THE MOST IMPORTANT VOLUME of an anthology is not the first, but the second. With the first volume of Spark: A Creative Anthology, we proved we have ambition and desire. Here, in Volume II, we also demonstrate staying power, both of the anthology itself and of modern storytelling and poetry.
People do write it.
People do read it.
—Brian Lewis, Editor-in-Chief of Spark: A Creative Anthology, from the foreword to Volume II.
I’m very late with my post this week, but I have a good excuse. As I was beginning yet another rambling missive, Brian contacted me and asked if I had time to take a look at the proof for Spark, Volume II. Could I lend him another set of eyes to check for any errors that might have slipped through the cracks or crept in during the editing process? Absolutely!
Full disclosure from both parties: Brian told me that a big part of his motivation was to show it off, and part of mine was to put off the blog post I was working on that wasn’t taking off. However, I did also get a good read and he also got to fix a few (minor) issues before sending to print, so it’s win-win.
With Brian’s kind permission, I’d like to offer you a glimpse into what I saw over the weekend.
There are twenty-four pieces in total, a mix of shorts, flashes, and poems. It offers a surprising mix of genres, which has been Brian’s vision since the beginning. Now, that might seem off-putting—indeed, I understand that he was told that it was a risky move—but as a man who has read many anthologies of genre specific stories, I don’t see the difference. I have never loved every last word of even the best I have read. It works well, and the pieces are chosen to have a fairly broad appeal.
I’ll get poetry out of the way first. Yes, I said that. I don’t know a lot about poetry, so I always feel grossly underqualified to comment on it. That’s something I keep promising to change soon, but meh, there’s always tomorrow.
The two pieces that stuck out for me were “Oh, How We Lived and Died There,” by Kate Raynes and “the horse race for existence” by Scott Skrabal. Kate’s poem was actually the winning entry for the poetry category for Spark’s Contest One. I enjoyed the imagery, possibly because it was familiar to me. A snippet.
Where a river twists and winds,
dotted by dams, with levees in line,
we strove to control the fl ow
that goes from the heartland
out through a gaping maw.
I grew up in Northern California, and rivers, dams, and levees were a big part of my childhood, so maybe that colored my opinion.
Scott Skrabal’s poem was the one that I liked the best, as there’s a certain cadence to it that fit the idea of a horse race. I couldn’t help but read that one out loud, and I found it pleasing to the ear.
As for the rest of the poetry, it was good. I don’t know poetry. I don’t dislike it, mind you, I’m simply uncomfortable making any statements. If anybody has read the other poems, please comment below. I’d love to hear your opinions.
On to prose. My favorite was my own, of course. Just kidding. Maybe. I’ll come back to that. Let’s begin with a few lit-fic pieces.
The anthology opens with Spark’s first contest winner for the prose category, Michelle Soudier’s “Perspective,” about a divorced man who learns a valuable lesson from his son about finding his place in life. I have a heart of stone, but I was a little misty by the end.
Brandon Tietz’s “Ultimate Grand Supreme Super Sexy Baby” is a wonderful mix of the humorous and the horrific.
Simon Bradley’s “Semi-Detached” successfully breaks one of the cardinal rules of plot—don’t kill the dog—and I applaud him for it. Not that I like dead dogs, but I tend to question “The Rules.” It is darkly funny, and I laughed in spite of myself.
Christine Edwards’ “The Barfly from Apartment Twenty-One” and Ellen Denton’s “The Confession” both make well-known fiction devices—memory loss and deathbed confessions, respectively—new again.
Alexis A. Hunter , a favorite of mine, stretches outside the bounds of her usual speculative fiction offerings that I know her for, and gives us a western, “The Shadow Attached to His Name,” a sequel to her offering in Volume I, “By the Gun.” If you only read one western this year, make it these two.
For Sci-fi lovers, Hunter Liguore gives us “Me,” a story about identity that would have been at home on “The Twilight Zone.” Daniel Pearlman’s “Caught in Vagrante” reminded me of Philip K Dick’s short stories, an anvilicious commentary on the war on the homeless. Robert J Sawyer takes us centuries into the future to answer the question of conscience posed by the nuclear bomb in “Wiping Out.”
Ashley Capes’ “Somnus and the March Hare” brings Alice’s rabbit into the real world and throws in a touch of Roman mythology for a fun grown-up fantasy tale. Jennifer Racek’s “The Library at the End of the World” is a fable about the importance of books, and while it was unusual for the anthology, being possibly more suited to younger readers, I found it an enjoyable read.
Then there’s my favorite story: mine. I say this not because it’s the best story—it isn’t—but because I spent so much time with it and am happy with the results, overjoyed to see it in print. When I was workshopping it, the first critique left me this comment: “Sorry to be so negative but that’s how the plot struck me – bleak and negative.” I knew I was moving in the right direction.
I will have to come back later to comment on the rest of the pieces, as I was occasionally too distracted to give them my full attention, and I don’t believe I was able to fully appreciate the meaning and impact of the words. An entire anthology is a lot to absorb in a day.
Those pieces are:
- James Burgin—Alzheimer’s
- Sarah Kravitz—El Camino Cielo
- Lisa Reeves—Google Earth: Madison County
- Cynthia Guenther Richardson—Getting on the Liver Transplant List/Amulets (two poems)
- Andrew Blackman —Inferno
- Sandy Hiortdahl—Monday, Erasure of
- Beatriz Fernandez—The Point of No Return
- Richard King Perkins II—Translucent Paramours
If you read any of these stories and poems—and I hope you do—do please comment on them, even, nay especially, if you wrote it.
Props to the artists, too. The cover is a photograph by Charles King, an artist and author from Portland, Oregon, and the inner art was drawn specifically for some of the stories by Paul Pederson, an artist and graphic designer currently living in St. George, Utah.
Thanks for reading. I will make every effort to be back to my regular Saturday postings this weekend.