mount_oregano: Let me see (judgemental)
I was asked by an unhappy movie producer why a writer could turn in a fine script, but the next one by the same writer would be bad. Here’s my answer:

We writers ask ourselves the same thing. Why is one piece of writing successful, and the next one isn’t? We worked on it the same way, just as hard, with the same excitement and love, and no one liked it. Why?

Well, among other reasons, unless we’re rewriting the same thing over and over, or following a formula as if creative works were McDonald’s hamburgers, every story is an experiment. Sometimes experiments fail.

"You write a hit the same way you write a flop," said Alan Jay Lerner of the writing team Lerner and Loewe. Lerner won three Oscars, among many other awards, and everyone in the world has heard his hits, which include My Fair Lady, Camelot, and Gigi. He also wrote 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with none other than Leonard Bernstein as a collaborator, and it’s perhaps the worst flop in the history of Broadway.

What went wrong? Nothing. The creative process went as normal. There are no guarantees. Martin Amis called bestsellers a “ridiculous accident”.

This is why writers drink. We can, perhaps, accept the inevitability of random failure, but those around us don’t always understand.

— 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 (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 (euro)

Self-publishing is nothing new – and neither is piracy. The first book of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes was published in Madrid and was immediately pirated in Lisbon.

Then as now, payment by publishers to authors was low, and so just like today, some authors were willing to get their book printed and sell it themselves, but it has always been a lot easier to get a book printed than to sell it. In Don Quixote, Book II, Chapter LXII, published in 1615, our mad knight-errant meets an even madder author in a printing shop in Barcelona and has this conversation:

"I would venture to swear," said Don Quixote, "that you, sir, are not known in the world, which always begrudges its reward to rare wits and praiseworthy labors. What talents lie wasted there! What genius thrust away into corners! What worth left neglected!... But tell me, sir, are you printing this book at your own risk, or have you sold the copyright to some bookseller?"

"I print at my own risk," said the author, "and I expect to make at least a thousand ducados* with this first edition, which is to be of two thousand copies that should sell in the blink of an eye at six reales** apiece."

"A fine calculation you’re making!" said Don Quixote. "It seems you don't know the ins and outs of the printers, and the false accounting that some of them use. I promise you when you find yourself weighed down with two thousand copies, you will feel so careworn that it will astonish you, particularly if the book is unusual and not at all humorous."

"Then what!" said the author. "Sir, do you wish me to give it to a bookseller who will give three maravedís*** for the copyright and think he is doing me a favor? I do not print my books to win fame in the world, for I am already well-known by my works. I want to get something out of it, otherwise fame is not worth a cuatrín****."


*1,000 ducados, in today’s prices and currencies, might equal roughly €28,125 or US$35,600. By comparison, Cervantes may have received about 100 to 125 ducados for the first book of Don Quixote. The contract has been lost, but that price is in keeping with what he made for other books.

**6 reales, in today’s equivalent currencies, might be about €15.35 or US$19.43. The first book of Don Quixote sold for 290.5 maravedís, or about €21.78 or US$27.57.

***About €0.23 or US$0.28 – we could translate it into American English as a “quarter.”

****A coin worth so little that no one recalls its value anymore. We could translate it as a “penny” or “farthing” and probably be close to the original meaning.

— Sue Burke

A more detailed analysis of how little Cervantes made from Don Quixote is available here:

mount_oregano: Let me see (NightFallsOnEurope)

I am a total Earthling. By that I mean I am entirely used to this planet’s environment.

Here’s a small example:

One day I was out on my morning walk, and up ahead a wood pigeon sprang into the air and started flying toward me. With a 30-inch wingspan, it’s a fairly big bird. But I didn’t flinch. I knew that the bird, very common in my neighborhood, had no interest in messing with me. It would swerve with plenty of time.

Think of all the other potentially scary if not genuinely dangerous natural wonders we encounter on a normal day, such as a bee, dog, or cactus – to say nothing of technology.

Right now I’m writing a novel about Earthlings on another planet. How can they know if what looks like a bird or a mere stick of wood is really harmless? Well, they can’t, and not all of them are as brave as they need to be.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Postage stamp)

Since April, I’ve been publishing weekly articles Las dos Castillas, a literary e-zine of literature and other fine arts. Most its the content is in Spanish, but the Handwriting section, which includes me, is in English.

Here’s what’s been published so far – for your reading pleasure:

Billions and billions of people. What a changed world looks like.

Dark skies. Eight lessons about looking up.

Dinosaurs in the hallways. The fossils I walk on every day.

Haiku cut: kireji. It’s more than just counting syllables.

How to read. It keeps getting easier.

If I were a plant. Chlorophyll means power.

Judo way of life. Five lessons on how to fight – and to go about daily life.

Lies, Gold, and Poverty. Sunken treasure in Lake Michigan.

Madrid Is Ripe for Conquest. A silly poem about dog poop.

Paper into planes. Paper airplanes took too long to be invented.

Teaching and acting. They have a lot in common.

The trophy, close up. The World Cup trophy, that is.

Translating poetry: thorny problems. Translation is more than words.

Who Loved Their Babies More. A three-paragraph short story.

Why not “normal”? A lesson I learned from a “special” high school student.

Why you have a future. You have a future because you forgot your past.

Write like Hemingway. He wasn’t that tough away from the keyboard.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Postage stamp)
icon_240_Intralingo (2)

When I say I’m a literary translator, what does that mean? How did I get started? What’s the best and worst part of the work, and what have I done?

For the answer to these and other questions, check out my interview today at Intralingo Spotlight, hosted by Lisa Carter:

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Bottle of Oregano)
Some definitions of fiction say the main character must grow or change. This is not true. In Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, the personality of George F. Babbitt never changes. George and Lennie do not change in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Bart Simpson and James Bond never change, either. Their motivation remains the same. Only their situation changes, and that can be enough for a good story.

If you need some changing story situations, here are a few ideas:

• This is a story about an escape plan that would have been perfect, but Herbert was the same outside of confinement as he was in it.

• This is a high fantasy story about a wise sorceress who solves a series of increasingly difficult confrontations with evil, but her skills do not increase as the danger increases.

• This is a steampunk story about a loyal minion — or rather, told from the minion’s point of view as other characters go about their thrilling, life-altering adventures.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (OpenMic)

Come read or listen to poetry, short stories, flash fiction, spoken word, and non-fiction at the Madrid Writers Open Mic 4: Tuesday, March 25, 8 p.m., at the Café El Dinosaurio Todavía Estaba Allí, calle Lavapies 8.

The readings will be in English and Spanish. Four minute limit. More information here:

I’ll be reading a sonnet.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Carmencita)
I might not be Patricia S. Bowne's biggest fan, but I am one of the first. We were both members of a writer's critique group in Milwaukee in the 1990s. She was working on stories set in at the Royal Academy of Arcane Arts and Sciences at Osyth, a university with both magic and bureaucracy.

She's been hanging around university science departments all her life - even longer, since her mother was pregnant with her while she was a grad student. Pat has a PhD. in zoology, which may explain the realistic ecology of magic in the stories, and she teaches at a small Midwest college. She has a shrewd eye for personalities, with their strengths, foibles, and secrets.

She's written a series of novels and short stories about Osyth, and I love them all.

Her inspiration? Graduate school.

I'm always drawing on that - not that any of my professors were attacked by demons! I went to such interesting grad schools, with things like whale skeletons buried in the volleyball pit, deep-sea sampling expeditions, students chasing down pronghorns in winter and sampling lakes during snowstorms, or running into bears on their sampling transects - how could I not miss all that when I went into teaching? There's a part in the first novel where Warren wishes he was a painter, just so he could record what the offices look like. I felt that way every day when I was in grad school. So I finally have recorded it, if in an altered form.

What's the Royal Academy at Osyth like?

It's like a large modern university, an R1 [advanced research institution] with medical school (sorcery) and engineering school (wizardry). The Demonology Department is about equivalent to the biology department at a real university; it's in the school of Natural Magic. The Royal Academy has two other schools, Social Magic (roughly equivalent to the social sciences) and Arcane Arts (the humanities and Fine Arts). I've toyed with adding a business program for non-magical students, since as a Royal Academy they have to accept any of the Royal family whether they're talented or not, but haven't written anything about it yet.

I wanted it to be a real university, with the kinds of issues that a real university has - for instance, insurance coverage, faculty meetings, program evaluations, all those things that seem to be imposed from some nebulous upper region (that's why the Dean doesn't have a name). Folks who write about universities of magic sometimes treat them as if faculty just do whatever interests them until they cry "voila!" and emerge with some new threat to humanity in their back pockets. But in real life, what government would allow that? All my faculty work under bureaucratic constraints. The most extreme example is Bill Navanax, who might be burned at the stake if he takes his work out of the lab.

I'm told that the most realistic part of Advice From Pigeons is the stress on a new faculty member. Rho really does need to get his research going and get a grant ASAP, and the culture clash he goes through on moving from Kasidora to the Royal Academy is real. A friend of mine who just read the book says it captures the new faculty experience, and I see the things I wrote about reflected in faculty blogs.

There are some areas I didn't observe when I was in grad school; for instance, I don't know what kinds of meetings profs at an R1 have to attend, so I draw that from what I've seen in liberal arts colleges. In the short story "Kindling," everybody wants to be on the Library Use Committee; I'm on that one myself and it is a plum, though not for the reason given in the story. Likewise I knew nothing about Development from grad school, so I hope the fundraising in Want's Master is accurate.

There's humor ...

I think academic life is that humorous. It's in-jokes, of course. I remember laughing at a grad school party about something regarding sewage bacteria, and thinking, "This is the life - to know people who get this joke." Grad school is full of clever people with a fund of specialized knowledge, some of which is just funny on its own and some of which becomes funny when you try to link it to real life; like a friend of mine who studied foraminifera, and identified truck hubcaps according to which foram shell they resembled. That sort of thing goes on all the time in grad school. The trick is to make it funny to people who aren't in the field.

… and there's danger.

People do do dangerous things in academic science. There's a documentary out there that shows one of my classmates scrambling up an observation tower just ahead of a polar bear. I had a couple office-mates who were standing atop a dead whale when it exploded. I think half the people I know from those years have been in swimming with sharks, worked with potentially lethal or explosive toxins, so forth.

But nothing like getting their hands torn off by demons. The daily invocation of a demon isn't realistic in any sense; especially, I can't imagine a whole department getting together every morning to do something that is really only relevant to four or five members' research. When Linus complains about giving an hour of his time to it every day, he has a legitimate gripe.

Osyth took shape before Harry Potter, but the two worlds have been compared.

Hogwarts is from a whole different tradition; the biggest difference, though, would be that the Harry Potter books are about the students, while my books are about the profs. Hogwarts is a teaching establishment, and the Royal Academy is a research university. Students barely appear in my books, and when they do they are graduate students. Which I think is pretty accurate; in all my years of grad school, I can't remember ever hearing a prof talk about teaching undergraduates, even though they were all doing it.

At Hogwarts, disciplines seem to be divided methodologically. Transformation, or potion-making. At the Royal Academy, folks are divided by what they specialize in. Will Harding, for instance, would know any potions and transformations relevant to vampires. But that's because this is a higher level of education, and all these people are far past the skills-level classes Harry Potter is taking.

Hogwarts celebrates things like Christmas, if I remember correctly. There's no hint of any of that in Osyth. In fact, it's a pretty religion-free country at the time of these novels. A church does open there in A Lovesome Thing, and the building they use was a church in the far past. However, gods are real enough for the Academy to have hired a specialist in them. Basically, divine forces are real but most human religions cycle in and out of being bunk. There's a lot about religions in A Lovesome Thing, and a lot about gods in my most recent novella, "Those Who Favor Fire."

The in-jokes include naming demons after fish.

That started with Nezumia. In real life it's a macrourid (grenadier or rattail), one of the deep sea fishes I did my masters' on. Another researcher in the area told me that its name meant "black rat" in Japanese. Google now tells me that isn't true, but this was back before Google … Anyway, I thought "Black Rat" was a fine name for a demon from the netherworld. In fact, all these deep-sea fishes seemed as if they would make good models for demons from the netherworld; besides which they had been a royal pain to study, so there was an element of revenge.

Once I started using scientific names, I branched out from fish. I figure anyone deep enough into science to get the in-jokes will be deep enough into it to enjoy the rest of the books.

What you can read about Osyth (and buy here):

Advice From Pigeons, a novel. Hiram Rho starts work at the Academy, and within a month, he has acquired an affectionate demon with a plan to take over the department, the two senior demonologists have lost their souls and their health insurance, and Rho's problems have embroiled everyone from the mysterious Alchemy faculty to the pigeons on his window ledge.

A Lovesome Thing, a novel. It's spring break. Demonology faculty have scattered to the four winds except for Neil Torecki and Teddy Whin, who venture into the alchemists' study garden to rescue a lost colleague. They don't know that the garden opens into an ancient prison for dissident alchemists, or that the world's most dangerous possessing demon has taken refuge there, feeding on the prisoners while it plots to take over leadership of a major religion.

Want's Master and Other Stories From Osyth, a collection of four Osyth stories: "Want's Master," about a development officer who enchants donors; "Kindling," in which Linus takes over the world's most dangerous research museum; "Beginner's Luck," where Anders Regan gets embroiled in dryad rights and the theology of conference door prizes; and "Unite and Conquer," in which a grad student at the University of Kasadora takes revenge on her abusive advisor.

"Those Who Favor Fire," a story at Lorelei Signal. Winston Chiliming, a mysterious diviner, refuses to be categorized - even into male or female. The magazine has a voting system, so if you like the story you can indicate it by donating to the magazine and help support it.

Swept and Garnished, a novel coming out later this year. After barely surviving the semester at the Royal Academy, Hiram Rho heads home for the summer and his department chair, Warren Oldham, departs on a well-deserved vacation. While Rho tries to get his powers back, Warren's vacation takes an unexpected turn that leaves him battling a demon from inside it. Back in Osyth, Russell Cinea, the senior demonologist, is finally in charge - for a week full of demons, exorcists, and unexpected temptations.

• More Royal Academy novellas will be re-issued this year, and perhaps another collection.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (window)
You have an idea for a story, but is it a short-short, a novel, or something in between? Try imagining it as a picture.

A simple picture can be a short-short story. (Boy Lighting a Candle, by El Greco, 1571)

Add a few more characters, and you have a longer short story. (An Allegory with a Boy Lighting a Candle in the Company of an Ape and a Fool, by El Greco, 1577)

With more characters and more conflict, you might have a novel. (The Miracle of Christ Healing the Blind, by El Greco, ca. 1570)

A big canvas with a lot happening could well be a three-novel series. (The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, by El Greco, 1586. The painting is 15 feet tall.)

Here are a few story ideas:

• The glowing little fairy was fragile and needed help to stay alive.

• The glowing little fairy was fragile, but it attracted too much attention, and the boy wasn’t sure he could keep it safe.

• Jessie’s unusual but successful medical techniques often got him into trouble, and eventually he faced a death sentence.

• The Count’s death unleashed an epic conflict between men and God. (Notice the lack of women at the Count’s funeral. I think they’re all off reading Lysistrata.)

— Sue Burke

This year is the 400th anniversary of the death of El Greco in Toledo, which we’re celebrating here in Spain. Visit the official website or learn more at this news article from the Telegraph.
mount_oregano: Let me see (Weather vane)

What’s it like to write in another language? It’s not just changing the words from one language to another, sort of like Google Translate. Techniques for beautiful or powerful prose in one language are not the same in another. Different linguistic resources offer distinctive possibilities and restraints. In every language, history weighs heavily on word choice. Even somewhat close languages like Spanish and English have what we might call different operating systems.

That’s why Estefanía Gonzáles and I have teamed up for Exploring En Papel, a bilingual Spanish- English creative writing workshop meant to help writers take a step toward perfection in their second language. It starts on March 8 and will be presencial in Madrid, Spain. The class will be small: no more than eight students. You’ll get in-class exercises, reading, homework (hey, we’re teachers), and individualized correction and attention.

You can see more at:

Contact us at:

Languages limit not what you can say but what you must say. Creativity understands limits and turns them into effective tools.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Postage stamp)
This is a critique format I learned from Maureen F. McHugh in the Clarion Workshop, which I attended in 1996. We used it throughout the six-week workshop, and I continue to use it to this day — one of the many invaluable lessons I learned at Clarion.


There are many formats to follow, but this one is easy to use and especially helpful for the author.

1. What the story or work is or does, in one or two sentences.
2. The successes of the work.
3. The weakest parts.
4. One or two ideas for the fastest and biggest improvements.

This kind of critique is meant to help the author improve the story before publication – something quite different from an academic or literary analysis, which helps readers understand the story after publication.

Each part of the critique tries to accomplish something different to help the author and often the critiquer as well. The best way to learn to write is to write a lot, and the second-best way is to analyze other written works. Doing it as a group exercise lets you see other viewpoints and get even more ideas about how to improve your writing.

1. What the story or work is or does, in one or two sentences.

This way the author can see if you read the story the author tried to write. For example: “This is a story about racism.” “A couple pause during a trip and talk about everything but her pregnancy. It becomes clear they’ll break up after the abortion.” “A poet faces constant challenges to his art until he decides to defy authority.”

A unique understanding of the story can spur the author a new thematic development. On the other hand, the summary may also show the author that the critiquer wanted to read a different story and that person’s comments should be interpreted in that light.

It’s okay to say you didn’t understand the story.

2. The successes of the work.

So the author knows what not to change, which is important. Also so the author feels some sense of accomplishment. We wouldn’t want the author to make a mistake out of despair and eliminate the good parts.

3. The weakest parts.

This helps the author to know what should be changed. This is not the place for typos, quibbles, and stylistic changes such as how to handle dialog, which should be noted on the manuscript. This is for observations like “There’s no foreshadowing of the murder” or “I didn’t realize at first that the setting was a hotel”.

Critiquers might not agree on the successes and weaknesses.

4. One or two ideas for the fastest and biggest improvements.

The author and you can focus on the big picture. This can be a learning experience for both of you, since there’s always a lot that could be changed.

Again, there may be disagreements that can help both the author and critiquer evaluate other stories better by observing what different eyes saw in this particular work.

When should you seek a critique?

When you don’t know how to improve the work further. Or when you have questions you can’t answer yourself. Don’t waste the critiquer’s time with works that you intend revise before you receive the critique. Likewise, critiquers should also have the courtesy to return the critique promptly, and should offer constructive rather than destructive criticism.

How should you do the critique?

As a rule, it’s best to read the work through once to get an overall sense, and then read it again to begin critiquing.

How should you conduct a group critique?

Here are the usual rules for the feedback:

The author does not speak, since readers will not have the author on hand to explain the work after it is published. The author should be scribbling notes, though.

The critiquers speak in a circle, one after another. If someone else has already said what you found, you can just say “I agree with Miriam about the lack of foreshadowing.”

After every critiquer has spoken, they can continue to discuss, even argue. The author remains silent, taking notes.

Finally, the author speaks, and more discussion can ensue. The author collects the manuscripts and thanks everyone.

— Sue Burke
mount_oregano: Let me see (Keep Calm)
How good are computer-generated translations? They’re getting better, but I decided to throw something complex at them, a sentence from Lope de Aguirre, El Loco del Amazonas [Lope de Aguirre, Madman of the Amazon] by Manuel Lacarta. The book is a biography of a Spanish conquistador. The machines got the common words well enough, but uncommon words, uncommon uses of words, inverted sentence structure, and metaphors were beyond them.


The original:
“Las guerras daban excusa a los peruleros para medros y rápidas ganancias, aunque, también, para perder la cabeza de sobre los hombros o andarse huido en las selvas entre las alimañas si no se acertaba el ganador en esa suerte de como lotería.”

Babylon (
“Wars gave an excuse for the peruleros for limitless ambition and rapid gains, though, also, to lose the head of on the shoulders or prevaricate fled in the jungles between the vermin was difficult if not the winner in that sort of as lottery.”

Google Translate (
“The war gave the Peruvians excuse for Medros and quick profits, but also to lose his head over the shoulders or beating fled in the forests between the vermin if not the winner was right in that sort of like lottery.”

Instituto Cervantes (
“The wars gave excuse to the peruleros for medros and fast gains, although, also, to lose the head of on the shoulders or walk escaped in the jungles between the alimañas if it did not hit the winner in this luck of as lottery.”

My translation:
“For the conquistadors in Peru, these wars provided a pretext for advancement and quick profit, though they might also result in sudden death or flight, wandering through the jungle amid its predators, for failing to guess the winning side in that lottery of fate.”


This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Machine Translation Without the Translation,” explains how Google Translate works and why it makes mistakes.


If you’re looking for a translator, here’s my LinkedIn profile:
mount_oregano: Let me see (Carmencita)

Stories told in epistolary fashion — as letters — enjoyed popularity in the 18th century because of their realistic elements. Then they fell out of favor, but they never faded away entirely. These days, we tend to write few letters in real life, but we write lots of email, tweets, instant messages, Facebook posts, and even battling blog posts and comments. These are being used to tell whole or parts of stories or novels, sometimes interspersed with traditional narrative, transcripts from broadcast media, diary entries, news clips, artwork, and conventional letters. If you want to write an epistolary story with one, two, or several “writers,” here are some ideas:

• This is a science fiction story in which a self-aware psychotherapist and second-generation Moon resident faces her longing to visit Earth despite its deadly high gravity, corresponding with her imaginary self during a visit “home.”

• This is a thriller about a sample of contagion sent to several labs to speed up work on a vaccine, but it falls into the wrong hands, which is revealed in a series of emails.

• This is a story told as messages between two friends as they witness an outbreak of demonic possession from different locations with different outcomes.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Saber-tooth)

For a good story, characters must have emotions. Anger, for example. But how to show this? With people suddenly fighting or shouting? This doesn’t tell us much about their anger. Instead you might show the character’s journey from frustration to self-blame to anger, or from fear to hatred to furor, or from irritation to exasperation to outrage. If you need an angry story idea, here are a few:

• This is an end-of-civilization story in which Earth respects its own sacred sites but unintentionally defiles a site sacred to extraterrestrials.

• This is a heroic high fantasy novel that takes place during a hostage situation in which a would-be rescuer must defy the theory of gravity to gain access to a floating city.

• This is an alternate history horror story in which the banshees repel a Nazi invasion of Ireland.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Infrared)

I just got this amazing tote bag at a stationery store here in Madrid:

And the other side is startling:

I am now properly accessorized.

— Sue Burke

Feb. 23rd, 2013 09:15 pm

I win!

mount_oregano: Let me see (Postage stamp)
I win [ profile] stillnotbored's February writing contest -- actually, I'm a co-winner, and the other winner's entry is awesome, too:

Thanks for the contest, Jaime Lee Moyer!
mount_oregano: Let me see (Seedlings1)

English has many ways to express the future, with subtle differences. For example:

1. I will meet her tomorrow.
2. I am meeting her tomorrow.
3. I am going to meet her tomorrow.
4. I am to meet her tomorrow.
5. I shall meet her tomorrow.
6. I will have met her tomorrow.
7. I will be meeting her tomorrow.
8. I am about to meet her tomorrow.
9. I might meet her tomorrow.
10. I may meet her tomorrow.

What’s the difference? Note that some expressions can carry more than one meaning.

1. Simple statement of the future. Prediction of an event not already decided or obvious. Announcement of a decision. Threat. Promise. Command.
2. Something already planned, arranged, or decided.
3. Something already planned or previously decided; emphasis on the idea of intention. Prediction about an event outside of one’s control.
4. Scheduled event.
5. Simple statement of the future more common in British than American English. Obligation.
6. Prediction about a completed action at a certain time in the future.
7. Fixed or decided future event, but without a sense of personal intention.
8. Future event very close to occurring in a real or emotional sense.
9. Prediction; unlikely possibility.
10. Prediction; likely possibility.

There’s more to say about future expressions in English, but this covers the main points. I teach English as a second language, and I have to teach these fine distinctions to my students. Native speakers usually know English by memory: they remember words in use rather than thinking through rules, and they understand the meaning by repeated example.

Memory as a grammar guide only works if you’ve been exposed to a lot of accurately used English, so knowing the rules helps ensure precision. It can be dangerous to write on automatic pilot.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Leafy Oregano)

Applications are being accepted for the 2013 Clarion Writers’ Workshop at UC San Diego:
The workshop will be held June 23 to August 3.

I attended back in 1996 when it was still at Michigan State University in East Lansing. We spent six intense, brain-melting weeks honing our skills for writing science fiction, fantasy, and horror. What did I learn? Too much for one sentence, and each of my classmates learned different things. In my case, I learned how to get from idea to story in sure steps along several possible paths, and how to make that story tighter.

It’s not cheap, but you can get scholarships. I donated to the Write-a-Thon Scholarship, so put my money to good use.

— Sue Burke

September 2017

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