31 July 2008

Writing on Reading: Twilight

She's a hot best selling YA novelist. Her horde of fans eagerly await the next book in her series. Midnight parties are planned at bookstores on the dates of her new releases. Who is this popular author? Stephanie Meyer, of course.
I don't read a lot of YA, but I figured I'd better see what all the fuss was about, so I picked up her first novel, Twilight. The plot of the novel is pretty simple, teen girl falls in love with vampire. As it turns out, its not a fatal combination, since the vampire she falls for happens to be a sort of vegetarian--he doesn't drink human blood, only the blood from wild animals. 
Meyer is certainly a talented writer. She does a great job capturing the voice and angst of a love- struck teenaged protagonist.  She manages to fully explore the nuances of this strange forbidden love and the problems that arise from it. I would certainly recommend this book to any YA girl I know--but nobody else. Twilight is tightly focused on its audience, and, unlike J.K. Rowling's work, is unlikely capture a large adult following. Meyer's protagonist is unique and interesting, but not somone everyone can relate to. Her problems impact her world, not the world as a whole. And there's lots of romance in the book--too much for most speculative fiction readers I know.

30 July 2008

science and expectations in SF

Betsy's comment yesterday makes me want to revisit this issue...

Re. science: One of the authors in my critique group recently wrote an SF story that prompted a lot of discussion. The gist of the discussion was this:
  1. Science in SF doesn't have to be correct, but
  2. it does have to be internally consistent.
I have thought about this quite a bit and IMHO virtually NO science in SF is correct. Many of the classic elements of the SF paradigm are wrong. For example, as far as we know there are no such things as intelligent extraterrestrials but if there were, they couldn't visit us because there's no such thing as faster-than-light travel.
So, basically anything goes except contradicting yourself. However...

Re. expectations: According to convention, one thing that differentiates SF from fantasy is SF authors are supposed to explain the events/whatever using 'scientific' terms. In fantasy, the whatever-events are not explained other than to invoke the concept of 'magic'.

Authors are free to write whatever they like as far as I'm concerned. Nonetheless, reader (and editor!) expectations can impact the success of such a story. In particular, if the protagonist of a story is a scientist, one expects some scientific explanations. How did the wormhole portal open up? How is the alien traveling back in time? How is the electrically-neutral particle being affected by electromagnetic fields? How do we have negative absolute temperatures?

The "hows" are the science, but the "whys" are the plot. We need those, too. :)

29 July 2008

Some Don't's and Do's...

I've been working through my submissions box. First of all, thank you all so much for submitting. Electric Spec really appreciates it. I have been impressed with the quality of the submissions. However, I do have some general constructive criticisms...
  • Watch out for non "said" dialog tags, e.g. "You suck," she sniffed.
  • Watch out for protagonist self-description, e.g. running fingers through "red" hair and casting "brown" eyes about.
  • Watch out for super-overdone cliches, e.g. a female monster/alien/ghost/vampire/werewolf/etc. kills her husband/lover/one-night-stand/etc.
  • Please make sense. If you read the first page of your story to your husband/lover/one-night-stand are they going to say "Huh?" or "What happens next?"
  • Please be aware of the laws of physics and do not violate them--especially if you're writing science fiction (unless you have a good reason).

Personally, I advocate stories with original ideas at our production meetings. What would I love to see? I'd love to see more stories with unique voice.

Keep those stories coming!

28 July 2008

ElectricSpec Happy Hour at WorldCon

At Electric Spec we are starting to get geared up for WorldCon next week in Denver. Here's a newsflash for blog readers (you!): ElectricSpec is hosting a happy hour from 5:00-7:00 on Friday Aug 8 in the MileHiCon suite. Editor Betsy, in particular, is jazzed about this event, so I'll let her blog about it later. I'm hoping to blog about WorldCon (almost) real-time next week during the event. Stay tuned...

At WorldCon, ElectricSpec editors will be wearing ElectricSpec t-shirts, so feel free to come up and say "Hi".

Hhm...I should probably clear out my submissions box before then. I better get to it.

24 July 2008

Cut it to the bone/everyone needs critique/step back/...

Editor Betsy touched on this in her recent post but it is worth repeating: cut out all extra bits in your short stories. Cut, cut, cut!

I freely admit this is tricky. In a story I've been working on for like a year, my critique group said recently, 'you know, you don't need this scene'. I looked at it, and they were totally right! So, perhaps I'm changing my point to: critique groups are vital.

I could summarize the whole 300-word-ish scene with one sentence! Jeesh! You'd think an editor could see this on her own. But no. It is difficult to truly see your own writing. All authors need to be able to step back from their work and try to see it objectively. So, wait, that's my point: step back from your writing. :)

Okay, I'm rambling a bit. That's okay on a blog, but NOT in a story. Maybe that's my point: don't ramble.

I'll stop now. :) But please continue to send Electric Spec your excellent (succinct/non-ramble-y) stories. Thanks!

21 July 2008

Another reading session

This weekend I read half the stories in my inbox and I did hold a couple. My favorite? One in which unrelated elements all came together at the end, building the character and world into a cohesive whole. In other words, I never saw it coming.

Based on yesterday's reading session, I would also suggest writers take a close look at lengths. We are well aware we accept stories longer than comparable zines, and heck, we like 'em. Many markets prefer to cap at 5000. Remember, though, to only use the words it takes to tell your story. In my experience, many rejected longer stories are so long not because more events fill the space between A and Z, but because of narrative and exposition that does not further the plot. We have, and will continue, to accept longer stories. But remember you do have to hold my interest longer.

I think our response times are longer this summer, for a few reasons. First, it's summer. Everyone moves slower. Also, submissions are better in quantity and quality, which is exciting because it only makes for a better magazine. Thirdly, we're entering Conference Season here in Colorado. First up, World Science Fiction Convention, fondly known locally as Denvention, held in Denver 6-10 August. The Electric Spec staff will be there every day promoting the magazine, so if you want to meet any of us, keep an eye on this space and the main Electric Spec site for forthcoming details.

Next up is Colorado Gold, 11-14 September. It's a great conference, well worth attending. A bit more intimate, and the agents and editors are always top notch and generally available for smoozing (including yours truly). I'll be speaking, so come on and see me.

Then MileHiCon, our local SciFi Con, held 24-26 October. There's always a great writing track, and the Electric Spec staff are still working out details of our participation.

16 July 2008

To tell or not to tell...

Advanced writers have had drilled into them "show, don't tell"--but is this a hard and fast rule? In the July/August 2008 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact there's a very interesting article "Hook, Lure, and Narrative: The Art of Writing Story Leads" by Richard A. Lovett. There's a lot of good information here, but I'm going to focus on only one of the rules: "Rule 2: Know when to show and when to tell." The gist of the rule is "showing isn't always better", and he gives some excellent examples, e.g. A Tale of Two Cities: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.", Stranger in a Strange Land: "Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith." Can you come up with some other good examples?

A survey of first sentences from The Best of the Best: 20 Years of the Year's Best Science Fiction shows the MAJORITY of the first sentences are telling, e.g. (quotation marks mine), "There is a principle in nature I don't think anyone has pointed out before.", "I awoke this morning to discover that bioengineering had made demands upon me during the night.", "I live in the oldest city in the world.", "Everything felt like a dream.", etc., etc.

Thus, if you want to submit a story with some telling to Electric Spec, this editor says, "Go for it!"

11 July 2008

Sexism in spec fic lit?

Author Nicola Griffith posted a provocative blog entry yesterday "fainting, shame, and obviousness", which begins by comparing the relative number of male and female authors who've been awarded Hugos and Nebulas. Do you think more women or more men have won spec fic awards? I think we all know the answer to that question! Nicola goes on at some length, even quoting Lisa Tuttle from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Check it out if you're interested in such things.

At Electric Spec, I must admit I don't pay any attention to the gender of an author. Glancing at the current issue, I see we have 75% female authors. Hhm... You might think since this is influenced by the fact we have more female editors than male. But, since our male editor is in touch with his feminine side, and since one of our female editors loves weapons/gore and general darkness/mayhem...I'm gonna say gender is totally immaterial at Electric Spec. :)

Do YOU think there's sexism in spec fic lit? If so, why?

10 July 2008

Writing on Reading: We Can Remember It for You Wholesale

I recently reread "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale", 1966, by Philip K. Dick and watched the movie based on it, "Total Recall", 1990. This short story is excellent and I recommend it. Briefly, the plot is: an ordinary guy wants to go to Mars but can't afford it, so he decides to go to a company that offers to implant secret-agent memories of Mars. When they attempt this, however, things go wrong, and it appears the fellow really is an undercover agent with suppressed memories. The government then tries to kill him because his 'cover' is blown but he makes a deal to have his Martian secret-agent memories suppressed and in compensation, will get some other false memories implanted. When they go to implant the new false memories...real memories of THOSE events are also already there! I admit I'm being vague, but I don't want to ruin it for you. The point is, there's a twist and then there's another twist! Wow! :) Rarely do you read a short story with well-executed multiple twists.

IMHO, the movie "Total Recall" is only superficially like the story, dealing with a seemingly ordinary fellow who wants to go to Mars, can't, and tries to get memory implants but all kinds of trouble ensues. Personally, I really enjoy this movie because it is very ambiguous. Did the protag experience the adventures or were they implanted memories? Was it real? Or was it Rekall? :) I have it on good authority that the director Paul Verhoeven was ambiguous on purpose.

Upon careful review, however, I have a new interpretation: I think the entire movie is a dream. Why? Because of Melina. The protag, Quaid, dreams of Melina in the first scene...what if he never wakes up? I don't see any other way for the SAME woman to appear in Quaid's dream, on Rekall's computer, and on Mars. If Melina is a real woman, Quaid could dream about her and interact with her on Mars--in this case the events are not implanted memories--but then how would she be on Rekall's computer? On the other hand, if Melina is an implanted memory, she would be on the Rekall computer and in the fake Mars events--but in that case how would she be in his dream before the protag goes to Rekall? Moreover, at the end of the movie, Quaid asks 'What if this is all a dream?' and Melina says, 'Kiss me quick before you wake up.'

What do you think?

07 July 2008

sad news: Thomas M. Disch

I was sorry to hear we lost Thomas M. Disch, an award-winning science fiction author and poet over the weekend. Thomas won the Hugo Award for best related book in 1999, and he had two other Hugo nominations and nine Nebula Award nominations to his credit, plus one win of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, a Rhysling Award, and two Seiun Awards, among others. According to Locus Online Thomas committed suicide on July 4.

What is your guide?

I am noodling a new short story right now. In the midst of some heavy novel revisions, I feel the need to draft something. I actually like the white page after staring at the same 85,000 words for awhile. I have a world with a couple of values primary to the story, a vague sense of character (that's the part that seems to write itself), and some semblence of a plot. But right now I can't start writing because the plot just isn't there. I haven't pounded out a thoughtful enough synopsis. Worst of all, I don't have an ending.

I have to see the end before I can start writing. Otherwise I end up with half a story languishing on my hard drive. Do you? If not I envy you. But I actually know very few published writers who don't know where they're headed when they start. This is not to say that they don't sometimes end up somewhere unexpected. I just mean that most published writers I know have a synopsis somewhere, be it in their head or a notecard, before they start to write. I can't find my direction within 2-5000 words without such a compass.

Do you like the stars, a compass, GPS, Mapquest? What's your guide from Point A to Point Z when writing a short story?

02 July 2008

The Nebsite

Outgoing SFWA President Michael Capobianco tells me there's a new Nebula Awards website open for beta testing. Michael says it will be focused around frequently-updated blogs and interviews and its goal is to encourage public interest in and appreciation for science fiction and fantasy literature. Electric Spec is all about those goals too! So, check out The Nebsite.