The Masters Review Blog

Dec 14

New Voices – “The Front Line” by James Walley

Today, we are excited to welcome James Walley’s “The Front Line” to our New Voices catalog. Between deployments, a young corporal learns it’s not as easy as he expected to leave Afghanistan behind. “The Front Line” explores the loss of individual identity that can come with leading a squad. How far is too far, Walley invites us all to wonder, as the NCO works for his squad’s approval. Read on.

 

“Look, I got a year and a half left on my contract,” I said. “I’ll do whatever they say to until then.” “You mean, whatever you tell your squad to do?” she said. “Those guys are in it for their own deals,” I said. “They don’t hardly listen to me anyway.”

Between deployments the battalion flew to California. The Department of Defense converted a square mile of condemned suburban housing outside of Riverside into a mock war zone so we could practice controlling an occupied urban area. The Marine Corps called this Security and Stability Operations training. Our own little slice of the war, right here at home.  We called the place Sasoland.  My platoon lived in a four-bedroom house fortified with sandbags in the corner of the training square.  The back side of our yard ended at a chain-link fence and on the other side civilians in bright clothes walked down a road in front of an elementary school.   We all wore the same camouflage uniforms, carried M-16s and squad automatic weapons with full flak jackets and Kevlars. None of us ever showered or cleaned ourselves, except every morning the whole platoon shaved together in the backyard.  Sometimes the children across the road stared at us.

We had classes during the day on over-watch techniques and urban warfare procedures.  In the afternoons, our platoon had training objectives that we carried out while other Marines playing “insurgents” tried to disrupt us.  These Marines didn’t have enough time left to redeploy so the Corps attached them to the training unit.  They lived out in the square in dilapidated houses, wore dishdashas and carried AKs with blanks in them.  The DoD also paid local people of Arab descent to act as civilians for us to interact with.

A week after we arrived, I got promoted to Corporal and took over the responsibility of third squad.  About that same time our platoon got tasked with providing security around the “mayor’s house” while the insurgents tried to assassinate him and his family.  My squad pulled the late shift from midnight to zero six.  The mayor, his wife, and daughter, got paid extra to stay all night, but after midnight they stopped acting and came out to sit around the fire pit.  Each night I posted my squad around the perimeter of the house and roved between them making sure they stayed awake.

 

To read the rest of “The Front Line” click here.

Dec 11

Best Small Fictions Nominations

The Masters Review is excited to share our nominations for Best Small Fictions! Meet the authors, read their stories:

The High Points by Craig Kenworthy – Winner of Ooligan’s Write To Publish Short Fiction Contest

Craig Kenworthy’s work appears both on the page and on the stage and he’s received recognition for his poetry, plays and fiction. His play ‘Hurf’ produced by the Willamette Radio Workshop, won a Charles Ogle award for audio drama. He was a contributing writer for the public radio comedy sketch program ‘Right Between the Ears’ and is a former columnist for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. A member of The Dramatists Guild, he lives in Seattle.

The Art of Ending by Olivia Parkes – New Voices

Olivia Parkes is a British-American artist and writer currently based in Berlin. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Tin House, Electric Literature, Zyzzyva, Hayden’s Ferry Review, American Chordata, The New Haven Review, and Gone Lawn, among others. You can see or read more of her work at www.oliviaparkes.com.

Ebenezer, Ebenezer by Ariel Chu – First Place Winner of the Spring Flash Fiction Contest

Ariel Chu is an MFA candidate in Fiction at Syracuse University. Her work can be found (or is forthcoming) in Beecher’s Magazine, Nat. Brut, Wildness, Underblong, and Stirring: A Literary Collection. She lives in Eastvale, California and is currently serving as a Hutchinson Fellow in Creative Writing. Visit her at ariel-chu.com.

Out of the Fields by Bryna Cofrin-Shaw – Second Place Winner of the Spring Flash Fiction Contest

Bryna Peebles Cofrin-Shaw is a graduate of the Hunter College MFA in Creative Writing, and Brown University. Her work has been published in the American Literary Review and has been nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology. She is originally from Northampton, Massachusetts and now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Spies by Timothy Schirmer – Third Place Winner of the Spring Flash Fiction Contest

Timothy Schirmer lives in Gainesville with his partner and their dog.  He is currently a candidate in the writing program at the University of Florida.  His writing has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Passages North, Subtropics, Necessary Fiction, The Adirondack Review, Hobart, Rust + Moth, Rattle, and elsewhere.  He lives online at: timothyschirmer.com

Congratulations to our nominees! We wish them the best of luck.

Dec 10

Call for Readers: Winter

The Masters Review is looking to add some talented new readers to our team this winter. If you love literary fiction and nonfiction, and three to four hours of reading submissions a week sounds like fun, we encourage you to apply. Our readers work remotely and can set their own schedules. This position begins in February and involves a commitment through July. PLEASE NOTE: readerships are unpaid and on a strictly volunteer basis.

|||APPLY HERE|||

If interested, please send cover letter, resume, and at least one writing sample by Friday January 11. We look forward to hearing from you!

Dec 6

Notes from the Slush: Summer 2018 Short Story Award

Thank you to all of our submitters for participating in this year’s Summer Short Story Award for New Writers. Today, our editors discuss what helped our winning stories stand out and what, ultimately, held others back. Thanks to all again and we wish you the best of luck in our future contests.

 

Cole Meyer: We saw so many great submissions for this contest and it was difficult to narrow down. Our three winners are so different from one another; I was excited to see such range in our finalists. Both our grand prize winner, “Confirmation,” by Alina Grabowski and our second-place story, “A Portrait of a Virgin,” by Rachel Cochran are told in a first-person plural point-of-view, but to drastically different ends. And there were a number of non-traditional POVs that made it far in our contest. What makes these non-traditional POV stories succeed? Or where do they seem to most often falter?

Brandon Williams: We did have a ton of nontraditional pieces that made it to our final round. For me, I think that’s a product of looking for authority in storytelling. I’m looking for something that is assured of itself and of its choices – playing around with POV, or with setting, or with character/speaker voices are definite cues that can (emphasis very heavily there on that idea of can, of possibility) lead to that assuredness. Of course, that depends on the skill of the author, but if all things are equal in skill, I’m going to be looking for the piece that has some level of argument in it for uniqueness, for a story so individual that it needs to be written newly or differently or with distinctness. Again, POV isn’t the only place that shows itself, but it’s one way, and it seemed to be the way that distinctiveness landed this go-round.

With that said, considering what makes these pieces succeed or fail: when I think of nontraditional choices in story, I’m still thinking about the story itself. As a reader, there’s the need to be entertained, the need to feel like we’re in the hands of a narrator with authority, and then from there to feel like the world the author is creating exists fully and entirely. Beyond that, I’m looking for the basic elements of storytelling, as I tell my students: interesting people doing interesting things for interesting reasons. When these stories are working at their best, they’re utilizing POV to complicate already interesting stories (“Portrait of a Virgin” did this incredibly, in my opinion). When these pieces struggle, as a few of our almost-chosen did, it’s that the POV choice is interesting, but it can often be such a glitzy tactic that it gets in the way of the who+what+why formula that I’m always looking for at the heart of any story, traditional or non.

CM: Precisely: there were a couple stories that made it to the final round that I think we all wanted to like, but their experimentation (either in form or voice or POV) hindered the narrative more than helped. I’m thinking of one story which we circled around for awhile that was written in the form of notebook entries. “The Semplica-Girl Diaries” by George Saunders is an example of where this form can thrive because it emphasizes the voice of its narrator while sticking to the traditional aspects of storytelling: developing conflict, tension, character, etc. But ultimately we decided against this story in particular because it felt confined by the form and never developed a clear and compelling plot. The form was a crutch and not a tool.

Melissa Hinshaw: In hindsight it’s surprising that two of our finalists are in first-person plural – usually that “we” voice is an automatic no from me, because I see it done in such a trying way so often. In both “Confirmation” and “Portrait of a Virgin,” there is so much more immediately going on in both of those first paragraphs than just a heavy-handed “we” – there are characters! There’s action! There’s history! There’s clarity! We’re compelled from the get-go! They’re both doing the things we ask for and are looking for in any good story, so the POV doesn’t really seem to matter, until you get to the end and feel it really couldn’t have been done any other way. It’s worth noting that each of these stories are very different lengths: “Confirmation” is 24 pages whereas “Portrait” is only 7, meaning, the former was able to keep my attention for that long and the latter left me feeling like hot damn in a very short amount of time.

I’ll echo Brandon in saying that when I’m reading I’m constantly looking for something unique. There are always – and there were in this batch – several very good stories about relationships, small towns, work struggles, people dying, and such that leave me with little to complain about, but they don’t distinguish themselves in tone, character, or pacing. Probably one of the best voices we read was a beautiful family story in a rich setting with thick tension that involved a near-drowning at the end, and like, we all loved it, but there are so many stories that follow that exact same arc. If the voice had been weirder or if the drowning had been interwoven in a different way, perhaps it might have stood out. Perhaps that’s why I fought for “A Country Where I Am Beautiful,” our third-place story: it has this nice, measured third-person-omniscient narration on top of a unique setting and I ultimately ended up charmed by the way it resists drama. There are stories that you know are objectively working, and then there are stories that really make you feel. When I look for a contest winner, I’m looking for a story that can do both. Because on the flip side, we read plenty of stories – that notebook entry story Cole mentioned stands out, as does another one I loved about a teen pregnancy – that twisted up my heartstrings and got me typing “BUAH, LOVE” into the comment box, but were problematic from a plot, writing, or structural perspective.

Some quick notes about others: all my other favorites that didn’t make the final cut involved characters who were a little bit off and didn’t fit into their worlds all the way. Ones I didn’t favor as much were usually too long or chatty or the narration was overly dressed up and pretty instead of having a clear, direct action to follow. One of my big pet peeves is when such great character work gets done and then the story ends on a “moment,” like this feeling of literary-ness (usually some naturey zoom lens or reflective vibe). It feels like holding back and getting tired instead of pushing characters one step further to some new experience. The other pet peeve is section breaks, but “Confirmation” has those, so there’s that old truth again: you can do whatever you want if you’re doing the main stuff really well.

CM: Great points, Melissa. I felt overall we read a lot of stories with domestic conflicts for this contest. I’m always on the lookout for the weird, the unnatural, the magical – with a literary slant, of course – and that’s not to say I didn’t love the submissions we read, but I’d love to see more of the bizarre. A story that’s really out there but is also emotionally charged and filled with intriguing characters would immediately stand out for me. There was one story I fought for which ultimately didn’t make it to our shortlist, and although it wasn’t weird per se (and you could argue it was another domestic conflict!) I was fascinated by its characters. The protagonist was deeply conflicted over her sense of duty to her mother and her revulsion toward the relationship her mother had with a high school-aged boy.  But in the end, you two were right: the writing didn’t do enough to highlight the complexity of the narrative or its characters. The relationships weren’t clearly defined and the pacing was off.

MH: Yeah, that story was an example of one where the writing was so lovely and lush that the storyline got a little hidden at points. It was only after talking about it to you guys that I really realized what was going on (and I’d read it a couple of times!). That’s all from me – looking forward to seeing this out there. Congrats again to our winners and thanks to everyone who submitted.

BW: One final thought (which has already been said at least halfway): as much as we know what we like as readers, the stories that we loved from this contest were often pieces that surprised us, that forced us to love them because of their bravery or strangeness or experimentation. At least for me, that’s a really exciting, and also a really humbling, awareness: story will always be first and foremost, but the ways we come at it are myriad and ever-changing. Story, and then experimentation in service to story, can get us to some amazing places, as these pieces –  and plenty of others – show, and I think that’s the most positive place I’ve found myself in a long time. Thanks so much to everyone that entered!

Dec 3

Our Winter Short Story Award for New Writers is NOW OPEN!

‘Tis the season to spend time brushing up your fiction. Our Winter Short Story Award for New Writers is now open to submissions now through January 31. The winners will be selected by the wonderful Aimee Bender! This is one of our most popular categories. The winner receives $3000, publication on The Masters Review site, and review from multiple agencies. The second and third place stories receive $300 and $200, respectively, publication, and agency review. This is a great opportunity for emerging writers. We have included some guidelines below, but you can find all the details here.

$3000 + Publication + Agency Review

SUBMIT NOW.

Guidelines:

  • Winner receives $3000, publication, and agency review
  • Second and third place prizes ($300 / $200, publication, and agency review)
  • Stories under 7000 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 small circulation are welcome to submit. Writers with works published with a circulation of less than 5000 copies can also submit.)
  • International submissions allowed
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: January 31, 2019
  • Please no identifying information on your story
  • All stories are considered for publication
  • To view a list of our most commonly asked questions regarding submitting to The Masters Review, please see our FAQ page.
Nov 30

New Voices — “Flight” by Jennifer Jacobson

A budding playwright has made waves with her newest Broadway production. There are rumors of a Tony. Maura extends an invitation to a former schoolteacher, whom she has not seen in nearly 20 years. A story of calculated revenge, Jennifer Jacobson’s “Flight” unfolds with commanding skill.

 

“They’re perfect killers,” she says. “They focus and strike. There’s no suffering. That’s the mercy of their kill, the grace of it.”

Maura starts at the top of the balcony, the highest point in the theater. Every night, before the stage manager calls places and the hawk handlers settle in, she touches the first seat in each row, marking her territory. She knows the number of steps from the last row to the edge of the balcony; and in the small private boxes as well, the loges, she’s memorized the number of steps from the door to the seats and from the seats to the edge of the half-wall, built to allow patrons to view all the action on stage and to keep them—agents, press, family, lovers, producers—from falling into the audience.

The stage left loge is where the more experienced bird handler is stationed. Of course, Maura had to fight with the producers to include the Red-tailed hawks in the production. It costs a fortune to insure two wild birds in a Broadway house. But her instincts had paid off: once word got around about the hawks, the play had sold out and the producers had extended the run.

The loge door opens and a man in a knee-length, camel hair coat steps onto the private balcony. Maura recognizes his broad shoulders, takes stock of his large hands. She makes her way up the stairs to the nearest exit.

In the loge Pierce finds three seats covered in crushed red velvet, old world and elegant. The one next to the wall is marked reserved, but that’s not the seat he’s been assigned. His ticket places him closest to the balcony with a sweeping view of the stage. Below him is a wooden deck that juts into the audience. The deck has been stained to appear weathered, yet he can smell the tang of new pine. Across from him, she’s built a watchtower. Pierce puts on his glasses and grins when he reads the hand-painted sign, Poet’s Seat, a reference to a field trip in his English class, how exquisite to be included. He settles his expensive coat across the back of the seat, the cloth pooling out across the floor of the intimate space, its creamy silk lining exposed; a gift from a student that he only wears on important occasions.

 

To read the rest of “Flight” click here.

Nov 29

December Deadlines: 13 Contests and Prizes Ending This Month

Whether your winter is cold and snowy, or mild and rainy, you’re sure to spend an increasing amount of time indoors… Incidentally, that is the best place to work on your writing! Use your time wisely and you can show off your wonderful work by entering one of these contests!

Foglifter Submissions

Here is a great opportunity for daring and thoughtful writers, as your work could be published in Foglifter ! This is the entry period for the upcoming spring edition, and they’re interested queering form and perspective, with cross-genre, intersectional, marginal, and transgressive works. Include a 50 word bio, and be ready to send in a photo if accepted! Submit here.
Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: December 1

Stegner Fellowship

This astounding fellowship is offered to ten writers through Stanford University, five in poetry and five in literary fiction, and the winners receive tuition, workshops and other events, and a yearly living stipend of $26,000 for two years. They’re looking for writers who are diverse in experience and style, who have talent and the ability to focus. You’ll need two contacts for recommendations, a statement of plans, and a manuscript up to 9000 words, but this could be your shot! Learn more here.
Entry Fee: $85 Deadline: December 1

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

There are some very specific contests out there, and this is one of them! Administered by the American Library Association, this award honors the best fiction published in the last year that was set in a time when the United States was at war. It recognizes the service of American veterans and military personnel, although the incidences of war may only function as the setting of the story. All entries are judged on the excellence of writing and attention to detail. The winning entrant will receive $5000 and a gold-framed citation of achievement. More details here.
Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: December 1

Provincetown Fellowship

Given by the Fine Arts Work Center, this is a seven-month residency for writers in the emerging stages of their careers. The five poets and five fiction authors chosen will receive a monthly $750 stipend, as well as a living/work space. Writers who have published a full-length book are unfortunately not eligible. Applicants must send in a writing sample, a current CV, and an optional personal statement. There is a lot of competition, but there is no great reward without risk! Don’t miss it!
Entry Fee: $50 Deadline: December 2

Chautauqua Prize

This competition is a daring gauntlet run by the Chautauqua Institute, but the reward at the end is worth the work! A $7500 prize and one-week residency is awarded to an author of a book of original fiction or narrative nonfiction that was published this year. They accept all books published in 2018, from short story collections to memoirs. Could this be you? Do it!
Entry Fee: $75 Deadline: December 15

Virginia Woolf Award for Short Fiction

LitMag is looking for short stories, between 3000 and 8000 words, with little constraints beyond that! Only unpublished short stories are eligible, but authors may submit multiple times. The winner receives $3500, publication, and agency review, and second place receives $1000 and agency review. Submit here!
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: December 15

The Danahy Fiction Prize

The University of Tampa and Tampa Review are looking for the very best unpublished work of short fiction, but they can’t choose yours unless you enter! Manuscripts must be original, and contain between 500 and 5000 words (although slight deviations are usually allowed). The winner receives $1000 and publication in Tampa Review. Check it out!
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: December 31

Dorset Prize

This is a call to all poets, who like to dream big! Offered through Tupelo Press, this contest is judged by the indomitable poet Mary Jo Bang. All poets writing in English are eligible, although the poetry manuscript should be between 48-88 pages. The winner of the Dorset Prize receives $3000, a week-long residency at MASS MoCA, 20 copies of the winning title, a book launch, and a national distribution with promotion and publicity! Wow! Learn more here.
Entry Fee: $30 Deadline: December 31

The Lascaux Prize in Short Fiction

If you think you’re ready to medal in writing short fiction, then this is the contest for you! The Lascaux Review is accepting stories for submission, and their length should not exceed 10,000 words. All finalists in this contest will be published, but the winner also receives $1000 and a bronze medallion for their efforts. Check it out!
Entry Fee: $10 Deadline: December 31

2019 Microfiction Contest

The editors at River Styx are looking for stories are short and sweet does that describe your style? Stories must be less than 500 words, but three stories are allowed per entry! There are no other restrictions, and first place receives $1500 and publication in River Styx! Submit here.
Entry Fee: $10 Deadline: December 31

Press 53 Award for Short Fiction

This is annual award given by Press 53, to the author of an outstanding and unpublished short story collection. It is open to all writers in the United States or one of its territories, regardless of publishing history. The winner will be published by Press 53 under a standard publishing contract, with a $1000 cash advance, and will also receive 50 copies of their book. Details here.
Entry Fee: $30 Deadline: December 31

Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers

If you are an unpublished author, this is an opportunity meant specifically for you! Boulevard ’s contest is meant to honor a writer who has never published a book, with a $1500 prize, and publication in an issue of Boulevard. Entries must be less than 8000 words, but there is no limit on the number of entries. Do it!
Entry Fee: $16 Deadline: December 31

2018 Travel Writing Contest

The award-winning literary travel magazine Nowhere is looking for writers who know how to convey setting and atmosphere with ease and grace! Submissions may be fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or essay, and can range from 800 to 5000 words. The winner receives $1000 and publication, and up to 10 finalists will be published as well. Check it out!
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: December 31

by Kimberly Guerin

Nov 28

Summer Short Story Award Winners 2018

We would like to offer another warm thank you to everyone who submitted to our Summer Short Story Award for New Writers. We received an overwhelming amount of incredible fiction, and we truly enjoyed reading each and every one of your stories. We are proud to announce the winners and honorable mentions for this award. The winner will receive $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. All three of our winning stories will publish on the blog.

Winner:

“Confirmation” by Alina Grabowski

Second Place Story:

“Portrait of a Virgin” by Rachel Cochran

Third Place Story:

“A Country Where I Am Beautiful” by Patricia Smith

Honorable Mentions:

“Headshot” by Charles Ullmann
“We Are The Horizon” by Laura Fletcher
Nov 21

MFA Program Spotlight: University of Guelph

We spoke to Mahak Jain, Administrator of MFA Program at the University of Guelph. Browse through what they have to offer MFA students. Ms. Jain offers some valuable insight for writers in any program, and great advice about creating a supportive and constructive atmosphere for writers. Thank you, UG, for such a thoughtful interview.

 

What do you feel is the essential uniqueness of UG’s MFA program? 

We are an intimate, innovative MFA, a satellite program of the University of Guelph located in Toronto, a city rich in literary diversity. Our small cohorts reflect the city’s diversity and the wide imaginaries of contemporary literatures. Our MFA program combines a focus on writing and reading, rooted in the belief that reading is essential to a writing practice. We offer workshops in four genres (Creative Nonfiction, Drama, Fiction, and Poetry): students have the chance to specialize and are also required to work outside their primary genre. They select a concentration for their thesis, but are welcome to take workshops in any of the four genres that we offer. As a result of these multi-disciplinary opportunities, many of our graduates have gone on to produce work in more than one creative field.

In addition to workshops, students have the opportunity to work one-on-one with a writing mentor of their choice as part of an independent study semester. Since the mentor does not need to be a part of our faculty, students are able to customize the mentorship experience to meet their unique needs. The mentorship opportunity is in addition to the thesis supervision undertaken during the second year.

Finally, we offer two reading-based courses that give students an opportunity to discuss a range of ethical, aesthetic and practical issues related to the writing life. Students are encouraged to examine the choices that writers make on the page and in the world. Discussions are augmented by visits from writers and other literary professionals including editors and agents. The readings for the courses include essays by writers on writing and primary texts in a variety of genres and hybrid forms.

 

Your program seems to really focus on examining how writers engage with the world. Can you explain that mission a little more?

Students in our program are encouraged to consider various intersections of writing and life. All writing takes place in some kind of personal and cultural context. The choice of one word over another can be both an ethical and an aesthetic act. We hope our students will be challenged to imagine more widely and to consider the various contexts from which their writing issues and into which it appears with more depth and complexity than ever before. The Plenary classes that bring together all students focus on generating lively discussion and even debate about contentious and topical issues.

 

Would you describe UG’s MFA in fiction as highly literary or broader in focus?

Most of the writing that is done in the program is literary, and our faculty is well suited to instruct and advise literary writing. However, we encourage a broad interpretation of the term “literary,” one that can encompass multiple genres and even hybrid forms. Our focus is helping our students develop their singular voices and become the best writers they can be of whatever project they choose to work on.

 

For potential future students, are there any suggestions you have for them as they put together applications? Any values or big ideas they should seek to grapple with or emphasize?

The writing sample is the most important part of the application, but most applicants know this. It’s also important to choose your referees carefully–try to pick individuals who can speak to your potential and past as a writer, someone who is familiar with your writing and its growth. The letter of intent is another opportunity for the admissions committee to get to know the applicant. A strong letter of intent shows the individuality and uniqueness of the applicant’s personal interests and ambitions, past, present, and future. It can be helpful to enter the program with a particular project in mind but it isn’t necessary.
If you could provide a piece of advice for incoming students, what would it be?

Writing is a vulnerable activity in solitude, and the vulnerability only increases within the setting of a creative writing program. Sometimes incoming students enter the program with firm ideas about their goals. We recommend, however, that incoming students keep an open mind and leave room to be surprised. Most students find their ideas about writing and themselves as writers are transformed while in the program. Frequently, students end up working on different projects than they had planned. It can be scary to be so exposed during such a process of self-discovery, but that journey can also result in some powerful writing.

 

Your program has built a lot of partnerships in the city of Toronto. Could you describe how the city and those partnerships play a role in the student’s experience?

We have ongoing affiliations with such organizations as the Toronto International Festival of Authors and Factory Theatre. We hold Master Classes with visiting writers each year as part of the authors’ festival and offer play readings to our playwriting students under the auspices of Factory Theatre. We also host a monthly student-run reading series, Speakeasy, in a downtown Toronto bar, and have an annual set as part of the Eden Mills Writers Festival, held close to our home university, The University of Guelph, an hour west of Toronto. We encourage our students to take advantage of the many readings and theatre productions taking place in the city and occasionally organize outings to cultural events.

Nov 16

New Voices — “The Road to Damascus” by Mike Broida

Our New Voices story for today seeks to lay bare the depth of human feeling in a moment of subtle discrimination. Michael Broida’s “The Road to Damascus” softly and carefully leads us through a young person’s road trip home, the car filled with friends and less-than-friends. These city kids arrive in a small town, where the subtle peace of the last few hours quickly evaporates as our protagonist finds himself the only person of color for miles around.

“Time unwound in his mind, the relational cracks mended, and undone was the certain loss of the people they had been once, in that car.”

It was four days before Christmas, as cold and dark and dry at five o’clock as the world had ever been, out in the corn near the wild stretches of Wooster, Ohio. The town’s lights blinked in the distance like an elusive mothership, calling Jordan onward. The rest of the car had fallen quiet—his friends, Maria and Peter, slept in shrouded bundles in the back and Simone, next to him, seemed still awake though gazing absently ahead as Jordan drove. The radio bleated soft static. The road had narrowed before them, a tunnel amid the dead corn as the wind swirled the wisps of salt over the scarred asphalt. Five hours in with five more to go, Jordan found himself thinking of nothing more than home, on this, the longest evening of the year.

“Why are we off the highway?” Maria asked from the back.

“Fuel,” Jordan said.

“For me or the car?” Peter asked.

Jordan could see them gently unwinding into separate entities, a splitting of the atom as Maria gave Peter a quick strike on the shoulder. White faces sprouted from under blankets.

“Both, I bet,” Simone said, turning to rub Jordan’s head with her knuckles. “Whaddya say? One big stop before we push on home?”

Jordan jerked his head away—an old reflex—leaving Simone’s half-fist hanging in the air.

“Just for something quick,” Jordan said. “Not sure what we’ll find, anyway.”

Wooster, Jordan believed, was one of those towns straight out of black-and-white television, the “Welcome” sign rearing up in the headlights, proclaiming its namesake as Revolutionary General David Wooster, and its status as the hometown of the Wayne County Fair and the mid-Atlantic Wooster Warriors hockey club. The cold evening had apparently buttoned up the place, with the exception of a few poor souls fumbling to string candy-caned banners in the dark. As they pulled onto the broad, main drag, the street lamps seemed like matches on end, flickering in the wind. He knew his mother would give him hell if she knew he was in some strange little town so far off the highway, as if Jordan had forgotten the color of his own skin.

“All these folks know about black people is what they see on TV,” his mother liked to tell him during their road trips. “We’re not stopping.”

 

To read the rest of “The Road to Damascus” click here.

Nov 13

Let’s Talk Submission Strategies

We originally posted this essay by Kim Winternheimer in 2016, but with the deadline season coming up, we feel compelled to share it again. The submission process can be full of small and difficult decisions—and we all face the anxiety of wondering if we’re doing it the right way. Let’s talk it through.

submission-strategiesSubmission strategies are a tricky thing. Every emerging writer I know discusses submission failures and victories, and it’s a topic that pops up in conference panels and workshop often.

Writers talk about submitting because the process itself is the road to publication. Because success in selling stories rests entirely on that effort. Writers lament and analyze the form rejection they receive after eight long months, and applaud the personalized request for more work. Writers talk about the process because they want to see how others are navigating the labyrinth, and, because silently they wonder: am I tackling submissions the right way?

I am a huge fan of Karen Russell’s stories and remember a time I was waiting for her to sign a copy of, St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised by Wolves. I had planned to ask what her first Big Publication was, and when it happened in her career. I think I was hoping for advice about submitting. That Karen Russell (the Karen Russell) would pass down a piece of information I could replicate.

When I got to the table I asked: “What was your first Big Publication?” Karen replied, “It was The New Yorker. That was my first publication.” “Ever?” I asked. She smiled and nodded, yes. Then she added: “I got very lucky.”

I mention this because most writers—even very successful ones—don’t publish their first story in The New Yorker. And while every person’s path to publishing is different, I think most new writers understand the broad strokes are often the same: land stories in literary magazines, land stories in some great literary magazines, land an agent, sell a novel or story collection.

So it’s hard. The New Yorker hasn’t gotten back to you. Maybe we haven’t gotten back to you, and there’s that nagging question again: am I tackling submissions the right way?

As an editor who sees and processes a lot of stories, certain submission strategies are apparent. We see multiple stories from the same writer in the same contest (as many as six to ten), we see stories from writers with long stretches between submissions, and we see submissions from writers only once.

I do feel that the kind of writer you are and the goals you have for your writing dictate your submission strategy. For example, prolific writers can submit multiple new stories to a contest at the same time without compromising quality, while others submit new work intermittently. Some writers value the long bio, while others value the short and extremely impressive one. Here are a few strategies and issues I see with submissions. (Please note: it is impossible to go through the many varied and personal ways a person can go about submitting because each writer is different, is affected differently by the process, and has different goals for her writing.)

Top-Tier Publication Goals

What kind of writer are you? And what are you goals? For writers seeking top-tier publications, be realistic about what that means. With so few spaces for new writers who submit through the slush, this strategy inevitably means long wait times and many rejections. Take Tin House for example. They publish one new writer in each issue. That means they take one story that is probably not from an agent. That means out of the thousands of stories they receive each year, four are published from the slush. Four. And while an acceptance from a publication like Tin House will do wonders for your visibility, prepare yourself for the realities of this strategy. (It is worth noting they have an excellent track record of publishing flash fiction from new writers online and their platform offers incredible visibility. We love you Tin House!) If rejections get you down you might be compromising confidence and the enjoyment of the process by setting your sights too high. It’s also true that you might land the publication of your dreams.

Staggering Submissions

I think it is a strong strategy to have both top-tier and medium-tier publication goals for your work. I also think it is wise to submit to handful of those when you feel your story is ready, lets say ten, and see what kind of feedback you receive before moving on to the other publications on your list. If you are getting all form rejections, it might be worth revisiting the piece, workshopping the story with friends, and editing before moving forward. I always think it’s wise to revisit a story after a little time away from it, but if you are getting positive feedback, then consider moving forward to the next round of lit mags on your list.

When To Call It Quits

No outside opinion can take the place of a writer’s instincts for her work, so if you are submitting a story that you really believe in, I don’t think there is ever a time when you should quit on it. I do think you should continue receiving feedback and improving on the piece to give the story its best chance, but trust your instincts. There are stories that simply aren’t meant to be published and there are those you should never give up on. I believe strongly that if you continue to service your work and grow as a writer, if you continue to believe in a piece, you will find a home for it.

Submitting The Same Story To A Lit Mag That Already Rejected It

We have writers ask if they should submit a story we’ve already seen, but for a different contest or category. Lets say, they received some positive feedback during our Short Story Award For New Writers, but it wasn’t accepted for publication. Should they submit it to New Voices? Our Fall Fiction Contest? Again, this is a matter of preference, but with The Masters Review we consider all the work we read for publication. If a story isn’t the winner of a contest, but we want to publish it anyway, we will accept that piece. With that said, if we passed on your story I think it’s a waste of a submission fee to send it to us again. Are there exceptions? Of course. If you’ve drastically improved the piece or reworked it so that it is a totally different version of the story we first saw, then please send it our way. But in the end, more than your submission fee, we want to see your best work. And we want to publish that work. If we rejected a story originally we would probably like to see something new from you.

Submitting to The Same Magazine With Different Work

I can’t emphasize enough that continuing to submit to the same literary magazine is something you absolutely should do. As editors, we have a long list of writers whom we’ve declined but are eager to see work from. It’s terrible to think they might not submit to us again when their work is so close and such a strong fit, but has otherwise been beat out by other stories. We’ve published several authors who first received rejections from us. They stayed in the game. They serviced their work, and in the end, they sold us a story.

The Right Fit

It almost feels silly to comment on submitting work to a literary magazine that publishes the kind of thing that you write, but you would be surprised to see the submissions we receive (poetry for example, when we do not publish poetry) that are immediate rejections because of fit. A writer should have a strong understanding of the kinds of stories a magazine publishes to improve their chances. Topically and in terms of style and tone, fit is tricky, but you will only improve your chances by reading that lit mag and knowing what kinds of stories they publish. Still, it’s an obvious statement that many writers, in their zeal to publish, ignore. Do the research. It pays off. (At the very least, read submission guidelines!)

I feel strongly that outside of specific submission strategies, the cream rises. If you continue to submit, that means you are continuing to write, and the strongest strategy for submission success is writing, writing, and writing. As your work improves, the publications will come—and then the very good publications will come. Sit down and edit your work. Don’t be afraid of change and don’t be afraid to move on from a story or set it aside. Your writing might not be where you want it, but you know a good story when you read one. When your talents as a writer and your ability to identify what you love in fiction intersect, you will have success.

by Kim Winternheimer

Nov 9

Great American Reads You Should Check Out

America loves a good television series and follows the latest shows, binges on Netflix and discusses documentaries at the water cooler. Even though television is entertaining, it never quite lives up to the detail and richness of a well-written book. The sound of a crisp page turning as you find out what happens enlivens the senses and brings a tactile experience to reading.

Some stories stand out in our memories and stay with us for years after we read them. These tales are so unique and engaging we come to love the characters almost as though they’re real people. If you’re looking for a new book to read, a great place to start is with one of the 100 novels featured on The Great American Read series on PBS. The series combines the best of reading with the ease of television viewing. You can then enhance the experience by reading the featured books.

Pulling in a Younger Generation

The average person over 15 years of age spends about 17 minutes a day reading for pleasure. Surprisingly, the younger generation still reads books, although the format they prefer varies from what those 65 and older prefer. Millennials, for example, prefer digital books and audiobooks more so than previous generations.

Young people still love books thanks to modern books that engage their imagination and pull them into a new world where they can live vicariously through the main characters. Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” series engaged an entire generation of millennials at a time when they were just discovering novels as a leisure activity.

The books also engaged moms of the teen girls reading the books, setting off a scenario where families waited in line for the latest release, made trips to Forks, Washington to see the town where the series was set and lined up for hours to see the movie versions as they were released.

Teaching Caution

In the back of people’s minds, they know dangerous people exist in the world. Your neighbor could be a saint, a thief or a serial killer. However, when Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones” came out, Americans were reminded that things aren’t always what they seem and there is real evil in the world.

The book became a bestseller telling the story of a young teen who is in heaven. The reader learns her story from her viewpoint and how her killer plotted her death and had killed others. The book is unique because of the skill used to write the book from the viewpoint of a girl who is in between earth and heaven. It also served as a cautionary tale to be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts.

Learning From Others’ Viewpoints

Learning to listen to others is a vital skill as a member of a civilized society. Some books start a conversation with others and allow you to discuss your viewpoints and differences in a constructive way. “The Shack” by Wm. Paul Young is one of those books. The book tells the story of faith, but some of the elements allow for a creative license as to what you believe of God and heaven.

The book started conversations at work, in churches and over coffee with friends. The book tells a compelling story of losing your faith and finding it again. It allowed people to learn from each other’s faith and see that even though our beliefs may vary, we can come together at the end of the day and find hope.

Where to Start

With more than 100 unique and engaging books, it’s hard to know where to start. Take the time to read the book descriptions, and a few reviews from others, and choose the title that appeals to you. The three books mentioned above are good choices, but they are merely a few books in a long list of memorable titles.