27 January 2015

genre versus literary

I've been thinking a lot lately about the dichotomy between genre and literary fiction. This is probably because I'm in the process of reading The Best American Short Stories 2014. Of course, BASS is the collection for literary fiction. While all these stories are beautifully written, I wouldn't have chosen any of them for Electric Spec.

The series editor Heidi Pitlor had some telling words in her intro: ...many stories tended to wander--sometimes intriguingly, often into unsettling territory--rather than accelerate toward some definitive endpoint. While some stories that I read this year were built around or upon some narrative roadway...plenty were not.
To me this epitomizes the divide between genre and literary fiction. I would say genre fiction needs to have a narrative roadway, i.e. a plot. This means something needs to be changed at the end of the story. It could be subtle, e.g. a change within the protagonist, but something needs to be different.

When I choose fiction for Electric Spec I agree with the 2014 BASS editor Jennifer Egan: The best fun, for me, comes from reading something that feels different from anything else. ...Let's say that I'm biased toward writers who take an obvious risk, formally, structurally, or in terms of subject matter, over those who do a familiar thing exquisitely.
We do strive to publish original stories.

Egan is also a bit provocative considering her job as BASS editor: ...I don't care very much about genre, either as a reader or as a writer. To me, fiction writing at any length, in any form, is a feat of radical compression: take the sprawling chaos of human experience, run it through the sieve of perception, and distill it into something comparatively miniscule that somehow, miraculously, illuminates the vast complexity around it.
This is definitely something to aspire to.

Maybe the genre/literary divide isn't so big. What do you think?

Next week I'll tell you about the Production Meeting for the Feb 28, 2015 issue.

20 January 2015

write a lot

We editors tend to get asked "How do I write a story you'll buy?" This question is really "How do I become a better writer?" There are several things we recommend including joining a critique group, reading a lot of fiction and reading writing craft books. However, the number one thing you can do to improve your writing is write a lot.

A while ago Neil Gaiman said on his journal:Chuck Jones told would be artists to draw, explaining that "you've got a million bad drawings inside you and the sooner you get them out, the better". Raymond Chandler is reputed to have told would be authors that they have a million words of crap to get out of their system. And in both cases there's a lot of truth there -- if only because it allows you to keep going despite your technical limitations and inability to get the words or the pen to do what you want, and eventually find yourself, well, competent. And some of the words and pictures you turn out on the way can be pretty good too.

There's really no substitute for this. You have to put in the time and energy and put the words on the page/screen. You have to get used to putting one word after the other. I think it also helps you get over the preciousness of your writing. Authors need to be able to kill their darlings. :)

Behind the scenes, we are very busy at Electric Spec getting through the slush for the Feb 28, 2015 issue. If you submitted a story by the Jan 15 deadline you should hear from us by the beginning of Feb with a 'No thanks' or a 'Hold-for-voting' email. I better get back to it!

13 January 2015

What happens to your story?

The submission deadline for the Feb 28 2015 issue of Electric Spec is this week: Jan 15, 2015! Get those stories in. I highly recommend you peruse some of our "Tips from the slush pile" that I listed last week here on the blog. If you have sent in a story, you might be wondering what happens to it. Well, I'll tell you...

Hopefully, you followed our submission rules, which are given here. Notice it says, "Use the following subject line: SUBMISSION:Story Title by Author's Name". If you do not put "SUBMISSION" in your subject line you may get caught in our spam filter and then who knows what the heck will happen? We do not guarantee we read stories caught in the spam filter. :(
Technically, we aren't supposed to read stories with no cover letter, or which aren't in *rtf format--but we may let these last 2 rules slide.

Anyway, assuming your story makes it into our Inbox, I randomly assign your story to one of our editors: Nikki, Betsy, Dave, or me. Thus, it doesn't do you any good trying to address your story to a particular one of us. I don't have time to read each cover letter before I assign the stories.

We editors are supposed to read the stories in a timely manner and get back to you with a 'No Thanks' or a 'We'll hold this one for voting.' I'm sorry to say "timely manner" can vary. A lot. Apologies, if you've been waiting to hear back for a while.
Sometimes, an editor is on the fence about a story and then we'll email it to another editor and ask: What do you think? I do this with genres I know the particular editor really enjoys.
I've blogged a lot about opening a story with a bang, e.g. see set the hook. After a decade of doing this, I don't read your whole story if it hasn't caught my attention by the end of the first page or so. Sorry.

Once a decision is made, your story either goes into the hold-for-voting folder or ...the trash. :( We don't keep any kind of records of rejected stories.

Then, we have the production meeting. I've blogged quite a bit about the production meetings in the past. Our next production meeting will take place in about 2 weeks. To prepare, we summarize and rank each story in hold-for-voting. Based on the individual editor rankings, I compile a numerical ranking of the stories. Interesting fact: usually each editor gets their favorite story published and usually they get to edit said story and interact with the author.

The editors email the lucky authors with the good news. I email the unfortunates with the bad news and then delete the stories. On the bright side, if you made it into hold-for-voting your story is publishable.

Presumably it will start its adventure all over again at another market...

06 January 2015

give me characters

We, the Editors, have been going through the story submissions in preparation for the Feb 28, 2015 issue of Electric Spec. Thanks for sending your stories in!

We've given "Tips from the slush pile" several times: Sept 2014, July 2014, July 2014, April 2014, Dec 2013 and so on. I hate to say it, but these comments are still pretty relevant. Check them out if you're interested.

Today, I'm going to focus on something we don't get enough of, and frankly, something I don't read enough of in general: unique characters. I would love to see more stories with unique well-characterized protagonists. I would love to see more protagonists with unique voices. Give your characters unusual personalities, i.e. a rare perspective on the world with their own thoughts, feelings, interests and/or vocabularies. Show me that quirky person only you could write.

Why am I emphasizing this? It's difficult to create a unusual plot because they all consist of a person has a problem and acts to solve it. What could the problem be that we haven't seen before? Certainly not a murder or broken heart.
On the other hand, there are over 7 billion people on Earth. That's a lot of possibilities for protagonists. :)

So, with apologies to Patrick Henry: Give me characters!

Don't forget the submission deadline is Jan 15, 2015. Good luck!