See you in 2019!
And how about that editor interview? Gremlin Editor uncovered a lot of intriguing info!
Bonus question: which editor(s) did not participate? I wonder why...
Feel free to ask a question in the comments for a future interview.
One piece of advice often given to writers is to think about stories they have enjoyed in the past. When I think back the books I most enjoyed as a child growing up in the 1960's, Thornton Burgess's stories about the furred and feathered creatures that lived in the Green Forest and the Smiling Pond rank right up there. I credit Burgess's stories with helping me develop empathy for animals and a deep appreciation of the natural world.
As a teenager reader, I started to enjoy science fiction books, particularly those of Andre Norton and Robert A. Heinlein. Norton and Heinlein remain among my favorite science fiction authors, joined more recently by John Scalzi and Kim Stanley Robinson.
I first started writing and sending out fiction stories after I retired from full-time work in 2014. Many, though by no means all, of my stories have leveraged two of my most-enjoyed reading experiences—science fiction tales and animal stories. "Mission on Nemistat" is my seventh published science fiction story with an animal protagonist.
The inspiration for "Mission on Nemistat" came from thinking about the question of faith--specifically, faith in what we devote ourselves to do, whatever that may be. As one of the characters, Ninja, suggests, doubt isn't necessarily a bad thing if it helps us find the way to a more reflective and deeper commitment to the causes, occupations, and organizations to which we devote ourselves.
I think many of us (if not all) have doubts at some point in time, whether those doubts are about the value of our contributions, the merits of the tasks we do in our jobs, or the causes we commit ourselves to. Hopefully, we can find our way from doubt to a degree of certainty, as our protagonist Star manages to do. To do so can be liberating and energizing, though we must also realize that doubt is seldom banished forever. That's just the way it is.
Perhaps you've found, as I have, that sometimes, it's enough to say, "for now, it's all good." May we all find that peace, from time to time, as we go about our daily lives.
"Ugly Earthling" is my love letter to absurdity.
The process of writing short fiction is a joy. Shorts give me the opportunity to strut my weird, and to play with styles that would quickly become wearisome in the writing of a novel--or a reading of it, for that matter. I stand forever in awe of authors like Douglas Adams, whose long form works so effectively embrace absurdity in both style and content. It is not easy to pull off.
Still, the absurdity of "Ugly Earthling" posed a challenge when it came to crafting a satisfactory ending to the piece. As far out as it may be (rather literally, I suppose), my main character, Esmeralda, does have a goal in this story. It's reflected in the very first line. While there’s certainly room for character goals to shift and grow, I couldn’t very well have Esmeralda reacting to the events of the story by seeking out revenge, for example.
The prose style of a story like this might allow for a lot of weirdness, but that doesn't mean a character can randomly make decisions that run contrary to what they hope to achieve. Not unless they've got a convincing reason to do so. This story taught me quite a lot in the writing, quite a bit of which I managed through trial and error.
Squid chefs are one thing. Disappointing character journeys are quite another.
Second is Ramona Ausubel, whose story "Tributaries," in which people grow extra arms every time they fall in love, inspired the grief part--the "how" of that should be fairly obvious.
Third is a thanks to Pablo Picasso, who--according to the postcard I bought at his museum in Barcelona (the only souvenir I bought on that trip)--once said, "Bad artists borrow. Good artists steal." Without that oomph pushing me along, I probably would have thought I was borrowing too much from Elliott and Ausubel--so I gladly took what was theirs and made it mine (please don't sue, if you see this).
We will have a story from Editor Nikki in Editor's Corner Fiction. And, in a first, we will interview all the editors in the Editor's Corner Interview section. That should be interesting!
We pondered updating the website, but don't have time right now. We pondered putting together some kind of e-book anthology collection of Electric Spec...and decided to revisit the idea in the future.
We had an interesting discussion about how the zeitgeist of our modern culture affects writers. Do we get more dire, depressing stories these days? Maybe so.
But do we want to read dire, depressing stories these days? Maybe not.
Something to think about...
Hopefully, next time, we'll start hearing from authors!
One major issue is you must connect with the reader on an emotional level. To scare the reader, you have to make the reader care about the characters. Thus, usually, the opening of such a story should make the reader empathize with the point-of-view character. (In a flash piece this can be very difficult.) I think this is especially important in horror fiction if you want to scare the reader, make them uneasy. In such cases, first, you have to make them easy. :)
Another issue is there is a long, rich history of horror fiction in our culture. Please be aware of it. If an author expects a surprise reveal that the protagonist is actually a vampire/ghoul/ghost/werewolf/axe-murderer to work, think again.
All that being said, we enjoy macabre fiction. Show us something fresh!
Early Happy Halloween!
The editors are working their way through slush. Some do a pretty good job keeping up with it, some tend to procrastinate. If you submitted, you should hear back in the next two weeks for an initial thumbs up or down.
I've been reading a lot of slush. Some authors authors do a great job of telling their story through the lens of character. Some do not. Most modern story-telling is told via a very close point-of-view, be it third person or first person. In this case, everything in the story needs to be told through the subjective lens of your pov character. This includes language, metaphors, similes. This includes vocabulary and dialogue. This includes descriptions of other people, places and things.
If an author doesn't carefully implement this, the author's subjective lens is the default. This can work, if it's consistent. A haphazard mish-mash of pov, however, does not work.
When the lens of character is successfully implemented, the story is a joy to read...
Send us your stories!
I read a story recently that had extended 'Hello' and 'Goodbye' scenes. These scenes seemed very realistic in terms of dialogue. Unfortunately.
I challenge anyone reading this to go to a crowded spot and listen to people talking. You'll hear a lot of Hey's, Um's, So's, and similar words. Talking in the real world is a way to communicate and emotionally connect with other people but, generally, it's not efficient. Sometimes the actual words don't even matter because just showing up matters, participating matters, nonverbal communication matters.
Dialogue in story world should not be realistic. It should be fictionalized. Dialogue in a story should convey plot information, help build the fictional world, and it should characterize the speaker. It should be efficient. Words in story world do matter, because the words on the page are the only way we can communicate and connect with the reader. Every word is important.
The submission deadline for the November issue is fast approaching: October 15, 2018.
Send us your stories laden with unrealistic dialogue! :)
What is a happy ending, anyway? There's not an accepted definition. This is especially true when you consider different temporal eras, cultures, countries. Some would say as long as the protagonist is alive at the end of the story, it's a happy ending.
I think the whole happy ending issue exemplifies the art versus entertainment dichotomy in fiction. In art, anything can happen. In entertainment, people want to be entertained; often this means they want and expect a happy ending. Fiction falls somewhere along this spectrum. I would say literary fiction is closer to the art end of the scale. Genre fiction, including speculative fiction, tends to fall closer to the entertainment end of the scale.
Where do the Electric Spec Editors fall in terms of their preferences? There are certain conventions in a particular culture and we editors are subject to them along with everyone else. As convention says all characters must be fully fleshed out now, more ambiguous endings are considered more sophisticated, better.
But you're in luck. To decipher what we really think (rather than what we claim) you can check out thirteen years of endings for yourself at Electric Spec.
What's your preference?
Avoid these story cliches:
Good luck avoiding cliches!
How does an author get their work published? By grabbing the editor. Why is this relevant? Because editors want the stories to grab readers. They are myriad ways to grab an editor, but in general it does need to be done on the first page of a manuscript.
Here are some grab-worthy sentences you might recognize:
Good luck with your grabbing!
Perhaps the greatest gift of speculative fiction is that you never stop encountering startling and creative new perspectives. In this issue, we were amazed by the imaginative paths our writers took to tell their stories--including riveting explorations of relativity and quantum uncertainty, a moving story from a machine's perspective, an unexpectedly chilling choice for a menacing monster.
You can't step in the same river twice. New things arise and old things disappear. People fade away, and our memories fade with them. And as we age, we feel ourselves fading. Of course we should fight it, but it always ends the same. I've always kept diaries as a way of keeping it at bay; it makes me feel as if somehow the days can be preserved, the people kept real, and the past live on in the present. It doesn't, but I can't help hoping that the story of my life will be preserved after I've faded, as a kind of verbal corpse.
In this story, Penelope is the river that the narrator tries to step in twice. He knows it's not the same river, but he doesn't realise he's not the same man.
Very interesting, Neil! Thanks!
Check out "There Is A Beauty In This Condition" and all the others on August 31!
In the end, it was Sri Lankan legend to the rescue, again. Though based in the near future, Brother actually makes reference to Sri Lankan history too. The two brothers bear the name of the famously feuding monarchs Kasyapa and Mogallana. Having usurped his father, Kasyapa fled to a giant rock in the jungle and build a palace on its back, a structure he called 'Sigiriya' -- Lion's Rock. After a decade of tyranny, he was deposed by Mogallana, but not before he'd turned the rock into a great pleasure palace carved in the shape of a lion and adorned with images of heavenly maidens, Apsaras. The rock is still there in Sri Lanka, choked with tourists. Brother in some ways is my ode to that tale, and to brotherly relations the world over -- that curious mix of competition, love, hate, and tenderness that characterizes the bond between male siblings.
On Lightning Strikes and Mountain Climbs
As far as pop-culture goes, I am a child of the 80s. So when my son received a Rubik's cube for his birthday this year, I promptly sat down and learned how to solve it. It took roughly 24 hours until I had it down pat and the movements were almost second nature.
During this process, the concept of "solving" the cube by twisting reality, rather than the cube itself, occurred to me. Within about 5 minutes I had the story, pretty much fully formed, sitting in my head. About an hour and a half later I had Twist in a Word document.
Now, at this point you're probably thinking something along the lines of "screw this guy!". Bear with me. This isn't me bragging about how easy it is to write stories. If it were that easy I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be toiling away full-time developing IT systems for large corporations. But it isn't, so I am, and right now the writing takes third place behind family and work.
While the experience I had writing Twist has happened before, with other stories, it's not even close to the norm. Twist was a lighting strike. The usual process is more like scaling the north face of Everest, solo, with no oxygen. Or Equipment. Blindfolded.
I have stories I have wrestled into submission under many hours, days, weeks or months. I have a couple of stories that I really like, except for the fact that there is something indefinable wrong with them. These stories sit in folders on my Dropbox for years before I realise how I can make them into something that people might actually want to read. Or perhaps I will never feel that way about them.
It is this indefinable quality that makes us like a story. It's something bigger than the plot, bigger than the characters or the dialogue. It transcends good or bad proofreading and copyediting. It's there (or not there) regardless of how clever a twist (see what I did there) you finish with. It is of course all these things as well, but good fiction--fiction that grabs you and won't let you stop reading--can lack some of these elements and still be good. Bad fiction, on the other hand, can have everything you think should make it good, and still fail to engage the reader.
Twist is not an overly serious story. It was fun to write, and I hope it will be fun to read. My hope is that Twist has that "something", that strange, unmeasurable quantum-like quality that only exists when you, dear reader, take the time to engage with the story. It could not exist without you.
We recently had the Production Meeting. It's odd...often we notice an overall theme of submissions. This time, the tone of the stories was quite dark. We also had more than one story featuring spiders that made the finals. Interestingly, there was very little high fantasy. (Consider sending us some.) We discussed the finalist stories. One editor admitted that the amount of editing a story needed had an impact on whether he/she ranked it highly or not.
Overall, we were very impressed with the quality of the stories and were sad we couldn't publish all of the finalists. If your story was in hold-for-voting but ultimately not selected, do submit elsewhere. To assist you with this, consider the following websites with lists of markets:
Next time I'll start bragging about upcoming stories!
Please note the submission period for this issue was April 16 through July 15, 2018. If you sent us a story before this and you didn't hear anything back--something went awry. Please resubmit. If you sent us a story after July 15, it is being considered for the notable November 2018 issue. Stay tuned for more info later in the year.
Which brings us to rankings. I'm not sure how other 'zines do it, but at Electric Spec all the editors read all the hold-for-voting stories and rank them from number one (best) to number whatever (depends on how many stories made it into hold-for-voting). I try to be very objective when picking stories to go into the hold-for-voting pile. However, when it comes to rankings, I tend to be very subjective. I look for that wow factor. This can be an amazing world, voice, plot, you-name-it. Interestingly, sometimes the other editors agree with these subjective rankings and sometimes they do not.
I compile all the individual rankings into one big ranking list. The smallest number of points possible is 3--from three number one picks. I don't think we've ever had that. The greatest number of points possible would be 3 times the number of stories in hold-for-voting, so, typically sixty-ish. Stories at the top of the rankings list are all discussed and often the top ranked stories are in. Stories in the middle may or may not get discussed. Stories at the bottom are generally rejected.
What would such a discussion entail? We do try to be objective. Does the story have a complete plot, with a good setup and resolution? Does the story have characters that change? Is the story original, or does in contain tropes or cliches we've seen before? You get the idea...
Next time: I'll give a report on our Production Meeting.
I believe every work of fiction involves world-building. The key is to make your world internally consistent and believable. I've said before there are no rules of writing, but one could approach world-building in the following manner:
Good luck with your world-building!
I did read a couple very experimental pieces of fiction this time. What is experimental fiction? There are many definitions. One definition might involve the subjects/topics of the fiction not depicting reality. Experimental fiction can radically challenge the predominant norms of realism. One could say it's fiction that seeks to unsettle the reader, make them feel liberated or uncomfortable, or something else usual. I would say all this is speculative fiction.
In the cases I'm referring to, experimental fiction is fiction that does not obey the traditional rules of prose such as sentences and paragraphs. Language may not conform to standard rules of syntax, meaning, punctuation. There might be unusual typography. Possibly it does not even contain a narrative.
In my opinion, there is absolutely a place for this kind of experimental fiction in human artistic expression. I love creativity! It is very likely it is entirely appropriate for the realm of speculative fiction.
However, if the editor can't tell what the heck is going on... It's a pass.
Anyone care to comment on experimental fiction that they loved? That they hated?
I was recently interviewed about my research process. As some of you may know, my day job is scientist. So, while I do write sometimes-technical science fiction, I rarely do any research. This is because I get my fill of scientific research every week for 40+ hours.
At the opposite extreme, I recently interacted with an author who was building a huge fantasy mythology based on science. He'd been working on this world-building for a long time. I find this very impressive but...
I have had writer friends in the past who have spent all their writing time on research and then never managed to write anything. Caveat scriptor!
How about you? Do you do research? Do you love it? Hate it?
Whatever the case: good luck!
I read a story the other day which started off strong. The first para was interesting... I was excited to read more. Cut to 4 pages later and we were basically in the exact same situation. Hhm. Nothing was happening. I did keep reading. Eventually, I got to the end and I thought Is this really the end? I still had a lot of unresolved questions. Basically, this author set up a lot of neat stuff but never followed through. Nothing actually happened. Don't do this.
Thus, my advice to you is: make stuff happen in your story. This is a little market-dependent. Our market likes happening stuff. Your results may vary with other markets.
Of course, the 'make stuff happen' mantra works in other aspects of a writing career. Write stories! Write novels! Submit to editors! Publish! Make a website! Build your brand! And on, and on...
Good luck making all kinds of stuff happen!
The most important thing about a story ending is it needs to address the problem you introduced on page one (you introduced a problem on page one, didn't you?). I'm a little embarrassed to admit sometimes when I'm writing a story I end up solving a problem that wasn't introduced on page one. But the magic of rewriting enables me to then change the problem on page one. :) Violà! My story solution matches my story problem.
Another important element of the story ending is the emotional payoff. Take a moment and show the protagonist reacting to the conclusion. Is he/she/it relieved? happy? sad? injured? Whatever it is, what does the protag think/feel about it? Show it!
Good luck with your story endings!
Perhaps inspired by those memories I try to do some extra reading in the summer. Especially fun is rereading some of my favorite long series. Right now I'm rereading Butcher's Dresden files--and enjoying every minute of it. How about you? Do you have any favorite series? Last summer I reread all Harris' Southern Vampire series books. They were great!
Keeping in the vein (no pun intended) of free fiction, we have thirteen years of Electric Spec fiction available on the site. So many fun free spec fic stories! Check them out!
Good luck with your reading this summer!
How do you get your story in our 'zine? You create a great first page. Sadly, and honestly, you usually get only one short page to entice us. What's a writer to do?
Every quarter a theme seems to emerge from the collective unconscious of the writers who submit stories to Electric Spec. This quarter's theme appeared to be the combination of science and magic. We offer two such stories, along with something for everyone else, including time travel, a post-apocalyptic future, and a bar worth fighting for.
One of the things that always interests me about writing fiction, is the way that you make stuff up and sometimes the characters and the ideas take on a life of their own. You think you’ve written something the way it should be, only to find that you have to go back and explore it some more.
I wrote a story about a young man called Siggy, who meets a woman called Ellie. They fall in love, and she shares with him a fantastic secret: she has stumbled upon a mechanism for travelling between different versions of reality, between worlds that are subtly or dramatically different from our own, depending on how far you go along a mysterious path called the Way.
That story -- called Once There Was a Way* - ends sadly. Siggy has a wanderlust, and showing him the Way is like giving him the keys to the sweetshop. He can’t resist using it without Ellie, only to get lost in parallel worlds, forever searching for the version of reality he left behind, the one with his lover in it.
I always thought the concept of the Way lent itself to a series of stories, and sure enough I wrote others. One -- called Hard Times in Nuovo Genova -- is due to be published this summer by the magazine Intergalactic Medicine Show. What I didn’t realise at first was that the story of Siggy and Ellie hadn’t been fully told. I left Siggy wandering the Multiverse, searching in vain for the Ellie he left behind. But what about Ellie?
That thought led to my story, Sigmund Seventeen, the sad tale of what Ellie did after she lost Sigmund. (Warning: Spoilers!) What both stories show is a truth that lies at the heart of much science fiction: whatever the powers and possibilities that become available to us, through technology or otherwise, our fate is often determined by the flaws that lie within us. In Once There Was a Way, Sigmund loses Ellie because he always wants to look around the next corner and suspects the grass is greener, and so fails to see that what he already has. In Sigmund Seventeen, Ellie risks wasting the endless possibilities available to her in a doomed search to replace the man who got away.
Both these stories, indeed all my stories set on the magical path called the Way, are at heart about this truth: what we get out of life is largely determined by what we are able to bring to it. There’s no magical or technological fix that can make us what we are not.
*If you want to read the sister story, Once There Was a Way, it is included in the short story anthology Flicker, out now from FillesVertes Publishing.
Very interesting! Thanks, Chris.
Check out all the stories in 2 days!!!
A year ago, I attended Wordcrafters' Science Fiction/Fantasy Story Weekend. The instructor was Nina Kiriki Hoffman. We belong to the same critique group and get together to write semi-regularly. She was kind enough to let me ride along with her on the hour long drive, deep into the beautiful forests of Blue River, Oregon. I have two children (they were nine and three years old at the time) and it was a blessed sanctuary to escape to a quiet cabin for a whole weekend with a dozen other writers. Over the two days, I pot-lucked with the other writers, went on a long solitary walk along the river, stayed up late into the night chatting, and wrote a story. Because that's the point of the weekend -- show up Friday, write a story before dinner time on Saturday, and then everyone reads their brand new story aloud.
I'd gone to one similar retreat before -- Wordcrafters' Ghost Story Weekend with Eric Witchey, another incredible instructor. Eric's teaching style is far more analytical than Nina's. For the ghost story retreat, I'd been nervous -- trying something entirely new -- so I had come prepared with a detailed outline for my ghost story, even though I don't generally write outlines. (Seriously, I've started trying to write outlines for longer projects, and they mostly look like a couple of thought bubbles scrawled on a piece of lined paper.) For the sci-fi/fantasy weekend, I showed up at the retreat with absolutely no plans for what I would write.
See, I'd been watching Nina design roll-up sheets at our writing dates. Since then, she's put a bunch of them together into Stone Story Soup: A Story Cookbook. On every page, there are lists of possible character attributes or story tropes, and you roll dice to pick which ones you're supposed to write about. So I rolled the dice, and I filled out a sheet with a bewildering array of ingredients that didn't seem to go together at all. This doesn't usually happen with Nina's sheets, but I'd decided to roll my way through ALL of the sheets, instead of just picking one.
I stared at those ingredients for a long time, trying to scry how they could fit together, and then I just started writing. What poured out of me was a blend of science-fiction and fantasy worlds, inhabited by a character who I filled with some of the fears I'd been experiencing myself. Remember those children I mentioned in the first paragraph? The younger one is a boy, and while any toddler can be a fiercely entitled little creature, there was something especially terrifying about watching a white male stomp his way through the terrible twos. I felt a burden of responsibility as his parent that I hadn't felt with his older sister at the same age. When she threw tantrums, it was horrible, but I knew she'd grow out of it. She'd have to. Society would require it. But watching the news... And thinking of my own father (who terrifies me and has been asked not to contact me)... I could picture all too easily that my charmingly sweet little boy could somehow walk all the way into adulthood with the horrifying sense of entitlement that toddlers naturally feel intact.
The story I read aloud that Saturday evening was "The Blood Portal."
A little over a year later, I'm happy to report that my son, now almost five, is already much more respectful of other people and their boundaries than he was during his terrible twos. And when I went to this year's sci-fi/fantasy retreat with Nina a few weeks ago, I let my emotions pour into a story again. This time, I ended up with a lightweight comedy.
That was the inspiration, and, after lots of revising, this was the story that came out. As a new writer I usually don't know what the result or even style will be until I'm well into the story. Although if there's a chance for humor I'll almost always put it in, which is easy for me because I'm very accustomed to people not laughing at my jokes.
First up, we have "Tech Support" by Toni Johnson. Toni Johnson is an author and illustrator living in Chicagoland. She is the editor and an author for Tales of the Automazombs.
Here's what she has to say about her story...
Tech Support started as a strange exclamation ("Great flaming monkeys!") that needed a world to live in.
The place that emerged was a modern Chicago that stumbled into magic half a decade prior.
Naomi herself is based on the tech support staff I've known from my time as a web designer.
Are you intrigued?
Be sure to check all the stories out on May 31, 2018!
We were very pleased with the variety and quality of the stories this time. For example, there were several stories combining science fiction, fantasy and/or horror elements. We love that!
In miscellaneous news, we're pondering a redesign of the whole Electric Spec website. If you have strong opinions, please leave a comment.
The other major takeaway from the meeting is we were sorry we couldn't publish every story in hold-for-voting. They were all publishable. So, if you got in there: congratulations! I'm being sincere. That is an accomplishment. You are an author. If not here, I do believe your story will find publication elsewhere.
Next time we'll start blogging about the new issue!
Whenever we get several stories with similarities it makes me wonder what's going on with our cultural zeitgeist. While stories involving death have existed as long as stories have existed, we seem to be getting more. Should we be worried?
I agree that death is dramatic. But it's hard to make a reader care about death in a short story because your tools, i.e. words, are limited in number. (Speaking of zeitgeist, are we all getting too accustomed to death in culture? I don't know.) But, recall, the number one goal of an author should be to affect the emotions of a reader.
A good way to affect reader emotions is to show characters in the story being affected. If the characters care, I'll be more likely to care as a reader.
The bottom line is if your story requires death, make sure it is effective.
Next time I'll discuss the production meeting.
Thank you for sending us your stories!
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!
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!
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!
There are two versions of the try/fail cycle:
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!
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.
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?
And be sure to check out all the stories tomorrow, February 28, 2018 at Electric Spec!
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.
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.
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!
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.
How do you do this?
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!
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!
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!