31 December 2013

fictional dialogue better than real dialogue

Wow! The submission deadline for the Fabulous February 2014 issue of Electric Spec is approaching: January 15, 2014. Yes, that is just over two weeks away. If you're submitting: good luck!

I had some folks disagree with me about my comment from last week that fictional dialogue should be better than real dialogue, so let's talk about it some more. (Pun intended. Doh!) Fiction is supposed to be realistic, right? Realistic, yes. Real, no.
Have you ever taken the time to listen to folks talking around you, say, in a crowded place? Take a moment and do so. You'll hear a plethora of "um", "like", "so", "well", "yeah", and the like. :) Try transcribing it. Very little actual information is imparted. Probably several people talk with similar jargon, dialect, and vocabulary.

Dialogue should impart information and create character. Re. info: This is done by having one character tell another character something he/she does not already know. Do not use any "As you know, Bob's". Re. building character: This is also done by having each character utilize unique voice/jargon/dialect/vocab. Ideally, each character's dialogue is so unique you wouldn't need a dialogue tag.

Speaking of dialogue tags… You don't need more than one dialogue tag per paragraph. (Of course, you would never have more than one speaker per paragraph.) You should only use forms of "said" and "asked" in tags--because they're invisible to the reader. You don't need to tag all dialogue if there are only two people in the scene. You do need to somehow tag all dialogue if there are more than two people in the scene--this can be accomplished by the uniqueness mentioned above. You can also use what some people call "beats," small physical actions. Facial expressions also work here. But be careful with punctuation! I'm not talking about using beats as dialogue tags.
For example: "Hubba, hubba," he grinned. <--is not correct.
"Hubba, hubba." He grinned. <--is fine.

Good luck with your dialogue and everything else in 2014!

18 December 2013

the last Notes from the Slush Pile of 2013

I hope everyone's enjoying the holiday season. Here at Electric Spec we are going through the slush pile as part of our holiday celebrations. ;) Here are some things to keep in mind if you want to sell your story:
  • Do have correct spelling and grammar.
  • Do grab the editor with an intriguing or dramatic opening and/or title.
    Consider including:
    • An odd juxtaposition of people and/or events, e.g. The Emergency Sock.
    • Some telling narrative. Sometimes the first line of an excellent story is the author telling the reader something, e.g. Dying is so inconvenient.
    • A unique voice. (For an example here, read something by Connie Willis.)
    • A unique world (this is spec fic, after all).
    • A problem or conflict on the first page.
  • Do write a story that makes sense. Have a friend to read your story and then ask them what happened. If they can't tell you: rewrite.
  • Do create well-rounded characters. All characters should have both good and bad qualities.
  • Do write good dialogue. Reading dialogue out loud can help identify where it's awkward. Keep in mind fictional dialogue should not be the same as real-life dialogue. -->it should be better.
  • Do have a resolution to your story. Something has to be different at the end of your story.
  • If you include violence, earn it. By this I mean the reader needs to care about a character to care about their death or him/her committing violence. Think about the opening of a movie: if the first scene is someone being killed do we care about the victim or the murderer? Probably not. Violence for violence's sake isn't interesting.
  • Your suggestion here.
I welcome further suggestions in the comments.
Happy holidays!

11 December 2013

Narnia's Secret Code

Like most folks I assumed C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia were an allegory of the Christian gospels. Scholar Michael Ward makes a very compelling case that Lewis' Narnia books instead evoke the influence of each of the seven medieval planets in his book Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis.

The seven medieval or classical planets were the Sun and Moon and the five non-earth planets of our solar system closest to the Earth: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Notice these form the seven days of the week: Sun-day, Moon-day, Saturn-day, and in Latin: 'Martis' (Mars, Tuesday), 'Mercurii' (Wednesday), 'Iovis' (Jupiter, Thursday) and 'Veneris' (Venus, Friday).

Each of these heavenly bodies was believed to have certain attributes, and Ward says that these attributes were de liberately used by Lewis to furnish elements of the stories of each book:

  • in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe the child protagonists become monarchs under sovereign Jove
  • in Prince Caspian:The Return to Narnia they harden under strong Mars
  • in The Vouage of the Dawn Treader they drink light under searching Sol
  • in The Silver Chair they learn obedience under subordinate Luna
  • in The Horse and His Boy they come to love poetry under eloquent Mercury
  • in The Magician's Nephew they gain life-giving fruit under fertile Venus
  • in The Last Battle they suffer and die under chilling Saturn
What do you think? Agree? Disagree?
I think I've got some rereading to do!

03 December 2013

what's your favorite?

By now I hope you've realized the new November issue of Electric Spec is out.

Eric Del Carlo brings us a story about a boy who flies in "At Wave's Ebb." In "A Page of Skulls," Tony Peak tells a dark tale of a dark and magnificently strange world. On the lighter side, Fredrick Obermeyer's "The IUD that Landed in Grandpa's Backyard" show us the humorous side of first contact. "Discarded" by Miranda Suri is an artistic urban fantasy with a dash of crime. And, finally, our debut author Steve Rodgers shows his stuff with an exciting backwoods cyber-thriller, "Cortex." For our special features, our spec-tacular movie critic Marty Mapes takes a look at "hard" science fiction movies making a comeback at the box office. Huzzah!

We also have a very interesting Editor's Corner entry from Editor/Author Betsy Dornbusch on "Gender Equality in Science Fiction and Fantasy Fandom and Industry." Huzzah, again!

What's your favorite? They're all so good, I can't decide. :)

26 November 2013

urban fantasy coming Nov 30

The next fabulous issue of Electric Spec is almost here! I'm excited, how about you? The final two stories I'd like to brag about are two urban fantasies: "Discarded" by Miranda Suri and "At the Wave's Ebb" by Eric Del Carlo. Both of these are set on contemporary Earth and have speculative elements.

In "Discarded" modern art comes to life to help (or not) a man come to terms with his issues. Why's it titled "Discarded"? You'll just have to read it and find out. We've published Suri before. You can find her story "The New Arrival" here.

In "At the Wave's Ebb" an unusual man also has to come to terms with his issues. How's he unusual? What issues are these? Again, read it to find out. :) We've also published Del Carlo before. Check out his story "A Crowd of Possibilities" here.

A couple weeks ago I was remiss in not linking to Fredrick Obermeyer's previous story for us. Check out "The Coincidence Factory" here. We actually have another Obermeyer story, "Birth of a New Day" here. Clearly, we like Obermeyer. Hopefully, you do too.

Please check out all the new stories on November 30 2013!

Thank you in advance to all the behind the scenes folks and all the contributing authors. We couldn't have done it without you. Huzzah, for you! :)

19 November 2013

a high fantasy coming Nov 30

Among our excellent new Electric Spec stories coming out on November 30, 2013 is "Page of Skulls" by Tony Peak. This story has some horror elements, but I'd say it's high fantasy. What is high fantasy, you ask? High fantasy is usually set in an imaginary totally fictional or "secondary" world. High fantasy does not occur in any version of our real "primary" world.
We published a high fantasy story from Peak before. Check it out here while you're waiting for the new issue.

Of course, the subdivisions of fantasy literature are many. Closely related to high fantasy is epic fantasy. Epic fantasy is fantasy that is defined by the epic nature of the characters, plot, and/or themes. Notice most epic fantasy is also high fantasy. Famous examples here include the classics The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, A Song of Ice and Fire.
Interestingly, we don't get a lot of high or epic fantasy stories. Think about submitting one, if you've got one or an idea for one.

Probably the most popular kind of fantasy these days is urban fantasy. I said the other day that urban fantasy is a fantasy set on contemporary planet Earth. Notice it definitely does not have to be set in an urban area--this is a common misconception. Urban fantasy takes place on our world; it just has fantasy element(s) added to it. Next week I'll discuss a couple urban fantasies we'll be publishing in the next issue.

Check back then! :)

13 November 2013

rural science fiction

I'm not sure how it happened but the marvelous new November 2013 issue of Electric Spec has two stories, which for lack of a better term, I'm going to call rural science fiction.
They are:
  • a scary near-future story "Cortex" by Steve Rodgers which will make you think differently about video games and
  • a hilarious present-day (?) story "The IUD that Landed in Grandpa's Backyard" by Fredrick Obermeyer.
Both stories take place in rural areas and have characters that are not, shall we say, classically educated. The characters have distinctive dialogue with lots of regional slang. I'm not sure I've ever come across this sub-genre before but I know you all will enjoy the stories.

It raises the interesting question of sub-genres. Last year I got my M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction and extensively studied the different genres and sub-genres associated with speculative fiction. One very popular sub-genre now with readers and writers is urban fantasy. Urban fantasy is not necessarily what it sounds like, however; it doesn't have to be set in an urban area. Urban fantasy is set on the contemporary Earth and fantastical elements are just added in.
Hhm. Based on the concept of urban fantasy, maybe the stories in question should be classified as urban science fiction...

You'll have to read them on November 30, 2013 and decide for yourself. :)

05 November 2013

the November 2013 production meeting

Our production meeting got off to a rocky start as our regular meeting place was packed and asked us to wait for a long time for seating. Ugh. So, we left and went to another place down the road where margaritas and beers were buy one, get one free. Huzzah! Suffice it to say, this is our new regular place. :)

We, The Editors, try to be as objective as possible with our story selection. Thus, before the meeting we each rank the stories in hold-for-voting on a numerical scale. Interestingly, our pre-meeting rankings were very different this time. It didn't bode well... But when we discussed the stories we ended up with just five that were 'still in the mix', five stories that we all enjoyed, were original, and showed a mastery of craft. Viola; the stories in the issue! We've never had such a harmonious meeting. I'll blog more about the stories a little later in the month. Purely by coincidence (we don't consider the query letters or author names in our objective rankings), four out of five authors were folks we've published before. I don't know if that's good or bad, but it does seem to indicate we like what we like. Also in the issue Editor/Author Betsy will have an interesting essay in Editor's Corner. We've also got some neat art in the works. As we close out our eighth (!) year at Electric Spec, it promises to be another excellent issue.

We'd like to thank our awesome Associate Editor Nikki Baird for her help with the infamous slush pile: Thanks, Nikki!

So, what's next for the November 2013 issue? All the authors who submitted by the October 15, 2013 deadline have been contacted with a yay or nay. If you haven't heard from us, we probably didn't get your story. :( Once we hear back from the 'yay' authors, we start editing their stories and setting up the new issue on our Content Management System. Once we edit the stories, we send them back to authors for their approval, or if needed, for rewrites. Rinse and repeat as necessary. And then it magically all comes together by the end of the month...

31 October 2013

scary stories

To tide you over until we publish our next Electric Spec scary story, check out: 12 novelists tell their scariest bite-size stories.

Happy Halloween!

30 October 2013


We, The ElectricSpec Editors, are working hard behind the scenes. I'll post an update about the new issue next week.
In the meantime, Happy Halloween!

22 October 2013

and yet more notes

One we thing we love here at Electric Spec is originality. We want to read your original unique stories. Since there are no new stories this can be a bit tricky. For now, I'm going to focus on 2 different aspects that can impart originality:
  1. What you write.
  2. How you write it.
By "what you write" I mean the external plot. For example, vampires are not original. Men killing women is not original. What would we like to see? Epic fantasy that does not involve a quest. Macabre that does not involve killing people. Another avenue to originality is a mash up of two (or more) genres.
Note: ideally this external plot is echoed in the main character(s) internal plot arc. Think about what character can best tell this story; which character would have the most to gain or lose. I hate to use TV examples, but here I go: On the new show "Masters of Sex" the protagonist is an impotent shame-filled man who cannot seem to enjoy sex. This is the man who is studying sex. Would another character be as compelling? I think not.

How you write your story can make a rather tired plot fresh again.
In general, authors should be as specific as possible, especially for nouns. Don't refer to 'a guitar', refer to 'a Gibson SG' (or whatever is appropriate). Create a unique world. Always paint your story picture through the protagonist(s) lens. Descriptions should be from the character(s) perspective. Adjectives like 'beautiful' are relatively meaningless; how is it beautiful to the character?
If you've noticed I'm using the words 'character' and 'protagonist' a lot here, this is no accident. A unique character can make a tired plot fresh. A little girl assassin was fresh (the first time we saw it).

Another way to impart originality in the 'how you write' vein is voice. This concept is more difficult to pin down but it is the combination of vocabulary, sentence length, paragraph length, tone, and all the other writerly tools used to create a story. I've blogged about voice before here:V is for Voice and here:Spec Fic Tools II: Voice.
Good luck creating your unique story.

In the coming weeks I'll start blogging about the new November 2013 issue. Stay tuned for that. :)

21 October 2013

read for our future

Just a heads up about a great lecture by Neil Gaiman in The Guardian last week: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming.

16 October 2013

more notes from the slush pile

By now, the deadline for the neat November issue of Electric Spec has passed. But, never fear, you can still submit--for the fabulous February 2014 issue.
We have started working behind the scenes on the November issue. We've been reading a lot of slush. I have some tips. I freely admit these are for our market. I apologize because many of these I've given in years past but apparently they're still needed. Thus, without further ado...
One Editor's tips:
  • Do proofread your piece for spelling and grammar issues. We do not expect your piece to be perfect, but we do expect it to be readable. Note: MSWord's spelling and grammar tools are not sufficient.
  • Do use forms of said or asked for dialogue tags. I'm not kidding. I went to a writers conference last month and I asked every professional literary agent and editor I met about this, and they all agreed: said or asked only. They also said it's even better if you can give dialogue without needing a tag, i.e. use distinctive vocabulary or cadence or other unique ways of speaking for each character.
  • Do include a speculative element integrated into your story. If we can't find a speculative element, we won't be publishing it even if it's a very good story. If it seems like you stuck on the speculative element after the fact, we won't be publishing it. How can you tell if it's "stuck on"? If you take the speculative element out, the story should fall apart.
  • Do include originality. Please try to put a unique twist on your story. I can't tell you how many stories we've read where a man kills his wife or girlfriend (or wife and girlfriend). I can't tell you how many vampire stories we've read. I can tell you it is extremely difficult to write a fresh vampire story.
  • Do write the story only you can write. (Yes, this is related to originality, above.) What are you passionate about? What intrigues you? Put it in a story!
  • Do have a protagonist.
  • Do have conflict.
  • Do have a story resolution. This can be a success or a failure. This can even be the emergence of a new conflict. The point is: something must change.
I guess that's it for now. Back to the slush pile for me...

08 October 2013

notes from the slush pile

We are starting to work hard behind the scenes on the neat November issue of Electric Spec. Personally, I've been reading a lot of slush... Here are some thoughts in no particular order.
  • Re. the cover letter:
    • Don't tell us to go to your web page to learn more about you. In general, don't order us to do anything. It makes us grumpy.
    • Don't write a looong cover letter. We don't care what happened to you in the 1980s, or the 1990s, for that matter. If you have dozens of publications, just pick the top five or so and emphasize those. When we pick your story we will ask you for a bio for our Authors page.
    • Do give us your name, the title of your story, and its word count. The genre would also be nice. Although if you get the genre wrong...this is not a plus.
    • Do not give us a summary of the story. If we can't tell what it's about, a summary in the cover letter isn't going to help you.
  • Re. story length:
    • IMHO, it is really, really difficult to tell a story in less than 1000 words. Despite the current popularity of flash fiction, I've almost never seen it done well.
    • At the opposite extreme, while we do accept stories up to 7000 words... Does your story really need 7000 words? As an editor, I get pretty tired around about 5000 words. In the vast majority of cases, stories that contain 7000 words only need ~5000 words. Please carefully consider this.
  • Re. format:
    Do follow our formatting rules: here. The main points are:
    • rtf format
    • in an attachment
    • double-spaced
    • 12 pt font
    • not a weird font. We like Times New Roman or Courier.
That's it for now. Good luck with your writing. We look forward to reading your story! :)

01 October 2013

Ocean at the end of the Lane

I read an interesting book recently, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. In Ocean the nameless adult protagonist returns home to Sussex for a funeral, wanders onto his old neighbors' property and recalls a childhood adventure. It's a beautifully-written engrossing, terrifying adventure to be sure.
For a fantasy, there are some delightful references to modern science such as wormholes, alternate dimensions, the Big Bang and the like. Neat! But ultimately for this reader it was a sad story, seeming almost autobiographical, even while describing mythical powerful creatures.

All in all, I'm not sure I got this book. The protagonist seems to be remembering his childhood to gain some secret power/weapon/knowledge but he immediately forgets. Moreover, the reader's told he has remembered and forgotten it before. Apparently the protagonist--and by extension all adults (?)--are doomed to ignorance and powerlessness. Or...?

What do you think this book is about?

30 September 2013

editorial miscellany

I see the submission deadline for the neat November 2013 issue of Electric Spec is sneaking up on us. It is October 15, 2013. Get your stories in if you want them to be considered for publication in 2013.

We've been getting a lot of submissions--which is great for readers. With a large variety of stories to consider you can rest assured that the issue will be awesome. However, this does mean it's been taking us a bit longer to get back to authors. Sorry about that.
I have a request: Please do not email us and ask us about the status of your story. We get enough emails without having to deal with extras.
We will get back to you as soon as we can.

Good luck!

25 September 2013

recovering from the con

Phew! It was awesome to see so many of you writers and readers at the RMFW Conference this past weekend! I love hobnobbing with writers! I can't recommend this conference enough.

One of our guest super writers agrees. Check out Author Rob Thurman's blog "Writers Cons vs. Fan Cons". Suffice it to say: a good (and educational) time was had by all.

And, yes, Author and Editor Betsy Dornbusch was found in the bar and the hospitality suite...

18 September 2013

Colorado Gold 2013

You all may or may not know all the editors of Electric Spec are members of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW). This weekend is the big annual writers conference. I highly recommend it. Editor and Author Betsy Dornbusch has several events on Friday Sept 20:
  • 1 pm Visiting Author Panel with Margaret George, Rob Thurman, and Ronald Malf
  • 3 pm The New age of Noir and Pulp
  • Dinner table host with Rob Thurman
  • 8 pm Book Signing: Friday Night. Open to the public.
Notice the book signing/selling at the Denver Renaissance hotel on Quebec St. is open to the public and it is very cool.

I'll be volunteering for various things, moderating panels etc., and teaching a workshop:" Stealing from the Best: A Sample of Different Writing Methods To Find the Best Method for You" with author Rebecca Bates at 8:00am Saturday Sept. 21.

I'm pretty sure our awesome associate editors, Nikki Baird and Chris Devlin will also be attending.

See you there!

10 September 2013

what's horror?

I hope everyone's still reading and enjoying the awesome August 31 issue of Electric Spec. But in case you're starting to think about the next story you'll write...

I recently reread "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe. You can read it for free here, among other places. Check out the beginning:
DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country ; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.
If one of my critique partners started a story with a lot of telling setting description, I'd recommend otherwise. I'd say, this is a cliche.

Of course, you can't say that about "Usher" because it was written before all those other stories. When you're one of the first, you can't be a cliche. :)
"Usher" is the quintessential gothic horror story, the story that influenced all others that came after. What exactly is gothic fiction? Some say it's the mode of literature that combines elements of romance and horror. The name gothic supposedly refers to the medieval or pseudo-medieval buildings in which the stories take place. What is horror fiction? This one is harder to pin down. The Horror Writers Association says horror is fiction that elicits fear and/or dread in the reader. Thus, horror can be about or include anything as long as it elicits the desired emotional reaction(s).

I had a professor once who defined horror as fiction that tries to subvert your perception of reality. It tries to make the reader question everything.
What is real?

Are you a horror reader? A horror writer? What do you like best about it?

04 September 2013

Betsy twitter chat tonight

Editor and Author Betsy Dornbusch tells us:

I'm doing a twitter chat tonight, 7 pm our time. The hash tag is #sffwrtcht

I'll talk fantasy, books, EXILE and THE SEVEN EYES series, Night Shade, Electric Spec. Feel free to drop by and lurk or ask. @BetsyDornbusch

(That's U.S. Mountain Time.)

03 September 2013

read on!

Huzzah! The awesome August 31, 2013 issue of Electric Spec is live!

As the letter from the editors says,
...of the stories in this issue: you're gonna love 'em. Get this--zombies hungry for artificial babies in "Little Miss Saigon" by Malon Edwards. In C.R. Hodge's "Queen Meabh," a Scottish spirit kick's some archeologist ass. And if you wanna go totally post-apocalypse, step down into the fall out shelter in "For Want of Stars" by Beth Ceto. Speaking of a post-disaster world, what to you do when indescribable death machines kill everyone else but ignore you? Find out in "Amelia Amongst Machines" by David Brookes. Finally, look how complicated your love life can get when it gets too "spirited" in David W. Landrum's "Someone."

Read on, brothers and sisters!

Thank you very much behind-the-scenes folks, including our authors (Yay!), our artist (Yay!), our tech guys, and our associate editors (Yay!). We couldn't have done it without you.

Drop us a line in the comments, here, and let us know what you think of the issue. What's your favorite story?

27 August 2013

new issue soon

Our awesome August 31, 2013 issue of Electric Spec is almost here! Huzzah! Thanks to some very good authors, we have some very good stories to share with you:

In "Little Miss Saigon" by Malon Edwards we get a whole new perspective on a mother's love; I'll give you one hint: zombie.
In C.R. Hodge's "Queen Meabh," an archeologist's field project does not go as planned; I'll you a hint here: possession.
For a post-apocalyptic adventure, "For Want of Stars" by Beth Ceto fits the bill.
Ever wonder what happens when death machines kill everyone but ignore you? Find out in "Amelia Amongst Machines" by David Brookes.
Hhm. I'm sensing a bit of a negative theme.
Fear not! We close out the issue with a romance in David W. Landrum's "Someone." Of course, as you might expect this romance has a speculative twist...

Check them all out, August 31 in the usual place: Electric Spec

20 August 2013

your brain on fiction

You may or may not have noticed we had a little bit of technical difficulty at the end of last week with our marvelous May 31, 2013 issue. We think we've resolved this. If you see something weird please email the submissions email.
We are all working hard behind the scenes on the awesome August 31, 2013 issue. In particular, I wanted to give a shout out to our excellent copy-editor Chris Devlin. You rock, girl! Thanks for all your help on the issues.
Stay tuned next week for some more specific bragging about the new issue. :)

Now, on to the topic at hand. Annie Murphy Paul wrote a fascinating article "Your Brain on Fiction" published in 2011 in The New York Times. The gist of it is: The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Wow! Isn't that cool?

What does this mean for authors? It means we really need to show, not tell. Words with odor associations activate the smelling portion of our brain. Words with motion associations activate the parts of our brain associated with moving. Words associated with textures or other tactile sensations activate the parts of our brain associated with touch. Let's use all the amazing words and mental associations at our disposal. :)

What's your favorite sensory word? Use it!

13 August 2013


The Electric Spec Editors are working hard editing stories for the awesome August 2013 issue. I thought I'd give you all a glimpse behind the curtain...

As authors make sure you remove as many spelling and grammar errors as possible before you submit your work of art. Do use the spelling and grammar tools of your word-processing software BUT don't rely on them exclusively. A lot of spelling and grammar issues can slip by. In particular, a misspelled word can be auto-corrected to become another word. Try reading your work out loud to separate yourself from your work and catch these gotchas. As an editor, I don't have preconceptions of what a piece says so it's easier for me to spot problems.
Be careful with word choice. I know authors who love their thesaurus, but not all words are created equal. Consider what a word really means. And is it consistent with your world and character? This is also something editors look at.

Probably the most common thing we edit for is length. IMHO, rarely does a short story need to be 5,000 words or more. I know Electric Spec accepts longer stories but those extra words are almost always padding--and padding that obscures the true beauty of a story. One of our editors (his name rhymes with Dave) is a master at revealing a story jewel hidden underneath the fluff. We call him The Slasher and all try to emulate him.
Related to this is where the story opens. Often a story opens with a lot of setup or backstory. Often this isn't needed.

An editing trick I've discovered over the years is line spacing. White space on the page or screen is your friend because it imparts drama. It lets the reader focus on a particular sentence. Go ahead, try it. When something important happens, put that sentence in its own paragraph. I often recommend the climax--especially the emotional climax--of a story get its own paragraph.


Didn't you focus on the above line? Of course, the opposite holds as well. Readers focus less on stuff in a long paragraph.
A similar idea for dialogue is to break up dialogue with beats, small physical actions or expressions. Here's an example:
"I love you." She swallowed. "And I've never said that to anyone before." versus
"I love you. And I've never said that to anyone before."
Isn't the first version more dramatic? Breaking up the dialogue makes the reader focus more on the individual lines.

Authors selected for the awesome August issue should be in the process of sending back their contracts. Once we receive the contract, the Editor begins editing. If our proposed changes are minor, we'll post the story in a preview and ask the author to okay it on the webpage. If more significant changes may be necessary we generally go back and forth with the author giving suggestions, etc.

Be sure to checkout the new issue August 31!

06 August 2013

uniqueness and action

We, the Editors, had our production meeting this past weekend. This means our awesome August 2013 issue is well on its way to creation. All the authors who were in hold-for-voting and not selected have been emailed. Remember, if your story made it to hold-for-voting, your story is publishable. Kudos, for almost making it into the issue! I think some selectees have yet to be emailed--but it's coming soon.

IMHO, we had an extra tough time selecting which stories to include in the issue because we had a lot of strong finalists. I thought I'd pass along some discussion points for your consideration. At Electric Spec we really like unique stories. This means your story will have a better chance with us if it has a different take or unusual twist in it. Try to subvert our expectations. For instance, if a man falls in love with a ghost woman, you might expect the problem would be that the love-interest is a ghost; but what if that's not the problem? One clever way to create something unique is to combine multiple genres, for example, zombies and artificial intelligence. I think you get the idea. The bottom line is if two somewhat similar stories are in final contention and one has a unique twist and one doesn't ==> we pick the unique one.

The second issue that was a deciding factor at the recent meeting was: does the protagonist act to solve his/her/its problem? (Notice this means the protagonist has a problem.) In other words, the main character has to do something to change his/her/its circumstances. For example, if evil robots are running rampant across the countryside killing everyone and the protagonist is saved when they're cut down by a virus --> not great. On the other hand, if evil robots are running rampant across the countryside killing everyone and the protagonist tries to lure them away from a settlement to save the people there ==> very nice. Especially if you add in a unique twist like the protagonist is a little girl and some other stuff...
I think you get the idea here, too.

As you may have gleaned, we have some great stories for the awesome August issue. Stay tuned this month for more info!

30 July 2013

politics in fiction

I read an interesting book recently, Flashback by Dan Simmons. Set in the future, it's essentially a murder mystery with a disgraced ex-detective being forced to solved the murder of a powerful man's son. The title refers to flashback, a drug that most Americans are addicted to, in which you flash back to memories from your past. As you can imagine, this doesn't bode too well for the U.S. economy, etc. In Flashback the U.S. and most of the rest of the world's civilizations have been destroyed.
This future world Simmons created is extreme. Evil Muslims have been waging a holy war on the whole world. Clever sneaky Japanese still have advanced technology but also have a brutal feudal style culture of ritual suicide and worse. (If this sounds racist to you, I agree.)

Furthermore, in this world, Simmons writes the U.S. was totally bankrupted/destroyed by its entitlement programs. Europe was destroyed by its socialist policies. In addition, Simmons states multiple times that anthropogenic climate change is a "hoax". He mentions one lab repeatedly where this nefarious research took place and which is the site of horrific research in the novel. (Never mind the hundreds of other universities and labs that do research in this area which are never mentioned.)
To make a long story short, Tea Partiers would love this book.
Before reading this novel I had no idea what Mr. Simmons' personal political views were...but I have a pretty strong feeling I do now.

Should you include strong political views in your novel? In my opinion: caveat scriptor. I'll put it another way. Has Electric Spec ever published a story with such blatant political propaganda? No.

Stay tuned next week for an update on the Awesome August issue and our production meeting!

23 July 2013


I read an interesting book recently, The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman. It tells the story of a disadvantaged mother in 1831 England and what she does to protect her baby in the midst of a cholera epidemic. "Dress lodging" refers to a whore renting a fancy dress so she can attract fancier johns. It's a very dramatic story and well-written. Moreover, it has an interesting point-of-view, with the author often addressing the reader. I don't think it will be too much of a spoiler to reveal some people do die of cholera.
However, the ending is ambiguous. A positive life for the dress lodger is suggested for the audience, but we have no way of knowing if it will come to pass. When a novel or story has an ambiguous ending, it's up to the reader to decide what will happen. Even more than usual the reader plays an integral part in an ambiguous-ending story.

What do you think will happen to the dress lodger? A happy ending? Death via cholera?
Whatever you decide it says a lot about you. :)

Does Electric Spec publish a lot of ambiguous-ending stories? Savvy readers know the answer to that question, but I'll give you a hint: No.

16 July 2013

similes and metaphors

First a little business. We've passed the submission deadline for the August 2013 issue of Electric Spec. If you got your story in: Hurray for you. If not: we're now accepting submissions for the November 2013 issue. Good luck! In general: thank you authors! We wouldn't exist without you. :)
Please don't email us and ask us what the status of your story is. It clogs up our email and makes it that much slower for us to read the actual story submissions.
We're having the next production meeting at the beginning of August, so all submitters--including those in hold-for-votting--will hear back from us by about August 7.

Now, on to some fun stuff: similes and metaphors. Similes and metaphors are an important part of your writing arsenal. Every single author should be using them; they make stories richer. Similes and metaphors are easy to get mixed up (I know I do). A simile is when an author directly compares two things using a word like "like", "as", "than", or a verb such as "resembles". :) A metaphor is when an author describes a subject by asserting that it is the same as an unrelated object. So, notice a simile differs from a metaphor in that the latter compares two unlike things by saying that the one thing is the other thing.

The important point for writers to remember--especially speculative fiction writers--is your similes and metaphors need to be consistent and compatible with the character and the world. Moreover, they can be used to create those characters and world. Think about it. A rural character in a macabre tale will use much different similes and metaphors than an alien in a science fiction tale. Ooh! I just got an image of a hillbilly on an alien world... :)

In terms of tips, it's rarely a good idea to have more than one simile and/or metaphor in one sentence. It's rarely a good idea to use a mixed metaphor or simile (unless you're going for humor).
Does anyone have any favorite similes or metaphors they care to share?

Now your homework assignment: look at your most recent work and make sure you have some similes and metaphors. Then, make sure they are unique to that story, to that character, to that world. Good luck!

09 July 2013

get in the groove

The submission deadline for our Awesome August 2013 issue is coming up: July 15. Get those stories in!

One of my writing friends made some very inspiring comments the other day, so I asked her to summarize them for your reading pleasure.

Guest post from Jamie Ferguson:

A while back I finally got back in the groove and started focusing on my writing again. I wanted to finish my book, but I also gave myself the okay to take it slow because I didn't want to get burnt out and stop. I was moving at a glacial pace, but I was moving!

I started to pick up steam last fall. My editor had given me exactly the kind of feedback I needed, I was making progress on editing my book, and I took a writing class from Dean Wesley Smith. But this wasn't enough. I wanted to make real changes in my life. I didn't want to work on my manuscript for a day or two, then do nothing for 3 weeks. I like to compare writing to exercise - when you're in shape, you can't not exercise...but when you're trying to get in shape, you'll use even the most ridiculous excuses to avoid doing anything. I wanted to be in writing shape.

The plan I came up with was to incorporate a variety of writing-related activities into my life on a weekly, preferably daily, basis.

I signed up for two classes: one on book cover design, and one on interior book design. I eventually took another three writing classes. I tried out a few writing podcasts, finally settling on Writing Excuses as my favorite. I started reading writing blogs. I joined a small critique group. I worked on my manuscript whenever I had free time. And I started having writing happy hours with a few other writers. You can discount the latter, but I do not - talking with other writers helps keep you motivated. And combining it with wine doesn't hurt...

My idea was that if I involved myself in many different writing-related activities that I would be more likely to be able to stay focused. So if I took a little time off from my manuscript, but was taking classes, listening to podcasts, and going to a critique group, that I was still focused on writing. Kind of like if you take a few weeks off from running, but you're hiking and lifting weights, you're still used to the idea that exercise is a part of your life.

Incorporating all of this into my life was a challenge in the beginning, but I achieved what I wanted - seven months later I'm still writing diligently on a regular basis. My book was published in April, I'm about to publish a small short story collection, and I'm about 2/3 of the way through my second novel. My plan was a success!

Congratulations and thanks, Jamie!

02 July 2013

Sookie rocks!

As every self-respecting speculative fiction fan knows, Charlaine Harris released the final Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Series book this spring, Dead Ever After That makes book number thirteen for those of you who are counting. In honor of the ending of the series I decided to read them all again from beginning to end, and I'm having a ball. Harris is an amazing author. Her plotting keeps the reader entranced. Moreover, she's created a whole cast of characters that are engaging and realistic--and that's with vampires, shifters, werewolves, and fae running around!

Sookie, in particular, is a tour de force character. Harris has done a masterful job showing naive Sookie change and grow into a self-sufficient, wise woman who knows what she wants and knows how to get it. While Sookie isn't exactly a typical woman, she's not superwoman. She's flawed in the beginning of the series and flawed in the end, although less so. She has a lot of setbacks but always manages to pick herself up again and keep trying. She also wrestles with big picture ideas of good versus evil and what it means to be a good Christian. Kudos, Ms. Harris!

What's that? You don't like Sookie as much as I do? That's totally fine. The bottom line here is Harris has created the type of multidimensional character every author should strive for.
Another important take-away is: read, read, read. Not only is it great fun, but writers learn a lot from other writers.

Who's your favorite fictional character?

25 June 2013

Critique Groups

The publishing industry has undergone a lot of growing pains in the last few years. One result of this, IMHO, is critique groups are more important than ever for writers. Why? Because writers need another set of eyes on their work, so they can discover what's really on the page--as opposed to what they think is on the page.

I freely admit getting critique is tough. It's difficult to hear that one's writing, one's baby, is not perfect. And sometimes, feedback isn't helpful. In general, critique should be about how something is written, not what is written.

Here are some critique group tips from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers:

  • Offering Critique:
    • Begin with positive comments.
    • Comments should be specific and about things like viewpoint, structure, characters, word choice, etc.
    • Note any confusion you had as a reader and/or questions that were raised.
    • Be sure you separate the character/narrator from the author. Don't assume the author is the character/narrator.
    • Comment on the work itself, and not the subject matter or related philosophies, etc.
    • End with something positive.
  • Receiving Critique:
    • Just listen and/or take notes. Do not argue, explain or defend.
    • Don't be intimidated or depressed by the feedback. Honest feedback is a valuable tool for improving one's writing.
    • Don't take everyone's critique as gospel. You are the boss of your writing. Don't make changes before careful consideration.
    • If a critique group isn't working for you, by all means, quit and look for another group.
How do you find a group? Local writers groups have critique groups. Many public libraries have writer's critique groups. There are also a lot of online groups. See, for example, the compilation at: "Online Writing Groups, Writing Communities and Critique Groups".

Good luck!

18 June 2013

writing advice

I've been doing a lot of research into writing advice from writers for a workshop I'm teaching with a friend later in the summer. There is a lot of advice out there! I've blogged about this before, see for example Quotes from Writers. Some of the most obvious--and helpful--pieces of advice include:
  • To be a writer you must write.
  • Finish things.
  • Read, read, read.
In an effort to winnow down the massive amount of info, I decided to focus on some of the most successful writers of recent years and see if they have anything in common. And, IMHO, they do.
  • George R.R. Martin said recently in an interview that his characters are more real to him than some real-world people.
  • Regarding her missing her characters, J.K. Rowling said, "I really miss all of them, but I suppose I'm going to have to say Harry because he is my hero and there is a lot of me in Harry."
    and "What you write becomes who you are…so make sure you love what you write!"
    and "Sometimes I actually hated the book, even while I loved it."
  • Stephenie Meyer said "My focus is the characters--that's the part of the story that is most important to me. I feel the best way to write believable characters is to really believe in them yourself."
    and "try not to focus on the publishing part while you write—tell yourself a story that you really love."
Thus the gist of this advice is: write the story and characters that you, the author, love.
Good luck!

11 June 2013

we need art

For some reason, in recent weeks our cover art submissions have fallen off. Why is this? Beats me.
The bottom line is, if you are an artist or an aspiring artist think about creating some speculative art and sending it to us.

Some highlights from the Art Submissions Guidelines page include:

  • We are currently accepting art submissions for our 2013 and 2014 issues.
  • Please do not submit the same artwork more than once.
  • Please submit artwork separately from stories.
  • We will consider any picture with a speculative fiction element for issue cover art.
    No over-the-top sex or violence, or fan fiction characters or settings, please.
  • We pay $20 for each piece of artwork we publish. We buy first-printing world exclusive rights for four months and non-exclusive rights thereafter. Please note this means we want art that has not been published elsewhere. Payment will be made shortly after publication using PayPal.
  • To submit your art to Electric Spec, e-mail it as an attachment to submissions at electricspec (dot) com. Use the following subject line: ART SUBMISSION: Title by Artist's Name. We prefer standard electronic formats such as jpeg or gif files.
Artists: start your paintbrushes, or pencils, or computers, or other favorite medium.
What's that? You've never created art? Now's your chance...

07 June 2013

nouveau issue

Hopefully, you all have already gleaned we have a merveilleux nouveau Mai issue of Electric Spec! Thank you to all the contributors: Aaron Ritchey, Sarah Pinsker, Maigen Turner, Charlotte Nash, Jarod K. Anderson, Kenny Soward, Marty Mapes. You guys rock. Thank you to all the behind-the-scenes folks: Betsy Dornbush, David E. Hughes, moi, Nikki Baird, Chris Devlin, our web guys. You guys rock.

What's your favorite story? Mine is "The Disconnected", or "A Beastly Game", or "The City of Tears." Oh, wait, what about "Tartarus," "Bulls and Magic," and "The Art of Persuasion"? They're great, too. I can't decide. What do you think?

We enjoy comments. :)

28 May 2013

Marvelous May Issue!

Hurray! It's almost here, folks! The Marvelous May 31 2013 issue of Electric Spec! I know I've said this before, but I think our next issue is our best yet! :) The fiction is outstanding--and I'm totally objective, of course! We've got "The Disconnected" by Aaron Ritchey, which really packs an emotional punch. We've got "A Beastly Game" by Sarah Pinsker which is a very unusual combo of South African football (rugby, for Americans) and supernatural creatures. Yes, you have to read it to find out what kind of creatures! We've got the beautifully-written "The City of Tears" by Maigen Turner. Charlotte Nash's "Tartarus" is an action-packed mind-bending thrill ride set on another planet. Finally, we've got the literary-style "Bulls and Magic" by Jarod K. Anderson. As a bonus, Editor David E. Hughes contributed "The Art of Persuasion" for Editor's Corner; Dave is a master at creating legal stories with speculative elements. We have a very interesting fairy-tale movie column from our regular contributor, Marty Mapes. And, as if all that isn't enough, Editor Betsy Dornbusch interviews author Kenny Soward! Phew! That's an impressive amount of issue.

As we finish up behind-the-scenes, a big shout-out to all the authors who submitted their stories for consideration for this issue. Thank you! Electric Spec wouldn't exist without you! Thank you to our columnists! Special thanks to our behind-the-scenes folks including Chris Devlin, Nikki Baird, and our website administrator (you know who you are!)!
Apparently, I need to go cold-turkey on exclamation marks! (!)

Check it all out May 31, 2013!

21 May 2013

The Importance of Records

Creative writing is art, but there are some pesky business aspects to it as well. Probably the most important business thing is to keep a record of where you submit your stories and novels. It makes you a more efficient, more likely-to-be-published writer if you submit to probable markets in a timely fashion. Let's look at both parts of this statement, because they're both important.

A probable market is a market that accepts your type of work. This means you must do your background research. For short stories, a great speculative fiction resource is www.ralan.com. (Does anyone have a great general short fiction resource?) For literary agents, a great resource is www.agentquery.com. I've blogged about market before.

A timely fashion is a bit trickier. The industry convention for novels is you may query agents simultaneously for the same work. However, if you get asked for a partial or full manuscript, generally, the agent prefers an exclusive. The industry convention for short stories is NOT to submit the same story simultaneously. This means you can only submit to one market at a time. If you are submitting to a SFWA-approved professional market, for example, I would definitely abide by this rule. If you don't follow industry conventions, you run the risk of offending an editor or agent. That can have a negative impact on your career. Yikes!

Another fly in the ointment is publication. What exactly constitutes publication? If you post part or all of your story on your webpage, is this publication? What about a novel excerpt? What if it's posted on someone else's website or ezine? What if you get compensated? What if you don't? What about rewrites? How much do you have change to make a 'new' story? Regarding this stuff, just be honest and don't try to mislead anyone.
Of course, when the money starts rolling in you have to keep records of it for the tax man. :) I hope you have that problem!

I've tried quite a few things in pursuit of writing records including spreadsheets and databases and, I must admit, none of them work great. Do you have any good tips? If so, please let us know!

The bottom line is: it is important for writers to keep records. Good luck!

Stay tuned as next week we start bragging about the next marvelous issue of Electric Spec!

14 May 2013

Conference Season

Ah, springtime! Leaves are budding, flowers blooming, birds singing, and writers conference season is starting. If you're a writer, consider rubbing elbows with other writers in person. Conferences have a lot to offer: you can meet and get to know other authors, you can go to craft workshops. Some even have writing contests and pitch opportunities with agents and editors. Before you sign up, think carefully about what you might want to get out of a conference. Do you need inspiration to give your writing a new shot in the arm? Do you want to meet a particular agent or editor? Do you want to connect with other local authors? Do you want to find some new critique partners? How much does the conference cost, including travel expenses? Do your research.

Some conferencs coming up include: Clarksville Writers Conference (June 6-7, 2013), the Carnegie Center’s “Books in Progress” Conference (June 7-8, 2013). Personally, one of my favorites is Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers annual conference (Sept. 20-22, 2013). I go every year. The deadline for their prestigious commercial novel contest "Colorado Gold" is approaching: June 1, 2013.

In general, a great place to find out about writers conferences is Poets & Writers: Writers Conferences, Colonies, and Workshops. Another excellent resource is the Shaw Guide to Writers Conferences & Writing Workshops.
Does anyone have a favorite resource to share? Or a favorite conference to recommend?

Maybe I'll see you at a conference this summer!

07 May 2013


At the production meeting last week we had an intriguing discussion about what makes a story good. One thing that came up was endings. Since we blogged about Story Endings last fall, I won't repeat myself. Another important component of a good story is emotion. I did touch on aspects of this in Story Layers earlier this year. But it can't be emphasized enough...

A good story affects readers' emotions by putting the protagonist through emotional situations. If I, as a reader, am not emotionally affected by a story, it hasn't done enough to grab me. The writer hasn't taken advantage of all the tools at his/her disposal. Emotion is one of the metrics we used to chose the final stories for the marvelous May issue of Electric Spec.
Check it out May 31, 2013 and see if your emotions are engaged! Feel free to let us know one way or another.

03 May 2013

production meeting

Hi, gang. The Electric Spec editors had the production meeting for the marvelous May 31, 2013 issue. All went surprisingly smoothly as we mostly agreed on which stories would be a good fit for the issue. Editors are in the process of emailing authors the good or bad news. Authors who made it into hold-for-voting should hear back soon with a "Yay" or "Nay." And they should pat themselves on the back for a job well-done since all the hold-for-voting stories were publishable.
In more behind-the-scenes news, each editor got assigned their stories to edit. We also shuffled some of the other administrative duties around. It's been over 7 years after all!

We also had a long discussion about the differences between horror and macabre and what kind of stories we've been getting in this genre. To make a long discussion short, we're tired of getting stories where some kind of monster (literal or metaphorical) murders someone. We're more interested in spooky, creepy, and/or paradigm-shifting stories. Thus, we're going to update our submission guidelines to reflect this. Stay tuned for this, and recall the fiction submission guidelines are here.

I guess that's it for production meeting info.
Keep sending us your stories!

30 April 2013

stay tuned

We're having the Electric Spec production meeting soon for our marvelous May issue. Stay tuned for an update at the end of the week. Thanks!

23 April 2013

grab me

I don't think it's a secret that all the Electric Spec editors are also writers. I write a lot of short stories and submit them to various venues. It's annoying when an editor writes back, "I liked this story, but it just didn't grab me enough. Sorry." Ugh! As we finish up slush for the marvelous May 31, 2013 issue, such comments do resonate with my inner editor. I've been reading a lot of nice stories, but not a lot of stories that grab me. (Feel free to think: Ugh!).

One how-to writing book I read recently emphasized manipulating readers' emotions. I hate to say it, but emotions grab readers.
How's a poor author supposed to manipulate a reader's emotions? By making the characters feel emotions. When people read fiction they become the characters they read about. If the protagonist is emotional, the reader will be more likely to be emotional and will be more likely to be grabbed by the story.
Unfortunately, you can't have emotions for no reason; they need to be integral into the story. This is done by having high stakes. The situation the protagonist is in needs to be important.

The good news is we all know at least one person very, very well and we can mine that knowledge for our fiction. What's the worst thing that could happen to you? What would rock you to your core? How would that make you feel? Why? What would be the consequences? What would you do to resolve or fix that? The deeper you delve into your psyche, the more writing seems like therapy--but maybe that's a good thing. Ultimately, readers want truth and understanding about the human condition.

Good luck!

16 April 2013

editorial relationships

Savvy Electric Spec authors know the deadline for the marvelous May 31, 2013 issue has passed. But, fear not! We're now accepting submissions for the awesome August 31, 2013 issue.

Recently, one of my favorite magazines changed editors. I had exchanged some emails with the old editor over the years, and seen him talk at cons. Of course, I always read his editorials, as well. I felt like I had a relationship with him. Similarly, I've already exchanged a couple emails with the new editor and read his first editorial. So, I feel like I've got a relationship with the new guy. However, I realize these feelings are incorrect. I do not actually have a relationship with either of these editors. If I were to call one of them on the phone, they would not be happy. If I were to email them on their personal email, rather than the magazine email, they would not be happy. We have a professional relationship and that is it.

You may know where I'm going with this. One of the Electric Spec editors is having a little trouble with a prospective author thinking they have a personal relationship. I know relationships can be tricky in the Facebook era, but editors and authors have editorial relationships, not personal relationships. We may greatly enjoy your fiction (or not), and/or enjoy working with you through the editorial process (or not), but that's it. Please do not call editors or use their personal email, unless explicitly invited to do so.
Thank you in advance for being professional! :)

I greatly enjoy your submissions! Keep 'em coming! ( submissions@electricspec.com )

09 April 2013

writing tips

Reminder: the deadline for the May 31 2013 issue of Electric Spec is coming up: April 15, 2013. Get those stories in!

I recently came across Joss Whedon's Top 10 Writing Tips. Check them out here. Whedon is one of the most talented and successful people of our time, so when he gives tips, I listen! His tips include: Finish It, Structure, Have Something to Say, Everybody has a Reason to Live, Cut What You Love, Listen, Track the Audience Mood, Write Like a Movie, Don't Listen, Don't Sell Out. Seriously, check them out.

All this prompted me to wonder what my writing tips would be. So, without further ado, here are my off-the-cuff writing tips:

  1. Keep writing. This is, of course, closely related to 'Finish It' but with good reason. Are you really a writer if you don't finish anything? Are you a writer if you don't write?
  2. Find joy in writing. I hate to say it, but I know many writers at various stages of their careers and money doesn't seem to be plentiful for anyone. Authors need to find their fulfillment elsewhere: in creating new characters/stories/worlds, or maybe in meeting and getting to know other like-minded souls, aka writers.
  3. Get feedback on your writing and listen to it. I don't know anyone who can write a perfect first draft. I know some aspiring writers who think their first drafts are perfect... And I'm not optimistic about their publication success. Note, however, you shouldn't change your work willy-nilly based on what random people say. Only you know in your heart what your story is and what it needs.
  4. Develop your writer's voice. Voice is invaluable. Voice is the combination of subject matter, vocabulary, sentence structure, tone, theme, and all other aspects of writing. Of course everyone has a voice, but you want your voice to be distinctive and unique. Think of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series, or Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. You'd know those voices anywhere. How do you develop your voice? You write with your inner editor turned off. Incidently, NaNoWriMo is great for this.
  5. Keep trying to improve. Read writing books. Study novels and stories: what worked, what didn't work? Go to writing conferences. Talk to other writers. Read writing blogs about writing tips. :)

How about you? What are your writing tips?

02 April 2013

intuition: a writer's tool

We are hard at work behind the scenes on the marvelous May 2013 issue of Electric Spec.
I've been a good editor, going through slush, but I've been a bad writer. I haven't written any brand-new words for weeks. Ugh. :(
Sure, I did revisions and submissions and critiques and all manner of other writerly- and editorly-related tasks, but I didn't WRITE.
Why so much procrastination, you ask? Every time I tried to work on a particular WIP it felt like pulling teeth. I couldn't make myself put the words on the screen. I was hating the WIP. I considered abandoning the WIP.

But then I took a step back. Rather than try to force the WIP to go where I thought it should go, where else could it go? I brainstormed. What could happen, rather than what should happen? I thought of some new fresh ideas. I decided to abandon the old stale ideas, and, Huzzah! suddenly, I could write new stuff again. I wrote two chapters this week and have lots of ideas for additional chapters.

Yes, apparently, it is difficult to teach old writers new tricks. I should have listened to my intuition weeks ago. Don't be like me. If something doesn't feel right, it's probably not right.
Intuition is there for a reason! Follow it!

How about you? Have you ever tried to ignore your intuition? What happened?

Keep sending us your intuitive stories! :)

26 March 2013

unrealistic dialogue

We hope you've been enjoying the fabulous February 28, 2013 issue of Electric Spec! In the meantime, we've started in on the slush pile for the marvelous May 31, 2013 issue. :) One story reminded me of a writing secret, namely, dialogue should be unrealistic.

What's that? You don't believe me? I challenge you to eavesdrop on any conversing humans. You'll hear something like:
"How's it going, dude?"
"Good. How's it going with you?"
"It's going good. How's it going with you?"
"Good. Did you catch that game?"
"Whoa. Yeah. Did I? Whoa."
"Can you believe it?"
"Crazy, dude."

Okay, I can't take any more! And that's not even including the "um's", "so's" and "like's" people throw in all over the place. No one wants to read that. I actually read a story from the slush pile that had at least a page of that type of dialogue. Suffice it to say, I didn't make it to page two. (Sorry, dude!)

Keep sending us your stories with unrealistic dialogue. :)

12 March 2013

Unconscious Revelations

Once upon a time, a writer got a critique in which her well-written protagonist was praised for being unique. This uniqueness took the form of being narcissistic and racist. The writer in question was surprised that readers perceived the character this way.
Another time, a writer created a protagonist who was brave and smart and deboniar--think a scientist version of James Bond. Basically, he could do anything from run a mass spectrometer to shoot a sniper rifle--and the women swooned over him.
In yet another example, a writer created an evil antagonist who ended up being the protagonist's father. And--wait for it--the next book the author wrote also had an evil father antagonist.

What do all these examples have in common? I believe the authors unconsciously revealed some aspects of their personality or paradigm. The 2nd author thinks he is like a scientist/James Bond. The 3rd author has a bad relationship with her father.

Is unconscious revelation bad? I'd say: no. As authors we have to use all the tools at our disposal, including our unconscious and our subconsious. In fact, in my experience, first novels often involve a lot of unconscious revelation.
I think this is another reason it's great to get feedback on your writing. If the reader thinks the protagonist has qualities the author didn't want him to have ==> change him! That's one of the beauties of being The Author, Great and Powerful. :)

Good luck with your conscious and unconscious revelations!
Hhm... Maybe I should go reread my first novel.

05 March 2013

Story Layers

I recently read an excellent novella, "Act One" by Nancy Kress. (You can read the beginning in Asimov's Science Fiction). I believe it was a 2009 Nebula Nominee. The beauty of this story is it works on multiple layers.
One layer is the external plot: An aging actress named Jane Snow is researching her role in a controversial film about a recently discovered genetic modification. The real-life procedure is proliferated by a mysterious organization known as The Group whose long-term plans are to reshape humanity. Some see them as benefactors while others see them as biological terrorists. When Jane and her manager, Barry Tenler (the point-of-view character), meet with members of The Group they are the catalyst of a global conspiracy. Can Jane and Barry stop it? Deal with it? Survive it?

One layer is the fascinating issues of genetic engineering. The story raises the important and topical questions of the ethics of genetic modification. Should humans be genetically modified? When would it be all right? To save a life? To avert war? As you can imagine, there's a lot of thought-provoking content here.

One layer, perhaps the most important layer, is the character arc of the protagonist Barry. Barry is the perfect character to tell this story because he has to deal with his own genetic challenges. And, because of this challenge, he attempted genetic modification of his son. Suffice it to say, this didn't go well, and Barry's life totally fell apart. At the end of the story, through the events of the story, Barry learns to accept and deal with his personal demons and the effects his actions have had on the people who love him.
I believe it is this layer that elevates the story from good to outstanding.

As writers, we should always strive to show our characters changing, learning, growing as a result of the story. A nice (and free) example of this is "Heart of a Magpie" by Kathryn Yelinek in the current issue of Electric Spec. In this story the protagonist, Marion, has to deal with a supernatural menace, and she eventually utilizes the help of another supernatural creature to defeat it. What makes this story better than the average story is the internal layer, the character arc, of the protagonist. In the beginning, Marion is reeling from some unfortunate events, and blames some people in her life for them. By the end of the story, because of the story events, she comes to realize these people aren't irredeemable. She deals with her life in a more positive way, and starts on the road to forgiveness.
Now, that's what I'm talking about!

How about you? Have you read any good stories lately?
Do you have any tips for creating story layers?

28 February 2013

Live, we are!

The fabulous February 28, 2013 issue of Electric Spec is live! Huzzah!

Thank you to our artist and all our authors! Thank you to all the behind-the-scenes folks, especially Chris Devlin, Nikki Baird, and Marty Mapes! You all rock! W00t!

I think I'll go read everything again...

26 February 2013

two more days

Wow! We're only two days away from an exciting new issue of Electric Spec! Can you believe we're starting our eighth year? Huzzah!

This time we have a nice variety of stories from rock n' roll to spooky to touching to surprising. Mark Rigney's "Empathy Rocks" involves intense rock n' roll, lots of action, and aliens (of course!). Jennifer Crow's "Strange Notes from Underground" is a disturbing story set in historical St. Petersburg. "Heart of a Magpie" by Kathryn Yelinek involves a creature from Polish mythology enabling a woman to come to terms with her life. Epic fantasy gets a unique treatment in Rebecca Schwarz's "The Count is the Kingdom." And, finally, David Barber's "The Secret Life of Princes" has a twist you'll never see coming. Thank you, authors, for submitting such good stories!

In addition, there's been a lot of talk about Betsy Dornbush's new novel, EXILE, from Night Shade Books. You all will actually get to read the entire first chapter in our new issue, as well as an in-depth interview of Betsy.
Our old buddy, movie critique Marty Mapes, even returns to our pages with his article on narrowcasting.
We also have some very nice art work from Ron Sanders. Thank you, contributors, for such interesting features!

Be sure to check it out February 28, 2013!

19 February 2013

new issue coming

We're still working behind the scenes on the exciting new issue of Electric Spec, coming February 28, 2013! We have five fabulous stories by authors: Mark Rigney, Kathryn Yelinek, Jennifer Crow, Rebecca Schwarz, and David Barber. I'll give more info about them next week. :) We have some neat cover art lined up. I think we even have a movie column.

We have an intriguing excerpt from Editor/Author Betsy's new novel out from Night Shade Books which starts with: "Cut her throat. His own wife." Ooh. I have shivers. One of the really creepy cool things about this book is the necromancy/magic system.
We also have a fun and informative interview with Editor/Author Betsy. Among other provocative topics, Betsy discusses differences and similarities in how men and women think, bi-sexuality, how writing short stories benefits writers, and how partying leads to writerly success.

Check it out February 28, 2013! And check back here next week for more teasers. :)

12 February 2013


We, the Editors, are hard at work behind the scenes on the upcoming fabulous February 28, 2013 Issue of Electric Spec. We're all deep in the editing process. We each get assigned two stories. How, you ask? It's usually the stories in the issue we like the best. Let me explain. To make things more quantitative, before the production meeting each editor gives each story in hold-for-voting a numerical score and I compile them before the meeting. Then, at the meeting we have our knock-down drag-out fight, er, I mean, discussion. When the dust clears, we have our final stories and each editor usually ends up editing the ones he/she gave the most favorable rankings.

Which brings me to the editing itself. Correcting grammar and spelling issues is a no-brainer. The tricky part is paring out all the non-essential bits of the story to leave a perfect story jewel. Editor Dave is awesome at this. We actually call him The Hacker behind his back. Oops, did I just let the cat out of the bag? Gremlin Editor made me do it. :)

Personally, I find editing to be very challenging. A story is work of art and I don't want to do anything to change or compromise that art. But what if that art contains adverbs? We all have our personal editing styles. I'm more likely to tell an author a particular section isn't working or needs to be streamlined and ask them to do it. So far, this has worked pretty well.

Ultimately, a story is the author's work of art. If the author doesn't want to make the changes an editor recommends, they're free to withdraw the story. That has happened a couple times. I can't help thinking this was a mistake on the part of the author. Editors never change the essence of a story, we just try to make it even clearer and more wonderful.

I'll start telling you more about the exciting new issue next week. Stay tuned!
And keep sending us stories for the next fabulous issue. Thanks!

05 February 2013

show me the story

I'm still recovering, er reeling, from our production meeting last week. As we argued, er discussed, the stories in hold-for-voting, it struck me that Electric Spec does have certain things we want in a story. This surprises me a bit since we have three different editors. (I guess that's where the fisticuffs, etc. come into play.) So, at the risk of repeating what I've said in months past, here are some of the things we look for in an Electric Spec story:
  • a speculative element. If your story doesn't have something macabre/fantastic/science fictional it's out. I'm sorry to say a very nice story made it to the Feb 2013 issue's hold-for-voting, but it had nothing speculative, so we couldn't publish it.
  • a character who acts. The character can be animal, vegetable, mineral, supernatural creature, machine, insert-your-idea-here, but it must at least try to do something because he/she/it has...
  • a problem. This is part 1 of your plot.
  • a conflict. This is part 2 of your plot. Something must happen that opposes the character's efforts to solve his/her/its problem. In very short stories (~1500 words or less) you might not have space for this. That's okay.
  • a resolution. This is where the reader finds out if the character succeeded (Yeah!) or failed (Aw!).
  • active scenes with dialogue. Note this is showing, not telling the story. Other markets may prefer telling. We do not.
  • something unique. We want to see something we haven't seen before. This could be a unique problem, a mash-up of speculative fiction tropes, unique magic, unusual technology, a new world, etc. The sky's the limit here. A great example of this is In the Belly of the Beast by Larry Hodges in which the character slays the dragon in an entirely new way. :)
Keep sending us your stories, and good luck!

01 February 2013

behind the scenes

Yes, we did have our Electric Spec production meeting this week. And, yes, I did promise to tell you about it, so here we go...

First of all, super-duper thanks to all the authors who submitted stories for the Fabulous Feb 28 2013 issue of Electric Spec. We had an unusually large number of excellent stories in the hold-for-voting pile--which made things extra difficult for us! An oddity: we had a lot of horror/macabre stuff this time. I'm not sure why since the submissions period was after Halloween. Perhaps Thanksgiving, Chanukah and/or Christmas put you all in the mood for spooky gruesomeness? I'm not judging...
So, anyway, this did make issue balance a little more challenging this time. Fantasy and Science Fiction stories that made it into the finals had a little bit easier time of it than the macabre/horror.

I sent out my good-news emails and contracts first thing this morning, but the last time I checked the other good-news emails and the bad-news emails hadn't been sent out. Oops. This will happen soon if it hasn't already. I promise.

What else? Thank you to our awesome associate editor Nikki Baird.
This reminds me, it doesn't really make sense to address your cover letters to one editor or another. They get assigned to us randomly. Thanks in advance to our other new associate(?) editor Chris Devlin--you rock!

At the meeting, the usual hijinks were enjoyed by all (although I can't speak for our poor waiter). I, personally, had four kinds of beer and some red meat. Some other editors I won't mention by name (but their appellations rhyme with 'Dave' and 'Betsy') consumed salads. Good grief. That doesn't give you the energy boost you need for caber tossing and our other 'conflict resolution' techniques. Ooh, we got some free food, too. I guess the restauranteurs thought we looked hungry. Or scary. (That may have been the broadswords.) Or both.

It looks like we will have neat artwork, five excellent short stories, a movie column, an interview of Author Betsy, as well as an excerpt from her new novel in the next issue. Huzzah! I'm looking forward to it. :)
Check it out February 28, 2013!

29 January 2013

Exile release!

I hope I'm not stepping on any toes, but our own Betsy Dornbusch is having a book launch for her new hardback fantasy Exile: The First Book of the Seven Eyes on Tuesday February 5, 2013, 7:30pm, at the Tattered Cover LoDo in Denver. W00t! Go, Betsy! Read more about it here: http://www.tatteredcover.com/event/2013/02/05/day. So, if you're in the Denver area Feb 5, I hope you'll consider coming over. I heard a rumor that she'll be doing a reading...
Betsy, feel free to chime in if you have anything to add. :)

In other news, we are working furiously behind the scenes on the fabulous new February 28 2013 issue of Electric Spec. The stories in hold-for-voting are very, very good. We have our work cut out for us to winnow them down. :( Which brings me to my next point: we're having our production meeting this week. I'll try to post an update on Friday with some behind-the-scenes treats.

For the next Electric Spec issue I'm interviewing Author Betsy Dornbusch about her new novel Exile: The First Book of the Seven Eyes and her path to publication. It should be informative and exciting! We may even be posting an excerpt from Exile in Editor's Corner. Stay tuned!

22 January 2013

ghetto or gangnam?

Here's an interesting question that's been wending it's way around cyberspace lately: 21st Century Science Fiction and Fantasy: Ghetto, or Gangnam Style?: Science fiction and fantasy creators and fans were originally outsiders… misfits who got no respect from the mainstream… who stood on the outside looking in. How much has changed in today’s world… a world in which popular culture oozes SF and fantasy elements?

IMHO, Science Fiction and Fantasy are mainstream now. We live in a SF/F world with our cell phones, aka mini super-computers in the palms of our hands, quantum dot televisions, privatized space travel and all the rest. Almost all the highest worldwide movie grosses have been in the SF/F ouvre, e.g. Avatar, Marvel's The Avengers, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, etc. Conferences like Comic Con and their imitators are rampant. Many of the most popular TV shows are in the SF/F genre, such as Big Bang Theory, Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, Once Upon a Time, Person of Interest, Revolution, Beauty and the Beast, Arrow, depending on which list you consult.

Even if we just focus on fiction, what do we see?
What were the best-selling books in 2012? Yep, you guessed it, many science fiction and fantasy titles, including The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay, Heroes of Olympus: The Mark of Athena, The Hobbit, A Game of Thrones, The kane Chronicales: The Serpent's Shadow, A Dance With Dragons, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords and a lot more. And that doesn't even include the whole Twilight vampire series which was super hot in 2010 and before, and the whole Harry Potter series which was white-hot in 2007 and before.

Here's another indication SF/F has become prevalent: Doris Lessing won the Novel Prize in Literature in 2007, partly for her "space fiction"--as she put it.
So that's my 2 cents, SF/F is as popular as Gangnam Style. :)

What do you think? Ghetto, or Gangnam Style?

15 January 2013

No Death Star

Today's the last day of submissions for the February 2013 issue. Good luck!

I don't know if you all ever participate in We the People: Your Voice in our Government, but there was an interesting petition lately "Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016." I can only assume this was a joke? Since it garnered over 25,000 signatures it got an official response from the white house. Check it out on the We the People website, or below:

Official White House Response to Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.
This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For

By Paul Shawcross

The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

However, look carefully (here's how) and you'll notice something already floating in the sky -- that's no Moon, it's a Space Station! Yes, we already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that's helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations. The Space Station has six astronauts -- American, Russian, and Canadian -- living in it right now, conducting research, learning how to live and work in space over long periods of time, routinely welcoming visiting spacecraft and repairing onboard garbage mashers, etc. We've also got two robot science labs -- one wielding a laser -- roving around Mars, looking at whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.

Keep in mind, space is no longer just government-only. Private American companies, through NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO), are ferrying cargo -- and soon, crew -- to space for NASA, and are pursuing human missions to the Moon this decade.

Even though the United States doesn't have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we've got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we're building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.

We don't have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a President who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke's arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.

We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White House science fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country's future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things.

If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star's power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

Paul Shawcross is Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget

Excellent response, Mr. Shawcross!

08 January 2013

Market Tips

Don't forget: we close to submissions for the Fabulous February Electric Spec Issue on January 15.

We've started working hard behind the scenes on the new issue. I've been going through a lot of slush and it occurs to me that you all might be interested in some tips about what we like or don't like or what we're looking for at our 'zine.
Of course, every fiction market is different. So, my comments will apply to Electric Spec. First things first. We publish science fiction, fantasy, and the macabre--also known as speculative fiction. Hence, the name "Electric Spec." :)

What are we looking for? We want a fresh take on any of these genres. For example, "Lest They Drink and Forget the Law" by Malon Edwards is a fantasy with an environmental twist. In a water-starved world, the protagonist has a special power to control water. Neat! Personally, any story dealing with climate change issues will get my attention.

Combinations of genres can work great. For example, "10,000 Bones" by Joe Ollinger is a spooky science fiction detective story. Neat!

Humor can work great. "In the Belly of the Beast" by Larry Hodges is a fantasy in which the dragon is killed in a unique anti-hero way. I'm smiling just thinking about it.
So, the bottom line is: we want unique stories.

What do we like? We like well-written stories of any type. In this day and age every story has to have a well-developed character. Electric Spec stories have to have a plot, by which I mean: the protagonist has some kind of problem and act to try to solve it. This almost always means some action and some dialogue.

As far as more specific likes and dislikes, these do depend on the editor.
I think Editor Dave most enjoys a good epic fantasy.
I think Editor Betsy most enjoys something dark and twisted.
I enjoy everything. :) But, if I had to narrow it down, I enjoy stories involving time travel and/or quantum mechanics.
I do have to say I dislike stories in which men torture and/or kill their wives or girlfriends. Gratuitous violence is not interesting. You'd be surprised how many of these we get under the guise of macabre.

So, anyway, there are some tips. Good luck with your writing and submitting in 2013! I'm rooting for you!

01 January 2013

Dealing with rejection

Happy New Year!

Loyal Electric Spec readers and writers know January 15, 2013 will be our deadline for submissions for the next issue (February 28, 2013), so get those stories in!

I've been trying to come up with a more upbeat post than 'dealing with rejection', but what can I say? It's been on my mind. Here are some thoughts about rejection:

  • As writers, dealing with rejection is part of our job. Let me say that again: if you aren't submitting your work and getting responses you aren't doing your job. Getting rejected is literally your job. Obviously, the ideal is to write and publish and then repeat--but I don't know any writer whose career goes like that!
  • Learn from rejection. Often rejection is accompanied by constructive criticism. If so, seriously consider it. Notice I'm not saying change your work every time you get a rejection. Sometimes work just isn't right for a particular market.
  • Grouse with your writer friends about rejection; this is a bonding activity. :) If you don't have any writer friends: get some! Making friends with other writers is one of the great joys of being a writer. Many public libraries sponsor writers groups and there are tons of them on the web. See for example, www.writers.com/groups.html.
  • Remind yourself why you write. Everyone has different reasons to write. You need to have reasons beyond getting published. Do you have a story inside that you just can't ignore? Do you enjoy the creative outlet? Do you lose yourself in imaginary worlds? Have you made friends with your fictional characters? Why do you write?
  • Consider the road not taken. Now, more than ever, there are a lot of outlets for creative work. Maybe your muse would be better served via a truly interactive story? Or a prose/music/interpretive dance project? Maybe you should pod-cast your story? Self-publish? What about trying crowd-sourcing? The only limit is your imagination.
  • Keep trying! The most important thing to realize about rejection is it doesn't mean your project is over. Who knows, the next submission may lead to success! I hope so.
  • What do you think is the best way to deal with rejection?