31 October 2007

A REALLY SCARY Thought for Halloween

I just realized something really scary, and, since it is Halloween, I thought I'd post it. This October is the one-year anniversary of our blog! Who would have thought we could babble on, er give profound insights, for all this time?

29 October 2007

my turn

I suppose it's my turn to talk about the slush.

I've not chosen one story yet for this issue. Why not, you might wonder?

I'm a writer, too, so let me begin with a story about a story.

Once upon a time I wrote a story about a kid at war. It was held over at a few zines for voting; it won an honorable mention in a major contest. It's a good, solid story. (Even my critters like it, and everyone knows how hard it is to please them.) It's a violent story, a war tale. One editor didn't take it because North Virginia Tech shootings had just happened, and they didn't feel the timing was right. Their perogative, right?

(Well, this is a family blog, so:) I call b.s.

In my opinion, it is part, though not all, of a writer's duty to push the envelope on difficult issues. We strive to put new twists on old destinies. I think you see some of that in every issue of Electric Spec. There are many difficult themes worthy of examination, and I find fiction a wonderful opportunity for such dissection.

What I don't find are very many stories taking that opportunity.

So why am I not taking any stories lately? They're mostly well-written. They're mostly from published authors. They're mostly solid stories. However, they're also mostly milquetoast.

I don't need violence--that's not what I meant by my example. In my story the conjunction of youth and violence was more a device to put a familiar face on an unfamiliar problem anyway.

Find your device. Say something. Make me think. Make me feel. Warp what I know into something new, and you'll find your words glowing from computer screens across the world under the heading "Electric Spec."

27 October 2007

No Prologues

For Electric Spec I rejected a short story recently which had a prologue. This story did have some other issues, BUT I've never seen a prologue work effectively with a short story. Caveat scriptor.

Keep sending those stories in! :)

26 October 2007

Nanowrimo's Coming

Nanowrimo? What the heck is that? Some of you may know November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as nanowrimo. Check out the website: www.nanowrimo.org. The idea is you push everything aside (except day jobs) and write 50,000 words by midnight, November 30. For those of you who keep planning to write a novel this can be an excellent kick in the pants.

Personally, I can't push everything aside for a whole month. I did do a similar write-non-stop-for-a-week one November with a group of RMFW folks and that was VERY valuable. It helped silence my inner critic.

I highly recommend aspiring novelists try this.

25 October 2007

Be Speculative

When submitting stories to Electric Spec please send us speculative stories. This means there must be some kind of science-fiction-y, fantastic, horror-ible, or supernatural something. I must admit one story got past me in the last issue. The story in question had a bunch of magic--but it turned out it was fake magic. Bummer.

I've rejected a few non-speculative stories in recent weeks. If in doubt, for example your story could be historical OR it could be a fantasy (on another planet?), throw in an extra moon in the sky or something to make it easy on us editors.

24 October 2007

Make Sense

I can't disagree with what Dave blogged yesterday. Still, all of us editors are somewhat different, and it is the luck of the draw who you get when you send a submission to Electric Spec. Recently, I rejected a story that did not make sense. The laws of physics were violated and if one were to accept the premises of the story, earth would be uninhabitable. Personally, I get very cranky when the laws of physics are violated. The other editors probably don't care as much. However, if a story is internally inconsistent that's an automatic rejection.

Thus, writers, please write stuff that makes sense. :)

23 October 2007

The First Page

Over the last few days, I've been through a pile of stories in our Electric Spec in-box. Sadly, I did not hold any of those stories for voting. Why? Many of the stories didn't grab my attention by the first page. Even if the quality of the writing is good, I need more. Before you submit a story, check to see if you've managed to fit in the following into the first page of your story:
  • Introduce an interesting protagonist
  • Identify, or strongly hint at, the conflict (both internal and external is ideal)
  • Establish a setting (including world-building if that's important to your story)

Is it a hard-and-fast rule that all of this must be on the first page? No, but many of the best stories I read do just that.

22 October 2007

Beware of gadgets

I've been going through some of our Electric Spec submissions. As ever, I'm very impressed with them. Thank you for sending them in!

Here, continues my series of advice for writers. Recently I read a story that contained a huge variety of high-tech machines. For every need the character had, a gadget was there. I, personally, have nothing against gadgets. In fact, I like them. However, don't be fooled by bells and whistles (and chips and LEDs and ...), gadgets cannot carry a story. A richly-drawn high-tech culture can be excellent world-building, but it's essentially background. We also need a sympathetic character and an interesting plot arc. If one of these three things is super-duper fabulous it may carry weaker versions of the other two, but it's a tough sell.
So, there you have it, one editor's opinion. :)

16 October 2007

Nobel Peace Prize for Science

Speaking of the Nobel Prizes, did everyone notice the Peace Prize was given to thousands of scientists? The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a group of thousands of scientists from around the world. It bears repeating: a peace prize was awarded for work on a scientific issue that has a profound impact on all human beings. I'm in danger of reaching for my soap box, so I'll just say "Congratulations to all the winners! Great Job!"

Has this award confirmed the importance of science in modern life? Does it indicate we need speculative fiction to help us understand the interactions of humanity and science?

Hhm ...

13 October 2007

favorite writing books

Lesley asked us about our favorite writing books. I've read a few, but probably the one which most speaks to my personal process is WRITE AWAY by Elizabeth George. For those of you not in the know, she writes a popular mystery series set in Britain and featuring Inspector Lynley.

The first thing that struck me about this book is excerpts from her personal writing journal. She writes in this journal every day to jump start her creative juices. Some of us do this with coffee or M&Ms. I tend to use tea and writing myself. I post on my personal blog or over here, and I leave notes for my many Internet friendlies. But however you do it, starting off a writing session with some "non-threatening" writing, either in a journal no one sees or on a blog everyone sees, makes a great deal of sense. Caveat: there must be a time limit because these endeavors can eat up valuable production time.

Beyond that, her detailing her own process helped me nail down my own. As George does, I begin with characters scripts (short for description--why? I don't know. I've just always called them that) or profiles. From their personalities, I can begin to glean what challenges they must face in order to grow. From their history, a synopsis evolves. Yes! I know! Everyone hates a synopsis. I write synopses for even my short stories, and even if they change, they give me something to work from. Synopsis form insists that plots must be tight, every action and reaction must have reason and motivation. Working from a synopsis, even when it evolves or changes outright, helps my own efficiency.

The book is full of insights and advice for the aspiring writer. George never talks down to the reader, and she insists on encouragement every step of the way. It's an uplifting writing book and one I recommend.

12 October 2007

Speculative Author Wins Nobel?

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2007 was awarded to the English writer Doris Lessing
"that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny". Congratulations, Ms. Lessing!

It seems some of Ms. Lessing's works are considered to be speculative fiction. From the official Nobel Prize website (nobelprize.org):

"In the novel series Canopus in Argos: Archives (vol. 1–5, 1979–1984) Lessing expanded the science fiction genre. The series studies the post-atomic war development of the human species. Lessing varies thoughts about colonialism, nuclear war and ecological disaster with observations on the opposition between female and male principles. Among inspirations for the work was the Idries Shah’s school of Sufism that she discovered in the 1960s. Doris Lessing revisited her interest in Sufism in the Time Bites (2004) collection of essays."

"The vision of global catastrophe forcing mankind to return to a more primitive life has had special appeal for Doris Lessing. It reappears in some of her books of recent years: the fantasy novel Mara and Dann (1999) and its sequel The Story of General Dann and Mara's Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog (2005). From collapse and chaos emerge the elementary qualities that allow Lessing to retain hope in humanity."


11 October 2007

Workshop presentation available

FYI-I finally uploaded our excellent Electric Spec workshop presentation from RMFW's Colorado Gold Conference. It's called "Break into Publishing the E-Zine Way". Enjoy!

Writing Books

My colleagues at Electric Spec chose to comment rather than blog. Aw. :(
In case you are too lazy to click on the comments, Dave said his favorite is Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. What do you like about it, Dave?

Renata concurs that King's is a good one and she also likes Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. What do you like about them, Renata?

Hhm. I'm not sure what my favorite writing book is. I'll have to ponder it.

Betsy, any thoughts? Electric Spec writers? Readers?

Aren't Editors Great?

For most of the general reading public, editors are pretty much invisible. Still, as pointed out in a recent article in Salon, editors are important, not just for writers, but for readers. As the content on the web and in the blogosphere grows, editors will become increasingly important in separating the wheat from the chaff. Am I patting myself and my fellow Electric Spec editors on the back? I guess so, but my editor tells me that's fine once in a while.

10 October 2007

Becoming a Writer

From time to time I (we?) will mention some good books for writers. Here's one: Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. This was published first in 1934 but still has a lot to say to today's writers about being creative, writing daily, not being overly-critical of one's work, and other topics.

Okay, Electric Spec editors, what other writing books do you recommend?

Writers, what do you recommend?

09 October 2007

SFWA's job?

I'm not sure if you all have been following...but the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have been dealing with some copyright issues this year. Recently they sent out a questionnaire to all members asking us what we thought their role should be in copyright issues. It's food for thought. An individual writer doesn't have much power , whereas a large organization like SFWA might.

Here, at Electric Spec we strive to assist writers. Please let us know if there's anything we can do for you. :)

05 October 2007

Ailing Short Stories, part two

In reference to Lesley's last post about ailing short stories:

If you missed the comment thread on King's article, it's worth taking a gander. Sad to see how little respect a grand master like Stephen King garners. Whether you like his books or not, he is a solid, craft-minded writer, and millions of sales don't lie. Someone even said Stephen King doesn't write short stories. Heh. His credits listed him as having written 400 short stories, and like any writer worth their salt, he cut his teeth on short stories before most of us could hold a crayon.

His point about short stories, how they often feel dull and mass-produced, is well worth considering. I see them all the time, short stories that have had the spark beaten out of them, or maybe it was never there in the first place. And I don't mean just in our slush pile, but published, as well. They lack passion. They lack life.

The best short stories are long on craft, short on verbage, and they get beneath the reader's skin like a sliver. The themes might be big but the stories and the characters peopling them are often small--and that is the point. They don't show us the entire ocean, but just a few grasses near an undersea cliff. Short stories only hint at the blackness beyond, and let's face it, that blackness can make us damned uncomfortable.

Remember that old personality test from Psych 101? Do you eat around the edges of your jelly-filled donut, savoring the anticipation, or do you bite right in? In this day and age of Supersize Me and McMansions, I think the answer for most of us is clear. We don't like to be uncomfortable. But for this editor and reader, the best short stories don't have jelly. They let me fill in the middle with my own experiences and worldview--newly sugared by the author's ideas.

Short stories are meant to pulsate, to push limits, and to make us think, albeit in not so many words. It is up to the reader to fill in the blanks. Like Barth Anderson said in our interview: "...every sentence is like another incremental dilation of a camera lens, letting in a little more light, information, or field of vision of what we're looking at. To me that explained what short stories can do." But the physical limitations of word count means an entire world cannot be revealed. It's one lens, not CNN. Something has to be left out. Something must be left to the reader's discretion, and that's the beauty of the thing.

I do think the genre is ailing, and I do blame editors for buying so much milquetoaste. After all, we provide the bridge between our readers and our authors. One time I got the comment from an editor that I hadn't developed the world enough in a particular story. "You only spent 2000 words and you could have spent 4000." Hmm. I'd specifically aimed this story at online markets, in which shorter often does well. But, in all fairness to the editor who had taken the time to comment, I had a friend read the story and then I asked her questions about the world I'd developed. Guess what? She got all the answers right, even the ones that weren't specifically addressed in the story.

Many of the published shorts I read have all the I's dotted and T's crossed, and not just by the copyeditor. One of the commenters in the article's thread said they can't identify with the characters in most short stories. Maybe that's because the authors don't leave the reader any space to do so. They comb the protag's hair and make sure their buttons are lined up right. Such stories leave no room for the reader, and hence the characters, to breathe. I challenge editors --and writers!--to trust their readers. That bridge I was talking about...it ought to be more of a swinging rope than a Golden Gate.

The saddest bit is that short stories uniquely fit our sound-bite society. They ought to be doing well. But then, a sound-bite isn't meant to make you think, it's just meant to make you buy.

02 October 2007

Ailing short story?

No doubt some of you saw Stephen King's essay in the 9/30/07 Sunday Book Review of The New York Times: What Ails the Short Story. He claims the short story is alive but not well. Clearly, he doesn't read Electric Spec! :)

Let's prove him wrong. Support authors and read lots of short stories! And better yet, write lots of excellent short stories--and send them to us!
Our in-boxes are waiting! :)