• Free Writing Coaching

    Are you a writer? We both teach creative writing at Stanford's Online Writers' Studio and we really want to read your work. So we are offering a free writing coaching session as a special gift only to anyone who pre-orders Sparked by October 31st. We are publishing Sparked through Inkshares, a cool new publishing platform that will print the book once we receive 750 pre-orders.

    We're offering this free service because we know from experience that writing can be lonely and it's not easy to find someone who will read your work and be both honest and encouraging. Take your mom. She probably thinks you're the next Great American Novelist, but we both know you can't really trust her. She probably said you were a genius when you brought home finger paintings from pre-school. At the other end of the extreme from your mom is the frenemy who reads your story and says: "Um, it just didn't really grab me?" Also not helpful.

    So here's how it works:

    1. Preorder Sparked
    2. You will receive an email from Inkshares confirming your preorder. Forward this to us at sparkedwriters@gmail.com, along with up to 750 words of your writing (about three pages)

    We'll tell you what we love about it and offer you a tip or two to make it even better.

    If you don't need our help yourself, you can always pre-order Sparked and pass this service on to your favorite aspiring writer, young or old: just mention their name to us when you forward your preorder confirmation email. We particularly want to connect with teen writers and aspiring YA authors. We can't wait to read your writing!


    An Example of Our Coaching

    Easter Eggs

    Easter is her favorite holiday.

    Not the going to church part, not the stuffy part with the people in suits and pastel dresses. She doesn't like that part much, because it's boring and she spends enough hours staring down at her hands, picking at her ruby nail polish. Her family isn't even very religious, but her mother likes to pretend. Her mother wears a cross around her neck, resting outside of her shirt so it doesn't actually touch her skin and everyone can see. A man used to play the organ that looked like a huge book made of keys, before he moved or died and they covered it with cloth. The music, that was the only part that held her interest. The organ sounded like a man weeping, and her father never wept; he was too tall and large, he blocked out the sun. But all the little girls wear white, and they look like brides all alone.

    She doesn't like that part.

    She likes the part before, and after. She likes to dye eggs pretty colors; only hers usually turn out spotty because she drops them in the bowls too hard. She has a brother, too, his name is Davey and he's only six but he dyes eggs with her sometimes, and he likes blue the best. She likes red, because it glows in the sun. Her name is Hope.

    She kisses one of the eggs, and leaves a red lipstick-y print against the white shell. Her brother giggles in disgust, tells her she's going to get diseases. It's called the Princess and the frog, you idiot. She notices that his fingernails are filthy, and she can see his fingerprints on the egg he's holding. Her egg falls from her fingers into red dye and it splashes up against her cotton t-shirt, little dark droplets that never fade completely. The lipstick disintegrates and falls away.

    She's too young to be wearing lipstick so dark, but her mouth looks like a heart, and so she likes to paint it scarlet to match. She stole some out of her mom's dresser, and keeps it under her pillow. She uses it to color in her drawings when she runs out of red marker, and her mother doesn't bring it up because she was always too afraid to wear it out anyway. Hope. Her eyes are so black you can't see her pupils. She's the only girl in the whole school who wears red lipstick, and she likes the way it makes all the little boys and girls blink their eyes.

    Hope. She watches them watch her.

     

    There's a girl in her class with thick buttery hair, and it falls all the way down to her waist. She likes to tie it up with pretty ribbons. Her name is Mona, or something like that, something that starts and ends softly. Once, the class was learning about the heart, and Hope put her palm on Mona's chest to feel the ticking. Her heart beat like a clock, steady and even. Hope was enthralled by the completeness of it. The foreverness. You're never going to run out, she said, and Mona looked confused; her wide brown eyes opened even wider, taking up more space on her face than anything else. Of what?

    Hope thinks Mona's voice sounds like someone singing, in that all the highs and lows are sharper. She rolled her eyes and turned away.

    Heart beats, maybe, maybe the sound of your breath against your pillow at night, whatever it is. You've got an endless supply.

    Once, Mona came into class with her cheeks flushed and her forehead sweaty, and she was sitting next to Hope and Hope was so very quiet and didn't move or inhale because she swears that she could hear the sound of Mona's heart, beating rapidly beneath her lavender sundress. She listens to it and it frightens her because Mona's never going to run out, but she is, she can feel it. She presses her fingertips to her wrist, and then her neck, and over her chest, but she still can't find her heartbeat.

     

    "Hope?" her mother is wringing her hands by the sink. "I bought egg dye today. Maybe you can invite some of your friends over and dye eggs this afternoon." She doesn't look up from the floor, refusing to make eye contact with her daughter. What friends? There are no friends. Hope smiles with all her teeth. She says she'll ask.

    Mona says yes, of course, because she was brought up to be polite and smile with her little pink mouth and not her eyes. Hope is wearing a skirt, and her black hair is in French braids. She tugs on the end of one of her braids and smiles. Mona notices that her fingernails are very long and sharp, like they've been filed into points. They smile at each other until the corners of their mouths ache, until their lips crack and bleed (you can't tell, Hope's mouth is already red--after a while, even when she's not wearing lipstick, it's sunk into the creases of her mouth and she's always smiling scarlet). I can't wait. Mona is holding her wrist with the opposite hand and she can feel her heartbeat jumping against her fingertips.

    Why do you need a knife to dye Easter eggs? Mona wipes her hands on the newspapers they've spread out over the kitchen table.

    Hope can hear her voice in her ears, in her mouth, sticky and sharp. Your heart was beating much too quickly, your heart was supposed to be a harmony but it was too irregular and out of tune and now the song hurts my ears.

    I thought you were going to last forever, you lied to me. The music's over, and it's too quiet now.

     

    She dyes the Easter eggs red, all of them, even though she promised she'd save some for Davey to dye blue. But now she has a dozen eggs that are sticky and wet and stain her fingers. The color gets under her fingernails, and she doesn't notice because of that nail polish. She's picked it mostly off, but red is red and she's forgotten what it's like to look down and see any other color. Davey wanted to have an Easter egg hunt, so she goes into their backyard and hides them all in wonderful places where no one can find them.

    He tells her later that it was the hardest Easter egg hunt yet, and he would never have managed to find her crimson eggs if it wasn't for their smell, so strong- that heavy scent of rust and copper, like pennies, like blood.


    Dear Lily,

    Wow! You are such an incredible writer. I love the way that you play with language, the way that a jazz musician might play with notes. This short story sets an incredible mood: it's dark and dreamy and mysterious, just like its protagonist, "Hope," who seems to be full of anything but hope.

    I love all of the details describing egg dyeing, from the way their fingers leave marks on the colored eggs to the way her shirt gets splashed and stained when an egg falls into dye. I feel like this is a story where the symbolism matters a lot. Hope seems preoccupied with dying (nice pun on dyeing), fixated on her classmate Mona's beating heart, which she likes to surreptitiously feel. I love that moment when she says to Mona: "You're never going to run out, she said, and Mona looked confused; her wide brown eyes opened even wider, taking up more space on her face than anything else. Of what?" I learned--and I believe--that great fiction raises questions but doesn't answer them all, that it embraces the fundamental mystery of life and the way we can never fully know another person, rather than trying to pin their character down. I love this moment in your story because I feel like in this moment, Hope feels Mona's heart, grasps the mystery of this other life. She seems fixated on this idea that she herself is "going to run out," that she doesn't have this steady pulse that Mona does, that her days are limited. I really like how you convey this without stating it directly, a wonderful example of "showing" rather than "telling" us what this story is about at core.

    While I love the ending, when Hope hides the eggs for her brother and he can only find them because they smell "like blood," I was a little puzzled by the second to last section of this story, when Mona comes over. In this section, you go into the second person: "Your heart was beating much too quickly, your heart was supposed to be a harmony but it was too irregular and out of tune and now the song hurts my ears. I thought you were going to last forever, you lied to me. The music's over, and it's too quiet now." I am not sure I follow what literally happened. Is the "you" here Mona? Why does Hope feel like Mona lied to her? I would love to get to see what actually happens when these two girls are together, how Mona disappoints Hope in some literal way (if indeed that's what you want to have happen).

    Again, I love the idea of a girl who believes she can foretell her own short life, and who sees in this other girl a vitality that she envies. I also really love the way you set this on and around Easter, a holiday of resurrection. It's a beautifully poetic story and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    Warmly,
    'Lena