10 October 2017

showing and telling

Less than a week until the submission deadline for the final 2017 issue of Electric Spec: October 15, 2017! Get those stories in!

In the meantime, we've starting working behind the scenes to get the new issue out. I've also been reading a book on the history of storytelling, all of which has made me think about the whole showing versus telling thing.

Experts disagree on when the first novel was published. Some say it was Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory in 1485, but there are many other opinions. Let's just say, prior to about 1400, storytelling was primarily an oral tradition. Imagine those folks of long ago sitting around the fire telling stories. Some of us have had that experience while on camping trips telling ghost stories and the like. Notice my verb choice: telling. These stories were often narrative summaries of exciting events such as hunting expeditions, death-defying stunts, or scary hook-handed monsters in lovers' lanes. Telling stories orally is still quite common around the world, right? Let me tell you what happened today at work....

When the modern novel was borne showing became popular in storytelling. Some experts claim literary novels are mostly showing the details of one or more particular persons, places or things. In fact, a current writing mantra is Show, don't tell. Some would say we've abandoned the excitement of telling.

I say: showing is exciting when you're showing exciting events in the moment. This enables readers to be right smack in the middle of the action. At Electric Spec we very rarely buy stories that do not have this type of showing. However, the best stories have both showing and telling. Show the exciting bits. Tell, or summarize, the less exciting parts.

What do you think of the whole showing versus telling dichotomy?

03 October 2017

editor advice

The submission deadline for the notable November 2017 Electric Spec issue is October 15, 2017! Get those stories in!

Of course, this means we are starting to gear up for this new issue. This editor is deep in her slush pile--which means I have some advice for prospective authors. I think this advice is pretty general:

  • Do check the submission rules of your desired market and follow them in your document. This includes: file format, document formatting, word length, genre, and, basically anything else that's listed.
  • Do write a reasonable cover letter. This includes name, contact info, word-count, genre, and a short bio, including a few previous pubs. If in doubt, shorter is probably better.
  • Do familiarize yourself with the market to make sure your story is compatible. The good news is: it's free on our site. :)
  • Do avoid spelling and grammar errors--especially on the first page.
  • Do grab my attention on the first page. There are a myriad ways to do this. It could be a great character, a great plot, setting, mystery, anything. You want me to think Ooh! I need to read more!
  • Do have something changed at the end of the story.
  • Do create something unique.
For me, personally, I really enjoy a very strong character voice. It's great when a character comes alive and practically leaps off the page.
We want more steampunk. I also really enjoy genre mashups. Okay, if I'm being honest, it's hard to me to resist time-travel tales and SF involving quantum physics. Send them to us!

26 September 2017

to the Edge and Beyond

I recently attended a literary conference with authors from around the world. A very interesting session was entitled "To The Edge and Beyond." It was supposed to be about speculative fiction, mystery, and horror. But the participants went to the edge of a typical writers' discussion and then, beyond, when they got into some philosophical issues.

One thread addressed the question: are authors really always writing about themselves? I had believed in some sense, every character is the author. But the idea that every piece of writing is about the writer was a new one for me. I'm not sure I agree. What do you think?
Closely related to this idea is: can writers inhabit otherness? Can they truly inhabit an alien being, be it a literal animal (or whatever) or a metaphorical one? I don't think they can. What do you think?

One thread dealt with the writer-reader relationship. Both writing and reading are transformative processes. Both are intimate processes, almost involving mind-to-mind communication. Wow. That's kind of mind-blowing to think about (as I write this and you read this)!
As with other forms of art, this two-person communication is necessary to make it art. Or is it?

When considering writers as artists... Some people think artists must walk a tightrope between the alien and the familiar. Art is the union of the bizarre and the normal. In creating art, do artists create a new world of the imagination?

Why do people read? One author said mystery is at the center of everything and readers are trying to solve mysteries. Or do readers want to be transformed? What about transgression? One author thought readers want to do things in literature that they can't do in real life. What do you think?

Suffice it to say, I'm still pondering all this stuff!

The submission deadline for the final issue of 2017 is October 15. Get those stories in!

19 September 2017

Story Beginnings

The beginning of your story is the most crucial part. Your story beginning can capture a reader, get him/her to read your story or ...not. The most crucial reader is the editor who gets your submission. If you don't get him/her to read, you won't get others to read. Beginnings are crucial for editors because, sad to say, often editors only read the beginning of a story.

Probably the most common issue we see with stories is authors start the story too soon. Authors want to start at the beginning, but they need to start when the action starts--literally or metaphorically.
Rarely do you want to start with the protagonist being born, waking up, eating breakfast, driving somewhere, arriving at the office, answering the telephone, etc.

As an author myself, I totally understand the urge to start at the beginning. What I do is write those scenes (because I can't seem to help it) but then cut them after I've finished the first draft. I highly recommend looking at your first draft the way you imagine an editor would. What words does your story beginning need? Cut the extras.

A very effective writerly trick can be: giving a little non-chronological telling in the first paragraph of a story. This telling can really hook the reader. For example, The day I died was not a good day. I want to know what happened. Don't you? Consider a little telling.

Good luck with your story beginnings.

12 September 2017

Thank you

Here at Electric Spec we are still reveling in the awesome August 31, 2017 issue! It was a real pleasure to publish this issue and work with the authors. In case you haven't checked it out yet (impossible!) our featured stories were: "Karda Burns" by Roderick Phillips, "Ada, or, The Limits of Logic" by Robert Dawson, "All Our Goodbyes, All Our Hellos" by David Cleden, "A Familiar and Her Wizard" by Jeff Stehman, and "Paper Walls" by Matt Hollingsworth. I highly recommend all of them.
Thank you very much, Authors!
Thank you very much, cover artist Brian Malachy Quinn!

I'd like to thank our associate editors Chris Devlin, Minta Monroe, and Candi Cooper-Towler. Thank you!
I'd also like to thank the other editors Nikki Baird and Grayson Towler. Thank you!
Thank you to our tech support folks, too!

Thank you to all the aspiring authors who submitted to us for the issue. We appreciate you!
And especially, thank you, to our readers! We wouldn't exist without you! You rock!

And now we turn to the final issue of 2017...

05 September 2017

from Author Hollingsworth

Hopefully, you're still enjoying the awesome August 2017 issue of Electric Spec. To make it all the sweeter, here are some comments from author Matt Hollingsworth, relating to his story Paper Walls.

How to Write a Convincing Story About an
Unfamiliar Subject

Back in high school, I tried writing about 20’s gangsters. I did no research beyond what I’d seen in movies. I just wrote the story and turned it in to a writing workshop, ready to be showered with praises for my genius.

As you might have guessed, that wasn’t what happened.

After the group was done picking apart my inaccuracies, I sulked back home with my ego significantly deflated.

Maybe you’ve had a similar experience. Maybe there’s a topic you’re passionate about but are warry of after being told to “write what you know,” too many times.

So how do you write convincingly about an unfamiliar subject? Well, the short answer is to become familiar with it through research.

When I first started writing, research was a dirty word to me, probably because of school. I was scarred by long research assignments, reading old books on subjects I didn’t care about.

Fortunately, I soon discovered that research wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought. In fact, I’ve started to enjoy it. Unlike school assignments, when I research a short story, I’m learning a subject I actually care about.

With research you can:

  • Add realism to your story through key details
  • Avoid glaring inaccuracies that can distract a reader (or publisher) from your story
  • Add a layer of subtlety that will draw your reader in

Here are some research strategies I use for my fiction.

Ask an expert
Obviously, this is the best tactic. Speaking to someone who knows your subject well can reveal intricacies that books or the Internet never could.

My short story Paper Walls is about a young woman with schizophrenia in a mental hospital, something outside my realm of experience.

While I didn’t know anyone with schizophrenia in particular, I did know someone with a mental illness who had spent time in a mental hospital. And when I explained my concept for the story, he got excited and wanted to talk to me about his experience. I learned a lot from him that I might not have otherwise.

Whatever your subject is, there’s a good chance you know someone who is an expert (or at least knows more about it than you do).

Don’t just read the technical material
While talking to someone is preferable, it’s not always an option. And for that we have the treasure-trove of knowledge that is the Internet.

Unfortunately, one common mistake people make is to simply read technical articles on their subject and ignore the emotional elements.

While the psychological/medical articles about schizophrenia were useful, they didn’t really tell me what it feels like to have schizophrenia. Fortunately, I found a treasure trove of essays and videos by people with the illness talking about their experiences.

Listening to other people’s emotions makes it easier for you to put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you would feel in their situation.

Relate to events in your real life
While I’ve not been to a mental hospital, I have been to therapy and I have had trouble opening up to people, so I decided to make these sources of conflict in Paper Walls.

Think about something you’ve experienced that might give you a window into your subject.

Maybe your story is about an son and his estranged father. You might be very close to your father, but surely at some point you’ve been mad at him. Take that emotion and extrapolate outwards. Put yourself into your research and consider how you might feel.

Write an unfamiliar subject by becoming familiar
With the internet, instant communication, and libraries on every corner, we have access to more information than any other authors in history.

Using research, you can write convincingly about even the most unfamiliar subject.
Read more at https://jmhollingsworthblog.wordpress.com/.



Thanks, Matt!

31 August 2017

Huzzah!

The Awesome August 2017 issue Electric Spec is live! Thank you, all!

aug 2017 cover
Cover image by Brian Malachy Quinn