31 July 2007


One easily-repaired problem I see in Electric Spec stories is what I call 'inconsistent dialog'. I'll show you what I mean:

"I've got to find the gate," Lisa, the dwarf queen, said. [a bunch of description here]

"Who?" the elf asked. [a bunch of description here]

"I'm too tired," Lisa said.

Here, I think the author got distracted by all the description and lost track of what the, er, people were saying. It's easy to get distracted.... Wait. What was my point? :)

Oh, yeah. I recommend you double-check what your people SAY and make sure it's an actual conversation. Of course, if you have telepathy or other non-standard modes of conversation in your stories, the same principles apply. Remember, the readers don't have telepathy--at least not most of them!

Good luck!

27 July 2007


Here's more in the continuing saga of what one editor thinks.... I, personally, love humor. At Electric Spec we've published quite a few humorous stories. I hope you've read them!

However, humor is tricky. I've made an amateur study of it and it's based on the unexpected. The tricky part is everyone has different expectations. For the last issue, for example, we had what I thought was a hilarious fantasy story. It was chock full of over-the-top cliches and stilted dialog. It was so over-the-top, I thought it was a spoof, and so very funny. My fellow editors, having read the accompanying letter (I hadn't), said it was not a spoof; the author was sincere. Oops! Needless to say, we had to pass on that one.

As a more specific example of the trickiness of humor, in yesterday's hardcopy The Onion we have "Earthquake Sets Japan Back To 2147", which I thought was hilarious.
In the same issue, however, we have, "New Theories Suggest Kennedy Wasn't Shot", which I did not think was funny and was in bad taste.

So, what's a poor writer to do? Critique group to the rescue! I think you need to make sure at least one other person thinks your humorous story is, in fact, humorous.

Send us your humorous stories, but caveat scriptor.

26 July 2007


To continue my thread of inside-the-Electric-Spec-editor's-head (gasp!) tips: watch out for adverbs. We've actually blogged about adverbs before, but who looks at the blog archives, right? :)

I am not totally against adverbs, myself. [I can't speak for Dave, though!] But, rarely are adverbs a good idea in fiction. But, seriously. :)

The worst is adverbs with dialog tags, e.g. "Give it to me," he said fiercely. I have seen quite a few adverbs this week in my readings. You guys are better than that! I recommend searching for "ly" in your stories. If the adverb is with a verb, think about replacing adverbs + weak verbs by strong verbs. If it's in a dialog tag, replace the dialog tag with body language/facial expressions, e.g. "Give it to me." He bared his teeth.

Quick, send us some more (low adverb) stories before the Aug. 7 deadline!

page one

To follow up on Lesley's post, I, too, am reading like crazy. I aim for a one-month turnaround at the longest, but I'm more like two months behind. (It's been a crazy summer.) I'm hoping to catch up by week's end, because, as she says, the cut-off is coming up. I want to let you know I realize how frustrating waiting on a response can be for a writer (I have one story working on three months out myself) and I'm doing my best to get back to you despite my myriad of other projects.

Last reading session, I realized I had several stories in which too much was held back in the beginning. A clever world and engaging characters will not carry an opening. By the end of page one or thereabouts, I'd better know what the story is about. As I read in groups of 5-10 stories, if someone makes me slog through an unfamiliar world with no payoff--and in the first pages this means delicious anticipation about what might happen--I reject it.

This is something I'm keeping in mind for my own writing, especially for short works: the propelling event, the crisis that sets the plot in motion, must happen on the first page. That tells you your story is starting in the right place. This is as close to a formula for writing a short story as we can get (from there, they go all wonky in different directions, which is the joy of the thing.) (And are there exceptions to this rule? Of course there are! This is a general preference.)

For example, the propelling event for the story of my delay in reading would be the last day of school in June...

25 July 2007


We're nearing the home stretch for submissions for the Electric Spec fall 2007 issue--but keep 'em coming. I have been reading, reading, reading, and since we cannot give personal critiques to our excellent writers I thought I'd try to blog more about what I think as an editor....

Yes, I know, being in my mind does sound a little scary. :)

Up first is: grammar. I am quite forgiving of grammar mistakes (which you know if you're reading this). However, if there is a grammar mistake and/or misspelled word in EVERY sentence or almost every sentence, I get grumpy. And frankly, when I'm grumpy it is difficult for me to enjoy a story.

Please profread!

Ha, ha. Of course, I mean "Please proofread!" :)

23 July 2007

Hurray for Rowling

I am amazed and delighted by the furor over A BOOK this past weekend. From the bottom of my heart, 'Hurray for J.K. Rowling!' Anyone who can get the entire world excited about reading is totally my hero.

"The excitement, anticipation, and just plain hysteria that came over the entire country this weekend was a bit like the Beatles' first visit to the U.S.," Lisa Holton, president of
Scholastic's trade and book fairs division, said.

Scholastic estimated that 8.3 million copies of the 12 million first printing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows sold in the U.S. on Saturday.

The AP (via the Seattle Times) calculated that sales of the book averaged more than 300,000 copies per hour or more than 5,000 a minute.

At its stores around the world, Borders sold 1.2 million copies of the book on Saturday, the highest single-day sales of any title in Borders history.

Amazon said it had delivered almost 1.3 million copies of the book in the U.S. on Saturday and that worldwide it had received more than 2.2 million advance orders as of Friday.


What's next? World peace?

20 July 2007

Our writers rock!

I just read an article Ten Mistakes Writers Don't See and I have to say, at Electric Spec we don't see a lot of these. So, our writers rock! Keep it up! :)

Here's a summary of the mistakes:
  1. repeating words
  2. flat writing I'll come back to this
  3. too many adverbs
  4. characters talking about what they already know
  5. "no-good suffixes" huh?
  6. the 'to be' words
  7. lists
  8. show,don't tell I'll come back to this
  9. awkward phrasing
  10. commas

One of "mistakes" I occasionally see are flat writing, which I would call a boring voice. I blogged about this recently, July 17: 'Show us your ...voice'. :)

Another one I occasionally see is telling rather than showing. I've blogged about this, too. But it can be difficult to explain. Holt says, If you say, "she was stunning and powerful," you're *telling* us. But if you say, "I was stunned by her elegant carriage as she strode past the jury - shoulders erect, elbows back, her eyes wide and watchful," you're *showing* us. The moment we can visualize the picture you're trying to paint, you're showing us, not telling us what we *should* see..

Keep writing, and keep an eagle-eye out for these potential problems. :)

19 July 2007

The First Five Pages . . . or Paragraphs

I just finished reading The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman. Mr. Lukeman is a literary agent who knows his stuff. His book points out the most common problems with manuscripts that he sees in the slush pile. If you’ve been writing fiction for awhile, you won’t find any surprises, but what I liked was the way he articulated common problems he sees in manuscripts.

Really, the problems that Mr. Lukeman sees in the first five pages of a novel are many of the same problems I see in the first five paragraphs of short stories that end up in the Electric Spec rejection pile. They are problems with:

Too many adjectives and adverbs
The sound of the prose (e.g. word echoes)
Overuse or poor use of comparison (analogy, simile, and metaphor)
Style (i.e. too academic, journalistic, or stream of consciousness)
Dialogue, including
Missing or bad tags
Commonplace topics
Overly informative dialogue
Hard to follow
Telling instead of showing
Viewpoint and Narration
Lack of hooks
Lack of subtlety
Pacing and Progression

If you are not familiar with any of the issues raised above, it might be a good to check out The First Five Pages. I guarantee that if you address the issues Mr. Lukeman raises in his book, your chances of getting a story accepted at Electric Spec will be much better!

18 July 2007

Foundation on the big screen--not :(

This is a bit off-topic but I just read in "Futurism vs. Futurisn't" that John Rogers and Shekhar Kapur to tried write a screenplay for Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy! That's a movie(s) I'd really like to see! Sadly, they got bogged down, and "...fell into the honey trap of Asimov's genius." Aw. :(

And if any of you are asking Isaac who? Get thee to a library!

17 July 2007

Show us your ...voice

I've been enjoying reading the stories in our Electric Spec inbox. Keep 'em coming folks!

I had to pass on a story recently because among other things, the author did not appear to have a voice, and hence the characters did not seem real. :(

What the heck is voice, anyway? Voice is basically the personality that comes through the writing and is achieved through word choice, syntax and the like. Maybe it's easier to grasp with the help of an example or two.

Jane walked to the door and went outside. She got in her spaceship and flew away.

Technically, this piece does have voice, but frankly it's a boring voice.

Brunehilda danced toward the front door. "Now you've gone somewhere else," she sang. "Far away. I don't know if I will find you." She smacked her elbow into the wall. "Frakkin',frak frak!" She grimaced as she wrenched the door open. She ran for her spaceship, not even bothering to close the door behind her. "I'm coming, sweetcheeks! I'm coming for you!"

Okay, that last one is pretty silly, but it is much more interesting, at least IMHO. Brunehilda seems real. Jane could be a robot for all we know. Ooh, wait, that could be interesting.... :)

So I don't care what your voice is. Maybe you like metaphors and similes. Maybe you like made-up words. Maybe you like your-choice-here.

Just show us your voice!

15 July 2007

Is Sci/Fi dead?

God I hope not, and I'm not even the hugest sci fi reader. (I prefer mainstream, fantasy, and cozy English mysteries, of all things.)

Some people think the evidence points in the direction of death though: slow sales, sci/fi sold under alternate genre names, fewer submissions. I believe as long as humans are interested in their world, there is a place for sci/fi stories. However, I think that interest is changing. I read on a recent blog comment thread how people are bored with technology and so are bored with sci/fi. Really, with the information storing capabilities of today, it's an easy (and somewhat dull) leap to consider the capabilities of tomorrow. And definitely, I think we are bored with the sci/fi trope that as much as technology changes, people stay the same.

But what if we don't? How does technology change us? Right now popular trope seems to be about how it changes us for the worse--but how about for the better?

However, I think there are greater leaps to be made than storage tech, jet packs ,and even the human condition. I'm no scientist, but I've never believed that science does anything less than prove what a miraculous world we live in. Even so, there are steps to be made beyond exploring the human condition. One way might be to linktechnology and science to the unexplained/supernatural/spiritual realm that so many of us believe exists. I've never thought the two of them were mutually exclusive (think even beyond Ghosthunters), and I think it'd make a fascinating premise for new fiction. Taking it a step further, wouldn't it be cool to write fiction that could bridge the gap between chasms of disagreement like creationism and evolution?

Most people agree that sci/fi speaks to the hope for the future we all have, but our future is not only about scientific advances. It's about the people involved in them and the ways science can positively affect our lives. Rectifying science with seemingly contrary beliefs (even in fictional, metaphorical worlds with fictional science and beliefs) could provide an exciting new direction or sub-genre for sci/fi--so long as it maintains human terms.

12 July 2007

irritants, annoyances & nuisances

Hurray! I just read a very good submission to Electric Spec. The author created a fully-realized world complete with irritants, annoyances & nuisances.

In more general terms, in my personal opinion, it's these petty problems that make a story seem real. For example a SF writer a couple centuries ago might imagine a car, but a good writer could imagine parking lots. And an excellent writer might imagine traffic jams, road rage, and insert-annoyance-here. :)

Illustrating this point is a REALLY good novella, Mr. Boy by James Patrick Kelly, in The Best of the Best Volume 2: 20 Years of the Best Short Science Fiction Novels by Gardner Dozois. Talk about imagining irritants, annoyances & nuisances! Talk about a fully-realized world! Wow. I highly recommend this book, by the way.

What irritants, annoyances & nuisances exist in the worlds you create?

10 July 2007

September 2007 Update

We continue to work hard on the next issue of ElectricSpec, which will be published on September 30, 2007. We have decided to close to submissions for this issue at midnight on August 7, 2007. I will post this on the webpage soon. We will make our final story selections at the end of August/beginning of September.

Have you heard? ElectricSpec editors will also present a workshop "Break into Publishing the E-zine Way" at the 2007 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers annual conference Colorado Gold, in Denver. Specifically, we present on Saturday Sept 15 at 2:30pm. I plan to post the presentation afterwards on the ElectricSpec webpage.

In the meantime, keep those stories coming!

03 July 2007

RIP, Fred

As some of you may have heard, Fred Thomas Saberhagen passed away in his Albuquerque, New Mexico home on Friday, June 29, 2007. He was 77 years old.

Fred was the author of over 65 historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy novels, including the Dracula, Gods, Swords, Lost Swords, and Berserker series. See the SFWA article.

I'm sure Electric Spec editors, readers and writers got a lot of enjoyment and inspiration from his books over the years.

Rest in peace, Fred. We'll miss you.