Be Part of the Publishing Process with Sparked! (Interview + CALLING ALL WRITERS - A Giveaway)

Supporting local authors is kind of our jam so when our book club leader, Amanda, connected us to Helena Echlin & Malena Watrous, Bay Area local authors who are also writing instructors at Stanford, we couldn't resist exploring what they are up to. The 'Lenas are doing a thing...And that thing is publishing a book with the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child. 

Malena spent last weekend with a whole bunch of our favorite people - jealous!

Sparked is being published by InkShares, a crowd-funded publishing company. We bought a signed copy and want to bring Sparked to your attention. The 'Lenas are sooooo close to their funding goal and we hope you'll help! There's a big giveaway below for writers looking for some help with copyediting their manuscript (up to 5pgs/1,000 words) or writing an agent query letter.

Interview with Helena & Malena

Talk to us a little about Sparked. How did the concept go from an idea to a book?

MW: When I was a kid, I had this recurring dream where I could move things by flexing my eyes. It felt so real I would wake up and think maybe I really did have a power. I’d stare at things really hard to try to move them and be bummed when it didn’t work. I had this dream again as an adult and this inspired me to start a story where a girl wakes up from such a dream and then realizes her sister’s bed is empty--her sister is missing. I wrote about fifty pages, but then I got stuck. Then, one rainy Friday the thirteenth, Helena and I went out for drinks and I told her my idea. Immediately she began riffing on it, and went so far as to pull a notepad and pen from her purse (she's amazingly organized) to jot down notes as our conversation got more and more frenzied.

HE: By the end of that night I had five pages of notes. The next day, we started shooting scenes back and forth and in a few weeks, we were both totally obsessed and emailing each other with new ideas at 3 AM.

Sparked is your first co-authored book. What was that experience like? Talk to us about your process.

MW: We met every week at a coffee shop, where we’d hash out scenes and give each other assignments. We were religiously disciplined about completing them in time for the next week’s meeting. And then we’d edit each other’s work. Neither of us was at all territorial about our words. We coined the term "mashed potatoes" to describe a rough draft. As in: "I'm sending you a pile of mashed potatoes. Shape away!”

HE: Our strengths complement each other well. Since I’m British, my mean girls sounded a bit too BBC. Malena was fabulous at making them sound like actual American teenagers. On the other hand I love writing the romantic stuff and I’m good at streamlining scenes. Malena calls me “the word chopper," though not sure if this is a compliment! 

Crowdfunding a book is such an interesting concept! What's that been like?

HE: Exciting and hard work. There is a big difference between selling a book that is already published and selling one that won’t be published until 2017. You have to convince readers to spend $10 or $20 on your book, even though they could spend that money on another book they could start reading today. On the other hand, a lot of readers are excited by the idea that they are the ones who can choose what gets published – not editors at New York publishing houses. They’re willing to delay gratification and get the book in a few months time, because they like being able to support the stories that grab them.

MW: It’s been really satisfying and heartwarming. Before the launch, we had no idea if anyone would order it other than our moms. But friends and family have been so supportive. I’ve had grade-school friends I haven’t talked to in years order the book, not to mention friends of my mom’s, former students, my hairdresser, and dozens more.

Let's pretend it's two years from now and Sparked is getting its own TV show or movie. Who's your dream cast?

MW: That's so hard because the teenage actors who are around now will probably be too old to play those parts by then. I loved Winona Ryder in Stranger Things so I’d pick her to play Laurel’s mom, a checked-out hippie type who raises Laurel and her sister on her own.

HE: Our heroine, Laurel, is pretty in a non-traditional way—pale skin, red hair—so if I could magically prevent her from getting too old for the role, I’d love to get Zoe de Grand Maison, who appears in the wonderful TV seriesOrphan Black. Eyes are very important in Sparked and I like Zoe’s intense gaze.

You both give fabulous writing advice. What would you tell aspiring YA writers as they begin their process?

MW: Don’t write a book just because you think it’s going to sell. Right now, time travel is hot in YA. By the time you finish your time travel book, publishers will have moved onto something new. And predicting what’s coming next in publishing is as impossible as trying to guess the new cut of jeans. So write the book that you really want to write—and read. And get to know some actual young adults, if you don’t already. Remember that they're whom you are writing for, and they are real, and they have very good BS detectors, as the great Lewis Buzbee (another YA writer) says. They are smarter than we are, most of the time.

HE: Keep a daily journal. This trains you to observe other people, to remember details and dialog—all the little touches that make fiction come to life. In Sparked, the mom has a boyfriend who wears skull rings, and he likes to squeeze his fist to admire them. I got that detail when sitting next to a menacing guy on a bus who was doing just that, and I remembered it because I jotted it in a notebook. Plus there are times when you might not be working on a story or novel, but keeping a journal gives you the chance to work out your writing muscles every day.

What's one takeaway you want people to get from Sparked?

MW: The idea that two heads are better than one, and that people can do great things if they work together. At the end of the book, Laurel and her friends unite their different powers to accomplish something bigger than any of them.

HE: Our imaginations definitely interlocked in the writing of this book—a book neither of us could have written on our own! Sparked is also about how you should look beneath the surface that people present to the world, since you might find that person you labeled as a “mean girl” is way more complicated and interesting than you thought.

We loved Malena & Helena so much that we invited them for a little video chat. Take a peek!

Thanks for stopping by and giving us the low-down on Sparked, Helena and Malena! Friends, be sure to check out the trailer and pre-order info below!

Sparked Trailer


Grab your copy HERE

by Helena Echlin & Malena Watrous
Publisher: InkShares
Out in 2017 - With Your Help!

After Laurel's older sister Ivy disappears from their trailer in the middle of the night, she keeps having nightmares in which she is Ivy, trapped in a dungeon – and she has the power to move things with her eyes. Their mom doesn't take these dreams seriously, and is convinced Ivy has just run away to give her a scare. But other teenagers in the town of Cascade, Oregon seem to be developing special powers of their own, and may be able to help save Ivy (not to mention the world). Too bad these girls happen to be Laurel's worst enemies.


Helena and Malena are invested in developing writers and want to give one lucky winner the choice of copy-editing of 1,000 words (approx. 5 pages) of a manuscript or an Agent Query Letter. Pre-orders of Sparked receive a 5pt bonus so be sure to get those pre-orders in! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


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