18 February 2020

from Author Wolf

We're excited to feature "The Prey" by author John Wolf in our February 2020 issue of Electric Spec. John had the following to say about his story.

This story owes its existence to many things. There was an announcement in September 2019 for a shared universe anthology. Following some world-building rules, all the stories would take place just before, during, or after an invasion. A lot of talented authors wrote pieces for that one. I thought it might be interesting to experience something like Independence Day or War of the Worlds through the eyes of Earth’s wildlife. I read a bunch of Jack London and re-read the great novel Raptor Red in order to prep. In the end, my piece got rejected.

But I still thought the story had, you’ll pardon the pun, teeth. You can’t give up as a writer. Stuff gets rejected. You take the critique (if you’re lucky enough to get it), re-tool the piece, and send it out again. That is exactly what I did with this. Now several drafts and more rejections later, here it is. It's very different from the one I wrote for the anthology. I still like this story quite a bit. Writing from the point of view for a wholly separate species was fun but tough. I’ll probably try it again.


Thanks, John! Very interesting!

11 February 2020

from Author George

We're excited to feature "Welcome to the 27 Club" by J.L. George in our February issue of Electric Spec. J.L. tells us the following about the story.

I've suffered from depression and anxiety from a young age, and over the years, the desire to simply stop existing for a while--and perhaps hand over the reins of my life to somebody more qualified in the meantime--has become a familiar one. There's a hint of wish-fulfilment in this story, I think. The idea of a benevolent ghost who'll swoop in and fix things while you take a nice, soothing nap is quite seductive.

It's not a real-world solution, of course--and it wouldn't be healthy or ethical if it were. There's a paternalism inherent in making decisions about someone's life while they're not around to voice an opinion. And when aid is conditional on somebody else deciding you deserve it, what happens when a more compelling victim comes along? That's why it can't, ultimately, be only the narrator's well-intentioned meddling that spurs Serena to find a way to manage her depression. It has to be her own desire to regain control of her life. The narrator does manage to help her, but maybe not in the way they expect.

With this story, I also wanted to push back against the romanticising of mental illness, particularly in the creative professions. It's something I bought into hard when I was younger, and it can be so damaging. The dead artists whose pictures Serena pins on her walls are famous partly because of their tragic ends, but imagine how much more great work they might have created if they'd got the help they needed.


Thanks for sharing, J.L.!

04 February 2020

Second Person Point-Of-View

We had a successful, if uneventful, Production meeting this past weekend. All authors should be hearing from editors this week. We got into a spirited discussion of second person pov... Editor Nikki Baird submits the following for your consideration.

In addition to the joy of getting to read so many great short stories for free, one of the things I like about being an editor at Electric Spec is that I feel like, quarter to quarter, I have a window into the zeitgeist of the collective consciousness of aspiring speculative fiction writers.

This manifests itself in themes that emerge from the slush. I know there is a high chance that these themes are coincidence only. Certainly I have never invested the time in documenting themes by quarter to validate if my impressions are real or just bias. But whether it's true or not, I am convinced that Chance's shuffling of the deck often deals me what feels like an outsize proportion of stories related to one subject, quarter by quarter. We deal in a broad range of speculative fiction here at Electric Spec, so the themes vary widely: spiders one quarter, body parts another, ghosts, dragons, robots turning on their human overlords -- you name it, there has likely been a theme on it.

This quarter, I ended up with a slug of submissions all in second person. The "you" stories:
You walk into the entry of your house. You set your keys on the table. Something moves in the living room and you freeze. No one else should be home.
Or, they are first person but really just a one-sided conversation:
What's that you say? You want to buy a dragon? Well, you haven't got the guts for it, I say!

Sometimes these show up as letters to "you". I call these "Dear Mom" letters, though they can be addressed to almost anyone:
My love, I mark these last words on the silver sheen of my transport's floor, using my own blood, to convey to you all that went wrong before the crash.

A related category of You stories are really more like instruction manuals:

  1. First you strap on the jet pack
  2. Then you pull the string

Invariably, the concept of all of these stories is really interesting. I can't bring up examples without calling people out in a way they would immediately recognize, and that's not fair, but suffice it to say, I often reject those stories with a bit of regret because the spec fic angle is interesting and usually pretty unique. But the storytelling gets in the way of exploring the topic.

Here are two main things that I see go wrong:

Description falls away, because you're not writing in real time -- in media res or very close to it. The story becomes a talking head, and you have no room to add descriptive narration because you have now cast your story in a form that is really more just dialogue presented in a narrative format. It gets repetitive too, like the one-sided conversation, where, in order to get the You person's dialogue into the story, the character has to appear deaf or inattentive: "What's that you say? You want to buy a dragon?"

The opportunity to move into the POV character is much harder to achieve.
Here's my response to the first kind of You stories:
You walk into the entry of your house. Oh yeah? How do you know what I did? I don't use the front entry of my house -- I only use the garage entrance.
You set your keys on the table. What table? I don't have a table by my front entrance. What kind of table is it, anyway -- oh wait, there's no room for that because if you're forcing me into this You POV, then I would already know exactly what kind of table it would be, wouldn't I? It would be breaking POV to describe the table, but my ability to be inside that POV character's mind is already shot because we're two sentences in and here I am arguing with you about whether or not I would actually do any of these things that you're telling me I'm doing.

The Point of Storytelling
To the authors who submit the instruction manual stories: when has it ever been exciting to read an instruction manual? Even with the most powerful and engaging voice ever invented in fiction writing, you're already struggling to get up a big hill to hook a reader. The saying goes that someone with a beautiful voice "could read the phone book and still get an audience" -- sure, because you just need an excuse to listen to the voice, not because the content conveys any real meaning.

One exception might be Neil Gaiman's "Instructions", a poem in second person. However, I would like to point out that it is a poem, not a story. It's there to evoke a feeling, not take a reader on a journey. I might argue that the poem itself is about the hero's journey, but again, at more of an emotional level than full engagement of the imagination and senses as you would in a narrative.

A story is all about meaning. It is about taking a theme and emotionally engaging a reader so that when they get to the end, they have internalized that theme. You have touched them in a way that hopefully stays with them forever. When I think of books, I think of the line from the LOTR: Two Towers movie: Some of these were my friends!

Books -- stories -- got me through some of the darkest times in my life, by letting me escape my world, even for a brief time. Any author should be aspiring to achieve that level of meaning in a reader's life. But you do that through the hero's journey or some other construct of embedding the reader so deeply into the main character's transformation that they take that transformation with them into the real world. That doesn't have to be tragedy -- comedy can achieve the same effect. It's all just a different side of a many-sided coin.

If you prevent a reader from engaging with the main character at this level, then the transformation has not been achieved. "You" does not create intimacy. It creates distance, a gap that voice or concept really struggle to close. I'm not saying it can't be done -- I'm sure there are examples out there that have overcome this gap. But they are very rare unicorns of fiction, and probably not going to be discovered by little ole me at little ole Electric Spec.

Make your stories deeper and more engaging! Make them about "me" or a him or her that is so fabulous I want to be them -- I want to move into their mind and make myself at home. That is how transformation is achieved.

Irony
Finally, I want to note that you could argue that this article is written in second person. Here I am, talking directly to you. I appreciate the irony, but I would also argue that it underscores my point. I'm not trying to tell you a story here. I'm not trying to take you on a transformation journey that will mark your soul for all time.

I'm trying to convey advice. That's a totally different circumstance than storytelling. Stephen King, one of the greatest storytellers of our generation (and I would argue beyond) once followed up all of his stories with "Dear Reader" letters that were really the same thing as I'm doing here -- speaking in an intimate way to an unknown number of a mass audience. My audience is a lot smaller than his, guaranteed! But it serves a purpose -- and not a storytelling one. I mean, really -- who voluntarily reads an instruction manual? Who wants to find out what happens to someone who starts a "Dear Mom" story already dead? Who wants to spend the length of a story arguing with the narrator?

As far as I can tell, no one. So, my advice to you: if you have a great idea and you're struggling to put it to pages, don't fall back on "you". It's not as clever as you think it is. In fact, it's terribly limiting. If that's all you've got, marinate on it longer. Don't give in to "you". Write a real character I can get behind (or climb into) and use the story to transform that character in such a powerful way that I can't help but carry that with me for the rest of my days. You do that, and you won't be submitting to Electric Spec for very long -- you'll be on your way to the big time, for sure.


Very interesting! Thanks, Nikki!

28 January 2020

our popularity grows

We are hard at work behind the scenes, toiling away on the February 2020 issue of Electric Spec. It will be another excellent issue. (And that's not braggy because it's the awesome writers that make it great.) Stay tuned for more info about it. Here, next time, I'll give the Production Meeting report.

As you may have noticed, we've increased our staff in the past few months (Hi there, Beth and Lauren! Thanks!) We had to do so because our submissions and our popularity have been growing.

Why this is happening as we begin our fifteenth year, I do not know. It's a bit mysterious--in a good way.

Thank you, everyone!

14 January 2020

New Associate Editor Chan

We've been busy working behind the scenes at Electric Spec. We have exciting news: a new Associate Editor! Huzzah!

Beth Chan grew up in a family of readers who frequently frustrated movie lovers by telling them "the book was better". She has a BA in Asian Studies and has studied Japanese and French. She has lived, worked, and traveled throughout the US and internationally and enjoys exploring different cultures through history, language, food, and art. She is an amateur artist specializing in whimsical portrait drawings of children

We're excited to have her on the team!
Welcome, Beth!

07 January 2020

Writing Resolutions

It's the beginning of a new year and a new decade. How exciting! Do you have any new writing resolutions? I touched on one last time, namely, to think about the interior lives of my characters more. Another writing-related resolution I have is to do a better job submitting my short stories in 2020.

Do I have any editing-related resolutions? Yes! We are already working hard behind the scenes at Electric Spec on the fabulous February 2020 issue. I announced a new associate editor, which is exciting. Consequently, we resolve to get back to authors a little more quickly moving forward.

The submission deadline for the next issue is coming up suprisingly quickly: Jan 15, 2020!
Resolve to

  • grab the reader
  • set the scene
  • include sensory details
  • not begin with the protagonist waking up
  • include speculative elements
  • follow the formatting and submitting guidelines
Resolve to get your story in before the deadline!
Good luck!

31 December 2019

Interior Life?

As the new year begins the Electric Spec editors are not immune to thinking about New Year's resolutions. Every year I resolve to try to become a better writer. In 2019 this quest led me into the influence of a university Creative Writing program. Consequently, a professor really made me think about characterization. Suffice it to say, every character you create should have multiple layers. There are the external layer(s) like occupation, what he/she/it looks like, etc. And then there are internal layers such as what they feel, hope, dream--and why. A main character should also have a hidden layer, one that is revealed to the reader and the character during the course of, and as a result of, the story.

One thing I haven't thought about much is: what is the interior life of my character? This can include elements such as: How do they choose to spend their time and why? What do they choose to talk about and why? What do want their life to be like in twenty years? What do they think of the world? What are their values? What are their thoughts?

Heck, for that matter, what is my interior life?
I'll be pondering some of these ideas as we begin a new decade.

Happy New Year!