The Masters Review Blog

Apr 24

Notes from the Slush: 2018 Winter Short Story Award

We received an incredible number of submissions for our Winter Short Story Award judged by Aimee Bender, and the shortlist decision was tough. So many excellent stories we couldn’t nominate! Editors Cole and Melissa discuss the strengths of the stories on the shortlist, where others fell just short, and common trends we see in successful (and unsuccessful) submissions.

If your conflict is based on characters withholding information from one another— unless you have an extremely good reason for it— I’m bored.

Cole Meyer: The shortlist is out and the stories are with Aimee Bender. I do not envy the decision she has to make! I was truly blown away with the quality of stories submitted for this contest; it felt like an impossible task narrowing our selection down to just ten.

Each story on the shortlist is unique in its own way, too. While in our last Notes from the Slush, we noted that there were a number of non-traditional POV pieces that made their way to the top, it seems like the pendulum swung in the opposite direction this time. There were a few pieces that I’d characterize as “non-traditional” narratives, but largely the stories that stood out again and again were narratives I would consider more traditional. It’s fascinating how trends like that emerge. I’d say all but one of the stories on our shortlist fit that “traditional” mold. But where they stand out and separate themselves from the rest is in their well-crafted characters, or the skill of the author who takes on this “traditional” story to make something wholly unique and surprising and powerful. Did you feel the same way as you were reading through our selections?

 Melissa Hinshaw: The challenging part with an open Short Story competition is that range of stories you get coming in. If it were, say, a magical realism story competition, or a horror story competition, or themed in some way like that, we’d be narrowed in the scope of what we’re looking for and paying attention to. Instead, I feel like we get such a variety of types of stories, and when I’m reading them, I try to pick the “best of” in each type/or category I see—even if there are several very good stories in each sort of unofficial genre that presents itself. There were a few really great stories from other countries in other political climates; there’s always a couple of exceptionally well done quiet, small-town-America stories; always a few touching on big life schisms like miscarriage or disease. So what happens is these come in and I feel we’re always deciding whether the technical skill of one story outweighs the uniqueness of another, no matter what the “category.” For example, the miscarriage story (is that politically correct to say?) that rose above the many we saw involved a character caretaking for an elderly gentleman who asked her to help end his life. And that could be very melodramatic, of course, except this piece is done with a light touch and great psychic distance and you end up having to triangulate the ideas of life and death in a different way than you do when you read other life and death stories. So I think that’s what you’re talking about, right? Because our writers are readers as well, and they’re out there reading all these “traditional” or archetypal stories, and they are getting to decide (however consciously) whether they are replicating that tradition or transforming it somehow. And the ones that manage to transform it somehow get our attention, for sure. I was sort of hoping that having Aimee Bender judge would bring in some weird stuff—and it definitely did. There was one about a holly bush with gender dysphoria that didn’t make it to final rounds, but how are you going to forget that?

CM: Exactly. I thought it was interesting that we had two stories on our longlist with very similar plot beats, although the writing style and perspectives were quite different. To echo some advice I was given by a creative writing professor in college: Make your story stand out. I’m going to go more into depth on this in on an upcoming post about smart submitting, but consider ways to separate your story from the rest. Give us something new and interesting! Think of how many stories you’ve read which start with the protagonist waking up in the morning, how many stories are titled with a singular, vague word like “Happy”. We’re more likely to return to stories that stick in our heads, like the one you mentioned about the holly bush, but they still need to work on a craft level, too. There were some weird magical realism stories that I loved— a piece about school children morphing into bugs, for example—but they weren’t full realized. And I want to reiterate something our founding editor Kim said in a recent interview with The Writer: Submitters don’t know how close they get sometimes. There were more than a handful of stories we seriously discussed that just missed the cut, and I sincerely hope we see more work from those writers in the future.

Were there other reasons we passed on stories for this round?

MH: There are so many that I’m like, extremely impressed with, and which stand out far above the majority of submissions —but by the time we’re talking about the final 40 stories, it’s very easy to be like “Oh no, cut that one,” “Oh never mind,” or “Nope,” to a handful within that last grouping. I bet you could plot it out mathematically on a curve or something: all these middle-of-the-road stories and then all of a sudden a few great ones and then WHOOSH! One or two or three that are way up there, very exceptional. This is where what you’re talking about with a new, interesting, unique, bizarre, or esoteric element comes in handy. Those are the ones that it breaks our hearts to let go of, and we actively search out excuses to try and keep them in the running. You know? “Well, there’s 28 spelling errors on the first page and all the characters are flat and does it even really have a story arc?” “But Cole, there’s BUGS in it!!!” That kind of thing. But this is also where we let go of stories that are very, very good, have very compelling voices, because we don’t remember them even if we’ve read them four times or we confuse it with three other stories from the finalist pile or like, it’s the greatest, cleanest narrative style we’ve ever read, but it’s a vignette, not a story. I’ve been particularly pushy about this this year, but I want to see characters actually face and work through their conflict. There are a good number of stories I remember cutting because they ended at that moment right before something big happens—and I get that, as a writer, one hundred percent! That’s the moment where there’s all this great tension and you feel so much and you don’t wanna mess with it. But guess what? You have to. Because that’s how story happens. So that’s a big reason I pass on otherwise-great stories, and the next big reason is related to the step right after that: that moment of conflict. It’s very easy to be cliché in that moment of conflict, and it’s very easy to leave it like that because, well, you finally made it happen! Good job! But let the story sit for a couple of weeks, then come back and rework it so the dialogue or narration doesn’t sound exactly like every other moment of conflict in any other story. Successful moments of conflict contain the concretely-stated heart of the matter within this particular story, not an abstract commentary on how hard things are. They literally show you what’s at stake. They’re rarely actually subtle, but they also manage to feel subtle within the pace of the story.

Oh, and I have to say: I don’t know if this is just how we talk as mainly-white millennials who sort of don’t understand their life circumstances all the time but there’s been so much aggressive dialogue that doesn’t really mean anything. There this whole slew of dialogue tics that are almost verbatim to other pieces about completely different things: people refusing to give information, lots of swearing, using names indignantly. If your conflict is based on characters withholding information from one another— unless you have an extremely good reason for it— I’m bored. Just put the information in at the beginning and then the dialogue can be about something different and then your story’s different and then voilà, you stand out from the pack. I say it like it’s easy but I also know from experience how hard this is.

CM: Your last point is great. This is something I see so much: conflict that’s generated from willful withholding of information, either from the reader or from other characters within the story. It’s an easy way to create “intrigue” or tension within the story (or the semblance of these things), but it’s artificial. It’s easy for the reader to see where this “tension” breaks down, too: stick your fingers into the thin mesh of the story and it falls apart. I will say, for me, it’s more sinful when the story withholds information from the reader and either reveals it at the end in a pseudo-profound way or uses the lack of information to make things seem hectic or jarring. I find myself yelling at my computer screen, Just tell me what’s going on! A story that opens with a car accident, and all we get for 3 pages are physical descriptions: sounds, mangled metal and shattered glass, a character saying What happened? What happened? but we’re told nothing about who these characters are, or even that they were in a car accident—I see this way too much.

In fact, we’re publishing a story that opens with a car accident in a couple of weeks and it executes it perfectly (by doing exactly the opposite of what I just described).

Thanks for having this chat with me. It’s always great to wrap up our thoughts after big discussions like this!


Apr 23

New Voices: The Plight of the Red-Feathered Austrian Goose by E.Y. Smith

“The Plight of the Red-Feathered Austrian Goose”—our New Voices story for this week—ponders the fragility of existence, of our relationships. Would you recognize the significance of the extinction of a creature you didn’t know existed? Smith’s careful narration in this fabulist tale leads us to an inevitable but remarkably quiet conclusion. Read on below.

It could break so easily, he said. And that’s the beauty of it. Wouldn’t you want something to last? I asked. He shook his head. No, where’s the beauty in that? It’s the absence of eternity that makes things attractive.

Here’s a story that you don’t hear every day: I once knew a man who owned the last red-feathered Austrian goose. He said that it came from a wintry mountainside, where the lakes had just about frozen over, and now he was adapting the goose to the winters of the Bronx. Well, I said, it just about makes sense that the poor thing would die off, seeing as geese can’t survive on mountaintops. Their feathers freeze and they can’t huddle together close enough to sustain the heat. But my friend shook his head. No, he said. It’s the people that do it. The geese’s feathers can withstand the snow and the ice, but the people can’t seem to stop hunting them. Anyway, said my friend. You should come and see the goose sometime before it’s too late. I think you’d like him.

I told my friend all right, but I didn’t go over that night or the next. Instead, I spent my evenings out with friends at this jazz club, where some solo saxophonist played lounge covers of the nation’s top 50 hits, and we laughed and drank martinis with dark green olives in them and we spilled over ourselves. One night I even brought a man with me. He was a tall, strong man with big arms and a good laugh—the sort of laugh you might’ve recorded for a laugh track back in the nineties to really drive the joke home. An earnest laugh. The sort of laugh that you couldn’t fake.

To continue reading “The Plight of the Red-Feathered Austrian Goose” click here.

Apr 19

New Writing on the Net

Introducing our new series, New Writing on the Net, which will shine a light on new writing—fiction and non—published online. Every third Friday of the month, we will celebrate a few new works published in the previous month which we believe stand out among the rest. Today, we’re highlighting new fiction from Xuan Juliana Wang, Tobias Carroll, and Daniel DiFranco, new flash fiction from Sabrina Helen Li and Meg Pokrass, and a new personal essay from Colm Tóibín. Check them out!

Stories of generational (mis)fortune, of disease, disappearance and detritus below

“Mott Street in July” by Xuan Juliana Wang | Gulf Coast, March 12

“It got so hot that summer someone mercifully broke open the fire hydrant in front of their window on Mott Street. Water drenched the neighborhood until shivering children ran home to sleep, as the asphalt washed itself into the drain. The water hitting the sheet-metal roof of the makeshift store below didn’t wake them, nor did they stir with the passing of garbage trucks at dawn. In her sleep, Lucy heard nothing but the rhythm of her brothers’ breaths, their comfortable shifting bodies. She must have imagined her mother kissing them on their foreheads before leaving because somehow she already knew it would happen. Just the way Mom always threatened she would. She thought they all did.”

“Somewhere A Well” by Daniel DiFranco | jmww, April 10

“Outside the wind blew. The sides of the tent shuddered, flapping like wings of a tethered bird. She turned on her camera and reviewed the photos from last night, from this morning. The moon was beautiful. It was the only thing in the sky. She had felt alone, adrift. She scrolled through desert and sky, darkness and moon. The picture she snapped of Jack looking up. He was tired. Irritated. He didn’t take to flying well and trains made him seasick.”

“Freedom Night” by Meg Pokrass | Five2One Magazine, April 11

What we do is we sit down at the table across from each other. We sit there and we wait for our noodles to cool. Soon, we’ll devour the long, curly threads, which gives us something to focus on. It’s been a year since our boy’s disappearance. His hair was long and curly just like that, and it gave me a lot to do—to care for.”

“Origami” by Sabrina Helen Li | Tin House Online, April 12

“My mother hated her breasts, because that was the one part of her that she couldn’t sharpen. Before she vanished, she made sure that her body was as small as it could be. Once she disappeared, the first thing I folded her into was a star. I folded slowly and dragged my nail until the edges were as sharp as I could make them. I held the star up to the light and saw the five points, flat and glistening. I touched each point with the tip of my finger, and I pretended I was Sleeping Beauty pricking my finger over and over until I fell into a deep sleep, and the rest of my kingdom slept with me. And we would sleep and sleep until someone came and woke us up.”

“An Oblation” by Tobias Carroll | Big Other, April 12

“The lighthouse was on a small island. The lighthouse was the small island. There was a living space, a miniscule kitchen, and an alcove that comfortably fit a small bed. There was a dock for her boat. There were radios and a phone. Isolated but visible. Remote but unremoved. All she needed.

Once a fortnight or so, she’d boat the distance to the closest town: New Felton, a once prosperous fishing town whittled down by time. Gulls flocking over the docks, she tied the boat to her rented slip, walked down the docks’ long boards and onto the mainland. It was a short walk from the docks to the local post office, where she maintained a box. It was a shorter walk to a deli. You could get far on a diet of eggs and bread, and gourmet beans, the one luxury she afforded herself. An even shorter walk to the bar where she’d sometimes have a drink to remind the locals she was still alive.”

“Instead of shaking all over, I read the newspapers. I listened to the radio. I had my lunch.” by Colm Tóibín | London Review of Books, April 18

“I lay on the sofa in the house in Dublin and thought about things. I read a bit, but not much. I found that I had no interest in listening to music. For the next three months, I would not need to shave. My eyebrows would thin out but not disappear. The hair on my head would more or less go. The hair on the rest of my body remained in place until towards the end of the chemo, when it faded away. It took a long time to grow back. In that first week after chemo I lost any desire to eat or drink, and I lost all sense of taste. Instead, my sense of smell became acute. For the next few months, on the street, I could smell everyone’s perfume or aftershave or deodorant. It became confusing and surprising. In the house, when I was upstairs, I could smell any food in the kitchen even when there was nothing cooking. I could smell the soot in the chimney.”

Apr 17

On People-Watching by Ross Feeler

“I’m hurt,” she said, “I’m hurt and it’s all your fault.” The Masters Review reader Ross Feeler examines how our response to someone else’s pain can evolve, when challenged, from cruelty or callousness to genuine understanding. “On People-Watching” discusses the importance of empathy and the value of drawing from everyday observations and experiences in our writing.

Increasingly, as I sat down to write, I heard my characters crying out: I’m hurt. And they were, because I am, because who the hell isn’t.

A decade ago, a young, sunburned woman in an off-center bikini paddled her inner tube up to the banks of the Guadalupe River, and my girlfriend’s dad—who has since become my father-in-law—introduced me to the term people-watching. It was summer, Central Texas. Bubba’s Big Deck, the beer joint where we’d been for half an hour, cast a shadow on the fast-moving water. Drinkers rolled cold brown bottles on their necks, fanned themselves with baseball caps.

“Help,” the girl said, splashing.

She was not drowning; she simply had the fish’s reasonable skepticism about her ability to survive on land. Rather than slurring, her speech revealed her intoxication through a haphazard playing with volume: Syllables soared and sank with no apparent pattern. “Take my hand, my hand,” she implored a fellow tuber who’d exited earlier and now stood toweling off. Reaching for the boy, she promptly slipped. Her fingernails raked the Good Samaritan’s forearms. She hit the rocky bank, skinned her knees, and lost her tube, a runaway rental for which she’d later be charged forty dollars: It bobbed in the water, flipped twice, and disappeared.

“I’m hurt,” she said, “I’m hurt and it’s all your fault.”

To continue reading “On People-Watching” click here.

Apr 15

Shortlist – Winter 2018 Short Story Award Judged by Aimee Bender

We are excited to share (at last!) our shortlist for the Winter 2018 Short Story Award judged by Aimee Bender. Ten wonderful short stories by emerging writers selected from a pool of over 3,000 submissions. Bender will be choosing the top three stories from this list; stay tuned for our finalist announcement next month. Thank you again to all of our submitters to the Winter Short Story Award. It was an absolute pleasure reading your work. Congratulations to the shortlist authors!

Winter 2018 Short Story Award Shortlist

“Damico” by Joe Bond
“Caretaker Needed” by Meghan Daniels
“IED” by Neville Dastoor
“The Influence of Gravity” by Chelsea H. B. DeLorme
“Heaven is a Disk Floating in the Sky” by Mario Giannone
“Homeland” by Erin Gravely
“Nothing” by Taylor Grieshober
“Narada’s Ears” by Sanjena Sathian
“Native Flora” by Eva Spear
“At This Late Hour” by Rebecca Turkewitz

Apr 12

The Masters Review Profiled in The Writer!

Last month, our founding editor Kim Winternheimer spoke with The Writer‘s Melissa Hart about the founding of The Masters Review and offered some advice for potential submitters. Take a look at the conversation to learn a little more about the kind of work we’re looking for in submissions.

“I sometimes think people don’t realize how close they are to the finish line. We have limited space, and it’s always heartbreaking to reject a strong piece. People give up too soon.”

If you’ve ever wondered how we got our start, wonder no longer. Kim discusses the journal’s beginnings, highlights a few catalog favorites (“Red” by Katie Knoll and “Night Beast” by Ruth Joffre) and emphasizes the importance of tenacity in submitting. We want to extend a heartfelt THANK YOU to The Writer for shining a spotlight on The Masters Review!

You can read the profile in full here.

Apr 10

Interview: Belle Boggs

Author of The Art of Waiting, Belle Boggs was kind enough to answer a few questions about her debut novel, The Gulf, which was released last week (4/2/19) from Graywolf Press. The novel, included on our 15 Books We’re Looking Forward To, follows writers Marianne and Eric as they establish a writing workshop for Evangelicals.

First of all, congratulations on your upcoming debut novel!  With your past work being in essays and short stories, how has your process evolved with writing a novel? 

Thank you so much, Lyndsie! The Gulf is written from four characters’ alternating points of view. Switching between characters helped writing the novel feel a little more like constructing a series of short stories set in the same world—though of course, not quite. I often tell novelists in our MFA program to approach their chapters like individual short stories—to think about the world of that particular chapter, the arc, the setting and tone—because I think it can be a more satisfying way to construct a novel, especially if you’re used to writing short stories. I love novels that feel like interconnected, intricately-constructed short stories, like Tommy Orange’s There There or Dylan Landis’s Rainey Royal.

The subjects of each of your books are so different. How do you transition to and from each project? 

I actually wrote the first draft of The Gulf and had a contract with Graywolf before realizing that I wanted to write my nonfiction book, The Art of Waiting, first. Luckily my wonderful editor, Katie Dublinski, was very patient and accommodating, and we worked on The Art of Waiting (I’d send her chapters and essays every few weeks, before sending the entire manuscript). The Gulf (which way back then had an entirely different title) was just waiting forlornly in the wings for a long time! At first, I was worried that I wouldn’t want to go back to the novel, but with the (horrible) political situation and my growing fears about and interest in for-profit schools, rampant capitalism, and political manipulation, I found my way back in.

Your novel is about Marianne, a poet, whose ex-fiancé is a novelist. Why did you choose to write about characters who are also writers?

It was kind of required by the premise—a school for writers—but I was also interested in looking at some of the arrogance and anxiety that can surround the writing life. Eric, the ex-fiancé co-founder of the school, is kind of a terrible person. He’s so wrapped up in his ego and thoughts about his own career that he dupes everyone, including himself. The question becomes: will Marianne do the same?

Did research play a large part in writing The Gulf, as it did in The Art of Waiting?

Not nearly as much. I think fiction is mostly about paying attention to the world, thinking about character, and then thinking about character some more… I do have a (nonfiction) research project in mind and am excited and hopeful about getting to work on it soon.

What’s been the most enjoyable part of the path to publication for your novel? 

Working with my editor, and hearing from people I love—my mom, former students who are reading with me on the road—who read early copies of the book. I’m also really looking forward to traveling with my family to some great independent bookstores, like Malaprop’s in Asheville and Books and Books in Miami. Every time I travel for writing I remind myself how amazing it is that I get to do this.

As this is a platform for emerging writers, what would you recommend to those who are starting out in writing?

Read as much as you can! Get off your screens as much as you can too, and into nature/the world. Be around people who are not apparently like you (we are all alike in some ways). Write to writers and artists whose work you admire. Share your talents and love for writing by reading or volunteering for a journal (like this one) or with an organization that works with kids who love storytelling, like 826.

Interviewed by Lyndsie Manusos

Apr 8

New Voices: Holocaust Jokes by Sarah Snider

Help us welcome our newest entry to our New Voices catalog: “Holocaust Jokes” by Sarah Snider. A story in vignettes—laced with gallows humor—”Holocaust Jokes” is a commentary on the function of memory and tragedy in today’s society. Snider’s writing in “Holocaust Jokes” is laser sharp and never misses a punch (or punchline).

As the bride and groom stood behind him, faces shining with happiness, he addressed the guests: “I’m so happy today to be at the wedding of my beloved grandson. This day is so special and important to me. Why? BECAUSE THIS, THE WEDDING OF TWO BEAUTIFUL JEWISH CHILDREN, IS EXACTLY WHAT HITLER DID NOT WANT!”

Ari took a Volkswagen Jetta to get inspected by Henry at Sol’s Complete Car Care before he bought it. Henry’s father was in five different concentration camps during World War II. Henry’s daughter is tall, blond, and willowy like a model; Henry is of medium build and height with a certain level of receding, graying hair and a handlebar mustache. Henry’s mother survived the Holocaust, but it destroyed her nevertheless and she lived out much of her life in a mental institution. Henry lived with his aunt. He says things like, “Tell your parents to have a gut and gezunt yahr!” while knocking $50 off the cost of the car inspection for a fellow Jew.

“I always carry heat,” Henry tells Ari. “When they come for us again, I’m not going down without a fight. My daughter also. Right from the beginning, I taught her how to use a gun. We never leave home without them.

“My wife is Swedish. She’s a tall, blonde Swedish shiksa convert,” Henry tells Ari. “She always says to me, ‘You know Henry, I don’t understand your people; they’ve completely lost all sense of identity. They don’t even know what it means to be Jewish anymore! They buy German cars!’”

Ari bought a Subaru Legacy instead.

To continue reading “Holocaust Jokes” click here.

Apr 5

Debut Author Spotlight: Louise Ells

Today, we welcome a new entry to our Debut Author Spotlight series. Louise Ells’ Notes Toward Recovery will release from Latitude 46 Publishing on May 1st. Ells’ “Scraping” was selected by A.M. Homes for The Masters Review Volume II and is included in her debut collection. We’re so excited to welcome Ells’ words back to The Masters Review!

As I watched the water rising outside and admitted that death was a real possibility, I focused on coining a word to describe drowning inside a house.

“How long did it take you to write your short story collection?” asks a new friend.  It must be a trick; it’s impossible to answer.  I have no idea; hundreds of hours, thousands.  She re-frames her question.  “When did you start writing the first story?”

Well.  I started my PhD in October 2011, and Notes Towards Recovery was the first version of the creative component of my practise-based dissertation.  The first story I wrote was one I had been thinking about for several years.


I lost all track of time when I was sheltering from Hurricane Ivan in 2004, yet I remember thinking: if I live, and if I use this experience in a piece of fiction, will it matter that the date is September eleventh, or will I have to change that detail to avoid the storm being seen as symbolic of the terrorist attacks of 9/11?  As I watched the water rising outside and admitted that death was a real possibility, I focused on coining a word to describe drowning inside a house.

I survived the hurricane and did not lose everything, though for some time it felt as if I had.  My marriage ended, my health suffered, and I left the country that had been my home for seven years.  I am grateful; Ivan forced me to re-examine my life.  I stopped talking about being a writer and started working to become one.  I began with a Creative Writing MA at Bath Spa University and a PhD at Anglia Ruskin University.

But.  But.

What about creative writing courses I’d taken in the 1990s as an undergraduate at York University?  All the conversations at all the retreats and conferences I was lucky enough to attend over the years?  The hours I spent sitting beside a river watching the water’s movement, or hiking—maybe one of those moments was actually when I started these stories.

But.  No.  When did I really begin writing them?

There is a photograph which does not exist.  In my mind it is so clear, however, that I can’t believe there isn’t a faded slide in a long yellow box that can transport me back to this precise memory.

I am sitting on the sofa.  Next to me, my big sister, Margie.  On our laps, a book, wide open.  She is reading to me, as she does every evening in that golden half hour between bath time and bedtime.  It’s on this ordinary evening when she runs her fingers under the marks on the page, pointing them out to me as she speaks.  This is when I realise those squiggles are the magic that allow her to tell me exactly the same story, over and over.  Is this also the day I learn the word for them?  Letters.  Words.  I don’t know.  I do know that this is how she teaches me to read— patience and repetition—until I can, or think I can, read all my favourite books out loud to anyone who will listen, or the cat, or an empty room.

Later she shows me another trick.  I’ve always known how to ‘read’ my picture books—easy—I just make up a story to match the pictures.  But one day when I tell her a story out loud, Margie puts words on paper with a fat red pencil, and recites back to me what I’ve just imagined.  All my words—captured and preserved.

Reading.  Writing.  Those were the gifts my sister gave me in the last months of her life.

What else could I have become as great granddaughter of one of the OED’s original writers, but a lover of words?  What else could I have become in a house filled with books, but a reader?  What else would I write about but loss, having woken one morning to discover a sister-shaped hole in my world?

I shake my head.  I smile.  “Forever,” I say to my new friend.  “It has taken me my whole life to write my short story collection.”


Apr 1

Flash Fiction Contest Submissions are OPEN!

Our Flash Fiction Contest is now OPEN for submissions! The contest runs until May 31st. We’re proud to share that Kathy Fish will be selecting our finalists this year. $3000 awarded to the winning writer! 2nd and 3rd place finalists will receive $300 and $200 respectively. All finalists will be published on The Masters Review and receive a spot in Kathy Fish’s Fast Flash© online workshop.

Kathy Fish will be selecting the three finalists for our Flash Fiction Contest this year!


Add the deadline to your calendar!
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The Flash Fiction Contest will run from April 1st to May 31st. The winning writer will be awarded $3000 and publication on The Masters Review. Second and third place will be awarded $300 and $200, respectively, as well as publication in The Masters Review. All three finalists will earn a spot in Kathy Fish’s Fast Flash© online workshop. So here it is: a home for your very best small fiction.

Kathy Fish has published five collections of short fiction, most recently Wild Life: Collected Works from 2003-2018, from Matter Press. Her award-winning short stories, prose poems, and flash fictions have been published in Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, Electric Literature, Guernica, and elsewhere. Fish’s “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild,” which addresses the scourge of America’s gun violence and mass shootings, will appear in an upcoming edition of The Norton Reader. The piece was also selected by Sheila Heti for Best American Nonrequired Reading 2018, and by Aimee Bender for Best Small Fictions 2018. Fish’s work was previously chosen for the 2017 edition of Best Small Fictions by Amy Hempel and for the 2016 edition by Stuart Dybek. Additionally, two of Fish’s stories are featured in the W.W. Norton anthology, New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction. She is a core faculty member in fiction for the Mile High MFA at Regis University in Denver, Colorado. She also teaches her own intensive online flash workshop, Fast Flash©. For more information, see her website:

Submissions open on Monday! Submit up to 1,000 words of your best flash fiction. Fifteen stories will be selected for the shortlist by The Masters Review and Kathy Fish will select the winners. See our Flash Fiction page for information on previous contests.


  • Winner receives $3000 and publication
  • Second and third place prizes are $300 and $200 respectively and publication
  • All 3 finalists receive a place in one of Kathy Fish’s online Fast Flash© Workshops
  • Stories under 1000 words
  • $20 entry fee allows up to two stories – if submitting two stories, please put them both in a SINGLE document.
  • 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 small circulation are welcome to submit.)
  • International submissions allowed
  • Deadline: May 31st, 2019
  • Please no identifying information on your story
  • All stories are considered for publication
  • Dazzle us
  • To view a list of our most commonly asked questions regarding submitting to The Masters Review, please see our FAQ page.

Submit today!

Mar 31

Deadline TONIGHT: The Masters Review Anthology Volume VIII judged by Kate Bernheimer

Only hours remain! Get those submissions in before the deadline TONIGHT at midnight. $5000 will be awarded in total to the winning authors. Guidelines are included below, but you can find all the details here. Kate Bernheimer will select the 10 best submissions. We can’t wait to read what you have to say!

$5000 Awarded – Ten Writers Recognized


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

Deadline: March 31st

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Each year The Masters Review pairs with a guest judge to select stories. Our editorial team produces a shortlist of stories, which our judge reviews to select winners. In past years we have worked with Lauren Groff, AM Homes, Lev Grossman, Kevin Brockmeier, Amy Hempel, Roxane Gay, and Rebecca Makkai.

KATE BERNHEIMER is the author of two story collections, including How a Mother Weaned Her Girl from Fairy Tales and Horse, Flower, Bird, as well as three novels, and editor of the World Fantasy Award winning and bestselling collection My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales and the World Fantasy Award nominee xo Orpheus: 50 New Myths. She both founded and edits Fairy Tale Review.

Her nonfiction has been published in The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and elsewhere, as well as heard on NPR’s All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. With Laird Hunt, she was recently a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award for the co-authored novella Office at Night, a joint commission of Coffee House Press and The Walker Art Center. With her brother, she co-curates the Places series “Fairy Tale Architecture.” Her children’s books, edited books, and short stories have been translated into many languages including Chinese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Greek, Hebrew, Turkish, and Japanese.

She is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she teaches creative writing and fairy tale classes.


To submit a story or learn more about our guidelines, click the submit button:



Mar 29

Book Review: Who Killed My Father by Édouard Louis

Today, we welcome another excellent review by Kamil Ahsan to our Book Review series. Ahsan’s review of Louis’s Who Killed My Father, released Tuesday from New Directions, questions the “rapturous” reception the memoir has received. Ahsan writes: “the question the reader may pose to Who Killed My Father is not one that doubts Louis’ veracity or moral integrity, but simply the question: ‘OK. What’s new?'” Read on below.

For reasons I cannot quite discern, the reception to French author, Édouard Louis’ new book Who Killed My Father, out March 26th from New Directions, has been rapturous, but almost entirely insubstantial. The book—a straightforward memoir as opposed to his previous novels which, though broadly autobiographical, were still treated as novels—speaks love and rage directly to his father, sifting through the past to both vindicate and vilify him. It is a book that likely comes as no surprise to those who have known Louis since he penned his first book, or read his explosive op-ed in 2017 in the New York Times about why he understood that his father voted for the racist, far-right French politician Marine Le Pen. He described racism and homophobia, but also something else. “What those elections really meant for my father,” he wrote, “was a chance to fight his sense of invisibility…Across Europe, left-wing parties no longer spoke of social class, injustice and poverty, of suffering, pain and exhaustion.” Since as long as Louis has been known to the literary landscape, he has made his relation to his father clear through the language of politics: his father was a man who thought gay people deserved the death penalty, his homophobia irreparably damaged Louis’ emergence as a gay man, but at the same time, his father was a man who voted for Le Pen as a vote for racism, yes, but also because “the left has stopped speaking about poverty, misery and exclusion.”

In other words, Louis is dedicated to doing something analogous to what many are doing in the days of the Trump administration: trying to understand why it is that so many people found such a bilious candidate viable, by using the language of radical leftism. “Every line I write,” Louis has said, “is intended as a reminder to the dominant class, not to forget that for most individuals like my parents, like refugees, politics is still a question of life and death.” It’s a tremendously moral argument in favor of the literary polemic, and he more than holds up to his own standard—but the question the reader may pose to Who Killed My Father is not one that doubts Louis’ veracity or moral integrity, but simply the question: “OK. What’s new?”

One shouldn’t underestimate how important this question is for any aspiring firebrand, political young writer. Here’s an emblematic story: early on, Louis recounts that as a child, he staged a “pretend concert” of Aqua (a dance group all millennials will recall) at a gathering of his parents’ friends with three other boys. He played the female lead singer. The story draws out over many pages. His father refuses to look, Louis went on “begging, Look, Dad, look.” It’s clear what is happening—deep shame for an effeminate son, probably obvious even to the reader who has never read Louis’ previous work. Some pages later, he returns to the concert. His father excuses himself to go outside to smoke, and Louis wonders, “did I hurt your feelings because I chose to play the singer—the girl?” And the reader, especially one who, like me, relates to it to a T, is indeed devastated. Sad for the child he has painted countless times, sad for the child forced to enact the rule: “be a man…don’t be a faggot.” Many pages later, Louis returns to the concert again, asking if what his father felt was shame. It’s a curious choice for the writer of social justice, the one who makes himself known from the first page, quoting scholar Ruth Gilmore, “racism is the exposure of certain populations to premature death” and immediately expanding the definition to those who suffer homophobia, the domination of class, “to social and political oppressions of all kinds.” Curious in the way that if one rolls a word around one’s tongue enough times, it begins to lose meaning. In the way a reader might think: “Yes, thank you, we got it the first time.”

Read on.