18 September 2018

Avoid Cliche

We are starting to work on the next issue of Electric Spec--which means reading slush. Last time, I said stories should grab editors. This time, I'm saying stories should surprise editors. I didn't entitle this 'Surprise Me' because authors do need to lay the groundwork for their story endings. The end of the story should be the perfect complement to the beginning of the story. That being said, we see a lot of the same type of story endings...

Avoid these story cliches:

  • the mysterious protagonist is actually an alien, robot, AI, elf, ghost, monster, insert_your_favorite_creature_here
    and closely related: the seemingly normal protagonist is actually an evil murderer/torturer
  • the mysterious seemingly-not-human protagonist is actually a human
    and the closely-related: mysterious planet is actually Earth
  • nonhumans act exactly the same as humans.
  • the protagonist discovers he/she/it is the special chosen one
  • brave knight saving the damsel in distress and/or killing the dragon/beast
  • the powerful magic-object/wizard/AI/etc. saves the day
  • scientists/science are/is evil
I'm sure you can come up with some yourself.
Subverting cliches, on the other hand, can work great...

Good luck avoiding cliches!

11 September 2018

Grab Me

While we are still reveling in the awesome August 2018 issue of Electric Spec, we are also starting to think about the notable November 2018 issue...

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:

  • Penelope was fading fast, but I agreed to meet her nonetheless.
  • After my installation in Gloria, I am silent.
  • He returns on a Thursday after the full moon.
  • But there were no hummingbirds.
  • "Will you put that bloody thing down and talk to me?"
These pique one's curiosity. How was Penelope fading? And why meet her? How the heck does someone/thing get installed in a person? Why be silent? Where does he return from? And who is he? What's with the hummingbirds? What is the bloody thing and why does it interfere with conversation?
The methods differ significantly but the result is the same: I'm grabbed.

Good luck with your grabbing!

04 September 2018

Awesome August Issue!

We're still enjoying the awesome August 2018 issue of Electric Spec. If you haven't checked it out yet, here's what you're missing:

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.

  • "Hummingbird" by Kathryn Yelinek: One woman will learn to fear the buzzing of tiny wings...
  • "Twist" by Michael J. Nicholson: In a mad race to beat the world record for Rubik's cube, one competitor is about to take it a twist too far.
  • "Brother" by Subodhana Wijeyeratne: When a brother returns from deployment in space, we find relativity can be hell on relatives.
  • "There Is a Beauty in This Condition" by Neil James Hudson: What would you do if someone you loved was literally fading away?
  • "G10ria" by Michael Milne: An AI healing module implanted in a dying woman shows us a new perspective on the human experience.
  • In Editor's Corner editor Nikki Baird shares her discussion with editor Angie Hodapp about how to create an anthology.
  • Also in our Editor's Corner, editor Grayson Towler shares "Honor Dog," a story of a young boy's dangerous quest to preserve his father's legacy--and save the life of his best friend.
Which story is your favorite?

31 August 2018

We're Live!

We're Live! Check out the awesome August 31, 2018 issue of Electric Spec!

Thank you authors! Thank you artists!

Thank you editors!

And, most of all, thank you readers!

28 August 2018

from Author Hudson

We're proud to present "There Is A Beauty In This Condition" by Neil James Hudson in our awesome August 31, 2018 issue of Electric Spec. Here's what the author had to say about his story...

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!

21 August 2018

from Author Wijeyeratne

As part of our awesome August 31, 2018 issue of Electric Spec we're pleased to present Brother by Subodhana Wijeyeratne. Here's what Subodhana has to say about it:

I've always been interested in incorporating the South Asian cultural context into my science fiction. Coming from a Sri Lankan family, even though I was born and raised in the West, I've always been keenly aware of the amazing depth and diversity of the subcontinent's religion, history, and art. The challenge for me was to bring this into my writing without making it appear tokenistic or modish. I already had a crack at this once with My Lady, The Lily, a short story I based on a Sri Lankan legend, which appears in my collection "Tales from the Stone Lotus." But I'd never done a SF piece in a similar register.

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.



Thanks, Subodhana! Very interesting!
Be sure to check out Brother and all the other stories on August 31!

14 August 2018

from Author Nicholson

As part of our awesome August 31, 2018 issue of Electric Spec we're proud to present Twist by Michael J. Nicholson.

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.



Thanks, Michael! Very interesting!
Check out Twist and all the other stories on August 31!

13 August 2018

Cover Reveal

We are working hard on the awesome August 31, 2018 issue of Electric Spec! I thought I'd take this opportunity to reveal the awesome cover by Ron Sanders:

He calls this piece Rhea.
We've actually featured Ron's artwork several times before.
Read more about him on the Artists Page.

07 August 2018

behind-the-scenes Production Meeting

We have really geared up for the awesome August 31, 2018 issue of Electric Spec. Most folks who made it into hold-for-voting should have received a final decision email by now. We're starting to edit stories and create the issue itself.

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:

Good Luck!

Next time I'll start bragging about upcoming stories!

31 July 2018

behind-the-scenes rankings

We are working hard behind-the-scenes on the awesome August 2018 issue of Electric Spec. I believe at this point every story that made it in before the issue deadline has been read and all authors have been sent a first email. For many this is a Thanks, but no thanks.. For a select few it's a Thanks, we're going to hold this for voting. In general, we end up with twenty-ish stories each quarter in hold-for-voting. Keep in mind we get hundreds of submissions! And I'm not quite sure why, but we don't seem to get any bad subs. <--This is a bit of mystery to me.

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.

24 July 2018

awesome world-building

As you may know, we're working hard behind the scenes on the awesome August 2018 issue of Electric Spec. We have been reading a lot of slush...
I've read some stories with absolutely awesome world-building. I've read some stories in which the world seemed to be ordinary contemporary Earth. Guess which of these is more likely to get selected for our issue?

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:

  • Begin at the beginning. Ideally when you start your story (or at the beginning of your second draft) you know what your story is about. Pick the most important world-building element of the story and really develop it.
  • Look at all the other elements of your story. Are they consistent with this nascent world? For example, look at language including curses, metaphors and similes.
  • If you enjoy research, ask questions about your world. For example, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has a handy list of questions here. These include pretty much anything and everything you can imagine.
  • Once you've developed all this, don't info-dump.
If you've got a good world-building tip, feel free to comment.

Good luck with your world-building!

17 July 2018

experimental fiction

The submission deadline for the awesome August 2018 issue of Electric Spec has passed--but we're taking subs for the notable November 2018 issue. :)
We've started working hard behind the scenes, reading a lot of slush. FYI-Some editors read slush all along as it comes in, some editors tend to read their pieces in the month before production starts, i.e. in this case, July, i.e. now. So, keep an eye on your inbox if you haven't heard anything from us yet.

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?

10 July 2018

research -- love it or hate it

We are working hard on the slush pile. Thanks for sending us your stories!
The submission deadline for the awesome August 2018 issue is July 15, 2018!

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!

03 July 2018

make stuff happen

We are slowly working our way through the Electric Spec slush. Never fear, if you submitted, from us, you will hear!

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!

26 June 2018

story endings

We are starting to really get into the work for the awesome August 2018 issue of Electric Spec.
I've discussed story beginnings multiple times, but I haven't discussed story endings as often... I did discuss it here.
The point is story endings are important.

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!

19 June 2018

summer is for ...reading

The (northern hemisphere) summer solstice is almost upon us. Summer is officially here! Woo hoo! I still have fond memories of summer vacation from school. I recall going to the library a lot and reading, reading, reading. It was pretty awesome.

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!

12 June 2018

great first page

We've finally stopped basking in the glow of the marvelous May issue of Electric Spec and have begun thinking about the upcoming awesome August issue. We've gotten back into the slush pile. Thank you for sending us your art! I'm constantly amazed that so many talented people send us their works of art. Since we get so many, though, that means we can't publish them all.

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?

  • Do obey submission rules, including file format, word-length. Do not have excessive grammar/spelling problems. Generally, not doing this will not get you an automatic reject but it makes editors grumpy, so we're predisposed to reject.
  • Carefully consider if you want to do something less common like using present tense. You can do it but does it serve your art or is it just annoying?
  • Don't doing anything cliched like waking up, driving in a car, characters looking at themselves in the mirror, etc.
  • Do create a unique realistic voice--this is the number one thing that draws me into a story.
  • Do create an intriguing premise. Often this is where your speculative element comes in. What is amazing about your story?
  • Do create a fully-fleshed out world. Even on planet Earth everyone's world is different. Show us the world of your characters.
  • Speaking of showing, do show us something. A full first page of telling is a tough sell.
Is all this difficult to do on page one? Yes!
If you're struggling, consider reading the first pages of some published Electric Spec stories and analyzing what those authors did.

Good luck!

05 June 2018

marvelous May issue!

We're still enjoying the marvelous May 2018 issue of Electric Spec. If you haven't checked it out yet, here's what you're missing:

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.

  • "Tech Support" by Toni Johnson: One Arcanexus Level One Help Desk customer service representative gives new meaning to 'on the job training'.
  • "The Blood Portal" by Mary E. Lowd: When magic and space travel intersect, sometimes what you need finds you, instead of the other way around.
  • "Sigmund Seventeen" by Chris Barnham: When a moment is lost, a connection broken, how many tries does it take to get it back?
  • "The Perchant" by Bill Davidson: Sometimes, in order to regain your history, you have to forget everything you know.
  • "The Butcher of Swiffle Prime" by Josh Taylor: Sometimes, all you want is a strong drink and a friendly face -- even if you have to name-drop to get it.
  • And don't forget our Editor's Corner where associate editor Minta Monroe shares her short story "The Hobnailed Sole."
Which story is your favorite?

31 May 2018

We're Live! Huzzah!

We're live! The new issue of Electric Spec is out! Huzzah!

may 2018 cover

Thank you to all the authors, the cover artist, the tech support folks and all the editors! Yay!

And thank you readers!

29 May 2018

from Author Barnham

Woo hoo! It's almost time for the marvelous May 2018 issue of Electric Spec! We will be featuring "Sigmund Seventeen" from Chris Barnham. Here's what he has to say about the story:

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!!!

22 May 2018

from author Lowd

Mary E. Lowd tells us the following about her story "The Blood Portal"...

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.


Thanks, Mary!

15 May 2018

from Author Taylor

Josh Taylor wrote "The Butcher of Swiffle Prime." Josh is an engineering professor at the University of Toronto. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Jersey Devil Press and The Penn Review.
Around a year ago I read an article in the New York Times called 'You Don’t Want to Buy Groceries From a Robot,' by Stacy Torres. It was about how some people have little social interaction beyond brief exchanges with service workers, and that replacing those jobs with automation can cut them off entirely. I kept thinking about it, particularly when having an impersonal shopping experience. It struck me that another side of the issue is how companies force their retail employees to recite promotions to customers. It often ruins the interaction for both the customer and employee, and can lead people, particularly those who don't value such interactions, to actually prefer to buy things from machines.

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.


Thanks, Josh!

08 May 2018

from Author Johnson

We are pleased to be able to start talking about the sensational stories in the next issue of Electric Spec.

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.


Thanks, Toni!

Are you intrigued?
Be sure to check all the stories out on May 31, 2018!

01 May 2018

May 2018 Production Meeting

We, the Editors, are hard at work on the marvelous May 2018 issue of Electric Spec. Emails to authors who made it into hold-for-voting are going out about now. Some will get rejections. :( Some will get acceptances with contracts and info about deadlines, schedules and their personal editor and the process moving forward. Thus, if you submitted for this issue you should have heard something from us by now. If not, something went awry: please submit, being careful with your subject line. Once in a while stories do disappear into the ether...
Thank you very much if you did submit.

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!

24 April 2018

death?

We, the Editors, are working hard on the marvelous May 2018 issue of Electric Spec. In particular we are finishing up the fiction in the so-called slush pile. I've read quite a few stories recently and have to say Wow. I came across many stories in which the protagonist dies or kills others at the end.

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.

Good luck!

Next time I'll discuss the production meeting.

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!