28 April 2015

the whole package

We, the Electric Spec Editors, are finishing reading slush this week and moving on to choosing stories for the May 31, 2015 Electric Spec issue. I find this step (choosing) difficult because all the stories in hold-for-voting are good. This step is probably the most subjective. What do I look for? Well, I'll tell you: the whole package. In terms of stories this means:
  1. The story has a unique voice. This can be rendered via the protagonist's point-of-view or the prose or a beautifully-rendered world or something else. Basically, I want to get lost in the story.
  2. The story has a unique plot. I choose stories with plots I haven't read before. However, if the voice is lovely enough, this can be superseded.
  3. The story has a unique protagonist. IMHO every protagonist should be flawed in some way and be gifted in some way. The protagonist's unique qualities then should drive the plot problem and solution. I want to believe the protagonist is, or could be, a real person.
  4. The story is in a genre I prefer. Subjective-me really likes urban fantasy and hard SF and especially stories with time-travel and/or quantum physics. I like other types of fantasy and soft SF and macabre horror. In general, I prefer man-against-nature stories over man-against-man stories. I enjoy humorous stories (but humor itself is very subjective). I don't like stories with a cruel tone. I have been known to black-ball stories with rape, especially kid rape. Caveat Scriptor.
  5. Finally, there are editorial concerns: The story is mostly free of grammar and spelling errors. (Error-filled stories are more difficult to edit.) The story isn't super long (These are more work to edit). The story can't be similar to one we published before.
And then, of course, at the production meeting we have to worry about things like issue balance, meaning, for example, we can't publish 5 zombie stories.
But the production meeting is a post for another time...(like next week!)

21 April 2015

advice from reading slush

We are working hard behind the scenes on the May 31, 2015 issue of Electric Spec. Right now, we are still getting through the slush pile. Thus, you should expect to hear back from us by the end of April/beginning of May if we got your story.
Here's some advice for potential Electric Spec authors based on reading slush:
  • Focus on the first page. If the first page has a lot of spelling or grammar issues editors are less inclined to keep reading. If the first page is confusing editors are less inclined to keep reading. I should know who the protagonist is, where he/she/it is, when he/she/it is. Refer to each character consistently via one name. Don't put a lot of specialized terms or jargon that I can't figure out from the context on page one. I shouldn't be asking 'What's going on here?'
  • Do have a unique protagonist. Every real person is different, so every fictional person should certainly be different. The more unique they are, the better. How do you create a unique protagonist? Virtually everything in the story should be colored or interpreted through the protagonist's perceptions. Specific details also help here. For example, a new Lamborghini Veneno Roadster is different from a dented 2007 Nissan Versa and tells us something different about the character(s) that own them. And FYI: telling the reader the characters' hair color will not create unique characters.
  • Do have a unique twist on plot. Notice I didn't say a unique plot; I'm not sure those exist. For example, a story about zombies taking over is not unique. A story about zombies getting better was unique--the first time. A tip: if your plot has been made into a TV/cable show or a movie is it not unique/twisty enough. In particular, human men killing other humans or aliens is hard to make unique. A surprise reveal at the end that the protagonist is really an alien is hard to make unique.
  • Do have nice smooth prose. I recommend reading aloud to catch awkward sections. Generally, you don't want to repeat the same word within a sentence. If your prose is not smooth it takes me out of the story. Don't make me stop and ask 'What is the author trying to say here?' Any time I'm taken out of the story it gives me an opportunity to think 'I should reject this.'
  • For Electric Spec we like stories with a plot. This means something needs to be different at the end of the story than it is at the beginning of the story.
  • Do show. You can tell, you just need to do some showing as well. Telling is summarizing and puts a layer of author between the reader and the characters. Dialogue is a good way to show. :)
I guess that's it for now.

We sincerely thank you for sending your stories in!

14 April 2015

Morrell's Advice

Recently I had an opportunity to hear author David Morrell speak. He summarized many points contained in his writing craft book Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing: a novelist looks at his craft. I strongly agreed with much of his advice. In no particular order, here are some highlights:
  • Writing is a kind of self psychoanalysis. Use your one-of-a-kind psyche to guide you to original unique stories, subjects, themes and approaches. Don't try to imitate other authors. Don't chase the market.
  • Don't be ignorant about other authors. Read!
  • When you get stuck in your writing, consider having a conversation with yourself. What happens next? Why? So what? and the like.
  • Plot should equal conflict plus motivation.
  • Plot and character should be intimately related.
  • Write what you're passionate about! If you don't know about something, research it. Have adventures; live your life. A well-lived life has a lot material for fiction.
  • A writing career will have many peaks and valleys; keep your perspective.

How about you? What good writing advice have you gotten?

The submission deadline for the May 2015 issue is midnight U.S. MDT, April 15, 2015!
Get those stories in!

07 April 2015

bare your soul?

Have you ever participated in a writing workshop? Do you have any critique partners? There can be a phenomena associated with reading multiple (in progress) pieces from an author, namely, you may come to feel like you know personal things about said author. You may feel you know the author's values, mores, paradigm, family history, and/or sexual/romantic experiences or other aspects of his/her soul.

I've personally noticed this phenomena with first novels. First novels often seem to be wish-fulfillment adventures. Have you ever seen this?

Is this phenomena a drawback to writing? No. We want to know your soul. Come on, show us. :)

The deadline for the May 2015 issue of Electric Spec is coming up: April 15, 2015!
Get those stories in!

31 March 2015

personal proclivities

I read several novels in March 2015 and I realized some (most? all?) authors have certain proclivities. Since we're all writers and readers, here, we all know proclivity means natural or habitual inclination or tendency; propensity; predisposition.

Currently, I'm reading the third novel, a huge blockbuster, of an author. I also read her first book this month. These unrelated books have some similarities. First of all, the prose is really lovely; this author is quite talented. That's a good proclivity! Both novels take place in small towns in Missouri. Both novels feature failed/failing journalists. Both novels have a violent undertone. Both novels are super dramatic.

I recently reread 2 novels of my favorite author and she also has certain proclivities. Her characters tend to be relatively powerless, operating in the background. She seems to enjoy using the framework of another work of fiction (possibly fictional fiction, i.e. not real), quoting from it or actually stealing its story or structure. She uses a lot of gerunds. She loves to have characters get interrupted. I could go on. :)

To be fair, I should analyze my work and see if I have any personal proclivities... Upon reflection, I have many. My main characters are often female scientists. My novels often take place in Colorado on the campus of a certain university. My novels often include quantum mechanics in some form. My novels often include a romantic subplot. Okay, here's a weird one: my novels often include copies of the protagonist! These copies occur via cloning, time-travel, quantum mechanics, and/or other mechanisms!
Hhm. I may be in a writing rut. I'll have to work on this.

How about you? Do you have any personal writing proclivities?

24 March 2015

Pinker's Style

I recently read The Sense of Style: the Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century! by Steven Pinker. Pinker covers everything that confuses and confounds writers. :) For example, we all know a pronoun is a word that take the place of a noun. In fact, there are different kinds of pronouns:
  • A nominative generally is the subject, or actor, of the verb. Nominative pronouns are I, he, she, we, they, and who.
  • An accusative generally is the object, or receiver, of the verb. Accusative pronouns are me, him, her, us, them, and whom.
  • Genitive is primarily a way to indicate possession; it's a noun that modifies another noun. Genitive case is marked on pronouns: my, your, his, her, our, their, whose, its and on noun phrases with 's.
I sometimes have trouble with I verusus me. Using this information, a writer should write: I was down by the schoolyard. Or, even: Julio and I were down by the schoolyard. But a writer can write: Me and Julio were down by the schoolyard. One of Pinker's messages is language evolves and writers should use their knowledge and experience to write what works for a particular piece.

Another tricky one for me is who versus whom. But the nominative/accusative difference should pin it down. Who kissed the bride? Whom did Henry kiss?

What grammar issues do you find tricky?

17 March 2015

reddit takeaways

As I mentioned last week, we did a reddit AMA. Here's the link. I thought I'd give a recap here of the AMA and our accompanying offline discussion for folks who want to know more about Electric Spec.

We started the ezine about a decade ago because we love writing and wanted to support writers. All the editors are speculative fiction writers and avid readers (and members of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers). We also enjoy speculative TV and movies. Although we don't have any formal training as editors, there are some English degrees among the editors.

It should be pretty clear from the AMA that we all enjoy humor. If Editor Betsy and Editor Dave had to pick a favorite genre I believe they would pick epic fantasy. Editor Betsy in particular enjoys dark stories. My favorite genre is SF, although I really enjoy urban fantasy as well. Horror/macabre is tricky; we tend to get a lot of men murdering women stories. This gets tiresome. Give us something original.

In terms of length, flash is hard to do well, particularly stories of less than 1000 words. This is because it's difficult to make the reader care about the character in such a short amount of time. If your story is over 5,000 words, conversely, it's likely it needs slashing. You don't believe me? Well, if you have multiple point-of-view characters, more than one subplot, or multiple timelines you probably need at least 5,000 words. But if not, cut it.

We had differing opinions on cover letters. Editor Dave liked it if an author mention Electric Spec in his cover letter. I admitted I don't read them. (!) Editor Betsy said her opinions on cover letters have evolved over the years. We agreed it's annoying when authors don't submit an *rtf as requested. Or if they don't put "SUBMISSION" in the subject line of their email.

Probably the number one takeaway of the experience was: it was a blast! We had a lot of fun. I highly recommend reddit for readers and writers.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!