17 April 2018

advice from slush

By now, the deadline for the new issue has passed. We've been reading the submissions in the slush pile. Sadly, we can't give personal feedback to authors. But as we do occasionally, here is some advice gleaned from reading these stories in the slush pile:
  • Use 2nd person point-of-view with caution. This pov can be annoying. This pov can be amazing--but it's difficult.
  • Don't use overused cliches. For example, do not start your story with the protagonist waking up. Do not show your protagonist looking into the mirror to describe him/her/itself.
  • Do not start with a page of backstory/exposition/description. This may be a market-dependent tip; online readers like a more dramatic opening. If you need a lot of exposition, put it later in the story. You don't have to use linear time.
  • Do grab the reader's attention on the first page. This can be done with great characterization, a unique situation, unique voice, and a variety of other ways. Violence on page one generally doesn't work because readers don't care about the characters in peril yet.
  • Do not exceed 7000 words; this is our word limit. Secret tip: there is a sweet spot in terms of word number. Less than about 1200-words is tough to tell a full story. More than 6000 words can seem draggy.
  • Do not annoy the editor. This can be done via an annoying cover letter, an excessive number of spelling errors, no punctuation, etc. If in doubt: don't do it.

I guess that's it for now.

Thank you for sending us your stories!

10 April 2018

ideas!

The submisison deadline for the marvelous May 31 issue of Electric Spec is April 15!

Sometimes writers are asked where they get all their ideas. Most writers I know find this rather hilarious. Ideas are everywhere. Unique ideas are all around us, because human beings think and perceive things differently.
Look around! I guarantee there are some good story ideas in your vicinity right now.

I sometimes teach a workshop on speculative fiction. A great writing method is to combine two disparate ideas to create a more unique story.

I'm actually participating in a short story challenge right now where another writer gives us all a story prompt and we have to write a story within seven days. Phew! It is challenging. A lot of the prompts are not topics I would normally write about. But it has been great for getting my creative juices flowing.
So, if worst comes to worst: ask someone else for a story prompt.

Good luck with all your creative ideas!

03 April 2018

To Market, To Market

Wow. Time flies. The submission deadline for the Marvelous May 2018 issue of Electric Spec is fast approaching: April 15!

I recently went to a sort of editor-fest where I got to see a bunch of editors at work. The thing that really struck me was: editors are very subjective. I rarely agreed with the other editors and they rarely agreed with each other. Thus, market is a very important consideration. Each 'zine is a different market. Each 'zine's editor has different subjective opinions. Therefore, it is to your advantage to become familiar with the markets before you submit to them. With Electric Spec it's easy and free! Just click and start reading!

There was also a discussion about why authors should bother submitting to 'zines in this age of self-publishing. You could self-publish your stories--and in some cases that's the best option. But if you publish with Electric Spec, you'll reach a different group of people than you would otherwise. We have a built-in audience. And we include your bio info and archive you story on our website, so people can always find it and find out about you.
Moreover, at Electric Spec editors work with authors to make their stories the absolute best they can be.

So, send those stories in!

27 March 2018

paragraph power

As an editor 'lo these many years I've picked up some editor-ly tricks. In particular: white space or the lack thereof has power. White space is just the absence of letters on the screen or page.

Long paragraphs with little white space cause readers to slow down and concentrate. Thus, they're great for complicated prose when you want the reader to linger.

Short paragraphs with a lot of white space are quick and easy to read. Our attention span has decreased in modern culture; more white space is compatible with this. White space is great for dramatic, exciting sections. To some extent, this white space is a manipulation of the reader.

I think a lot of white space works particularly well for the very beginning and very end of stories or chapters. In the beginning, it entices the reader into the story in an easy way. In the end, it makes the reader think something dramatic is happening.
And psychologically, we tend to recall beginnings and endings of things. Don't you want to be remembered? A long-remembered story is considered a better story.

So, consider more paragraph breaks in your stories!

20 March 2018

try fail cycles

Try/fail cycles are a plotting mechanism. They are very effective. The shortest short stories basically consist of one try/fail cycle: the protagonist tries to solve a problem and either fails or succeeds. Longer short stories can have two, three, or even more try/fail cycles. A novel chapter generally has at least one try/fail cycle, and often multiple try/fail cycles.

There are two versions of the try/fail cycle:

  • No, and...
  • Yes, but...

In the first case, No, and..., the protagonist doesn't solve the problem and something happens to make it worse. This increases the drama in the story, and, consequently the tension in the reader.
In the second case, Yes, but..., the protagonist does solve the problem but then some other problem happens.

If you ever watch television shows (do we still call them that?), you're familiar with the try/fail cycle. Generally there's a, No, and..., right before the first commercial break, right before the second commercial break, the third commercial break (you get the idea). Right before the end of the show there's usually a, Yes, but..., setting up the next episode.
This pattern works great for novel chapters.

Depending on your market, you probably want to end your short story with a plain Yes or No. Most readers like things to be resolved. But, it's up to you. :)

Send us your try/fail-laden short story!

14 March 2018

Editor Interview

Check out our Electric Spec editor interview over at Blackbird Publishing: here!

13 March 2018

Gaiman on libraries, reading, daydreaming

Excellent Author Neil Gaiman gave an amazing lecture on "Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming" in 2013 that was reprinted in The Guardian. Some highlights include
  • Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it's a gateway drug to reading.
  • And the second thing fictton does is to build empathy.
  • You're also finding out ...The world doesn't have to be like this. Things can be different.
  • Fiction can show you a different world.
  • But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about eduction (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.
  • Libraries really are the gates to the future.
  • We all -- adults and children, writers and readers -- have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine.
The whole article is really wonderful. Read it here.

06 March 2018

from Author Haynes

We're still enjoying the recent issue of Electric Spec. One of our favorite stories was "Waiting on a Sunny Day" by Michael Haynes. Here, the author shares some thoughts...

This story started as part of a weekly story-writing contest on the Liberty Hall website (which, alas, has since shut down). I don’t recall what the writing prompt was for that week’s contest, but I remember being pleased with how the first draft turned out. Like more stories than I care to admit to, it ended up sitting around on my hard drive for a while before I made revisions to it about a year later and started sending it out.

What happened a few months later is what made this story one that will always stand out in my memory. My father fell on an icy sidewalk outside his house and when he was taken to the hospital for what turned out to be a broken leg, we were told that there were -- I no longer remember the term… spots? -- on his pre-operative chest X-rays. The surgery still had to be done, but in the next few days, he was diagnosed with advanced cancer.
His health was a bit up and down over the next few months -- we held a birthday party for him and his spirits were high during that -- but mostly the trend was down.

And the end came with a fairly-sharp decline. On a Saturday in mid-April, three days before he passed away, I sat with him for a good portion of the day. I read to him from a film magazine, and I read him a story I had written. This story. He’d always been proud of my writing and liked to talk to me about the stories I’d had published. He told me -- and I’m not sure if it was this day or a bit earlier -- that I should keep writing, that he thought I had talent that I shouldn’t pass up.

So when I think of this story, I think of my father, and that it was the last story we got to share. I’m glad it was a good one and I'm glad the story has found a home.


Thanks, Michael. We're glad the story found a home as well. Thanks for sharing!

28 February 2018

We're live!

Huzzah! The fabulous new February 2018 issue of Electric Spec is live!

feb 2018 cover

Thank you everyone who contributed including our authors, our cover artist, and the editorial and technical staff.

Woo hoo!

27 February 2018

from Author Lesley

In the fabulous February 28, 2018 issue we're excited to share with you "Home is Where the Blue Plastic Porcupine Is" by Kiera Lesley. She shared a few words with us...

I'm fascinated by transitional living spaces and the things people do to make themselves comfortable in a new home.

It's always a bit eerie, moving into a newly empty space - particularly if you know you, too, will likely have to move on from that space soon. You need to walk that line between making it comfortable for yourself, but also making it easy to pack down and leave, because you won't be staying there long.

How people go about that varies and I love the little rituals people fall into. Some people make their bed before they do anything else - including unpacking boxes. Other people make a lot of noise, change the locks, or burn scented things to chase out the remnants of the old inhabitants.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more obvious to me than in the military where, combined with natural superstition derived from the random violence of war, people get very practiced at packing down and setting up in a new living space on short notice.

I liked having the opportunity to play with these ideas in this piece.

What would nesting and a home base look like when you're very far from home? What is the first priority for settling in? What unspoken codes of conduct and coping methods would develop between people who live this way but may never meet?

And what small, ridiculous things might you cling to in order to make a place feel like home to you?


Thanks a lot, Kiera! Very interesting!

And be sure to check out all the stories tomorrow, February 28, 2018 at Electric Spec!

20 February 2018

from Author Lowd

We're excited to share with you "Anger is a Porcupine, Sadness is a Fish" by Mary E. Lowd in the fabulous February 2018 issue of Electric Spec. The author shares a few words about the story...

This is a story about feelings -- how useless I feel when I'm sad; how dangerous I feel when I'm angry; and how terrified I am that if I say something too true, that the power of the truth could destroy everything around me.

There's a scene in the television show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend where the main character's friends stand around her in a circle, confronting her with something they’ve learned about her past. She’s so scared and cornered that she lashes out and tears down each and every one of her friends by saying the cruelest things she can. It is the scariest thing I've ever seen in video. Watching this woman tear apart her friends felt like watching one of my literal nightmares, pulled straight out of my sleeping head and plastered on the screen.

The lead character of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is flawed and complicated and even kind of horrible, but she's the lead, and you come to love her and identify with her anyway through the magic of narrative. So many male characters are allowed to be so much worse, and yet they remain protagonists, sometimes beloved icons. When women characters go off the rails, they're written out of the show, and you never see what happens to them next. But in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the woman who went off the rails is the lead, and she goes right on with her life. When I went back and re-watched that scene, I realized that all of the cruel things she said -- they were true. They were said cruelly, but they were truths her friends probably needed to hear. A man can shoot people in the head and still be the iconic hero of a beloved trilogy of movies, but a woman must fear telling the truth, in case she doesn't do it nicely enough.

"Anger is a Porcupine, Sadness is a Fish" is a story about the crippling fear and anger that I've felt at times, and how I'm still afraid -- in spite of the healing powers of watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend -- that if I speak the wrong truth, or say the truth in the wrong way, I could accidentally destroy my entire world.



Thanks, Mary! Very interesting!

13 February 2018

from Author Mabry

We're excited to present "Order of the Blessed Return" by Sean Mabry in the upcoming February 2018 issue of Electric Spec. Sean was kind enough to tell us a bit about it...

The inspiration for this story came in two parts. Part one was George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan, which examines the idea that a miracle is "that which increases faith" regardless of its truth value. Part two was my long-running fascination with necromancers. At some point, I realized that a skull-and-black-robes necromancer could easily position himself as a miracle worker if he only put a Lazarus-type spin on his works. Thus, the Order of the Blessed Return was born.

Of course, that's not how the final version came about. The first draft took that premise and used it to wag a sanctimonious finger at religious hypocrisy. As fun as it was to write that draft, I'm glad I didn't stop there. If I had, this story would be much shallower and more mean-spirited than (I hope) it is now. As I revised the story and let the characters become real people, I discovered something important. I discovered that, at its core, this story isn't just about religion.

At it's core, this is a story about compromise. We all make comprises between what our hearts know and what reality demands. We do dirty things and try to soothe ourselves with clean words. We set noble goals and set to work with coarse tools—the only tools available. Personally, I don't believe anyone in the Order is evil. I believe they are people, trying their best to make sense of a frightening world.

Of course, that's your decision to make in the end, just like Brother Wynam must make his decision.


Thanks, Sean! Very interesting!

06 February 2018

Productive Meeting

We, the Electric Spec Editors, recently had a very productive production meeting! The weather was scary and spooky, filled with fog, ice, and snow--but we overcame it.
This time, the stories were so outstanding, we couldn't decide on just five. So, for the first time ever we will be publishing six stories! Huzzah! Thank you for sending us your excellent stories.

I'm excited that we also have two authors lined up for blog posts already. Check back here on Feb 13 and Feb 20 for those. Hopefully, we'll have some more, as well.

At the meeting we had a nice discussion of story themes and the current cultural zeitgeist. It's fascinating how different authors address similar themes. This time we had a lot of social commentary along the dystopian arena. We also had ...porcupines. Weird, huh?

So, book-keeping: Everyone who submitted during the relevant submission period should have heard from us. If you did not: something went awry and please submit. Everyone who was in hold-for-voting but did not make the issue has been sent an email. A few acceptances are still are their way; keep an eye out for contracts. Next steps: editors work with authors to edit stories.

Be sure to check out the fabulous February 28, 2018 issue!

30 January 2018

2017 Reader's Choice Story of the Year

One of our editors, Nikki Baird, just finished the contest for 2017 Reader's Choice Story of the Year...

And the winner is: Clara by Adriana K. Weinert. Congratulations, Adriana! Woo hoo!

There was also an Honorable metion: The Chain Outside of Time by Aaron D. Proctor. Congrats, Aaron!

Checkout the ElectricSpec Facebook page some time.

Here, next time, I'll post a report on the Production Meeting.

23 January 2018

surprise me

We, the Electric Spec Editors, are hard at work, going through slush for the fabulous February 28, 2018 issue. We only have about another week to finish up. I've read some decent stories recently that I did not advance because ...I saw the ending coming from a mile away. Please don't telegraph your story ending in the first paragraph. Consider surprising your reader.

How do you do this?

  • For one thing, successful authors are readers. You should read in your genre to know what's been done before.
  • Try a reversal in your story. This is when it seems as if the story is going in a particular direction, but, bam! it changes course.
  • A reversal can be associated with a dark moment when all seems lost. Dark moments are very effective because they tug at readers' emotions. And, then, when it turns out all isn't lost, the reader rejoices. Hurray! More emotions.
  • Original unique characters will often surprise readers, because unique characters should drive a unique story.
  • Original unique settings can likewise surprise readers because we haven't seen them before.
  • Nonlinear chronologies can be surprising. At best, all the threads l come together in the end, prompting the reader to think: Wow! So, that's what was going on. :)
  • Your idea here.
Good luck with your surprising story!

16 January 2018

most popular blog posts

Doh! You just missed the deadline for the fabulous February 28, 2018 issue of Electric Spec. (It was Jan 15.) But, don't worry. You can submit now fo the marvelous May 2018 issue.
We are hard at work on the next issue of Electric Spec.

So, in the meantime...a few statistics. We are about to cross into 600,000 views for the blog! (Yes, right here!)
(Unfortunately, since we've had a few different hosters over the years, we don't have overall stats for Electric Spec itself.)
So, focusing on the blog, we tend to get a significant uptick around release dates. We also get a signficant upticks when we have guest bloggers--especially authors. :) Yay, authors!
It appears that two of our most popular non-author, non-release-date blog posts were:

Keep those stories coming! Thank you!

09 January 2018

characterization

At Electric Spec we're really trying to get through the slush pile. Thank you for sending us your stories!

Every editor is different. Personally, I enjoy stories with strong characterization. I want to believe your characters are real people. How do you do this? By being specific. Use specific details. For example, don't write 'cookie,' write 'homemade chocolate chip cookie,' or whatever. Also, use metaphors and similes that are specific to your character. A witch would have much different metaphors and similes than a scientist. Often, you want to give the specific subjective thoughts and feelings of characters. Show me what's inside their head.

Furthermore, generally, the protagonist should be special in some way. Show me this specialness, and then use it in an integral way in the story. For example, I just read a story in which the protagonist is a clock-maker. The climax and resolution of the story should thus involve clock-making. Perhaps your protag is unusually compassionate or brave or whatever. The point is the story resolution should hinge on whatever this uniqueness is.

Consider sending us a story with some unique specific characterizations!

Don't forget the submission deadline for the fabulous February 2018 issue is right around the corner: January 15, 2018! Good luck!

02 January 2018

e-mo-tion

Happy New Year!

Here's hoping 2018 is even better than 2017!
The submission deadline for the fabulous February 28, 2018 issue of Electric Spec is: Jan 15, 2018, midnight, US Mountain time.

We're starting to get enmeshed in the slush for the new issue, so I have a tip...
The number one job of an author is to evoke emotion in the reader. I can't stress this enough.
E-mo-tion is the most important component of every story. If I don't have an emotional reaction to a story, I'm much less likely to buy it. Conversely, if I do have an emotional reaction to a story, I'm much more likely to buy it! :)

What are some good examples of emotional stories? I happen to be rereading Connie Willis' excellent book The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories (2014). In the past, I've discussed "The Last of the Winnebagos" (here and here) so I won't do that again. Instead, I'll mention "A Letter from the Clearys." Wow, talk about an amazing emotional reaction. It may be a perfect story. It starts very subltly: "There was a letter from the Clearys at the post office." What follows is a very slow reveal of something huge (I won't spoil it for you) done via an exceptionally well-created character. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.

Send us your emotion-evoking story!