21 December 2011

Interview

Chiseled in Rock is re-running an interview with me today.  It's mostly about editing.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays!

20 December 2011

more slush notes

At the risk of being discouraging, I've got some more notes from the slush pile to pass along...
  • Be careful with physical descriptions. The current modern style in short speculative fiction is NOT to give readers the physical hair, eye, skin color, height, weight, etc. of your characters. When I read "Joe was six feet, two inches tall, with red hair and blue eyes." this sets off an alarm bell. Among other things, I'm worried that the writer doesn't read short speculative fiction. It's difficult to be a good writer if you're not a reader. The point with description is: the author needs to convey only the important things about the character.
  • Be as specific as possible. A lot of descriptive words can be very vague; try to avoid them. For example, "He was handsome." tells this editor virtually nothing. What I think is handsome will be different from what you think is handsome. Let the reader and editor know specifically what the character thinks is handsome. :)
  • Be careful with subject matter. I'm going to go out on a (teeny-tiny) limb and say: vampires and werewolves are a tough sell. You have a much better chance at being bought by coming up with something fresh.
  • Be careful with your cover letter. I've been reading some cover letters that set off alarms:
    • Don't tell the editor how great, awesome, fabulous your story is.
    • Don't explain what happens in your story. If I can't tell from the words on the page in the story you are in trouble anyway.


    Cover letters should include your name, pen name if applicable, contact information, past publications, other professional information.
  • Know your genre and watch out for flying snowmen. Current SFWA President John Scalzi has a fun post over at AMC filmcritic.com: The Flying Snowman in Science Fiction Films like "Star Trek". Scalzi discusses implausible elements or events in science fiction or fantasy works that throw you out of the story. Authors: don't do this.
Despite my comments, thank you for sending in your stories. We appreciate it! Good luck!

13 December 2011

lessons from slush

We are starting to get through the stories you all have been kind enough to submit for our consideration for the next issue. (Thanks, by the way!) My recent readings have prompted me to pass along some advice...
  • Make sure your story makes sense. All of us writers have trouble sometimes putting our visions on the page. It's crucial that you have a critique group or a beta reader or someone you can ask: "Okay, what happened in this story?" If they can't answer you, you have a problem.
  • Consider writing more than 1000 words. It is extremely difficult to write a compelling story in less than 1000 words. Remember a protagonist has to have a problem, attempt to fix it, and the reader should care what happens.
  • Avoid greetings and goodbyes. Generally, "Hi." and "Goodbye." and similar bog a story down. In reality, of course, we do say these things, but this is an example of how fiction is better than reality: there shouldn't be any mundane stuff. Everything needs to serve the story.
  • Write a good opening. Generally, excellent stories have some intriguing narrative to start off. Out of curiousity, I took a look at some of our stories in the current Electric Spec issue:
    • I knew I could never bring up Kylie properly.
    • A foot-high pile of bills on a table wasn't the largest amount of money I'd seen in one place.
    • Tommy is a little on the boring side.
    • If I've learned one thing in the two years I've been trapped in here, it's this.

    As a reader, I'm intrigued and want to learn more. Don't you? (Of course, you all have already read all these stories, right? :) )

Please keep sending us your stories, and, good luck!

06 December 2011

genre accessibility?

Over at Locus Online, there's been an interesting Roundtable on Genre Accessibility, which asks if contemporary science fiction has the capacity to cross over to a mass audience. I disagree with the implicit premise here which seems to be contemporary speculative fiction is not appealing to a mass audience. Have these people been to a bookstore, the movies, or turned on the TV lately? Have they ever heard of Harry Potter or the Twilight series or the Hunger Games trilogy? Or George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire or Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood series? I could go on and on. Of course, some of you might argue my examples are more fantasy than SF, and this is mostly true, but I could also name SF recent hits, like Cormack McCarthy's The Road. As I said, it's an interesting article; check it out.

Some speculative fiction that is very accessible can be found in our recent issue of Electric Spec. For example,


Check them out, too! :)

30 November 2011

New Science


I found this map of the future explorations of science fascinating. The Institute for the Future just had their conference and created a map from their discussions:

The map focuses on six big stories of science that will play out over the next decade: Decrypting the Brain, Hacking Space, Massively Multiplayer Data, Sea the Future, Strange Matter, and Engineered Evolution. Those stories are emerging from a new ecology of science shifting toward openness, collaboration, reuse, and increased citizen engagement in scientific research.

From this I envision all science turning into a giant wiki, even more than it is now. We can power and fund more study than ever before, harnessing the Internet and the Information Era. (Though I would argue we're entering a new era quickly: The Exchange Era.)

And of course for writers, the ideas based in these new scientific explorations are boundless. Have fun with them!

29 November 2011

New Issue Tomorrow!

It's down to the wire... A brand-new exciting issue of Electric Spec is coming November 30, 2011!
We have five fabulous stories from authors Neil James Hudson, Sam Kepfield, Sharon Dodge, Simon Kewin, and Steven Young.
We have an intriguing interview with up-and-coming novelist Rob Ziegler.
And our film critic takes a look at the work of Pedro Almodovar.
Of course, we also have a piece of excellent cover art, this time by Cathy Miller Burgoyne.
Be sure to read the new issue tomorrow!

Interestingly, two of our authors are 'repeat offenders.' To tide you over until tomorrow, check out Sam Kepfield's earlier story with us "Salvage Sputnik" and/or Simon Kewin's "Remembrance Day".

22 November 2011

carol berg interview

One of our favorite authors, Carol Berg, has a new interview over at sffworld.com: Interview with Carol Berg. Go check it out to learn more about why she writes fantasy, enjoys torturing men, er, male characters, and more. :)

Of course, back in 2007, our own David E. Hughes did an excellent interview of Ms. Berg: Interview with Multiple-Award-Winning Author Carol Berg. Amongst lots of other neat information, Berg gives advice for up-and-coming writers:
  1. Read, read, read, Read good writing. Read across genres.
  2. Write, write, write. Revise, then write more. Find serious fellow readers/writers with whom to exchange critiques. Learn to give critique and learn to take it.
  3. Learn the craft of writing. Learn grammar, learn the cliches of your chosen genre and how to avoid them (this is particularly important for fantasy writers where cliches are rampant thanks to the heavy influence of Tolkien imitators and D&D-like role-playing games!). Learn about maid-and-butler dialog, said-bookisms, and using your opening to make a contract with the reader, always remembering that craft does not diminish art.

Thanks, Carol! (And Dave!)

Coming November 30, 2011 a New Issue of Electric Spec! Yes, folks, it's true; it's just a little over a week away...

15 November 2011

why write?

We owe you guys a post, so here goes. Behind the scenes, we continue to labor on the upcoming excellent November 30, 2011 Issue of Electric Spec. Mostly we're editing stories right now. Everything's coming along well. We are excited to share the issue with you at the end of the month.

But somewhere in there I got to wondering, why do people write stories? George Orwell in his famous essay "Why I Write" gave multiple reasons:

  1. Sheer egoism.
  2. Aesthetic enthusiasm.
  3. Historical impulse.
  4. Political purpose.

Obviously, we're not all Orwell. :)
I've often heard authors say "I write because I can't not write." Being a writer is really the only vocation one can toil at for years with little or no financial compensation. I guess that makes it an avocation! Why do I write? I'm still pondering that one...

How about you? Why do you write?

10 November 2011

Electric Spec update

Greetings, dear readers! We, the Editors, successfully completed our production meeting for the fabulous new November 30 2011 Electric Spec Issue. There was lots of food and drink (beer!) consumed and imbibed. Spirited discussions ensued...but no one got bloody. Huzzah! One of us even had a chocolate volcano (okay, it was me). The point is, we did select five very good stories for our next issue. I believe all authors have been emailed one way or the other. Thanks for submitting; we appreciate it.
We discussed cover art and the upcoming movie column and an interview column. Everything's coming along nicely. Please check it out November 30 2011.

What's left to do? We have to edit the stories and columns and input the content into our content management system. And, of course, get the final go-ahead from authors.

We also need to start working on slush for our next issue.

As an aside, for any writers out there, we didn't have a lot of straight fantasy in submissions this time. We had some horror/fantasy, but no epic or high fantasy and not much urban fantasy. Recall epic/high fantasy is fantasy set in a so-called secondary (imaginary!) world. In contrast, urban fantasy tends to be set in the primary or real world with some magical or other paranormal elements thrown in. Some people call this type of primary world fantasy "low fantasy."

Anyway, we do like to have a variety of speculative fiction so consider sending us some fantasy for our next issue. :) Thanks!

08 November 2011

post thursday

Hi, folks. This is just a quick post to tell you we'll post on Thursday Nov 10 with some more behind the scenes Electric Spec info.


Good luck to everyone participating in NaNoWriMo!
Hang in there. :)

01 November 2011

behind the scenes report

Greetings, ElectricSpec writers and readers! We trust you survived Halloween okay, and hope those slammed by that freaky snow storm on the east coast are keeping warm. Here at Electric Spec we are between snow storms and working on the upcoming November 30, 2011 issue. We have gotten through the pre-October 16 slush--so you should have heard from us if you submitted a story before then. We've scheduled our production meeting, aka the beer-swilling arm-wrestling, knock-down drag-out, driven to fisticuffs debate over which stories to pick. We're working on cover art and columns and all the other behind-the-scenes stuff we have to do.

We will make our decisions about stories by the end of next week, so hold-for-voting folks should hear from us by then. Everything is looking really good at this point. Phew! I think that about covers everything regarding behind the scenes reportage. Be sure to check out the fabulous new issue on November 30, 2011!

Oh, and good luck to the NaNoWriMo folks!

Thanks for reading. :)

31 October 2011

25 October 2011

cons rock

The November 30,2011 issue of Electric Spec is coming along nicely. We're close to getting through slush for the issue and are working on art and articles; the production meeting is set.

Two of us Electric Spec editors just spent the weekend at MileHi Con, the annual Denver Science Fiction/Fantasy con. We had a blast! For example, Editor Betsy was on a panel about "Exploding Writing Myths" and one of my panels was "A Dazzling Dozen Short Stories." It was great to meet or re-meet authors and fans and hear about new stories, novels and ideas. We did some work on the upcoming 'zine issue while there, for example, Editor Betsy secured an interview with an up-and-coming author with NightShade Books. (Stay tuned for more info!)

I encourage you to go to local or national conferences in your genre. They are always a fun; it must be something about spending time with your "tribe." FYI, if you're going to World Fantasy in San Diego at the end of this month, among all the other neat authors and industry professionals keep an eye out for Editor Betsy (check the bar). :)

How about you? What's your favorite con? Any fun con stories to share?

We hope to see you next October at MileHiCon! :)

18 October 2011

scene and sequel

We editors are hard at work finishing up the slush for our upcoming November issue of Electric Spec. Everyone who submitted before October 16 will hear back from us by the beginning of November. Thanks for submitting! And I hope you all will come back and read and enjoy the excellent new issue. :)

So...slush.

I've seen some stories which...how shall I say it? Don't have much story to them. That can work, but that's not what we publish in general. In our stories, some kind of protagonist has some kind of problem and he/she/it/they act to solve it. They don't have to succeed, but they have to do something.

Authors struggling with how to put such stories together may be confused about 'scene and sequel' and 'showing and telling'. A scene is a cause, it's an action, while a sequel is an effect, a reaction. A scene could be considered real-time dramatic action and dialogue, while a sequel is often emotional reaction, thought, and/or decision. I admit, there's a lot of jargon associated with writing, so it doesn't really matter what you call it. The point is in a scene there's action, there's showing, and in a sequel, there's often telling. A good story that we would publish, generally will have both.

So, look at your story: Does it have action? Does it have dialogue? Does it have showing? Does it have telling?

If not, perhaps you need to work on it some more. Or submit elsewhere. :)

Good luck!

11 October 2011

time rolls on

Wow. It's getting to be production time for a new issue of Electric Spec. This means we will be closing to submissions for the November 30, 2011 issue on midnight October 15 (U.S.A. Mountain time). I'll tell you a secret: we editors have not been keeping up with the slush as well as we should since the last issue. (Apologies!) I guess time got away from us. Never fear, however, we will address the slush forthwith and get the new issue out in a timely fashion.

Speaking of time passing... it's the end of an era. We lost a visionary last week. I guess I don't have any wise words about this...

autumn

Thanks for reading.

04 October 2011

ambulance chasing

As writers it can be tempting to incorporate the neatest hottest trend or idea into our fiction.

flying ambulance This might be zombies or vampires or werewolves or werewolf-vampires or zombie-werewolf-vampires, or you get the idea. (Actually, some of those sound pretty fun.) Or, in the SF arena, this might be faster-than-light or potentially habitable planet discoveries.

As an editor, I'm here to say: caveat scriptor. The latest discoveries or trends can quickly be outdated. Instead, write a story from your heart. Write something you're passionate about. Notice I didn't say write what you know. It's passion on the page that makes readers (and editors!) excited about a story.

Keep sending us your stories! We appreciate your submissions!

27 September 2011

story premise

An author should be able to state the premise of every story he/she submits. By premise I mean the hypothesis or argument or assertion or insert-your-term here of the story. You should be able to summarize your story's essence in one sentence. For example, right now I'm working on a story which has the premise: a man has to travel to another planet to learn the true nature of love.

If you can't do this for your story then your story is not finished.

Now, I'll be honest with you. In my example that wasn't the exact idea I started with. My process (and everyone has a unique process) is I *think* I know the beginning, middle, and end of my story before I start writing and so I write the first draft. I read what the result says. Usually it says something somewhat different from what I thought it was going to say. I have to decide on the story premise. I revise, including cutting all the stuff that doesn't support the premise. Sometimes I have to add a bit. The point is to create a coherent story.
Your method will differ from this. But... you must ask yourself:

What is your story premise?

23 September 2011

faster than light?

I can't resist a another little science tidbit. The scientific world has been in an uproar lately because it appears a European experiment called OPERA has measured a neutrino travelling faster than the speed of light (186,282 miles per second)! The OPERA experiment observes a neutrino beam shot through the earth from CERN to Italy’s INFN Gran Sasso Laboratory 730 km away. See, for example, CERN's press release.

If true, this would be huge. HUGE. HUGE. Why, you ask? It was none other than Albert Einstein who hypothesized the speed of light is the fastest any particle can go. Since then (1905) numerous experiments have seemed to support Einstein. If Einstein's wrong some of the more speculative consequences include traveling to the stars, time travel, and the end of causality. See what I mean? HUGE.

I suspect, however, OPERA will be proved wrong.

20 September 2011

funny writing

Now that the excitement of the August 31 ElectricSpec Issue is abating, we editors are valiantly going through the slush pile. I came across a piece that was trying to be funny, I think. Sadly, it didn't quite work. Humor is tricky. I've blogged about it before, but the point is: humor is based on surprise. It's tricky because suprise is based on one's background and expectations--and these are different for everyone.

I did hear a joke at conference which will illustrate my point:

What's brown and sticky?

A stick.


This works because we don't think of a stick as gooey, but of course, it is stick-like. Our brain has to readjust because we end up somewhere we weren't expecting. :) The surprise is key. For example, What's white and frosty? Frost. isn't as funny because it's not as surprising.

Humor is very subjective. For example, our Editor's Corner story "The Dog that Broke the Camel's Back" was humorous to some, and annoying to some. Although, hopefully more the former than the latter.

So, I guess my point is, we enjoy humor here at ElectricSpec. Give it a try, but be careful. Good luck!

14 September 2011

potentially habitable planet?

Okay. I can't resist passing this article along from io9.com: Potentially habitable "Super-Earth" is among 50 newly discovered exoplanets. "HD 85512 b is a rocky planet about 3.6 times the mass of Earth, located right at the edge of its star's habitable zone. That means it's capable of supporting life... and the early results suggest it's a very real possibility."

Read more about the La Silla Observatory here.

13 September 2011

conference exhaustion

We trust you have been reading and enjoying the new issue of Electric Spec (now that we resolved the technical issues)!

We, the editors, all attended the fabulous annual Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference in Denver this past weekend. As editors, we hosted some events including the intensive short story workshop on Friday afternoon and "Literature and Liquor" in the bar Friday night. For your information, the story we picked to read and discuss was: Streetwise by Phil Emery. Check it out! :)

If you participated in either of these events: Thank you! If you came up to us and said "Hi!" or that you liked the ezine: Thank you!

As writers, we participated in some other events (I talked about my events here). Personally, I'm still exhausted! Phew. I guess my point is even though writers' conferences can be exhausting, they are very valuable. They are great opportunities to learn about writing, marketing, or whatever else you need to learn at this time (I know this evolves). They are great opportunities to network and connect with other writers and even editors and agents. They fire up your writing engine!

So, if you're a writer, I hope you take the time to go to writers' conferences. Possibly, consider going to the RMFW conference next September. And if you're a fan of speculative fiction, don't even get me started on the awesomeness of conferences like WorldCon or Comic-Con or World Fantasy.
Hope to see you at a con!

07 September 2011

we're okay

I think we're okay. The site is back up.
Thanks for your patience! :)

06 September 2011

bear with us

Greetings, readers! I hope you're having an easier time of things lately than we are. As you probably noticed, we're still having technical difficulties. Bummer! Obviously, the timing is very bad as we just published the fabulous new issue. Please bear with us as we get this sorted out. We will sort it as fast as humanly possible.

Interesting Electric Spec trivia: our website is hosted in the U.K. Why? This is kind of a long (and top-secret?) story. The short version is: a Famous Author who used to be a software guru set up our system when he still had a day job. That's all I can say. Sorry. If I tell you more, I'd have to kill you--and I don't want to do that!

In other news, our email still works. Please keep submitting stories for our next fabulous issue!

01 September 2011

New Issue Out!

As promised, the new issue of Electric Spec is out!
Thank you very much to everyone who contributed! We appreciate you!

30 August 2011

New Issue Tomorrow!

The editors are thrilled to present a brand new issue of ElectricSpec tomorrow August 31, 2011! For your reading pleasure we have 6 excellent short speculative fiction stories:
  • T. Lucas Earle's "Monkey Talk"
  • "Justice Like a Mighty River" by Alter S. Reiss
  • "Tooth and Claw" by Erin and Rina Gonzales
  • Rich Matrunick's "Stranded (with Pork Chop)"
  • "The Coincidence Factory" by Fredrick Obermeyer
  • and in Editor's Corner: David E. Hughes' "Give . . . Grieve"

We also have an exciting interview of Urban Fantasy Author Nicole Peeler and dramatic cover art by Karl Eschenbach.

Check it out tomorrow!

23 August 2011

New Issue Coming

We are just about a week away from the exciting new issue! W00t! Things are pretty hectic here behind the scenes at ElectricSpec. The editors are finishing up editting the stories and starting to post them--after getting approval from the authors, of course! We're drafting our fabulous Message From the Editors, and if you don't think some fist fights or arm wrestling breaks out over that...you'd be right. :) We even had a fun failure of the content management system we had to deal with. Don't ask me what the heck was going on there.

So, what do you have to look forward to in our fabulous August 31, 2011 isse? You get some great cover art, you get five--count 'em five--shockingly good speculative fiction stories. As a bonus you get a flash piece in Editor's Corner. We also have an awesome new interview with up-and-coming Urban Fantasy author Nicole Peeler, in which she talks about the latest and future books in her Jane True series, sexual teasing, how a Ph.D. in English Literature helps one write Urban Fantasy, her "super bolshy" personality and much more.

Check it out August 31, 2011!

16 August 2011

story first sentences

As you gentle readers may or may not have guessed, all of us Electric Spec editors are also speculative fiction writers. One of the things I've been studying lately is what distinguishes a great story from a good story? Of course, sometimes it takes the lens of history to tell what's great. I hypothesize, however, that one significant factor is a good first sentence. Let's look at some historical examples:
  • In "Nine Lives" Ursula K. Le Guin begins with She was alive inside, but dead outside, her face a black and dun net of wrinkles, tumors, cracks.
  • In "Light of Other Days" Bob Shaw begins with Leaving the village behind, we followed the heady sweeps of the road up into a land of slow glass.
  • Arthur C. Clarke begins "The Star" with It is three thousand light-years to the Vatican.
  • Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore begin "Mimsy Were the Borogroves" with There's no use trying to describe either Unthahorsten or his surroundings, because for one thing, a good many million years had passed since 1942 Anno Domini, and, for an other, Unthahorsten wasn't on Earth, technically speaking.
  • In "The Life and Times of Multivac" Isaac Asimov begins with The whole world was interested.
  • In "The Singing Diamond" Robert L. Forward begins with My asteroid was singing.
  • In "The Xi Effect" Philip Latham begins with For a week the team of Stoddard and Arnold had met with nothing but trouble in their solar infra-red exploration program.

If I had to summarize my reaction to these sentences, they would probably be "What the heck is going on here?" (rated-G version)
But the point is, I'm hooked. This is something to aspire to.

However, through the lens of history, many of these stories had awesome ideas and maybe less effective emotional impacts. For example, "Nine Lives" explores the idea: what if you were a clone, used to being surrounded by versions of yourself and that ended? Who or what would you be then? Could you even survive? Le Guin doesn't put us inside the head of the most affected character, however.

I think today's readers want both a big idea and a big emotional impact. What do you think? You'll have to read our upcoming August 31 issue of ElectricSpec and see if you think we pull it off. :)

09 August 2011

story logic

We had an unusual event at our production meeting last week, namely we didn't end up publishing a story that we all liked a lot. The world was neat, the protagonist was active and empathetic, there was a cool plot twist and the ending was satisfying. So why didn't we publish it? One of us asked the question: "But what was the protagonist's original plan? Why did he do what he did?" And none of us could answer the question. As far as we could tell, the protagonist's original plan would never work. Upon close inspection, the story didn't work; it fell apart. :( Bummer.

So, what's a poor author to do to avoid such situations? I think you have to try to back up and get some distance from your stories when they're done. Of course, critique groups and/or beta readers can help here. Ask the tough questions, including, "Does this make sense?" If not, figure out how to make it make sense! Make sure your story has some kind of logic. Good luck!

04 August 2011

Production Meeting Week

Wow, hi. Been awhile for me over here at this blog. I'm just emerging from what is fondly becoming known around my house as the "Busy Summer From Hell" replete with book releases and deadlines. But I haven't forgotten you, or Electric Spec!

I just read some slush recently and I noted a few things.

Quite a few present tense stories. One I even saved for voting. Wanna know why? I didn't realize it was present tense until about a third of the way in, cuz I was so into the story. Compelling character, writing, and plot. It had it all. I recently just had a review of my own present tense story that said the very same thing!

Another thing I've noticed lately about stories I've chosen to get a second reading; they leave a lot of room for me, the reader. Details are provided, but not every detail. Just enough for me to sketch a picture in my mind. I get to be the one to pick the paint colors. No paint-by-number stories pass by this editor for voting.

They also tend to rest at the intersection of Trope Avenue and Twist Road. Meaning, taking trope like known character types and putting them in a new situation or place. Or regular old Anytown, USA town council run by, I dunno, a  Garuda who just immigrated from India. In other words, give me something I don't expect. But don't stray so far I can't figure it out without your spending 1000 words to explain it to me, either.

All the stories were, well, stories. There were characters doing stuff. Cool stuff, mostly, against big odds. With stakes and stuff.

Anyway, we're deciding this week and it's gonna be a tough one. Might require an extra beer or six to work it all out. :)

02 August 2011

Writing on Reading: Robinson's Science in the Capital

I just finished the final book in Kim Stanley Robinson's so-called Science in the Capital series: Forty Signs of Rain (2004), Fifty Degrees Below (2005), and Sixty Days and Counting (2007). Most of this work occurs in Washington D.C. at the N.S.F headquarters and features scientists. With its long lyrical descriptions of things ranging from nature to buddism to climate change, this series is quintessential Robinson. These books also have a strong message.

Yes, climate change is here and it has dire and long-ranging consequences for the survival of the human rance. The series strongly advocates humanity brush off their inactivity, inertia and complacency and DO. I, personally, did enjoy the extremely long descriptions of climate change effects, consequences, feedbacks, and mitigation strategies (which are all plausible). I enjoyed the extensive discussions of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson and their work. I also enjoyed the extensive explorations of Buddism.

However, I can see how this would not be to everyone's taste. In my opinion, the plot is meandering at best, and the characters are essentially the same: "the scientist". Therefore, I highly recommend it to folks who'd like to learn more about climate change, Buddism, Thoreau, Emerson, etc., but not necessarily to those who like a dramatic story.

29 July 2011

One Sentence to Hook an Agent?

Peter Brown Hoffmeister has a post today saying you have to hook an agent or magazine editor with the first sentence . . . of you cover letter. Yup, he says that, because of the numbers involved, most agents don't even get to the beautifully crafted first sentence of your manuscript.

But fear not! Unless you say something really stupid* in your cover letter to us Electric Spec editors, we promise we'll read the first sentence of your story before making a decision. In fact, I'll go so far as to say we almost always read the entire first paragraph. Sadly, if you have not hooked us at least by the first page, we're unlikely to read the rest. Based on the numbers, we just don't have time to read the entire story if it does not look promising.

*one example would be, "I'll let you publish my story so long as you agree to publish as is, without any editing"

27 July 2011

Writing on Reading: A Dance with Dragons

My five year wait for the next book in George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series is finally over. The question I ask now: was it worth the wait?

IMHO, the first and third books in the series are some of the finest fantasy books ever written. The second book is right up there, but the forth (A Feast for Crows) was a bit disappointing. Why? It concentrated on new characters who I didn't care about as much and the plot moved too slowly. A Dance with Dragons suffers from some of the same problems as the fourth book. A few new characters are introduced, and portions of the plot move pretty slowly. However, it does develop the journeys of some of the characters that we've known from the beginning, which is really nice to see, and, eventually, some major plot developments occur.

A have one other criticism of Dance: its too dark. You'll rarely hear that from me when talking about fantasy. I'd rather have me some dark stuff than trope fairy tale unicorns and rainbows . But, at the end of Dance I felt beaten down. How depraved can a world and everyone in that world be? Is there any hope that Westeros will survive? Do I even want it too survive? Please, George, I'm begging you! Give me some ray of hope!

So, bottom line, it is worth the read, especially if you're already a fan of the series, but don't go in expecting to be blown away like you might have been with the earlier books. And lets hope we don't have to wait another five years for the next one!

26 July 2011

rookie mistakes

Maybe rookie mistakes is too harsh? How about rookie room-for-improvements? :)
Generally, the slush at ElectricSpec is very good. However, we editors can tell when we get a story from someone new to writing. There are a number of common room-for-improvements we see:
  • Possibly the most obvious is using non-said or non-asked dialogue tags. Don't ask me why only "said" and "asked" are allowed in dialogue tags, but that's the way it is. (If anyone knows, please share.)
  • Another common issue is all telling and no showing. I know like a hundred years ago this was the fashion, but when was the last time you read something published that did this? Telling is summarizing a story and we still do this in our everyday lives. But the current fashion in fiction is to write immediate, have the reader experience the story as it happens (a bit weird when you consider the another current fashion is past tense.)
  • Finally, a common room-for-improvement we see is nothing happens, usually because the protagonist doesn't act. As an editor, this one is particularly disappointing. You get all excited about the big idea or the world-building and the problem set-up and then ...nothing. Often this is linked to a mild or missing conflict: who or what is stopping the protagonist? Generally speaking in stories we publish the protagonist has to do something to try to solve the problem. The protagonist doesn't have to succeed, but they have to try.

So, double-check your stories. You don't have any of these issues, do you?

24 July 2011

A Plug for Indie Bookstores

A great article in the Charlotte Observer this week about my cousin Sally's book store. Authors--note the section about how indie books stores are the key to creating bestsellers.

19 July 2011

Writers Search Engine

Many of you may already know about this, but I recently discovered something neat:
Writer's Knowledge Base, The Search Engine for Writers. The Writer's Knowledge Base (WKB) is a searchable collection of articles that are highly relevant to writers. The articles are diverse and cover such topics as the craft of writing, getting published, promotion, etc. Notice the search engine only covers topics related to writing. If you do a search you won't accidentally get anything weird--like porn. (Why do so many innocent searches lead to porn?)

A little backstory...Elizabeth Craig supplies the links for the WKB. Elizabeth is a published author who monitors over 1500 websites for great articles on writing and then posts the links on Twitter. The WKB then archives the links for us writers to access to our heart's desire.

Does anyone else know of any neat writers websites? Please share!

14 July 2011

Congrats Mr. Sawyer!

This may be a bit outside our usual discussions, but I was excited to hear from SFScope that Robert J. Sawyer's WWW trilogy was recently optioned for television! As faithful readers know, he gave an awesome interview in our last issue primarily about his WWW trilogy. Read more about the deal.
Congratulations, Mr. Sawyer!

12 July 2011

to grimace or not to grimace?

FYI: The submission deadline for the August 2011 issue is July 15.

One of the best teachers I've ever had has a thing about grimaces. He says you should never use the word grimace in your writing because it doesn't mean anything. I would say a grimace is a frown caused by disgust. I looked it up in various dictionaries and they say a grimace is a facial expression, often ugly or contorted, that indicates disapproval, pain, etc. or a sharp facial contortion expressing pain, contempt, or disgust., etc. So, regarding grimaces, I guess: Caveat scriptor.

However, I think this points to a larger issue: the evolution of the english language. There's no question our language has evolved and is evolving over time. How much of this should we use in our writing? For example, in my work I would use "five finger discount", but not "index finger discount". Most people know the former but only a certain subset of folks know the latter (although we could probably figure it out!). Certainly, there are genre considerations here. YA should use a lot of slang. Techno- or geek-thrillers should also use a lot of jargon.

But, IMHO, we can go too far. 2MI can be 2M2H. IKR?

I think we should avoid text-messaging "words" in fiction.

What do you think?

B4N. :)

05 July 2011

revision: unique dialogue

We all know dialogue is an important part of fiction. As such, it's worth taking a look at when doing revisions. First things first: dialogue tags should ONLY use said or asked. Don't get creative. In fact, the prevailing wisdom is it's better not to use dialogue tags; use body language, facial expressions, or other information to let the reader know who's talking. However, don't make your characters "bobble-heads". This is an expression from one of my writing professors and indicates too much head nodding or similar actions. Watch out for this. :) A tip: many published works put the dialogue tag or action between two sentences of dialogue rather than at the beginning or end.

Another important point is every character should have unique dialogue. If I'm honest, many of my characters talk like I do in my first drafts. So, when I revise, I have to get rid of this. Ideally, each character's dialogue is so unique you wouldn't even need a dialogue tag. In a long work, I keep a cheat-sheet of slang or special unique words for each character. For example, one character might use a lot of single-syllable words, another might not use contractions. Good luck with your dialogue!

How about you? How do you deal with dialogue?

28 June 2011

revision: a watch list

I got some good advice about revision recently: create a watch list. What is a watch list in this context, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. :) A watch list is where an author examines his/her work and makes a note of their own common mistakes or repeats, writes them down, and then corrects them during the revision process. For example, my characters seem to smile or grin several times a page. Logically I know it's a bad idea to repeat actions on the same page, but when I go back and look: there they are. During revision, then, I need to get rid of most of those. As another example, I have a critique partner who always uses waive instead of wave. (Of course, spell-check doesn't catch this!)

How about you? Do you have anything you need to watch out for?

Do you have any revision tips?

21 June 2011

education and writing

In Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, he says in the introduction that the "Big Lie" is Writing can't be taught. I agree with Bell that writing can be taught. And yet...

As you read this I am at Residency for my MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction. There's no question the faculty and mentors in my program give the students a lot of good information about writing. We also have sessions where we critique others work and have our work critiqued in turn. Therefore, there's also no question some of the students have learned a lot and some of the students' writing have vastly improved.

I tell you a secret though: I am not one of those students. I think this is because I've been working very hard for over a decade to be a better writer. I read lots of non-fiction writing books. I analyze lots of novels, trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. A huge turning point for me was joining a local writers group: Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. I've been going to their free (with membership) classes and workshops for years. I have a great critique group that helps me a lot. I've also been going to the annual conference for years, first attending workshops, and now teaching them. Thus, I've learned more working independently and with my local writers group than I've learned in my MFA program. So, I have mixed feelings about formal writing programs at colleges and universities. I'm not sure they're effective for everyone.

What do you think? What's the best way to learn to be a better writer?

14 June 2011

formatting

I recently had an odd experience. I submitted a short story to a speculative fiction magazine and the editor wrote back and told me my formatting was all messed up. I opened up my copy of the file; it looked fine. I couldn't quite figure out what the editor meant. Of course, by the time the editor received the file it had been reformatted according to their rules and emailed. So I'm guessing somewhere in there something went awry. (Gee, go figure.)

I was quite embarrassed and a little angry that the editor took me to task for sending in a file with the 'wrong format.' :( I do admit it was my responsibility as the author to ensure the format was okay. But... I thought the editor went a little overboard. What do you think? Is the 'wrong format' an rejectionable offense?

Here at ElectricSpec I've read some stories that had some odd formatting. I, personally, have not rejected anything because of formatting. Maybe I'm too lenient? :) I have no immediate plans to change my ways. Curious about our desired ElectricSpec format? Check out: Fiction Submission Guidelines.

03 June 2011

art vs. entertainment

I hope you're still enjoying the new issue of ElectricSpec!

We editors have started going through the slush for the next issue, and I must admit I've seen some odd things. This brought up the whole art versus entertainment dichotomy for me. Certainly short stories should be art, but ... they need to be entertaining as well, IMHO. (The other editors may weigh in if they disagree.) Perhaps it is a market thing? Perhaps our market is not the most experimental?

Anyway, if you want to publish a story in our 'zine, ignore short story conventions at your peril. For example, most short stories utilize simple past verb tense. Sure, you could use simple present, present perfect, past perfect, future, or future perfect, but will they convey the story to the reader in the most entertaining way? Generally, you don't want your "art" to interfere with your story. As another example, most short stories have a protagonist. Is it really a story if there's no protagonist? I'm a bit skeptical. For a final example, most short stories have a plot, i.e. something happens. Again, if nothing happens, is it really a story? Some things to ponder...

Can anyone think of any other good short story conventions?

31 May 2011

We're Live!

And we're live! The May 31, 2011 ElectricSpec issue is out! Huzzah!

In particular, check out the awesome short fiction:

  • Invasive Species by Ryan Kinkor
  • Frazee by Patricia Russo
  • Remodel with Swan Parts by Michael Griffin
  • The Turtle Wore Mascara by E. Bundy
  • Inside the Walls of East Lombard Street by Anthony J. Rapino

We've also got three-count-'em-three special features:
  • Special Feature: Author Interview with Robert J. Sawyer
  • Editors Corner: Race to Redemption by Betsy Dornbusch
  • Column: Spec Fic in Flix by Marty Mapes

Thanks, everyone, who contributed! We appreciate you. :)

And now on to working on the next issue...

27 May 2011

Robert J. Sawyer Interview

Next week, on May 31, 2011, my interview with award-winning Science Fiction author Robert J. Sawyer comes out in our own ElectricSpec. He discusses a multitude of fascinating topics, including:
  • his hardest writing task ever
  • how he does research for his novels
  • humanity's best chance for meeting a non-human intelligence
  • his favorite character out of the hundreds he's created over the years
  • how to keep track of and interweave multiple plots/subplots
  • what science fiction should really be called
  • an impending paradigm shift in human society
  • an easy and effective way to ground a story in our here and now
  • what he learned from the world of television
  • how humanity can outlive the sun
  • his next project

Check it out!
~

25 May 2011

Writing on Reading: The WWW Trilogy

Robert J. Sawyer's WWW trilogy, consisting of WWW:Wake, WWW:Watch, and WWW:Wonder, is his best work to date (and that's saying something). Of course, Sawyer is best known for his novel FlashForward which was the basis for the ABC TV series.

About WWW:Wake, Sawyer says, Caitlin Decter is young, pretty, feisty, a genius at math — and blind. ...When a Japanese researcher develops a new signal-processing implant that might give her sight, she jumps at the chance, flying to Tokyo for the operation. ...Once the implant is activated, instead of seeing reality, the landscape of the World Wide Web explodes into her consciousness, spreading out all around her in a riot of colors and shapes. While exploring this amazing realm, she discovers something — some other — lurking in the background. And it's getting smarter ...


As you can see, the plotting here is very compelling. Sawyer also does an amazing job with characterization. In addition to the lovable protagonist Caitlin, there's a cast of empathetic and unique characters including the A.I. Webmind, Caitlin's autistic father Malcolm Decter, a chimpanzee bonobo hybrid Hobo, and many others.


Besides, excellent plotting and characterization, Sawyer fills the trilogy with fascinating "big ideas", such as the nature of consciousness, a 'flight versus sight' paradigm shift in human culture, the moral arrow through time and many others. To make a long review short: I strongly recommend this trilogy.

I'm also excited to announce I recently interviewed Mr. Sawyer for the May 31, 2011 issue of ElectricSpec and he was fascinating. Stay tuned for more information!

24 May 2011

Nebula winners

Perhaps by now you've heard the results of SFWA's Nebula Awards. There was a tie for best short story: "Ponies" by Kij Johnson and "How Interesting: A Tiny Man" by Harlan Ellison. Congratulations! Interestingly, this is Johnson's second Nebula and Ellison's fourth.

Of course, Harlan Ellison is a famous name to SF fans; he's been in the writing 'biz for a long time. Previously, he won for short stories "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" (1965) and "Jeffty Is Five" (1978) and for novella "A Boy and His Dog" (1970). He was also the recipient of the Grand Master Award in 2006. Impressive career! We should all be so lucky.

I'm motivated to get back to work...

23 May 2011

Building Character Through Dialogue

Making characters really pop is a challenge every writer faces. Many new writers try to do this with description, but that's really tough. Even if a character description is more unique that simple hair and eye color (yawn!) or laundry list of characteristics (age, height, clothing, etc), description only touches the surface. But you can introduce the essence of the character through his or her words. Dialogue allows you to introduce character through word choice (eg. hello v. 'sup), topic of conversation (the weather v. philosophy), and reaction (shocked stuttering v. witty barb). Even better, you can advance your plot, create conflict, or layer in backstory using the same dialogue.

So, if your critique partner or editor tells you a character seems flat, look to his or her dialogue first. A few key bits of conversation can make a big difference.

18 May 2011

Nebula Weekend!

Of course, this weekend (May 19-22) is Nebula weekend, and this year it's at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C. It will feature such excitement as "Using Science in Science Fiction","Warfare for Writers", "Short Story Plotting", and of course lots of "Cash Bar" and the main event: the Nebula Awards Banquet and Presentation. :) Looks fun!

Short story nominees include:


  • ‘‘Arvies’’, Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed Magazine)
  • ‘‘How Interesting: A Tiny Man’’, Harlan Ellison® (Realms of Fantasy)
  • ‘‘Ponies’’, Kij Johnson (Tor.com)
  • ‘‘I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno’’, Vylar Kaftan (Lightspeed Magazine)
  • ‘‘The Green Book’’, Amal El-Mohtar (Apex Magazine)
  • ‘‘Ghosts of New York’’, Jennifer Pelland (Dark Faith)
  • ‘‘Conditional Love’’, Felicity Shoulders (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine)

Read about the other nominees here. Congratulations to all!

17 May 2011

Great Review!

Just a shout out to Kevin over at Adventures Fantastic, who reviewed the two fantasy stories in our last issue. It is nice to hear some feedback once in awhile--especially when it is good feedback!

12 May 2011

Telling

I read a book recently that was almost all telling. The book in question was a literary novel, as you might surmise.

The show-don't-tell mantra has an interesting saga in a writer's life. Initially, we are all tellers; recall, for example, ghost stories told around the campfire. But then, beginning writers are consistently warned to "show, don't tell" once they start to get educated. As writers progress, however, they learn that some telling is a good thing; it can summarize boring bits, for example. Some writers then complete the circle and return to almost all telling.

I'm here to tell you as genre writers: do not do this. The tradition of genre writing such as fantasy, science fiction, and horror is mostly showing. This means dialogue. This means describe action. When you show, you let the reader experience things as if he/she was the character. When you tell, you impose an additional layer (author) between the character and the reader. The beauty of fiction is it is the only medium is which the reader gets to be someone (something?) else. Don't take that away from the reader!
Telling is less dramatic. Showing is more dramatic.

If I haven't convinced you with my logic, let me say this: we've never had an all telling story make it into the hold-for-voting file here at Electric Spec.

Stay tuned for an exciting new issue at the end of the month!

04 May 2011

Behind the Scenes

I said earlier we were in production mode over here at Electric Spec. I thought I'd pass along an update of what's happening behind the scenes...

We had our production meeting this week. As usual, there was lots of liquor, drugs, fried foods, fist-fights, and arm-wrestling. :) We decided on the stories for the May 2011 issue, and they look great! All authors in hold-for-voting should hear back from us very soon if they haven't already. We picked our cover artist, and the art will also be great. We have a lead on a very exciting interview, which I'll blog about closer to the issue. One of us (okay, it's Editor Betsy) is working on something for Editor's Corner.

We're in the process of sending contracts out (One of us--okay, it's Gremlin Editor--is a lawyer in real-life). Once we hear back from authors we will begin edits. Personally, this is not my favorite part of the job; it's hard for me to supersede the author's artistic vision. One of us is nicknamed the slasher and is awesome about cutting stories down to perfect jewels (okay, it's Editor Dave). So, soon we will be editing, and then all that's left is creating the web pages.

Suffice to say, this issue looks like it will be great! Thanks, to all the authors who submitted. We sincerely appreciate it. There'd be no issue without authors!

And we also started reading slush for the August 2011 issue. An editor's job is never done...

28 April 2011

A Song of Ice and Fire Reread

In anticipation of the release of A Dance with Dragons in July, I decided to start rereading A Game of Thrones with the idea I might be able to reread the whole series so far to make sure I remember what the heck was going on. I'm not much of a re-reader, to be honest. My brain has this ability to remember nearly every twist and turn of a novel I've read, so rereads can be boring for me. (This probably also explains why my brain can't retain other so-called "important" things like real-life names and phone numbers.) Anyhow, I must confess that I'm really enjoying the DWD reread. Sure, I remember all the plot twists--but I am catching lots of symbolism and foreshadowing that I missed the last time around. And I notice the mentions of what appear to be minor characters who eventually become POV characters later on. GRRM never ceases to amaze me.

I also stumbled across Leigh Butlers read of DOD. She's reading it for the first time, and its fun seeing her react to each of the chapters. She has good instincts about what's going on, and her gut reactions further show how good GRRM is setting up his story: her reactions are nearly identical to those I had. I sense GRRM wanted us to have those reactions.

26 April 2011

V is for Voice


One of the trickiest things to get a handle on as a writer is literary or writer's voice. It's also one of the most crucial because readers and editors love distinctive voices. Writer's voice is the literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author. Voice can be considered to be a combination of a writer's use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc. Of course, technically, every author has a voice.

All my favorite authors have very strong and distinctive voices, how about yours? Let's look at some specific examples to help us get a handle on this topic. From Blackout by Connie Willis:

       I knew I didn't like Eddritch, Colin thought.

       "He did, however, mention your repeated absences. And the failing mark you got on your last essay."

       "That's because Beson made me write it on this book, The Impending Threat of Time Travel, and it was total rubbish. It said time travel theory's rot, and historians do affect events, that they've been affecting them all along, but wehaven't been able to see it yet because the space-tiem continuum's been able to cancel out the changes. But it won't be able to forever, so we need to stop sending historians to the past immediately and--"

       "I am fully acquinted with Dr. Ishiwaka's theories."

I can identify Willis' writing with only a few sentences because her voice is so distictive. It's very in media res, almost stream-of-consciousness, with lots of gerunds.

From One for the Money by Janet Evanovich:

       ...Joe Morelli came into the bakery where I worked every day after school, Tasty Pastry, on Hamilton. He bought a chocolate-chip cannoli, told me he'd joined the navy, and charmed the pants off me four minutes after closing, on the floor of Tasty Pastry, behind the case filled with chocolate eclairs.

       The next time I saw him, I was three years older. I was on my way to mall, driving my father's Buick when I spotted Morelli standing in front of Giovichinni's Meat Market. I gunned the big V-8 engine, jumped the curb, and clipped Morelli from behind, bouncing him off the front right fender. I stopped the car and got out to assess the damage.
'Anything broken?'

       He was sprawled on the pavement, looking up my skirt. 'My leg.'

       'Good,' I said. Then I turned on my heel, got into the Buick, and drove to the mall."

Evanovich is also easy to identify. In her case, she uses simple language, specific details, funny names e.g. Tasty Pastry, and lots of humor. Note, too, even with such short excerpts we can differentiate these voices from one another.

For another example, a while back I discussed Kelly Link's distinctive voice: Spec Fic Tools II: Voice.

So, the question is: how do we cultivate our literary voice? I think free-writing is effective. Try writing without your internal editor and see what comes out. :) Good luck!

19 April 2011

P is for Production Mode

Behind the scenes here at Electric Spec we are gearing up into Production Mode. What does that mean? It means we're working on putting out the next issue. We've imposed the issue cut-off for the May 31, 2011 deadline. (Don't worry, we're still accepting submissions, they'll just be considered for our next issue, August 31, 2011.)

We've been going through slush with a vengeance. Hhm...that came out wrong. Rest assured, no vengeance is directed at writers. We direct gratitude at writers: thanks for submitting! So, uh, we've been working hard at finishing slush and notifying writers if they made it to hold-for-voting.

We scheduled our Production Meeting (which, with this bunch is tricky). We've bought the drugs and booze. Oops! No, we didn't do that. We would never do that! (Gremlin Editor wrote that.)

We're working on cover art and our special features. Oh dear, I need to finish my assignment... Maybe I better get back to work on that.

The bottom line is hold-for-voting authors will hear back from us with "yeah" or "nea" at the beginning of May.
And a new fabulous issue of Electric Spec will hit the streets(?), electrons(?) on May 31!

14 April 2011

Issue Cut Off

Hi all, please note the next issue's cut off is April 15. So don't forget to send your stories and your taxes by then!

13 April 2011

Six Questions

Today I'm  interviewed over at Six Questions about editing, story writing, and Electric Spec.  Enjoy!

12 April 2011

J is for Joy

As folks may or may not know, April is the month for the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Today's letter is "J". I know we're not doing the challenge here, but based on posts and comments here in recent days, I thought maybe we needed a reminder of how great writing can be.

Writers--especially speculative fiction writers--create whole people, worlds, and cultures complete with their relationships and problems, out of nothing. That's power! Making something out of nothing! Okay... nothing but imagination, research, blood, sweat, tears, and lots of hard work. :)

But it is significant. And there's something so inherently human about telling stories, we've been doing it since there've been humans. Can't you just picture the cavemen and women sitting around the campfire, telling the story of 'the one that got away'? :)

When words are flowing onto the page, when one is possessed by The Muse, it's like a writer goes to another place, a world or zone of creativity. Of course that doesn't happen all the time, but that's one of the goals of a writer--getting lost in the zone.

When it happens, ...Joy.


So, how about you? Do you ever make it to The Zone? :) Any tips for getting there?

06 April 2011

Your letters look good, but how 'bout your numbers

As aspiring authors, many of us are focused on getting that first agent or picking up that first sale. We're sure that once we can "break through" then the fiction game will be so much easier. Not so, according to author Karen Dionne in a recent blog post. "[A]fter an author is published, they [sic] face an even greater challenge: getting published again," writes Dionne. Sales are not a matter of the quality of your next book, but the quantity of sales. Editors look up your numbers on a data provider called BookScan, a service of Neilsen (you know, the same company that rates TV shows). If your numbers are poor, you can probably kiss your next sale goodbye.

So, what is an aspiring author to do? IMHO, just keep writing. Most authors realize that becoming a professional writer is rarely a ticket to fame and riches. Writing despite knowing the odds against getting published (and getting a published again) means that you are writing for the right reasons.

05 April 2011

Internal Consistency

There have some good movies out recently in the speculative fiction genre. I must admit, I'm a bit of a movie geek and can tell you more than you want to know about movies like Blade Runner. One thing I loved about Blade Runner, and another Philip-K.-Dick-inspired movie Total Recall, was the ambiguity at the end. What really happened? My friends and I enjoyed debating the issue at length. We had similar debates about Inception. (What do you think happened at the end?) When I saw Limitless I was really struck by how much it reminded me of the classic science fiction story "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes. This, in turn made me ponder the similarities and differences of short fiction and movies...

Ambiguity at the end of movies can be very good. Ambiguity at the end of short stories I am more ambivalent about; I would have to take that on a case-by-case basis. One thing that absolutely does not work in movies or short fiction is internal inconsistency. Sadly, some recent movies may not be internally consistent. While enjoyable, The Adjustment Bureau (also influenced by Philip K. Dick's 1954 "Adjustment Team"!) doesn't seem entirely consistent. Do people have free will or are they controlled by The Adjustment Bureau's plan? I don't want to give anything away but if this plot was submitted to ElectricSpec, I'm not sure it would succeed.

A more serious consistency issue may be associated with The Source Code. Again, I don't want to give anything away because this apocalyptic Groundhog Day is enjoyable. But it's unclear if activating the source code brings the protagonist in the past to an alterate reality and/or an alternate timeline and what reality/timeline the source code affects. If there are different timelines/realities how can they interact and affect one another? As you may guess from my remarks, this one's a real mind-bender. I would have to say I would've rejected this plot if we'd gotten it in the slush. (If anyone understood the movie, I welcome your comments.)

My advice to ElectricSpec writers is: Make sure your stories are internally-consistent!

30 March 2011

Top Five Tough Sells

There are a few types of stories that I nearly always reject--even if they are otherwise well written. If your story fits one of the categories, it might be a tough sell:

  1. Stories that do not introduce the protagonist quickly. I'm willing to wait a paragraph, maybe two, but if the protag does not make his/her/its appearance by then, the story is not what I'm looking for.
  2. Stories that are almost all dialogue. These are often very witty, but wit isn't enough for me. I want a story, not a skit.
  3. Stories with more than (say) five world-specific idioms in the first few sentences. After reading slush for an hour, my brain just can't handle all that new vocabulary.
  4. False suspense. (I didn't an earlier post on this). This is the author using a non-specific pronoun to try to create suspense where there isn't any. E.g. "It happened one night." Or "Everything was fine until he came along."
  5. Stories that begin with the protagonist waking up (bad) in bed (worse) from a horrible nightmare (worst). It shocks me how many stories I read that begin this way.
Also, for me, the longer the story is, the more important it is to pull me in right away. This is a matter of efficiency. If I'm going to read a full story at the upper end our our word limit, I need to be convinced it will be worth my time. On the other hand, I'll usually read a whole flash piece even if the beginning does not grab me. I know this sounds a little harsh, but the reality is that Electirc Spec keeps getting more and more submissions. We don't have slush readers, and we try to keep the turn-around time reasonable. That means we have to find ways to get through slush efficiently.

29 March 2011

Be original

Happy Spring, all! We ElectricSpec Editors continue to make slow but sure headway on the slushpile. I thought I'd give another pointer inspired by what I've been reading...

Probably the A-number-one thing an author can do to stand out is be original. I've likely blogged about this in the past, but it bears repeating. It has been said there have been very few story plots throughout human history. These might include:
  • sentient being versus sentient being (romance is included here)
  • sentient being versus nature (or the supernatural for us spec fic writers!)
  • sentient being versus self
This is one reason writing is so challenging!
Obviously, in speculative fiction we see a lot of the same things, we call them tropes, such monsters or aliens attacking, epic quests, etc. I highly recommend authors use one of the three story plots above and I highly recommend authors use monsters, aliens, fairies or other speculative fiction elements. But authors must put a unique spin on things! This means authors need to know what has come before ==> so do your homework. You have to know enough to know what's different.

For example, I just read a quest story with a unique twist at the end. This story ended up in hold-for-voting because it was original. Kudos, author!

As for the rest of you, keep sending us your original stories. Thanks!

22 March 2011

setups and payoffs

We've been busy going through our slushpile over at ElectricSpec. Recently, I was pondering a story that was so close to being really good...but it wasn't quite there yet. So, I had to reject it. In that situation, I wish I could sit down with the author and talk about their story. Alas, the few times we editors have tried that via email it hasn't worked. :( So, I thought I'd try to discuss some aspects of this story which didn't work--while keeping it as general and anonymous as possible. Many stories we see do not have satifying setups and payoffs. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but readers expect setups and payoffs. Editors also expect setups and payoffs. (I must admit I have trouble with these in my own writing.)

In the story in question, the opening paragraph was cute but it wasn't really related to anything else in the story. Most readers expect the beginning of the story to set up, or get the reader ready for, the rest of the story. As an example of what not-to-do, I have a story that starts with the protag's rant against her ex-husband. But as my critique partners pointed out, the relationship with the ex is not what the story is about--so it shouldn't start there. This is related to the common problem that stories usually start later than authors think they do. So, in your story: look at where it ends up. What is this story about? Now go look at the opening: is the setup there? My bad story is actually about the protag's relationship with her daughter, thus I need to edit the opening to set it up for the reader that it's about the daughter. As it stands, a page or two later, I do get to the daughter, so I probably need to cut that first page or two. Should you cut your existing opening?

The main problem with the story in question was it fizzled out at the end. I read faithfully for over four thousand words and ...blah. The protag basically achieved her heart's desire (good!) but it was by accident AND there was no satisfying character reaction. One definition of payoff is it is the climax of a story, the scene that satisfies the reader's emotions and/or intellect as it wraps up the story plot(s). It often falls at the very end of the story. Take a look at the last page of your story: is it satisfying for the reader? If not, how can you make it sastifying?

Good luck with your setups and payoffs! And keep sending us your stories.

17 March 2011

On Editing Stories . . .

Recently, one of our blog readers noted that E-spec's submission guidelines begin with the following statement:

A note on our editorial policy: before publication we may edit the story for length or readability. However, we always remain true to the spirit of the story.

Why do we say that? First, we want to make it clear that, unlike many other online 'zines, we edit stories. Everyone one of them. Sometimes this means cleaning up a few typos, but many times it means a heavier edit (e.g. cutting unnecessary parts, clean up awkward sentences, resolving minor inconsistencies, etc). We do this because we want to make stories the best that they can be, and very few authors write a perfect story start to finish.

Do we review these changes with the authors before the stories go to print? Absolutely. The authors are usually pleased with the edits and recognize that they make the story stronger. If an author disagrees with an edit or two we're usually willing to change it back or make further modifications to address the issue. The important part for us is that the author is professional about the editorial process. But we do take the position that we have the final say on what we publish. If the author is really unhappy with how the edited story looks, he or she is free to withdraw it at that point, but that has never happened.

I will share one example of what I view as an unprofessional approach. In a recent slush submission, one author stated in the cover letter that he would "let" us publish his story "on the condition" that we published it "as is." I sent it back unread stating that we'd never publish a story on that condition. (Okay, maybe if you're George RR Martin). In my opinion, the world needs authors AND editors to create the best possible product and make the reading public happy.

16 March 2011

Update

When I read slush, I read to a certain date. Granted, that's affected by how many stories run me up to a particular date. I read to Feb 1 last session. So, our slush is caught up to February 1 (and there are really just a few stories left between Feb1-15), so you should have heard from us on any slush sent to us prior to February. If not, feel free to resubmit.

We like to keep our response time at about a month ideally, but our slush pile is growing by the issue. Not a bad thing--great for us, actually! It makes our job tougher, but the magazine is better for it. I think we're running, realistically, 6-8 weeks right now. (Again, I'm usually the slow one.)

If you end up in Hold For Voting, you can be happy with that as an accomplishment in and of itself. Competition is very stiff. And if you don't, well, please know competition is stiff. =)  And try, try again. I'm a huge proponent of that. Don't give up on yourself or your stories.

Happy storytelling...

13 March 2011

George RR Martin, reviewed

Okay, we'll launch this puppy with the standard "If your story is late getting back to you from our slush pile it's likely me." My bad.

Now onto George RR Martin. I've read a lot of his stuff, but of course GAME OF THRONES is all the rage right now with the HBO show coming up (and it looks to be brilliant!)



But I'm hardly the expert. Dave is. Dave LOVES him some GRRM! But maybe I'm more qualified to talk about him cuz I've actually met the man and shared some party conversation with him. I texted Dave, if I recall, from Worldcon that night after he ditched out early: I'm sitting on George RR Martin's lap.

No, I didn't sit on his lap. And I think Dave met him at a signing, too. So my specialness didn't last long. But I'll segue back to that in a moment.

GRRM has sizeable real estate on my bookshelves because his books are so fat, and I loves them, I loves them all. But the thing is, plot-wise, they (and I'm speaking of THRONES and the other three) all make a horrible lot of sense, too. All I can tell you is what I think he does so well, what I learned from Mr Martin, the stuff young Jedi should look to.

First up, Characters.

He draws memorable characters. For such big books, he doesn't waste a ton of time actually describing them. Each one might get a line or two, and then hang on for the ride. Each of his characters is their own personal trainwreck. Neuroses, violence, Flowers in the Attic action, weirdo dragon ladies...they are all nuts six ways from Sunday. And you can remember who they are because they each have their own personal neurosis.This is not to say you have to make all your characters neurotic. But make them unique, memorable. We read speculative fiction because we like our people different. So give us wonderful, awful, different people to meet in your stories.

He gives each character some grand quality...and then proceeds to batter them about their psyches with it. The greatest swordsman in the land gets crippled in a no-more-tourneys-for-you sort of way, the most beautiful woman in the world gets married off to a horrible, hard-hearted ugly dude. Oh, and don't get too attached cuz the minute you do: Off with their heads! This is pretty basic: Don't forget to torture your characters, and your readers along with them.

His characters change. The ugly ones' hearts grow three sizes (okay, maybe half a size, but the series isn't finished yet). The naive learn. The good ones get forced into doing bad things. The wimps grow a pair. Seriously, and this is a biggie, make your characters change.

World Building.

He works with a cast of thousands. His world feels rich and huge because it is. This epic fantasy and Mr. Martin wisely does not skimp on peopling it. This isn't what I advise for short fiction, but it works in epic fantasy, of course. And you never once question whether a character has to be there. So write the correct number of characters for your genre and give each a distinct role to play.

He also picks a cultural reference and sticks with it. We get what Ser means cuz we get the whole Knight gig. We get the tribes living in the tents; we've all seen National Geographic stories on Bedouins with their horses. It gives us a foundation, a shelf to stand on as he draws his new world tight around us. So help your readers out and build your world on a framework of familiarity. 

On writing and style:

Mr Martin doesn't cheat on his own voice. He writes the number of words required to tell the story the way he needs to tell it. More words than I would, but still, each word serves the story. He has a distinctive voice, all his own. So whether you write short stories or door-stoppers, make each word count, and make them all yours.

On Being a Famous Writer:

You can learn well from The Man, Himself, too. As I said before, I met him at a fan party. He was making unhurried rounds of the party floor, people kept him stocked with libations, and he had no problem stopping to talk to me, a nobody. We leaned in the hallway and sucked our drinks and chatted for several minutes. Of course, I have no idea how the conversation went because as I recall I had this constant voice in my head shouting things like: YOU'RE TALKING TO GEORGE RR MARTIN. DON'T SAY ANYTHING STUPID. OH NO YOU JUST SAID SOMETHING STUPID, DIDN'T YOU? and TEXT DAVE, RIGHT NOW!!

My point is, he was there at the fan parties, chatting up fans. He wasn't hiding in the SFWA suite, he wasn't in some dark corner of a hotel bar where no one but his agent and editor could get at him. So when you get readers and fans, go and greet them. Heck, go and greet them before they belong to you. After all, they will someday! These are the folks who buy our books.

Oh, and he's nice. Like, just extraordinarily nice. So be nice.


He is hands-down the best reader I've ever heard. His voice was made for his own stuff. Well, it stands to reason, right? So is yours. So learn to read your own words as if you love them, (c'mon, don't pretend you don't!) read like you hear it in your head, read with inflection, chin up, from the diaphragm, and all that.

Yeah. I'm sure Dave could add a lot, so I'll hand it off to him...

10 March 2011

repeat offenders

I mentioned at end of Februarythat we had a "repeat offender" in the new issue of Electric Spec. It turns out we had two repeat offenders in the current issue. In a story I described as emotionally poweful (i.e. creepy) we have End User by A.L. Sirois in the February 2011 issue. We also had Original Position by A.L. Sirois in our February 2010 issue. My apologies to A.L. for not mentioning this earlier. Interesingly, there's a bit of creepiness in this story, too. (Read it and find out for yourself.)

This prompted me to wonder just how many repeat offenders we've had over the years in Electric Spec. There are a few more:

  • David Redd gave us "Doctor Sam" in January 2006 and "Galactic Undesirables No. 3231: The Con Artist" in May 2006
  • Hank Quense gave us "The Impressario" in May 2006 and "The Rainbow Bridge" in January 2007
  • Stephen L. Antczak gave us "Pure Luck" in May 2006 and "Fade to Black" in September 2006
  • TW Williams gave us "The One-Legged Assassin" in September 2006 and "Possession is Nine Parts" in January 2007
  • Matthew Howe gave us "All Kinds of Monsters" in June 2008 and "Pusher" in August 2010

I think this proves we judge solely on story.

Please keep sending us your stories.
Enjoy the current issue! And feel free to check out the older issues, too. :)

06 March 2011

First Pages

I'm doing a workshop in May in which I'll critique first pages of novels (well, 2 pages) and dispensing publishing advice (that one cracks me up). I am fairly capable at critting and judging a work by the first page or two though, from my time here reading slush and also playing The Game, plus just reading 5 years worth of critiques for my partners, too.

I've been asked what I can find out about a story from the first page. For the purposes of our game here I call that 250 words (granted, longer than a first page but generally about how long I can be guaranteed to read before giving up). I actually expect a LOT out of that first page.

I expect these items, in order of importance though not necessarily appearance:

  • Who is my hero/ine?  For short stories, I really want to know who I'm banking on. Think of it this way: I'm new to your world and I need a guide to show me around. I'm not much for a prologue featuring the antagonist in short fiction, though of course it can work. (Generally I prefer single POVs in short fiction, and no prologues or epilogues.) No need to be coy, Roy, use actual names for your characters. And I daresay you won't see a story in Electric Spec that starts with the word "It." (Now of course someone will run out and find one that did!) A safe bet is to get your character doing something in the first lines, or at least the first paragraph. Not a rule by any means, but a reliable technique. Bonus points for showing me it's a protag I will care about or am happy to depend on, either cuz s/he's sympathetic, empathetic, or too cool for school.

  • Where am I? I don't need a travelogue, but gimme a hint. 
Am I in  a fantasy world? (LOTR)
One like the Renaissance? (THE SPIRIT LENS)
Dystopic Jersey Shore? (I think there's a show or something.) 
Alternate historical Alaska? (THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN'S UNION) 
Space? Maybe a long, long time ago? (Duh)

We're doing speculative fiction here, folks. Take me where I've never been before.
  • Is there a problem here, officer?  C'mon, at least a hint at a story problem and conflict. What's this guy or girl or multi-gendered alien up against?

And, yeah. That's really about it. See? Put like that, it really doesn't seem like too much to ask from 250 words.

03 March 2011

Tor Poll's Top Ten

Tor just released a reader's poll of the top ten SF&F novels of the last decade. Here are the results:

  1. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi - 295 votes
  2. American Gods by Neil Gaiman - 270 votes
  3. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss - 231 votes
  4. Blindsight by Peter Watts - 221 votes
  5. Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey - 194 votes
  6. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin - 179 votes
  7. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke - 167 votes
  8. Anathem by Neal Stephenson - 141 votes
  9. Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson - 125 votes
  10. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville - 124 votes
Would you have voted for these? I think its a pretty good list. I have to confess there's two books on the list I have not read. Bonus points if you can guess which two.

01 March 2011

gotta love short fiction

When asked about writing short fiction, an award-winning author said something recently I've been pondering a lot "if you're a novelist, don't lose focus on writing your next book." Hhm. It's possible I should focus less on writing short fiction. But it's not possible I should read less short fiction. I love short fiction. It rocks! I've said before short fiction can be like a perfect jewel--a story encapsulated in a world that exists for a short while only in space, time and imagination. To prove my point, let's look at some good short fiction...

The Untold Tale of an Executioner by Dawn Lloyd is a chilling tale set in a very dark world. Dawn does an excellent job starting her story: I waited until the pulse ceased and left the body lying on the ground. Wow! Aren't you just dying (sorry) to find out what happens next? In this story--like most good stories--the protagonist is profoundly affected by the events that transpire.

End User by A.L. Sirois is a horrific story with a character that definitely doesn't follow Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. I must admit, this story really creeped me out. A short exerpt will show you what I mean: The head of a pretty young Japanese girl was pillowed on the couch, a slender torso below it, with wires and tubes feeding in from various canisters and IVs. Draped across the drobe, clasped in its smooth, strong arms, was the body of a man. Dried blood had pooled under him, across the drobe's thighs and legs, soaking the couch. Flies feasted there, and on the corpse. And the head-thing was still alive! It just gets creepier from there. That's a mark of a good story, when it provokes a strong emotional reaction in the reader.

Birth of a New Day by Fredrick Obermeyer is a unique fantasy in which daybreak requires a special kind of midwife. I loved the new original idea of this piece. Here's an intriguing exerpt: Evanar collapsed on the sand, pain ripping through his side. He reached under his beige robes and tried to pull the sides of the dayslit open wider, so he could push it all out. WTF is going on here? Better read it and find out.

What Eats You by Sara Kate Ellis is a near-future adventure involving role-playing and political correctness taken to the extreme. This story has a great opening: It was an ordinary Friday night when Mollie Barker exploded in the snacks aisle of Pirate Pat's. Her head popped off with the quicksilver efficiency of an action figure, trailing a graceful arc into a sampler bowl of Waldorf salad. I love the drama and the humor.

A Touch of Poison by Jaelithe Ingold is a traditional fantasy in which a power struggle has a very unexpected outcome. There's something lovely, dramatic and maybe naive about traditional fantasies. The moment she'd been tested, everything had changed. The Catevari had claimed her. Don't you want to know what or who the Catevari are? Exactly what trouble is the protagonist in? And how will she get out of it?

Gotta love that short fiction!

Keep sending us your stories.

28 February 2011

We're Live!

Editor Betsy tells me we just went live with the new issue of Electric Spec! Hurray! Thanks, everyone who helped make this happen. :)

22 February 2011

New Issue Coming

We editors are busy wrapping up production for our February 28, 2011 Electric Spec issue! It's fabulous! We can't wait for you to read it. We'll be featuring short fiction by up-and-coming authors Dawn Lloyd, A.L. Sirois, Sara Kate Ellis, Jaelithe Ingold, and "repeat-offender" Fredrick Obermeyer. We try to give you a variety of stories within the speculative fiction genre. All of the stories are excellent, so be sure to check them out. :)

Another neat project I've been working on for the issue is an interview of popular Urban Fantasy author Mario Acevedo. Mario writes the Felix Gomez vampire detective series, and as anyone who's ever seen Mario at a book signing knows, the author is very funny. He doesn't disappoint in our interview and addresses such questions as: Was The Nymphos of Rocky Flats based on a true story? Do men and women look for different things ...in literature? Incidentally, our interview prompted an interesting blog post by Mario Why do we like to play God? on Feb 6 (scroll down).

If you can't wait until February 28, the Electric Spec Archives have many, many excellent stories still available on line. You could even check out Fredrick Obermeyer's old story The Ambiguity Broker.