Editor Interview: Spark: A Creative Anthology
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Q: Describe what you publish in 25 characters or less.
A: Sparks of great writing.
Q: What other current publications (or publishers) do you admire most?
A: Without hesitation, I’d say Stupefying Stories from Rampant Loon Press, edited by Bruce Bethke. There are handful of living writers who can say they’ve influenced writing or culture; I can’t think of any, besides Bruce, who have had such an influence on writing and culture that not only did the term they coined become part of our lexicon, but the whole concept became completely detached from and disassociated with the original writer. The term? Cyberpunk.
Now, with Stupefying Stories, Bruce Bethke is mapping the future of publishing through this direct-to-eBook monthly anthology, foregoing the expensive and inefficient traditional publishing model in favor of what is, in his view, the best way to distribute new fiction.
I’m also somewhat enamored with Unstuck and Shadow Road Quarterly. Unstuck is a “kindred spirit” publication in that they actively seek to publish emerging authors alongside established professionals; the cross-genre focus of their annual print & eBook release is “literary fiction with elements of the fantastic, the futuristic, or the surreal.” Similarly, Shadow Road Quarterly seeks literature without genre boundaries, is an online anthology accepting “writing that has, at its heart, characters that speak to us or experiences that echo through our minds even after the piece is finished.”
Shadow Road Quarterly is where I found "To The River" by George Wells, which I quickly solicited for reprint in Spark: A Creative Anthology, Volume III.
These three publications in particular, though there are several more, are important to me because they prove that there is still an interest in and demand for great short literature—and that there are still writers producing it.
Q: If you publish writing, who are your favorite writers? If you publish art, who are your favorite artists?
A: Prose: Abraham Verghese, Mark Twain, George Wells, and more.
Poetry: Czeslaw Milosz, John Gillespie Magee, Jr., and j.lewis, among others.
Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?
A: For readers, I think one of the biggest differences they’ll find is the broader scope of well-written works: fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The open-genre format, while not entirely unique to Spark, is actually not very common, either—we have literary fiction to steampunk to suspense, and everything in between.
For writers, the fact that we work so closely with them—either in providing personal responses to rejections, or in collaborating on line edits to prepare the accepted piece for publication—has been extremely alluring. More than half of the rejections we’ve sent have received a delighted response from the author. In one of my favorite acceptance experiences, I spent an entire evening discussing the piece with the poet, who lives in the UK.
Add to that our commitment to paying every contributor, and I think we’ve shown that Spark: A Creative Anthology is all about showcasing great writers and their works, rather than taking advantage of new authors for our own profit.
Q: What is the best advice you can give people who are considering submitting work to your publication?
A: Get away from the idea that the latest great writing has to be raw, edgy, crude, and vulgar. While each of those elements may be incidental to a great piece, adding them in—or, worse, using them as the basis for your story—is not going to transform something mediocre into something stellar. One of the short fiction pieces we accepted for Volume I ("His Smile Fixed In Time" by Stone Showers) was extremely simple and appropriate for most audiences; it was accepted because it told a complete story that created a connection with the reader, and because it expertly led us to understand what had happened without ever telling us.
Beyond that, read our guidelines completely, including the section on "What We Are Not Accepting." Read interviews we've given. Read our "About" page. Get your hands on previous volumes. Understanding who we are, why we exist, what we are looking for, and what we've accepted in the past will give you a great chance of acceptance.
Q: Describe the ideal submission.
A: What I'm looking for is a STORY. Spark is looking for great writing that tells a compelling story, regardless of length. Even very short pieces, like flash fiction, should tell a story, though there will certainly be fewer dramatic elements developed than we’d see in a longer piece or novel. The presence of “story” is what distinguishes flash fiction from “vignette.”
The flash fiction piece “Five Hundred,” by D. Laserbeam, is a good example of a very short story—just over 900 words—that has an arc of interest, tension and resolution, while leaving many questions unaddressed and dramatic elements undeveloped. The engagement it immediately creates makes it much more than a vignette, and that’s why we accepted it for Volume I.
For poetry, I also look for a story, but the story may be implied. Of course, there is a lot more flexibility for poetry, and some styles tend to emphasize descriptive language over storytelling. I’ve also seen some poetry submissions which go too far, focusing so much on story that they are little more than prose stories with poem-style line breaks. So, for poetry, I tend to use the very subjective measure of accepting poems which make me say, “Wow!”
Two poems which tell a great “implied story,” both of which appear in Volume I, are "Image of a Treasure, as a Negative" by Valentina Cano, and a modern tanka by Darrell Lindsey.
Q: How much do you want to know about the person submitting to you?
A: During the initial reading, the cover letters and author bios are actually hidden from all staff except the Editor-in-Chief—that means nobody knows who you are when we first look at your submission. We're just looking for great writing that would fit well in a volume of our anthology. Previous publication credits (or lack thereof) only matter when we're making our final selections, and even then only to the extent that we want to make sure to have a balance between established and emerging writers.
Q: If you publish writing, how much of a piece do you read before making the decision to reject it?
A: For poetry, we generally read the entire piece. Besides being short, poems tend to make the most sense when viewed as a whole.
With prose, it's not uncommon for our staff to stop reading after a couple of pages for a piece that is not a good fit, is not well-written, or just isn't engaging. We have a wide enough variety of readers that it can't hold our interest, it probably isn't going to hold the interest of our audience, either. When this happens, our staff members make a note: "Stopped reading on page 4. Couldn't keep going after the second paragraph. Made it halfway through. Etc,"
For pieces that are engaging, well-written, or a good fit for Spark, not only do we find ourselves reading easily to the end—regardless of length—but often re-reading, too.
Q: How important do you feel it is for publishers to embrace modern technologies?
A: Modern technology is what has made Spark: A Creative Anthology possible. In particular, the ability to centrally manage electronic submissions has been invaluable, because it has enabled a large and geographically-distributed volunteer staff. To learn more about how technology affects and enables Spark, please see my interview with Submittable at http://blog.submittable.com/2013/03/client-profile-brian-lewis-writerpublisherprogrammer-2/.