29 June 2010

Personal Rejections

Just got a note back from an author thanking me for taking the time to make some personal comments on his submission. I admit I'm as guilty as the next editor of not including personal comments regarding a submission. The fact is, those comments are few and far between. You've probably heard the excuses before: there's simply not time to comment on individual submissions and, in any case, such comments can be met with defensiveness from authors that editors don't care to hear. Considering the number of submissions we get at Electric Spec, it would be hard, if not impossible, to comment on every one. However, the note I got back from the author reminded me of how important a few encouraging words can be in the lonely and sometime brutal world of fiction writing. So, while I can't promise to be every writer's Stewart Smalley, I will pass along comments on stories that catch my eye but don't make the cut for one reason or another.

28 June 2010

Locus Awards

Here's the rundown!

Congrats, Paolo Bacigalupi, Colorado author and fellow convention panelist who seems to be sweeping up the awards this year for his book THE WINDUP GIRL.

26 June 2010

E-Spec Author at Strange Horizons

Electric Spec author Nick Poniatowski has a story posted this week over at Strange Horizons. A very enjoyable tale. It's worth noting that when Nick sent us his story, he'd been published in a few other e-zines, but had no pro-level credits. More proof that semi-pro sales to magazines like ours often lead to pro sales later on.

23 June 2010

A Community of Writers

As readers and writers of Electric Spec may have deduced, all the editors (and our "tech guy") are writers, too. In fact, all of us editors are members of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, where we met many years ago. In addition, I am right now at my M.F.A. Residency. My point is, it is very important for writers to be in a community of writers. Writers give each other support. Who else can you whine to that your antagonist is just too wimpy, or you don't have the heart to revise your latest short story yet again? :) Who else can you complain to that those *$%^?!& Electric Spec editors rejected another story? :( And that's not even taking into account how helpful fellow writers can be for market info and critiques. Personally, joining a group of other writers helped me realize I was a writer.

Nowadays, you can find writers' communities all over the place. There are formal educational groups in M.F.A. programs. There are formal in-person and on-line writers organizations such as Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (which I highly recommend, no matter where you live). There are informal, purely electronic groups (Betsy can probably address them better than I). Or, heck, get your writing friends together and start your own writers group using yahoogroups or whatever. Good luck and have fun!

Does anyone have a good writers group they want to brag about? :)

And don't forget to send us your speculative fiction stories. :)

20 June 2010

Thoughts on Copy Editing

I got up early to gather all the materials for a class I'm teaching. I'm giving them quite the packet, from an outline to a recent essay to notes on proofreading marks and examples of proper formatting. And it got me to thinking that the use of proofreading marks is probably on its way out, what with all the emailing manuscripts back and forth. I know my book came back with a list from my editor and copy editor, rather than marks in-text. And I had to send back another list. (Saves the editor on mucked up formatting.) I really only use the marks on my critique work, which for my group is written by hand. But a basic knowledge is still helpful, not just for the marks, but for what the marks accomplish--what a copy editor might change or note in your work.

We don't edit either of those ways at Electric Spec. First of all, we have no separate copy editors. Secondly, we don't have that kind of time (all editors are busy; we justify it as a valid excuse by not getting paid). We just make the changes and then show the writer. I've only ever had one writer fuss over that--mostly about my not using track changes. I responded that a writer should know his or her own story backwards and frontwards after all the revisions they usually require. This is also the same writer who sent me a story rife with mistakes. (I call it dirty copy.) At the time, years ago, the story was good enough to deal with dirty copy. Now it wouldn’t be.

Frankly, the odds are in our favor that we can find stories that are great AND have clean copy. But it got me to thinking on how I know if a story will work for me without barely reading it. One of the ways is whether the copy is relatively clean. Mistakes often pop up right away with writers who don't put in the effort to create really clean copy. I don't mean perfect. I mean generally clean. It's like someone dusted and vacuumed before I stopped by. It shows a measure of respect for your editor.

Grammar and spelling and punctuation are the nails and wood glue that hold your story together. They're communication signals to a reader, and that's what we're trying to do when we write, at our basest, is communicate. To an editor, they're a quick, handy way to signal that you care enough about your craft to master the nuts and bolts of communicating in the written word. That gets us hoping right off that you've mastered the art of storytelling, as well.

18 June 2010

week-end update

This just in: An interview with Betsy. All about Electric Spec!

Go read.

Read and learn, my young padawan.

17 June 2010

The Big Six

In publishing, that is. Just who the hell are they? It's worth knowing. Fortunately, we have author Mark Terry to tell us! His book THE FALLEN is on my TBA(cquired) list. Thx Mark!

16 June 2010

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite

I recently showed someone a first draft of a story (he asked). And he said, "this isn't as good as your published stories." Well, duh. That's because my stories that make it to publication are fifth, sixth, seventh, maybe even tenth drafts, not first drafts. Everyone's process is different, but I believe every author has to do at least a little rewriting.
I've even heard it said that Writing is rewriting.

Over the years, I've gotten a lot better at not starting to write a new story until I know the entire plot/character arc(s). However, once I get a handle on those, I plunge right in. Then, afterwards, I need to examine what the story says, as opposed to what I wanted it to say, or what I thought I wanted it to say. In my opinion, being able to see what a story actually says is a crucial skill for an author.

The stories in our ElectricSpec slush are surprisingly good. But almost all of them could benefit from a rewrite. A lot of the time this just involves paring away all the unnecessary stuff--stuff that isn't directly involved in what the story is trying to say.
So, send us your (rewritten?) stories!

What do you think? Is rewriting helpful? Are you a rewriter?

14 June 2010

Blog Tour Stop

I'm guest posting over at Stephen Parrish's blog today. Find out how to make your stories work, as opposed to making them, er, not work.

10 June 2010

Blog Tour

I'm on a mini-blog tour to promote Electric Spec. First stop: Bernita Harris' blog, where I brag blog on why this issue's stories made the cut. You might recall Bernita from the interview in the current issue. Get thee hence forthwith!

07 June 2010

Writing Blunders to avoid

Novelist Jerry B. Jenkins published a list of "8 Basic Writing Blunders" over at Writer's Digest. I have to say I really agree with all of them! Don't write these:
  • Morning-routine cliche Too many scenes have opened with the protag waking up in bed, etc.
  • Answering-the-phone cliche Too many scenes have opened with this.
  • The clutter of detail Here are electricspec, we call this "walking the dog", e.g. He walked across the hardwood floor to the antique dressing table and opened the drawer. He took out the leash, flexing it in his hand. He called Spot to him...etc.
  • Skip the recitals of ordinary life Boring! Enough said.
  • Don't spell it out Never describe the writing in the writing. Actually, this is closely related to the famous "Show, don't tell." If you show us the characters, you won't have to tell us.
  • Pass on the preachiness Do you like to be preached to?
  • Setting the scene Don't overdo descriptions; let the reader imagine.
  • Coincidences Coincidences are very bad in fiction

What do you think? Do you agree with the list? What do you think are some writing blunders to avoided?

Send us your (blunder-free) stories!

02 June 2010

Who's Counting?

Stephen Parrish is the author of THE TAVERNIER STONES, a longtime friend of Electric Spec, and is today's guest blogger.

A while back I wrote a post about not giving up. I was surprised by how many people told me, in comments and emails, how impressed they were that I kept trying, that I kept revising and submitting until I finally broke through.

The alternative being?

I want to repeat something I posted back in 2006, when my odyssey was getting underway:

Jackie Gleason first tried to break into the entertainment business as a singer. During his debut appearance in a vaudeville act his performance was so poorly received, members of the audience threw rotten tomatoes at him. Apparently theater-goers of the time routinely equipped themselves with such projectiles for just such a purpose. At home that night, wiping tears and tomato juice from his face, Jackie learned his mother had died. He went on, of course, to make his mark in comedy and drama, staring in the hit TV series "The Honeymooners" and several films including "The Hustler." What few people seem to remember is that he also sold millions of "mood music" albums in the 1950s and 60s. The guy whose singing voice launched rotten tomatoes became, for a time, a force in the music industry.

Joe Konrath accumulated 500 rejections before publishing a single word. And he doesn't hold the record: Jack London reputedly was rejected six hundred times before selling his first story. Most wannabes in the entertainment industry hear "No" many, many times before they hear "Yes."

And yet I'm aware of people who gave up on their novels after receiving twelve or fewer rejections. This astonishes me. They threw tomatoes at Jackie Gleason; what the hell did they do to you?

Rejection sucks. It sucks getting the "dear author" letter after allowing your hopes to rise, after permitting yourself to believe this particular agent will be a perfect fit, because she represents authors you adore. Because when she describes what she's looking for, she sounds as though she's peering into your soul. Because she liked your premise, your voice, your partial, and asked to read the full. It's emotionally devastating to open even the kindest rejection letters, because no matter how the message is couched, your dreams just crashed and burned.

You try again. What's the alternative?

I was turned down over 200 times, by publishers, agents, and literary journal editors. My experience tells me the number is neither high nor low. But I should add this: I didn't know what the number was when I finally recieved an offer. I had to refer back to my submission log before composing this paragraph. How many times you've been rejected is irrevelant unless, like Joe Konrath, you're using the number to inspire others. I love what Sophie Littlefield said:

I swear I was rejected by every literary agent in America in the course of a decade of submissions. You may think I’m exaggerating, but when I come across an agent who didn’t reject me, I want to go “Where have you been hiding yourself, Cupcake?” and buy them a drink.

Did you catch the part about "a decade of submissions?" Nowadays she's published by St. Martin's and her agent is slithery Barbara Poelle. Sounds to me like she didn't give up, either.

Okay, now you know I was rejected 200 times. That's the good news. The bad news is, I had to write twenty-five short stories and four novels to accumulate those rejections. But don't feel sorry for me. They threw tomatoes at Jackie Gleason, not at me.


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01 June 2010

Fantasy Authors Tackle Challenges Others Wouldn't Dare Try

I just finished reading Robin Hobb's Renegade's Magic, the third book in her Solder's Son trilogy, and it occurred to me that fantasy authors like Ms. Hobb often take on challenges that many other authors never face. In Renegade's Magic, the POV character is trapped inside the body of another version of the same character. As a result, the character must have "conversations" with himself, he watches himself doing things he does not want to do, and even gets cut off from the rest of himself from time to time. Hobb combines this puzzle with other, more traditional fantasy challenges, like creating two new cultures in a new world, setting forth the "rules" of magic, and creating characters that defy the fantasy trope and yet are still familiar.

I think that's one of the reasons I like fantasy so much. It creates challenges for the reader's imagination. But until I started writing the stuff, I never really understood the amazing amount of talent it takes to put together a good fantasy yarn. In Renegade's Magic, Hobb puts her own talent to the test and succeeds admirably.