Author Archive

Getting Unstuck: Endings

Endings are hard! Endings are so hard. Writers know this. Editors know this. But still the perfect ending can seem like magic, inevitable and effortless. But this effortlessness is, of course, an illusion. In this month’s Getting Unstuck, assistant editor Jen Dupree offers a few resources that try to lift the veil on writing the right endings.

Endings are hard. I usually start writing a story or essay without any clear idea of where it’s going and then, halfway through, I’m gripped by the fear of either having to figure out an ending or abandon the project. I want the ending to feel surprising yet inevitable, but it’s hard to know how to do that without throwing in a weird twist. Conversely, an ending can feel too expected, too neat, too convenient. If you, like me, need some help with endings, here are a few podcasts that might be just the thing to get you unstuck.

In this episode of Writescast, R.R. Campbell and Sione Aeschliman offer some advice on what makes for a satisfying ending. They suggest an ending has to come from the expectations set at the beginning of the book or story. The ending doesn’t have to be what the reader hoped for in order for it to feel satisfying (think Romeo and Juliet), but it has to feel like it has followed through on what was initially laid out. That said, both Campbell and Aeschliman agree that a satisfying ending often leaves “room for questions and imagination so the reader can carry the story past the final page,” meaning that things don’t have to be wrapped up too precisely. I love when stories leave room for me to keep imagining, to come back to the characters, to mull over the possibilities. That kind of interactive, engaged reading can’t happen if the ending is too neat, too wrapped up. Campbell goes on to say that he wants an ending to answer “the central question that is posed earlier in the book” but he doesn’t want the story to go on much beyond that. We come across a lot of stories in our submissions pool that would benefit from losing their last paragraph or even the last page. While a writer might feel like it’s better to write too much than too little, often mis-ended stories leave us not quite trusting that the author knows their story.

Similarly, in this episode of Between the Covers, David Naimon and Jai Chakrabarti discuss Chakrabarti’s short story collection, A Small Sacrifice for an Enormous Happiness. Chakrabarti says, “the ending points you in the direction but isn’t itself the complete resolution…Very similar to this concept of the ineffable in poetry, if you can’t fully express it on the page, then you shouldn’t really try to go there all the way, that you should maybe point some arrows in that direction but then allow the reader the ability to enjoy and construct that final moment in their own imagination.” Again, this comes back to the idea that endings don’t have to land on a lover walking out the door, a baby being born, a new day dawning. I often find the endings I like the best to be the ones that end with a feeling. In “Lilavati’s Fire,” the piece ends with the protagonist looking at the plane she’s built and having a moment of interiority that she wouldn’t have had at the beginning of the story. It’s a very subtle shift and, for me, that’s what makes it so good.

This episode of Writing Excuses takes an entirely different approach. Author V.E. Schwab says she starts with her ending: “It is part of the fundamental questions I am asking myself when I begin to have an idea and when I begin to ask what kind of story I’m telling. I really treat the ending as the opportunity for the absolute collision of all of the ideas that I have, of all of the places that I want to end…So, really, it comes down to who’s alive, who’s dead, where are they at physically and psychologically, and then, from there, I begin to rewind their last moments in order to figure out what is the thing that leads them there, and I rewind from there all the way until I get to the beginning and figure out who the characters are when we first meet them.” Personally, I’ve never written a story knowing the ending, although I do revise once I get to the end so that the beginning and middle make sense and so that the ending comes out of that, which is a somewhat less organized version of Schwab’s approach. Schwab says, “This comes back, again and again, to promises…versus expectation, to finding a way to surprise people even when they know what they want. Because that’s essentially the bargain that you’re trying to strike here…a reader reads and, if you have a cohesive narrative, they have an idea of how they expect it to end and how they want it to end. You, somehow, have to find ways to surprise them, and not be predictable, while still fulfilling the general promise…They can’t be betrayed by the ending.” Again: the beginning of the book or story sets up expectations or promises and, while you can and should surprise the reader, those surprises still need to feel like they belong. They need to emerge from the characters, from the tone, from the plot—all the foundations you’ve been laying down from the beginning. If not, the reader will feel like you didn’t hold up your end of the bargain.

Endings are hard, and if you want more advice/commiseration/support, check out this blog post I wrote a few years ago and this Craft Chat in which Cole, Brandon and Melissa talk about what makes a good ending.

by Jen Dupree

2022 Novel Excerpt Contest Shortlist!

Drumroll, please… Our editorial team has (finally) narrowed down our expansive Novel Excerpt Contest submission pool to these final fifteen, who are now being read and considered by our guest judge, Charmaine Craig. The winning three excerpts will be announced by the end of April. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for all of your terrific submissions, and congratulations to the final fifteen!

Crybaby by Mariah Adcox

The Torch Bearer by Emilie Pascale Beck

Life Hack by Patricia Callahan

Armored Saints by Shayla Frandsen

After We Drowned by Jill Yonit Goldberg

Adults Are Also Afraid of the Dark by Jenny Halper

The Blood Hustle by Alice Hatcher

Small Town Echoes of Metallic Minds by David Hudacek

Calling Out by Robyn Jefferson

PURVS by Svetlana Kitto

Copycat by Susan Sanford Blades

Our Aunt of the West by Basia Winograd

Salt for a Dog by Arturo Vidich

Negatives by Cassandra Verhaegen

Play Rewind by John Vurro


March Book Review: Chlorine by Jade Song

Today, we are excited to share this debut of Chlorine by Jade Song, out today from William Morrow. This “darkly imaginative debut… is a story about transcendence and self-actualization, at the expense of conventional demands on young women,” writes reviewer Rebecca Paredes. Read the full review at the link below!

“You are not here of your own free will. You are here because I desired you first.” So begins Chlorine, a darkly imaginative debut by artist and writer Jade Song. This coming-of-age novel follows Ren, a competitive high school swimmer whose life revolves around the pool. Outwardly, she is a high-achieving student, a dedicated athlete under the tutelage of her problematic coach, and a close friend to her loyal teammate Cathy. Inwardly, she longs for the freedom she found as a child in the pages of a book of mermaid folklore, from Nüwa and her serpentine body to the Passamaquoddy tale of the two girls transformed into writhing water snakes.

Ren’s fierce longing for the freedom of the water is grounded in loss: Her father returned to China for work, leaving a young Ren and her mother behind in Pennsylvania. Ren finds solace in the chlorine-tinged waters of competitive swimming, but her time in the water is immediately complicated by Jim, a predatory swim coach who routinely pushes his swimmers to their breaking points—with a particularly intimate interest in Ren. As Ren continues to push herself to succeed—to swim well enough to get scouted and end up at an Ivy League school—she circles burnout, continuing to put others’ expectations before her own until she reaches her breaking point. Ren is sexually assaulted by a teammate during a team party, and after this final blow to her autonomy, she realizes that the only way to overcome the expectations of her human life is to evolve into her true form.

Read more.

New Voices: “The Sum of All Amazements” by Lyndsie Manusos

“My father lit himself on fire as a side gig.” It’s unlikely you’ll need much more than that to be hooked into Lyndsie Manusos’s “The Sum of All Amazements,” the honorable mention in our 2022 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers. Eleven-year-old Annie looks up to her father, an amateur daredevil, more than anyone else in the world. She, too, aspires to have her name printed among the great escape artists of all time—and with her birthday coming up, what better time to start than now?

In 1901, the first woman went over Niagara Falls in a large wooden barrel. She was the first person to go over Niagara and survive. She was in her sixties. Poor. Her husband had died shortly after the Civil War. Her name was Annie, like me.

My father lit himself on fire as a side gig. When he wasn’t working as a mechanic, he was an amateur daredevil. He performed at local rodeos in Spring Grove and Lakemoore. The Greased Pig festival and at the start of the boat races at Blarney’s Island. Low-budget high schools hired him for homecoming football games. Those sorts of things.

Once, he performed for a minor league baseball game in Springfield. Seventh inning stretch. The grass in the outfield was blackened for the last two innings. When the outfielders dove for the ball, they stood up with ash streaked along their pants. But there was a pleasant smell of burnt leaves and cigars after. People seemed relieved watching Dad perform. Something about watching someone else go to hell and back inspired people to breathe better, deeper. I loved that. Seriously. I believed my father was a part of something that singed the soul. He was special. He was special to me.

* * *

I watched from the field’s end zone while he put on layers of protective clothing. Our overweight beagle Evel sat next to me on the grass, his face resting on my thigh. I’d had three people already tell me animals weren’t allowed on the field, but I kept saying Evel was a service animal for my father’s anxiety, which was true and false at the same time. While Evel snored on my leg, Dad sang a Cleo Brown song while suiting up. Take a look at me, tell me, can’t you see, I’m right in my cup, I’m not myself tonight. He was a loud singer with a reedy voice, but when he sang, it was catchy. You’d never pick him for a band as much as summer camp counselor.

“Do I look good, Annie?” he asked.

I gave him a thumbs up.

Harry Houdini wrote something along the lines that an old trick well done was much better than a new trick with no effect. My dad was all about perfecting his old trick.

He tugged the hood over his head and placed the mouthpiece from the small oxygen tank in his mouth. By now he looked like a marshmallow man. Faceless. A hood and a massive amount of flame-resistant cushioning to keep the heat at bay. I heard kids laugh.

“What an idiot.” A boy pointed from the super fan section on the home team’s side. He was painted blue and white. The Woodville Blue Streaks. The fans from the visiting team were chanting across the field.

“What the hell’s a Blue Streak?” (Clap clap clap-clap, clap.) “What the hell’s a Blue Streak?” (Clap clap clap-clap clap.)

What the hell was a blue streak, I thought. Woodville was the high school I was due to go to following year. I had always groaned over the mascot and envied the town’s rival, the Johnsburg Bull Dogs. A vicious-looking dog, the exact opposite of Evel, emblazoned with fire around its head and fire in its eyes. That was something to cheer for. Too bad the district lines butted both my parents’ houses into Woodville.

To continue reading “The Sum of All Amazements” click here.

April Deadlines: 13 Contests With Deadlines This Month

The days are slowly getting longer, which means less eye strain from writing by candle-light (or maybe by flashlight?)! We know you’re making good use of the sunshine, so submit your latest efforts to one of these contests before they’re over!

FEATURED The Masters Review Anthology Prize

Our twelfth Anthology Prize is closing this month! Submissions can be fiction or narrative nonfiction, but they need to be less than 7000 words. Our aim is to showcase ten writers who we believe will continue to produce great work. The ten winners are nationally distributed in a printed book with their stories and essays exposed to top agents, editors, and authors across the country. This year’s prize winners will be selected by Toni Jensen. Submit before the deadline!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: April 2

Nimrod Literary Awards

These awards, the Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction and the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, are presented by Nimrod International Journal through the University of Tulsa. Contestants should enter three to ten pages of poetry, or up to 7500 words of prose. The winner of each category will receive $2000, publication, and a trip to Tulsa for the Awards Ceremony and Writing Conference in October (if the global health situation allows)! Details here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: April 1

The Orison Prizes in Poetry and Fiction

Every year Orison Books accepts submissions of full-length poetry and fiction manuscripts between December and April, and this year’s window is closing fast! Fiction entries may be novellas, novels, or collections of short stories and flash fiction, but they must be a minimum of 30,000 words. Poetry entries may be between fifty and one hundred pages. Pádraig Ó Tuama is judging poetry, David Heska Wanbli Weiden is judging fiction, and the winners of each genre receive $1500, publication, and a standard royalties contract. Check it out!

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: April 1

Prime Number Magazine Awards

With an emphasis on brevity, this contest for poetry and short fiction is meant to be a challenge! Make sure to note that the short story requirement is up to 5300 words, as a nod to their parent organization Press 53. Judged by Felicia Michell and Dennis McFadden(for poetry and short fiction, respectively), the first-place winner in each category receives $1000 and publication in Prime Number Magazine. Enter here!

Entry Fee: $15 Deadline: April 1

Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting

If you think you have that movie magic, now’s your chance! This contest awards up to five $35,000 fellowships to amateur screenwriters, who are allowed to enter one original screenplay no longer than 160 pages. Fellowship winners are expected to complete at least one original feature film screenplay during the Fellowship year. Do it!

Entry Fee: $65 Deadline: April 3

2023 First Pages Prize

Here is a contest for emerging writers, specifically those who are currently not represented by an agent! Each entry should be about 1250 words (which works out to be about five pages), and should be the opening to an unpublished book. The two categories, fiction and creative nonfiction, will be judged by Tash Aw and Patricia Hampl. The book doesn’t need to be finished, but it should be obvious that the first pages are part of a larger story. First place in each category will win $2000, second place will win $1500, and third place will win $1000. The top five finishers will all receive tailored edits and an agent consultation. Learn more here!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: April 10

New Ohio Review Contests

All three of the New Ohio Review’s contests are ending this month, so enter now if you want to receive one of the three $1500 first-place prizes! Megan Giddings is judging the fiction section, Denise Duhamel is judging the poetry section, and Barrie Jean Borich is judging the nonfiction applicants. All of the winners and a selection of the runners up will be published! See more here.

Entry Fee: $22 Deadline: April 15

The 2023 Gulf Coast Prizes

Here is an opportunity for all writers, as Gulf Coast’s contest rewards authors in nonfiction, fiction, and poetry! Ingrid Rojas Contreras judges nonfiction, Alexandra Kleeman judges fiction, and Carmen Giménez judges poetry. The winner in each category receives $1500, and two honorable mentions in each category also receive $250. Make sure you submit to the correct category! Details here.

Entry Fee: $26 Deadline: April 16

F(r)iction Spring Contests

There are so many options in F(r)iction’s collection of contests, there’s bound to be something for everyone! Short stories are judged by Jennifer Wortman, and the winner receives $1000. Flash fiction is judged by Exodus Oktavia Brownlow, and the winner receives $300. Poetry is judged by Kyle Carrero Lopez and also receives $300. Finally, creative nonfiction is judged by Charlie Claire Burgess, and the winner receives $1000. All winners and some finalists will be published. Check it out!

Entry Fee: $15 Deadline: April 27

Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize

Named after the first director of the University of Pittsburgh Press, this prize is offered for a first full-length book of poems! Manuscripts should be between 48 and 100 pages, and accompanied by a CV. The winner receives a $5000 cash award as well as publication by the Pitt Poetry Series under its standard royalty contract. The winner will be announced in the fall, so get the process started now! Learn more here!

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: April 30

CRAFT Short Fiction Prize

This journal wants your best fiction—stories that explore craft, stories that linger, and stories that feel fresh and new- and they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is! Judged by the wonderful Nana Nkweti, the top three stories will be selected for publication in CRAFT, and they will receive $2000, $500, and $300 respectively. The absolute maximum length for these entries is 5000 words, but simultaneous submissions are allowed. Do it!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: April 30

Pro Forma Contest

Grist, and the University of Tennessee, is looking for authors who make the most of structures in writing, creating an interesting opportunity to play with form and function! Submissions can be fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, or any other form of literary expression. Judged by Destiny O. Birdsong, first-place wins $1000 and publication in the journal. Don’t miss it!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: April 30

Snyder Prize

This contest honors the memory of Richard Snyder, including his contributions to Ashland University, and applicants should keep in mind Snyder’s dedication to craftsmanship and thematic integrity! It’s meant for book-length poetry manuscripts, of 48 to 96 pages. Judged by Mark Doty, first-place receives $1,000, publication, and 25 copies of the published book! More details here.

Entry Fee: $27 Deadline: April 30

by Kimberly Guerin


One Week Remains: Anthology XII Submissions Close 4/2 at 11:59PM PST!

Submissions to this year’s anthology, with winners selected by guest judge Toni Jensen, will close in just over a week! We’re looking for your very best in fiction and creative nonfiction, up to 7,000 words. Ten winners will be chosen from a shortlist of thirty prepared by our editorial staff. For the full submission details, read below or check out our contest page.

//Submissions Open Through April 2nd//

Add to Calendar

Every year The Masters Review opens submissions to produce our anthology, a collection of ten stories and essays written by the best emerging authors. Our aim is to showcase ten writers who we believe will continue to produce great work. The ten winners are nationally distributed in a printed book with their stories and essays exposed to top agents, editors, and authors across the country. Our third volume was awarded the Silver Medal for Best Short Story Collection through the INDIEFAB Awards in 2015, and our fourth volume was an honorable mention for best anthology. Check us out on Amazon!


Each year The Masters Review pairs with a guest judge to select stories. Our editorial team produces a shortlist of stories, which our judge reviews to select winners. Our past judges include Lauren Groff, AM Homes, Lev Grossman, Kevin Brockmeier, Amy Hempel, Roxane Gay, Rebecca Makkai, Kate Bernheimer, Rick Bass, Diane Cook, and Peter Ho Davies. This year’s judge is Toni Jensen!

Toni Jensen is the author of Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land, a finalist for the Dayton Peace Prize and a New York Times Editors’ Choice book (Ballantine 2020). An NEA Creative Writing Fellowship recipient in 2020, Jensen’s essays have appeared in OrionCatapult and Ecotone, among others. She is also the author of the story collection From the Hilltop. She teaches at the University of Arkansas and the Institute of American Indian Arts.


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



Judge Announcement: K-Ming Chang Will Judge the 2023 Spring Small Fiction Awards!

In case you missed last week’s announcement, The Masters Review will be hosting its first Spring Small Fiction Awards, honoring winners in Microfiction, Flash Fiction, and Sudden Fiction. Today, we are thrilled to announce that the first judge of this new award will be none other than K-Ming Chang! For the full contest details, see below or on our contest page. The Spring Small Fiction Awards will open for submissions on April 1st.

//Submissions Open April 1//

We’ve long admired the mighty power of the compressed form, which is why we are expanding our search for the very best in small fiction. The Masters Review is excited to announce the new Spring Small Fiction Awards! This contest will honor a grand prize winner in three categories—Microfiction, Flash Fiction, and Sudden Fiction—by awarding $1,000 and online publication to each winner selected by the magnificent K-Ming Chang! This year’s judge will be announced next week. A runner-up in each category will also be honored with a $200 prize and online publication.

For this contest:

Microfiction is any story up to 500 words.
Flash Fiction is any story between 501 and 1,000 words.
Sudden Fiction is any story between 1,001 and 1,500 words.

We welcome up to two stories per submission, in any combination of the three categories. Please include both stories in one document.


K-Ming Chang is a Kundiman fellow, a Lambda Literary Award finalist, and a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree. She is the author of The New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice novel Bestiary (One World/Random House, 2020), which was longlisted for The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award. In 2021, her chapbook, Bone House, was published by Bull City Press. Her most recent book is Gods of Want (One World/Random House, 2022). Her next books are a novel titled Organ Meats (One World) and a novella titled Cecilia (Coffee House Press). She can be found birdwatching in California.


New Voices: “Prelude to the Abyss” by Daniel David Froid

Denis Fine was destined for something—that much is certain in the opening lines of “Prelude to the Abyss” by Daniel David Froid, this week’s New Voices story. Equal parts funny and terrifying, Froid’s story profiles the world’s preeminent jingle-maker, Denis Fine, from his humble childhood, to, well, the end.

The world has not many very famous jingle-makers, for the art of the jingle is an obscure and lowly one. No, jingle-makers do not gain fame, but they do, sometimes, find fortune, if they are very good at their craft, and Denis Fine was, as we have established, infernally good.


As a young man, Denis Fine knew that he would one day do something very great and very terrible. This was no show of pride, of overweening and vainglorious ambition. No, it appeared to be a matter of fact, because he was told, or shown, and he tended to do as he was told.

But it was not until many decades had passed—not until the moment when he looked out upon the vast deep crater, surrounded by a ring of eager acolytes, holding hands and singing in concert—that he registered fully the great and terrible thing that he had done, the thing to which he had been led. As he gazed at the ruin that consumed first his city and gradually, he assumed, the rest of the planet, he felt a sense of relief.


Picture him as he was then, young Denis Fine, weak and pasty child, sitting at the dining room table in his parents’ home. Before him he had spread sheets of white paper and colored pencils. He had undertaken a drawing that proceeded according to the music of his mind. He heard a song—it entered his head fully formed—and then he did his best to record it. At this early stage of his life, drawing seemed to him a perfectly accurate and reasonable way to record the music that he heard.

His method was simple: to produce vivid, garish drawings that intuitively matched the music. He was just now nearly finished with one, which had taken a very long time to complete, for he had had to use the dark blue pencil to scribble all around the surface of the paper to its outer edges. The dark blue was the sea, and near the bottom was its bed. Beneath the abyssal plain, which he had colored in copper, slept the Great Dark Thing, which Denis saw perfectly well in his mind’s eye but which he struggled to capture with his pencils. He drew two spirals and a circle all in black. Might that have been its awful chitinous body, which rested across miles of the oceanic bed? Might those have been numerous limbs, slimy and covered in scales? And was that there a mouth, for does not the Great Dark Thing have a mouth with which it calls to the faithful? It was a mouth, Denis knew, for of course it whispered in his young ear the portents of an extinguished future.

When the drawing was done he showed it to his mother, who instantly fainted.

To anybody else—his parents, his teachers, one of the several child psychologists he would see throughout his long and interminable childhood—the drawings seemed to betoken a disturbed mind; signs, perhaps, of a sociopathic inclination. They found themselves all the more perplexed when Denis insisted that the drawings matched the music in his mind. They would then ask him to sing the music that had led him to create the fearsome drawings. And Denis would quaver in his little boy’s falsetto, a jangling tune without words, not particularly scary but annoying and infectious. Indeed, his parents found that Denis’s tunes would lodge in their ears for days at a time. Neither they nor any of his teachers or psychologists could bear the tunes and frequently commiserated about them. At some point in his childhood they would decide that there seemed to be nothing much wrong with Denis other than a perverse imagination, a deeply weird mind that produced both the most hideous drawings they had ever seen and the most singularly catchy and annoying melodies they had ever heard.

To continue reading “Prelude to the Abyss” click here.


Litmag Roadmap: Idaho

We’re headed all the way across country this month, from West Virginia to the Pacific Northwest, the Gem State: Idaho! Join editor-in-chief Cole Meyer on a tour of this great state’s literary institutions!

Idaho is known for its vast stretches of natural landscape, those gorgeous mountain ranges, and for being that place where your potatoes probably come from. And here’s something: No one knows why it’s called Idaho. The word seems to have been made up when territory names were being suggested. But what we do know is that Idaho is home to more than spuds: these terrific literary magazines also claim Gem State residence!

The Idaho Review

The Idaho Review was founded in 1997 at Boise State University, and half of the short stories in its inaugural issue found their way into the 1998 Best American Short Stories. That’s a hell of a debut! Since then, The Idaho Review has been regularly featured in the annual awards anthologies and has become a highly respected literary journal across the industry. Submissions are open in the fall, though occasionally will reopen in the spring. Most of the fiction they publish is under twenty-five pages, and they ask that you only send five poems at a time. Check them out!


Published out of the University of Idaho, Fugue has been a pillar of the literary magazine world since its inaugural issue in 1990. Their former contributor list is impressive: Steve Almond, Charles Baxter, Terrance Hayes, and Jim Shepard (just to pull a few) have all had their work featured in Fugue. They are open now for their annual poetry and prose contests, the winners of which will receive a $1,000 prizes! The journal otherwise publishes poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction, and will also consider your book reviews!

Stonecrop Magazine

Once upon a time, Stonecrop Magazine was known as Basalt, but the student-run journal published by the College of Western Idaho has undergone an identity shift in recent years. The journal hosts a unique microfiction contest, in collaboration with Storyfort, which encourages writers to incorporate the opening line of a song as the opening line of their micro. The contest is unfortunately closed for the year already, but keep an eye out for next year! In general submissions, the journal encourages you submit your fiction, nonfiction, poetry and visual art with few restrictions: no page limit, word limit, or submission limit per submitter! Go wild!

Talking River Review

Talking Review Review has called Lewis-Clark State College home since 1994. For those like me who are interested in institutional historical narratives, Talking River Review offers an oral history of its founding and first issue on the about page! The journal publishes two issues a year, and will read your poetry and prose from August to April.

by Cole Meyer

Introducing the Spring Small Fiction Awards!

We are excited to announce the newest iteration of our annual flash fiction contest: The Spring Small Fiction Awards! This year, we are expanding our call for all compressed form fictions: microfiction, flash fiction, and sudden fiction! Find out more below, and stay tuned for our special guest judge, who will be announced next week. Submissions for the Spring Small Fiction Awards open April 1!

//Submissions Open April 1//

We’ve long admired the mighty power of the compressed form, which is why we are expanding our search for the very best in small fiction. The Masters Review is excited to announce the new Spring Small Fiction Awards! This contest will honor a grand prize winner in three categories—Microfiction, Flash Fiction, and Sudden Fiction—by awarding $1,000 and online publication to each winner selected by a guest judge! This year’s judge will be announced next week. A runner-up in each category will also be honored with a $200 prize and online publication.

For this contest:

Microfiction is any story up to 500 words.
Flash Fiction is any story between 501 and 1,000 words.
Sudden Fiction is any story between 1,001 and 1,500 words.

We welcome up to two stories per submission, in any combination of the three categories. Please include both stories in one document.


From the Archives: “Compound Fractures” by Alice Hatcher—Discussed by Rebecca Paredes

In July 2020, we published “Compound Fractures” by Alice Hatcher. Shortlisted for our Winter Short Story Award, “Compound Fractures” follows the fractured memories of a woman as she reflects on the lingering traumas of her childhood with an abusive father. Let’s take a trip into the archives.

 Compelling short stories are a little bit ineffable. You can point to the elements that make the story work, like well-structured language and narrative tension, but they also possess a quality that’s a little more difficult to pick apart: They make you trust the writer and where she’s headed.

That’s how I felt when I first read “Compound Fractures” by Alice Hatcher. The reader is hooked from the first line: “At eight years old, she already has a mastery of the orthopedic lexicon.” Our interest is piqued—how and why would a child understand muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons?

One of the things I appreciate about Hatcher’s story most is its form. Although bones and their fractures persist throughout the story, this work is really about the unnamed narrator’s childhood trauma growing up with an abusive, potentially PTSD-stricken father. Hatcher structures the story in a series of quick vignettes that not only give us flashes of insight into the narrator’s past, but also progress the plot and introduce new complications along the way.

In doing so, Hatcher builds a cohesive narrative out of many fractured pieces. The entire story is worthy of study, but we’ll focus on just the beginning. If you haven’t already, read the story first, then meet back here.

Ready? Great. Let’s talk about “Compound Fractures.”

Building momentum within vignettes

The first few lines of “Compound Fractures” set the scene with our introduction to the narrator: she’s eight years old and deeply familiar with the musculoskeletal system in the human body. This knowledge might seem like a quirk of a precocious child, until we hit this line: “Her father is responsible.”

This line immediately complicates the information we’ve learned about the narrator, and it does so in a way that feels darkly foreboding: “Her father is responsible” reads like an accusation, which colors the way we read the lines that he “doesn’t trust babysitters” and “takes her to St. Anne’s Hospital when he conducts rounds or responds to emergency calls.” These lines introduce what George Saunders describes as “the feeling of new meaning coming in quickly … Things keep getting more fraught and charged and urgent within it.”

From these few lines, we learn some necessary exposition: The narrator’s father is a doctor, this is likely a single-parent household, and the narrator has had to keep herself entertained for long stretches of time. We get this last bit of information in a long stretch of evocative descriptions that function as worldbuilding: We see photographs in medical journals, the plastic models of hinge and spheroid joints, the wired human skeleton and get a sense of the narrator’s dual boredom and fascination.

It’s all a little bit morbid, but a little bit charming—until this section’s ending line: “She can identify each point of articulation between its bones, but she is most confident in her understanding of misalignments and fractures.” Again, Hatcher introduces a little bit of darkness in this moment. Note that the narrator understands broken bones the best, which introduces one of the thematic elements that persists throughout the story: the nature of broken things and how they heal.

This paragraph, as a whole, isn’t quite a scene. Rather, it’s a tightly woven expository vignette; it introduces the narrator as a child and sets up the elements that will connect the flashes to follow. And by ending with fractures, Hatcher seamlessly sets up the dog’s broken bone in the next paragraph—a choice which signals to the reader that, even though we’re going to jump around different moments in the narrator’s life, we can trust that the writer knows where she’s going. There’s a throughline here, something to ground the reader as we make these jumps, and that foundation is enough to keep the reader tracking the pieces that are important to follow: the narrator, the father, bones.

Giving the reader scaffolding

I’m using the term “vignette” here, which is a nebulous word: it describes a scene or descriptive sketch. The Gotham Writers Workshop defines it as “a snapshot or a glimpse.” Each of these paragraphs are snapshots, but they build on each other by providing new details and new complications. Take the second paragraph: Aside from the deeply disturbing image of a dog’s exposed bone, we learn that the father is the type of person who will help the dog (even though this seemingly selfless action becomes horrifically complicated later in the story), and we’re invested in what happens to the dog: Will it live or die?

The third vignette zips us ahead in time; now we’re with the narrator and her therapist. This scene captures the lingering effects of the narrator’s childhood: She “looks in the mirror and sees her face as it would appear on an x-ray film,” and she takes supplements and drinks milk, despite potential risks. Here, the reader has been asked to do a lot: We’ve jumped from exposition to an intense kitchen scene. This vignette functions as a moment of narrative reprieve, allowing the reader to adjust to the story’s form—but note that we’re still in the story’s world because Hatcher stays with the bones.

We, as writers, can ask readers to trust us, but we have to give them some scaffolding to support their journey. Hatcher is introducing a lot of information in a short amount of space, but those thematic throughlines signal to the reader that we’re heading somewhere, and all of that information matters.

I’ll jump ahead a few vignettes to highlight this brilliant line: Every moment so far has been in a close third person perspective, but the sixth vignette is quite distanced. This distance makes sense, considering we’re talking about dissociative-depersonalization disorder. We learn, “Individuals experiencing depersonalization sometimes injure themselves in order to feel ‘real.’” As a whole, this vignette is the most distanced—but it also introduces an important plot point: self-injury, and why a person does it.

On a first read, I recognized that this was a complete story, but struggled to articulate the story’s turning point; at first blush, one could argue that “Compound Fractures” is a series of memories from a woman in therapy without a definable rising action, climax, and resolution. In reality, this story builds to a quiet climax: Three months after the narrator punches a doorjamb, she “feels what others call grief.” Six months after that, she recognizes that her bones and tendons are “still healing.”

Therein lies the beauty of Hatcher’s work; like a broken bone, healing from trauma happens slowly. It isn’t something that resolves itself within a neat timeframe, and even after a bone is “healed,” it can take time for the surrounding tissues to have enough strength to function normally. There isn’t a happy ending when you’re still healing from trauma. Recovery isn’t linear.

The form of this story complements the nonlinear nature of healing from childhood trauma: the childhood memories, the frenetic anxieties, the way those memories affect the realities of everyday living (as we see in the way the narrator reacts to the surgeon overseeing her thyroid procedure). These vignettes are intentional, and all the information contained therein is intentional—and that’s what makes this story work so well.

by Rebecca Paredes

New Voices: “Can’t Elope” by Miriam Camitta

In today’s New Voices, The Masters Review is excited to present the first creative non-fiction piece of 2023: “Can’t Elope” by Miriam Camitta! In this piece, Camitta explores her relationship with her older sister, Margot, who, in their childhood, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. “Sometimes,” Camitta writes, “my memories come in scenes.” These memories are emotionally fraught, complicated. Camitta works, through this piece, to apply a modern understanding of Margot’s illness to her memories, to recontextualize her childhood and try to understand what these difficult days must have been like for Margot. Read on below.

If Margot had lived in the Middle Ages, she would have been branded a witch, her symptoms attributed to demonic possession. The media and the entertainment industry share this view, likening the mentally ill, with their seemingly empty eyes, their robotic gait, to zombie-like monsters. Even in the era of twentieth century modern medicine, Kieran McNally writes, scientists described schizophrenic patients as monstrous, exhibiting “a sense of indefinable strangeness,” or as one scientist observed of his patients, “appearing not quite human.”

I didn’t invite Margot to my wedding. She was my brilliant older sister, diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was a child. Once, I’d adored her, but she’d fallen ill in the fifties and, failing effective or even adequate medication, might now, even in the eighties, savage my perfect day: talking to her familiars, declaring a rat in the cake, or loudly accusing a guest of murder.

She couldn’t contain herself, nor could I, overwhelmed as I was by her disease, imagine her suffering. I hadn’t thought I’d miss her after she’d gone.

* * *

Until I was eight, I lived in Harrisburg with my family of accomplished but temperamental intellects: my father, a rising union leader; my mother, a meticulous albeit reluctant homemaker: my doting grandmother, a retired dressmaker; and my gifted but troubled teenage sister.

I remember the red-brown bars of my crib, my mother’s easel and paints on the sun porch, the green horsehair sofas in our living room, and an upright piano in the dining room where my father, who could play anything by ear, frequently entertained. I remember the old clawfoot tub in the bathroom at the top of the stairs, and Margot, whose job it sometimes was to watch her little sister bathe, sculpting a unicorn horn out of my soapy hair.

Mostly, though, my sister feels absent from the family, although certainly, she was there—fussing at the table, pounding Shubert and Chopin waltzes on the piano, reading Latin at the little maple desk in her bedroom, sleeping, sweating faintly into her sheets. If I try, I can see her, primping at the mirror on the landing, covering her ears, which stick away from her head, with her thick black hair, twirling through the living room in a dress my grandmother had made—(I remember the voluminous skirt, the black and white checks, the white Peter Pan collar and cuffs at her wrists)—then fuming because suddenly she hated her dress, wailing and stomping upstairs.

I can see her at the lake on a Sunday excursion, standing knock-kneed among the pines, screaming.

We’d driven into the country, past farms and fields. When I’d tired of songs and stories, my father, who had a lively imagination, entertained me with a game of driving the car. No seat belts in those days, I stood with my hands on the back of his seat. “Push,” he said, “make the car go faster.”

The game, for some reason, annoyed my mother, who was sitting up front in the passenger seat, angrily powdering her nose. It possibly upset my sister, who was close to tears. My grandmother, tired from the drama that had begun so early in the day, rested her head on the frame of the window, open to a hot breeze.

Only my father and I were looking forward to the day. I remember a dunk in the chilly lake, my father lighting coals in a cast iron grill, my mother setting a large yellow bowl of potato salad, a specialty of hers, with chunks of hard-boiled eggs and pimento stuffed olives, on the picnic table, and Margot, pouting, stretched out, belly down, on a blanket spread on the grass.

She must have walked away when they weren’t looking, because I remember my parents abandoning the food, running through the park, calling her name, and their relief when they found her standing among the trees, their helpless anger, her yelling: She will not swim, she will not come down from there and sit with the family, she will not eat the hotdogs and hamburgers our father has grilled.

I think I ran to my grandmother, wriggled between her knees. Maybe she told my father, who was shouting, to calm down. Sha, di kind. “Quiet, the child.” The child, meaning me.

People stared; I wanted my sister to disappear. I wanted the shouting to stop.

Likely, this memory is a composite of several summer afternoons, some peaceful, some unpleasant. Perhaps, at times, my sister may have agreeably bathed and eaten the lunch my parents prepared. Possibly I remember my grandmother’s cautionary words because I heard them repeated at home. What I trust is my memory of the scent of the pines, the taste of leafy water, waiting, waiting for burgers on the grill, my mother’s ominous face, and the tightening in my chest as Margot screamed.

To continue reading “Can’t Elope” click here.