30 June 2008

We're Live!

And we're live! Check out the new issue of Electric Spec! Thank you authors and editors for your hard work!

26 June 2008

The Setting Leg

Regular readers know I espouse resting my stories on a three-legged stool of plot, character, and setting. I didn't invent the notion, and I'd give credit, but I have no idea who did. : ) Anyway, there's been some discussion in various internet quarters about plot v character and which should come first in your consideration. I've been surprised to see setting so neglected in these discussions. For spec fic purposes, I believe grounding readers in the story's world is essential, because spec fic always takes place in another world or a variation of this one. In fact, if I had to pick one aspect that draws spec fic readers, I'd say they come to visit new places where extraordinary things happen.

Dave spoke recently about developing ideas to their fullest, and sometimes in short stories, world-building gets short thrift, because we don't have a lot of words to spend. I see this most in urban fantasies where the writer assumes the reader is grounded because it takes place on this planet--even if it is a planet inhabited by werewolves (which are apparently in, if our inbox is any indication). But there are ways to show this strange new world your characters inhabit that don't take up a lot of real estate on the page.

--Dialogue. How do your characters relate to each other? Not like you and I would in ordinary conversation, I hope! How do they show respect; what constitutes an insult? What does their slang sound like? What are the little shortcuts or accents or usage that sets them firmly inside their world?

--Focus on the most important elements that make your world different. You should know of several, but what are the two or three that inform the reader they're not in Kansas anymore?

-- Attraction. What makes for a physically attractive "person" in your world and why? What are valued qualities based on world conditions? (Clue: use them in characters you want the reader to admire).

--Speaking of values: how does your world condition affect personal values? I'm reading DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? right now. In the Real World most everyone I know has a dog or a cat. We all value our pets, of course. But Dick elevates the rather common phenomenon of domesticated animal to status symbol and it says things about his world without exposition.

--When your character is confronted with a crisis, what is the one thing he or she might do that ties her to her world? A Christian might cross himself, a sailor might curse. What does your character do that sets him firmly in his world?

--And while we're on the topic of crisis, is yours intrinsic to your world? The most interesting crises can only happen in the world where they're set.

These are just a few ideas of many; I'm sure you can come up with more. A final note: don't explain. Just show your characters behaving as they should in their world and the reader will catch on.

25 June 2008

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror...

I just read about "The Saturn Awards". (They have nothing to do with the car company.) These are annual awards given out by The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, a nonprofit organization founded in 1972. I must admit, I've never heard of this organization... Have you? (If so, please comment. What's the scoop?)
Our next issue of Electric Spec has an article about their Best Fantasy Movie pick (good job, Marty)! Check it out on June 30! :)

Five More Days...

Savvy Electric Spec readers and writers know that the next issue goes live in only five more days! Check it out on June 30, 2008!

Writing on Reading: Art and Physics

I don't normally post reviews of my nonfiction reading, but I couldn't resist talking about Art and Physics by Leonard Schlain. This book is a huge undertaking, basically going through the entire history of physics and art (mostly painting). It took me more than a month to get through it, which is a lot for me (I can usually finish a novel in about a week). The time was well spent, however. Schlain is a physician by training, so he does a great job talking about complex topics in an accessible way. I learned a great deal about both subjects, especially in the areas of modern art and quantum physics. It was also interesting following Schlain's premise: cutting edge artists expressed new developments in physics before they occurred. 
For those of you who write science fiction, books like Schlain's can be enlightening and inspiring. In fact, I've already written one story based on an idea from the book. So, for those of you who want some heavy summer reading, I highly recommend Art and Physics.

23 June 2008

Chat with Kevin J. Anderson

Dune prequel author Kevin J. Anderson will be chatting with people at the Writers of the Future forum tomorrow (June 24). Kevin will discuss topics such as work habits, characterization in spec fic, submitting to the Writers of the Future Contest (he's a judge), and building a plot. Should be an interesting discussion!

Locus Award winners

Winners of this year's Locus Awards, voted by readers of Locus Magazine in the annual Locus Poll, were were announced June 21, 2008, at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Seattle, at an event led by Master of Ceremonies Connie Willis. The winner for short story was:
"A Small Room in Koboldtown", Michael Swanwick (Asimov's Apr/May 2007). Read more about it at www.locusmag.com. Congratulations to all the nominees and all the winners!

22 June 2008

A Final Trim . . .

One of the most common changes I make as I edit stories at Electric Spec are what can be described as "final trims." Even the best stories can often be made just a little tighter by cutting unnecessary sentences, clauses, and words. Authors sometimes have blind spots about these until they are pointed out by someone else, but it's worth trying to find them before you submit to a magazine. Some of the most common areas where trimming is necessary are:

  • Info. repetition. In a short story, information about plot, character, world-building, or setting should only be given once. Also, information that can be inferred from the story should not be "told" by the author--trust your reader and assume he or she will "get it." If you tell or show us on page one that sprites live in the clouds and only come out at night, don't remind us again on page 6.
  • "Walk the dog" actions. Sometimes authors include details that are not critical to the story and only serve to slow things down. For example, if a character is taking his dog for a walk, we probably don't need to know that he called the dog, got out the collar, put the collar on the the dog, clipped the leash to the collar, opened the door, stepped outside, closed the door behind him, etc, etc. Yawn!
  • Unnecessary or distracting detail. In the above example, if you include a long description for the leash, i.e. "the leash was covered with pink and purple swirls of color that flashed in the sun as dog and master walked down the street," then there should be a reason why that description is there. If we never hear about the leash again, why did we need to know so much about it? I see this a lot with eye colors of minor characters. Who cares if the waiter in the restaurant has blue eyes? This is a tougher one to spot than the previous two bullets, but I do see it a lot.
  • Adjective overkill. "The dark disk floated in the blue sky. It was as black as night against the azure backdrop, like a lapis boat floating on an aquamarine lake." Okay, this is an exaggeration, but you get the picture. Pick your best adjective and move on. 
So, before you sent off you story ask yourself--"What can I trim?"

18 June 2008

AFI's #1 sci-fi movie is 2001

At the beginning of the month, I blogged about 2001: A Space Odyssey. I thought I'd give you an update, namely, the American Film Institute declared this movie the best sci-fi movie of all time. Maybe you saw this on TV last night? If not, read more: here.
It's a difficult job to compare movies from different times; the historical context of a movie is important when judging it. Nonetheless, I don't agree with AFI's choice. What do you think? What's the best sci-fi movie of all time? (My fave is Star Wars: Ep IV)

Speaking of movies...our next issue of Electric Spec has another intriguing "Spec Fic in Flicks" article. This time, Marty will be discussing a recent fantasy movie. Check it out on June 30!

17 June 2008

I Love Working with Pros

As an editor at Electric Spec, I've worked with authors from around the world and in a huge variety of subgenres and voices. You know who my favs are? The professionals. How do I define a professional? Not the same way SFFWA does. No, I don't care how many sales an author had or to whom. Instead, I consider a professional author one who can understand and accept editorial changes and feedback, one who understands working with a deadline and therefore responds quickly, and, most of all, one who is kind and courteous in his or her interactions with the editor.

We've been lucky at Electric Spec. The vast majority of our authors are pros. The rest? Well, they have an important lesson to learn before they are truly successful.

16 June 2008

SFWA contest=fraud

There's been some buzz about a writing contest supposedly sponsored by SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.). This contest is bogus, hence the buzz. SFWA says it "never runs writing contests of this sort". Read more about it.

I find this whole thing rather odd, don't you? The perp was asking for a $10 fee--how are they going to get rich with that? And how did said perp think they could get away with it?

There's a good story in here somewhere...

13 June 2008

WaterStone's postcards

I can't resist linking to the Waterstone (British bookstore chain) postcards. They say "To celebrate the National Year of Reading, 13 world-class authors including JK Rowling, Doris Lessing, Neil Gaiman and Irvine Welsh have told us their story, and we'd love you to tell us yours." Personally, I loved the Rowling and Gaiman stories! Click them all out here. Which is your favorite? :)

ooh..Friday the 13th. Spooky.

The next issue of Electric Spec will go live on Jun 30! It looks great! We have six awesome stories and some fabulous features! Be sure to check it out. :)

An Editor's job is never done, however, and we are starting to think about the next issue which will go live on October 31, 2008. Thus, it seems appropriate to say today, Friday the 13th (Boo!), that we would LOVE to get some fantastic horror and macabre for that issue. Writers, start your muses!

12 June 2008

Sturgeon Award finalists

Finalists for the Theodore Sturgeon Award have been announced by the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas. The Sturgeon Award is for the best short science fiction of the previous year. The juried awards will be presented on July 11th. And the finalists are (drum roll, please):
  • Laird Barron "The Forest"
  • Elizabeth Bear "Tideline"
  • Ted Chiang "The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate"
  • Jeffrey Ford, "The Dreaming Wind"
  • Karen Joy Fowler "Always"
  • Kij Johnson "The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs Of North Park After the Change"
  • Gwynneth Jones "The Tomb Wife"
  • John Kessel "The Last American"
  • Ian R. McLeod "The Master Miller's Wife"
  • David Moles "Finistera"
  • Johanna Sinisalo "Baby Doll"
  • Gene Wolfe "Memorare"

Congratulations to all the nominees!

And read more about the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas in my 2007 Electric Spec Interview of James E. Gunn. :)

10 June 2008

of vampires and werewolves, part II

Lesley asked the question in an earlier post, what makes vampires and werewolves so popular these days? I think this type of urban fantasy straddles the edge of what can be read by someone without feeling he or she must bear the stigma of being a "geek" or "nerd." Many readers love speculative elements in their fiction, but (subconsciously or not) avoid the fantasy and sci-fi shelves because "only geeks read that stuff." On the other hand, it is somehow okay to read horror (aka supernatural dark suspense) or sci-fi that has been labeled as a techno-thriller (can you say Jurassic Park?).

Beginning with Anne Rice, the idea of "serious" popular fiction having speculative elements started to become "cool." Steven King has also helped nudge the fantasy envelope with this Dark Tower series. Let's hope that the vampires and werewolves continue to bring readers to speculative fiction, and that sci-fi and fantasy become "cool"--or more people don't give a damn about what's cool, so long as they enjoy what they are reading.

09 June 2008


I would call both stories I'm editing for the next issue perfect examples of "keyhole stories" . And it's worth noting both came in around 3000 words.

I steal the notion from Barth Anderson, author of PATRON SAINT OF PLAGUES and THE MAGICIAN AND THE FOOL. (He's also appeared in our pages.) He 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. They're like peeking through a keyhole ... more often than not, novels are the whole room. A novel rifles through the drawers and reads the diary under the bed, but a short story is just a tiny viewing through one small aperture, and that's all.

This sounds like world building, and to an extent it is, but it also refers neatly to plot, as well. We only get to see those pivotal events, short and dirty, that directly affect the outcome of the story. All else is ruthlessly thrown in the hamper (to keep the painful metaphor going).

As editors, we're learning that shorter is often better, not because we have short attention spans, but because those shorter works often show a mastery of the form, of storytelling. And really, how many pages will your reader kneel there, eye pressed to the keyhole, before he gets a crick in his neck?

08 June 2008

How Far Can You Take It?

As always, the editors at Electric Spec had lots of interesting discussions as we decided on the final stories for our next issue. One topic that came up quite a bit was stories falling short of their potential. Lots of times, authors introduce a great world-building idea, some device or twist that we have not seen before. Nonetheless, the story falls a little short. Why? The author does not think through all of the implications of the idea. It is one thing to introduce a concept, it is another to explore it in some depth. For example, if a story involves time travel, it should address--or at least hint at--how that time travel is going change the word, not just one or two characters. 

Anyhow, we were able to agree on six great stories for our next issue. Thank you, authors, for making our job of deciding which stories to pick so tough!

06 June 2008

Writing on Reading: 2001 A Space Odyssey & Intelligent Design

I recently reread Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968. Haven't read it? Get thee to a library! This is a story in three parts: 1.) three million year B.C. when a monolith inspires the hominid ancestors of human beings to conceive of tools thereby awakening intelligence and leading to us; 2.) 2001 when humans on the moon have discovered a monolith--which sends a transmission to outer space; 3.) 18 months later, on a mission to Saturn, HAL-the-computer goes crazy, David Bowman enters a monolith and becomes the star child. This is classic SF at its best, full of gadgets, geeky old white men, and wonder.I also read "The Sentinel" by Clarke from 1948--which he wrote for a BBC competition and lost! (Take heart authors!) This story is basically part 2 of 2001 above. I enjoyed it more than 2001 because the first-person pov makes it much easier to identify with the protag. I also recently watched the 1968 movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, which follows the novel closely. I would have to say while there is a lot of 'wonder' in this film, it does not hold up for modern audiences (it is s-l-o-w).

Anyway, I find the central theme of these works, i.e. aliens are responsible for the evolution of homo sapiens rather disappointing. In fact, this could be considered to a form of Intelligent Design!

Purely by chance, I read another book lately that supports Intelligent Design, albeit of a quite different kind, Black Order, 2005, by James Rollins. Dave blogged about this in May. This is a rollicking thriller set primarily in Europe with Nazis, spy-types, and bizarre science experiments. It really reminded me of Dan Brown's stuff--but better. Anyway, the main idea here is "quantum evolution": human minds via quantum mechanics actually cause the beneficial mutations that lead to evolution! I had never heard of this idea, but it is also clearly a type of Intelligent Design.

Who knew there were so many Intelligent Design versions out there!

Do you know of any others? (Besides the obvious!)

05 June 2008

of vampires and werewolves...

We have a number of finalist stories this time featuring vampires or werewolves (or vampires AND werewolves). Since they are finalists, they are well-written. Kudos, authors! I must admit however, I am a bit surprised by the influx of vamps and were. Have we published a lot of these stories in the past? No. Have we published ANY of these in Electric Spec? I'm having trouble thinking of any...

Personally, I find the vamp/were thing somewhat mystifying. They are SO popular now, especially in novels. I wonder why that is. Do they symbolize/represent the wild animal/evil inside humans? Or is it something else? What do you guys think?

03 June 2008

Wow. Excellent hold stories

For those of you waiting to hear back about your story 'On Hold', we have our big Electric Spec production meeting on Friday (6/6), so hang in there! I have to say all the stories on hold are very good. Congratulations authors! We feel honored to get so many good submissions! If your story did not get held for voting, don't despair: competition was very fierce.

We try to be fair and quantitative with our final decisions and assign each story on hold a numerical score. This time around, we editors have quite different rankings. Dave thinks it's because all the stories are so good.

Perusing the rankings, I can see some patterns... I guess I'll just talk about my own rankings --I wouldn't want to make my fellow editors cranky! :) One thing I appreciated was beautiful writing. This is writing that flows lyrically, writing that makes you feel like you ARE in the head of the unique protagonist. Another thing I always enjoy is a unique idea. This time we had some strange and wonderful problems with human culture and extrapolations of human society. I ranked those story highly.

Our next issue is live on June 30, 2008 and whatever stories we choose, it looks excellent!