Author Archive

2022 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers: Finalists!

Chelsea Bieker has done the impossible and selected her finalists from a very tough pool of submissions for this year’s contest. Congratulations to Nancy Garcia, author of “Homeboy”, this year’s winner and recipient of our $3,000 prize! Thank you again to all of our submitters. We couldn’t do this without you. Check back next year to read these winning stories, and be sure to submit to our Winter Short Story Award, which is accepting submissions through January 31.

Winner

Homeboy by Nancy Garcia

Second Place

Leap Year by Chloe Alberta

Third Place

The Distant Daughter by Brenda Salinas Baker

Honorable Mention

The Sum of All Amazements by Lyndsie Manusos

New Voices: “The Physiology of Arriving” by Michele Wong

“‘The Physiology of Arriving’ moves through time and travel, with a sense of wonder, apprehension, and curiosity. The movement in time—past and present—is unique and the character is likeable, interesting, strong. The creativity of this piece is a treat!” — Guest Judge Kim Chinquee. “The Physiology of Arriving” was selected as the second place finalist in our 2022 Flash Fiction Contest. Read Wong’s story in full at the link below!

For many nights, your ventricles thump-thump in dread—What if I chose the wrong major? Why does Yiu-Yan keep scrubbing everything? Then you remember reading Jane Eyre in school, how she went beyond Lowood, beyond governess, beyond her time, and flourished, and you keep repeating, I am Jane, Jane is I, beyond peril, beyond time.

Your feet move slowly, dragging one Samsonite hardcase till you reach the departure gate where you feel the eel of awkward slip from head to toe as each word bends the heart when Ba says my child and Ma asks in Cantonese if she’d let your hand go too soon, would your scholarship turn you into the moon, luminescent and distant?

And your hips shift a little on the hard seat, turning to the window where a sky full of promise looks down on the tropical island your bare feet have loved, only easing after take-off, after the body weightless feels gravity suck that eel into your stomach filled with airplane pasta, though just the thought of eating at 30,000 feet makes this a momentous occasion, and your acid gives a slow burn as you wonder how to live in a world without the salty aroma of Ma’s sambal fish, though in the future, you will consume umpteen meat pies and grow an ulcer from a variety of solitudes and beers.

On arrival, your lungs inhale, a deep breath in as the air is cooler without the pull of humidity, before a rush of eucalyptus fills the negative space, and your hand coils from the cold blue of winter. You see a sign that reads Welcome to Australia held by your big brother Yiu-Yan, and in the car you stare wide-eyed and spy, in the distance, mountains the color of the sea; in the next few months, you shall see koalas with pouches, and tails that push wallabies three feet in the air, and in the next few years, you shall witness burnt trees cresting hills of ashes, a body in the morgue and first love.

To continue reading “The Physiology of Arriving” click here.

The 2022-2023 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers is Now Open! Judged by Morgan Talty!

From now until January 31st, The Masters Review is accepting submissions for our annual Winter Short Story Award for New Writers. The winning writer will receive a $3,000 prize, along with agency review and publication. Our second and third place finalists and an honorable mention selected by our staff editors will also receive cash prizes, agency review and publication. We’re looking for excellence in storytelling, up to 6,000 words. You can find the full details below, or on our contest page.


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Add to Calendar

Winter is coming! 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 2022-2023’s winter contest is Morgan Talty, author the story collection Night of the Living Rez. Winners and honorable mentions receive agency review from five agencies as well as publication. The winning story earns $3000, while the second and third place runners up receive $300 and $200, respectively. 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

Morgan Talty is a citizen of the Penobscot Indian Nation where he grew up. He is the author of the critically acclaimed story collection Night of the Living Rez from Tin House Books, which won the New England Book Award, was a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers, and is a finalist for the 2023 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. His writing has appeared in Granta, The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, TriQuarterly, Narrative Magazine, LitHub, and elsewhere. A winner of the 2021 Narrative Prize, Talty’s work has been supported by the Elizabeth George Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts (2022). Talty is an Assistant Professor of English in Creative Writing and Native American and contemporary Literature at the University of Maine, Orono, and he is on the faculty at the Stonecoast MFA in creative writing as well as the Institute of American Indian Arts. Talty is also a Prose Editor at The Massachusetts Review. He lives in Levant, Maine.

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Interview with the Winner: Kate Barss

On Monday, we published “My Sister Versus Tomatoes,” the third-prize winning story in this year’s Flash Fiction Contest, written by Kate Barss and selected by Kim Chinquee. Today, we’re pleased to share this interview with the writer about her story. First, read this prize-winning piece, then come back and enjoy a conversation about tomatoes, relationships, and the writing process!

 

Congrats on placing in our flash fiction contest! This is one of my favorite contests we host—I’m a huge flash fan. Is flash your primary genre/form?

Yes, I mostly write flash, and even teach courses in it through Catapult and the continuing studies department at the University of Guelph. I’ve just finished putting together my first collection of linked flash stories. I’m also working on a non-fiction work about bees and memory and fertility that is told in flash vignettes.

What’s the deal with the tomatoes?

When, my real sister, not the narrativized version of her here, started dating her boyfriend, she found out he didn’t like tomatoes or eggs. So, she decided that she would also not eat tomatoes or eggs and would adamantly deny that she had ever enjoyed either. It’s like she wanted to erase the version of herself that existed before her relationship. I love this about her, because she’s an incredibly funny and stubborn and sweet human, but it’s also frustrating to witness, so I wrote about it.

There’s an interesting moment about midway through “My Sister Versus Tomatoes” where the narrator says: “My old therapist used to point out how much I tried to mirror my partners.” This coming immediately after learning the narrator’s sister has “come to understand relationships as… a squishing together of identities,” it reads like a confession of sorts. My sister and I are similar in more ways than it seems. I find the dynamic between sisters here fascinating. I suppose my question is, Was that something you set out to explore initially—the sisters in general, or perhaps more specifically, the way identities are assimilated in relationships, as their mother describes—or did it emerge through the editing process?

I think a lot about how I behave in my intimate relationships—family, friends and partners. Being in relationship to someone else is the only way you can find out certain things about yourself. When I wrote this a few years ago, I was at a residency at the Banff Centre, and it kind came out in one burst, but it was a tendency I had been thinking about in myself for years. My sister is a very concrete thinker, and so I find through being with her, I often learn things about the subtle ways we are socialized—because she brings these things that go unsaid to the surface. And so, in watching her begin to date, and her preoccupation and, as you say, assimilation in her relationship, I end up reflecting a lot about how our behaviors are quite similar at times, mine are just maybe masked a bit more.

I think flash fiction often succeeds or fails by measure of its ending, the final image. You’ve nailed it here. Did it take you long to land on this last image, the dark hairs swirling down the shower drain?

As I mentioned, this all just kinda rushed out. It’s hard for me to remember how I ended up with that ending image. I do remember that while I was at Banff, I did a reading of this piece and afterwards a man came up to me and started telling me all about his partner’s body hair. I recall wondering if I should change the image so that I didn’t have to have these kinds of conversations. But also I guess there was something in it he was responding to. There’s a private almost embarrassed feeling I get when talking about body hair, and I find if I’m having those feelings, it’s usually an indication that there’s something to explore, something worth writing about, and so I kept the ending.

Interviewed by Cole Meyer

 

Last Day! The 2022 Novel Excerpt Contest CLOSES Tonight at Midnight PST!

Just hours remain in this year’s Novel Excerpt Contest! We are seeking excerpts that show off a sense of style, with a clear grasp on craft: narrative, character, and plot. Submissions are open until tonight (12/1/22) at midnight. Charmaine Craig will be selecting this year’s winners! Full details can be found below and on our contest page.


Submissions open until midnight!
submit

The Masters Review hosts an annual Novel Excerpt Contest each fall! We’re looking for excerpts that show off a sense of style, with a clear grasp on craft: narrative, character, and plot. Choose wisely! Your excerpt can come from any point in your completed or in-progress novels, but a synopsis should not be required for understanding the excerpt. Excerpts must be from previously unpublished novels; if your novel has been self-published, it is ineligible for this contest. Excerpts from novels that are under contract for 2022 or 2023 may not be submitted, but work from a novel scheduled for a 2024 publication date or beyond may. As always, we have no limitations on genre, though we are primarily interested in literary fiction. This year’s judge is Charmaine Craig! She will select the finalists from a shortlist provided by The Masters Review’s editorial team. The winning excerpt will be awarded $3000 and online publication and an hour-long consultation with a literary agent. Second and third place excerpts will be awarded online publication and $300 and $200 respectively, in addition to feedback from a literary agent.

Guidelines:

Charmaine Craig is the author of the novels My Nemesis, forthcoming from Grove Press in February 2023; Miss Burma, longlisted for the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction; and The Good Men, a national bestseller. Her writing has been published in a dozen languages and appeared in venues including The New York Times Magazine, Narrative Magazine, AFAR Magazine, and Dissent. Formerly an actor in film and television, she studied literature at Harvard College, received her MFA from the University of California at Irvine, and serves as a faculty member in the Department of Creative Writing at UC Riverside. She lives in Los Angeles.

 

Halley Dunne Parry is a literary agent at The Hamilburg Agency in Los Angeles. A graduate of the Washington University MFA program, she has spent the last decade working at independent bookstores and in publishing. She previously worked as an agent at Drift(less) Literary.


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New Voices: “My Sister Versus Tomatoes” by Kate Barss

In today’s New Voices, we’re pleased to share the third place finalist in our 2022 Flash Fiction Contest selected by Kim Chinquee, “My Sister Versus Tomatoes” by Kate Barss! To introduce the piece, Chinquee writes, “‘My Sister Versus Tomatoes’ is a refreshing tale about rituals, relationships, how one survives and belongs in the world. At times funny, its strong, interesting and fun tone makes it a winner!” Read this sharp flash in full at the link below.

My mother says relationships create their own identity. While not a complete assimilation, you are building something together—a dynamic defined by what it isn’t. 

My sister will no longer eat tomatoes. As a kid, in the early mornings, she was always awake before the rest of us. We’d always find her in front of the TV, a bowl of chopped tomatoes in front of her, spooning them into her mouth, licking the spoon afterwards for the juice.

Her boyfriend does not like tomatoes. When we try to remind her of her old love, she tells us she is a different woman now. She has Down syndrome—this is not the most important thing, but it seems like something to mention. She has come to understand relationships as matching one another, a squishing together of identities. She gets very upset sometimes, tantrums at my mother, when reminded that she and her boyfriend do not have the same birthday. Hers is in July, his on Christmas Day.

My old therapist used to point out how much I tried to mirror my partners. When my ex started dating someone new, I felt I should be dating someone new too. My therapist said it was a way of making myself feel safe. Even now, years later, my girlfriend is preoccupied by body hair, shaves her armpits and legs, fearful of being thought of as a dirty lesbian. Her shame is so strong it somehow becomes my own. I buy a razor.

To continue reading “My Sister Versus Tomatoes” click here.

December Deadlines: 14 Literary Contests This Month

These contest opportunities are building up even faster than the snow, but they might melt away just as fast. Don’t lose this race against time, and submit while you still can!

FEATURED! The Masters Review Novel Excerpt Contest

This is our annual fall contest, and we’re looking to find an excerpt that stands on its own—and makes us want to read the rest of the book! The excerpt must be from an unpublished novel, and less than 6000 words. The winning entry will receive $3000, online publication, and a literary agent consultation. Second and third place will receive $300 and $200, respectively, as well as online publication and feedback. Charmain Craig judges. Don’t miss it!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: December 1

FEATURED! The Masters Review Chapbook Open for Emerging Writers

We’re not done yet! If you have a chapbook that you’ve been wanting to share, this is an amazing opportunity tailor-made for you! We’re looking for braided essays, experiments, or even collections of flash fiction. However you want to tell your story, it should be bold, original, and between 25 to 45 pages. The winning writer will receive $3000, manuscript publication, and 75 contributor copies! Judged by Kim Fu. Learn more here!

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: December 31

Stegner Fellowship

This astounding fellowship is offered to ten writers through Stanford University, five in poetry and five in literary fiction, and the winners receive tuition, workshops and other events, health insurance, and a yearly living stipend of $50,000 for two years. They’re looking for writers who are diverse in experience and style, who have talent and the ability to focus. You’ll need two contacts for recommendations, a statement of plans, and a manuscript up to 9000 words, but this could be your shot! Overview here.

Entry Fee: $85 Deadline: December 1

W. Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction

There are some very specific contests out there, and this is one of them! Administered by the American Library Association, this award honors the best fiction published in the last year that was set in a time when the United States was at war. It recognizes the service of American veterans and military personnel, although the incidences of war may only function as the setting of the story. All entries are judged on the excellence of writing and attention to detail. The winning entrant will receive $5000 and a gold-framed citation of achievement. More details here.

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: December 1

Chautauqua Prize

This competition is a daring gauntlet run by the Chautauqua Institute, but the reward at the end is worth the work! A $7500 prize and one-week residency is awarded to an author of a book of original fiction or narrative nonfiction that was published this year. They accept all books published in 2022, from short story collections to memoirs. Could this be you? Do it!

Entry Fee: $75 Deadline: December 15

Provincetown Fellowship

Given by the Fine Arts Work Center, this is a seven-month residency for writers in the emerging stages of their careers. The five poets and five fiction authors chosen will receive a living/work space and a monthly $1250 stipend, as well as a $1000 exit stipend. Writers who have published a full-length book are unfortunately not eligible. Applicants must send in a writing sample, a current CV, and an optional personal statement. There is a lot of competition, but there is no great reward without risk! Don’t miss it!

Entry Fee: $65 Deadline: December 15

Story Foundation Prize

This is the 4th annual award given by Story, to the author of an unpublished original stand-alone short story. All entries will be judged by the editors of Story. The winner will be published in the summer 2023 issue, with a cash award of $1500. More details here.

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: December 15

The Danahy Fiction Prize

The University of Tampa and Tampa Review are looking for the very best unpublished work of short fiction, but they can’t choose yours unless you enter! Manuscripts must be original, and contain between 1000 and 5000 words (although slight deviations are usually allowed). The winner receives $1000 and publication in Tampa Review. Check it out!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: December 31

Dorset Prize

This is a call to all poets, who like to dream big! Offered through Tupelo Press, this contest is judged by the amazing Diane Seuss. All poets writing in English are eligible, although the poetry manuscript should be between 48-88 pages. The winner of the Dorset Prize receives $8500, a week-long residency at MASS MoCA, 20 copies of the winning title, a book launch, and a national distribution with promotion and publicity! Wow! More information here.

Entry Fee: $30 Deadline: December 31

The Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction

If you think you’re ready to medal in writing short fiction, then this is the contest for you! The Lascaux Review is accepting stories for submission, and their length should not exceed 10,000 words. All finalists in this contest will be published, but the winner also receives $1000 and a bronze medallion for their efforts. Learn more here!

Entry Fee: $15 Deadline: December 31

Poetry and Fiction Prizes

In these contests offered by Kallisto Gaia Press, contestants can submit entries for fiction or poetry. The two winners of the 2023 Acacia Fiction Prize and the 2023 Saguaro Poetry Prize will receive $1500, publication, and 20 copies. Make sure to choose the correct category when you submit, and good luck! Submission information here.

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: December 31

Press 53 Award for Short Fiction

This is an annual award given by Press 53, to the author of an outstanding and unpublished short story collection. It is open to all writers in the United States or one of its territories, regardless of publishing history. The winner will be published by Press 53 under a standard publishing contract, with a $1000 cash advance, and will also receive 50 copies of their book. More details here.

Entry Fee: $30 Deadline: December 31

Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers

If you are an unpublished author, this is an opportunity meant specifically for you! Boulevard’s contest is meant to honor a writer who has never published a book, with a $1500 prize, and publication in an issue of Boulevard. Entries must be less than 8000 words, but there is no limit on the number of entries. Do it!

Entry Fee: $16 Deadline: December 31

Virginia Woolf Award for Short Fiction

LitMag is looking for short stories, between 3000 and 8000 words, with little constraints beyond that! Only unpublished short stories are eligible, but authors may submit multiple times. The winner receives $2500, publication, and agency review, and three finalists will  receive $100 and possible agency review and publication. Submit here!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: December 31

by Kimberly Guerin

One Week Remaining: 2022 Novel Excerpt Contest

Just a bit over one week left in our 2nd annual Novel Excerpt Contest! We are  seeking excerpts that show off a sense of style, with a clear grasp on craft: narrative, character, and plot. Submissions are open until December 1st. In case you missed our announcement earlier this year, our judge for this year’s contest is none other than Charmaine Craig! Full details can be found below and on our contest page.


Submissions open through December 1st
submit

The Masters Review hosts an annual Novel Excerpt Contest each fall! We’re looking for excerpts that show off a sense of style, with a clear grasp on craft: narrative, character, and plot. Choose wisely! Your excerpt can come from any point in your completed or in-progress novels, but a synopsis should not be required for understanding the excerpt. Excerpts must be from previously unpublished novels; if your novel has been self-published, it is ineligible for this contest. Excerpts from novels that are under contract for 2022 or 2023 may not be submitted, but work from a novel scheduled for a 2024 publication date or beyond may. As always, we have no limitations on genre, though we are primarily interested in literary fiction. This year’s judge is Charmaine Craig! She will select the finalists from a shortlist provided by The Masters Review’s editorial team. The winning excerpt will be awarded $3000 and online publication and an hour-long consultation with a literary agent. Second and third place excerpts will be awarded online publication and $300 and $200 respectively, in addition to feedback from a literary agent.

Guidelines:

Charmaine Craig is the author of the novels My Nemesis, forthcoming from Grove Press in February 2023; Miss Burma, longlisted for the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction; and The Good Men, a national bestseller. Her writing has been published in a dozen languages and appeared in venues including The New York Times Magazine, Narrative Magazine, AFAR Magazine, and Dissent. Formerly an actor in film and television, she studied literature at Harvard College, received her MFA from the University of California at Irvine, and serves as a faculty member in the Department of Creative Writing at UC Riverside. She lives in Los Angeles.

 

Halley Dunne Parry is a literary agent at The Hamilburg Agency in Los Angeles. A graduate of the Washington University MFA program, she has spent the last decade working at independent bookstores and in publishing. She previously worked as an agent at Drift(less) Literary.


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November Book Review: Aesthetica by Allie Rowbottom

In our final book review in November, Joanna Acevedo examines Allie Rowbottom’s new Aesthetica, out today from Soho Press. “It’s an addictive novel,” she writes, “as addictive as pressing Like or refreshing one’s feed to see what’s happened in the last five minutes.” Read the full review below.


Allie Rowbottom’s Aesthetica is ruthless from start to finish—sharply interrogating Instagram culture, influencers, the world of eating disorders and much more in this new novel from Soho Press. Rowbottom doesn’t hold back: name dropping, calling out celebrities, and conceptualizing a world which feels all too familiar. Aesthetica is full of dark cynicism, but also bright light—it shines on the complex relationships between mothers and daughters, the way we handle (or avoid) grief, and the great lengths we will go to feel beautiful, even when it means losing ourselves along the way. Aesthetica is a memorable novel for feminists and skeptics alike, and it holds a mirror up to our culture in the way that the best books do.

Read more.

Introducing Morgan Talty as Guest Judge for the 2022-2023 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers!

Winter is nearly upon us, and with winter comes our next Short Story Award for New Writers! This year’s judge is the terrific Morgan Talty, author of Night of the Living Rez! Submissions open December 1st, and will remain open through January. Find all the details below, or on our contest page!


//Submissions open Dec. 1st!//

Winter is coming! 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 2022-2023’s winter contest is Morgan Talty, author the story collection Night of the Living Rez. Winners and honorable mentions receive agency review from five agencies as well as publication. The winning story earns $3000, while the second and third place runners up receive $300 and $200, respectively. 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

Morgan Talty is a citizen of the Penobscot Indian Nation where he grew up. He is the author of the critically acclaimed story collection Night of the Living Rez from Tin House Books, which won the New England Book Award, was a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers, and is a finalist for the 2023 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. His writing has appeared in Granta, The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, TriQuarterly, Narrative Magazine, LitHub, and elsewhere. A winner of the 2021 Narrative Prize, Talty’s work has been supported by the Elizabeth George Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts (2022). Talty is an Assistant Professor of English in Creative Writing and Native American and contemporary Literature at the University of Maine, Orono, and he is on the faculty at the Stonecoast MFA in creative writing as well as the Institute of American Indian Arts. Talty is also a Prose Editor at The Massachusetts Review. He lives in Levant, Maine.

Litmag Roadmap: South Dakota

Next up on our roadtrip: South Dakota! You might know S.D. for Mount Rushmore, the Badlands or the Corn Palace, but we know it as the home to these terrific literary magazines. Rebecca Paredes gives us a guided tour of South Dakota’s premier publications below.

On this leg of our literary road trip, we’re stopping in the Mount Rushmore State: the home of notable authors such as Laura Ingalls Wilder and Vine Deloria, Jr., the South Dakota Festival of Books, and literary organizations with a long history of supporting regional work. Here’s a small-but-mighty list of active publishers of fiction in the state.

Oakwood

Launched in 1975, Oakwood is a literary magazine that “seeks to publish and foster the work of the extended creative community of the Northern Great Plains.” To that end, contributors must live or have lived in South Dakota or the adjoining states: Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Oakwood is published annually at South Dakota State University.

South Dakota Review

Founded in 1963, South Dakota Review is a quarterly print journal published at the University of South Dakota (USD). The journal supports work by contemporary writers writing from or about the American West, and the editors welcome works by “American Indian writers, writers addressing the complexities and contradictions of the ‘New West,’ and writers exploring themes of landscape, place, and/or ecocriticism in surprising and innovative ways.”

Red Coyote Journal

The USD’s Department of English houses the Vermillion Literary Project (VLP), a student literary and creative writing organization. Each year, the VLP publishes Red Coyote Journal—a print publication that features contributions from members of the USD community, as well as writers “across the Midwest, and around the world.”

by Rebecca Paredes

From the Archives: “Linda Peterson Sounds Like a Reasonable Name” by Jennifer Dupree—Discussed by Rebecca Paredes

In May 2014, we published Linda Peterson Sounds Like a Reasonable Name by Jennifer Dupree (now assistant editor!) during Short Story Month. The story follows an unnamed narrator as she navigates her relationships with a divorced man, his seemingly perfect ex-wife, and their children—with an unexpected turn at the end. Let’s take a trip into the archives.

A good short story is like a guided tour through an unfamiliar city. You don’t quite know where you’re going, but you trust that your tour guide knows the spots you should visit to get a snapshot of the city’s world.

Similarly, a skilled short story writer doesn’t try to fit every single detail into a story—we don’t have the time or space for that. Instead, the writer shows us the details we need to understand the world, get a sense of character, and feel the story’s tension. We want to keep reading because we want to know where the tour ends.

In a great story, that ending feels complete—even if we still have unanswered questions after the last line.

Dupree’s story “Linda Peterson Sounds Like a Reasonable Name” is a memorable example of the power of concision. I’m going to recommend reading it in full before we pick it apart—it’ll make the following analysis make a lot more sense.

Setting stakes from the beginning

Ready? Great. We jump into the thick of things in the first paragraph:

We are on the way home from a Saturday afternoon family Halloween party and I am wearing my sexy witch costume, which is basically a black leotard, tights, and a lot of eye makeup. I ditched the hat in the backseat with the girls. The leotard is riding up in both the front and the back and Lily, dressed as a black cat, has her face in my hat. Brit is fixing her pompadour. Ricky is singing some made-up Halloween song that is making Lily and Brit laugh.

Overall, this paragraph establishes the story’s world. We’re setting the table: time, Halloween. Setting, car. Characters, a family. But when we take a closer look on a second read, note that Dupree is already establishing the tension that will exist throughout the rest of the story.

We have some discomfort between “family” and “sexy” in the first line, which sets the narrator’s costume choice against the more wholesome idea of a family party. She doesn’t even get to enjoy the costume, which is “riding up in both the front and the back.” She’s setting herself apart, but she’s also uncomfortable—she’s an outsider in this space, which we confront again in the next paragraph.

“I think the invitation was for you and Connie,” the narrator tells Ricky. It’s interesting that we get this line on the car ride home; theoretically, it could have come up in conversation before the party, when Ricky first invited the narrator. But by placing it here, after the party is over, the line carries extra emotional weight: it’s accusatory because nothing can be done about the invitation or the experience. When we learn that everyone was asking about Connie, we feel the narrator’s frustration—a moment of sympathy for a character who will quickly become more complicated as the story progresses.

A note on complication: Are these likable people? Not entirely. But they’re complicated characters, and that’s what makes them feel engaging on the page. Like real people, these characters are messy; they’re selfish in their own ways and clueless in others, and Ricky is clearly still infatuated with Connie. But this is the narrator’s story, and by generating sympathy for the narrator in the beginning, we’re a little more inclined to stay on her side by the story’s end.

Notably, the opposite dynamic exists for Ricky. He’s smarmy: instead of responding to the narrator directly, he asks if she had a good time—then tamps down his eyebrows, ostensibly to clean them up before dropping off his daughter at Connie’s. We read Ricky as a negative force and the narrator as the victim, which is significant because the author is going to give us plenty of reason to root for Ricky: He literally helps save the Petersons (or thinks he does, anyway).

So, to recap—we’re less than 200 words into the story, and we already have strong impressions of these characters and the worlds they inhabit. We suspect this story will incorporate Connie in some way, and we’re curious to see how the relationship will play out.

We keep reading because we’re curious about the story’s stakes: will they stay together? Will Ricky get back together with Connie? Will the narrator decide she doesn’t want to continue comparing herself to Connie?

Then, the car crash.

Escalations and endings

The crash is the story’s inciting incident, and its placement makes a lot of sense: it comes after enough exposition to see the tension building between the narrator and Ricky. By the time the crash happens, we’ve watched the couple talk past each other.

Note how their conversation quickly escalates: the narrator sarcastically says that Connie is amazing, which Ricky misses, and then Ricky denies the narrator when she places her hand in his lap. At the end of this section, she indirectly insults Connie (“People who aren’t goody-two-shoes”)—and instead of showing us how Ricky responds, we’re distracted by a car “veering hells-bells off the road.”

As writers, we want our readers to, well, keep reading. One of the ways to do that is to build narrative momentum—a sense that the reader wants to see what happens next. We’ve got a dysfunctional couple in Halloween costumes reacting to an accident, and we want to see how this impacts their dynamic.

Ricky springs into action, vampire cape streaming behind him, while the narrator stays behind. Why does it matter that she stays in the car? Because we need to see her struggle to maintain a sense of control while Brit, Connie and Ricky’s daughter, undercuts her attempts to parent.

Now, we see that it isn’t just Ricky who’s pushing the narrator away—it’s his daughter, too.

With that in mind, how do we read the ending?

The final twist is that the narrator kisses Connie on “the spot just below her diamond hoop earring.” We get to this moment through a steady escalation of events that continue to undercut the narrator’s sense of self:

  1. She’s constantly reminded of Connie at the Halloween party.
  2. Ricky rejects the narrator’s touch in the car.
  3. Brit rejects her attempts to manage the situation in the car.
  4. Ricky and Connie reject the narrator’s attempts to talk about the situation at the hospital.

The narrator we meet at the beginning of the story wouldn’t have kissed Connie, but the one we get at the end is so fed up with Ricky—and feels so poorly about herself—that she must act. Without these steady insults to the narrator’s identity, her final act of rebellion at the end wouldn’t make sense. And even with this context, it’s still a surprisingly intimate moment: she feels the softness of Connie’s skin and “her fluttery heartbeat beneath my dry lips.”

But her final comment to Connie is what codes this ending as both an act of defiance and victory for the narrator: “’Thanks for the ride,’ I say, my mouth still against her neck, my warm breath carrying itself back into my face.”

She’s invading Connie’s space and disrupting her idea of the way the world operates; even on a night that featured a literal car crash, the narrator’s kiss is the most surprising and unsettling event that happens. And something about that act—and all the ways that it can be read—is imbued with power.

The narrator knows that she doesn’t have Connie’s French-manicured nails or the same hold on Ricky’s attention. But she does have her autonomy, and she exerts that autonomy on Connie because, by this point in the story, that’s all she has. And it works.

In terms of craft, I’m a big fan of this story for the following lessons:

by Rebecca Paredes