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Mount Orégano
Sue Burke
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Readers and editors like strong writing, which consists of many things, among them a high verb-to-noun ratio. Verbs do things, and action means vigor. For example:

The result of the swarm of supervillains in Gotham City has been a situation of overwork for its superheroes and the consequent increase in unprevented and unsolved supercrimes.

One verb, nine nouns. Or this:

Swarming supervillains in Gotham City have overworked its superheroes, so supercrimes go unprevented and unsolved.

Two verbs, four nouns – and fewer words overall, which is always good. If you need a story for your verbs, here are a few ideas:

• This is a horror story about the ghosts of the victims of a terrible tragedy who agree to meet at the site one year later ... and a year has passed.

• This is a novel told from the point of view of a genetically experimental dog who lives for 500 years, and its different owners and adventures as the world changes.

• This is a highly allegorical story about a parliament of owls and their campaign to elect a prime minister.

— Sue Burke

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I'm participating right now in an "Ask Me Anything" at Reddit involving some top SFF writers from Spain. Even if you're not a member of Reddit, you can come and read the questions and answers.

It's part of Spanish Fantasy Week (although there's science fiction, too), with other writers and translators.

Come take a look:

-- Sue Burke
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Ask me anything about translating on Reddit on Thursday. I’ll be there with Spanish anthologist Mariano Villarreal and authors Elia Barceló and Javier Negrete and some other special guests.

The Fantasy sub-group at Reddit, is hosting a SFF Spanish this week from May 11 to May 17 so we can all learn more about how science fiction and Fantasy are portrayed, written, and discussed in Spanish-speaking cultures

You don’t have to be a member of Reddit to take a look. Answers will be in English and Spanish.

Guests will appear through the week for “Ask Me Anything” sessions, as well as some Cuban writers who, due to limited Internet access, will be answering when they can.

Scheduled appearances:

May 11 - Christina Jurado: author and editor. Right now at
May 12 - Elías Combarro: Spain blogger and SMOF.
May 12 - Leticia Lara: Spain author.
May 13 - Robin Hobb and her Mexican publisher.
May 14 - Mariano Villarreal, me, and authors Elia Barceló and Javier Negrete.
May 17 - Manuel de los Reyes: English-into-Spanish translator.
May 17 - Marian Womack: author, translator, and editor.

— Sue Burke

6th-May-2015 02:04 pm - Eeny, meeny, miney, mo
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I think I was eight years old when my playmates and I met in the shade of a tree a one sunny day to discuss an urgent problem.

The year would have been 1963. In May in Birmingham, Alabama, black children protesting for civil rights had been attacked by police with water cannons and dogs, and the city jail had overflowed. On August 28, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about his dream of equality and freedom.

We were living in Greendale, Wisconsin, a virtually all-white suburb of Milwaukee. As kids, we weren’t especially attentive to the news, but we had just learned something troubling. When we were picking who would be “it” in games, we usually used a rhyme passed down through generations of American children in various versions, and this was the one we knew:

Eeny, meeny, miney, mo,
catch a n–– by the toe,
if he hollers, let him go,
eeny meeny miney, mo.

We had vaguely known what the n-word meant, but we had just learned exactly what it was: a vicious insult used against black people, who were being treated unfairly, and we decided we couldn’t say that word anymore.

But the rhyme was useful, and we wanted to keep it, so we brainstormed for substitutes. “Tiger”? It fit the rhythm, but tigers don’t actually holler. “Baby?” Babies certainly hollered. So “baby” it was.

I tell this story not to try to earn praise for our wisdom. We weren’t especially bright or aware, and we were obviously reacting to something we had somehow gleaned from the adults around us or even from the news. Instead, I tell this story to show that the choice to refuse to use the n-word isn’t hard.

And yet some people, as a recent example (but not the only one) members of university fraternity, still say it. Apparently, a lot of people do. Are they smarter than eight-year-olds? Probably. But we had something they might not have: good will. We didn’t want to hurt anyone. We wanted to be fair. We knew better than to call people names.

That’s all it takes.

— Sue Burke

29th-Apr-2015 01:04 pm - Nominations
I’ve learned my lesson: I’ve made my nominations for the Ignotus Awards, Spain’s equivalent to the Hugos.

Not that there’s going to be a Puppy-like problem in Spain. The SFF community may not be one big happy family, but writers and fans try to be civil and behave responsibly. (Unlike some Spanish politicians, for example – it’s not utopia here.) In fact, the sponsor of the Ignotus Award, the Spanish Association for Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror,, is trying to bring in more voters to promote greater participation in the nomination and voting process to make it broader and more representative.

Still, just to be safe, even though I’m not widely read and cannot keep up with the deluge of quality works, I’ve sent in nominations for a few things this year that I believe are worthy of recognition. It might be atonement for not nominating for the Hugos. I won’t shirk my duty again.

— Sue Burke
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In a story, someone needs to have a problem or conflict. What causes that? Do you blame people or situations?

Conflict can be caused by moral failings, by some people being bad, and the solution is to get rid of the bad people.

Or conflict can arise because people compete for limited resources or try to achieve good outcomes in bad situations. That is, conflicts can be caused by real-world constraints, and the solution requires changing the world or our means to cope with it.

The first cause – bad people – is usually easier to write about, but the second cause – bad situations – is usually more realistic and painful.

If you need a problem for a story, here are a few:

• This is an alternate history story in which William the Conqueror’s invasion of Britain failed three hundred years earlier, and now France and Britain are negotiating to unite against Holy Roman Emperor Frederic III.

• This is a story in which a school decides to eliminate bullying by monitoring every minute of its students’ lives, and how the bullies, as usual the more popular students, try to foil that plan.

• This is a thriller in which aliens land in Russia – satellites and on-site observers have confirmed this and even uploaded videos to YouTube – but the government blocks all further information.

— Sue Burke
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Here's a short video, Form 036, about Spanish bureaucratic paperwork demands, only 3 and a half minutes long, with subtitles. It should make you feel better. Or at least vindicated.

— Sue Burke
1st-Apr-2015 12:09 pm - When you think about Spain...
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What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Spain?

The Elcano Royal Institute, a Spanish think-tank, conducted a poll of people in ten strategically important countries around the world at the start of this year, asking that question. Most people – but not all of them – thought about bulls. (I took that photo at a running of the bulls in San Sebastian de los Reyes.) Or soccer (football). Hardly anyone thought about siestas, although they did years ago. Pretty many thought about the economic crisis.

But not every country thought alike, and that’s where things get interesting.

Most of Spain’s tourism comes from Britain, France, and Germany, so it’s not surprising that the top answer was “sun” for the British at 28.5%, the French at 26%, and the Germans at 21.8%. For them, Spain is a cheap beach vacation destination. Benidorm, for example, is a Mediterranean coast city of skyscraper hotels lining beaches that hosts five million tourists per year and is famous for attracting a certain class of British tourists.

European tourists tend to go to a beach and stay there, although their younger cohorts manage to wander off into bars and then wander out drunk, rowdy, and annoying.

In addition to “sun,” Germans mentioned “economic crisis” at 8.5%, “fiesta” at 7.8%, “beaches” at 6.5%, and specific cities at 5.5%.

The French mentioned “economic crisis” at 10%, specific cities at 5.5%, and “paella” at 5.5%.

The British mentioned “tourism” at 11.8% and “bulls” at 6%.

In the United States, the responses were a little different: “bulls” at 13.5%, specific cities like Madrid or Barcelona at 10.3%, “a wonderful country” at 10%, gastronomy at 9.5%, and culture at 6.8%. While “wonderful country” is pretty generic and may be proof of the famous US failure at geography, “gastronomy” reflects a growing interest in tapas.

That mention of “culture” matters. Relatively few Americans come to Spain as tourists, but the tourism industry treasures them. Unlike the French, Americans go to restaurants and hotels rather than eating out of a cooler in their cars and sleeping at campgrounds. Americans also tend to go to cultural sites rather than beaches, perhaps because the United States has fine beaches of its own but no castles, cathedrals, or Prado Museum. This makes Americans relatively big spenders, and they spend money on the “right” things.

For Mexico and especially Morocco, their top concern reflected their relationship to Spain as a big trading partner. Economic crisis was the top response for Mexicans at 10.2% and Moroccans at 18%.

Soccer scored high in Algeria at 25.2% and Indonesia at 35.5%.

Bulls topped the thoughts of Brazilians at 28.3% and South Koreans at 37%.

Bulls, sunshine, soccer, and an economic crisis. No one asked the same question to Spaniards themselves, but having lived here for 15 years, I know that the economy is a big worry, soccer is a constant, beaches draw crowds in the summer, and bulls are both a minority interest and a national symbol.

“Stereotypes last longer than the reality that gave rise to them,” said the director of the poll. Nobody takes siestas in Spain anymore, and they haven’t for a long time. The rest of the world has finally stopped thinking about that, at least.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional website:

25th-Mar-2015 12:49 pm - Successfully funded!
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For those of you who noticed that I was taking part in a crowdfunding campaign, I’m happy to report the campaign ended on March 19 with success.

Castles in Spain / Castillos en el aire, a bilingual Spanish-English anthology of the short stories that helped shape science fiction in Spain, raised $4,147 – 115% of its goal – from 111 funders, to pay for its translation. The book should come out at the end of the year and will bring some new voices to English and to the ongoing discussion in our genre.

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To those of you who gave: thank you everyone, gracias a todos! Stories from the language of Cervantes will be read in the language of Shakespeare because of you. And thank you to the other members of the campaign team, Mariano Villarreal and Elías Combarro, who never hesitated to do what needed to be done. And thank you to the people who couldn’t give but who helped spread the word – you really made a difference.

We’re excited and grateful, and we can’t wait to begin to get out the immediate Perks and begin the process of translating, editing, and publishing this landmark anthology.

More information is at the campaign site, (By the way, Indiegogo allows us to still accept more funders.)

Again, thank you, gracias. I can’t say that enough.

— Sue Burke

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According to Aristotle in Poetics, the characters in a story should be lifelike and should do things, not ponder things. “All human happiness or misery takes the form of action,” Aristotle writes. “Character gives us qualities, but it is in our actions, in what we do, that we are happy or the reverse.” Characters need things to do, a sequence of necessary or probable events that will bring about a change in their situation or character.

If you need an idea for characters and plot, here are a few:

• This is a story in which advanced social media algorithms allow ranking of character – helpful, trollish, petty, intelligent, etc. – and the story tells about a day in the life of an ambitious man who is consumed with achieving the highest positive character ranking possible.

• This is a heart-wrench drama about a woman who sees her afterlife in a near-death out-of-body experience, but in this case she sees Hell rather than Heaven, and although no one believes her or thinks she should change, she knows she must.

• This is a romance – or perhaps an anti-romance – about a pair of actors hired to pretend to fall in love during a deep-space pleasure cruise to entertain the other passengers.

— Sue Burke
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