28 February 2008

And We're Live!

And We're Live! The new issue is available just in time for your lunchtime reading! Woo hoo!

Thank you so much to all our authors, artists, and behind-the-scenes folks. We couldn't do it without you. You rock!

27 February 2008

New Issue Almost Here!

The new issue of Electric Spec is almost here! The first issue of 2008 will go live within 24 hours and it is jam-packed with goodness! We have seven excellent stories! We have a special feature interview of SF great Robert J. Sawyer! And we have a new movie column feature! Wow!

Stay tuned!

25 February 2008

Can Writing Be Like Method Acting?

Bets wrote an interesting post last week about pitfalls of the first person POV. While I agree first person POV has pitfalls, I think it can also hold the key to better writing. Why? The criticism many beginning writers face is that the reader does not feel "in the head" of the POV character.  I have found that the best cure to this writing problem is to get into the head of your protagonist the same way a method actor "becomes" the character he or she is playing. A method actor playing Hamlet, for example, does not wonder "how would Hamlet react" and then try to portray that reaction on stage; instead, the actor "becomes" Hamlet and lets the reactions come naturally. Similarly, the author needs to become his POV character, and then put on the page how that character reacts to and feels about the events of the plot. 

I find that it is easier to do "method writing" using first person POV rather than third person. It is easier to get into a character's head when it is the "I" being portrayed rather than the "he" or "she." Even when I write in third person, I try to think in first person and then translate the thought from first person to third. I was not able to do this type of translation until I did quite a bit of first person POV storytelling. 

So, while it is important not to "cheat" in first person POV as suggested by Bets, it is also important to keep in mind that first person POV may be the answer if you need to learn how to get in your character's head.

22 February 2008

Friday Chuckle

"Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea."

-- Robert Heinlein


20 February 2008

first person flaws

My fellow editor, Lesley, and I attended a writer's retreat in Fairplay, CO and had fun writing among so many accomplished authors. The weather barely cooperated on the day of our arrival or departure; Fairplay is at 10000 feet and driving over the pass was...interesting. Unfortunately, it cleared up so we didn't get stuck there. Darn!! But the food was excellent, the tea was hot, and I started another book after a loooong revision. Drafting is such a joy.

But enough about me. The point is, we had a discussion about first person. Hopefully I didn't tread on any toes among so many first person writers (Lesley among a few acclaimed others!) when I said my experience with first person, as a writer and an editor, has been less than stellar.

I've found my own writing suffers in first person. A good exercise is to switch a first person story to third (laborious and intensive, but good) to see if the writing really holds up, or if "voice" is getting in the way. Voice alone can rarely carry a story, and often I've found first person voice often masks flaws that would be obvious in third. Here's an example from from one of my own unsold short stories:

I allowed my horse to straggle well behind our caravan, and so I did not die. My wineskin, the only relief from the heat, had consumed my attention. But even in my drunkenness, I could not miss Armidian Royal Knights on their giant golden warhorses filling the road and braying for blood. Balesat curse them! My whip on my mare’s flank made her as determined as a maiden at a Knight’s Eve ball, but we were not quick enough.

And Third:

Braedon allowed his horse to straggle well behind their caravan, and so he did not die. His wineskin, the only relief from the heat, had consumed his attention. But even in his drunkenness, he couldn’t miss Armidian Royal Knights on their giant golden warhorses filling the road and braying for blood. Balesat curse them! His whip on his mare’s flank made her as determined as a maiden at a Knight’s Eve ball, but they were not quick enough.

I happened to love this story, but it didn't sell and didn't sell, and I finally realized how many weak verbs my First Person voice hid to my rather particular eye. FOUR in the first graph alone! And the "voice" did not translate well to third person at all. This is a natural mistake, though. Think about how you think in first person. In RL, people often use weaker verb forms in internal reflection. It's natural--we can't all go around thrusting and racing and lamenting and craving in our heads all day long. It would be exhausting. No. We think: I was late or: I need coffee. Also, we tend to think colloquially, with contractions, and in present tense. Are contractions and tense hiding poor verb choices? I'm desperate doesn't quite jump out in revisions as: He was desperate.

My advice? If you aren't selling your first person stories, check the writing itself. Does your "voice" hide flaws? Do you include unneccessary commentary or innactive verbs choices? Do contractions hide weakness or problems with tense? Try rewriting in third and see if the story holds up. If it does, send it over to ElectricSpec! We'd love to see it.

19 February 2008

Writing on Reading: D.A.

I recently read the YA novelette (?) D.A. by Connie Willis, published in 2007. It was quite good. It features Ms. Willis' fabulous voice--which I really enjoy. Her voice is particularly suited for the young female protagonist in this work; thus, characterization is excellent. The plot is also good: the protagonist is basically forced to become a space cadet against her will and, suffice to say, antics ensue. You will have to read it for yourself to find out what the mysterious title refers to. :)
If I have criticism of this work it's that it is too short. It is also quite difficult to get a hold of. If you can find it and afford it: enjoy!

18 February 2008

Money, Money, Money

There's a new article out pondering the issue of whether online genre magazines (like Electric Spec) can ever be profitable. Like many other magazines , Electric Spec is funded out of the pockets of the editors. We obviously didn't start the magazine to make money--we started it because we love short spec fiction and we thought we could do better than lots of markets out there. We've thought about trying to find ways that we could bring in revenue so that we could pay our authors more, and we're still open to ideas. Specifically, if any of you know a publisher out there that might want to partner with us, we'd be interested in hearing from you. On the other hand, we may just stay how we are. We're pretty happy with what we have now, thank you.

15 February 2008

Author Interview: David E. Hughes

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Dave. I know you are very busy, but I'm sure the stupendous honor of being selected for Editor's Corner makes it all worth it.

What was your inspiration for this story? Tell the truth, 'The Amazing Mechanical Wife', is autobiographical, right? I mean, I've met your wife and she's pretty perfect.

Hmm. Now that you mention it, she does not seem to be aging like I am, and I've wondered how she gets into some of those strange yoga poses. She also exhibits some unusual behaviors, but I always figured it was because she was from Texas. After all, George W. Bush also exhibits strange behaviors, and he's from Texas . . . . or IS he?

And your adorable kids, they're androids, too?

No, but I admit there are times I wish they had an "off" button-or at least a mute.

I'm guessing you rushed to submit this story to Electric Spec first? What are your thoughts on the short spec fic market these days?

I confess I submitted this story to some other markets first. I ended up getting lots of positive feedback, but no sales. It's tough selling spec fic stories, even to semi-pro markets. I also think humor is especially difficult to sell. I had another humor piece where the editor wrote back to me saying she liked the story, but she thought it would be stronger if I took out the humor. I did ask she asked, but have not heard whether she is going to buy it yet.

In general, what do you think a short story needs in terms of character arcs?

No matter what kind of speculative fiction story you are writing, it is critical to keep in mind that your protagonist(s) needs an arc. When I'm developing a story, I ask myself if the plot events changed the protagonist. He, she, or it needs to be a different person (or machine) than he/she/it was at the end of the story. The change does not need to be huge, but the reader needs to be able to feel it. If I don't see that change, I reexamine the story so I can discover what it's really about.

I think what I like best about this story is the ambiguity. It reminds me a little of the movie 'Total Recall' (is it real or is it Recall?). What were you trying to achieve with the story?

I wrote this story because I was thinking about the flaws in electronic communication. I wanted to see if I could write a story using only e-mails and messaging, rather than narrative or dialogue, and work in the kind of confusion that can arise when the exchange of information is hampered by the medium. Because I was telling the story using an inherently ambiguous form of communication, it seemed only right that the ambiguity remain at the end of the story.

Speaking of movies, what actor do you see playing your protagonist in the movie version of 'The Amazing Mechanical Wife'? How about the wife? Who should play her?

Since the movie would be a comedy, I'd like to see Will Farrell in the role of Theodore. As for Andra, I'd cast Kirsten Dunst. Come to think of it, maybe I should invite Kirsten over for dinner to discuss the idea. I'm sure my wife wouldn't mind, being from "Texas" and all.

Given the prevalence of pornography-- Oh, wait, you're a fine upstanding citizen, you probably don't know what that is. Pornography is images, etc. created solely for prurient purposes. Anyway, given its prevalence, do you think sex robots will actually be created some day?

Boy, you really are going far a field from my expertise, but I'll try to answer anyway. The short answer is no. It seems to me technology will continue to develop in ways that try to address human needs. Ironically, one of those needs is being in relationship with other humans. I find it interesting to think about whether technology is helping or hurting those relationships, and how it will affect relationships in the future. Networking sites such as Facebook and internet dating tools are examples of technology being used to foster human to human connections. In that way, I think technology can be successful (at least to a point). However, technology will fall flat when it comes to replacing human to human relationships with human to machine relationships. This includes the various kinds of connections humans can make: sexual, emotional, and intellectual.

I'm sorry. FedEx is at the door with a special home ...appliance delivery from Japan. I'm anxious to try him, er, it out. I have to finish this interview ASAP. Is there anything else you'd like to say to our readers?

No, I think I hear my wife calling. Something about it being recharging . . . er, dinner time.

Thanks, Dave!
Readers, check out the story in the February 28,2008 issue!

14 February 2008

Author Interview Here Tomorrow

Tune in here tomorrow for an exciting interview with author David E. Hughes, featured in the February 28,2008 Electric Spec Editor's Corner. Dave will reputedly be answering questions about strange behaviors of Texans, what protagonists need, electronic communications, and SEX! It promises to be intriguing. See you then!

12 February 2008

Writing on Reading: Jumper

I just read Jumper by Steven Gould. It was very good. I must I admit the movie previews made me curious. (However, after reading the book and seeing the movie previews, I'm thinking the book is not very much like the movie.)

In Jumper the protagonist is a teenaged-boy who can teleport. The author does an excellent job with characterization, torturing the boy (there are three specific horrible incidents), making the boy very sympathetic. Actually, it reminded me a little of Ender in Card's Ender's Game. The plot is also very good, with a very exciting last few chapters. Also, for a book published originally in 1992, Gould's awareness of middle-east terrorist factions is impressive. Kudos, Gould!

In case you're wondering why we've been 'Writing on Reading' over at Electric Spec, rather than commenting on submitted stories, I'll tell you: We haven't been reading new submissions, we've been putting together the new issue. This involves a lot of work, editing, etc. But on the bright side, the new issue will be out on February 28,2008 and it's our best ever! And yes, I know, I probably say that every time. :)
Stay tuned here for an interview at the end of the week... (more on this later)

07 February 2008

Writing on Reading: Beggars in Spain

Nancy Kress is an incredibly accomplished science fiction writer. She's won three Nebulas and a Hugo for her work, and she's a instructor at Clarion. The novel Beggars in Spain is based on Kress's novella of the same name that won the Hugo.

Overall, I thought Beggars in Spain was a good read. It is a classic example of an author taking a scientific "what if" and running with it. In this case, the "what if" is "what if we used genetic engineering to modify some humans so that they didn't have to sleep?" At first blush, it does not sound like a big deal, but when no need for sleep results in high intelligence and super longevity, it gets interesting. Kress does a great job with thematic and philosophical explorations of prejudice, community, and ambition. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy near future sci fi.

I do have (as usual) have a few criticisms. First, the book was published in 1993 (the novella in 1991), and it opens in the year 2008. I'm afraid that Kress didn't get it right in terms of how much genetic science (among other things) would develop. (If fact, there's one point where smoking is referred to as an "archaic" habit. If only we'd come that far!). The inaccurate depiction of 2008 pulled me out of the story at the beginning, but time moves quickly in the book so that the problem of catching up with the present does not last long. 

My other criticism is a bit harder to put a finger on. At various points in the book, I felt the author ticking off points in her outline. For some reason, the overall structure  felt over planned, non-organic, perhaps forced. I have no idea if Kress writes by outline or is a pantzer, but this book at least felt to me like it was outlined. (There are lots of Kress interviews on the web. If someone wants to earn bonus points, maybe they can find out and report back on the outline/pantzer issue). I'm really not sure how this issue could be addressed. Any ideas?

06 February 2008

Writing on Reading: Storm Front

I recently read Storm Front by Jim Butcher. I picked this book up because I thought it was a novel about weather. Savvy spec fic readers are laughing about now. It is actually an urban fantasy featuring a wizard living in Chicago-land. Imagine my surprise! Once I got over the shock (pun intended), I loved this book! It's the best book I've read in a long, long time.

Storm Front starts off a little slow. The first line is: "I heard the mailman approach my office door, half an hour earlier than usual." Thus we get a little dose of ordinary life before we find out Harry is a wizard. The plot builds slowly but surely to an amazing last few chapters. I stayed up way too late reading the exciting conclusion. The characterization is excellent because of the author's use of first person point-of-view. Being privy to the protag's thoughts and worries about other human beings makes him very sympathetic. The 1st-person pov also lends itself to a lot of excellent humor, e.g. the last line of chapter one is: "But just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that there isn't an invisible demon about to eat your face."

Butcher may well turn out to be my new favorite author. I look forward to reading his other books.

I must admit I did see a few episodes of a little TV show called 'The Dresden Files' and I have to say: Don't judge a book by its TV show! I think the reason the TV show didn't work as well as the book is we didn't know the humorous and sympathetic thoughts of the protag. I guess first person doesn't really work on the small or big screen? I'm trying to think of any screen examples of first person pov... The only thing I can think of is the Director's Cut of Blade Runner where we get Harrison Ford's character's voice-over (is that the right version, Renata?). And actually, I think that works pretty well.

What do you guys think? about Butcher? 1st-person pov? voice-overs? :)

05 February 2008

the four stages to a writing career

I've discovered the four steps to success, but like in AA, they're more about realization than actualization. These are stop-and-do-not-collect-$200 turns. Most of us, most of YOU, readers of this blog and submitters to our magazine, have passed the first realization, which is:

1. I can't write a book/story/article just because I went to school, have a decent command of the language, and I read.

Every step includes the realization that this is harder than it looks. But at no time is it more overwhelming than at this stop. It's so potent that many writers never get past this stage. Sometimes it's because they never quite reach it, having given their work only to people who will heartily approve of it. But more often it's because they run up against a wall of rejection and get the glimmer of understanding that the wall is always there.

But, real writers, the ones who are determined to jump off the artistic cliff, generally take a turn up De-Nile River and then run aground on the second realization:

2. I've make strides in my craft because I've pleased someone who knows real writing--in other words, someone who's not my mother, my spouse, or my administrative assistant. But, (big one) it's still not good enough. I can't sell a story to save my life, and at this point, that may very well be the goal because every rejection feels like another silver bullet in a werewolf hunter's pistol clip.

First credits are often the toughest to attain, and no, that's not because we editors scour your cover letters and automatically take those with a pro sale under their belt. (In fact, one of our editors does not read cover letters at all, so there. That's not to say you can blow it off, though, because I call the lack of a cover letter an instant striiiiike one.) A first sale means several things, mostly that the stars were in alignment, all the hosts of hell were distracted from tormenting writers by those pesky garage bands, and the world turned at just the right speed to land your work on the right editor's desk at the right time. But, and it's another big one, it also means that your craft has reached a level worthy of consideration. It means your writing is not in the way of your story, and also that you had something worthwhile and original to say. Yea, you're on your way.

But then there is the second sale. Yeah, you thought the first one was tough. Or, you might make a quick second, even third sale, even ten sales. Regardless, every writer goes through:

3. The Dreaded Dry Spell.

This shape-changer can take many forms, but its favorite is the Rejected Novel. This time it may take years for the right stars to pause overhead and hellish hosts to take a breather. It might be fun to speculate that this is much different than the other stages, but at its heart it's the same evil creature. This is when desperation, hatred for the industry, and real self-doubt sets in. You thought the first sale was tough...but dang it! You know you can write. Certain someone(s) have bought your work. But it still drags on. Most writers do not make it past this stage, I'm afraid. This is no springtime day hike. This is lost in avalanche country with a broken snowboard binding and storm clouds overhead. This is when the claws extend, nasty things are said, and writers approach hungover editors in conference hotel elevators. But perservere. Keep writing. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Submit. Because if you do, if you keep at it, if you never give up, you might just reach stage:

4. Gulp. Real Sale(s).

Congratulations. You made it--by way of regular short story sales or a novel sale. But. But. I know a lot of established authors, and security is still a slippery thing. You'd be surprised how many people get a huge contract and after, or instead , the celebration party, they sit down at their desks and think:


So, why do we do it? Why do we put ourselves though it? For the love? For the money? Ha!

It's because we must, because we have no choice. Writing is an addiction that begets more writing. It's the most fun you can have for almost free on a Saturday night, and at every stage it's just beginning. Writing is, at its purest form, hope.

04 February 2008

Jumper: book to movie

The Tor/Forge February 2008 Newsletter has some interesting comments On Watching Jumper Become A Movie
by author Steven Gould. Among them:
  • Don't judge a book by its movie.
  • Late in his career, James M. Cain, author of Mildred Pierce, Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, was asked by an interviewer, “How do you feel about what Hollywood has done to your books?” “Hollywood has done nothing to my books,” Cain replied. “They’re right over there on the shelf, exactly as I wrote them.”

Some of the stories in our upcoming Electric Spec issue would make very good movies! Check out the February 28, 2008 issue and see what you think. :) And speaking of the upcoming issue and movies, Dave has an exciting announcement. Dave?

01 February 2008

Lessing receives medal

Recall, we blogged that a spec fic author won the Nobel Prize for Lit?

Doris Lessing formally received her Nobel Prize for Literature Wednesday night. Lessing, 88, was not able to travel to Sweden for the Nobel presentation due to ill health.

"Thank you does not seem enough when you've won the best of them all," she said. "It is astonishing and amazing. I would like to say that there isn't anywhere to go from here. . . . I could get a pat on the head from the Pope."

She also said he could hear her father saying: "You're getting above yourself my girl and I don't like it."

What would you say? :)