30 November 2007

think about what you read

It goes without saying authors should read--a lot. I decided to follow Mr. Silverberg's lead and reread some Heinlein (see below or the Dec 2007 Asimov's editorial). I recently started rereading To Sail Beyond the Sunset, by Robert A. Heinlein (1987). Imagine my surprise when he starts with the protagonist waking up in bed! Ugh (see the 'don't start with a cliche' post below)! Cliches aside, I have to say chapter one was pretty charming. The first paragraph was:
I woke up in bed with a man and a cat. The man was a stranger; the cat was not.
Some other highlights:
He was quite dead.
This is not a good way to start the day.

And my favorite line: I found that I was barefooted all the way up. Sadly, chapter two was a huge chunk of exposition in which the author basically gives us a (his?) philosophy of life. I'll let you know how the rest turns out. Anyone have any opinions on this book?

I also recently read a novella Tendeleo's Story by Ian McDonald. This was excellent! It involves an unusual alien invasion and the nature of humanity. It was all good; I can't even come up with any constructive criticism. :)

What have you read recently?

29 November 2007


First of all, my apologies for not posting here more often. I'm experiencing some connection issues at the moment. Fortunately, I had a good night the other night reading my inbox (not all of it, but I read into early November). We are really seeing some wonderful, quality submissions!

Dave recently did a post on description, and it struck me I don't agree entirely. If a description consists entirely of hair and eye color, then yes, it's difficult to determine its pertinence to the story, because description, like everything, must serve the story. It must pertain to plot, characterization, or setting.

However, in spec fic, hair and eye color may very well serve the story. Think of DUNE and the all-blue eyes of the Fremen. In my own urban fantasy series, hair and eye color is of geneological import to the story, a signal to characters and readers alike: This is where this character belongs--or does not belong, as the case may be. Even in RL, seeing a spouse's eyes stare back at you from your son's face or finding your own smile on a century-old photo is a magical experience. In these cases, ordinary identifying markers take on a historical, almost extraordinary (sometimes ironic) meaning. They are integral and significant to the individual and often the plot. You know, of course, what color eyes your protag has as well as you know the color of your own, but is it something you think about every moment of every day? Just be certain that it's significant to the protag's POV or to the plot or setting, and we won't reject a story based on listing an eye color as a characteristic.

28 November 2007


Apparently the big news in publishing this week is the unveiling of Amazon's new wireless reading device, called Kindle (and no, I'm not linking to it).

Frankly, I find the name kind of offensive. Fahrenheit 451 anyone? If you've tried this 'next big thing', post a comment and let us know what you think. Thanks!

27 November 2007

Willis profile

I recently read an interesting profile of one of my fave authors, Connie Willis, in the Rocky Mountain News. Check it out: Stellar sci-fi author grounded in Greeley.

How many of you write first drafts in longhand? :)

26 November 2007

Do what Heinlein did

I read an excellent essay by Robert Silverberg in the December 2007 edition of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine: "Reflections: Rereading Heinlein", which addresses issues I tried to cover in my 'from author's mind to reader's mind' blog from earlier in the month. Silverberg says: "Instead of pausing to explain, he simply thrust character and reader alike into those worlds and let communication happen through experience. He didn’t need to tell us how his future societies worked or what their gadgets did. We saw the gadgets functioning; we saw the societies operating at their normal daily levels."

So, authors, build those worlds, but be sure to SHOW us how they work!

23 November 2007

Killer Castles

As many of you know, I'm a huge George R.R. Martin fan. I just ran across this web page by artist Ted Nasmith, who is working on a series of castles for a source book on the Song of Ice and Fire series. Even if you're not a GRRM fan, this is worth a look--some of the best castle renditions I've ever seen.

22 November 2007

A Thankful Writer

I feel fortunate that I have many things to be thankful for, but I thought I'd jot down some things that make me thankful in my writing life:

  • I'm thankful for my gift, however limited it may be
  • I'm thankful I have the time, motivation, means and desire to use that gift
  • I'm thankful that writing is like a well, and the water I draw seems to taste sweeter each time I go back
  • I'm thankful for my computer (when it is working), most especially spell check
  • I'm thankful for the support, encouragement, inspiration, criticism, and camaraderie of my critique group
  • I'm thankful for the success of Electric Spec, and for all its great authors, artists and readers
  • I'm thankful that there is more than one agent and more than one editor out there
  • I'm thankful for all the great books I've read--and that there are so many more yet to come
  • I'm thankful for my public library, without which I would have a sorely depleted bank account and no room to walk in my house
  • I'm thankful for the (seemingly few and far between) quiet moments I have to write
  • I'm thankful that writing is a part of my life, but only a part of it

Happy Thanksgiving!

20 November 2007

Long Shots

In our Electric Spec submission guidelines, we’ve decided not to do as some other ‘zines have done and list story plots that we see a lot. Even so, there are story plots that, at least in my book, are long shots. These include stories about:

-- Robots that turn human or with whom their creator falls in love
-- Vampires, werewolves, or zombies that fit within one or more of the stereotypes of such creatures
-- Someone turning in to a vampire, werewolf, or zombie
-- Someone killing his or her spouse, girlfriend, mother, etc. (Some of these creep me out, but for the wrong reasons).
-- Light speed travel (or cryogenic sleep) has caused the protagonist to return to earth after some sort of space mission to find the world changed
-- Lots of fighting (e.g. sword fighting, space duels, laser battles) and not much else

I would also add that I see very few flash fiction stories (i.e. stories under 1000 words) that make the cut. Why? Good flash fiction is hard to write; you need plot, you need voice, you need character--just like in a longer story. So, the economy of words needs to be incredible. We pay the same for flash as we do for a 7000-word story, so I judge flash with the same (if not more) vigor that I judge longer works. If you want to see my approach to flash fiction (yes, I know, blatant self-promotion) you can check it out here: http://www.astoundingtales.com/TheFortuneTree.htm.

19 November 2007

don't start with a cliche

I've been reading through the stories submitted to Electric Spec. Thanks for sending them in!

I have a few words of advice: don't start your story with a telephone call or with the protagonist waking up. Both of these have been done to death. I also think this is often too early in the story. You should always start the story as late as possible.

Another problem with the telephone call is usually it causes the protagonist to react, rather than act. If your character isn't driving the story, maybe he/she/it is NOT actually your protagonist.

Good luck!

16 November 2007

from author's mind to reader's mind

While reading, I've been noticing some vagueness in stories. Because of world-building, I think this is more of a problem with speculative fiction than other genres. Authors can be so immersed in a world, they sometimes have trouble conveying ideas from their minds to the readers minds. Things that seem obvious to the author can be totally mysterious to the reader. IMHO, authors need to be able to divorce themselves from their conceptions of a story and perceive what is actually on the page. Good luck with this, authors!

Keep sending those stories in to Electric Spec!

14 November 2007

UFOs = Science Fiction?

Why is fiction based on the idea that aliens have visited our planet labeled science fiction or even fantasy while other equally implausible scenarios are not? For example, it is a huge stretch, to say the least, to believe that Jesus of Nazareth had children who are now protected by a secret society. On the other hand, lots of very credible people believe they have seen UFOs. Take today's article in MSNBC , which discusses an international panel of pilots and governmental officials who have called on the U.S. government to re-open UFO investigations, citing safety and security concerns.

I think editors, agents, and ultimately readers should be able to distinguish between something that is clearly science fiction (i.e. a Men in Black scenario) and a situation that may be more plausible than many people want to believe.

13 November 2007

International Horror Guild Awards

Congratulations to the winners of the International Horror Guild Awards, announced November 1, 2007. They include:
  • Novel: Conrad Williams: The Unblemished
  • Long Fiction: Norman Partridge: "Dark Harvest" (CD Publications)
  • Mid-length Fiction: Paul Finch: "The Old North Road" (Alone on the Darkside)
  • Short Fiction: Stephen Gallagher: "The Box" (Retro-Pulp Tales)
Kudos to all the winners!

12 November 2007

SFWA supports WGA

The SFWA came out recently in support of the WGA strike, and had some interesting comments:

"Contrary to prevailing wisdom, the future is not here yet. As science fiction writers, we're perhaps in a better position to see that than others. Society is in a transitional phase, as physical entertainment media slowly give way to their digital equivalents. Physical distribution, cumbersome and expensive, is going the way of the buggy whip and rotary phone dial. The change has already started with the distribution of films and TV shows."

"During this phase, writers and other creators are having their work distributed digitally without seeing any benefit at all. The excuse given is that this distribution is for promotional purposes only, but, in fact, the powers that be are using this transitional period to establish unfair precedents. It's the camel's nose. These precedents will hurt creators as digital distribution becomes the predominant method of distributing and accessing content."

What do you think? Is the future here yet? Is this precedent the camel's nose? :)

10 November 2007

Is Hybrid Really Hot?

I’m going to deviate a bit from my usual E-Spec related topic and get into something more personal. I’ve begun the process of trying to find an agent for my most recent novel. So far, I have not had much success. My novel is a hybrid. It could be called a paranormal legal thriller (a paralegal--ha ha), supernatural suspense, or perhaps just a suspense novel. Think Scott Turow meets the X-Files. The only feedback I’ve gotten from an agent so far was along the following lines: agents would be fighting over this IF it didn’t have aliens. In other words, if it was a straightforward legal thriller, my chances would be better.

Granted, that’s just one opinion. But I’ve gotten a number of form rejections that make me wonder if other agents may have had the same reaction to my submission. If so, my question is: why? My cousin who owns an independent bookstore says hybrids are “hot” right now. One of my favorite short story authors, Kelly Link, agrees. Here’s what she said in this month’s Locus:

There’s a lot of energy in the hybrid forms. . . . It’s good news—for writers like me, at least—that mainstream and genre are colliding so productively. It’s harder to separate mainstream from genre when someone like Junot Diaz writes a book like The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. There are growing numbers of mainstream editors who grew up reading Tolkien and watching the Lord of the Ring movies.

I recognize that finding a literary agent is tough no matter how “hot” your genre (or combination of genres), but I sure hope there’s an agent out there who is aware of this trend and is willing to take a look at my work.

09 November 2007

Originality, Multiple Ideas

I have been REALLY impressed with the submissions we've been receiving at Electric Spec . The quality and the quantity has been amazing. (More on that later from Dave.) Thank you, Authors!

What this means, however, is we are looking for stories that have something special. The 'three legs of the stool', as Betsy would say, have to be solid and there has to be something more. In my opinion, originality can really differentiate a story. Do you have an idea no one else does? If not, get one. :)

I also think an excellent story needs to deal with more than one idea, both an internal and an external arc at a minimum. I'll give you an example. Last night I reread Oceanic by Greg Egan. Wow. This piece deals with several ideas including family dynamics, gender exchange (!), religion and its origins and genetic engineering all set on a unique world. I'll say it again: Wow.

My last opinion of the day is writers need to read and think about what they read.

06 November 2007

2007 World Fantasy Awards

Congratulations to the 2007 World Fantasy Award winners! They include:
  • Novel: Soldier of Sidon by Gene Wolfe
  • Novella: "Botch Town", Jeffrey Ford (The Empire of Ice Cream)
  • Short Fiction: "Journey Into the Kingdom", M. Rickert (Fantasy and Science Fiction May 2006)
  • Anthology: Salon Fantastique, Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, eds.
  • Artist: Shaun Tan
  • Life Achievement: Betty Ballantine and Diana Wynne Jones
Read more about them at SFWA News: 2007 World Fantasy Awards.

05 November 2007

little or no dialog

Recently, I rejected some stories submitted to Electric Spec, which among other things, had little or no dialog. The first few pages were descriptions and telling the reader what was happening. This rarely works in a short story. Often it leaves the reader with one of the three necessary quantities: plot, characterization, and setting.

Writers, take an honest look at your stories. Do you have a coherent and original plot? Have you created realistic, interesting, flawed characters? Is your setting unique and fully fleshed-out? If not, try another draft. Good luck!

04 November 2007

Turnaround Times

Or: Insights On The Ironic Aspects Of Editing.

Regular submitters may notice we're taking a little longer to get back to you on your stories. The reasons are two-fold: we're down to three editors and our submission rates are way up! Good things for our readers, more work for our editors, and maybe a little trying for our submitters.

Lesley and Dave and I all write and have day jobs besides the lucrative side project otherwise known as Electric Spec. Even me, if you count being a mom as a day job. 12 hours per week just on soccer alone! I know, cry me a river.

Point being: we are trying to keep on top of our inboxes. I can't speak for the other two (though I sorta am, here, now) but I've not had an empty inbox since I don't know when, and the situation is unlikely to change. I try to read for at least one long session weekly (ok, ten days) and leave only stories within two weeks of submission. For instance, the oldest story in my inbox left after tonight's reading session is dated Oct 21. I'm cutting it close on that one. But I read over half the stories in my box.

Not only that, I'd say the overall quality of submissions is quite fine. I rarely reject a story because it's poorly written, and tonight's session only revealed one story that completely lacked speculative elements. So, reading takes longer. I find myself studying stories more closely, and then I'm left to siphon the cream off some rich milk. In other words, the reading sessions take more concentration than ever before. I know you're probably a writer, so math isn't your thing, but humor me by attempting a short word problem, color-coded for your convenience.

The editor has two inboxes. One contains 20 fabulous stories. The other contains 3 fabulous stories and 17 slightly-less-than-fabulous stories. The editor has only an hour in which to read each inbox. Which inbox will the editor complete?

Yes, good job, the answer is:

Thanks For Your Patience!

01 November 2007

BIG changes for the New Year at Electric Spec

After extensive deliberation, some tears, and no small amount of bribing, The Editors have agreed to change the publication dates for Electric Spec. As of 2008, our publication dates will be February 28, June 30, and October 31 (Boo!). This move is to avoid previous complications like New Year's Eve hangovers and back-to-school shopping.

Yeah, I know you thought We Editors were like teachers, who live in their classrooms, and who, in fact, cease to exist when students aren't around, but we're not. We're The Editors. We live in the real world, otherwise known as the Internet.

Please mark your calendars accordingly and The Editors regret any inconvenience.

prc files uploaded

I uploaded the prc files for the most recent issue of Electric Spec. Sorry for the delay.

In other production-related news, we are thinking of shifting the publication dates a bit starting in 2008. Stay tuned...