31 May 2007

Issue 2 Live!

Yep, folks, it's out! Our ElectricSpec Volume 2 Issue 2 is out. Check out what acclaimed fantasy author Carol Berg called "a cool publication". Thanks, Carol!

30 May 2007

New ElectricSpec Issue Tonight!

Tonight we'll go live with the new issue of ElectricSpec. As usual it is chock full of excellent short speculative fiction and art pieces. This issue we even have an interview of a world-famous fantasy author. Check it out!

It was a dark and stormy night...

I just read recently about gothic romance on another writer's blog. Now, I'm no romance writer or reader, but something she said stood out.

Is it just me or has atmosphere and setting suffered from the lean-and-mean definition of suspense? I have the impression that a supportive setting has become a largely irrelevant tool in tales of woman in peril.

It's not just happening in romance, and it's not just setting. Every element should speak to the story. It makes for good writing, and darn it, good writing is just more interesting.

For instance, one of your characters has a tattoo. Don't you want to know what that tattoo is about? It could be a basic descriptor--she's the type of girl who has one. (You know the type.) Or, it could be an identifying mark when she dies. Or it could reference a history--an event--that informs her current situation. Which is more interesting?

I don't think I'm so different from other readers. I like to feel like I got my money's worth (or time's worth) when I read a story. I like when every element, from plot devices to setting to character descriptors, supports a story. It makes me think. It makes me feel. After all, even in real life, nearly everything from our own past speaks to who we are today.

25 May 2007

Awesome idea from Niven

According to a Washington Post blog Larry Niven recently said the structure of the universe is a side effect of using antigravity. Awesome! I love this idea! This is quintessential science fiction--explaining a scientific mystery in a plausible way.
Send us some stories like that. :)

24 May 2007

More on Rob Sawyer

Betsy did a very nice job summarizing Rob's workshop this past weekend. Thanks, Bets!

I've been pondering what he said over the last few days. Two things he said really resonated with me:
  1. Written fiction the only medium in which you become someone else.
  2. Novels that become hugely popular and/or stand the test of time have big themes.

Regarding the first point: Wow! He is totally right. I am a voracious reader, a writer, and an editor and I still hadn't put this together. Kudos, Rob!
Regarding the second point: I also totally agree with this. My favorite novels work on multiple levels. I must admit I also try to do this with my writing. Possibly this is related to my writing paradigm; I do tend to think of 'big ideas' first, and then consider what character would be best-suited to tell this story.

In ElectricSpec news: Our May 31 issue of ElectricSpec is almost ready!

Please continue to send us your fiction for the Sept. 30 issue. Anyone got any 'big theme' pieces? I'd love to see them!

World Con Tickets 2008

Electric Spec is planning on having some kind of presence at World Con 2008 in Denver.
It may be some of the editors just wandering around, but hopefully we'll be more organized than that! I just noticed that Con membership prices go up on May31, 2007. Consider buying early. For more information: World Con 2008 Denver.

21 May 2007

Robert Sawyer Seminar

All the editors here at Electric Spec attended a Robert Sawyer seminar on Saturday. I personally talked to several fun people and got to hang out with my critique group - the Boulder Speculative Fiction Writer’s Group - for a whole day. Yea!

He covered P.O.V. in a way that was interesting even to those of us who “get it,” but I found my interest piquing when he launched into the business of publishing and advice on how to “make it”. These tidbits are what I came away with, in no particular order:

1. It’s easiest to break into novel-writing by establishing yourself in the short story market. In other words, get some credits to include in that last paragraph in your query letter. This was exciting to me because I love reading and writing short stories, and I have a steadfast belief in the short form as a learning tool.
2. Keep submitting until you’ve exhausted the market. Sawyer submitted an award-winning short story seventeen times before it was accepted.
3. Every book must pass the 30 Second Editor’s Pitch Test. This test determines the commercial fate of your book. What will the editor tell their publishing house’s sales staff in 30 seconds on how to market and sell your book?
4. Write a “perfect review” for your own book (or short story, for that matter), and strive with every revision to earn that review. While we’re on revising, Sawyer’s answer to the question of when to stop revising is “when you’re only changing things, not making it better.”
5. The best books are thematically ambitious. Don’t write in the ODTAA style (“one damn thing after another”), but make every nuance speak to your theme.
6. According to Sawyer: Science Fiction sales are dropping, the market for Horror is nearly nonexistent, but Fantasy is on the rise. History has proven that publishing is not a cyclical market; once a genre is dead, it stays dead.
7. Magazine sales are dropping and they barely can pay their editors. For instance, the editors of Analog and Asimov’s can’t come to work on the same day because they share a desk. Fantasy and Science Fiction is run out of the editor’s garage.
8. Point of View test: does everything your character say stand up under cross-examination? How do they know what they know?
9. Sawyer recommends avoiding first person because it implies a central conceit and removes suspense because the character will live to tell the tale. It can be useful with difficult-to-like characters in that it can be confessional in tone.
10. Sawyer prefers third person because it implies the character will survive the scene, not necessarily the entire book. He likes close third because drama is added by not reporting what all the characters are thinking. (For the record, this editor prefers close third, except in cases where the voice is integral to the story.)
11. Fiction is the only medium in which the reader is able to become the person in the story, rather than just an observer.
12. Fiction is the one artistic endeavor in which the author/artist thinks their first work should be purchased. Most artists and actors and singers know their first efforts are learning experiences.

Everyone I spoke to was very glad they’d come. I found Sawyer to be encouraging, amusing, and knowledgeable, and I really enjoyed my day.

In other news, the new issue is shaping up nicely, due out at the end of the month. Thanks to one of my authors, Stuart, for helping me out with finding a picture for his story. I needed some professional guidance on selecting a proper guitar.

There, that should pique your interest. What's a guitar doing in a speculative fiction magazine? You'll just have to read to find out!

15 May 2007

The Nebula Award Winners

If you've been reading our blog, you know I've been following the SFWA's Nebula Awards this year. You probably also know that this past weekend was the 2007 Nebula Awards Weekend in New York City. So, without further ado, the winners were...(drum roll please):

Novel: Jack McDevitt for Seeker

Novella: James Patrick Kelly for "Burn"

Novelette: Peter S. Beagle for "Two Hearts"

Short Story: Elizabeth Hand for "Echo"

Script: Hayao Miyazaki, Cindy Davis Hewitt, and Donald H. Hewitt for Howl's Moving Castle

Congratulations to all the winners! And a special congratulations to the new Grand Master James Gunn, who was kind enough to let us interview him at Electric Spec!

Check out pix.

09 May 2007

Vol 2 Issue 2 Going Live May 31!

We have lined up the next issue and notified authors. I continue to be impressed by the quality of our submissions and the stories held for voting. It makes the job of settling on stories so difficult! So, aside from blatant bribes of brownies and beer, how do we choose? Bottom line, if the story gets into our voting file, it's good enough to be in the zine. However, our selection process has taught me just how subjective and particular this business is.

We had 17 stories, all of them with merit. Why did we choose the six we did? Sometimes quirky things come into play, like we have an abundance of sci-fi stories and we really can't overload the issue, even though choosing just one or two takes much debate. But aside from that, it often comes down to the nitty gritty of story mechanics.

I'd say, first and foremost, does the story hold our interest all the way through? Are there any spots that sag? We prefer not to do heavy cutting, and we only will if the story is excellent. Along those same lines, does the story stick to its topic? That's not to say the plot must be absolutely linear, but every digression must lead back to the conclusion. Does every scene hold up that three-legged stool of plot, character, and setting?

Does it manage the theme well, without beating us over the heads with it? Is there even a theme? All great stories make some sort of statement about our world, even if it just makes fun of it. But is it an overdone theme? We see those sometimes in our voting box, but usually because the story has taken a new tack around an old lake.

How much editing will be required? This is when grammar and punctuation really do count for something. We've taken stories that needed help with the basics, but they were excellent in every other way.

Does the voice match the power of the story? Sometimes a voice is intriguing when the plot is not. Sometimes the voice exceeds the limits of point of view. This is most often seen from a child's point of view, but we've seen consistency issues, like a close third POV edging on knowing things they shouldn't or inconsistency with a character who is omniscient or psychic. I believe POV rules have some fluidity within speculative fiction, depending on the character. Violations can be difficult to spot, but such rules must make sense within the confines of the story, not at the author's convenience.

Who will it offend? We're not over-worried about it, but it comes up occassionally. Our stories are often dark, sometimes violent. Sometimes they make controvercial statements about the real world. Sometimes it's a fluke of timing. I recently had a story of my own turned down because of violent imagery. The editor was complimentary--the writing was powerful enough to evoke such a reaction. But it wasn't a coincidence that my rejection arrived just days after the W.V. Tech shooting. Sometimes the world isn't quite ready for a particular story.

Anyway, we've got an inbox full of new stories to read, though we might be a bit pokey since we've got to sort Issue 2 by the end of the month! Congratulations if you were selected, and if not, please try us again.

04 May 2007

advice from Kurt Vonnegut

As everyone knows by now, Kurt Vonnegut passed away this year on April 11. He was a truly unique person and the author of such classics as Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Cat's Cradle (1963), and Breakfast of Champions (1973).

Today someone emailed me VONNEGUT'S RULES FOR WRITERS so I thought I'd pass them along:
  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Wow! Excellent advice!

Rest in peace, Kurt.

Global Climate Change -- the New "It" Antagonist

Yet another author writes about the cataclysm of global climate change, carving an even keener definition of the sub-genre "eco-thriller." *Sixty Days and Counting* completes Kim Stanley Robinson's trilogy on the subject, pitting scientists and politicians (yikes!) against total collapse of the environment. Robinson has won many prestigious awards, including the Nebula, Asimov, World Fantasy, and Hugo, and his wife is an environmental chemist so, he must know what he's talking about. I'll have to find a copy of his 1st book in the trilogy, *Forty Signs of Rain*, and get started. For more from him, listen to his interview on Planetary Radio.

At the other end of the climate change perspective, well-known author/filmmaker Michael Crichton stands staunchly with, or at least in the same rose garden as, the Supreme Decider after denying the existence of any true quantifiable climate change data in his novel *State of Fear*. Personally, I found this book a bit, well, slow, which surprised the hell out of me since I thoroughly enjoyed so many of his other stories. For his comments on the topic, see and/or listen to his interviews and debates on his "official" website. Crichton -- one Hollywood insider who is NOT going with the flow. Who woulda thunk it? Actually, the real question is: if Al Gore accepts an Oscar for a movie filled with persuasive data, august scientific personages, and cool uber-PowerPoint graphics, does Crichton clap in his Santa Monica office?

Finally, of course, there's our own Electric Spec editor, Lesley L. Smith, who surfed the leading edge of the eco-thriller genre with her novel, *Neutrino Warning*. Hey, she's been recognized by the SFWA, and she works daily with this "It" antagonist in real life. More on her book and her at lesleylsmith.com.

So, global climate change is blowing hot in the fiction markets now (sorry, couldn't resist). Will it outpace all the cross-genre vampire stories out there and lend some profundity to commercial fiction? More broadly, will life imitate art? Ya picks yer data and takes yer chances.

02 May 2007

Internationally Acclaimed Fantasy Author Talks to E-Spec

The editors here at Electric Spec are getting very excited about our next issue, which will come out on May 31. We have not finalized our story selections yet, but we have lots of great submissions! Also we have an interview with one of my favorite fantasy authors, Carol Berg. Carol tells us about her new novel (which came out yesterday), talks about her prior work, and gives advice to aspiring authors. It's an interview you won't want to miss.