18 June 2019

similarities and differences: short stories and novels

I'm judging a novel contest right now while working on Electric Spec slush. So, I've been noticing the differences between short stories and novels. And, no, I'm not talking about the obvious one: length. :) In some ways short stories are similar to novel chapter ones and in some ways they're very different.

Today's short stories must grab the reader on page one. It's even better if they grab the reader in paragraph one, or, ideally, line one. There are myriad ways to grab the reader, some of which I mentioned here last week, including unique voice, engaging character, dramatic problem, etc. The pace of a short story often builds until the end of the story, the climax, and then relaxes in a short denouement.

Today's novels must grab the reader by the end of chapter one. Chapter one usually begins by setting the scene, introducing main character(s), building the world a little. The pace of chapter one usually increases until the end. Thus, ideally, chapter one ends with a dramatic cliffhanger. Obviously, what this cliffhanger is depends on the genre. In a murder mystery, for example, usually it's a body drop.

An effective writerly trick in both is an initial sentence of telling. For example, It was the best of times.... Another effective writerly tool in both is referencing other literary works either explicitly or implicitly. Literature has a long tradition of self-reference.

Whatever you're currently writing: good luck with it!

11 June 2019

so many stories...

We've started working on the awesome August 2019 issue of Electric Spec. I've been reading some of the many stories we've received. Wow! It seems like we're getting more and more really good stories! Thanks! Thus, instead of a list of 'don't do' from slush, I have a list of 'do do.' :) In your story:
  • Do start with a unique voice.
  • Do start with an engaging character.
  • Do start with a dramatic problem.
  • Do start with some amazing world-building.
  • Do start with some intriguing and realistic dialogue.
  • Do start with your_awesome_idea_here.
Thanks for sending us your stories! And keep them coming!

04 June 2019

Hurray for us!

We're still enjoying the fabulous May 31, 2019 issue of Electric Spec! Hip, hip, Hurray!
How about that nice cover art, huh?

What's your fave story? Tar? Krarg the Barbarian vs. the Afterlife? A Mouthful of Mushies? Zhai Chengda's Wife? Kill Screen? Pride Goeth Before A Fall? Garder L'Equilibre?

We enjoyed them all and hope you did, too!

31 May 2019

from Author Rodenhausen

On May 31, 2019 we will be featuring Evan Rodenhausen's excellent story "A Mouthful of Mushies." Here's what he has to say about it:

Let’s talk about how lazy I am.

Every day, without fail, I think about writing. I think about it while I’m at work, I think about it while I’m going for a run, I think about it while I’m reading. I think about it with the same fear and reverence that I imagine inhabits the minds of the devoutly religious. It is, in a sense, a religion for me.

And yet, I come to it with reluctance. Writing is a daily habit for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy or even compulsive. Not so much the act of writing itself—once I’m in the zone, fuggedabout it—but the commitment to sitting down for one or two or three hours and putting words on a page and banging out a story. I have to hype myself up, give myself space, build up the mentality like I’m laying the foundation of a house. Maybe it’s fear of failure, or a sense of incompetence, or just a side-effect of my constantly restless mind.

But I like to think it’s laziness.

It’s the same thing before I go for a run, or write a paper, or meet someone for dinner. I find all of these things fulfilling and enjoyable—but why do them when I could nothing! And so we come to this story, “A Mouthful of Mushies”, which the editors at ElectricSpec have so graciously agreed to publish. Change is hard. Laziness can creep into your life under the guise of habit or routine—I like to run the same five-mile loop four days a week, go for dinner at the same three or four places, and write about the same sorts of people (men) in the same sorts of situations (despair).

See where I’m going with this? You can be active, you can be social, you can go through the routine and the self-hype and sit down and write for two hours every day and still be lazy. If you’re not growing, I feel, you’re being lazy.

And that’s fine. Sometimes you want to be lazy, sometimes it’s good for you to be lazy. But when I handed a friend another story of mine about another dude in another bummer of a situation filled with vague supernatural elements he said, “It’s fine, but why don’t you try something different?”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“I don’t know. Write about women. Something different.”

Ok then. I don’t think “A Mouthful of Mushies” is a great story by any means, but I do think it’s solid. More than that, I’m proud of it. It forced me to try something new, put me in a foreign land, and made me grow. Writing, as much as any other formative influence in my life, has shaped who I am today. But like your parents or your hometown or your life experiences, they shouldn’t limit you. You should grow with them, learn from them.

This story is for Ryan Flynn, who made me a better writer without even realizing it.



Very interesting! Thanks, Evan!
Check out "A Mouthful of Mushies" and the other stories now!
Electric Spec.

We're Live!

The marvelous May 31, 2019 issue of Electric Spec is live! Woo hoo!

Thanks so much to all the authors!

Thanks so much to all the Electric Spec staff.

And, especially, thanks so much to all the readers!

Woo hoo!

30 May 2019

from Author Johnston

On May 31, 2019 we will be featuring Andrew Johnston's excellent story "Kill Screen." Here's what he has to say about it:

The Twilight Zone is perhaps my favorite show of all time, and time has only magnified my appreciation for it. There's a simplicity in the show that's often absent in comparable genre anthology shows, including its own revivals. Absent the effects and production values of movies (or for that matter, modern prestige TV), The Twilight Zone sold itself on the fundamentals of live visual storytelling, especially writing and acting.

A great example of this dynamic - and one of my personal favorite episodes - is "A Game of Pool," starring Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters in, to quote Rod Serling, "the story of the best pool player living and the best pool player dead." This is a thirty minute program with few distractions - two actors, one simple set, a plot that's laid out in its entirety within the opening minutes. From that point on, everything is presented through dialogue and camera angles, and the creators needed nothing else.

If you're going to steal, steal from the best. "Kill Screen" is one of several stories I've written that are based on Twilight Zone episodes, and is one of my favorites. It is not a direct one-to-one adaptation, nor is it meant to be. The aesthetics of an arcade are very different than those of a pool hall, and they attract very different crowds. "A Game of Pool" was a quiet, isolated match between two men with that isolation adding to the suspense, whereas "Kill Screen" uses the growing crowd and chaos to generate a different sort of tension.

"Kill Screen" is also one of my longer stories, mainly because as I wrote it I found myself bringing more and more outside references. Aside from being a Twilight Zone homage, it is also a love letter to retro video games. Some of those references are obvious - the cabinet itself, with its deadly legacy, is a reference to the 1980 game Berzerk, and the antagonist bears more than a slight resemblance to recently disgraced arcade icon Billy Mitchell. As I wrote it, though, I had a hell of a lot of fun dreaming up colorful figures for Jimmy's list of victims, who constitute a Cavalcade of People Who Take Video Games Too Seriously (a list that includes Jimmy himself, though he's too egotistical to acknowledge that).



Very interesting! Thanks, Andrew!
Check out "Kill Screen" and the other stories on May 31, 2019!

28 May 2019

from Author McKeever

On May 31, 2019 we will be featuring Tim McKeever's excellent story "Pride Goeth before a Fall." Here's what he has to say about it:

I don't know about you, but I find that there are few things more pedantic than reading an author's description about his own composition, inspiration and intent. You often end up with a self-congratulatory piece that is more about revisionist history than the true creative process. I offer Poe’s The Philosophy of Composition as a case in point. In an effort to avoid pomposity -- which I've already failed to do by using the word pomposity -- I generally shrug off questions about the creative process. Why be a jerk when you don’t have to?

And yet here we are.

I tried to explain Pride Goeth before a Fall to a colleague at work. I've done similar things in the past, and it always goes the same way. I start by explaining the tenants of hardboiled crime and what writers were doing in the 40s with detective fiction. People are generally interested and might even be familiar with The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep. I tell them that I like the style and borrow from it. By way of explanation I might explain the scene of the story, in this case an upper class brothel hidden in an ordinary suburb. This may elicit a few questions or comments, and the conversation progresses. After some further niceties, I casually mention that my main character is a demon. Moments later I'm alone at the water cooler.

Belial as a main character in a hardboiled story sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud. I get that, but stick with me. The heroes of hardboiled crime are men and women that do the right thing in an uncaring world that doesn't acknowledge their efforts. This style of storytelling avoids simple solutions of clear morality, looking instead at the complexity of the human condition. The best outcome may not always be a fairy tale ending, but it’s better than the alternatives presented by the narrative. Hardboiled heroes are real people with real problems. They fight their personal demons, but try to do what’s right. Who better to tell that story than a demon himself?

The rest fell into place with the usual sort of influences: TV, film, books, media, popular culture. If you have a character you like, build the rest of the story from your own interests. It really is that simple. If it connects with you, it will connect with someone else. Beg, borrow and steal to create something unique. Poe would like you to think it's more complicated than that, but take a look at his personal history. Is there any wonder he wrote the works that he did? If a literary great couldn't escape his influences, what hope do the rest of us have? In the end, my message is a simple one that doesn't require a rambling essay with a shot of self-aggrandizement.

Put simply: shut up and write.



Very interesting! Thanks, Tim!
Check out "Pride Goeth before a Fall" and the other stories on May 31, 2019!

21 May 2019

from Author Foster

One of the excellent stories we'll be featuring on May 31, 2019 is "Krarg the Barbarian vs. the Afterlife" by Luke Foster. Luke sent us some thoughts...

Comedy is a funny thing, no pun intended.

I've written and drawn comic strips and comic books for almost 11 years now, and most of them were comedies. Comedy and comics have gone hand-in-hand for almost a century, and they will continue to do so as long as comics are made.

But writing prose comedy is a much different beast. Instead of relying on visuals to help sell (or, in some cases, be) the joke, you need to work with the reader's imagination and really have a knack for language to make the laughs come to life. Writers like Douglas Adams, P. G. Wodehouse, and even Robert B. Parker had a real aptitude for writing and comedic timing, and not only were they gifted with those skills, but they made it look effortless, too. That, in many ways, takes just as much talent.

As much as I love comedy, this is actually the first humorous prose piece I've written. When I'm working in this medium, I tend to lean towards crime, horror, and other, darker genres. This story, though, just had to be a comedy. The moment I was given the challenge "write a story about death that isn't negative or grim" was the moment Krarg the Barbarian was born. I may not be Adams, Wodehouse, or Parker, but I hope you get as many laughs reading this story as I did writing it.


Very interesting! Thanks, Luke!
Be sure to check out this story and all the others on May 31, 2019.

14 May 2019

from Author Knighton

We're pleased to feature the excellent story "Zhai Chengda's Wife" by Andrew Knighton in the may 31, 2019 issue of Electric Spec. Andrew tells us...

The Inspiration Behind Zhai Chengda's Wife:

One of the toughest things we can do for something we love is to acknowledge its faults. Whether it's tolerating your partner's snoring or recognising that eating a whole cheesecake will expand your waistline, it's tough to accept that there's bad mixed in with the good. But when it comes to writing fiction, acknowledging those problems gives us a chance to grow.

I love steampunk fiction, and I'm terribly aware of one of its biggest problems - that it's very Eurocentric. As a genre, it's usually focused on the achievements of the western world, particularly Britain, to the exclusion of other societies. There's nothing wrong with stories set in London, Paris, or for the more adventurous the Wild West. But steampunk can be so much more, and thinking about that inspired me to reach further afield for a setting.

Historically, China has been responsible for many of the world's great inventions, from gunpowder to the printing press, and that makes it a natural location for a steampunk story. Inspired by the industrial achievements of Song Dynasty China, I created a world in which the Chinese Empire has made great leaps forward, including airships and rocketry, and is dominating its neighbours. Not everyone wants to bow down before a great power, and a nation on the borders is intent on resistance. But when your opponent is a military giant, more subtle forms of resistance are needed, and so a tale of spies and diplomacy begins. This is the story of Zhai Chengda’s Wife.

Many details in this story are extrapolated from real life. From the military manuals to the political conflict, everything has its roots in something from our world. This isn't a story about the world as it was, but perhaps it's a world as it could have been. And if it adds to the variety of those steampunk unrealities, then I'll consider my work well done.


Thanks, Andrew! Very interesting!
Be sure to check out this story and the others May 31, 2019!

07 May 2019

May 2019 Production Meeting

We, the Editors of Electric Spec, had our in-person Production Meeting recently. Yes, in the Star Wars Day/Cinco de Mayo/Kentucky Derby/Game of Thrones/Avengers craziness we still managed to get together. At a cidery, no less! At least this time we didn't have to contend with hundreds of golden retrievers.

Meeting face-to-face goes back to when the 'zine first started fifteen (!) years ago. We fight it out in person, each promoting our favorite stories submitted for the issue. There were an unusual number of finalists this time. We feel blessed to have so many writers share their art with us. Thank you for sending us your stories!

By now, hopefully, everyone who made it into hold-for-voting will have heard back from us with either a 'Yay!' or a 'Nay!' We're all writers so we know it is annoying/depressing to receive a rejection. If you received a reject from us: Sorry! But you can take heart that your story is publishable. Yay authors need to send back the contract and paypal info to get the editing process going.

I'm hesitant to say it, because something could go wrong, but it looks like we will be publishing six spec fic stories in the marvelous May 31, 2019 issue!

So, stay tuned right here for info from featured authors in the coming weeks.
Woo hoo!

30 April 2019

hard at work!

We, the Electric Spec Editors, are hard at work on the next issue. The good news is we have lots of awesome stories to choose from. The bad news is we have lots of awesome stories to choose from.

I better get back to it.

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

23 April 2019

show and tell

All the editors are hip-deep in slush, getting ready for the marvelous May 31, 2019 issue of Electric Spec. None of us like to do it, but we do have to reject stories. To avoid this, I have a tip...

As kids we are asked to "tell a story." In creative writing classes, student-authors are often told to "show, don't tell." And, experienced authors know "there are no real writing rules." If all this seems contradictory to you, it's because it is!

When I'm reading slush, however, I look for authors who show and tell. Moreover, I look for authors who show and tell on the first page. This usually means some kind of scene-setting (telling) and some kind of dialogue (showing). The telling could be describing characters. The showing could be in-the-moment protagonist thoughts/reactions. This could be _your_idea_here_. I don't care what the showing and telling are, but the combo usually leads to effective storytelling.

In addition, savvy writers know the writerly trick: use telling in the first sentence. Think of some of the most famous first lines, e.g. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." or "I am an invisible man..." I'm sure you can think of other examples.

Send us your showing and telling stories for the August issue!

Soon, we'll start discussing the marvelous May issue!

16 April 2019

As you know, Bob

We are hard at work on the marvelous May 31, 2019 issue of Electric Spec. (The submission deadline was yesterday, April 15. But you can submit now for the August 2019 issue.) We are going through the slush pile.

I recently read a story that had quite a bit of 'As you know, Bob...' dialogue. This is a crutch whereby the author is telling the reader something in the story that the characters already know. It reads as very unnatural and stilted. For example, "As you know, the lizard king hatches from an egg, so we are going to look for the egg cache." Don't do this. It's a variety of info-dump.

It's so easy to avoid! Just make one or more of your characters more ignorant. :) For example, "Where are the lizard eggs?"

A good way to test for this is to read only your dialogue out loud. Does it sound like a conversation? Does it make sense? Does it impart needed information? If not, consider trimming it.

We'll start bragging on the new issue is about two weeks...

09 April 2019

Politics of all kinds

The submisison deadline for the marvelous May 31, 2019 issue of Electric Spec is coming up soon: April 15, 2019. Get those stories in!

I was reading slush and an author inadvertently (I assume it was inadvertent) offended me with politics. As I'm using the word, politics can cover a myriad of topics from Democrats and Republicans in the USA, other political entities in other countries, to different religions, to various companies (Coke versus Pepsi, anyone?). Authors don't necessarily know an editor's affiliations. Thus, authors run the risk of offending them when they write a story with a negative slant to one 'political' party. Bottom line: I rejected that story.

What's a poor writer to do? Use his/her imagination! We are talking about fiction here, folks. I have no problem reading a negative story about the Remocrats or the Depublicans, for example.

Of course, writing is a creative endeavour, so if your story demands 'political' negativity, go for it. Just don't try to sell it here.

Good luck with your stories, positive or negative, political or apolitical!

02 April 2019

Earn Your Death

The submission deadline for the marvelous May 31, 2019 issue of Electric Spec is right around the corner: April 15, 2019! Get those stories in to be considered for this issue.

We've started going through the massive slush pile. (Thank you for sending us your stories!) I've got a tip...

Earn Your Death. Often authors kill off their protagonists and other characters in their stories. And why not? It's dramatic. Unfortunately, if it's not earned, it has less of an emotional impact. How do you earn your death? By making the reader emotionally invested in the character that dies. How do you get the reader emotinoally invested? There are many ways including:

  • use very specific details
  • show other characters caring about the character
  • show the character as an underdog, e.g. a victim of a tragedy or bullying
  • show the character act heroic, e.g. save the cat<--this is a writerly trick wherein the character saves a creature even less powerful than him/herself.
I look forward to reading a lot of stories in which a character I care about dies. :)

26 March 2019

Three Act Structure

I'm taking a writing class now and we've been extensively discussing the three act structure. You know the one: Act 1 with exposition, an inciting incident, an act 1 climax leading into act 2, rising action and conflict/confrontation leading into act 3, and a climax and resolution/denouement. This structure is very common in commercial movies and novels. In fact, you can even use this structure within single chapters. (If you're not familiar, you can find lots of info about it on the internet.)

It also works great for short stories!

For all the people who love the three act structure, however, there are also many who dislike it. So, give it try--if you want! If you don't want to, don't. :)

Send us your stories with or without a three act structure!

19 March 2019

spec fic and family

As a writer, I'm trying to plot out a big new spec fic project. Among other things, I have to figure out who the protagonist's family members are and what their roles are. This made me realize speculative fiction has a long history of not including (bio) family members. Why?

I'm sure opinions differ on why this is, but here's my two cents:

  • History.
    • Back in the mists of time, speculative fiction was created for young people. Even today, the stereotype of spec fic readers is young people. Young people are less concerned with family than some other groups.
    • Much early spec fiction was of a shorter length and there's simply no room for a huge cast of characters. (Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, e.g. epic fantasy.)
  • Ideas. Speculative fiction is a literature of ideas be it a quest, fighting a monster, or inventing a new gadget. Experimenting with ideas, imagining what-ifs doesn't require relatives.
  • Individualism. Readers want to see unique protagonists act to solve their own immediate problems.

Found or chosen families are huge in spec fic, on the other hand. You need people to join you on your quests, etc.

So, going back to my idea from last week: trends. Is this anti-family paradigm on the decline? I think ...not.
What do you think?

I was reminded of the common phenomenon of long-long mothers and/or fathers coming back from the dead or whatever. <--This is common.

Send us your spec fic--with or without family.

12 March 2019

Fiction Trends

We've been doing Electric Spec long enough to be cognizant of fiction trends. Today, I'm going to discuss two separate issues: format and content.

In terms of format, fiction is shorter. Flash fiction is becoming more and more popular. I think this is technology-driven as we read on our phones, etc. Some authors are even able to write a story within the confines of twitter! Impressive! Closely related to this, fiction starts in media res, in the middle of things, even more than ever. Fiction has shorter sentences and paragraphs, as well--all related to technology changes. Consequently, as editors, we do look for stories that start quickly.
Another huge format issue is audio. Audio is gaining more and more of the fiction market. (We don't have any plans at Electric Spec to get into audio.)
Something that hasn't happened much yet but has been promised is: multi-media and/or interactive fiction. I do believe in the future, we will absorb our fiction differently. :)

In terms of content, there have been four main trends I've noticed in recent years:

  • Genre mashups. I believe this is driven by the success of indie publishing. No longer are authors constrained by the rules of big publishers. So, readers have gotten more and more used to mashups, until they're requesting them. At Electric Spec we love genre mashups!
  • Dystopia/grimdark fiction. Of course, dystopian fiction has been around a long time, but starting about two years ago we really started seeing more of it. (I'll leave the cause(s) of this pessimism to your imagination.) This type of fiction is very pessimistic.
  • Solar punk/hope punk fiction. Solar punk is basically fiction that's climate-friendly with green technology. Often it has African and/or Asian aesthetics, as well. The African/Asian influences are a result of Black Panther's massive success, in my opinion. Yay! Usually solar punk is also positive and optimistic. Some people now refer to optimistic fiction as hope punk. I believe it is a direct reaction to all the negatives of dystopia/grimdark fiction. Of course, back in the 'golden age' of science fiction was almost always optimistic. We love solar punk and hope punk!
  • Kick-ass women protagonists. I think this is a direct reaction to the Me-Too movement. Writers and readers want to write/read stories of female empowerment rather than victimization. This will only increase with Captain Marvel's success. Electric Spec loves kick-ass women stories!
Whether you embrace the trends or buck them, good luck with your fiction!

05 March 2019

Huzzah!

We're still enjoying the fabulous February 28, 2019 issue ofElectric Spec! Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!
How about that nice cover art, huh?

What's your fave story? The Strongest Man in the Village? Guinevere? Riverbed? When He Stopped Crying? The Blessing of Song?

We enjoyed them all and hope you did, too!

28 February 2019

Fabulous February Issue Live!

We're Live! Check out the fabulous February 28, 2019 issue of Electric Spec!

Thank you authors! Thank you artists!

Thank you editors!

And, most of all, thank you readers!

27 February 2019

from Author Mueller

We're excited to feature the fantasy "Guinevere" by Amelia Dee Mueller. She tells us a little about her writing process.


Guinevere was the first short story I ever wrote. Before it, I’d already pumped out two pretty awful novels that I love to my deepest core but that will never see the light of day, but something about writing a short story was very intimidating to me. I’d wanted to tell Guinevere’s story for a long time, but I never thought a short story would give me the room to do it. She’s a legend, literally, and there’s no way I could cover all of her in only a couple thousand words. But I couldn’t come up with enough of a story to take up a novel’s worth. So her story sat on the back burner in my mind, waiting to be written.

Luckily something came a long that gave me the push I needed: a deadline and peer pressure. I was taking my first creative writing class at the University of North Texas and needed something to turn in. The only story I had ready was Guinevere's, and everyone in my workshop was turning in such wonderful works and I knew anything that I came up with last minute wouldn’t hold up against theirs. I get competitive in workshops, which is exactly what you’re not supposed to do, but I can’t help it. I wanted to write the best story of the course, and the best in me was the story I’d been sitting on for almost a year.

I forced myself to sit down and outline it as a short story, and then I stayed up all night pounding out a first draft that I hated, as we all do with our first drafts. I revised. I rewrote. I made it better. I turned in something I wasn’t proud of. I got good feedback from talented classmates. I revised. I rewrote. Rinse and repeat.

I could go into the grueling submission process I went through after that, but it would look pretty similar. Writing is about creativity and inspiration and character and all of that, but all of that is worthless without discipline. I needed outside forces to get me started on that path, but after I found it I was able to discipline myself.

Writing is hard work, but for us that commit to it, it’s work worth doing. Even the hard parts. Guinevere taught me that.


Thanks, Amelia! Very interesting!
Be sure to read "Guinevere" and the rest of our stories tomorrow, in the fabulous February 28, 2019 issue of Electric Spec!

26 February 2019

from Author DiMaggio

We're excited to feature the literary horror story "Riverbed" by Rachel DiMaggio in our next issue. Here's what she tells us about her process.

Dry Spells: Block or Boon?

I’ve often heard the advice to write every day. I’ve tried that many times, and it seems to result in very few worthwhile pages. When I’m in “writing as creative practice” mode rather than “first draft, go go go!” mode, I don’t force myself to write every single day. Instead, I try to write on a semi-regular basis for two reasons: to be ready for a story that is almost ready to bloom, and to explore concepts and ideas in search of stories that haven’t formed yet. I experience it as tending a wild and unpredictable garden. Sometimes the soil needs to rest. Sometimes it needs to be nourished with the writing, music-making, and art of others. Sometimes I just need to ignore it and let the briars and wild flowers take it over until there is so much life and color that I have to get back into the work.

Even so, there are a few tricks I use to get through writing blocks. Having a small space that you associated with writing is really helpful, whether that’s a desk, a library study carrel, or a home office. I’m very lucky to have a dedicated room for my writing, and when I go there I know that it’s creativity time. It’s also the space where I do yoga and meditate. I also primarily use this room for all the peripheral work associated with promoting and selling my writing. Having some writing rituals or objects, such as lighting a candle, using a writing-only notebook, or staking claim to a corner of the coffee shop has also worked for me!

I've recently been working on staying creative by doing art and craft projects that are completely outside of writing. Hand embroidery allows my mind to run down whatever paths present themselves, while providing a sense of satisfaction from producing something tangible. Plot points and character motivations tend to untangle themselves when I am not staring into a Word file, but at something else. The vigilante part of my mind that shoots down rogue ideas left and right tends to check out when I’m involved in a non-writing project. That’s when the cool stuff sneaks in.


Thanks, Rachel! Be sure to check out her story this week in the February 28, 2019 issue of Electric Spec!

25 February 2019

Author Davidson in BHotY

We heard some good news from Author Bill Davidson. His story "A Brief Moment of Rage" will be featured in the Best Horror of the Year Volume 11 later this year. Congratulations, Bill!

Be sure to check out his new SF story "The Blessing of Song" in Electric Spec on February 28, 2019!

21 February 2019

from Author Stone

In the upcoming fabulous February issue of Electric Spec we're excited to feature the fantasy "The Strongest Man in the Village" by Lucy Stone. She gives us some thoughts on writing...

Writing is very difficult, and I probably shouldn't be doing it. I have a job and a three-year-old. They're both very demanding, but have their lovely moments. The three-year-old has more lovely moments than the job, but he also has more excruciating moments than the job, so it kind of evens out.

I can't give up the job, because it pays my mortgage, and I can't give up the three-year-old, because he’s my little guy and I love him to the stars and back (which is a longer trip than to the moon). Writing would seem to be the expendable thing. Except it isn’t.

I used to write when my son was sleeping, but he doesn't nap in the daytime anymore, so I write in the evenings and on into the night, even when I know I have to get up early for work the next day, because I don’t love my job--or even my health--the way I love this.

So what is it? Why do I find it so easy to write about the negatives of writing, but not the positives?

I think it’s because the positives are as fundamental as breathing, so I don’t think about them much. My favourite is probably spending time with my characters in my head--listening to their various gripes and jokes and morose predictions--which I realize is something I did before I knew how to write, and still do now in the long moments when I don’t have a pen in my hand.

But there's also:

1) Day-tripping in other perspectives and other worlds, which you can wrap around you like a shawl when it’s cold and horrible outside.

2) Building up worlds in which you have the intoxicating power of control, and then realizing that you don’t.

3) Thinking, when you manage to pin down the slimmest, clumsiest shadow of a thought, that somebody else might recognize it, and say "Yes, that’s it--I’ve thought that too!"

4) Challenging yourself to think: what would this feel like? What would this look like? as though every scene is an intricate puzzle with no right or wrong answer.

5) Telling stories to please yourself, when the books you buy seem to miss the mark.

6) Re-writing other people’s stories the way you think they should have gone.

It's all the fun of reading, with the added bonus that you can congratulate yourself on having come up with it all.

That's probably where I should stop, because that’s the contradiction about writing I can never quite resolve: it’s losing yourself while at the same time pandering to yourself. Some people call it escapism, but everything about it is inescapably you.

That's quite a nice break for a mother, of course, because when you’re looking after a little one, you’re expected to be a Mother and not a person. I've written for most of my life, but never so feverishly as in the months after my son was born.

Anyway. I'll keep at it. I used to think I was doing it for the praise, but that has tailed off, and I’m still scribbling, so I guess I am doing it for love.


Interesting, Lucy! Thanks!

Check out all the stories on February 28, 2019!

19 February 2019

from Author Lowd

We're excited to feature the fantasy "When He Stopped Crying" by Mary E. Lowd in our fabulous February issue of Electric Spec.

Some days, there just don't seem to be any words. The blank document sits in front of you, inviolable. An empty snowfield that you can't imagine trekking across, because the bright sun and bitter cold would wear you down before your trail of footprints made it halfway across. Every word seems wrong; before you get halfway through a sentence, you delete it.

What does this have to do with my story, "When He Stopped Crying"? I wrote it on one of those days, when the blinding whiteness of the page seemed an insurmountable obstacle. A feeling that returned to me, only a little bit ago, when I was trying to think about what I have to say about this particular story. Because at some level, "When He Stopped Crying" says everything I wanted to say about itself, right there on the page: it's about being so tired that you're not sure what's real anymore, and it's also about how strange it is that a tiny creature like a baby can rule every aspect of your life, like some kind of mystical goblin emperor. There's nothing else to it.

However, I remember staring at the blank page that day, and feeling like I had no words inside of me. And yet, I had to find some, because I was at a writing date with a bunch of other writers. I could hear their keyboards tip-tapping, and I knew there was another forty minutes until we would take a break and check in. It would have been weird to simply pack up and leave early, but I couldn't take the pressure of listening to those keys tappity-tapping away for forty minutes without finding a way to join in. So, I succumbed to the peer pressure, and I put some words down on the page, even though I was sure they were somehow the wrong words and would lead nowhere. Eventually though, as I kept typing, they started to make sense, and now that story's in Electric Spec.

Sometimes, it's better to run into that snowfield without a plan, and leave footprints everywhere, than to simply stare at it until you get too cold, and it's time to go home. At least, one way you get to spend some time playing in the snow.


Thanks, Mary! Be sure to check out her story on February 28, 2019!

12 February 2019

from Author Davidson

We're excited to feature the SF tale "The Blessing Song" by Bill Davidson in our fabulous February issue of Electric Spec.

One of the most striking features of short stories is that they offer the reader incredible value, with so much packed into a few thousand words. I like to think that The Blessing of Song is a good example of that- there’s a lot in there!

The Blessing of Song is a space opera, one with actual arias. It came out of a simple idea that didn’t stay simple- an exploration ship dispatched on a hundred-year voyage to a distant planet, eventually all but forgotten as life goes on back on Earth .

Thrown back on their own ingenuity and hiding in orbit for generations, the crew of the Columbus change both physically and mentally, developing their own moral code and bizarre version of sanity. Probably no crazier than anything we accept as normal.

They survive, naked and filthy, on the decaying ruin of Columbus, but have a devious plan to live on the arc planet of Alifee, accepted by the Alifeeans.

When Earth finally shows up in the form of the Trek, a powerful warship, set for invasion of the world they have come to think of as theirs and the destruction of the Alifeeans, they are horrified. A moral dilemma is presented, one upon which the future of mankind may rest, but the reader is not asked to view Earthlings as the heroes of the story. The crew of the Trek plan to repeat the same barbaric acts that have seen indigenous peoples destroyed on Earth and (in the story) brought the planet to ruin.

Any loyalty the Columbus crew felt towards Earth evaporated generations ago. Earth is seen as alien, warlike and hostile. Both crews are strikingly ignorant of Earth, unsure, for instance, whether birds are venomous.

It might not be obvious at first read, but the story also offers a possible view of visitors to our own planet. Fallible and even incompetent, some of the efforts of the Columbus crew come to disaster and they are spotted and even captured, stories multiplying about them. But, they have quietly infiltrated themselves into Alifee’s systems, seeding it with technology that they control.

A final feature of the story is the dialogue of the crew of the Columbus, which I hope the reader will enjoy- I had fun writing it. I wanted rich and colorful speech patterns, musical and amusing but with martial overtones, and based it on the British naval language of the Napoleonic era. The wonderful Patrick O’Brian, who wrote the ‘Master and Commander’ series, does that so much better than me.


Thanks, Bill! Be sure to check out his story on February 28, 2019!

05 February 2019

production meeting notes

We, the Electric Spec Editors, recently had the Production Meeting for our fabulous February 28, 2019 issue!
Final stories were chosen with difficulty--because there were so many good options. Final art was chosen with difficulty (ditto many good options). Most authors in hold-for-voting heard back from us Sunday Feb 3. A few have yet to hear, but will soon.
For the first time, more than one editor had the same number-one story and really wanted to edit it. I had to step in to avert violence, or at least, very strong words and spilled food. :)

The hold-for-voting zeitgeist for this issue appeared to be some kind of London Fog. We had more than one spooky, London-based, and/or fog-filled story. I find this whole zeitgeist thing to be fascinating! Don't you?

In surreal news, we had to navigate through hundreds of golden retrievers to get to our meeting. I kid you not!

Next time: more specifics about the upcoming issue!

29 January 2019

subjectivity

We, the Electric Spec Editors, are working hard on the fabulous February 2019 issue. I believe slush reading is completed. This means everyone that submitted before the Jan 15, 2019 deadline should have received an initial email by now. This initial email would be essentially 'No, Thanks,' or, 'Stay tuned.' If you submitted before the deadline, and haven't heard back from us, your story might be lost in cyberspace (sorry!).
The editors are busy ranking the finalists in anticipation of our Production Meeting this weekend. At the Production Meeting we'll make all the final decisions. Which stories will we publish? Which art will we use for the cover? What will we put in Editors Corner? Thus, next week, I'll blog about the new issue! Yay!

In the meantime...
I've been struck recently by how subjective art--including short stories--appreciation is. I received a couple reviews of a piece that were polar opposites. One reviewer thought it was wonderful. One reviewer thought it was horrible.
I think it comes down to if the reader can empathize with the protagonists. Does the reader see him/herself in the characters? Sometimes, an author and a reader are very different and it doesn't happen. That's okay.

I guess my point is, if we don't publish your story, that doesn't mean other editors won't love it. It doesn't mean many readers won't love it. Good luck placing it elsewhere!

22 January 2019

the lens of personality

We, the editors, are working hard on the fabulous February issue of Electric Spec. The submission deadline for stories has passed. That means we are hip deep in slush. We have about one more week for the associate editors and editors to get through their slush piles, so if you've submitted, keep an eye out for an email. Then, we have about a week for the editors to peruse the finalists in the hold-for-voting pile. Our production meeting is scheduled for the first weekend of February. Thus, all authors should hear back from us soon after that.
(We are currently accepting submissions for the marvelous May 2019 issue.)

From reading slush I have a few tips...
It's probably not a good idea to open your story with a page of descriptions. It's probably not a good idea for said descriptions to read like a laundry list, e.g. She had brown hair, brown eyes, tan skin, purple pants, etc.
Every description needs to be expressed through the lens of your character's personality. I don't care what the description is. I don't care who the character is. I do care if the description is unrelated to the character.
Here's a description from a master's page one: I'm blond and blue-eyed and twenty-five, and my legs are strong and my bosom is substantial, and I have a waspy waistline. This is a bit laundry-listy but it has so much personality, it works.

Incidentally, the first line of this book is: I'd been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar. Wow!
This is an excellent telling first line. Among other things, it's chock-full of personality.
And, yes, this is from Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris.

Stay tuned for more info on the fabulous February issue!

15 January 2019

Telling

Today is the submission deadline for the fabulous February 28, 2019 issue of Electric Spec! Get those stories in by midnight U.S. Mountain Standard Time!

I had an epiphany recently, related to the fiction in our slush pile...
As you probably know, the Electric Spec editors are also authors. This week I've been working on a story for a contest. In the contest rules, the editors give examples of the types of dramatic first lines they desired. I gradually realized they were all 'telling.' The editors didn't use the word 'telling' but that's what they were.
Something about this seemed familiar...

Sure enough, in 2006, I wrote a blog entry Short Story First Lines with a bunch of first lines from award-winning short stories. (Not all the links therein still work. Try American Book Review's Best Novel First Lines, for example, instead.)
A lot of these first lines are 'telling,' as well. Eureka!

Therefore, I can say with confidence: consider telling in your first line!
Of course, here at Electric Spec, we think you should have some showing in your story, as well--but that's another blog post.

Good luck with your submissions!

08 January 2019

epistolary slush

The deadline for the first 2019 issue of Electric Spec is fast approaching: January 15! Get those stories in.

We are working on the slush pile for the issue. Surprisingly, I've read more than one epistolary story this year. An epistolary story is a narrative told via a series of documents. In the old days, these would be letters. Later, newspaper or magazine clippings, book excerpts and/or some combination of all of these, became popular.
Horror has a lovely epistolary tradition including Carrie by Stephen King and Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Nowadays, anything goes. The story could be told via blog posts, texts, tweets, (descriptions of) streaming videos, or whatever else you can imagine. I love the creativity behind these ideas. And many of the high-tech versions lend themselves well to science fiction.

However, I do think it's difficult to evoke an emotional response in a reader via documents. It's particularly difficult with experienced speculative fiction readers (like editors!). Furthermore, many of these epistolary stories utilize surprise endings. Sadly, it's difficult to surprise editors.

So, bottom line: please do send us your epistolary stories.
But make sure they're excellent!

01 January 2019

Beginnings

Welcome to the fourteenth year of Electric Spec! Wow, time flies! As the new year begins many of my writer friends are working on their New Years Resolutions including writing more, submitting more, or creating an effective writing schedule. If you are doing the same: good luck!

A deadline is looming. January 15, 2019 is the submission deadline for the fabulous February 28, 2019 issue of Electric Spec.

We've been working on the slush for the new issue and I'm struck by how crucial story beginnings are. We get hundreds of submissions for each issue, so sometimes editors only read the first page of a story. As a writer I know this isn't fair, but it's pretty common.
Authors need to capture the editor's attention quickly. This can be via a great author voice, snappy dialogue, personable characters, an intriguing plot setup, a unique world, or a host of other methods.
Market does play a part here. Our editors like and dislike certain things. The easiest way to see what we like is to read back issues of the ezine--and lucky for you, they're free!

Resolve to get those stories in! :)

And, oh yeah, Happy New Year!