The Masters Review Blog

Nov 25

December Deadlines: 11 Contests and Prizes Ending This Month

It has been A YEAR, to put it mildly, and many people have used writing as an outlet to express themselves. If you have something to say, or yell, or SHOUT, here’s your chance to share it with a ready audience! Let yourself be heard!

 

FEATURED! Short Story Award for New Writers OPENS December 1st!

Our own contest isn’t ending anytime soon, but that just gives you more of an opportunity to get started! The Masters Review is looking for stories under 6000 words, written by emerging writers who have a way with words and a love for language! The winner receives $3000, publication online, and agency review, and the runners-up also receive cash prizes, publication, and review. Judged by the wonderful Helen Oyeyemi! Learn more here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: January 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, and a yearly living stipend of $37,500 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 2020, from short story collections to memoirs. Could this be you? Do it!

Entry Fee: $75 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 500 and 5000 words (although slight deviations are usually allowed). The winner receives $1000 and publication in Tampa Review. Check it out!

Entry Fee: $23 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 inspiring poet Tyehimba Jess. All poets writing in English are eligible, although the poetry manuscript should be between 48-88 pages. The winner of the Dorset Prize receives $3000, 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! Learn more 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

2021 Microfiction Contest

The editors at River Styx are looking for stories that are short and sweet – does that describe your style? Stories must be less than 500 words, but three stories are allowed per entry! There are no other restrictions, and first place receives $1000 and publication in River Styx! Submit here.

Entry Fee: $15 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

Nov 24

Helen Oyeyemi is Judging our 2020-2021 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers!

Red alert! December is approaching fast, which means it’s almost time for our Winter Short Story Award for New Writers! This year’s contest will be judged by Helen Oyeyemi, author of What is Not Yours is Not Yours. The contest runs from December 1st to January 31st, and the winning submissions will be chosen by our judge from a shortlist of fifteen stories selected by The Masters Review staff. Start getting those submissions polished up! Full contest details can be found below.

The Winter Short Story Award for New Writers Opens on December 1st!

Welcome to our 2020-2021 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers, a prize that recognizes the best fiction from today’s emerging writers. This year’s contest judge is the phenomenal Helen Oyeyemi! The winning story will be awarded $3000 and publication online. Second and third place stories will be awarded publication and $300 and $200 respectively. All winning stories and any notable Honorable Mentions will receive agency review by the following: Nat Sobel from Sobel Weber, Victoria Cappello from The Bent Agency, Andrea Morrison from Writers House, Sarah Fuentes from Fletcher & Company, Heather Schroder from Compass Talent, and Siohban McBride from Carnicelli Literary Management. We want you to succeed, and we want your writing to be read. It’s been our mission to support emerging writers since day one.
Helen Oyeyemi is the author of the story collection What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, winner of the PEN Open Book Award, along with six novels, including Gingerbread and Boy, Snow, Bird, which was a finalist for the 2014 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. photo credit: Manchul Kim

Contest 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 (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Self-published writers and writers with story collections and novels with a small circulation are welcome to submit. Writers with novels published with a circulation of fewer than 5000 copies can also submit.)
  • International English submissions allowed
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: January 31, 2021
  • Please, no identifying information on your story
  • All stories are considered for publication
  • If requesting an editorial letter, please indicate on your cover letter if the submissions is fiction or creative nonfiction
  • To view a list of our most commonly asked questions regarding submitting to The Masters Review, please see our FAQ page

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.

Nov 20

Litmag Roadmap: Louisiana

On the road again: We’re headed south to the bayou, to the land of “Crocodile” and Mardi Gras and “The Monster in Back Bruly” and so many fantastic literary journals. Melissa has rounded up a few of them for to visit today!

Ah, the original LA LA land. Whether your appeal to this great state aligns more closely with Mardi Gras, bayou backroads, Creole cuisine, Jazz music, or the New Orleans Saints, there’s no way of denying the rich cultural vortex that is Louisiana. Here’s a long list of lit mags from the state that’s seen it all:

New Delta Review

The child of the MFA program at Louisiana State University (or LSU as its more affectionately and commonly known), NDR is student-run and has the energy and sass to prove it. If you have something that breaks free from form, plays with shape or sound, or is otherwise different and weird—whether fiction or nonfiction—definitely submit it here. Bonus: their submission category for currently incarcerated writers, open to online and snail-mail submissions.

Louisiana Literature

A literary magazine and small press edited by former Louisiana Poet Laureate Jack BeDell, Louisiana Literature with free submissions.

Tulane Review

The publication of—you guessed it—Tulane University, this bi-annual journal seeks poetry and prose from around the world during its summer-through-fall submission period.

The Southern Review

Originally born at Louisiana State University and now housed at LSU Press (different entity, people), this robust magazine features and highlights Southern writers and artists but welcomes work from around the world. Unsolicited fiction submissions are open through December 1, so you have a few days to pull something together. If you miss that deadline, scrap together an essay or translation piece and send it in by January.

New Orleans Review

We shouldn’t be surprised that the bulk of the energy from the Louisiana lit mag scene is coming from New Orleans… or rather, New Orleans Review, the lovechild of the Loyola University News Orleans English department and a related endowment fun. NOR pays submitters, has a booming blog and review presence (including a fun new art column), just released their Queer Issue, and just published their first book Interviews from the Edge: 50 Years of Conversations about Writing and Resistance, which should be on everybody’s Christmas/Hannukah gift list. Bonus: no submission fees for Indigenous writers in November.

Rougarou

Isn’t that just a name you wanna say a bunch of times? Rougarou. Rougarou. Rougarou! Published by the English graduate students at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, this journal moves slowly but hits your heartstrings fast. Submissions are currently closed, but bookmark their page for the next time you want to submit something to a journal you know appreciates a little bite.

Deep South

Here’s a publication that does it all: keeps up with authors, books, and local literary events while sharing about culture tips (for example: where to get the good andouille in Louisiana) and travel and publishing fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Deep South’s “Southern Voices” showcase the best writing by writers with a Southern connection—submissions for their current theme of “Separation” are a) extremely timely and b) due by December 11, so if that’s you, get to editing already! Bonus: their Literary Trail App pretty much lays out your first post-COVID actual vacation road trip.

Xavier Review

This not-for-profit press affiliated with the private university of the same name publishes both scholarly and creative works, especially surrounding subjects like the American South, New Orleans, the Gulf and Caribbean sphere, and African American culture. You can read regularly published issues on their website, buy their books on Amazon, or submit work directly through email to their lead editor.

Bayou Magazine

Published by The University of New Orleans, this biannual journal features fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. While there’s no nonfiction contest yet, their fiction and poetry contests are open now through January 1 with a $1000 prize. They’re also open to regular submissions in all three categories through May.

THEMA Literary Journal

Easily the state’s scrappiest journal for many reasons: was literally founded in a Chinese restaurant, still only accepts snail-mail submissions, and boasts a sassy “we’re not for everyone” disclaimer. True to its name, THEMA offers offbeat themes like “Where’s the Food Truck?”, “We Thought He’d Never Leave,” and “Drop the Zucchini and Run!” to get its writers minds whirling—and never fails to come up with a full issue based on said themes. Upcoming themes include “A Postcard from the Past” (March 1), “Watch the Birdie!” (July 1), and “Get It Over With!” (Nov 1), so let inspiration strike and get your stamp collection ready.

by Melissa Hinshaw

Nov 19

Reading through the Awards: Lot, by Bryan Washington

In a continuation of our series of micro-reviews, assistant editor Brandon Williams brought together a group of ardent readers to give their quick-hit impressions of recent books which have won major awards from the literary world. Bryan Washington’s Lot, recent winner of the Young Lions Fiction Award from the New York Public Library, is our next selection.

Quick Book Summary (from the official blurb): “In the city of Houston—a sprawling, diverse microcosm of America—the son of a Black mother and a Latino father is coming of age. He’s working at his family’s restaurant, weathering his brother’s blows, resenting his older sister’s absence. And discovering he likes boys. Around him, others live and thrive and die in Houston’s myriad neighborhoods: a young woman whose affair detonates across an apartment complex, a ragtag baseball team, a group of young hustlers, hurricane survivors, a local drug dealer who takes a Guatemalan teen under his wing, a reluctant chupacabra.”


Whether it is through the eyes of the speaker or through the eyes of the observer, Lot is a braided narrative centered around themes of growth, change, and loss. The blunt yet poetic tone of Bryan Washington’s style embodies a multifaceted desire to change life, and it narrates well the imperfect success of that journey to change. It is a raw yet wise prose, like that of someone close who has seen and lived through much and shares the truths they found as an answer to another’s struggle.

There are specific lives portrayed within the novel that are incredibly compelling; an Afro-Latino youth discovers himself and his homosexuality in this gray area between clarity and obscurity, and he does this alone in a household where his sister leaves and becomes distant; where his brother is troubled, seeking belonging in gangs, drugs, and sex; where his adulterous Latino father hides in his mistress of a higher social class than their own; and where his Black mother lost her faith in family a long time ago and is the last to leave him behind. Another is an apartment complex community of which speaks with one voice. They discover a difference, a harmful one, an adulterous woman in their lot, and that community speaks of her in a way that regrets how her path to change her situation led to holes in the community: a death and an arrest. These are just two of the narratives that show Houston, Texas as a space where those who stay struggle with change or steadfastly reject it and stay complacent in their situations, others involving drugs, homelessness, and more.

Overall, Lot is about life. Houston is its setting—its “lot”—where the lives of people of mixed identities, singular and/or merged, exist in all their complexities, their intersections, their positives, and their negatives. It displays the truth of coming and going, how those left behind are affected by their families, found, dysfunctional, or otherwise who left. It views intimacy like a spectrum on the positive and negative binary, and it rests in the middle where adultery leads to pain or numbness; where exploration of bodies leads to secrecy but discovery; where sex is a trade-off, two bodies desiring to feel something, to learn, to pay bills. It takes us through the world of drugs and drug dealing, removing its glamour of danger and showing it as just another way to make ends meet. We see how money changes people, how poverty is a chronic pain, how situations come to a point where people chase their needs, blind or numb to consequence. We see how lots in life alter when others make moves to break the cycles of monotony, and it is both a somber yet unforgettable experience.

Julienne Parks


Take a look at a map of Houston. It shouldn’t work. Over twelve freeways colliding into this city with the 610 circling its boundaries. There’s not a greater metaphor for Bryan Washington’s Lot where we collide with a myriad of stories including a crew of male prostitutes, an aunt from Kingston visiting after losing her child, a Guatemalan drug dealing apprentice, two friends caring for a wounded Chupacabra, and if I left a few out, I’m sorry. All of these stories crashing into to the center while we circle around and around on the 610 following the son of a Black mother and Latino father as he comes to age and his own homosexuality while enduring and learning from an older brother as his father slowly disappears in the distance.

Our coming-of-age narrator can’t leave his mother behind after the rest of the family have left in various ways until eventually even she leaves and then we realize it is so much more than that. And this is how his stories open to us, diverting off the path we assumed we were on, finding an off ramp we weren’t expecting. It’s what kept me reading and re-reading.

These stories are bound in the lost, desperate for a map, and the need to hold on to whatever they can for just one brief, fleeting moment. How could you encapsulate a city like Houston or any city in America where the rich and poverty-stricken meander between borders, where the undocumented work for the elite, where genders and sexuality bend but do not break? Washington finds a way through sharply written and poignant prose, bouncing from the disenfranchised voices that truly carry a city on their backs.

 Sean Frede


Bryan Washington’s Lot does not announce itself as a novel on the front cover, instead opting for the descriptor: stories. This distinction not only prepares the reader for the loose interconnectivity of the tales within, but also perfectly encapsulates the intention of the author. Lot is a collection of stories that come together to create a mosaic of an overarching narrative. By eschewing linear plot in favor of a strong sense of place, richly spiced by the lives that inhabit those places, the book reads like poetry.

But the beauty is that Lot doesn’t need plot, it doesn’t even need characters. Names and places are handed to the reader sentence by sentence, becoming sensations. Though often about rude sexual awakenings, illicit affairs, and the brutal realities of poverty and loss, Washington’s prose presents these stories as if they were gossip freely shared over evening wine between two old friends, years after the fact. And it is in this informal peeling back of the curtain where Washington shows his greatest strength, his understanding of people and his appreciation of place. From the sweltering heat of Nicolás’s “shotgun” home on summer nights, to the Corolla that doubled as the “pharmaceutical” offices of the suave Avery, Washington knows these characters intimately, and he has lived in these places.

The reader comes away from each story with a sense that the small slices of life they present are building on one another. Taking in all the stories together, the through line becomes a theme of inevitability; this manifests as both stagnant inevitability, related to the circumstances of the character’s surroundings and life, but also the inevitability of change, through escape or loss.

Allene Keshishian


Bryan Washington’s Lot provides a lucid sketch of Houston and its diverse neighborhoods, urging the reader to reconsider their ideas of home, agency, and love, because the lives that its characters are born into are so fraught with sociological and familial complications that the reader’s very sense of the world becomes convoluted.

Washington’s characters face feelings of isolation, regret; feelings that they were born into impossible circumstances with inevitable failures, insatiable desires; and yet still—these are characters who, throughout the entirety of the collection, encounter brief and euphoric moments of love, of transcendence, that leave them “wondering if anyone in this whole shitty country could be as lucky as us.” Lot is stock with personalities that are tuff, gruff, mean, belligerent. Characters who shoot themselves in the foot and often know that they’re doing it, who are quick to cause physical and emotional harm to the ones they care for. But Washington’s understanding of and love for his characters proves luminous in every story, on every page. This is a young writer who is confident in his style and unafraid to write truthfully about the world he knows. Bryan Washington should be a name that we should get used to hearing in the writing world, and this collection has me eager to pick up his recently-released novel, Memorial.

Joshua Olivier

Curated by Brandon Williams

 

Nov 18

The 2020 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers Shortlist

Congratulations to the 15 authors whose stories were selected for our 2020 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers shortlist! Guest judge Kali Fajardo-Anstine will select the winning finalists from this list, which will be announced in mid-December. Thank you again to everyone who submitted to this contest. Stay tuned for the winning stories!

2020 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers Shortlist

Beauty in the Blood; Hasgaragéchte by Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley

Black Autumn by Monica Brashears

Burning by Adeline Lovell

Como La Flor by Dayna Cobarrubias

Fugitives in Geologic Time by Alex Aleo

Matchbox by Nancy Ludmerer

Paradise Lost by Michael Bishop

Petrified by Clare Howdle

Reputation Management by Katherine Gutierrez

Sentries by Kelsey Norris

Sorry For Your Loss by Gregory Golley

Tea with the Queen by Jasmine Sawers

The Abacus and the Infinite Vessel by Vikram Ramakrishnan

The Parts He Missed by Josh Wagner

The Teacher by Beenish Ahmed

Nov 16

New Voices: “Shootout in Prospect Park” by Chuck Nwoke

In today’s New Voices, we are thrilled to present Chuck Nwoke’s “Shootout in Prospect Park,” an absurdist and hyperreal examination of the protests against racial violence and police brutality at the height of the coronavirus quarantine over the summer. Nwoke’s short story is incisive and concise and urgent, and we don’t want to keep you from it any longer. Dig in below.

Dude had seen too many movies, played too many video games, and lit up the ground around me as I ran uphill and dove and tumbled over the bikes, taking cover behind them. A bullet ricocheted off a bike and struck the white guy. When all the shots had fired, it was as if Dude had suddenly snapped out of a white-hot blackout rage. “Oh, shit, my bad!” he yelled. Scared he’d mistakenly killed a white person, a far worse crime to him than killing me, he tossed his gun and took off running.

I was sitting in the park minding my own business when a woman in front of me got up and asked if I would watch her things.

“No problem,” I said, thinking nothing of it, and she left her bike, bag and sneakers and went down the hill with her phone and yoga mat into the flat open field to do yoga.

I was stoned and on my third beer. I brought six. Police continuously lynching Black people brought me out of quarantine and into the streets with the world to protest. After my third protest in a day, I left the crowd when the drum circle started and white twenty-somethings started dancing like they were at Coachella. No justice, so fuck that peace.

Yoga-watching from the hill, I sensed somebody hovering. There was a dude next to me. He resembled a young Bizzy Bone, light-skinned with his hair pressed and in a bun. Scoping the terrain, he pulled his surgical facemask up from his chin and rolled up to the yogi’s things I was watching. He lifted the bike up to see how heavy it was, then casually proceeded to jack it.

“Excuse me,” I said, getting his attention. “That’s not yours.”

Dude played me for that new nigga—bougie, college-educated and paying too much for coffee and rent—and ignored me.

“Yo!”

“Nigga, shut ya bitchass up!”

How the situation escalated to me being a “bitchass” so fast, I had no idea, but I wasn’t taking his disrespect. “Leave that shit alone,” I warned and called for the yogi but she couldn’t hear me through her earbuds.

To continue reading “Shootout in Prospect Park” click here.

Nov 15

Deadline TONIGHT! 2020 Chapbook Contest judged by Steve Almond—$3000 prize!

Don’t wait until the clock strikes midnight: Get those manuscripts in now! There are just hours remaining in our inaugural Chapbook Contest. We’re accepting prose manuscripts of 25-40 pages until tonight midnight! The winning writer will be awarded $3000, manuscript publication, and 50 contributor copies. The incredible Steve Almond is judging the inaugural contest! Check out the full details below and on the contest page. Submit, submit, submit!

 

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Add to Calendar

The Masters Review is proud to announce our first chapbook contest! The winning writer will be awarded $3000, manuscript publication, a subscription to Journal of the Month, and 50 contributor copies. The incredible Steve Almond is judging the inaugural contest! We’re seeking to celebrate bold, original voices within a single, cohesive manuscript of 25 to 40 pages. We’re interested in collections of short fiction, essays, flash fiction, novellas/novelettes, longform fiction or essays, and any combination thereof, provided the manuscripts are complete (no excerpts, chapters, works-in-progress, or other incomplete work), and function cohesively. The Masters Review staff will select a shortlist of 5-10 chapbooks to pass along to Steve Almond, who will select the winning manuscript. Steve Almond will provide a brief foreword/introduction for the manuscript upon publication. The published manuscript will be available for sale as a physical copy and distributed digitally through our newsletter.

Guidelines:

  • Winner receives $3000, manuscript publication, a subscription to Journal of the Month, and 50 contributor copies
  • Second and third place finalists will be acknowledged on our website
  • Manuscripts should be between 25-40 pages (not including front/back matter) with each story beginning on a new page
  • Manuscripts should be double-spaced and paginated
  • Manuscripts should include a Table of Contents (if necessary) and an acknowledgements page listing any previously published material within the manuscript
  • Manuscripts may contain some previously published work, but the published work cannot have appeared in any other chapbook or full-length collections
  • Self-published collections are previously published and therefore ineligible
  • As we are a prose-focused journal, we are not interested in poetry chapbooks, but will consider chapbooks which contain prose poetry
  • Electronic submissions only
  • Single author manuscripts only
  • International English submissions allowed (No translations)
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed (Please withdraw submissions if they are accepted elsewhere.)
  • Emerging writers only (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Self-published writers and writers with story collections and novels with a small circulation are welcome to submit. Writers with novels published with a circulation of fewer than 5000 copies can also submit.)
  • Entry fee: $25
  • Deadline: November 15, 2020
  • Individual stories or essays within the manuscript may be considered for publication in our New Voices series
  • We are not requiring blind submissions for this contest
  • Editorial letters for up to 3 individual pieces within the manuscript may be requested, as well as full manuscript consultations
  • Manuscript Consultations will be offered by Tommy Dean (bio below), who will provide an in-depth and extensive editorial service on the manuscript as a whole (10-15 pages of feedback + phone or e-mail consultation)
  • A significant portion of the editorial letter and manuscript consultation 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.

Steve Almond is the author of eleven books of fiction and non-fiction, including the New York Times bestsellers Candyfreak and Against Football. His stories and essays have appeared in the Best American Short Stories, the New York Times Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives outside Boston with his wife, his children, and his anxiety.

Tommy Dean lives in Indiana with his wife and two children. He is the author of a flash fiction chapbook entitled Special Like the People on TV from Redbird Chapbooks and is the Editor at Fractured Lit. He has been previously published in BULL Magazine, The MacGuffin, The Lascaux Review, New World Writing, Pithead Chapel, and New Flash Fiction Review. His stories have been included in Best Microfiction 2019 and 2020 and the Best Small Fiction 2019. @tommydeanwriter.


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Nov 13

Interview with the Winner: Ashleigh Bell Pedersen

We were fortunate to publish “Crocodile” on Monday, our 2020 Flash Fiction Contest winner, selected by Sherrie Flick. Be sure to read the winning story and then our Interview with the Winner below:

I just love this story’s third-person omniscient child narrator—that is two very hard-to-do things done at once! What edits or considerations about this did you make while writing to make this piece so successful?

Thank you! I have lots to say on this subject, it turns out. While the narrator seems somewhat “all-seeing” (to address the “omniscient” part of your question), we are really only able to “see all” from Sunshine’s vantage point, which is inherently colored by her relationship to her various family members and by the fact that she is a child. When the narrator observes that Sunshine’s mother only talks about Cajuns in a disparaging way because Sunshine’s father is Cajun, I think we’re glimpsing not only some parental tension through a child’s eyes, but (heartbreakingly, to me!) the child’s inferences based on that tension. The narrator’s insights are clouded by Sunshine’s subjectivity, something I found so interesting to write.

I want to add that this doesn’t mean the narrator’s insights don’t have truth to them; I think children really are “all-seeing”—but perhaps less literally than the word “omniscient” might connote.

I did give the narration of this story quite a bit of consideration, to say the least! The story was in fact sculpted from a much larger project I had worked on for many years—a novel that’s in my agent’s hands as we speak, actually. The character relationships in “Crocodile” are different than in the novel, and the momentum of the story is much different, but the voice itself is very close to the voice of the narrator in the novel—and was therefore something I had years to develop and fine-tune. The fun part of creating this particular piece came from deciding what was important to say in so few words, and how to create tension within events and character dynamics that, in a novel, you’d have basically unlimited word count to make happen! But the subjective third person narration and the voice itself have been with me for many years now, and it felt natural to bring them along for the ride in “Crocodile.”

With the lurking presence of adolescence in this piece, it’s hard to not read “Crocodile” extremely metaphorically as well as literally. Did you start out with the metaphor as a concept, or arrive at it somehow—and either way, how did you get there?

Ha—adolescence does lurk! Way back in my early twenties, I had an idea for a story about a woman with a tattoo on her arm that was secretly representative of her dead baby. Sounds both maudlin and boring, right? It was. I tried to write it and got about one sentence in before realizing I had absolutely no story—only the dead baby metaphor tattoo thing. Remembering this, I am cringing.

I’ve learned that writing from abstract to literal—or metaphor first, storytelling second—is a very effective strategy for swiftly crushing the life from a story. The more useful approach for me is writing from a place of curiosity—about an image, about setting, about character dynamics. Much of this story came, initially, from strange imagery floating around in my imagination. I’ve actually found—frustratingly enough—that the less clarity of vision I initially have around how a part of a story will serve the meaning, the better. (This was true of the early stages of both the novel and of this story derived from the novel.) If I can just stay with the curiosity about where the hell a story is leading me, I arrive somewhere interesting. Then, I can work with the material to emphasize and highlight any meaning in ways that feel right—but it’s much more organic (and less cringy tattoo metaphor of zero substance). I’ll add, too, that this approach can feel very difficult for me. It flies in the face of control and perfectionism—the siren calls of all artists, I think.

If “Crocodile” had a literary family—authors or specific books/stories—who would be in it? Who would be the mother? The brother? Etc?

Oooo! What a great question. Its mother would be a godlike amalgamation of Virginia Woolf and Arundhati Roy. Its father would be a venerable but very human (i.e. heavy drinking) William Faulkner. But let’s inject some appropriate humility into this fictional family and add that my story is probably the runt of the litter.

There’s something so confident and coming-of-age-ish in that short last line, despite the possible danger. How did you know that was the right note to end on?

Even because of the possible danger, maybe—I tend to think danger is inherent in any coming of age story.

Knowing the ending goes back to the intuitive writing comment I made earlier. I’m a very amateur painter, and I’m learning how easy it is to tinker with a painting until I’ve completely overworked it. But if I can stay tuned in to when instinct says to just stop painting and—this can be the hard part—actually listen to that instinct, then the work has a chance of being mildly interesting. I’ve had at least a decade more practice with writing than I have with painting, so I’m more practiced with listening to the moment something in me says to stop writing, and I’m more practiced with, as I said earlier, following my story to a strange place without concern for meaning or even function. Figuring out the ending works in that way, too. It’s initially instinctive, and I do find that instinct often leads me to both meaning and function, anyway, without needing my conscious mind to step in and interfere…at least not too much.

One of my favorite fun questions last—if “Crocodile” had a soundtrack, what songs would be on it?

This question makes me really imagine the story in a fun cinematic way. I love that! I think when Sunshine is underwater, the only soundtrack would be quiet underwater-type sounds. When she’s on the surface of the water, though, I think there’s music coming from Joanna Louise’s portable radio (I didn’t know she had a portable radio until this interview question, but it turns out she does, made from a kind of aqua-colored plastic)—something rock-and-roll-ish to really contrast with the underwater quiet, like the Credence Clearwater Revival version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Is that weird? That’s probably why I like this idea. A lot, actually. Any directors or screenwriters out there want to help me turn this into a short film?

Interviewed by Melissa Hinshaw

Nov 10

An Interview with Kasey Thornton, Author of Lord the One You Love Is Sick

This month, Courtney Harler interviews Kasey Thornton, whose stunning short story, “Out of Our Suffering,” was featured in The Masters Review VI, judged by Roxane Gay. That same story also features in Thornton’s new novel-in-stories, Lord the One You Love Is Sick, out in trade paperback on November 10, 2020, from Ig Publishing. To celebrate the debut, Courtney and Kasey recently chatted about form and content.

First off, Kasey, congratulations! We at The Masters Review have been anticipating your debut novel-in-stories. I want to ask you about your chosen form, but first—a quick question about commas. I’ve noticed lately that many writers are deliberately omitting the comma for the direct address. Although I see this trend most often on social media, your novel’s title also takes this option. Maybe it’s a silly, pedantic question—but I’m very curious about how these sorts of decisions are made. Did you want the title to seem more casual? Or more desperate/urgent? Or, did the good people at Ig think the comma itself would complicate the title unnecessarily? I don’t doubt you’ve made a deliberate, thoughtful choice here, but I am fascinated by the way our language is rapidly evolving of late. Your thoughts?

No, that’s a great question. It was a very instinctive decision for me at the time, so I didn’t give it a lot of thought, but I see now that I did it for the rhythm of the phrase. I liked the title most when it had the unhindered humming feel of (what I think is) a trochaic meter, with the alternating falling stress of the syllables, as opposed to a direct address with a pause that I found awkward.

Yes, I can definitely hear the meter when I say the title aloud. It’s almost as if taking away the comma puts more stress on “Lord,” and not less. I love that you went with your gut here. Now, about the novel-in-stories. It’s still a relatively new form. But—it’s tricky. (As I know all too well, because I am writing a novel-in-stories, myself.)

How did you land on this form? Did you write a bunch of stories that just seemed to want to come together? The flow is pretty spot-on, and you do offer your readers a little recap at the beginning of each new chapter. I guess my main question is about the form, or what to call the form. Why not just call it a novel? From your perspective as a debut author, what are the most significant differences between a novel and a novel-in-stories? As readers and writers, in general, what do you think we might gain (or lose?) with the novel-in-stories?

I definitely did not put pen to paper back in 2009 expecting that those first few words would one day produce a novel-in-stories. I absolutely would not have trusted my own mettle in that regard, and long form frightened me immensely, so I stuck to my Southern fiction short stories and spent the next ten years putting them in and out of undergrad and graduate workshops.

Then, as you said, they did seem to want to come together. I saw the same conflicts, the same themes, the same settings and even the same characters cropping up in multiple stories like cameos, and I figured out that they could fairly easily all take place in one novel about one small town. That part of the process—looking at everything as a cohesive unit and straightening the seams—was almost a psychological experiment, as it forced me to see all the randomly weird elements I repeated ad nauseum in every story I wrote. (Why was there a mason jar in every story?!)

I’m not an expert as to what attracts a reader these days. With everything happening in the world, I consider it an act of immense fortitude whenever anyone is willing to take their attention away from a screen and commit to any kind of writing for any duration of time. Though my book has been carefully crafted in order to be read cohesively from front to back, I do still like the idea that someone who has thirty minutes until their next appointment could pick up my book and flip to any random story, and still be able to digest something that is self-contained. It feels like I’m accommodating more attention spans and reading styles and lifestyles if I offer both options.

We certainly live in a world where “time” is of the essence, even during the quarantine, wherein we have had, as some would contend, rather too much time/energy on our hands. But let me say now that I absolutely loved the book, loved all the connected stories, loved all the (repeating) characters. I especially felt for Emma Lynn, particularly in “Out of Our Suffering.” As a writer, my aesthetic is quite similar to yours: very Southern, and in fact, pretty Gothic, too. You tackle some rather heavy topics that tend to plague the South: drug addiction, sexual abuse, patriarchal structures, religious dogma. I’ve written about those issues as well, and it’s not easy. How did you prepare yourself to write this book? I mean, each chapter/story to me seems a test of courage, an exercise in bravery. How did you find the fortitude to address all of these taboos?

As far as courage goes, I had an amazing army of creative writing colleagues and mentors from three different universities that I grew to trust so much. Of course, there was always anxiety in writing a difficult story and handing it out to twenty people right off the printer for them to pass judgment upon, but I knew that they would come back with feedback that would tell me what was too subtle, what was too gratuitous, what wasn’t resonating enough emotionally, and what needed to be toned down. My fortitude for putting these stories into the world absolutely came from the dozens upon dozens of writing peers I have at my back, and I’m so grateful for every one of them.

Kaye Gibbons gave me unspoken permission to write “Out of Our Suffering” in Emma’s voice the moment I picked up Ellen Foster. It took an immense amount of pressure off of me, actually, to just put this little girl down on the page and let her reactions to the world around her speak for themselves. I didn’t need to be introspective or broody. I didn’t need to explain to the reader why it was awful, or translate that terrible world into meaning in the same way as I might have had I been writing in third omniscient or even a close third. Emma and I took it step-by-dreadful-step and got the first draft done in one single terrifying night, which I have never done before or since.

I’ve not read Ellen Foster, but your response just made my heart squeeze in my chest. As of right now, all of my narrators in my novel-in-stories are twelve years old, and every chapter is told in present tense. Believe you me, I’ve struggled with that choice, and now that I’m headed into a heavy revision phase, I am very much rethinking that format. But, your response give me hope, gives me guidance: “…let her reactions to the world around her speak for themselves.” So beautifully put. Do you have any additional parting advice for other emerging writers? You began Lord the One You Love Is Sick back in 2009. What have you learned as a writer in the past decade, and what helped you persevere to publication?

I’d say to make sure you stay in love with storytelling in general, and don’t let anyone tell you how you’re supposed to digest them. If you like the stories in comic books, read comic books. If you like the stories in video games, play video games. If you like the stories in movies, watch movies. If you like the stories in TV shows, watch TV shows. If you see stories in works of art, gaze at works of art. Read books, yes. Of course, read books. But stories are all around us. Drown yourself in them daily and figure out what you like about them, what you dislike, what works and what doesn’t—delivery of information, pacing, dialogue, setting, etc. That will translate to your writing.

Also, to those who write fiction, read poetry. To those who write poetry, read fiction. It will absolutely change your writing for the better.

As far as persevering goes, I know it’s cliché, but I really couldn’t have done it without the number of wonderful mentors and colleagues I had constantly pushing and paving the way forward for me. The days of the tortured-writer-alone-in-an-attic-with-a-typewriter are over, thank goodness. That’s one thing I’d recommend to aspiring writers is to never underestimate the power of finding peers and mentors who understand what you’re trying to do with your writing, and who want to help you get there.

Interviewed by Courtney Harler

 

Nov 9

New Voices: “Crocodile” by Ashleigh Bell Pedersen

Today, we are proud to share the grand prize winning story from our 2020 Flash Fiction Contest: “Crocodile” by Ashleigh Bell Pedersen. Guest judge Sherrie Flick writes, “This story accomplishes what I think all flash fiction strives for: creating the momentum and scope of a bigger story within a smaller one. This story ripples out like the river Sunshine swims through. Great tension, great detail. Everything is on the verge of change—language, Sunshine herself, the water, and what lurks within.” Dive in below:

The lake was not actually a lake but a wide and deep brackish bayou. The far shore was crowded with tupelo and cypress; once, out in her daddy’s bateau, Sunshine had seen a gator leap from under the duckweed to snatch a mama duck sitting on her eggs in the hollow of a rotting tupelo. Sunshine had screamed, but her daddy had only sipped his flask and grinned lazily, like he wasn’t at all impressed.

Sunshine was standing in the lake when she discovered the stones, one behind each bare nipple. They’d felt tender in the cold water so she’d stood and cupped her palms against each and found them—two strange, tucked-away treasures.

Her mama hated the word nipple and instead said buttons when she had to call them anything at all. She also hated the words fart and anus and, for some reason, toenail clippings. If Sunshine’s own nipples worked like real buttons, she could unfasten each one and pluck out the stones for safekeeping.

She pushed her goggles back from her eyes and looked again: The nipples themselves were bigger, she saw—two pink, puffy mounds. Beneath them she could push the stones back and forth, just like with her kneecaps, only her kneecaps were there all along and these stones were what JL would call une surprise. JL only spoke French to annoy their mama, who insisted that the Turners never mistake themselves for Cajuns. Mama said Cajuns both drank and talked too much to be trustworthy—and whoever knew the difference between the truth and another tall tale? Mama only said these things because of Sunshine’s daddy, who was half-Cajun. He told true tales and tall tales, and Sunshine had to admit it was hard to tell the difference. He told her, for instance, that a crocodile lived in the lake—though everyone knew there were only gators. But her daddy shook when he talked of it, his eyes buggy.

It was massive, he’d said, its hide black as time itself, with jaws that could swallow a whole house. “Could swallow you, Sunny, before you even saw that crocodile for yourself. You’d live out your days in a crocodile belly.”

To continue reading “Crocodile” click here.

Nov 8

One Week Remaining: 2020 Chapbook Contest judged by Steve Almond

We’re one week away from the close of our inaugural Chapbook Contest—have you submitted your manuscript yet? We’re accepting prose manuscripts of 25-40 pages until next Sunday, November 15 at midnight! The winning writer will be awarded $3000, manuscript publication, and 50 contributor copies. The incredible Steve Almond is judging the inaugural contest! Check out the full details below and on the contest page. We can’t wait to dig into your words!

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The Masters Review is proud to announce our first chapbook contest! The winning writer will be awarded $3000, manuscript publication, a subscription to Journal of the Month, and 50 contributor copies. The incredible Steve Almond is judging the inaugural contest! We’re seeking to celebrate bold, original voices within a single, cohesive manuscript of 25 to 40 pages. We’re interested in collections of short fiction, essays, flash fiction, novellas/novelettes, longform fiction or essays, and any combination thereof, provided the manuscripts are complete (no excerpts, chapters, works-in-progress, or other incomplete work), and function cohesively. The Masters Review staff will select a shortlist of 5-10 chapbooks to pass along to Steve Almond, who will select the winning manuscript. Steve Almond will provide a brief foreword/introduction for the manuscript upon publication. The published manuscript will be available for sale as a physical copy and distributed digitally through our newsletter.

Guidelines:

  • Winner receives $3000, manuscript publication, a subscription to Journal of the Month, and 50 contributor copies
  • Second and third place finalists will be acknowledged on our website
  • Manuscripts should be between 25-40 pages (not including front/back matter) with each story beginning on a new page
  • Manuscripts should be double-spaced and paginated
  • Manuscripts should include a Table of Contents (if necessary) and an acknowledgements page listing any previously published material within the manuscript
  • Manuscripts may contain some previously published work, but the published work cannot have appeared in any other chapbook or full-length collections
  • Self-published collections are previously published and therefore ineligible
  • As we are a prose-focused journal, we are not interested in poetry chapbooks, but will consider chapbooks which contain prose poetry
  • Electronic submissions only
  • Single author manuscripts only
  • International English submissions allowed (No translations)
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed (Please withdraw submissions if they are accepted elsewhere.)
  • Emerging writers only (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Self-published writers and writers with story collections and novels with a small circulation are welcome to submit. Writers with novels published with a circulation of fewer than 5000 copies can also submit.)
  • Entry fee: $25
  • Deadline: November 15, 2020
  • Individual stories or essays within the manuscript may be considered for publication in our New Voices series
  • We are not requiring blind submissions for this contest
  • Editorial letters for up to 3 individual pieces within the manuscript may be requested, as well as full manuscript consultations
  • Manuscript Consultations will be offered by Tommy Dean (bio below), who will provide an in-depth and extensive editorial service on the manuscript as a whole (10-15 pages of feedback + phone or e-mail consultation)
  • A significant portion of the editorial letter and manuscript consultation 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.

Steve Almond is the author of eleven books of fiction and non-fiction, including the New York Times bestsellers Candyfreak and Against Football. His stories and essays have appeared in the Best American Short Stories, the New York Times Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives outside Boston with his wife, his children, and his anxiety.

Tommy Dean lives in Indiana with his wife and two children. He is the author of a flash fiction chapbook entitled Special Like the People on TV from Redbird Chapbooks and is the Editor at Fractured Lit. He has been previously published in BULL Magazine, The MacGuffin, The Lascaux Review, New World Writing, Pithead Chapel, and New Flash Fiction Review. His stories have been included in Best Microfiction 2019 and 2020 and the Best Small Fiction 2019. @tommydeanwriter.


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Nov 6

Interview with the Winner: Leah Dawdy

Consider the Shape of Your Fist” was selected by Sherrie Flick as the second-place finalist for our 2020 Flash Fiction Contest. Today, we are proud to share this interview with the author, Leah Dawdy, who discusses the inspiration for the story and importance of nature in her writing.

It is hard to write about disease well, and yet you succeed here in such a short amount of time and space. What about writing flash do you feel helped you accomplish this?

Flash has the benefit and challenge of forcing me to condense my feelings and ideas. This piece in particular has a lot of my personal history mixed in—my own polyposis and loves and losses that had huge impacts on my life. I tend to get expansive when I talk about these, which makes me lose track of their core, but I’m at my best when I force myself to stick to the heart of the story.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen American Sign Language incorporated in a story that I’ve read at Masters Review yet, so this one definitely stood out. In the same way I feel you handled the topic of disease, you brought ASL in very organically, a light yet significant touch. Did it feel challenging to translate that to the page, or does it come naturally for you? Have you done this before or often in your writing?

This is the first time I’ve featured ASL in my writing and I had so much fun working with the signs. The idea for this piece started when I took my first ASL class. I couldn’t get over the fact that a fist, which to me stood for power or aggression, could also be used for something as tender as an apology. That came first and everything else followed. The signs I chose happened to be simple enough to describe, so I guess those descriptions came naturally. More complex ideas like Uncle Sean’s advice at the end definitely would have been a descriptive challenge. ASL places a huge emphasis on your expressions and your energy as you sign, plus nearly identical signs can mean different things, which makes it difficult to get them just right on the page. Because of this, and to stay true to the heart of the story, I chose to use a hearing narrator to translate Uncle Sean’s signs at the end of the piece like traditional dialogue, which took some of the descriptive pressure away.

The moments and memories are strung along so well in “Consider the Shape of Your Fist,” like constellations—echoing the presence of stars and the Perseid meteor shower that shows up in this story. When writing this piece, did you have a handful of other moments you chose to edit out later, or is there any reason these particular ones came to mind over others?

Because of the nature of this piece as a collection of small moments, the first draft did include lots of irrelevant muck I couldn’t justify squeezing in. It was hard to narrow down the essential, but once I started cutting I saw how the remaining details built on each other.

I love the earthy, working-with-nature undertones to this piece, like “Cut [the grape shrub stick] long, just above a knot, so it grows wild again.” Is this a theme you explore in other pieces of your writing, and if so how?

It’s definitely one of those recurring themes for me, but specifically nature in this particular place. My family has gone camping here every summer since the 1930s so it’s precious to all of us. The images tied to this forest in the summertime—the flowers and Perseids in particular—appear in a huge chunk of my writing. It’s all about recapturing those places where nostalgia meets homesickness.

If you had to pick a song to go along with this piece, what would it be?

“Old Pine,” by Benjamin Howard. 

Interviewed by Melissa Hinshaw