29 July 2010

Time Travel

We the Editors of Electric Spec have been known to publish a time travel story or two, for example, see Lee Harvey's Assistants by Mark D. West in our last issue. Personally, I find time travel fascinating--the idea, I've never actually tried it myself. :)

Imagine my delight when I came across: Mind Meld: The Tricky Trope of Time Travel at www.sfsignal.com . This article asks SF authors and experts such as Paul Levinson, Gwyneth Jones, Ted Chaing, and Robert Charles Wilson the questions:

  • Why use time travel?
  • What stories have used it well?
Their responses are very interesting.

What do you all think of time travel?

In the meantime, keep sending those stories in, and yes, we will consider time travel ones! :)

25 July 2010

Some Basics.

A lot of our stories are nearly perfect, style-wise. Others, not so much. Here's some issues I found with this month's slush.

  • Everyone gets their own paragraph. Whenever a character speaks or acts, it's safest to give them their very own paragraph. Especially when you're not tagging dialogue often.
  • And while we're on the topic, Structure your paragraphs so they make sense. A paragraph should have an entrance and an exit, almost like a mini story. Sometimes that only takes one sentence. Sometimes it takes ten. But everything in the graph should relate to the same topic. New topic or a new character = new paragraph.
  • Punctuating dialogue. With a regular tag like he said, use a comma. If you're tagging with choreography, it gets its very own sentence. Example: "Breaking comma rules drives me crazy," the editor said. or The editor slammed her hand down on the table. "Breaking comma rules drives me crazy."
  • Use ellipses sparingly...
  • Use a dash when someone gets interrup--
  • Use 2nd person judiciously. The story isn't about me (you), it's about your character. That said, I just saw it done quite effectively. It lent a casual voice to the piece. But it didn't happen much.
  • Subjects and their verbs never get separated by commas. Never. Never. Never.
  • Use mostly good old regular plain Jane subject/verb construction so readers understand what you're trying to tell them. It's a structure they understand.
  • Fragments. I'm biased against verb-only fragments, and I LOATHE them when used in a series of three, using the same verb for repetitive effect. I'll warn you now: it very well could mean an instant reject. (Though, that usage is generally a symptom of poor writing which makes itself known before I ever get to such a series.) I much prefer descriptive fragments containing adjectives and their object.
  • We no longer italicize thoughts at Electric Spec. (of course there are exceptions, depending on the story. We'll do it if it's needed for clarity.) We do italicize stuff like telepathy or other designated dialogue.
  • Please don't indicate italics with a *. Editors have to go in and remove all of them. You're submitting a story for pay. This is a professional endeavor, not an update on Facebook.

All right, I think that's it for now. As of today we've read and accepted/rejected all the stories except for our hold file for our next issue. Keep 'em coming!

23 July 2010

Give Your Characters a Makeover

Sometimes short stories are just fine with little or no descriptions of the characters involved. With novels, you pretty much have to include them, at least for important characters. With either form, a poor character description is the sign of a beginning author. I can't tell you how many stories I've read where the author chose to describe only the hair color, eye color, and clothing of a character in a laundry list sort of way. I admit it is not easy to do well-written character descriptions, but one way to make them better is to elaborate on details using your POV character's thoughts.

Here's an example. The following sounds like a laundry list description that might appear in your first draft--not very exciting:

Dale Hunter wore slacks and a blazer. She was thin and attractive, with wide-set eyes and full, pink lips.

Okay. Pretty bare bones and not too original. But hey, it's your first draft. You got it down on paper. Here's the second draft:

Dale Hunter was dressed in good slacks, a button down shirt, and a blue blazer. She was an athletic, strong looking-woman. Although she was not thin, she was toned. Her face was attractive, with wide-set eyes, and her skin was the color of peach flesh. She wore small gold earrings and only a little makeup. Her lips were full and pink.

Some pretty good details in there, but still a little dry. You don't learn anything about the POV character who is describing Dale Hunter. Here's the real version, from Stephen White's Harm's Way (note he even sneaks in a setting detail):

Dale Hunter was dressed in good slacks that flattered her long legs, a button down guy-type shirt that I would never call a blouse, and a blue blazer with those brass buttons that make it seem all nautical, as though the next thing she was going to do was hop a plane to Martha's Vineyard and spend the weekend with Walter Cronkite on his yacht. She was an athletic, strong looking-woman. Her shoulders and upper legs filled the fabric of her clothing. Although she was not thin, she was toned. I guessed she was a swimmer.

Her face was attractive, with wide-set eyes. In my book, cops should be weathered, but Dale Hunter's skin was the color of peach flesh, and despite Colorado's desert dryness, her complexion was rich and moist. She wore small gold earrings and only a little makeup--maybe a touch of blush and eyeliner. The dominant feature on her face was her lips. They were full and pink, and I couldn't be sure if I detected gloss on them or not.

Much better, huh? Notice that, in all of the above we DON'T get her hair and eye color. Still, you have a good feel for what the character looks like, and perhaps even what she will act like.

Read through your latest story and find your character descriptions. Try removing eye and hair color. Put in something that does double duty describing both the described character and the POV character. It is bound to catch the editor's eye (or at least prevent him from rolling his "deep blue" eyes.)

22 July 2010


Yes, we've been quiet here at the Electric Spec blog. Sorry about that, but we've been hard at work behind the scenes, starting to put together the new August 31, 2010 issue. We've been finishing up the slush that got in before the deadline in preparation for our production meeting at the beginning of August. Thus, by August 7, you should hear from us regarding rejections (sorry!), or acceptances (yeah!). I've also been working on an interview with fabulous Urban Fantasy author Jeanne Stein.

By now you know the story deadline for this issue has passed, but we're taking submissions for our November 30, 2010 issue. Good luck with those subs! :)

In other news, we updated the Electric Spec URLs. You can now also get to the ezine via www.electricspec.net, www.electricspec.org, and www.electricspec.info.

16 July 2010

Heinlein Autobiography

The new Heinlein autobiography--which might have one of the coolest titles I've ever heard: IN DIALOGUE WITH HIS CENTURY--is due out August 17th. (The day after this editor's birthday. Not hinting or anything. Evil grin.) But in the meantime, you can read some bits about him on Tor.com, in which writers elaborate on their favorite Heinlein novels.

Oh and by the way, this is only Volume ONE. Not sure how many are planned. Probably ten, considering who the book's about, eh?

*via Boing Boing

13 July 2010

e-books vs. p-books

I know e-book discussions are all the rage these days.
See me on the bandwagon? :^)
But I had to chuckle when I saw Jeff VanderMeer's blog post The Future of Publishing: Small Presses? from earlier this month. He says:
Within 50 to 70 years most power grids will be overloaded and have gone dark, in coordination with the collapse of a unified world civilization and the balkanization of cultures and societies. Any remaining pockets of electricity will be used for basic human needs or for military purposes. Therefore, e-books and e-texts will be absent from any discussion of the future of publishing.

Writers whose books were published in durable physical editions or on paper built to last will flourish in reputation in the future, even if they themselves are buried under girders, roasting as human barbecue, or working as grimy court jesters to petty despots until the inevitable bullet to the head and their own sojourn on the spit.

As a speculative fiction author...I have to wonder if this might be true. (I guess I should be printing out copies of Electric Spec!)

Maybe I'm just a pessimist?

Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Oh, and two days until our next issue deadline!

07 July 2010


From my slushpile and the class I just taught, as well as this post by Les Edgerton, I've surmised that the biggest issue that newer writers struggle with is CONFLICT.

Conflict drives Story. In fact, I'd go right out there and say Conflict IS Story. And that conflict essentially amounts to the events, people, and character traits that stand between a Protagonist and his or her goal.

The best stories state that goal very early on; hell, even in the first line, maybe. Protag wants X. Will they get it? amounts to the story question. (The easiest way to think of this is in a murder mystery: the detective wants to find the murderer.) Event number one establishes what our protag wants (inciting incident). Event two is something that keeps him from it. And so on, until the end, when Protag finally overcomes all the obstacles to achieve what they want (or not).

The best stories have conflict at every turn. Absolutely NOTHING works out for our poor protagonist. (Think of the hotel suite waking scene in THE HANGOVER as a prime example.)

If someone throws up, he should get it on himself. If a girl walks down a lonely alley, something bad should be lurking. If a boy wants to meet a girl, someone had better step between them. If a character is scared of spiders, its best for your story if one drops on the top of her head by the second act.

Exercise: go through your latest story, chapter, whatever, and see if anything works out for your character. Nine times out of ten (actually, closer to ten times out of ten) the story will benefit from it not working out.

02 July 2010

The Other Side of Editor Comments

I recently posted about how specific comments from an editor on rejections can be encouraging to authors. However, I just experienced the other end of the spectrum. I recently submitted a dark, near future SF story to a [to remain unnamed] magazine. The premise is that the penal system involves chemical treatments of inmates so that the inmates no longer experience emotion. You know, it makes them behave when they are in jail. The story is about the girlfriend of one of these inmates who finally gets out. The relationship does not go well and, at the end, the boyfriend ends up dying of an overdose of "emotion" drugs.

The comment on the reject was that my story was more of a "SF Romance" and their magazine didn't do romance. Huh? There's almost no romance in story other than the girlfriend's hopes and dreams at the beginning, and the death of the "boyfriend" at the end pretty much takes it out of the romance category all together.

So, in this case, it was pretty clear to me that the editor who made the personal comment read very little of the story, probably not beyond the first page. I'm not complaining about that. I confess I often don't read beyond the first page of a submission when it is clear to me it is not for Electric Spec. However, I would never made a personal comment about such a submission. In those circumstances, a form letter is best.

01 July 2010

Deadline coming up

Hi guys,
Since we've changed to a quarterly pub (yeah!), our next issue will be out at the end of August. This means the issue deadline is coming up: midnight (MDT) July 15, 2010. Get those stories in!