The Masters Review Blog

Sep 19

Litmag Roadmap: Wyoming

On the road again: We’re on the way to Big Wyoming! Join us on our trip through the literary journals of the Cowboy State.

The Wild West portion of our road trip continues with the loneliest home on the range: Wyoming is officially the most sparsely populated state in America, and that shows not only in the demographic data but also in the tiny handful of literary entities we were able to encounter as we made our way through. And encounter we did: publications at local and regional levels attempting to cover vast swaths of land, history, and lives with each stroke of the keyboard. Wyoming is more out there than you realize, and the journey perhaps more rewarding for that.

Owen Wister Review

Who is Owen Wister? None other than the author of the very first modern western novel The Virginian, set near the town of Laramie — the town where the University of Wyoming stands today. This undergraduate arts and literature journal is run through the university’s student media department, who admits to a soft spot for western and Wyoming-specific work, but seeks writing from all over the world. They’re an active editorial team, priding their excellence in part on “working with writers and artists whose submissions are promising but which do not initially meet our standards” — so if you’re stuck on a piece you can’t just quite finish, send it in and see what they can do!

Boar’s Tusk

Bless this country’s community college English departments—often the only bastion actively promoting creation, submission, and publication of the written word for miles, determined to squeeze whatever culture they can out of and into a smaller surrounding community. Boar’s Tusk, the journal of Western Wyoming Community College, is a prime example of just this: they managed to publish a digital version despite the flurry caused by the pandemic this spring, working closely with the local digital news outlet to expand rather than shrink its reach. While you might not be able to submit—they seek local submissions only—you can still be inspired.

Western Humanities Review

While published out of the University of Utah, WHR boasts one of the few—if not the only—award series geared towards the interior west: the Mountain West Writers Contest. While it appears the program is on hiatus for 2020, it’s worth keeping an eye on, as past judges have included names like Lucy Corin, Oliver de la Paz, Ander Monson, and Pam Houston. They also accept regular submissions year-round, if you’re feeling slightly less Wyoming-ey.

High Desert Journal

HDR not only highlights work from the interior west but actively occludes work from the western coastal regions (they have a great map to delineate!). Their virtual salon series, literally called IN THE TIME OF COVID, directly promotes a thriving arts and literature scene despite draining and tiring times. HDR reopens November 1st for Spring 2021 submissions—get that calendar pencil ready, baby, and submit your COVID road trip story or whatever other weird stuff came up for you this summer. They especially seek “writing outside the realm of those typically published,” and champion Native voices.

by Melissa Hinshaw

Sep 17

2020 Flash Fiction Finalists!

The decision is in! Sherrie Flick has selected her finalists for our 2020 Flash Fiction Contest. We want to thank all of our lovely submitters for trusting us with your work. This was truly one of the most competitive contests we’ve ever run. So many excellent flash stories came through in this contest, but there can be only winner. Congratulations to all of our finalists, whose work will be published on our website in the coming months.


Crocodile, Ashleigh Bell Pedersen

Second Place

Consider the Shape of Your Fist, Leah Dawdy

Third Place

Heirlooms, Amanda Akers

Honorable Mention

Fire Season, Vincent Chavez

Sep 14

New Voices: “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by Rosemary Harp

We are excited to share with you our New Voices selection for today, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by Rosemary Harp! When Caitlin flies to San Francisco to visit Theo, her gay ex-boyfriend and longtime friend, she’s running the risk of missing her daughter’s birthday party. But Caitlin’s love for Theo, as Caitlin describes it, is “tenacious, insistent.” When things go awry, will Caitlin be able to tell Theo no?

Theo fiddled with a shirt button. His hands were as familiar to me as my own. I could map them. Here, the scar from a burning chunk of log at Boy Scout camp when he was twelve; there, a glossy red bit of dried boat paint from the wooden dinghy he was rebuilding on weekends. I raised an index finger to touch it, then let my finger fall. Axel expelled a sad little hiccup in his sleep and I settled deeper into the cushions with him.

When Dermot asked me how I could have risked missing our daughter’s tenth birthday party to spend time with my gay ex-boyfriend, I told him he had to understand that there’d been a legitimate emergency. What I didn’t tell Dermot was that performing acts of self-negation for Theo was a kind of muscle memory I didn’t always know how to override. I didn’t taxonomize the kinds of love or explain to Dermot that ours is the combing lice out of the whole family’s hair together at 1:00 a.m. when someone wakes up itchy kind of love—and that’s the best kind. Still, there are other kinds and they’re tenacious, insistent. I also didn’t tell Dermot what he already knows about me: I’ve never stopped loving anybody in my life.

* * *

I met Theo when I was almost eighteen, working as a counselor at a summer program for middle school math prodigies. Theo had no patience for the mathies, hated the way they chewed with their mouths open, trailed around with their shoes untied, argued about Fibonacci until somebody cried. I thought they were sweetly helpless. I reminded them to tie their shoes. I braided their hair.

I was journaling in the cone of light from a plastic desk lamp in the dorm where I lived with the young geniuses when Theo appeared at my wide-open door, backlit by the institutional fluorescence of the hall. He smiled as he watched me write, like he understood about girls and their journals, like his name appeared in their pages all the time. Then he leaned, left shoulder against the doorframe, and I thought, “Beautiful hypotenuse.” My heart kicked my sternum hard.

Theo asked if I wanted to go running with him. I hated running: The thump of my own feet made me desperate with boredom. Plus, I was on duty and obligated to stay put and supervise my mathies.

“What about the boys on your floor?” I asked.

“I told them to calculate pi until I got back. Come on. You’re the only person here worth talking to,” Theo said.

I was already lacing my Nikes. In my hurry, I didn’t bother with socks although I’d had bad experiences with blisters in the past.

The streets were lined with linden trees that threw off a scent like lemons only thicker and sweeter. Shoulder to shoulder, Theo and I talked over each other and around each other until everything else fell away. It was as if we’d invented talking. Theo’s favorite movies were my favorite movies: A Room with a View, Rushmore. His favorite music was old British stuff from the 1980s—The Cure, The Smiths—just like mine. Theo’s favorite opera was Turandot. I didn’t have a favorite opera, but I could hum a couple famous arias and resolved to learn more. I could feel the skin on the backs of my heels ripping and almost savored the pain.

Over the years of our elaborately doomed long-distance relationship, it got to the point where Theo and I spoke almost in code, knew what each other would say before we said it. It was less conversation than transmission, as if our minds were thrumming at the same frequency. When I thought about calling him, my phone rang. We hit send simultaneously.

But wait, back up, I know: Merchant-Ivory films, E.M. Forster, The Smiths, opera. All I can say is that I was a seventeen-year-old Boston girl who’d gone to Sacred Heart. Besides, when I lost my virginity standing up under the prickly spray of a dorm shower at the math camp, almost fully dressed because neither of us could wait, Theo didn’t appear to be suffering any sexual confusion.

To continue reading “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” click here.

Sep 11

An Interview with Caroline Allen, Author of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water

Book Four in Caroline Allen’s Elemental Journey Series, Water, is set to publish with her new independent press, The Art of Storytelling, in October. Allen is also a visual artist and book coach. Courtney Harler, Masters Review Reader, recently corresponded with Allen about her growth as a literary artist. Amidst this current threat to our collective health, and as we still mourn those lost to us nineteen years ago on this fateful day, Allen calls upon all people, and all artists in particular, “to step into their voices and their power,” to try to heal our broken world.

In Water, your narrator states: “Here, this space, this folding table in this corner of this kitchen, is where the bitch can run free. Here. This writing corner. My writing is the only place I can truly say everything I think, everything I’ve learned, everything I’ve experienced in my journey. Somehow I wanted this life. Somehow I asked for it. Just because you’ve asked for something doesn’t mean you have to like it.” I think a lot of writers, a lot of artists, feel this way. The art is joyful, but also painful. We have to delve into the pain to find the joy. Your series’ protagonist, Pearl Swinton, resists the artistic life as much as humanly possible: In Earth, she recounts her farm girl days, her connection to nature, but seeks to escape the mythical landscape of her youth. In Air, she becomes a journalist in Japan; in Fire, a travel writer in Southeast Asia.

All the while she’s drawn to other creatives—painters and musicians and crafters. In Water, Pearl must face her own hidden talents. I don’t want to make the amateur mistake of conflating the narrator with the author, but I do know that this series is semi-autobiographical. In addition to the ideas you address in the books, as a writer and writing coach, what other notes would you give to emerging writers? How can those who wish to write, or even those who do not wish to write but feel compelled to do so, wrestle their own call to writing into some discernable shape? From my experience, that “shape” eventually involves some level of publishing, which is another level of strife. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what it requires to be a writer in today’s world.

I worked as a newsroom journalist at newspapers in Tokyo, London, and Seattle for years before giving it up to write fiction. Journalism required me to remain neutral and out of the picture. Fiction and memoir writing allows a writer to fully own both the beautiful and the ugly—the pain and the joy. All of it.

When I was living in London, I worked with a group of women novelists (one of whom was a writer for the BBC), and they taught me about owning the ugly. One of the women went through a divorce and spent a year on the floor in pain. When the fever broke and she stood up, around her was the equivalent of a chalk outline of a dead body, demarcated by the detritus of her woe. A box of tissues, wadded tissues, pack of cigarettes, ashtray, bag of weed, rolling papers, tea cup, remote, pillows, magazines, dog-eared books—all contoured like the scene of a murder. What an image! She was writing about her dead body moment, and passionately supported me doing the same with my past. Up to that point, I was trying to keep the beast tethered, and it was blocking me. The pain is the writing, as much as the joy. This same woman used to say: “Caroline, let the bitch run free over the wild Serengeti.” (I’ve incorporated that line into Water.) Don’t hold in the wild woeful beating of your heart. Let yourself feel it all. Be wild with the pain. Turn it into poetry. Purge it. Don’t “manage” it or “control” it. Don’t polish it. Don’t put a bow on it.

Just as I was a journalist and had to hide my true self, I’m now a book coach, and coaches are expected to be neutral at best and all-understanding hand-holders at worst. I struggle with this. Coaches are people, and the best book coaches are also writers—expecting a coach or mentor to fully put themselves aside for the client, it’s a lot to ask. As a coach, I’m also working with two therapists who are writing memoir. They were called to tell the truth about their lives, and they too struggle with the exposure. They want to be able to be fully themselves in a system that’s set up where they have to hide themselves.

To me, the system that trains therapists to hide is just one cog in an overall system that is undergoing profound change. Graduate schools for fiction writers and publishers can have restrictive expectations that do not fit all writers. We need to come out from under these gatekeepers and tell our truth. Too many writers are trying to twist themselves into what a publisher wants, instead of letting their souls speak.

You ask in your question: How can those who wish to write, or even those who do not wish to write but feel compelled to do so, wrestle their own call to writing into some discernible shape?

What I think is required of every artist right now is simply the ability to be authentically on the page. To not mold their narrative into something they think the system wants. You’re an artist, you’re the system’s changemaker! For those reading this who cannot seem to find a publisher or who have tried and been rejected dozens of times, keep writing. The system is changing. As we speak, it’s changing. Don’t get stuck on what “they” want, write your truth and let the publishers catch up with you.

When you talk about wrestling “their own call to writing into some discernible shape,” to me that is simply about discipline. I cannot stress enough the importance of a daily writing routine. For 20 plus years I’ve been writing for four hours a day, except when I’m going through the publication process, where the hours are more concentrated over a few days. I tell people I’m a “farmer/writer.” I was born on a subsistence farm, and you don’t—you can’t—sit around just thinking or talking about milking the cow. Let me ponder the milking some more. No. You just get up and milk damn cow, even if you’re sick, or it’s icy outside or you’re depressed. Just milk your damn cow!

To recap: Writing, visual art (I’m also a visual artist), and other types of art allow a person to express the entire range of emotions. We deserve the entire range of our emotions. By writing about the grit and gristle of a well-worn life, we’re able to simply be ourselves (something I think everyone is hankering for), and the readers who read our work are inspired to allow themselves to just be, as well. I think we all need to stop worrying what the publishers might or might not want, and be the change we wish to see.

After reading the first three books in the series, then embarking upon Water, I felt like I was finally learning what I’d wanted to know most—how Pearl harnesses her stories, how Caroline gets her say. Again, not to conflate in a way that would in any way dampen my appreciation of your writerly imagination, but I’m intrigued by the metafiction here—the writing about writing. In Earth, you write: “Stories weren’t just about the telling, but about who told them. Not just about who, but how. Not just how, but why.” You also write, “When you come from a family full of secrets, lying becomes your truth until it doesn’t seem like you’re lying at all.” I’ve often equated stories with lies, and I grew up in a household where truth shifted underfoot like sand. Hence, I don’t believe in Truth or even truth, only emotional truth. And when I write, as well, telling my stories or the stories of others is an empathetic act of love, but from afar, whether in space or time. My question for you—how do we bear to write a story that must be told, but that is too close to truth as others might conceive it? How do we bravely reconcile truth with artifice, or fact with fiction? And, who is to say which is which?

To break your question down: How do we bear to write a story that must be told, but that is too close to truth as others might conceive it?

Let’s start with “bearing to write a story that must be told.” As a coach and a novelist I have a whole slew of tricks up my sleeve for managing the process of writing about a difficult life, whether in memoir or fiction. You have to work outside the writing time to keep yourself centered and fit, and I actually do about a dozen things a day to maintain my center.

Meditation, yoga, exercise, walks in the woods on my property, journaling, therapy, spiritual work, veganism, whole foods—the list goes on. The more intense your story, the more work you’ll want to do outside of the writing time to keep centered and healthy. In case I’m sounding too politically correct here, I’m just talking about staying centered enough not to slip down the rabbit hole into a depression that lasts months. If I hadn’t changed my lifestyle—I stopped drinking and smoking (weed and cigarettes) and became vegan—I’d be plunged into a pit right now and unable to write. If you relate when reading these words, change your diet and get some exercise. Stop drinking and drugging yourself!

Water opens with a dark night of the soul, and I’ve had plenty of experience with the dark. I just prefer now to have tricks to finding the light, so I can get my book done (milk my own damn cow).

For clients writing a traumatic scene, I use a “get in and get out” method. I recommend they clear their schedule so they have nothing before or after the writing of this scene. Meditate beforehand, and then just sit and write it. And then get out. Do not linger in the morass. Bring yourself back to the present. You can polish it later. Watch for any PTSD triggered by the writing, and engage self-care techniques.

How do we bravely reconcile truth with artifice, or fact with fiction? And, who is to say which is which?

Writing our truth is a process. It’s an unfolding and not a stagnant bog. First, I wouldn’t start the writing process worrying at all about this. I would just write the story as I know and perceive it. As the chapters progress, as you explore the characterization and stories of the other characters, as you understand the cultural and physical setting that has affected the other players in your drama, your “truth” will shift. That’s fantastic. Let it shift. Write about the shifting sands. I’ll often to say to clients, or to my own family concerning my semi-autobiographical novels, “I’ll write my story. You write yours.” Of course their perception of events is going to be dramatically different from yours. That’s the spice of life, right there! They see through different eyes. They attach different meanings to different events. Of course they do; they’re different people. I hope they do write their version. It’s exciting that life is so full of so many versions and perceptions. It’s just like quantum mechanics, there are so many different ways to view the same event.  Your role as writer is simply to tell your version as honestly as possible (and not cling to the idea that it’s the only version).

And yes, there’s no way to avoid the negative reaction to your version of events, especially from your family. Write your truth anyway! I’ve been through this with my own books and with dozens of writers whose families have screeched and hollered and had the vapors upon the metaphorical fainting couch. You’ll live through it. Have the courage to have your say. It will change your life.

Yet, sometimes the stories are too much, like when Pearl “attaches” to the pain of others, particularly when she reads tarot cards for them in Water. Being an empath is a gift, and a curse. To be very honest, I’ve always felt too close to other people’s pain, and it’s caused me to cut myself off from it to survive. I seem to have passed this gift/curse on to my children, as well. To be even more honest, when I first read Earth, it was too much for me. Too much like my hardscrabble upbringing back in Kentucky. Like Pearl, I also wanted to leave that type of subsistence-level living behind. I married a more suburban man, whom I knew would be stable and supportive. Together, we had children, then moved abroad and back for his career. In 2017, when I began to truly think and operate as the writer I was meant to be, our long marriage ended. I discovered that no matter how much I loved or admired my husband, we could never be happy because he was not as empathetic as I. He was a thinker, a logician, and our minds would never meld as lovers, though they might as friends. In 2020, it’s come true: We are great confidants, great co-parents. We don’t see the world the same way, but it’s okay now given our separateness.

More truth: After reading Fire, I had to take a little break from your series. Pearl’s depression triggered my own. I tasted ash in my mouth, and I needed a palate cleanser. I speedread some fluffy genre books, then picked up Sea Wife by Amity Gaige, which, naturally but also ironically, led me back to Water. The answers, for me, are in the books, in the stories. And, increasingly, as if returning to my childhood: in nature itself, in the unpredictable elements. Still—I feel like I am always asking other writers how they manage to survive their own stories, so I can learn to survive mine. In Pearl Swinton, I see a survivor, a fighter, but someone scarred. Someone still scared. I want to ask about Ether, Book Five, but I know I have to wait. You said the series came to you in a dream. Let me come to a point here, a question: How do we artists face the dream—and how do we continue to live as we do so? Not physically or financially or logistically—those riddles are solved by particular circumstances—but overall, emotionally?

Where you are with a story before you begin it, when it’s all still trapped inside your mind, where you are when you’re writing it, and where you’ll be after it’s been purged—these are all different emotional phases. You can apply different self-care techniques to manage the emotional upheaval in each phase. This is done step by step, and not all at once.

I write about in Water the first time I became a fiction writer. In truth (and in the novel), I’d given up my international jet-setting life as a journalist in Tokyo and London, and I was being called to do something else, and it took me years to realize what that something was. As a reporter, I’d spent years giving voice to the voiceless, and now I was being called to find my own voice. I was so overwhelmed by this prospect of telling my story, I was having panic attacks. I kept telling my counselor at the time, “I’m terrified of the monsters that will be released if I tell my story.” She suggested I build an actual cage, and put it beneath my desk, open it to let out the monsters just for my writing time, and close it for the rest of the day. This is all explained in Water. I built that cage. When I sat at the computer and opened the cage for my first ever writing session, I couldn’t stop sobbing. I sat at the keyboard and sobbed every day—for how long I can’t remember. Finally, snippets and vignettes emerged through my hands. Day by day, month by month, I started to let the monsters out on the page. Over the years, how I viewed my own story changed and morphed, transmuted and healed. Over the years, I learned different ways to take care of myself, to be gentle with myself, as I penned my stories. I wrote my truth by myself, with no one else reading it. At first, we do not even require other readers to heal.

I would say that it’s not facing the dream that causes writers difficulty. It’s just thinking about the writing and thinking about the writing that creates the trauma. So, first release it onto the page by yourself. When we put the writing out into the world, that’s another level of release, another level of healing. Each phase requires self-care. Read books on mindfulness. Do yoga. Learn meditation. That’s your job as a writer, to learn how to take care of yourself. As you face the writing and put it out there, watch an evolution of voice occur.

As a book coach, I’ve seen this again and again. And I’ve seen it in my old life. As you turn your story into legend, your pain into poetry, slowly, other creative talents emerge. After I finished my first novel, I “remembered” my visual artist side, and now am a fully-fledged artist. When I work with book clients, my focus is unearthing/excavating their authentic creative voice in the writing. What happens is they also unearth other creative passions. One memoirist is now a performance artist. One fiction writer dropped her first single. One writer remembered her love of dance and has become a professional dancer. We all “contain multitudes.”

The question of an individual sense of spirituality, and its ramifications, is key in the Elemental Journal Series. Some readers may not fully connect with Pearl’s specific brand of spirituality, but her particular experience is very powerful on the page, nonetheless. In fact, Pearl’s spirituality is her artistry is her humanity, but it takes her many decades to accept herself as an artist, as a mystic, as a healer. Most of us struggle with finding pathways to acceptance, of both ourselves and others, end then continue to struggle to follow those ways successfully. Some seek sobriety, some seek love, some seek personal power that buoys them in dark waters. Despite the dogma, some seek community in their churches, and some are even so desperate they fall prey to harmful beliefs or even cults. I grew up in a cult—and that’s a story I’m trying to parse for myself as an adult in my own writing—but with such a history, I am always skeptical. Yet, writing is an otherworldly act for me—I go somewhere new, somewhere mystical, in words. I guess I’d like to know what you’d say to a skeptic who is also an artist, to a very human human who also seeks and needs evidence of the divine.

As you’ve mentioned, Water is semi-autobiographical and I personally did resist every call to mysticism for many many years. I spent more than a decade in Catholic schooling as a child and had what some therapists call “spiritual trauma” from the experience. I wanted nothing to do with anything spiritual. As a journalist, I just wanted the facts.

When the call came to own the prescient dreams and intuitive awareness I was having, and to own that I was actually quite mystical, I wanted nothing to do with it. I had a jet-setting life as a journalist abroad. Even after giving up journalism and seeking my path, I preferred the label of artist or writer. Even as I became a professional psychic for people in Seattle (and ultimately all over the world), even as I read tarot cards, studied shamanism, became Reiki certified, studied past-life regressions—even then I had a hard time with the terminology, like “divine, “spirit,” and “sacred.” I felt like I was already on the fringe as an expat, already on the fringe as an artist, why push myself over the edge into the mystical? I worried publishers wouldn’t touch me. As everything falls apart, as systems fail, I realize I’m being led to a new way of being in a world that isn’t working. I would advise anyone reading this to follow where you’re being led into the alternative life with passion and courage. It’s the way of the future, whatever terminology we use.

I coach people all over the world with many different belief systems. People in the Judeo-Christian tradition, mystics, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists. How people choose to approach the “divine,” or not approach it at all, in their creative process is entirely a personal one. Again, I love the variety of perception, and that’s why I open myself to coach people in so many different areas of the world. The ways we as humanity seek meaning in a higher power, or reject it, is wildly fascinating to me.

To me it’s a personal journey. I definitely channel other entities when I write, including ancestors and past lives. I now call it channeling “spirit” when I write. But I’ve worked with people who would never go near that word, and use the term “muse.” Whatever works for you.

I do believe there is source energy that we can tap into. It’s inexhaustible and crazy wild energy. Even scientists talk about this core energy. Whatever you call that energy is up to you. If there’s past spiritual trauma, approaching it as the muse can help. Open to it fully and watch where it leads. It led me to my novels, and it led me to my visual art. The human capacity for creativity is mind-blowing.

Last question. Given recent events, this particular line really resonated with me as a person, and as a reader and a writer and a mother: “I wonder if the illness, the boredom isn’t some kind of blessing, the loss of the use of my arms isn’t some kind of miracle. My mind has never been so quiet.” During quarantine, I’ve felt a new, deeper quiet in my mind creeping up on me, and it scares me. I’ve always been a compulsive reader, a rapt consumer of story, and the quarantine has only intensified my urge to explore the written word. However, my usual urge to write is lessening as lockdown drags on. I’m afraid, I’ll be honest, to finish the first draft of my book. I’m afraid to go to that place of finality, even though I know it’s just the start of real revision. I’ve heard of a lot of writers blocked or locked this way, of feeling paralyzed during quarantine. The world needs stories now more than ever, and now we have the solitude to appreciate them, but we’re still so far from the stories—from the right stories, I think. I contemplate all the unrest. Pearl often says, “Everything is upside down,” but I am not sure any side “up” is correct, either. What do you think?

First, I do believe that there is an “up.” I believe that balance with nature (both the natural world and our inner natures) is the up we must seek now more than ever. My book series is called The Elemental Journey for a reason. In seeking this balance with nature, I don’t just mean my personal balance of getting out into nature and finding my purpose and owning my inner nature. I mean as a world, as a planet, we must rebalance. In Water, I call it rebalancing with the Divine Feminine or Mother Earth (but use whatever terminology works for you). We’ve so long been in the masculine “action” mode, and we’ve lost the metaphorical, receptive mode of the feminine, the gentle connection to self and nature, to creativity and cooperation, to community and sustainability. And we’ve lost this on a global scale. This is all expressed in fiction form in Water.

Any fear, the times you’re feeling locked up and unable to write—that’s absolutely a real and authentic reaction to a world so far out of balance with the natural world it’s shut the entire planet down! You are so right to be afraid!

What can each of us do individually? This is actually part of the next novel, Ether. Look at every action you take and ask yourself how close to nature, how connected with the earth you are with this action. We need a wake-up call to see how our individual actions are part of this greater global imbalance. The individual wake-up call can lead to greater collective change. In Ether, Pearl will be going vegan. It’s a spiritual call that I underwent after seeing the documentary Food, Inc., but also after really looking at a frozen turkey I purchased for Thanksgiving. What kind of life did this being have? What kind of death? Crammed in with thousands of others? Fattened so much it couldn’t function? I was an accomplice to abuse when I purchased that turkey. I took a couple of years to go vegan, first turning to vegetarianism. It’s the same for every product I eat. Was it farmed locally? Was it flown in from thousands of miles away? Who picked it? How was that person treated?

I’m not saying we have to change our diets right away. Sometimes it’s impossible to easily find locally grown produce in big cities, especially in a pandemic, and especially if you don’t have a lot of money. I’m saying: Let’s start the conversation. Let’s look at our individual actions and its effect on the environment. Let’s become a force for change. Let’s turn the upside down, right side up again. My hope comes from the fact that I think it’s absolutely and entirely possible to turn things around.

I believe the fear a lot of people are having around their creative voice is this imbalance that has led to a pandemic. Your fear is right on. What I do is take the scary thing and write about my views on it, so that I become part of the solution. Becoming part of the solution for me unlocked all my creative energies. What I recommend to book clients is to turn and face whatever is scaring you, whatever is blocking you, and write about the block. Write about lying on the sofa binge-watching Netflix. Write about going out in a mask and not being able to understand the cashier. Write about needing to be touched. Write about: “I don’t want to finish my book because….”

We all have the greatest mentor, the best healing tool of all time at our fingertips—the writing process itself.

Interviewed by Courtney Harler

Sep 9

Chapbook Contest Open for Submissions!

Our very first Chapbook Contest is now open for your submissions! We’re accepting prose chapbooks from 25-40 pages from now until November 15th. The winning chapbook, which will be selected by this year’s guest judge, Steve Almond, will receive $3,000, print and digital publication, as well as 100 contributor copies. The full details can be found below and our contest page!


Add to Calendar

The Masters Review is proud to announce our first chapbook contest! The winning writer will be awarded $3000, manuscript publication, and 100 contributor copies. We’re seeking to celebrate bold, original voices within a single, cohesive manuscript of 25 to 40 pages. We’re interested in collections of short fiction, essays, flash fiction, novellas/novelettes, and any combination thereof, provided the manuscripts are complete (no excerpts, chapters, works-in-progress, or other incomplete work), and function cohesively. The Masters Review staff will select a shortlist of 5-10 chapbooks to pass along to Steve Almond, who will select the winning manuscript. Steve Almond will provide a brief foreword/introduction for the manuscript upon publication. The published manuscript will be available for sale as a physical copy and distributed digitally through our newsletter.


  • Winner receives $3000, manuscript publication, and 100 contributor copies
  • Second and third place finalists will be acknowledged on our website
  • Manuscripts should be between 25-40 pages (not including front/back matter) with each story beginning on a new page
  • Manuscripts should be double-spaced and paginated
  • Manuscripts should include a Table of Contents (if necessary) and an acknowledgements page listing any previously published material within the manuscript
  • Manuscripts may contain some previously published work, but should be but the published work cannot have appeared in any other chapbook or full-length collections
  • Self-published collections are previously published and therefore ineligible
  • As we are a prose-focused journal, we are not interested in poetry chapbooks, but will consider chapbooks which contain prose poetry
  • Electronic submissions only
  • Single author manuscripts only
  • International English submissions allowed (No translations)
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed (Please withdraw submissions if they are accepted elsewhere.)
  • Emerging writers only (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Self-published writers and writers with story collections and novels with a small circulation are welcome to submit. Writers with novels published with a circulation of fewer than 5000 copies can also submit.)
  • Entry fee: $25
  • Deadline: November 15, 2020
  • Individual stories or essays within the manuscript may be considered for publication in our New Voices series
  • We are not requiring blind submissions for this contest
  • Editorial letters for individual pieces within the manuscript may be requested, but we are unable to provide full manuscript consultations at this time

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.


Sep 8

September Book Review: Seconds and Inches by Carly Israel

Reviewer Dan Mazzacane brings us our second book review for September, Seconds and Inches by Carly Israel. “Gratitude underlies the entirety of Seconds and Inches,” Mazzacane writes. Read the full review, available now.

Within the frenetic tempo of Carly Israel’s memoir, there are letters of gratitude for things one would expect—doctors, family members—and some they would not—bullies, cruel teachers. These letters act as the sinew of the book, connecting vignettes; brief moments that echo the disjointed rhythm of two lives lived second to second. First: her own, growing up an addict. Then: her child’s, born with a rare, potentially fatal disease. Mother, child, and letters blend together into an unerring refrain: gratitude. As Israel says herself, she learned to “see gratitude in any situation,” even nearly dying, through self-reflection and pain.

Read on.

Sep 7

New Voices: “Running From Blackness” by Allen M. Price

In the wake of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder by two men in Georgia, Allen Price explores his own personal history with running as a Black man in America. Growing up, Price writes, “I never felt as good as I did when I was running.” It offered him a reprieve from questions about his identity, which Price has turned to confront fully in “Running From Blackness”.

The image of the Black man running goes back to the days of slavery. The visual is one I didn’t become aware of until high school. Slavery was a subject that my mother didn’t want in my head until I was old enough to fully understand. My mother believed the moral urgency that there once was—when Blacks were lynched, were sitting on the back of the bus and needed to slip into the us-against-the-white-world mentality—was no more. Michael Jackson was a big superstar Black singer on MTV, The Cosby Show was a highly rated Black television series and Spike Lee was dominating the film industry with his Academy Award-nominated blockbuster Black movies. My mother didn’t know I lived in a fuzzy dream and wanted to be like all the pretty white people I saw on TV, in magazines, music, movies and school. She didn’t know I wanted to change the color of my skin. She didn’t know that my Black identity suffered from a marred self-image, which affected my entire psychological being until 1984 when I joined the sixth-grade running program.

I was born five years, three months, and two days after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. in Providence, Rhode Island on July 10, 1973. My mother, who divorced my father when I was five, raised me in the predominately all-white neighborhood and schools of Warwick so not to worry about me getting hurt, kidnapped or killed. For eighteen years I lived there. I was one of only two Black kids in the neighborhood, as well as in my elementary, junior high and high school. My Blackness took a back seat, though I could always see it in the mirror. I desperately wanted to be like the well-off smart white kids who wore Ralph Lauren polo shirts, spent their summer vacations in Florida going to Disney World and had both a mother and a father at home. We were poor, went to Rocky Point Park for vacation and rented movies on summer weekends, but I was determined to become like them. I emulated everything they did. I guilted my mother into buying me Polo Ralph Lauren attire even though we couldn’t afford it. I became a runner in the sixth grade because all the other sixth-grade white boys were. In high school I put myself into college-prep classes, went to my junior and senior prom in white stretch limousines and graduated my junior and senior year with honors. My desire and need to fit into white society continued after high school. I graduated from college with a bachelor’s in accounting, a master’s in journalism, attended Harvard Summer School, attained internships at Merrill Lynch, Men’s Journal, and The Harvard Crimson, became a pricing analyst at what was the world’s largest mutual fund company, Skudder Kemper Investments, wrote for Muscle & Fitness and Natural Health magazines and published literary work in well-respected journals. I’m unapologetic and proud of my accomplishments.

Throughout all of those years I never stopped running. I ran five miles three days a week. Running is what gave me my strength and determination to persevere. Running took my mind off of knowing and understanding my Blackness or rather my lack of wanting to. I was a runner for thirty-five years. I’m forty-six. Sadly, my running days ended in 2019 when I was diagnosed with severe spinal stenosis. I had three pieces of my vertebrae removed five days before Christmas so I could walk again. My sadness flags, though, in the wake of the murder of runner Ahmaud Arbery, which awakened me to my true identity.

To continue reading “Running From Blackness” click here.

Sep 4

Litmag Roadmap: New Mexico

Pack your things, we’re headed back west! Join us on the trip to New Mexico to explore the sights and sounds of the literary journals that make their home in the desert.

“Ah, the Land of Enchantment.” Just saying it makes you feel wise, otherworldly, and ethereal. This is the place for all things spicy (Hatch green chile!), weird (any other Meow Wolf fans out there?), and mysterious (the Taos hum)—doesn’t that alone sound like a recipe for great stories and confessions? You can almost feel the whisper in your ear from here. Well sunscreen up and simmer down, because we’ve got a lot of good high desert ground to cover today:

Sky Island

You’ve got to explain it to appreciate it: “sky island” is the term for the type of mountaintop that’s home to a whole hidden biome—think pine trees and bears—totally isolated from the tops of other mountains scattered around the desert. Sky Island’s goal is to send brief messages of that rich, lush life to whichever other sky islands might hear, listen, and call back. It’s about as lovely a metaphor as the work they publish. Fall 2020 submissions close on September 30th, so you’ve got about a month to submit. Keep it short, like a shooting star across the desert sky (under 1,000 words for fiction and nonfiction).

Santa Fe Literary Review

Santa Fe Community College’s lit mag is committed to empowering voices usually ignored or silenced in the media. In the same vein of inclusion, their 2020 theme is “Tapestry: Diversity, Culture, and Common Ground.” Magic carpets, golden thread, museum mysteries, fashion scandals, dirty things happening on living room rugs, families and communities weaving together or totally unraveling—what are we gonna write about, people? Figure it out and submit fiction, nonfiction, and drama or screenplay by November 1, snail mail only.

Puerto del Sol

Run by students at New Mexico State University’s MFA program, this title translates literally to “door of the sun” but is understood by at least this reader to refer to the path of light this lit mag opens into the world. We’re particularly loving their Black Voices blog series and their convicting, refreshing decision to cease publications this past June in solidarity with the BLM movement. Regular submissions run August through April.

Blue Mesa Review

We’d call it New Mexico’s “flagship” literary mag if it were anywhere near water, but we’re going to have to think of it as a dominant rock formation instead. A large mesa, perhaps? Tinted blue in the crepuscular dusk of the many writerly souls whose words have graced the pages in years before? All romance aside, this lit mag hails from the University of New Mexico and features a rotating student staff, meaning: keep submitting because you never know what each year’s crop of editors might fancy. Summer contest submissions just closed, but general submissions open October 1st—stick both on your calendar for this year and next.

A Room of Her Own

If you’re like us, you’ve definitely heard of this publication—or is it a press? Or a fellowship? A female-ish nonprofit? Or just a Virginia Woolfe title-quote?—but had no idea it was based out of New Mexico. Turns out it’s actually all that and so much more. AROHO publishes books, puts on summer camps, gives out fellowships, calls for action, and overall totally shifts the landscape for women through literature and art. To celebrate 20 years of AROHO-ing, they’re actively collecting submissions for a special edition called the WAVES Anthology. The submissions come in the shape of Submittable/Google Forms and are a must-submit act of solidarity and self-reflection for any female-identifying writers and artists out there.

El Portal

This lit mag of Eastern New Mexico University keeps it simple: they have a “soft spot” for stuff about the American West, but remain wide open to anything that piques their interest. What we hear is: what does “west” mean to you? Riff on that and submit flash fiction, fiction, and creative nonfiction anytime via email.

Manzano Mountain Review

Founded with the goal of building literary culture in New Mexico outside the “typical centers,” this new-on-the-scene lit mag is well on its way to succeeding. In these trying times, we’re drawn to the bright yellow—just open their home page and stare at it, seriously—and the general feeling of hope for writing that doesn’t mind the mess of trying. If you miss their September 15 submission deadline, bookmark or like them on Facebook/Twitter and aim for the next one in February.

by Melissa Hinshaw

Sep 3

Introducing: The 2020 Chapbook Contest!

The Masters Review is excited to announce our new contest! Replacing the annual Fall Contest, The Chapbook Contest will honor the best single-author prose chapbook by an emerging writer! The winning writer will receive $3,000, manuscript publication, and 50 contributor copies of their award-winning chapbook, which will feature an introduction written by our esteemed guest judge. We will also distribute a digital copy of the winning chapbook to our newsletter. The contest will run until November 15th. Over the course of the next month, we will provide helpful resources to writers compiling their first chapbook. Stay tuned!

Submissions Open through November 15th


  • Winner receives $3000, manuscript publication, and 50 contributor copies
  • Second and third place finalists will be acknowledged on our website
  • Manuscripts should be between 25-40 pages (not including front/back matter) with each story beginning on a new page
  • Manuscripts should be double-spaced and paginated
  • Manuscripts should include a Table of Contents (if necessary) and an acknowledgements page listing any previously published material within the manuscript
  • Manuscripts may contain some previously published work, but the published work cannot have appeared in any other chapbook or full-length collections
  • Self-published collections are previously published and therefore ineligible
  • As we are a prose-focused journal, we are not interested in poetry chapbooks, but will consider chapbooks which contain prose poetry
  • Electronic submissions only
  • Single author manuscripts only
  • International English submissions allowed
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed (Please withdraw submissions if they are accepted elsewhere.)
  • Emerging writers only (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Self-published writers and writers with story collections and novels with a small circulation are welcome to submit. Writers with novels published with a circulation of fewer than 5000 copies can also submit.)
  • Entry fee: $25
  • Deadline: November 15, 2020
  • Individual stories or essays within the manuscript may be considered for publication in our New Voices series
  • We are not requiring blind submissions for this contest
  • Editorial letters for individual pieces within the manuscript may be requested, but we are unable to provide full manuscript consultations at this time

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.


Sep 1

September Book Review: The Dark Heart of Every Wild Thing by Joseph Fasano

“In a world shaped by quarantine,” reviewer Adam Schwartz writes, “with those who currently grieve for loved ones taken away too soon, Joseph Fasano’s The Dark Heart of Every Wild Thing shows the complex changes a person can make when having to confront loss in complete isolation.” Dive into our first review of September below:

In a world shaped by quarantine, with those who currently grieve for loved ones taken away too soon, Joseph Fasano’s The Dark Heart of Every Wild Thing shows the complex changes a person can make when having to confront loss in complete isolation. At the center of the story is an unnamed character who travels deep into the wilderness with his son after his wife’s sudden death. Together they track and hunt the ever-elusive mountain lion. During this time, the reader experiences how easy it is for the hunter to become the hunted as another tragedy strikes the unnamed character.

Read on.

Aug 31

Craft Chat: Finding the Nugget

While reading through submissions for our ninth anthology, the editors began to discuss what work needed to be done to “find the nugget”, the good story that’s buried inside early drafts. The following chat is what emerged.

Cole Meyer: When we were reading through the longlist for our 9th Anthology and narrowing down to the 30 we selected for our shortlist, we remarked how many of the stories had something fantastically unique or interesting embedded within them, but hadn’t yet found the right way to capitalize on that aspect yet. Melissa, I think you made the comment that the stories need to “find the nugget” that makes the story work—Could you expand on that? How might authors go about mining their drafts?

Brandon Williams: I think we’ve talked about something passably similar to this before, but every time we get one of those stories that has that one unique thing in it, I find myself coming back to the question of how the rest of the story works—so often, that singular uniquity is in a story that’s otherwise traditional, or that is using the same narrative beats or character notes that we see in more straightforward stories, and it can have this weird effect of making those traditional elements feel either off-putting or else too obvious. I think it’s important to remember that a story’s responsibility is to itself, to the logic of the world and characters and plot that it is creating—when something strange or unique is brought to the table in a piece, then the normal of that story must invariably shift as well. We love the strange, the unique, the individual, but everything then needs to be built, or at least reconsidered, around whatever it is that is singularizing the story.

Melissa Hinshaw: Once I took a workshop about “mining for story ideas” with Ethan Chatagnier. The workshop was about learning to keep an eye out for story material in your life, the news, podcasts, articles, books, etc. I really liked the phrase, and even though the workshop was about sourcing for material before the story, I think of it often when I’m reading through submissions. I think a good way to look at a second draft is mining your first story for the heart or meat or nugget or whatever metaphor you want to use here. Brandon’s right that a lot of what we’re talking about here is the wrapping surrounding that one unique thing—how much packaging do you have to tear open to get to what the story has to offer, and is it worth it? How many layers of dirt are between you and this treasure, when you’re reading it, and did that make it an adventure or a slog?

I think when I say “nugget” I can mean two different things: either a super unique concept / detail / idea, or a key conflict. There are content nuggets and plot nuggets and I do think they get hidden in the same way. I think this is because we start stories in different ways—sometimes we start with an idea and sometimes we start with a feeling, and sometimes we keep the focus on one of those things and sometimes it shifts back and forth between what we started with and other stuff. It’s so much work just to build a story at all; it’s even more to make sure your arc is aligned with the heart of the story in a way that maximizes the mood and conflict you’re going for. And for most of us, we often don’t know what we’re going for at first!

Sometimes, I think authors don’t see what the nugget is in their own work. It’s like being in relationships, where you’re so swept up in the drama that you miss sort of the point of the lesson you were supposed to learn for yourself or the thing that isn’t working for either of you. I had an MFA professor talk a lot about how good stories have a “thing and the other thing” going on in them—I think a lot of MFA professors talk a lot about this. Sometimes you need to shed the first thing you have in your draft, enhance the other thing as the thing, and add a third thing to be the new other thing. Sometimes you’re aware of the thing and sometimes you’re not—sometimes the thing that got you writing the story was the thing you need to come back to and dive deeper into, and sometimes it was just a stepping stone to get you writing about something else entirely, or just writing again in general.

There’s that Hemingway quote I just had to Google to make sure I was using it right: “Find what gave you emotion; what the action was that gave you excitement. Then write it down making it clear so that the reader can see it too. Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over.”

The benefit of being a reader/editor is getting to feel the thing that gives us emotion/excitement and being like “Oh, this story might be a love story?” or “Why was the grandma only in this for a minute, she was WILD, let’s go back to her!” It’s hard to get that objective distance from your own work when you’re fresh in the thralls of writing/submitting.

 CM: I love the idea of this nugget being the thing you were writing to discover without consciously understanding exactly what it was you were writing. I wrote a story once—flash, actually—that I had been tinkering with and tinkering with and submitting without getting a ton of traction. Then, Tara Laskowski over at SmokeLong said, Hey we’re not going to accept this in this current form, but if you’d consider cutting everything but this one paragraph in the middle, we’d love it. Which threw me for a loop. But then I pulled the paragraph from the story and said, Ah, shit, she’s right—this is what I wanted to say the whole time. All the rest was unnecessary. The nugget was right there in the middle of the story the whole time, and I just needed someone else to point it out to me. SLQ published it as a micro and it ended up in Best Small Fictions.

The best thing was I salvaged what I cut and recast it into a new flash, which ended up getting published at Pithead Chapel. Two stories out of one.

I think what I’m trying to say is even though we’re mining through our own work often for what’s really working in the story, what it really wants to be about, the other stuff, the more traditional stuff around the Thing, is still useful. Maybe in another context. Maybe with new characters. Maybe you’ll never use it at all, but they’re still your words to work with later on, if you want. It’s not time wasted. So much of writing is rewriting— I’m sure you tell your students this all the time too— but none of it is wasted.

I guess I’ll add that I think although it’s possible to find the nugget in your own story, so often I’m too close to the writing to see what that might be. This is where another pair of eyes will greatly help you. Someone else, a trusted writer or reader, can help point out to you what stands out in the story, can find the nugget. I guess that’s what you mean, Melissa, by not being able to get that objective distance from your own work. I find, too, that putting a story away for a year or more makes it feel like something new when you return to it. There’s value in not rushing your work out.

MH: Yeah! I was thinking that a lot of this could be summed up by, “Maybe I’m just asking for a serious second draft?” or “Kill your darlings!” type of thing that we hear a lot. Don’t be afraid to cut 80% of your story and see what else can come from that.


Aug 30

Deadline TONIGHT! The Summer Short Story Award For New Writers Closes at Midnight!

If you’ve been waiting until the very end to get your submissions in for our Summer Short Story Award for New Writers, here it is. We’re at the finish line. Give your manuscripts that last once over and submit for the chance to win a $3,000 prize, in addition to publication, and agency review. The finalists will be selected by guest judge Kali Fajardo-Anstine! Don’t miss out!

$3000 + Publication + Agency Review!submit

Add to Calendar

The Summer Short Story Award for New Writers runs from July 1st to August 30th. 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, Heather Schroder from Compass Talent, and Siohban McBride from Carnicelli Literary Management. We want you to succeed, and we want your writing to be read. It’s been our mission to support emerging writers since day one.


  • Winner receives $3000, publication, and agency review
  • Second and third place prizes ($300 / $200, publication, and agency review)
  • Stories under 6000 words
  • Previously unpublished stories only
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed
  • Emerging writers only (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Self-published writers and writers with story collections and novels with a low circulation are welcome to submit.)
  • International English submissions allowed
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: August 30, 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.

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.

Kali Fajardo-Anstine is a National Book Award Finalist and the author of Sabrina & Corina, a finalist for the PEN/Bingham Prize and The Story Prize, and longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize. Fajardo-Anstine is the 2019 recipient of the Denver Mayor’s Award for Global Impact in the Arts. Her fiction and essays have appeared in The American Scholar, Boston Review, Bellevue Literary Review, The Idaho Review, Southwestern American Literature, and elsewhere. Kali has been awarded fellowships from Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, and Hedgebrook. She has an MFA from the University of Wyoming and is from Denver, Colorado.