22 May 2018

from author Lowd

Mary E. Lowd tells us the following about her story "The Blood Portal"...

A year ago, I attended Wordcrafters' Science Fiction/Fantasy Story Weekend. The instructor was Nina Kiriki Hoffman. We belong to the same critique group and get together to write semi-regularly. She was kind enough to let me ride along with her on the hour long drive, deep into the beautiful forests of Blue River, Oregon. I have two children (they were nine and three years old at the time) and it was a blessed sanctuary to escape to a quiet cabin for a whole weekend with a dozen other writers. Over the two days, I pot-lucked with the other writers, went on a long solitary walk along the river, stayed up late into the night chatting, and wrote a story. Because that's the point of the weekend -- show up Friday, write a story before dinner time on Saturday, and then everyone reads their brand new story aloud.

I'd gone to one similar retreat before -- Wordcrafters' Ghost Story Weekend with Eric Witchey, another incredible instructor. Eric's teaching style is far more analytical than Nina's. For the ghost story retreat, I'd been nervous -- trying something entirely new -- so I had come prepared with a detailed outline for my ghost story, even though I don't generally write outlines. (Seriously, I've started trying to write outlines for longer projects, and they mostly look like a couple of thought bubbles scrawled on a piece of lined paper.) For the sci-fi/fantasy weekend, I showed up at the retreat with absolutely no plans for what I would write.

See, I'd been watching Nina design roll-up sheets at our writing dates. Since then, she's put a bunch of them together into Stone Story Soup: A Story Cookbook. On every page, there are lists of possible character attributes or story tropes, and you roll dice to pick which ones you're supposed to write about. So I rolled the dice, and I filled out a sheet with a bewildering array of ingredients that didn't seem to go together at all. This doesn't usually happen with Nina's sheets, but I'd decided to roll my way through ALL of the sheets, instead of just picking one.

I stared at those ingredients for a long time, trying to scry how they could fit together, and then I just started writing. What poured out of me was a blend of science-fiction and fantasy worlds, inhabited by a character who I filled with some of the fears I'd been experiencing myself. Remember those children I mentioned in the first paragraph? The younger one is a boy, and while any toddler can be a fiercely entitled little creature, there was something especially terrifying about watching a white male stomp his way through the terrible twos. I felt a burden of responsibility as his parent that I hadn't felt with his older sister at the same age. When she threw tantrums, it was horrible, but I knew she'd grow out of it. She'd have to. Society would require it. But watching the news... And thinking of my own father (who terrifies me and has been asked not to contact me)... I could picture all too easily that my charmingly sweet little boy could somehow walk all the way into adulthood with the horrifying sense of entitlement that toddlers naturally feel intact.

The story I read aloud that Saturday evening was "The Blood Portal."

A little over a year later, I'm happy to report that my son, now almost five, is already much more respectful of other people and their boundaries than he was during his terrible twos. And when I went to this year's sci-fi/fantasy retreat with Nina a few weeks ago, I let my emotions pour into a story again. This time, I ended up with a lightweight comedy.

Thanks, Mary!

15 May 2018

from Author Taylor

Josh Taylor wrote "The Butcher of Swiffle Prime." Josh is an engineering professor at the University of Toronto. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Jersey Devil Press and The Penn Review.
Around a year ago I read an article in the New York Times called 'You Don’t Want to Buy Groceries From a Robot,' by Stacy Torres. It was about how some people have little social interaction beyond brief exchanges with service workers, and that replacing those jobs with automation can cut them off entirely. I kept thinking about it, particularly when having an impersonal shopping experience. It struck me that another side of the issue is how companies force their retail employees to recite promotions to customers. It often ruins the interaction for both the customer and employee, and can lead people, particularly those who don't value such interactions, to actually prefer to buy things from machines.

That was the inspiration, and, after lots of revising, this was the story that came out. As a new writer I usually don't know what the result or even style will be until I'm well into the story. Although if there's a chance for humor I'll almost always put it in, which is easy for me because I'm very accustomed to people not laughing at my jokes.

Thanks, Josh!

08 May 2018

from Author Johnson

We are pleased to be able to start talking about the sensational stories in the next issue of Electric Spec.

First up, we have "Tech Support" by Toni Johnson. Toni Johnson is an author and illustrator living in Chicagoland. She is the editor and an author for Tales of the Automazombs.
Here's what she has to say about her story...

Tech Support started as a strange exclamation ("Great flaming monkeys!") that needed a world to live in.
The place that emerged was a modern Chicago that stumbled into magic half a decade prior.
Naomi herself is based on the tech support staff I've known from my time as a web designer.

Thanks, Toni!

Are you intrigued?
Be sure to check all the stories out on May 31, 2018!

01 May 2018

May 2018 Production Meeting

We, the Editors, are hard at work on the marvelous May 2018 issue of Electric Spec. Emails to authors who made it into hold-for-voting are going out about now. Some will get rejections. :( Some will get acceptances with contracts and info about deadlines, schedules and their personal editor and the process moving forward. Thus, if you submitted for this issue you should have heard something from us by now. If not, something went awry: please submit, being careful with your subject line. Once in a while stories do disappear into the ether...
Thank you very much if you did submit.

We were very pleased with the variety and quality of the stories this time. For example, there were several stories combining science fiction, fantasy and/or horror elements. We love that!
In miscellaneous news, we're pondering a redesign of the whole Electric Spec website. If you have strong opinions, please leave a comment.

The other major takeaway from the meeting is we were sorry we couldn't publish every story in hold-for-voting. They were all publishable. So, if you got in there: congratulations! I'm being sincere. That is an accomplishment. You are an author. If not here, I do believe your story will find publication elsewhere.

Next time we'll start blogging about the new issue!

24 April 2018


We, the Editors, are working hard on the marvelous May 2018 issue of Electric Spec. In particular we are finishing up the fiction in the so-called slush pile. I've read quite a few stories recently and have to say Wow. I came across many stories in which the protagonist dies or kills others at the end.

Whenever we get several stories with similarities it makes me wonder what's going on with our cultural zeitgeist. While stories involving death have existed as long as stories have existed, we seem to be getting more. Should we be worried?

I agree that death is dramatic. But it's hard to make a reader care about death in a short story because your tools, i.e. words, are limited in number. (Speaking of zeitgeist, are we all getting too accustomed to death in culture? I don't know.) But, recall, the number one goal of an author should be to affect the emotions of a reader.

A good way to affect reader emotions is to show characters in the story being affected. If the characters care, I'll be more likely to care as a reader.
The bottom line is if your story requires death, make sure it is effective.

Good luck!

Next time I'll discuss the production meeting.

17 April 2018

advice from slush

By now, the deadline for the new issue has passed. We've been reading the submissions in the slush pile. Sadly, we can't give personal feedback to authors. But as we do occasionally, here is some advice gleaned from reading these stories in the slush pile:
  • Use 2nd person point-of-view with caution. This pov can be annoying. This pov can be amazing--but it's difficult.
  • Don't use overused cliches. For example, do not start your story with the protagonist waking up. Do not show your protagonist looking into the mirror to describe him/her/itself.
  • Do not start with a page of backstory/exposition/description. This may be a market-dependent tip; online readers like a more dramatic opening. If you need a lot of exposition, put it later in the story. You don't have to use linear time.
  • Do grab the reader's attention on the first page. This can be done with great characterization, a unique situation, unique voice, and a variety of other ways. Violence on page one generally doesn't work because readers don't care about the characters in peril yet.
  • Do not exceed 7000 words; this is our word limit. Secret tip: there is a sweet spot in terms of word number. Less than about 1200-words is tough to tell a full story. More than 6000 words can seem draggy.
  • Do not annoy the editor. This can be done via an annoying cover letter, an excessive number of spelling errors, no punctuation, etc. If in doubt: don't do it.

I guess that's it for now.

Thank you for sending us your stories!

10 April 2018


The submisison deadline for the marvelous May 31 issue of Electric Spec is April 15!

Sometimes writers are asked where they get all their ideas. Most writers I know find this rather hilarious. Ideas are everywhere. Unique ideas are all around us, because human beings think and perceive things differently.
Look around! I guarantee there are some good story ideas in your vicinity right now.

I sometimes teach a workshop on speculative fiction. A great writing method is to combine two disparate ideas to create a more unique story.

I'm actually participating in a short story challenge right now where another writer gives us all a story prompt and we have to write a story within seven days. Phew! It is challenging. A lot of the prompts are not topics I would normally write about. But it has been great for getting my creative juices flowing.
So, if worst comes to worst: ask someone else for a story prompt.

Good luck with all your creative ideas!