31 October 2009

New Issue Posted!

A fabulous new issue of Electric Spec has been posted! Check out 6 excellent new stories, an unusual author interview, 2 intriguing columns and a breathtaking piece of artwork. Enjoy!

Thank you to all the folks that worked behind the scenes including authors, columnists, technical folks and everyone else. You did a great job! We appreciate it!

And thank you to all the authors who submitted, even if we didn't get a chance to publish you this time.

30 October 2009

New Issue Tomorrow

Our new issue coming out tomorrow is one of our best ever. Lesley and Bets already talked about some of the highlights, but I thought I'd chime in with a few more. The story "Bright Wings in the Ebony Hall" will bring you a fantasy with a mythic quality and a really cool setting reminiscent of the Middle East. "Copies" is a near-future sf story that presents some fascinating--and heart rending--questions about cloning had what it means to be human. And, in the spirit of Halloween, our movie critic looks at one of the scariest movies around, along with providing some other movie suggestions for those of you searching for a good scare.

Happy reading! And be sure to tune in to Electric Spec tomorrow.

29 October 2009

Two Days and Counting...

There are times count myself among the fortunate editors on the planet, and this issue is one of them. We're featuring Nebula Award-winning Nina Kiriki Hoffman in this issue. You'll know from the start that you're in the hands of a master storyteller. And how could I, in particular, have turned down the darkest story of the issue, in which a father faces his greatest challenge as a cop?

I'm also feverishly polishing up an article entitled "The New Writing Age". My feeling is that never before have writers had more opportunity. I'll lay out why and touch on changes the industry (and writers) can adopt to make the most of the Technology Age.

Speaking of, we did make a technical change this issue. We're going to offer this issue in online format only. Our PDF and PRC downloads are pretty low among our entire readership, and those formats are by far the most time-consuming part of putting an issue together. I know I can read the issue online easily on my BlackBerry. But I'm also soliciting feedback. So if you prefer the other formats, please write us and let us know!

28 October 2009

New Issue Coming!

Hi gang,
We have an excellent new issue of Electric Spec coming on October 31! We are very excited about it. In particular, I worked on two humorous stories that I think you will enjoy: "A Girl and her Tentacle Monster" explores the drawbacks and unexpected perks of being a hyperspace pilot and "Civil Complaint" will make you see pepper (and other things) in a whole new light.

This time for our Author Interview we are doing something different, namely, interviewing our six contributing authors: Dale Carothers, Erica L. Satifka, Naomi Libicki, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and Ferrett Steinmetz. Come read what they have to say about writing short fiction, what writing has taught them, and other topics.

Stay tuned for more tantalizing tidbits tomorrow...

26 October 2009

Writing and Acting

Earlier this year, I published a couple of posts comparing the craft of writing to the craft of acting. I recently discovered I'm not the only person who sees the connection. Author Alexandra Sokoloff has an excellent blog on the craft of writing--one of the best I've seen. Among her excellent advice about creating a protagonist, she states:

But I do think there are things that are teachable about creating character. My best general advice is always – take an acting class. Take a lot of them. Read books on acting and creating character – Michael Shurtleff’s excellent AUDITION, which is about so much more than auditioning, Stanislavski’s acting series, Michael Chekov. Learn how to develop and play characters yourself, even on a basic level, and it will translate to writing.

She has similar advice regarding antagonists.

I think this is good advice. While you don't have to have a theatre background to be a good writer, I think it can help. If you know how to get into a character's head on stage, then it will be easier to do on the page.

24 October 2009

Mile Hi Con

Lesley, Bets, and I are all at Mile Hi Con. It's great seeing so many genre writers, artists and fans and talking about what we love most. If any of you blog readers happen to be there, please come up and say "hi." I'll be wearing my Electric Spec tee.

21 October 2009

Writing on Reading---an update

I have not gotten to posting reviews of the books I've been reading lately, and so I thought I do a more general post on a few books. Awhile back I read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michal Chabon. Unlike The Yiddish Policeman's Union, which I couldn't get in to, I really liked AAKC. It is not genre fiction, but it has at least 1 element that seems a bit on the magical size. The real pull of the novel is the characters, who are deep, interesting, and empathetic. The Golden Age of Comics angle and New York City in the 30s through 50s adds to a rich setting. In short, I recommend it for non-gene reading.

Speaking of non-genre, I'm currently reading Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth. Follett is known for his thrillers, but Pillars is a departure for him--and it has become this most popular book, even making to Oprah's book club. According to the intro, the book rose out of Follett's interest in English cathedrals and how they were build. The result is a novel that would probably be billed as historical fiction, but which reads like a fantasy. No magic in this one, but 1000 pages of interesting characters, cool settings, and even a bloody battle or two. My guess is that "Oprah" readers may not like this one too much (my wife being one example), but fantasy readers would get a kick out of it.

I also read a portion of a fantasy that I picked up at the bookstore. It shall remain unnamed because I have nothing good to say about it. It is discouraging that genre books like this continue to appear on the scene. The book is filled with "beginning writer" mistakes, trope plot lines, tired characters, and pacing that could really use a shot of adrenaline. It is sad that books like this get published while better books languish on agents' desks.

19 October 2009

Spec Fic Tools III: Humor

The Electric Spec editors are feverishly at work putting together the new Oct 13, 2009 issue. It looks excellent. This time around, I'm lucky enough to edit two humorous stories which makes me think...

One tool in the spec fic author's toolbox can be humor. Terry Pratchett has mastered humorous writing. Let's examine how he does it by looking at one of his books, Monstrous Regiment (MR), as an example.

Humor is based on the unexpected. As it says in How to Write Funny (HtWF) "…people laugh at two things: surprise and misfortune. We laugh in surprise at the union of two things that don't fit together…"(HtWF p36) Pratchett clearly realized this when he concluded the Borogravian National Anthem with "The new day is a great big fish!" (MR p11)

General comic elements include repetition, switches, exaggeration, extremes, indecision, convention suspension and wordplay. Pratchett makes use of many of these elements. For example, "A woman always has half an onion left over, no matter what the size of the onion, the dish, or the woman." (MR p132) is an example of convention suspension.

Let's focus further on literary humor. Award-winning speculative fiction author Connie Willis says the two most important techniques of humorous writing are exaggeration and understatement. (HtWF pp61-63) Pratchett makes excellent use of these tools. Specifically,
"The pigeon thought: 000000000. But had it been more capable of coherent thought, and knew something about how birds of prey catch pigeons,*And allowing for the fact that all pigeons who know how birds of prey catch pigeons are dead, and therefore capable of slightly less thought than a living pigeon." (MR pp115-116) is a wonderful example of understatement.

In fact, Pratchett is master at understatement: "'…we appear to have zombies in the lower crypts. Dreadful things…' 'Really? What are they doing now?' Clarence raised his eyebrows. 'Lurching, sir, I think. Groaning. Zombie things. Something seems to have stirred them up.' " (MR p13)

Pratchett often combines exaggeration and understatement together as with The Book of Nuggan:

"It's what they call a Living Testament…"

"This is a holy book with an appendix?"

"Exactly, sir."

"In a ring binder?"

"Quite so, sir. People put blank pages in and the Abominations …turn up." (MR pp15-16)

These abominations include: chocolate, garlic, cats, dwarfs, the color blue, oysters, babies, barking dogs, shirts with six buttons, and cheese.And a little later, Pratchett writes:"'Nuggan, sir…um…is rather…tetchy,' he managed. 'Tetchy?' said Vimes. 'A tetchy god? What, he complains about the noise their kids make? Objects to loud music after nine P.M.?' (MR p16)

According to David Bouchier "A Funny Character is a Caricature.
Funny characters are unusual, strange, odd, perhaps obnoxious and always extreme." (HtWF p23) Montrous Regiment is chock full of humorous characters, from plucky Polly Perk, determined to find her brother, to gruff macho Sergeant Jackrum to their effeminate fear-ful leader Lieutenant Blouse.

In fact, literary humor begins with an author's voice as Jennifer Crusie writes, "Humor in fiction is based in voice, which is why humor is so different from writer to writer and why a strong voice is essential in writing comic fiction." (HtWF p46). Pratchett definitely has a unique and humorous voice. For example, Pratchett writes, "Forget you were ever Polly. Think young male, that was the thing. Fart loudly and with self-satisfaction at a job well done, walk like a puppet that'd had a couple of random strings cut, never hug anyone, and, if you meet a friend, punch them." (MR p3)

Prattchet also utilizes exaggerated or unlikely comparisons in metaphors and similes, e.g. "…but Igor had to be a boy, with those stitches around the head, and that face that could only be called homely. …And even then it was the kind of home that has a burned-out vehicle on the lawn." (MR p138)

Humor in speculative fiction obeys these same rules and has a few extra tools at its disposal. In "Take My Wizard...Please!" Esther M. Friesner advises humorous speculative fiction authors to "Upset the Reader's Expectations". She claims speculative fiction includes "…easily recognizable types…the wizard, the witch, the dragon… When the reader encounters one of these types, certain expectations click into place…The writer of funny Spec Fic often operates by taking these reader expectations and setting them on ear."(HtWF p76) Pratchett makes good use of this idea, namely, the so-called soldiers in Blouse's regiment do not behave as typical soldiers (with good reason).

In conclusion, in Monstrous Regiment, Terry Pratchett has created a humorous, imaginative and unconventional world by utilizing a variety of comedic tools. Kudos, Terry.


Pratchett, Terry, Monstrous Regiment, HarperCollins Publishers, 2003.

Kachuba, John B., Ed., How to Write Funny, Writer's Digest Books, 2001.

13 October 2009

Spec Fic Tools II: Voice

As we prepare the next issue of Electric Spec, I can't help thinking a unique voice can make the difference between a good spec fic story and an excellent one. Let's look at an example...

In Magic for Beginners (MfB) Kelly Link shows off her charming narrative voice. Voice can be a tricky concept to nail down but is an author's unique writing style and is created via such tools as diction (style of expression and vocabulary), syntax (sentence construction), and punctuation. The stories in MfB differ significantly in plot and character but the reader easily recognizes Link's consistent voice in how the stories are expressed.

Link's voice is personal and intimate; it's as if the author is sitting next to you on the couch, leaning forward telling you, and you alone, a story. She doesn't explain; she assumes you, her friend, know exactly what she's talking about. She doesn't introduce characters such as Henry, Catherine, Carleton, and Tilly in “Stone Animals”; it's as if she's resuming an earlier conversation with the reader about them. For example, in “Stone Animals” the son, Carleton, is introduced via, "Carleton was running up and down the staircase, slapping his heels down hard, keeping his head down and his hands folded around the banister." (p71) In “Catskin”, the witch is introduces via "Cats went in and out of the witch's house all day long." (p125) The protagonist of “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” is introduced via "This guy Sap is at a party out in the suburbs." (p159)

Link writes of the fantastic and the surreal in a matter-of-fact manner. For example, in “The Faery Handbag”, "The faery handbag: It's huge and black and kind of hairy. ...Fairies live inside it. I know what that sounds like, but it's true." (pp 2-3) We also see this in “The Hortlak”, "The zombies came in, and he was polite to them, and failed to understand what they wanted, and sometimes real people came in and bought candy or cigarettes or beer." (p 28) In “Stone Animals” Link writes, "He sits on his rabbit, legs pressed against the warm, silky, shining flanks .... He has something in his other hand ...a spear. All around him, the others are sitting on their rabbits, waiting patiently, quietly." (p121

In places Link's voice approaches stream-of-consciousness. For example, in “The Faery Handbag”: "It's kind of like if you went through the wardrobe in the Narnia books, only instead of finding Aslan and the White Witch and horrible Eustace, you found this magic clothing world--instead of talking animals, there were feather boas and wedding dresses and bowling shoes, and paisley shirts and Doc Martens and everything hung up on racks so that first you have black dresses, all together, like the world's largest indoor funeral, and then blue dresses--all the blues you can imagine--and then red dresses and so on." (p1) This stream-of-consciousness is very informal; it's as if the reader has a line directly into the author's mind. And when that author is Link that's a real treat.

09 October 2009

info on new issue and MileHiCon

Hi gang,
By now, all the authors in hold-for-voting should have been contacted with either a "yeah" or "nay". Again, thanks, all, for submitting. The stories we've selected are excellent! We can't wait for you to read them. We are busy processing the stories, and we have lined up some neat cover art. We are doing something different this time for the Author Interview: we're interviewing the contributing authors for this issue. It should be fun!
Check out the new issue of Electric Spec on October 31, 2009! :)

In other news, all the Electric Spec editors will be appearing on panels at Mile Hi Con October 23-25 in Denver. Some tentative panels include:

  • Editor Lesley on "The Science of Science Fiction", "The Future of Energy: Star Trek or Stone Age?", "Hollywood vs. Science".
  • Editor Betsy on "Must Action/Adventure = Dumb/Mindless" and "Stories, Art Direction & Web Design for Online Magazines"
  • Editor Dave on "Scams Aimed at Writers" and "Plot Devices or McGuffins"

Additionally, at least one Electric Spec author will also be featured: Stuart Neville, who's first novel just came out in the U.S. The Ghosts of Belfast.
Go, Stuart!

Come check out Mile Hi Con if you're in the area!

05 October 2009

First page Critique Game #11

While you're waiting on results for our next issue (and it's awesome, if I might say) I thought I'd throw out a new First Page Entry for your perusal.

Dr. Roy Motts eyed Mandy’s lifeless body lying on the steel slab. Lacerations decorated her face, and the fatal sever to the carotid artery launched his stomach into an audible churn.

He rested his hands on his Twinkie-padded belly. “I’m so glad Hal wasn’t in the car with you,” he mumbled under his breath and looked downward.

“Me too,” a voice said with a whisper.

Startled, Roy looked up and saw Mandy sitting, staring at him. Her dark-rooted blond hair flowed over her shoulders and her green eyes sparkled.

“Whoa.” Roy stumbled back. He squinted at the body still lying on the slab then to the apparition of Mandy sitting next to it.

She smiled.

“What’s happening?” He tugged his shirt collar. It suddenly felt like a choker pulled three notches too tight.

“Okay, here’s the scoop. I’m a Keeper.” She hopped down from her perch. “Or I was a Keeper. I’ve only been dead a few hours, so I’m not used to the past tense talk yet.”

Roy’s mouth fell agape.

“There is something you need to see.” Mandy reached out and grabbed his arm.

As if plummeting down on a rollercoaster, Roy’s stomach dropped. The floor beneath him fell away, then with an abrupt jerk, returned to support him.

Once the sickening motion ended, Roy opened his eyes. His neck muscles knotted.

They were at the accident scene.

“How’d we get here? How am I seeing you?”

Kudos on this one for throwing a problem up front, or at least throwing your main character for a loop. We've got a dead Keeper chick who's dragging someone back to the scene of her accident. This alludes to "mystery." But I think this first page real estate could be put to still better use. What is Roy to Mandy and vice versa? At first glance I thought he was the M.E. but then the mention of Hal threw me. Who is Hal? Really, who are all these people and how are they connected? I don't get a feeling of sadness from Roy, if he is sad (maybe he isn't). Also, Mandy seems awfully chipper for being dead. Not a dealbreaker; it just struck me. I think it'll take some explanation at some point.

No real comments on the writing at all. It seems fine. I rather like "Twinkie-padded belly." As an aside, I wonder if this is meant to date the story. I know they still sell Twinkies, but does anyone still eat them? I did, as a kid, lo these 30 years ago. :)

So really, just a few more specifics to ground me, and I think I'd be hooked to read more.

Editors are subjective...

I've been getting my fair share of writerly rejections lately so as the editorial staff heads into the production meeting for the next issue of Electric Spec I am feeling a lot of sympathy for our potential authors. The editors of Electric Spec do strive to be fair and objective when choosing stories for the issues. However, there are subjective elements as well as aspects such as issue balance and the like. All the stories in our current batch of hold-for-voting are very good. So, I guess my take-home message is even if we don't ultimately pick your story: Kudos, hold-for-voting authors! Good job!

Stay tuned for more info about the new issue.

01 October 2009

How does fantasy enter?

While First-Page guru Betsy is away at Author Fest, I submit the following for your consideration...
How does the fantastic enter a fantasy?

In Rhetorics of Fantasy (RoF) Farah Mendlesohn outlines a classification system which is about "the way in which a text becomes fantasy, or alternatively, the way the fantastic enters the text and the reader's relationship to this." (RoF p xiv).

Here, I consider four different types of fantasies: the portal-quest, the immersive, the intrusive and the liminal. These differ in how the reader perceives the fantastic elements. Mendlesohn says "In the portal-quest we are invited through into the fantastic" while "...in the immersive fantasy we are allowed no escape." (RoF p xiv). Mendlesohn furthermore says, in intrusion fantasies, "Fantasy and 'reality' are often kept strictly demarcated…" (RoF p xxii) while in liminal fantasies, "…the fantastic leaks back through the portal." (RoF p xxiii)

Many fantasies also have some formulaic elements; let's look at each of the four types of fantasy in turn.
In both portal and quest fantasies the fantasy world is an unknown place, i.e. the reader is a stranger to the world, namely,
"a character leaves her familiar surroundings and passes through a portal into an unknown place." (RoF p1)
Portal-Quest fantasies furthermore are structured around "...reward and the straight and narrow path." (RoF p5)
In fact, "...it is the unquestionable purity of the tale that holds together the shape of the portal-quest narrative." (RoF p7) One could say "...the insistence of the fixedness of history and of learning, divides quest fantasy from immersive fantasy." (RoF p16)

The role of the reader is quite different in immersive fantasies, namely, they invite "...us to share not merely a world, but a set of assumptions." (RoF p xx)
The reader does "not enter into the immersive fantasy, we are assumed to be of it..." (RoF p xx) In other words, the reader and "...the point of view characters of an immersive fantasy must take for granted the fantastic elements with which they are surrounded..." (RoF p xxi) and the fantasy world must "...function on all levels as a complete world." (RoF p59)
A unique quality of immersive fantasies is often “the creation of a vocabulary that claims meaning but reveals itself, if at all, only through context, which builds the sense of story and world behind what we actually see." (RoF p83) Science fiction could be labeled immersive fantasy in this classification system.

According to Mendlesohn, intrusion fantasies are quite formulaic, and in fact, "Among the intrusion fantasies, the regularity of the formula is almost overwhelming." (RoF p153) "The entire trajectory of the intrusion fantasy; the sense of threat, of waiting, and of repulsion of the horror. [is]…an episodic structure in which the whole is made up of many identical parts." (RoF p130) It should be noted that "…much of modern horror fits in the very center of the intrusion fantasy subset…" (RoF p142)
Something that is relatively unique to intrusion fantasies is " …the protagonist and the reader are never expected to become accustomed to the fantastic." (RoF p xxii) This means "…intrusion fantasy…relies heavily on the escalation of effect. Intrusions begin small and often quite distant. They increase in magnitude, in scope, or in the number of victims." (RoF p116)
Another quintessential quality of the intrusion fantasy, according to Mendlesohn is "… each is 'concluded'." (RoF p116) Moreover, "However mysterious the ending, there is the sense that there can be no next. We are left suspended on the edge of the void. Any next would be an anticlimax." (RoF p117)

Mendlesohn says, "Liminal fantasy is rare." (RoF p xxiii) Other possible terms for liminal fantasy are "hesitation or uncertainty…" fantasy. (RoF p xxiii) Instead of liminal fantasy, Mendlesohn considered the term "…'possible fantasy,' … Liminal fantasy creates possible readings." (RoF p 183) Whatever you call it, in such fantasies, a "…seemingly ordinary story feels like fantasy. We somehow know that it is the fantastic." (RoF p xxiii) She says further, "Liminal fantasy … was that form of fantasy which estranges the reader from the fantastic as seen and described by the protagonist …" (RoF p182)
This concept can be a bit difficult to understand. Mendlesohn states, "The anxiety and the continued maintenance and irresolution of the fantastic becomes the locus of the 'fantasy'. The liminal moment that maintains the anxiety around this material temptation assists the creation of the tone and mode that we associate with the fantastic: its presence is represented as unnerving, and it is this sense of the unnerving that is at the heart of the category I have termed liminal." (RoF p xxiii)
Mendlesohn concludes "…liminal fantasy, of all the forms of the fantastic, may be that which most requires that its readers be steeped in the conventions of fantasy, may indeed prove to be the purest form of the fantastic…."(RoF p245)

Phew! Complicated stuff! So, what's your fantasy? Portal? Quest? Immersive? Intrusive? Liminal? Whatever it is, feel free to send it along to ElectricSpec. :)