Author Archive

2022 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers Now OPEN for Submissions!

You heard correctly—the 2022 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers is now OPEN for your submissions through August 28th! We’re looking for the best of the best unpublished short story (up to 6,000 words) by emerging writers. We want to read your words. Don’t miss out on the chance to win $3,000! The full details can be found below, or on our contest page.


Submissions open July 1st – August 28th


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Summer is for Short Stories! The Masters Review’s Short Story Award for New Writers is a bi-annual contest that recognizes the best fiction from today’s emerging writers. Judging this year’s summer contest is Chelsea Bieker, author of GODSHOT and the new collection Heartbroke. The winner receives a $3,000 prize and agency review, and their story will be published online in late winter/early spring. Second and third place finalists will be awarded publication, agency review and $300/$200 prizes. Participating agents include: Nat Sobel from Sobel Weber, Victoria Cappello from The Bent Agency, Andrea Morrison from Writers House, Sarah Fuentes from Fletcher & Company, and Heather Schroder from Compass Talent. Our mission from day one has been to support emerging writers. We want you to succeed. We want your words to be read.

Guidelines:

We don’t have any preferences topically or in terms of style. We’re simply looking for the best. We don’t define, nor are we interested in, stories identified by their genre. We do, however, consider ourselves a publication that focuses on literary fiction. Dazzle us, take chances, and be bold.

Judging

Chelsea Bieker is the author of two books, the novel GODSHOT which was a finalist for both the Oregon and California Book Award, longlisted for The Center For Fiction’s First Novel Prize, and named a Barnes and Noble Pick of the Month, and the story collection, HEARTBROKE. Her writing has appeared in The Paris Review, Granta, The Cut, McSweeney’s, Lit Hub, Electric Literature, and others. She is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award, as well as residencies from MacDowell and Tin House Books. Originally from California’s Central Valley, she lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two children where she is writing her third book.


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2021 Novel Excerpt Contest Finalists

The long wait is over: We’re excited to share that Glenn Lester’s “Take Warning: The Ballad of Sammy Slug” has won our inaugural Novel Excerpt Contest! Lester’s excerpt was chosen by Dan Chaon from an overwhelming pool of quality submissions. We were blown away by the number of excellent novels-in-progress that are out there. Keep working, folks, and come back in the fall to read the finalists and submit your excerpts to our next contest!

Winner

“Take Warning: The Ballad of Sammy Slug” by Glenn Lester

Second Place

“Hakuri” by Jessica Cavero

Third Place

“The Slapjack (excerpt – chapters five, six, seven)” by Alan Sincic

Honorable Mention

“Red State” by Allie Torgan

New Voices: “Hey, Stop Blaming Your Dead Father’s Fists” by Vincent Anioke

In this week’s New Voices, we present to you: “Hey, Stop Blaming Your Dead Father’s Fists,” by Vincent Anioke. This flash, written in the second-person, employs short sentences designed to create a staccato rhythm that reflects the narrator’s unease with themselves. The story holds a mirror to its narrator while still distancing them from the emotional heft. “Your friends are a relic of the past,” Anioke writes. “There’s a room full of them in your head.”


If you squint through the fog, you’ll find a door. Baby steps take you there. Knock. Even if the hardwood does not budge.

There’s an unsnoozeable alarm clock in your head. Your room has a lopsided bed and no sheets and unscuffed running shoes near the wilted hydrangeas. Sushi Paradise rolls float in greasy mold. The journal on your nightstand has a shiny golden latch in front. Its pages are scrawled with I wills that never were: Will swim thrice-weekly, will call your mother, will run your skin under water, will find your front door, will breathe.

If you pull the curtains, there’s a gold ball in the sky. Baby steps take you there. Force the rise. Sweep lube-stained wads into a bag. The bottles too. Dial your mother’s number. Wait for voicemail. Call again. Apologize. Hear her soul rekindle. Hear her corny jokes about the Holy Ghost. Laugh. Like you mean it. Find a sidewalk. Inhale. Yes, there’s a mulchy sort of rot from the construction near the lake. But do you feel how the wind makes you more?

Your friends are a relic of the past. There’s a room full of them in your head. They’re passing around croissants and sour grape juice and trading stories about you. No one is perfect, they say, but there’s a tolerable kind of badness. They describe oceans between texts, your empty chair at a small cottage-side wedding, missing necklaces from the night you slept over, a blackened pipe in the trash from the morning you left. Without a word too, nada, until the resurfacing, the sorry-sorry-sorry, but also I need, just until payday, the slamming of a door, the shower afterward, them scrubbing and scrubbing to wash off your stench.

To continue reading “Hey, Stop Blaming Your Dead Father’s Fists,” click here.

Announcing 2022’s Summer Short Story Award for New Writers Judge: Chelsea Bieker!

The Masters Review is excited to announce that Chelsea Bieker, author of the novel GODSHOT and Heartbroke, a collection of stories released this April through Catapult, will judge this year’s Summer Short Story Award for New Writers! The winner of the Summer Short Story Award for New Writers will receive a $3,000 prize along with publication and agency review. Past winners of this award have signed with agents as a result of this review, and are nominated for anthologies like Best American, Pushcart, Best of the Net and more. Find more about our judge and the full details of the contest below, or on our contest page!

Submissions open July 1st – August 28th

Summer is for Short Stories! The Masters Review’s Short Story Award for New Writers is a bi-annual contest that recognizes the best fiction from today’s emerging writers. Judging this year’s summer contest is Chelsea Bieker, author of GODSHOT and the new collection Heartbroke. The winner receives a $3,000 prize and agency review, and their story will be published online in late winter/early spring. Second and third place finalists will be awarded publication, agency review and $300/$200 prizes. Participating agents include: Nat Sobel from Sobel Weber, Victoria Cappello from The Bent Agency, Andrea Morrison from Writers House, Sarah Fuentes from Fletcher & Company, and Heather Schroder from Compass Talent. Our mission from day one has been to support emerging writers. We want you to succeed. We want your words to be read.

Guidelines:

We don’t have any preferences topically or in terms of style. We’re simply looking for the best. We don’t define, nor are we interested in, stories identified by their genre. We do, however, consider ourselves a publication that focuses on literary fiction. Dazzle us, take chances, and be bold.

Judging

Chelsea Bieker is the author of two books, the novel GODSHOT which was a finalist for both the Oregon and California Book Award, longlisted for The Center For Fiction’s First Novel Prize, and named a Barnes and Noble Pick of the Month, and the story collection, HEARTBROKE. Her writing has appeared in The Paris Review, Granta, The Cut, McSweeney’s, Lit Hub, Electric Literature, and others. She is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award, as well as residencies from MacDowell and Tin House Books. Originally from California’s Central Valley, she lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two children where she is writing her third book.

July Deadlines: 14 Contests and Prizes to Enter This Month

Just like the longest day of the year has come and gone, these contests are also about to fly right by you. So make use of the extended daylight while you can, and send in those submissions!

Bellevue Literary Review Prizes

All three of the Bellevue Literary Review’s contests are ending soon, so enter now if you want to receive one of the three $1000 and publication first-place prizes! All entries should be related to themes of health, healing, illness, the mind, and the body. Toni Jensen is judging fiction, Phillip B. Williams is judging poetry, and Rana Awdish is judging nonfiction. Honorable mention winners also earn $250 and publication! Submit here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: July 1

2022 LAR Literary Awards

Here is a great chance for writers of all stripes, as the Los Angeles Review’s contest rewards authors in creative nonfiction, short fiction, flash fiction, and poetry! Chelsea Catherine judges creative nonfiction, Landon Houle judges short fiction, Thea Prieto judges flash fiction, and Joshua Rivkin judges poetry. The winner in each category receives $1000 and publication – Make sure you submit to the correct category! Submission guidelines here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: July 1

New Millennium Writing Awards

There’s a little something for everyone in this contest, presented by literary journal New Millennium Writings! Writers can send in submissions for poetry, fiction, flash fiction, or nonfiction, with no restrictions on style or subject matter. Fiction and nonfiction must be less than 7499 words, flash fiction must be less than 1000 words, and poetry may include three poems less than five pages long. First place in each category receives $1000, a certificate, publication online and in print, and two copies. Select finalists may also be published and receive complimentary copies. Don’t wait!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: July 1

Richard J. Margolis Award

Inspired by journalist and essayist Richard J. Margolis, this prize has provided financial and other support to a promising journalist whose work combines warmth, humor, and wisdom with social justice since 1992. This prize recognizes one writer with $10,000, and a one-month residency at the Blue Mountain Center in Blue Mountain Lake, NY. Applicants need to provide a cover letter, biographical note, a project description, and two writing samples. Guidelines here.

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: July 1

The Francine Ringold Awards for New Writers

These awards, presented by Nimrod International Journal through the University of Tulsa, honor the work of writers at the beginning of their careers in either fiction or poetry. Contestants can enter up to five pages of poetry, and up to 5000 words of prose. The winner of each category will receive $500 and their manuscript will be published in the spring issue of Nimrod! Details here.

Entry Fee: $12 Deadline: July 15

Rattle Poetry Prize

Rattle is looking for an outstanding piece of poetry, and they are definitely willing to bribe you for it! This annual competition awards $15,000 for a single poem to be published in the winter issue of their magazine. Ten finalists also receive $500 and publication, and are eligible for the $5000 Reader’s Choice Award. Four poems are allowed per entry, and there is no line limit. What are you waiting for? Enter here!

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: July 15

Robert and Adele Schiff Awards

The Cincinnati Review is currently accepting submissions for their annual contest, but all good things will eventually come to an end. The winning poem, fiction piece, and literary nonfiction piece will be judged by Rebecca Lindenberg, Michael Griffith, and Jerald Walker, respectively. The winning entries will be published in 2023 and receive $1000 each, so don’t lose your chance! Learn more here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: July 15

The Screw Turn Flash Fiction Competition

The Ghost Story is looking for the finest work they can find that incorporates the uncanny, as long as it’s less than 1000 words! Stories don’t need to involve ghosts specifically, but they do need fresh perspectives and superb writing. The winner receives $1000 and both online and print publication. Submit here!

Entry Fee: $15 Deadline: July 15

The Story Prize

This competition is a daunting gauntlet for any first-time author to run, but the reward at the end is well worth the effort! A $20,000 book prize is awarded to the author of a collection of short stories that was published this year, and entries may be submitted by agents, authors, or publishers. Currently they’re accepting submissions of books that were published from January through June. Are you eligible? Do it!

Entry Fee: $75 Deadline: July 15

William Faulkner Literary Competition

This is a multi-faceted event, with opportunities for a staggering variety of writers. Authors can submit their work to novel, adult short story, student short story, one-act play, and poetry categories! Prizes and deadlines vary for each category, with the winning novel receiving $2000 and publication. Make sure you read each category closely! More information here.

Entry Fee: $50 Deadline: July 15

2022 Literary Awards

Created by the Santa Fe Writers Project, this contest is meant to recognize excellence in writing! Entries can be fiction or nonfiction, of any genre (past winners have included flash fiction, memoirs, short story collections, essays, and even a graphic novel). This year’s judge is the mega-talented Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies. The grand prize is $1500, and two runners-up will receive $500. Winners will then be offered a competitive book contract, separate from the prize money! Check it out!

Entry Fee: $30 Deadline: July 18

Howling Bird Press Nonfiction Prize

Howling Bird Press, the publishing house of Augsburg University’s MFA program, is currently accepting submissions for their contest, but all good things will eventually come to an end. Entries are open to both established and emerging writers, as long as their work is original, innovative, and between 20,000 to 60,000 words. The winning manuscript will receive $2500 and publication. Don’t lose your chance!

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: July 31

Narrative Spring Story Contest

This contest is open to all fiction and nonfiction writers, writing anything from short stories and memoirs, to photo essays and literary nonfiction! The entries need to be less than 15,000 words and previously unpublished, while containing a strong narrative drive and intense insights. First prize is $2500, second is $1000, and third is $500. Guidelines here.

Entry Fee: $27 Deadline: July 31

The Sewanee Review Contest

The oldest continuously published quarterly in the US, the Sewanee Review is opening its fifth annual Fiction, Poetry, and Nonfiction contest on July 1! Entries can be up to 10,000 words or 6 poems. Raven Leilani is judging fiction, Richie Hofmann is judging poetry, and Lisa Taddeo is judging creative nonfiction. The winners of each category receive $1000 and publication! More details here.

Entry Fee: TBA Deadline: July 31

by Kimberly Guerin

 

 

A Conversation with Sindya Bhanoo, Author of Seeking Fortune Elsewhere

The eight stories in Sindya Bhanoo’s wonderful debut collection, Seeking Fortune Elsewhere (out now from Catapult), detail the lives of South Indian immigrants as they and their families grapple with significant change and disruption. The Masters Review had the privilege of publishing “Different” (appearing in the collection as “A Life in America”) a few years ago, and Sindya was kind enough to discuss the collection and her writing in more detail with Austin Ross.

Ross: How did the collection take shape? Did you realize the thematic connection of the stories later on, or did you intentionally set out to write stories around the theme of immigration?

Bhanoo: I wrote most of the stories over the course of three years, while I was in an MFA program. I had no idea that they might form a collection. My advisor, Bret Anthony Johnston, read some of the stories and told me to keep working on them. He pointed out that they were thematically linked and felt certain that they would come together as a book.

As for the focus on South Indian immigrants, I write fiction because I think there are certain stories and people absent from the larger record. All too often, the stories of immigrants, of women, of those from marginalized communities are absent from the archive. Fiction gives us a chance to go back and correct that, not completely but partially.

I had the privilege of reading an earlier version of “A Life in America.” Can you describe how that story in particular changed as you revised? When did you know you’d landed on the finished story?

For one, the title changed many times! For a while it was called “A Resignation.” I really have the hardest time with titles. They can’t be on the nose and yet they must be meaningful.

I wrote many versions of the story but I always knew one thing—the story would center on this professor who had done something wrong. I wanted to spend some time with this professor and understand who he was and where he was coming from. People are neither all good nor all bad. We are, each of us, far more complex. His wife was an important character too, though not the central one. She is not blind to what he is doing. She is far more aware than him, in fact. Still, for various reasons, she is not able to do much about it.

How does your journalism work affect your fiction, and vice versa?

It affects my fiction in many ways. As a newspaper reporter, I’m lucky to have had tremendous editors who have always pushed me to be clear and succinct. I was trained to never waste the reader’s time. Because of this, my style is to cut to the heart of the story fairly quickly. To me, this doesn’t give the story away, it allows it to unfold.

Fiction allows me to linger in a way that journalism did not. What I love most about writing fiction is chronicling day-to-day experiences and ordinary moments in the lives of my characters. When I do this, I’m able to achieve an emotional truth, one that helps me understand who a person really is.

Fiction has informed my journalism too. When I’m reporting I tend to work very quickly. I ask a lot of questions and gather a great deal of information, write a story and then move on. These days, even when I’m reporting, I try to give myself an extra moment or two. It’s remarkable what I notice when I do that.

Can you describe your drafting process? Do you work on multiple projects at once, or just one? Do you quickly write a rough draft and revise, or revise before moving on?

I write fiction like a journalist! I spend time gathering information about my imagined world. I write down everything I know about my characters, anecdotes, scenes, bits and pieces of information about what’s lying on a desk, or what the weather is like. I do it all on my laptop, but it is as if I’m writing everything down, messily, into a reporter’s notebook. Then, with all that information in hand, I come back to my desk and write. That’s my very messy first draft. That’s the point when some sort of story makes itself apparent to me. Then I spend months (sometimes years) revising.

There’s a line in “Malliga Homes” that stood out to me for obvious reasons: “The offspring of the rich are rich, and they do not seek their fortunes elsewhere.” How does this view of wealth and status influence the collection?

I am always considering how wealth, status and privilege affect the way a person walks, talks and acts in this world. That line in “Malliga Homes” speaks to several things. Those who leave their homeland are often in search of better lives. It may be for wealth, or it may be for a better education, or safety or freedom. But they are looking for something they do not already have, and may not get, at home. “Malliga Homes” also alludes to how those who leave somehow find the means to do so. There are also those who don’t leave because they simply can’t. Those characters are present but silent in “Malliga Homes”—the boy who cleans the pool, and the waitstaff.

Could you describe the process of selecting work(s) for a collection? Were there stories you ultimately decided to not include? Were the previously published pieces revised for this book, and how did you decide on the final order of stories?

There was one story that was originally part of the book but my editor, Megha Majumdar, and I ultimately decided to keep it out of the collection. It didn’t quite fit, though I tried to make it work because it is linked to “Malliga Homes,” the first story in the book. Perhaps it will appear in my next story collection.

Once the individual stories were done, I spent a lot of time thinking about order. It so happens that four stories are set in India and four are set in the United States. I wanted the reader to feel some sense of traveling back and forth while reading the book. Two stories—“Malliga Homes” and “Three Trips”—touch Indian and American soil. I knew they would be the bookends.

What are you working on now? What are you reading, and who are the writers you turn to most frequently for inspiration?

I’m writing more stories and working on a novel. I’m still a journalist. Reporting gives me access to a variety of people, places and perspectives. My favorite writers? Alice Munro, YiYun Li, Jhumpa Lahiri, William Trevor, Elizabeth Strout. Currently, I’m reading The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara.

Interviewed by Austin Ross


Sindya Bhanoo is the author of Seeking Fortune Elsewhere, out now from Catapult. Her fiction has appeared in Granta, New England Review, Glimmer Train, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of an O. Henry Award, the Disquiet Literary Prize and scholarships from the Bread Loaf and Sewanee writers’ conferences. A longtime newspaper reporter, she has worked for The New York Times and The Washington Post. She is a graduate of the Michener Center for Writers, UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and Carnegie Mellon University. She lives in Austin, TX.

The Masters Review Anthology X Introduction

The Masters Review Anthology Volume X is now available! To celebrate, we’re sharing Diane Cook’s introduction to this phenomenal anthology. Our biggest anthology yet, The Masters Review Anthology Volume X represents our ten years of dedication to publishing emerging writers. Inside, you’ll find our winning writers, their stories selected by Diane Cook, author of the novel The New Wilderness and the story collection Man V. Nature: Cherokee Space Camp, a bachelor party for a recovering alcoholic at a bar, a seance. Cats leaping to their deaths, a rat king, family legends. They’re all waiting for you, alongside an introduction by Diane Cook and essays from former Anthology contributors who’ve gone on to publish story collections and novels since their inclusion in our pages. Purchase a copy of Volume X on Amazon or Barnes & Noble today!

In graduate school, I was a slush reader for a literary journal. I thought this type of thing could be my calling—discovering buried gems, dusting them off and showing everyone their worth. I was given a packet of stories to read and then all the readers met to choose which stories—if any—to pass to the editor. During my first meeting, I was surprised to hear that a story I had disliked wasn’t just loved by everyone else, but loved SO MUCH that the question wasn’t about whether we would accept it for publication, but that we might be too late because certainly it had been snapped up by another journal by now. I listened and tried to learn something, but honestly I was floored. In some part of my brain I understood it was an accomplished story, but I didn’t understand what exactly that accomplishment was. A little later, a story that I loved came up for discussion. And I was floored again to find out not a single other person agreed. And perhaps it’s just my own insecurity but I’m fairly certain they not only didn’t agree, they kind of felt bad for me that I had liked this story and tried to advocate. I didn’t walk away worried I was wrong. I walked away realizing that my time would be better spent writing the kind of work I liked, and not trying to figure out what everyone else in the room would be into.

That lingering memory has meant I approach judging contests with some hesitancy. Who am I to say what is the best? And what if no one sees what I see? Of course, we all realize at some point that nothing is universally good. Some people love things and some other people hate those same things, and even the most classic writing can be ravaged and torn apart by a reader who wishes to do so. Which can make contests such a minefield for writers, especially emerging ones.

When asked to judge for The Masters Review’s annual anthology, I was excited that they weren’t asking me to pick a winner and runners-up. Instead, I would get to read and admire thirty excellent stories and then choose ten that could be combined to create something new. This wasn’t just about finding the best stories, but the best collection of stories. To find stories that stood on their own, but stood out even more in the right company.

It led to interesting conversations with myself about what writing I find good and why. What I want a story to do to me. And the story after it, too. How formerly standalone pieces could now relate to one another, become something more by being in conversation. This was a much more satisfying task than ranking stories. I thought it also might be more satisfying to the writers themselves to become a part of something new and not just become a number.

As I read through the thirty (excellent!) stories, I noticed some leaving me with this feeling. I couldn’t figure it out at first. I couldn’t find words to describe it. It wasn’t until I’d read all thirty that I realized that the stories I was still thinking about were the stories that had transported me. But that is a word that gets thrown around discussions of fiction, so what did I mean exactly? I mean that after reading them I felt like I had traveled. Not necessarily to a different or unfamiliar place, though some stories did that with setting. I mean that at some point between the first sentence and the last, I had been moved. Something in me changed because of what I’d witnessed. The reading had left me feeling altered. And I don’t just mean mentally or emotionally or intellectually, but physically. Often after reading one of these ten stories, I felt like I had spent energy, moved around, gotten lost and found inside the story. I felt the brain fatigue that sometimes accompanies real learning. Or the body exhaustion of trying to squeeze every last bit from an experience. Like I said, sometimes it was the setting that initiated this response. Other times it was the inner turmoil of a character. Sometimes the structure did it to me. Moved me around. Transported me. I realized I wanted to collect the stories that took me somewhere new, showed me the sights, and tired me out. Between the pages of a book I felt like I saw it all, and then I got to go home again.

Is anthology making my next calling? Probably not. But I love the work presented here and I feel grateful to each piece for shifting something inside me. These stories are their own worlds, with their own rituals, secrets, norms, sights, and even their own particular building codes. The writers are their own story’s local expert. Let them show you around.

by Diane Cook

Featured Fiction: “The Fight” by Chaya Bhuvaneswar

Featured Fiction returns with “The Fight” by Chaya Bhuvaneswar, author of the collection White Elephants Dancing! “The Fight” is an examination of race, sexuality and power, et in the aftermath of the 1992 LA riots, muddied by Chip’s warped view of his own privilege, a white, legacy admit to Yale, whose grandparents owned a building on Science Hill.


Self-doubt, in his case never meager, settled on him heavily. Some days were like that; some weeks. The plus or minus rating of his personal greatness, his legacy. The B-minus on his Great Empires paper, because, he was convinced, he’d argued that empire was economical, a way to maximize profit and minimize risk, because if some venture on the ground went wrong there was in place a host of other people the risk-takers could place the burden on. It wasn’t any different, really, from the professor who’d been lecturing all term about how when empire declined, so did the national greatness. But the uppity TA had said Chip’s use of a long quotation, as a segue to the piece, from Kipling’s classic, “The White Man’s Burden”, had been “disturbing, proto-fascist, and serious cause for concern.” Geez, lighten up! he’d wanted to say to the skinny, light-haired, tightly-wound, Birkenstocks-wearing guy who looked both vegan and sexually repressed.

“It’s not just that he came into the room,” Mahisha said. They were walking to Clark’s Diner to get ice cream. A May afternoon near end of term.

“It’s you. It’s that you didn’t do anything when he just came in and talked to you and I was fucking naked in your bed.”

“We were not fucking. We were done by then,” Chip pointed out. They’d just gone running on Science Hill, Mahisha barely exerting and Chip quite out of breath, but as always when he passed those buildings, even when he was falling behind on their weekly run, Chip still got a satisfied feeling. It was 1992 and Bush was president, May and Rodney King was a few weeks behind them now, not that Mahisha stopped talking about him. Despite the potential for turmoil, both in LA and in their vexed relationship, dignified old money could be counted on, Chip often reminded himself.

Chip’s family owned one of Yale’s Science Hill lecture halls. It was a technical ownership—technical because the family had donated the money in such a way that they owned it, and Yale had no choice but to name it after them, but officially the entryway still also said “Yale”, and it wasn’t private property. So no one really knew Chip’s grandparents had a piece of Yale, even if they connected the name with Chip’s last name, unless he pointed the situation out to them, unless they took the time to stare up at a nearly-hidden, small name plaque in a backroom. Which was no problem for him; Chip liked being technical, like knowing what others didn’t. Charles Abernethy the Third was his full name; Chip was his name from Skull & Bones; “Chuck” his name before that, but during Rush they’d made him choose a brand-new nickname, “Chip” so it could be short for “Chippendale”. Chip supposed there was some parallel to something immigrants complained about—how they were pressured to assume new names. To serve some master’s agenda. But Mahisha wasn’t an immigrant; nor was she Indian Indian; Mahisha was born here, the daughter of a Harvard-trained orthopedic surgeon who lived in Hillsborough, New Jersey and belonged to a country club, the best one for Indian-Americans in the tristate area, she’d said. And Chip hadn’t gotten Mahisha pregnant; not technically. The pregnancy hadn’t lasted.

“Not only were we done by then, but you weren’t even making any sounds,” he continued, still being reasonable. “And we were on the top half of the bunk bed, so I doubt very much that he saw anything.”

“You doubt?” Mahisha yelled. “You doubt? That isn’t something you want to make sure? That your roommate didn’t see your fiancée naked?”

Chip winced. Mahisha could be technical too, using that word. Fiancée. When she’d had the miscarriage early on, he hadn’t asked for the ring back.

“He’s a tall guy,” Chip conceded. “Okay, he could have seen. If he wasn’t as hung-over as usual.” Chip’s roommate, an alcoholic ex-swimmer, recruited for the sheer, joyous length of his Norwegian-American body by a coach unfamiliar with the stigmata of chronic alcohol overuse, was socially raw and even intrusive at times. The guy had asked more than once what “Indian girls” were like, including rude questions about the color and feel of her private parts. Yet Chip gave him the benefit of many doubts. He believed the roommate’s glance at Mahisha was accidental, if it had even happened.

Mahisha pushed the door open to the diner and went through without him, not holding it open. But Chip made a positive moment out of her snub; that was another skill he had. He stood outside of Clark’s reading the menu, which he had never taken the time to really look at before. There were a lot of dishes there. Why ice cream? he asked himself. And why the same kind every time? This time a root beer float, he told himself, wiping sweat off his brow. Something different.

Hadn’t his dad said that having a mistress kept his marriage (before Chip’s mom discovered her) alive?

“And then he was playing Guns N’ Roses, of all things,” Mahisha said, suddenly in front of him, holding open the door expectantly. “Guns N’ Roses. Haven’t I told you a million times that Axl Rose is a racist? The band gets up on-stage and spews out racist rants. And you expect me, the woman you’ve said you’re planning to marry, to just lie there in your bed, naked, while you have a conversation with a despicable white man, no, boy, who wants to wear a bandanna and dance in his underwear to Axl Rose?”

To continue reading “The Fight” click here.

2021-2022 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers Shortlist!

The shortlist for the 2021-2022 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers has been selected. The fifteen stories on this list are now in the hands of guest judge Ye Chun who has the extremely difficult challenge of selecting the three finalists for this year’s contest. Narrowing down the submission pool to only these fifteen excellent submissions was a difficult task for our editors, and we thank all of our submitters for trusting us with their work. Congratulations to those on the shortlist, and check back next month for an announcement of our finalists!


Used Scars by Patrina Corsetti

Russian Thistle by Laura Farnsworth

Franglais by Corinne Foster

Whale Fall by CJ Garrow

Primitive Immortals by Eric Geissinger

Abiquiú by Robert Herbst

The Crown Prince of Koi by Daniel Abiva Hunt

Wounded Beauty by Fredric Koeppel

Seven, Something, Nine by Brad Modlin

Laughing Circle by Isabel Murray

What A Body Is Good For by Allison Grace Myers

The Year of the Bird by Conor Quinlan

A Single Mark by Reena Shah

Just Leaving by Kristen Siegel

Creeper by Taylor Sykes

2021 Chapbook Open Winner, Selected by Matt Bell!

The results are in, and Matt Bell has chosen Lindy Biller Love at the End of the World as the winner of 2021’s Chapbook Open. Biller’s chapbook will be published next spring and will be available to purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as distributed digitally on our mailing list. Congratulations to Lindy Biller, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts to all of our submitters and readers. We will be open in the fall for 2022’s Chapbook Open!

Winner

Love at the End of the World by Lindy Biller

Finalists

The Potential of Radio and Rain by Myna Chang

Tiny Creatures by Eliezra Schaffzin

 

Stories That Teach: Gideon by ZZ Packer—Discussed by Brandon Williams

When we think of teachable stories, we often reach deep into the rucksack of the literary past, pulling out classroom-tested stories that have worked their way into the canon. While there is obviously a ton to learn from such pieces, contemporary short story writers are also completing strong work built upon teachable literary foundations, while also finding fascinating ways to advance the form. In this space, we’ll highlight some of these more modern stories and explore a bit of what they have to teach us as we continue to do our part to push literature forward.

 

In “Gideon” by ZZ Packer (published online at The Guardian, October 6, 2007), a young Black woman in a relationship with a Jewish Ph.D. student (the titular Gideon) confronts the weakness of their relationship after a pregnancy scare. That scare is the main driving force of plot in the story: After the condom breaks, the narrator takes a pregnancy test as soon as she is able, and once she discovers that she’s not pregnant she decides to test the relationship by faking a positive result and seeing how Gideon will respond. She has no preferred response in mind: “If he’d said anything, anything at all, I would have been fine.” But he doesn’t respond, and in his lack of an answer she sees all the answer she needs; if the pregnancy is real, she is an anchor around his neck. If the pregnancy is not real, she understands, then their relationship can continue to mean nothing to him, as it currently does. And so she walks away, aware that all the dreams she’d allowed herself to build while in his orbit were purely imaginary.

That’s a pretty straightforward story, and it’s told quickly. This is also a very short story: There are just a few scenes, a bit of exposition, one major climactic event, a singular decision made that leads into a quick climax and falling action. And yet, ZZ Packer’s genius has always been in writing stories that somehow manage to explore everything at once. This piece spans a significant-though-undefined amount of years even while in-scene barely covering a month of time, considers race and identity in multiple ways, weaves in class and education opportunism effortlessly, both relies upon and mows down argumentative theoretical frameworks, never forgets to wander through the power dynamics of every interaction, and within all of that stays How exactly does she manage to do this, and what lessons can we take away from her work?

One of the main ways this story accomplishes that depth with such brevity is by suggesting the larger world around these characters without fully exploring it. This is a byproduct of how much of this story is given to us in exposition rather than in scene—because we’re explaining so much in that more general expository mode, the story doesn’t need to stop and define or deeply explain. A perfect example comes from the opening paragraph, where we learn exactly one time that we’re telling this story from a significant time remove: “I was 19 and crazy back then.” It’s one line, and while it doesn’t go so far as to tell us where our narrator is speaking from, how far in the future or what she’s learned or who she’s become, it doesn’t need to. We fully understand as readers that she is in a different place, a place where she can look back upon this situation reflectively; we understand that she, and be proxy we, are looking upon the woman she was and judging her decisions; we understand that while she may be the hero, she is not perfect, and that the story is setting us up for some failures or mistakes on the part of all characters, narrator included. All this, from one sentence that is never referred to again in text; moreover, all this from one sentence that allows itself to be somewhat general, defining only the age of our narrator at the time of the story but removing the specificity from the speaker in her own moment.

There are a couple possible reasons for this choice (in-story reasons, from the narrator’s perspective). She’s clearly speaking conversationally, since the opening sentence of the story is, “You know what I mean?” So, she is quite likely talking to people who already know that information, and for us as young writers this is a great lesson: There’s perhaps nothing worse than reading a story which stops to insert information that all characters already know and have no reason to share in their moment solely for the benefit of readers. It completely ruins the illusion of immersion, of characters who are functioning for themselves rather than for the story. Secondly, giving the detail of her age in the story rather than her age at the moment puts the clear storytelling onus on that past moment, signaling to the reader where our attention should be—yes, there is a person telling the story, and they have obviously learned lessons from this moment and grown as a result, but that’s not where the piece is focused.

Coming back to this idea of depth in brevity, another essential detail presented in that opening paragraph is the information about Gideon’s physical preferences and personal fears: “He was one of those white guys who had a thing for black women, but he’d apparently been too afraid to ask out anyone, until he met me.” Holy hell, does that sentence say a lot without saying it; it leaves the heavy lifting of interpretation for the reader, even as the things that it implicates are incredibly clear. It’s the sentence in the piece that gets close to straight-out saying what so many other moments in the piece are hinting at: While Gideon is certainly attracted to her because of her Blackness, just as essential to his interest is the power dynamic at work. He’d previously been too afraid to ask anyone out, attraction or no, but then he met someone that he felt he possessed enough power over, and suddenly he could make a move. After all, she was young (and, as the story reveals later, worked at a fast-food restaurant when they met and had no aspirations of college until he insisted to her that she did), and he was a Ph.D. student entirely in his element. He controlled the relationship, he basically created her dreams, he introduced her to the world of the campus and for all intents and purposes owned her access to it and to a life different than her own. It was through him that she learned of things like tapenade and aioli—not necessarily things that mattered to her, but things that underlined, at all times, the differences between the two of them, what he knew and she didn’t.

While exposition is a great tool for dropping this type of implicit characterization, another perfect example of Packer’s skill at folding details in without needing to explain them fully can be found in-scene. After the condom breaks (which he blames her for, by the way, for daring to get Freestyles; she gets them from the clinic, sprinkling in the clear 1. class dynamic since he never thought about where she got them or how she afforded them, 2. gender dynamic, since he’s placing all the burden of safe sex upon her getting the condoms and not even aware of where they came from (or how they work, since he thinks condom breaking is a myth), and 3. power dynamic, for about a hundred reasons), and she explains to him how pregnancy tests work, Gideon has the temerity to say, “Is this the voice of experience talking?”

Hoo boy, the reactions that line gets when I read it aloud in class. The idea of this politics-whining, dissertation-avoiding asshole who was attracted to but terrified of Black women then asking the one Black woman he dared approach whether she had experience with pregnancy scares because she has a basic awareness of sexual education; it says so much about who he is, his place and station in life, the way he approaches the world, that he can throw a line like that out there without even considering what he’s saying. You can imagine him so easily, in that line, the kind of man terrified to ask out a girl but then thinking of her as easy because she was willing to go out with him, and can unfold that out to all of their interactions throughout the entire relationship.

One other thing that allows us to build our understanding of this story without stopping and diving deep that I’d like to discuss is setting. The great majority of this piece takes place in a very small space: Gideon’s apartment. We leave that space only briefly: in flashback to the falafel place where they met, and then in the end when she walks away from him and his apartment (in that moment, it’s worth mentioning, we also leave the space mentally, as our unnamed narrator explores the future that she always kind of knew never would have happened). The setting of Gideon’s apartment also allows us to stay constantly aware of the differences between these two characters, the wide gap that exists between Gideon’s world and our unnamed narrator’s. It also, on a physical level, means that we are always in a space that Gideon controls. Even in exposition, we do not see our narrator’s home, just like we don’t get her name, just like we don’t learn much about her past. The closest thing to personal space that she gets is the falafel place where she works, and even that spot is overtaken by Gideon, both in the conversation of her coworkers and in her conversations with him on her work breaks. In this story, Gideon overtakes every crevice.

* * *

All that said, when I show this story to my students, there are two moments that overshadow all of those other discussions. First is the sex scene, which makes them uncomfortable though they’re not quite able to enunciate why exactly. That one takes some glossing for them to understand exactly what’s happening, but once they do it all clicks: Gideon has told her that using the word sex for lovemaking is just as bad as calling the act rape (so, he is defining her terms for her, and once again forcing her to conform to his ideas and expectations). But at the same time, our narrator describes a moment during their lovemaking where he makes her do something that she doesn’t want to do—she doesn’t like looking at people during the act, but he tells her, “Look at me. Really look at me.” So, her terminology is violence to him, but her boundaries are nothing to him. Mm-hmm. It doesn’t take long in a class discussion to see how, at best, icky that is.

But the other scene is always a fascinating discussion, with folks willing to land on both sides of the aisle. As we get to the big moment of the story, our narrator decides, actively decides of her own volition, to add a second pink line to the pregnancy test. She decides to lie to Gideon, to test him, to see what he thinks of their relationship.

There are students who read this story and cannot forgive her for making that choice. Others read this story and say that it’s such an incredibly rare opportunity to see how a person would truly react, and so they understand why she did it. Another school of thought that often arises suggests that if she was that far into her doubts about the relationship and about Gideon, then everything was about to fall apart regardless. Still others think that because he’s so terrible a person to her, that he deserves it. And plenty of readers are willing to give her the benefit of the doubt because she’s our narrator and therefore the closest thing to the hero in the piece.

What I love about this story is that we’re not forced to read it from any of those perspectives. Though we’re in a first-person point of view where there is plenty of space to do so, our narrator does not bother to try to convince the reader that she’s right in her decisions. Perhaps this is where the wisdom of our aged narrator comes into play, looking back on this scenario from the benefit of many years of hindsight. Regardless, she tells us of her decision with something almost like a clinical detachment; the decision was made, and the action performed. Whether we agree with her or not, she has done what she says.

What I’m getting at here is that this character, and as a result this story, is not didactic. We do not walk away from a ZZ Packer story having been taught a clear morality, a lesson on the right thing to do or what exactly that choice has done to our character. It’s hard to step away from that idea, to exist in the perpetual uncertainty of a moment that has changed a character simply being a moment that has changed a character and leaving the reader to their own devices in interpreting that moment, but this story is pushing us toward our own choices with every detail and every omission of detail. Where we ultimately land, and even where our narrator ultimately landed as a result of her choices, is left in the same uncertain space. It’s messy, the intersection of all these different arguments, ideas, and details having to merge with the moments that shape us as people, but that messiness is the point.

by Brandon Williams

Craft Essay: “What It Means to Be Seen: Adding a Witness in Fiction” by Sam Dilling

In today’s Craft Essay, we’re pleased to present “What it Means to Be Seen: Adding a Witness in Fiction” by Sam Dilling. Dilling explores Annie Hartnett’s recent novel, Unlikely Animals, and the use of the omniscient POV to create subjectivity and raise tension within the narrative. Read the full essay below!

If you find yourself stuck on a scene, add a witness. Oftentimes, this is done in a scene where there are implications to something being witnessed. Say you’re reading a chapter in a novel and someone has committed a murder. As the scene unfolds, it appears the perpetrator has gotten away with the act. But just as you reach the end of the chapter, you learn that another, previously unseen character was present and watched the murder take place. This has obvious implications for the stakes of the story, and what happens next.

On this topic, I briefly spoke to Luis Jaramillo, Director of the MFA in Creative Writing Program at The New School and Assistant Professor of Writing, via email. He describes this device as “a very powerful tool that helps create tension” which is evident in the scene described above. “A witness also provides an important kind of evidence,” he writes. “The reader may glean something from a scene that the protagonist doesn’t.” In this way, adding a witness inserts another dimension to the conversation that happens between the writer and the reader both on and off the page. So, what would it mean to have a witness not just to one crucial moment in a novel, but for its entirety? This is what the omniscient point of view offers.

Brit Bennett explores this in her debut novel, The Mothers, where the lives of the main characters are narrated by what the Michigan Quarterly Review calls a “church hivemind”—a mostly omniscient viewpoint made up of the titular mothers of the Upper Room church. The novel takes place in a contemporary black community in Southern California and follows Nadia Turner, seventeen, who gets pregnant by the twenty-one-year-old local pastor’s son. Throughout the novel, the church “mothers” can be found fanning the flames of scandal and speculation. From the opening lines of the novel, this tone is set: “We didn’t believe when we first heard because you know how church folk can gossip.” At times, this casts a shadow over the characters and the decisions they make—as though the narrators are speaking from somewhere high up in the rafters, looking down on everyone else.

This omniscient POV is executed on an even larger scale in Annie Hartnett’s second novel, Unlikely Animals, which takes place in the fictional town of Everton, New Hampshire and is narrated by the ghosts of the Maple Street Cemetery. Similar to the narrators of The Mothers, the ghosts are privy to information that the main characters are not; however, unlike the church mothers, the ghosts of Maple Street are able to dip into the townsfolk’s heads.

In the opening scene of Unlikely Animals, the main character, Emma Starling, is driving back into town after dropping out of med school. As Emma nears the town of Everton, the ghosts sense her arrival: “Even though Emma didn’t drive by us in the cemetery, we could hear her muttering to herself… we were beginning to hear some of her thoughts.” Although Hartnett cites Bennett’s The Mothers as an inspiration for her omniscient POV, and while Hartnett’s narrators do call themselves idle gossips at times, Annie veers from Bennett’s path early on and paves her own.

The subject matter of Unlikely Animals is far from what would be considered “light”—even if there are adorable hallucinated animals running around the town. Emma’s father, Clive Starling, is dying of a mysterious brain disease; her brother, Auggie, has just gotten out of his latest stint in rehab; and her high school best friend, Crystal Nash, has gone missing. There is guilt and grief, loss and loneliness, shame and despair. And yet, while the novel has plenty of heavy moments, the perspective of the ghosts keeps it from ever feeling hopeless.

Throughout the novel, the ghosts are seen laughing, crying, cheering, and mourning right alongside the people of Everton. The ghosts tease and crack jokes, gripe and complain, and even reflect on what life was like while they were still living. Hartnett keeps the narrators close enough that the reader knows they’re there, so that the reader can sense them lingering in the margins, but never so close that they overshadow the story.

It is later in the novel that we see the true effect of the ghosts as narrators. In one scene, Emma is processing her grief for her terminally ill father. She prays he will make it through the school year, bargains with someone in her head, and suddenly wonders who she is praying to, if she doesn’t believe anyone can hear her. The ghosts, narrating, say:

“She had always said she was an atheist, or at least an agnostic, whenever the topic came up but secretly she thought it would be nice to believe in God sometimes, really go whole hog on the Jesus thing. It would be so great if you really felt like there was someone out there who listened to your bargains, your pleas, your promises to yourself. Like someone somewhere was keeping a lookout. We’re here, we told her, as we often did.”

In what would otherwise be a heart-wrenching moment, we get a beat of reprieve as the ghosts enter the scene. It unfolds like a camera lens panning backwards from Emma, sitting in the high school auditorium with Moses, her adopted stray dog, at her feet, to see the occupants of the Maple Street Cemetery lovingly looking on. It is a powerful image. Through this, we sense how the presence of a witness can be used not just to add tension, suspense, or higher stakes to a scene, but to add a rich, emotional texture.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Annie about the novel this past April. During our conversation, Annie informed me that although the narrators of the book didn’t come until later in the writing process, they were what pulled it all together. “The narrators of the book are the cheerleading section,” she said. “And that’s why the book is able to have that feeling of hopefulness even though it’s a book about a lot of tough things. Because the narrator’s love the people in the town so much and see themselves like people in the stands at a football game.”

To see someone like this is an act of love, and that love is on display in Unlikely Animals. Hartnett shows what it means to demonstrate empathy through omniscient narration. Utilizing the omniscient POV, Hartnett strikes a balance between writing her characters with compassion and navigating them through difficult times. She doesn’t shy away from the hard, dark moments that make up a life and is able to capture her characters even more completely through the lens of the ghosts of the Maple Street Cemetery.

Similarly, The Mothers benefits from the POV of the church ladies who make up the fabric of the community—who are privy to the secrets exchanged behind hands after Sunday service. But no matter how much they may feed into the rumor mill, it is clear the mothers care deeply for the people they observe, even when they no longer share a pew. Toward the end of the book, the women narrate: “We’re too old to find a new church now, so each Sunday, we gather to read the Word and pray. No one leaves us prayer cards anymore, but we intercede anyway, imagining what the congregation might still need.”

Whether the characters are being watched by a close-knit group of church-going women, or by the residents of a cemetery in the center of town, both novels benefit from the perspective of the narrators. The omniscient POV acts as a witness to the story and adds a layered, emotional texture it may not have otherwise. In Bennett’s case, the reader feels as though there is always something worth watching, that there is always something gossip-worthy. In Unlikely Animals, the reader gets the sense that something important is always happening, that each event is significant in its own way—even, and maybe especially, the smaller, quieter moments.

So, if you find yourself struggling with a scene, or with the POV of an entire novel, zoom out and ask yourself—who’s watching, and what do they have to say?

by Sam Dilling