The Masters Review Blog

Dec 5

Craft: ̶H̶o̶w̶ ̶T̶o̶ ̶W̶r̶i̶t̶e̶ ̶A̶ ̶N̶o̶v̶e̶l̶ ̶O̶n̶ ̶Y̶o̶u̶r̶ ̶L̶u̶n̶c̶h̶ ̶H̶o̶u̶r̶ ̶ ̶ Scraps on Process by Lynda Montgomery

The Masters Review reader Lynda Montgomery shares her thoughts on writing exercises championed by Lynda Barry, one of 2019’s recipients of the MacArthur Grant. If you find yourself short on time, or struggling with generating ideas, experiment with scraps!

 

1. I love reading advice essays. It’s like eating popcorn—attention-grabbing but not substantive. One can consume without believing.

2. In my new job, we have a lunch hour— an actual close the front door, don’t answer email, leave your desk lunch hour. Though I’ve had real jobs in medicine for twenty-plus years, I’ve never been given such an oasis of time. I swear I will devote the minutes to writing fiction and therefore need advice. I rifle through my mind’s back catalog for answers—to craft essays read, classes attended, and glistening one-liners caught in the netful of gossip I hear from writers at bars.

3. Long ago a surgeon taught me that the more varied the proposed solutions, the more unlikely that one is superior. He was talking about techniques of hernia repair and I doubt he would appreciate that I’ve extrapolated his lesson to cover challenges related to cooking, home repair, parenting, high blood pressure management, and fiction writing. The best advice is a chameleon.

4. And yet, always a diagnostician, even on lunch break, I see a pattern emerge from the pile of maxims. The wisdom on habits in writing usually comes in one of two flavors: make-a-space or get-er-done. Categorizing of any sort is by definition reductive, nevertheless, I try both.

Enter McDonald’s and Starbucks. After a few weeks of experimentation, I have found that these spots near my clinics offer the most reliable combination of liquid refreshment, interesting but not distracting ambient conversation and music, and minimal travel time. Sometimes I write in an abandoned executive board room in our office building but the scenes come out Cold War-era musty—optimistic and rotting at the same time.

Today I’m at a Starbucks. They’ve recently redecorated—the notably fewer tables a not-subtle indication that Starbucks stopped ignoring the differential income from commuters versus laptoppers. I move to the patio for least three short scraps of writing time.

I love Lynda Barry’s X-page exercises for short scraps.  Even if you don’t naturally take to freewriting, the steps of the exercise deliberately switch off the editorial and let intuitive strangeness be heard. First you cross out a page before writing on it, a totemic display of sorts. Then you answer a litany of questions that drives you deep into sensory details of the imagined or recalled scene. Finally, you hand write for nine minutes—all out, nonstop, literally penning the abc’s if your brain stalls. The exercise drives you straight to the heart of the tension and organizing images. If you’ve not sampled any of Barry’s talks, comics, or books about imagination and the creative process, treat yourself.

Ten feet away, two men in ballcaps talk over their paper cups at Bible Study. The one in the Cavs 2016 shirt sounds like a preacher-in-training, his voice singsonging above the traffic noise. The other man leans back but he is nodding and his hands are outstretched, flat on table but nearly reaching across. The summer day is warm but not oppressive, though I taste a coming afternoon storm between sips of iced tea. We appear to be demonstrating a moment of human connection. Theirs? Mine?

5. Short scraps of time are good for dialogue work and what I call choreography—writing the characters’ actions so they can be seen, smelled, heard, felt on the fingertips or in the gut. Short scraps are good for making lists. Characters’ actions, locations, objects, premises. Don’t think—spitball it. Make the list much longer than you can. Follow-up on the items that have heat. By heat, I mean the energy generated from the friction of your reptilian brain’s enthusiasm being quashed by the frontal cortex’s notion of what works. (Did you not learn about that in science?) Usually the heat is in the stuff near the end of the list. Or position # 3. Those are the places where the subconscious routinely does you a favor.

6. If you don’t like scene writing, use a short scrap for exercises: The creative writer is both architect and carpenter, restauranteur and sous chef—measure twice, cut once, work on your knife skills, et cetera.

7. Two weeks ago, at McDonald’s during another lunch hour, a pair of middle-aged women in shorts met with a fast-talking man wearing a shiny button down. He talked and gestured the whole time, pausing occasionally to slurp his coffee or pull papers from a legal-size accordion file. The women sat silent and attentive; the one near me kept her large cup of pop cradled in both hands. I guessed lawyer, establishing the facts of a case. Maybe accountant or insurance broker. I know from a few lunch hours that it was not the kind of business one typically observes at a Cleveland McDonald’s in summer.

I am more skeptical of the McDonald’s-based tort attorney than the Christian mystic on the Starbucks patio, but this realization and my ponderings as to why will not immediately appear in short scrap writing. Instead, they tumble around the back of mind, a dryer on extended spin, or, more aptly, one of those rock tumblers that folks played with before the internet, until they pop up, barely recognizable, in my prose. But generation is not always about putting words down.

8. Throwing one’s own advice under the bus is another trope of the advice essay.

9. Most days I try to make the most of my limited space and time, hoping the constraints drive innovation for writing scenes, dialogue, moments of reflection, brainstorming crazy lists of potential plots or essay ideas. While your reptilian brain will suggest picking up the phone for a little dopamine squirt, I recommend that during your next short scrap, you grab a notebook and discover the weird things that emerge when you don’t have time to think. And, if you haven’t already, go back to #3.

By Lynda Montgomery

Dec 2

Winter Short Story Award for New Writers: Now Open!

Our 2019-2020 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers, judged this year by Kimberly King Parsons, is NOW OPEN for submissions! Submit your very best fiction up to 6,000 words by January 31 for your chance to win $3,000, publication, and agency review! Find the full details below:

$3000 + Publication + Agency Review

Submit today!
submit

Add the contest deadline to your calendar!

Add to Calendar

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
  • Translations allowed, providing the story has not been published in another language
  • 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 submissions allowed
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: January 31, 2020
  • 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.

Submit today!
submit

Nov 30

Deadline MIDNIGHT: Submit Today For Our Fall Fiction Contest, Judged by Anita Felicelli! $2000 Prize!

The clock is ticking—only hours remain until the submission window closes for our Fall Fiction Contest! Three finalists will be selected by Anita Felicelli, author of Chimerica and Love Songs for a Lost Continent. The winning story receives a $2,000 prize! Submit now, before it’s too late!

Click the button below to submit to our Fall Fiction Contest!
submit

The winning story receives $2000 + publication, and a note from our judge on why the story was chosen. Second and third place stories earn $300 and $200, respectively, publication, and correspondence from our judge

Anita Felicelli is the author of the novel CHIMERICA and the short story collection LOVE SONGS FOR A LOST CONTINENT, which won the 2016 Mary Roberts Rinehart Award. Her essays, reviews, and criticism have appeared in the SF Chronicle, the Los Angeles Review of Books, New York Times (Modern Love), Slate, Salon, Catapult, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. She graduated from UC Berkeley and UC Berkeley School of Law. She’s a member of the National Book Critics Circle and a VONA alum. She’s received a Puffin Foundation grant, Greater Bay Area Journalism awards, and Pushcart nominations, and her fiction and poems have been anthologized. CHIMERICA appeared on The Millions Most Anticipated List for 2019. Born in South India, she lives in the Bay Area with her family.

GUIDELINES:

  • Submissions are open from Oct 1 – Nov 30
  • 6000 word limit
  • Fiction only
  • 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.)
  • $20 submission fee
  • International submissions allowed
  • Previously unpublished work only
  • Translations allowed, providing the story has not been published in another language
  • Multiple and simultaneous submissions are allowed, but please notify us if your story is accepted elsewhere
  • Winner receives $2000 and publication
  • 2nd and 3rd place stories receive $300 and $200 respectively, in addition to publication
  • Please no identifying information on your story
  • All stories are considered for publication
  • Dazzle us
  • To view a list of our most commonly asked questions regarding submitting to The Masters Review, please see our FAQ page

Click the button below to submit to our Fall Fiction Contest!
submit

 

Nov 26

December Deadlines: 13 Prizes Available This Month

The weather outside may be frightful, but central heating should leave you perfectly comfortable and ready to write! ‘Tis the season for delightful surprises, so take a chance and enter one of these amazing contests!

FEATURED! Fall Fiction Contest!

Date change! Our Fall Fiction Contest now closes for submissions on Sunday December 1st! 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 $2000, and publication, and the runners-up also receive cash prizes and publication. Don’t let this chance slip by! Learn more here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: December 1

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 $26,000 for two years. They’re looking for writers who are diverse in experience and style, who have talent and the ability to focus. You’ll need two contacts for recommendations, a statement of plans, and a manuscript up to 9000 words, but this could be your shot! Overview here.

Entry Fee: $85 Deadline: December 1

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 during 2019 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

Provincetown Fellowship

Given by the Fine Arts Work Center, this is a seven-month residency for writers in the emerging stages of their careers. The five poets and five fiction authors chosen will receive a monthly $750 stipend, as well as a living/work space. Writers who have published a full-length book are unfortunately not eligible. Applicants must send in a writing sample, a current CV, and an optional personal statement. There is a lot of competition, but there is no great reward without risk! Don’t miss it!

Entry Fee: $50 Deadline: December 2

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 2019, from short story collections to memoirs. Could this be you? Do it!

Entry Fee: $75 Deadline: December 15

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 $3500, publication, and agency review, and second place receives $1000 and agency review. Submit here!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: December 15

Dorset Prize

This is a call to all poets, who like to dream big! Offered through Tupelo Press, this contest is judged by the incomparable poet and writer Maggie Smith. 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

2020 Microfiction Contest

The editors at River Styx are looking for stories 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 $1500 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

2019 Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature

Sponsored by Ashland Creek Press, this environmental-themed contest is open to both published books and unpublished full-length prose manuscripts! Entries can be novels, memoirs, essays, or short story collections, as long as they are 40,00 to 90,000 words. In order to count as “new environmental literature,” however, they should focus on issues pertaining to the conservation of the planet and all species of animals. The winner receives $1000, as well as a two-week residency at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology on the central Oregon coast! Details here.

Entry Fee: $25 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

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

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

Nov 25

Winter Short Story Award Judge: Kimberly King Parsons!

We are thrilled to announce Kimberly King Parsons as our 2019-2020 Winter Short Story Award! Parsons’s collection Black Light was longlisted for this year’s National Book Award. The Winter Short Story Award will open on December 1st and run through January. Winners will receive publication, a cash prize, and agency review. Check out the details below!

Kimberly King Parsons will select three finalists for our Winter Short Story Award!

The Winter Short Story Award will run from December 1st to January 31st. 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 winners and honorable mentions will receive agency review by: Nat Sobel from Sobel Weber, Victoria Cappello from The Bent Agency, Andrea Morrison from Writers House, Sarah Fuentes from Fletcher & Company and Samantha Fingerhut from Compass Talent. 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.

Kimberly King Parsons is the author of the short story collection Black Light (Vintage), long listed for the 2019 National Book Award, and the novel The Boiling River, forthcoming from Knopf. A recipient of fellowships from Columbia University and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, her fiction has been published in The Paris Review, Best Small Fictions 2017Black Warrior Review, No Tokens, Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. She lives with her partner and sons in Portland, OR, where she is completing a novel about Texas, motherhood, and LSD.

Submissions open on Sunday! Submit up to 6,000 words of your best work. Fifteen stories will be selected by the editorial staff, and Kimberly King Parsons will select the three finalists from that shortlist. See our Short Story Award page for more details.

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
  • Translations allowed, providing the story has not been published in another language
  • 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 submissions allowed
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: January 31, 2020
  • 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.
Nov 23

One Week Left! Submit Now to the Fall Fiction Contest, Judged by Anita Felicelli—$2000 Prize!

There’s only one week remaining in our Fall Fiction Contest! Get those manuscripts together and submit before it’s too late! Finalists this year are selected by Anita Felicelli, author of Chimerica and Love Songs for a Lost Continent. Three finalists are published, winning $2,000, $300, and $200 respectively. Full details below!

Click the button below to submit to our Fall Fiction Contest!
submit

Add the deadline to your calendar!

Add to Calendar

Anita Felicelli is judging the 2019 Fall Fiction Contest! The winning story receives $2000 + publication, and a note from our judge on why the story was chosen. Second and third place stories earn $300 and $200, respectively, publication, and correspondence from our judge

Anita Felicelli is the author of the novel CHIMERICA and the short story collection LOVE SONGS FOR A LOST CONTINENT, which won the 2016 Mary Roberts Rinehart Award. Her essays, reviews, and criticism have appeared in the SF Chronicle, the Los Angeles Review of Books, New York Times (Modern Love), Slate, Salon, Catapult, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. She graduated from UC Berkeley and UC Berkeley School of Law. She’s a member of the National Book Critics Circle and a VONA alum. She’s received a Puffin Foundation grant, Greater Bay Area Journalism awards, and Pushcart nominations, and her fiction and poems have been anthologized. CHIMERICA appeared on The Millions Most Anticipated List for 2019. Born in South India, she lives in the Bay Area with her family.

GUIDELINES:

  • Submissions are open from Oct 1 – Nov 30
  • 6000 word limit
  • Fiction only
  • 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.)
  • $20 submission fee
  • International submissions allowed
  • Previously unpublished work only
  • Translations allowed, providing the story has not been published in another language
  • Multiple and simultaneous submissions are allowed, but please notify us if your story is accepted elsewhere
  • Winner receives $2000 and publication
  • 2nd and 3rd place stories receive $300 and $200 respectively, in addition to publication
  • Please no identifying information on your story
  • All stories are considered for publication
  • Dazzle us
  • To view a list of our most commonly asked questions regarding submitting to The Masters Review, please see our FAQ page

Click the button below to submit to our Fall Fiction Contest!
submit

 

Nov 22

Lit Mag Roadmap: Montana

We’re headed north! Our third stop on this road trip along the literary landscape lands us in Montana, Big Sky Country, the Last Best Place.

The Big Sky State is vast and sparse, dotted with rich cultural pockets you don’t see coming ‘til you’re there–and its literary scene is no different. Put these four lit mags on your map, set your eye to the horizon, and try to remember what wide open spaces feel like. However heavy and hazy the urban bustle becomes, Montana lit mags aren’t going to let us forget what it means to be a human walking this earth.

Camas

Want to write, but too worried about climate change to sit still and type? Enter: Camas, wrangler of the words of those dedicated to protecting and healing the land. Founded out of the University of Montana’s Environmental Studies Program, Camas does that thing we all want to do of humanize the environmental crisis so that people take better care of the planet, but does so in a striking and steady (rather than hyper and politicizing) fashion. It’s a mission-driven literary publication with environmental goals in sight, but those goals don’t distract from its ability to collect some of the most top-notch fiction, poetry, and essays in the West. In doing so its become a stronghold for artists and activists who, challenging writers of climate dystopias to calm down and breath life into the world around them in the here and now. It’s also, like the state it’s from, straight up gorgeous. It’s a win-win: people go to Montana to get space, and Camas exists to keep that kind of space alive.

Cutbank

True to its name, Cutbank lives on the edge: long considered the highest-ranking of the middle tier lit mag scene or a lower member of the highest tier publications, Cutbank can rub elbows with any ol’ copy of Paris Review you’ve got laying around, and do so with a better swagger. I don’t have hard data on this but anecdotally it’s one of the titles most listed in “Best of” anthology author bios. It’s been around not quite 50 years (it wouldn’t be totally off base to think of Cutbank as that cool older friend you have who manages to have both the kid you want and the life you want), and you can expect it to keep ramping up well through it’s half-decade-aversary: their expanded online features and annual contests just keep getting more and better. These are the guys you should trust to publish your chapbook, so finish it up already and submit.

Whitefish Review

Montana’s most “normal” lit mag keeps it simple with one submission guideline only: keep it excellent. It’s hard to find a more purely run publication in this part of the country. Whitefish Review is named after the town its founded in, offers one $1000-prize contest a year, and has a no-frills approach to being online (try getting lost on their website, I dare you). They don’t need to tweet author interviews or publish audio files, they simply want more good writing to get into the hands of more people. Like its aforementioned Montana lit mag siblings, it’s got an environmental vibe, but one that’s baked into the published content rather than hashed out in the marketing or surrounding chatter. Bonus: for those with a side hustle in photography or painting, Whitefish Review sports 16 pages of color printing reserved for art on art on art.

Montana Mouthful

New to the scene and the collaborative effort of a few fast-acting Montana females, this mostly-online publication will print copies on-demand should the desire for pages turning in your fingertips arise. Their 2,000 word limit rolls its eyes at anyone still trying to submit a 20-page workshop story and flirts with online readers just outside the literary sphere. Content is king and Montana Mouthful manages to blend the line between tweet-size outrage and sock-you-in-the-gut short story: “Your words, though few, must carry tension,” their editors demand. Possibly related to said tension: sneak a submission in to their “Romance Gone Wrong” contest by December 15 to make the most of any relationship-related holiday blues.

 

Nov 21

Summer Short Story Award Shortlist!

I am thrilled to share that our editorial staff has made our selections for the 2019 Summer Short Story Award Shortlist. These ten excellent stories rose to the top among the many great submissions we received for this contest. It’s now up to guest judge Tope Folarin to select three as finalists. He has quite the difficult decision ahead of him. Thank you again to all our lovely submitters!

Ghost Story by Becca Anderson

Salt-Sea by Zeeva Bukai

Unlike Us by Theodore Brady

Mother Static by Rachael Fowler

Beauty in the Blood by Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley

Terraforming Mars by Emmett Knowlton

Jonathan’s Lament by Etan Nechin

Mutts by Shane Page

Escape Velocity by Karisa Tell

Frontier by Kosiso Ugwueze

Nov 20

Five Craft Books to Mentor Us

No one can be a writer alone. Friends, editorial teams, focus groups/victims, mentors, and mentees are all necessary for the process of writing. We cannot expect to be great narrators of humanity without actually interacting with people and being open to their opinions. Writers must share, be told they’re wrong, grow, learn, and continue to listen. And in turn, seasoned writers should then lift up emerging writers to speak into another wave of creators and consumers.

We all have to take care of each other.

So, all affirmed or suggested by my personal and writerly mentors, here are five books on craft to revise your work and advise your soul.

Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular by Rust Hills

This “informal textbook” gives an expert editor’s perspective on short fiction. It has depth and wisdom to satiate an experienced writer, but also a welcoming, guiding hand to help beginners. If you ever want to get inside your editor’s head, beat them to their critiques, and turn in a more polished, well-organized draft: this is the book to get you there.

 

Tell It Slant by Brenda Miller
Creative nonfiction is more than spitting out “real” stories: it gives the writer the power to make more sense of the past. Miller provides new prompts, makes research less daunting, and reminds writers that they have the authority to use their own voices. And yes, it does address ethical concerns regarding nonfiction writing.

 

 

A Stranger’s Journey by David Mura

If identity is a theme you’re itching to explore: Mura has you covered. It is anchored in the concept of race and diversity (or sometimes the lack thereof) in American literature. The text asks what our place is in the world without filling us with too much existential dread, and also explores how to tell a story. For both craft advice and literary criticism, writers of any skill level can benefit from this one.

 

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

I have yet to meet a soul who doesn’t love Mary Karr. Witty and raw, this book tears apart Karr’s own work (as well as other classic memoirists’) and explains piece by piece what made it work. It celebrates the messy stories in life that we don’t want to cop to, because they make up the best bits of writing. It feels like sitting in on a lecture as a prospective student: giddy, uninhibited by the grading aspects of the class, and a little precocious.

 

Burn This Book by Toni Morrison

Still quite broken about literary hero Toni Morrison’s recent passing, I recommend her curation of essays. As editor of the text, Morrison notes the power and necessity of writers in the world, making sense of the world and all of its flaws. This book tears into literary censorship as well as our basic human need for stories. It will remind you that day by day, slouched in front of your desk with forgotten cups of coffee beside you, writing and rewriting the same sentence for hours, you’re doing something worthwhile.

By Elena Ender

Nov 18

The Santa Fe Workshops

The Santa Fe Workshops, founded by Reid Callanan in 1990, have offered workshops for photographers of all skill levels since their first year in operation. For the last three years, they’ve expanded to offer classes for budding writers through their Writers Lab on their Santa Fe campus as well as abroad in Cuba and Mexico. In celebration of their thirtieth year, I spoke with Reid about their history and the great success they’ve enjoyed. This content is sponsored by Santa Fe Workshops.

Since 1990, the Santa Fe Workshops have been offering classes to both professional and aspiring photographers interested in improving their craft and receiving professional development training. Over their nearly 30 years in operation, with the rapidly developing technology in the world of photography allowing easier access to the tools of the trade, the workshops have transformed into a place for amateur photographers and emerging writers who want to be published to learn from the pros. The workshops offer the time and space necessary for the attendees to hone their skills in the beauty of the New Mexico desert.

I had the great fortune to speak with Reid Callanan, founder of the Santa Fe Workshops, about the great success they’ve enjoyed. In our conversation, a few things were immediately clear: Reid is a busy man, splitting time between Maine where his family lives and Santa Fe; Reid loves a good conversation; but most importantly, Reid is passionate not just about photography, but about the Santa Fe Workshop and the creative process as a whole. I asked Reid about the beginning: What led to his founding of the Santa Fe Workshops?

When Reid was a junior in college, inspired by his father’s own trip abroad, Reid studied in London. He brought along a new camera, took a photography course, and that paved the way for his future. When he returned to the states, he finished out his B.S. in geology, but upon graduating, he found his way to the Maine Photographic Workshops, where he strived to improve his craft, and eventually worked in every capacity on its staff. He said it was there that he learned how to run a workshop (and, how not to run one). In 1989, he loaded his family and a small staff into a car and drove across the country to the desert in Santa Fe to establish the Santa Fe Workshops.

Why Santa Fe? I asked Reid. It seems like a bold move to relocate across the country like that. Reid agreed. But the move, he explained, was a strategic decision. It would’ve been suicide to compete with the Maine Photographic Workshop, so the East coast was out. He had family in Santa Fe, he said, and had always loved the arid climate. But most importantly, he wanted a place that would inspire photographers; it needed to be a creative place. The Santa Fe Workshops’ campus is located on a monastery, what Reid described to me as beautiful, serene and quiet. Its location is part of what prompted Reid to expand beyond photography and begin offering writing workshops three years ago.  Writer friends of his commented on its potential as a quiet place to center and meditate, and Reid had always had a personal desire to get involved in the world of words. So three years ago they diversified their business in a move that’s paid off handsomely. They now offer writing workshops at their Santa Fe campus as well as in Cuba and San Miguel. “Writers are easy to please,” Reid joked.

When asked which photographers and writers inspire him, Reid was quick to answer: For photography, Reid cited Sam Abell, a former National Geographic staff photographer, who’s taught workshops on vision, on how we see. Reid has spent time with Sam in workshops, and he said Sam’s thoughts, pictures and ideas are largely influential for his own work. Something that Sam advocates for is finding a scene that compels you and then waiting for something to happen. You might stay twenty minutes, you might stay an hour, but you wait there for something to happen. But, as Reid acknowledged, sometimes you do have to move on. For writers, Reid named Pam Houston, whose workshop in San Miguel just concluded. He called Pam a “fabulous writer and an equally great teacher.” Similarly, Pam advocates for “glimmers,” or moving through the world until something glimmers back at the writer as an inspiration.

For aspiring photographers and writers, Reid had a few pieces of advice. First, he said, the best way to get better is to do it on a daily basis. Neither photography nor writing are crafts you can set down and pick up later and do well consistently. They take dedication, devotion, and a true passion for the creative outlet. Photographers for some reason, he continued, seem to think they can put their camera away for long periods of time until they’re headed out on vacation and expect their photographs to turn out great without practice, but it doesn’t work that way. He recommended they carry their cameras at all times and make pictures daily. Make it an extension of you, another appendage. Daily writing, too, will help you improve your craft. Second, he recommended that amateurs in both fields find a mentor they can trust, someone who’s better than them, that they can touch base with on a regular basis for honest feedback and critique. It’s a hard field to get good in, Reid said, because it’s work we do alone. Most writers and photographers work in a solitary environment. Find a mentor, get involved in a writing group, he suggested. Or maybe, enroll in a workshop.

For their thirtieth year, Santa Fe Workshops is undergoing a rebranding. Reid said they wanted to bring more focus on their writing workshops—even though they’ve been advertised in their newsletters, the photographers who attend their workshops seem to be generally unaware that Sante Fe Workshops offers classes on writing. Reid was excited about the success they’ve had combining photography and writing at some of their workshops in San Miguel, which brought awareness to their writing courses. With the rebranding, Reid hopes to attract a younger crowd to their beautiful campus in Santa Fe. Find out what courses are offered in 2020 on their website, and take the trip.

By Cole Meyer

Content sponsored by Santa Fe Workshops

Nov 15

New Writing on the Net: November

The cold is sweeping across the country and settling in—so why don’t you settle in and read our favorite fiction and nonfiction published around the net over the last month!

Fire Escape” by Eric Rasmussen | New Limestone Review, November 1

Somewhere in the middle of my tasks I heard the bell above the door ding. Before I saw who it was I dashed back behind the counter, where I felt a rush of air and heard a buzzing noise, almost as loud as a lawnmower. A fly about the size of a large cat landed on counter near the register. “Hi,” it said. “My name is Mary.”

Home Economics” by Kim Magowan | Booth, November 1

When June was a newborn, every single thing that could go wrong with breastfeeding did. Within ten days, I’d plowed through every chapter of The Nursing Mother’s Companion. A clogged duct escalated to mastitis escalated to an abscess escalated to, finally, quitting breastfeeding altogether. My first “failure” as a parent, caused because I had too much milk—it would spray across the room, actually hit the wall. June’s demand could not keep up with my excessive supply. The breastfeeding book promised that eventually one’s milk would adapt to one’s baby’s needs, but mine never got a chance to regulate. I remember the shame of quitting, and the ungodly relief.

I remember tearing through those “what can go wrong” chapters now, reading the book Birch loaned me about raising adolescent girls. “When to worry” is the conclusion of every chapter.

Now. Now. Now.

“So,” says Matt, calmly-grimly, “our daughter is a liar, a thief, and apparently an addict. What’s next?”

Fugato” by Rebekah Frumkin | Granta, November 4

Ellen was gone. He was alone in the office with Marsha, who was probably moving glacially around the little alcove where she sat behind the sliding glass window, gathering her phone and crossword puzzles and stress ball made to look like an alien’s head before she left. He sat still, waiting for the growling to begin again. It had been atavistic, a feral dog’s growl. He went to the window and looked down into the street. No dogs, and he was too high up to hear them even if there had been any. It could be an auditory hallucination, for which he typically prescribed risperidone, aripiprazole, olanzapine, ziprasidone or quetiapine. When those drugs failed, clozapine or haloperidol.

Ruins, 2005” by J.E. Reich | Little Fiction, November 6

Years later, I will remember looking to Walt’s eyes, and I will know what the feeling is. It’s not forgiveness or sympathy or empathy, but something closest to the idea of forbearing, of understanding without absolution. I’ll think of Walt and the men who brought bombs with them below where a city breathes, and I will wonder what it’s like to love and to hate so much that you can’t stand to stay inside of your skin. To be so torn and incomplete that it can only be assuaged by obliterating every brick before you on the sidewalk, making the heart chambers of others implode.

Good Girl” by Melissa Moorer | matchbook, November 11

You thought two girls would be enough, would be safe, but there’s really no such thing. Two girls is just an extra victim. You found this out when you were twelve and your best friend wanted to meet some guy she’d met on the internet and she talked you into going along just to be safe even though you were smaller than her and eleven.

Three girls isn’t even enough. You know this from the news. Four girls, four strong teenage girls can sometimes be enough, but rarely.

Party Girl” by Monica D Drake | Gay Mag, November 13

The intern — who was, not surprisingly, young, white and male — turned my writing into a party girl forced to jump out of a cake, or a stripper hired for the entitlement and entertainment of drunk men. Men in charge, women as object, these are the only stories he knew, apparently.

It’s important to think about the cultural gatekeeping role he’d been granted, as an intern, and the apparent limits of his willingness to extend respect to submitted material. I’m going to say he liked my work. He liked it enough to carry a copy with him to a party.

The Unlovables” by Len Kuntz | BULL, November 14

We carried our gunnies and worked our way down the rain-slicked slope, trying not to slide or topple. I offered my hand to Mother, but each time she batted it away, so cruel thoughts trundled through my head, images of Mother tumbling down the craggy slope, landing broken and helpless in the garbage along with everyone else’s unlovable junk. And then, of course, I felt guilty and despicable for thinking such things. I was thirteen years old, nearly a man. I should have known better.

Curated by Cole Meyer

Nov 14

Craft: That’s Not the Story by Melissa Madore

TMR reader Melissa Madore synthesizes advice from essays we’ve published in the last year and elsewhere and reflects on her own process on writing in this fabulous essay on the craft of short-story writing. Look no further for the perfect advice to apply to your own stories as you polish them up for our Fall Fiction Contest!

Kim Winternheiner, founder of The Masters Review, said in an interview:  “I sometimes think people don’t realize how close they are to the finish line.”

If you are the writer who’s just received a rejection letter, you’re probably asking yourself: Is that me and How close am I?

That’s part of the reason I submitted an application for the readership at The Masters Review: I wanted to read stories, yes, definitely, but I also faced rejections and I was stuck with my prose. I wanted to immerse myself with stories, swim the waters of the so-called slush pile.

How was the experience as a reader for TMR? Extremely humbling. I found myself reading stories, often thinking, This is good, but no. Why? Because stories that are almost there are not there. Good enough is not a yes. This was the truth I simply couldn’t admit about my own work.

So when are we close to the finish line?

Creative writing classes offer us tons of advice. If we don’t know where to start, they tell us: Begin with what you know. Say something true.

I’m from a small town in Canada. In the spring, sometimes, the river swells over the street. I might hit a deer while driving home at dusk. Once, a child fell through the crack of a frozen lake. Is that enough? (Well, yes there is Alice Monroe.)

But, and Melissa said it in her recent essay Against the Great Sadness of the Upper-Middle Class: There are heaps of stories about broken hearts, grief, etc. Your cancer story will sit in the shadow (for me as a reader at least) of “Do Not Disturb” from A.M. Homes (from her collection Things You Should Know) about a woman with ovarian cancer. This is not your average cancer story. Let me give you an example with an excerpt. Here the wife is speaking with her doctor. Her husband, the narrator of the story, is also present in the room.

“What has to come out?” she asks.

“What do you want to keep?”

“I wanted to have a child.”

“I could take just the one ovary,” the doctor says. “And then after the chemo you could try and get pregnant and then after you had a child we could go in and get the rest.”

“Can you really get pregnant after chemo?” [the husband] asks.

The doctor shrugs. “Miracles happen all the time,” he says. “The problem is you can’t raise a child if you’re dead.”

Your coming of age story will be measured against “Girl on Girl” by Diane Cook in which a teenage girl is beaten by her peers. But then it’s revealed she is in cahoots with her assailants; she asked them to kick her in the stomach in the hope that she would abort. Ouch. The competition is fierce.

At the same time, can we honestly escape writing about what in fact composes the very essence of the human experience?

Recently, I read Less by Andrew Sean Greer.

In the book, Arthur Less, the main protagonist, speaks with a woman named Zohra. He has just told her his book was rejected by his publisher and Zohra says:

“What was your new novel about?”

“It was about a middle-aged gay man walking around San Francisco. And, you know, his…his sorrows…” ‘

“A white middle-aged American man walking around with his white middle-aged American sorrows? … Arthur. Sorry to tell you this. It’s a little hard to feel sorry for a guy like that.”

“Even gay?”

“Even gay.”

What is Less about? It stages a middle-aged upper class heartbroken gay character traveling abroad and reflecting upon his failed love life. The book was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Okay, so maybe we can write about what we know.

A writer I admire, Laura Van Den Berg, said in an interview: “Also, don’t listen to people who say, ’Write what you know.’”

Emily Fridlund (another writer I’m very fond of) published an essay with The Masters Review titled “On Not Knowing Just Enough,” where she discusses one of her first published stories, “Expecting.” She refers to the story as being “about babies.” She says: “I was twenty-four years old when I wrote my Baby Story and pretty clueless when it came to babies…—and knowing a little but not too much about babies made it possible for me to test these ideas out.”

She also opens up about her experience of child loss: “Here’s what that miscarriage was like: I packed up a lump of tissue in a Tupperware, like a lunch, to take to the OB-GYN. I did not ever write a story about the Tupperware, the lump. That year, the third year I’d failed to carry a child to term, I wrote instead about a precocious boy whose parents and babysitter stand by and watch as that boy dies.”

The novel she is referring to is History of Wolves, shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2017.

So it isn’t that wise to draw from what we know best?  Yet, from my experience both as a reader and writer, trauma is often the first place we dive into to get material for our story. We want to turn our pain into something meaningful. We want our sorrows to matter. Nothing wrong with this. Using story-telling as part of a healing process has its merits. South Africa (where I currently reside) would be in a different position without the Truth and Reconciliation Commission where victims of apartheid were called upon to give statements about their experiences. In having the people telling their stories, it is believed that South Africa avoided a civil war.

And let’s face it: It’s hard to resist the temptation of drawing from what we know a lot, or made a strong impression on us: the day we stumbled onto a pod of beached pilot whales; that evening when the music was soft and we heard the sound of the lobsters scratching at the side of the pot where, we knew, their flesh was being scalded so that we can eat them later on; that afternoon we carried the ashes of our father in a washed ice cream container.  We think this would make a good story. (Hemingway got away with worse, didn’t he?)

And it might if you have a way with words, but more than likely it will not be enough. And you’ll run the very real risk of being too close and falling into the trap of mushiness.

* * *

Kim Winternheiner said, “So instead of adding depth and letting things layer, the piece ends up feeling empty.”

Layering. The other stories that are within your story.

According to the Guinness World Records as of 1995, the Bible is the best-selling book of all time, with an estimated 5 billion copies sold and distributed. I’m taking this example (and this will echo what Robert Olen Butler said in a lecture relayed in the book From Where You Dream)  because, well, the Bible is a book and it happens to be a bestseller and I feel that as a writer I would be a fool not to consider this. But especially because it’s a book about a man who wants to say something about the world, and he says: Let me tell you a story. And he does, except he doesn’t tell the exact story, he tells other ones that are meant, within their layers, to tell you THE ONE.

A psychologist once spoke to me about the rubber band effect. She said experiences echo with another so that when your boyfriend, for example, merely frowns at you (for whatever reason) and you find yourself reacting as if he’d thrown hot water— the rawness and intensity of your experience might find its origin in the fact that it awakened other pains, say an experience of bullying as a child. Pain doesn’t come alone. This means that if a story only tells one story—it doesn’t reflect life.

My husband once asked me, Why do you read fiction? He prefers biographies; to him it’s a better use of his time because it’s ‘real life.’  Now, we could enter a debate about the fiction in non-fiction (memory is subjective—there are tons of accounts of people remembering the same event differently; we are emotional beings and memory is often linked to our value systems, etc.) But apart from this, one rule in fiction is that we ought to create characters that readers will care about. To accomplish this (and I will stick to human characters for this example, but will suggest Karen Russell’s essay for the rules in alternatives realities), we need to give our human characters human characteristics: dreams, fears, desires, secrets etc. If we fail—we will lose the reader. If this is true, I told my husband, how can I not consider that the lessons I draw from the experiences of characters who, although fictional, act, react, dream, and desire like human beings, are not as valuable as the ones in non-fiction? (Of course they are; that’s the point of literature, isn’t it, to connect us and show what it means to be human?)

But how do we do this? Where is the Blue Fairy that can change our characters into real boys and girls?

Corbett gives us some clues in his essay, Secret and Contradictions. Let’s take the example from above—a girlfriend reacts exaggeratedly at her husband when he frowns. Let’s say that the girlfriend, throughout the narrative, has been described as even-tempered and has been acting as such, with a steady, quiet, attitude. And then there is a scene where she lashes out at her husband for a frown—there is a pattern (her soft nature) that is broken: suspense is created. And then later, through a backstory, we find out about the bullying (her secret). Here not only is there the manifestation of conflict that reflects life, but also the readers are engaged; they make hypotheses (Why is the girlfriend suddenly reacting like this?), they are given the tools—background stories— to draw their own conclusions (Ah, poor girl, she was bullied as a child! Of course she is reacting like this!) As a reader, this makes us feel clever, involved, satisfied.

So we need to be close, but not too close (not knowing just enough)—it seems like hard work. It is. Writing is hard, hard, hard work and I guess that is why we sometimes indulge in the day the sun entered our bedroom and lit it like a stage; we think, Ah, this is something. We think we can get away with it. But if our story only tells one story, then that’s not the story.

By Melissa Madore