Sorry I've been so quiet. Besides spending the last two days rooting out and stomping to death all past progressive usage in my book, I've read and ranked our closed round of Espec stories. As usual, there are a couple that really grabbed my attention. I've found it's not so much themes, but certain backdrops and genres which attract me. I like cyberpunk, as long as it's not confusing. (I don't know why, but cyberpunk authors have a tendency to write complicatedly.) I often enjoy stories set against a world of music. I know nothing of music, but who doesn't like a rock star? We have a couple of those. And I like military sci fi. I think military sci fi is particularly suited to the short form. You take a bad-ass, reserved soldier, throw her or him in some perilous battle situations, with cool armor and weapons and space-fighters, and I'm so there. Aliens are going down. That's cool. And a good urban fantasy is always appreciated, except for...how do I put this delicately? We may have now, as of this round of submissions, seen everything new under the sun (or the moon, as it were) about vampires, werewolves, and tall, blond elves. What I've not seen lately are urban zombies, dwarfs, gnomes, or other creatures of the night in our slush. How about a good centaur story?
I've decided I'm not so much for the traditional, medivialesque fantasy in short form. For one, they all have magic. Magic is fine, but original magic is a tough nut to crack, especially in short stories. Magic can be a great, sweeping thing, but even when it's a primary ability, it somehow seems slighted in short stories. Then the dragons...oh yeah, there's always a freakin' dragon. They're always big and beautiful, but I've never been much into reptiles. Too crunchy when you kill them. And most of all, so often it's simply the world that's speculative. It often feels as if Joe Blow (or insert made up name of teenaged boy or girl) is hanging around this strange world doing ordinary things and making the same decisions my neighbor would make if dragons attacked. It can be tough to make the characters really live in their world in so few pages, if that makes sense. I guess I prefer my traditional fantasy epic and in trilogy form.
Humor is another tough one. One of our editors writes damned funny stuff. It's her voice, the self-effacing internal narrative of the protag. I'm not sure how she does it, though I've watched her develop it through revision in stories and her books. Plus, I'm reading Terry Pratchett right now, which some people don't find funny, but about 3,000,000 readers do. He just makes me giggle, and he's certainly laughing all the way to the bank.
And yeah, if you're wondering, I do compare our stuff for the magazine to professional, published stuff, and I read all the time. We may not pay much, but it's a lot for us, and our standards are high. We certainly aren't going to buy two more sub-par stories just to get to six--not that it's ever been a problem, indeed, the opposite! We've clearly exited our "trunk story" era, so be warned.