07 July 2020

try-fail cycles

Yes! We are still hard at work on the awesome August 2020 issue of Electric Spec. Yes! The submission deadline is still July 15, 2020! Get those stories in!

As I read slush, I'm reminded of a tip from a famous editor: utilize try-fail cycles. A try-fail cycle is exactly what it sounds like. Your protagonist tries something (usually to solve a problem), and is not successful, and then tries something else... Most authors write these organically, without ever thinking Now, I need a try-fail cycle. It can be helpful, however, to consciously think about them.

Consider a definition of a story: a protagonist has a problem and acts to solve it. If the protag acts and is successful, a try-succeed instance, this is not an interesting story. Is it even a story? If the protag merely acts and fails, a try-fail instance, again, this isn't an interesting story. Thus, the cycle aspect of the try-fail cycle is also important. The protag needs to try more than once.

Most interesting stories have a series of try-fail cycles with increasing stakes. This makes the story more dramatic and gives the reader a more satisfying emotional payoff in the end. Try-fail cycles show and enable character growth. They also allow the overall story plotline to twist, change, grow. They make a short story much deeper and more interesting.

So, if your story is dragging, consider adding another try-fail cycle. Good luck!

30 June 2020

Pandemic stories

We are hard at work on the awesome August 2020 issue of Electric Spec. The submission deadline for this issue is July 15, 2020--so get those stories in.

We have started to receive quite a few pandemic stories. We thought we'd start to get some for the last issue but they didn't materialize. I guess it took a little lag time for folks to wrap their heads around what was happening. We welcome stories on whatever topic the marvelous muse sends you, but...

For us, pandemic stories still need to be speculative. Recall, speculative fiction includes genres that all contain elements that do not exist in the real world. We love fantasy, science fiction, and macabre fiction and all their possible subgenres and mash-ups.

Thus, last year, a story about a global pandemic would probably be considered speculative fiction. In 2020, not so much. Can you take it to the next level? What will be the long-lasting consequences of the pandemic? How will it change our culture? Society? Hopes and dreams? How will it change humanity? How will it change your_idea_here? Write that story!

Good luck!

23 June 2020

Voice, voice, baby

Here at Electric Spec we're starting to think about the awesome August 2020 issue. Editors have started going through slush again, albeit to varying degrees. Personally, I have made quite a dent in my stories. In the first cut, I try to consider if a story is objectively good. Does it have one or more compelling characters? Does it have a plot in which something changes? Does it have neat speculative elements? If so, I put it in the hold-for-voting folder, so all the editors can consider it.

In the final go-round, however, I'm subjective. All the editors have their favorite topics; I think I've mentioned mine here before. One of my favorite qualities in any kind of writing is voice. I think I've mentioned this before here, as well, but it's worth repeating. Literary voice is the particular style an author uses to create their story. Sometimes the characters embody this voice, while sometimes it's the narrator. Some authors can create different voices for different works, e.g. Charlaine Harris. Some authors have a unique writer's voice in all their work, e.g. Connie Willis. I don't care how you do it, but I do love me some good voice...

The submission deadline for the awesome August issue is coming up surprisingly soon: July 15, 2020. Thank you for submitting your stories. We appreciate you, writers!

16 June 2020

from Author White

Author Desmond White passed along his thoughts on "writing and life's little diversions."

For every ten articles of "5 Things Stopping You From Writing" and "4 Ways The Internet Has Interrupted Your Novel," there's the one titled "Distracted? It Could Help Your Writing." I'm in the diversion-is-good camp. Of course, when we go to write, we should write. Neil Gaiman advises the author to "sit down at the keyboard" and "put one word after another." But the paradox of the craft is how we need Focus and Distraction. Not the passively engrossing but exhausting delirium of tv show binges, but showers, walks, joyful conversations, a cooked dinner, a nap with the cats, a moment outside. The tedium of work, of emptying the litter, of walking to the mailbox. These aren't interruptions but priorities. When engaged but a little bored, dreams are more potent, solutions more frequent, and the laws of association meander like driftwood at twilight.

Thanks, Desmond! Good advice! :)

09 June 2020

Nebula Awards

Winners of 55th Annual Nebula Awards Hopefully, everyone's familiar with the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and their prestigious awards. The latest batch of winners was announced recently.

  • Novel: A Song for a New Day, Sarah Pinsker (Berkley)
  • Novella: This Is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone (Saga; Jo Fletcher)
  • Novelette: Carpe Glitter, Cat Rambo (Meerkat)
  • Short Story: "Give the Family My Love", A.T. Greenblatt (Clarkesworld Magazine 2/19)

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners!

SFWA has quite a few resources available to members and nonmembers http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/information-center/.

02 June 2020

The Marvelous May 2020 Issue

Wow! I'm so impressed with the Electric Spec authors and editors! We got the marvelous May 2020 issue out even in these challenging times.
Check out the awesome stories:
  • "Gabriel Vane's Carnival Extraordinaire" by Kate Everett -- You don't need a ticket. You don't even need to pay. Just be careful what you bring with you. . .
  • "Where There Once was Wind" by Clint Foster -- What does the wind see and know? A tale of magic and ambition told from an unexpected perspective.
  • "Under Our Skin" by Owen Leddy -- Three young people seek to protect the last threshold of personal independence from a truly hostile takeover.
  • "All the Way Home" by Gail Ann Gibbs -- In the place between life and death, a group of strangers searches for where to go next.
  • "Rona of the Els" by Desmond White -- A novice witch at the edge of civilization makes a desperate grab at her one chance to fulfill her dreams.

In addition, making a debut appearance for us is cover artist Yuri Magalhães with "Quiet Reflections."

Finally, don't miss our interview with Barbara Bennett, author of the urban fantasy novel Alchemy of Glass--"a celebration of time, history, science, magic, technology, and love."

Check them out if you haven't already!

Woo hoo!

31 May 2020

May 2020 Electric Spec live!

The marvelous May 31, 2020 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!

26 May 2020

from Author Barnett

In the marvelous May 31, 2020 Electric Spec issue we feature an interview of author Barbara Barnett. Here, she'd like to share how to ground fantasy:

Grounding Fantasy in History and Science

Nothing takes a reader out of a story faster than screwing up the setting or the history--even, or perhaps, especially--in a fantasy. Fantasy is fantasy, but as a writer you have to ground it something real, authentic to make the fantastical elements work and not seem absurd. And that’s where the research comes in. Pick and choose what you want to include in the story (and don’t overload your reader with unnecessary detail and exposition), but as the author--you have to know of what (and whom) you speak.

In writing The Apothecary’s Curse and its sequel Alchemy of Glass, I took great pains to research every assertion, setting, the science, and, yes, even, word I used. Was the word “hooligan” in common use in 1837 London? What did an apothecary do in London? What was King James’s VI take on the supernatural back at the very end of the sixteenth century? (Not very favorable, which helped me set up the execution of my hero’s father for magical healing after he’d cured the entire court of a disease).

Quite a bit of Alchemy of Glass is set in the bowels of ruined monastery in the Borders region of Scotland. I came across an article about medical archeologist working in the area had unearthed healing potions and medicines that would have likely been completely beyond the technology and skills of medieval monks that worked and dwelled there. The “how” and “why” of that became a fictional pivot point for the entire novel.

There’s a pivotal scene in The Apothecary’s Curse where my main character has a motorcycle accident north of Chicago along the Lake Michigan coast. People who do not live in Chicago (or perhaps some that do) are often unaware that to the far north of the City, along the lake, the terrain is far from the flatland with which Chicago is often associated. There are high bluffs, deep ravines, plunging eighty, one hundred, even one hundred fifty feet to the rocky shore. Who’d have thought? I used the idea because I knew people would find it strange, and maybe a bit fantastical (after all The Apothecary’s Curse is a fantasy), but before I put a number on the height of the cliff, I researched everything I knew (and didn’t know about the shoreline and the quite mystical ravines that line the shore from Wilmette to the Wisconsin border).

Although I know the Chicago setting quite well, and felt comfortable playing with it, the same is not true of the early Victorian setting of 1837-1842 London. I chose Smithfield Market as the location for Gaelan Erceldoune’s Apothecary Shop for some very specific reasons. Smithfield is a place where the immortal Gaelan could be more or less anonymous. Having moved locations after ten years in the posher environs of Hay Hill, he needs to reboot his life, and Smithfield is perfect. He’s also needed there. Few physicians (mostly gentlemen) would dare not dirty their hands in the “vile zoology” that is Smithfield (and by the way, that is exactly how accounts for the time describe place, so I copped the description and put into the story).

Also, Gaelan’s heritage comes into play, especially in Alchemy of Glass which looks back on when Gaelan first moved to Smithfield in 1826 (11 years before events in The Apothecary’s Curse)--and his youth. My research uncovered the fact that William Wallace (AKA, The Wallace, a Scottish hero) was executed in Smithfield, perhaps even right on the very same corner that Gaelan’s shop sits. Hmm. So the locale was very carefully chosen.

William Wallace was a contemporary and confederate of Lord Thomas Learmont de Ercildoune, Gaelan’s ancestor–a figure that is steeped in supernatural legend, but who also existed in medieval Scotland! History, meet mythology, meet fantasy!

So, by placing the fantasy in a real location with a real history related to the ancestor of a historical figure, I hope that grounds the story in history as well as the legend that so pervades the story. It’s a device often used by H.G. Wells--putting a single impossible thing set into an otherwise quite realistic scenario.

I also underlaid the story with real people in cameos who lived during the times in which the story takes place (or in its back story): Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his medical mentor Joseph Bell (who is related to Gaelan’s frenemy Simon Bell), Leonardo of Pisa, Michael Scot, and Nicola Tesla (who’ll you’ll meet in Chapter One of Alchemy of Glass.

All of this is to say that no matter whether you’re writing historical fiction (for which accuracy is an imperative when dealing in the “actual” factual world) or speculative fiction, everything has to make sense (at least within the world you’ve built. And if the world you’ve built is fantastical, but set (even partially) in the real world, attention to detail, gentle use of tropes, diction, setting--and fact, can give your fantastical creation an air of authenticity.


Very interesting! Thanks, Barbara! Be sure to check out her interview and all the awesome stories on May 31!

19 May 2020

from Author Everett

We're excited to feature Kate Everett's spooky story "Gabriel Vane's Carnival Extraordinaire" in our May 31, 2020 issue of Electric Spec. Here's what she had to say about the story:

While raiding a Halloween shop many years ago, my husband and I picked up an album called Carnival Arcane by Midnight Syndicate. The group, in their own words, creates scores for imaginary films by blending orchestral horror music and sound effects. This album plunged me into the rich atmosphere of a traveling carnival that promised thrills and wonder…but also something sinister and possibly supernatural. Questions popped up in my mind whenever I listened to it: what did this carnival want? Who ran it? Did everyone have the same experience there, and did everyone (or anyone) get out unscathed?

Eventually, I needed to invent my own answers to these questions. I decided to explore the story through the eyes of kids, mostly because I’ve never stopped feeling like a kid myself, but also because I thought a kid’s spirit complimented this setting better than anything else.

I didn’t quite unravel the carnival’s every secret, but that’s okay—some things should stay a mystery. It’s more fun that way.


Thanks, Kate! Very interesting! Be sure to check out all the stories on May 31!

12 May 2020

from Author White

We're excited to publish the fantasy "Rona of the Els" by Desmond White in the May 2020 issues of Electric Spec. Here's what the author had to say about it:

With "Rona of the Els," I wanted to create an interesting knight, or specifically, a knight's interesting origin. I decided my protagonist would be a peasant girl knowledgeable about the druidic arts and wearing a brave but coarse persona—what the colorless call a "tomboy." Rona's counterpart (Aeradia) would represent everything she was not—affluence, wealth, untouchable beauty. (With characters, the fiercer the clash the better.) As the story came along, it became a meet-cute; the beginning of a great romance. By the time I was finished, I hoped to inspire my reader with dreamlike visions of adventure—a brilliant woman in plate armor, hair wild in the wind, saddled on a dragon—without ever providing the image. I owe a debt to Tamora Pierce's Alanna and Christopher Paolini's Eragon. I am indebted also to Electric Spec, who saw the story's potential.

Thanks, Desmond! Very interesting! Be sure to check out this story and all the others on May 31, 2020!

05 May 2020

Notes from the Production Meeting

Greetings, Speculative Fiction Fans! We hope you and your families are safe and well. The Electric Spec Editors are doing okay.
We had our first virtual production meeting recently. Everything went pretty well. We had a spirited discussion of the stories in our hold-for-voting folder. One editor said they thought we'd get a bunch of apocalypse stories (we didn't). One editor said they didn't want to publish a bunch of gloomy, grim stories. The good news is we had a great selection of publishable speculative fiction tales to choose from. We were able to select a balanced group of stories with a variety of sub-genres and tones. Yay!

So, all authors in hold-for-voting should get an email from an editor very soon, if they haven't received one already. When we hear back from those 'yes' authors, we'll start bragging on them. Hopefully, we'll have some blog entries from them right here in this exact spot very soon.

The next step is the editors will edit the stories. Yes! Seriously! Go figure. :)
We'll start working on the webpage and new issue, and all the rest.

If you were in hold-for-voting but your story didn't get selected, take heart. Your story is 'publishable.' You will find a market.
Those who submitted: Thank You! Those who are still writing speculative fiction: Thank You! And Congratulations for following your dreams even in these difficult times. You rock!

Take care.

07 April 2020

submission deadline April 15

We hope you and your families are weathering these difficult times all right.
As things stand now, we are planning to publish the May 2020 issue of Electric Spec on time, i.e. May 31, 2020.
So, get your submissions in by April 15, 2020 for this issue.
Good Luck & Best Wishes!

24 March 2020

Authors Give Back

There's lots of free fiction accessible from Electric Spec Issues. Please check it out, if you're looking for shockingly good speculative fiction. :)

Smashwords is holding the very neat Authors Give Back promotion March 20, 2020 through April 20, 2020 with many, many books marked down, so folks stuck at home can have good stuff to read. Now extended through May 31, 2020!

Authors Give Back

From our Electric Spec family to yours: take care!

17 March 2020

from Editor Smith

If you haven't checked out the fabulous February 2020 issue of Electric Spec yet, I highly recommend it! In addition, there's lots of free fiction from our fifteen years linked to the Issues page--if you were stuck at home for some reason. Feel free to share your favorite story in the comments here! :)

Like Dave and Renata, I am a founding editor of Electric Spec. It was fun to connect with them lately and share their thoughts here on the blog. As I recall, creating Electric Spec was Dave's awesome idea. I also recall the name "Electric Spec," for electronic speculative fiction, was Renata's awesome idea. Wow! Talk about ideas that stand the test of time. Hurray for them!

I've told the story of the origins of Electric Spec at cons, but I don't think I have on the blog...
Dave, Renata, and another founding editor, Georgia, were in a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) critique group together. We were all sending out short stories and getting rejections. One evening, we were shooting the, ah, stuff, about this sad state of affairs and Dave said, "Hey, why don't we start our own ezine?" We discussed it and thought we could be a kinder, gentler 'zine. We thought we could encourage and nurture writers. Bottom line: we all embraced the idea immediately.
This was in the very early days of ezines, so we basically invented our own wheels. As I recall, we all helped each other with everything, but Dave was great with the legal stuff, Renata was excellent with the editing stuff, and I did a lot of the technical stuff. Happily, it all came together.

Eventually, Renata and Georgia stepped down and we got another editor, Betsy Dornbusch, who put her stamp on things. (Betsy was also in a RMFW critique group with Dave and I.) She was instrumental in creating the current look of the ezine. Eventually, both Dave and Betsy stepped down and Grayson Towler and Nikki Baird stepped up. Chris Devlin stepped up to be a copy editor. Grayson, Nikki and Chris are also in RMFW. Hmm, I'm sensing a pattern...
As our popularity has grown, we've had to get a bunch of associate editors. First Minta Monroe and Candi Cooper-Towler joined us, and recently, Lauren Slawson and Beth Chan.

All our editors are committed to nurturing writers, helping them grow, and reach a wider audience. And, all our editors are volunteers!
So, kudos, to all the editors, past and present! Thank you for making a positive difference in the world! Hopefully, we'll be nurturing writers and entertaining readers for many years to come!

Take care, everyone!

10 March 2020

from Editor Hill

Check out the new issue of Electric Spec!
In honor of our fifteenth year, we asked Emeritus Editor Renata Hill for some of her thoughts.


Wow, 15 years! Very cool! I'd love to participate. A couple of stories STILL stick in my head...

My fave story was the one about the baby gargoyle and his guardian (sorry, I've long forgotten the title). The man went out in the countryside and tried to get the gargoyle to stay and live out there, but it flew home after him. I enjoyed it so much bc the characters were complex and vivid, I could see the setting (his house, this place in the country, etc) and the protagonist's development followed an interesting arc as he struggled to figure out what to do with this extraordinary creature who had entered his life.

The second most memorable story for me was an urban sci-fi adventure (don't remember this title either) about a young man who made money selling body parts on the black market. He had a pair of eyes that were very valuable. Gangsters were involved. The author did an excellent job of plunging the reader into this gritty, dark reality. I sympathized with the protagonist's determination to succeed and found the story very compelling.



Thanks, Renata! Very interesting! :)

03 March 2020

from Editor Hughes

We're still excited about the new February 28, 2020 issue of Electric Spec. Thanks again, to everyone who contributed!
You may not have noticed, but we started our fifteenth year! In honor of this, I asked emeritus editor David E. Hughes for his thoughts.


Thanks for the chance to comment. I'm so excited that Electric Spec has reached the fifteen year mark and is still thriving!

I remember being so nervous about launching the magazine. We were starting from scratch, and we had no idea if people would submit stories for our first issue. We did get submissions, but I was dismayed by much of the slush. Then I read "Raising Archie" by Michael Stone. Not only was it a clever story, but it was about gargoyles, which I already had a fondness for. I knew if we could pick up stories like that, then Electric Spec would be a worthwhile venture.

For the early issues, some of the stories that we picked needed some editorial help. We were often willing to take a diamond in the rough and make it sparkle. I don't think there were many (if any) magazines that would take time and effort to work on substantive edits in that way. For those stories where I ended up doing some major edits, I was often worried that the authors would be upset when they saw the proof. However, it turned out that most authors understand and appreciate edits. We ended up with some great final products.

I'd be remiss if I didn’t mention the Editor's Corner story: "The Dog that Broke the Camel's Back." I was lucky enough to co-write that one with current editor Lesley Smith. If I recall correctly, that one arose out of a writing exercise we did in our critique group. Lesley and I decided to try to write a story by trading off on the narrative. It turned out to be quite a wild ride since neither of us knew exactly where the story was going as we wrote it. (I know, not the recommended technique for a good story). It was so fun reading it again—-I love stories that make me laugh!


Thanks, Dave! Very interesting!

28 February 2020

New Issue Out!

Woo hoo! The new issue of Electric Spec is out! Woo hoo!

We're excited about all our new stories: "Welcome to the 27 Club" by JL George, "Strings" by P.G. Streeter, "The Tenders" by Aaron Emmel," "Mira Bug" by Stefani Cox, "The Prey" by John Wolf. Thank you so much authors! Thank you Artist Brian Malachy Quinn!

Thank you Editors and tech staff that made it happen!

Most of all, thank you readers! Woo hoo!

27 February 2020

from Author Cox

We're almost done with the fun February 2020 issue of Electric Spec. We're excited to feature the SF tale, "Mira Bug" by Stefani Cox. Here's what she has to say about it:

With "Mira Bug," I wanted to examine human longing for connection, particularly in the context of a mother/daughter relationship. The protagonist, Ginny, is adrift in her life, spending much of her time alone and focused on her work. When Mira comes into her life through the capabilities of Altern, she has a new way to reach out to another person. She's especially longed for a child, so her ability to "create" the kid she never had is at first empowering. However, as Ginny gets drawn further and further into the virtual reality of being with Mira, she loses touch with real world connection, which she also needs. It’s through letting go of her obsession with Altern (with the help of Alexis) and opening up to the possibilities of an actual child in her life, that Ginny reawakens to her true existence.

I'm always curious about how future technologies can both help and hurt us in questing for connection, and in seeking to understand ourselves better. I'm inspired by stories like those in the TV show Black Mirror, where human dramas interface with future technology. (Though I'd like to think "Mira Bug" leads to a happier ending.) Like most things in life, there are both positive and negative aspects upcoming advances, and we'll have to learn as a society how to deal with both.


Thanks, Stefani! Very interesting. Check out all the new stories on February 28, 2020!

25 February 2020

from Author Emmel

We're excited to feature Aaron Emmel's story "The Tenders" in our February 28, 2020 issue of Electric Spec. Here's what he has to say about it:

What excites me about this story, along with the magic tree and swashbuckling pirates, is a world where understanding how the world works is only the first step to being able to advise monarchs. You also have to understand and learn from your own capacity for failure. That ended up seeming even more fantastic than the magic, in two senses of the word--it doesn’t really exist, but it would be great if it did.


Very interesting! Thanks, Aaron!
Check out "The Tenders" and the rest of the stories at the end of the month!

18 February 2020

from Author Wolf

We're excited to feature "The Prey" by author John Wolf in our February 2020 issue of Electric Spec. John had the following to say about his story.

This story owes its existence to many things. There was an announcement in September 2019 for a shared universe anthology. Following some world-building rules, all the stories would take place just before, during, or after an invasion. A lot of talented authors wrote pieces for that one. I thought it might be interesting to experience something like Independence Day or War of the Worlds through the eyes of Earth’s wildlife. I read a bunch of Jack London and re-read the great novel Raptor Red in order to prep. In the end, my piece got rejected.

But I still thought the story had, you’ll pardon the pun, teeth. You can’t give up as a writer. Stuff gets rejected. You take the critique (if you’re lucky enough to get it), re-tool the piece, and send it out again. That is exactly what I did with this. Now several drafts and more rejections later, here it is. It's very different from the one I wrote for the anthology. I still like this story quite a bit. Writing from the point of view for a wholly separate species was fun but tough. I’ll probably try it again.


Thanks, John! Very interesting!

11 February 2020

from Author George

We're excited to feature "Welcome to the 27 Club" by J.L. George in our February issue of Electric Spec. J.L. tells us the following about the story.

I've suffered from depression and anxiety from a young age, and over the years, the desire to simply stop existing for a while--and perhaps hand over the reins of my life to somebody more qualified in the meantime--has become a familiar one. There's a hint of wish-fulfilment in this story, I think. The idea of a benevolent ghost who'll swoop in and fix things while you take a nice, soothing nap is quite seductive.

It's not a real-world solution, of course--and it wouldn't be healthy or ethical if it were. There's a paternalism inherent in making decisions about someone's life while they're not around to voice an opinion. And when aid is conditional on somebody else deciding you deserve it, what happens when a more compelling victim comes along? That's why it can't, ultimately, be only the narrator's well-intentioned meddling that spurs Serena to find a way to manage her depression. It has to be her own desire to regain control of her life. The narrator does manage to help her, but maybe not in the way they expect.

With this story, I also wanted to push back against the romanticising of mental illness, particularly in the creative professions. It's something I bought into hard when I was younger, and it can be so damaging. The dead artists whose pictures Serena pins on her walls are famous partly because of their tragic ends, but imagine how much more great work they might have created if they'd got the help they needed.


Thanks for sharing, J.L.!

04 February 2020

Second Person Point-Of-View

We had a successful, if uneventful, Production meeting this past weekend. All authors should be hearing from editors this week. We got into a spirited discussion of second person pov... Editor Nikki Baird submits the following for your consideration.

In addition to the joy of getting to read so many great short stories for free, one of the things I like about being an editor at Electric Spec is that I feel like, quarter to quarter, I have a window into the zeitgeist of the collective consciousness of aspiring speculative fiction writers.

This manifests itself in themes that emerge from the slush. I know there is a high chance that these themes are coincidence only. Certainly I have never invested the time in documenting themes by quarter to validate if my impressions are real or just bias. But whether it's true or not, I am convinced that Chance's shuffling of the deck often deals me what feels like an outsize proportion of stories related to one subject, quarter by quarter. We deal in a broad range of speculative fiction here at Electric Spec, so the themes vary widely: spiders one quarter, body parts another, ghosts, dragons, robots turning on their human overlords -- you name it, there has likely been a theme on it.

This quarter, I ended up with a slug of submissions all in second person. The "you" stories:
You walk into the entry of your house. You set your keys on the table. Something moves in the living room and you freeze. No one else should be home.
Or, they are first person but really just a one-sided conversation:
What's that you say? You want to buy a dragon? Well, you haven't got the guts for it, I say!

Sometimes these show up as letters to "you". I call these "Dear Mom" letters, though they can be addressed to almost anyone:
My love, I mark these last words on the silver sheen of my transport's floor, using my own blood, to convey to you all that went wrong before the crash.

A related category of You stories are really more like instruction manuals:

  1. First you strap on the jet pack
  2. Then you pull the string

Invariably, the concept of all of these stories is really interesting. I can't bring up examples without calling people out in a way they would immediately recognize, and that's not fair, but suffice it to say, I often reject those stories with a bit of regret because the spec fic angle is interesting and usually pretty unique. But the storytelling gets in the way of exploring the topic.

Here are two main things that I see go wrong:

Description falls away, because you're not writing in real time -- in media res or very close to it. The story becomes a talking head, and you have no room to add descriptive narration because you have now cast your story in a form that is really more just dialogue presented in a narrative format. It gets repetitive too, like the one-sided conversation, where, in order to get the You person's dialogue into the story, the character has to appear deaf or inattentive: "What's that you say? You want to buy a dragon?"

The opportunity to move into the POV character is much harder to achieve.
Here's my response to the first kind of You stories:
You walk into the entry of your house. Oh yeah? How do you know what I did? I don't use the front entry of my house -- I only use the garage entrance.
You set your keys on the table. What table? I don't have a table by my front entrance. What kind of table is it, anyway -- oh wait, there's no room for that because if you're forcing me into this You POV, then I would already know exactly what kind of table it would be, wouldn't I? It would be breaking POV to describe the table, but my ability to be inside that POV character's mind is already shot because we're two sentences in and here I am arguing with you about whether or not I would actually do any of these things that you're telling me I'm doing.

The Point of Storytelling
To the authors who submit the instruction manual stories: when has it ever been exciting to read an instruction manual? Even with the most powerful and engaging voice ever invented in fiction writing, you're already struggling to get up a big hill to hook a reader. The saying goes that someone with a beautiful voice "could read the phone book and still get an audience" -- sure, because you just need an excuse to listen to the voice, not because the content conveys any real meaning.

One exception might be Neil Gaiman's "Instructions", a poem in second person. However, I would like to point out that it is a poem, not a story. It's there to evoke a feeling, not take a reader on a journey. I might argue that the poem itself is about the hero's journey, but again, at more of an emotional level than full engagement of the imagination and senses as you would in a narrative.

A story is all about meaning. It is about taking a theme and emotionally engaging a reader so that when they get to the end, they have internalized that theme. You have touched them in a way that hopefully stays with them forever. When I think of books, I think of the line from the LOTR: Two Towers movie: Some of these were my friends!

Books -- stories -- got me through some of the darkest times in my life, by letting me escape my world, even for a brief time. Any author should be aspiring to achieve that level of meaning in a reader's life. But you do that through the hero's journey or some other construct of embedding the reader so deeply into the main character's transformation that they take that transformation with them into the real world. That doesn't have to be tragedy -- comedy can achieve the same effect. It's all just a different side of a many-sided coin.

If you prevent a reader from engaging with the main character at this level, then the transformation has not been achieved. "You" does not create intimacy. It creates distance, a gap that voice or concept really struggle to close. I'm not saying it can't be done -- I'm sure there are examples out there that have overcome this gap. But they are very rare unicorns of fiction, and probably not going to be discovered by little ole me at little ole Electric Spec.

Make your stories deeper and more engaging! Make them about "me" or a him or her that is so fabulous I want to be them -- I want to move into their mind and make myself at home. That is how transformation is achieved.

Irony
Finally, I want to note that you could argue that this article is written in second person. Here I am, talking directly to you. I appreciate the irony, but I would also argue that it underscores my point. I'm not trying to tell you a story here. I'm not trying to take you on a transformation journey that will mark your soul for all time.

I'm trying to convey advice. That's a totally different circumstance than storytelling. Stephen King, one of the greatest storytellers of our generation (and I would argue beyond) once followed up all of his stories with "Dear Reader" letters that were really the same thing as I'm doing here -- speaking in an intimate way to an unknown number of a mass audience. My audience is a lot smaller than his, guaranteed! But it serves a purpose -- and not a storytelling one. I mean, really -- who voluntarily reads an instruction manual? Who wants to find out what happens to someone who starts a "Dear Mom" story already dead? Who wants to spend the length of a story arguing with the narrator?

As far as I can tell, no one. So, my advice to you: if you have a great idea and you're struggling to put it to pages, don't fall back on "you". It's not as clever as you think it is. In fact, it's terribly limiting. If that's all you've got, marinate on it longer. Don't give in to "you". Write a real character I can get behind (or climb into) and use the story to transform that character in such a powerful way that I can't help but carry that with me for the rest of my days. You do that, and you won't be submitting to Electric Spec for very long -- you'll be on your way to the big time, for sure.


Very interesting! Thanks, Nikki!

28 January 2020

our popularity grows

We are hard at work behind the scenes, toiling away on the February 2020 issue of Electric Spec. It will be another excellent issue. (And that's not braggy because it's the awesome writers that make it great.) Stay tuned for more info about it. Here, next time, I'll give the Production Meeting report.

As you may have noticed, we've increased our staff in the past few months (Hi there, Beth and Lauren! Thanks!) We had to do so because our submissions and our popularity have been growing.

Why this is happening as we begin our fifteenth year, I do not know. It's a bit mysterious--in a good way.

Thank you, everyone!

14 January 2020

New Associate Editor Chan

We've been busy working behind the scenes at Electric Spec. We have exciting news: a new Associate Editor! Huzzah!

Beth Chan grew up in a family of readers who frequently frustrated movie lovers by telling them "the book was better". She has a BA in Asian Studies and has studied Japanese and French. She has lived, worked, and traveled throughout the US and internationally and enjoys exploring different cultures through history, language, food, and art. She is an amateur artist specializing in whimsical portrait drawings of children

We're excited to have her on the team!
Welcome, Beth!

07 January 2020

Writing Resolutions

It's the beginning of a new year and a new decade. How exciting! Do you have any new writing resolutions? I touched on one last time, namely, to think about the interior lives of my characters more. Another writing-related resolution I have is to do a better job submitting my short stories in 2020.

Do I have any editing-related resolutions? Yes! We are already working hard behind the scenes at Electric Spec on the fabulous February 2020 issue. I announced a new associate editor, which is exciting. Consequently, we resolve to get back to authors a little more quickly moving forward.

The submission deadline for the next issue is coming up suprisingly quickly: Jan 15, 2020!
Resolve to

  • grab the reader
  • set the scene
  • include sensory details
  • not begin with the protagonist waking up
  • include speculative elements
  • follow the formatting and submitting guidelines
Resolve to get your story in before the deadline!
Good luck!