Pearls Before Swine

What should you do if you’ve sent out your great writing and an editor has the gall to reject it? How do you respond when you realize you’ve cast your pearls before swine?

Writer Liaison George Wells offers some experience-based insight on responding to rejection in his new blog post. Read the whole thing here. (Be sure to click through to the whole article; if you stop with this excerpt you’re gonna get the wrong idea.)


It doesn’t mean you’re a total loser. It doesn’t mean you’re a total loser.

Years ago, I applied to Rivoli, a four-star restaurant in Albany, California.  Of course, I had delivered my résumé to several restaurants, but I was very interested in this job, as I had eaten there several times, and it was genuinely deserving of its reputation as one of the finest Mediterranean restaurants in the East Bay.

The chef thanked me for my interest, but told me that she had decided not to offer me the job at the time.  Of course, I had to respond.

Dear Chef Wendy,

You’re an idiot.  If you can’t see the value I would bring to your third-rate eatery, maybe you should go back to cooking school.

At any rate, I was hired at Bucci’s, so obviously they know quality when they see it.

Good luck with your little Italian chuck wagon.


George Wells

You are now…

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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, 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