The Masters Review Blog

Nov 30

Deadline TONIGHT: The Masters Review Novel Excerpt Contest Judged by Dan Chaon Closes At Midnight!

If you’re waiting until the last minute to submit, well, it’s almost here. Our first Novel Excerpt Contest closes tonight at midnight PT—give a final look to those 6,000 word excerpts and send them our way. We can’t wait to read what you’ve written.


submitThe Masters Review is hosting its first Novel Excerpt Contest! We’re looking for excerpts that show off a sense of style, with a clear grasp on craft: narrative, character, and plot. Choose wisely! Your excerpt can come from any point in your completed or in-progress novels, but a synopsis should not be required for understanding the excerpt. Excerpts must be from previously unpublished novels; if your novel has been self-published, it is ineligible for this contest. As always, we have no limitations on genre, though we are primarily interested in literary fiction. Dan Chaon will serve as our inaugural judge and select the finalists from a shortlist provided by The Masters Review’s editorial team. The winning excerpt will be awarded $3000 and online publication and an hour-long consultation with a literary agent. Second and third place excerpts will be awarded online publication and $300 and $200 respectively, in addition to 1 page of feedback from a literary agent.

Guidelines:

  • Winner receives $3000, publication and consultation with an agent
  • Second and third place prizes ($300 / $200, publication and agent feedback)
  • Excerpts under 6000 words
  • Excerpts from unpublished novels only
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed
  • Emerging writers only (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Self-published writers and writers with story collections and novels with a small circulation (fewer than 5000 copies) are welcome to submit.)
  • International English submissions allowed
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: November 30th, 2021
  • Please, no identifying information on your excerpt
  • All excerpts are considered for publication
  • A significant portion of the editorial letter fees go to our feedback editor, according to the rates established by the EFA

FAQ
Q: What’s the deal with my rights if I want to publish my book eventually?
While we’re not able to speak for every publisher, since we’re not publishing your work in its entirety, it should not be a problem going forward. Rights also revert back to the author after 90 days. If an opportunity came up for you to publish your work before the 90 days, we are happy to revert rights back to you sooner.

Q: Does it have to have a beginning, middle and end?
We want an excerpt that stands well on its own, that makes us want to read the full book. We want a sense of conclusion from the excerpt, but we also know that we’re only reading part of a novel and don’t expect all threads to be resolved. You can read Jennifer Marquardt’s “The Analyst” for an example of the kind of novel-excerpt we’re interested in.

Q: When should I expect to hear back?
We will try to respond to every submission by the end of February, and hope to have the finalists announced at the end of March or beginning of April. If this timeline changes significantly, we will notify all authors. We appreciate your patience!

Q: Can I submit two chapters if its under 6000 words?
You can submit as many chapters as you’d like, as long as the word count is under 6000 words.

Q: How firm are you on word count?
We allow for some wiggle room; don’t force your revisions into 6000 words. We’d rather read a couple hundred extra words than a cramped conclusion!

Q: Can I submit a synopsis/prologue with my excerpt?
We recommend that you don’t; your excerpt will be judged on its merit alone, and the synopsis will not be published alongside your excerpt.

Q: Can I submit with a co-writer?
Sure; but you’ll need to split the prize money.

Q: What if a small portion of the book has already been published?
As long as the excerpt you’re submitting has not been published in any form, and the novel itself has not been published, we’re happy to consider your work!

Q: I self-published my novel on my blog but later took it down; can I still submit an excerpt?
Unfortunately because it’s been published in some form or fashion, the excerpt would no longer be eligible for this contest.

We don’t have any preferences topically or in terms of style. We’re simply looking for the best. We don’t define, nor are we interested in, stories identified by their genre. We do, however, consider ourselves a publication that focuses on literary fiction. Dazzle us, take chances, and be bold.

Dan Chaon is the author of several books, including the National Book Award nominee Among the Missing, the national best sellers Among the Missing and Ill Will, and the forthcoming novel Sleepwalk (Henry Holt, April, 2022). Photo credit: © Géraldine Aresteanu

INCLUDED UNIQUE OPPORTUNITIES AND DISCOUNTS:

To thank you for your continued support of The Masters Review, we’re excited to offer you the following opportunities with your submission:

WritingWorkshops.com is offering 15% off any of their classes this year, and the discount code will be included in the confirmation e-mail when you submit.

Literature & Latte is offering a 20% discount on their incredibly helpful Scrivener writing software for macOS and Windows users. There will be a discount code in the confirmation e-mail when you submit.

The Writing Salon is offering every submitter a 10% off discount code on a writing class with a discount code included in your confirmation e-mail!

Keep working on your novel with one of Catapult‘s classes. A discount code for 10% off any upcoming class will be included in your confirmation e-mail.


submit

Nov 29

New Voices: “Humboldt Park Blues” by Randy William Santiago

Randy William Santiago’s “Humboldt Park Blues” is a coming-of-age story set in the inner city of Chicago. The narrator of Santiago’s story discovers a world in which he can no longer rely on his brother’s protection, after Rubén meets Vanessa. “Humboldt Park Blues” explores family and masculinity in a voice that is fresh, earnest and true. We are so proud to share this story with you all.

Walking home from school was easier when Rubén was around. Having him near didn’t make run-ins with gangs less prominent, and it sure as hell didn’t prevent them from chasing us down Kostner whenever we wore anything that deviated from the neutral black and white, but it felt safer. There’s comfort in getting jumped with another person, in laughing it off once you’ve survived. The deep vibrations of their laughter clutching your body like a firm hand as it wobbles above the pavement.

That all changed when Rubén met Vanessa. Suddenly Kostner seemed larger, its threats amplified.

These pendejos get a taste of some ass and suddenly think they can fly, Ma said to me after Rubén started dating Vanessa.

Ma only talked to me when she was pissed at Rubén, cursing his name behind the embers of her blunt. She’d vent to me one day and kiss Rubén’s ass the next.

Made me wish Rubén hadn’t switched up on me when Vanessa came into the picture, so that I wasn’t left to deal with Ma’s mood swings alone.

It used to be that Rubén and I chilled often, that we talked about the girls we wanted or the dudes we hated or the dreams of escape that we never believed in. But then Rubén met Vanessa, and it was like she had her own gravitational pull and Rubén couldn’t help but be with her.

And sure, Vanessa was fine.

She was tall, with wavy hair and hazel eyes. Golden hoops dangling from her ears. A frail neck piece to match. To top it off, she was Puerto Rican, White Puerto Rican (like Ma and Rubén, but we never talked about that). All anyone talked about was what they would like to do with her (which wasn’t appropriate to address in public either) or what they believed she did with random guys around Humboldt Park.

As far as Rubén was concerned, there wasn’t another man in Humboldt Park. Maybe even the world. Vanessa was his and no one could convince him otherwise. Ma tried to once, told him that he’d forget how to see if he got too close.

Can’t see anything if your head’s up her ass, she said.

No doubt Ma was still bitter toward the men who left, who abused, who cheated. Bitter about their ability to transition from their current lives to new ones once their interest faded.

Despite her bitterness, Ma was also lonely. She liked the idea of Rubén locking fingers with a Puerto Rican girl from our hood, leaning against her locker at a precise angle, slightly tapping her shoulder with his in that manner that says I’m feeling you.

That’s how your dad used to do me, Ma said, nostalgia creeping into her voice.

After a while, Ma began asking Rubén everything she could about Vanessa, a silence falling whenever I entered the room, as if the two of them were in the know of something confidential. Rubén and Ma transformed our sala into their very own gossip mill, talking shit through the wee hours of the night.

This forced me to melt my eardrums until they spilled onto Fullerton Avenue, where red light traffic whirred my psyche into paralysis, thrusting me into that limbo that straddles complacent and discontent.

To continue reading “Humboldt Park Blues” click here.

Nov 28

December Deadlines: 12 Contests and Prizes Ending This Month

2021 is coming to a close, soon, and so are these 12 contests and prizes! Strike up a fire and get those manuscripts whipped into shape. There’s a new year coming!


TRIPLE FEATURE! The Masters Review’s Novel Excerpt Contest Closes Nov. 30th!

Okay, okay. This isn’t a December deadline. BUT: Our first Novel Excerpt Contest, with guest judge Dan Chaon, is closing for submissions on Nov. 30th. The winner receives a $3,000 prize, online publication, and an hour-long consultation with an agent on their manuscript. Second and third place finalists will receive $300 and $200 prizes respectively, along with online publication and a page of feedback on their excerpt from a literary agent. Find all the details here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: Nov. 30

The Masters Review’s Chapbook Open Closes Dec. 31st!

This year’s winning chapbook will be selected by Matt Bell. We’re looking for your collections of flash, your mini novellas, your 40 page short stories. We want to publish your braided essays, your eclectic brainchildren, your experiments. However you want to tell your story, we want to read it. (As long as it’s between 25-40 double-spaced pages.) The contest’s submission window closes at the end of the year, so you’ve only got a few weeks to submit! Check it out.

Entry fee: $25 Deadline: Dec. 31

The Masters Review’s Winter Short Story Award for New Writers OPENS Dec. 1st!

Last in our triple feature: Our always-popular Short Story Award for New Writers opens for submissions on the 1st. You’ve got until the end of January to submit your fiction and creative non-fiction (up to 6,000) to this annual contest. As always, we’re looking for great new work from emerging writers. The winner gets a $3000 prize, along with online publication and agency review. Other finalists will receive cash prizes, online publication and agency review as well! This year’s contest is judged by the spectacular Ye Chun. Learn all about it.

Entry fee: $20 Deadline: Jan 31

Wallace Stegner Fellowship

This prestigious fellowship is offered annually to ten writers: five in fiction, and five in poetry. Fellows are considered artists, and the only requirements are workshop attendance and writing. The fellowship is open to all writers, regardless of age or education. A living stipend of $43,000 a year is offered to each of the ten fellows per academic year. For fiction, your manuscript may be up to 9,000 words; for poetry, submit up to 15 pages. Read more.

Entry fee: $85 Deadline: Dec 1

W.Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction

If you’ve published a novel this year set during a period in which the United States was at war, consider submitting your novel to the W.Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction. This prize earns the novelist $5,000 and a 24k gold-framed citation of achievement. The novel does not need to be driven by incidents of war; a war may only provide the setting for the novel. If you think your novel may qualify, submit now!

Entry fee: FREE Deadline: Dec 1

Chautauqua Prize

The Chautauqua Prize is an annual contest run by the Chautauqua Institution, honoring a book of fiction or narrative non-fiction that was published in the previous year. The winning writer receives a $7,500 prize and a one-week residency, and will give a 30 minute reading at an event in the winning writer’s honor. In order to be eligible, you may not have won a Chautauqua Prize previously, and your book must be published in the calendar year of 2021. Learn more here.

Entry fee:  $75 Deadline: Dec 15

Dorset Prize 2021

Tupelo Press’s annual Dorset Prize is open for full-length poetry manuscripts until December 31. The winning manuscript will be published by Tupelo Press. There’s also a $3,000 cash prize, and the winning writer receives a week-long residency at MASS MoCA and 20 copies of their book. The manuscripts may not be previously published, though individual poems may be published in magazines, journals, anthologies or chapbooks. Results will be announced next spring. Don’t miss it!

Entry fee: $30 Deadline: Dec 31

Lascaux Prize in Fiction

Lascaux (pronounced like lasso) is open once again to fiction submissions of up to 10,000 words. Both published and unpublished submissions are eligible to win this prize, which comes with a fancy bronze medallion! The winner receives a cash prize of $1,000 and finalists receive $100. All winners and finalists will be published in the online and print editions of The Lascaux Review. Find out more details here. 

Entry fee: $15 Deadline: Dec 31

River Styx Microfiction Contest

The 2022 Microfiction Contest offered by River Styx is open for your submissions until the end of the year. You may submit up to 3 500 word micros per submission fee. First, second and third place winners are guaranteed publication, while all submissions are considered for publication in River Styx. The first place prize offers a $1,000 prize this year, so make sure to check this one out.

Entry fee: $15 Deadline: Dec 31

Press 53 Award for Short Fiction

Press 53 wants to publish your collection of short stories! This annual competition is open to all writers, regardless of publication history. The manuscript must be in English, and the writer must reside in the United States or one of its territories. The winner recieves a $1000 cash advance on their book along with fifty copies. This year’s winner will be selected by Press 53’s short fiction editor, Claire V. Foxx. Submit!

Entry fee: $30 Deadline: Dec 31

Boulevard’s Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers

$1,500 and publication will be awarded to the writer of the best short story submitted to this contest (up to 8,000 words). Submissions are limited to writers without a book of fiction, creative non-fiction, or poetry published by a nationally distributed press. The winning story will be announced in June, and will be published in the Fall or Spring issue of Boulevard. Do it!

Entry fee: $16 Deadline: Dec 31

Virginia Woolf Award for Short Fiction

This prize, offered annually by LitMag, celebrates the best short story, between 3,000-8,000 words, submitted before December 31st. The winner receives $2,500 dollars and agency review by a slate of wonderful literary agents. Three finalists will each receive a $100 cash prize. This contest is only open to previously unpublished short stories. Check out all the details and submit!

Entry fee: $20 Deadline: Dec 31

by Cole Meyer

 

 

Nov 22

Ye Chun Will Judge This Year’s Winter Short Story Award for New Writers!

That’s right, folks! We’re pleased to be working with Ye Chun for the 2021-2022 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers! The contest will be open from December 1st through the end of January. We’re looking for the best short stories and essays, up to 6,000 words. The Masters Review staff will select a shortlist of 15 entries to pass along to Ms. Ye, who will pick her favorite three for the finalist spots. The grand prize offers $3,000, publication online and agency review! Find the full details below or on our contest page.


Ye Chun will select three finalists for our Winter Short Story Award!

The Winter Short Story Award will run from December 1st to January 31st. The winning story will be awarded $3000 and publication online. Second and third place stories will be awarded publication and $300 and $200 respectively. All winners and honorable mentions will receive agency review by: Nat Sobel from Sobel Weber, Victoria Cappello from The Bent Agency, Andrea Morrison from Writers House, Sarah Fuentes from Fletcher & Company and Samantha Fingerhut from Compass Talent. We want you to succeed, and we want your writing to be read. It’s been our mission to support emerging writers since day one.

Ye Chun is a bilingual Chinese American writer and literary translator. Her collection of stories, Hao (Catapult, 2021), was an Indie Next Selection and was longlisted for 2022 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. She has also published two books of poetry, Travel Over Water and Lantern Puzzle, a novel in Chinese,《海上的桃树》(Peach Tree in the Sea), and four volumes of translations. A recipient of an NEA Literature Fellowship, a Sustainable Arts Foundation Award, and three Pushcart Prizes, she teaches at Providence College and lives in Providence, Rhode Island. Visit her at yechunauthor.com. (photo credit Mira Feifei Ye-Flanagan)

Submissions open on December 1st! Submit up to 6,000 words of your best work. Fifteen stories will be selected by the editorial staff, and Ye Chun will select the three finalists from that shortlist. See our Short Story Award page for more details.

Guidelines:

  • Winner receives $3000, publication, and agency review
  • Second and third place prizes ($300 / $200, publication, and agency review)
  • Stories under 6000 words
  • Previously unpublished stories only
  • 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 are welcome to submit. Writers with novels published with small circulations (around 5000 copies) can also submit.)
  • International English submissions allowed
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: January 31st, 2022
  • 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
  • A significant portion of the editorial letter fees go to our feedback editor, according to the rates established by the EFA

We don’t have any preferences topically or in terms of style. We’re simply looking for the best. We don’t define, nor are we interested in, stories identified by their genre. We do, however, consider ourselves a publication that focuses on literary fiction. Dazzle us, take chances, and be bold.

Nov 21

Closing Soon! The Novel Excerpt Contest Judged by Dan Chaon Closes 11/30

Just over a week left to get those excerpts published up and submitted! Dan Chaon will be selecting the winning excerpt for our brand new contest, which is open for new writers who have no yet published a novel with a major press. Full details can be found below. We cannot wait to dig into your submissions!


submitThe Masters Review is hosting its first Novel Excerpt Contest! We’re looking for excerpts that show off a sense of style, with a clear grasp on craft: narrative, character, and plot. Choose wisely! Your excerpt can come from any point in your completed or in-progress novels, but a synopsis should not be required for understanding the excerpt. Excerpts must be from previously unpublished novels; if your novel has been self-published, it is ineligible for this contest. As always, we have no limitations on genre, though we are primarily interested in literary fiction. Dan Chaon will serve as our inaugural judge and select the finalists from a shortlist provided by The Masters Review’s editorial team. The winning excerpt will be awarded $3000 and online publication and an hour-long consultation with a literary agent. Second and third place excerpts will be awarded online publication and $300 and $200 respectively, in addition to 1 page of feedback from a literary agent.

Guidelines:

  • Winner receives $3000, publication and consultation with an agent
  • Second and third place prizes ($300 / $200, publication and agent feedback)
  • Excerpts under 6000 words
  • Excerpts from unpublished novels only
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed
  • Emerging writers only (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Self-published writers and writers with story collections and novels with a small circulation (fewer than 5000 copies) are welcome to submit.)
  • International English submissions allowed
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: November 30th, 2021
  • Please, no identifying information on your excerpt
  • All excerpts are considered for publication
  • A significant portion of the editorial letter fees go to our feedback editor, according to the rates established by the EFA

FAQ
Q: What’s the deal with my rights if I want to publish my book eventually?
While we’re not able to speak for every publisher, since we’re not publishing your work in its entirety, it should not be a problem going forward. Rights also revert back to the author after 90 days. If an opportunity came up for you to publish your work before the 90 days, we are happy to revert rights back to you sooner.

Q: Does it have to have a beginning, middle and end?
We want an excerpt that stands well on its own, that makes us want to read the full book. We want a sense of conclusion from the excerpt, but we also know that we’re only reading part of a novel and don’t expect all threads to be resolved. You can read Jennifer Marquardt’s “The Analyst” for an example of the kind of novel-excerpt we’re interested in.

Q: When should I expect to hear back?
We will try to respond to every submission by the end of February, and hope to have the finalists announced at the end of March or beginning of April. If this timeline changes significantly, we will notify all authors. We appreciate your patience!

Q: Can I submit two chapters if its under 6000 words?
You can submit as many chapters as you’d like, as long as the word count is under 6000 words.

Q: How firm are you on word count?
We allow for some wiggle room; don’t force your revisions into 6000 words. We’d rather read a couple hundred extra words than a cramped conclusion!

Q: Can I submit a synopsis/prologue with my excerpt?
We recommend that you don’t; your excerpt will be judged on its merit alone, and the synopsis will not be published alongside your excerpt.

Q: Can I submit with a co-writer?
Sure; but you’ll need to split the prize money.

Q: What if a small portion of the book has already been published?
As long as the excerpt you’re submitting has not been published in any form, and the novel itself has not been published, we’re happy to consider your work!

Q: I self-published my novel on my blog but later took it down; can I still submit an excerpt?
Unfortunately because it’s been published in some form or fashion, the excerpt would no longer be eligible for this contest.

We don’t have any preferences topically or in terms of style. We’re simply looking for the best. We don’t define, nor are we interested in, stories identified by their genre. We do, however, consider ourselves a publication that focuses on literary fiction. Dazzle us, take chances, and be bold.

Dan Chaon is the author of several books, including the National Book Award nominee Among the Missing, the national best sellers Among the Missing and Ill Will, and the forthcoming novel Sleepwalk (Henry Holt, April, 2022). Photo credit: © Géraldine Aresteanu

INCLUDED UNIQUE OPPORTUNITIES AND DISCOUNTS:

To thank you for your continued support of The Masters Review, we’re excited to offer you the following opportunities with your submission:

WritingWorkshops.com is offering 15% off any of their classes this year, and the discount code will be included in the confirmation e-mail when you submit.

Literature & Latte is offering a 20% discount on their incredibly helpful Scrivener writing software for macOS and Windows users. There will be a discount code in the confirmation e-mail when you submit.

The Writing Salon is offering every submitter a 10% off discount code on a writing class with a discount code included in your confirmation e-mail!

Keep working on your novel with one of Catapult‘s classes. A discount code for 10% off any upcoming class will be included in your confirmation e-mail.


submit

Nov 20

Interview with the Winner: Tanya Perkins

On Monday, we were fortunate enough to publish Tanya Perkins’s expansive “Agora é Sempre”, the winner of our 2021 Flash Fiction Contest, as selected by Stuart Dybek. Today, we bring you an interview with winner, conducted by assistant editor Melissa Hinshaw. Enjoy!

Who would have thought that the journey of a pair of sandals could be so captivating! Tell us how you captured the swirling feel of “Agora é Sempre” through your sentence-level and pace-level decisions in these five pages.

I was interested in creating a story that was both deep and broad in scope and yet highly concentrated in form. I love long sentences—English syntax lends itself to creating the kind of horizon-to-horizon sweep that we associate with Faulkner and Franzen—yet for me, they only work when they are densely packed.

If this story had “parents”—other authors, stories, books, or even movies or songs— what would they be? How did this story get bred?

I’m a science nerd wannabe, especially in connection with quantum mechanics. At the subatomic level, things get wacky real fast, at least when viewed through the lens of what we might call “reality.” And so I’ve been very interested in thinking about quantum entanglement from different angles, employing the “what-if.” As far as other books, Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos has fueled a lot of creative speculation, along with writers like Italo Calvino and Joy Williams.

We got some environmentalist vibes from “Agora é Sempre”—was this a conscious theme or even a direct goal you had when writing this story? How is this something that shows up in your writing?

Yes, it was conscious. I remember reading about how flipflops, of all things, are a huge part of plastic pollution, especially ocean plastic. It’s not just that they are made with toxic chemicals (often in developing countries, where environmental standards are not enforced as much) but that they are resistant to biodegrading, and end up in rivers and, of course, the ocean where they can swirl around in the garbage gyres almost forever—they are, in a literal way, very nearly children of eternity. And weirdly, I started thinking about it from the viewpoint of the flipflops who, as inanimate objects, are not themselves to blame. One of the things I love about this story is that they are “rescued” and made useful again. I think that is a hopeful image.

We end on such an ominous note that our team read several meanings into. What all would you say is “very wrong indeed” when we reach that final line?

It’s a line that works on multiple levels. What is wrong, for Gabrielle in the immediate moment, is that her wife is missing (well, dead). But in a larger sense, the “wrongness” extends far beyond that to where children are pressed into working just to eat, if not into illegal activity, to where illegal fishing depletes resources and where our oceans are being glutted with plastics and other toxic materials.

One wonderful strength of this story is these characters, who pop in just briefly and yet feel so whole. Are these characters you have written more of in other pieces, or are they all making debut appearances here?

This story is part of a larger collection of hybrid pieces I am currently working on, and yes, they reappear in other stories!

Interviewed by Melissa Hinshaw

Nov 19

Litmag Roadmap: Texas

Buckle up! We’re on our way to the Lone Star State. Texas is our next stop on our litmag road trip. Rebecca Paredes comes to us today with a list of some of the great literary venues that call Texas home.

It makes sense that the vast Lone Star State is home to a diverse literary landscape, ranging from regional publications to international journals. (And where else would you find the O. Henry Museum Pun-Off World Championships than Austin?) On this leg of our literary road trip, we’re looking at a non-exhaustive list of publications that showcase fiction and are based in Texas. Buckle up, y’all.

American Short Fiction

Founded in 1991 at the University of Texas Press, American Short Fiction is a two-time finalist for the National Magazine Award for Fiction and was selected in 2019 as a winner of the Whiting Literary Magazine Prize. The magazine is issued triannually and publishes work by emerging and established voices. American Short Fiction publishes short fiction, novel excerpts, and novellas in print, as well as short fiction online.

Aries

Aeries is an international literary magazine that publishes  poetry, short fiction, one-act plays, black-and-white photography, and art. It was founded in 1986 and is published annually at Texas Wesleyan University. The journal only accepts submissions between September 1 and January 31, and issues are published every summer.

Bat City Review

This literary journal is collaboratively edited by MFA candidates from the New Writers Project, Michener Center for Writers, and Studio Art. It was founded in 2004 and publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and visual art—in particular, work that expands “our imaginations and complicates our conversations; work willing to take risks, surprise, experiment, and play,” according to the journal’s About page. Bat City Review publishes annually, and submissions are currently closed.

Big Bend Literary Magazine

Big Bend’s is a new online quarterly literary magazine: Its inaugural issue published Fall 2021. The publication’s mission is to support the artistic community of the Big Bend region, which is located in southwest Texas and includes the Chisos mountain range and Chihuahuan Desert. Big Bend Literary Magazine showcases the work of creators inspired by the area’s local nature, beauty, and culture.

Carve Magazine

Named in honor of Raymond Carver, Carve publishes fiction, poetry and nonfiction that respect “the power of language and craft and elicits genuine emotional truth,” according to the About page. The magazine accepts submissions year-round from anywhere in the world and publishes in print and digital editions.

Concho River Review

Founded in 1987, Concho River Review is a biannual journal published by Angelo State University. The journal publishes short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from emerging and established authors in Texas, the Southwest and beyond. CRR accepts submissions year-round.

descant

This annual journal is published annually in the fall by Texas Christian University. It publishes fiction and poetry in print and online, as well as online exclusives like essays and reviews. descant offers four awards for fiction and poetry, and all published submissions are eligible for prize consideration. The journal is currently open for submissions until 12/15/21.

The First Line

Based in Plano, Texas, The First Line publishes short stories that stem from a common first line. The journal is “an exercise in creativity for writers and a chance for readers to see how many different directions we can take when we start from the same place,” according to the About page. The First Line publishes four times per year. To view the first lines for each quarter in 2021, check out the Submission Guidelines.

Gulf Coast

Founded in 1986, Gulf Coast is a student-run, nationally distributed journal published by the University of Houston. The biannual journal publishes online and in print twice per year. Gulf Coast accepts submissions from September 1 through March 1. In addition to poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, the journal publishes interviews, reviews, and critical art writing.

FlowerSong Press

This small press encompasses Anacua Literary Arts Journal and Prickly Pear Publishing, projects that stem from Odilia Galván Rodríguez and Edward Vidaurre’s goal to showcase Rio Grande Valley writers “and promote the voices of other Indigenous, Chicanx, Latinx, and all BIPOC writers of the Southwest,” per the press’s about page. FlowerSong Press and its imprints are currently accepting submissions for poetry, prose, short stories, and more for 2021-2022.

Iron Horse Literary Review

This national literary journal is published at Texas Tech University. It was founded in 1999 with the goal of bringing the literary arts to West Texas. Today, IHLR also aims to publish up-and-coming writers “who keep poetry, fiction, and nonfiction energized.” The journal publishes short fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and artwork six times per year: three print issues every September, December, and March, as well as three e-editions. Recommended follow: IHLR’s Instagram, which features the books the journal’s editors are reading over lunch.

Porter House Review

This online literary journal is produced in conjunction with Texas State University’s MFA in Creative Writing. The journal publishes fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and photography in print and online, and it seeks to publish “bold and incisive writing that interrogates not only the complexities of the human experience, but also the prevailing social challenges of our time,” according to the About page. Porter House Review publishes six times per year and is currently open for submissions.

Raspa

Founded in Austin, Texas in 2012 by César Ramos, Raspa Magazine is a yearly queer literary magazine focused on the Latinx perspective. The magazine publishes short stories, creative nonfiction, dramatic works, and poetry in English or Spanish, as well as visual art. Contributors must self-identify as queer Latinxs. Raspa accepts submissions from February 15 through August 15.

Reunion: The Dallas Review

Formerly known as Sojourn, Reunion is published by the University of Texas at Dallas and aims to cultivate the arts community in Dallas, Texas, by promoting the work of talented writers and artists both locally and across the globe. The journal accepts short fiction, drama, visual art, poetry, translation work, nonfiction, and interviews. Reunion publishes annually and accepts submissions from October 1 through January 15.

riverSedge

Founded in 1977 and published by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, riverSedge is a literary journal of culture and literature which publishes creative nonfiction, poetry, fiction, scriptwriting, visual art, graphic literature, and critical reviews from the South Texas region and beyond. Now online-only, the journal is published annually and is currently open for submissions through March 1, 2022.

San Antonio Review

This Austin-based international journal publishes fiction, poetry, essays, and more. San Antonio Review publishes online and in print. Per the journal’s About page, it is “devoted to serving as a gathering space outside academia, the market and government for writers, artists, scholars, activists, workers, students, parents and others to express their perspectives and reflections on our shared world and help develop visions of our collective future.” Submissions are accepted online and via mail.

Southwest Review

Founded in 1915, Southwest Review is the third-longest-running literary quarterly in the United States. The publication is housed on the campus of Southern Methodist University and publishes in print and online. Southwest Review has previously featured prominent writers like D.H. Lawrence, Arthur Miller, Annie Dillard, and Anne Carson. The journal aims to reopen for submissions in 2022.

Southwestern American Literature

This biannual journal features literary criticism, fiction, poetry, and book reviews concerning the Greater Southwest. It was founded in 1971 and is published by Texas State University. Southwestern American Literature is currently accepting submissions for its next print issue.

Space City Underground

This new literary magazine is based in Houston, Texas. The magazine’s mission statement is to “create a space where stellar artists can express themselves unapologetically, free from any oppressive, early confines.” Space City Underground publishes art, poetry, prose, and reviews and is currently accepting submissions for its second volume.

The Texas Review

The Texas Review is a biannual literary journal that was first published in 1976. The journal is part of Texas Review Press, which is housed at Sam Houston State University. The journal publishes poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and reviews, and it is open for submissions through January 1, 2022.

Texlandia

This Texas-based literary, visual arts, and culture magazine is run by students and faculty at Rice University. Texlandia seeks to “(re)define places through the stories and art of the people who call them ‘home.’” The magazine publishes fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, reportage, visual art, and hybrid works. Texlandia is not currently accepting submissions.

Voices de la Luna

This quarterly literature and arts magazine was founded in 2008 by San Antonio writers Mo Saidi and Jim Brandenburg. In addition to the magazine, Voices de la Luna also offers community events like monthly literary venues, art therapy sessions, and collaborations with other local literary and arts organizations. Submissions for particular issues must be uploaded by the first day of the month prior to publication: January 1, April 1, July 1, and October 1.

by Rebecca Paredes

Nov 18

Reading Through the Awards: Harrow by Joy Williams

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 world. Joy Williams’s Harrow, winner of the 2021 Kirkus Prize for Fiction, is our next selection.

Quick Book Summary (from the official blurb): “Khristen is a teenager who, her mother believes, was marked by greatness as a baby when she died for a moment and then came back to life. After Khristen’s failing boarding school for gifted teens closes its doors, and she finds that her mother has disappeared, she ranges across the dead landscape and washes up at a “resort” on the shores of a mysterious, putrid lake the elderly residents there call “Big Girl.”

In a rotting honeycomb of rooms, these old ones plot actions to punish corporations and people they consider culpable in the destruction of the final scraps of nature’s beauty. What will Khristen and Jeffrey, the precocious ten-year-old boy she meets there, learn from this “gabby seditious lot, in the worst of health but with kamikaze hearts, an army of the aged and ill, determined to refresh, through crackpot violence, a plundered earth”?”


Joy Williams’s Harrow is a bleak, quiet, and thoughtful novel. It is broken up into three parts which, for the most part, center on a young girl named Khristen whose life just so happens to take place in America following an ecological apocalypse. What’s particular about Harrow as dystopian fiction is Williams’s presentation. She does not front-load the story with exposition about what’s happened and currently happening with the world. She also rarely, if ever, goes into Khristen’s thoughts which gives Harrow’s narration a distant and intentionally vague quality. The result is a subtle, underlying suspense when things that might otherwise be considered abnormal and tragic are taken in stride. For example, early on in the story, Khristen enrolls in a reclusive boarding school. While naturally, curriculum can differ between private and public schools, this boarding school espouses Friedrich Nietzsche’s principals as part of its induction ceremony and seems to regularly posit and expect philosophical thought from its students—some of who claim themselves as eco-critics, forward thinkers, and the like, who also seem to have not tasted an orange in years. In other words, the novel as readers recontextualizes what normal attitudes would be in a bleak world and suspense is created when all is not as it seems.

That said, when I write that the characters take the dystopian world in stride, this is Williams’s characterization and layering at play. Because underneath the surface, her characters struggle with the oppressive bleakness that’s got themselves and everyone detached. They are often pursuing one line of faith and philosophy after the other in the hopes of attributing meaning to their lives. In addition, the dialog of Harrow is strong and strongest when the characters try to rationalize themselves to Khristen. Khristen herself is a mostly quiet listener which gives these characters room to explore their beliefs that would otherwise be put down by those jaded in a jaded world. Khristen has also been noted by her classmate to lack “self-love” and “self-preservation” which is an interesting parallel considering Harrow critiques humanity for its short-term outlook and treatment of Earth. Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks to Khristen being as distant and impressionable as she is. I often felt I needed some grounding, a compass so to speak, to navigate the dynamic and lengthy scenes where multiple speakers and philosophies were being explored. Not many speech and action tags punctuate conversation and some sentences come across as more cryptic than necessary. The plot itself does not always come across as sequential when at parts it actually is. All that aside, Harrow, when it is not too cryptic and disorientating, presents a thought-provoking world that presents memorable intrigue, mood, and exploration of thought.

Angelica Colot


Joy Williams’s Harrow offers a glimpse of a post-apocalypse that in a perfect world would have been filed under science fiction. Unfortunately, Harrow reads much more like a premonition. Like a warning. Williams only gives us hints, but we know who did it, and why. We all did, and it is because we are shortsighted. Humans are the only animals with the desire, or ability, to make telephones and blue jeans and all the different cultivars of kale, but we are still animals, and animals do not care about the future, not when there is money to be made and leisure to be enjoyed now. If only this book had been more straightforward. As it is, the messages are hidden in nearly impenetrable twists and turns of conversation and thought. It is difficult to pin down. It reads like a dream, with a narrative that is only accessible in the macro, where nearly every page feels disjointed from the rest, despite being a continuation.

Ultimately this does a disservice to the very important “moral” of the story. We readers may have a marginal chance of avoiding our demise, but in Harrow, it’s too late: the only things growing fatter are the cockroaches. The tiger and the dolphin have gone the way of the dodo and the dragon. The rich world we readers live in is, for the people in Harrow, dead, extinct, so removed as to be mythic. And yet, despite this ecological apocalypse, many of Harrow’s characters remain optimistic, often morbidly so. They refuse to see disaster for what it is, instead only comparing it to a year before, ten years before, and in that shortsighted light, nothing really seems so bad. They descended into their apocalypse like frogs in a boiling pot. But there is no chef performing this act of cruelty. We frogs do it to ourselves. Happily.

Taylor Seyfert


Harrow by Joy Williams gives readers a vague idea of what an apocalypse could look like in our future. The in-depth details of the apocalypse are kept from the reader, but Williams is still able to create a destitute and chaotic setting with the details surrounding her characters. Students gripe with each other over the last time they had oranges, elderly people offer their lives to get revenge on environmentally harmful companies and people, and once glorious lakes are dried to dust. Without having to know all the complete details of what exactly caused the Earth’s devastation, Williams’ calculated descriptions and dialogue tell the reader all that they need to know: the humans have finally succeeded in ruining the planet. The intentional lack of world building allows the readers to focus on the characters and their mission to save the world in whatever ways they still can.

Most impressing is how characters throughout the novel never lose their humanity. When gelatinous globs fall from the sky and cause itchiness, there is still a character out in the midst of it trying to recreate the “…simple pleasure of feeling falling rain,” and holding back tears when it’s not the same. The main character, Khristen, after years of her mother imposing purpose and greatness upon her, still searches for her place in the world, despite it all crumbling around her. Williams writes these moments with intelligence and wit, and it creates a brilliant sense of normalcy that the apocalypse seems like just another thing humans have to deal with.

Melanie Spicer

Curated by Brandon Williams

Nov 15

New Voices: “Agora é Sempre” by Tanya Perkins

Drumroll, please… We are so excited to share with you the winner of our 2021 Flash Fiction Contest: “Agora é Sempre” by Tanya Perkins! Stuart Dybek writes: “The prose miniature challenges a writer to conceptualize how a story’s living essence can be conveyed quickly within language’s abstract sense of time and space. This is a feat that “Agore e’ Sempre” excels at. The story’s effect isn’t one of minimalism, but maximalism. A mere thousand words encompasses oceans complete with their currents, riptides, rogue waves, and roiling plastic. And the oceans connect continents. The “character” that the narrative revolves around is a pair of flipflops—i.e.“children of eternity”— and there’s a supporting cast of at least a dozen characters whose lives and deaths intersect.  The story announces the wit and whimsy it will sustain, in a modulated first a sentence that flows for a paragraph.  An appreciation of this original, vividly imagined story could deservedly go on for several times the length of the piece itself.” Dive in below:


Again the flip-flops were picked up by the current, none the worse, since they were truly children of eternity.

Gabriella Mendigez’s best wedding gift was a pair of black plastic flip-flops, the straps handbeaded by Marcella Adivino, her mother’s best friend, which Gabriella unwrapped on June 16 in the crystal ballroom of the legendary Sunset Islands Ritz Carlton on Lake Avenue, just a few miles from the condo on Biscayne Boulevard where she and her new wife, golf pro Carla Cosanatti, would live for the next several years, until that cool May morning, exactly one month short of their eleventh wedding anniversary, when Carla would be caught in one of Miami Beach’s infamous riptides and reappear, bluely entangled, some miles up the coast, just north of West Palm, where Marcella Adivino had first gathered the flipflops as part of the endless debris studding Florida’s shoreline.

But these flip-flops! Forgotten by Otto Krabhaufer on a beach in south Thailand, they were sucked into the North Equatorial current, which carried them across the Indian Ocean to where the warm Agulhas surged along the clouded banks of Mozambique, past idling hammerheads and freckled seastars, until finally they were lodged in the clefts of a half-submerged shoal. On that shiny morning, Isaac Attonobe was to join an uncle on his small fishing boat but instead was conscripted by pirates as a look-out, since he was young—just fourteen—and his sight keen. You can see him there, leaning against the stern, scanning the horizon with binoculars, his mother’s anger uppermost in his mind, that and fear of what the men might do if he did not find them a cargo ship. When the engine stalled, they drifted close to the shoal and Isaac noticed the left flipflop, glistening like an eel, so when the boat scraped the rocks, he reached out his skinny arm, grabbed it, exultant, then even more so when he spied the other. Thus, Isaac procured shoes for his mother, who would perhaps relent when he returned at day’s end, if not with fish, then with footwear.

To continue reading “Agora é Sempre” click here.

Nov 9

Interview with Meghan Lamb, Author of Failure to Thrive

Failure to Thrive, Meghan Lamb’s newest book and debut novel, hits bookstores today from Apocalypse Party. In this interview, Courtney Harler and Meghan Lamb discuss innovations in fiction’s form, shifting pandemic perspectives, and photographic evidence.

Congratulations, Meghan! And thanks for taking the time for this interview. I’d like to ask you about form, but let me quote one of my writing mentors first: “There are no rules,” said Lan Samantha Chang (and rather repeatedly) at Napa Valley Writers’ Conference in August of 2021. We were in our fiction workshop, of course, asking questions on craft, debating everything from effective diction to the subtlety of plot. Based on your debut novel—which innovates the form of fiction in so many ways—I’d venture to say you’d agree with Chang. However, I do wonder if you have your own set of “rules,” as in, did you set specific parameters for the work, or let them emerge as elements developed? Perhaps, given the three-part structure, you allowed yourself “containers” for the story, as Pam Houston might recommend? Or, let me present a third choice, if only for the sake of discussion—because creative choices really are endless, aren’t they?—were you inspired by a singular writer or written work, which gave you the encouragement you needed to experiment so vividly with the form?

My approach definitely involved some combination of all three choices! In terms of shadow texts and inspirations, I was inspired by Steven Dunn’s Potted Meat in more ways than I could begin to enumerate. I love the way he uses fragments and economy of detail to emphasize patterns, motifs, repetitions whose resonance deepens with each reintroduction. Steven and I have talked a bit about the way ikebana arrangements can be mapped onto the creative process, and he’s described the recurring moments of connection with the sister as his flowers (which is such a lovely way to look at a novel…as a kind of minimalist floral sculpture). I also deeply needed that book in my life at the time when I was first drafting Failure to Thrive, as there were so few examples of Coal-Region novels that were gesturing toward the territories I wanted to explore with this one (which is to say, most of the novels I’d read that were set in this area were in the realm of historic recounting, nostalgic memoir, or otherwise dedicated to honoring the memory of these kinds of spaces rather than exploring the decay, illness, ruined beauty…the living experiences of the present moment). Potted Meat is definitely at the top of my list as far as inspirational shadow texts go, but there were so many others, including Bottomland by PA Coal-Region poet Harry Humes (which I quote from in the first frame section) and Lawrence Deklinski’s Dalado Photography Archive (which allowed me some precious glimpses of PA coal towns “as they once were”—many of which I reference in the pages of my novel).

Of course, there were also the spaces themselves, which I see as their own kind of shadow texts. The three spaces I explored in the novel’s frame sections—the underground mine fire in Centralia, the former JW Cooper School in Shenandoah, and the remains of Concrete City in Nanticoke—all spoke to me so deeply when I visited them that they demanded their own space in the novel. While I’d always kind of envisioned this novel as a triad of place-linked narratives, those spaces really ossified the three-part structure in my imagination.

I want to dig into the line here. You make interesting choices with punctuation, line breaks, direct and indirect dialogue. For example, the elongated ellipses made me think of Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. Wharton, I’ve read, wanted her extra ellipses to represent a gap in time, or a falling back in time, as a frame for the storytelling. For Olivia, whose story comprises “Part I: The Lonely Cold” and about half the book, the ellipses indicate not only the passage of time, but also, I think, gaps in consciousness or comprehension. You also fragment Olivia’s thoughts, or let them run wild together in unfettered streams of consciousness. Furthermore, readers can see a preoccupation with numbers, counting, clocks, and timetables—all of which help Olivia, and her mother, Emily, continuously rebalance and restructure their precarious, insular world. These numbers on the page punctuate the prose, adding even more tone and texture to the line. How does it feel as a writer—to let the line break and rebuild and shatter and un-limit itself? To let the numerals speak out loud on the page, when they are so often hushed by other words?

Oh, it makes me so happy to hear that you connected with those formal choices, particularly the weird ellipses and textual arrangements (and I’m particularly honored by the comparison to Ethan Frome—far and away my favorite Wharton novel)! I definitely hoped to evoke a certain blendy-ness and gauziness of time with them, and to perform the kinds of physical gestures, tics, and repeated bodily behaviors connected with the experience of time’s movement (for example, there’s some text-shaping in the latter half of the first section that I wanted to mimic the sensation of Olivia’s pacing and circling movements as she wanders—self-soothing in her grief—over the living room floor).

I’m currently teaching a course at the University of Chicago on Reading and Writing the Body, and it means a lot to me that I might serve as a model for other writers hoping to use line breaks, lists, and other gestures of textual arrangement to more fully embody moments of lived experience (especially pertaining to queer characters, characters with disabilities, and other characters whose lived realities are too often marginalized or oversimplified).

Let’s continue this discussion on inspiration by focusing on epigraphs. Yours are brilliant, by the way, and since we so rarely get this kind of intimate glimpse into a literary artist’s mind, maybe you’ll indulge me here. While the Harry Humes quote from “Pennsylvania Coal Town” links directly to the setting of your novel, the second and third epigraphs, from Diane Seuss and Carl Phillips, orient themselves more toward a certain mood, or character. My question for you: how do you know when you’ve found the perfect epigraph? For the reader, the epigraphs open the door to intertextuality, or even to the writer’s process, but still retain some magical mystery. For the writer, do the epigraphs remain somewhat amorphous as well? They feel… Emotional. Deliberate. Powerful. Do they hold special significance for you, or did these particular words on the page simply want to have a conversation with your words on the page?

That’s a wonderful question. I’m afraid my answer is disappointingly simple: I usually know that I’ve found the perfect epigraph when I feel—upon reading it—like I’ve been given a window into a character’s mind. While the Humes quote is more of a ghostly ribbon I wrap around the whole novel—which is all about absence, and the internal conversations these characters are having with voices, spaces, objects in absentia—I feel like the Diane Seuss quote is a window into Helen’s perception, and the Carl Phillips quote is a window into Jack’s. So, yes…I guess these words did have a conversation with mine… In some ways, they even initiated parts of the conversation.

(Jack, by the way, is named in honor of the foggy-minded brother who returns to his own home-that-no-longer-feels-like-home in Brian Friel’s play Dancing at Lughnasa, another shadow text I re-read repeatedly while I was writing the novel.)

I’ve focused on “Part I” of Failure to Thrive so far, but the novel also contains two more interconnected sections about families in this same defunct, downtrodden coal town. In addition to recurring motifs, such as a flaking mural and the infamous “shit-creek,” all three parts unite over their sense of isolation and desperation. Moreover, and I believe readers will look upon such topics with new eyes since the onset of the pandemic, each of the three families represents long-term domestic caregiving situations: a neuroatypical daughter, an aged and unwell father, and an injured but slowly recovering son. After 2020, home is sometimes a kind of not-home, where care, concern, and comfort are often compromised because forced coziness just isn’t. (Cozy, that is.) In your novel, you implode many of the modern myths of blissful domesticity. While it’s nice to be able to choose to stay in, maybe bake and eat carbs, the choice becomes the significant factor. Your caregivers love their charges, but they remain “stuck,” nonetheless. I am not sure what parts you might have written pre- or postpandemic, but over the course of 2020, and even into this year, did your perspective on your characters shift due to the ongoing crisis?

ML: This is a great question, and—as is the case with most great questions—very difficult to answer succinctly.

I started writing Failure to Thrive in 2014, at the very beginning of my marriage to a person who has family members from the PA Coal Region. When he first drove me through the coal towns that inspired my novel’s setting—Shamokin, Coal Township, Mt. Carmel, the evacuated scar of Centralia—I was so struck by them, their singular blend of beauty and dilapidation (the coal-streaked clapboard, the once-resplendent buildings in various states of ruination, the houses with X signs on the front doors indicating to first responders that it was unsafe to enter). I was also struck by this weird, uncanny feeling that I’d been there before (even though I hadn’t been), perhaps triggered by associations with my family’s hometown of Decatur, IL (another once-thriving industrial city now on the decline). The landscape looked sick. The buildings looked sick. The roads looked sick. There were signs on the homes that said, “Danger, oxygen in use.” I was just filled with this sense of wonder about the people who lived there, who stayed there, who couldn’t leave because of barriers related to illness and disability.

When I began this novel, I think I was trying to map my experiences working as a caregiver for elders and people with disabilities in the Midwest onto my imagination of life in these Pennsylvania towns that were really important to my (then) husband. As time went on, though—and as our marriage started to reveal its hairline cracks, its sickness, so to speak—I think I was writing more and more toward my own increasing sensation of being “stuck,” of being cloistered with this person I felt loyal to, but ultimately disconnected from (as so many people feel, living in these kinds of towns: part of them probably knows that these towns are dying, that they’re not going to experience some miraculous recovery, but these towns are “home”…to the degree that “home” itself perhaps becomes aligned with a kind of sickness, a kind of sick-glazed mental fog).

The pandemic definitely increased that feeling of being “stuck.” I went through the first month of the pandemic in Szombathely, Hungary (where I was then teaching at a university) confined to the apartment with my then-husband, basically 24/7. Then, when we made an emergency return to the US, we had to quarantine together in my parents’ small house by Lake Michigan. They’d actually just bought the house a few months before the pandemic, so we were literally staying in a house we’d never seen before. I think we both felt like squatters…or, at the very least, like we were living in a tenuous situation that was an emotional pressure cooker for both of us.

To make a very long and very complicated story short: I ended up leaving my husband and moving back to the fringes of the PA Coal Region (where I’d earlier lived as the Philip Roth Writer-in-Residence during the spring semester of 2018). Living there a second time, I felt like I transitioned from being an outsider writing about someone else’s home to a liminal resident who was forced to engage and identify more deeply with the landscape. I couldn’t find writing and teaching jobs when I first moved, so I actually ended up working at a hospital in the Coal Region (as a COVID screener/temperature-taker), and I developed a very strange intimacy with the community that way. I had to plead with (sometimes hostile) people to wear their masks. I saw the chart with COVID patients in the hospital—and COVID counts in the county—steadily rising. I drove through the beautiful, beautiful mountains early in the morning, late at night, through the fiery colors of fall, the bleakness of winter, the relief of spring.

I also revisited spaces my ex-husband had planned to photograph for the book, and I took my own Polaroids (the ones you see at the back). More than anything, taking these pictures helped me feel connected with the space…with the novel…or, perhaps, helped me feel more at home with my particular disconnect. Rather than writing toward experiences and spaces that weren’t “mine,” I felt like I was articulating my own perspective on these towns. It’s ironic, but in some ways, even as I grew to identify more and more deeply with my “stuck” characters during the pandemic, I felt increasingly at home. I felt free.

Let’s end today’s interview at the very end of your debut novel, with the image-based coda. Tell us a bit more about the Polaroids you took. For me, these bleak but honest photographs blend fact and fiction—an intentional effect, on your part?

Definitely intentional. I don’t want to explain away that effect, but I will say that I was hoping to blend the present and the past in an uncanny way, and also to blend different spaces, to blend an amalgam of spaces into one single “town.” This was always a goal of mine because that’s how these spaces feel to me: they’re simultaneously singular and unlike anywhere else I’ve ever lived while also being like everywhere I’ve ever lived. And they’re also stuck in time in an uncanny way. Most of the buildings haven’t been updated since the sixties…have been decaying since the sixties… You see these seafoam green awnings, these astroturf porches, and all these old, weathered shells of grand Victorian and Italianate homes from the 1880s, and you’re overwhelmed with this sensation of: “Where am I? When am I?”

I felt particularly compelled to include images and realia from the Pine Burr Inn because I had a remarkable experience there. My ex-husband and I stayed there on New Year’s Eve in 2016 (which very much felt like the “eve” of Trump’s inauguration) so we could both work on our separate Coal-Region projects (he was working on a film and I was working on an early draft of this novel). The young woman who checked us into the Pine Burr Inn originally put us in a room without working heat (we took videos of our breath fogging the mirrors). When she came to address the issue, she moved us to the room next door, Xed off the room on a little clipboard-ed map of the inn and shifted the mattress of one of the beds (in the room we were in) so it was pressed up against the window. The next morning, there was this eerie, ghostly stillness. There were no cars in the parking lot. The young woman wasn’t at the front desk to check us out. And I noticed that there were mattresses pressed against the windows of almost every room of the inn.

A year later, when I was the Roth Resident at Bucknell University, doing some idle online research, I found an obituary for the owner of the Pine Burr Inn. I learned that the owner of the Pine Burr Inn died that New Year’s Eve, on the night we were staying there. We were there on the last night of the Pine Burr Inn’s existence.

The book contains a menu from the Pine Burr Inn that I took with me when we left on that strange, ghostly morning. The book also contains photos from the Pine Burr Inn in 2020, when it was no longer in operation (though, when I took those photos, I heard someone talking behind the door of one of the rooms, so I think there must be some homeless people sheltering inside).

This is all a very roundabout way of saying: I wanted to document that sensation, of being in a place that—in many ways—no longer exists. A place that no longer exists, but is nevertheless a “home” to  many people. It’s an unreal, but real place, and people are still living there.

Interviewed by Courtney Harler

Nov 8

New Voices: “Play That Again” by John Glowney

We’re thrilled to share today John Glowney’s “Play That Again,” the second place story in our 2021 Flash Fiction Contest selected by Stuart Dybek. “The brevity of “Play that Again” seems almost to be that of an anecdote, but the story is more complex and delves far deeper than an anecdote. As the title suggests, an odd set of piano lessons becomes a story that is also about music and emotion, and youth, and the recognition of beauty. The prose has a muted quality, attractive in itself, that’s critical to telling the story. Goethe called music the language of the inexpressible. There are stories in which words can paradoxically be that too, and this carefully detailed piece is one of them. The writer locates the story in an experience that some might find mundane, yet conveys emotions too nuanced for diction to name, especially given the youth of the kid taking lessons. It seems to me that the medium of short short prose—as exemplified say by a writer like Kawabata in what he called his Palm of the Hand Stories—has an affinity for expressing the inexpressible.” – Stuart Dybek

I was a middling student, I guess, keeping up but not shining. He obviously knew my skills would not take me far. But also knew that revealing this judgment to my aunt or mother would end his employment and the $20 that they scraped together every week for me to hand to him at the end of each lesson.

I started out on a grand piano. My aunt would stop by on Saturday at noon, and eat lunch with Mother, and then the two of us would take the subway to Brooklyn, and up the four flights of stairs.  He smoked cigars, and the piano sat in the middle of his living room, which was, by all appearances, his kitchen, and bedroom. Newspapers and books, opened and then placed face-down on the corner of the couch, or table, or end table, any available surface, sheet-music scattered everywhere.

He was researching the source of music, he once told me. Play that again. This time with the sharps. He gave lessons to many children, he had told my mother, although I never saw any other child coming or going from his place, never met anyone on the stairs, not even any other tenants of the building. The front door was never locked, and somehow I knew people lived in the other rooms although I never saw any of them.

My aunt was oblivious to all this. She would sit on the couch with her novel and read while the lesson proceeded. This was her usual posture when waiting. She read an endless supply of paperback novels.

To continue reading “Play That Again” click here.

Nov 5

Interview with the Winner: Candice May

On Monday, we published the third place story for our 2021 Flash Fiction Contest, “How to Develop (Film)”. Today, we’re excited to share with you this interview with the author, Candice May, conducted by assistant editor Melissa Hinshaw.

First off: what is it about a dark room that is just so sensual? Hot damn! *whistles*

Well, I don’t know that a darkroom is inherently sensual, but I hoped to make it that way in this piece. It could also be quite a technical and tedious place. Perhaps the mood lighting, aka the red light, helped set the tone. And of course, the “badness” of what actually went on in there probably amped up the sensual tension. For me, it was serving as an environment that reflected the narrator’s loneliness and (illicit) sexuality.

How did you get the idea for “How to Develop (Film)?” Is any aspect of it autobiographical?

I was a lonely girl in high school, and in my final year in particular I did spend my lunch hours in the darkroom, hiding out. I even had a small darkroom in my bathroom at home that I spent a lot of time in. I liked being in the dark, quietly developing film, without the social anxieties and pressures of life and high school. Otherwise, this piece is pure fiction. There was no “Mister” in my life.
What effect do you feel the list form has on this story?

For me, it helped focus the narrative. I had been looking up film development procedures to remind myself how it works, and suddenly realized that the story needed to be told in the list / instructional form. It also helped steer me in a much more fictional direction than when I started the piece. I think it also points to the naivety of the narrator and the denial about what is actually happening—like, Nothing going on here, just developing film as per usual protocol….

One of this story’s strengths is its ability to steer clear of cliche or adolescent whiny-ness, capturing that pure thickness of high school and becoming more fully human. How did you walk that line but still “go there” with the content of this piece?

I didn’t want this narrator to be a victim, although in some ways of course she might be. She has agency, she’s an artist, she’s creating her reality, even if her choices are questionable. I also imagined her being in her final year of high school, right on the precipice of adulthood, and definitely not a whiner. She’s more of a contemplative, deep thinker, loner type. I did have to push myself to fully “go there” with the content, because it’s uncomfortable and illicit and totally taboo! But I think it paid off because the piece has tension, and people aren’t perfect, and I think as readers we are interested in tension and imperfection. It’s relatable.

If you had to put this story to a soundtrack, what songs would be on it?

“Take on Me” by A-ha. “Enough” by The Dance Hall Crashers. “Familiar” by Agnes Obel.

Interviewed by Melissa Hinshaw