31 March 2008

Stoker Award Winner

The Bram Stoker Awards were announced this past weekend at this year's World Horror Convention in Salt Lake City. The short fiction winner was: “The Gentle Brush of Wings” by David Niall Wilson. Locus Online has more info. Congrats to all the winners!

Don't forget to send Electric Spec your horror stories!

30 March 2008

What is He Thinking?

I have a critique partner who often writes the comment "What is he (she) thinking?" in the margins of the submissions she is reviewing. It's a good reminder. As a writer, you should always know what the characters in your scenes are thinking, and your reader should have a good idea what your protagonist is thinking. Sometimes, even unconsciously, we writers get away from our characters' thoughts. Common reasons for this are (1) we are concentrating so much on the plot that we plunge forward with the action and forget everything else; (2) explaining our characters' emotions is too dang difficult, so we cheat and try to leave it to our reader's imagination. 

In many instances, however, leaving out our character's thoughts is a mistake. The advantage of first person or close third person POV is that the reader "becomes" the protagonist. Readers can't become the protagonist they are not in the character's head, following the important thoughts.  And the complex thoughts and emotions are  the most interesting. So go deep and show those thoughts--it may just turn a good story into a great one.

29 March 2008

On one of my writing loops, someone asked how much of a role to give her bit players. Now this was in reference to an epic fantasy novel, which often has a "cast of thousands." As for short stories, a lot of the advice we hear amounts to "less is more." With this in mind, peopling our stories effectively is perhaps one of the most difficult things we do. One of my longer short stories has a cast of about fifteen identified characters, with others milling about. I thought about cutting it back, but the protag is a soldier in an army. He has only his own head for privacy. The story needs to feel crowded.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, I've read stories with one character: the protagonist. This is rarely enough because the most interesting antagonist is an actual character. But whether you prefer a minimalist approach or a more populated cast, one thing is clear. Every character must serve to forward the plot, setting, and characterization. The test: if a character is removed, can the story still progress? If so, kill that darling.

28 March 2008

Earth Hour

At the risk of blogging too much about enviromental stuff...
Are you going to participate in Earth Hour? On March 29, 2008 at 8 p.m., join millions of people around the world in making a statement about climate change by turning off your lights for Earth Hour, an event created by the World Wildlife Fund.

Earth Hour was created by WWF in Sydney, Australia in 2007, and in one year has grown from an event in one city to a global movement. In 2008, millions of people, businesses, governments and civic organizations in nearly 200 cities around the globe will turn out for Earth Hour.

Join people all around the world in showing that you care about our planet and want to play a part in helping to fight climate change.

Join me in the dark! :) Hhm. Lots of story ideas here...

27 March 2008

your biggest obstacle?

Today's the last day of Pulse Blogfest, where 120 Simon & Schuster authors answer questions. Today's question is "What was the biggest obstacle you faced in becoming an author and how did you overcome it?" The answers are interesting. Click it out! :)

What's your biggest obstacle?

Some of the archives are also particularly interesting:
Tips for aspiring authors, Have you ever written something that made you feel uncomfortable?, Do books you read inspire what you write?, etc.

25 March 2008

Science update: Antarctic shelf

From today's BBC News: Antarctic shelf 'hangs by thread'. "A chunk of ice the size of the Isle of Man has started to break away from Antarctica in what scientists say is further evidence of a warming climate." and "Professor David Vaughan of BAS said 'I didn't expect to see things happen this quickly. The ice shelf is hanging by a thread - we'll know in the next few days or weeks what its fate will be.'"
Wired also has an article on this: Huge Chunk of Antarctic Ice Breaks Loose.

Uh oh.

Send Electric Spec your global warming story!

24 March 2008

Award news

The results of the 2007 British Science Fiction Association (BSFA)
awards were announced March 22, 2008 during Orbital, the British
national science fiction convention (aka Eastercon), at the Radisson
Edwardian Hotel in London. The winner for BEST SHORT FICTION was "Lighting Out" by Ken MacLeod (from disLocations; Newcon Press). Read more about it at SFWA. Congratulations to all the winners.

Denvention 3, the 66th World Science Fiction Convention to be held August 6-10, 2008, in Denver, has released this year's Hugo Awards nominations. There were 483 valid nominating ballots. The nominees for Best Short Story are:
  • “Last Contact” by Stephen Baxter (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Solaris Books)
  • “Tideline” by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s 6/07)
  • “Who’s Afraid of Wolf 359?” by Ken MacLeod (The New Space Opera, HarperCollins/Eos)
  • “Distant Replay” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s 4/07)
  • “A Small Room in Koboldtown” by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s 4/07, The Dog Said Bow-Wow, Tachyon)
Congratulations to all the nominees.
The ElectricSpec Editors hope to see you at WorldCon 2008!

21 March 2008

Tips for authors

I went through a bunch of submissions yesterday. Thank you for submitting to Electric Spec! Since we can't do personalized rejections, I have some general tips for authors:
  • your story should not consist of ONLY dialog
  • your story should contain some dialog
  • your story should make sense and the reader should be able to understand it, e.g. What is the point of the story? Or: Why does the protag have super powers? Or: Is the protag attacked by a vampire or an alien? etc.
  • your story should have a plot arc (something needs to happen, and hopefully the protag makes it happen)
  • your story should not have really bizarre formatting
  • your story should not be a cliche. This means vampires, werewolves, aliens, other planets, space operas, robots, androids, genetic experiments, transformations, ghosts, magic, witches/wizards, etc. MUST HAVE A NEW TWIST.
  • the ending of your story should not be obvious in the first paragraph

I could go on, but I don't want to seem overly negative. The quality of our submissions is generally good.
We've said it before, but it's worth saying again. A good story combines at least two things and they mesh perfectly. This could be an internal and external plot, or a "cliched" story with humor to make a spoof, or a combination of "cliches", or your-idea-here.
Good luck!

20 March 2008

interesting advice

Found via fellow blogger and writer Josephine Damian's blog:

quoted from a crime writer named Benjamin Schultz (RIP), in particular about short stories, edited here for brevity.

...Generally, they are time-bound tales; the clock is ticking; something terrible must be averted. I use time to compress my stories, to give them shape and limit. As such they function as mini-thrillers. Pace is very important. You have to lay out the challenge, introduce the protagonist and get moving. Without that, the heart will not race. Many stories begin with the hero ALREADY engaged in the central action of the story...

...Time also provides the pressure for Hemingway’s dictum “Courage is grace under pressure.” What is that “grace?” For me, and my characters, it’s the ability to keep a clear head and fashion effective actions when there are very high stakes, and “failure is not an option.” It’s also the ability to keep a clear moral compass, when the gales of seduction and danger threaten to throw you of course. That’s a tall order for twenty pages. So economy of language is important; you don’t have any words to waste. Misdirection to the reader to preserve suspense is often the result of ambiguity in the text. Ambiguity is achieved by precision of expression. What is revealed and what is omitted, and how that is done. These were elements I had to learn and relearn as I wrote short stories; pace, economy, precision...

...The major dangers of genre fiction are cliché and boredom. A genre’s conventions are a contract. Like all contracts, they tell you what is the MINIMUM you can expect from the tale – not the maximum. The minimum is a Sisyphean reading experience – you push the same tale with the same characters up that damn hill. Style, a unique way of telling the story, provides freshness and vitality too not-so-novel plots or characters. For me, I try to use dialogue and metaphors to make the story fresh; to put memorable lines in my characters’ mouths; provide resonant images for the readers’ minds, and pithy insights into the human condition. When successful, these tools create a depth to the story without adding length or slowing the pace...

18 March 2008

Rest in Peace, Arthur

I'm very sorry to say I just heard Arthur C. Clarke has died in Sri Lanka at the age of 90. :(
I'm sure all the Electric Spec editors, writers and readers will join me in saying this is a sad day indeed. Arthur was one of the science fiction greats. We'll miss him. Read more about it in The LA Times, or in USA Today, or elsewhere (post your links in the comments).

Rest in peace, Arthur.

17 March 2008

Match It For Pratchett

You may have heard Terry Pratchett announced Thursday, March 13 at the Alzheimer's Research Trust 9th Annual Conference in Bristol, UK that he will donate one million dollars to Alzheimer's research at the University of Bradford. At the conference he said, "Ladies and Gentlemen. My name is Terry Pratchett, author of a series of inexplicably successful fantasy books and I have had Alzheimer's now for the past two years plus, in which time I managed to write a couple of bestsellers..." "It's a shock and a shame, then, to find out that funding for research is three per cent of that which goes to find cancer cures..." "So let's shout something loud enough to hear. We need you and you need money. I'm giving you a million dollars. Spend it wisely." Read more about it at SFWA news.

Science fiction author Pat Cadigan has responded to the announcement with a challenge to Terry Pratchett's many fans and friends to "Match it for Pratchett" and contribute toward Alzheimer's disease research. She points out that it would take only a couple of dollars each from 1/2 million people to match Pratchett's generous pledge.

Let's match it for Pratchett!

14 March 2008

Good books

One good way to improve your writing is ..reading. Shocking, I know. :)

Here are some books to check out if you haven't already, the 6 novels on the
Arthur C. Clarke Award short list:
  • The Red Men by Matthew de Abaitua - Snow Books
  • The H-Bomb Girl by Stephen Baxter - Faber & Faber
  • The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall - Faber & Faber
  • The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall - Canongate
  • The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod - Orbit
  • Black Man by Richard Morgan - Gollancz

The Arthur C. Clarke Award is a juried award that presented annually for the best science fiction novel of the previous year. The winner will receive a cash prize of 2008 Pounds ($4,058 US) along with a commemorative engraved bookend.

The winner will be announced on Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at an award ceremony held on the opening night of the Sci-Fi-London Film Festival.

Congrats to all the nominees!

Rest In Peace, Gary

I'm sure some of our Electric Spec readers and authors got into speculative fiction via Dungeons & Dragons. Sad news...

Gary Ernest Gygax, who co-created the fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, died Monday, March 5 in his home at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, following several years of health problems including an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He was 69.

Along with Dave Arneson, Gygax developed Dungeons & Dragons in the early 1970s. They founded TSR. The game was played by millions and spun off magazines, books, movies and video games which lead some of those enthusiasts to read fantasy literature by authors such as Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and others. Many of todays authors credit Dungeons & Dragons with inspiring them to start writing.

Gypax wrote several associated books, as well as many fantasy novels, including the Greyhawk Adventures Series of novels and the Sagard the Barbarian sequence which were written with Flint Dille. Gypax's first fiction novel was an alternate history written with Terry Stafford titled Victorious German Arms: An Alternate Military History of World War II.

Rest In Peace, Gary.

07 March 2008

Great Dialogue

I hate to admit it, but I see very few stories these days (published or in the slush) that have cracklin' dialogue. You know, the kind where you can't believe what the character just said, and you can't wait to see what comes out of her mouth next. The kind that sounds completely realistic, yet unique with a rhythm and style all its own.

Well, if you want to see it done well, go see the movie Juno. (Actually, I loved everything about the movie, so go see it before it's gone.) Listen closely to the dialogue. Every line is well-crafted and fitting. The slang is different yet believable and understandable. Even the metaphors similes are twisted just a little, to add texture a flavor. Here's a sample:

Punk Receptionist: Would you like a free condom? They're boysenberry. 
Juno MacGuff: No, thanks. I'm off sex right now. 
Punk Receptionist: My boyfriend wears them every time we have intercourse, it makes his junk smell like pie. 

And another one (about Juno's mother in Arizona):

Juno MacGuff: Oh, and she inexplicably mails me a cactus every Valentine's Day. And I'm like, "Thanks a heap coyote ugly. This cactus-gram stings even worse than your abandonment." 

And another:

Su-Chin: I'm having a little trouble concentrating. 
Juno MacGuff: Oh well I could sell you some of my Adderall if you want. 
Su-Chin: No thanks I'm off pills. 
Juno MacGuff: That's a wise choice because I knew this girl who like had this crazy freak out because she took too many behavioral meds at once and she like ripped off her clothes, and dove into the fountain at Ridgedale Mall and was like, "Blah I am a Kracken from the sea!" 
Su-Chin: I heard that was you. 

For more free samples (no, not condoms, dialogue), go to IMBD.

06 March 2008

Master of his universe

I can't help mentioning a fascinating article I read on guardian.co.uk: Master of his universe, about Stephen Hawking. Probably most of our Electric Spec readers and authors are familiar with Hawking's science, but Rachel Cooke's article does an excellent job conveying what it's like to interact with the man, and giving us an idea of the man himself. Click it out!

04 March 2008

Nebula final ballot

I see the 2007 Nebula Awards Final Ballot is out. And the nominees for short story are...
  • "Unique Chicken Goes In Reverse" - Duncan, Andy (Eclipse 1: New Science Fiction And Fantasy, Night Shade Books, Oct07)
  • "Titanium Mike Saves the Day" - Levine, David D. (F&SF, Apr07)
  • "Captive Girl" - Pelland, Jennifer (Helix: A Speculative Fiction Quarterly, Fall06 Issue #2)
  • "Always" - Fowler, Karen Joy (Asimov's, apr/may07)
  • "Pride" - Turzillo, Mary (Fast Forward 1, Pyr, February 2007)
  • "The Story of Love" - Nazarian, Vera (Salt of the Air, Prime Books, Sep06)

Congrats to all the nominees! Huzzah!

For some other excellent short spec fiction, check out the new Electric Spec issue!

03 March 2008

Slush Roundup

Now that the issue is out, I've turned my attention back to our neglected slush. Some magazines close in the months prior to publication. We choose not to, mostly because we're writers, too, and we know how annoying it is to keep up on various requirements, much less which slush is open when. The flipside is that a writer has to wait longer to get a response from Electric Spec at certain times of the year. I aim for a 3-4 week turn around, and I have stories from January--eek! So, I'm reading now, and it occurred to me, reading last night, that knowing some of the problems I found could be helpful to writers out there. I know reading these sorts of things helps me--a great blog for this (on the topic of novels) is agent Nathan Bransford. But don't go there yet; I've got more to say here.

In general, your competition here at Electric Spec is tough. Our submission rates are up and the writing is solid. Grammar is correct; spellcheckers were turned on. It makes our slush a joy to read and decisions tough to make. So we get down to hooks and cleverness and that singularly most obnoxious requirement: grabbing your editor. I read ten stories last night and held only one. Many problems were beyond the "grab factor". This collection had legitimate, fixable problems and I thought it might be helpful to review the problems in a general sense.

In the realm of endings: I figured out two early on, and one felt coy even upon second reading. The story carried me to a climax I didn't understand--most frustrating.

One story was a story of someone telling a story. (Say that three times fast.) Despite the intreresting voice, I didn't understand why I needed to see the action filtered through an inactive protag. If we'd seen the action as it had happened to the character telling the story, I would have found this creative plot more intriguing.

Another piece leaned heavily on the character leg of the stool, but the characters weren't developed enough to make it quite work. Telling is tough to avoid when not much actually happens.

A few were traditional, stereotypical fantasy fare--solid writing and even included vaguely original takes on trope. (Hey, I love me some dwarves and elves and warriors. I like trope.) However, in one, I saw missed opportunities for deeper originality. And the other didn't quite stick by the rules of troped characters. If you're going to stretch a trope, push it to the outer limits. It can always be reeled in later. What doesn't work for me is ala carte trope. Makes it feel a bit...convenient.

The story I did hold? An anti-hero just trying to survive who gets everything he deserves.

Hopefully this indicates some of the problems I see on a regular basis. Most of all, I hope it helps you drive your stories into our pages. Keep 'em coming!