The Masters Review Blog

Feb 17

New Voices: “Russian Roulette” by Lauren Green

In Lauren Green’s “Russian Roulette,” our newest edition to our New Voices catalog, we meet a narrator on the periphery of sorrow. The first line tells us all we need to know: “The summer of ’93, I learned everything I know about grief from watching the way Barry Colker’s mother dressed herself for work each morning.” Green’s prose is gripping and sharp, as the narrator enables Barry’s destructive mourning. Read on.

“Sometimes I shut my eyes when I’m driving,” he said. “See how long I can go before I have to open them again.”

“Why?” she asked.

“I like games of chance.”

The summer of ’93, I learned everything I know about grief from watching the way Barry Colker’s mother dressed herself for work each morning. Mrs. C. worked only five days a week, but even on weekends she would come downstairs in her starched white nurse’s uniform, with the green cross over the breast pocket. When I asked Barry why she did this, he said that since his mother had lost track of time when his brother killed himself, several years before, dressing for work at least guaranteed that she’d be properly outfitted five days out of every seven. All things considered, he said, five out of seven weren’t bad odds.

Barry and I were always talking odds. We spent entire afternoons trying to calculate the probability of hitting a Wiffle over the Rosenberg’s fence. We watched the Russian roulette scene in The Deer Hunter so many times we could perform it. Barry once tried to convince me to steal his father’s hunting rifle and play a round with him. I asked if he’d snorted too many Smarties or something—playing Russian roulette with a rifle doesn’t work.

That summer, California was going through a dry spell, and my mother was in one of her phases—new boyfriend, don’t bother her unless it’s an emergency—so I spent most of my time at the Colker’s condo on the corner of Cedar and Avalon. The community pool perfumed the air there with smells of sunblock and chlorine. In the distance, the bone-colored peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains chipped away at the sky.

Mr. and Mrs. C. hardly spoke to each other, though they weren’t ever anything but kind to me. During dinner, Mrs. C. would sometimes look up, blinking and dazed, like she’d just stumbled out of a dark theater. Then she’d ask if I had called my mother to let her know I was staying the night.

Mr. C. had long, scraggly hair and a wide, flat nose. He moved stiffly, like a toy soldier. After Hank’s suicide, Mr. C. grew obsessed with taking things apart and putting them back together again, the way he’d been taught to do in the army. He would hole up in the garage with his junk car and a stopwatch, timing himself disassembling and reassembling, then disassembling again. He mumbled to himself as he went, mostly about bolts and gaskets.

Mr. and Mrs. C. never seemed to mind that I was always underfoot. I think they were simply glad to have two boys playing Slaps around the kitchen island, talking girls and drinking blue-raspberry slushies like nothing had happened. Barry said he thought his parents loved me more than they loved him, and I said love was the sort of thing that was easier to extend to people you didn’t know.

To continue reading “Russian Roulette” click here.

Feb 11

February Book Review: The Snow Collectors by Tina May Hall

Today, Courtney Harler reviews Tina May Hall’s debut novel, The Snow Collectors, out tomorrow from Dzanc Books, which has been described as intoxicating, atmospheric, and eerie in various early reviews of the book. Author of The Physics of Imaginary Objects, May Hall returns with this can’t-be-missed novel.

Written in startling vignettes much like her debut collection of short stories, The Physics of Imaginary Objects (2010), Tina May Hall’s debut novel, The Snow Collectors, draws upon the depressed and desolate. Set in a snowpocalypse, Hall takes readers deep into the icy reaches of both past and future. The very first line reads, “I found the dead woman at the edge of my woods on the last day of January.” What follows is both dark (the obscurity of long-forgotten history, the opaqueness of grief and death) and light (the sun on the snow blinds us, but its whiteness conjures a glimpse of irrefutable purity). Amidst this indomitable setting, Henna, our grieving narrator, a loner in a tight-lipped community, seemingly falls into a backyard murder mystery. She soon embarks upon a strained romance with the investigating town sheriff—his family its own uncanny cast, not to mention his peculiar ancestral home. The irregular local library, too, provides enough intriguing atmosphere to keep the reader invested in Henna’s clandestine sleuthing and researching. The tone, overall, is one of uncertainty, with hints of treachery.

Read more.

Feb 10

New Voices: “Adult Education” by Laura Maylene Walter

Venerites have landed. In Laura Maylene Walter’s “Adult Education,” it becomes the responsibility of her narrator, Miss Tracy, an instructor at the adult education center, to teach these aliens about human culture. Walter navigates the lessons with humor and humanity as Miss Tracy struggles with bouts of self-doubt and the concept of shame.

I recently asked my students why they landed in America instead of Italy or Thailand or Bolivia. They shouted out answers right away: Route 66! Reality TV! Amber waves of grain! The Harlem Globetrotters! Hillbilly! The Big Apple!

But really, Pam said, it is because America is a big country with many landscapes and climate zones, of which we are curious. And also because so many people here are lonely, and we do not understand what it is to be lonely since we always have each other.

Every time I tried to start a new lesson—about our nation’s emergency response services, for example, or libraries, or the electoral college, or the IRS—the Venerites interrupted to ask about food. Why do humans consume three squares a day, Pam asked, and I had to tell her the expression she was looking for was three square meals. Mike wanted to know how many Americans owned microwaves, and what causes heartburn? What, for that matter, was a frozen dinner, or a tapas bar, or a flavor profile?

Venerites didn’t eat food. They couldn’t taste, or swallow, or go to the bathroom. Instead of ingesting their nutrients, they absorbed sunlight. Instead of speech or writing, they communicated amongst themselves telepathically. And instead of intercourse, they reproduced asexually, in their sleep. Their young popped out from under their toenails, the newborns curled like little snails. This could happen anywhere or anytime, even in my classroom at the adult education center if someone fell asleep, as Tom did last week. He birthed as single snail daughter before waking up and looking around, as if startled to find himself on a strange planet.

Sorry, Miss Tracy, he said, and tucked the baby out of sight in his desk.

I had taught him that, how to apologize. It was one of my proudest accomplishments.

To continue reading “Adult Education” click here.

Feb 6

Fall Fiction Contest Shortlist!

After much deliberation, our team of editors has narrowed down an impressive pool of submissions to these final stories, which are now in the hands of Anita Felicelli, who has the daunting task of selecting the winner of our 2019 Fall Fiction Contest. Thank you to all of our incredible submitters for trusting us with your work. The winners from this final pool of stories will be announced in one month!

Salt Sea, Zeeva Bukai

It Could Happen To You, Trent England

The Shadow of Your Hand, The Shadow of Your Dog, Lillian Fishman

Reliable Witness, Clemintine Guirado

Shadow Dance, Will Hunter

Crabs, Justin Keenan

Northern Lights, Christina Leo

Genealogy, Nancy London

Whiplash Curve, Beth Sutherland

Shenzhen, Willa Zhang

Adverse Possession, Rachel Zenger

Feb 5

Literary Citizenship, pt. 3: What’s the best approach to literary citizenship, for me? by Katey Schultz

In the third part of this special four-part series, author Katey Schultz suggests the best approach to your literary citizenship may also be the simplest. If you need to catch up on this series, be sure to check out part 1 and part 2, and then join us next Wednesday for the culmination!

What’s the best approach to literary citizenship, for me?

There are all kinds of video tutorials, how-to books, and marketing guru articles out there about what to do when you want to make a good impression. While I find some of these tips useful, I also believe the best advice is the simplest in this regard: Just be yourself.

Before you roll your eyes, remember that “yourself” is something you’re working on articulating right now, as you zero in on a sustainable approach to using social media and being in public as a writer. That’s not to say that literary citizenship is changing who you are (though I’d argue that, in fact, it can), rather, that you’re making conscious decisions about what you stand for, what you care about, and the causes and curiosities you want to ally yourself with. To that end, all you have to remember when you’re engaging in person and online is what we’ve covered in the last two articles. Here’s a refresher:

That’s it. Stick to that spirit of delivery and those focused topics, and “just being yourself” won’t feel like such a huge task. In fact, with a little practice and precise attention, it will feel completely natural; as it should.

Now you’re ready to consider a more concrete plan of action. Will most of your literary citizenship take place online, or in person? Will it be a mix? There’s no recipe, but it’s useful to consider what you prefer or are most likely to be able to maintain, then build a loose plan from there. For instance, I’m currently touring for my second book, a novel titled Still Come Home, so my literary citizenship contributions lean very heavily on social media in general, and in-person engagement specifically, when it comes to bookstore events. A year from now, what I’m doing online will be very different, and I won’t be interacting in-person with audiences nearly as frequently. So I’ll adjust. I’ll check-in and see if the conversations I care about have shifted, if I need a break from one social platform or another, and if I’d like to align myself with any additional communities and audiences types, based on what I learned from the tour.

If you’re just getting started, aim for a mix of online (about 65%) and in-person (about 35%) engagement in small doses for one month, and see what it feels like. After one month, check in with yourself about what felt good, what worked, what you don’t want to repeat, and what surprised you along the way.

In general, online engagement is for you if you want to connect with key professionals you may never cross paths with in person, or if you want to increase your learning curve by watching and engaging with the pros. In-person engagement is best for writers who want to make connections that last longer than a single publishing credit, review, or sound byte; writers who have a clear understanding of what they have to offer; and writers who want a community or setting to return to again and again, over the course of their career.

Like anything, sharing part of yourself as a literary steward comes with advantages and risks.

Here are the advantages:

  • Expand your audience base through each post or in-person experience.
  • Clarify what you care about and why, through each interaction you have.
  • Benefit from hard lessons other writers have learned, whether indirectly through a shared link, or directly from a heart-to-heart story he/she might share at an event.
  • Find tremendous inspiration by engaging with precision—whether through filtering your News Feed on Facebook, scanning your custom highlights on Twitter, or making time for just 1-2 special causes or groups you care about.

And here are the risks:

  • Making the wrong impression when trying to connect with people you haven’t met in person.
  • Getting lost down the rabbit hole (link, after link, after link, after…).
  • Losing momentum.

To help you say on the “advantage” side of literary citizenship and proceed with confidence, for my final installment I’ll share tips on the 80/20 rule for social media, a week’s worth of sample posts, and a final note to consider as you get ready to let engagement become sustainable and fulfilling in your long-term life as a writer and author.

KATEY SCHULTZ is the author of Flashes of War, which the Daily Beast praised as an “ambitious and fearless” collection, and Still Come Home, a novel, both published by Loyola University Maryland. Honors for her work include the Linda Flowers Literary Award, Doris Betts Fiction Prize, IndieFab Book of the Year, five Pushcart nominations, a nomination to Best American Short Stories, and writing fellowships in eight states. She lives in Celo, North Carolina, and is the founder of Maximum Impact, a transformative mentoring service for creative writers that has been recognized by both CNBC and the What Works Network. Learn more at

Feb 3

New Voices: “Ghost Story” by Becca Anderson

At last! The Masters Review is proud to present the grand prize winning “Ghost Story” by Becca Anderson, selected by Tope Folarin as the best story in our 2019 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers! Becca’s amazing story of two young friends on a road trip to a haunted bridge earned her a $3,000 prize along with publication and agency review. Tope commented on the story after selecting it, saying, “This is such a fantastic, moving story. And so well-crafted. It’s the kind of story I love–the kind of story that calmly leads you along, and then you realize what’s happening, and it’s too late to protect yourself. It’s a heart-rending, devastating tale that is incredibly beautiful as well. I read it once, and then I immediately read it again.”

Riley says that after the woman died, they started to see her, hear her, walking along the bridge. The tattered train of her wedding dress, the dirty veil hanging over her face. The echoing call as she searches for her fiancé. They see her climb over the edge of the bridge and plummet. That’s where Riley’s taking you. To the bridge she haunts.

Saturday afternoon. You and Riley lay flat on your backs on the living room floor, teenager-bored, your legs propped up on the sofa seats. You’ve tossed a basketball back and forth in the driveway; dealt multiple hands of three different card games; dug the year-end homework out of your backpacks with great intentions. That homework is now scattered on the rug around you, ignored as much as the cat hair tumbleweeds fluttering beneath the sofa. You watch the ceiling fan twist in lazy circles. The breeze does nothing to cut through the close air of almost summer. It will rain later, all that heavy breaking to pieces, but right now it’s only hot.

Riley’s phone pings. She sighs, digging it out of her pocket. Her elbow rests on your arm while she reads the text. You should tell her to move, that it’s too warm for any kind of touching. You don’t. Besides, you’re sure that she will move soon enough. She’ll tap out a response and the two of you will drift back to your weekend stagnation. Instead, she looks at you in darting glances. She says your name, a question. “Mia?”

“Yeah?” The dust is a faint line of grey on each edge of the fan blades. You wonder if anyone has bothered to clean there since your family moved in. You never could figure out how the fuzz stays there, how it keeps from shaking loose to drift as the fan turns and turns.

“Nate says the car’s free. Want to go somewhere?”


“Don’t you want to know where?”

You shrug with one shoulder, the carpet fibers catching on your polyester tank-top. This isn’t new. It’s something you two sometimes do, ever since Riley got her license. You get in Riley’s Geo, a complete beater, and just drive. But not often. You won’t take the test for another four months, and the beater, older than you both are, is shared with her brothers. But the thought of it comes on you in fits. It’s freedom, or close enough. Freedom set on rails.

You tell Riley it doesn’t really matter. It’s something to do, isn’t it?

To continue reading “Ghost Story” click here.

Feb 2

Last Day to Submit: 2019-2020 Winter Short Story Award Closes at Midnight!

You have until the clock strikes midnight to get your submissions in for this year’s Winter Short Story Award for New Writers! We’re looking for your very best 6,000 words of fiction and narrative nonfiction. The finalists, selected by Kimberly King Parsons, will receive cash prizes in addition to publication and agency review, with the winning story receiving $3,000! If you have what it takes, submit below before the end of the night:

$3000 + Publication + Agency Review

Submit before it’s too late!

  • 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: February 2, 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 before it’s too late!

Jan 31

Now Open: The Masters Review Volume IX, with Stories Selected by Rick Bass!

Submissions for our ninth anthology are NOW OPEN! This year’s contest is judged by Rick Bass himself, selecting the 10 stories and essays that will be included in this year’s anthology. The contest runs through the final Sunday of March, March 29, so mark your calendar. $5000 will be awarded between the 10 winning authors. Full details below:

$5000 Awarded!


Add to Calendar

  • Previously unpublished works of fiction and narrative nonfiction only
  • Up to 7000 words
  • We accept simultaneous submissions as long as work is withdrawn if it is accepted elsewhere
  • Multiple submissions are allowed
  • International submissions allowed
  • Writers must not have published a novel-length work at the time of submission (authors of short story collections and self-published titles can submit as can authors with work with a low distribution, about 5000 copies)
  • Standard formatting please (double-spaced, 12 pt font, pages numbered)
  • $20 reading fee
  • Submissions are not limited to writers in the US. All English-language submissions are welcome
  • Writers who have earned an Anthology Prize before and whose work appears in our printed book cannot submit to this category but are welcome to send us work in other open categories.

RICK BASS is the author of over 30 books of fiction and nonfiction, and a winner of the 2016 Story Prize. He lives in Montana, where he is the founding board  member of the Yaak Valley Forest Council. His stories, articles and essays have appeared in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Narrative, Men’s Journal, Esquire, Gentlemen’s Quarterly, Harper’s, New York Times Sunday Magazine, Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, Boston Globe, the Washington Post, Tin House, Zoetrope, Orion, and numerous other periodicals.

Jan 29

Literary Citizenship pt. 2, by Katey Schultz: I’m Ready to Contribute—Now What?

The follow-up to last week’s post, What You Care About Should be the Same as Your Social Media Feed, this week Katey Schultz dives into what we, as literary stewards, can actually say and contribute. Get into the nitty gritty below, and join us next Wednesday for part 3:

I’m Ready to Contribute—Now What?

Too often, writers think that the best way to share what they’re all about is to remind everyone what they already know: you’re a writer, you write things, you read things, you blog, you submit your work, you have a book for sale or a class you’re trying to fill. But the key to being a good literary steward and finding your right audience has to do with contributing to conversations, not taking. Most people who know or follow you, already know that you’re a writer, blogger, book lover, or all three. But do they know that you volunteer at the Humane Society because you love animals? Do they know you lead the PTA because you’re an avid dyslexia empowerment specialist? Or that you just ran your first marathon, earned your black belt, or passed your yoga teacher certification?

Literary citizenship doesn’t have to mean sharing your personal life with your audience, but it does mean finding multiple ways for them to connect with you. It means presenting yourself as the well-rounded person that you are. Your audience will feel “connected” when what you share is real, informative, and consistent. What you do with your life and the kinds of choices you make about how to spend your time reveal a lot. People really do want to know about this. Why? Because they believe (and they’re right), that your passions inform your creativity and, more than anything, that’s what they want to understand.

Let’s look at two examples. First, an example where the conversations a writer cares the most about, directly overlap with the topics that they write about. Oregon author Molly Gloss (The Jump-Off Creek, The Hearts of Horses, and more) loves horses and the landscape of the American West. This is obvious in all of her writing. If you visit her Facebook page, you won’t see links to her latest reviews or reminders that her book is—yes—still for sale. Instead, you’ll find photos of her with her horse or notes about her recent trip to Iceland, a landscape she’s always yearned to explore. You’ll find out that she has quite the personality—she says what she means, she laughs a lot at life, she’s well read. You’ll discover she loves chamber music and dark chocolate. In other words, she might be a New York Times bestselling author, but she’s also a real, relatable, human being. Just like the rest of us. When you go to her website, you’ll find an in-depth version of all of these tidbits as well—plus the book links, reviews, blurbs, events, etc.

Second, an example of a writer who cares about topics that seemingly have nothing to do with what they write about. Most readers of my books, Flashes of War and Still Come Home, assume that I am a veteran or have traveled to the Middle East. But one look at my online presence, or one visit with me in a bookstore, and you’ll know that’s not the case. As a result, I’ve created themes on my blog so that readers know what I care about right away: mindfulness, engagement with the natural world, the creative process, and deep revision—to name a few things. When I travel to give public talks or book readings, I tell audiences about how the natural world provides a necessary antidote to my explorations of war. I let them in on the fact that I love the inner workings of bourbon culture and am actively researching its history—just for fun, just because the unique word choice and language of those times excites me. I let them know that I’m drawn to moments of disconnect and dissonance, and that when my imagination latches on to such moments (real, researched, or imagined), that is the birthplace of story.

Why do these connections matter? They help me be a better writer, of course (just like chamber music and dark chocolate surely help Molly Gloss). And that’s what I talk about: online, in person, at events, in passing. Not because I’m trying to sell my book, but because I care about these things. They’re easy to talk about; they’re enjoyable. By opening up my worldview, I make myself accessible to others, expand my audience based on my interests and passions, and eventually reach more people.

Coming up next week, how to determine the best approach to literary citizenship and content, based on your unique needs.

KATEY SCHULTZ is the author of Flashes of War, which the Daily Beast praised as an “ambitious and fearless” collection, and Still Come Home, a novel, both published by Loyola University Maryland. Honors for her work include the Linda Flowers Literary Award, Doris Betts Fiction Prize, IndieFab Book of the Year, five Pushcart nominations, a nomination to Best American Short Stories, and writing fellowships in eight states. She lives in Celo, North Carolina, and is the founder of Maximum Impact, a transformative mentoring service for creative writers that has been recognized by both CNBC and the What Works Network. Learn more at

Jan 28

February Deadlines: 10 Contests and Deadlines This Month

The weather may be entirely unpredictable this year, but take heart in our always-reliable Deadlines Post (Here to make your life easier!). While browsing through our selection of contests, you might just fall in love, and then you can make the decision to commit!

American Short(er) Fiction Prize

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

Entry Fee: $17 Deadline: February 1

The Breakwater Review Fiction Contest

Operating from the University of Massachusetts, Breakwater is searching for something that breathes freshness into the form of prose, and they are interested in unpublished work from 1000 to 5000 words. Clearly this is a call to all writers who think that their work can make the cut! Judged by Susanna Kaysen, the winner receives $1000 and publication in Breakwater’s winter issue. Submit here.

Entry Fee: $10 Deadline: February 1

Philip Roth Residence in Creative Writing

This amazing residency is offered to two writers through Bucknell University, and the winners receive a stipend of $5000 and four months of lodging. They’re looking for fiction and literary nonfiction writers over the age of 21 who are not enrolled in a college or university. You’ll need a 20 page sample of your prose, but this could be the opportunity for you! Learn more here.

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: February 1

Michael Waters Poetry Prize

There’s only a little time left to enter Southern Indiana Review’s writing contest for poetry collections! Entries must be written in English, and be less than 80 pages. Judged by Michael Waters himself, the first-place winner is awarded $4000 and their collection will be published by Southern Indiana Review Press. Don’t miss it!

Entry Fee: $35 Deadline: February 3

The Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction

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

Entry Fee: $28 Deadline: February 15

William van Dyke Short Story Prize

If you have a story to tell, Ruminate wants to hear it! Judged by the incredible Wendy J. Fox, the first-place prize is $1500 and publication. Submissions need to be 5500 words or less, but there are no limits on the number of entries per person. Submit here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: February 15

Nelson Algren Short Story Award

Held annually since 1981, the Chicago Tribune’s prize is a nationally recognized contest for original short fiction. Named for the Chicago literary great Nelson Algren, it has been presented to a number of distinguished authors, and you could be next! Stories must be fiction, less than 8000 words, and completely original. The grand prize winner will receive $3500, five finalists will receive $750, and all entries are considered for publication. Check it out!

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: February 17

Flash Fiction Prize

This annual contest from Fish Publishing is a true challenge – can you write a compelling and resolved story in 300 words or less? Judged by Tania Hershman, first place receives $1354 and publication, and the other nine finalists are published as well. See more here!

Entry Fee: $19 Deadline: February 28

Sustainable Arts Foundation Award

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

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: February 28

Women’s Prose Prize

This is the third year for Red Hen Press’ contest, whose prize is for any and all women writers with a previously unpublished, original work of prose! Acceptable submissions include novels, short story collections, memoirs, and essay collections, between 45,000 and 80,000 words. The winner, selected by judge Martha Cooley, receives $1000 and publication by Red Hen Press. Learn more here!

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: February 28

By Kimberly Guerin

Jan 27

New Voices: “Escape Velocity” by Karisa Tell

“Escape Velocity” by Karisa Tell is the second place prize winner for our 2019 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers, selected by Tope Folarin, and Karisa’s first publication! We are honored to share this incredible story of addiction, hope and family. In Tope’s words, “I love the wide scope of this story, how capacious it is, and also how very intimate. There are many moving parts to this story, but they all work seamlessly together. I loved getting lost in it, and then finding myself on the other side, still whole, but changed.” What are you waiting for?

There were no applicant requirements: people of all ages, income levels, and nationalities, the website said, could become a Martian.

The night I saw the advertisement, Oliver was out and we were all up: Aunt Jody was scrubbing ancient remnants of my mother’s burnt molasses cookies from a tray we ought to have given up on years ago. Dad was sitting before the television, a comedy with a laugh track and lazy physical stunts beaming onto his motionless eyes. And I was on my computer picking up digital breadcrumbs to an unclear destination. I was doing my game, the one I do when Oliver might be dead: click on whatever I want, then click somewhere else from there. See how far I get when (if) Oliver comes home. The game was of neither skill nor chance, lacking in rules, no way to win or lose or even know if you’ve finished playing.

It was a banner ad across the top of an article about the Carnivore Diet, which I’d landed on after skimming a story on child Instagram influencers, linked from a listicle of fan theories about a show I’d never seen. What was the worst that could happen to my computer, from clicking on One Weird Trick for Losing Belly Fat or sponsored links by Taboola? If we got a call that Oliver was in jail or he’d OD’d again, would I care what might have infected my computer? Rootkits, worms, cookies, whatever. It was my only liberation, this clicking game.

Go to Mars, the banner ad said. Apply here to become a Martian.

I clicked.

The page showed a man’s face, halfway between giddy and diffident, his lips lifting asymmetrically to show only one tooth.

Terry Xiao, 54
“The people on this mission will live on in the history books, like all the great colonizers. I view the colonization of Mars to be a necessary next step for the preservation of the human race. Manifest destiny, man!”

To continue reading “Escape Velocity” click here.

Jan 24

Litmag Roadmap: Nebraska

On the road again! Off to the Great Plains, we’re headed to the Cornhusker State, home of Brett Biebel’s “Big Red Nation” and the College Baseball World Series: Nebraska. Check out what literary magazines this Midwest state has to offer.

Welcome to what is arguably the middle of the country (fight us, Kansas): a land so flat and wide you get almost a whole half-mile to yourself (we did the math). When the “America the Beautiful” song talks about “amber waves of grain,” this is the place you should have in mind. You likely know about Nebraska if you know someone who likes sports. Other than that, do you ever think really about it? It’s the state you avoid on cross-country road trips if you’re trying to sightsee or the one you jet right through so fast you don’t remember it if you’re trying to make good time. Either way, I bet you didn’t know it had cool literary things. Well it does and here they are:

Prairie Schooner

You probably already know Prairie Schooner as the ship on which everyone wants to sail. With two of my favorite writer names attached to it—editor-in-chief Kwame Dawes and Chigozie Obioma, both faculty members of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Creative Writing Program out of which Prairie Schooner is based—I’m automatically biased already, but can we also just talk about the name? This is how you name a lit mag. RIP Glimmer Train and long live Prairie Schooner and other metaphorical bastions for the transportative powers of the written word, especially those with rippling canvas sails streaming off into the sunset while clouds of glory loom across the golden plains of the Midwest. If none of this does it for you, perhaps their esteemed annual book prize, fun Twitter account, or all-around-great-amazing-wonderful-shining-star-of-a-lit-mag will.

Fine Lines

In the sea that is Nebraska, this little lit mag is the speedboat to the Schooner. Based out of Omaha (cue Counting Crows), Fine Lines has a quarterly publication of prose, poetry, and art along with a bonafide summer camp for what claims to be and very literally appears to be all ages, which is an odd but rich experience—a welcome and multigenerational reprieve from your women’s writers group retreat or the hipster cabin writer week in the woods you’re trying to justify affording. One caveat to submitting can be found in the guidelines: “Any writing pieces containing the following: profanity, sexual scenes, ‘dark side of the force’, and excessive violence will not be accepted.” Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to submit something that rocks this speedboat just so.

The Cupboard Pamphlet

Not a lit mag per say, but a small press—and what a small press it is! Outdated internet listings hint that The Cupboard was based out of Nebraska at one point, though it’s now run remotely by editors Kelly Delaney and Todd Seabrook. Even so, it’s too cool not to plug. Quoth the editors: “We have always been puzzled by editorial statements of small presses. It has never mattered what we as editors want from our submitters. We have discovered that if we look for a particular vision of the world, we blind ourselves to that new, fantastic work that lies at the edge of sight.” Did you just fall in love, too? The Cupboard Pamphlet’s focus on putting submitters—and a good business model—first, in tandem with its quarterly publishing rate, makes for sustainable and stylish book publication. The real Easter egg, though: custom book trailers.

The New Territory

This “autobiography of the Lower Midwest” encompasses Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas—a truly regional effort that’s been going strong since 2015 and taking full advantage of the opportunities for trans-stateline collaborations the world wide web provides. “Our founding mission was to give a more nuanced, diverse voice to a region of the US that’s often brushed over as flyoverlandia,” says Sara Usha Maillacheruvu, Executive Editor, a mission that’s fleshed out extremely well in the magazine’s eight founding principles, stated explicitly and earnestly on the homepage below the fold. For a nation and a land all too often polarized by coastlines and party lines, something like The New Territory is a place of saving grace: one taking enough time to incorporate, integrate, and even celebrate opposing forces. They’ve incorporated a Patreon account into their business model, which is both innovative and true to their mission to connect with contributors and readers. There is also a dog on their masthead.

By Melissa Hinshaw