The Masters Review Blog

Jan 19

New Voices: “Hungry Souls” by Andrea Gregory

As Jess’s multiple sclerosis progresses, she feels her lover Slim slipping away from her in this week’s New Voices story, but an MRI tech with a passion for standup encourages her to stay focused, to stay positive. Andrea Gregory explores the subtleties in life in this week’s “Hungry Souls”.

Slim’s no longer holding my hand. The noise is a throbbing series of booms and swooshes. I don’t know how I lost his hand, and it’s too late to find it now. I want Slim’s hand. It’s the only thing I want right now. No, I want it more than that. I want to be able to hold onto this a little longer. My grip is loosening. We’re letting each other become different versions of ourselves. And I’ve lost his hand. And this feels like the longest five minutes of my life.

My lover parks the car in the space closest to the garage elevators. He hangs the handicap placard from the rearview mirror and gets out first. We’re on the fourth floor, something we will both likely forget. We have been losing cars together for almost a decade.

Slim’s fumbling with the wheelchair. He gets it out of the back just fine, but putting the wheels on has always been a bit tricky. Is it supposed to click? he asks. No, it’s never clicked, but I don’t answer him this time. He always manages to figure it out.

He curses under his breath. He’s just mad that the wheel doesn’t seem to want to go on right, doesn’t click like he thinks it should. But when he gets it all together he rolls it over to my side of the car. He opens the door and gives me his arm. “Your chariot awaits,” he says.

We met when I could still walk. Slim was an aspiring writer, a regular at the coffee shop where I worked. He liked his coffee with an extra shot of espresso. When he started calling me beautiful—Good morning, beautiful. Thanks, beautiful. This is for you, beautiful, dropping just as much as his coffee costs into the tip jar—I stopped charging him for the extra shot of espresso. I don’t think anyone ever called me beautiful before. He said it like he really meant it. He means most things he says.

Now Slim says things like I got ya and easy as he helps me out of the car. I’m real unsteady. But that’s not new. It’s been a long time since any of this was new and a long time since I worked at the coffee shop. The girl I used to be seems almost imaginary, but Slim has always been real. Always been there. Still here.

Slim’s got a smoker’s cough. He tries to quit each year on his birthday. One time he made it two months before relapsing. I’ve come to like the smell of old Marlboros that linger on him and his things. I like to wear his sweatshirts when it’s cold. A deep inhale of the sleeve is bliss.

The entire hospital grounds went smoke-free two years ago. Slim lights up in the parking lot. There are cigarette butts on the ground, and there is still an ashtray before you go to get on the elevator. Slim wheels me forward, but it’s only a quick stone’s throw before we’re there. He walks over so he’s facing me. Neither of us smile. Are we still happy? I love you, Slim.

To continue reading “Hungry Souls” click here.

Jan 15

Litmag Roadmap: Oklahoma

Oklahoma, the sooner state! The sooner we get there, the sooner we can learn about their wonderful literary journals! (I can’t promise to stop the puns.)

Oklahoma! If you’re not singing it, you’re sleeping. And if you’re neither of those, hopefully you’re reading, writing, or checking out some of these underrated lit mags from this up-and-coming flyover state.

Cimarron Review

Don’t let their understated website and quiet social media presence fool you—Cimarron Review boasts a lengthy list of literary heavy-hitters and a high bar for fiction and nonfiction alike. Backed by the Oklahoma State University’s English Department, they continue to read submissions on a rolling basis.

Nimrod

Based out of The University of Tulsa, Nimrod offers a steady tradition of submission options. Each year’s spring issue is themed and sometimes also regional—i.e., featuring writers from a certain country or geographical area—and each fall issue highlights finalists and winners of their renowned annual contests. Submissions just opened for their 43rd annual literary awards, including the famed Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction judged this year by Rilla Askew, so take note and get writing!

The Oklahoma Review

The literary magazine of the small Oklahoma gem Cameron University, The Oklahoma Review is put on by a dedicated team of English students and faculty, and promises an upcoming call for submissions in early 2021. In the meantime check out back issues here.

Absolute Literary Journal

A community college lit mag that’s open to submissions from around the world, Absolute is run by students of Oklahoma City Community College with an eye for quality. Recent campus collaborations between college departments and student organizations like OCCC’s Black Student Union have led to a reinvigorated and robust publication that’s a great way to get a pulse of the city and state.

World Literature Today

For those of you more globally inclined, World Literature Today is a quarterly international publication with far-reaching tendrils in all corners of the globe and all echelons of culture and society. Their internships and offerings are a great resource for nonfiction writers, in particular, and fiction writers, translators, and book reviewers find themselves in good company as well.

Blood and Thunder

Pandemic era got you considering a career in healthcare? Students at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine publish Blood and Thunder to highlight medically-themed work and expression of healthcare-related issues. Bonus: For anyone looking for a literary pilgrimage in the post-COVID world, Blood and Thunder has put together a great list of in-person opportunities and events in the great Sooner state.

by Melissa Hinshaw

Jan 14

18 Books We’re Looking Forward to in Early 2021

A new year means new releases! The first half of 2021 is chalk full of exciting new books — from debut authors, to TMR contributors, this is just a short list of books to add to your reading list.

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour
Darren, twenty-two, is content to live at home with his mother. But when Darren gets an opportunity at a mysterious tech startup, he becomes a man on a mission. Askaripour’s debut is multilayered, funny, and satirical.

Publication Date: January 5th

 

 

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.
Jones’s debut is at once a love story between two enslaved men and a close, painful examination of life on a Mississippi plantation. R.O. Kwan calls this book “an absolute triumph, a symphonic evocation of the heights and depths of pain, joy, and love.”

Publication Date: January 5th

 

 

The Push by Ashley Audrain
I’m all in for any book compared to Lional Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. In Audrain’s debut novel, Blythe Connor’s first child, and thus her experience with motherhood, is not what she expects. Blythe is willing to consider her misgivings are all in her head…until everything falls apart.

Publication Date: January 5th

 

 

Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel
In Argentina in 1976, Thomas Orilla is drawn into fighting for the insurgency while trying to woo his childhood sweetheart, Isabel. Fast forward to New York in 1986 where Tomas has built a new life. When Tomas receives a call from Isabel’s mother, he returns to Argentina where he faces the ghosts of choices made and not made.

Publication Date: January 12th

 

 

Pedro’s Theory by Marcos Gonsalez
Both literary and political, this debut memoir reimagines the American dream. Gonsalez explores the lives of many Pedros, some versions of himself, others the imagined lives of strangers, in order to explore the difference between the way we see ourselves and the way the world sees us.

Publication Date: January 12th

 

 

Bride of the Sea by Eman Quotah
Even on his wedding day, Muneer knows his marriage will not last. What he doesn’t know is that once they’re divorced, his wife will run off with their daughter and he will spend a lifetime searching for her. Quotah’s debut tackles religion, immigration, family, and heartbreak.

Publication Date: January 26th

 

 

If I Disappear by Eliza Jane Brazier
Sera loves true crime podcasts and so, when the host of her favorite podcast host, Rachel, goes missing, she decides to find out why. Rachel has been investigating an isolated ranch and so Sera uses clues from the podcasts to see what she can find out about the ranch and how or if it relates to Rachel’s disappearance.

Publication Date: January 26th

 

 

The Part That Burns by Jeannine Ouelette
In her debut memoir, Ouelette writes, “You can tear a thing apart and tape it back together and it will still be torn and whole.” She takes the pieces of difficult childhood and her longing for a created family of her own and arranges them in a way that resembles the fragmentation of memory.

Publication Date: February 1st

 

 

Girl A by Abigail Dean
Lex Gracie, now an adult with a good job and solid footing, does not want to relieve the horrors of her childhood. But when her mother dies and Lex is the executioner of the will, she must return home and to her six siblings to face the past she escaped.

Publication Date: February 2nd

 


How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House
by Cherie Jones
Barbados is paradise for some, but not for all. In her debut novel, Jones explores the clash between moneyed vacationers and the locals who serve them.

Publication Date: February 2nd

 



Land of Big Numbers: Stories by Te-Ping Chen 
Jennifer Egan says of Te-Ping Chen’s debut: “At the heart…lies a question all too relevant in 21st Century America: What is freedom?” With stories that move between realism and magical realism, this debut collection creates a portrait of modern China.

Publication Date: February 2nd

 

 

Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz
Each of the stories in this collection features ordinary people facing extraordinary reckonings within their Floridan cities and suburbs. Lauren Groff calls this “a gorgeous debut.”

Publication Date: February 2nd

 

 

Dark Horses by Susan Mihalic
Roan Montgomery is a 15-year-old equestrian prodigy whose world inside and outside the ring is ruled by her father. Roan has, until now, been able to compartmentalize her father’s sexual abuse. But when she beings a relationship with a classmate, Roan is no longer sure she can navigate the danger of her father and the world beyond his control.

Publication Date: February 16th

 


The Lost Apothecary
by Sarah Penner
Penner’s debut moves between present-day London and 1791. In 1791, Nella runs an apothecary shop, once on the up-and-up, now a place where women can purchase poison for the men who torment them. In the present day, amateur historian Caroline finds an old apothecary vial and begins to investigate. As Caroline uncovers more of the truth, Nella and Caroline’s lives collide, despite the centuries between them.

Publication Date: March 2nd

 

Justine by Forsyth Harmon
It’s 1999 and Ali lives a boring life with her grandmother, until she meets Justine. Her admiration quickly turns to fixation and Ali begins to change in unexpected, somewhat troubling, ways.

Publication Date: March 2nd

 

 

The Recent East by Thomas Grattan
Beate Haas returns home to East Germany shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Her twin teenagers have entirely different reactions to the move, and this creates the first ever fissure in their relationship. This novel explores what it means to leave home, and what it means to return.

Publication Date: March 9th

 

 

Body of Stars by Laura Maylene Walker
In this debut novel by The Masters Review contributor Laura Maylene Walker, the future is marked on the bodies of women. Anne Valente has called this “incandescent debut novel” a “gift.” Read Laura Maylene Walker’s “Adult Education” and then preorder her book!

Publication Date: March 16th

 

 

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
This novel, told through a kaleidoscope of intergenerational stories, examines how one life influences the next. Roxanne Gay says, “Gabriela Garcia captures the lives of Cuban women in a world to which they refuse to surrender and she does so with precision and generosity and beauty.”
Publication Date: March 30th
 

 

by Jen Dupree

Jan 13

What We Read in 2020

For the past three years, The Masters Review has published a short round up of the best stories, novels, collections, memoirs, essays (etc. etc.) that our readers enjoyed over the past year. 2020, more so than most years, this reading seemed urgent. Reading was an opportunity, and a luxury. A chance to learn, to grow more compassionate in a world that desperately needs more compassion. To challenge ourselves, to makes ourselves uncomfortable by confronting truths it’s always been easier to ignore. And sometimes, reading was an escape. This round-up collects the highlights for our readers over a year where there were seldom highs.

Brandon WilliamsLittle Gods, Meng Jin—I have not stopped talking about this book since I read it (in a single day, with a 100-degree fever, the backstory of which might be why this novel so quickly took on mythological proportions to me). The use of point of view is complicated and perfect, and the way that so many of the characters miss each other, talk at each other without hearing, have concerns that have nothing to do with the actual concerns of the “main” character, manages to reveal theme in just about every scene without needing to hit us over the head with it. Gorgeous writing, an incredible conceit (“an immigrant narrative told in negative,” as the book jacket states), and a deep reflection on time and memory and culture and all the things that we can so easily miss, this book takes the traditional cliche storytelling idea of right-place-at-right-time and upends it entirely to create a novel as real as any I’ve ever read.

Can I recommend others, too? I’m gonna do it, and we’ll see if it makes the final cut. Others I loved: Such a Fun Age, Kylie Reid; Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu; Verge, Lydia Yuknavitch; When We Were Vikings, Andrew David MacDonald.

Courtney Harler — Chapter One of The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi reads, in its entirety: “They burned down the market on the day Vivek Oji died.” Thus begins a suspenseful unfolding of the “how” and not the “what” of the story. Set in Nigeria at the end of the last century, Vivek attempts to reconcile their true identity with the expectations of family, friends, and society. In the end, readers are ultimately not stunned by Vivek’s demise, but rather by the tenacity of Vivek’s brief existence in a hostile world. Vivek Oji is a unique, pure soul, and despite the novel’s title, readers are gifted intricate glimpses into an extraordinary life. I was left mourning the loss of such an individual, but also celebrating the very fact of this eponymous character, the very fact of this book.


Cole Meyer — Like the last few years, I tried to keep a list of all the books I read over the year. Last year, I tried to track all the individual short stories I read, as well, a task that failed miserably. What I’m left with is a list of novels and collections and a lengthy list of stories that captivated me. It’s not complete, but it is a good reference point for something like this, when I’m returning to find the “best.” There were many “bests,” as there always seems to be. Some that stand out are Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rain Forest, a fantastic magical realist/ecocritical debut novel, Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson (a major crime that I had not yet read this in its entirety), The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It was a close call between Coates and what I’d call my stand out favorite of the year: Lot by Bryan Washington (whose Memorial just arrived in the mail for me, and can you tell that I’m drawn to collections of linked stories?). Washington’s collection explores the myriad of identities of its narrator: an Afro-Latino teen discovering his own sexuality amidst the turmoil of his home life. It’s a collection about identity and family and all of the complications that come with both. But it is equally a collection about the city of Houston. It’s always a joy to find a book that colors its setting as vividly as Lot.


Jennifer Dupree —There’s nothing I love more than talking about books. In my day job, I’m a librarian, so I get the opportunity to talk about books a lot. This year, there were a half dozen books I recommended over and over again: A Burning by Megha Majumdar, We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry, The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans, Animal Spirit by Francesca Marciano, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, and Bass Rock by Evie Wyld. What I love about each of these books is that they surprised me. A Burning for its searing honesty, We Ride Upon Sticks for its tenderness and humor, The Office of Historical Corrections for its direct challenge, Animal Spirit for its simple strangeness, Hamnet because it is perfectly imagined and so well-written I wanted to copy it, and Bass Rock for the intricate plotting and just flat-out brilliance. I’ve read close to a hundred books this year, and these are the ones that float to the top.


Melissa Hinshaw — Did everyone read Luster by Raven Leilani? I held out for a while because it seemed too cool and hip but it truly was one of my favorite reads of the year. I also read sophomore novels of two authors I’ve enjoyed before: The Mothers by Brit Bennett and Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom. This summer I got on a Lidia Yuknavitch kick and read her memoir The Chronology of Water, her new short story collection Verge, and quick little rebel guide The Misfits Manifesto in like two weeks. I just finished the year reading Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma, another sophomore novel that took me a minute to get into and has been sitting on my desk since 2019—but wow I’m glad I didn’t let it slide from my list. Do not sleep on that one. Lastly, in the nonfiction arena, Fenton Johnson’s At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life could not have come at a better moment for a pandemic year where I had a lot of time alone wrestling with my creativity and identity.


Melissa Madore — Feels like we have been stuck in The Never Ending Story.

When I read this year, it had to matter—a lot.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang. Old questions—what makes us human? What desires line the fabric of humanity? Chiang’s stories deal with time travel portals, love of digital pets, children raised by mechanical nannies and so on. It feels all too possible; all too real. A necessary reflection considering what the future holds.

Get in Trouble by Kerrie Link. Clever, imaginative, fun, a tad spooky. And like Chiang, Link’s stories can leave you with the metallic taste of a (too) modern future. If you have kids, you probably know all about the interactive and lifelike pets, the dolls that eat and ask for more etc. etc. Toys are becoming smarter and smarter. In the story, “The New Boyfriend,” young girls buy lifelike boyfriend dolls.  When those hit the market, we can’t say we didn’t see it coming.

The Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. With the world coming to a halt, a lot of us were forced to take deep breaths and reassess ourselves.  In this novel, Keiko, a thirty-six years old unmarried woman, finds purpose working in a convenience store. It’s funny and smart, reminds us that we don’t have to fit the society mold and that there can be sanity, even fulfillment, in aligning tins of peas.


Rebecca Williamson — While I only read thirty-eight of fifty books for my Goodreads challenge, each book was unique and riveting. Among that list were many 2020 releases, and I want to highlight two of them. One of my favorite fiction books was The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim. The book showcases a complex mother-daughter relationship between Mina, a Korean immigrant, and her daughter Margot, born and raised in America. The book is told from both their perspectives: Mina’s point of view in the past just after she arrived in Los Angeles’ Koreatown and Margot in the present after she discovers her mother’s dead body in the opening scene. The plot unfolds as Margot learns more about her mother’s life while reconciling her relationship with her mother, her Korean-American culture, and herself.

I also made it a mission to read more nonfiction books. My favorite was Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall. This book sheds light on the disparities faced by women of color in the feminist movement. It questions everything the mainstream feminist movement teaches by acknowledging how issues such as gun violence, poverty, and education impact women of color in America. This book is for someone who wants to learn and be challenged to do better.

Jan 11

New Voices: “The Analyst” by Jennifer Marquardt

In Jennifer Marquardt’s “The Analyst,” this week’s entry to our New Voices catalog, the narrator is a defense analyst for the Chinese government, tasked with probing into the lives of those with the potential to harbor the “mind-virus.” The horrifying implications of such a career are playing out in real time as Uyghurs in China are being surveilled and detained in internment camps. Marquardt, a professor of English Wenzhou-Kean University, sheds light on the frightening process in this new story.

“I am an analyst,” I say. I tell them the story of how I used to be a data analyst for Alibaba. It was my job to write algorithms that predicted the products a consumer might want. I love algorithms. I love instruments that offer a simple answer to the impossible question: what do you want? My algorithms gathered data from previous purchases on our platform, of course. But we also purchased data from other platforms: did consumers prefer to order take-out or go to a restaurant? Did they purchase alcohol? Did they search for pornography? What kind of pornography? Did they commute through wealthy neighborhoods or poor ones? Do they smile in their photos or were they self-conscious about their teeth? What kinds of things did they admire or disparage online? By voice? Was the object of admiration a product? Could it be translated into one?

There is a half-second when subjects adjust their faces. They open the door, all polite tolerance, expecting the small imposition of the meter reader or maybe the downstairs neighbor complaining about the laundry dripping onto her balcony.

But then I introduce myself and their expressions shift through tolerance to fear to obeisance. I don’t relish these details. It is my job.

Hasad, however, opens the door and his face actually brightens. A real Duchenne smile. He greets everyone this way. I have seen it on the cameras. But is he actually pleased to see people? He works in sales, a livelihood that depends upon people liking him. And he is successful. It is possible that he is a perfect and consistent liar. The difference is important. If he is actually happy to see everyone—mostly Han people in this neighborhood—then he is part of a harmonious society. Perfectly safe. If he is deceiving his neighbors, harboring resentment, it means he is dangerous and requires re-education.

“Please,” he says. “Come in.” He stands sideways in the doorway. His home is open.

I do not mind sending people to the Center. Many of the subjects are dangerous. Or have the potential for danger. Many of them still carry the mind-virus that caused the riots of 2009 and the massacres in 2014. It is our job to find it. And to cure it. It is for the safety of the nation. But Ming, I think, actually enjoys the convictions. And, of course, greater numbers help our files. Ming, who runs to Ms. Ling’s plant-lined office twice a week to explain why a particular subject cannot—must not—remain in society, has been promoted over me twice.

But I don’t want false convictions. We have had enough of that already. And there is the issue of resources: the Center is full. There are rumors about a scarcity of food, not enough toilets for that many people. It is my duty to be scrupulous.

To continue reading “The Analyst” click here.

Jan 9

Craft Chat: Pacing

In this month’s Craft Chat, the editorial team discusses a component of submissions that we often find makes or breaks a piece: Pacing. So I wanted to ask, what are we talking about when we talk about pacing?

Cole Meyer: What do we talk about when we talk about pacing? (Is that cliche?) One of most common reasons for me, personally, to turn down a story is because of its pacing—either it’s too slow, or too fast, or it’s uneven: it starts fast/slow and then switches speeds unnecessarily. But I think it might be helpful to identify a) What good pacing looks like (or reads like or sounds like), and b) what messes with a story’s pacing.

I like to steal advice from Steve Almond (who admits it was partially stolen from Jim Shepard): Slow down where it hurts, and are we learning new information? A slow story isn’t a bad story. Let me say that again: there’s nothing wrong with a slow story! As long as we aren’t spiraling around the same idea, the same emotion, for 10, 15, 20 pages, your reader won’t even notice that it’s a slow story, because they’re learning new information. And on the other hand, a story can cover a lot of ground quickly (and successfully), but when it reaches that pivotal moment, what Almond calls the “dangerous moments of a story”, that’s where we need to slow down. “Think of it in mechanical terms,” he says: “if a narrative can’t move forward, it must turn inward.”

Melissa Hinshaw: The subject of pacing has come up a lot in our editor comments lately, so I’m glad we’re talking about it here. I’d define pacing as how much time a story spends on each of its parts or scenes. Good pacing looks like when you don’t have to double back or rush forward at all as a reader, I think, to get more information or give yourself space to have that “aha” moment. A well-paced story gives you exactly the content you need to see or feel something and exactly enough space to see or feel it. Any by proxy understand it.

When you sit down to write your first draft you put a lot of energy (detail, explanation, clarity, etc) into some scenes and not as much into others. For most of us, that energy balance doesn’t line up perfectly with the effect we imagine or hope the story will have on the reader. Pacing titrates the energy appropriately to the arc of your story. I agree it’s mechanical: a story must be engineered like a roller coaster. You need enough engine at some points to create the build up, and you need to let go at points and let everything fall and sink in. It’s easy for me to get lost in the metaphor here, but both the engine and the rollercoaster and the rails are all elements of writing. Lush details we slow down and sit in; a well-chosen word to move us through something quickly; flat exposition lets us just hum along and learn new info without too much friction. Everything contributes to pacing, including word choice, sentence length, which character we’re looking at or reading through the eyes of… even (or especially) paragraph length. What are things that slow down pieces for either of you? Or speed them along?

Also, we must talk about interruptions to pacing, and how to keep an eye out for those. Those are probably the things we see most like, “Ah, this story would have been great, except these four pages in the middle, what are they doing here?”

Brandon Williams: Man, can I just say yup to everything here? I almost never think of pacing on its own (which maybe is a flaw of mine), but rather of scenes or moments and then how effectively they chain together with the rest of the scenes or moments in a story. If we’ve got a slow story and then suddenly we’re spanning two months in a page, that’s a problem; if we’ve got a piece that’s humming along but has one random interlude to explain tanning leather gloves (I’m still scarred by Phillip Roth, apparently, although he doesn’t actually fit this discussion at all; it’s just all those pages of gloves I can’t get out of my mind) for a bunch, then suddenly I’ve forgotten how fast I was moving. Rhythm, in all the different facets Melissa brought up, is what we’re looking for, some level of natural rhythm that we as readers can recognize. As much as anything else, it teaches us when and where to focus most deeply, where to settle back and read leisurely and when to pay attention to every detail being thrown at us.

Paragraph length, and also presentation of dialogue, is pretty important here too, right? Like, the staccato nature of dialogue, or the wandering soliloquy explanatory dialogue, both completely rebuild what we’re expecting of pacing even on a visual level. And dialogue has that weird effect of moving so fast on the page but of slowing down the timeline, which is another thing to hold onto. Which brings up the idea of how fast one reads a piece versus how fast time is passing in the story itself, so that pacing needs to be a consideration both of reader and what they can gain from a story and also of the events of the story and how they’re moving.

MH: Yes! I wanted to say that dialogue pretty much usually helps move things along, but sometimes we get that super slow, saying-nothing dialogue that goes on and on and just brings the piece to a standstill. A few short lines of meaningful/rich dialogue can be a much needed power-boost between paragraphs. Dialogue bursts make much better transition points than page breaks—just switch to a new scene right after the dialogue ends.

CM: These are all really great points! I think it would be helpful for us to identify some stories that we would deem as “excellently paced”. Some of my favorites: “Gravel” by Alice Munro—like most Munro stories, this is a slow-burn, but the pace is perfect. We get in and out of scene without sacrificing any of its relentless momentum. Another great: “The Half-Skinned Steer” by E. Annie Proulx. This is a good example of a story that shouldn’t work, I think. The first three paragraphs summarize sixty years of a man’s life, and much of the rest of the story follows the protagonist on a solitary road trip. But it never loses its steam, either. Last, for a quick paced story, since I feel I’m trying to justify my assertion that slow and steady works well, “The Semplica-Girl Diaries” by George Saunders, which I know I’ve mentioned before: This story spans one month of time, in journal entries from the narrator. The truncated prose in the voice of the narrator certainly helps with the pacing in this instance, I think. Perhaps importantly, too, this story is the longest of the three I mentioned—“Gravel” is the shortest at around 5,500 words, while “Steer” is 6,500 words, and “The Semplica-Girl Diaries” is nearly 9,000. Yet, I think of it as the faster story!

 

Jan 4

New Voices: “Master Guns” by Kyle Seibel

Happy new year! We are so thrilled to begin publishing in 2021, and we can’t wait to share all the excellent stories we have lined up for the beginning of this year already. Today, we’re proud to share Kyle Seibel’s magnificent “Master Guns,” the story of a lonely sailor on his first naval deployment, our very first New Voices entry in 2021. Sink into “Master Guns” below.

That was the deployment where Lieutenant Donnelly implemented his Eight-On-Eight-Off protocol for the aircrewman. Usually, everyone on the ship worked in twelve-hour shifts. There is a night crew and a day crew. Lieutenant Donnelly wanted to try rotating eight-hour shifts. You’d be on for eight hours, then off for eight hours, then back on again. The idea was that it would prevent burnout and keep everyone sharp, fit, and rested.

What happened is that people went crazy. I don’t mean that people became overworked and cranky. I mean that the aircrew started to see impossible things.

I didn’t like Master Guns. Not one bit. For one thing, his appointment with Chaps was at 10am, but he always came a few minutes early to bother me.

“Here he is,” he’d say, leaning against my desk. “The world’s biggest Nancy Pelosi fan.”

“I don’t know who that is,” I’d tell him for the thousandth time, but eventually I learned that she was the Speaker of the House of Representatives until the 2010 midterm elections when she was replaced by John Boehner. Master Guns did not love John Boehner, but he hated Nancy Pelosi.

“I hate Nancy Pelosi,” he’d say. Then, upon glancing at the Oswald Chambers daily meditation calendar Chaps had put next to the coffee machine, “Nancy Pelosi,” he’d grumble. “She’s the least of my problems.”

I didn’t like Master Guns, but he was right about that.

* * *

In truth, Master Guns had many problems and that’s why he had a standing appointment with Chaps. From my desk outside his office I could hear Master Guns’ side of the conversation because he shouted almost everything. They usually began each of their sessions with some kind of debate about Obama or the Tea Party which quickly fell away to reveal the problems Master Guns was really there to talk about.

“She’s leaving me, Chaps!” He meant his wife. I learned the saga of Master Guns and his wife that winter, during my first deployment sailing across the Pacific ocean in a slate gray floating city that carried 5,000 souls from Norfolk harbor to the Northern Arabian Sea. The USS Enterprise fought in Vietnam fifty years ago and now it was fighting another war. This time, I was on it. So was Master Guns.

“Oh she’s a bitch, all right, Chaps!” He meant his wife again. And this was another thing I didn’t like about Master Guns. From what I could piece together, his wife was indeed leaving him, but that wasn’t what made her a bitch. What made her a bitch was that when he left for deployment, she discovered some emails which indicated that an Xbox that went missing from the wardroom a year ago had actually been stolen by Master Guns and sold on Craigslist. Among the Xbox emails were other messages Master Guns had sent to a woman in Reno, with whom he was having an affair. She was a bitch because she sent all of this evidence to the squadron commander, who opened an investigation.

“She’s just trying to get back at me! She’s destroying my career!”

And then Master Guns would sob because at the age of 42, he had ascended to the highest rank an enlisted man could attain in the Marine Corps and he had married a woman who was now sitting alone in his gaudy Florida mansion and whose sole mission was to dissemble her husband’s sanity, one email to his commander at a time.

And there was nothing he could do about it.

To continue reading “Master Guns” click here.

Dec 28

January Deadlines: 10 Prizes and Contests Available This Month

It’s finally a new year, and it’s time to celebrate! Why not try something new for good measure, and send off your writing to one of these competitions?

FEATURED! Winter Short Story Award for New Writers

This one is our own contest, and it’s featured for so many good reasons! The Masters Review is looking for stories under 7000 words, written by emerging writers who have a way with words and a love for language! The winner receives $3000, publication, and agency review, and the runners-up also receive cash prizes, publication, and review. Judged by the wonderful Helen Oyeyemi! Details here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: January 31

Poetry and Fiction Prizes

This is a compilation of Bayou Magazine’s two wonderful awards, the James Knudsen Prize for Fiction and the Kay Murphy Prize for Poetry! Fiction entries, judged by Stephanie Soileau, should be less than 7500 words, and poetry entries, judged by the groundbreaking Trace Peterson, may include up to three poems. The winners will both receive $1000, and all entries will be considered for publication. Check it out!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: January 1

The 2021 MR Prize

Awarded through Mississippi Review, this prize is available to writers and poets alike! Winners receive $1000 and publication for the categories of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Prose entries should be 1000-8000 words, and poetry should be less than 10 pages, but there is no limit on the number of entries! Learn more here.

Entry Fee: $16 Deadline: January 1

Steinbeck Fellowships in Creative Writing

The Steinbeck Fellows Program of San José State University, endowed by Martha Heasley Cox, is looking for emerging writers of any age and background! Their creative writing fellowship accepts work in fiction, drama, creative nonfiction, and biography (but not in poetry). Accepted fellows will receive a $15,000 stipend, interaction with other writers and faculty, and monthly readings. Each application needs to include a prospectus, resumé, three letters of recommendation, and a writing sample. Learn more here!

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: January 2

Tony Hillerman Prize

If you’ve ever wondered what to do with your unpublished murder mystery manuscript, there couldn’t be a more perfect contest than this! Sponsored by St. Martin’s Press and Western Writers of America, this annual prize awards publication and an advance of $10,000 to the winning author’s entry. The story’s central theme needs to be the solution for a serious crime, it must be set in the American Southwest, and it must be longer than 220 pages. What are you waiting for? Submit here!

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: January 2

Desert Writers Award

Established to honor the memory of Ellen Meloy, the Ellen Meloy Fund for Desert Writers is devoted to literary and creative nonfiction work about the desert. The Fund provides support to writers whose work brings deeper meaning to the body of desert literature, awarding $5000 every spring! To be considered, entrants must include the completed application form, a biographical statement, a project proposal, and a 10-page writing sample. More details here!

Entry Fee: $15 Deadline: January 15

Crazyhorse Prizes

These are actually three contests offered by Crazyhorse, looking for exceptional writing and outstanding poetry! The judges are Yona Harvey for poetry, Sabrina Orah Mark for nonfiction, and Rumaan Alam for fiction. Submissions may be up to 25 pages, or a set of 1-3 poems, and the winner of each contest receives $2000 and publication. Make sure to select the correct contest for your submission! Submit here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: January 31

The Big Moose Prize

If you’ve recently finished writing a novel, here is an opportunity to get published! Black Lawrence Press is awarding this prize, and it’s open to new, emerging, or established authors. The winner receives $1000, book publication, and 10 copies of their book. Learn more here.

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: January 31

The Iowa Review Awards

In this threefold contest offered by The Iowa Review, contestants can submit entries for fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Multiple entries are allowed, and different genres constitute different entries. Prose submissions may be up to 25 pages, and poetry submissions may be up to 10 pages. The winners in each category receive $1500 and publication. Choose the correct category when you submit, and good luck! Details here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: January 31

New Millenium Awards

There’s a little something for everyone in this contest, presented by literary journal New Millenium Writings! Writers can send in submissions for poetry, fiction, flash fiction, or nonfiction, with no restrictions on style or subject matter. Fiction and nonfiction must be less than 7500 words, flash fiction must be less than 1000 words, and poetry may include three poems less than five pages long. First place in each category receives $1000, a certificate, publication online and in print, and two copies. Select finalists may also be published and receive complimentary copies. Don’t wait!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: January 31

by Kimberly Guerin

 

Dec 21

The Masters Review: 2020 in Review

We are grateful that 2020 is coming to a close, and even more grateful for all of you this year. This year, we were blessed to publish so many excellent new stories and essays, submitted by you to New Voices and our contests. Thank you so much for your continued support, and we wish you well this holiday season!

Terraforming Mars by Emmett Knowlton (January 2020)

Mutts by Shane Page (January 2020 – Summer Short Story Award Winner!)

Escape Velocity by Karisa Tell (January 2020 – Summer Short Story Award Winner!)

Ghost Story by Becca Anderson (January 2020 – Summer Short Story Award Winner!)

Adult Education by Laura Maylene Walter (February 2020)

Russian Roulette by Lauren Green (February 2020)

Jessica’s Body by Catherine Mitchell (February 2020)

Obscure Sorrows by Ndinda Kioko (March 2020)

Skin Hunger by Melissa Goode (March 2020)

And Then? by Sara Brody (March 2020)

Genealogy by Nancy London (April 2020)

It Could Happen To You by Trent England (April 2020 – Fall Fiction Contest Winner!)

Shenzhen by Willa Zhang (April 2020 – Fall Fiction Contest Winner!)

Salt-Sea by Zeeva Bukai (April 2020 – Fall Fiction Contest Winner!)

Rereading Stephen King on the Eve of My MFA by Steph Grossman (May 2020)

Taking Mr. Itopa by Caleb Ozovehe Ajinomoh (May 2020)

The Monster in Back Bruly by Kailyn McCord (June 2020)

This is for My Auntie Penzi Who— by Idza Luhumyo (June 2020)

You Can’t Take it With You by Jami Kimbrell (June 2020)

The Road Takes the Shape of the Earth Beneath It by Jeremy Packert Burke (June 2020)

Sorry About Your Bird by Kathryn M. Barber (June 2020)

Compound Fractures by Alice Hatcher (July 2020)

Rapture by Chloe Chun Seim (July 2020 – Winter Short Story Award Winner!)

The Easiest Thing in the World by Taylor Grieshober (July 2020 – Winter Short Story Award Winner!)

Joe Blake by Raeden Richardson (July 2020 – Winter Short Story Award Winner!)

The Driver by Samantha Xiao Cody (August 2020 – Winter Short Story Award Winner!)

The Photograph on the Wall by Ope Adedeji (August 2020)

Different by Sindya Bhanoo (August 2020)

Inheritance by Adam Byko (August 2020)

Running From Blackness by Allen M. Price (September 2020)

The Lake Isle of Innisfree by Rosemary Harp (September 2020)

Catch and Release by Grace Holtzclaw (September 2020)

Escaping by Tom Lakin (September 2020)

Not Dead. Yet, (Golem Father) by Nathan Szajnberg (October 2020)

Trucker’s Notebook by Nicole Roché (October 2020)

Fire Season by Vincent Chavez (October 2020)

Heirlooms by Amanda Jean Akers (October 2020 – Flash Fiction Contest Winner!)

Consider the Shape of Your Fist by Leah Dawdy (November 2020 – Flash Fiction Contest Winner!)

Crocodile by Ashleigh Pedersen (November 2020 – Flash Fiction Contest Winner!)

Shootout in Prospect Park by Chuck Nwoke (November 2020)

That Kind of Girl by Stephanie Wheeler (November 2020)

Love is Such a Morphing Thing by Ugochukwu Damian Okpara (December 2020)

An Ordinary Ache by Bikram Sharma (December 2020)

Dec 18

Litmag Roadmap: New Jersey

We’re making a quick pitstop in New Jersey this month to visit the outstanding literary journals the state has to offer. Pack your bags!

In our New Jersey, GTL stands not for gym-tan-laundry but for Get That Literature! (Look, it’s not my best….it’s been a long year). The Garden State is a great place for literature to grow—okay, also not great. Stop reading this intro already and check out these lit mags from the small-but-great state of New Jersey!

Black Fox

This biannual online publication is an independent lit mag founded by three pals who went through an MFA together (oh, the bonding!) and also offer editorial services. Fun plot twist: their annual contest reads poetry, nonfiction, and fiction submissions together, but selects whichever one best interprets that year’s theme.

Bards & Sages Quarterly

This is a fun one for those of you whose writing leans sci-fi or otherwise weird-er: micropress Bards & Sages publishes a plethora of “unique speculative fiction titles,” including but not limited to Zombie Anthologies and a Society of Misfit Stories. Their technically-a-lit-mag publication, Bards & Sages Quarterly, showcases new and established fiction in a digital edition. Pro tip: this is a great resource for lots of stories we read and love, but don’t quite fit at The Masters Review.

The Nassau Literary Review

Nassau Lit is Princeton University’s literary magazine. Its claim to fame as the second oldest literary magazine in the nation (second to Yale Review or North American Review, depending on whether you count publishing hiatuses or not) is impressive in its own right, and they host a regional literary conference that’s worth paying an actual visit to in PoCo (Post-COVID) years. Bonus: currently posting music recs and occasional calls for surprise microfiction contests on their Facebook page!

Paterson Literary Review

It’s not often you see a poetry journal that also publishes fiction—so feast your eyes on Paterson Literary Review and take it all in. It doesn’t hurt that their print editions are those lovely, thick, substantial volumes that make real readers drool. Connected to The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College and edited by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, this review is a cornerstone of both local literary efforts and the global poetry scene. Fun quirks: snail mail submissions only, and only flash memoir invited in the nonfiction category!

StoryQuarterly

SQ actually became a New Jersey lit mag in 2008, when it was acquired by Rutgers University at Camden and moved from its previous life as an independent Illinois publication. Their vast network of writer connections lands some big names for writing contests (Garth Greenwell!) so bookmark their page for when they release their 2021 submission calendar.

The Literary Review

Oh yeah, they got the name. Published out of Farleigh Dickinson University, they publish poetry and prose and regularly share work from other publications on their TLR Share page, building solidarity in the literary community and getting even more eyes on good work. Like many university publications, they are currently closed to submissions due to COVID-19 impacts—so take a leaf out of their book and find your own way to subscribe, share, and keep building solidarity as we move forward together as a literary world into 2021.

by Melissa Hinshaw

Dec 17

Reading Through the Awards: Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

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 novels which have won major awards from the literary worldDouglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, recent winner of the Booker Prize, is our next selection.

Quick Book Summary (from the official blurb): “Shuggie Bain is the unforgettable story of young Hugh “Shuggie” Bain, a sweet and lonely boy who spends his 1980s childhood in run-down public housing in Glasgow, Scotland. Thatcher’s policies have put husbands and sons out of work, and the city’s notorious drugs epidemic is waiting in the wings.

Shuggie’s mother Agnes walks a wayward path: she is Shuggie’s guiding light but a burden for him and his siblings. She dreams of a house with its own front door while she flicks through the pages of the Freemans catalogue, ordering a little happiness on credit, anything to brighten up her grey life. Married to a philandering taxi-driver husband, Agnes keeps her pride by looking good—her beehive, make-up, and pearly-white false teeth offer a glamorous image of a Glaswegian Elizabeth Taylor. But under the surface, Agnes finds increasing solace in drink, and she drains away the lion’s share of each week’s benefits—all the family has to live on—on cans of extra-strong lager hidden in handbags and poured into tea mugs. Agnes’s older children find their own ways to get a safe distance from their mother, abandoning Shuggie to care for her as she swings between alcoholic binges and sobriety. Shuggie is meanwhile struggling to somehow become the normal boy he desperately longs to be, but everyone has realized that he is “no right,” a boy with a secret that all but him can see. Agnes is supportive of her son, but her addiction has the power to eclipse everyone close to her—even her beloved Shuggie.”


Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart tells the story of a boy coping with his mother’s alcohol addiction from the time he’s a young boy to when he’s a young man. Though Shuggie Bain is the title character, Stuart also gives meaningful insight to the other characters being affected by the alcoholism, but without losing the readers to the devastation the disease causes.

The third person narration is well-managed by Stuart. While the overall lens focuses on Shuggie and his mother, Agnes, there are moments where the narrator allows the thoughts of minor characters to be known as well. Shuggie’s siblings and father are given portions of chapters where the lens follows them closely and the reader can get an understanding of what their everyday life is like, and how Agnes’ actions directly affect them. The all-knowing narrator gains readers’ trust through these moments of well-placed perspectives or thoughts from minor characters. They’re sprinkled throughout the novel and always give just the right impact or information to show the many ways, big and small, Agnes impacts those around her.

Most stories exploring trauma, addiction, and/or sexuality can become emotionally exhausting, but Stuart’s writing and storytelling keep the reader intent on Shuggie’s journey. Instead of relying on shock value, Stuart presents character struggles with heart wrenching truthfulness so the reader can connect all the dots of the dysfunctional Bain family and empathize with the characters and their actions. In the end, even when Agnes is gone, the trauma remains. Without her there to continue inflicting emotional pain though, Shuggie Bain holds the promise to cope with the ghost of her and grow into his true self.

Melanie Spicer


Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain is a simple and beautifully told story of ugliness. Agnes Bain is beautiful, her accent is high-class, and her clothes are high-quality, but none of it obscures the truth: she’s destroying her life through her choices. She has her pride, despite her pathetic station in life and the alcoholism that’s rotting her family away, but pride alone is not enough. She longs for a life she doesn’t “know the edges of,” but she sets her own limits, wasting the weekly government allowance on lager and vodka, and failing, most days, to be the mother she wants to be. The novel is about futility, the seemingly inevitable cycles of poverty, abuse, and addiction.

Her son Shuggie yearns to be “normal,” instead of a “poof.” Brief glimpses of sunlight, like losing himself in a hip-swinging dance despite the neighbors’ ridicule, are inevitably coupled with the cloud of oppression. He is abused and chronically ridiculed: in the scene following his dance, a gym teacher tells a boy punching Shuggie to “Never. Hit. Girls.” Shuggie’s struggle is being queer in a conservative area divided by class and religion, made even more conservative by the pressures of poverty. People will cling to any dignity in hard times, even the dignity of traditions that are harmful, backward, or oppressive. Shuggie is forced to pull positive traits where he can from deeply flawed people, cobbling together a personality piece by piece. Every day for Shuggie is a lesson in coping with awfulness, and in the end, Shuggie Bain has no grand lesson, no plan to make things better. It simply portrays.

Taylor Seyfert


From the start, the reader is thrust into the intricate and troubling life of the novel’s title character, Shuggie Bain. The year is 1992, and the text effortlessly garners interest, describing the intimate details of Shuggie’s life: the miserable supermarket where he works, the grimy place where he lives, and the smells of the many men he is in close proximity with. The hardship, general dissatisfaction, and emotional starvation is a theme that follows both Shuggie and his mother, Agnes Bain. Even more stunning is the opposing sentiments offered by Shuggie’s father, Big Shug, who seems to enjoy his hardship and emotional starvation. He regularly harvests this pleasure through women from young to old, and there are many moments where the reader may question these characters’ motives, even long after their worst flaws and transgressions have been revealed.

Conversely, the most collected and transparent characters in the Bain family are Shuggie’s two older siblings, Catherine and Leek. They are from another marriage, and they have seen enough disparities and disappointment to plod along and keep mostly to themselves until they begin to fade away. The most unfortunate child is Shuggie. Being the youngest, he is instinctively bound to his mother’s hip. Agnes Bain takes advantage of this dependence and uses the boy to keep her company, often letting him skip school and sending him to collect their government-issued pittance. Even more disheartening are the many people the Bains cross paths with who either offer up scathing comments or say nothing at all regarding the miserable life they seem intent on leading—and some people even help propagate it.

These moments culminate in one of the main questions of the narrative: “Why can’t I be enough?” This phrase is offered in varying forms and said by different people, most often regarding Agnes Bain and her stagnation, which is reflected in her repeated lapses in judgment. However, this quintessential line can be applied to nearly anyone within the text. Why can’t they be enough? Why can’t they be satisfied with what they have? These are inquiries any person may ask, and sometimes, there are no right answers. By the end, the reader has experienced conflicting emotions, mutual unhappiness, and distrust just as much as Shuggie. And although Shuggie Bain is physically freed from his mother’s embrace, he still reflects and even relishes in her shadow. Thankfully, there is hope for his future as he hangs around with Leanne and her troubles and tries to move forward in a seemingly distinct way.

S. N. Valadez


There’s a moment early in Shuggie Bain when Agnes, Shuggie’s alcoholic mother, arranges her face before she goes out to face her family. She cycles through different smiles, from “small apologetic ones” to “light casual smiles, like she was just back from the shops.” This constant tension—between what she wants and what she has, between a lack of control and controlling what she can, between defining her own identity and denying the reality of her condition—defines what makes Shuggie Bain so unapologetically raw: It’s an earnest portrayal of the unforgiving rawness of life. Author Douglas Stuart’s characters are never given any breaks. We start the novel with Shuggie going through the motions of young adulthood, and flash back to see him coming of age in a period of stagnation. Not only is this period of 1980s Scotland rife with economic turmoil and addiction, but as his mother deteriorates into her alcoholism, Shuggie becomes the only one left to pick up the pieces.

From the ever-present grayness of Pithead, the run-down public housing scheme where we spent the brunt of the story, to Shuggie’s loneliness as he grapples with his burgeoning queer identity, the darkness of the novel is balanced by its sheer authenticity. Stuart has built a world that reads clear and true on the page, in part due to stylistic elements like the phonetic Glaswegian dialogue, but primarily thanks to characters that are flawed, and pained, and real.  Although Shuggie Bain has been described as an astonishing debut, the novel read more like a declaration. Toward the end, Shuggie is trying to track down his mother at a party after her failed stint at sobriety. He looks up her friend’s name in the phone book and finds Agnes’ annotation: “She was, by his mother’s own handwriting, an old backstabbing slitty eyed gossip and also the best friend I ever had.” None of the main characters are wholly good or bad; none of them are purely heroes or villains. They are people Stuart knows deeply, and by portraying their realities on the page, we experience a slice of life that left me wanting more by the end. In interviews, Stuart has said that he spent a decade working on the story, and this is true to the experience of reading it: It takes time to really know someone, and the glimpses we get into the humanity of these characters feel like Stuart is just revealing enough of what we need to understand their world. There are glimmers of hope throughout the novel that are quickly squelched by the realities of living. But at the end, we see a small sense of hope that Shuggie completely owns—and maybe, finally, that’s why it feels like it will last.

Rebecca Paredes

Curated by Brandon Williams

 

Dec 16

Finalists: The 2020 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers

Help us ring in the new year by celebrating the finalists for our 2020 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers! Guest judge Kali Fajardo-Anstine noted the particularly strong set of stories for this year’s contest, and we absolutely agree. Thank you to all of our wonderful submitters. We are forever grateful that you trust us with your words. And remember, our Winter Short Story Award is open until Jan. 31st, with guest judge Helen Oyeyemi!

Winner

Burning by Adeline Lovell

Second Place

Matchbox by Nancy Ludmerer

Third Place

Como La Flor by Dayna Cobarrubias

Honorable Mention

Petrified by Clare Howdle