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Sue Burke
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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
14th-Dec-2016 09:53 am - More space aliens and linguists!
If you liked the movie Arrival, here’s another story about talking to aliens, Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist, by Lola Robles, a Spanish author, translated by Lawrence Schimel.

Lola writes outstanding, thoughtful works, and Lawrence is a talented and sensitive translator. Full disclosure: they're also friends.

The cover blurb:

“Terran scholar Rachel Monteverde journeys to Aanuk, a paradisiacal planet famous for both its beaches and the generosity of its nomadic inhabitants. The Aanukiens are not the only people on the planet, however: Rachel is eager to meet the Fihdia, a cave-dwelling people who share a congenital condition that makes them blind. Rachel's relentless determination to communicate with them despite the Aanukien's dismissal and the Fihdia's secretiveness will yield more than she ever hoped for.”

Get it from the publisher (it’s cheaper):

Get it at Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/Monteverde-Memoirs-Interstellar-Linguist-Conversation-ebook/dp/B01N577WGL/ for Kindle
https://www.amazon.com/Monteverde-Memoirs-Interstellar-Linguist-Conversation/dp/1619761173/ in paperback

— Sue Burke
Keep Calm
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
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