18 December 2012

rejections

I hope you all are enjoying the holidays!
As the year draws to a close, I usually take stock: How did I do with my goals for the year, in particular with my writing goals? Some of these goals included polishing my query and synopsis for my MFA novel and querying it; finishing up my time-travel novel, writing a query letter and synopsis, and querying; writing/polishing various short stories and submitting them; querying my favorite novel as opportunities arise, keep writing the three new novels I'm working on. So, the good news is: I achieved all my goals! I actually even had one pro sale, a short story. W00t!

However, I received at least 100 rejections this year. Ugh. Intellectually, I know querying and being rejected is part of the authors job but... Ugh. So, in case you received some rejections in 2012 here are some tales of woe that should make you feel better at the awesome website: http://www.literaryrejections.com/best-sellers-initially-rejected/

Keep on trying! Good luck to all of us in 2013!

11 December 2012

lab lit?

There's been some hubbub around cyberspace lately about a new genre of fiction called "lab lit", short for laboratory literature. For example, last week Katherine Bouton discussed it in The New York Times: "In Lab Lit, Fiction Meets Science of the Real World". Bouton says Lab lit is not science fiction, and in my opinion it’s not historical fiction about actual scientists.... Bouton also refers to LabLit.com, 'the culture of science in fiction & fact,' and quotes, lab lit "depicts realistic scientists as central characters and portrays fairly realistic scientific practice or concepts, typically taking place in a realistic — as opposed to speculative or future — world."

There's even a wikipedia entry: Lab lit, which states Lab lit is a genre of fiction that centres on realistic portrayals of scientists, and science as a profession.

Let's take a step back. What exactly is science fiction? I interviewed one of the world's foremost experts on this in 2007. James E. Gunn said, Science fiction is the literature of change; science fiction is the literature of the human species; science fiction is a (note not "the") literature of ideas. If I had to choose one, slightly longer, it would be: Science fiction is the literature of the human condition experiencing meaningful change.
So, does lab lit fit into this definition? Yes?

As a speculative fiction editor, the question of a story's genre does come up from time to time. I must admit if a story could all be true, I reject it as not speculative fiction. Of course, truth in science is a moving target. Faster-than-light neutrinos would be science fiction. Higgs bosons would not be science fiction.

So, what do you think? Is lab lit a genre? Is it separate from science fiction? I'm undecided...

04 December 2012

music?

I hope everyone's been enjoying the brand-new issue of Electric Spec. I know I have.

In fact, I've been procrastinating horribly for the last few days and not doing my writing. Today, I decided enough is enough, put on my ipod, and forced myself to get busy. Suffice it to say, I got some stuff done I needed to get done. W00t! As a reward, I goofed around cyberspace a bit and came across: "The Complete American Gods Mix Tape" by Bridget McGovern over at tor.com . W00t! This combines a plethora of neat things including Gaiman, American Gods, TOR, music, and HBO. Check it out. :)

McGovern begins with If you’re familiar with Neil Gaiman’s work, then you know that music tends to play an important part in his writing, both on and off the page. This raises the question, does music play an important part in your writing?
I believe music makes me more productive. It shuts out the world's distractions and enables my creative juices to flow more easily.

We've published quite a few music-centric stories over the years, for example, "The Boogie-Woogie, Time-Traveling Cyborg Blues" by Barton Paul Levenson and "Me and the Devil Blues" by Stuart Neville.
What are your favorites?

30 November 2012

We're live!

Hopefully everyone's noticed already but the fabulous new November 30, 2012 issue of Electric Spec is live! W00t! Thank you very much to everyone who helped us with this issue, especially Chris Devlin who pitched in with some copy-editing and associate editor Nikki Baird! W00t!
Thanks a lot to our authors Malon Edwards, L. Young, Jesse Knifley, and D.L. Young, and to our artist Ron Sanders. Thank you to YA author Rebecca Taylor who let us interview her. W00t!
Finally, thank you, too, to all the authors and artists who submitted but didn't make this particular issue. We appreciate you, too. W00t!

So, what's your favorite story this time? :)

27 November 2012

new issue soon

Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Our brand new November 30, 2012 issue of Electric Spec is almost here! What fun stuff does this issue have? Well, I'll tell you...
  • Lest they Drink and Forget the Law by Malon Edwards A story of a unique character on a unique world who gets herself into a sticky situation.
  • Wolfshead by L. Young A new twist on the werewolf story.
  • Ximena by D.L. Young (no relation to the above author). A foreward-looking business woman tries to fulfill one of her dreams.
  • A Magician's Silver by Jesse Knifley Epic fantasy at its best, as magicians compete for a prize but find something even more valuable.
  • Special Feature: Author Interview of Rebecca Taylor A supernatural YA author tells us about her work and her journey.
  • Editors Corner: The Last Car in Town by Lesley L. Smith When our society transforms, some things will remain the same.
Check it out at the end of this week!

20 November 2012

Story Endings

We had an interesting discussion at the production meeting at the beginning of the month about story endings. Alas, some of the stories we get in our slush pile don't really have endings. IMHO,the most crucial part of a story is the ending. It's the payoff. Readers read until the end to get this payoff. What happens if your story doesn't have this payoff? I'll tell you: trouble. Readers are not satisfied and editors are not buying. Please make sure your story has a payoff. I concede for every rule there's an exception. A few authors make a good living not including endings (Kelly Link comes to mind).
Here are some tips for satisfying story payoffs:
  • allude to, and resolve--one way or another--the story's major conflict. Notice this means your story must have a major conflict. Actually, this also means your protagonist must have a goal and motivation (and the reader needs to know these). The conflict is what stops him/her from achieving this goal.
  • are a consequence of the protagonist's actions. Notice this means your protagonist must act. Note, too, the protag can succeed or fail, but it must be because of what he/she does.
  • are integrated with the story elements. All the parts of the story should be intertwined, should mesh together. Even surprise endings should utilize story elements--they're a surprise because they alter our perception of existing elements.
  • evoke an emotional reaction in the reader. I admit this is tricky. The idea here is readers become the characters when reading fiction. Authors want the reader to empathize with the characters, to feel what they feel, and to understand them.
  • speaks to the beginning. I like to look at my first page and my last page, and make sure they have some theme, phrase, or other element in common. Some people call this circularity. Some people call it bookending. This works great with novels, too.
  • Your tip here. What do you think?

13 November 2012

Review: The Signal

I recently had the opportunity to read The Signal by Rebecca S.W. Bates, a short speculative fiction novel published in 2012. The blurb says,
A warning signal or an offer of peace?

The signal arrives from deepest space. Landon Walker--Earth's radical expert in communication--refuses to believe it's a warning. Called back to headquarters in Brazil, he reluctantly teams up with other top scientists to decode the message.

At the same time, shamans in primitive societies around the world seem to know what the signal means. But they are all dying for their effort. Decoding the signal may lead Landon to the same fate.

Then the signal targets Landon's baby daughter, and suddenly its message becomes crystal clear. He must act to save her--and all of Earth

This was a rip-roaring adventure in the classic science fiction style. There are space ships and a mysterious signal, neat tech, colorful characters, disasters, and even possibly...aliens.

The future world Bates creates is familiar and yet very different from our present, with a myriad of environmental and cultural changes. What differentiates this story from classic science fiction, however, is the inclusion of Brazilian culture and mythology. Bates clearly has a good understanding of what, to many Americans, is an exotic culture in itself, Brazil. In addition, one of the pivotal characters is the daughter/niece of two of the main characters--which is also unusual.

While the main plot lines of the book are resolved, I suspect most reader will be left asking for more. Luckily, this is the first book of a trilogy, so readers will get more. I can't wait!

Get more info about the book, including the free first chapter, at the publisher's website: DM Kreg Publishing.

06 November 2012

literary tension

The story discussion at production meetings is always rather spirited. We often veer into questions of what makes a story good, in general.
One thing you need is literary tension. What the heck is this, anyway? Recall, in general, tension is mental, emotional, or nervous strain. I think the thing to keep in mind, however, is we want to evoke tension in the reader. Tension is the mechanism we employ to make the reader want to keep reading. We want the reader to wonder, "What happens next?"

Often in critique groups, it seems like tension gets a bit mixed up with conflict. Literary conflict is something different. Conflict is when something or someone stops a character in a story from reaching his/her goal; it can be an external or internal obstacle. The reader has to know what the goal is for this to work. I would say tension, then, is a result of conflict. The reader wonders, "Will the character overcome this conflict?"

How, then, do writers create tension? In a nutshell, the author has to evoke questions for the reader and not answer them right away.
how-to-evoke-tension suggestions from around cyberspace include utilizing:

  • a mystery or puzzle--The classic here is, of course, a dead body or other committed crime that must be solved. But an author could also have a secret, a magic ring, locked treasure chest, etc. that the reader wants to find the answer to.
  • a solution--The author tells the reader the end of the story and the reader wants to find out how the story gets there. A lot of thrillers utilize this, e.g. bad guys are going to blow up the world unless... Come to think of it, romances use this method as well: the reader knows the boy and girl (or whatever) will get together at the end, but how does it happen?
  • Related to the solution is the author actually telling the reader things. I see this a lot in the beginning of (successful) books and stories.
  • present hints and possibilities--Savvy readers know when an author spends time on a character or object it's important, e.g. gun on the mantle, suspicious janitor, etc. Readers wonder, "What's up with that? What's up with him?" This method could also encompass multiple plot lines or protagonists. Readers want to know how they all fit together. Plus, as an added bonus, when you change point-of-view it evokes tension in the reader: "Wait. What happens next with this first guy?" This can be tough to pull off in a short story, however--you don't want to get too complicated.
  • knowledgable reader--Here, the reader knows more than the characters, often because of multiple points-of-view. The reader gets to see them all, but the characters do not. "Oh, no! That guy she's dating is the guy that killed her sister." :) Horror stories often utilize this. Readers know the characters should not go into the basement. Alone. At night. Bare foot. In her negligee. With a killer on the loose. In the house...
What do you think? What's a good way to evoke tension?

31 October 2012

from behind the curtain

I know you all have been waiting with bated breath for news from behind the curtain, so here it is...

Yes! We did have our Electric Spec production meeting. We, once again, achieved the impossible. We winnowed down all the publishable stories in the hold-for-voting pile to a few select few which will be appearing in the next issue. It was a tough job, as usual. We had to imbibe some adult beverages to get through it. Personally, I had a seasonal Harvest Pumpkin Ale (crafted with pumpkin and spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice) by Blue Moon Brewing Company, and I have to say it was yummy. Was that too much detail about our meeting? :)
Then, suffice it to say, we utilized all our standard conflict resolution techniques such as arm- and thumb-wrestling, fencing with Parisers, caber tossing, etc. This time, to shake things up, we also had a spelling bee. (Sorry, Editor Dave!)

Anyway, to get to the info you might actually be interested in, all the authors in hold-for-voting should have heard back from us by now. Either we sent a congrats and a contract, or a sorry and please-try-again. If you did get a contract, please send it back as soon as possible, so we can get to work editing your masterpiece.

Once we get the contract back, we edit. Then, we go back to the authors and get their feedback on the edits. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat. You get the picture. Notice, we do edit stories. Once in awhile authors don't like this. Too bad. You've been warned.

Then, we post the stories using our content-management-system (Thanks, Stuart!). And then, we go live! W00t! :) Be sure to read the new issue on November 30 2012

And now, for your reading pleasure, here's a literary trivia question: Where does "behind the curtain" come from?

If you guessed it's from L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz you would be correct. Ding, ding, ding. We have a winner! :)

24 October 2012

dialogue tips from a master

Never fear, we are working behind the scenes on the next issue of Electric Spec. I'll keep you posted with more info later.

In the meantime, I went to a conference this past weekend: MileHiCon, the annual Denver science fiction conference. Suffice it to say, the only place I actually talked to Editor Betsy was in the bar. :) We were both pretty busy with panels. Consider this conference for October 2013; it is really a lot of fun.

This year a highlight of the con was the dialogue workshop taught by Grand Master Connie Willis. Here are some of her tips (in no particular order):

  • Dialogue is not like real-life conversation. It's more concise. Omit all those 'hellos' and 'goodbyes' and 'ums.'
  • Don't use too many dialogue tags. Use as few tags as possible, without confusing the reader.
  • Authors shouldn't write more than about four lines of uninterrupted dialogue. No soliloquies unless your name happens to end in Shakespeare.
  • Characters should never talk about things they both already know. For example, a character should never say, "As you know, Bob, we've been married forty years."
  • The exception to the above rule is: unless it's in a fight. For example, in an argument you could say something like, "Bob! We've been married forty years and you've never once picked up your socks!"
  • Dialogue should serve a purpose such as moving the story forward, giving information, and/or contributing to characterization. The more it accomplishes, the better!
  • Create subtext in your dialogue. How? Use non-verbal communication to suggest something different from what the characters are actually saying. Willis used some movie clips as examples. In the 1966 film Walk, Don't Run a couple sits in the back of a cab. The woman talks about how wonderful her fiancee is, all the while gazing in infatuation at the man sitting next to her (not her fiancee). The man starts kissing her and she kisses back and talks about wonderful fiancee "Mr." Haversack. It's a fun and effective scene.
That's all I remember for now.
What are your dialogue tips?

17 October 2012

notes from behind the scenes

Greetings from behind-the-scenes! Savvy writers know we closed for submissions for the November 30, 2012 issue on October 15. We are furiously reading through all the submissions and will let writers know by the end of the month of they are rejected (sorry!) or being held-for-voting (hurray!). Then, by the beginning of November we will let folks know if they're in the issue (yeah!). Really savvy writers will have deduced that means we have our production meeting at the end of October/beginning of November. They would be right. :)

On behalf of all the editors, I'd like to say "Thank you very much." to everyone who submitted.

Since I've been reading through so many stories, I do have some tips... I apologize to faithful readers of the blog: you've seen most of these tips before.

  • Only use 'said/say' or 'asked/ask' in your dialogue tags. I'm not kidding here. Why? Because 'said/say' and 'asked/ask' are invisible, while 'grunted', 'sighed', etc. takes the reader out of the story. Can you grunt words? Sigh words? We want the reader to stay in the story.
  • Use specific and unique descriptions. Descriptions should always be from the point-of-view of the protagonist. For example, don't say 'She was pretty.' Be specific. How is she pretty? Maybe 'She had the most luscious lips John had ever seen and he couldn't wait to kiss them.'
    A laundry list of descriptive words often has the vagueness problem. For example, 'He was wearing a blue suit, wing-tipped shoes, an expensive watch, a red power-tie.' It doesn't really paint a picture. But 'Sally gasped when she saw his diamond-encrusted Rolex.' does paint a picture.
  • Subject your work to the 'Huh?' test. After reading your story, does a person say, 'Huh?' This is not a good thing. After reading the first page of your story, does a person say, 'Huh?' Again, not a good thing. If an editor can't tell what's going on in your story, he/she is not going to buy it. IMHO, 100% of writers need to let someone else read their story, and ask them, 'What happened?' If it's not what the author intended: rewrite.
  • Think carefully about writing a story about vampires or werewolves or zombies. It is particularly difficult to pull of something fresh in this arena.
  • Please submit to us in rtf format, as we request.
  • Please write at least a sentence or two in the cover letter. Please do not write 100 sentences in the cover letter. (Your time is valuable!)
  • Please read the excellent new issue of Electric Spec when it comes out at the end of November. :)

09 October 2012

quantum fiction

I have a confession: I love quantum physics. So, as you might imagine I'm pretty jazzed that a scientist from one of my alma maters just won the Nobel Prize in Physics. The Nobel Prize in Physics 2012 was awarded jointly to Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland "for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems". Read all about it on The Novel Prize in Physics site.

So, of course, I also love quantum fiction and often write it and read it. In case you aren't familiar with the term, Wikipedia says Quantum fiction is a literary genre that reflects modern experience of the material world and reality as influenced by quantum theory and new principles in quantum physics.

Last week I discovered author Paul Melko. His novel The Walls of the universe is quintessential quantum fiction and so good. John Rayburn, an Ohio farmboy, is tricked by his own doppelganger into using a broken universe-hopping device, sending him on a one-way trip to a dozen other, bizarre universes. He must use his wits to find his way back to his home universe, without running afoul of the mysterious forces afoot in the multiverse.
His novel Broken Universe is also very good. John and his friends have been trapped in a parallel universe while they try to build dimension-hopping transfer device, and when they finally get back to their home universe, they find that the Alarians have exploited the homemade transfer device john left behind. John and his team have got to stop them before they use the transfer device to unleash themselves upon the multiverse. Along the way, John and friends recruit an army of their doppelgangers to help them build a transdimensional company.
Besides the awesome plotting and really cool quantum physics ideas, these novels work because the protagonist John is extremely likeable. The novels also address the whole nature versus nurture paradigm. Do we all contain good and evil? Exactly what would it take for evil to win out?

What good books have you read recently?

26 September 2012

invisible intentions

I had a funny thing happen recently. I finished the first draft of a story and followed my own advice: I asked several critique partners what happened in the story. I got several totally different interpretations!
You either have to laugh or cry. I choose to laugh. :)
A couple people did interpret the story the way I intended it. A lot of people went off on weird tangents, taking small story details and running with them. So, yes, I will be working on that story today and I will be removing all those apparently intriguing details.

This experience relates to Verlyn Klinkenborg's blog at The New York Times from earlier this week: The Trouble With Intentions. Among other things he says,
Your opinion of what your sentence means is always overruled by what your sentence literally says. and This means you’ll need to write, and revise, as if your intentions were invisible and your sentences will be doing all the talking, all on their own. This may be the hardest thing a writer has to learn.

I agree. This is one of the hardest thing a writer has to learn. The hardest thing for me, however, is divorcing my intentions from the literal sentences, seeing what is really on the page. Klinkenborg also says,
Seeing what your sentences actually say is never easy, but it gets easier with practice.

Good luck to all of us!

19 September 2012

notes from the slush pile

I guess by now the heart-pounding thrills and chills of the August 31, 2012 issue of Electric Spec has started to wear off. Time marches on, so, we've started working on the new November 30, 2012 issue. We have a lead on a neat interview! Stay tuned for more info in November.
As a heads-up, we will close to submissions for that issue on October 15, 2012.

Anyway, I've been going through my slush pile...
I did come across a couple of head-scratchers. By this I mean I read the whole story and I couldn't figure out what happened. I strongly suggest every author get another set of eyes on their work before submission. This can be your significant other, Mom, BFF, or whatever. But, after they read it, ask them what they think happened. If all they can say is: "It was good." or "I liked it." They are a true friend BUT you probably need to work on the story some more.

I also came across a couple stories where the protagonist didn't do anything. I'm not saying they tried to do something and failed--that would be fine. I'm saying they didn't even try to do anything. I'm sorry, but this editor doesn't think that's a story. Authors should always investigate their market before submitting.

There were some stories with totally unrealistic dialogue. An easy way to spot this is to read the story out loud, by yourself, or with a friend.

There were some stories with major info-dumping. Bummer. This kind of thing went out in like the 1950s. Characters should never discuss something they all already know, e.g.

"As you know, Bob, my new warp drive bends space-time in front of and behind a vessel rather than attempting to propel the vessel itself at light-speeds."

"Yes, Joe. That was a good idea."

No. Generally, authors don't want to give the reader info in paragraphs of narrative either. The bottom line on info is: less is more. Instead, show us. For example, what happens when the Alcubierre Drive fails?

Of course, there were also some very good stories in my slush pile that made it into hold for voting. Hopefully, you'll get to read them too.

I look forward to reading your story! Keep sending them in.

12 September 2012

optimism or pessimism in fiction

I just finished an awesome book This Shared Dream by Kathleen Ann Goonan in which the characters tried to eliminate war and suffering on Earth.

It reminded me of fascinating comments made by Robert J. Sawyer in reference to his WWW Trilogy in an interview. I asked about the idea of a moral arrow through time: "the same force-complexity-that produces consciousness also naturally generates morality, and that as interdependence increases, both intelligence and morality will increase."

He said, You may say I'm a dreamer-but I'm not the only one. My own thinking on these issues has been informed by many other people, including the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and nonfiction author Robert Wright, who wrote Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny and more recently The Evolution of God. Bob and I were recently both speaking at a public-policy conference in Washington, DC., sponsored by the New America Foundation; it was the first time we'd met, and we've become friends. But, yes, I'm a dreamer, and an optimist, but I'm also a realist, I think-and I don't think those are contradictory things to be.
This fiction is uplifting and optimistic! Optimism in fiction can be very effective.

At the other extreme, I just started reading The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi. This book is very dark and dramatic. The teaser copy says Soldier boys emerged from the darkness. Guns gleamed dully. Bullet bandoliers and scars draped their bare chests. Ugly brands scored their faces. She knew why these soldier boys had come. She knew what they sought, and she knew, too, that if they found it, her best friend would surely die.

This reminds me of fascinating comments made by Warren Hammond in reference to his KOP Trilogy in an interview. I asked: SF academic Edward James has said "the ability of the writer to imagine a better place in which to live died in the course of the twentieth century, extinguished by the horrors of total war, of genocide and of totalitarianism." Do you agree? Disagree?

He said, I've never heard that before, but I have to agree. I don't think it's true for all writers, but it is for me. I've seen the ovens of Auchwitz and toured S-21, the Khmer Rouge's infamous prison that held an estimated 17,000 prisoners between 1975 and 1979. Of the 17,000 prisoners who went in, there were only seven survivors. Seven.

The truly horrifying thing is knowing these atrocities were committed by regular people. Not all Nazis were monsters. And not all Khmer Rouge were monsters. Many were patriots. Many were idealists. Many were just scared to stand up to authority.

Knowing how easy it is for humans to kill each other, I find it impossible to imagine a future where our problems will all be solved.
Very dramatic! Clearly, pessimism can also be very effective in fiction.

What's your preference in reading and writing? Optimism or pessimism?

05 September 2012

keep learning

We hope you continue to enjoy the latest edition of Electric Spec. What's your favorite story or feature? I know, it is a tough choice! :)

This week is also a big one for the Electric Spec Editors. Starting Friday Sept. 7, we'll all be at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's annual conference: Colorado Gold. I can't recommend this conference enough. There will be lots of special speakers and guests including Jodi Thomas, Debra Dixon, Beth Miller, Jennifer Unter, Katharine Sands, Anita Mumm, Carlie Webber, Nephele Tempest, James Minz, Erika Imranyl, Peter Senftleben, Liz Pelletier, Libby Murphy, and Terri Bischoff.
There will tons of panels and workshops besides the totally awesome "Short Story Workshop" with the Electric Spec Editors. In short there will be many, many opportunities for learning about writing. If you've signed up already: Great! See you there! If not, there are a few spots still available, or consider it for next year.

The point I'm trying to make, however is, writers need to keep learning and improving their craft. How? Well, I'll tell you. :)

  • Write! This is the most important thing. Your writing can't evolve if you don't write.
  • Get feedback and consider it. This can be a critique group or beta reader or whatever, but it needs to be honest feedback. As a writer, then, you need to consider this. I'm absolutely not saying you need to do what readers or critiquers tell you to do.
  • Read and study fiction. Try to decipher what works and what doesn't work. Think about it. Write it down. Talk it over with your significant other or writer friend.
  • Read and study writing about writing. There are a lot of good books, articles, and blog entries out there about writing. What are my favorites? That's a tough choice, but some good books include: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon, On Writing by Stephen King, Story by Robert McKee, and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. I'm sure you have your own favorites. If not, find some. :)
  • Your learning suggestion here.
Happy learning!

30 August 2012

We're Live!

The awesome new issue of Electric Spec is live! Go check it out!
Thank you very much to everyone who helped us put this one out including authors Andy Goldman, James Bizzel, Joe Ollinger, Simon Kewin, Linda Hilburn, and this time Nikki Baird! Woo hoo! Thanks to our cover artist, Laura Givens. Thanks to all the editorial and technical staff.

And for those of you who submitted stories and didn't make it into the issue: Thank you to you, too!

Especially, thank you, Readers!

28 August 2012

Get Ready!

Readers, get ready! Start your, uh, spectacles? E-readers? I guess start whatever you want to start. This week we will release our new issue of Electric Spec! Some highlights include:

As Dave recently alluded to, there's lots of awesome fiction! In the fantasy sub-genre, we have "My One and Only" by James Bizzell, which uses an unique story structure to explore the question of just what is a soul mate. Also in fantasy, Simon Kewin brings us "The Chronicles of Zer" which emphasizes the importance of books being read. In the cyberpunk department, we have "False Negative" by Andy Goldman, which reminds us the spam in our inbox isn't nearly as bad as it could get. Another late summer thriller for sci-fi readers is Joe Ollinger's "10,000 Bones", an extraterrestrial noir tale that will shake you to your . . . er, bones.

And as if all that wasn't enough, in Special Features, we offer an interview with vampire writer Lynda Hillburn, of Kismet Knight fame. And finally, we're excited to present a new addition our Editor's Corner: our awesome associate editor Nikki Baird shares with us the unique romantic fantasy, "The Hundred Year Storm." Combine that with dramatic cover art and you have a super-fantastic ezine issue! W00t! :)
I admit I may not be totally objective.

Check it out this week!

24 August 2012

New Issue Almost Here!

We're putting the final touches on our August issue, which comes out one week from today. To whet your appetite, I'll mention that one of the stories I edited was unique not just in its plot, but also in its structure. Really cool how the events in the story mirror the structure of the story itself. (Okay--I won't keep you guessing. It's James Bizzell's "My one and Only.") I'm also excited because we have a great story from one our favorite E-spec authors, Simon Kewin. I believe this is Simon's forth story with Electric Spec!

21 August 2012

writing tips from writers

Many of you may have seen this already but BuzzFeed has a nice collection of "30 Indispensable Writing Tips From Famous Authors". For our writers, here's a nice sampling:
  • If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.--Elmore Leonard
  • Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.--Anton Chekhov
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.--George Orwell
  • Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings.--Stephen King
  • Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.--Neil Gaiman
  • A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.--Edgar Allan Poe
  • Start as close to the end as possible.--Kurt Vonnegut
Read all the tips here.

In other news, our fabulous new August 31, 2012 issue of Electric Spec is coming along swimmingly! Be sure to check it out next week!

17 August 2012

a couple good links

We interrupt our regularly scheduled broadcast for two neat links.

On Writers in The Storm Blog, Kristen Lamb explains What Star Trek Can Teach Us About Great Writing--the 2009 J.J.Abrams movie. Electric Spec readers and writers should enjoy topics such as

  • Star Trek proved that imperfect characters resonate with audiences.
  • Star Trek perfected showing, not telling.
  • Star Trek employed parsimony.
  • Star Trek showed character via relativity.
  • Star Trek relied on character and story.
  • World-building is something a writer must employ to assist or accentuate the core conflict.
There's lot of good advice here!

The president of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW), Mark Stevens, talks about Tall Tales: Rocky Mt. Fiction Writers Conference in Denver. I agree with Mark. The RMFW conference is awesome! Check it out Sept. 7,8,9 2012 in Denver if you can.

14 August 2012

behind-the-scenes update

We, The Editors, are in the thick of things, getting ready for the new issue of Electric Spec. Personally, I finished my initial edits of my two assigned stories, and passed things off to the authors for their feedback.
What the heck? I'll tell you about them (because they're both really good). "False Negative" by Andy Goldman is a disturbing extrapolation of what could happen if human beings have to deal with their selves being spammed. "10,000 Bones" by Joe Ollinger is a tale of disillusionment and human greed--set on another planet, of course. Yes, these are both science fiction. I do tend to edit the most science-fiction-y of our stories because I'm a scientist. :) Read the new issue on August 31, 2012!

We also have something new in the upcoming issue: a story by our Associate Editor, Nikki Baird, in Editor's Corner. For those of you who don't troll the obscure webpages of Electric Spec,
Nikki Baird writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Her short horror story, "Devastation Mine" was published as part of the anthology Broken Links, Mended Lives, which was nominated for a Colorado Book Award. She has been a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Colorado Gold contest for the last two years in the Speculative Fiction category, and is a regular contributor to writersonthebrink.com. Read more about Nikki here. So, be sure to check out her story, too!

In other news...we have been neglecting the slush pile. :(
Sorry. We'll get back to it soon. If you've submitted: hold on!

07 August 2012

partnership

Once in a while we get an author who doesn't want us to edit their story or they don't want to sign the contract or they want us to edit their story before they sign the contract or similar. What happens when this occurs? The author doesn't get published. Personally, I find such situations quite sad. The author has gone to the trouble to write a good story but hasn't gone to the trouble to learn about the publishing business. Editors never work with content without a contract.

It's particularly sad with regard to Electric Spec because we created the 'zine with the sole purpose of helping authors. All the editors are writers and love fiction and we all know how tough the publishing market is. We want to help you get your best work out there for the reading public! When we edit a story we always work with the author in partnership to create the best story possible.

We're now accepting submissions for our November 2012 issue. Check out our Fiction Submission Guidelines where it says before publication we may edit the story for length or readability. However, we always remain true to the spirit of the story.

Good luck! :)

03 August 2012

production meeting

My head has finally stopped pounding enough to give you all an update. We, The Editors of Electric Spec, had our production meeting this week. We had a super-duper special guest: our associate editor Nikki Baird. Thanks for all your help, Nikki! Plenty of fun and excitement and refreshments and arguments were had by all. I admit the caber toss was probably a mistake. One of us (okay, it was me) had 8 different kinds of beer! Possibly writing the blog post about the production meeting isn't quite the high honor my fellow editors and the beer goggles may have led me to believe...

Anyway, we are smack dab in the middle of the process of emailing the authors in hold-for-voting to tell them the big news. Stay close to your inbox if you're waiting for 'yeah' or 'nay'. If you didn't make it in the issue: thank you for submitting--we appreciate it. If you did make it in: Congratulations! We will start editing the stories as soon as we get the contracts back. What else? We plan on five neat stories in this issue. We have a neat story planned for Editors Corner. Editor Betsy will do a neat author interview. We have neat cover art. Apparently, I use the word 'neat' too often. :)

There were some spirited discussions about which stories to include. What was the tie-breaker? Originality. If there was a story that included a plot idea or a world or a story structure we hadn't seen before, it had a better chance. If we couldn't predict where the story was going, it had a better chance. We also did have to address the question of issue balance: we could not have 5 stories about love triangles involving a mopey human, a vampire, and a werewolf. Darn!

Please check out the new issue of Electric Spec on August 31, 2012!

31 July 2012

stay tuned...

This week things are cranking into overdrive behind the scenes at Electric Spec. We have our production meeting and will pick stories for the August 31, 2012 issue. So, stay tuned until later in the week and we'll post more.
We're also gearing up for the thirtieth annual Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference September 7-9. We, the ElectricSpec Editors, will be teaching a short story workshop among other things. I highly recommend this conference and there's still time to register, although some events are booked up. Read more about it here.

In the meantime, for your reading pleasure, Professor Gunn pointed me to a fun article in the New York Times Sunday Book Review: How to Write by Colson Whitehead. It has some good advice and some which is good for a laugh. :)

24 July 2012

is your story memorable?

Here at Electric Spec we are very busy behind the scenes working on the next issue: August 31,2012. What's going on, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. :)

We've scheduled our production meeting for next week. Some of us are frantically trying to get through their slush. Some of us are already pondering the relative merits of the stories in hold-for-voting. We're thinking about possible movie columns, entries in Editor's Corner, cover art and author interviews. We're setting up the issue in our content management system. If it seems like a lot of work, it is.

I find picking amongst the stories in hold-for-voting to be hard. In the first place, if a story gets in hold-for-voting it is publishable. So, it's tough to think that we might end up not choosing it; I definitely empathize with authors. Not only is writing difficult, getting published is difficult. In fact, this is why we started Electric Spec--to give authors another possible market. I've been trying to pinpoint what makes me prefer a story in hold-for-voting over other stories. Yes, it has to be well-written with an intriguing protagonist that does something. Yes, there has to be some kind of interesting speculative fiction element like a neat new world. I think the extra something is being memorable. After I read the story, does it stick with me? Do I ponder it on my commute? That's a story I'm going to pick.

Of course, the next question is: how do you make a story memorable? Writing is an art so there are no tried-and-true formulas. But you might consider a never-before-seen world or a unique character with a one-of-a-kind problem. Nailing the character's point-of-view also helps; if I feel like I am the character, that's more memorable. Good luck!

Do you have any tips for writing a memorable story?

17 July 2012

science geek-out

Maybe it's the influence of Comic Con, or maybe it's just too hot outside to think straight, but I'm a geek and proud of it. Along those lines, there's been some really exciting and interesting announcements in the world of physics in the past year. The Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus (OPERA) Project in Italy announced they'd measured neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light. If true, this would have been beyond shocking. Of course, this was disproved when they turned out to have systematic errors... But it's still good story fodder. :)

Lately, a discovery that appears to be true is the discovery of the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). I studied the Higgs Boson while I was young and impressionable. What you need to know is bosons are the particles that mediate or carry forces. To use an example you might have heard of, photons are the bosons of the electromagnetic force field. In other words, photons carry electromagnetism. So, the Higgs Boson works like this: it mediates or carries a force, namely, the Higgs field. The Higgs field is basically the field that gives particles mass. Cool! Again, there are a lot of story possibilities here.

Recently, I found a neat blog that discusses such topics: Quantum Diaries: Thoughts on work and life from particle physicists from around the world. This site is (mostly) comprehensible to normal folks. They have a ton of stuff on the Higgs Boson and what the big deal is. I particularly liked the post from last week on Dark matter: No model, just guesses. Enjoy!

11 July 2012

WorldCon

No doubt some Electric Spec readers are busy getting ready for, or traveling to, Comic Con 2012. (Please feel free to drop us a comment about your experience.) But also coming up this summer is the 70th World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, August 30 to September 3, 2012. The is the preeminent world-wide conference for Science Fiction and Fantasy. One of the Electric Spec Editors will be there (I'll let s/he tell you about it him/herself).

Of course, one of the best things about WorldCon is you get to vote for the 2012 Hugo awards, and that means you get free electronic copies of most of the works. Nominees for the best short story include:

  • “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu (Clarkesworld, April 2011)
  • “The Homecoming” by Mike Resnick (Asimov's, April/May 2011)
  • “Movement” by Nancy Fulda (Asimov's, March 2011)
  • “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2011)
  • “Shadow War of the Night Dragons: Book One: The Dead City: Prologue” by John Scalzi (Tor.com)
Congrats to all the nominees.

Personally, I've only been to one WorldCon and that was when it was in Denver in 2008. It was very awesome and very crowded. There were tons of programs and parties and panels. A highlight for me was the SFWA suite, where I volunteered. It was neat seeing and rubbing elbows with all the stars of the SF/F world. In particular, I seem to recall Editor Betsy sitting on George R.R. Martin's lap...

Anyway, I bring all this up because

  1. You should go! and
  2. Author guest of Honor Mike Resnick has posted his Worldcon--A Beginner's Guide
He gives at lot of really helpful information, so check it out. And if you go, have fun and keep and eye out for Electric Spec!

09 July 2012

guest post: Renata Hill

Today, we're pleased to have a guest post from one of Electric Spec's founding editors: Renata Baron Hill. Among Renata's many talents, she is an excellent editor. She shares one of her tricks with us...

When I’m up at two in the morning, typing a promised post for a blog, or for that matter, two in the afternoon writing a query letter or, more likely, responding to a Facebook IM, sometimes I rush to click Publish or Send without reviewing my work. Say, what? Yes, it happens, particularly if I have not devoured my daily ham-and-cheese Lunchable.

Now, Ginger, a nifty FREE download from Ginger Software helps me out. Sure, it checks spelling, but among its coolest features is the homophone checker. I’ll give you a hint if you were sick that day in sixth-grade English: homophones are words that sound the same, but have different spellings and meanings. So, when I suggest to my online friend, “Let’s grab a bear after work,” Ginger understands the context and automatically corrects my sentence to, “Let’s grab a beer after work.” Now, my friend knows that I don’t want to don camo, but actually quaff a delicious malty beverage.

Plus, for all you harried writers out there, Ginger also checks subject/verb agreement, singular/plural nouns, consecutive nouns, and basically makes you sound more like Arthur C. Clarke than Arthur Dent. Try it. There are no strings, no secret malware, and it works for PCs and Macs.

Renata, a founding editor, recently switched to a new medication that has enabled her to better appreciate the rich weirdness of China MiƩville's novels, the complex settings of Frank Herbert's earlier worlds, and the strange, feminist-loves-phantasm themes in the works of Laurell K. Hamilton. When not researching obscure marketing facts about Fords for wealthy corporate clients or writing scintillating software documentation for moody SQL developers, she adores reading the genres of fantasy, science fiction, alternative history, and the macabre. She was first published at the tender age of 6, spent adolescence and young adulthood plumbing the depths of life's ironies in short story form and non-fiction articles, and some day hopes to nestle into the mantle of "famous novelist".

03 July 2012

perfection

I've been writing and rewriting a story for several weeks now. And I keep begging my critique partners to take "just one more look" at it. Frankly, at this point, I'm surprised they haven't shot me, or pushed me into one of the wildfires. I'm dragging my feet about submitting it to the market I wrote it for because I know the editor won't change it. It has to be perfect when I send it in or she won't buy it. :(

But you are in luck. We, the editors of Electric Spec, do work with authors to make stories the best they can be. They don't have to be 100% perfect when you send them in. That should be a bit of a relief for you all. What's the most common thing we do? Besides spelling and grammar issues, we often end up shortening a story. Short stories, in particular, need to be as short as possible to tell the story. :) Yeah, I know, easier said than done.

Speaking of perfection, the awesome writer and writing teacher Kristine Kathryn Rusch, has a really nice article posted on her website: The Business Rusch: Perfection. Ms. Rusch basically says no story is ever perfect to every reader. So, at some point, quit sweating it and send it in! Good advice.
By the way, Ms. Rusch is an excellent resource for writers. Check out her archive of 'On Writing' posts.

Oh, and FYI, we close to submissions for the August 2012 issue on midnight July 15, 2012 (U.S. Mountain Daylight Time). So you still have time to send your story in. :) Good luck.

28 June 2012

Notes from the Slush Pile

The Electric Spec editors have posted before about the importance of the first page--even the first paragraph--of a story. The reality is that we have lots of submissions to go through and if we're not impressed with the beginning, we may never get to the end. I wish I had the formula for the perfect story opening, but I don't. However, here are three things I've seen in the first paragraph that have made me want to look at the next story in the pile:

1) Passive voice--especially multiple sentences in a row of passive voice.
2) Lack of a clear protagonist. This usually means there's a long narrative that reads more like a newspaper article than a story. Also, this can be when multiple characters are introduced but I don't know which one the story is about.
3) Generalized descriptions. For example, "The short-haired man stood in the room. Across from him, the woman sitting in the chair smiled." I don't get a picture in my head from these sentences. I don't even know where or when the story takes place. Give me some details. Maybe something like this: "As usual, Alfred, the raisin-faced weirdo from accounting, hovered next to the coffeemaker in the break room. Jane slouched in the hard plastic chair across from him and couldn't help but smile. Tonight, Alfred would die a slow, painful death."

26 June 2012

Greatest SF/F Authors?

There was an interesting article posted on flavorwire at the end of last week: The Greatest Female Sci-Fi/Fantasy Authors of All Time. It was in honor of the late Octavia Butler's birthday. Here's the list:
  • Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Octavia Butler
  • Madeleine L’Engle
  • Angela Carter
  • Kelly Link
  • Anne Rice
  • Connie Willis
  • Susanna Clarke
  • Doris Lessing
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley
These authors are amazing. :) What do you think?

I must admit I do have a problem with the "greatest female" label. I'd say most of these authors are among the "greatest" authors period, certainly in the SF/F field.

Generally the "of all time" label is also a bit problematic. Authors can be amazing trail-blazers or ground-breakers for their time, but have their work not stand up years or decades later. (Not that I'm saying this is the case for these authors.) Should we judge authors in their time or for all time?
Tricky.

What do you think? Who are the greatest SF/F authors?

14 June 2012

Betsy's Schedule at Denver ComicCon

June 15-17  Denver ComicCon Schedule!!!


  • Local Authors Spotlight - Hyatt Capitol Room 3 - 7pm FRIDAY
  • New Horror and Urban Fantasy - Room 104 - 11-12 Sat SATURDAY 
  • Strong Women Writers and Characters in SF and Urban Fantasy - Hyatt Capitol Room 2  2pm SATURDAY
  • Great SF/fantasy/horror books  Room 104 - 10-11am SUNDAY 
  • How To Break Into SF/fantasy/horror Fiction-Writing - Room 104   11am-12 SUNDAY

12 June 2012

notes from the slush pile

We've started going through the slush pile for our next fabulous issue of Electric Spec. (Thanks for your submissions!) I do have some advice for aspiring Electric Spec authors. Savvy blog readers will realize I've said some of this before.
  • Do avoid exclamation marks! When I got my MFA my professors told me authors are allowed one exclamation mark per 80,000-word novel. How many does that leave you as a short story writer? You do the math.
  • Do have your protagonist do something. In particular, it's great when the protagonist acts to solve his/her/its problem.
  • Do give your protagonist a problem. If his/her/its life is perfect...it's not a story.
  • Do have some dialogue. Obviously, you can write a story with no dialogue, but we rarely publish such stories. Be cognizant of your market.
  • Do avoid non-said dialogue tags. 'asked' is okay, too.
  • Do have at least one speculative fiction element. I just rejected a lovely story solely because there was nothing speculative about it. Be cognizant of your market. :)
  • Do avoid obvious and blatant political or religious issues. We don't campaign for candidates or causes. We don't proselytize.
  • Do avoid grammar and spelling issues--especially in the first paragraph. We may be a little lenient when it comes to accepting stories with grammar and/or spelling issues but when they're in the first paragraph, I get grumpy.
  • Your advice here.
That's all I can think of for the moment. What do you think?

06 June 2012

R.I.P. Ray Bradbury

As most of everyone has heard by now, author Ray Bradbury passed away last night in L.A. This is a significant loss to world culture. Of course, some of his most famous works include The Martian Chronicles, and Fahrenheit 451. I think Fahrenheit 451 is one of the most prophetic novels ever written. It's also the most scientific. Bradbury himself said Fahrenheit 451 was his only true science-fiction work; the others were fantasies despite their settings (such as Mars!). There's no question Bradbury liked to tell stories, but also like to make readers think.

As Clifton Fadiman says in one edition of The Martian Chronicles Prefatory Note: "Mr. Bradbury has caught hold of a simple, obvious but overwhelmingly important moral idea... That idea--highlighted as every passing month produces a new terrifying lunacy: sputniks,super-sputniks, projected assaults on the moon, projected manned satellites--is that we are in the grip of a psychosis, a technology-mania, the final consequence of which can only be universal murder and quite conceivably the destruction of our planet." Bradbury's paradigm was very different from those of his science 'fictioneer' peers. Since humanity has not heeded his warnings, let's hope his dire prophesies do not come to pass.

There's a fascinating interview about Bradbury posted at The Paris Review: Ray Bradbury, The Art of Fiction No. 203. Check it out!

Rest in peace, Mr. Bradbury.

05 June 2012

Check it out!

I hope you've already checked out the awesome new issue of Electric Spec. In case there was something you missed, here's a run-down of its excellent-ness. (Yes, editors are allowed to make up words.)

What's the key to kicking off a great summer? Great speculative fiction stories! And we just happen to have several you are sure to enjoy. Returning Electric Spec author A.L. Sirois brings us a startling look at the future of musical entertainment in "Itinerate Pandemonium." Those who love high fantasy will flock to "They Who Ride Griffons" by K.R. Hager. Also in the fantasy department, we bring you Larry Hodges' "In the Belly of the Beast," which presents a whole new take on dragon hunting. If you're looking for a note of tragedy with your sci-fi, read "Time Debt" by D. Thomas Minton. And, just in time for summer, we have "Deep Deep" by Karen Munro, a summer camp story with a side of slipstream. If any of you are planning a trip to Vegas, you may want to read the cautionary tale included in this month's Editor's Corner "My Kingdom for a Gislestorch". As if all this fiction were not enough to get you going, this issue features an exiting interview with first-class science fiction author Warren Hammond, and our film critic explains how the horror film A Cabin in the Woods relates to world politics.

Thank you very much to all our authors and columnists, our tech support folks, our slush reader and everyone else who helped put this issue together. We appreciate you!

And "Thank You" readers! Without you, we wouldn't exist!

29 May 2012

new issue May 31!

We're almost ready to go live with an exciting new issue of Electric Spec! Check it out on May 31, 2012! We have six brand new entertaining speculative fiction stories for your reading pleasure. A.L. Soris shows us the surprising future of entertainment in "Itinerate Pandemonium". K.R. Hager gives us "They Who Ride Griffons" for a high fantasy thrill ride. Larry Hodges tells the tale "In the Belly of the Beast"--you've never seen dragon-hunting like this. D.Thomas Minton uses time dilation to tragic effect in "Time Debt". Karen Munro scares us with "Deep Deep"; let's just say you may be reluctant to let your kids go to summer camp this year. And, finally, editor David E. Hughes gives us a humorous and unique take on an urban myth in "My Kingdom for a Gislestorchen".

We also have a fascinating interview with neo-noir SF author Warren Hammond. I teased you about it earlier here. And our film critic Marty Mapes discuses A Cabin in the Woods, relating it to... You'll just have to read it to find out. :)

22 May 2012

Advice from Gaiman

We're nearing the home stretch on the new Electric Spec issue. Check it out May 31, 2012!

I'd meant to post the 2011 Nebula Award Winners as I am wont to do. So here they are:

  • Novel Winner: Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)
  • Novella Winner: ”The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Science Fiction, October/November 2011)
  • Novelette Winner: ”What We Found,” Geoff Ryman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September/October 2011)
  • Short Story Winner: ”The Paper Menagerie,” Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2011)
  • Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation Winner: Doctor Who: “The Doctor’s Wife,” Neil Gaiman (writer), Richard Clark (director) (BBC Wales)
  • Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Winner: The Freedom Maze, Delia Sherman (Big Mouth House)
  • 2011 DAMON KNIGHT GRAND MASTER AWARD: Connie Willis
Congratulations to all the winners! Read more about it over at SFWA.

But speaking of Neil Gaiman, in the meantime, I got very distracted by his May 17 excellent commencement address at The University of the Arts. Here are the bullet points:

  1. When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing.
  2. If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.
  3. When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure.
  4. I hope you'll make mistakes. If you're making mistakes, it means you're out there doing something.
  5. While you are at it, make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do.
  6. So make up your own rules.
  7. So be wise, because the world needs more wisdom, and if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.
Check out the entire thought-provoking, encouraging speech here.

08 May 2012

in the slog

We, the editors, are deep in it: slogging through edits of stories and articles and all the rest. Hhm... That's not interesting. Okay, here's something exciting to report: In the May 31, 2012 Electric Spec Issue I'll be interviewing Warren Hammond, author of the gritty, futuristic KOP series. Warren gives a pretty fascinating interview. He discusses neo-noir, theism, sexual abuse, how to create a multi-layered empathetic protagonist, how the horrors of world war/genocide/totalitarianism affect writers, and more. Intrigued? :)

In other news...one of the editors had a minor success recently with a short fiction sale (okay, it was me). The secret to my success: perseverance. I workshopped the story, listened to what people said, revised, and repeated. Then, when I sent it out and the rejections started rolling in, I kept on sending it out. I cannot emphasize this enough: I didn't have any tricks, just a lot of hard work and perseverance.

Another one of the editors here had a pretty significant success recently with a two book deal. (W00t!) While she did work hard, IMHO the secret to her success was: networking. It's not my place to divulge details of how the deal went down, but take my word for it: knowing other authors and industry professionals such as agents, editors and assistants can be extremely helpful.

For some reason, I'm reminded that the excellent writing organization Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers annual September conference has opened registration.

02 May 2012

post-production meeting update

I think I can fight through my hangover to tell you what happened last night at the production meeting. At least eight different kinds of beer were imbibed, fattening food was scarfed down. There was cussing, fisticuffs, thumb-wrestling and sword play. Okay, not exactly all that stuff happened. :)
We did have a special guest, our movie expert, Marty Mapes, and discussed many things movie in the initial part of the meeting. Thanks for all your neat columns over the years, Marty!

Which brings me to the stories... We had difficult decisions to make because all the stories were very good. We appreciate submissions. Thanks! This time we had a large variety of speculative fiction to choose from including slam-bang action stories, meta-fiction, and more literary stories. We had science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and combinations thereof.

One significant factor in our decisions included issue balance; we need to include SF, fantasy, and horror in each issue. (Tip: I'd have to say in general we get less horror submissions than other genres. However, please don't send us a story about man killing his girlfriend/wife/female stranger--we see that a lot!)

Another consideration at our 'zine is originality. Several of the stories we picked had elements that we hadn't seen before.

Finally, an excellent story is more likely to get picked than a very good story. Some things for authors to consider include: Did you connect the dots to explain to the reader why the protagonist is acting in his/her particular way? If you have a unique fascinating world, do you explain to the reader why it is the way it is? At the other extreme do you have too much backstory? Note: backstory rarely works in dialogue. Does your protagonist act, drive the events of the story? Make sure, too, significant events occur.
If I was going to give one overall tip for short-story authors it's: is your story as short as it can possibly be? In other words, most stories are too long. You just want to include the crucial bits. :)

Thus, we have selected our stories for the May 31 issue. The authors of the hold-for-voting stories we didn't have room for just received an email from me. We're in the process of sending the authors of selected stories contracts. After we receive signed contracts, we, the editors, will edit the stories. Then,we send or link copies for the authors to approve before we go live. We're also busy picking cover art. I'm working on a fabulous new interview (more on that later). One of the editors is working on something for Editors Corner. We're working on the Letter from the Editor. And, finally, we have the technical aspects of creating the electronic issue, uploading content, etc., to complete.

Phew! If that sounds like a lot of work, it kind of is. But it's worth it. We love speculative fiction and we want to encourage authors.

Send us your stories for the August 2012 issue!:)
And check back here on May 31, 2012 to read the new issue!

01 May 2012

check in tomorrow

Psst. I'll tell you a secret: we're having our production meeting tonight. It's already shaping up to be an interesting meeting... In pursuit of treating all the stories in hold-for-voting fairly, each editor assigns each story a numerical value. Then we combine these to give each story an overall numerical ranking. So far it looks like the editors are not in agreement at all. We'll see what happens. That's the beauty of the numerical system--it averages out our personal biases and makes disagreements easier to deal with.

Therefore, check in here tomorrow and I'll post about what happens at the meeting. See you then!

24 April 2012

Endings

We, the Editors, are studying the hold-for-voting stories for the new May 31, 2012 ElectricSpec Issue. There are a lot of good stories there. (Thanks for submitting if you did so!) One major key to a good short story is the ending. And, apparently, it can be difficult to write an excellent ending.

A story ending has to do a lot of things. A good story ending is both a surprise and totally obvious. It's a surprise in that the reader cannot predict it, but it's obvious in that it fits in perfectly with what has gone before. Often, a good ending makes readers rethink the entire story; it causes a kind of paradigm shift. A good ending needs to address both the external plot arc and the internal character arc. (I've got a tip related to this: can you summarize your external plot arc in one sentence? How about your internal arc? If not, your story may be a bit muddled.)
Most importantly, an ending needs to give the reader emotional satisfaction and/or closure.

If all that sounds like a tall order, it is.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: writing is difficult.

Anyone have any tips for writing good endings? In my own work, I've gotten to a place where I don't start writing the story until I know what the ending will be. What do you do?

Good luck with your endings!

19 April 2012

second person

I tried to read a book recently which was written with a second-person narrative. Wikipedia says,
The second-person narrative is a narrative mode in which the protagonist or another main character is referred to by employment of second-person personal pronouns and other kinds of addressing forms, for example the English second-person pronoun "you".

I say, it was super-annoying. Every time I read "you" it took me out of the story. I kept thinking, "Who you? Me? But I'm not a futuristic detective investigating a kinky murder and missing my hair-do appointment. Why did this author use second person?" Suffice to say, I couldn't stick it out and didn't finish the book.
Caveat Scriptor! As a writer, you should think carefully before you try using second person. Is it really what your story needs? If so, go for it! :)

Of course, there have been successful fictions written in second person. Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss (1990) comes to mind.

I must admit, I do like second person for blog entries. :)

How about you? Have you read or written any good second person?

12 April 2012

Common problems with first chapters--and first pages

Horror author Alexandra Sokoloff has a great blog about the craft of writing. One of her recent entries really caught my eye because what she says about first chapters is also true about the first page or so of short stories. Here's her top 6 list. Go to her blog for elaboration:

1. Inexperienced writers almost inevitably START THEIR STORIES IN THE WRONG PLACE.
2. NEVER MIND THE FUCKING BACKSTORY!!!!!
3. IDENTIFY THE SENSATION AND EXPERIENCE YOU WANT TO EVOKE IN YOUR READER – AND THEN MAKE SURE YOU’RE EVOKING IT.
4. USE ALL SIX SENSES.
5. SHOW, DON’T TELL.
6. DETAIL THE INTERNAL DRIVES OF YOUR CHARACTER AND SET THE GENRE.

10 April 2012

a matter of taste

First, we have an official Electric Spec news announcement: We will be closing to submissions on April 15 for our May 31, 2012 issue. Thus, if you want to be considered for the next issue: tick tock. :)
Of course, if you miss the deadline you will be considered for the following issue August 31, 2012. Good luck!

As far as unofficial announcements go, this means we will have our next production meeting in the beginning of May, so authors will hear by the end of April if they made it into hold-for-voting. Then, authors will hear in the beginning of May if they made it into the issue. Again, good luck.

This, of course, means we are hip-, no, neck-deep in submissions and wading through them. (Thanks for submitting if you did so.) I just wanted to remind authors that when we choose a story for hold-for-voting or the final issue it is a matter of taste. If we don't pick a story, that doesn't mean some other editor won't. Writing is a tough business. Hang in there!

Something that recently brought this subjectivity home to me was I recommended a new novel to one of my fellow editors. I loved it. He couldn't finish it. Apparently, our tastes differ; go figure.

Stay tuned for more exciting information about the upcoming issue in the next few weeks.

03 April 2012

Critique 101

We've said multiple times here on the blog that we can't critique submitted work. We'd like to, but time constraints just don't allow it. Thus, we highly recommend critique groups.

Let's say you've found a critique group. How, exactly, do you critique the work of other writers? I have some suggestions...

  • Generally, it's better to address comments to "the author" rather than "you". In other words separate the author from the work's characters, narrators, etc.
  • Always be specific rather than vague. "I liked this." is less helpful than "The main character here was sympathetic and funny." To help with specificity, focus on writerly concepts such as dialogue, characterization, descriptions, similes, metaphors, plotting, word choice, etc.
  • Begin with positive comments before getting into constructive criticism. This is psychology 101: if you're negative right off the bat, fellow writers will raise barriers and become defensive.
  • Note any confusion or problems you have with the piece, and, if possible, give specific suggestions for improvement.
  • Tell the writer what made you curious, what questions were raised, what you want to know in the future. (But don't expect to get answers right away--authors need to stay quiet during critique.)
  • Comment on the words on the page in front of you. Do not comment on what you think it means, or what you think the author meant, or what your personal opinions are on the subject.
  • Feel free to suggest a craft book or novel that you think would help the writer.
  • Write your comments on spelling, grammar, etc. on the document. You don't need to go over them verbally during critique group unless the writer has a particular pattern.
  • Try not to verbally repeat points that others have made. Feel free to mark on the manuscript if you agree or disagree with comments of other critiquers.
  • Generally, you don't want to comment on what is written; rather, focus on how it's written. All fiction involves some kind of suspension of disbelief.
  • If you are unfamiliar with the genre in question, feel free to say so and refrain from comment.
  • End on a positive note. It is a brave act to submit your work for critique.
  • Your suggestion here.

Good luck!

27 March 2012

Tales from the slush pile

We've been diligently wading through the slush pile. Thank you for sending us your stories! We appreciate it! :) But I do have a little advice... First and foremost: Please read at least one issue of Electric Spec. We do have a certain style, if you will. We do not publish stories with no dialogue. We do not publish stories in which nothing happens. I'm sure there is a market for such stories, but Electric Spec is not it.

That being said, writing an awesome story is very difficult. IMHO, here are some things a story should have to approach awesome:

  • No major grammar or spelling issues.
  • Dialogue tags can only be said/says or asked/asks. I'm not kidding.
  • You must have a protagonist with some kind of external problem who acts to remedy said problem. He/she/it does not have to be successful, but they have to ACT. Note: this is the external plot.
  • Your protagonist must also have some kind of internal emotional motivation that you convey to the reader. The events of the story should change this in some way (although a lack of change can work--as long as it's deliberate.) This is the character arc. Note: the internal character arc and the external plot need to be inter-woven. Note, too, the author's job is to manipulate the readers' emotions. Your primary tool here are the emotions of the characters.
  • Your opening (this means the first 250 words) should address your story problem. In other words, your opening is your set up.
  • Your opening (this means the first 250 words) should speak to your ending. Generally, this will be an echo of the same theme, or the theme's opposite. As an example, if your opening shows the reader thousands of clones, the ending should show how the protagonist is just one of many (defeat) OR he is special, one-in-a-million (victory).
  • You should be able to summarize the story's big idea or theme in one simple sentence. I'll come back to this below.
  • You should consider utilizing a symbol in your story to make it richer and illuminate the theme. If I was going to give this list a symbol, it would be some kind of light. :)
  • You should use similes and metaphors in your descriptions.
  • Your suggestion here?

A story I learned a lot from is Connie Willis' "The Last of the Winnebagos." (That's another tip: study awesome stories.) This story takes place in a dystopian future where a virus has killed off all dogs and the Humane Society has extensive police powers. Ostensively, the story is about a Winnebago hitting a jackal on the highway, a photojournalist trying to get some pictures and the Humane Society investigating the jackal's death. But what it's really about is the journalist sacrificing someTHING he loves dearly to save another human.

So, as you prepare to send us your story, how does it stack up to the list?

24 March 2012

Naked Backstory

I FINALLY had the opportunity to watch HBO's "A Game of Thrones." I thought they did a great job adapting one of my favorite novels into a TV series. I always find it interesting to see how screenwriters transform a story from page to screen. One part of the "A Game of Thrones" screenplay I thought was fascinating was a series of scenes that were not in the book. They were, in essence, big info-dumps with backstory or world building. As we know from the writing world, info dumps are BORING. To solve this problem, the writers added something important to each of these scenes: sex. Yes, every one of these scenes had some pretty graphic sex going on during the info dump. My conclusion? These screen writers were smart. I doubt the TV audience got bored during the info dump scenes (I know I didn't!). Unfortunately, I don't think the technique would translate well back over to novels.

20 March 2012

Slipstream?

Fiction genres can be slippery. Supposedly there's a new genre called slipstream. According to wikipedia, "Slipstream is a kind of fantastic or non-realistic fiction that crosses conventional genre boundaries between science fiction/fantasy and mainstream literary fiction."

Slipstream has actually been around since at least 1989 when Bruce Sterling first discussed it: "Slipstream" in CATSCAN 5. He said, ...this is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility. We could call this kind of fiction Novels of Postmodern Sensibility, but that looks pretty bad on a category rack, and requires an acronym besides; so for the sake of convenience and argument, we will call these books "slipstream." And "Slipstream" is a parody of "mainstream," and nobody calls mainstream "mainstream" except for us skiffy trolls. Read the article, it's interesting.

The reason I bring this up is "The Wall Street Journal" discussed slipstream in a book review from the end of last year: "The Future of Science Fiction" by Tom Shippey. I'm all for TWSJ discussing science fiction in any context. :) According to Shippey, "literary authors have started "slipstreaming"—to borrow Bruce Sterling's term—writing books with sci-fi scenarios." and he gives various examples including works by Iain Banks, Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood. Shippey makes some good points:What slipstreamers seem to like in sci-fi is the scenarios, usually utopian or dystopian. Yet what's missing in Ms. Atwood's own speculative fictions is what sci-fi fans really like: explanation and analysis. Sci-fi futures need to show not just when and what but also how.

IMHO, trying to differentiate between "slipstream" and "Sci-fi" or whatever else you want to call it, is pretty much splitting hairs. Authors can call their work what they want. And if it helps them sell books, all the better.

What do you think?

13 March 2012

In media res

I just finished a long novel so I've been catching up on my short story reading. And wow, these shorts are all starting with a bang. In fancy literary jargon we call this in media res, which is Latin for "into the middle of things." I'd go so far as to say, all the first lines are bang! pow! dramatic. I'd heard literary conventions were shifting to take into account our decreasing attention span and these stories definitely bear that out. So, artists of the short story: take note.

An interesting related issue is: how soon in a novel does the author have to hit the reader over the head with excitement? Should it be the first line? The first paragraph? Or do we have at least until the end of the first chapter? Of course, this does vary by genre. (Literary novels never have to have anything exciting happen. :) Ha. I kid the literary authors.) A few years ago, I would have said we had until the end of the first chapter. But now, with the increased pressure to sell books I'm thinking a bang! pow! first novel line is not a bad idea.

What do you think?

06 March 2012

Basking in the Afterglow

Ah. Isn't it great? The Electric Spec staff, artist, and authors are no doubt basking in the afterglow of a job well done. I'm talking, of course, about our recent February 29,2012 Electric Spec Issue! It's chock-full of stories and features and all kinds of good stuff. (Check it out if you haven't already!) I've been hearing a lot of positive feedback, including some questions about how the heck we get from our production meeting to publication so quickly. The short answer is: divide and conquer. We divide up all the publication tasks amongst the staff. Personally, after I edit the stories I've been assigned, I pull in the authors and get them to proofread the final version. Invariably the new format puts the story in a new light and they find things. That touches upon another invaluable tool in our arsenal: our content management system (CMS). A previous author set us up with a crackerjack CMS that makes publication almost a breeze. So, thanks, again, to everyone who helped out.

What's your favorite story in the issue?

In the meantime, I'm sorry to say, we've started in on the slush for the May 31, 2012 issue.

I guess there's no rest for the wicked...

29 February 2012

We're Live!

Check out the new issue of Electric Spec! We're live! W00t!

Thank you, everyone who helped out! We appreciate you! :)

28 February 2012

New Issue Tomorrow!

Things are very exciting around here at Electric Spec. We have a new issue going live tomorrow, February 29, 2012! W00t!
You already heard a little about Betsy's contribution earlier this week. So how about a little more about our 5 fabulous short stories?

In "Seasonal Fruit" by Kathryn Board, a botched "date" turns into an adventure involving a goddess, a stomach pump,and some super-enhanced sex appeal. Colum Paget's "Love in a Time of Bio-Mal" is a cyber-punk tale that bring a whole to meaning to the word "love." For those looking for something on the more humorous side, we present "The Pageant, a Battle Maiden's Cunning Stunt" by Krista Wallace, which shows just how far a woman will go to look good while gutting the enemy. "Stiltskin" by Samantha Boyette is a tale that explores just how far a father will go to preserve his family in a bleak future, and Simon Kewin's "Slieau Whallian" explores a similar theme: are we willing to allow an injustice go unchallenged to preserve or own skin?

j.a.kazimer's interview is especially intriguing. Come read her answers to questions such as:
Fairy tales were really the first stories, what's so enduring about them? Do you think the persecuted heroine with its emphasis on marriage and the female heroine being saved by the male hero still apply in today's society? The premise of CURSES! A F***ed Up Fairy Tale, namely, a villain cursed to behave like a hero is brilliant. Similarly, killer blue-birds are an amazing idea. How did you come up with these? CURSES! deals with several hot-button issues including homosexuality, and obesity/body-image. As a writer, how do you avoid being constrained by societal expectations? Regarding profanity in book titles, some people might say the proliferation of profanity in our culture signals the beginning of the end, the decline of our society. What do you think it means?

Check the new issue out tomorrow! It rocks!

And thank you to everyone who contributed!

22 February 2012

Interview with Betsy Dornbusch

One exciting piece in our upcoming issue of Electric Spec is an excerpt from the new urban fantasy novel Sentinel: Archive of Fire by our own Betsy Dornbusch. Not only is she a fab editor of spec fiction, but also an accomplished author in her own right. To learn more about this author and her exciting new book, we have an interview right here:

Tell us a little bit about your new novel.


The official back flap copy:

Twins Aidan and Kaelin didn’t realize until they got to university that most guys don’t learn five ways to kill a man by the age of fourteen. Still, since their estranged father descends from the demon Asmodai, it's probably worth knowing how to defend themselves. But as years pass and threat never materializes, the twins suppose their mom is just paranoid - until she disappears. Their father tells them Asmodai has taken possession of their mother in order to infiltrate Sentinel, a treacherous coalition of demidemon rebels determined to protect humankind from the demon legions. The twins form a grudging alliance with Sentinel to rescue her, but when Asmodai murders their father to incite war, Sentinel starts to implode and Aidan and Kaelin must battle an enemy who wears their mother’s face.

Also, it's angsty, action-packed, torturous and filled with back-stabbing, especially from the good guys. Just what you would expect from a pack of demons.

What inspired you to write about demons?

I didn’t know they were demons at first. I was writing urban fantasy a decade ago, before the genre really got off the ground; I just didn’t have the skills to write it properly and get it out there until recently. As for demons: I like dark anti-heroes. I like characters having conflicting urges to do good and to also be very bad. Kaelin in particular is tortured with that. It’s my feeling we live in an era when most people give into their urges to be very bad, and it’s even revered (exhibit A: reality television). The alternative seems to be goody-goody folks. I was looking for something different. My demons have very strong urges to be bad, they all are very flawed, and yet compelling reasons to do the right thing.

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about one of your favorite scenes?

Each twin had odd dark moments and they don’t land in the regular part of the book: For Aidan it’s a torture scene that’s not very late in the book but forces him to realize he might die in this war. It still makes me cringe. For Kaelin it’s when he realizes he is destined to soldier for Sentinel. He has a knock-down drag-out with his dad.

Tell us about the process you used for creating this book.

Process is a generous word for how I wrote it. I wrote the entire series in full (badly and nearly a million words of it) starting a decade ago. After several rejections, getting a few other books under my belt, as well as short stories and editing and participating in the critique group, I rewrote it significantly on the advice of a couple of agents. It ended up 20k words lighter, got read by a ton of agents who didn’t end up picking it up, and then Whiskey Creek bought it in three days.

What are your plans for promoting your novel?

Fortunately I have a publicist who’s determined to get it into as many bookstores as possible, as well as readings and such. I’ll be making tons of appearances and doing signings, hopefully in combination with other writers. I’ll be at a bunch of regional cons and also at WorldCon in Chicago in August. Look me up. I’m also all over online, primarily at http://betsydornbusch.com , here at Electric Spec, and on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook under my own name.

I understand that this is the first book in a series. Any idea when the next one will come out?

There are four books planned. The second, Archive of Earth, is in revisions right now and unfortunately still requires a lot of work. I’m hopeful for next year. Not nearly soon enough for me! But I am writing two series and contemplating starting a third, so I’m kinda busy…

How has your experience writing and editing short stories impacted your novel writing?

If I have to say one thing short stories taught me it’s “get to the damn point.” Early and often is my motto for writing: get to the conflict early and often.

Do you have any tips for new authors who are trying to get their books published?

Well, obviously it’s a brave new world out there and opportunities abound for writers. However, I think a lot of the old rules still apply, primarily that only a few people get “famous” for writing or even sell enough to live on. So my advice:

1. Stay open. One of my top earners this year was a short story I wrote under contract for an existing world. I also didn’t sell my first book until I stepped outside my preferred genre.

2. Network. Online, in person, with your colleagues, and in professional organizations. Get out there, get your name out there, make contacts. The old adage that writing deals are done at the bar is still true. Socialize with your tribe and good things will come of it. Writers no longer have the luxury of sitting at their desks hiding.

3. My feeling is that it’s never been more apparent that publishing is an entertainment business. You’re the entertainer. Act like it!

4. My own mistakes aside, the days of writing one book a year are drawing to a close. Most successful writers are juggling several releases a year and backlist is how you start to earn. For new writers, it’s essential to keep writing, keep moving forward, rather than rehashing/revising the same story over and over. In other words, don’t do as I do! Don’t sit on your book for five years, revising and fussing, before writing anything new and fresh. Sure. A lot of writers have to prove to themselves they can finish the book. But few hardly any ever type “the end”. Just by finishing a draft, you’ve proved it. But sometimes true learning and moving forward in your craft takes writing a whole new book.

5. Ditto with making the mistake of thinking you should only self-publish, or only write in one genre, or only go with small publishers or waiting for the Big 6 or agent/no agent... The decisions are overwhelming. Again, most of the successful writers I know have done it all, from self-publishing to little pubs to big ones. Also don’t misunderstand the value of free. Free is good for promotion purposes, in small doses. But don’t give away your work unless you mean your writing to be a charity!