30 June 2009

We're Live!

And We're Live with the new issue! Kudos to Editor Betsy and the rest of the behind-the-scenes group for all their hard work!

29 June 2009


The blog's been quiet as we've been getting the new issue ready, but it is nearly ready and will go live on schedule, or maybe just a bit early as I'm leaving town for the holiday.

We've got 7 great stories--a slightly darker issue than usual, which, of course, I love. There are bugs and angels and all sorts of nasties...can't wait to show it to the world! Plus,we've an interview with Stuart Neville, whose debut novel is taking the British Isles by storm, and our regular movie column.

Our slush has also been quiet--not on the intake side! but on the reading side. I for one, with company and the holiday, am not likely to read until July.

Happy Fourth to our Stateside readers.

22 June 2009

Writing on Reading: Sunshine

 I've mentioned before that I don't get too excited about vampire novels, but I read Robin McKinley's Sunshine because of some recommendations. I liked several aspects of Sunshine over other vampire tales I've read. In McKinley's world, vampires are much different than humans--they move differently, look less than human, and act strange. This is better than vampires who are essentially human except they have super abilities and drink blood. Also, McKinley's novel takes place in an alternate world that is quite different than ours. She's developed alternative history and culture that's both interesting and unique. McKinley is also a talented writer with a deft touch and an enjoyable voice, which adds a great deal to the book.

On the other hand, the novel goes over ground that feels tired to me. The issue of how could a vampire and human actually get along or . . . actually love each other does not interest me all that much. Also, the awe and mystery is missing from vampires simply because we've all heard about them. So, if you like urban fantasy involving vampires, Sunshine is a good choice. But if you're already eating lots of garlic to keep vampire stories away, steer clear.

17 June 2009

2009 Stoker Awards

I know we have a lot of horror writers/readers out there... As you may or may not know, the 2009 Stoker Awards were presented Saturday, June 13 in Burbank California. Each year, the Horror Writer's Association presents the Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement. The winner for short fiction was: "The Lost" by Sarah Langan. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners! Read more about the awards at www.stokers2009.org.

16 June 2009

Right Market, Right Time

From under a pile of rejections, it is sometimes hard to remember that it is often not about your writing; it's about the market. For example, awhile back I stumbled upon a magazine that happened to be looking for a story set in a certain kind of world exploring a certain theme. I could hardly believe how well a story I'd written fit what these editors were looking for. My story had been rejected by several other markets, but sure enough I submitted it to this one and it sold.

So, don't get too discouraged in the submission process. Sooner or later you may well find the right market!

10 June 2009


We had an intriguing discussion about short stories at our critique group last time we met, and I've been meaning to post about it ever since. We were discussing how we go about writing our stories. Some of us discover through drafting. Some of us write detailed plots. I live somewhere close to plotting, but I let drafting guide my hand once a plot's on paper. I tend to chart my stories on a line with crosshatches to indicate turning points and crisis points. I've taken far too many scenic routes and wrong turns to trust myself entirely to meandering in drafting. Some of my plots are more detailed than others. But one thing I do, which I tend to do with all my stories be they novels or short stories, is to write a tagline.

The tagline is the sales line, a pitch if you will, used for films and also to sell novels. Short stories don't require taglines because frankly, most short story editors don't care about anything other than how long the dang thing is when we first open the file.

I don't think it matters when you write the tagline, either. You don't have to start with a tagline if all you've got is a character with a problem and that's how you operate. But what taglines do, whenever you write them, is give you focus. Then, whether you have the tagline at the start or write it after your first draft, you can make sure every scene supports the main idea. Yup. It's that five paragraph essay, come back to haunt you.

For instance, on my personal blog I plotted a short story, real time, online. It took me some days to complete the plot, and I ended up with something a little more detailed than usual because of all the thought writing the posts inspired. (The posts are here if you want to read them). But early on, I wrotee a tagline. That way I'd know immediately if I started to stray off path while plotting. It read like this: Kaelin is ordered to murder the woman he loves in order to save her from a fate worse than death.

Not even the most original of problems. You'll find many story problems, at their heart, aren't original at all. But basic works. Basic raises all sorts of questions. That's rather the point, actually. Why, who, where, what, when, how? Why should we care about Kaelin? Unoriginal problem, so what makes him so different? Why is this story about HIM and not some other flunky? What is this "fate worse than death"? Where is this crazy thing happening? When does it happen? Is it particularly timed for ultimate cruelty to Kaelin, my protag? If not, how can I make it more so? What stands in his way? How is he going to survive it, true love intact? Will he survive it? If not, why and what does it mean to my point in writing the story.

And so on. Questions upon questions circle around the plot and my character in an ever tightening noose. I know when I'm through I'll have something that's focused and tight.

Incidentally, the story is about half written. I got waylaid by another project and editing for this issue, but I anticipate putting it on the market by August.

09 June 2009

Focus Your Photograph

Even some of the best stories we get at Electric Spec could be tighter, meaning they could have the same impact with fewer words, ideas, events, dialogue, settings, and/or characters. Tightening a story is a bit like working on the composition of a photograph or painting. The main subject of your photo is your protagonist, so we need the focus point of the picture to be the protagonist. There should be no doubt the subject of the photo is the protagonist, and it should have lots of detail and originality, making it a fitting subject. Sometimes your antagonist may be nearly as detailed as your protagonist, sharing the focus of the picture. Other times, a secondary character, like a romantic interest, will share the focus. The background should give you a good idea of the setting--what kind of atmosphere are you trying to create? Are you trying to invoke an image of a particular location? The background will be detailed if it is important, less so if it is not.

So, what about everything else in your photo/story? Well, first of all, you need to decide what else fits.  The more you throw in there, the bigger the photo (read word count) is, but that does not necessarily make it a better picture. The more you have in the picture, the harder it is to keep the focus where you want it. Even if you do need to include other elements, the more detail you give them, the more distracting they get. So, if something is necessary but not important, be sure it is bland enough to blend in with the entire composition.

08 June 2009

Writing on Reading: The Time Traveler's Wife

Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife can be found in two places on Amazon's virtual bookshelves: Women's Fiction and Science Fiction. Few books have such a claim to fame. However, the novel successfully straddles the line between two genes. A scientific concept--time travel based on flawed DNA--is central to the book. On the other hand, the novel is really about a romantic relationship--beginning, middle and end.

Despite its "women's fiction" label (a genre I usually don't enjoy), I must admit I loved this book. It was filled with incredibly poignant moments and realistic characters I grew to love. It suffered from a little bit of a sagging middle, but the rest of the book more than made up for that.  Apparently, the book has been made into a "major motion picture" which will be coming out in August. I encourage you to read it before you see the Hollywood version.

02 June 2009

Outstanding spec fic stories

As you've no doubt deduced by now, we are hard at work on the next issue of Electric Spec and have contacted all the submitting authors. Thanks so much for submitting to Electric Spec! We really appreciate it. The hold-for-voting file was chock full of really good stories, which made our job especially difficult this time. So, if your story wasn't chosen, don't lose heart. Many excellent stories were rejected because of things such as issue balance, and genre vs. literary considerations. (We are a genre publication.)

Studying the hold-for-voting stories made me ponder the qualities that make a story stand out.
Obviously a good genre story has a good plot arc. This is often a problem that the protagonist tries to solve. In the course of the attempted solution the protagonist should grow or change in some way.
For me qualities of an outstanding story include:

  • an original idea
  • a strong unique voice
  • a fully-fleshed out world

I think the meaning of an original idea is pretty clear. For example, the upcoming issue will include a story about a ghost-pet boarding business and the family that runs it.

Voice can be tricky to pin down. I've blogged about it before. Voice is a combination of a writer's use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc. A strong voice may be hard to create but is easy to identify. For example, I would recognize writing by Isaac Asimov, Connie Willis or Kim Stanley Robinson anywhere. Wouldn't you? Do people recognize you in your writing?

I've heard it said that all fiction is a subset of speculative fiction in that all fiction creates a world on the pages between the covers. Speculative fiction is unique though in that the created world is NOT what we usually experience. Thus it's important to fully flesh out your world. Transport your readers to the land that exists only in your imagination!

Check out the next issue of Electric Spec on cyber-stands June 30, 2009!

And keep sending us your outstanding spec fic stories! :)

Submissions Update

We've gotten through all the submissions for the summer issue. That means that if you submitted a story earlier than midnight on May 15, you should have heard from us by now. If you have not, feel free to assume that our response got lost in cyberspace and submit it elsewhere.

Thanks again for all of the great submissions. We're getting 45 to 60 submissions per month, which means we considered around 200 stories for this issue. We ended up holding 25 for voting, and we accepted six. 

We're very excited for our next issue. It will have great stories, an exciting interview, and much more!