30 December 2014

true literature

Like many of you, I've had a little time off recently. I've used the time to catch up on some reading including Norman Spinrad's interesting Asimov's essay "Genre versus Literature" in which he states true literature ... enlightens the mind, touches the heart, explores the feedback relationship between consciousness and the cultural and physical surround, raises and/or answers moral questions, and does so with a dramatic, entertaining and apropos story that climaxes in a satisfying epiphany.

That’s true literature. That’s good literature. And genre has nothing to do with it. It transcends genre by ignoring its requirements or fulfilling the requirements of as many genres as it pleases and ignoring all genre restrictions. At its best that’s great literature.

This is an excellent goal for all writers to aspire to. Look at your story. What does it teach the reader about the human condition? If the answer is nothing, maybe it's time to go back to the drawing board. I better get back to work myself.

In the meantime, the deadline for our first 2015 issue of Electric Spec is on the horizon: January 15, 2015.

23 December 2014

Spec the halls!

I really enjoy holiday speculative fiction. Every year I reread my copy of Connie Willis' book Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. It's part of my holiday tradition. Do you have any speculative fiction holiday traditions? If so, please share.

Unfortunately, the timing of the Electric Spec issues doesn't lend itself very well to any holiday focused editions. Maybe someday...

Happy holidays!

16 December 2014

set the hook

Many of the writer's conferences and workshops I've attended recently have focused on starting your novel or short story in medias res (in the midst of things). It does seem as if our culture has changed and readers, like everyone else, want immediate excitement. Author Jeanne C. Stein writes about this in a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog entry Adventures in Genre Writing: Lesson Five. Jeanne's Genre Writing series is worth reading. One main point she makes in this installment is the opening of your story must "set the hook." You have to get the reader interested in your story very quickly. Jeanne also recommends against character or setting descriptions in the opening.

Take a look at your WIP. Do you have a bunch of descriptions in the beginning or do you set the hook? If you're happy with it, send it on over!

09 December 2014

genre fusion

I enjoyed Cory Dale's term "genre fusion" in the recent Electric Spec author interview. She said, I can't write anything that doesn't combine genres, and fantasy sneaks into all my stories no matter what. ... I write what I like to read. I wanted to create something unique, something I'd never seen done before. I like to think of ... genre fusion rather than a mash-up, and like cooking, the combined flavors work well together.

There's a down side to genre fusion, however. As Dale says Mashing up genres is great for readers, but it scares the crap out of publishers.

But don't fear, intrepid author! Electric Spec is definitely a market that appreciates genre fusion. Please send us your melded flavors of speculative fiction! We're looking forward to reading them.

02 December 2014

What's your fave?

Check out this excellent cover art by Karl Eschenbach:

What's your favorite part of the new issue of Electric Spec? I've really been enjoying all the stories and the interview and the cover art. I guess that's not super surprising since I helped make the issue. :)
Can you believe we just wrapped up the ninth year of publication?

And how about that poem in the "Letter from the Editors"? We can thank Editor Dave for that. Thanks, Dave!

As always, if you see something awry, please email us at submissions (at) electricspec.com without "SUBMISSION" in the subject line. We'd enjoy hearing your opinions here in the comments section.

Of course, we are currently accepting submissions for the first issue of 2015! Good luck!

30 November 2014

Live, we are!

We're live with the notable November 2014 issue of Electric Spec! Thank you authors! Thank you editorial staff, including Chris Devlin and Nikki Baird, our associate editors. Thank you to our tech guys at Hardlight Multimedia. And thank you to our cover artist Karl Eschenbach. We appreciate everyone's contributions.

And special thank you to our readers! We wouldn't exist without you!

25 November 2014

steampunk alternate history urban fantasy

We have a super-interesting author interview for our notable November 30, 2014 issue of Electric Spec. We're interviewing Cory Dale, author of Demon Fare, out December 15, 2014. Demon Fare is an utterly unique novel in the steampunk alternate history urban fantasy genre. And, yes, I just made up that genre, but this novel has it all.
It has lots of steam-powered machinery, and just look at the cover (left): it's very steampunky. It's alternate history because one hundred and fifty years ago something happened to Earth that put it on an alternate course. And it's quintessential urban fantasy in tone and plot: it has humor, it has romance, it has good versus evil, and it has kick-ass heroes.
I did ask Dale about this genre mash-up and much more. You'll have to check out the whole interview this coming Sunday November 30!

18 November 2014

epic fantasy with a twist

To finish up our preview of coming attractions, at least as far as short fiction is concerned, we have some epic fantasy with a twist in the notable November 2014 issue of Electric Spec. It's a bit curious that we don't get more epic fantasy submissions... (Hint, hint.)

In grad school I studied speculative fiction and I wrote a paper one semester in which I stated (provocatively) that there are reactionary elements inherent in epic fantasy. I was trying to stir up trouble but I do think epic fantasy tends to be old-fashioned with damsels in distress and brave knights, etc. Thus, you can imagine my delight in Tyler Bourassa's "Plight of the Magi" featuring a kick-ass female protagonist in an epic fantasy setting. As I've said before, we enjoy original fiction here at Electric Spec.

We also have a lovely (creepy) mixture of epic fantasy and the macabre in the next issue. The story in question is "Corrine's Song" by Michael Haynes, and it's one of the creepiest and saddest pieces I've read.

Are you intrigued? I hope so! Check out all our new stories on November 30!

11 November 2014

humor in spec fic

Surprisingly, we have quite a bit of humor coming in our notable November 2014 issue of Electric Spec. Personally, I really enjoy humor in my spec fix. We'll be interviewing Cory Dale on her upcoming novel Demon Fare, a humorous steampunk alternate history urban fantasy. (!) But I'll tell you more about that later in the month.

In the issue will be one of the funniest stories I've ever read, "Aladdin's Neti Pot" by Sarina Dorie. Imagine, if you will, the genie Aladdin living in a neti pot instead of a lamp... What could possibly go wrong? :)

We'll also have the story "Dennis" by Nathan Ehret. This starts out with The trouble with being a robot was you never got to do anything for fun. It just gets better from there.

I'd have to say, in general, humor can be a little problematic. Humor arises when the reader's expectations are subverted resulting in surprise. The reason humor is tricky is every reader has different expectations. The story in Editor's Corner this time will be my "Green is the New Black." I think it's funny, but you'll have to decide for yourself if you agree.

Also in the next issue will be "Best's Laid Plans" by Lane Cohen. We selected this story because it's a very good time-travel story featuring Pete Best and the music world. At the production meeting I was surprised to find out the other editors did not realize "Best's Laid Plans" was humorous. Look at the title; it has an actual pun! How could this not be humorous?
Also consider a quote from the story: "Oops," Britney said. "I did it again." Ha! But be forewarned: Britney is definitely not the character you might expect her to be.

Be sure to check out all the stories coming November 30, 2014!
Stay tuned in coming weeks for more previews of coming attractions.

04 November 2014

notes from production meeting

We recently had another productive Electric Spec Production Meeting. Huzzah!

By now, all the folks in Hold-for-Voting should have heard from us with the possible exception of a couple acceptances. (It takes a little while to get the contracts together.) Even if we didn't take your story, you should feel proud to be in Hold-for-Voting. All the Hold-for-Voting stories were publishable.
Acceptances are asked to acknowledge the contract, send us their bio info and Paypal account info. Once we get the contracts back we start editing. We send the resulting edited story back to the author for his/her approval. We may repeat this step as needed. Eventually, we send the story to our copy-editor and the final step is posting the story on the preview page. The author has a final chance to check it over there. Finally, we publish. This quarter we go live on November 30, 2014!

I've passed along our hopefully-objective ranking system for the production meeting in the past, so I won't go into it again here. For the current issue we ended up accepting the top five stories. Thus, we had time to discuss stories in general. We agreed endings are particularly problematic for authors.

Short stories are works of art and authors can do whatever they like. However, for our market we like emotionally satisfying endings. Stories we publish have endings that wrap things up (good or bad); they do not just stop. This means in your story:

  • Something has to happen.
  • Something should be different at the end.
  • Your ending should relate to your beginning.
  • You should be able to state clearly what your story is about.
A writing or critique partner can help you decipher if you have an ending or not. We are currently accepting submissions for our first issue of 2015. Good luck!

Soon, I'll start bragging, er, blogging about the November 2014 issue. Stay tuned!

28 October 2014

Spinrad on story

In preparation for the production meeting I've been pondering what makes a good story. The first and foremost element to a good story is story.
Norman Spinrad wrote some interesting remarks on this in 2011:

Talented writers who misunderstand science fiction have often fallen into ...[a] trap, supposing that writing in the SF mode allows you to invent whatever literary world suits your purpose without regard to suspension of disbelief or scientific knowledge, and sometimes it even works.

But you do have to have a purpose, a theme, a didactic ax to grind, a revelation to convey—something, anything, that pulls together your series of events, uniting character evolution with dramatic structure and with philosophical vector to reach a satisfying conclusion for the reader, an epiphany, if you’re really on your game, even a satori.

There is a technical term for this.

It’s called a story.

... Stories arise somewhere below the intellectual surface of consciousness—the subconscious, the collective unconscious, the dreamtime, the zeitgeist—and you know when one arises from the vasty deeps because it grabs you with the grappling iron of emotion, and will do the same for the reader if you’re up to the task of conveying it. Stories call you. There’s no guarantee they’ll come when you call...

Good luck getting your stories to come when called!

Next week I'll report what happens at the production meeting for the November 2014 issue.

23 October 2014

Asimov on Creativity

We don't often give links to other stuff here but I can't resist...
Check out Isaac Asimov's article on creativity in the MIT Technology Review published on-line this week here.

21 October 2014

what's your line?

The submission period for the November 2014 issue of Electric Spec is closed. Of course, this means the submission period for the February 2015 issue is open.

We are working hard behind-the-scenes getting ready for the production meeting. We haven't quite gotten through all the slush but we're working on it. I've started reading the hold-for-voting stories and when I do so, I write a one sentence summary of each story so I can remember it for the production meeting.

In general, this is a very helpful exercise. If you can't express your story in one line...you may have a problem. For example, in our most recent issue we had stories that can be described via 'What happens to girls who get it on with fairies.' and 'A Hawaiian steampunk murder mystery.' These single lines make the stories sound intriguing, right?

In my own fiction, I recently sold a story which can be summarized by the line 'An astronaut's synesthesia saves the mission.' On the other hand, I've been working on a story which is not working (yet). It's line is: 'A robot gets Alzheimer's.' When I express it in one line, I can see that it's a setup for a story but not a complete story. Ah ha! I need to answer the question: what happens when the robot gets Alzheimer's? I should go work on it.

In the meantime, what's your line?

14 October 2014


First things first: tomorrow is the submissions deadline for the November 2014 issues of Electric Spec. Get those stories in.

Our submissions page says 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.

Some authors are scared away by this. Don't be. Obviously, we edit for spelling and grammar. The most common other edits are cutting extra words and lines. Many authors repeat themselves. Sometimes authors go off on tangents that don't relate to the story at hand.
Sometimes authors have pov shifts--we fix these with as few word changes as possible.
Sometimes we alter the spacing of prose on the page. For example if something is very important we might give it its own paragraph.
Once in a while we don't feel the title does justice to the story. We might tell the author: we think the essence of the story is this. Can you come up with a less generic title?

Electric Spec editors do not write any part of your story. We have never changed the essence of any story and we never will. If we didn't like your story we wouldn't have bought it.

And, bottom line, any change has to meet with the approval of the author.

07 October 2014

hurray for writers!

We, The Editors, are working feverishly behind-the-scenes to get through the slush pile in preparation for our November 30, 2014 issue of Electric Spec. Which reminds me, the submission deadline for this issue is coming up: October 15, 2014. Get those stories in! We sincerely appreciate your submissions.

As I peruse all the interesting stories, I can't help thinking writers are amazing. They create people and worlds out of nothing but their imagination. Wow. Think about that for a second. There was nothing...and then, bam!, there was something. And fictional characters are known around the world and throughout time. Think of your favorites; maybe they include Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo Baggins, Paul Atreides, Arkady Darell, Sookie Stackhouse, Harry Dresden, Ender Wiggin, or Tyrion Lannister... The list goes on and on. And I bet your friends know and love the characters, too. So, I'll say it again: writers are amazing.
If you are a writer: thank you! Thank you for working hard to create stories to spark readers' imaginations and dreams.

Hurray for writers!

30 September 2014

earn your death

We're looking for some good macabre stories for our noteworthy November issue of Electric Spec. Macabre can evoke the grim and ugly aspects of death, but we tend to focus on the associated emotional facets. Perhaps it would help to think of it as suggestive of the allegorical dance of death.

Over the last decade we've received hundreds (thousands?) of stories of men killing their wives and/or girlfriends. In recent years these are often flash fiction pieces where the characters are introduced and then, bam!, the woman's dead. Sadly, after reading these I think, "Eh." I've seen it before, and, frankly, I don't care about any of the characters. And thinking up a unique way to kill off the woman doesn't help.
Consider bucking the trend and writing a macabre piece that doesn't involve murder. :)

In your story if you want to kill off your woman, make me care. How do you do this? You create a three-dimensional murderer and murderee, with good and bad characteristics, loves, hates, and desires. Real people want something(s) and so should murderers (and I'm not talking just murder). The murder should arise as a consequence of their characters. The protagonist's character should not consist solely of murderer.

Is this hard to do in flash fiction? Yes. Very. It's difficult to do in 5,000 words, too.
But no one ever said writing was easy. Or, if they did, maybe they deserve...
Good luck!

23 September 2014

tips from the slush pile

We, the Editors, have started going through the slush pile for the notable November 2014 issue of Electric Spec. Thus, I've got some tips for authors...

Short fiction is an art form, and, frankly, you can do anything you'd like. That's part of the beauty and allure of short fiction.
However, if you want to be published in Electric Spec:

  • You must have at least one protagonist. Another name for protagonist is 'main character.' I can't stress this enough. If you don't have a protagonist the reader has no one to identify with.
  • You must have at least some showing. This means you cannot have all telling. Telling puts a layer of author between the reader and the story. The reader wants immerse him/herself in the story, to go on an adventure, not think: this is a clever author.
  • You should very probably have dialogue. It's very difficult to have a protagonist and showing without any dialogue. It can be done, if there's only one character total in the story for example, but it probably shouldn't be.
  • You must have a speculative element. We aren't called Electric Spec for nothing.
  • Something needs to happen. Another way of putting this is: something needs to change in the story.
To summarize, if I read a story from the slush pile and it doesn't have a protagonist, some showing, some dialogue, a speculative element, AND change, I will reject it.

17 September 2014

what's your destination?

I recently attended a workshop taught by the fabulous fantasy author Carol Berg. See the excerpt from her new novel Dust and Light in our last issue of Electric Spec here. The workshop was about plotting a novel without outlining. It turns out Carol is not an outliner! If you've read her excellent and complicated novels this will come as a surprise to you. It was a surprise to me.

The take-away from the workshop was: when writing, you must know your destination. In a novel you should know the ending of your large story arc and you should know the destination for each of your chapters. But it's totally fine to figure out your chapter destinations as you go along.

IMHO, as a short story writer you should know your final story destination when you start writing. Personally, I've written myself into a lot of corners and tangents when I didn't know my destination. Don't do that! :)
So, I ask you: What is your destination?

09 September 2014

short story cheat sheet

We hope everyone's still enjoying the awesome August 31, 2014 issue of Electric Spec. Tell your friends! :)

Editor Betsy and I recently taught a workshop on how to write short stories. I'm not sure I said everything I meant to say, so I thought I'd compile the list of bullet points here, in, well, bullet points.

Short Story Cheat Sheet:

  • Inspiration:How should you start? Write what you're passionate about. Notice this initial concept could be a person/character or an idea/plot topic.
  • Protagonist:Every short story must have a protagonist. Your protagonist needs to be a sentient being with something to lose. Your protagonist needs to have a problem in the beginning (ideally, the first 250 words) of the story.
  • Conflict:Every short story must have conflict. When your protagonist acts to solve his/her/its problem something or someone needs to oppose him/her/it.
  • Plot: Thus, the simplest possible story plot is: A protagonist has a problem and acts to solve said problem. Something/one opposes the protagonist--causing conflict. The protagonist thinks he/she/it will fail--dark moment. The protagonist tries again and either succeeds (hurray!) or fails (aw!).
    This is also called the external story arc.
  • Emotion:A good story needs to impact the reader's emotions. How do you do this? The reader needs to empathize with, essentially become, the protagonist. This is achieved through your characterization of the protagonist. Do not describe the physical characteristics of your protagonist (you want the readers to imagine themselves). Instead, show the protagonist through his/her/its thoughts, feelings, words and deeds and through the words and deeds of other characters in the story as they react to the protagonist.
    It's hard to evoke emotion in the reader unless you really torture your protagonist, i.e. give them a significant problem and make it seem like they truly won't succeed. The dark moment is when the protagonist and the reader thinks the protagonist will fail.
    Make sure to resolve your story. The reader needs to know if the protagonist has succeeded or failed in his/her/its actions.
  • Change: Something about the protagonist him/her/itself needs to have changed as a result of the events of the story. This is the internal story arc.
  • So what?When you finish your story, you need to ask: So what was the point of this story? What happened? If there was no point, if nothing happened, you need to work on it some more.
    Honestly, it can be difficult to get the distance from your work to ask this question effectively. Consider asking your friends, family, critique partners, "What happened?" If they can't answer you...back to work.
Good luck with your short stories!

31 August 2014

Thank you, Zoe!

We'd also like to sincerely thank our cover artist Zoe Frasure! A fun fact about Zoe's work: we used her art in the marvelous May 31, 2014 issue as well. :) Nice work!

We're live!

We're live! Check out the new issue of Electric Spec! Thanks go out to all our authors, to our assistant editors Chris Devlin and Nikki Baird and to the whole technical team at Hardlight Multimedia! None of it could have happened without all of you. Special thanks to author Carol Berg for sharing her new novel with us.

And, of course, thank you readers! We wouldn't exist without you.

28 August 2014

very soon attractions!

Wow! It's almost here: the awesome August 31, 2014 issue of Electric Spec.

We really pride ourselves on presenting readers with unique fiction. In the upcoming issue we have stories about: Elvis and the apocalypse (did you know these were related?), an ancient severed head causing a lot of trouble, a back-to-school sci-fi/fantasy spoof, what happens when girls get it on with fairies, and a Hawaiian steampunk murder mystery. Are you intrigued? I am and I've read them all already. :)

One of our favorites authors, Carol Berg, is sharing an excerpt from her brand-new novel Dust and Light. It begins with: Coroner Bastien's not-quite-a-smirk was immensely irritating.
"Constance sent word we've another mystery."


Check it all out on August 31, 2014!

26 August 2014

Coming Attractions!

We are getting down to the wire for the awesome August 31, 2014 issue of Electric Spec! We'll be showcasing 5 wonderful stories:
  • "The Bog Man" by David K. Yeh
  • "The King Must Die" by Bo Balder
  • "Kites and Orchids" by George S. Walker
  • "Sci Fi High" by Clint Spivey
  • "When the Moon is Waning" by Larisa Walk
All these stories are exceptional. The editors are grateful that authors keep sending us such good stories. Thank you, authors! (Keep it up!)

It looks like we have some exciting other features as well. Here's a hint: Carol Berg.
I'll give you some more coming attractions on Thursday August 28.

Be sure to check out the new issue on August 31!

21 August 2014

even more from our authors

I have really been enjoying hearing directly from our authors. It's been a blast. Another fun story we're publishing in our August 2014 issue of Electric Spec is "Sci Fi High" by Clint Spivey. He wanted to tell us some...

Thoughts on Young Adult Fiction
by Clint Spivey

YA gives writers an interesting opportunity. While ten thousand authors are all chasing the same nickel in a world where readers dwindle due to distractions, YA flourishes. It seems parents, who may not even read themselves, see the value in encouraging it in their children, and with good cause. But what does this mean to writers? Do we strive to please parents, the ones likely buying the fiction? Or do we seek to try and give an accurate picture of the world to our ultimate goal, the dear reader.

I ask this because, through work-shopping a recent story, set in a high school world of monsters, robots, angels, and inter-dimensional beings, I found myself being criticized for language and themes that were too mature for the story’s teenage characters. While I appreciated all of the advice I received, and ultimately followed it since it helped get the story published, I found myself conflicted.

My own high school experience, completed some seventeen years ago, was full of drugs, drinks, sex, curse words, and crime. This isn't to say I engaged in these acts, sex almost never, but these things were all around my fellow students and myself. Drugs from pot to meth and even LSD were available on campus if one knew the right person. Knives were visible, probably guns, though I never saw any. I know many people who were having sex regularly. Our on site day care for teen mothers attests to that. This wasn't some school in a terrible place, either. But the very school where the guy who first wrote, ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…’ attended.

I don’t believe YA fiction for high school students ought be filled with sex, drugs, and gangs. But do we do our readers of this group a disservice by treating them with kid gloves? While reading, surrounded by reality replete with the dangers mentioned above, do they smell a phony only trying to get their parents to make a purchase? I admit I’m not well read in YA, but after writing the aforementioned story, I figured this was an interesting discussion to begin.

19 August 2014

more from our authors

One of the stories we're proud to present in our upcoming awesome August 2014 issue of Electric Spec is "The King Must Die" by Bo Balder--and it's not a fantasy, which you may be thinking. This is one of the most unique stories I've ever read.
Bo would like to tell us about:

My Experience in Writing "The King Must Die"
by Bo Balder

It was one of these rare moments of inspiration – I woke up at 5 in the morning with most of this story in my brain. I couldn't get back to sleep as long as the story was forming. I tossed and turned, feverishly imagining more, fleshing it out, until I gave up, got out of bedand wrote a brief outline. The actual writing, later that day, was as feverish and unusually smooth. I'd been to Vegas once, so imagining and looking up what it looked like in the seventies was easy. I've always loved Elvis and his music, so that wasn't hard either. The title is from Mary Renault's novel about Theseus in ancient Greece. In the novel, kings die to ensure their people's health and prosperity. I don't know where the frogs came from, I really don't. They were just there in the story from the beginning. Maybe somebody else will have an explanation what metaphor they are, but as a writer I think you should leave these symbols alone and just be grateful they appeared to you at all… Of course the story needed revision, but the essence was there from the beginning. It's special to me because of its strange birth, and I'm glad it's found a home!

12 August 2014

from our authors

At the recent production meeting we came up with the idea to let some of our authors 'talk' to the blog readers directly. Thus, I am happy to introduce to you author Larisa Walk; we're going to publish her Fantasy "When the Moon is Waning" in our August 2014 issue. So, without further ado, take it away Larisa!

One Writer's Inspirations
by Larisa Walk

People often ask writers about the sources of our inspiration. It is not an easy question to answer, because the ideas often come from many sources: dreams, something heard on the news, nature, another writer's book or story that triggers an A-ha moment, a conversation overheard while having a cup of jasmine tea at a tea house, mythology, or seemingly out of nowhere at all. That latter one is a gift, especially when the story comes to you from its beginning to its end, all but wrapped in shiny paper with a pattern of peach-colored roses and a matching bow.

I can identify my two of the most frequent sources of inspiration: Russian history and mythology. They inspire me not only because I was born and raised in Russia, but because there is so much conflict and mystery in them. And to me conflict and mystery are what makes a satisfying story.

Take the fact that Russia lived under the Mongol domination for 200 years. Immediately questions rise up like bubbles in a boiling pot of water: How did those people survive? What was their life like? Was there a resistance movement? Was there nothing but hatred toward the oppressors or were there stories of love between the Mongols and the Russians? After five years of research of both English and Russian sources, I wrote a novel that answers those questions: A Handful of Earth.

Then there is the Russian fairyland where each character has a dominion over a certain part of people's lives. The domovoi keeps an eye on the house; the dvorovoi rules over the yard and cares for the animals that live there; and the bannik looks after the bath house. This, of course, brings more questions, more mystery, and more inspiration. From here the writer's imagination takes over, and the crafting of a story begins.

07 August 2014

notes from the Production Meeting

The editors of Electric Spec had our Production Meeting this week. Approximately 6 beers and 2 scotches were consumed. We had a large number of very good stories in hold-for-voting, so it was tricky to narrow down the field to 5. Eventually we prevailed, however, and authors are being emailed the good (or bad) news as we speak. Hopefully all the hold-for-voting authors will hear back from us by the end of this week.
When we accept a story we send along a contract. Once the author accepts the contract we start editing the story. Things move pretty quickly this month since we're publishing the next issue on August 31.

Here are some tips based on our story discussion:

  • A strong voice is important but other things are important as well, namely, a plot
  • Make sure your story is speculative fiction. Macabre fiction, in particular, can be tricky here. For example, if a story contains a mysterious blurry figure, is it a ghost or an illusion? If it is a ghost you've got speculative fiction. If it's ambiguous...maybe not.
  • It's probably not a good idea to include tampons in your story. Editors are susceptible to the ick factor like everyone else.
  • We don't like super long (over 5000 words) stories. They're a pain to edit.

Other take-aways from the meeting: we're going to modify our webpage to indicate that we've been taking longer to get through slush. :(
We're going to ask authors if they'd like to contribute to the blog.
We were thinking of doing something special for our ten-year anniversary (next year), but we're leaning against it.
I guess that's all the highlights. We'll start previewing coming attractions next week.

05 August 2014

check back Thursday

Behind the scenes at Electric Spec we are in the final stages of preparing for the Production Meeting for the August 2014 issue. This involves ranking the stories in hold-for-voting. And then changing our minds and re-ranking the stories. And then changing our minds.... Ugh.

Check back on Thursday this week and I'll let you know how the meeting went.
Happy Tuesday!

30 July 2014

behind the scenes

We're working hard behind the scenes at Electric Spec preparing for the production meeting next week. I thought I'd give you a little peek behind the curtain...
We try to be objective when choosing stories to go in hold-for-voting. I even have a kind of check-list I use. Some items on the list include:
    Does the story have the following within the first 2 pages:
  • speculative fiction?
  • protagonist?
  • a problem?
  • is it hooky? am I intrigued? drawn in?
  • is the writing reasonably good? --meaning it's NOT distracting me.
  • does the author have a unique voice?
    Does the story have the following by the end:
  • the protagonist acts?
  • something happens?
  • things are resolved?
Note not all these things are required--but if they're there, that story will get in hold-for-voting.

After stories are in hold-for-voting the editors rank them in numerical order. I then compile the total score of each story for the production meeting. The total score is just the sum of the individual editor's rankings--so a lower score is better. For example, if all three editors think a story is #1 among those in hold-for-voting it gets a total score of 3. And incidentally that story would be in the issue. (We've never had a story get a score of 3.) Notice, with all these numbers we're trying to be objective here as well.

However, when I decide on my personal rankings I'm not objective. I do take into account if I like the story or not. I don't know if this is good or bad, but it's how I do my rankings. Generally, each editor's favorite story, their #1, does make it into the issue.

Next week I'll let you know what happens at the production meeting.

21 July 2014

perfection not required

I've passed along a lot of tips from the slush pile over the years. Unfortunately, these tips tend to be a list of 'what not to do' rather than 'what you're doing right.' So, what are you doing right?

First of all, if you started writing a story and actually finished it: Kudos to you! This is not an easy task. You should be proud you've created something from nothing. I think this is especially true today when we have sooo many other things clamoring for our time and attention.
Second of all, if you submitted your work and subjected it to possible rejection: Kudos to you! This is not an easy task. Everyone at Electric Spec is a writer and knows rejection stings. The trick to learn is: don't let it sting too much.

The vast majority of the stories we receive have an appealing protagonist with a problem who works to solve said problem. They often have neat or horrifying creatures and beautiful and/or intriguing worlds and/or fascinating science. These stories grab us. They emotionally manipulate us (good!). They have realistic and compelling dialogue. If you read the 'zine you know this. :)
So, hurray, for authors!

The vast majority of stories we receive are not perfect, however. That is totally fine. We don't expect perfection. We are not perfect. A few grammar issues or misspellings are no problem.
I would say the most common reason we don't publish a story is: the author hasn't quite transferred the story to the page. We ask questions like: What is this story about? Who is the protagonist? What happens in the end? It's not always easy to answer these questions after reading a story. What's the easiest way to avoid this problem? Ask a friend or family member to read your story and then ask them what it was about.
Another reason we don't take a story is: we've read or published several similar stories previously. A story can be well-written but if there's nothing fresh or new or unique about it, we probably won't take it.

We should finish with slush for the next issue within the next two weeks. So, keep an eye on your in-box if you haven't heard back from us yet. We'll have the Production Meeting for the awesome August 2014 issue at the beginning of August. And then I'll start blogging some previews of coming attractions!

14 July 2014

slush pile notes 2

Today is the deadline for submissions for the August 2014 issue of Electric Spec. Get those stories in and good luck!
We've been making some progress on getting through the slush pile, so here are some more tips in no particular order...
  • Put your story hook in the beginning of your story. I strongly recommend it appear on page 1. There's a school of thought that recommends you start fiction with the ordinary world. This can work, but you don't want to bore the reader. I think readers, including editors, have less patience now than they used to. If you have the cool reveal that your protagonist is a god in the middle of the story, readers might not get that far.
  • Seriously consider avoiding Urban Fantasy creatures including vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc. It is very difficult to put a fresh spin on these. We'd love to see some creatures from more obscure mythologies. Are there any interesting fables in your ethnic or cultural background?
  • Don't use non-said or non-asked dialogue tags. You can use different verb tenses of say and ask but use anything else at your own peril. Why? It pulls the reader out of the story. Can you really moan, sigh, hiss, grunt words? No-ooooo-ooooo.
  • Speaking of which, writing out screams of horror is rarely effective. Gaaaahhhhhhh! In general, macabre fiction is difficult. It should be spooky or creepy rather than bloody. Bloody horror is more suited to visual media.
  • Keep market in mind. Over the past nine (!) years we've created a specific Electric Spec 'brand.' In particular, our stories must have a speculative element. Our stories have dialogue. Our stories have protagonists. In our stories something happens. Our stories are mostly showing rather than telling. Our stories have a resolution. We like unique fresh stories.
I guess that's it for now. Thanks for reading.

08 July 2014

slush pile notes

Once again it seems we are behind with our slush pile. Apologies. If you submitted for the August 2014 issue rest assured we will get back to you. Eventually.
Here are some miscellaneous comments related to the slush pile...
Of course, the only rule of writing is there are no rules to writing. :)

  • Please do not give a synopsis of your story in the cover letter. It gives me the idea that you think your story is confusing. If your story is confusing, explaining it in the cover letter won't help.
  • Please do not use giant fonts or weird formatting in your story. It's distracting and it makes me think you are an inexperienced story-teller. (Along those same lines, don't tell me this is the first story you've ever written.)
  • Please do not submit stories of more than 7000 words. This is outside our word limit and honestly, if you can write a story of ~7400 words are you sure you can't find 400 words to cut? If I was going to give one overall tip for everyone it would be: make your story shorter. Cut everything that doesn't need to be there.
  • It is not recommended that you use sentences of more than 100 words. Can you say 'run on'? Related to this: generally, don't repeat a word multiple times within a sentence.
  • Generally, a story needs to have a protagonist.
  • Generally, a protagonist needs to do something in the story. If no one does anything, it's not really a story, IMHO.
  • Don't start your story with the protagonist waking up. Don't start your story with the protagonist dreaming. Don't start your story with the protagonist opening the front door.
  • Don't write a story about real-life political figures or other famous people.
Do send us your submissions by July 15, 2014 for the August 2014 issue. Recall the submissions guidelines are here.
Good luck!

01 July 2014


Oh, come on, you knew "endings" was coming. :)
The end of a story is the most important part. The end has to tie everything together and should address the beginning in some way. Most importantly, the end has to evoke an emotional response in the reader. I'm not kidding. The end has to make the reader feel something. Maybe it's only satisfaction that everything was wrapped up or 'Huh, interesting idea,' but it has to be something.

One of my fellow RMFW members wrote a very interesting (long) blog post lately about emotion: Emotional Barrier in Fiction: The Most Important Barrier For You To Cross (Part One). When I wrote the story that was my first pro sale, I was sobbing at the end as my protagonist sacrificed herself for her family. Was sobbing and sale a coincidence? I think not.

The tricky thing about evoking emotion in the reader is you have to make the reader care about the protagonist. I took a creative writing class last Fall and the young students tended to go right for death, dismemberment, rape, etc., before we cared about the characters. The teacher said they didn't "earn" the drama. How do we make the reader care? I think the author has to care.
What do you think?

Good luck with your emotional endings!

24 June 2014


Recently, one of my writing groups was discussing how we approach a story. Most folks had at least an idea about the beginning and the ending. I didn't hear a lot of enthusiasm, or even planning, about middles. I'm not surprised. Are you? In my own writing, too often middles become muddles. :( Unfortunately, as an editor, if I get lost in a muddle, that leads to rejection.

Luckily, short fiction is easier, in some ways, than long fiction. In the beginning, you must hook the reader; you must set up the story problem. In the middle, you must make things worse for the protagonist(s). The story problem gets even more dire. Also in the middle, you must set up the protagonists with the tools to succeed--even as it looks like they will fail. Piece of cake, right? Ha!

How you do this is totally up to you. If you have to write a muddle and then rewrite it, so be it. I have personally rewritten many a muddle. Having some one else read your work may help you identify muddles. "What happened here, in the middle?" Please don't send us your muddle. :)

Good luck with your middles!

In other news, the deadline for the awesome August 2014 issue of Electric Spec is approaching. Submissions need to be in by July 15 for consideration. Thanks!

10 June 2014


As we begin work on the next issue of Electric Spec I find myself thinking about beginnings… (This may also have something to do with the fact I'm starting a new novel.) There's a lot of talk in the writerly cybersphere about how to write. Do you plan everything out? If so, you're a plotter. Do you plan very little out, write by the seat-of-your-pants? If so, you're a pantser. A long time ago I learned I do have to do some planning when writing a short story. If I don't my stories meander all over the place, only arriving at their destinations by a very circuitous route or by accident. Not good. I could usually whip said stories into an actual story with the help of my critique partners but it did take a considerable amount of time. Also, not good.

Often as I read slush, I wish our aspiring authors had critique partners (or better critique partners). I wish I could tell the author: 'your story doesn't start until page 3' or 'your beginning and your ending must relate to each other.' Story beginnings are crucial. If I'm not hooked on page one, I usually won't make it to the end of the story. Show me what your story is about on page one.

I suggest authors think more about their story before they begin. What, exactly, is this story about? Who is it about? What's the problem? What's the resolution? What's different at the end of the story? What emotions do you want to evoke in the reader? You don't have to write these answers down, but you should know them.

Good luck!

03 June 2014

the latest issue

I hope everyone's still enjoying the new issue of Electric Spec. In addition to the excellent stories by Barton Paul Levenson, Mark Webb, Kathryn Yelinek, Jason Sturner, and Melinda Brasher, we have some other interesting items… In passing I mentioned Editor Betsy's interview of fantasy author Brian McClellan. Check it out to find out what inspired his world, McClellan's writing style, how he does research, how he plans his books, and other tidbits.

Also in this issue, Editor Dave shares a flash-y story, "Forgetting." How many words do we need to tell a story? What's flash fiction? I forget…. :)

In this issue we also have an interesting article about movies from our longtime columnist Marty Mapes. If you love speculative fiction and movies, I highly recommend you read his columns over the years. This time, he discusses "Under the Skin." Have you seen it? Do you agree or disagree with Marty's take?

We welcome any and all comments about the issue.

Now, off to work on the upcoming awesome August 30, 2014 issue!
Send in your stories!

02 June 2014


Discerning readers deduced we went live with the latest issue of Electric Spec on June 1, 2014! Hurrah!
If you were one of the folks waiting for the issue with bated breath, our apologies for not publishing on May 31 as advertised. :( Sometimes technology is a hindrance instead of a help.

A resounding Thank you! goes out to our authors, our artist, our columnist, the technical staff and our associate editor, Nikki Baird! We really appreciate everyone's contributions.

31 May 2014

technical difficulties

Unfortunately, we're having technical difficulties.
We're working to resolve them but it's possible the issue might not go live until June 1. :(

27 May 2014

more coming attractions

We're entering the home stretch now for the upcoming May 31, 2014 issue of Electric Spec.

In "Girl with the Crooked Spine" by Jason Sturner we have an unusual fantasy about a unique girl and a misfit boy who meet in the Field Museum in Chicago. Let's just say: adventures ensue. The editors thought this was one of the most unusual fantasies we've read in a long time.

In "A Learned Man" by Melinda Brasher we have another unique fantasy. This one is inspired by "La Leyenda de Bolsa Salgado," an El Salvadorian folktale. Is he, in fact, a learned man? We'll let you read it and decide for yourself.

I'm told we're also including a 'Spec Fic in Flicks' column by our own Marty Mapes. He's writing "An Alien Perspctive on the Human Condition." I can't wait!

Check it all out May 31, 2014!

20 May 2014

good titles

We're still working hard on the marvelous May 31, 2014 issue of Electric Spec. I thought I'd take a little time today to brag about our science fiction story in the issue.

This month we'll be publishing "Khuminay and the Axe-Wielding Psycho" by Barton Paul Levenson. As you might have guessed from the title, there's a creature named Khuminay and there's at least one murder via an axe. Just that little bit sounds dramatic, doesn't it? :) It is dramatic. I highly recommend you check it out on May 31.
And, yes, this is a good title.

Interestingly, we've published Levenson before: "The Boogie-Woogie, Time-Traveling, Cyborg Blues". This is also a very good title! Clearly, Levenson has a way with titles. Of course, you have to have a good story to back up a good title, and luckily Levenson delivers.

Also coming up in the next issue is a special interview with author Brian McClellan. McClellan writes epic fantasy, specifically, The Powder Mage Trilogy. The first book was Promise of Blood. Wow, very dramatic title! Editor Betsy will be asking him about several things including his brand-new book The Crimson Campaign.
I can't wait!

13 May 2014

first preview of coming attractions

We, The Electric Spec Editors, are working hard on the Marvelous May 31, 2014 issue. Among other things, we have two fun unique urban fantasy stories: "Showdown" by Mark Webb and "Between the Covers" by Kathryn Yelinek.

In "Showdown" an older Australian woman discovers her helpful neighbors are even more helpful and unusual than she suspected. When some other folks object to these neighbors, the woman helps them out and a showdown ensues. Is that sufficiently cryptic for you? :) Well, I can't give the story away! Trust me: you'll want to read it!

In "Between the Covers" we have a story that takes place partly on Earth and partly on another very interesting world. The challenge here: what do you do if your memories of yourself aren't reliable? Again, trust me: you'll want to read it to find out what I'm talking about!

Huzzah for these authors! You can read about them and other authors on our Authors page

Of course, we'd like the opportunity to celebrate you as an author in the future…
Submit your story!

06 May 2014

production meeting May 2014

Well, we had a productive production meeting last night. :) Yes, it was on Cinco de Mayo and we did enjoy some Mexican food and lots of beer. Editor Betsy warned us she might fall on the floor--but luckily this didn't come to pass. Even so we managed to get business done. We are in the process of writing all the folks in hold-for-voting with the good or bad news. The authors receiving good news will also be receiving their contract. The sooner you send the contract back, the sooner we can get your story ready for publication.

Some thoughts on the stories we considered… We had a lot of fantasy in this bunch; it was a little odd. Also curiously, we had more than one gargoyle story. What's up with that? Is there a gargoyle meme floating around?
I don't know if it's good or bad but we had a number of repeat authors in hold-for-voting. Since we don't look at the author name when we're considering the stories, I guess kudos to those authors.

Of course, before we got down to business we had to have a gab-fest about various speculative fiction stuff. I recommended Kristin Cashore's novels to my fellow editors. We had a lively discussion of George R.R.Martin's work which moved on to HBO's incarnation of it. Like many, we expressed our concerns about how rapey it is. Bottom line: it's too rapey.

Don't worry: this is related to Electric Spec business. One of the stories in hold-for-voting this time had an attempted rape of a little girl. It got into hold-for-voting because the girl is saved. But, ultimately, we decided it was too much. Please recall our submission guidelines say We do not consider ..stories with over-the-top sex or violence. Considering two of the Editors have little girls at home, I think it's safe to say we will never publish a story in which a little girl gets raped or even almost raped. Or, for that matter, a little boy. Or anyone else. Bottom line: no rape.

The marvelous May 31, 2014 issue will have several excellent stories! Check back this month as I entice you about them and other aspects of the issue. Thanks for reading. :)

29 April 2014


We, The Editors of Electric Spec are getting ready to make the final selections for the marvelous May 31, 2014 issue. This is always a very difficult task. All the stories in hold-for-voting are publishable, so if we don't pick your story it's because of things like issue balance and the like.

All the editors (and tech folks for that matter) here are writers so we know what it's like to have a story rejected. It's rough. Personally, I got two rejections today and one of Friday. Ugh. Even after decades of writing I still get a quick sword-to-the-heart feeling when I read "Thanks, but no thanks." We've all been there.

Thus, if we have to reject you or if you didn't make into hold-for-voting: take heart. Writing is a noble pursuit; it's worth all the heartache. Try to remember the joy of creating new characters and worlds and the fun of sharing stories with family and friends. Writing is one of mankind's greatest endeavours.

And there's always the next issue...

22 April 2014


We, the editors of Electric Spec, are hard at work behind-the-scenes getting ready for the Marvelous May 31, 2014 issue! Stay tuned for exciting tidbits about the upcoming issue throughout the month of May.

In the meantime, did you know science fiction is an area of scholarly study? Did you know there's an esteemed open access online forum in science fiction studies called "deletion"? Well, there is! You can find it here: www.deletionscifi.org.
And Episode 4 just came out: The New! The Now! The Fantastic!: Artistic and Scholarly Innovation helmed by Marleen S. Barr, noted for her foundational work in feminist science fiction criticism. This episode has a thematic focus on women’s creative practice intersecting with the science fictional, the authorial and the scholarly.

Check it out!

15 April 2014

pet peeves

Today is the submission deadline for the May 31, 2014 issue of Electric Spec! Of course, after said deadline we're still accepting stories for the August 31, 2014 issue.
We've been trying to get through the mounds of fiction in the slush pile. (Thank you for submitting, by the way!) We're in much better shape than we were a month ago. Hopefully, we're doing a better job getting back to aspiring authors quickly.

Here are some thoughts motivated by the slush pile. Please note these are my personal pet peeves; they tend to engender strong negative reactions. Other editors may have others…

  • Don't be racist/sexist/homophobic. In fact, don't be any kind of "-ist" in your story. This is a huge turn-off and may (probably will!) result in an automatic rejection.
  • Don't proselytize. If I, as a reader, think you're trying to convert me…it may result in a knee-jerk rejection.
  • Don't campaign. This is why we recommend you stay away from politics in stories you submit to us. I have a strong negative response to stories with political agendas of any kind.
  • Don't bad-mouth groups of people, e.g. all lawyers are scum-sucking vermin. If a reader happens to disagree with the author's opinion ==> automatic rejection. One of my pet-peeves is scientist characters as one-dimensional losers and/or villains. Actually, you can easily avoid this by not creating one-dimensional characters. :)
Of course, I understand the most important component of a story is conflict and an author may intentionally chose to create a character that behaves in a negative manner of this sort. There is a little more leeway in character actions and dialogue, etc. than there is in the author's message. Am I contradicting myself? A little bit.

No one ever said writing was easy. Good luck!

08 April 2014

Fantasy sub-genres

I got into a bit of an argument lately with an industry professional about the difference between contemporary fantasy and urban fantasy. The professional said urban fantasy had to occur in a city. That was not my understanding. For example, I thought Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire (Sookie Stackhouse) series was considered urban fantasy and it definitely doesn't occur in a city. What I learned in grad school was urban fantasy is fantasy that occurs on contemporary Earth. The pro in question would say urban fantasy is a sub-genre of contemporary fantasy. I would say the sub-genres in fantasy are not well-defined.

To my mind there are two major types of fantasy: fantasy that takes place on some version of Earth OR fantasy that takes place on a so-called "secondary", i.e. made-up imaginary, world. This second type of fantasy is often called high or epic, sometimes it's called heroic or medieval fantasy or sword and sorcery fantasy. The quintessential author here is J.R.R.Tolkien, with George R.R. Martin also hugely successful. Epic or high fantasies often involve a quest, so sometimes are called quest fantasy.

Bridging the gap between these two types of fantasy are fantasies involving a portal. Often the portal goes from Earth to the secondary world. C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia are a great example of this.

Back on Earth (also called the primary world), we can have superhero fiction or historical fantasy or weird fiction or science fantasy or insert_your_favorite_here.

What about fairytale fiction? It could occur on the primary world or a secondary world, so this one depends on the story.

Have I confused you? Sorry. The bottom line here at Electric Spec is we don't care what sub-genre your story is. Just send it in!

01 April 2014

tips from the slush pile

Happy Spring! Around here it finally feels spring-y. I hope it's the same where you are, or will be very soon.
We've been working hard to catch up on slush here at Electric Spec. Something that struck me recently is: authors need to be aware of market. Over the last nine (!) years we have created a specific 'zine. Consequently, as a potential author you should read at least a couple stories to know what we like. Every market is unique and if you submit a story incompatible with it your story won't get accepted no matter how good it is.

So, here are some tips about what we like with the caveat that this is not an exhaustive list:

  • Science fiction, fantasy, and/or the macabre! This is a requirement. We don't take non-speculative fiction.
  • You must have one or more specific characters. Requirement. He/she/it can be anything from a giant space butterfly to an ogre to insert-imaginative-idea-here. The character is who the reader identifies with. The character must have something to lose. We should probably know who/what the character is by the end of the first paragraph, definitely by the end of the first page.
  • Something should happen. I going to say this is also a requirement. There must be an external plot. Again, this should be evident by the end of the first page. Ideally, your character(s) should also have an internal plot/arc but this is not required.
  • You should show us what happens, not summarize or tell it. This generally means there should be dialogue. Put the reader in the scene. If you have no dialogue your story probably isn't for us.
  • Your story should have an original unique idea, concept, character, world, technology or something else. This means you need to read speculative fiction. You need to know that a man killing his wife/girlfriend has been done. The witch with a heart of gold has been done. The robot prostitute has been done. Vampires have been done.
  • Related to the above, your story needs to have a non-cliche opening. Do not open your story with the main character waking up. Do not open your story with a dream. Do not open your story with the protagonist riding in a car. Do not open with your character looking in the mirror (for that matter: never have your character look in a mirror or other reflective surface).
  • We enjoy genre mash-ups. We enjoy humor. We enjoy irreverent stuff (but nothing political).
  • We'd like to see more:
    • fresh epic/high fantasy--this would be epic/high fantasy with some kind of twist
    • macabre fiction--spooky rather than bloody
    • fresh urban fantasy--note this is probably not vampires, werewolves. Give us some other kind of creature.
    • hard science fiction--SF based on extrapolation of actual science
    • a unique voice--this is a huge hook when we get it
I guess that's it for tips for now.
Good luck with your writing!

25 March 2014

deep in slush

I hope you're still enjoying the marvelous March 15, 2014 issue of Electric Spec. I know I am. What's your favorite story or article? So many choices…

Unfortunately, our late publication of this issue means we are a bit behind with the upcoming marvelous May 31, 2014 issue. Thus, we are neck-, no, eye-deep, in the slush pile. What does this mean to you, our potential authors? It means we are a bit behind in letting you know if you advance to hold-for-voting or if you need to try again with another story. Sorry. :(
However, please do not email us and ask what the status of your story is. Despite having five(!) editors, we simply do not have the human resources to deal with queries about your queries.
Please also follow our submission rules outlined here.
Thanks! Following these rules makes things move along more efficiently.

Here's a little reminder of upcoming deadlines:

  • We close to submissions for the May 31 edition on April 15, 2014. Note: this is coming up!
  • We'll email all potential authors with a no-thanks or a hold-for-voting by approximately May 1, 2014.
  • We'll have our production meeting around May 1, 2014.
  • We'll email hold-for-voting authors by very approximately May 7, 2014.
  • We'll edit stories for the May 31 issue from approx May 7 through May 31, 2014.
  • We go live with the next issue May 31, 2014! :)
Of course, after April 15, 2014, we are accepting submissions for the August 2014 issue.

Happy Spring!

18 March 2014


No doubt discerning readers have already gleaned the marvelous March 15 2014 Electric Spec issue is live! A resounding Thank you! goes out to our authors, our artist, the technical staff and our associate editors, Chris Devlin and Nikki Baird! We really appreciate everyone's contributions. Did you notice we're starting our ninth year of publication? So, can I also say: Nine years! We rock!

One highlight of the issue I didn't brag about earlier is the Inteview with Mark Lawrence by Editor Dave. Of course, Lawrence is famous for his novels The Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns, and Emperor of Thorns. Check out the interview to find out who inspired the evil Jorg, what's the scoop on the post-apocalyptic setting, the value of short story writing, and Lawrence's new series.


11 March 2014

More enticements

It's almost here! The marvelous March 15, 2014 issue of Electric Spec. We just have to wait until Saturday…

As promised, here's some more enticements about what's to come. We have a very intriguing SF story, "Digital Rapture" by Charles Ebert. This raises the question: what is a person? What's a soul? A consciousness? Are we merely software? Could we run on another platform?

We also have "Butcher's Hook" by Van Aaron Hughes which is nice combo of horror and SF as you may have guessed from the title. And I have to say, it's pretty horrifying. What's the worst thing that a person could do? What's the worst thing that could be done to them?
Here, at Electric Spec we really enjoy multi-genre combos. Send us some!

We also have an urban fantasy "The Nightmare of Red O'Leary" by Vanessa MacLellan. I do love urban fantasy. Somehow the combination of our modern world with fantastic elements is very fun. The fun is evident in this story about a Red Cap fairy. Can you imagine how a Red Cap would manage in our world?
As of Saturday, you won't have to imagine!

Be sure to check out the new issue this weekend!

05 March 2014

Enticing details about the forthcoming issue

Wow. Our March 15, 2014 issue of Electric Spec threatens to be our best ever! Here are some enticing details...
We have a steampunk story, "The Family Tree" by Daniel Kason, in the next issue. Steampunk is a fascinating sub-genre of speculative fiction.
Wikipedia says, "Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialised Western civilisation during the 19th century." I believe the term was coined as a reaction to cyberpunk.
Kason's story is steampunk set in the present-day, which is an excellent twist on the genre.
We'd love to see more steampunk in subsmissions...

We have cover art by Ron Sanders. Readers may not know this about Sanders, but this will be the fourth time we've used his work. About the piece for the March 15 cover, Exodus, he says it is "Ethereal and philosophic." It sounds intriguing, right? Check it out!

Earlier, I blogged about Fiction Inspired by Fiction. More specifically, we'll be featuring "This is Just to Say" by Timothy Mudie. Be sure to read how Mudie turns this classic poem into a speculative fiction short story. Very nice! Also in the Fiction-Inspired-by-Fiction category we have my own "A Sea of Stars" inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest in Editor's Corner. Does it work or not? You decide. :)

We have more stories and an exciting author interview also in the issue. I'll blog about them next week!

25 February 2014

originality via specificity

If you're a reader of Electric Spec you know we enjoy original stories. I mentioned recently we had some stories in hold-for-voting that seemed to be based on similar memes, so how did we chose between them? We chose the more original, more unique, more specific stories. The protagonist in a story should be the only possible protagonist that could be the actor in that story. This should be reflected in how he or she is described. Do not use height, weight, hair color, eye color, skin color, clothing. Use unique qualities. Similarly, avoid obvious metaphors, like the crack of dawn--they're too cliched. Do use similes and metaphors; they should be unique to the character(s), e.g. the yawn of dawn for a not-morning person.

The world in a speculative fiction story should be extremely specific, as well. Don't use bland adjectives like pretty. (World-building is a great place to use similes or metaphors--again, they should be unique.) Don't use any generic nouns. For example in your story don't use 'a guitar', use 'a Fender Jag-Stang,' or whatever's appropriate. Also, don't explain, never explain.

I'll get more specific about the next exciting issue of Electric Spec (coming March 15, 2014) starting next week!

18 February 2014

Fiction Inspired by Fiction

Fiction has a long history of being inspired by other literary works. This is true even in the speculative fiction realm. For example, one of my favorite novels of all time (no pun intended), To Say Nothing of the Dog (1997) by Connie Willis, was strongly inspired by Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) (1889) by Jerome K. Jerome. Interestingly, Jerome's novel is also mentioned in Robert Heinlein's Have Space Suit--Will Trav el (1958). As another example, I recently read Triggers (2012) by Robert J. Sawyer which seems to have been influenced by Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End (1953)--I'll let you read for yourself to see why I say this.

You may be wondering why I mention all this. Well, I'll tell you: our upcoming marvelous March 15, 2014 Electric Spec issue has two stories inspired by other famous literary works. One was inspired by William Carlos Williams' poem "This Is Just To Say". One was inspired by William Shakepeare's play "The Tempest." Of course, any story inspired by something else must stand on its own two feet; it must make sense whether you're familiar with the other work or not. If you are familiar with the reference work, it can add some lovely layers and complexity.

However, be careful not to let the other work overtake the story. In an early draft of the Tempest-inspired story the author was too slavishly following the plot of The Tempest. Readers raised important questions like 'Why is the Cal[iban] character so bad? Why's he trying to hurt the hero?' Once the author looked at the story with fresher eyes, it became clear the story could lose some of The Tempest influences and be stronger for it.

We'd enjoy reading more fiction-inspired fiction in the slush pile...

11 February 2014

tales from the production meeting

We had the Electric Spec production meeting for the March 15, 2014 issue recently. Folks with stories in hold-for-voting should have heard from us, or will hear very soon. If you made it into hold-for-voting you should congratulate yourself, no matter what happened.

We'd especially like to thank our Associate Editor Nikki Baird who helped us read stories. Thanks, Nikki! You rock! :)

At the meeting we had a spirited discussion about stories and what makes a story good. (Okay, we also had buy one get one free drafts.) Once a story makes it to hold-for-voting the competition is fierce.
Some thoughts:

  • One thing that makes a story really good is an emotional payoff, a resolution, at the end. This is hard to do without a clear protagonist; readers want to know who to root for. This protagonist needs to have a clear problem at the beginning of the story, needs to act to resolve it, needs to be changed at the end of the story. If things aren't different at the end of the story or if they're different because of another character's actions it is not as satisfying.
    Note: if one or more people die at the end of the story, it's difficult to make this satisfying.
  • The beginning and end of the story need to speak to each other and be consistent with the title. More specifically, the first paragraph should at least hint at the main story problem. The last paragraph should at least hint at the main story resolution. The title should reflect the core of the story (without giving it away) and not be peripherally related to it.
  • Authors, try not to be dazzled by a really neat world. In speculative fiction authors must create a new world, be it spooky, fantastic or futuristic. The world-building needs to serve the needs of the story, not replace the story. (See point one, above.)
  • Be original! If readers can guess what will happen in your story, it's not optimal. How do you avoid this? Read! At Electric Spec we definitely strive for originality.
  • Do not be political in your stories, at least for Electric Spec. It's not that we don't want to offend anyone, it's more that we don't agree amongst ourselves. And, ultimately, all the editors have to agree on a story in the end.
Yes, writing is hard. Good luck!

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more info about the new issue!

04 February 2014


Soon, we will have our production meeting for the next issue of Electric Spec and I'll give you an update about that. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, it occurs to me we have more than one story in hold-for-voting involving utilizing sentient creatures as food sources. This seems to be a rather odd coincidence--especially since these stories were submitted during the American holiday season including Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Years. (!)

Furthermore, it's not the first time we've had such coincidences. The meme 'meme' is an intriguing idea. Wikipedia says, A meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing …or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.

Very cool idea! Our culture has definitely evolved over the years and possibly memes were the mechanism.
What do you think? :)

I think I will not be asking our authors what they did over the holidays...

28 January 2014

writing resolutions

We are working hard on the fabulous February 2014 issue of Electric Spec which will be published March 15, 2014. We have a lot of good stories in hold-for-voting so it promises to be another excellent issue. Stay tuned for more info about it in coming weeks.
Of course, we're currently accepting submissions for our marvelous May 2014 issue.

A lot of my writer friends have been telling me about their writing resolutions and goals for 2014. They are very impressive including such goals as finishing novels, publishing novels and the like. Wow! They also say sharing their goals makes them feel more accountable and hence more likely to complete their goals. I absolutely wish my ambitious writer friends the best of luck in achieving their 2014 goals.

I must admit, however, I'm not a fan of grandiose goals or resolutions, writing or otherwise. I prefer small daily assignments such as: write something new every day and every time you get a rejection, submit the piece somewhere else right away. I like assignments I can definitely complete. I guess I'm more like the turtle than the hare. But everyone's process is different. Go with what works for you.

How about it? Did you make a lot of writing resolutions and goals for 2014? Feel free to share in the comments.

Good luck with your writing in 2014!

21 January 2014

Narrative Prompt Story Glove

Rest assured we are working hard behind the scenes on the upcoming fabulous (March 15, 2014) issue of Electric Spec.

In the meantime, one of the founders of Electric Spec, Renata Baron Hill, suggested we blog about the Narrative Prompt Story Glove. It's used for brainstorming new stories. You can see a nice picture of it here: instagram.com/p/gXprv3jFgO.

Here are some highlights:

  • Grabber: Begin with an opening or sentence that hooks the reader.
  • Conflict: What problems or dilemma does the main character face in the story?
  • Action: Move the story along. What are 2 or 3 events that happen while trying to solve the conflict?
  • Solution: How is the conflict of the story finally solved?
  • Takeaway: Wrap it all up. What did the main character learn or how did his/her life change?
Good luck with your new stories!

14 January 2014

editorial miscellany

There's only a little more than 24 hours left until the deadline for the next issue of Electric Spec. Get those stories in! (And good luck!)

The editors are at differing levels of slush-pile completion. Consequently, some potential authors have gotten prompt responses and some have not gotten prompt responses. Editors are assigned stories randomly so don't read anything into this. The bottom line here is we will get back to you. Please do not email us for an update.

It turns out one of the editors has a book deadline at the end of February 2014, so we will be postponing the publication of the next issue to March 15, 2014. This is one-time-only publication postponement. The following issue will still be May 31, 2014. If you're interested in behind-the-scenes info, the production meeting is being pushed to the second week of February. :)

What else? We need art submissions for the cover. Please email us some art! See the info here: www.electricspec.com/submissions/submitting-art. We are also looking for an author interview. If you or someone you know has a speculative fiction novel coming out in the beginning of 2014, please let us know. I recommend you send an email to submissions at electric spec dot com, with the subject line: POTENTIAL INTERVIEW. Thanks!

Finally, a couple comments from the slush pile:

  • Don't randomly kill people. You wouldn't believe how many stories we get with murders. I suspect authors are shooting for macabre, but macabre is more spooky, more about subversion of reality and less about gore.
  • Don't start your story with pages of description. This might work for some markets, but not ours. Go ahead, check out our published stories, I dare you. :) Do any of them start with pages of description? No.

I hope your 2014 is going well and you're still on track for your writing-related resolutions.

07 January 2014

Asimov on 2014

Greetings! This is another friendly reminder that the next submission deadline for Electric Spec is January 15, 2014.
We are considering delaying the publication date until March 15, 2014. If we decide to do so, I will definitely let you know here.

Professor Emeritus James E. Gunn passed along the following very interesting predictions of 2014 by Isaac Asimov. It's getting a lot of interest on Huffington Post and elsewhere so I thought I'd pass it along even though it's long. I do love The Good Doctor. :)

August 16, 1964
Visit to the World's Fair of 2014
[T]he New York World's Fair of 1964 is dedicated to "Peace Through Understanding." Its glimpses of the world of tomorrow rule out thermonuclear warfare. And why not? If a thermonuclear war takes place, the future will not be worth discussing. So let the missiles slumber eternally on their pads and let us observe what may come in the nonatomized world of the future.

What is to come, through the fair's eyes at least, is wonderful. The direction in which man is traveling is viewed with buoyant hope, nowhere more so than at the General Electric pavilion. There the audience whirls through four scenes, each populated by cheerful, lifelike dummies that move and talk with a facility that, inside of a minute and a half, convinces you they are alive.

The scenes, set in or about 1900, 1920, 1940 and 1960, show the advances of electrical appliances and the changes they are bringing to living. I enjoyed it hugely and only regretted that they had not carried the scenes into the future. What will life be like, say, in 2014 A.D., 50 years from now? What will the World's Fair of 2014 be like?

I don't know, but I can guess.

One thought that occurs to me is that men will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better. By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use. Ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colors that will change at the touch of a push button.

Windows need be no more than an archaic touch, and even when present will be polarized to block out the harsh sunlight. The degree of opacity of the glass may even be made to alter automatically in accordance with the intensity of the light falling upon it.

There is an underground house at the fair which is a sign of the future. if its windows are not polarized, they can nevertheless alter the "scenery" by changes in lighting. Suburban houses underground, with easily controlled temperature, free from the vicissitudes of weather, with air cleaned and light controlled, should be fairly common. At the New York World's Fair of 2014, General Motors' "Futurama" may well display vistas of underground cities complete with light- forced vegetable gardens. The surface, G.M. will argue, will be given over to large-scale agriculture, grazing and parklands, with less space wasted on actual human occupancy.

Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs. Kitchen units will be devised that will prepare "automeals," heating water and converting it to coffee; toasting bread; frying, poaching or scrambling eggs, grilling bacon, and so on. Breakfasts will be "ordered" the night before to be ready by a specified hour the next morning. Complete lunches and dinners, with the food semiprepared, will be stored in the freezer until ready for processing. I suspect, though, that even in 2014 it will still be advisable to have a small corner in the kitchen unit where the more individual meals can be prepared by hand, especially when company is coming.

Robots will neither be common nor very good in 2014, but they will be in existence. The I.B.M. exhibit at the present fair has no robots but it is dedicated to computers, which are shown in all their amazing complexity, notably in the task of translating Russian into English. If machines are that smart today, what may not be in the works 50 years hence? It will be such computers, much miniaturized, that will serve as the "brains" of robots. In fact, the I.B.M. building at the 2014 World's Fair may have, as one of its prime exhibits, a robot housemaid*large, clumsy, slow- moving but capable of general picking-up, arranging, cleaning and manipulation of various appliances. It will undoubtedly amuse the fairgoers to scatter debris over the floor in order to see the robot lumberingly remove it and classify it into "throw away" and "set aside." (Robots for gardening work will also have made their appearance.)

General Electric at the 2014 World's Fair will be showing 3-D movies of its "Robot of the Future," neat and streamlined, its cleaning appliances built in and performing all tasks briskly. (There will be a three-hour wait in line to see the film, for some things never change.)

The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long- lived batteries running on radioisotopes. The isotopes will not be expensive for they will be by- products of the fission-power plants which, by 2014, will be supplying well over half the power needs of humanity. But once the isotype batteries are used up they will be disposed of only through authorized agents of the manufacturer.

And experimental fusion-power plant or two will already exist in 2014. (Even today, a small but genuine fusion explosion is demonstrated at frequent intervals in the G.E. exhibit at the 1964 fair.) Large solar-power stations will also be in operation in a number of desert and semi-desert areas -- Arizona, the Negev, Kazakhstan. In the more crowded, but cloudy and smoggy areas, solar power will be less practical. An exhibit at the 2014 fair will show models of power stations in space, collecting sunlight by means of huge parabolic focusing devices and radiating the energy thus collected down to earth.

The world of 50 years hence will have shrunk further. At the 1964 fair, the G.M. exhibit depicts, among other things, "road-building factories" in the tropics and, closer to home, crowded highways along which long buses move on special central lanes. There is every likelihood that highways at least in the more advanced sections of the world*will have passed their peak in 2014; there will be increasing emphasis on transportation that makes the least possible contact with the surface. There will be aircraft, of course, but even ground travel will increasingly take to the air*a foot or two off the ground. Visitors to the 1964 fair can travel there in an "aquafoil," which lifts itself on four stilts and skims over the water with a minimum of friction. This is surely a stop-gap. By 2014 the four stilts will have been replaced by four jets of compressed air so that the vehicle will make no contact with either liquid or solid surfaces.

Jets of compressed air will also lift land vehicles off the highways, which, among other things, will minimize paving problems. Smooth earth or level lawns will do as well as pavements. Bridges will also be of less importance, since cars will be capable of crossing water on their jets, though local ordinances will discourage the practice.

Much effort will be put into the designing of vehicles with "Robot-brains"*vehicles that can be set for particular destinations and that will then proceed there without interference by the slow reflexes of a human driver. I suspect one of the major attractions of the 2014 fair will be rides on small roboticized cars which will maneuver in crowds at the two-foot level, neatly and automatically avoiding each other.

For short-range travel, moving sidewalks (with benches on either side, standing room in the center) will be making their appearance in downtown sections. They will be raised above the traffic. Traffic will continue (on several levels in some places) only because all parking will be off-street and because at least 80 per cent of truck deliveries will be to certain fixed centers at the city's rim. Compressed air tubes will carry goods and materials over local stretches, and the switching devices that will place specific shipments in specific destinations will be one of the city's marvels.

Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica (shown in chill splendor as part of the '64 General Motors exhibit).

For that matter, you will be able to reach someone at the moon colonies, concerning which General Motors puts on a display of impressive vehicles (in model form) with large soft tires*intended to negotiate the uneven terrain that may exist on our natural satellite.

Any number of simultaneous conversations between earth and moon can be handled by modulated laser beams, which are easy to manipulate in space. On earth, however, laser beams will have to be led through plastic pipes, to avoid material and atmospheric interference. Engineers will still be playing with that problem in 2014.

Conversations with the moon will be a trifle uncomfortable, but the way, in that 2.5 seconds must elapse between statement and answer (it takes light that long to make the round trip). Similar conversations with Mars will experience a 3.5-minute delay even when Mars is at its closest. However, by 2014, only unmanned ships will have landed on Mars, though a manned expedition will be in the works and in the 2014 Futurama will show a model of an elaborate Martian colony.

As for television, wall screens will have replaced the ordinary set; but transparent cubes will be making their appearance in which three-dimensional viewing will be possible. In fact, one popular exhibit at the 2014 World's Fair will be such a 3-D TV, built life-size, in which ballet performances will be seen. The cube will slowly revolve for viewing from all angles.

One can go on indefinitely in this happy extrapolation, but all is not rosy.

As I stood in line waiting to get into the General Electric exhibit at the 1964 fair, I found myself staring at Equitable Life's grim sign blinking out the population of the United States, with the number (over 191,000,000) increasing by 1 every 11 seconds. During the interval which I spent inside the G.E. pavilion, the American population had increased by nearly 300 and the world's population by 6,000.

In 2014, there is every likelihood that the world population will be 6,500,000,000 and the population of the United States will be 350,000,000. Boston-to-Washington, the most crowded area of its size on the earth, will have become a single city with a population of over 40,000,000.

Population pressure will force increasing penetration of desert and polar areas. Most surprising and, in some ways, heartening, 2014 will see a good beginning made in the colonization of the continental shelves. Underwater housing will have its attractions to those who like water sports, and will undoubtedly encourage the more efficient exploitation of ocean resources, both food and mineral. General Motors shows, in its 1964 exhibit, the model of an underwater hotel of what might be called mouth-watering luxury. The 2014 World's Fair will have exhibits showing cities in the deep sea with bathyscaphe liners carrying men and supplies across and into the abyss.

Ordinary agriculture will keep up with great difficulty and there will be "farms" turning to the more efficient micro-organisms. Processed yeast and algae products will be available in a variety of flavors. The 2014 fair will feature an Algae Bar at which "mock-turkey" and "pseudosteak" will be served. It won't be bad at all (if you can dig up those premium prices), but there will be considerable psychological resistance to such an innovation.

Although technology will still keep up with population through 2014, it will be only through a supreme effort and with but partial success. Not all the world's population will enjoy the gadgety world of the future to the full. A larger portion than today will be deprived and although they may be better off, materially, than today, they will be further behind when compared with the advanced portions of the world. They will have moved backward, relatively.

Nor can technology continue to match population growth if that remains unchecked. Consider Manhattan of 1964, which has a population density of 80,000 per square mile at night and of over 100,000 per square mile during the working day. If the whole earth, including the Sahara, the Himalayan Mountain peaks, Greenland, Antarctica and every square mile of the ocean bottom, to the deepest abyss, were as packed as Manhattan at noon, surely you would agree that no way to support such a population (let alone make it comfortable) was conceivable. In fact, support would fail long before the World-Manhattan was reached.

Well, the earth's population is now about 3,000,000,000 and is doubling every 40 years. If this rate of doubling goes unchecked, then a World-Manhattan is coming in just 500 years. All earth will be a single choked Manhattan by A.D. 2450 and society will collapse long before that!

There are only two general ways of preventing this: (1) raise the death rate; (2) lower the birth rate. Undoubtedly, the world of A>D. 2014 will have agreed on the latter method. Indeed, the increasing use of mechanical devices to replace failing hearts and kidneys, and repair stiffening arteries and breaking nerves will have cut the death rate still further and have lifted the life expectancy in some parts of the world to age 85.

There will, therefore, be a worldwide propaganda drive in favor of birth control by rational and humane methods and, by 2014, it will undoubtedly have taken serious effect. The rate of increase of population will have slackened*but, I suspect, not sufficiently.

One of the more serious exhibits at the 2014 World's Fair, accordingly, will be a series of lectures, movies and documentary material at the World Population Control Center (adults only; special showings for teen-agers).

The situation will have been made the more serious by the advances of automation. The world of A.D. 2014 will have few routine jobs that cannot be done better by some machine than by any human being. Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders. Schools will have to be oriented in this direction. Part of the General Electric exhibit today consists of a school of the future in which such present realities as closed-circuit TV and programmed tapes aid the teaching process. It is not only the techniques of teaching that will advance, however, but also the subject matter that will change. All the high-school students will be taught the fundamentals of computer technology will become proficient in binary arithmetic and will be trained to perfection in the use of the computer languages that will have developed out of those like the contemporary "Fortran" (from "formula translation").

Even so, mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity. This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, and I dare say that psychiatry will be far and away the most important medical specialty in 2014. The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine.

Indeed, the most somber speculation I can make about A.D. 2014 is that in a society of enforced leisure, the most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!