31 December 2007

writing on reading: Time's Child and The Accidental Time Machine

Or, what I read on my Christmas Vacation. :)
I thought I'd follow Dave's lead and give you my 2 cents on some books I've read recently. It may give you Electric Spec writers an idea of what kinds of stuff this editor likes (and doesn't). So, for your reading pleasure, reviews of 2 recent time travel books:

Time's Child by Rebecca Ore
In plague-aftermath 2300 The Archivists extract people from the past to study, including a Da Vinci groupie, a teen-aged Viking, and a 2006-era hacker. Needless to say, the snatched people don't appreciate being confined and studied and break free. Chaos ensues as they develop their own time machines and start bringing historical people to the 2300-present.

I found the prose to be very well done. The plotting was quite good, with alternate futures trying to control the 2300-era folks. I also found the philosophical implications of how much an era/culture shapes a person to be very intriguing. For example, can a Viking build a time machine or is he trapped in the paradigm of his youth? What does it mean to be human? Are people static or constantly changing?

Regarding constructive criticism: the author has three pov characters which she utilizes seemingly at random, which is slightly confusing. The ending also could have been more dramatic.

Overall, I really enjoyed this.

The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman
As the title implies, the protagonist, a physics grad student, accidentally builds a time machine. As you might guess, he starts traveling--into the future. Adventures ensue.

Haldeman's prose is wonderful, as usual, and I really appreciated the plausibility of the physics.

Unfortunately, I can only surmise this is intended as an homage to H.G. Wells The Time Machine, because the plot is entirely predictable.

Still, Haldeman's writing is so nice, I enjoyed this.

What good books have you read lately? :)

30 December 2007

Writing on Reading: Julian May

Juilan May is an accomplished writer of both science fiction and fantasy, but I confess that Conqueror's Moon is the first book I've read by her. Conqueror's Moon is book one of the Boreal Moon trilogy, and it fits the mold of many epic fantasies that are on the market today. The prose is smooth and the world is built in a detailed and logical way. The plot is straightforward, revolving around a prince's surprise attack on a neighboring kingdom.


While Conqueror's Moon will be a perfectly satisfactory read for most fantasy readers, it has flaws. The first chapter is written in first person, from the POV of one of the primary protagonists. The huge and poorly disguised info dump in this first chapter made me want to stop reading. The rest of the book is written in third person limited. The change in POVs bothered me because the first chapter plants in the reader's mind that the rest of the book was "written" by the first person POV character, but the book contains numerous thoughts and actions that the "writer" could not have known. Furthermore, the first person POV at the beginning takes away tension later because we know the POV character will survive the life-threatening situations he faces.



A second flaw revolves around the morality of the characters. I do not think that fantasies have to be a battle between "good" versus "evil" characters (i.e. I love George R.R. Martin's "grey" characters). On the other hand, I don't like it when an author just assumes you are going to hope that the protagonist achieves his goals simply because he's the protagonist. In Conqueror's Moon, the prince's cause was not just and his personal morals were questionable at best. The prince is unwilling to trust his most loyal servants, plots against his father, has an extra-material affair, and divorces is pregnant wife for political reasons.  In contrast, the "bad guys", while flawed, did not seem at all deserving of the prince's wrath. As a result, the "climatic" battle scene between the prince's forces and his enemies looses its punch because it does not seem important that the prince prevail. In fact, I became increasingly tempted to root for the "bad guys."



Finally, the challenges faced by the protagonists were too easily overcome. The prince formulated a plan, then the plan was executed as expected. The plot was essentially linear, with few unexpected twists or setbacks.



Despite its flaws, Conqueror's Moon is an entertaining read, and it shows that May is a talented writer. Have any of you read May's science fiction? If so, how it does it compare to her fantasy writing?

27 December 2007

Writing on Reading: One Hundred Years of Solitude

What do you call a novel that has no central protagonist, an omniscient POV, and a rambling plot? In the case of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, you call it a masterpiece.  Solitude has been one of my favorite books since I first read it in college. Given my love for the fantasy genre, its probably not surprising that the way Garcia Marquez infuses his world with magic is one aspect of his work that I love. However, two elements really make his work stand out: his voice and the uniqueness of his characters. To me, Garcia Marquez's is like a gifted storyteller sitting by the campfire. Humor and wisdom underscore every moment, brining a unique perceptive to the world. Here's one small example: "Almost pulverized at the time by the decrepitude of death, Pudencio Aguliar would come twice a day to chat with him. They talked about fighting cocks. They promised each other to set up a breeding farm for magnificent birds, not so much to enjoy their victories, which they would not need then, as to have something to do on the tedious Sundays of death." Wow!

His characters are like none others that I've seen, ranging from the grandfather who lives out most of his twilight years tied to a tree to a girl with bad habit of eating whitewash and dirt who arrives mysteriously with a bag containing her parents' bones. 

The only criticism I have for Solitude is that it is almost too much of a good thing. With so many stories, characters, and events crammed into one book, it is hard to get through without putting it down for awhile. In other words, it is kind of like trying to eat a whole carton of Chunky Monkey at once. However, if you keep it on your nightstand and consume it a bite at a time, you'll be nicely rewarded.

By the way, if you are wondering where the fantasy and science fiction reviews are, stay tuned. 

24 December 2007

conflict

For some reason in this holiday season, surrounded by relatives, my mind is turning to conflict. :)
As writers, we are told we must have a conflict in our stories. But what is conflict? I took a class a while back (and blogged about it) in which conflict was defined as a person obstructing the protagonist's goals. Forces of nature, catastrophes, etc. were NOT considered worthy conflicts. Older and wiser(?) now, I have to say I disagree. IMHO, conflict is any person, force, neurosis, insert-your-idea-here that opposes the protagonist. I know many writers would disagree with me, including some in my critique group.

What do you think?

Send Electric Spec your conflict-laden stories. :)

21 December 2007

From all of us at Electric Spec,
to you, our readers and writers:


Have a wonderful Holiday
Season and the happiest of
New Years.


20 December 2007

correspondence

How do I approach this nicely?

Don't reply to a rejection. It's unprofessional and helps no one--least of all you. Replies often get lost in the process of sorting so the chances the original editor will see it are slim. If you have a legitimate question, such as querying a story idea or clarification on our guidelines or asking us what we're looking for, this blog would be an excellent place to ask us.

And especially, especially don't send us a snotty response to a rejection. Now, I am terrible with names, so I won't remember you if you sent us a snotty reply. (I can't speak for my fellow editors--Lesley seems to have one of those steel-trap minds, and Dave is a lawyer--take what significance from that as you will.) Also, our office is the Internet and various restaurants in Boulder, so we don't have a "black-balled" bulletin board. However, my experience is that a surly attitude often matches sub-par writing, so if you're angry with an editor, you might take a fresh look at your own writing. Might you instead be angry with yourself? Next to parenting, writing is the most difficult endeavour I've ever embarked upon, so you're not alone in your frustration.

That's not to say we don't reject wonderful writing. We do, often. I see good stories that are just not right for Electric Spec, and unfortunately my time is too limited to mention it during reading sessions. And, since I now seem to have reliable Internet service for the first time in months, I will be reading in the next few days! (In other words, any delays are mine, and not my illustrious fellow editors.)

Happy Holidays!

19 December 2007

public likes science

Have you heard? Apparently there's a new wave sweeping the U.S. called Science Cafes. Wired Magazine says Science Caf├ęs Tap Nation's Fascination With Research and Discoveries. What does that have to do with speculative fiction writing, you ask? It means there is an audience for science fiction stories! Send us yours!

In other news, I'm sorry to say, Congress does not like science. Read more about it at Science: A Budget Too Small. Now there are some folks who need to read more science fiction!

17 December 2007

who's your protag?

In a couple of submissions to Electric Spec recently, I think the authors missed the boat regarding their protagonist. The so-called protagonists are the buddy or sidekick of the person doing all the action. Said sidekick then describes what happens for the reader. The Great Gatsby notwithstanding, this generally doesn't work. It removes the reader from the action. One of the fabulous things about fiction is it enables the reader to become someone else. Why would we want to be the sidekick rather than the hero?

Please keep sending those stories in! Thanks!

14 December 2007

I'm repeating myself

I've been reading quite a few story submissions lately and find myself wanting to tell the authors things I've already blogged about. I really wish we had the time to give critiques to our story-submitters, but we don't. So, I'm going to repeat myself--sorry.
Authors, please do give me (my fellow editors may disagree with some of this):
  • an original idea
  • a plot arc--something must happen externally and/or internally (note the easiest plot arc is overcoming a conflict)
  • stuff that makes sense and is internally consistent
  • a fully-developed world, including setting the scene (note: only give us the backstory we need)
  • a sympathetic, or at least interesting, protagonist that does something
  • dialog

Authors, please look at your stuff with an objective eye. Obviously, you can write a fabulous story without including all the above stuff, e.g. without any dialog, but it is really difficult, IMHO. As for the plot arc, that is sort of a genre prejudice, certainly literary fiction is rife with slice-of-life stories in which very little happens.

Keep sending Electric Spec your stories! We appreciate your submissions.

13 December 2007

Writing on Reading: Coben and Iles

Welcome back to another episode of writing on reading. Today, we're going to talk about domestic thrillers, specifically Twenty Four Hours by Greg Iles and Just One Look by Harlan Coben.  Both Iles and Coben are accomplished thriller authors, and it was interesting to see the many ways in which these books were alike. Both involve suburban, middle to upper class families with children, both have at least one major POV character that is a housewife, and both involve threats made (and, to some extent, carried out) by bad guys motivated by revenge. In fact, the similarities in these books are probably what made the both effective. Both books held my interest from beginning to end and, at times, were hard to put down. Although none of the protagonists in these books were particularly memorable, they were likable and believable enough so that I cared about what happened to them. In addition, their obstacles were sufficiently challenging that there was some doubt about whether (or how) the protagonists would prevail in the end.


With so many similarities, is it possible to judge one better than the other? Yup. Twenty Four Hours was the better book for a couple of reasons. One, the main baddie was a bit more believable. It's  possible that there might be a smart criminal out there who would develop the perfect (yet simple) plan for kidnap-for-ransom. In contrast, the baddie in Just One Look knew all these pressure point techniques and had this sociopathic personally that made him seem unrealistic. Two, Just One Look was more of a mystery/thriller, with the mystery element being a bit convoluted and implausible.  Some people may like this element, but I thought the plot of Twenty Four Hours was more clean, with the book ending once the protagonists were no longer in peril.

Overall, these are both good thrillers and worth looking at if you are studying how to create tension in your writing.

sad news from Terry Pratchett

I know the Electric Spec editors, readers and authors are/were very sorry to hear Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. Read his open letter. We're praying/pulling/hoping for you, Terry!

10 December 2007

Writing on Reading: Turow and Grisham

I was inspired by an earlier post by Lesley to start posting about what I've been reading. The first two books I wanted to mention are legal thrillers: Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow and The Testament by John Grisham. Presumed Innocent is a reread of one of my favorite books. Turow pulls off an amazing feat--writing in first person POV, hiding something important from the reader, and NOT making the reader feel cheated by the narrator. Also, all of the characters in the book feel very real and deep, especially the huge range of emotions experienced by the protagonist. My only criticism of Presumed Innocent is that Turow gets carried away in certain places with backstory on certain characters and information that is not critical to the plot. In a few places, I found myself skimming paragraphs of exposition so I could get back to the good stuff.

In stark contrast to Presumed Innocent, Grisham's The Testament is, well, awful. This book starts off in first person POV, written by a character who dies at the end of the chapter. IMHO, killing off your first person POV character is a big no-no. Grisham then introduces several other POV characters (now in third person POV), none of whom are the protagonist. We finally meet the protagonist about fifty pages into the book. The POV character, a recovering alcoholic, seems to get pushed this way and that by the other characters in the book. His own goals seems to change on an almost daily basis, and his main internal conflict (alcoholism) is resolved by a religious conversion that comes from left field. In fact, whole book felt self-righteously preachy to me, as if I were being repeatedly bashed over the head with Grisham's anti-materialism, pro-Christian message. I went ahead and finished the book, hoping to find the exciting plot twist at the end that Grisham is famous for. It never came.

Presumed Innocent was Turow's first novel (not counting 1L, about his days at Harvard Law) and I could easily see why it was such a success. Grisham's career took off after his second novel, The Firm, which was also very good. I'm sure The Testament sold well because it had Grisham's name on the cover, but I wonder if Grisham (or his agent or editors) knew it wasn't quite up to snuff. Perhaps Grisham was more concerned about getting out his religious message than writing a well crafted novel, or maybe he was writing to a deadline and he forced this one out. Whatever the case, I'm going to try to read the "breakout" novels of popular authors and be weary of later ones that promise a lot but deliver very little.

winter issue deadline posted

I just posted on Electric Spec the deadline for submissions for the February 28, 2008 issue is January 4, 2008. You've got about a month to send in your stories for that issue. Good luck!

07 December 2007

advanced techniques

Agent Nathan wrote something interesting in his blog yesterday: "descriptions of facial expressions really only thinly veiled ways of telling the reader what emotion the character is feeling. Unique gestures, dialogue and actions tend to be much more interesting ways of describing the way someone is feeling and go further toward creating interesting characters. Emotions and facial expressions are universal -- how people deal with emotions and express those emotions are unique."

To be honest, I'm pretty happy if authors submitting to Electric Spec do describe facial expressions, rather than actually telling, e.g. "The Elf Queen was sad." But Agent Nathan is correct--this is only one step removed from telling.
Good writers are constantly learning and improving their work. Can you convey emotion without telling and without facial expressions? Show us your unique characters and their emotions!

06 December 2007

The Black Moment

Bernita explores an aspect of writing nearly every day on her blog--well worth reading. Today it is the Black Moment. I realized when I come away from a story unsatisfied, it is often because the author never pushed the protag into the Black Moment. This is the moment when all seems lost, or to bastardize what David told me once in reference to the ending of one of my books:

He needs to lose his sword, crawl through the mud in a violent thunderstorm, everyone dead or dying around him! He has to be covered in blood and devoid of all hope. Light should be cracking through the pearly gates; his ancestors must be waving from the tunnel of white light. He must be so weakened that the antagonist not only holds all the cards (and said sword), but has plenty of time to decide how to play them. And then, still, after all that, the protag must prevail--mostly alone.


Short stories are not immune from this good advice. Some stories are not so physical, but what violence are you wreaking upon your protag's soul? Has he undergone a trial that will change him, and maybe the world around him, forever? Has he sacrificed? Has he fought against all odds for what he believes, or what you want him to believe?

Once you get to know your protag well, the Black Moment is fairly easy to construct. Simply take away what he wants most in life, and make him fight like hell to get it back.

Robots R Us?

Okay, as a huge Asimov fan, I can't resist... Did you all know Toyota has a robot that can play the violin? Moreover, Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe recently said robotics will be a core business for the company in coming years. And the company hopes to put what it calls "partner robots" to real use by 2010, he said. "We want to create robots that are useful for people in everyday life," he told reporters at a Toyota showroom in Tokyo.

Apparently, Japan is really pushing robotics.

Honda has also been working on robots. They have one called ...wait for it...Asimo — which stands for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility and is play on the Japanese word for "legs". Awesome! Read more at
USA Today.

Now, what did I do with all those Three Laws stories...?

By the way, please don't send us robot stories featuring robot love, robot-human sex, and/or robot murder (unless it's done really, really well).

backstory

Authors, watch out for backstory in your short stories. What do I mean by backstory? I mean: a narrative providing a history or background context. It's awesome if you know the entire backstory of your characters and their friends and family, but as a reader, I only want to read what's relevant to the story.
Keep sending those stories to ElectricSpec!

03 December 2007

R.I.P paper books?

There's been some hullabaloo in the blogosphere about the inevitable end of paper books, e.g. www.michaelhyatt.com. What do you think? Will it happen? Will paper books be a historical curiosity some day? As an editor of an all-electronic 'zine, I have mixed feelings about this.
What happens when the EMP knocks out all technology?
Who updates ALL the old documents to ever-changing software every day/month/year? And what happens if they don't and we lose all knowledge of the past?
Wow! There are a lot of good speculative fiction story ideas related to this!
Insert your idea here. :)

30 November 2007

think about what you read

It goes without saying authors should read--a lot. I decided to follow Mr. Silverberg's lead and reread some Heinlein (see below or the Dec 2007 Asimov's editorial). I recently started rereading To Sail Beyond the Sunset, by Robert A. Heinlein (1987). Imagine my surprise when he starts with the protagonist waking up in bed! Ugh (see the 'don't start with a cliche' post below)! Cliches aside, I have to say chapter one was pretty charming. The first paragraph was:
I woke up in bed with a man and a cat. The man was a stranger; the cat was not.
Some other highlights:
He was quite dead.
This is not a good way to start the day.

And my favorite line: I found that I was barefooted all the way up. Sadly, chapter two was a huge chunk of exposition in which the author basically gives us a (his?) philosophy of life. I'll let you know how the rest turns out. Anyone have any opinions on this book?

I also recently read a novella Tendeleo's Story by Ian McDonald. This was excellent! It involves an unusual alien invasion and the nature of humanity. It was all good; I can't even come up with any constructive criticism. :)

What have you read recently?

29 November 2007

Descriptions

First of all, my apologies for not posting here more often. I'm experiencing some connection issues at the moment. Fortunately, I had a good night the other night reading my inbox (not all of it, but I read into early November). We are really seeing some wonderful, quality submissions!


Dave recently did a post on description, and it struck me I don't agree entirely. If a description consists entirely of hair and eye color, then yes, it's difficult to determine its pertinence to the story, because description, like everything, must serve the story. It must pertain to plot, characterization, or setting.



However, in spec fic, hair and eye color may very well serve the story. Think of DUNE and the all-blue eyes of the Fremen. In my own urban fantasy series, hair and eye color is of geneological import to the story, a signal to characters and readers alike: This is where this character belongs--or does not belong, as the case may be. Even in RL, seeing a spouse's eyes stare back at you from your son's face or finding your own smile on a century-old photo is a magical experience. In these cases, ordinary identifying markers take on a historical, almost extraordinary (sometimes ironic) meaning. They are integral and significant to the individual and often the plot. You know, of course, what color eyes your protag has as well as you know the color of your own, but is it something you think about every moment of every day? Just be certain that it's significant to the protag's POV or to the plot or setting, and we won't reject a story based on listing an eye color as a characteristic.

28 November 2007

Kindle?

Apparently the big news in publishing this week is the unveiling of Amazon's new wireless reading device, called Kindle (and no, I'm not linking to it).

Frankly, I find the name kind of offensive. Fahrenheit 451 anyone? If you've tried this 'next big thing', post a comment and let us know what you think. Thanks!

27 November 2007

Willis profile

I recently read an interesting profile of one of my fave authors, Connie Willis, in the Rocky Mountain News. Check it out: Stellar sci-fi author grounded in Greeley.

How many of you write first drafts in longhand? :)

26 November 2007

Do what Heinlein did

I read an excellent essay by Robert Silverberg in the December 2007 edition of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine: "Reflections: Rereading Heinlein", which addresses issues I tried to cover in my 'from author's mind to reader's mind' blog from earlier in the month. Silverberg says: "Instead of pausing to explain, he simply thrust character and reader alike into those worlds and let communication happen through experience. He didn’t need to tell us how his future societies worked or what their gadgets did. We saw the gadgets functioning; we saw the societies operating at their normal daily levels."

So, authors, build those worlds, but be sure to SHOW us how they work!

23 November 2007

Killer Castles

As many of you know, I'm a huge George R.R. Martin fan. I just ran across this web page by artist Ted Nasmith, who is working on a series of castles for a source book on the Song of Ice and Fire series. Even if you're not a GRRM fan, this is worth a look--some of the best castle renditions I've ever seen.

22 November 2007

A Thankful Writer

I feel fortunate that I have many things to be thankful for, but I thought I'd jot down some things that make me thankful in my writing life:

  • I'm thankful for my gift, however limited it may be
  • I'm thankful I have the time, motivation, means and desire to use that gift
  • I'm thankful that writing is like a well, and the water I draw seems to taste sweeter each time I go back
  • I'm thankful for my computer (when it is working), most especially spell check
  • I'm thankful for the support, encouragement, inspiration, criticism, and camaraderie of my critique group
  • I'm thankful for the success of Electric Spec, and for all its great authors, artists and readers
  • I'm thankful that there is more than one agent and more than one editor out there
  • I'm thankful for all the great books I've read--and that there are so many more yet to come
  • I'm thankful for my public library, without which I would have a sorely depleted bank account and no room to walk in my house
  • I'm thankful for the (seemingly few and far between) quiet moments I have to write
  • I'm thankful that writing is a part of my life, but only a part of it

Happy Thanksgiving!

20 November 2007

Long Shots

In our Electric Spec submission guidelines, we’ve decided not to do as some other ‘zines have done and list story plots that we see a lot. Even so, there are story plots that, at least in my book, are long shots. These include stories about:

-- Robots that turn human or with whom their creator falls in love
-- Vampires, werewolves, or zombies that fit within one or more of the stereotypes of such creatures
-- Someone turning in to a vampire, werewolf, or zombie
-- Someone killing his or her spouse, girlfriend, mother, etc. (Some of these creep me out, but for the wrong reasons).
-- Light speed travel (or cryogenic sleep) has caused the protagonist to return to earth after some sort of space mission to find the world changed
-- Lots of fighting (e.g. sword fighting, space duels, laser battles) and not much else

I would also add that I see very few flash fiction stories (i.e. stories under 1000 words) that make the cut. Why? Good flash fiction is hard to write; you need plot, you need voice, you need character--just like in a longer story. So, the economy of words needs to be incredible. We pay the same for flash as we do for a 7000-word story, so I judge flash with the same (if not more) vigor that I judge longer works. If you want to see my approach to flash fiction (yes, I know, blatant self-promotion) you can check it out here: http://www.astoundingtales.com/TheFortuneTree.htm.

19 November 2007

don't start with a cliche

I've been reading through the stories submitted to Electric Spec. Thanks for sending them in!

I have a few words of advice: don't start your story with a telephone call or with the protagonist waking up. Both of these have been done to death. I also think this is often too early in the story. You should always start the story as late as possible.

Another problem with the telephone call is usually it causes the protagonist to react, rather than act. If your character isn't driving the story, maybe he/she/it is NOT actually your protagonist.

Good luck!

16 November 2007

from author's mind to reader's mind

While reading, I've been noticing some vagueness in stories. Because of world-building, I think this is more of a problem with speculative fiction than other genres. Authors can be so immersed in a world, they sometimes have trouble conveying ideas from their minds to the readers minds. Things that seem obvious to the author can be totally mysterious to the reader. IMHO, authors need to be able to divorce themselves from their conceptions of a story and perceive what is actually on the page. Good luck with this, authors!

Keep sending those stories in to Electric Spec!

14 November 2007

UFOs = Science Fiction?

Why is fiction based on the idea that aliens have visited our planet labeled science fiction or even fantasy while other equally implausible scenarios are not? For example, it is a huge stretch, to say the least, to believe that Jesus of Nazareth had children who are now protected by a secret society. On the other hand, lots of very credible people believe they have seen UFOs. Take today's article in MSNBC , which discusses an international panel of pilots and governmental officials who have called on the U.S. government to re-open UFO investigations, citing safety and security concerns.

I think editors, agents, and ultimately readers should be able to distinguish between something that is clearly science fiction (i.e. a Men in Black scenario) and a situation that may be more plausible than many people want to believe.

13 November 2007

International Horror Guild Awards

Congratulations to the winners of the International Horror Guild Awards, announced November 1, 2007. They include:
  • Novel: Conrad Williams: The Unblemished
  • Long Fiction: Norman Partridge: "Dark Harvest" (CD Publications)
  • Mid-length Fiction: Paul Finch: "The Old North Road" (Alone on the Darkside)
  • Short Fiction: Stephen Gallagher: "The Box" (Retro-Pulp Tales)
Kudos to all the winners!

12 November 2007

SFWA supports WGA

The SFWA came out recently in support of the WGA strike, and had some interesting comments:

"Contrary to prevailing wisdom, the future is not here yet. As science fiction writers, we're perhaps in a better position to see that than others. Society is in a transitional phase, as physical entertainment media slowly give way to their digital equivalents. Physical distribution, cumbersome and expensive, is going the way of the buggy whip and rotary phone dial. The change has already started with the distribution of films and TV shows."

"During this phase, writers and other creators are having their work distributed digitally without seeing any benefit at all. The excuse given is that this distribution is for promotional purposes only, but, in fact, the powers that be are using this transitional period to establish unfair precedents. It's the camel's nose. These precedents will hurt creators as digital distribution becomes the predominant method of distributing and accessing content."


What do you think? Is the future here yet? Is this precedent the camel's nose? :)

10 November 2007

Is Hybrid Really Hot?

I’m going to deviate a bit from my usual E-Spec related topic and get into something more personal. I’ve begun the process of trying to find an agent for my most recent novel. So far, I have not had much success. My novel is a hybrid. It could be called a paranormal legal thriller (a paralegal--ha ha), supernatural suspense, or perhaps just a suspense novel. Think Scott Turow meets the X-Files. The only feedback I’ve gotten from an agent so far was along the following lines: agents would be fighting over this IF it didn’t have aliens. In other words, if it was a straightforward legal thriller, my chances would be better.

Granted, that’s just one opinion. But I’ve gotten a number of form rejections that make me wonder if other agents may have had the same reaction to my submission. If so, my question is: why? My cousin who owns an independent bookstore says hybrids are “hot” right now. One of my favorite short story authors, Kelly Link, agrees. Here’s what she said in this month’s Locus:

There’s a lot of energy in the hybrid forms. . . . It’s good news—for writers like me, at least—that mainstream and genre are colliding so productively. It’s harder to separate mainstream from genre when someone like Junot Diaz writes a book like The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. There are growing numbers of mainstream editors who grew up reading Tolkien and watching the Lord of the Ring movies.

I recognize that finding a literary agent is tough no matter how “hot” your genre (or combination of genres), but I sure hope there’s an agent out there who is aware of this trend and is willing to take a look at my work.

09 November 2007

Originality, Multiple Ideas

I have been REALLY impressed with the submissions we've been receiving at Electric Spec . The quality and the quantity has been amazing. (More on that later from Dave.) Thank you, Authors!

What this means, however, is we are looking for stories that have something special. The 'three legs of the stool', as Betsy would say, have to be solid and there has to be something more. In my opinion, originality can really differentiate a story. Do you have an idea no one else does? If not, get one. :)

I also think an excellent story needs to deal with more than one idea, both an internal and an external arc at a minimum. I'll give you an example. Last night I reread Oceanic by Greg Egan. Wow. This piece deals with several ideas including family dynamics, gender exchange (!), religion and its origins and genetic engineering all set on a unique world. I'll say it again: Wow.

My last opinion of the day is writers need to read and think about what they read.

06 November 2007

2007 World Fantasy Awards

Congratulations to the 2007 World Fantasy Award winners! They include:
  • Novel: Soldier of Sidon by Gene Wolfe
  • Novella: "Botch Town", Jeffrey Ford (The Empire of Ice Cream)
  • Short Fiction: "Journey Into the Kingdom", M. Rickert (Fantasy and Science Fiction May 2006)
  • Anthology: Salon Fantastique, Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, eds.
  • Artist: Shaun Tan
  • Life Achievement: Betty Ballantine and Diana Wynne Jones
Read more about them at SFWA News: 2007 World Fantasy Awards.

05 November 2007

little or no dialog

Recently, I rejected some stories submitted to Electric Spec, which among other things, had little or no dialog. The first few pages were descriptions and telling the reader what was happening. This rarely works in a short story. Often it leaves the reader with one of the three necessary quantities: plot, characterization, and setting.

Writers, take an honest look at your stories. Do you have a coherent and original plot? Have you created realistic, interesting, flawed characters? Is your setting unique and fully fleshed-out? If not, try another draft. Good luck!

04 November 2007

Turnaround Times

Or: Insights On The Ironic Aspects Of Editing.

Regular submitters may notice we're taking a little longer to get back to you on your stories. The reasons are two-fold: we're down to three editors and our submission rates are way up! Good things for our readers, more work for our editors, and maybe a little trying for our submitters.

Lesley and Dave and I all write and have day jobs besides the lucrative side project otherwise known as Electric Spec. Even me, if you count being a mom as a day job. 12 hours per week just on soccer alone! I know, cry me a river.


Point being: we are trying to keep on top of our inboxes. I can't speak for the other two (though I sorta am, here, now) but I've not had an empty inbox since I don't know when, and the situation is unlikely to change. I try to read for at least one long session weekly (ok, ten days) and leave only stories within two weeks of submission. For instance, the oldest story in my inbox left after tonight's reading session is dated Oct 21. I'm cutting it close on that one. But I read over half the stories in my box.

Not only that, I'd say the overall quality of submissions is quite fine. I rarely reject a story because it's poorly written, and tonight's session only revealed one story that completely lacked speculative elements. So, reading takes longer. I find myself studying stories more closely, and then I'm left to siphon the cream off some rich milk. In other words, the reading sessions take more concentration than ever before. I know you're probably a writer, so math isn't your thing, but humor me by attempting a short word problem, color-coded for your convenience.

The editor has two inboxes. One contains 20 fabulous stories. The other contains 3 fabulous stories and 17 slightly-less-than-fabulous stories. The editor has only an hour in which to read each inbox. Which inbox will the editor complete?

Yes, good job, the answer is:

Thanks For Your Patience!

01 November 2007

BIG changes for the New Year at Electric Spec

After extensive deliberation, some tears, and no small amount of bribing, The Editors have agreed to change the publication dates for Electric Spec. As of 2008, our publication dates will be February 28, June 30, and October 31 (Boo!). This move is to avoid previous complications like New Year's Eve hangovers and back-to-school shopping.

Yeah, I know you thought We Editors were like teachers, who live in their classrooms, and who, in fact, cease to exist when students aren't around, but we're not. We're The Editors. We live in the real world, otherwise known as the Internet.

Please mark your calendars accordingly and The Editors regret any inconvenience.

prc files uploaded

I uploaded the prc files for the most recent issue of Electric Spec. Sorry for the delay.

In other production-related news, we are thinking of shifting the publication dates a bit starting in 2008. Stay tuned...

31 October 2007

A REALLY SCARY Thought for Halloween

I just realized something really scary, and, since it is Halloween, I thought I'd post it. This October is the one-year anniversary of our blog! Who would have thought we could babble on, er give profound insights, for all this time?

29 October 2007

my turn

I suppose it's my turn to talk about the slush.

I've not chosen one story yet for this issue. Why not, you might wonder?

I'm a writer, too, so let me begin with a story about a story.

Once upon a time I wrote a story about a kid at war. It was held over at a few zines for voting; it won an honorable mention in a major contest. It's a good, solid story. (Even my critters like it, and everyone knows how hard it is to please them.) It's a violent story, a war tale. One editor didn't take it because North Virginia Tech shootings had just happened, and they didn't feel the timing was right. Their perogative, right?

(Well, this is a family blog, so:) I call b.s.

In my opinion, it is part, though not all, of a writer's duty to push the envelope on difficult issues. We strive to put new twists on old destinies. I think you see some of that in every issue of Electric Spec. There are many difficult themes worthy of examination, and I find fiction a wonderful opportunity for such dissection.

What I don't find are very many stories taking that opportunity.

So why am I not taking any stories lately? They're mostly well-written. They're mostly from published authors. They're mostly solid stories. However, they're also mostly milquetoast.

I don't need violence--that's not what I meant by my example. In my story the conjunction of youth and violence was more a device to put a familiar face on an unfamiliar problem anyway.

Find your device. Say something. Make me think. Make me feel. Warp what I know into something new, and you'll find your words glowing from computer screens across the world under the heading "Electric Spec."

27 October 2007

No Prologues

For Electric Spec I rejected a short story recently which had a prologue. This story did have some other issues, BUT I've never seen a prologue work effectively with a short story. Caveat scriptor.

Keep sending those stories in! :)

26 October 2007

Nanowrimo's Coming

Nanowrimo? What the heck is that? Some of you may know November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as nanowrimo. Check out the website: www.nanowrimo.org. The idea is you push everything aside (except day jobs) and write 50,000 words by midnight, November 30. For those of you who keep planning to write a novel this can be an excellent kick in the pants.

Personally, I can't push everything aside for a whole month. I did do a similar write-non-stop-for-a-week one November with a group of RMFW folks and that was VERY valuable. It helped silence my inner critic.

I highly recommend aspiring novelists try this.

25 October 2007

Be Speculative

When submitting stories to Electric Spec please send us speculative stories. This means there must be some kind of science-fiction-y, fantastic, horror-ible, or supernatural something. I must admit one story got past me in the last issue. The story in question had a bunch of magic--but it turned out it was fake magic. Bummer.

I've rejected a few non-speculative stories in recent weeks. If in doubt, for example your story could be historical OR it could be a fantasy (on another planet?), throw in an extra moon in the sky or something to make it easy on us editors.
Thanks!

24 October 2007

Make Sense

I can't disagree with what Dave blogged yesterday. Still, all of us editors are somewhat different, and it is the luck of the draw who you get when you send a submission to Electric Spec. Recently, I rejected a story that did not make sense. The laws of physics were violated and if one were to accept the premises of the story, earth would be uninhabitable. Personally, I get very cranky when the laws of physics are violated. The other editors probably don't care as much. However, if a story is internally inconsistent that's an automatic rejection.

Thus, writers, please write stuff that makes sense. :)

23 October 2007

The First Page

Over the last few days, I've been through a pile of stories in our Electric Spec in-box. Sadly, I did not hold any of those stories for voting. Why? Many of the stories didn't grab my attention by the first page. Even if the quality of the writing is good, I need more. Before you submit a story, check to see if you've managed to fit in the following into the first page of your story:
  • Introduce an interesting protagonist
  • Identify, or strongly hint at, the conflict (both internal and external is ideal)
  • Establish a setting (including world-building if that's important to your story)

Is it a hard-and-fast rule that all of this must be on the first page? No, but many of the best stories I read do just that.

22 October 2007

Beware of gadgets

I've been going through some of our Electric Spec submissions. As ever, I'm very impressed with them. Thank you for sending them in!

Here, continues my series of advice for writers. Recently I read a story that contained a huge variety of high-tech machines. For every need the character had, a gadget was there. I, personally, have nothing against gadgets. In fact, I like them. However, don't be fooled by bells and whistles (and chips and LEDs and ...), gadgets cannot carry a story. A richly-drawn high-tech culture can be excellent world-building, but it's essentially background. We also need a sympathetic character and an interesting plot arc. If one of these three things is super-duper fabulous it may carry weaker versions of the other two, but it's a tough sell.
So, there you have it, one editor's opinion. :)

16 October 2007

Nobel Peace Prize for Science

Speaking of the Nobel Prizes, did everyone notice the Peace Prize was given to thousands of scientists? The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a group of thousands of scientists from around the world. It bears repeating: a peace prize was awarded for work on a scientific issue that has a profound impact on all human beings. I'm in danger of reaching for my soap box, so I'll just say "Congratulations to all the winners! Great Job!"

Has this award confirmed the importance of science in modern life? Does it indicate we need speculative fiction to help us understand the interactions of humanity and science?

Hhm ...

13 October 2007

favorite writing books

Lesley asked us about our favorite writing books. I've read a few, but probably the one which most speaks to my personal process is WRITE AWAY by Elizabeth George. For those of you not in the know, she writes a popular mystery series set in Britain and featuring Inspector Lynley.

The first thing that struck me about this book is excerpts from her personal writing journal. She writes in this journal every day to jump start her creative juices. Some of us do this with coffee or M&Ms. I tend to use tea and writing myself. I post on my personal blog or over here, and I leave notes for my many Internet friendlies. But however you do it, starting off a writing session with some "non-threatening" writing, either in a journal no one sees or on a blog everyone sees, makes a great deal of sense. Caveat: there must be a time limit because these endeavors can eat up valuable production time.

Beyond that, her detailing her own process helped me nail down my own. As George does, I begin with characters scripts (short for description--why? I don't know. I've just always called them that) or profiles. From their personalities, I can begin to glean what challenges they must face in order to grow. From their history, a synopsis evolves. Yes! I know! Everyone hates a synopsis. I write synopses for even my short stories, and even if they change, they give me something to work from. Synopsis form insists that plots must be tight, every action and reaction must have reason and motivation. Working from a synopsis, even when it evolves or changes outright, helps my own efficiency.

The book is full of insights and advice for the aspiring writer. George never talks down to the reader, and she insists on encouragement every step of the way. It's an uplifting writing book and one I recommend.

12 October 2007

Speculative Author Wins Nobel?

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2007 was awarded to the English writer Doris Lessing
"that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny". Congratulations, Ms. Lessing!

It seems some of Ms. Lessing's works are considered to be speculative fiction. From the official Nobel Prize website (nobelprize.org):

"In the novel series Canopus in Argos: Archives (vol. 1–5, 1979–1984) Lessing expanded the science fiction genre. The series studies the post-atomic war development of the human species. Lessing varies thoughts about colonialism, nuclear war and ecological disaster with observations on the opposition between female and male principles. Among inspirations for the work was the Idries Shah’s school of Sufism that she discovered in the 1960s. Doris Lessing revisited her interest in Sufism in the Time Bites (2004) collection of essays."

"The vision of global catastrophe forcing mankind to return to a more primitive life has had special appeal for Doris Lessing. It reappears in some of her books of recent years: the fantasy novel Mara and Dann (1999) and its sequel The Story of General Dann and Mara's Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog (2005). From collapse and chaos emerge the elementary qualities that allow Lessing to retain hope in humanity."

Wow.


11 October 2007

Workshop presentation available

FYI-I finally uploaded our excellent Electric Spec workshop presentation from RMFW's Colorado Gold Conference. It's called "Break into Publishing the E-Zine Way". Enjoy!

Writing Books

My colleagues at Electric Spec chose to comment rather than blog. Aw. :(
In case you are too lazy to click on the comments, Dave said his favorite is Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. What do you like about it, Dave?

Renata concurs that King's is a good one and she also likes Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. What do you like about them, Renata?

Hhm. I'm not sure what my favorite writing book is. I'll have to ponder it.

Betsy, any thoughts? Electric Spec writers? Readers?

Aren't Editors Great?

For most of the general reading public, editors are pretty much invisible. Still, as pointed out in a recent article in Salon, editors are important, not just for writers, but for readers. As the content on the web and in the blogosphere grows, editors will become increasingly important in separating the wheat from the chaff. Am I patting myself and my fellow Electric Spec editors on the back? I guess so, but my editor tells me that's fine once in a while.

10 October 2007

Becoming a Writer

From time to time I (we?) will mention some good books for writers. Here's one: Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. This was published first in 1934 but still has a lot to say to today's writers about being creative, writing daily, not being overly-critical of one's work, and other topics.

Okay, Electric Spec editors, what other writing books do you recommend?

Writers, what do you recommend?

09 October 2007

SFWA's job?

I'm not sure if you all have been following...but the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have been dealing with some copyright issues this year. Recently they sent out a questionnaire to all members asking us what we thought their role should be in copyright issues. It's food for thought. An individual writer doesn't have much power , whereas a large organization like SFWA might.

Here, at Electric Spec we strive to assist writers. Please let us know if there's anything we can do for you. :)

05 October 2007

Ailing Short Stories, part two

In reference to Lesley's last post about ailing short stories:

If you missed the comment thread on King's article, it's worth taking a gander. Sad to see how little respect a grand master like Stephen King garners. Whether you like his books or not, he is a solid, craft-minded writer, and millions of sales don't lie. Someone even said Stephen King doesn't write short stories. Heh. His credits listed him as having written 400 short stories, and like any writer worth their salt, he cut his teeth on short stories before most of us could hold a crayon.

His point about short stories, how they often feel dull and mass-produced, is well worth considering. I see them all the time, short stories that have had the spark beaten out of them, or maybe it was never there in the first place. And I don't mean just in our slush pile, but published, as well. They lack passion. They lack life.

The best short stories are long on craft, short on verbage, and they get beneath the reader's skin like a sliver. The themes might be big but the stories and the characters peopling them are often small--and that is the point. They don't show us the entire ocean, but just a few grasses near an undersea cliff. Short stories only hint at the blackness beyond, and let's face it, that blackness can make us damned uncomfortable.

Remember that old personality test from Psych 101? Do you eat around the edges of your jelly-filled donut, savoring the anticipation, or do you bite right in? In this day and age of Supersize Me and McMansions, I think the answer for most of us is clear. We don't like to be uncomfortable. But for this editor and reader, the best short stories don't have jelly. They let me fill in the middle with my own experiences and worldview--newly sugared by the author's ideas.

Short stories are meant to pulsate, to push limits, and to make us think, albeit in not so many words. It is up to the reader to fill in the blanks. Like Barth Anderson said in our interview: "...every sentence is like another incremental dilation of a camera lens, letting in a little more light, information, or field of vision of what we're looking at. To me that explained what short stories can do." But the physical limitations of word count means an entire world cannot be revealed. It's one lens, not CNN. Something has to be left out. Something must be left to the reader's discretion, and that's the beauty of the thing.

I do think the genre is ailing, and I do blame editors for buying so much milquetoaste. After all, we provide the bridge between our readers and our authors. One time I got the comment from an editor that I hadn't developed the world enough in a particular story. "You only spent 2000 words and you could have spent 4000." Hmm. I'd specifically aimed this story at online markets, in which shorter often does well. But, in all fairness to the editor who had taken the time to comment, I had a friend read the story and then I asked her questions about the world I'd developed. Guess what? She got all the answers right, even the ones that weren't specifically addressed in the story.

Many of the published shorts I read have all the I's dotted and T's crossed, and not just by the copyeditor. One of the commenters in the article's thread said they can't identify with the characters in most short stories. Maybe that's because the authors don't leave the reader any space to do so. They comb the protag's hair and make sure their buttons are lined up right. Such stories leave no room for the reader, and hence the characters, to breathe. I challenge editors --and writers!--to trust their readers. That bridge I was talking about...it ought to be more of a swinging rope than a Golden Gate.

The saddest bit is that short stories uniquely fit our sound-bite society. They ought to be doing well. But then, a sound-bite isn't meant to make you think, it's just meant to make you buy.

02 October 2007

Ailing short story?

No doubt some of you saw Stephen King's essay in the 9/30/07 Sunday Book Review of The New York Times: What Ails the Short Story. He claims the short story is alive but not well. Clearly, he doesn't read Electric Spec! :)

Let's prove him wrong. Support authors and read lots of short stories! And better yet, write lots of excellent short stories--and send them to us!
Our in-boxes are waiting! :)

30 September 2007

We're live!

...and we're live! Check out the excellent new issue of Electric Spec.

Thank you to all the authors, editors, and artists that made the issue possible!

29 September 2007

New Issue Soon!

As faithful readers know, we usually publish Electric Spec by midnight on publication day, i.e. the Sept 30, 2007 issue would go live by midnight Sept. 29. Sadly, this will not happen this time. :( We hope to have it finished some time tomorrow.

Stay tuned...

24 September 2007

Elves that Won't Behave Themselves

I hate it when this happens (I didn't make this up):

Fired Judge Blames Elf for Court Mishaps
By Debra Cassens Weiss
The Philippines Supreme Court has asked a fired judge who claims he is assisted by three elves to stop making threats of “ungodly reprisal.”
The court kicked Florentino Floro Jr. off the bench largely because of his belief in the supernatural, the Wall Street Journal reports (sub. req.). A medical clinic determined that the judge was suffering from psychosis.
Since then Floro has battled to get his job back, appearing on TV and winning converts who seek his healing powers. At the same time, a series of unfortunate incidents have befallen the supreme court justices or their families, including serious illnesses and car accidents.
Floro says the person to blame for the mishaps is one of the elves, "Luis," a "king of kings" who is an avenger. He told the newspaper that the elves help him predict the future, but he has never consulted them when issuing judicial decisions.
The Supreme Court has not reversed any of Floro’s decisions since firing him.

19 September 2007

The Wheel of Time Turns Again

Author Robert Jordan (his real name was James Oliver Rigney, Jr.) died on Monday at age 58. Fantasy fans will remember him for his best-selling fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. I admired Jordan for his complex world-building and plotting, and I'm sad that we'll never know how the multi-book series was supposed to end.

17 September 2007

conference

We spoke at a conference this weekend about Electric Spec, as well as short stories and markets in general. The biggest question was: What are you looking for more of?

For me, it's dark-themed fiction (of course!) and even tragedies. These could be horror pieces, but you don't have to frighten me to make me shiver. I also would love to see more serious, well-written high fantasy pieces.

Two weeks until the next issue!

13 September 2007

Earth Saved!

As many of you spec fic writers out there know, the Earth is believed to have a limited lifespan. Specifically, when the sun expands into a red-giant it will engulf the Earth. This sounds bad! Of course it won't happen for 5 billion years or so. Recently, however, an article in Nature "A giant planet orbiting the 'extreme horizontal branch' star V 391 Pegasi" would seem to indicate this will NOT be the end of the world. Hurray! Earth is saved! I, for one, am relieved.

I would love to read a story about Earthlings and their red-giant. :)

I see The New York Times has a nice article on this:"Scientists’ Good News: Earth May Survive Sun’s Demise in 5 Billion Years".

12 September 2007

The Slasher

Lesley, in her last post, asked me to reveal why I’m called “the slasher.” It is not a name I made up for myself, but rather one that was bestowed upon me by my fellow editors. I like to pretend it is a term of endearment. After all, it does NOT have anything to do with a knife or other sharp object (well, maybe a red pen . . .).

At Electric Spec, we love to get submissions that are as polished as the authors can get them, but we don’t reject a story just because it needs more polishing before it is ready for publication. Every story we pick needs some editing, but some need more than others. One of the more common problems we see even with stories that we love is that the story is not as focused as it could be. In other words, the story loses some of its punch because it includes details, actions, or even entire scenes and characters that serve little or no purpose. Other times, five words are chosen when two can do the same job, which drags down the pace. When it comes to editing a story, I am not shy about cutting (or, as some would call it, slashing) words to make a good story great. As always, I give authors a chance to comment on the edited version before it is posted.

11 September 2007

New Issue Coming Sept 30!

The new issue of Electric Spec, due out September 30th is starting to come together. It looks like it will be our best issue yet! Make sure to check it out. In the meantime, I'm really hoping my fellow editors might do a little blogging about behind-the-scenes. For example, Dave, why do they call you The Slasher? What is your editorial philosophy? And Betsy, what does Barth have to say about American's demise(!) and/or grand themes, if anything? Give us some hints.

If you read the excellent interview Dave did (see blog entry below), you'll know we have a story coming that DOES combine extra-dimensional physics and hot, fluffy pancakes. :)
You'll just have to wait until the 30th to see how!

Don't forget the Electric Spec Editors will be presenting a workshop this Saturday September 15th at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference in Denver! I had blogged that I would post the presentation on the Electric Spec webpage and I will, but probably not until the new issue comes out. Look for it in October 2007.

Thank you VERY much authors, editors, and artists for all your hard and prompt work for this excellent upcoming issue!

04 September 2007

New Issue coming up!

We've got a great new issue taking shape behind the scenes here at E-spec, EIGHT new stories, and an interview with science fiction writer Barth Anderson.

After a year-and-half in business, we're enjoying higher readership and greater publicity . We feel our stories are among the best out there, and the quality of submissions proves it!

Sometimes people ask me what we look for, and this time around, the editorial staff had a discussion about what our magazine is about. If you read past issues, I think you'll notice we like our speculative fiction to address the trials, challenges, and dilemmas of our real world. This is not to say the entire magazine is futuristic sci fi or urban fantasy, or even that literary themes must revolve around global issues. But we do enjoy stories that give us something to relate to amid creative speculative elements, be it resolving endless religious wars or dealing with grief over the loss of a spouse. I think you'll see our preferences reflected in this upcoming issue.
Don't forget to join us September 30th for an exciting new issue!

30 August 2007

Interview with Author Lesley L. Smith

We've managed to tear Lesley away from her work at a shadowy government agency to answer a few questions. Lesley L. Smith is the author of "MyMind's Eye," which will appear in the September 30 issue of ElectricSpec. Lesley-this is actually the second story you've had in ElectricSpec. The first was nominated for Prego and Nebulous awards. Do youthink it's possible to top the last one?

Gosh, Dave, that's a really good question. Of course, it was a HUGE honor to be nominated for the Prego and Nebulous. I don't want to seem cocky, but I do have high hopes for "My Mind's Eye"; in fact, I'm hoping for an Extra-Spicy Prego nod this time. In all seriousness, I wrote "Entanglements" well over a year ago and I would like to think my writing skills have improved. Reading all our fabulous submissions at Electric Spec can only have helped. I also have an excellent critique group, which is something I highly recommend for all writers.

I hate to leave readers in suspense, so tell us what is a "mind's eye"?

I consulted my mind's eye for something funny to say here but I got nothing. So, I'll just say, 'mind's eye' refers to our ability to imagine, remember, and "see" things with our minds. Actually, now that I think about it, this might be a metaphor. What do you think, Dave?

I’m sorry, I’m having trouble seeing it. Anyway, I’m the one asking the questions here. Keep talking, er, typing.

Anyway, in the story, the protagonist can't see with his eyes very well, so he uses his mind's eye a lot--which ends up being beneficial.

What happens if you have poor mind's eyesight-can you get correctivelenses for that?

Sure. For the low, low price of only $1000 I can sell you some.Since you asked the question though I'm guessing you don't need any.

What inspired you to write "My Mind's Eye?"

I can tell you it was not that old Star Wars novel, "Splinter of the Mind's Eye". I was inspired by...wait for it...physics. I know this must shock you, Dave. Physics is filled with some truly bizarre ideas. One of these mind-bending ideas is that the universe may consist of more than the four dimensions humans perceive.The most popular number of dimensions is ten advocated by string theory.

ZZZZZZ.

I see your eyes are starting to glaze over, so I'll just say, the math makes us think such things. It's truly mind-boggling to try to imagine such more-than-four-dimensional things. And yes, I do use my mind's eye to do it. Of course, different numbers of dimensions isn't a new idea in SF. Way back 1884(!) Edwin Abbott Abbott wrote"Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions". As an aside, on the surface Flatland seems super-sexist, but I guess it's supposed to be social satire.

Why did you choose to have it published in Electric Spec rather than,say, Asimov's?

I think you know I really enjoy Asimov's (and Analog), and in fact The Good Doctor had a huge impact on my life, but what can I say, ElectricSpec is my fave zine.

I know—I hear it all the time. The editors over there are constantly e-mailing the editors here requesting that we stop snapping up all the good stories. There’s one that got away and is going to be published at Analog, but I can’t remember whose . . . oh yes, another one of yours! Anyway, I digress. Part of "The Mind's Eye" takes place in a particle accelerator. Is it true that you did some of your research for this story in your own personal particle accelerator that you constructed in your basement?

Good question. I did not use the accelerator in my basement this time around. Instead, I used the one at the national lab where I work. It was really interesting because [MATERIAL DELETED IN THE INTERESTS OF NATIONAL SECURITY].

Oh. So that’s why those guys in black suits were -- What guys in black suits? Why did I type that? Oh, well. Next question. Do you personally prefer two- or four- dimensional pancakes?

Four-dimensional pancakes, of course! The bigger the better! In fact, think I can say with confidence that all pancakes in the history of pancakes have been four-dimensional.

[Interview cut off here because the rest got too syrupy]

26 August 2007

Thinking about POV

Once again, I love Crapometer and its thought-provoking comments. When someone questioned me recently about an opinion, I thought, yeah, why do I really think that? To my surprise, I actually had legitimate reasons backing my opinions. You can tell me different if you want. I love when readers and writers make me think!


I'll have to think about that whole POV thingy... When someone tells me what readers want- I need to ask "How do they know?"

I don't know if this is directed at me, but I can answer why I think the way I do about POV. Most of my opinions derive from the experience of editing a short story magazine and reading other magazines. I'm fairly confident that what I think is widely accepted because I'm not a one-woman show at Electric Spec; I work with two other highly competent, professional, published authors. In the process of reading the magazine I read a slush of 20+ stories per month. I also speak regularly with several editors, by virtue of my own submissions and just plain ole internet chatter.

But I heard Robert Sawyer talk about POV recently and it really put words to what I already knew. He spoke about the mentality of people today, especially those in America and other free-thinking, free-press countries. We no longer just take something for granted as Truth just because someone in authority (ie--an omniscient voice) tells us it is so. Consider the news (CNN, argh!): We try to understand the bias so we can filter through what is said and not said--sift through opinions and agendas find some semblance of Truth. Sometimes we even modify information to better fit our own Truth. (Wikipedia, for example.)

Thinking, feeling, opinionated readers need, by virtue of POV and character development, to understand the particular filter through which they view the author's world. That's why single POV can be so powerful, and also why effective multi-POV can be so difficult. Just like every scene counts, so does every POV. You have to consider, as a writer, what message you are trying to put forth by using a particular POV and what bias accompanies it. In short stories in particular, you've very little time to engage the reader to your way of thinking. Switching up POVs can be really disorienting and make the reader lose faith in your message and in their own ability to understand your characters' bias.

This is my opinion. I write and edit by my own opinions; others might have differing views. It's your job to figure out what works for you. Hope this helps.

I must admit I pulled 20+ number on the fly--we haven't added up this issue's submission rate yet. Right now, though, we have 30 stories in our inbox and that's just since August 7, so I might not be too far off!

24 August 2007

The Locus Index

Speaking of the Hugo Awards.... I thought I'd remind our writers and readers about a nice resource The Locus Index: everything you possibly want to know about speculative fiction awards. Check it out! :)

22 August 2007

Hugo Awards website

There's a new website for The Hugo Awards. All spec fic authors should be aware of the Hugo Awards. How else will you win one? :)

Gibson

I don't often do this, but check out The Onion's A.V. Club Interview of William Gibson. Gibson is an author (e.g. Neuromancer), a SF 'seer', and apparently 'invites the zeitgeist in to tea'. :) I must admit The Onion is a guilty pleasure; it may have something to do with the fact I have to pass 2 of their hard-copy machines on my walk to work.

Got any noirish prescient stories? Send them to Electric Spec!

21 August 2007

gender-mysterious

I read a couple of stories recently at Electric Spec in which the protag's gender was quite mysterious. It wasn't until pages in that the author referred to the protag as female or male; I found this rather irritating. I vaguely recall my fave author Connie Willis did this in one of her early books, so it CAN be done. (Was it Uncharted Territory?) But please don't do it unless it's intentional. Often, in real life, men and women use language differently because they've been socialized differently. Authors need to be cognisant of such issues--while being careful not to lapse into stereotypes.
Yes, 'authoring' is difficult! :)

Speaking of Ms. Willis, she has a new book coming out September 25, 2007 The Winds of Marble Arch. Hurray!

16 August 2007

Awesome stories!

We are starting to put together the Sept 30, 2007 issue of Electric Spec.
I have to say, there are several awesome stories in contention.
Huzzah to our authors! You rock! :)

Thank you for sending in your stories, and keep 'em coming!

13 August 2007

Judgment Words

Since we had some good comments on the last post, I thought I'd elaborate a little more on what I called 'judgment words'. Judgment words are words that contain within them value judgments, e.g. pretty, handsome. They can work effectively for first-person pov, or very close third-person pov. In such cases, they primarily give us information about the character uttering the judgment, not about the item/person being described. For example, if your character says 'Auschwitz-Birkenau was beautiful.' that says something entirely different from 'Austria was beautiful.'

Feel free to send Electric Spec stories with judgment words.

09 August 2007

"Beautiful"

Sadly, our fall 2007 Electric Spec deadline has passed. :(
If you made the deadline: Thank you for your submission!.
If not: Please submit for our next issue, coming out in winter 2008.

I was reading through submissions earlier and came across the word "beautiful". I have to admit this word does not impress me. Beautiful, how? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? So, "beautiful" is full of judgment and short on details. It is a 'telling' word, not a 'showing' word. Show us through description, deeds, or even better, how people react, that the person or item is beautiful.
Keep in mind, though, judgment words can work effectively for first-person pov, or very close third-person pov.

07 August 2007

Today's the day!

Hopefully everyone out there knows midnight (MDT) today is the deadline for story submission for the fall 2007 issue of Electric Spec.

Send those stories in!

And if you've already sent us a story: Thank you very much. We appreciate it! Electric Spec is only as good as its authors.

Some relevant dates:

  • August 26, 2007, our editorial production meeting
  • approx August 27, 2007--August 31, 2007, editors contact writers with the good (or bad) news
  • approx September 1, 2007--September 15, 2007, editors and writers prepare stories for issue
  • approx September 15, 2007--September 29, 2007, editors and webpage gurus put issue together
  • September 30, 2007, the next issue of Electric Spec goes live!
There you go; more information than you probably wanted!

03 August 2007

Deadline looming!

Only 4 more days until the cutoff (Aug. 7, 2007) for our fall 2007 Electric Spec issue! Send those stories in!

In other news, I notice yesterday was our 1-year blog anniversary.

Happy blogiversary to us! :)

02 August 2007

Later, but not goodbye, to a founding editor

I've always relied on Renata for copy editing--she's the definitive word on grammar and spelling in my work and as an editor. I'll also miss her instinct for good, solid stories--we share a liking for military sci fi, but she has a literary slant that always encouraged me stretch my tastes.

As a crit group member, she made me stretch my own writing wings. She was kind enough, and experienced enough, to tell me not only when I hadn't produced my best work, but how to fix it. She also knew how to point out what I'd done right, which is an oft-neglected, valuable quality in critique.

I'll miss my roommate at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's Conference, too!

Thanks, Renata, for everything you've done for Espec, and for my own writing, in the past two years.

The Writers In Our Lives

As solitary as writing fiction can be, it is rarely done in isolation. Just look at the “acknowledgements” section of most novels. A wide variety of people can influence your writing: editors, agents, research assistants, spouses, friends, teachers, and critique group members, just to name a few. A smart author will listen to advice wherever he or she can get it—then try to make an objective decision about whether it is useful.

But every once in a while, we get really lucky. We find someone who not only gives us a useful writing tip here or there, but also helps us grow as writers in profound ways. He or she gives criticism, praise, support, and friendship that lasts longer than a single class or a writer’s retreat. Usually, he or she is a writer just like you and (hopefully) gets the same from you in return.

I proud to say that Renata was one of those people in my life, and I am very grateful. Even though she is leaving Electric Spec, she will always be a part of it, just like she will always be a part of my fiction. Thank you, Renata—I’ll miss you.

Thank you, Renata!

Recently one of our Electric Spec founding editors, Renata Baron Hill, resigned from the ezine. I'll be sorry to see her go, but I understand she has new challenges to take on.

So, I wanted give a shout out for her years of excellent service:
Thank you, Renata! I sincerely appreciate all your efforts, and I'm sure the ezine is much better for your participation.

Good luck with those new challenges!

01 August 2007

World-Building

Please make your world(s) believable, Electric Spec writers. If your characters are going around in their shirt-sleeves, make sure it's a habitable planet--unless, of course, your characters aren't human. :)

An excellent free reference for world-building is "Habitable Planets for Man" by Stephen H. Dole, the famous RAND Report from 1964. This 169-page (!) document was prepared for the U.S. Air Force and includes such things as Human Requirements, Probability of Occurrence of Habitable Planets, The Nearest Candidates, and even a nice glossary. Granted, some of it is dated, but it's all fascinating. Enjoy!

31 July 2007

Dialog

One easily-repaired problem I see in Electric Spec stories is what I call 'inconsistent dialog'. I'll show you what I mean:

"I've got to find the gate," Lisa, the dwarf queen, said. [a bunch of description here]

"Who?" the elf asked. [a bunch of description here]

"I'm too tired," Lisa said.


Here, I think the author got distracted by all the description and lost track of what the, er, people were saying. It's easy to get distracted.... Wait. What was my point? :)

Oh, yeah. I recommend you double-check what your people SAY and make sure it's an actual conversation. Of course, if you have telepathy or other non-standard modes of conversation in your stories, the same principles apply. Remember, the readers don't have telepathy--at least not most of them!

Good luck!

27 July 2007

Humor

Here's more in the continuing saga of what one editor thinks.... I, personally, love humor. At Electric Spec we've published quite a few humorous stories. I hope you've read them!

However, humor is tricky. I've made an amateur study of it and it's based on the unexpected. The tricky part is everyone has different expectations. For the last issue, for example, we had what I thought was a hilarious fantasy story. It was chock full of over-the-top cliches and stilted dialog. It was so over-the-top, I thought it was a spoof, and so very funny. My fellow editors, having read the accompanying letter (I hadn't), said it was not a spoof; the author was sincere. Oops! Needless to say, we had to pass on that one.

As a more specific example of the trickiness of humor, in yesterday's hardcopy The Onion we have "Earthquake Sets Japan Back To 2147", which I thought was hilarious.
In the same issue, however, we have, "New Theories Suggest Kennedy Wasn't Shot", which I did not think was funny and was in bad taste.

So, what's a poor writer to do? Critique group to the rescue! I think you need to make sure at least one other person thinks your humorous story is, in fact, humorous.

Send us your humorous stories, but caveat scriptor.

26 July 2007

Adverbs

To continue my thread of inside-the-Electric-Spec-editor's-head (gasp!) tips: watch out for adverbs. We've actually blogged about adverbs before, but who looks at the blog archives, right? :)

I am not totally against adverbs, myself. [I can't speak for Dave, though!] But, rarely are adverbs a good idea in fiction. But, seriously. :)

The worst is adverbs with dialog tags, e.g. "Give it to me," he said fiercely. I have seen quite a few adverbs this week in my readings. You guys are better than that! I recommend searching for "ly" in your stories. If the adverb is with a verb, think about replacing adverbs + weak verbs by strong verbs. If it's in a dialog tag, replace the dialog tag with body language/facial expressions, e.g. "Give it to me." He bared his teeth.

Quick, send us some more (low adverb) stories before the Aug. 7 deadline!

page one

To follow up on Lesley's post, I, too, am reading like crazy. I aim for a one-month turnaround at the longest, but I'm more like two months behind. (It's been a crazy summer.) I'm hoping to catch up by week's end, because, as she says, the cut-off is coming up. I want to let you know I realize how frustrating waiting on a response can be for a writer (I have one story working on three months out myself) and I'm doing my best to get back to you despite my myriad of other projects.

Last reading session, I realized I had several stories in which too much was held back in the beginning. A clever world and engaging characters will not carry an opening. By the end of page one or thereabouts, I'd better know what the story is about. As I read in groups of 5-10 stories, if someone makes me slog through an unfamiliar world with no payoff--and in the first pages this means delicious anticipation about what might happen--I reject it.

This is something I'm keeping in mind for my own writing, especially for short works: the propelling event, the crisis that sets the plot in motion, must happen on the first page. That tells you your story is starting in the right place. This is as close to a formula for writing a short story as we can get (from there, they go all wonky in different directions, which is the joy of the thing.) (And are there exceptions to this rule? Of course there are! This is a general preference.)

For example, the propelling event for the story of my delay in reading would be the last day of school in June...

25 July 2007

Grammar

We're nearing the home stretch for submissions for the Electric Spec fall 2007 issue--but keep 'em coming. I have been reading, reading, reading, and since we cannot give personal critiques to our excellent writers I thought I'd try to blog more about what I think as an editor....

Yes, I know, being in my mind does sound a little scary. :)

Up first is: grammar. I am quite forgiving of grammar mistakes (which you know if you're reading this). However, if there is a grammar mistake and/or misspelled word in EVERY sentence or almost every sentence, I get grumpy. And frankly, when I'm grumpy it is difficult for me to enjoy a story.

Please profread!

Ha, ha. Of course, I mean "Please proofread!" :)

23 July 2007

Hurray for Rowling

I am amazed and delighted by the furor over A BOOK this past weekend. From the bottom of my heart, 'Hurray for J.K. Rowling!' Anyone who can get the entire world excited about reading is totally my hero.

"The excitement, anticipation, and just plain hysteria that came over the entire country this weekend was a bit like the Beatles' first visit to the U.S.," Lisa Holton, president of
Scholastic's trade and book fairs division, said.

Scholastic estimated that 8.3 million copies of the 12 million first printing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sold in the U.S. on Saturday.

The AP (via the Seattle Times) calculated that sales of the book averaged more than 300,000 copies per hour or more than 5,000 a minute.

At its stores around the world, Borders sold 1.2 million copies of the book on Saturday, the highest single-day sales of any title in Borders history.

Amazon said it had delivered almost 1.3 million copies of the book in the U.S. on Saturday and that worldwide it had received more than 2.2 million advance orders as of Friday.

Wow.

What's next? World peace?

20 July 2007

Our writers rock!

I just read an article Ten Mistakes Writers Don't See and I have to say, at Electric Spec we don't see a lot of these. So, our writers rock! Keep it up! :)

Here's a summary of the mistakes:
  1. repeating words
  2. flat writing I'll come back to this
  3. too many adverbs
  4. characters talking about what they already know
  5. "no-good suffixes" huh?
  6. the 'to be' words
  7. lists
  8. show,don't tell I'll come back to this
  9. awkward phrasing
  10. commas


One of "mistakes" I occasionally see are flat writing, which I would call a boring voice. I blogged about this recently, July 17: 'Show us your ...voice'. :)

Another one I occasionally see is telling rather than showing. I've blogged about this, too. But it can be difficult to explain. Holt says, If you say, "she was stunning and powerful," you're *telling* us. But if you say, "I was stunned by her elegant carriage as she strode past the jury - shoulders erect, elbows back, her eyes wide and watchful," you're *showing* us. The moment we can visualize the picture you're trying to paint, you're showing us, not telling us what we *should* see..

Keep writing, and keep an eagle-eye out for these potential problems. :)

19 July 2007

The First Five Pages . . . or Paragraphs

I just finished reading The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman. Mr. Lukeman is a literary agent who knows his stuff. His book points out the most common problems with manuscripts that he sees in the slush pile. If you’ve been writing fiction for awhile, you won’t find any surprises, but what I liked was the way he articulated common problems he sees in manuscripts.

Really, the problems that Mr. Lukeman sees in the first five pages of a novel are many of the same problems I see in the first five paragraphs of short stories that end up in the Electric Spec rejection pile. They are problems with:

Presentation/Format
Too many adjectives and adverbs
The sound of the prose (e.g. word echoes)
Overuse or poor use of comparison (analogy, simile, and metaphor)
Style (i.e. too academic, journalistic, or stream of consciousness)
Dialogue, including
Missing or bad tags
Commonplace topics
Overly informative dialogue
Melodrama
Hard to follow
Telling instead of showing
Viewpoint and Narration
Characterization
Lack of hooks
Lack of subtlety
Tone
Focus
Setting
Pacing and Progression

If you are not familiar with any of the issues raised above, it might be a good to check out The First Five Pages. I guarantee that if you address the issues Mr. Lukeman raises in his book, your chances of getting a story accepted at Electric Spec will be much better!

18 July 2007

Foundation on the big screen--not :(

This is a bit off-topic but I just read in "Futurism vs. Futurisn't" that John Rogers and Shekhar Kapur to tried write a screenplay for Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy! That's a movie(s) I'd really like to see! Sadly, they got bogged down, and "...fell into the honey trap of Asimov's genius." Aw. :(

And if any of you are asking Isaac who? Get thee to a library!

17 July 2007

Show us your ...voice

I've been enjoying reading the stories in our Electric Spec inbox. Keep 'em coming folks!

I had to pass on a story recently because among other things, the author did not appear to have a voice, and hence the characters did not seem real. :(

What the heck is voice, anyway? Voice is basically the personality that comes through the writing and is achieved through word choice, syntax and the like. Maybe it's easier to grasp with the help of an example or two.

Jane walked to the door and went outside. She got in her spaceship and flew away.

Technically, this piece does have voice, but frankly it's a boring voice.

Brunehilda danced toward the front door. "Now you've gone somewhere else," she sang. "Far away. I don't know if I will find you." She smacked her elbow into the wall. "Frakkin',frak frak!" She grimaced as she wrenched the door open. She ran for her spaceship, not even bothering to close the door behind her. "I'm coming, sweetcheeks! I'm coming for you!"

Okay, that last one is pretty silly, but it is much more interesting, at least IMHO. Brunehilda seems real. Jane could be a robot for all we know. Ooh, wait, that could be interesting.... :)

So I don't care what your voice is. Maybe you like metaphors and similes. Maybe you like made-up words. Maybe you like your-choice-here.

Just show us your voice!

15 July 2007

Is Sci/Fi dead?

God I hope not, and I'm not even the hugest sci fi reader. (I prefer mainstream, fantasy, and cozy English mysteries, of all things.)

Some people think the evidence points in the direction of death though: slow sales, sci/fi sold under alternate genre names, fewer submissions. I believe as long as humans are interested in their world, there is a place for sci/fi stories. However, I think that interest is changing. I read on a recent blog comment thread how people are bored with technology and so are bored with sci/fi. Really, with the information storing capabilities of today, it's an easy (and somewhat dull) leap to consider the capabilities of tomorrow. And definitely, I think we are bored with the sci/fi trope that as much as technology changes, people stay the same.

But what if we don't? How does technology change us? Right now popular trope seems to be about how it changes us for the worse--but how about for the better?

However, I think there are greater leaps to be made than storage tech, jet packs ,and even the human condition. I'm no scientist, but I've never believed that science does anything less than prove what a miraculous world we live in. Even so, there are steps to be made beyond exploring the human condition. One way might be to linktechnology and science to the unexplained/supernatural/spiritual realm that so many of us believe exists. I've never thought the two of them were mutually exclusive (think even beyond Ghosthunters), and I think it'd make a fascinating premise for new fiction. Taking it a step further, wouldn't it be cool to write fiction that could bridge the gap between chasms of disagreement like creationism and evolution?

Most people agree that sci/fi speaks to the hope for the future we all have, but our future is not only about scientific advances. It's about the people involved in them and the ways science can positively affect our lives. Rectifying science with seemingly contrary beliefs (even in fictional, metaphorical worlds with fictional science and beliefs) could provide an exciting new direction or sub-genre for sci/fi--so long as it maintains human terms.

12 July 2007

irritants, annoyances & nuisances

Hurray! I just read a very good submission to Electric Spec. The author created a fully-realized world complete with irritants, annoyances & nuisances.

In more general terms, in my personal opinion, it's these petty problems that make a story seem real. For example a SF writer a couple centuries ago might imagine a car, but a good writer could imagine parking lots. And an excellent writer might imagine traffic jams, road rage, and insert-annoyance-here. :)

Illustrating this point is a REALLY good novella, Mr. Boy by James Patrick Kelly, in The Best of the Best Volume 2: 20 Years of the Best Short Science Fiction Novels by Gardner Dozois. Talk about imagining irritants, annoyances & nuisances! Talk about a fully-realized world! Wow. I highly recommend this book, by the way.

What irritants, annoyances & nuisances exist in the worlds you create?

10 July 2007

September 2007 Update

We continue to work hard on the next issue of ElectricSpec, which will be published on September 30, 2007. We have decided to close to submissions for this issue at midnight on August 7, 2007. I will post this on the webpage soon. We will make our final story selections at the end of August/beginning of September.

Have you heard? ElectricSpec editors will also present a workshop "Break into Publishing the E-zine Way" at the 2007 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers annual conference Colorado Gold, in Denver. Specifically, we present on Saturday Sept 15 at 2:30pm. I plan to post the presentation afterwards on the ElectricSpec webpage.

In the meantime, keep those stories coming!