Here's hoping you and your loved ones are safe and well and 2021 will be much, much better for all of us!
My favorite stories are usually those that hinge on very simple concepts. (My go-to example for this is usually 'It Follows,' a film whose entire hour and 47 minutes can neatly be described in just three words: sexually transmitted curse.) Even better if the story in question can pose a (hopefully) interesting question with which readers are left to grapple. In this case, I saw a chance to do both by literalizing a simple metaphorical concept with which most of us are probably familiar. We often say that loving someone is like giving them a piece of your heart. What if that was actually, painfully true? What if the ones who love us could take a piece of us with them?
Aside from the day-to-day problems this might present, it leaves readers with (what I hope is) a compelling question: what would you do if you knew that the more fiercely and frequently you loved, the less time you had left? I think a lot of us will tell ourselves that we would love just as freely and passionately as ever if faced with such a dilemma, but, really, who knows? Maybe not? Maybe we'd all hole up alone in the hopes of making it for the next hundred years.
Then again, what's the good of living for so long if you couldn't spend any of that time falling in love? (Other than avoiding contracting one of those pesky sexually transmitted curses that are always going around.)
Very interesting! Thanks, John!
Check out all our favorites in the new issue!
I've got a story in the Editor's Corner this issue, "The Dragon and the Shepherd." I thought I'd share a little bit about how this story came about.
First and foremost, this is a tribute to Luna:
My wife and I had the good fortune to be Luna's companions for about 12 years, before she moved on to her next adventure last year. We still miss her terribly.
I took almost no liberties with Luna's behavior and personality in the story... what you see is pretty much how she was (especially in her youthful, wildly athletic phase of life). If I wanted a companion on hand to help me break the ice with a dragon, I'd choose Luna anytime.
As for the rest of the story, it falls into some of the themes I like to explore in fiction. My dragons tend to be a mixture between the classic Western type (in physical appearance) and the Eastern dragons (as embodiments of natural forces). Mostly, I like my dragons to be fundamentally inscrutable. You can never really know all there is to know about them... and just when you think you've got them figured out, they show you something you'd never imagined.
The humans in the story are mostly so wrapped up in their own stuff that they can barely notice what's really going on around them, though our narrator is favored with one of those rare glimpses we are all afforded once in a while.
Another theme I find interesting is the danger of self-righteousness... perhaps because it's a tendency to which I am susceptible. David, the dragon's handler, exemplifies this trait. Even though his cause is sympathetic, his prickly attitude makes it hard to be on his side. Being right doesn't really give us a blank check to be righteous... though it's tempting to think it does.
Hope you enjoy the story!
-Grayson Towler, Editor
Myths, social issues, and my own dreams and memories provide lots of writing fuel for me. I love writing speculative fiction because it’s an opportunity for me to view the world through a fractured lens and maybe, strangely, see things more clearly.
For this story, I was inspired by real life situations like Tinder. At the time I wrote this, I was teaching high school and my students were often on online websites on their phone instead of participating in class activities. When I wrote this story, I had caught one of my students on Tinder. Probably students shouldn’t have even been on Tinder because the age minimum is 18 years old, but that’s a separate issue. That incident was one of the starting points for this story.
Other inspiration for this story was that I used to live in Japan. I taught English there for two years. There are a lot of single young people. I had several Japanese acquaintances who were single women and unmarried. It was hard for them to date, more so than women here because of cultural values that made them feel like it was taboo to ask men out. In 2007, Internet dating was another taboo. Several Japanese women I met liked dating American men because foreigners do things that are considered chivalrous, like opening doors for women and giving them gifts. I was told by one Japanese woman, that isn’t part of their culture, so it is novel and exciting.
But there are also cultural differences that make interracial dating daunting. Americans are very cavalier and unguarded in conversation topics, so I wanted to include that kind of faux pas in the story.
Also while living in Japan, I learned about Japanese mythology and monsters, like the jorogumo, a spider woman. I have written several stories about jorogumo because I find spiders to be creepy. In my series, Womby’s School for Wayward Witches, one of the characters is secretly a jorogumo and hiding her true heritage. Probably I will write more jorogumo stories in the future as well.
The last piece of inspiration was that I had been writing about a male character who was obsessed with monster women and a female character obsessed with monster men. In the stories with Darwin, the male point of view character, he wants to date a monster, but they always beat him up in the end—sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally. They are all stand-alone stories but also build as a series. I wrote this story through the female monster’s point of view.
Someday I hope to sell all the stories in the series and then put them together in one collection.
According to the myth, a maiden rides the unicorn only once. What happens if she regrets taking the ride? In my story, 'The Healing of the Unicorn', she has the opportunity to heal her own and the unicorn's injury, and experience a re-awakening.
Enjoy the ride.
We mostly agreed on stories this time around, with a couple of exceptions. Suffice it to say, we came to an agreement pretty quickly. Not surprisingly, none of us were excited about publishing grim, depressing stories. So, writers: take note, moving forward.
All unsuccessful writers have been emailed with the bad news. :( Successful authors will hear back from us soon, if they haven't already. Return those contracts quickly, so we can start editing stories. Consider writing a post for this very blog. The online issue construction has begun.
For some reason, for each issue, it seems a story or two goes awry between the author and the editors. I don't know why this is. But, if you submitted before Oct 16 and didn't hear from us, please resubmit. If you got a rejection, don't lose heart; please resubmit.
Hopefully, by the time the November 2020 issue comes out, things will be going better with the world. Good luck to all of us!
Wow! There were a of tough decisions made! We received many good, publishable stories but had to winnow the list down to the top twenty for the production meeting.
Next time I'll tell you about the production meeting.
Now that you've done your part, the editors are hard at work behind the scenes. We have to carefully read the hundreds of stories we received. We have about a week left to make the first pass throught the slush pile. Sadly, some of the stories will be rejected. All the Electric Spec editors are also writers, so we hate to do this, but it's part of the process. We'd love to write critiques of all the stories we receive, but we just don't have the resources for this. :(
I'll share more behind the scenes info here next week. For now, I better get back to work!
You may have heard the writing rule: 'Show, don't tell.' Like all writing rules, take this with a grain of salt. In general, however, fiction should include both showing and telling. The relative amount of showing and telling depends on the market. You can see the relative amounts of showing and telling by reading Electric Spec's (free!) past stories. We need some showing. In fact, I rejected a story recently that was all telling. Another market might have chosen it; but we would not.
Good luck with your showing and/or telling!
We've been reading the submitted stories. (Thanks for submitting!) I read one recently that started with ...a dream. In general, starting with a dream is problematic. This is because the beginning of the story is a promise of what's to come. If the story starts with skiing polar bears in a dream, there had better be something related to skiing polar bears at some point in the story. In addition, dreams are inherently irrational. Beginning with a dream promises irrationality in the story.
Thus, consider avoiding dreams in your story. Good luck whatever you decide. :)
I had an interesting discussion with one of the other Electric Spec editors lately. We both had an opportunity to read a new short story. I was charmed by the characters and steampunk world. The other editor did not enjoy the story. He essentially said, 'There's a loose thread, an unresolved story point.' I realized he was right. The protagonist released something into the world that had the potential to destroy said world, and didn't get it back. I'd been so distracted by other story elements I hadn't even noticed! Usually, I'm a better reader than that.
So, my advice to authors: avoid loose threads. Don't inadvertently, accidentally, destroy your world. Of course, if it's intentional, that's another matter entirely. :)
Good luck with your writing!
The approaching deadline means we're working hard on the submissions in the slush pile. I read a couple stories that did a good job of starting in media res--in the midst of things. This means the plot has already started and the story is off to a very fast start. In general, this is a good thing, unless...
Unless the reader doesn't get a chance to get to know the protagonist at all before he/she/it is robbed/shot/thrown off a cliff/cursed/etc. If the reader doesn't get to know the protag, it's hard for the reader to care if he/she/it is robbed/shot/etc.
Consider starting your story with a little ordinary life. Show the reader the protag before the dire events start, and if he/she/it saves a puppy or a baby, so much the better. :)
And, yes, I fully realize it's tricky to show ordinary life and still craft an interesting opening. But, that's why we writers get the big bucks (ha ha), fame, and satisfaction for art well-done.
Usually at this time of year I go to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers annual convention. Electric Spec editors have taught various workshops here in years past. This year Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers has joined forces with Northern Colorado Writers and Pikes Peak Writers to create a month long virtual conference free for everyone to attend!
This joint venture hits YouTube September 1-30, 2020. Check out free video presentations from agents, editors, and authors on the craft, business, and life of writing as well as current hot topics all writers should pay attention to. You’ll learn from NYT bestselling authors and awesome editors. Over twenty-five contributors have volunteered their time and effort to provide the writing world with some education, inspiration, and motivation during this time of safer-at-home.
If you're a writer or want to know more about writing, check it out here!
"Nobody Gets Out Alive" was inspired by YouTube and gaming vloggers. Horror writers are not generally known for our mastery of technology, but that isn't really true. We must explain why our characters' cell phones don't work when they're being stalked by the killer, and why there are still no good pictures of Bigfoot when everyone now has a camera and there are trail cams all over the place.
Sometimes when I write, I like to think about the secondary effects of technology (thanks to author Laura J. Mixon, who explained the concept). I went to many rock concerts as a youth, and watched teenagers wave their cigarette lighters during the power ballads. Twenty years later, those selfsame thirty-somethings were waving their cell phones during the same power ballads (reunion tours rule!). Not what cell phones were designed to do, but they get the job done. Nowadays, people can watch rock concerts on their smartphones, if they have the battery power.
"Nobody Gets Out Alive" was inspired by a secondary effect of technology, the fact that a person can now make a living playing video games on YouTube. Vlogging is a precarious existence – posting every day, so your audience won't forget you; pretending to like a game you've played every day for two months straight; obtaining a weird sort of pseudo-celebrity, wherein total strangers act like you're their best friend or even fall in love with you. Then there's the worst-case scenario – that bestselling game you're vlogging about turns ice cold, and you're washed up at the age of twenty-three.
Thanks, George! Very interesting! Be sure to check out Nobody Gets Out Alive and the other stories on August 31st, 2020!
I couldn't tell you where, exactly, the idea for Hot Crow and Paper Lion came from. I recall the crow appearing before my mind's eye, majestic and fully formed, tipping his top hat to me. But I can't tell you why or where he came from. What I can tell you is this: I wasn't thinking about writing.
There seems to be two approaches you can take to creative ideas. The first involves sitting down with a notepad, taking a pen or pencil, or even booting up the computer and prepping a blank page on your favourite word processor. Then you say to yourself, Okay, I really need a new idea. I want to write a new short story. So you stare at the page, you tap your pen (probably not your laptop, though) against your forehead as if the action will dislodge something brilliant. You stare into space and think -- think really hard -- about characters, stereotypes, how you might break from a stereotype, fantastical creatures, a world newly forged from stardust, maybe some type of magic no other writer has conjured. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, your minutes or hours with the blank page and the writing tools you've gathered over the years produce something worthwhile.
Then there's the other method. And it isn't much of a method at all. It's called Getting on with Life. Just going about your daily activities -- work, hobbies, family time. Anything but writing. And definitely not thinking really hard. Walking around, admiring the views, absorbing the world and life.
And then -- ah! What's this? An idea. Random? Maybe. Or some amalgamation of things subconsciously blended into something new and interesting. It's as if a veil has been lifted and you've glimpsed something that was there all along, hidden.
I know which approach I enjoy the most. Some of my best ideas come from not trying to think of ideas. Not actually writing at all. And that's where Hot Crow came from, beyond the Veil, with Paper Lion prowling close by.
Thanks, M J! Very interesting! Be sure to check out all the stories on August 31, 2020!
"Smithsonian Soldiers" is another story of mine inspired by a dream. My subconscious seems to delight in coming up with weird, visually intriguing ideas. If the idea sticks with me long enough after I wake up, I usually write it down in one of my journals with a fountain pen and keep writing until my hand gives out or I finish a draft. I took up fountain pens before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis but given the symptoms I've had fountain pens have let me keep writing when computers aren't a great option.
Rewriting is actually my favorite part of the storytelling process. I savor tinkering with words and punctuation to craft the story that I want to tell. Most of my stories go through a minimum of four revisions. There is nothing like that satisfying feeling of saving the final version of a story and knowing it is complete.
Very interesting! Thanks, E.A.!
Thus, authors should hear back from us this week with a 'yea' or 'nay.' If you submitted a story between April 16, 2020 and July 15, 2020 and you don't hear from us, something likely went awry. Sorry! Resubmit.
If you are a lucky author, please do return your contract quickly. This enables us to start editing quickly. In addition, please do send us a blog entry, which I will post here. It's super fun to hear from authors! Don't you think?
We also have some really nice art and maybe something in Editor's Corner, so be sure to check out the new issue on August 30, 2020! Woo hoo!
Scientists think people can train themselves to be more creative.
Next week I'll talk about the production meeting. Take care!
Slush We have about another week to finish up the first reads of slush. All the editors work on this. If you want to know a little bit more about us, you can read about us here.
Each story submitted is rejected (sorry!) or held for voting (yay!). Each of the senior editors ranks the stories in hold-for-voting, #1 for the best, and #whatever for the worst (ouch!). We compute numerical totals for each story.
Production Meeting We have our production meeting at the beginning of August. In 2020 we've been meeting virtually. :( We debate the various stories and decide on the ones in the issue. Usually, the stories with the lowest numerical totals get in the issue. We do try to pick a mix of speculative fiction genres. We also choose the cover art and assign various other tasks such as the Letter From the Editor. Soon after the meeting, we email out the good or bad news to each of the authors.
Issue Creation We do the tasks to put the issue together. After we get contracts back for the lucky authors we start editing the stories. The amount of editing necessary varies greatly by story. Once the content is in good shape, the stories are proofread. Then, we make the preview versions of the story webpages and ask authors for final okays. We create other elements of the issue, as needed.
Publication We publish the issue! Ta-da! And pay the authors and artist. :)
I better get back to work...
Your story opening is crucial. I can't emphasize this enough. With hundreds of stories to read, if your opening isn't very good, editors may stop reading.
As an author myself, I know this is hard to internalize. I have written stories that I thought were really good and seen editors say, "The first paragraph was boring." And I thought, "But the next paragraph is awesome!" Too late. The editor has already rejected it.
A common issue I see is starting the story on the page before the story really begins. As an example, about a third of the stories I read the other day began with the protagonist waking up. Seriously. This is not a strong opening. I didn't hold any of these stories for voting. Another common issue is significant spelling, word choice, and/or grammar problems. These kinds of stories are more work for our editors, so more likely to get rejected.
Thus, please review your first page one more time before you send in your story. We want your story to shine. Good luck!
As I read slush, I'm reminded of a tip from a famous editor: utilize try-fail cycles. A try-fail cycle is exactly what it sounds like. Your protagonist tries something (usually to solve a problem), and is not successful, and then tries something else... Most authors write these organically, without ever thinking Now, I need a try-fail cycle. It can be helpful, however, to consciously think about them.
Consider a definition of a story: a protagonist has a problem and acts to solve it. If the protag acts and is successful, a try-succeed instance, this is not an interesting story. Is it even a story? If the protag merely acts and fails, a try-fail instance, again, this isn't an interesting story. Thus, the cycle aspect of the try-fail cycle is also important. The protag needs to try more than once.
Most interesting stories have a series of try-fail cycles with increasing stakes. This makes the story more dramatic and gives the reader a more satisfying emotional payoff in the end. Try-fail cycles show and enable character growth. They also allow the overall story plotline to twist, change, grow. They make a short story much deeper and more interesting.
So, if your story is dragging, consider adding another try-fail cycle. Good luck!
We have started to receive quite a few pandemic stories. We thought we'd start to get some for the last issue but they didn't materialize. I guess it took a little lag time for folks to wrap their heads around what was happening. We welcome stories on whatever topic the marvelous muse sends you, but...
For us, pandemic stories still need to be speculative. Recall, speculative fiction includes genres that all contain elements that do not exist in the real world. We love fantasy, science fiction, and macabre fiction and all their possible subgenres and mash-ups.
Thus, last year, a story about a global pandemic would probably be considered speculative fiction. In 2020, not so much. Can you take it to the next level? What will be the long-lasting consequences of the pandemic? How will it change our culture? Society? Hopes and dreams? How will it change humanity? How will it change your_idea_here? Write that story!
In the final go-round, however, I'm subjective. All the editors have their favorite topics; I think I've mentioned mine here before. One of my favorite qualities in any kind of writing is voice. I think I've mentioned this before here, as well, but it's worth repeating. Literary voice is the particular style an author uses to create their story. Sometimes the characters embody this voice, while sometimes it's the narrator. Some authors can create different voices for different works, e.g. Charlaine Harris. Some authors have a unique writer's voice in all their work, e.g. Connie Willis. I don't care how you do it, but I do love me some good voice...
The submission deadline for the awesome August issue is coming up surprisingly soon: July 15, 2020. Thank you for submitting your stories. We appreciate you, writers!
Winners of 55th Annual Nebula Awards Hopefully, everyone's familiar with the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and their prestigious awards. The latest batch of winners was announced recently.
SFWA has quite a few resources available to members and nonmembers http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/information-center/.
In addition, making a debut appearance for us is cover artist Yuri Magalhães with "Quiet Reflections."
Finally, don't miss our interview with Barbara Bennett, author of the urban fantasy novel Alchemy of Glass--"a celebration of time, history, science, magic, technology, and love."
Check them out if you haven't already!
Grounding Fantasy in History and Science
Nothing takes a reader out of a story faster than screwing up the setting or the history--even, or perhaps, especially--in a fantasy. Fantasy is fantasy, but as a writer you have to ground it something real, authentic to make the fantastical elements work and not seem absurd. And that’s where the research comes in. Pick and choose what you want to include in the story (and don’t overload your reader with unnecessary detail and exposition), but as the author--you have to know of what (and whom) you speak.
In writing The Apothecary’s Curse and its sequel Alchemy of Glass, I took great pains to research every assertion, setting, the science, and, yes, even, word I used. Was the word “hooligan” in common use in 1837 London? What did an apothecary do in London? What was King James’s VI take on the supernatural back at the very end of the sixteenth century? (Not very favorable, which helped me set up the execution of my hero’s father for magical healing after he’d cured the entire court of a disease).
Quite a bit of Alchemy of Glass is set in the bowels of ruined monastery in the Borders region of Scotland. I came across an article about medical archeologist working in the area had unearthed healing potions and medicines that would have likely been completely beyond the technology and skills of medieval monks that worked and dwelled there. The “how” and “why” of that became a fictional pivot point for the entire novel.
There’s a pivotal scene in The Apothecary’s Curse where my main character has a motorcycle accident north of Chicago along the Lake Michigan coast. People who do not live in Chicago (or perhaps some that do) are often unaware that to the far north of the City, along the lake, the terrain is far from the flatland with which Chicago is often associated. There are high bluffs, deep ravines, plunging eighty, one hundred, even one hundred fifty feet to the rocky shore. Who’d have thought? I used the idea because I knew people would find it strange, and maybe a bit fantastical (after all The Apothecary’s Curse is a fantasy), but before I put a number on the height of the cliff, I researched everything I knew (and didn’t know about the shoreline and the quite mystical ravines that line the shore from Wilmette to the Wisconsin border).
Although I know the Chicago setting quite well, and felt comfortable playing with it, the same is not true of the early Victorian setting of 1837-1842 London. I chose Smithfield Market as the location for Gaelan Erceldoune’s Apothecary Shop for some very specific reasons. Smithfield is a place where the immortal Gaelan could be more or less anonymous. Having moved locations after ten years in the posher environs of Hay Hill, he needs to reboot his life, and Smithfield is perfect. He’s also needed there. Few physicians (mostly gentlemen) would dare not dirty their hands in the “vile zoology” that is Smithfield (and by the way, that is exactly how accounts for the time describe place, so I copped the description and put into the story).
Also, Gaelan’s heritage comes into play, especially in Alchemy of Glass which looks back on when Gaelan first moved to Smithfield in 1826 (11 years before events in The Apothecary’s Curse)--and his youth. My research uncovered the fact that William Wallace (AKA, The Wallace, a Scottish hero) was executed in Smithfield, perhaps even right on the very same corner that Gaelan’s shop sits. Hmm. So the locale was very carefully chosen.
William Wallace was a contemporary and confederate of Lord Thomas Learmont de Ercildoune, Gaelan’s ancestor–a figure that is steeped in supernatural legend, but who also existed in medieval Scotland! History, meet mythology, meet fantasy!
So, by placing the fantasy in a real location with a real history related to the ancestor of a historical figure, I hope that grounds the story in history as well as the legend that so pervades the story. It’s a device often used by H.G. Wells--putting a single impossible thing set into an otherwise quite realistic scenario.
I also underlaid the story with real people in cameos who lived during the times in which the story takes place (or in its back story): Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his medical mentor Joseph Bell (who is related to Gaelan’s frenemy Simon Bell), Leonardo of Pisa, Michael Scot, and Nicola Tesla (who’ll you’ll meet in Chapter One of Alchemy of Glass.
All of this is to say that no matter whether you’re writing historical fiction (for which accuracy is an imperative when dealing in the “actual” factual world) or speculative fiction, everything has to make sense (at least within the world you’ve built. And if the world you’ve built is fantastical, but set (even partially) in the real world, attention to detail, gentle use of tropes, diction, setting--and fact, can give your fantastical creation an air of authenticity.
Very interesting! Thanks, Barbara! Be sure to check out her interview and all the awesome stories on May 31!
While raiding a Halloween shop many years ago, my husband and I picked up an album called Carnival Arcane by Midnight Syndicate. The group, in their own words, creates scores for imaginary films by blending orchestral horror music and sound effects. This album plunged me into the rich atmosphere of a traveling carnival that promised thrills and wonder…but also something sinister and possibly supernatural. Questions popped up in my mind whenever I listened to it: what did this carnival want? Who ran it? Did everyone have the same experience there, and did everyone (or anyone) get out unscathed?
Eventually, I needed to invent my own answers to these questions. I decided to explore the story through the eyes of kids, mostly because I’ve never stopped feeling like a kid myself, but also because I thought a kid’s spirit complimented this setting better than anything else.
I didn’t quite unravel the carnival’s every secret, but that’s okay—some things should stay a mystery. It’s more fun that way.
So, all authors in hold-for-voting should get an email from an editor very soon, if they haven't received one already. When we hear back from those 'yes' authors, we'll start bragging on them. Hopefully, we'll have some blog entries from them right here in this exact spot very soon.
The next step is the editors will edit the stories. Yes! Seriously! Go figure. :)
We'll start working on the webpage and new issue, and all the rest.
If you were in hold-for-voting but your story didn't get selected, take heart. Your story is 'publishable.' You will find a market.
Those who submitted: Thank You! Those who are still writing speculative fiction: Thank You! And Congratulations for following your dreams even in these difficult times. You rock!
Smashwords is holding the very neat Authors Give Back promotion March 20, 2020 through April 20, 2020 with many, many books marked down, so folks stuck at home can have good stuff to read. Now extended through May 31, 2020!
From our Electric Spec family to yours: take care!
Like Dave and Renata, I am a founding editor of Electric Spec. It was fun to connect with them lately and share their thoughts here on the blog. As I recall, creating Electric Spec was Dave's awesome idea. I also recall the name "Electric Spec," for electronic speculative fiction, was Renata's awesome idea. Wow! Talk about ideas that stand the test of time. Hurray for them!
I've told the story of the origins of Electric Spec at cons, but I don't think I have on the blog...
Dave, Renata, and another founding editor, Georgia, were in a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) critique group together. We were all sending out short stories and getting rejections. One evening, we were shooting the, ah, stuff, about this sad state of affairs and Dave said, "Hey, why don't we start our own ezine?" We discussed it and thought we could be a kinder, gentler 'zine. We thought we could encourage and nurture writers. Bottom line: we all embraced the idea immediately.
This was in the very early days of ezines, so we basically invented our own wheels. As I recall, we all helped each other with everything, but Dave was great with the legal stuff, Renata was excellent with the editing stuff, and I did a lot of the technical stuff. Happily, it all came together.
Eventually, Renata and Georgia stepped down and we got another editor, Betsy Dornbusch, who put her stamp on things. (Betsy was also in a RMFW critique group with Dave and I.) She was instrumental in creating the current look of the ezine. Eventually, both Dave and Betsy stepped down and Grayson Towler and Nikki Baird stepped up. Chris Devlin stepped up to be a copy editor. Grayson, Nikki and Chris are also in RMFW. Hmm, I'm sensing a pattern...
As our popularity has grown, we've had to get a bunch of associate editors. First Minta Monroe and Candi Cooper-Towler joined us, and recently, Lauren Slawson and Beth Chan.
All our editors are committed to nurturing writers, helping them grow, and reach a wider audience. And, all our editors are volunteers!
So, kudos, to all the editors, past and present! Thank you for making a positive difference in the world! Hopefully, we'll be nurturing writers and entertaining readers for many years to come!
Take care, everyone!
My fave story was the one about the baby gargoyle and his guardian (sorry, I've long forgotten the title). The man went out in the countryside and tried to get the gargoyle to stay and live out there, but it flew home after him. I enjoyed it so much bc the characters were complex and vivid, I could see the setting (his house, this place in the country, etc) and the protagonist's development followed an interesting arc as he struggled to figure out what to do with this extraordinary creature who had entered his life.
The second most memorable story for me was an urban sci-fi adventure
(don't remember this title either) about a young man who made money
selling body parts on the black market. He had a pair of eyes that were
very valuable. Gangsters were involved. The author did an excellent job
of plunging the reader into this gritty, dark reality. I sympathized with
the protagonist's determination to succeed and found the story very
I remember being so nervous about launching the magazine. We were starting from scratch, and we had no idea if people would submit stories for our first issue. We did get submissions, but I was dismayed by much of the slush. Then I read "Raising Archie" by Michael Stone. Not only was it a clever story, but it was about gargoyles, which I already had a fondness for. I knew if we could pick up stories like that, then Electric Spec would be a worthwhile venture.
For the early issues, some of the stories that we picked needed some editorial help. We were often willing to take a diamond in the rough and make it sparkle. I don't think there were many (if any) magazines that would take time and effort to work on substantive edits in that way. For those stories where I ended up doing some major edits, I was often worried that the authors would be upset when they saw the proof. However, it turned out that most authors understand and appreciate edits. We ended up with some great final products.
I'd be remiss if I didn’t mention the Editor's Corner story: "The Dog that Broke the
Camel's Back." I was lucky enough to co-write that one with current editor Lesley
Smith. If I recall correctly, that one arose out of a writing exercise we did in our
critique group. Lesley and I decided to try to write a story by trading off on the
narrative. It turned out to be quite a wild ride since neither of us knew exactly
where the story was going as we wrote it. (I know, not the recommended technique for
a good story). It was so fun reading it again—-I love stories that make me laugh!
We're excited about all our new stories: "Welcome to the 27 Club" by JL George, "Strings" by P.G. Streeter, "The Tenders" by Aaron Emmel," "Mira Bug" by Stefani Cox, "The Prey" by John Wolf. Thank you so much authors! Thank you Artist Brian Malachy Quinn!
Thank you Editors and tech staff that made it happen!
Most of all, thank you readers! Woo hoo!
With "Mira Bug," I wanted to examine human longing for connection, particularly in the context of a mother/daughter relationship. The protagonist, Ginny, is adrift in her life, spending much of her time alone and focused on her work. When Mira comes into her life through the capabilities of Altern, she has a new way to reach out to another person. She's especially longed for a child, so her ability to "create" the kid she never had is at first empowering. However, as Ginny gets drawn further and further into the virtual reality of being with Mira, she loses touch with real world connection, which she also needs. It’s through letting go of her obsession with Altern (with the help of Alexis) and opening up to the possibilities of an actual child in her life, that Ginny reawakens to her true existence.
I'm always curious about how future technologies can both help and hurt us in questing for connection, and in seeking to understand ourselves better. I'm inspired by stories like those in the TV show Black Mirror, where human dramas interface with future technology. (Though I'd like to think "Mira Bug" leads to a happier ending.) Like most things in life, there are both positive and negative aspects upcoming advances, and we'll have to learn as a society how to deal with both.
Thanks, Stefani! Very interesting. Check out all the new stories on February 28, 2020!
This story owes its existence to many things. There was an announcement in September 2019 for a shared universe anthology. Following some world-building rules, all the stories would take place just before, during, or after an invasion. A lot of talented authors wrote pieces for that one. I thought it might be interesting to experience something like Independence Day or War of the Worlds through the eyes of Earth’s wildlife. I read a bunch of Jack London and re-read the great novel Raptor Red in order to prep. In the end, my piece got rejected.
But I still thought the story had, you’ll pardon the pun, teeth. You can’t give up as a writer. Stuff gets rejected. You take the critique (if you’re lucky enough to get it), re-tool the piece, and send it out again. That is exactly what I did with this. Now several drafts and more rejections later, here it is. It's very different from the one I wrote for the anthology. I still like this story quite a bit. Writing from the point of view for a wholly separate species was fun but tough. I’ll probably try it again.
Thanks, John! Very interesting!
I've suffered from depression and anxiety from a young age, and over the years, the desire to simply stop existing for a while--and perhaps hand over the reins of my life to somebody more qualified in the meantime--has become a familiar one. There's a hint of wish-fulfilment in this story, I think. The idea of a benevolent ghost who'll swoop in and fix things while you take a nice, soothing nap is quite seductive.
It's not a real-world solution, of course--and it wouldn't be healthy or ethical if it were. There's a paternalism inherent in making decisions about someone's life while they're not around to voice an opinion. And when aid is conditional on somebody else deciding you deserve it, what happens when a more compelling victim comes along? That's why it can't, ultimately, be only the narrator's well-intentioned meddling that spurs Serena to find a way to manage her depression. It has to be her own desire to regain control of her life. The narrator does manage to help her, but maybe not in the way they expect.
With this story, I also wanted to push back against the romanticising of mental illness, particularly in the creative professions. It's something I bought into hard when I was younger, and it can be so damaging. The dead artists whose pictures Serena pins on her walls are famous partly because of their tragic ends, but imagine how much more great work they might have created if they'd got the help they needed.
This manifests itself in themes that emerge from the slush. I know there is a high chance that these themes are coincidence only. Certainly I have never invested the time in documenting themes by quarter to validate if my impressions are real or just bias. But whether it's true or not, I am convinced that Chance's shuffling of the deck often deals me what feels like an outsize proportion of stories related to one subject, quarter by quarter. We deal in a broad range of speculative fiction here at Electric Spec, so the themes vary widely: spiders one quarter, body parts another, ghosts, dragons, robots turning on their human overlords -- you name it, there has likely been a theme on it.
This quarter, I ended up with a slug of submissions all in second person. The "you" stories:
You walk into the entry of your house. You set your keys on the table. Something moves in the living room and you freeze. No one else should be home.
Or, they are first person but really just a one-sided conversation:
What's that you say? You want to buy a dragon? Well, you haven't got the guts for it, I say!
Sometimes these show up as letters to "you". I call these "Dear Mom" letters, though they can be addressed to almost anyone:
My love, I mark these last words on the silver sheen of my transport's floor, using my own blood, to convey to you all that went wrong before the crash.
A related category of You stories are really more like instruction manuals:
Invariably, the concept of all of these stories is really interesting. I can't bring up examples without calling people out in a way they would immediately recognize, and that's not fair, but suffice it to say, I often reject those stories with a bit of regret because the spec fic angle is interesting and usually pretty unique. But the storytelling gets in the way of exploring the topic.
Here are two main things that I see go wrong:
Description falls away, because you're not writing in real time -- in media res or very close to it. The story becomes a talking head, and you have no room to add descriptive narration because you have now cast your story in a form that is really more just dialogue presented in a narrative format. It gets repetitive too, like the one-sided conversation, where, in order to get the You person's dialogue into the story, the character has to appear deaf or inattentive: "What's that you say? You want to buy a dragon?"
The opportunity to move into the POV character is much harder to achieve.
Here's my response to the first kind of You stories:
You walk into the entry of your house. Oh yeah? How do you know what I did? I don't use the front entry of my house -- I only use the garage entrance.
You set your keys on the table. What table? I don't have a table by my front entrance. What kind of table is it, anyway -- oh wait, there's no room for that because if you're forcing me into this You POV, then I would already know exactly what kind of table it would be, wouldn't I? It would be breaking POV to describe the table, but my ability to be inside that POV character's mind is already shot because we're two sentences in and here I am arguing with you about whether or not I would actually do any of these things that you're telling me I'm doing.
The Point of Storytelling
To the authors who submit the instruction manual stories: when has it ever been exciting to read an instruction manual? Even with the most powerful and engaging voice ever invented in fiction writing, you're already struggling to get up a big hill to hook a reader. The saying goes that someone with a beautiful voice "could read the phone book and still get an audience" -- sure, because you just need an excuse to listen to the voice, not because the content conveys any real meaning.
One exception might be Neil Gaiman's "Instructions", a poem in second person. However, I would like to point out that it is a poem, not a story. It's there to evoke a feeling, not take a reader on a journey. I might argue that the poem itself is about the hero's journey, but again, at more of an emotional level than full engagement of the imagination and senses as you would in a narrative.
A story is all about meaning. It is about taking a theme and emotionally engaging a reader so that when they get to the end, they have internalized that theme. You have touched them in a way that hopefully stays with them forever. When I think of books, I think of the line from the LOTR: Two Towers movie: Some of these were my friends!
Books -- stories -- got me through some of the darkest times in my life, by letting me escape my world, even for a brief time. Any author should be aspiring to achieve that level of meaning in a reader's life. But you do that through the hero's journey or some other construct of embedding the reader so deeply into the main character's transformation that they take that transformation with them into the real world. That doesn't have to be tragedy -- comedy can achieve the same effect. It's all just a different side of a many-sided coin.
If you prevent a reader from engaging with the main character at this level, then the transformation has not been achieved. "You" does not create intimacy. It creates distance, a gap that voice or concept really struggle to close. I'm not saying it can't be done -- I'm sure there are examples out there that have overcome this gap. But they are very rare unicorns of fiction, and probably not going to be discovered by little ole me at little ole Electric Spec.
Make your stories deeper and more engaging! Make them about "me" or a him or her that is so fabulous I want to be them -- I want to move into their mind and make myself at home. That is how transformation is achieved.
Finally, I want to note that you could argue that this article is written in second person. Here I am, talking directly to you. I appreciate the irony, but I would also argue that it underscores my point. I'm not trying to tell you a story here. I'm not trying to take you on a transformation journey that will mark your soul for all time.
I'm trying to convey advice. That's a totally different circumstance than storytelling. Stephen King, one of the greatest storytellers of our generation (and I would argue beyond) once followed up all of his stories with "Dear Reader" letters that were really the same thing as I'm doing here -- speaking in an intimate way to an unknown number of a mass audience. My audience is a lot smaller than his, guaranteed! But it serves a purpose -- and not a storytelling one. I mean, really -- who voluntarily reads an instruction manual? Who wants to find out what happens to someone who starts a "Dear Mom" story already dead? Who wants to spend the length of a story arguing with the narrator?
As far as I can tell, no one. So, my advice to you: if you have a great idea and you're struggling to put it to pages, don't fall back on "you". It's not as clever as you think it is. In fact, it's terribly limiting. If that's all you've got, marinate on it longer. Don't give in to "you". Write a real character I can get behind (or climb into) and use the story to transform that character in such a powerful way that I can't help but carry that with me for the rest of my days. You do that, and you won't be submitting to Electric Spec for very long -- you'll be on your way to the big time, for sure.
As you may have noticed, we've increased our staff in the past few months (Hi there, Beth and Lauren! Thanks!) We had to do so because our submissions and our popularity have been growing.
Why this is happening as we begin our fifteenth year, I do not know. It's a bit mysterious--in a good way.
Thank you, everyone!
Beth Chan grew up in a family of readers who frequently frustrated movie lovers by telling them "the book was better". She has a BA in Asian Studies and has studied Japanese and French. She has lived, worked, and traveled throughout the US and internationally and enjoys exploring different cultures through history, language, food, and art. She is an amateur artist specializing in whimsical portrait drawings of children
We're excited to have her on the team!
Do I have any editing-related resolutions? Yes! We are already working hard behind the scenes at Electric Spec on the fabulous February 2020 issue. I announced a new associate editor, which is exciting. Consequently, we resolve to get back to authors a little more quickly moving forward.
The submission deadline for the next issue is coming up suprisingly quickly: Jan 15, 2020!