And how about that awesome cover art by Brian Malachy Quinn?
Thanks again to everyone who helped create the issue and to everyone who submitted! You all rock!
Thanks again to everyone who helped create the issue and to everyone who submitted! You all rock!
Thanks so much to all the authors! Thanks so much to the cover artist!
Thanks so much to all the Electric Spec staff.
And, especially, thanks so much to all the readers!
I haven't fully announced all the great stories we'll be featuring, so without further ado...
Woo hoo! They're fabulous. Check them all out on November 30!
I was trying to think of a novel way to incorporate faster-than-light travel in a story, when I was struck by the thought of horse drawn carriages. What if, instead of building a new kind of drive, people encountered a new kind of creature, and made it into a beast of burden?
That's where my idea for geists came from. Filling in the concept also added questions that I tried to address in the story. Is it moral to use a creature for your own ends? The substantial differences between a geist's consciousness and a human's complicate the moral question, and of course there are those in this world who would rather not think about such questions at all.
The characters came to life for me, first, in the ways they related to their work. I tried to give the captain a shrewd arrogance, with a dash of humor, that fit her role as a leader and someone who had climbed the ranks to get where she was. I found in Jeda a world-weary professionalism with an aversion to thinking about some of the hard questions of working with geists.
The story came together around the question of how the Solar Federation ought to treat geists. What do the characters value more, the rights of alien creatures, or the practical benefits of harnessing their abilities? Examples of both responses appear, and I nodded toward a third path with the story's resolution.
Very interesting, Michael! Thanks!
Check out all the stories on November 30!
Sometimes other stories are cued up and waiting in my subconscious while I'm actively working on another project. At the time I started "I Want You to Want Me", I was working on on a secondary world epic fantasy story that wasn’t going particularly well. While I liked the world and characters I'd made, I couldn't seem to figure what to do with them, or what point I was trying to make with the story itself. And the longer I pushed and pulled on the story parts, the more of a heavy-handed hot mess it became.
So I decided to take a break from the struggle and start a new story. I wanted to write something silly and offbeat that would make me laugh while I wrote it. The inspiration point came from "100 Days of Flash Prompts" by E.A. Deverell (www.eadeverell.com). The specific prompt was "an impulse buy leads to intergalactic warfare". While "I Want You to Want Me" probably escalates to more of an interspecies fracas than intergalactic warfare, it still leads to an increasingly chaotic, dangerous, and weird journey for Panu, the main character.
I love Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy, Shel Silverstein, and 90's Australian comedies. Though the characters, setting, and plot of this story are all mine, the story tone unabashedly echoes these influences. And it’s funny. . .even though “I Want You to Want Me” is a total 180 from the epic fantasy story I ended up abandoning, they share a similar focus on love and friendship and the fear of being left behind. It's a good reminder that, as much as I wish it was otherwise, the process of writing about the stuff that matters to me rarely follows a straight line.
Thanks, Nicole! Very interesting!
We're very pleased to be presenting "29 Langwood Street" by Author Drema Deòraich. She tells us...
“29 Langwood Street” was one of my very first short stories; its subject is near and dear to my heart, and I’d like to think I’d be as brave as Joe if confronted with that scenario.
Writing is such a big part of my life, I feel a little lost and adrift when I can’t get to the keyboard for a few days. Just like anything else, the more I do it, the more skilled my craft. And even though writing is sometimes the hardest thing to do, I can’t not write. Penning new stories, or even revising existing ones that haven’t yet found a home, feeds my spirit.
We have our Production Meeting scheduled for this Saturday Nov 2. We all meet in person and fight it out. Everyone has their story favorites so it can be an interesting meeting. Anyway, by the beginning of next week, we will have finalized the stories for the issue. We will email all the 'Stay tuned' folks as well. 'Yes' folks will get a contract. 'No' folks will get a 'No, thanks.'
It's always tough to reject a story. We do sincerely appreciate you sending us your works of art.
Hopefully, everyone is enjoying the fall season.
I guess it's the time of year, but I'm reading a lot of stories involving murder, suicide, homicide, regicide, basically lots of death and destruction. Of course, this is the most dramatic type of story conflict. But...
An author's job is to manipulate the reader's emotions. Thus, the way to make a death a powerful story element is to make the reader care about the character before the death. I'm reading quite a few stories which thrust the death upon the reader not unlike they thrust the sword into the character--quickly, suddenly, and before we care.
How do you make a reader care? Create a realistic empathetic character. This is a character that cares about other characters and that has other characters care about him/her. Readers love an underdog, they love a character that keeps trying even when the odds are against them. There are also writerly tricks in the 'save the cat' variety: save the cat, baby, puppy from harm.
So, sure, write your murder and mayhem, but don't forget to write empathy first.
The editors have had varying levels of success getting through slush so far. But we have all agreed that the number of stories is up and the quality remains very good.
So, thanks very much for sending us your stories! We appreciate it! Spec Fic authors are awesome! Good luck!
I better get back to slush, so I'll leave it there...
There are two relatively new fiction sub-genres called "cli-fi" and "lab-lit" which sometimes get confused.
Cli-fi is an abbreviation of climage fiction; this is literature dealing with climate change and/or global warming. Cli-fi may be speculative in nature. Thus, it might be science fiction. There are a lot of great examples of cli-fi novels and movies, e.g. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. Cli-fi does not have to have any speculative element. Cli-fi may also have aspects related to science and/or laboratories, but does not need to.
Lab-lit is an abbreviation of laboratory literature; this is literature dealing with science and/or scientific laboratory culture. Lab-lit is not speculative in nature. Thus, it is not science fiction. There are also some great examples of lab-lit novels and movies, e.g. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. Lab-lit does need to have some aspects related to science and/or laboratories.
Thus, if a novel is about climate science and involves laboratory scientists it can be both cli-fi and lab-lit. A great example of this is Carbon Dreams by Susan M. Gaines.
Bottom line: potential Electric Spec authors can send us their speculative cli-fi, but not their lab-lit.
We are deep in the slush...
Recently, I read some horror stories, and it strikes me that horror is very difficult. This is because in horror, in particular, the author needs to evoke an emotional response in the reader. Moreover, the range of emotions is not huge; generally, readers look for fear and/or a sense of the uncanny. I had a professor that always said horror needs to subvert readers' expectations of reality. Possibly, horror evokes shock or disgust--but since we focus on more macabre horror, these are less common in our 'pages.'
Supposedly Stephen King said, "Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It's when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there's nothing there..." That does sound terrifying! There's clearly a reason he's considered the master.
Horror has additional common elements, including exploration of wicked deeds, events, and/or characters. Often they contain plot twists near the end. Often they have a strong spooky tone and mood, created via vivid descriptions.
Send us your horror-ible stories! :)
When you've finished your story, take a step back and ask: What is this story about? What's the main point? You should be able to summarize your story succinctly.
I've read some stories which didn't go anywhere, were muddled, or anticlimactic. Basically, I couldn't have told you what the story was about. It doesn't have to be a big external plot arc. It could be a small internal character arc, such as a decision is reached or a person changes their opinion. The point is: it needs to be something.
Thus, consider asking one of your friends or family to read your story. Can they then tell you what the story is? If not, you may have a problem. But I'm sure it's easily fixable. We all know writing is rewriting.
Whatever your writing method(s), thank you for submitting your stories! Good luck!
I'm not saying you should go to this particular conference, but I am saying: keep learning about writing. You can get this via writing conferences, but they don't need to be big national ones. Many local libraries or colleges have smaller conferences or programs. There are also tons of online resources, including videos, virtual conferences, online writing groups and the like. Of course, there are also lots of awesome books about writing. Figure out what you need to work on and find a book about that.
Reading carefully in your genre is also super helpful. What works? What doesn't? What can you steal, er, borrow, for your work?
No matter how long you've been writing, there's always more to learn...
Good luck learning!
I think this is one of our most diverse issues, with a large variety of genres.
What do you think?
One piece of writing advice that has always stuck in my mind is to blend at least two different ideas. Ideas are everywhere, and chances are pretty good that another writer has already written my first idea. But if I take another idea (the more different the better), and twist it into the first idea, then I’m more likely to come up with something unique.
This is what I tried to do with "Lusca Bait."
My first idea for that story was to write about a monster. Hardly an original idea! I went searching for a different type of monster. When I found out about the Caribbean's legendary "lusca," I decided that was what I wanted to write. The lusca gave me the setting, too, but I had no idea what the story would be. I put the idea on hold.
Some time later, a writer from the Oregon coast challenged me to write a
story about one of the antiques collected by the somewhat eccentric
innkeeper of a haunted hotel. Several tempting ghost stories came to mind,
but I tossed them out when I came across a treasure chest, which I’m pretty
sure could've belonged to a lusca in another ocean...
Although Morcant is a creature of war from 4th century BC Caledonia, she navigates the common experience of motherhood, the loss of a baby, and piecing together survival beyond both. She’s also a wonderfully unreliable narrator who thinks detachment and killing are her strong suits when she’s hungering for connection, and desperate for something to live for. I loved making her world as realistic and broad as possible while never moving beyond one setting and scene.
Many thanks to Electric Spec for agreeing to publish this story. I hope you enjoy a peek into a mythical alternate history where Alexander the Great still builds his empire in the East, ancient Ireland remains isolated, but inhuman creatures are woven into the fabric of it all, and they’re not so different from us.
There are few people in this world that I’m still friends with who knew me back when I still had my natural hair color. But Mariangelica and I have been besties for over 30 years now and, as she likes to say, “We know where each other’s bodies are buried.” Despite our drastically different personalities, backgrounds, and politics, there is no one in my life I trust more than her.
When the summer of 2016 hit Americans (and, dare I say it, the world?) like an 18-wheeler, Mari took me on a road trip. I needed it. She knew I needed it. I had just spent the better part of the previous 18 months reeling with an alphabet of emotional and behavioral diagnoses for my then-7YO. In addition to the stress that divided my country, I suddenly had to help a first grader adjust to yet another new school (his third school in less than a year because we’d just moved), put him on meds, drive him and his 3YO brother half an hour each way to therapy once a week, and self-educate on IEPs and therapeutic toys. How could I be the best parent possible for his needs? What did he need from ME? Was he going to be OK?
I needed self-care and, as much as I love my children more than life itself, I needed a break. So while we were in Miami visiting my parents anyway, Mari shoved me into a car and drove four hours, non-stop, to Universal Studios, Orlando. Did I mention that I had also broken my foot a week before? Yep. She spent two whole days pushing me around in my wheelchair and only occasionally bumping me into people, mostly not on purpose. In Florida. In August. Uphill both ways.
Everyone needs a friend like that.
A story about a special needs child and a unicorn had been bouncing around my brain for a while, and that trip gave me the structure I’d been looking for. If the two of us can be friends, if she could be there for me in ways no one else could, if she was my Person with a capital P, then maybe two characters like us could help a fictional child with special needs get a happily ever after. If we could find a way to still be friends despite the world telling us we should be enemies, then maybe others could, too. Optimism doesn’t come naturally to me – I’m usually a horror writer – but yeah, I just said that. It’s Mari’s influence.
The story is set during the Great Depression because I enjoy historical fiction and that era seemed to fit the themes of my story: swindlers, bad luck, desperation, overcoming impossible odds, and of course, unicorns. Because if anyone deserves a unicorn, it’s those who keep getting beat down yet rise up to fight another day again and again…with a little help from their friends.
And by the way? My special needs kid is now almost 11, and he’s happy, healthy, and thriving better than ever.
The stories in hold-for-voting were more diverse than ever. And the editor's favorites were more diverse than ever, as well. :) This makes picking stories for the issue more difficult. In the past, there might have been fisticuffs, loud vigorous debate, possibly feats of strength, or magic spells to break the deadlock. This time, we just let each Editor edit their favorite stories. Problem solved.
It will be interesting to see what the overall feel of the issue is with such diverse stories.
We couldn't even agree on what the overall theme of the submissions had been. One editor thought it was love. I thought it was more like death and depression since many stories had protags die or fail in the end. You'll have to draw your own conclusions from stories published.
Of course, all this means authors should hear a final decision from us early this week about their stories. If you don't hear from us, your story may be lost in cyberspace. :(
Hopefully, we'll start getting some fun blogs from authors soon!
Be sure to check out the new issue on August 31, 2019!
We've finished reading slush for this issue. I think everyone who submitted has received at least one email. If you haven't heard from us, it's possible your story was lost in cyberspace. (Sorry!)
Now, we're working on the hardest part of the issue process: picking the stories. Generally, all the stories that get into hold-for-voting are publishable. So, if you've made it in there: congrats! Each editor ranks the stories in hold-for-voting from best to least-best.
I must admit, this process is subjective. Up until now, I try to be very objective; a good story is a good story. But when you have several good stories how do you pick between them? I think you have to be subjective. For this particular editor what goes into this ranking?
Next time: I'll tell you about the Production Meeting!
All the editors are currently going through slush and sending out rejection emails or notices of hold-for-voting.
Here are some recent sugestions I've gleaned:
In our continuing series of obscure sub-genres of speculative fiction, today we consider fabulism. Fabulism is a form of magical realism in which fantastical elements are placed into an everyday setting. If you're thinking that sounds like magical realism, I agree. Some people consider fabulism to be a type of literary, rather than genre, fiction. In this context, Gulliver's Travels, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and Life of Pi would be considered fabulist.
In my graduate studies of popular fiction the consensus was fabulism is a bridge between fairy tales and magical realism. Magical realism is more real than fabulism. Fabulism is more real than fairy tales. Make of all that what you will.
Bottom line: send us your magical realism, your fabulism, or your fairy tale. We enjoy them all!
What's your favorite obscure sub-genre of spec fiction?
Fantasy, or fantastic fiction, is any kind of fiction with fantastic (not realistic) elements. It's worth noting fantasy is not based on reason or rationality. There should be some element of irrationality, such as magic.
Epic fantasy is sub-genre of fantasy with some element of epic-ness: setting, plot, or similar. Often it involves the whole good versus evil battle. Often there's a quest. High fantasy is differentiated from this by focusing a little more on character than on plot. Often there's one main protagonist. Both epic and high fantasy usually involve a secondary world--an imaginary world. Not our modern planet.
Fairy tales, then, have many similar elements of epic and high fantasy. Fairy tales are also called magic tales or wonder tales and are based in myth and/or folk tales. The main thing that differentiates fairy tales from other fantasy is the element of fable, namely, a moral lesson. There's a huge literary trove of fairy tales from Cinderella, to the Little Mermaid, Snow White, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, etc. Consequently, there have been many fun modern riffs on all aspects of these tales.
Consider sending us your fairy tale before the upcoming July 15, 2019 submission deadline for the awesome Auguest 2019 issue of Electric Spec.
Traditionally, its goal has been to make the reader question reality, to make some point (often political or social) about reality. I think this intention is crucial for something to be classified as magical realism. Of course, the most famous magical realism novel is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Latin American literature has a rich history with magical realism.
How do you create it? One way is to create a story with a very detailed realistic setting and let the strange invade. This strange could be fable or folk tale brought to life. Alternately, it could include supernatural powers such as telepathy or telekinesis. You begin to see how this could be difficult to differentiate from straight fantasy.
What do you think? What is magical realism? What's the best way to create it?
Consider sending us your magical realism story before July 15, 2019 if you want to get in our awsome August 2019 issue!
On the other hand, authors John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly say it's less about genre, rather, cognitive dissonance is what slipstream is all about. I've read quite a bit of fiction by Kelly Link that is considered slipstream. It's lovely. :) What do you think? What's slipstream? Who does a good job with it?
Whatever it is, we'd be happy to get some at Electric Spec. The deadline for the amazing August 2019 issue is July 15, 2019!
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!
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
I better get back to it.
Next week I'll let you know what happened at the production meeting...
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!
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...
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!
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:
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!
I'm sure opinions differ on why this is, but here's my two cents:
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.
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:
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!
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!
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!
Be sure to check out his new SF story "The Blessing of Song" in Electric Spec on February 28, 2019!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!