The Masters Review Blog

Feb 6

September Selects: “A Dictionary of How Things Break” by Nora Studholme

Today, we’re thrilled to share the first winner of our September Selects series! Nora Studholme’s “A Dictionary of How Things Break” was chosen by The Masters Review‘s staff as the winner of our Hermit Crab category. Study up on your terms below, and check back on Friday for a profile with the writer. Congratulations, Nora!

The cracks don’t show like they do on glass. You think at first people are like water. They close over a hundred tiny wounds again and again, surface unbroken. But really they’re like bones: bending and then—one more loss, one more betrayal—the break is complete, broad, irreparable.

1. Glass: radially. Flicking outward in forking fingers, fleeing the force until all its power is spent and it settles into an uneasy stillness.

2. Metal: reluctantly. It shouldn’t be breaking. It is supposed to be impervious. It splits hot and howling, its edges vengeful, seeking flesh.

3. Water: doesn’t. It shifts and splashes, playful, a mockery to weight. It refuses to be serious. It accepts, it envelops, it closes over. As whole as before.

4. Bones: raggedly. The halves slip away from each other in matching jigsaw shards, as tight as teeth. The bones of teens can bend at first, but then they snap. They pop and puncture inside a body, no hiss of air, but wouldn’t you expect it?

To continue reading “A Dictionary of How Things Break” click here.

Feb 2

Seventeen Books We’re Looking Forward To in Early 2023

2023 is already off to a terrific start with new releases—and so many more are still to come. We’ve compiled a shortlist of the books we’re most looking forward to this year. If these aren’t on your radar yet, then they should be!

The Survivalists, Kashana Cauley

January 10, Soft Skull Press

We reviewed Cauley’s debut earlier this month, which reviewer Joanna Acevedo called a “ruthless [interrogation of] what it means to be successful as a Black woman, a millennial, and a liberal living in an urban center.” If you haven’t picked up your copy of The Survivalists yet, which Samantha Irby has called a “banger of a book,” what are you waiting for?


A Guest at the Feast, Colm Toibin

January 17, Scribner

One of Ireland’s finest living writers, Toibin is back in 2023 with a collection of essays ranging in topics from his cancer treatment to religion to growing up in Ireland. The opening essay, “Cancer: My Part in Its Downfall” was published back in 2019 in the London Review of Books, so check that out first if you are for any reason hesitant to pick up this new collection.


The Sense of Wonder, Matthew Salesses

January 17, Little Brown & Company

We’re huge fans of Matthew Salesses here, especially his Craft in the Real World, part of which we assign to all of our volunteer readers when they get started. So we’re beyond excited about his new novel, The Sense of Wonder, inspired in part by the sudden rise in stardom of Jeremy Lin in 2012 with the New York Knicks. Won Lee, “The Wonder,” a new Asian American NBA star leads his team to a seven game winning streak and sportswriter Robert Sung covers his new-found fame from the sidelines, while grappling with his own missed opportunities.


The Guest Lecture, Martin Riker

January 24, Grove Press

Described as a mix of The Chair and The Good Place by LitHub, The Guest Lecture is Riker’s new novel about a young economist’s midnight preparation for a speech she is set to give the following day. Joshua Cohen (author most recently of The Netanyahus) calls Riker’s voice “as clear, sincere and wry as any [he’s] read in current American fiction.”


My Nemesis, Charmaine Craig

February 7, Grove Press

No list would be complete without our recent guest judges making an appearance! Charmaine Craig (guest judge of the 2022 Novel Excerpt Contest) is back with her next novel My Nemesis. Tessa, a writer, begins a friendship with Charlie, a philosopher and scholar based across the country in Los Angeles. LitHub and Electric Lit both list Craig’s novel in their own roundups of most anticipated books of 2023 and Publisher’s Weekly says this novel is “sure to spark conversations.”


Endpapers, Jennifer Savran Kelly

February 7, Algonquin Books

A debut novel from Jennifer Savran Kelly¸ Endpapers is a coming-of-age novel of a “genderqueer book conservator who feels trapped by her gender presentation” in New York City in the early 2000s. Dawn, the protagonist, discovers one day at work a queer love letter penned in 50s, and is driven to track down its writer. Kelly’s fiction has been published at some of our favorite litmags: Black Warrior Review, Iron Horse Review and Green Mountains Review, so we’re sure this novel will be memorable.


I Have Some Questions For You, Rebecca Makkai

February 21, Viking

Another former TMR judge, Rebecca Makkai returns with her first book since the unforgettable The Great Believers. Andrew Sean Greer has called this new book “unputdownable”, so at the end of February, if you’re looking for us, we’ll probably be buried in this new literary mystery from one of our favorite writers!


Empty Theatre, Jac Jemc

February 21, Mcdonnell Douglass

A new historical satire novel from the incomparable Jac Jemc has our heads spinning in anticipation. Empty Theatre immerses readers in the lives of cousins King Ludwig II and Empress Elizabeth of Austria and their “rarefied, ridiculous, restrictive world.” To pass the time before you can get your hands on this novel, check out Jemc’s “Hunt and Catch” in our Featured Fiction section.


Hey You Assholes!, Kyle Seibel

February 24, Bear Creek Press

Back in 2021, we had the fortune to publish “Master Guns” by Kyle Seibel. It’s one of those stories where you know from the instant you read the first lines that you’ve found a writer with an exciting voice you won’t soon forget. “I didn’t like Master Guns. Not one bit.” Seibel’s debut collection is set to release at the end of February. Keep an eye on this space for an interview about his work!


Bark On, Mason Boyles

February 28, Driftwood Press

Another former TMR contributor, Mason Boyles’s debut novel, Bark On, will be published at the end of February from Driftwood Press. Bark On follows two young runners as they train for the Ironman under the tutelage of extreme coach Benji Newton. We’ll be running a review of Bark On in February, so check back on our reviews page at the end of the month!


Thirst for Salt, Madelaine Lucas

March 7, Tin House

Listed by Bustle, LitHub, Debutiful and NYLON among their most anticipated novels in 2023, this debut from Madelaine Lucas is sure to be a release to remember. Leslie Jamison wrote of the novel, “A love affair so richly and attentively imagined it carries the grace and gravity of memory itself.” Check out Thirst for Salt in early March.


White Cat, Black Dog: Stories, Kelly Link

March 28, Random House

Yet another former TMR judge, Kelly Link’s newest collection is set to release at the end of March. White Cat, Black Dog features, in typical Linkian fashion, stories inspired by The Brothers Grimm, speculative merged with realism, death, divorce, love and sorrow. As we all wait for this exciting collection, refresh yourself with our interview with Link here on the release of her last collection!


Sea Change, Gina Chung

March 28, Vintage

In the first paragraph of Sea Change, readers are introduced to Dolores, a horny octopus. There’s really not much more we need to say to get your attention, is there? Chung’s stories have been featured in Kenyon Review, Pleiades, Gulf Coast and elsewhere. Sea Change is her debut novel – and next year, she’s set to release her first collection, too.


Small Animals Caught in Traps, C.B. Bernard

April 4, Blackstone Publishing

“In the town of Disappointment, Oregon, washed-up boxer Lewis Yaw makes ends meet as a fishing guide.” So begins the summary of Bernard’s debut novel, set for release early this spring. Bernard’s book is a good one to keep an eye on for fans of The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah or David Vann’s Legend of a Suicide, or for folks familiar with Bernard’s nonfiction book Chasing Alaska, which was a finalist for the 2014 Oregon Book Award.


Veniss Underground, Jeff Vandermeer

April 11, Picador

What? Another former TMR judge? We’re technically cheating on this one, since this is a re-release, but Jeff Vandermeer’s early novel Veniss Underground is receiving a wide re-release through Picador this April, featuring a brand new introduction from Charles Yu (and including a brand new Vandermeer story!). If you haven’t had the opportunity to read Vandermeer’s novel, inspired in part by the Orpheus and Eurydice story, now’s your chance.


The Late Americans, Brandon Taylor

May 23, Riverhead

Brandon Taylor never stops working, it seems. The Filthy Animals and Real Life author is back in 2023 with a new novel from Riverhead: The Late Americans, receiving early praise from Elle and Vulture, follows a group of friends in Iowa City during a “volatile year of self-discovery”. Make sure to make time for this new book at the end of May!


by Cole Meyer

Feb 1

The Masters Review’s Anthology Vol. XII Submissions are Now Open!

Submissions are open starting today until April 2nd for TMR’s Anthology Volume XII! This year’s guest judge is Toni Jensen, author of Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land and the story collection From the Hilltop. Jensen will be selecting ten stories and essays to publish in our printed book next spring from a shortlist of thirty prepared by our editorial staff. Stay tuned for news on the publication of last year’s book, with stories and essays selected by Peter Ho Davies, too! Find the full details for the submissions below or on our contest page.

//Submissions Open Through April 2nd//

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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!

JUDGING

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.


SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

  • Previously unpublished works of fiction and narrative nonfiction only
  • Up to 7000 words
  • We accept simultaneous submissions as long as work is withdrawn if it is accepted elsewhere
  • Multiple submissions are allowed
  • International English submissions allowed
  • Emerging Writers Only. Writers must not have published a novel-length work at the time of submission (authors of short story collections and self-published titles can submit as can authors with novels or memoirs with a low distribution [no more than 5000 copies])
  • Standard formatting please (double-spaced, 12 pt font, pages numbered)
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: April 2nd, 2023
  • Please, no identifying information on your story
  • All submissions are considered for publication in the anthology as well as New Voices
  • If requesting an editorial letter, please indicate on your cover letter if the submissions is fiction or creative nonfiction
  • A significant portion of the editorial letter fees go to our feedback editor, according to the rates established by the EFA
  • All submissions will receive a response by the end of June
  • Winners will be announced by the end of July
  • To view a list of our most commonly asked questions regarding submitting to The Masters Review, please see our FAQ page
  • Friends, family and associates of the final judge are not eligible for this award
  • Writers who have earned an Anthology Prize before and whose work appears in our printed book cannot submit to this category but are welcome to send us work in other open categories

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

TEN PUBLISHED AUTHORS WILL RECEIVE:

  • $500 award.
  • Publication in our nationally distributed journal.
  • Exposure to over 50 literary agencies.
  • Contributor’s copy.
  • All writers are part of an exclusive mailing. We send our anthology to editors, writers, and literary institutions across the country.

submit

Jan 31

Final Call: 2022-2023 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers, Judged by Morgan Talty!

Today is the final day to get those submissions in to this year’s Winter Short Story Award for New Writers! We’re looking for your best—up to 6,000 words. The winners will receive cash prizes, publication and agency review. Submissions may be up to 6,000 words, and must be previously unpublished. Full details can be found below or on our contest page. Morgan Talty will be selecting this year’s finalists!


submitAdd 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:

  • Winner receives $3000, publication, and agency review
  • Second and third place prizes ($300 / $200, publication, and agency review)
  • Stories under 6000 words
  • Previously unpublished stories only
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed
  • Emerging writers only; writers with book-length work published or under contract with a major press are ineligible. (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Authors with short story collections are free to submit new, unpublished work, as are writers with books published by indie presses or self-published.)
  • International English submissions allowed. No translations.
  • Double-spaced, 12 pt easy-to-read font (i.e., Times New Roman, Garamond, etc.) please!
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: January 31, 2023
  • All stories are considered for publication
  • All submissions will receive a response by the end of April
  • Winners will be announced by the end of May
  • Friends, family and associates of the final judge are not eligible for this award. Consider submitting to the Summer contest!
  • A significant portion of the editorial letter fees go to our feedback editor, according to the rates established by the EFA

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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Jan 30

New Voices: “Now or Never” by Leo Ríos

In today’s New Voices, we are pleased to welcome Leo Ríos and his story “Now or Never.” In a Denis Johnson-esque style, a man named Gordo accompanies our narrator to his old frat house for a party. Ríos’s prose is simple, terse but brimming with an earnest honesty, a deep longing for genuine human connection. This is a story you don’t want to miss.


I didn’t know anything about their world anymore. All the people I was closest to had graduated. I missed them. We had grown to love each other. Now, a lot of us were unemployed. Most of us had moved back in with our parents, still believing we were gifted and born to one day rise from the clutter of our lives.

That other time, with that neighbor kid, it had scared me—hearing him yell like he’d been shot, the wound on his thigh muscle red and sliced open. He’d tried to jump the fence and failed, impaling his leg on one of the metal spikes that lined the top. Peeking out from behind my living room curtains, I had stared at him agonize and bleed and curse his dumb luck.

Now I was the one on the wrong side of the fence. I couldn’t imagine pulling my body over because of that memory. So I just stayed there, not knowing what to do, until I saw someone across from me on the other side of the alley. Out of range from the alley’s orange lights, he was standing inside one of the parking garages. I had never seen anyone inside that parking garage. Usually, it was occupied with vehicles. Now this guy was in there. Big and tall, he had a glowing speck of red near his head. It kept dancing around like a sparkler. This guy, it seemed, was holding a cigarette and doing hand motions as if he was singing a hip hop song.

I thought to myself, This foo’s a paisa.

Our garages here were like small caves for beat-up cars. My paisa neighbors liked to kick it deep inside by the cars’ hoods. The diligent LAPD patrolled here like a virus. My paisa neighbors avoided the police because papers: They might not have them, reason enough for becoming invisible.

That was my working theory anyway. I wanted to write a feature article about it one day. Maybe our alley was just high school or college or prison, segregated groups consigned to specific locations: paisa foos posted up inside parking garages, neighborhood foos crawling where they wanted, all the overeducated foos inside their apartments, watching TV or playing video games.

Yeah, gentrification was happening in our neighborhood and young college graduates were moving in. That’s how me and my roommates—two foos I’d met in college—ended up here. But that’s another story. The dilemma of this night had me paranoid. I had no way in to my apartment. Some guy was intimidating me. Maybe gangsters were going to show up and ask me questions again. I tried acting cool but I could feel the paisa foo staring. He had a privileged position. It wasn’t fair. He could see me, but I couldn’t see him, except for that sparkling red glow, the vague outline of his body. I started feeling fearful, edgy, defensive and I guess for no good reason. I didn’t have anything valuable on me except for two twenty-dollar bills. If that paisa foo ended up being my enemy, what was the worst that could happen?

To continue reading “Now or Never” click here.

Jan 29

Introducing Toni Jensen as Guest Judge for Anthology XII!

It’s nearly February, which means submissions will soon be open for this year’s Anthology Prize! We are thrilled to be working with Toni Jensen on Anthology XII. As always, thirty stories will be selected for the shortlist by our editorial staff and Toni Jensen will choose the ten which will be published in our printed book, out next spring. For the full submission details, read below or check out our contest page.

//Submissions Open Feb 1//

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!

JUDGING

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.


SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

  • Previously unpublished works of fiction and narrative nonfiction only
  • Up to 7000 words
  • We accept simultaneous submissions as long as work is withdrawn if it is accepted elsewhere
  • Multiple submissions are allowed
  • International English submissions allowed
  • Emerging Writers Only. Writers must not have published a novel-length work at the time of submission (authors of short story collections and self-published titles can submit as can authors with novels or memoirs with a low distribution [no more than 5000 copies])
  • Standard formatting please (double-spaced, 12 pt font, pages numbered)
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: April 2nd, 2023
  • Please, no identifying information on your story
  • All submissions are considered for publication in the anthology as well as New Voices
  • If requesting an editorial letter, please indicate on your cover letter if the submissions is fiction or creative nonfiction
  • A significant portion of the editorial letter fees go to our feedback editor, according to the rates established by the EFA
  • All submissions will receive a response by the end of June
  • Winners will be announced by the end of July
  • To view a list of our most commonly asked questions regarding submitting to The Masters Review, please see our FAQ page
  • Friends, family and associates of the final judge are not eligible for this award
  • Writers who have earned an Anthology Prize before and whose work appears in our printed book cannot submit to this category but are welcome to send us work in other open categories

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

TEN PUBLISHED AUTHORS WILL RECEIVE:

  • $500 award.
  • Publication in our nationally distributed journal.
  • Exposure to over 50 literary agencies.
  • Contributor’s copy.
  • All writers are part of an exclusive mailing. We send our anthology to editors, writers, and literary institutions across the country.
Jan 27

February Deadlines: 10 Prizes Available This Month

Love is in the air, and we hope that you give one of these contests the chance to fall madly in love with your work! Go ahead; let yourself be seen and appreciated!

Michael Waters Poetry Prize

There’s only a little time left to enter Southern Indiana Review’s writing contest for poetry collections! Entries must be written in English, and be under 100 pages. Judged by Michael Waters himself, the first-place winner is awarded $5000 and their collection will be published by Southern Indiana Review Press. Don’t miss it!

Entry Fee: $30 Deadline: February 1

Philip Roth Residence in Creative Writing

This amazing residency is offered to two writers through Bucknell University, and the winners receive a stipend of $5000 and four months of lodging. They’re looking for writers in any creative genre in the literary arts, who are over the age of twenty-one but not enrolled in a college or university. You’ll need a twenty page sample of your prose, but this could be the opportunity for you! Learn more here.

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: February 1

American Short(er) Fiction Prize

American Short Fiction and judge Karen Russell are looking for writers who know their way around flash fiction—could that be you? Stories must be fewer than 1000 words, but multiple entries are allowed! First place receives $1000 and guaranteed publication, and all entries are considered for publication. Details here.

Entry Fee: $18 Deadline: February 1

Flash Fiction Prize

This annual contest from Fish Publishing is a true challenge—can you write a compelling and resolved story in 300 words or fewer? Judged by Kit De Waal, first place receives $1130 and publication, and the other nine finalists are published as well. See more here!

Entry Fee: $16 Deadline: February 28

Women’s Prose Prize

This contest is for any and all writers who identify as women, who have a previously unpublished, original work of prose! Acceptable submissions include novels, short story collections, memoirs, and essay collections, between 25,000 and 80,000 words. The winner, selected by judge Ellen Meeropol, receives $1000 and publication by Red Hen Press. Learn more here!

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: February 28

The Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction

Sarabande Books has been around for over a quarter of a century, and now you can be a part of that history! Their contest is open to any short fiction writer in English, and submissions can vary from short story collections to novellas. Judged by Manuel Muñoz, he’s awarding $2000, publication of the manuscript, and a standard royalty contract to the winner! All finalists are considered for publication. Learn more here!

Entry Fee: $29 Deadline: February 15

Sustainable Arts Foundation Award

If you have ever juggled being a parent and a writer, this is opportunity knocking! The Sustainable Arts Foundation is awarding $5000 each to twenty writers and artists, who inspire us by making creative work while raising a family. Writers can apply in creative nonfiction, fiction, graphic novels, young adult fiction, poetry, and more. Applications must include personal information, artistic information, and a portfolio. Submission guidelines here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: February 24

Slippery Elm Prize

This annual contest from Slippery Elm Literary Journal is looking for the best in both poetry and prose! Karen George is judging in poetry, up to three poems per entry. Ethan Joella is judging in prose, with a 5000 word maximum. The winner of each contest receives $1000, and all entries are considered for publication in the 2023 print issue. Submit here!

Entry Fee: $15 Deadline: February 1

Courage to Write Grants

The de Groot Foundation is looking for applications from adult writers actively engaged in writing projects who could use a motivational boost! In 2023, the de Groot Foundation is offering three LANDO grants of $7000 to writers exploring immigration issues, seven COURAGE to WRITE grants of $7000 to writers in any genre, and up to ten Writer of Note grants of $1500 selected from the pool of finalists. Applicants will need to submit a bio sketch, a letter of application, and a writing sample. Don’t miss your chance!

Entry Fee: $22 Deadline: February 15

Chautauqua Janus Prize

For the sixth time, the Chautauqua Janus Prize will be awarded this summer, and the time to apply is running out! It is meant to be a celebration of an emerging writer’s daring innovation of literary form and function that reorders and upsets readers’ imaginations in a single work of short fiction or nonfiction. Not only does the winner receive $5000 for their manuscript, they will also give a lecture in the summer and receive publication in Chautauqua. This is specifically a prize meant for emerging writers, who have yet to publish any prose books. Judged by Michael Martone. Apply here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: February 28

by Kimberly Guerin

Jan 26

Getting Unstuck: Carefully Crafting Dialogue

In a new craft series by assistant editor Jen Dupree, we’ll explore ways to move forward in our works-in-progress, particularly those that seem to be stuck in the mud, the ones we don’t know what to do with. Today, we’re looking at sprucing up dialogue and cutting back on conversations that aren’t doing much.

As an assistant editor here at TMR, I’m reading a fair number of submissions with dialogue that’s too telling or clunky or expected or dialogue that just doesn’t sound like anything anyone would ever say. It’s often a major reason for a story or essay to get a downvote from me because if I don’t believe in what the characters say, I have a hard time believing in the story.

Done well, dialogue can create a sense of the characters, the mood of the story, and a level of anxiety over what’s not being said or what’s being misunderstood.

Let’s start with what not to do.

Novelist Emily Henry, in an episode of The Shit No One Tells You About Writing, says that writers should avoid having characters “passing the baton back and forth.” Meaning you shouldn’t have a character ask a question and another character answer in an entirely expected way:

Character 1: “How are you?”

Character 2: “Not bad, you?”

Character 1: “Doing okay.”

Rather, answer in a way that’s unexpected, or perhaps allow the character not answer at all:

Character 1: “How are you?”

Character 2: “Did you see my shoes? I can’t find where I put my shoes.”

This somewhat off-center exchange makes the reader pay attention. It’s interesting. It tells us something about the characters (Character 2 is in no mood to talk about how she is and Character 1 can’t see that she’s in obvious disarray). The baton pass, on the other hand, is just filler. It doesn’t tell us anything about the characters other than that they’re having a perfectly fine day, which might be something the writer needs to know but isn’t something the reader wants to read.

So, if you aren’t writing baton-passing exchanges, what are you writing? How are your characters supposed to sound? What should they say?

In this Tin House Live recorded talk, Dorothy Allison, Allison encourages writers to listen to what people are saying (especially when they don’t know you’re listening), and then write it down. She suggests writers “listen to how people actually talk [but] don’t write how people actually talk because three quarters of what people say is filler.” And about swearing, she says, “People cuss in extreme circumstances…and shouldn’t stories be extreme circumstances?”

An extreme circumstance doesn’t have to be a car fire or earthquake or breakup. It can be a quiet story, but what happens to the character must feel extreme—to them and to the reader. You don’t have to have expletives in your writing, but you do have to let your characters get upset. You have to let them say mean things. And dumb things. And profound, kind, tender, ridiculous things. Real things, in other words.

Allison suggests allowing physical action to strengthen or subvert the dialogue. That means if a character says “I’m fine, not hot at all” and then wipes the sweat off his brow, we have a character who does one thing and says another and we want to know why. And when we do or feel one thing but say another, we have tension. Likewise, if our character picks up a handful of pennies and lets them run through her fingers like water and then shouts “We’re rich!” we believe she feels rich. The action reinforces the truth of what the character said.

Lastly, Allison points out that monologue can create character and is useful for that, but dialogue creates story because it’s oppositional. It creates conflict. It’s an exchange. This means that while we learn a lot about a character alone on the page while she’s thinking her thoughts, thoughts do not a story make. Interiority is important, and we can touch on that another time, but dialogue is what gets things moving on the page.

Brad Listi lands on similar advice in his Otherppl podcast with Mike DeCapite. DeCapite’s new novel takes place in a gym and so, naturally, he squirreled away a notebook in his gym locker and wrote down everything he could remember overhearing while he worked out. But that’s not what made the final cut. Rather, he combined and collapsed different conversations in order to get the best, most interesting bits.

DeCapite says what he’s striving for isn’t necessarily exactly what someone said, but rather the trueness of the feeling behind what they said. I was really intrigued by this idea of coming at dialogue over and over again to find the phrasing that rings emotionally true—true not just to the veracity of what’s being said, but true to how the person saying it feels. So, maybe your character doesn’t say, “I’m depressed” but rather, “I haven’t been able to muster the energy to put on pants for a week.” Dialogue that is specific, exact, and true.

How do we get the veracity of what’s being said? With close, attentive listening. Hrishikesh Hirway, creator of the podcast Song Exploder, says in his TED talk that “when someone tells you something, there can be all these layers, all this context that you’re missing…I had to listen for those moments, those clues where there was more to be discovered.” There is always more to what is being said than what is being said.

Listen to what’s said, what’s implied, and what isn’t said. Listen to pauses, hesitations, interruptions. Listen to background noise and bodily noises. Listen to inflection and inference. And then get it on the page as carefully crafted dialogue.

by Jen Dupree

Jan 24

The Masters Review’s Winter Short Story Award for New Writers, Judged by Morgan Talty: Final Week!

Just one week left to get those submissions in to this year’s Winter Short Story Award for New Writers! Morgan Talty will be selecting his favorite three submissions from a pool of fifteen provided by The Masters Review’s editors. The winners will receive cash prizes, publication and agency review. Submissions may be up to 6,000 words, and must be previously unpublished. Full details can be found below or on our contest page.

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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:

  • Winner receives $3000, publication, and agency review
  • Second and third place prizes ($300 / $200, publication, and agency review)
  • Stories under 6000 words
  • Previously unpublished stories only
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed
  • Emerging writers only; writers with book-length work published or under contract with a major press are ineligible. (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Authors with short story collections are free to submit new, unpublished work, as are writers with books published by indie presses or self-published.)
  • International English submissions allowed. No translations.
  • Double-spaced, 12 pt easy-to-read font (i.e., Times New Roman, Garamond, etc.) please!
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: January 31, 2023
  • All stories are considered for publication
  • All submissions will receive a response by the end of April
  • Winners will be announced by the end of May
  • Friends, family and associates of the final judge are not eligible for this award. Consider submitting to the Summer contest!
  • A significant portion of the editorial letter fees go to our feedback editor, according to the rates established by the EFA

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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Jan 23

New Voices: “Jaja-Haha” by Madari Pendas

Today in New Voices, we are excited to share “Jaja-Haha” by Madari Pendas. This story follows Freddy—Federico, as he used to be called—a new executive producer for The Late Show with David Letterman in the late 1980s. An old friend from Cuba resurfaces, a talent agent, calling in a favor to book a new act on the Letterman show. “Jaja-Haha” is a story that explores assimilation and all its unseen impacts, as Freddy must weigh the status quo—”Give ’em what they’re used to,” he’s told by the former EP—against the promoting the promising Cuban act Porfirio represents.

The club was a popular haunt. It was a renovated basement that still smelled like the inside of a cupboard. The space was cramped. Freddy was certain they were violating all sorts of fire codes. While grooming Freddy to take over, Jack had insisted on sending underlings to night clubs. That was the point of being the boss, according to Jack. “Have someone else eat shit.” Freddy didn’t realize how much he missed the frenetic energy and charge of the club scene. He felt a tingle in his fingers as he strolled in.

1989, Midtown Manhattan

Freddy was unaware that as he worked the past was storming down Broadway and 53rd, past security, past his secretary, and into The Late Show with David Letterman offices.

He perked up when he heard a knock at his closed door. Before he could ask who was there, the door swung open and there he was: Porfirio Suárez.

Freddy shook his head; it was too early for this nonsense. He had only recently been promoted to executive producer and didn’t have the time or patience to deal with a cunning talent agent, even if that cunning talent agent was an old friend. “No, no, no. I’m busy.”

Porfirio closed the door and took a seat. “Tranquilo. I’ll be quick. I’m faster than a virgin at a brothel.”

Freddy watched as Porfirio took out a headshot from a peeling brown valise. Even when Freddy was an associate producer, people still slipped headshots under his door, into his mailbox, and even into the bags of his lunch orders.

“Come on, I have work to do.”

“Bueno, this is what happens when you don’t return my calls.” Porfirio slid the headshot across the desk. “This is your next guy. One of the best upcoming comics on the scene right now.”

Freddy looked at the picture. The young man in the photo had a one-guard buzz, an angular jaw, a long nose, and hauntingly deep-set eyes. His collar was undone and revealed a gold chain over a shock of chest hair. The black-and-white tint of the image made it difficult for Freddy to tell how dark the kid’s skin was. “What’s his name? How old is he?”

“Yusniel Fernández. Twenty-two.”

There was silence between them. Freddy looked at the photo again. He had always stayed quiet when the more senior EPs asked him about a particular Hispanic comic. Freddy didn’t want to seem partial or like he was pushing an agenda. He wanted to show his bosses he could do the job just like them. He had only gotten the promotion last Monday. The retiring EP, Jack, had told Freddy, “Give ‘em what they’re used to. They know what they like. And they like what they know.”

Freddy slid the photo away. “Let’s talk some other time, okay? I already have the comics booked for the next month.”

“So book him for the month after,” Porfirio insisted. “You got some power now. Use it, viejo.”

“I’m not a viejo. We’re the same age.”

“Si and fifty-four is the new forty-four, right? This fucking industry and age. Come on. You’re finally the gatekeeper and you’re still keeping the gate closed.”

Freddy rubbed his temples. “Some other time. Please.”

“Federico, por favor—”

“Don’t call me that.” Freddy looked to make sure the door was closed. He didn’t use that name anymore.

To continue reading “Jaja-Haha” click here.

Jan 22

Litmag Roadmap: New York State

Hop in, as we head back to New York to explore the rest of the state outside the city! New York State has a long history of excellent literary institutions – and these magazines are a big part of why!

The state of New York has been publishing the nation’s finest short literature since at least 1850, with the foundation of Harper’s—but even outside the City, literary magazines are still thriving.

Vestal Review

Vestal Review lauds itself as being the “longest-running flash fiction magazine on the planet.” They’ve been publishing fiction up to 500 words since 2000, and have featured stories from writers like Steve Almond, Aimee Bender, Stuart Dybek (all former TMR judges, by the way), along with Robert Olen Butler, Pamela Painter, and basically anyone you might associate with great flash fiction. Contributors are paid $50 for their work, and they are open for your submissions again beginning in February.

Fence

With its first issue published in 1998, Fence has been kicking for 25 years this year—and its mission remains the same: publishing innovative literature that seeks to “interrogate, collaborate with, and bedevil all the systems that bring new writing to light.” You’ll find scans of the table of contents and editor’s note from their very first issue (check out Rick Moody with a story there on pg. 22), which is a neat little window into the past. Fence is open for submissions of poetry, fiction, and “other,” so if your work straddles borders or might be too eclectic for anywhere else, check out Fence.

EPOCH

EPOCH has been publishing regularly since 1947 — housed at Cornell University, it is managed by the school’s faculty and MFA program and is a source of funding for their first-year MFA students. The current issues features new fiction from TMR contributor Carla Diaz (read “Mercy” here!). EPOCH is only open to electronic submissions in August and January, but is open for snail mail submissions between September and February (if anyone out there is still mailing their submissions). The journal is open for poetry, fiction, essays, comics and visual art, so there’s a home for all of your creative work here.

Pine Hills Review

A newer journal among the long-standing literary institutions in New York is Pine Hills Review. Established in 2014 by The College of Saint Rose’s MFA program, Pine Hills Review publishes “artful, honest and compelling work from new and established writers.” The journal publishes its work online and is open for submissions of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and visual art from September through April, and they are especially interested in hybrid or experimental works.

Conjunctions

Nearly not making this list, Conjunctions was saved from being shuttered by its host institution, Bard College, after an outpouring of support from its readers last spring, just one day after EiC Bradford Morrow posted a good-bye letter on its site. Conjunctions is entering its 42nd year of publication in 2023, and continues to publish and celebrate excellence in fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and the in-between, both in print and online. Submissions are open year round for mailed submissions, but only twice a year online through Submittable.

by Cole Meyer

Jan 21

What We Read in 2022

As we enter 2023, The Masters Review would like to celebrate the terrific year of reading behind us and wish everyone an even better year ahead. Here’s to 2023!

In 2022, I finished my MFA, which meant finishing my story collection, which meant hours and weeks and months of reading, and writing, and editing. And stress. (Everything worked out, in the end.) But what it lead to was a months-long period in which I was grateful, outside of work, to just… not read (or write). Outside of work, over the summer, I read less than I have since probably high school. And honestly, it was nice. But it was even better once I picked up a book again and sank back into what I love the most. Of my standouts this year, I’d put Stuart Dybek’s lovely The Coast of Chicago, Dan Chaon’s Among the Missing and Where You’ll Find Me and Other Stories by Ann Beattie at the top. I also revisited The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund and read Alice Munro’s “Miles City, Montana” like five times. I also want to give a special shoutout to This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey by Steve Almond, which is the perfect little guidebook to craft and helped me immensely throughout the MFA experience.

Cole Meyer


I’ve been keeping track of the books I read (in a notebook, handwritten, old-school) for the past couple of years and in 2022 I read one hundred books! I have no idea if I’ve ever done that before and I didn’t know I’d done it until I counted at the end of December, so it wasn’t like a goal I achieved, but I’ll still take it. My favorites this year: Briefly, A Delicious Life by Nell Stevens, The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gundy, Young Mungo by Douglas Stewart. I don’t usually love a ghost story, but Briefly, A Delicious Life is so much more than that. It’s breathtaking. The Rabbit Hutch is weird in all the right ways and I personally liked Young Mungo even better than Shuggie Bain, but it’s also more heartbreaking. I recently started a short story group (like a book group, but we read short stories instead) at my library and the first one I assigned was Elizabeth McCracken’s “Property” and I was reminded about how it is, in my opinion, a perfect story.

Jen Dupree


Books that are both compulsively readable and thought provoking hit a sweet spot for me. Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins Valdez met the mark on both counts. At the beginning of the story, Civil Townsend starts a nursing job at a family planning clinic in Montgomery, Alabama during the 1970s. Civil, excited to make a difference in her African American community, is surprised that her first patients are just eleven and thirteen. Based on true events, the novel exposes a dark episode of forced sterilization in American history, but the issues of women’s reproductive rights and how healthcare is administered to the most vulnerable among us is no less relevant today.

I also read two books toward the end of the year that were bleakly comic in the best way. Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason is the story of a forty-year-old Londonite as she comes to terms with her mental illness. The narrator in We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman must cope with the impending death of a close friend. Both books also explore relationships, motherhood, and middle age. They made me laugh and cry in equal measure and had me reading paragraphs out loud to my husband and texting pictures of pages to my friends.

Melissa Bandy


This past year was a year of finally. I finished The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, wading cautiously into his ocean of mathematics and abstraction. This author recreated the universe in virtual format, asking the god-mode player to continually correct and re-correct the game until they got it right. In Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future, the author also made a pitch for saving our environmentally-challenged world, interspersing scientific essays with fiction in hopes of reaching presidents and world leaders. Note that he was successful on both counts. As the last few years have brought California waves of fires and floods as well as COVID-19, I’m listening along with them. And lo and behold, I have finished The Overstory, by Richard Powers. The book made me want to talk to trees. Okay, I actually did. This year, my aunt, the career librarian, passed away. At her funeral, I read a poem I composed about her life as a tree, from the sapling planted on her parents’ lawn to her lifelong work with books. She was our family’s library, storing genealogy and legend, and I will miss her.

Jill Bronfman


Recently, on the streets of Brighton, UK, I passed galleries selling and exhibiting photographic art from the sixties and seventies. Brighton youth were dressed, generally speaking, in either post punk attire or whatever Instagram was telling them. Where had the revolution gone?

Emmanuelle Pagano has three novels translated from French into English. In 2022 I read two of them. One Day I’ll Tell You Everything, which won the European Prize for Literature, tells a tale of modern rural France, set on a remote high frozen plateau in the Ardeche. Adele is the school bus driver, picking up kids from isolated homes and taking them to school along empty icy roads. She was born on the plateau as a boy and is now a woman, except when she returns no one recognizes her.  This novel of place and identity, brilliantly translated by Penny Hueston, weaves a tale, modern as it is ancient. “When I was a little boy, I would often pretend to be dead. I wanted people to weep over me. I wept for myself, usually near a tree, under it or up inside it, just like I’m crying today, a woman weeping in my weeping birch tree..’

The other book, Trysting, is an extraordinary collection of very short pieces, sometimes just a paragraph, of liaisons, relationships, want, regret and ruthless betrayal. Pagano’s characters are sometimes men, sometimes women, sometimes both, neither, everything and nothing. I had to look up the word tryst, as it is a word I have never used, and this is what this book is: a series of ordinary trysts, where sometimes little happens, but it is written in the most extraordinary way.

Where’s the revolution? Here, sublime, amongst Pagano’s words.

Ben Gilbert


I read primarily short stories in 2022, but of the few books I read, Eugene Marten’s, In the Blind, stuck with me the most. I’ve read most of his work and have loved all of it, but In the Blind is so clinical in its prose that it made me constantly distracted with how well-crafted it was. The book follows a recently released inmate as he takes on and immerses himself in the world of locksmithing/picking. Without spoiling anything, the sparse nature of Marten’s prose and the focus on the act of picking locks, creates this deeper nebula of self-searching for where it went wrong and what do in the aftermath of it. I can’t recommend this book enough, and don’t be put off by the slow start either!

Some other books I really enjoyed as well were Hiroko Oyamada’s, The Hole, and Agustina Bazterrica’s, Tender is the Flesh. Both I finished in one sitting and both kept me reading for their surreal landscapes as well as their commentary on gender roles. Hiroko Oyamada also has another book, The Factory, that I’ve heard is similar to The Hole in its writing style, so that is where I’ll be starting 2023 at.

Robert Warf


In 2022I was intrigued with the plot and usage of craft in The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka. It explores the story of a group of swimmers who swim at the University pool regularly to find respite from their mundane lives. When the pool shuts down for safety reasons, it disrupts their lives, particularly Alice, who is showing early signs of dementia. The author shifts points of view by using the first-person plural as the voice of the group of swimmers. Then it shifts to the second person, the institutionalized voice addressing Alice, and to the first person, narrated from the perspective of Alice’s daughter. What fascinated me was how the shifting point of view lends well to a typical swimming pool structure. The first-person plural denotes the shallow end of the pool, the institutionalized voice goes a little deeper, and the first person depicts the actual depth of the pool. The Swimmers struck a chord on many levels as a swimmer and triathlete.

Swetha Amit


This year brought me two books that I’ve been trying to foist on everyone I meet just so I can have an informed audience for my gushing. The first is Devotion by Hannah Kent, a fusion of historical fiction and magical realism. Ostensibly about the 1836 immigration of Lutheran Christians from Prussia to Australia, this is really a love story between two women, a love so encompassing that it extends into the landscapes around them—from German forests to the Australian bush. The second is a collection of essays from brilliant culture writer and one of the Internet’s favorite lesbians Jill Gutowitz, titled Girls Can Kiss Now. I was anticipating hundreds of pages of Jill’s humor and pop culture observations, which it fully delivered on, but I also found an unflinching vulnerability and an earnest portrayal of uniquely queer experiences that left me crying as often as I was laughing.

Lauren Finkle


2022 has been an excellent year for me in books—I read some truly unforgettable things this year. First of all, I was introduced to the magical world of Jennifer Egan when I read The Candy House (2022). Egan is a master of narration, seamlessly blending chapters with entirely different narrators into one novel exploring a technological invention that allows people to access every memory they’ve ever had. If this subject sounds disturbing to you, I promise that Egan’s style of writing is anything but dark—her prose is filled with humor and wit throughout, to the point where I was laughing aloud during some parts of this book. After thoroughly enjoying Middlemarch, I decided to sink my teeth into The Mill on the Floss (1860). This is a long novel, but I promise it will not disappoint. The Mill on the Floss is a coming-of-age narrative about a young intellectual girl who struggles to conform to her small, conservative hometown’s expectations of her. Eliot is incredibly gifted at exploring the difference between expectations and reality, with an astounding level of emotional complexity. Whereas Austen will give you a page with the happy marriage ending you were waiting for, Eliot will show you what happens when that happy marriage falls apart. For this reason, I find her a rare breed among Victorian novelists. Coming back to recently published works, Pig Years (2022) by Ellyn Gaydos was a pleasure to read. A memoir about life as a farmhand in Upstate New York and Vermont, Pig Years is a chronicle of the cycles of life and embracing all the joy, beauty, ugliness and tragedy that comes along with that. Gaydos’s prose is so melodic and rich that it often reads like poetry, making every aspect of her experiences come to life in stunning detail.

Alexandra Schoenborn


Dur e Aziz Amna’s novel American Fever is a deeply subversive and compulsively readable coming-of-age story. It’s about Hira, a sixteen-year-old Pakistani girl who is dying to escape her constrained life in Pakistan, and is accepted into an exchange program to study in the U.S. for a year. Hira is briefly in Rawalpindi at the beginning of the book before journeying to rural Oregon where she lives with a white single mother and her daughter. In the U.S., she attends high school, goes to church, makes friends, has her first kiss, faces racism and Islamophobia, and is eventually diagnosed with tuberculosis and put into quarantine before returning to Pakistan. These experiences might seem predictable (other than the tuberculosis bit) but Hira is a deceptively complex protagonist. On every page, her sassy and brash observations about the environment resist familiar themes of alienation and assimilation we’ve come to expect from American immigrant novels. Soon after her arrival, she says: “There’s a strain of story this could fall into. The foreigner trying to fit in, hindered by accent and Fahrenheit and the Imperial system…The outsider on the periphery of America. The entranced documenter of America. The truth—I was bloody bored…Within weeks, I went from homesick, to curious about America, to realizing how elementary my curiosities were, such clichés within themselves that I lost any desire to entertain them.” Hira captures the sullen certainty of being a teenager, as well as the exhilaration and confusion of leaving home at a young age. Her sudden distance from Pakistan also gives her a new perspective on home, and complicates her growing consciousness of who she is and where she belongs, and whether it’s even possible to know these things. American Fever is poignant, unflinching, and flat-out hilarious, and easily the best book I read in 2022.

Jawziya Zaman