Poll: Would you buy an inexpensive ISBN from a small press?

Based on your responses so far, we have started offering this service for independent authors and small presses. Purchase single ISBNs for $15 or less, or a block of numbers to save even more at store.egjpress.org/isbn.

We’d still love for you to complete our poll to give us ideas for better meeting your individual needs.

As part of our ongoing mission to find new ways to support writers, we’re exploring the idea of providing a low-cost ISBN option to U.S. authors and poets—both as a way to reduce costs for the ISBNs we use, and as a way to pass along a savings opportunity to the people we support and admire: you!

While Bowker is the only agency that can administer ISBNs to U.S. publishers, we have the ability to manage both the assignment and the imprint for the numbers we purchase.

If you are an independent author or poet, or a small press, we’d love to get some feedback from you to help us determine whether to proceed with this offering!

Behind the Spark: Telling a Story through Dialogue

It’s sometimes called the “worst sin” a writer can commit: the dreaded info dump. Here we explore an example of telling a story through dialogue without slipping into the info-dump trap.

This post is part of the “Behind the Spark” series, in which Spark contributors and editor Brian Lewis explore and discuss work that has been featured in the anthology.

There’s a term writers apply to awkward passages which serve only to clumsily convey important backstory or characterization:

The dreaded “info dump.”

It’s sometimes called the “worst sin” a writer can commit—which may have just a touch of hyperbole, but it’s certainly not far off. The reason info-dumping is so frowned upon is that it forces the reader out of the story for a moment, forces the reader to process information being told to him or her—instead of treating the reader as an engaged participant in the story.

There are two common types of info dump: the expository dump and the “As you know, Bob … .” In the first, the narrator tells the reader key information directly:

The citizens had been unhappy ever since the bread shortage last October, which had been fabricated by the government as a punishment for the attempted revolution.

In the dialogue-based info dump, or the “As you know, Bob… ,” one character explains something to another character that they both already know—and therefore have no reason to actually say aloud other than to fill the reader in.

“Sometimes, Bob, I look up at our sky, which is green because of the unusual chemical composition of our atmosphere, and I wonder whether we will ever be happy again, the way we were before the bread shortage last October, which we both believe was fabricated by the government as a punishment for the attempted revolution.”


Don’t get me wrong here: backstory is important, and so is conveying a character’s personality, but there are ways to show these things effectively without dumping information on the reader. David Farland has several great articles on worldbuilding in his Daily Kick in the Pants series, so for the exposition side of things, I’ll turn you over to his professional advice.

For telling a story through dialogue, I present as an example “Scarlet, Crimson, Red” by Sadie Bruce, included in Spark, Volume IV. There are two obvious participants in the conversation: the narrator, and the girl she meets at the audition. While it’s true that they make statements about “the way the world is,” the two characters contradict each other in a way that directly reveals more about their personalities than their surroundings. Indirectly, their arguing and corrections—”You’ve got it all wrong!”—effectively convey the turmoil and uncertainty of the girls’ environment by leaving us uncertain which girl knows the truth and which has been the victim of propaganda.

There’s a third, less-obvious participant in the conversation, too: the silent second-person “You,” addressed in asides by the narrator, but known to both the narrator and the girl at the audition. A cynical reader of this article will point out that the things the narrator says to “You” are already known to both characters, seeming to match my example of a bad info dump above. However, these asides serve a very different purpose: it’s important that we understand that the narrator knows “Your” life story by heart, and these asides show us not only how well the narrator knows it, but hint at the kind of connection she has to “You” and the process she must have gone through in order to know that life story so well.

The effective telling of a story through dialogue is one of the main reasons I selected “Scarlet, Crimson, Red” for publication in Spark. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

— Brian

P.S. One other thing I enjoyed, unrelated to the point of this article, is that this piece effectively makes “You” a distinct character in the story; the reader is never addressed, and the fourth wall is never broken. Another Spark piece that does this well is Inferno, by Andrew Blackman.

Weekly Statistics for June 28, 2014

NEW! Find our latest overall statistics at SparkAnthology.org/statistics.

Submissions received during the week ending 2014-06-28
Total: 54 | Max: 15 | Average: 7.71

Categories for submissions received during the week ending 2014-06-28
Poetry: 20 | Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction: 34

Categories for all submissions as of 2014-06-28
Total: 3085 | Poetry: 956 | Fiction and Creative Non-Fiction: 2129

Status of all submissions as of 2014-06-28
New: 268 | In Progress: 585 | Withdrawn: 361 | Declined: 1738 | Accepted: 146

Change since last week
New: +49 | In Progress: -41 | Withdrawn: +8 | Declined: +34 | Accepted: +4

Join the discussion group for Spark Contributors, Past and Future on Facebook!

Weekly Submission Statistics

New submissions received during the week ending 6/21/2014
Total: 56 | Max: 19 | Average: 8
Categories of Submissions Received This Week

Categories for new submissions received during the week ending 6/21/2014
Categories of Submissions Received This Week

Categories for all submissions received since Spark was established
“Other” is Artwork & Photography.
Categories of Submissions Received Since Inception

Status of all submissions received since Spark was established
Total Submissions: 3044
Status of Submissions Received Since Inception

Change since last week
New: +23 | In Progress: +25 | Withdrawn: +1 | Declined: +4 | Accepted: +3

Join the discussion group for Spark Contributors, Past and Future on Facebook!

An Open Letter to Poets who entered Contest Five (“Fables”)

[Originally sent as an email message to Contest Five entrants on 16 June 2014.]

I know that great poetry is out there and being actively written—and that many of you are writing it.

Even so, we have been consistently challenged in attracting that great poetry to our writing contest. In two different events, we were unable to award prizes for poetry: in Contest Three, because there were too few entries in total, and in Contest Five because there were too few finalists after blind voting by a panel of judges. Both scenarios are described in the “Rules and Restrictions” before each contest starts, but this situation leaves everyone upset—me, poets, and judges—and is understandably seen by many as unfair.

To proactively address this, I am personally reaching out to poets like you to ask for help.

Our next writing contest has opened for entries. To ensure both fairness and transparency, if you are not entering the contest will you please consider volunteering as a staff judge instead?

The duties of the role are fairly simple:

  • Unlike the regular submission queue, detailed notes are not required. Simply vote Yes, Maybe, or No to indicate whether you feel the piece should be considered for the next round of more judging using our contest judging criteria.
  • Later rounds get more discussion and scrutiny as fewer pieces are passed on.
  • About the 3rd weekend of July, staff judges are invited to join the live online chat with the guest judges (Danielle Lazarin and DA Gray). These chats are scheduled to be convenient for the guests, wherever they are in the world, so the time for this contest’s discussion will likely be morning in the U.S.

Here’s what you’ll need to keep in mind:

  • Once you agree to be a staff judge, you can’t enter the contest.
  • Once you enter the contest, you can’t be a staff judge.

If you would be interested in and willing to participate in this way, please contact me directly at editor@sparkanthology.org. I can add up to seven more judges to our panel, and I’d be delighted to have your help.

If you have already entered the contest or are unable to participate as a judge, please consider helping by telling other poets about this opportunity. Contest entry is always free, and I believe that more participation will raise awareness of the great poetry being written and its importance in modern literature.

Thank you for your help,

Brian Lewis, Volunteer Editor-in-Chief
Spark: A Creative Anthology

Behind the Spark: “You Can’t Do That in Short Fiction!”

This post is part of the new “Behind the Spark” series in which Spark contributors and editor Brian Lewis explore and discuss work that has been featured in the anthology.

Here are three things, in no particular order, which you can’t do* in short fiction.

  1. Flashbacks.
  2. Narrative in third-person present tense.
  3. Flashbacks when the narrative is in third-person present tense.

* By “things you can’t do” I really mean “things which are impossibly difficult to do well.”

Let’s talk about this.

Flashbacks. Despite some editors’ firm bias against them, flashbacks are not inherently bad. It’s just that in short fiction, where you need to get to telling one story and telling it well, the economy of words does not generally leave room to effectively develop both a main timeline and a flashback timeline. Plus, to let the reader know that you’re switching between the timelines, you generally need to change verb tense or start a new section—or even a new chapter. Flashbacks, if used at all, work better in novel-length work than in short fiction.

Third-Person Present. This is one step more difficult to do well than first-person present tense. In both cases, unlike past-tense narratives, in present tense descriptions of “this is happening, now this is happening, and now this is happening,” it’s impossible for the speaker to know anything before the reader knows it. This means the author not only has to keep straight the characters’ point-of-view, but also the narrator’s. That’s extremely difficult to do.

Both at the same time. Imagine for a moment that an author has attempted not one, but both of these impossible feats in a short story. In this imaginary story, not only do we (author and reader) have to keep track of multiple timelines, but also keep POV consistent and correct for the timeline we’re in. And then, just to up the ante of impossibility, imagine that the author hasn’t even given us the standard clues of changing verb tense for the flashback scenes and perhaps setting them apart with asterisks—* * *—or some similar section divider.

Like me, you’re shaking your head already. Obviously, you can’t do that in short fiction.

And yet, in “Her Fruitful Shore,” Brian Reeves does exactly that. Not only does it, but does it brilliantly—and that’s why I selected it for Spark, Volume I.

The story follows Delroy Lawrence as he’s hired to take a small group of American tourists out to a secluded Jamaican beach in his wooden boat. I encourage you to read once for the amazing storytelling, then once again for literary analysis: watch carefully for the one time Reeves tells us he’s switching timelines—and how he deftly accomplishes it without changing tense at all.  I’m not going to tell you where it is, but I’ll warn you that it’s so well done it’s easy to miss.

From that point forward, we readers are never warned that the story is switching between “now” and “flashback,” but we’re also never confused. Reeves gives just enough context at each switching point to allow the reader to seamlessly follow along, completely immersed in Delroy’s life. As a result, “Her Fruitful Shore” remains one of my favorite stories—and a go-to example of well-crafted writing.

I guess you can do that in short fiction.

— Brian Lewis

Read “Her Fruitful Shore” and more at SparkAnthology.org/excerpts, or continue to the response from Brian Reeves.

Hey! Who Moved My Cheese?

Or, “The Great T-of-C Blunder in Spark, Volume IV.”

Most contributors and early purchasers have now received their copy of Spark: A Creative Anthology, Volume IV, and while many start right at the foreword by Kevin J. Anderson and read straight through to the end, others are looking for a specific story and want to skip to it. So they open the Table of Contents, find the page number for the piece they’re looking for, and flip to that page.

And it’s not there. Or, rather it’s almost there, but a few pages away from where the Table of Contents said it would be.

What happened? Who moved the cheese? Well, at the last minute, after proofreading and editing by a group of readers even more attentive to detail than I am, I accidentally unticked the little box on the first content page that says “Start Numbering at 1.” I’m not sure exactly when or how, but I know that’s what happened.

Before printing, all the page numbers in the entire linked book get updated automatically. A table of contents page … doesn’t. So if you’re looking for the foreword, the TOC says it’s on page 1, but it’s actually on page 7. Want to read “Scarlet, Crimson, Red” by Sadie Bruce? Of course you do! Table of Contents says page 426. It’s actually on page 432.

Now, this mix-up only applies to the first print run. It’s easy to correct, and the page numbers have been reset for the second (and subsequent) printings: if the Table of Contents says the Foreword starts on page 1, by golly you can bet that it starts on page 1.

If you are lucky enough to have a first-printing copy of Volume IV, I’ve provided this handy cross-reference to the page numbers as they appear in your book.

Happy Reading,
— Brian Lewis

Author Title Page
Kevin J Anderson (Foreword) 7
Brad R. Torgersen The Hideki Line 10
Alex Kane Nootropic Software Blues 26
George Wells Whose Music is the Gladness of the World 38
Erica L. Satifka Real Plastic Trees 46
Julia Patt From Here to Gehenna 50
Tom Howard Saint Joan the Two-Headed Llama 76
Alexis A. Hunter Just One More Sin 88
Marisa Crane The Infinite Tide 104
Peter Medeiros Silence Like a Falling Chandelier 116
Ace Pilkington Fire Marks 140
John Arkwright Temple of the Yak 144
Laura Redden Erturk Icarus Circulates through the Universe 174
Joe Baumann String Theory 176
Brianne M. Kohl _____ 196
Stewart C Baker Butterflies 204
Annie Bellet Innocence, Rearranged 212
Natalia Theodoridou The Vandalists 226
Melinda Brasher Sand and Fire 242
Kaitlyn M. M. Caul Happy Birthday 252
Su J. Sokol Slip Back, Move Forward 260
Michael Hodges 9 Steps from Door 9 278
JC Hemphill Dead Dog 284
Terri Wallace A Sort of Homecoming 326
Hannah Lackoff After the World Ended 330
A. E. Marlowe A Trans-Atlantic Occurrence 358
Will Mayer Half-Hanged 382
Florence Major Rising Hawk 402
Samantha Kymmell-Harvey Warp and Weft 406
Anna Yeatts Outside In 418
Sadie Bruce Scarlet, Crimson, Red 432
Hannah Streett Well Done 454
Chip Houser Mouses 458
Alex Shvartsman Bedtime Story on Christmas Eve, 1,000,000 A.D. 466

Jobs at Spark: Marketing & Social Media Coordinator

The permanent link for this job listing is https://sparkanthology.org/jobs/marketing-coordinator/.

Spark is seeking an enthusiastic individual to help us promote our anthology. This is an unpaid, volunteer position (as is Editor-in-Chief), but it may be listed on your resume/C.V. In many cases, this volunteer position also qualifies for college internship credit. Marketing experience or a current education focus in marketing is not required, but would be a big plus.


  • Post news and announcements to the Spark website (http://SparkAnthology.org) approximately once every week or two (or as needed).
  • Post updates about our news and announcements more frequently to social media networks and regularly respond to comments on those sites.
  • Research relevant venues for promoting Spark and our contests, including (but not limited to) writers’ market directories, writing forums and workshops, blogs, sponsorships, and paid advertisement opportunities.
  • Monitor and review listings for Spark in writer’s market directories, reporting incorrect or outdated information to Spark‘s editor.


Ideally, we are looking for an individual or team with a demonstrated ability to use social networking to promote a cause, business, and/or events.

Skills we believe you should have in order to be effective include:

  • Familiarity with social networking sites. Be prepared to list those you use regularly, and give some concrete examples of how you would promote Spark on at least two of them.
  • The ability to perform self-guided online research seek out writing forums and marketing opportunities to get more exposure for Spark and promote upcoming contests.
  • The ability to interact with others online in a consistently professional manner.
  • Creativity in finding marketing opportunities, with an awareness of budget limitations. “Free” is great, but something really worthwhile that has an associated cost will be considered, in discussion with the Editor in Chief.
  • Depending on the number of applicants and their qualifications, one to three volunteers will be selected. Therefore, an ability to communicate and collaborate with others who have similar tasks delegated is essential.

A nice-to-have bonus skill is familiarity with HTML. This may come in handy for directly editing listings on some sites and advanced formatting of posts and announcements on SparkAnthology.org.

To Apply

To apply, send a cover letter and resume to jobs@sparkanthology.org. In your cover letter:

  • Briefly describe your background and any marketing campaigns or opportunities you have participated in.
  • Explain your familiarity with various social networks and give concrete high-level examples of how you would promote Spark and interact with other network members on two of them.
  • Excluding SparkAnthology.org and the source where you learned about this opportunity, list at least two sites or online sources where you can find mention of Spark.