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Sue Burke
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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

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

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, www.sue.burke.name
31st-Jan-2017 10:24 am - Crowdfunding - what you need
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
16th-Jan-2017 09:41 am - More about me!
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
11th-Jan-2017 08:41 am - Isabel and Fernando dixit
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
10th-Jan-2017 10:21 am - My publications in 2016
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.
1st-Jan-2017 02:12 pm - A few goals for the new year
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
30th-Dec-2016 01:59 pm - Spanish word of the year: populismo
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. Dictionary.com 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
29th-Dec-2016 08:39 am - Download "SuperSonic" for free!
You can download the special English-language Eurocon edition of SuperSonic magazine. Learn all about Spanish science fiction and fantasy and read work by top authors. For free!


SuperSonic EuroCon 2016
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