The Masters Review Blog

Mar 18

New Voices: “Year of the Snake” by A. J. Bermudez

Today, we welcome “Year of the Snake” by A. J. Bermudez to our New Voices catalog. A triptych following the zodiac calendar, “Year of the Snake” illustrates how much we can change—our goals, visions, definitions of success—and how much stays the same.

Chùsi dies on stage, grandly, then bows beneath a halo of lights, unfazed by the tenuous causality between a 400-year-old play and saving the animals. They will write checks, this sea of pocketbooks and suit jackets, and she will have been part of it, touched by the tumid thrill of casual largess. She, too, will save the elephants tonight.

1989

 

Chùsi is ten today, double digits, an achievement marked by the coming-of-age sacrament of frybread with sprinkles and icing for breakfast. Cupcakes are scheduled for 3:00, but Chùsi got what she came for.

This is the year of the brick-by-brick dismantling of the Soviet Bloc, the ascent of Vaclav Havel, and Chùsi’s pronouncement, for the first and only time, of her aspiration to become a professional roller skater. The coming years will be rife with disillusionment regarding the prospects of a career in roller skating––to say nothing of the ideological affinity between East and West—but today these things are irrefutable.

Chùsi drapes herself over the rail of the penguin habitat, propped on the rubber toe stop of her size three, white Chicago Rollers like a pro. Her legs, precariously long, shiver with the chill of shipped-in ice, the glinting heat of an eternal San Diego June.

A few yards off, a khaki-slacked guide delivers a careful, sweeping monologue about the tundra biome to a coterie of tourists, none of whom has given any indication of understanding English. They peer from beneath sun visors in every direction, but primarily upward, where members of the zoo staff balance on ladders, winding streamers over the stumpy limbs of faux baobab trees. Chùsi watches, mesmerized, as though witnessing an act of suburban vandalism transpire in slow motion.

“Decorations for the annual gala,” the guide explains. He launches into a brief lecture on permafrost, and then, because no one is listening, he says, “The zoo, ladies and gentlemen. A shrine to anthropocentrism.”

To continue reading “Year of the Snake” click here.

Mar 15

What to Read for Saint Patrick’s Day

Sunday is Saint Patrick’s Day. What better way to celebrate the Irish holiday than by reading Irish fiction and fiction set in Ireland. Settle in with a pint of Guinness and find your weekend read on this list.

Milkman by Anna Burns

Milkman, a novel set in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, was the winner of the 2018 Man Booker Prize. Burns was the first Northern Irish to win the award. Milkman follows an 18-year-old protagonist and the harassment she receives from an old man called the milkman. Kwame Anthony Appiah called Burns’s voice “utterly distinctive” and her prose both “surprising and immersive.” https://themanbookerprize.com/news/anna-burns-wins-50th-man-booker-prize-milkman

 

“Bluebeard in Ireland” by John Updike

If Milkman doesn’t resonate with you, then perhaps a short story by one of America’s most prolific authors of the 20th century will better suit you.  “Bluebeard in Ireland” is a modern take on the classic fable and explores the things we keep to ourselves in marriage. The story can be found in My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, an anthology of modern fairy tales edited by Anthology judge Kate Bernheimer with Carmen Gimenez Smith. Of Updike’s story, Smith says, “George and Vivian’s problem isn’t that they don’t love each other, but rather that love doesn’t invalidate the quiet darkness of every marriage.”

 

Ulysses by James Joyce
What list about Irish writers would be complete without reference to one of the greatest and most influential writers in modern history? James Joyce’s seminal novel, Ulysses, a novel utilizing the stream-of-consciousness, is set in Dublin in 1904. The novel parallels Homer’s epic Odyssey and is a staple of modernist literature.

 

 

The Dubliners by James Joyce

But maybe Joyce’s novels aren’t your thing, or you don’t have the time to digest Ulysses in one weekend. No worries! Turn instead to Joyce’s collection Dubliners. If you have to choose only one, I would suggest the collection’s concluding piece, “The Dead.”

 

 

Young Skins by Colin Barrett
Or how about something more modern? Look no farther than Colin Barrett’s gritty debut collection, Young Skins. Young Skins was published in 2014 and is filled with stories about the youth of Ireland. The collection won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Guardian First Book Award in 2014.

 

The Sea by John Banville

The Sea is another Man Booker Prize winner, this award coming in 2005. Banville’s thirteenth novel, the book has been described by Banville as “a direct return to his childhood.”

The novel is narrated by Max Morden, an art historian and widower who returns to a village on the seaside where he’d spent a summer when he was growing up. The Sea is filled with Banville’s distinctive style, prose which Don DeLillo has called “dangerous and clear-running.” http://www.john-banville.com/books/the-book-of-evidence/

Mar 14

Craft Essay: First-Person Direct Address

Today on the blog, we continue our Craft Essay series with this entry on the first-person direct address. I take a look at four stories from Brett Anthony Johnston, Kevin Brockmeier, Sandra Cisernos and Stuart Dybeck, that utilize the first-person direct address and examine how it’s used to benefit the story.

When used effectively, the direct address can establish a deep connection between characters, but overuse can lead to melodrama. Below, I touch briefly on a few stories where this technique is working especially well.

When I began research for this essay, I was surprised to discover how little information is readily available about the first-person direct address. It’s a technique I’ve often seen mistaken for the second-person point-of-view, even in creative writing workshops, but it’s distinctly different. So where is deviation? Let’s take a look.

What is first person direct?

In second-person, the narrator is the reader; the author is inserting the reader as a character in the story. With first-person direct address, however, the narrator is speaking to another character within the story, directly addressing them, or narrating their story to this character. It recalls for me the genre of the monologic epistolary, but a spoken address rather than a written one. In this essay by Laura Spence-Ash on CRAFT, she says that “there is an intimacy there between the characters that keeps the reader at bay.” When used effectively, the direct address can establish a deep connection between characters, but overuse can lead to melodrama. Below, I touch briefly on a few stories where this technique is working especially well.

Read on.

Mar 11

New Voices: “All The White People” by Sue Granzella

In the wake of the 2016 Presidential election, millions across the country were wondering, What next? How did we get here? In today’s New Voices, Granzella, a third grade teacher in the Bay Area, reflects on those days following Trump’s election; her own Catholic upbringing; and the importance of diverse communities, especially for young children.

I needed to be a part of conversations I never had as a child, discussions and experiences that I think would have made me better, more aware of the breadth of human experience. My childhood was a happy one, but I wasn’t extended and challenged in ways I wish I had been. With each year, I’m more convinced that stretching beyond ourselves is essential.

On the morning after the 2016 Presidential election, my third-grade students huddled around me. Most of them were Latino, and nearly all of them children of color.  Before even taking off their jackets, they informed me, big-eyed, that Donald Trump had won. I winced at the contradiction; they were savvy enough to understand the implications of a national election, but innocent enough to imagine that I wouldn’t know the news if not for them.

Within minutes, I’d ushered them toward the rainbow rug, and all twenty-seven of us were sitting in a circle on the floor. They took turns speaking, tossing a plushy stuffed hippo across the circle to the person who waggled fingers, wanting to speak next.

“I think a lot of Americans voted for Donald Trump because they don’t like Mexican people,” said Gabriela in her Spanish-accented English. She lobbed the hippo to Antonio.

“I know why he wants the wall. He probably doesn’t like Mexicans,” said Antonio.

I sighed. They were even more anxious than I’d feared they would be.

The hippo flew back and forth around the circle, until finally it reached Carlos.

“I know why Donald Trump won. Because all the white people don’t like Mexicans.”

There was an audible gasp from the circle of eight-year-olds, as they whipped their heads around to face me. Raised eyebrows and gaping mouths asked the unspoken: had Carlos gone too far with “all the white people”? This group was one of the chattiest I’d taught in years. Now they stared at me, silent. Waiting.

To continue reading “All The White People” click here.

Mar 7

Interview with the Winner: Jacqui Reiko Teruya

Jacqui Reiko Teruya’s winning flash story was published on Monday (and you can read it in full here). Today, we’re excited to share this interview with our winner, in which we discuss the writing process, literary influences, and pairing the story with a song. Read on below.

Congratulations on winning our Summer 2018 Flash Fiction Contest! “How to Spot a Whale” jumped out to all of us right away as a contender for this contest. The opening line just grabs you: “Do not look impressed when Roberta tells you about narwhals—” Where did this story come from?

This came from a longer story that I was struggling with about a father who has left his family for months at a time to study whales in northern Canada. I was having a hard time finding what the protagonist knew and understood from her vantage point and the imperative mood seemed to unlock a lot of it for me, but then it took on a form of its own away from the original longer story.

We’re always so excited to be someone’s first publication; what was it like to get that news?

I actually didn’t believe it. I was in a coffee shop with one of my oldest friends and I made her read the email twice. I think that is what is most surprising to me in this process: the doubt actually has gotten stronger and more pronounced than it was before. There is a sense or a fear, maybe, that I’ll get an email saying “just kidding!” A friend of mine had a keychain made with “How to Spot a Whale” engraved on it, I guess so I can look at it, hold it in my hand, and remember that it is real and out there now.

If you had to pair “How to Spot a Whale” with a song, what would you choose?

Did I spend half a day thinking about this? Maybe.  I love this question and I think it is so hard to figure out how to pair something. Tonally, thematically, what I was listening to, etc. I don’t usually listen to music when I write, or if I do it’s instrumental. But I think I’d pair it with “No Concern of Yours” by Punch Brothers mostly because I’ve spent a lot of time driving around Maine listening to these guys so there is something about the story’s setting that links it to bluegrass in my mind.

I’m interested in the process behind the writing: the routines, the editing, the favorite places to write, etc. What does this process look like for you? Any unusual habits?

My process is endlessly frustrating. I line edit as I go which often jams up my train of thought and I lose momentum on a story.  Then I usually abandon one story and hop to a partial I abandoned before. I essentially need to have enough stories in my queue so that I can story hop until I settle into one for the long haul. Flash has been a useful tool in allowing me to play, to work through blocks, to line edit my heart out. My most productive times are late at night and I usually have to read everything out loud while I drink seltzer and try to not eat everything in the house.

Who would you cite as your influences? Who made this story possible for you?

Amy Hempel and Noy Holland I think were my introduction to smaller fictions. I read “The New Lodger” to my class each semester. Celeste Ng in general, but especially “How to Be Chinese” helped with this particular story. Short fiction outside of flash: James Baldwin, Karen Russell, Helen Oyeyemi, Don Lee, Laura van den Berg.

Interviewed by Cole Meyer

Mar 6

$5000 Awarded: The Masters Review Anthology VIII — Judged by Kate Bernheimer

Every year The Masters Review produces a print anthology that showcases the best emerging writers in the fiction and nonfiction genres. Our goal is to provide a platform for the very best new talent, and to help promising writers on their path to literary success. Ten stories and essays will be selected for our anthology, which will be distributed to agents and editors across the country. Winning authors will be awarded a total of $5000. This year, we are honored to be working with the fairy tale master Kate Bernheimer who will select the ten anthology finalists from a shortlist of thirty. Read all about the anthology here, and submit by March 31!

GUIDELINES:
  • 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

Add to Calendar

Judging:

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:
submit

 

 

Mar 4

New Voices: How to Spot a Whale by Jacqui Reiko Teruya

Winner! We are so thrilled to be sharing the first place story from our 2018 Summer Flash Fiction Contest. Today, we publish Jacqui Reiko Teruya’s magnificent “How to Spot a Whale.” This story, told in second person, explores the delicate balance between who our family is and who we wish they were; and all the small, quiet moments noticed only by children.

Watch your mother bend to pick up smoothed rocks and broken parts of a shell. Ignore how drab she looks against the gray of the sky; do not wonder if your father notices that too. When the wind blows your mother’s straw hat into the water and she wades in—without grace—to retrieve it, love her more.

Do not look impressed when Roberta tells you about narwhals—the Monodontidae, the white whales. Do not bat an eye when she talks about their elongated canines, how they twist like candy out of the artic sea. When she says she’s heard so much about you, look at your mother. Let her know you see her. When she reaches for a green olive, take one too. Roll the pit over your tongue, clean it on every side like your mother taught you. When Roberta talks about her work and your father’s—the reason she’s come all this way—clench the pit in your teeth and smile wide.

Do not pay attention to Roberta’s red skirt flapping in the breeze or the cluster of orange freckles that dot her white-lady shoulders. Try not to notice the small flip of her nose, her full lips, or the crease of her eyelid. Do not admit you have dreamed of having that crease too. Do not compare your mother’s face to her face. If you see the ivory pendant dangling at the line of Roberta’s cleavage, look away. Fast. Do not think about the hollow of your mother’s chest or the way she tries to hide it under baggy shirts and blouses. Make sure to ask Roberta questions. Questions that take time to answer, that fill space while your father orders lobsters from a silver airstream.

To continue reading “How to Spot a Whale” click here.

Mar 1

Book Review: Fierce Pretty Things by Tom Howard

Last week, we caught up with former Short Story Award winner Tom Howard, whose new collection Fierce Pretty Things, winner of the 2018 Blue Lights Book Prize, is out today. Howard gave his thoughts on perseverance, writing, and giving a damn. You can read that essay here. Today, we’re excited to share our own review of Howard’s excellent Fierce Pretty Things.

“Everything [is] linked together in funny, sad way.” This comes from “The Magnificents,” the narrator describing a magic act by a neighborhood kid. But it’s an accurate description of Tom Howard’s Fierce Pretty Things, winner of Indiana Review’s 2018 Blue Light Books Prize, too. This collection, sardonic from cover to cover, is as funny as it is sad. The characters that occupy the pages of Fierce Pretty Things are remarkably human. They make mistakes; their lives are undesirable. Howard doesn’t shy away from them toward compromising situations, their missteps often leading to disaster. But still, in almost every situation, they find humor. They keep the light on, keep pushing forward. “Hey,” Hildy tells her brother in the dystopian “Hildy”, “you can eat me if you got to.”

This collection is particularly special to me and to The Masters Review, as “Hildy” was selected the winner as our Short Story Award for New Writers back in 2015 and I was the slush pile reader who nominated it. It’s such a pleasure to see “Hildy” in this collection among seven other equally tragic and moving stories.

Read more.

Feb 26

March Deadlines: 18 Contests With Deadlines This Month

They say March comes in like a lion, and clearly they’re referring to the sheer amount of writing competitions this month! We’re happy to lend you a hand, though, and present a carefully curated list of the best contests around. Let’s get started!

FEATURED The Masters Review Anthology Prize

It’s finally that time of year again, when The Masters Review is accepting entries for their anthology! Submissions can be fiction or narrative nonfiction, but they need to be less than 7000 words. The 10 winners will be published in the eighth volume of The Masters Review Anthology, and will each receive $500. This contest is judged by the sublime Kate Bernheimer, and she will be looking for today’s best new emerging writers. Check it out!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: March 31

CDS Documentary Essay Prize

This prize is available through the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, and it’s a big one! They’re looking for current or recently completed documentary writing from a long-term project, at least fifteen pages. Submissions should also include a statement of explanation and a C.V. The winner will receive $3000, a feature story, and their work will be placed in the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University! More details here.

Entry Fee: $50 Deadline: March 1

Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency

This is a unique chance for any author who feels the need for unparalleled solitude while working on their current project! In return for an hour a day of maintenance, the resident receives a $5000 stipend and the use of a comfortable house in the Rogue River backcountry of southwestern Oregon for up to 10 months. Applications need to include a brief resume, a 20-page writing sample, and a letter explaining your suitability for the experience. Learn more here!

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: March 1

Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize

Here’s an opportunity for your short story to be more than just words on a page, when it could be read aloud by stars of stage and screen! Sponsored by the stage and radio series Selected Shorts, the winning submission will be performed and recorded live, receive $1000, and win a free 10-week course with Gotham Writers. Stories can be any theme, as long as they are less than 750 words, and the contest is judged by our wonderful friend Kelly Link! Let’s go!

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: March 1

The Non/Fiction Collection Prize

The Journal is looking to publish the best essay/short story collection written this year, and they are very upfront about their plan! The contest, judged by Nick White, is open to writers of fiction and creative nonfiction, and entries must be less than 350 pages. The winner receives $1500 and a publishing contract from The Ohio State University Press. Details here!

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: March 1

Creative Writing Fellowship

Given by the National Endowment for the Arts, this program awards $25,000 grants in prose (fiction and creative nonfiction) to published writers. These published works can be anything from short stories to creative essays to a novel. It is an extremely rigorous competition, but there is no great reward without risk! Don’t miss it!

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: March 6

Kerouac Project Residency

This is a truly wonderful opportunity; any writer living anywhere in the world can apply for one of the four residencies offered by the Kerouac Project! Each winner will get to stay at Jack Kerouac’s home in Orlando for three months, with a $1000 food stipend, and an offer to interact with workshops and readings in the Orlando area. Check it out!

Entry Fee: $35 Deadline: March 10

Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction

Colorado State University sponsors this prize, through the Colorado Review, and awards $2000 and publication to the winner. There are no theme restrictions, but entries must be over 2500 words to qualify! Judged by Joan Silber, all submissions will be considered for publication. More details here.

Entry Fee: $15 Deadline: March 14

2019 Fiction Contest: Doubt

Doubt is a common problem that writers face, but Sonora Review is willing to pay you to find out your thoughts on the subject! Each year they award $1000 and publication to a winning short story, and this year’s contest theme is Doubt. Judged by R.O. Kwan, prose submissions should not exceed 5000 words. Get ready here!

Entry Fee: $15 Deadline: March 15

First Novel Fellowship

Created in honor of the late James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity, the James Jones  Literary Society will award $10,000 for a novel-in-progress by an unpublished US author. There should be a celebration of honesty, determination, and insight into cultural and social issues in each application. Submissions must include a two-page synopsis and a 50-page excerpt from the manuscript. Details here!

Entry Fee: $30 Deadline: March 15

Frank McCourt Memoir Prize

It takes courage to write personal narratives and share them with the world, but The Southampton Review is ready to reward such bravery. Submissions must be less than 4500 words, must be memoir, and only one submission is allowed per author. The winner, however, receives $1000 and publication, and the runner-up receives $500. Submission guidelines here.

Entry Fee: $15 Deadline: March 15

Hodson Trust – John Carter Brown Library Fellowship

This is a huge one! The fellowship is meant to support work by academics, independent scholars, and writers working on significant projects based on the literature, history, and culture of the Americas before 1830. Fellows receive a $20,000 stipend and four months of housing and university privileges, split between Brown University and Washington College. More details here.

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: March 15

Prairie Schooner Book Prize Contest

This is an opportunity for all living writers, writing in English, who just so happen to have an unpublished manuscript in poetry or fiction! Poetry manuscripts ought to be at least 50 pages long, while fiction manuscripts ought to be at least 150 pages long. Winners will receive $3000 and publication through the University of Nebraska Press. Submit here!

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: March 15

Bellingham Review

All three of the Bellingham Review’s contests are ending this month, so begin writing now if you want to receive one of the three $1000 first-place prizes! Robin Hemley is judging the Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction, Nickole Brown is judging the 49th Parallel Award for Poetry, and Ira Sukrungruang is judging the Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction. All of the winners and a selection of the runners up will be published! Submission guidelines here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: March 31

2019 Fiction Prize

This is a call to all writers, who think that their work can make the cut! Judged by the hard-working R.O. Kwan, the winner receives $1000 and publication in Indiana Review. All entries receive a year-long subscription to the journal, and all entries are considered for publication. Learn more here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: March 31

Prime Number Magazine Awards

With an emphasis on brevity, this contest for poetry and short fiction is meant to be a challenge! Make sure to note that the short story limit is 5300 words, as a nod to their parent organization Press 53. Judged by Ginger Murchison and Pinckney Benedict (for poetry and short fiction, respectively), the first-place winner in each category receives $1000, publication in Prime Number Magazine, and a Pushcart Prize nomination! Enter here.

Entry Fee: $15 Deadline: March 31

The Hudson Prize

If you have an unpublished poetry or short story collection, this could be your big break! Black Lawrence Press is currently accepting submissions from new, emerging, and established authors. The winner will receive book publication, $1000, and 10 copies of the book. Details here.

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: March 31

Winter Story Contest

This contest from Narrative is open to all fiction and nonfiction writers, writing anything from short stories and memoirs, to essays and literary nonfiction! The entries need to be less than 15,000 words and previously unpublished, while containing a strong narrative drive and intense insights. First prize is $2500, second is $1000, and third is $500. Guidelines here.

Entry Fee: $26 Deadline: March 31

by Kimberly Guerin

 

Feb 25

New Voices: “Two Kinds of Neighborhoods” by Neil Cooney

Today, we are proud to present “Two Kinds of Neighborhoods” by Neil Cooney. Cooney placed second in our Summer Flash Fiction Contest with this story about a fight that breaks out in the narrator’s neighborhood. But is his neighborhood the kind of neighborhood where fights occur, or is it another kind?

I suppose there are two kinds of neighborhoods: those in which fights are common and those in which they are not. Our neighborhood is the second kind.

Mr. Sierakowski and Mr. Edwards are fighting in the street. Mr. Edwards is winning. From the window I see blood dripping out of Mr. Sierakowski’s nose, and other blood on his face I don’t know where from. Mr. Edwards is older and a little fat, so it’s surprising to see him doing so well. I don’t know if the other people watching (I can see a few) are surprised by this or are too surprised by the fighting to be surprised by anything else.

I don’t think there has ever been a fight in our neighborhood. (They are struggling; there are not, after all, many punches; a lot of feinting and grabbing arms and dodging blows that aren’t even coming, as if each man feels the other’s hands to be wrapped in something more dangerous than skin.) I suppose there are two kinds of neighborhoods: those in which fights are common and those in which they are not. Our neighborhood is the second kind.

To continue reading “Two Kinds of Neighborhoods” click here.

Feb 22

Debut Author Spotlight: Tom Howard

Tom Howard’s Fierce Pretty Things, winner of the 2018 Blue Lights Books prize, will be released next Friday (3/1). We caught up with the author, winner of our own Short Story Award back in 2015 with the marvelous “Hildy,” who shared some excellent advice on perseverance, writing, and giving a damn.  Check back next week for our review of Howard’s excellent debut collection.

On the other hand, I can write a single odd description or a single surprising line of dialogue, and I’ll think:

Oh right, that’s who I am. 

Which doesn’t mean I think I won’t ever write something big or ambitious.  It just means there are no shortcuts to getting there.  It can start with anything—small, goofy, sweet, horrifying, whatever—as long as it starts with something true.  That’s what will keep me writing, but even more important than that, that’s what will keep someone reading, if anything will.

I’ve been writing since I was eight years old.  I mean that when I was eight years old, I started telling people I was a writer.  I’d spend my time drawing the covers of my future novels, agonizing over typography, devising pen names for myself.  And I would write.  By the time I was ten, I’d written at least twenty mostly murder-and-dismemberment-related short stories, not including my typewritten sequel to the movie Alien, which I typed in red ink (because: blood).  At eleven, I won my first writing contest, with a story about a cannibal with a heart of gold.  And this was at a time when most of my friends still couldn’t read.  Well, they could read, but they didn’t.  To paraphrase Twain, What’s the difference?

Point is, I was pretty sure of myself as a writer, and that stuck with me all the way through my twenties and thirties, despite a lot of practical evidence to the contrary.   I wasn’t a writer at all.  I could write well enough, just in a purely literal sense, but so could a great many other people who had better stories to tellAnd I wasn’t even writing all that much.  I started a lot of things and had grand ideas, but even if I wasn’t still drawing my book covers, I wasn’t putting in the real work of being a writer, either. 

This is supposed to be an essay about my path to publication, and I believe the idea is to write something that might be meaningful to other aspiring writers.  Of course writers are all different, and it’s not very profound to say there isn’t one right way to go about it.  Half the advice we get as writers is probably wrong (for us) or contradicts the other half.  There isn’t a magical list of rules to follow, or a set of universal strategies.

(But lists are fun.  So these are just my own strategies, the things I remind myself of to get me or keep me going.)

Read more.

Feb 21

Essay: A Case for the Classics

Today, we are excited to share this essay from assistant editor Melissa Hinshaw, “A Case for the Classics.” Hinshaw argues that, for all its flaws, there’s still value to be gained from reading the staples of the Western canon.

Being a good reader requires letting yourself get lost in wormholes and having the strength to pull yourself out of them. 

During office hours for an Advanced Composition course I took in college, my professor sat me down and asked me who I liked to read.

“Oh, you know,” I said, looking around at his shelves full of books with spines listing name after name I didn’t recognize. “Thoreau, Emerson, T.S. Eliot.” I shrugged. “Those guys are good.”

My professor rolled his eyes. “Oh no, you’re one of those,” he said, getting up from his chair. “I meant, who are you reading that’s not dead, male, and white?”

That’s when I puffed my burgeoning baby-author chest up and played my hand: “Well, actually, I just finished Infinite Jest,” I said proudly, a literary hipster in the making.

My prof squinted at his shelf. “I’m sorry to say he now falls into the dead white guy category, too.” This was in November 2008, shortly after David Foster Wallace’s suicide.

“Here,” he said, pulling paperbacks by Judy Budnitz and Aimee Bender. He dropped them in my lap. “Read these and then come talk to me.”

Read more.