28 January 2009

Reader's Wiggle Room

Two days ago, Neil Gaiman won the Newberry for THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. I bought this middle grade book early on and read through it quickly. I love Gaiman's work and thought my 10 year old son would enjoy it, too. As soon as I can pry him away DIARY OF A WIMPY KID 3, he'll read it. And love it, no doubt. (I do love how I had to bribe him to read it with STAR WARS comics. Bwahahaha. He's succumbing to my evil plan of complete speculative fiction infiltration.)

I was excited as a fan of speculative fiction to see a fantasy win the award this year. The book starts grim, with a wet knife and a dead family, but ends on quite the note of hope. Its hero is a little boy who keeps his head through all sorts of weird adventures. I like to think it reflects the current times: measured thought and action + a little luck and help from people who love us = hope. It's well worth a read.

My favorite thing about Gaiman is the way he never, ever speaks down to the reader, whether they're 10 or 100. It's not that he never employs telling, but he leaves lots of room for a reader's personal interpretation. I try to think of my own work that way--less in terms of what I'm trying to say but more in terms of what will different readers take away? When different readers mention unintentional themes in my work, I know I've done my job as a writer.

And therein may lay the key to beating this subjective editing business. If I find something in your story that resonates with me personally, I'm likely to want to buy it. You have no idea, as a writer, what that may be. But if you leave me some wiggling room, you've got a lot better chance.

27 January 2009

Writing on Reading: The Time Traveler's Wife

I recently reread The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger from 2003. What an interesting book on several levels! The author writes in present tense and the prose is very stream-of-consciousness. Approximately 95% of the book is narrative or the protagonists thoughts--beautifully done. Clearly, this author is a gifted writer and the book is easy to devour. However, as a writer, I do have a nitpick: the minds of the two protagonists (a man and a woman!) are indistinguishable.

The book also raises some issues such as, what is genre? This book was considered "mainstream" rather than science fiction, despite the time travel. I think this is because of the writer's style (see above) and because of the sad and disturbing ending.

Upon further consideration, this story is really only a love story. The author does an excellent job showing the ups and downs of relationships between a romantic couple and among family members. The time travel is just the problem the couple deals with; any disease would do. In particular, I did not like that the time-traveling protagonist never tries to alter "fate"--at least we never see him try. His mother dies in a car accident and he visits the accident scene many times, but does he ever time-travel to an hour before and tell her not to get into the car? He knows about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in advance and doesn't try anything. Why not go to the towers and pull the fire alarms before the planes come at least?
Thus as a love story, this novel was lovely, but as time-travel, it left something to be desired.

What did you think?

Ooh, and they made a movie of it, starring Eric Bana as Henry and Rachel McAdams as Clare, with Robert Schwentke directing. This appears to be in post-production oblivion however? Possibly being released this year? Does anyone know anything about this?

25 January 2009

Leggo my Hugo

If you attended Denvention in 2008 or you are planning to attend Anticipation (i.e. Worldcon) 2009, now is the time to get your Hugo nomination ballots in. Although Electric Spec does not meet the requirements for a "semipro zine" (we don't advertise--you'd think that would be a good thing), we do qualify for "best fanzine." I don't really consider us a "fanzine" (I consider us semipro despite what the Hugo folks say). However, if somebody wants to give us a Hugo, I will not complain.

If you read (or wrote) a story in Electric Spec that you think deserves a nod for Best Short Story, be sure and include that on your ballot. (I know I did).

24 January 2009

Writing on Reading: The Alchemy of Stone

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia is a steam punk fantasy that explores an issue usually left to sci-fi--and it does a great job. Matti is an "emancipated" automaton who has a love/hate relationship with her creator (with some strange sexual overtones). Matti's creator refuses to give Matti the key necessary to wind her up, thereby forcing her to maintain a bond with her creator that she resents.

Sedia does a nice job looking at this relationship from a "female" automaton's perspective. She also builds an interesting world filled with machines, magic, and gargoyles. 

The Alchemy of Stone was printed by a small speculative fiction press called Prime Books. Given the quality and uniqueness of this novel, I'll look forward to reading more of Prime's offerings.

21 January 2009

finally a Foundation movie?

Variety reported Friday Jan 16 that "Columbia won an auction late Thursday for screen rights to 'Foundation,' Isaac Asimov's ground-breaking sci-fi trilogy. The project will be developed as a directing vehicle for Roland Emmerich.

Emmerich and his Centropolis partner Michael Wimer will produce the film. The deal was for mid-six against low-seven figures."

Apparently it has been rather a rocky road getting Foundation to the screen...
Read more about it. I've got my fingers crossed that this time it happens.

How about you? What classic SF or fantasy novels would you like to see on the big screen?

20 January 2009

Writing on Reading: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Junot Diaz's debut novel, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics award for Best Novel in 2007. Based on this, you might think Diaz is quite an impressive writing talent, and you'd be right. Don't be misled--Oscar Wao is not speculative fiction, but it pays tribute to science fiction and fantasy throughout. Oscar, the central character of the novel, is (for lack of a better phrase) a genre geek. This lets him make references to fantasy and sci-fi culture that only fellow geeks can truly appreciate. 

While the many genre references certainly add to the reading experience, they are not central to it. Diaz combines a fresh writing style, cultural/historical insights on the the Dominican Republic, and exquisitely drawn characters to create a novel that is bound to be considered a classic. But don't worry. This is not the case were "classic" equates with "boring." The plot is engaging, and the language is accessible (although familiarity with Spanish is a plus). It will appeal to a wide variety of literary tastes and is worth the read.

16 January 2009

Nebula Award Changes

Yesterday, the Board of Directors of SFWA passed a new set of rules for the Nebula Awards. Some highlights include:

  • changing eligibility from a one-year rolling basis to calendar year of publication
  • changing the recommendation window from "any time" to a three-month nominations period (15 November to 15 February)
  • limiting members to five nominations per category
  • removing the preliminary ballot from the process
  • abolishing the Nebula Award juries, which had had the ability to add one work in each category to the final ballot
  • replacing the script award with a "Ray Bradbury Award for Best Dramatic Presentation" (specifically including motion pictures, television, Internet, radio, audio, and stage productions)
  • explicitly defining the Ray Bradbury script and Andre Norton Young Adult awards as not Nebulas

Read the complete revised and updated Nebula Awards Rules

14 January 2009

First Page Entry

After too many years to actually count, I finally found you! Slim build, long, dark hair, pouting, ruby lips, cerulean-blue eyes, face like a porcelain doll. Best of all, I KNEW we would dance, at every opportunity.

I took you in my arms, just as the music started. Initially, you were as limp as a rag doll, and clumsily followed my lead through the waltz. You were a mannequin, after all.

Then, to my surprise and utter delight, an amazing thing happened. Slowly and seeming deliberately, your limbs and joints lost their stiffness and fused together, your face became animated - your eyes, super expressive, behind those long, dark lashes. They studied me closely, as we now glided effortlessly over the old wooden floor... then, almost imperceptibly, became pitch black, with blazing reds where the irises should have been. Your arm began to tighten around my neck, your dainty hand in my callused one.

Fingernails sprouted into sharp, tapered claws, pearly white teeth morphed into cutting incisors and needle-like canines, flashing in the candlelight as those red, luscious lips parted in glee.

Despite my best efforts to resist, you practically willed my face down to where your fleshy rasp of a tongue could teasingly taunt my earlobe.

I'm going to start with yet another disclaimer. I really don't like second person, not even a little bit. I've thought about why and I decided it's because it really doesn't include the reader in any way. This writer is talking to someone who is not me, as if I'm reading a stolen letter. I have no real way, as a reader, to identify with the narrator or anyone else in the story. Another editor may feel differently, but I don't see a lot of second person in fiction these days.

Though there may be a great story in here, a mannequin (robot, droid, love doll, old doll, etc) coming to life has been done before. This might have a different angle, but I don't see it in this first page. This writer obviously has a firm hand with descriptives, and even the adverbs didn't bug me as much as usual. Plus, I love me a shallow narrator who gets his (or hers)! But the second person is such a strike, I doubt I'd read on.

Aaaand, on that happy note, I am out of candidates for the First Page Game, so it's obviously suspended until we get more. Tell all your friends and we'll hopefully play again soon. Thanks so much to everyone who has submitted their first pages so far. In fact, thanks to everyone who submits to Electric Spec! Obviously, there wouldn't be a magazine without you, and our slush seems to grow and improve with every issue.

12 January 2009

Why are you reading this?

If you're a writer, I have a question for you: how did you decide to read this blog post rather than work on your novel or story? By asking this question, I'm not not trying to turn away blog readers. (We love you, blog readers!) Instead, I'm trying to encourage balance in your writing life. Cory Doctorow, in his most recent article in Locus, discusses how he deals with "Writing in the Age of Distraction." His simple answer may surprise you. (Hint: it's perfectly fine to read this blog post, just make sure you've set aside time for writing as well!)

10 January 2009

Issue Balance

In the past few days, we've touched on the topic: stories might be very good but just not right for Electric Spec. Alas, there is yet another topic editors must consider for 'zines: issue balance.
This is yet another hurdle to publication that authors have no control over. :(
As editors, we want to have a well-balanced issue with a variety of types of stories. So, if we have six awesome vampire stories in the hold-for-voting pile, sadly, only one is going to make it into the issue.

What does this mean for authors? This means if your story is about something unusual, something others aren't writing about, you'll have a better chance at publication.

I look forward to seeing those unusual stories in the future!

09 January 2009

Electric Spec Submission Status

Here's where we are in the submission process for Electric Spec. We've reviewed all submissions sent to Electric Spec before January 5. (I didn't keep an exact count this time, but it was somewhere around 300). If you submitted before then and have not received a "no thanks" or "hold for voting" e-mail, it means that our "no thanks" got lost in the transmission process. Go ahead and submit your story elsewhere.

If your story is one of the thirty stories being held for voting, the wait will be just a little longer. The editors need to review those stories and then decide on the (approximately) six stories that will be published in the next issue. You can expect to hear from us either way sometime around the first week of February.

For those of you who submitted stories after January 5, please be patient. We generally don't have time to read new submissions while we're working on the new issue. So, you probably will not hear from us until March.

Thanks again for all of your submissions. Looks like we're going to have another great issue!

08 January 2009


I am finished with my slush for this issue and in the spirit of Lesley's previous post, I'm writing a round-up as well.

People. PEOPLE! Stop writing so many great stories. It makes my job so difficult.

I had to write several rejections for good stories that really just weren't right for me or Electric Spec. These are stories that will sell to some magazine, somewhere; we're just not the right market.

That's a line you hear editors spout all the time. Not right for me. That might beg the question: what is right for this editor?

Climbing over unusual odds to save important people.

Dark hatred expressed with good reason. (Hatred can drive a character, but shouldn't define them. Give me a way to identify with them, too--just a tidge of humanity. I see a lot of flat characters defined by one past event.)

Noir atmosphere in an unusual world.

Tragic or thoughtful hilarity. (Ok, that one takes some explaining. Make me laugh, but also make me think. The world only needs one Chevy Chase.)

Science fiction with well-executed contextual jargon and culture, and characters natural to that culture.

Happy endings. (Ok, that one take some explaining, too. I don't need wine and roses and self-congratulatory pats on the back, but I want a change. Let me see the characters grow. A bad ending is fine if at least one of the characters is better for it.)

Seeing a story from someone I know! That's a particular joy.

Not right for me:

Angst--especially the teen-aged variety.

Voice over content. Make something happen.

Unreasonable, unexplained violence. (I like me some violence. Not so much the psychopaths.)

Doing bad stuff to kids.

Weird mother-daughter relationships.

Humorous takes on horror.

Tired tropes and devices like Someone Who Knows Things But Doesn't Tell, POV Characters Keeping Secrets, People Waking Up At The Start of the Story, Magical Items Ruling The Day, to name a few.

Stories that start too late. That's a biggie. Some stories have too much set-up, rather than introducing the characters and the problem in the first 250 words. I find myself getting quite rigid on that as the years go by. Voice and atmosphere and cool backstory only pulls me along so far when I'm in the midst of a fifty-story slush pile. But it's not just me. Many folks read a ton of short fiction, and there are a lot of great options out there. Choosing to not finish a story is only a click away. Let's keep their hands off their mouses, eh?

Thanks for all the great stories! I think we set a new record with our "hold for voting" file, so my reading ain't done yet. I'm going to get real busy with the upcoming issue (and hopefully a few surprises) so after the next First Page, I have to suspend the first page game for awhile.

06 January 2009

Do's & Do's

We Editors have all been through quite a bit of slush lately. Thank you, authors, for sending your stories in! We appreciate it! Without you authors, Electric Spec couldn't exist.

In the face of so much slush, I must admit, I do have some advice for folks...

In the interests of being positive, I'm calling it

Do's & Do's:
  • Do send us your short stories, rather than your novels. We don't publish novels.
  • Do include your story as an rtf attachment.
  • Do send us spec fiction. This includes science fiction, fantasy, horror and any combination thereof. In fact, I'd love to see more SF/Fantasy and/or horror combos. :)
  • Do send us one story at a time.
  • Do send us a unique original story. The following plots will be a tough sell:
    • Aliens land on earth.
    • Aliens land on earth and attack humans.
    • Aliens land on earth and have sex with humans.
    • A person is changed into a vampire.
    • A person is killed by a vampire.
    • A person has sex with a vampire.
    • A robot is built.
    • A robot attacks one or more people.
    • A robot has sex with one or more people.

    Actually, this robot stuff reminds me of a really funny story I saw in The Onion: Roomba Violates All Three Laws Of Roombotics. You know I'm an Asimov fan, right? :)
  • Do use correct grammar and spelling.
    • Do note MSWord Spell Autocheck (or whatever it's called) is not always your friend, e.g. from/form, etc.
    • Do use first-person pov OR third-person pov consistently (2nd-person is a tough sell).
    • Do use past tense (present tense might be okay).

  • Do have your critique group critique your story. You know I'm a big advocate of critique groups, right? In the absence of a critique group, do have your buddy/mom/spouse/alien?/vampire?/robot? read over your story and make sure there are no glaring errors.
  • Do include a cover letter with your name, pen name, email address, story title, story word count, previous pub credits. You can tell us about your hobbies, your kids, your insert-whatever-here, but we don't really care about that stuff.
  • If you feel you MUST reply to our rejection/hold-for-voting email, do be polite and professional.
  • When your story is accepted do be professional with your editor. :)


05 January 2009

Deadline Today!

The deadline for our first 2009 issue is today midnight U.S. MST! Any submissions we receive after that will be considered for our June 30, 2009 issue.

First Page Entry

**page deleted per author's request**

First a disclaimer: I'm doing this game as an editor. I'm trying to let you all in on what goes on in our heads as we read (or, well, at least mine). I participate in a lot of critique, and that's a different animal. In critique, I spend a lot of time with the person's pages, figuring out what's working and what's not. I often know beforehand what the writer is trying to accomplish, so I can focus on whether they achieved that or not. I go into critique knowing it's not a finished product and expecting changes will be made.

Not so, editing. When I read my slush, I expect to read the best story possible, polished and finished. I expect it's already been read by people who will tell the author the truth (one of many reasons I don't crit my slush--it should have already by vetted by others). I'm not looking for reasons to reject, but I don't spend a lot of time figuring out how to fix a story either. Reading slush is not critique. It's editing.

It sounds harsh; it might sound like I'm slamming every story I read. Actually, I spend a lot of time thinking: Not for E-Spec and move on. Why do I move on? Because I'm actually looking for a reason to take a story. Call me an optimist that way.

So, I'll be frank. The structure of a few of the sentences in this piece bothers me. Sometimes the link between ideas are confusing, sometimes it's passive voice, and sometimes the subject needs to come first.

Subject-verb-object is an editor's dream, really. Solid, traditional structure is like a clean window; I can see right through to the idea. I see sentences here that feel like the author may be trying for voice and atmosphere--especially the early ones-- but they just ended up confusing me.

As for the plot, why don't we know why she can't go into the forest? Well, okay, the POV character doesn't know, but why doesn't he tell her? More importantly, why doesn't she ask? Older, wiser beings Who Know Stuff But Don't Tell is tired trope. Often, an early reveal will add to the tension of the story--if it's a good secret, that is. Right now, though, all I got are singing trees and I'm thinking "How bad can singing trees be, anyway?"

Think of the first page as roughly the first chapter of a book. By the end of a first chapter in a novel you should know the protag, their problem, at least one obstacle in their way (it's AWESOME if that obstacle is the antagonist). Plus it's cool if we get a little "by golly I'm going into that forest anyway" so we know our marching orders are coming from someone who's going in with both guns blazing. What's missing from this page are details of the problem and to some extent, a clear antagonist (though if we believe Dad, the trees might be it).

Because I had to read a couple of sentences a couple of times and because I don't know what the problem is and because I've got 50 stories in my inbox right now, I'd probably not read on. I really don't mean that to sound harsh. There may be potential here. But I don't see it in on the first page.

Thanks so much for playing along and keep them coming! A note on my slush: my goal is to get through all my stories by Friday, and our cut-off is today, the 5th, at midnight.

03 January 2009

Rejection Letters--Some Random and Not So Random Musings

If you're an author who is trying to sell your work, you are more familiar with rejection letters than you'd like to be. I know I am. Search around the blogosphere and you'll find all kinds of comforting advice for authors who are piling up rejections: "its a badge of honor," "it shows you are working," "look at all the famous authors who got stupid rejection letters" and so on. Bottom line is that, as working authors, we all have to learn to deal with rejection in our own way, and, if we can't deal with it professionally, we're in the wrong business.

Now, let me switch hats. What responsibilities do editors have for helping authors get over (or get fewer) rejections? For many editors, the answer is "none." What matters to them is the bottom line, not the author's ego. No so for E-spec editors. We can't provide individual critiques for every rejection (which some, but not all, authors would consider helpful). In a past post (see August 5, 2008 post), I talked about why Electric Spec generally uses form rejections (a form that we believe is kinder than many other 'zines). As we've also mentioned in the past, one of the reasons we started the blog is give advice that we can't give on an individual basis. We don't expect everyone to agree with the advice, and, in fact, we enjoy different points of view in the blog comments.

However, it seems worth reminding people that replying to rejection letters with outrage or incredulity is a bad idea. Bets put it well in her December 20, 2007 post:

And especially, especially don't send us a snotty response to a rejection. Now, I am terrible with names, so I won't remember you if you sent us a snotty reply. (I can't speak for my fellow editors--Lesley seems to have one of those steel-trap minds, and Dave is a lawyer--take what significance from that as you will.) Also, our office is the Internet and various restaurants in Boulder, so we don't have a "black-balled" bulletin board. However, my experience is that a surly attitude often matches sub-par writing, so if you're angry with an editor, you might take a fresh look at your own writing. Might you instead be angry with yourself? Next to parenting, writing is the most difficult endeavour I've ever embarked upon, so you're not alone in your frustration.

02 January 2009

Writing on Reading: The Emperor of Ice Cream

The Emperor of Ice Cream is a collection of short stories by fantasy author Jeffery Ford. The book, along with many of the stories in the book, has received several awards and lots of critical acclaim. The acclaim is well-deserved. What I liked about Ford's stories was the non-traditional approach to fantasy. He avoids tropes and concentrates on unique characters and situations. His writing is focused and crisp, and he's especially adept at ending his stories with just the right touch. As a writer, I really enjoyed the comments about each story by the author at the end. You don't often get to hear information about the origin or inspiration of a story from an author. Some of the stories I thought were particularly good were "Jupiter's Skull" "A Night in the Tropics" and "The Emperor of Ice Cream." 

01 January 2009

The Sandy Writing Contest

Happy New Year everyone! I hope all of you have a great year of writing and reading.

Here's one opportunity to get your writing in the hands of the pros in 2009. The Sandy Writing Contest is a great chance for unpublished authors to have a chapter of their manuscripts read by agents or editors. For example, final round judging in the Fantasy/Science Fiction category will be done by Cameron McClure with the Donald Maas Agency. First round judging will be by various authors and editors, including yours truly. So, why not take this great opportunity to get your manuscript noticed in 2009!