29 August 2008
28 August 2008
As a fantasy editor and avid reader, I'll buy (figuratively, of course) just about anything. But unless your world includes storytelling ghosts, and it's established early on so that it doesn't reek of deus ex machina, death is the end of the road. For example, I happen to have talking ghosts figure widely in a series I'm shopping, and on about the second page, when Aidan is trying to figure something out, he muses that it can't be a ghost, he'd seen them before and they weren't like that.
Mainly, though, there are fates worse than death, and if you, as the devil of your particular little world (hogwash that writers are gods--good writers are SATAN) don't come up with one, then you're not doing your job. In short, death = cop-out.
It bears repeating, er, repeatedly: figure out what makes a character tick, and then put the screws to them, taking away all that they love and desire. GRR Martin is an undisputed master of this, and millions of books sold can't be wrong. In his SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series, one anti-hero, arguably the best swordsman of the realm, loses a hand. A romantic, silly beauty hopes to be married to a handsome prince, but ends up with a deformed dwarf. In these situations, the characters very nearly do want to die, but Martin, in his brilliant demonesque fashion, withholds that, too.
There's no excuse to not tackle this in short form, as well. I see stories all the time in which the stakes are loved ones, death and destruction, or loss of power. Yawn. EVERYONE wants their loved ones safe, they want to stay whole and healthy. Kings want to remain kings. That's every-man, and while such stories have their place, the really unique, interesting stories are the ones in which the character has a really unique, interesting desire. If that desire, and the achievement of it, stands at odds with his world and even his own character, so much the better.
27 August 2008
26 August 2008
SF readers might say, "You know, stuff in Analog." But editor Stanley Schmidt himself said, "I'd like the term 'Hard SF' to go away. ...My definition of science fiction is simply fiction in which some element of speculation plays such an essential and integral role that it can't be removed without making the story collapse, and in which the author has made a reasonable effort to make the speculative element as plausible as possible. Anything that doesn't meet those requirements is not science fiction at all, as far as I'm concerned, so there's no need for a separate term like 'Hard SF' to distinguish it from 'other' kinds of SF." Read more. Now, I'm more confused. :)
David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer edited an important book called The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard Science Fiction and have some opinions on the topic. Among other things, Mr. Hartwell said, "Hard sf is about the beauty of truth. It is a metaphorical or symbolic representation of the wonder at the perception of truth that is experienced at the moment of scientific discovery. ...Hard sf is, then, about the emotional experience of describing and confronting what is scientifically true." And additionally, hard SF involves 'scientific plausibility', 'expository prose', 'scientific knowledge external to the story', and 'didacticism'. Read more.
Ms. Cramer agreed with Mr. Hartwell's wonder of science/ensuing emotions, and even contended that "science and hard sf are very similar". Furthermore, "hard sf has an identifiable feel, a particular kind of narrative voice, the right attitude. This attitude is respectful of the principles underlying the practice of science... the literal facts of a situation are more important than any interpretation. The anti-mysticism of hard sf is a point of pride for sf writers ... who see science as a replacement for religion and superstition." In the end, she says, "Writing stories within the rules of the universe as we know it and yet discovering fantastic possibilities of new ways of life is the central endeavor of the hard sf writer. ...Sf represents what the future could be like, although we know that the actual future will look nothing like it and when we meet it we may not recognize it." Read more.
They're the experts, so I guess we have to go with what they think. What do you think?
25 August 2008
Just glancing through the comments, one theme becomes very apparent: if you want to sell your work, give it away for free. Huh? you may say. But just look at all the readers who say, in essence "If I read a short story by an author I like, then I will go out any buy that author's novel(s), anthology, etc." Further, the vast majority of the people would not have discovered this author if they had to pay for his or her work initially. In other words, free online fiction is probably a better source for promoting an author than print mags or subscription based e-zines. Believe it or not, you may get more bang for your buck if you get a story published in Electric Spec than if you get publish in a print magazine.
One sour note--most of the readers admitted that while they were happy to support the authors, they were unlikely to support the publishers (donations, payments, etc). What many readers miss is that one is directly related to the other, at least in the case of free online zines. For example, any support given to Electric Spec would go to things that would benefit the authors, like higher author payments and the nuts and blots of keeping the magazine alive. If the free online venues go away, that's one less avenue for author promotion.
The bottom line is that free online zines like Electric Spec are beneficial to readers and authors alike. The missing piece seems to be supporting editors and publishers.
22 August 2008
21 August 2008
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
Make sure you actually have something important to say. Recently I waxed poetic, badly, about what Story means to me. Nicola Griffith, another fine writer, said something about the writer's goal and process. I think it applies here:
When I write, dear reader, I don't want to build a careful tale for you to discuss with a smile in a sunny place, I want to own you. I don't want to be The New TV Series, I want to be pornography: to thrill you so hard you're ashamed but can't help yourself crawling back for more.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
Some people call this sympathy; I call it empathy. I don't have to like your characters, but I should want them to get everything they deserve.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
Every character should want something, not just the protag and antag. This does two things: it layers and enriches a story, and it forces you to cut any characters that aren't tied into the main action by their goals. I write and read upwards of 10 hours per day (and night). I'm all for cutting.
If achieving the goal contains an ironic twist, all the better. Robert McKee says about irony:
...in story, irony plays between actions and results--the primary source of story energy, between appearance and reality--the primary source of truth and emotion.
I would expand upon that to include: irony plays between character and goal--the primary source of growth and development.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.
The delete key is your friend.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
I'd guess there's room for about a paragraph of backstory in the short form. The best way around excessive backstory is to employ characters and situations that your reader will instantly recognize and identify with emotionally.
6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
Your story is boot camp, your characters are pale new recruits, and you're the drill seargant. After all, a good story basically asks its readers to go to war with its characters.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
You can't please everyone all the time.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
This ties in with backstory, too. I just read a story last night in which the big reveal causes the characters to engage in a distinct "as you know, Bob" conversation. This was because the reveal was actually the premise, and an intriguing one. Had I known the "secret" that motivated the characters, I would have understood why they were doing what they were doing. As it was I floundered and gave up. Well, actually, I went and read the ending, realized it was structured poorly, and sent my Dear John letter.
This flawed structure of using the premise as the reveal is common. It also ties right back into the first rule: Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
Resist using your premise for suspense. A good story relies on action and reaction to the premise for suspense. The premise should drive the characters; the reveal, the suspense, should most often be what the characters will do about it. (I say most often, of course, because writers break this rule with great success all the time. Just not very often in my slush pile.) I'm a simple editor with simple needs. If you give me an intriguing premise that drives interesting characters to react in interesting, kick-ass ways, then you'll likely sell me a story.
Have faith in your premise. Trust that it will not waste the reader's time. Let it shine in the first paragraph; don't hide it behind a veil of vague dialogue, unmotivated action, and inconclusive narrative. In fact, often the best place for the premise is the first paragraph, or at least the first page. This is all about structuring, but it also may be about quality. If you feel you must hide your premise from the reader, then it may not be as strong a premise as you thought.
20 August 2008
Here's your basic cover letter:
Please consider my story, ___, for Electric Spec. The story runs XX words and is/isn't a simultaneous submission.
Sincerely, thanks, cheers, whatever,
Now for some notes on this and Dave's post:
Dave's really a super nice guy. That was written by an alter-ego editorial gremlin. :D
You can use our names instead of editor, but we assign stories randomly, so it really doesn't matter. It might at other magazines, so check with them.
Unless you tell us differently, we'll assume first rights are available. Incidently, we're not crazy about stories already published on blogs and websites.
Copyrighting a story is amatuerish. You actually own the story as soon as you write it, and I assume you have dated files on your hard drive to prove it. Stories really aren't getting stolen, so don't worry.
Um, synopses of stories--well, heck, if you tell me what the story is about, why should I read the story? It encourages us to be lazy, which is our nature anyway, so don't be an enabler!!
Title pages are for novels. I'm aware that our format link on our sub page isn't working and I need to make a new one. My bad. Basics:
Betsy Dornbusch 4100 words
Most people who met Lucas McElroy would say “godlike” was a perfect way to describe him. But those same people would laugh out loud if he suggested he was a real god.
The joke would be on them.
Headers at the top of each page are nice, too, with cool stuff like your name, the story title, and page numbers.
I have credits to list, but sometimes I don't bother to put them in my cover letters. This is because, as an editor, I know other editors could really care less about my credits. They care about the story: this story. I mean, I'd always mention if I'd won a Hugo--that's good cover fodder and some names sell. But even at the top magazines, you'll hear the editors say that it's all about this particular story, not your past ones. Kudos if you've got a bunch of credits, but no worries here if you don't.
I love my dog. She's cute. Her name is Hannah. She keeps me company when I work. Her bed is right by my desk and she bugs me for walks every day. I walk her when I'm trying to sort out something about a story... Do you care? Didn't think so.
I'd add: use your real name and give us your first and last name. We're casual around the office, first name basis with our authors and sometimes "nicknames" with each other. But it's tough to do with initials or no name.
Don't snort like that. Sometimes I get stories with no name at all.
Most of all, keep 'em coming!
19 August 2008
17 August 2008
15 August 2008
--We don't have slush readers. At least one of our editors looks at every story that comes in
--We've been around for over three years--and we've never missed an issue, deadline, or author payment
--We actually edit the stories we publish. Our experienced editors work with authors to make their stories the best they can possibly be. Many magazines out there don't do that--and it shows
--We have a quick turn around time. We turn send out rejections in 30-40 days. Acceptances take longer, but we will let you know if your story is in the running (i.e. held for voting) in that same 30-40 day time frame.
--We love authors because we're authors, too. All of the editors are published speculative fiction authors.
Much of an editor's job is thankless and focused on the negative. We send out far more alas-ograms* than hold-for-voting notes. We read some less than stellar stories. Each editor reads slush here at ElectricSpec, the equivalent of a few books worth over the course of a reading period, so it consumes time. We spend three hairy weeks a year in production. And we don't get paid. So why? Why stay on?
ElectricSpec was not my idea. I'm not a founding editor. I was invited on staff for V1I2, tried it as an experiment, and I've haunted these virtual hallowed halls ever since. We're deep into our third year and after our promotion efforts at WorldCon, we've spent some time thinking about where we'd like to go with the magazine. Our subs are up. We've got momentum. We're getting our name out there. I mean, even Sheila Williams of Asimovs approached a couple of us to find out what ElectricSpec is, and by the end of WorldCon, people were at least pretending they'd heard of us.
But, vague fame and recognition notwithstanding, why do I stay on? What part of our mission calls to me?
It's the STORY itself, humankind's time-honored method of making sense of the universe and our place in it, recognizing the heroes in our midst, seeking reassurance that despite every odd, all will come right in the end. Story brings us together in a way nothing else can. Story creates a beneficial tension between author and reader, a contract that says: we both bring all of ourselves to a Table and there we will meet and understand and empathize. Enduring that tension involves trust of the deepest sort, a sort of negotiation of the soul. All this from a few words of prose. And I have the honor of maintaining one of those tables. Editing is like laying out candles and a cloth, and maybe a glass of fine wine, to enlighten the experience for both reader and writer.
And that, friends, is why I do it.
*Shamelessly stolen from some author at WorldCon--she has brilliant red hair and is tall--that's the most credit I can give at the moment. One of my collegues might recall her name.
14 August 2008
13 August 2008
For Short Story they are:
- "The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics" by Daniel Abraham [Logorrhea, Bantam Spectra]
- "Singing of Mount Abora" by Theodora Goss [Logorrhea, Bantam Spectra]
- "The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change" by Kij Johnson [The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, Viking]
- "Damned if you Don't" by Robert Shearman [Tiny Deaths, Comma Press]
- "The Church on the Island" Simon Kurt Unsworth [At Ease with the Dead, Ash-Tree Press]
Read more about it (including the other nominees) at: World Fantasy Awards. Congrats to all the nominees!
12 August 2008
I've been trying to be positive in my daily posts, but to be honest, I was underwhelmed by WorldCon. It was just too big. The focus was all on the super-stars, such as Lois McMaster Bujold, Connie Willis and George RR Martin. If you wanted to go worship at their feet, it was a perfect opportunity, but that's not my scene. We were surrounded by other interesting authors, but there was no bio information about anyone--so how did you know? It was basically chaos.
My other main problem was the level of scientific expertise on the science panels was surprisingly low. I went to several where some of the panel "experts" knew virtually nothing about the scientific topic in question. At a world-class event, this type of thing should not be happening. To be clear, there were a few scientists, but they were outnumbered. :(
I could complain more but that wouldn't accomplish anything. I'm glad I went once to see what's what. And I found out about "siff-wah". :) Personally, I think regional Cons are much better for fans and authors/artists/media folk. See you at MileHiCon in October!
11 August 2008
- Best Novel: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins; Fourth Estate)
- Best Novella: “All Seated on the Ground” by Connie Willis (Asimov’s Dec. 2007; Subterranean Press)
- Best Novelette: “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” by Ted Chiang (Subterranean Press; F&SF Sept. 2007)
- Best Short Story: “Tideline” by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s June 2007)
Read more about it at: thehugoawards.org. Big congrats to all the winners!
The Making a Living Telling Lies panel with Bill Mayhew, Connie Willis, Jake Lake, and Jo Walton was quite intriguing. They got into a whole discussion of the SF big picture. Consensus seemed to be that literature in general is a simplification/concentration of real life. We like stories because the nonessential elements have been discarded. SF is unique though in that it lets you think about things in a flexible way beyond your ideologies. It can build artificial constructs to closely examine real-life issues. SF readers and writers are constantly taking in new data and thinking about it.
The Coming Thing--What's Next and Newest in SF featuring Lou Anders and Walter Jon Williams was also interesting. Short stories are at the forefront of new trends. SF is a dialog between authors. But by the time anthologies are in bookstores usually the trend is over. SF also suffers from reality catching up to it. The panelists were hoping the Urban Fantasy trend was over. Some core SF sub-genres will always be around such as military SF and space opera. A new trend seems to be remixing multiple old trends. Feel free to send Electric Spec any of this stuff. :)
Phew! WorldCon wore me out. I may post some more subjective observations later in the week.
10 August 2008
- M.M. (Mary) Buckner -- I met Mary while we were both getting our morning caffeine fix. Little did I know what an accomplished sci-fi author she was!
- Brenda Cooper -- Brenda is an up-and-coming sci-fi author who I met at the "Rising Stars" reception. She has several books out from Tor, including one she wrote with Larry Niven. (one of the "stars" I met at the con).
- I also met Ken Scholes, who was sitting next to Branda at the Rising Stars reception. Ken has a new novel called Lamentation coming out soon, which lots of folks are talking about.
- Corie Ralston was kind enough tell me more about the Speculative Literature Foundation. They do great work with aspiring spec fic writers and small publications. Corie said they may also look into helping out online publications like Electric Spec.
- Mike Brotherton is not only a hard sf writer but also an astronomy professor. He's working on an interesting project using sf to educate kids about space.
- I ran into Holly McDowell who is a former member of my critique group and a talented fantasy writer. (She also claims to read this blog--how about a comment, Holly!) Holly introduced me to another writer named Kelly Swails. She writes mostly YA fantasy, but says she has some stories for us.
- I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my excellent Kaffeeklatschs with Geoffry Landis and David Levine. Both of these authors made great company for an hour and were very approachable despite their many accomplishments.
In terms of quality, editors are looking for what you'd expect...strong beginnings, good story, strong voice, don't follow fads, do use new ideas, correct grammar/spelling, etc. I couldn't disagree with their comments, but based on what they said, suspect they are more quick to reject stories than we are. An interesting point: you don't need an agent to sell novel-length genre fiction; agents just get it in front of editors quicker.
Another highlight of the day was the SFWA Business Meeting. Probably the most important thing I've learned at WorldCon is SFWA is pronounced: "siff-wah". Anyway, the good folks of SFWA are working hard on behalf of spec fic authors. Please consider joining if you are elgible.
Probably the most interesting WorldCon panel that I went to was The Bad Guy in the White Hat: Changing Images of Heroes and Villains, with James Morrow, John Moore, Mario Acevedo, and Rob Gates. This one was interesting because there was a lot of audience participation. We talked about all kinds of images of villains and heroes in literature and media throughout history, from Shakespeare to Frankenstein to Casablanca to Godzilla to Dexter. For some reason we had more fun talking about villains. ;) Personally, I think the whole concept of heroes and villains is interesting. Heroes and Villains are artificial constructs; in real-life we are all mixtures of heroes and villains. Why do we enjoy them so much in literature/media?
09 August 2008
Then I went to Quantum Mechanics, Future Technologies, and Parallel Worlds with Kay Kenyon, Todd Brun, and Will McCarthy. This was a free-ranging discussion of some cutting-edge physics. The audience was very enthusiastic about the topic.
Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch claim The Secret of Being a Published Fiction Writer is: write, finish, don't rewrite, submit, repeat. They said you should write a short story or novel chapter every week! Based on their advice, I anticipate a slew of submissions. :)
Fabulous fantasy author Carol Berg gave a very nice Reading of her new project Unholy Alliance.
The Electric Spec happy hour party went very well. Thank you very much to everyone that came! We met lots of new prospective writers and readers. And then, the partying continued...
The Analog/Asimov's party in the SFWA suite was particularly nice, with fancy cakes featuring cover art!
07 August 2008
Almost the highlight of my night (eclipsed only by getting to tell David) I had a short chat with George RR Martin late in the evening. The most accessible of the Big Names in Fantasy, he was standing in the hall, looking a little lonely and a very much hot, just like the rest of us. (The party hotel is apparently not thrilled with being the party hotel, so they're trying to sweat us out, I guess.) I'd heard his reading earlier in the day, and if a man was ever meant to read his own writing aloud, it's Mr. Martin.
The folks from the local sci fi groups (sheesh, can't recall the name. I suck) were partying it up in our own suite, and I met the woman in charge of programming at MileHiCon. Nice to finally put faces to email addresses.
Okay, tomorrow's another day (and night). Tuning out.
The other really interesting panel I went to was Trends in New SF: Where are We Going and Why? with Ken Scholes, Sheila Willimas, Jim Minz, Charles Brown, and Gary Wolfe (sp?). They said cross-genre stuff is hot, YA stuff is hot, and adding more layers to classic/traditional SF is hot. Additionally, the focus is on more female protags, multicultural characters and cultures, alternative sexuality, environmental issues, and also more literate writing. I would love to see all that stuff in our Electric Spec inbox!
06 August 2008
We saw Connie Willis and George RR Martin discuss books they liked. Yes, as in past tense. We would have preferred to hear more about current books they like, but we heard about that from some editors/writers at Locus later--irritating in that there was obvious bias against ezines. They did make the valid point that few online magazines actually edit their writers; we at ElectricSpec couldn't think of even a very good story that we hadn't tweaked in some way. And our authors are remarkably accepting and even happy with our edits. Intriguing enough, one of our editors' stories for Analog was printed as is. It would have been a good counter-point, if only we'd thought of it earlier. :D
We tried the writing track panel for "Rising Stars" to drum up business for the magazine and maybe promote our own work; it was all "This is an agent. This is a query letter." so two of us bailed and went to a small press panel. Interesting in that we heard two varied concepts. Red Jack press has print runs of 1000; Flying Pen does POD. Both seem to be going along at a decent clip.
As for parties, it was a quiet night tonight, hanging in the SFWA suite. Everyone seems a bit tired. Maybe tomorrow might be more exciting, and Friday we are booked up, including throwing one of our own.
The Writers as Readers panel featuring Connie Willis, George RR Martin, Lois McMaster Bujold and moderator Mary Morman. Suffice to say, writers ARE readers.
2008 The Year in SF panel, featuring Charles Brown, David Hartwell, and Jonathan Strahan gave us lots of reading suggestions. All the editors seemed to think a strong voice is terrific. (Haven't I been saying that all along?) They also mentioned that an editor's job is important and involves more than just selecting. Here at Electric Spec we totally agree, as our authors know! Something the editors said that surprised me was: editors want more short novels. Who knew?
Survival Tips for Beginning Writers featuring authors Darlene Marshall, David Coe, and Mary Robinette Kowal had a lot of good basic advice. This group let the audience ask questions, which was nice. The gist of this panel was authors should keep at it and don't give up. I couldn't agree more. :)
That's it for now. I have to rest up for tomorrow...
05 August 2008
04 August 2008
I've been a subscriber of both Analog and Asimov's for over a quarter century, so I must admit I'm part of their 'graying' audience. The quality of these p-zines remains excellent, but frankly I prefer Electric Spec. I think our stuff is fresher, more original, and more diverse. I guess the p-zines have a lot of inertia linked with all that history. To be honest, I also suspect the editors and authors of the p-zines, including Locus, are not really part of the computer generation even though we've been imagining it since way back when. The e-zines are the wave of the future, especially if we can utilize more emerging technologies. Hhm... Electric Spec on Twitter/IM/Facebook/MySpace? We may have some work to do. :)