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Sue Burke
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What’s the word for “crib” in Spanish?

Here in Chicago, water cribs bring drinking water from Lake Michigan to the city. The first one was constructed almost 150 years ago two miles out in the lake, far from urban pollution, an engineering feat in its time.

But if you ask the average bilingual person about crib in Spanish without any context, they’d say “cuna.” I’d say “cuna.” It’s the most common meaning. But context is everything. Cuna doesn’t feel right in this instance. So let me check.

If I open up the Oxford Spanish Dictionary, an excellent bilingual source, and look up crib, I get cuna for “children’s bed”; or belén for “nativity scene”; or chuleta for “cheat sheet for an exam.” None of these seems right. I’ve never heard or read those words used to refer to an industrial-sized construction.

So let’s look at the meaning of crib in English in the American Heritage Dictionary. One of the meanings is “5. A framework to support or strengthen a mine or shaft.” If you think about it, a crib (for children) is a framework around a bed so babies don’t fall out. This might be the real term we want to translate: framework.

But if I look up framework in the Oxford Spanish Dictionary, I get “marco,” which is a frame around a picture, window or doorway, or a regulatory framework. Again, that doesn’t seem exactly right, although it’s closer....

Maybe I should call up Chicago Water Management to see if they have a Spanish-language term. This is a multi-lingual city, after all, and the utility would be the authoritative source. Or maybe I could contact a Spanish-language news outlet to see if they’ve already wrestled with the question.

This is why a translation can sometimes take a lot longer than you might expect. Words that look simple hide linguistic landmines. And sometimes accuracy reaches life-or-death urgency, such as the translation of a medical record for someone critically ill, or the instructions for operating a nuclear power plant. This is why translators specialize. They build up their vocabularies.

In any case, how does Chicago’s water taste? Fine. And unlike some locales, Chicago has a virtually never-ending supply coming in through those cribs.

UPDATED on December 8
This was cross-posted on Facebook, and my friends and friends of friends there offered excellent suggestions.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional writing website: www.sue.burke.name
Keep Calm
If you happen to be in Guadalajara, Mexico, this weekend, I’ll be at the International Book Fair. Specifically, I’ll speak about crowdfunding for translators Sunday, November 27, from 16:40 to 17:10 in Salón E, Área Internacional, at the Guadalajara Expo. This is part of the annual St. Jerome International Translation and Interpretation Conference.

Here’s an executive summary of my presentation, if you can’t be there.

A successful fundraising campaign needs:
• an attractive project,
• the right platform (like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, etc.),
• a team with a variety of skills,
• a list of possible contributors, and
• a plan that gets underway six months before the project starts accepting contributions.

An international, bilingual or multilingual project needs all that along with some unique requirements. For example, banking rules differ from country to country, and not every platform operates in every country. Shipping costs for sending rewards or perks overseas can be expensive. Cultures vary country about donating money.

In any case, a crowdfunding campaign is a lot of effort, but it can be a way to bring literature to new readers in other languages when traditional publishing might not be possible.

— Sue Burke
18th-Nov-2016 09:55 am - Off to a bad start
Let me see..
Like every writer I know, I’ve started too many stories that petered out and sit there on my hard drive tucked out of sight so they don’t depress me. These are mistakes – and I know why some of them happened. Here’s an analogy:

I’ve got a great starting idea for dinner today: I should use that lovely bag of baby spinach. But how? The possibilities leave me indecisive. I can’t start cooking until I have a goal in mind, a finished dish.

For that reason, menus list dishes rather than random, tasty ingredients. MasterChef uses the random ingredient challenge to torture its contestants because the odds are against them cooking up something delectable. It’s fun to watch them fail.

Yet writers commonly start stories “to see where they’ll go.” Stephen King champions this technique. I think his story “Obits,” nominated for the 2016 Hugo, shows how it can fail. In the story, a man discovers he has an extraordinary skill. And then ... he runs away and never does that thing again. The consequences of his skill, good or ill, are never explored. I suspect King didn’t know what to do with the idea. He didn’t win a Hugo this year.

By contrast, consider “Eutopia” by Poul Anderson in the 1967 Harlan Ellison anthology Dangerous Visions. In that story, a time traveler must flee for something horrible he did. We don't know what it was, but he seems like a good man. The very last word of the story tells you what happened (no spoilers), and its impact helped Dangerous Visions redefine science fiction. This was no accident. Anderson started the story knowing precisely how it would end – a great ending – and every word from the beginning pointed toward that end.

If I start a story or novel without knowing the ending, I might get blocked and, in panic, grab at the first ending that comes to mind, although it could be hackneyed or weak or miss the mark. Or I might not finish the story at all. If I start with a strong ending in mind, success is not guaranteed, but my odds are better.

I’ve learned that my ending idea need not be too specific: “He wins, although it means betraying some of his core values so he can uphold other values,” or “She kills her rival and takes over,” or “He lures the ghosts to a morgue and leaves them there, trapped.”

I still hope to achieve Anderson’s genius at endings – which means I have a goal (an ending) for the story of my writing career.

These days, if I’m working on a writing prompt, I try to write the ending of a story. I might draw on one of those half-baked ideas rattling around my brain, or I might come up with something new. I get a story I know how to finish. Much more needs to be done to flesh the idea out, of course, but the end is in sight.

Tonight, by the way, I’ll make a chicken-pasta-vegetable toss for dinner. The fresh baby spinach should be a delicious final touch. Bon appétit!

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional writing site: www.sue.burke.name
10th-Nov-2016 10:57 am - What I’m doing at Windycon
Sue the Chicago T-rex
I’ll be at Windycon 43 this weekend, November 11 to 13, in Lombard, Illinois. Here are the panels I’m on:

International SF&F - Friday 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. in room Lilac B
What are some of the current trends in SF outside of the English-speaking areas? Who are the exciting new authors in the rest of the world? And where do you look to find translations of their works?

Writing Unpleasant Characters - Friday 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. in room Lilac B
Even the worst villains need realistic motivation. How do you write a believable character that nobody likes?

Guard! Turn! Parry! Dodge! Spin! Thrust! - Saturday, 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. in Junior Ballroom A
What do you need to know if you want to write believable fight scenes?

Get Funded! - Saturday 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. in room Lilac D
Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Patreon are just some of the ways to get funding for your creative project. Learn the pros and cons of crowdfunding.

— Sue Burke
8th-Nov-2016 11:58 am - I voted! Here’s how
Let me see..

Call me nostalgic, but I like the drama of voting on voting day itself instead of voting early: hiking to the polling place, standing in line, greeting the polling place workers, and casting a ballot live and in person.

As Winston Churchill said: “At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into the little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little piece of paper – no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point.

Choosing the top of the ticket wasn’t hard. Some of the down-ballot choices were mystifying, especially the long list of judicial candidates. You can see the ballot for my neighborhood (and the vote totals after today) at the DNAinfo news website.

To be an informed voter, I studied every voting guide and endorsement list I could find or received in our mailbox: the Chicago Tribune (which endorsed Gary Johnson for president), Cook County Democratic Party (Clinton, no surprise), Independent Voters of Illinois, Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood Illinois Action, Chicago NOW PAC, Asian American Bar Association, Black Women’s Lawyers Association, Chicago Council of Lawyers, Cook County Bar Association, Hispanic Lawyer’s Association, Illinois Bar Association, Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago, Puerto Rican Bar Association, Women’s Bar Association of Illinois, Committee to Elect Qualified Judges, and Chicago Votes Action Fund.

Everybody had an opinion and was eager to share it.

I compared the lists, did some additional research, and made a cheat-sheet to take into the ballot booth, an accepted practice in Illinois. I needed that. Seriously, there were more than 60 judicial positions on the ballot. What a litigious town!

My voting place is the Church of Atonement Episcopal, three blocks away. On the way I passed the address where Hillary Rodham Clinton spent the first three years of her life. Yes, she once lived only a block away from my house.

I expected a line. I’d returned some books at the Edgewater branch of the public library yesterday, which housed an early voting site, and the line started at the door, went up the steps, around the perimeter of the main room, down the hall, and finally into the room with the voting booths.

So I took my Kindle. Instead, the line was almost non-existent, and the election judges were cheerful and efficient. I got my four-foot-long, two-page paper ballot and a pen (not a pencil), and spent a while completing arrows next to candidates and referendum questions, then fed my ballot pages into the counting machine. They were number 388 and 389.

I got my “I VOTED! DID YOU?” bracelet, said thank you, peeked into the church sanctuary (nice stained glass) for a quick prayer for God’s mercy on our country, and left.

Then I bought some still-warm tortillas on the way home. Taco Tuesday, you know.

This evening, we’ll find out what happened. I recommend this guide to election night with a helpful non-partisan analysis, a map, and a chart.

No amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of what all of us did today for democracy.

— Sue Burke
7th-Nov-2016 09:54 am - Election-eve poll: Best comb-over!

Who has the best comb-over, my late father or Donald J. Trump?

Mr. Trump
Mr. Burke

DadNot my dad
Arrate Hidalgo at Strange Horizons has a thoughtful review of two anthologies from Spain, Spanish Women of Wonder and Castles in Spain. She concludes:

"The question of whether a country’s SFF has reached a stage of maturity necessarily invokes the canon we’re measuring it up against. However, what transpires from these two anthologies is that they are the result of a conscious effort to reject comparison and to focus instead on what there is, distilling not only the quality but also the cultural relevance of Spanish SFF in an international context—registering, for instance, the interest of some of the most established authors among them (César Mallorquí, Rafael Marín, Eduardo Vaquerizo) in normalizing the use of autochthonous references. Or featuring, as does Spanish Women of Wonder, visions of contemporary sources of collective angst, including mass extinction by climate change and the erosion of our attention spans. Ultimately, these twenty-one short stories work very well together as a tip of the iceberg of Spanish speculative fiction, which incidentally appears to be a pretty sizeable one—and I for one sure hope it makes the splash it deserves."

Read the whole thing here:

30th-Oct-2016 10:22 am - Why no game clock at baseball?
Let me see..
How long does a baseball game last?

Usually about three hours, but it can take under two hours or more than eight. Baseball uses no clock – unlike sports such as football or basketball. Why not?

Because baseball developed in the early 1800s when few people could afford a pocket watch. The rules had to be based on some other form of limits, so instead of minutes, umpires count strikes, outs, and innings.

It might take a long time to rack up three outs. Or it can be a fast three up, three down, and the pitcher walks off the mound to cheers.

In our daily lives, most of the time we live by the clock: time to go to work, time for dinner, time to get out of bed or to hit the snooze button and delay the inevitable a little while longer. But with baseball, there is no clock. Can you imagine when all of life was like that?

Go Cubs!

— Sue Burke
26th-Oct-2016 10:08 am - A easy, hilarious Halloween trick
Let me see..

If you want to have some fun with trick-or-treaters, you might do what my nephew did one year when he was a teenager.

First, he persuaded his parents to turn off all the lights and pretend no one was home.

Next, near the front door, he placed decorations and a bench with what seemed to be a scarecrow sitting there holding a bowl of candy in its lap. This was meant to be an invitation to trick-or-treaters: “Sorry, we’re not home, but we left some treats here for you. Come help yourself!”

It worked. People approached to take some candy. But...

The scarecrow was really my nephew in a costume and mask. When the trick-or-treaters got close enough, he’d leap up to personally offer them a treat. And he’d scare the bejeebers out of them. My sister and her husband were peeping through the curtains, and she said they were dying of laughter.

It was a great trick.

This would probably work with any kind of costume – witch, ghost, pirate – but not clown. Do not dress up as a clown this year. Clowns are creepy.

— Sue Burke
12th-Oct-2016 10:34 am - Medieval Chicago
Chicago flag
Chicago loves architecture. Chicagoans built the world’s first skyscraper in 1885, and over time other unique buildings drew on both innovations and the past for inspiration. In 1925, the Tribune Tower became a neo-Gothic landmark, a medieval-style skyscraper.

I’m fond of the Middle Ages, and I can find neo-Gothic architecture in my neighborhood in Edgewater, Chicago. Here are a few samples close to home:

Detail of an apartment building down the street.

An apartment building around the corner.

A storefront with a Mediterranean medieval influence.

Edgewater Presbyterian Church’s magnificent Romanesque doorway.

Not quite a castle tower battlement, but it’s the thought that counts.

A gargoyle. One of several in the neighborhood. Every neighborhood needs gargoyles.

Last but not least, not at all, St. Ita Catholic Church, built in 1924-1927 in French Gothic style. The building will be open to tours during Open House Chicago from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, October 15. I can see the top of the bell tower right now from the window next to my desk, and I plan to toddle over this weekend and enjoy a look inside.

— Sue Burke

P.S. The stonework of the church on the inside was a magnificent as the outside, and with an especially lovely altar and large, intricate stained glass windows.
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