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Sue Burke
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27th-Apr-2016 03:42 pm - Editors can only do so much

I do freelance editing and proofreading, and I’ve edited a few works recently where the authors either don’t seem to have proofread their work or don’t know some basic rules of grammar and writing.

I’ve been editing for decades, especially during my time working at newspapers and magazines. Sometimes, texts come in very clean. Other times, they need work. Obviously, the latter class of writers didn’t have my university journalism professor, the late, esteemed Jay Sykes, who said you want to turn in clean copy to protect yourself from editors. “Once they change one thing, no matter how small, that will encourage them to change even more.”

As an editor myself, I understand how small changes embolden editors to make big changes. Worse yet, after enough big changes, I’m tempted to move beyond the correction of errors and make “improvements” in style, as despicable an editorial act as that is.

I wonder if these writers treasure their words. Since I’m being paid by the hour, I also wonder if they realize they could save themselves some money by being a bit more careful.

But I have a bigger concern. Writers who don’t know rules of grammar and usage (I’ve witnessed some who seem proud to say they don’t) are like professional sports players who don’t know the rule book: they don’t know what they have to do, what they can do, and how far they can get away with bending and consciously, even conspicuously breaking the rules. To use another metaphor, a writer’s only tools are words and grammar, and not knowing how to use them to their fullest with precision is like being a musician who hasn’t systematically explored and mastered all the possibilities of an instrument. Those writers will never play guitar like Prince (rest in peace) – or fully fathom why they can’t.

Sure, as an editor, I can fix things, but writers who don’t know language deeply, who haven’t mastered the art of words, will miss opportunities, and those can’t be edited in.

It makes me sad.

— Sue Burke


“Literature goes out to meet readers.” That’s the motto for the 2016 Book Night in Madrid, La Noche de los Libros. It will take place on Friday, April 22, the eve of World Book Day. More than 600 events are planned: author conferences, Bookcrossing points, children’s activities, recitals, theater, music, workshops, panel discussions, book signings, storytelling, exhibits...

And I will be part of the VI International Poetry Encounter with poets from 14 countries at 8:30 p.m. at Librería-Champañeria Maria Pandora, a book store-café at Plaza Gabriel Miro 1, right across from Las Vistillas Park in downtown Madrid. Come join us!

World Book Day celebrates the (supposed) deaths on the same day, April 23, 1616, of both Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare – 400 years ago on Saturday. That calls for a big celebration. At a minimum, we can all buy a book.

— Sue Burke

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You may recall me blogging from time to time last year about a crowdfunding project: the translation of an anthology of short stories that were landmarks in science fiction, fantasy, and horror in Spain. We raised enough money, assembled a talented team of translators – and in less than a week, the book can be yours.

Castles in Spain can be preordered as an ebook from Amazon.com, and will go on sale on April 19. A paperback edition will be available soon, and both will also be for sale at the publisher’s website, Sportula. The Spanish-language version, both ebook and paperback, are already available at Amazon.

Thank you to everyone who backed the project. You should all have your ebooks by now. (If not, let me know. The paperbacks are coming.)

English-language publishers are leery of translations, but step by step we can show them that translations sell. If you read it and like it, post reviews, give it stars on Amazon, and share the love.

— Sue Burke
6th-Apr-2016 03:48 pm - Four modern myths about Cervantes
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Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote de la Mancha – among many other works – died 400 years ago. Here are four myths to clear up before you commemorate this anniversary.

Myth 1: Cervantes died on April 23

No. Cervantes probably died on April 22. Church records say he was interred on April 23, 1616, and in Spain people are generally laid to rest the day after their death. There is no doubt, however, that he was interred at the church of the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in central Madrid, a few blocks away from his home.

Myth 2: Cervantes died on the same day as Shakespeare

No, for two reasons. Number 1: William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, not April 22. Number 2: Spain was using the Gregorian calendar (just as we do now), while England was still using the Julian calendar. The Gregorian equivalent of April 23, 1616, is May 3, 1616. Shakespeare died ten days after Cervantes was interred.

In spite of that, UNESCO has established April 23 as World Book Day to honor their (more or less) simultaneous deaths and their (unquestionable) status as giants of literature.

Myth 3: Cervantes’ remains have been found

Maybe. A team of 36 experts in history, archeology, and anthropology spent more than a year investigating Cervantes’ interment at the Trinitarian church. They knew his remains had been “consolidated” around 1730 after the church was rebuilt. That means the remains from several crypts were combined to free up space for more interments.

Eventually, these experts located a grave from the right time, judging from fragments of clothing and a coin found in it. But what they discovered (seen here, photo by Municipality of Madrid) was in fact a mixture of casket hardware, pieces of wood, some rocks, and bone fragments, all deteriorated. The bones were sorted out and corresponded to 6 children and at least 10 adults, including men and women.

One of those bones was a jaw whose owner had lost most of his teeth. We know that Cervantes had very few teeth when he died. Some rib and arm bones showed signs of injuries like the ones Cervantes suffered in the Battle of Lepanto. So the director of the investigation announced that “it is possible” that “some fragments” were from Cervantes. “We can’t resolve that question with absolute certainty and that’s why we’re prudent. We’re convinced we have something.”

Corroborating that “something” with DNA would help, but it’s going to be tough to get DNA from family members, since their remains aren’t in any better shape, if they can even be found.

In spite of all that, you can now go on guided tours of the church and view the nice new five-foot-tall granite headstone that rests a floor above what are possibly Cervantes’ remains. But the tour guide tells visitors, “It doesn’t matter if they’re here, over there, or somewhere else. The author hasn’t left this place.” And that’s for certain. What’s left of him, though it might not be much, is most definitely in that church. Somewhere.

Myth 4: We writers should honor his remains with a visit

Maybe. These aren’t saintly relics, however, so they won’t radiate any sort of blessing to improve our souls. And even if they did, remember that while we now celebrate Cervantes’ genius, during his lifetime he was always poor and overlooked. That’s why his remains were “consolidated.” Only those rich enough to pay for the privilege got to rest in peace and solitude for all time to come. Everyone else was moved to joint burials if their space was needed by someone else.

If we make a solemn pilgrimage to his resting place, we might be blessed by genius – or cursed by poverty and obscurity. We don’t need Cervantes’ help to achieve that.


— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional website.

30th-Mar-2016 03:30 pm - The lighter side of the genre
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SF Signal’s Mind Meld asked a number of us to recommend science fiction and fantasy that can relieve the gloom and doom of these troubled times we’re living in.

I talk about a hit SF Spanish TV show, El Ministerio del Tiempo.

Read what we all have to say here:


— Sue Burke

15th-Mar-2016 12:29 pm - My novel has been sold!
Green  Bamboo
From Publisher’s Weekly:

Fiction: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Sue Burke's SEMIOSIS, a novel of first contact, a multi-generational story about colonists on a planet where plants are the dominant life forms – and they see animals, including humans, as their pawns, to Jennifer Gunnels at Tor, in a nice deal, for publication in January 2018, by Jennie Goloboy at Red Sofa Literary.

My novel is going to be published! Thank you, Jennie Goloboy, for all your work to sell it, and thank you, Jennifer Gunnels, for buying it.

First question: What is semiosis?

Here’s a definition: “Semiosis (from the Greek verb sēmeiô, "to mark") is any form of activity, conduct, or process that involves signs, including the production of meaning; an action or process involving the establishment of a relationship between a sign and its object and meaning.” Semiosis encompasses more than semantics, which focuses on language. It can include both human and nonhuman systems that use chemical, auditory, visual, or tactile signs to pass on information.

Second question: Is this a first novel?

Yes, and with luck, not the last. I actually finished this book in 2004, and then a bunch of stuff happened – or failed to happen – and the moral of the story is never give up.

Third question: Dominant plants? Really?

Years ago, one of my houseplants killed another plant. At first, I thought it was my fault because I should have been more attentive, like a proper indoor gardener. Then a few months later, now vigilant, I caught a philodendron about to attack another plant. So I did some research and learned that plants are horrible and vicious to each other – and when it comes to animals, they’re coldly manipulative.

Horrible, vicious, and manipulative – on Earth. What would happen on a different planet with a little more time to evolve?

I still have houseplants, by the way, but I don’t trust them.

— Sue Burke
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The first book ever about the stock market was written in 1688 by Joseph de la Vega, a Spanish Jew living in Amsterdam and a prolific author who epitomized Spanish Baroque prose.

His book about the Amsterdam market, Confusion of Confusions, describes all its tricks and treachery with such wit that I laughed out loud when I read it, and then I translated it for the Spanish stock exchange commission. The bilingual edition will be used as an institutional gift.

I spoke about de la Vega and the book in an interview with Radio Sefarad’s English Corner, and I read a few brief excerpts. You can hear the 19-minute interview here:


— Sue Burke

3rd-Mar-2016 03:47 pm - The Mayor beseeches Madrid
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When Enrique Tierno Galván died in 1986, his funeral brought out a million people to say goodbye.

What made that man so loved?

He became mayor in the first democratic elections under the post-Franco Constitution in 1979. A city that had grown grim during the dictatorship was transformed with new movement and freedom under his leadership. In addition to promoting culture both high and low, he initiated some much-needed improvements, such as sewage treatment that allowed ducks to return to the Manzanares River.

“The old Professor,” as he was called, taught at universities, was a political prisoner in 1957, and wrote the preamble to Spain’s new constitution, along with dozens of books. His celebrated mayoral edicts demonstrated his irony and erudition. The one he is shown presenting here addresses the upcoming 1982 FIFA World Cup games.

Residents of Madrid:

Since time immemorial it has been and remains customary among the inhabitants of this honorable Town to observe and assemble on holidays and special occasions in order to attend public performances of great amusement and diversion that captivate the spirit and serve as rest and respite from the many tasks that keep them all, according to their position in life, busy, awake at night, and often enough overwhelmed.

Among all the many public performances that have entertained and enlivened the residents of this Municipality, the primary and most uniquely foremost have been bullfights, in which those who dwell in this Town participate with singular enthusiasm and delight, notwithstanding mishaps and, on occasions, misfortunes.

But, as times are renewed, customs alter or change, and novelties are introduced that, without detriment to the survival of older habits and public performances, give rise to new means of relaxation and amusement, such as so-called “football,” a British expression, which in our common Castilian is equivalent to having eleven skilled and outstanding athletes compete in the endeavor to propel with their feet and head a pliant ball pursuant to the desire, at times disproportionate, of entering it into a location solicitously protected by another squad of eleven athletes, and vice versa.

So great is the enthusiasm this has awoken in all nations and with such notable passion throughout the entire world that the principal minds who direct and arrange the public presentations of the aforementioned entertainment have chosen our Royal Town and Court so that, in its fine stadiums and with the aim of celebrating the games’ grandeur and splendor, the best squads of each nation will compete in their final encounters, which will attract to this honorable city innumerable visitors from the many countries that populate the Earth.

Although it is notorious and of common knowledge that the inhabitants of this Town tend to turn a doorpost-deaf ear to the warnings and admonitions of the Mayor, may I be permitted to recall that among the virtues which make a denizen faultless and consummate, very principal is courtesy, thanks to which we maintain old friendships, earn new ones, accept strangers, no few times turn hostile enemies into close and trustworthy friends, and in addition cause those who visit cities populated by courteous residents to sing their praises, amazed by the agreeableness of its dwellers.

Given that this town, due to the grand and renowned games of “football” of which I have previously spoken, will be visited by innumerable curious and enthusiastic travelers, it is proper and very appropriate that we maximize the aforementioned virtue of courtesy, which commonly among ourselves is forgotten on occasions of worry, toil, or carelessness, or even annoyance and anger.

Thus I beseech Madrid’s residents, as the leader of this Royal Town, to pay especially heedful attention to our visitors, leading the lost, orienting the perplexed, calming the anxious, helping those in need, and consoling those to whom the magnitude, complication, and immoderation of this great city may bring tribulation or disconcertion; indicating our intentions by means of gestures, tracing routes on maps, or accompanying them on their way, necessary actions to undertake when, as can occur with abundant frequency, we lack familiarity with their own native language or any other to which they might resort.

This Presiding Mayor also advises its inhabitants with utmost severity but not without affection that they take pains to maintain the cleanliness of its streets, the tidiness of its buildings, and the impeccable parking of cars in their proper locations, to the awe of our visitors and to our own gratification and contentment.

Among the copious wealth of reasons that urge us to remain vigilant to attend to and care for our visitors in their extreme numbers and very different idioms and homelands, principal is one that cannot help but be keenly discerned by the inhabitants of this Locale: to wit, that a multitude of men, women, and perhaps children, adroit in the art of seizing possessions from others, will come to this Town, taking advantage of the circumstances of such a favorable occasion as the above-mentioned world games, so that the common number of rogues, pickpockets, vagabonds, cut-purses, and many others of dubious condition who already exist in this Municipality will be joined by those incorporated from elsewhere, for which reason we must add to courtesy the most solicitous vigilance in order to avoid thefts, robberies, and illicit and covetous ruses which, were they to abound, would sully our good name and reputation.

Finally, those who dwell in this Town should know that while the motives for virtue may be quite weighty and insistent, so are those for material advantage, which will grow in proportion to the greater diffusion of our honest behavior and merit.

Thus I confidently advise the inhabitants to carry on with fortitude, heedful of the renown and prestige of this Royal Town.

Madrid, June 11, 1982

(Translation by Sue Burke.)


Here is a famous 5-second video of the Mayor introducing a rock concert during the Madrid Movida in which, using a play on words, he encourages the audience to either take their seats or get high.

“Rockeros, él que no está colocado, que se coloque, ¡y al loro!”

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Katy Derbyshire explores the importance of translating literature by women:

"...But I think the publishing and reading community would also benefit in other ways from translating more women. Remember what sparked the current (relative) boom in translated fiction? It was crime writing. Scandinavian detective stories made many readers overcome their reluctance to reach for anything genuinely foreign. The format was familiar enough to act as a gateway drug, paving the way to full-on binge-watching of The Bridge. Readers (and viewers) are now actively seeking out stories written in other languages about other cultures. OK, they may well play on a stereotype of dour sociopathic northern Europeans, but at least they’re written by actual northern Europeans. And many of them are women, as For Books’ Sake point out.

Before Nordic noir, translated literature was largely the preserve of – how can I put this? – demonstratively intellectual dudes. The DID would boast an apartment full of tasteful furniture and impenetrable foreign tomes. Novels by other DIDs, of course, about philosophy, loneliness and suffering, perhaps livened up by late-life affairs with younger women. Contemplations of other literary DIDs’ deaths, homages to classic DID writing, and so on in an eternal circle-jerk. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a sucker for a good DID, especially in my personal life. But as a hegemonic literary culture, they can get rather dull...."

Read the whole article here:


22nd-Feb-2016 03:28 pm - What season?
A haiku:

birds and bees and trees
in disagreement about
when to start this spring

I took a little walk in Retiro Park near the Fallen Angel statue. Some almond trees in the grove nearby were in bloom, some had finished flowering, some were still waiting. Usually they bloom in unison. A few bees visited the blossoms, but not enough to pollinate them all. Magpies were building nests, but the European blackbirds (like American robins, but all black) were silent.

This has been a record-breaking warm and dry winter, but we just had a frigid, wet spell – seasonal weather, but late. Is it spring yet? Or is it finally winter?

Those who ought to know, the birds and bees and trees, can’t give me a clear answer.

— Sue Burke

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