28 April 2011

A Song of Ice and Fire Reread

In anticipation of the release of A Dance with Dragons in July, I decided to start rereading A Game of Thrones with the idea I might be able to reread the whole series so far to make sure I remember what the heck was going on. I'm not much of a re-reader, to be honest. My brain has this ability to remember nearly every twist and turn of a novel I've read, so rereads can be boring for me. (This probably also explains why my brain can't retain other so-called "important" things like real-life names and phone numbers.) Anyhow, I must confess that I'm really enjoying the DWD reread. Sure, I remember all the plot twists--but I am catching lots of symbolism and foreshadowing that I missed the last time around. And I notice the mentions of what appear to be minor characters who eventually become POV characters later on. GRRM never ceases to amaze me.

I also stumbled across Leigh Butlers read of DOD. She's reading it for the first time, and its fun seeing her react to each of the chapters. She has good instincts about what's going on, and her gut reactions further show how good GRRM is setting up his story: her reactions are nearly identical to those I had. I sense GRRM wanted us to have those reactions.

26 April 2011

V is for Voice

One of the trickiest things to get a handle on as a writer is literary or writer's voice. It's also one of the most crucial because readers and editors love distinctive voices. Writer's voice is the literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author. Voice can be considered to be a combination of a writer's use of syntax, diction, punctuation, character development, dialogue, etc. Of course, technically, every author has a voice.

All my favorite authors have very strong and distinctive voices, how about yours? Let's look at some specific examples to help us get a handle on this topic. From Blackout by Connie Willis:

       I knew I didn't like Eddritch, Colin thought.

       "He did, however, mention your repeated absences. And the failing mark you got on your last essay."

       "That's because Beson made me write it on this book, The Impending Threat of Time Travel, and it was total rubbish. It said time travel theory's rot, and historians do affect events, that they've been affecting them all along, but wehaven't been able to see it yet because the space-tiem continuum's been able to cancel out the changes. But it won't be able to forever, so we need to stop sending historians to the past immediately and--"

       "I am fully acquinted with Dr. Ishiwaka's theories."

I can identify Willis' writing with only a few sentences because her voice is so distictive. It's very in media res, almost stream-of-consciousness, with lots of gerunds.

From One for the Money by Janet Evanovich:

       ...Joe Morelli came into the bakery where I worked every day after school, Tasty Pastry, on Hamilton. He bought a chocolate-chip cannoli, told me he'd joined the navy, and charmed the pants off me four minutes after closing, on the floor of Tasty Pastry, behind the case filled with chocolate eclairs.

       The next time I saw him, I was three years older. I was on my way to mall, driving my father's Buick when I spotted Morelli standing in front of Giovichinni's Meat Market. I gunned the big V-8 engine, jumped the curb, and clipped Morelli from behind, bouncing him off the front right fender. I stopped the car and got out to assess the damage.
'Anything broken?'

       He was sprawled on the pavement, looking up my skirt. 'My leg.'

       'Good,' I said. Then I turned on my heel, got into the Buick, and drove to the mall."

Evanovich is also easy to identify. In her case, she uses simple language, specific details, funny names e.g. Tasty Pastry, and lots of humor. Note, too, even with such short excerpts we can differentiate these voices from one another.

For another example, a while back I discussed Kelly Link's distinctive voice: Spec Fic Tools II: Voice.

So, the question is: how do we cultivate our literary voice? I think free-writing is effective. Try writing without your internal editor and see what comes out. :) Good luck!

19 April 2011

P is for Production Mode

Behind the scenes here at Electric Spec we are gearing up into Production Mode. What does that mean? It means we're working on putting out the next issue. We've imposed the issue cut-off for the May 31, 2011 deadline. (Don't worry, we're still accepting submissions, they'll just be considered for our next issue, August 31, 2011.)

We've been going through slush with a vengeance. Hhm...that came out wrong. Rest assured, no vengeance is directed at writers. We direct gratitude at writers: thanks for submitting! So, uh, we've been working hard at finishing slush and notifying writers if they made it to hold-for-voting.

We scheduled our Production Meeting (which, with this bunch is tricky). We've bought the drugs and booze. Oops! No, we didn't do that. We would never do that! (Gremlin Editor wrote that.)

We're working on cover art and our special features. Oh dear, I need to finish my assignment... Maybe I better get back to work on that.

The bottom line is hold-for-voting authors will hear back from us with "yeah" or "nea" at the beginning of May.
And a new fabulous issue of Electric Spec will hit the streets(?), electrons(?) on May 31!

14 April 2011

Issue Cut Off

Hi all, please note the next issue's cut off is April 15. So don't forget to send your stories and your taxes by then!

13 April 2011

Six Questions

Today I'm  interviewed over at Six Questions about editing, story writing, and Electric Spec.  Enjoy!

12 April 2011

J is for Joy

As folks may or may not know, April is the month for the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Today's letter is "J". I know we're not doing the challenge here, but based on posts and comments here in recent days, I thought maybe we needed a reminder of how great writing can be.

Writers--especially speculative fiction writers--create whole people, worlds, and cultures complete with their relationships and problems, out of nothing. That's power! Making something out of nothing! Okay... nothing but imagination, research, blood, sweat, tears, and lots of hard work. :)

But it is significant. And there's something so inherently human about telling stories, we've been doing it since there've been humans. Can't you just picture the cavemen and women sitting around the campfire, telling the story of 'the one that got away'? :)

When words are flowing onto the page, when one is possessed by The Muse, it's like a writer goes to another place, a world or zone of creativity. Of course that doesn't happen all the time, but that's one of the goals of a writer--getting lost in the zone.

When it happens, ...Joy.

So, how about you? Do you ever make it to The Zone? :) Any tips for getting there?

06 April 2011

Your letters look good, but how 'bout your numbers

As aspiring authors, many of us are focused on getting that first agent or picking up that first sale. We're sure that once we can "break through" then the fiction game will be so much easier. Not so, according to author Karen Dionne in a recent blog post. "[A]fter an author is published, they [sic] face an even greater challenge: getting published again," writes Dionne. Sales are not a matter of the quality of your next book, but the quantity of sales. Editors look up your numbers on a data provider called BookScan, a service of Neilsen (you know, the same company that rates TV shows). If your numbers are poor, you can probably kiss your next sale goodbye.

So, what is an aspiring author to do? IMHO, just keep writing. Most authors realize that becoming a professional writer is rarely a ticket to fame and riches. Writing despite knowing the odds against getting published (and getting a published again) means that you are writing for the right reasons.

05 April 2011

Internal Consistency

There have some good movies out recently in the speculative fiction genre. I must admit, I'm a bit of a movie geek and can tell you more than you want to know about movies like Blade Runner. One thing I loved about Blade Runner, and another Philip-K.-Dick-inspired movie Total Recall, was the ambiguity at the end. What really happened? My friends and I enjoyed debating the issue at length. We had similar debates about Inception. (What do you think happened at the end?) When I saw Limitless I was really struck by how much it reminded me of the classic science fiction story "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes. This, in turn made me ponder the similarities and differences of short fiction and movies...

Ambiguity at the end of movies can be very good. Ambiguity at the end of short stories I am more ambivalent about; I would have to take that on a case-by-case basis. One thing that absolutely does not work in movies or short fiction is internal inconsistency. Sadly, some recent movies may not be internally consistent. While enjoyable, The Adjustment Bureau (also influenced by Philip K. Dick's 1954 "Adjustment Team"!) doesn't seem entirely consistent. Do people have free will or are they controlled by The Adjustment Bureau's plan? I don't want to give anything away but if this plot was submitted to ElectricSpec, I'm not sure it would succeed.

A more serious consistency issue may be associated with The Source Code. Again, I don't want to give anything away because this apocalyptic Groundhog Day is enjoyable. But it's unclear if activating the source code brings the protagonist in the past to an alterate reality and/or an alternate timeline and what reality/timeline the source code affects. If there are different timelines/realities how can they interact and affect one another? As you may guess from my remarks, this one's a real mind-bender. I would have to say I would've rejected this plot if we'd gotten it in the slush. (If anyone understood the movie, I welcome your comments.)

My advice to ElectricSpec writers is: Make sure your stories are internally-consistent!