untangle those words, but the audience here (via the North American Newspaper Alliance) contains high-level readers. Instead, I’ll admire the way the sentence moves chronologically through a series of events and describes them succinctly.

Soon, our writer reports that the road overflows with refugees.

There was no panic at all, only a steady movement, and many of the people seemed cheerful. But perhaps it was the day. The day was so lovely that it seemed ridiculous that anyone should ever die.

Ah, now I see why it was a lovely false spring day. Irony! It’s so often wasted on editors.

I also see “...the day. The day...” The two sentences could easily be joined, “But perhaps it was the day, which was so lovely...” Still, there’s nothing objectively wrong here. In fact, putting “lovely” in its own sentence serves to emphasize the idea. So, again, I’ll let the writer indulge in a little stylistic flair. It’s his byline, and I know he’s not going to get to review my edits.

Finally, the crowds of refugees and retreating soldiers become so dense that the reporter’s car must turn back.

“People looked up at the sky as they retreated. But they were very weary now. The planes had not yet come, but there was still time for them and they were overdue.”

Omigod, missing punctuation! “... there was still time and they were overdue.” There should be a comma between “time and” to be perfectly correct, shouldn’t there?

Maybe. Punctuation is fairly fixed because it relates to the grammar of a sentence, so it is something easily parsed, and there should be a comma between two independent clauses before the conjunction. Still, that rule operates with leeway. British English tends to eschew commas to an extreme that I think sometimes interferes with understandability, but I’m not British so take that opinion for what it’s worth. Ernest Hemingway often left them out for effect: to show how closely some ideas followed each other. I don’t fully approve, but I see his point.

In fact, this report is by Hemingway, “The Flight of Refugees,” filed on April 3, 1938, from Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War. I can see lots of nit-picky ways to alter his words, but he won a Nobel Prize in Literature, and I haven’t. For all I know, the people I edit will someday win a Nobel. Except for a humble, justifiable reason, I ought to let them sound like their Nobel-worthy selves.

Another thing editors should be aware of: “correct” English varies from place to place, so remember your place and your author’s place. A Texan might say, “I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting you” instead of “I haven’t had…” Except for a humble, justifiable reason, don’t mess with Texas. You’ve been warned.

Know where you are in the process. The enraged fellow editor mentioned earlier thought the writer was seeing his corrections and stupidly failing to apply them as she continued her work. In fact, she had turned in the completed piece some time earlier. The editor’s part in the process was to correct errors for publication, not to educate the writer, who had (lucky her) exited the process by then.

And read a lot! Study good writing to understand its breadth and see how much is “correct.” There’s no one right way – in fact, there are an amazing number of right ways, including some I don’t approve of, but it’s my job to know that they’re still correct.

If you want to read more masterful wartime reporting, I recommend this: a dispatch from the World War II D-Day beachhead, “The Horrible Waste of War ,” by Ernie Pyle, who won a Pulitzer for his work. Note how he uses “you” to bring the reader to the beach, but he only needs to use that word a couple of times. I know some editors who would object to “you” in a news report, but Pyle died in combat and there is still time for those editors.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional website,

mount_oregano: Let me see (Seedlings3)
I’ve read all the novellas nominated for the 2016 Nebula Awards (just in time: the deadline is tomorrow). Now I have a problem: I like them all. Incidentally, it seems worth noting that all but one of them were published by Tor, and two were inspired by H.P. Lovecraft.

“The Liar,” by John P. Murphy (F&SF)
A man in a small New England town with a supernatural gift for lying discovers a series of deaths that can’t be coincidental, and he must prevent the next one. A simple story, it rises to remarkable by the telling: the matter-of-fact humility and humor of the narrator. The Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine introduction describes it as Garrison Keillor writing a Stephen King story. Yes, it’s that good – and worthy of a Nebula.

“Runtime,” by S. B. Divya (Tor)
A woman hopes to win a race and use the prize money to improve the lives of herself and her family. But the race involves high-tech, body-enhancing equipment, and what she has is second-hand and second-rate. Will her determination help her win? Will ethics get in the way? This is a traditional, well-told science fiction adventure story. Also worthy of a win.

“The Ballad of Black Tom,” by Victor LaValle (Tor)
Charles Thomas Tester, a young man in Harlem in 1924, is a small-time hustler who finds himself invited to participate in a much larger and much less licit venture. The result is a traditional, well-told (can I say that again?) horror story. I guessed fairly early on what this larger venture entailed, and I was right, which only added to the suspense because I knew how badly things were likely to go for Tommy and a lot of other people. Yet another story worthy of a win.

“Every Heart a Doorway,” by Seanan McGuire (Tor)
What happens to children who travel through a magical door or mirror or painting and spend time – maybe years – in a fairyland or underworld or another other-worldly world? When they return, they often adjust to this world poorly, and their parents understand nothing and want their old child back. But there is hope: Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. However, things don’t go well. This nominee, with its constant clash between ordinary and outlandish, deserves to win, too.

“A Taste of Honey,” by Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor)
This is a love story with no real happy ending, despite having more than one ending. The writing is lush and sensual, although the scenes jump from storyline to storyline in a way that sometimes left me confused. This is not quite my favorite because I’m not fond of fantasies where the pieces fit together too well: to me they seem to show the author’s hand. That said, the quality of the work, the writing, and the imagination behind it can’t be denied, and this could also deserve a vote.

“The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe,” by Kij Johnson (Tor)
Vellitt Boe, a university professor, must travel from the dream lands to the waking world to find a missing student. The trip is long and slow and fascinating at every step due both to the strange, awe-instilling landscape, and to the amazing personality of Vellitt Boe, who infuses the trip with meaning and longing for her youth and for adventure. This is a quest story, and can I say “well-told” one more time?

I love every one of the novellas. Since I can only vote for one, I’m going with "Dream Quest" because of its deep characterization of Vellitt Boe, but I’ll cheer for the winning novella, whichever one it is. They’re all good.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Seedlings1)
I’ve read the nominees for SFWA’s Nebula Awards in the Novelette category. I think most of them merit an award because they tell stories worth telling. Even the two I didn’t like were worth my time to read. The writing was more than competent, and clearly some people saw them very differently than I did. Overall, I think the stories cover a range of styles and subjects and create a good snapshot of the best that’s out there.

“The Long Fall Up,” by William Ledbetter (Fantasy & Science Fiction)
A straight-up, old-fashioned story about spaceships and orbits and technology — with a baby! What’s not to like? Great pacing, too. I didn’t want to put my Kindle down until I reached The End. If you don’t like this, you just don’t like science fiction.

“You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay,” by Alyssa Wong (Uncanny)
A chilling story — a ghost story, sort of — set in a dying western town. Superbly told, although pretty soon it becomes predictable. The suffering, troubled kid is going to save the day.

“The Jewel and Her Lapidary,” by Fran Wilde (Tor)
A lapidary protects their Jewel. A lapidary who betrays their Jewel will be shattered. A lapidary obeys her Jewel. These rules and others like it were stated again and again (way too many times) until it became clear in this repetitive, slow-moving story that lapidaries are willing, toiling slaves to their Jewels, who are exploitive aristocrats, or, in U.S. State Department terms, MREs: morally repugnant elites. Soon I also began to believe this story takes place in what the Turkey City Lexicon calls a Second Order Idiot Plot, “A plot involving an entire invented SF society which functions only because every single person in it is necessarily an idiot. (Attributed to Damon Knight.)” Although the mythology of the jewels is carefully worked out, it amounts to a shabby justification for an idiotic, repugnant society that deserves to be destroyed, although that poor slave woman (the lapidary in the title) has to suffer unconscionably for her owners’ sins. As you can guess, I didn’t like this one for a couple of reasons.

“Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea,” by Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed)
Deep personal loss is explored in this snapshot at the edge of dystopia. I found the switches in point of view and pseudo-flashbacks a bit confusing, but in the end the story rings true. A contender.

“The Orangery,” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
A woman guards a walled garden/forest from intruders, including Greek gods, but of course they break in, and the trees aren’t what they seem. In this pseudo-mythological and inhumane milieu, the conflict amounts to jousting between stereotypes and leads to a moment of conventional illumination. The story-telling was competent, but did this story need to be told?

“Blood Grains Speak Through Memories,” by Jason Sanford (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)
This story does what science fiction does best: take an idea and run with it to its most distant but still plausible consequences. What would happen if technology to protect the environment turned against humanity? It wouldn’t be pretty, and humanity would try to fight back as best it could. I’m impressed by the complexity of the ideas in this one, so it gets my vote, but I’ll be just as satisfied if the story by Sarah Pinsker or William Ledbetter wins.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Salamanca)
As a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, I get the honor and duty to vote for the 51st annual Nebula Awards. I’m impressed with the variety this year in both the subject matter and the manner of telling. The stories take risks, and I’m glad to see that. But which is the best story? That’s a matter of opinion, and here’s mine (feel free to tell me why I’m wrong):

“Seasons of Glass and Iron,” by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit World)
A wife who must wear down iron shoes meets a princess who must sit on a throne on a glass mountain. This story combines two fairy tales and attempts to make right the traditional violence against women often contained in them. Although well told, for me it tries just a little too hard to set things right. Still, I appreciate the attempt.

“Sabath Wine,” by Barbara Krasnoff (Clockwork Phoenix 5)
A boy and girl become friends, and their fathers love them despite everything. To say more would give away the plot. Krasnoff conjures up a strong setting for the story, New York a century ago, and he peoples it with characters effectively drawn with spare strokes. I wanted the story to go on for a couple of more paragraphs even though it reaches an effective and satisfying conclusion. While it’s a worthy contender, it’s not quite my favorite, but I’ll be fine if it wins a Nebula.

Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0,” by Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed)
In this choose-your-own-adventure story, you contract an illness and try to get it cared for. None of the choices work, and you die. The story is a long joke, and to my tastes, only some of the punch lines work. The rest were predictable, although I thought the continuation of one of the early choices could have led to something profound about the nature of fictional narrative. For me, this was one of the weaker stories, a lost opportunity.

“A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers,” by Alyssa Wong (
This breathtaking metaphorical tale of grief, guilt, and anger deserves an award. But I don’t think it’s speculative fiction, so I don’t think it deserves a Nebula. Sorry.

“Things With Beards,” by Sam J. Miller (Clarksworld)
A man with a beard begins to realize he’s not what he thinks he is, and he might not be the only one. This is a horror story, and a creepy one at that. Definitely a contender, but again, not quite my favorite.

“This Is Not a Wardrobe Door,” by A. Merc Rustad (Fireside Magazine)
This is a story about children in fairyland (or some realm like it) and the “real” world attempting to reunite. It might be suitable for children, but I think it’s a bit simplistic and predictable for adults.

“Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies,” by Brook Bolander (Uncanny)
A man rapes and kills a woman who is actually a goddess. This is the woman/goddess’s story, an angry story: a revenge story — with bullet points. Although skillfully written, it might resuscitate debate over whether it deserves nomination, not because it isn’t speculative fiction, since it is, but because it has little of a traditional story arc, and perhaps also for its content. The story reminds me of an early ancient Greek play, the kind told by choruses and actors in masks that are too weird for our time but which were praised in their day as a catharsis, and this story will be a catharsis for some readers. I think awards like the Nebula ought to expand the genre by offering some “politically incorrect” stories (incorrect to traditionalists, who seem to be sensitive types). But is it the best of the nominees? For me, that’s the only question, and I think this story’s raw emotion pushes it a little higher than a couple of others I also liked. It gets my vote.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Chicago flag)

Today, being the first Monday in March, Chicago is celebrating Casimir Pulaski Day. Some government offices, libraries, and schools (but not public schools) may close. Call ahead.

It’s a patriotic day, and there will be a tribute in honor of Pulaski this morning at Chicago’s Polish Museum of America. Here’s more information from NPR about why you should celebrate. Short version: Pulaski came to help in the American Revolutionary War, founded the cavalry, saved George Washington’s life, became a general, and died of wounds suffered in battle. He’s an American hero.

Nationwide, General Pulaski Memorial Day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, October 9, 1779. Because the holiday is only commemorative, no one has to close shop. In Wisconsin, Casimir Pulaski Day is held on March 4, and schools must observe it “appropriately” according to state statute. I don’t know what that means because I left Wisconsin public schools 14 years before that law was created. A few other places also celebrate Pulaski’s heroism at some point during the year.

Given the present legal situation for immigrants, it’s good to know that Pulaski has been made an honorary American citizen by a joint resolution of the US Senate and House of Representatives, which was signed by President Barack Obama in 2009. His ghost can celebrate with no danger of arrest. I hope you can, too.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Keep Calm)

During his childhood in Murcia, Spain, Sergio Llanes spent more time with his head in the clouds than in the real world, he says. Then a teacher recommended The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein, The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

“That was the beginning of my romance with reading, but soon I realized it wasn’t enough, and I began to write my own stories. I was thirteen years old.”

Eventually, with the support of his friends, wife, and editors, he published books that told the story of the world he’d imagined, an alternate history of sorts where an empire much like Rome has never fallen, but now it’s rotting from the inside. The Sforza dynasty, which has held the throne for millennia, is betrayed as greater powers vie for control, and the Emperor’s own Normidon Guard faces destruction.

I’ve translated the first book in the saga, The Twilight of the Normidons, a tale of action and adventure with interrelated characters from the breadth of the Empire and beyond. I’m honored and delighted to bring Sergio to English-language readers:

You’ve written a long saga full of intertwining stories. What specific tricks do you use to conceive and write something so complex?

Sergio Llanes: We might say I have a natural advantage. I spend most of my time in the world I’ve created for the saga of The Tears of Gea. From time to time my mind comes back to reality, although I really enjoy roaming through the lands of the Sforza and chatting with my characters even when I’m awake. (Smiles.) It’s easier to develop my novel’s plots knowing every corner of that world inside and out along with the four thousand years of history that precede the saga, and the mythologies of Auria and its neighboring realms.

Do you use a spreadsheet like J.K. Rowling, or an outline or notebook?

SLl: While its true I’ve made outlines and summaries about everything surrounding my world and the plots I develop in the saga, I almost never use them. These notes are the written reflection of everything in my mind.

Even more important both for writers and readers, how do you maintain the tension and excitement in a book so that it invites readers to keep turning pages?

SLl: The key is to know how to get inside the skins of the characters. It might seem crazy, but often I close my eyes and imagine the scene I’m going to narrate through the eyes of the protagonists. If I’m on board a ship in the middle of a storm, I feel the onslaught of the wind and the rain drumming on the deck, see the crew rushing from port to stern to secure the rigging, hear the voice of the captain shouting orders.…

If I’m in the middle of a battle, I imagine a soldier’s viewpoint when he dodges a cavalry charge or raises his shield to protect hismelf from a rain of arrows, or the sound of the dying cries of the victims of a raid..…

In a scene in a tavern in a port town, I can note the tang of homemade brew, the disagreeable odor of the tavern keeper’s sweat, or the lascivious glance from one of the barmaids as she leans over the bar provocatively, and the laughter and joking of the merchants at the next table.… Definitely, each and every detail within the scene from the perspective of the characters.

As to whether I’ve created one of those kinds of works that hooks the readers and keeps them reading, I have a very cinematographic vision of everything, which I bring to life in words, but I’m not the one to say if it works. It’s true, though, that the critiques have been really good, and my readers tell me it’s addictive reading. One of the things that’s thrilled me the most since I began writing have been the comments by parents thanking me because their children have finally become enthusiastic readers due to my books. In any case, I invite all enthusiastic readers to come inside the world of The Tears of Gea.

Finally, can you offer any advice to other authors?

SLl: The first piece of advice that I always give, besides writing, is reading a lot of other authors from a variety of genres. Reading opens up your mind and enriches you so much that it makes your own writing more agile and appealing.

The second piece of advice would be to use all the tools available to create the right atmosphere and become immersed in the scene: music, acting out the characters, choosing the right environment, etc.…

Third and most important is not to view writing as an obligation but as essential pleasure. Every facet of creativity loses its power when it becomes an imposition. This doesn’t mean that writers shouldn’t become accustomed to creativity as a daily habit, which I recommend, but that they shouldn’t feel upset if they hit a spell when things don’t go as well as they’d hoped. They should never stop believing in themselves. They should never stop dreaming.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional website:

mount_oregano: Let me see (Let me see..)
As writers — and we’re all writers, whether by profession or necessity — we ought to know the rules of language, just as a football player ought to know the rules of the game. Knowing them gives us the power to use them in our favor.

For example, during a game this last season, Packer quarterback Aaron Rogers knew the rule about 12 men on the field, saw that the opponent was making a substitution, and hurried to snap the ball before the retreating player had left the field. The resulting penalty helped the Packers defeat the Lions and win the NFC North Division. Go Pack!

Yet not all writers study grammar and usage. Some just rely on knowing English as their native language. That means, however, that they learned English entirely by imitating other people: first their parents, then other people around them, and finally other writers — good writers, we hope.

You could learn to play football the same way. Yet pro players study the game in excruciating detail, including the rule book.

So here’s an excruciating grammar detail: the main differences in usage between “will” and “going to.”

Going to/gonna:

  • plans and intentions

  • predictions about the near future

  • events outside people’s control

  • commands


  • a future fact

  • conditional ideas and expressions

  • speculation

  • requests and offers

“We’ll all die!” might express a future fact — perhaps in answer to the question, “What happens to us in the Keynesian long run?” (Note: the link is to a J. Bradford DeLong article that probably tells you more than you wanted to know.)

“We’re all going to die!” might be a despairing commentary on events outside of the speaker’s control — perhaps uttered on the night of the Trump presidential victory. Perhaps by me.

This explanation only skims the fascinating details of the grammar and usage of expressions of the future in English. Here are links to a couple of lessons a bit more in depth:

The more you know, the better you can write. You can use, bend, and break the rules, but only if you know them cold.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Keep Calm)
For for grammatical reasons, English can usually say something with fewer words than Spanish. A text in English tends to shrink by about 20 to 25% compared to the Spanish original. But there are exceptions.

In the subways in London and some other English-speaking cities, to warn about a possible dangerous gap between the train and platform, loudspeakers blare this message at passengers:

“Mind the gap.”

However, in Madrid, Spain, they say:

"Atención: estación en curva. Al salir, tengan cuidado para no introducir el pie entre coche y andén."

("Caution: station on a curve. As you exit, be careful not to place your foot between the train and the platform.")

It’s a lot more than 25% longer. In fact, nothing would predict that this would be effectively the same message in that locality.

Localization involves adapting meaning to a regional culture, which may have its own way of doing things. Sometimes translation is more than just words. Be careful.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Let me see..)
We can hear a lot of more or less medieval stories these days (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones) but here’s a real one. It comes from El Conde Lucanor, written in 1335 by don Juan Manuel, who was Prince of Villena and grandson of King Fernando III of Castile. It contains parables and tales to help the fictional Count Lucanor understand how to confront problems in his life.

This story, “What Happened Between a Deacon from Santiago and Don Yllan, the Grand Master of Toledo,” deals with people who ask for help and promise to reciprocate. I’ve translated it freely.

A deacon who lived in the city of Santiago de Compostela yearned to master the magical arts, so when he heard that don Yllan of Toledo knew more about them than any man alive, off he went. As soon as he arrived, he made his way to don Yllan’s house and found him reading.

Don Yllan promptly rose and welcomed him, so apparently pleased to see him that he didn’t even want to hear why he’d come until they’d eaten. In the meantime, he offered the deacon a fine room and everything he might need.

After dinner, they spoke privately, and the deacon explained what he sought, urging don Yllan to share his wisdom, promising to be an eager learner. The master magician answered that the deacon was a man of high estate who’d go far – and men who achieve their goals soon forget what other men have done for them. Once the deacon had learned what he wanted, would he keep his word and help don Yllan in return? The deacon promised he would, no matter what good fortune came to him.

With that, they began the lessons. As the afternoon wore on and night came, don Yllan told the deacon that what he wanted to learn could only be taught in a much more private place, which he was about to show him. He took him by the hand and led him to a chamber. Then don Yllan left to call a young serving woman and told her to prepare some partridges for supper – but not to begin roasting them until he gave the order.

He returned to the deacon, and they climbed down a stone staircase for so long that it seemed as if the River Tajo had to be passing over their heads. At the bottom of the staircase lay a hallway leading to a beautiful room with the books he’d need to study. They sat down and were deciding where to begin when two footmen came through the door with a letter for the deacon from his uncle, the archbishop, that said he was very ill and if his nephew wished to see him alive, he should come right away. The deacon thought hard, weighing his uncle’s illness and his unwillingness to cease studying when he’d just begun. Finally he decided not to quit so soon, wrote a reply, and sent it to the archbishop.

Three or four days later, footmen came with more letters for the deacon telling him that his uncle had passed on, and that the clergy in Santiago were selecting a new archbishop. By the mercy of God they might pick him, but he shouldn’t hurry back. It was better for his chances to be elsewhere during the vote.

After another seven or eight days, two well-dressed squires came, kissed his hand, and showed him letters saying he’d been elected archbishop. When don Yllan heard this, he told his student he should thank God for this good news – and since God had blessed him with so much, would he be so kind as to grant his son the now-empty post of deacon? The new archbishop instead wanted to give it to his brother, promising to repay don Yllan very well later, and asked him to come with him to Santiago and bring his son. Don Yllan agreed.

They were welcomed in Santiago and treated well, and after they’d been living there for a while, one day messengers from the Pope came to the archbishop telling him he’d been named bishop of Tolosa, and he could give the post in Santiago to whomever he wished. When don Yllan heard this, he reminded him bluntly of what he’d promised and asked him to give the post to his son. The archbishop wanted to give it to his paternal uncle. Don Yllan said he was being done a great wrong, but he’d consent with the understanding that it would be made up later on. The archbishop reassured him, asking him to come to Tolosa and bring his son.

The counts and all the other noblemen of Tolosa welcomed them. After they’d been living there for two years, messengers from the Pope came with letters saying the bishop had been made a cardinal, and he could give the bishopric of Tolosa to whomever he pleased. Don Yllan came to him and told him that he’d failed to keep his word so many times that he had no excuse anymore and had to give the post to his son. The cardinal instead wanted to give it to his maternal uncle, an elderly nobleman. But, he said, don Yllan should come with him to the Holy See, and now that he was a cardinal, he’d surely be able to find some way to make it up to him. Don Yllan complained a lot, but he agreed and went with him to Rome.

There, cardinals and everyone else at the Holy See welcomed them, and they lived in Rome for a long time. Every day, Don Yllan asked the cardinal to give his son a post, and he kept getting excuses.

When the Pope passed away, the cardinal from Santiago was elected to replace him. Then Don Yllan went to him to say he could no longer offer any excuse to fail to keep his promise. The new Pope told him not to be in such a hurry, that the time would come when he could do something proper for his son. Don Yllan began to complain, reminding him of all the promises he’d never fulfilled and how he’d worried from the beginning that he’d never keep his word. He should no longer keep him waiting. The Pope shouted back that if he asked for anything ever again he’d throw him in prison because he was a heretic and a wizard, and he should have known he’d never get anything more than what he’d had back in Toledo, where his only livelihood was by means of black magic.

When Don Yllan saw how little thanks he was going to get for what he’d done, he prepared to depart, and the Pope wouldn’t even give him food for the trip home. Then Don Yllan told him that if he wasn’t going to offer him a meal, he’d have to rely on the partridges he’d ordered to be roasted that night, and he called his wife and told her to begin preparing them.

At that, the Pope found himself in Toledo, still the deacon of Santiago, just as he’d been when he’d arrived. He felt too ashamed even to speak. Don Yllan told him to go with good fortune, and since he’d proven himself so thoroughly, it wouldn’t be right to offer him any of the partridges.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional website,
mount_oregano: Let me see (euro)
I have an guest post today at the Intralingo blog on crowdfunding for literary translations, and its key points are good for any kind of crowfunding.

This is basically the talk I gave at the Guadalajara International Book Fair in November, translated into English. I hope it helps!

-- Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Keep Calm)
The Chronicle, which is the magazine of the American Translator’s Association, has an interview of me as the 2016 winner of the Alicia Gordon Award for Word Artistry in Translation.

I talk about the fun of Baroque literature, and in closing I mention Robert Silverberg and his rules for effective writing.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Keep Calm)
It's not often I get to translate a medieval royal decree. It was for an auction company, Nate D. Sanders, so potential purchasers could know what they were getting. For $5,000, the decree could be yours.

-- Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (GreenAsAThumb)
A lot of what I published last year were works I translated from Spanish, and if you’re thinking about award nominations, I’d be just as proud to see my translations win an award as if they were my own works. So here are translations with my fingerprints on them:


Castles in Spain
An anthology of the stories by Spain’s top authors that changed the direction of its speculative fiction. I helped with the crowdfunding campaign, coordinated the translation team, and translated the steampunk novelette by Eduardo Vaquerizo, “Victim and Executioner.” Available at Sportula and Amazon .

The Twilight of the Normidons, by Sergio Llanes
A novel set in an alternate Europe. A Rome-like empire teeters after three thousand years of domination by the Sforza dynasty as rebellions threaten its borders and treason weakens it from within. Published by Dokusou Ediciones and available at Amazon.

“To Sleep, Perhaps to Dream” by Emilio Bueso
A short story. A woman on a long walk home at night in North Korea meets her late husband. Published in the special Eurocon edition of SupersSonic magazine, available for free download here.

Spanish Women of Wonder
An anthology of eleven stories (seven are my translations) written in Spanish by women. With a foreword by Ann VanderMeer. Originally titled Alucinadas. Available from Palabaristas Publishing.

I published a little of my own fiction as well:

“The Perfect Place for Ghosts”
A short story set in Madrid, Spain. The city is full of chimaeras, ghosts, specters, shades, spirits, and other apparitions (this is allegedly true), and a neophyte ghost-hunter takes on his first case after a skyscraper burns down spectacularly (this happened for real, the Windsor Tower*). Published in SuperSonic magazine issue 5.

“They Sing in the Subways”
Another short story set in Madrid. When the lights go out, the subway becomes menacing. Published in Madness and Riddance: Madrid Writer's Club Anthology.

— Sue Burke

*Here’s a spectacular video of the Windsor Tower fire, but don’t listen to the sensationalist narration, which is riddled with inaccuracies, and as always do not under any circumstances read the comments, which will make you despair for humanity.
mount_oregano: Let me see (Let me see..)
For 2016, my big goal was to move back to the United States. Mission accomplished. In fact, I seem to have arrived in America’s hour of greatest need.

Now it’s 2017.

If all goes well, in May I’ll finish the translation of Amadis of Gaul. Since 2009, I’ve been translating this medieval novel of chivalry a chapter at a time as a blog. I’ve learned a lot about the Middle Ages, translation, and ways to kill knights in combat. The novel comes in four books. I’ve self-published Book I, and when the blog is wrapped up, I’ll work on getting out II, III, and IV.

I also need to prepare for the launch of my own novel, Semiosis, by Tor in a year from now. Books don’t sell themselves, after all, so let me try to sell it to you now:

Plants can see. Plants can count. Plants can communicate with each other... here on Earth. Imagine if they could think – and imagine how they would react on a distant planet to a new human colony. The colonists have named their new planet Pax in keeping with their high ideals. They face danger not only from their environment but from their own human failings, and they find allies in other life forms that share their aspirations. But the ecology has missing pieces. Some animals and plants have been domesticated, and someone built a beautiful city. Who did it, and where are they now?

If you like Semiosis, you might like the sequel, when Earthlings come looking for the colony, unaware of the contempt that colonists have for Earthlings. I want to finish writing the sequel in 2017 – and to start the third book in the trilogy: Pax life forms come to Earth, and they’re smart and aggressive.

Besides that fun, I need to continue other writing projects, such as some short stories – and of course to keep translating.

In the meantime, I hope to sink deeper roots into my new home, Chicago.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Picasso)
Spain’s Fundación del Español Urgente, Fundéu, which deals with language issues and the media, today selected its word of the year for 2016: populismo, or “populism.”

It tries to pick words important to current events and that have linguistic interest.

“Clearly, in a year as political as this one, with globally important events like the Brexit, Donald Trump’s electoral win, and the various elections and referenda in the Americas and Spain, Fundéu’s word of the year would have to come from that realm,” says Javier Lascuráin, the foundation’s coordinator general.

The word also has linguistic interest because its meaning has changed. At one time its use was neutral, related to “popular” or “of the people,” especially in contrast with elites or with shifting power from elites to the common people. Lascuráin says the meaning in Spanish has been moving toward more negative connotations.

Now, he says, “it’s often applied to policies of all ideologies, but they have in common the appeal to citizens’ emotions and the offer of simple solutions to complex problems.”

Runner-up words of the year included abstenciocracia, “abstention from voting by the majority”; posverdad, “post-truth”; youtubero, “YouTuber”; ningufonear, “phubbing”; and vendehumos “someone who sells something they don’t have (sell smoke).”

Meanwhile, in English, Oxford Dictionaries went with post-truth. Cambridge Dictionary said paranoid sparked the most online searches. cited xenophobia. Merriam Webster said “surreal” was looked up often, especially after tragic or surprising events, although fascism also sparked a lot of lookups.

Here in Chicago, according to Merriam Webster, in addition to the words of national interest, people were looking up irregardless after it was used by commentators about the World Series between the Cubs and Cleveland Indians. We also frequently looked up mature, hypocrisy, ignore, arrogant, clubbable, establishment, definition, common sense, and legacy.

Perhaps Chicagoans were only checking the spelling.

— Sue Burke

September 2017

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