The Masters Review Blog

Nov 22

Lit Mag Roadmap: Montana

We’re headed north! Our third stop on this road trip along the literary landscape lands us in Montana, Big Sky Country, the Last Best Place.

The Big Sky State is vast and sparse, dotted with rich cultural pockets you don’t see coming ‘til you’re there–and its literary scene is no different. Put these four lit mags on your map, set your eye to the horizon, and try to remember what wide open spaces feel like. However heavy and hazy the urban bustle becomes, Montana lit mags aren’t going to let us forget what it means to be a human walking this earth.

Camas

Want to write, but too worried about climate change to sit still and type? Enter: Camas, wrangler of the words of those dedicated to protecting and healing the land. Founded out of the University of Montana’s Environmental Studies Program, Camas does that thing we all want to do of humanize the environmental crisis so that people take better care of the planet, but does so in a striking and steady (rather than hyper and politicizing) fashion. It’s a mission-driven literary publication with environmental goals in sight, but those goals don’t distract from its ability to collect some of the most top-notch fiction, poetry, and essays in the West. In doing so its become a stronghold for artists and activists who, challenging writers of climate dystopias to calm down and breath life into the world around them in the here and now. It’s also, like the state it’s from, straight up gorgeous. It’s a win-win: people go to Montana to get space, and Camas exists to keep that kind of space alive.

Cutbank

True to its name, Cutbank lives on the edge: long considered the highest-ranking of the middle tier lit mag scene or a lower member of the highest tier publications, Cutbank can rub elbows with any ol’ copy of Paris Review you’ve got laying around, and do so with a better swagger. I don’t have hard data on this but anecdotally it’s one of the titles most listed in “Best of” anthology author bios. It’s been around not quite 50 years (it wouldn’t be totally off base to think of Cutbank as that cool older friend you have who manages to have both the kid you want and the life you want), and you can expect it to keep ramping up well through it’s half-decade-aversary: their expanded online features and annual contests just keep getting more and better. These are the guys you should trust to publish your chapbook, so finish it up already and submit.

Whitefish Review

Montana’s most “normal” lit mag keeps it simple with one submission guideline only: keep it excellent. It’s hard to find a more purely run publication in this part of the country. Whitefish Review is named after the town its founded in, offers one $1000-prize contest a year, and has a no-frills approach to being online (try getting lost on their website, I dare you). They don’t need to tweet author interviews or publish audio files, they simply want more good writing to get into the hands of more people. Like its aforementioned Montana lit mag siblings, it’s got an environmental vibe, but one that’s baked into the published content rather than hashed out in the marketing or surrounding chatter. Bonus: for those with a side hustle in photography or painting, Whitefish Review sports 16 pages of color printing reserved for art on art on art.

Montana Mouthful

New to the scene and the collaborative effort of a few fast-acting Montana females, this mostly-online publication will print copies on-demand should the desire for pages turning in your fingertips arise. Their 2,000 word limit rolls its eyes at anyone still trying to submit a 20-page workshop story and flirts with online readers just outside the literary sphere. Content is king and Montana Mouthful manages to blend the line between tweet-size outrage and sock-you-in-the-gut short story: “Your words, though few, must carry tension,” their editors demand. Possibly related to said tension: sneak a submission in to their “Romance Gone Wrong” contest by December 15 to make the most of any relationship-related holiday blues.

 

Nov 21

Summer Short Story Award Shortlist!

I am thrilled to share that our editorial staff has made our selections for the 2019 Summer Short Story Award Shortlist. These ten excellent stories rose to the top among the many great submissions we received for this contest. It’s now up to guest judge Tope Folarin to select three as finalists. He has quite the difficult decision ahead of him. Thank you again to all our lovely submitters!

Ghost Story by Becca Anderson

Salt-Sea by Zeeva Bukai

Unlike Us by Theodore Brady

Mother Static by Rachael Fowler

Beauty in the Blood by Benjamín Naka-Hasebe Kingsley

Terraforming Mars by Emmett Knowlton

Jonathan’s Lament by Etan Nechin

Mutts by Shane Page

Escape Velocity by Karisa Tell

Frontier by Kosiso Ugwueze

Nov 20

Five Craft Books to Mentor Us

No one can be a writer alone. Friends, editorial teams, focus groups/victims, mentors, and mentees are all necessary for the process of writing. We cannot expect to be great narrators of humanity without actually interacting with people and being open to their opinions. Writers must share, be told they’re wrong, grow, learn, and continue to listen. And in turn, seasoned writers should then lift up emerging writers to speak into another wave of creators and consumers.

We all have to take care of each other.

So, all affirmed or suggested by my personal and writerly mentors, here are five books on craft to revise your work and advise your soul.

Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular by Rust Hills

This “informal textbook” gives an expert editor’s perspective on short fiction. It has depth and wisdom to satiate an experienced writer, but also a welcoming, guiding hand to help beginners. If you ever want to get inside your editor’s head, beat them to their critiques, and turn in a more polished, well-organized draft: this is the book to get you there.

 

Tell It Slant by Brenda Miller
Creative nonfiction is more than spitting out “real” stories: it gives the writer the power to make more sense of the past. Miller provides new prompts, makes research less daunting, and reminds writers that they have the authority to use their own voices. And yes, it does address ethical concerns regarding nonfiction writing.

 

 

A Stranger’s Journey by David Mura

If identity is a theme you’re itching to explore: Mura has you covered. It is anchored in the concept of race and diversity (or sometimes the lack thereof) in American literature. The text asks what our place is in the world without filling us with too much existential dread, and also explores how to tell a story. For both craft advice and literary criticism, writers of any skill level can benefit from this one.

 

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

I have yet to meet a soul who doesn’t love Mary Karr. Witty and raw, this book tears apart Karr’s own work (as well as other classic memoirists’) and explains piece by piece what made it work. It celebrates the messy stories in life that we don’t want to cop to, because they make up the best bits of writing. It feels like sitting in on a lecture as a prospective student: giddy, uninhibited by the grading aspects of the class, and a little precocious.

 

Burn This Book by Toni Morrison

Still quite broken about literary hero Toni Morrison’s recent passing, I recommend her curation of essays. As editor of the text, Morrison notes the power and necessity of writers in the world, making sense of the world and all of its flaws. This book tears into literary censorship as well as our basic human need for stories. It will remind you that day by day, slouched in front of your desk with forgotten cups of coffee beside you, writing and rewriting the same sentence for hours, you’re doing something worthwhile.

By Elena Ender

Nov 18

The Santa Fe Workshops

The Santa Fe Workshops, founded by Reid Callanan in 1990, have offered workshops for photographers of all skill levels since their first year in operation. For the last three years, they’ve expanded to offer classes for budding writers through their Writers Lab on their Santa Fe campus as well as abroad in Cuba and Mexico. In celebration of their thirtieth year, I spoke with Reid about their history and the great success they’ve enjoyed. This content is sponsored by Santa Fe Workshops.

Since 1990, the Santa Fe Workshops have been offering classes to both professional and aspiring photographers interested in improving their craft and receiving professional development training. Over their nearly 30 years in operation, with the rapidly developing technology in the world of photography allowing easier access to the tools of the trade, the workshops have transformed into a place for amateur photographers and emerging writers who want to be published to learn from the pros. The workshops offer the time and space necessary for the attendees to hone their skills in the beauty of the New Mexico desert.

I had the great fortune to speak with Reid Callanan, founder of the Santa Fe Workshops, about the great success they’ve enjoyed. In our conversation, a few things were immediately clear: Reid is a busy man, splitting time between Maine where his family lives and Santa Fe; Reid loves a good conversation; but most importantly, Reid is passionate not just about photography, but about the Santa Fe Workshop and the creative process as a whole. I asked Reid about the beginning: What led to his founding of the Santa Fe Workshops?

When Reid was a junior in college, inspired by his father’s own trip abroad, Reid studied in London. He brought along a new camera, took a photography course, and that paved the way for his future. When he returned to the states, he finished out his B.S. in geology, but upon graduating, he found his way to the Maine Photographic Workshops, where he strived to improve his craft, and eventually worked in every capacity on its staff. He said it was there that he learned how to run a workshop (and, how not to run one). In 1989, he loaded his family and a small staff into a car and drove across the country to the desert in Santa Fe to establish the Santa Fe Workshops.

Why Santa Fe? I asked Reid. It seems like a bold move to relocate across the country like that. Reid agreed. But the move, he explained, was a strategic decision. It would’ve been suicide to compete with the Maine Photographic Workshop, so the East coast was out. He had family in Santa Fe, he said, and had always loved the arid climate. But most importantly, he wanted a place that would inspire photographers; it needed to be a creative place. The Santa Fe Workshops’ campus is located on a monastery, what Reid described to me as beautiful, serene and quiet. Its location is part of what prompted Reid to expand beyond photography and begin offering writing workshops three years ago.  Writer friends of his commented on its potential as a quiet place to center and meditate, and Reid had always had a personal desire to get involved in the world of words. So three years ago they diversified their business in a move that’s paid off handsomely. They now offer writing workshops at their Santa Fe campus as well as in Cuba and San Miguel. “Writers are easy to please,” Reid joked.

When asked which photographers and writers inspire him, Reid was quick to answer: For photography, Reid cited Sam Abell, a former National Geographic staff photographer, who’s taught workshops on vision, on how we see. Reid has spent time with Sam in workshops, and he said Sam’s thoughts, pictures and ideas are largely influential for his own work. Something that Sam advocates for is finding a scene that compels you and then waiting for something to happen. You might stay twenty minutes, you might stay an hour, but you wait there for something to happen. But, as Reid acknowledged, sometimes you do have to move on. For writers, Reid named Pam Houston, whose workshop in San Miguel just concluded. He called Pam a “fabulous writer and an equally great teacher.” Similarly, Pam advocates for “glimmers,” or moving through the world until something glimmers back at the writer as an inspiration.

For aspiring photographers and writers, Reid had a few pieces of advice. First, he said, the best way to get better is to do it on a daily basis. Neither photography nor writing are crafts you can set down and pick up later and do well consistently. They take dedication, devotion, and a true passion for the creative outlet. Photographers for some reason, he continued, seem to think they can put their camera away for long periods of time until they’re headed out on vacation and expect their photographs to turn out great without practice, but it doesn’t work that way. He recommended they carry their cameras at all times and make pictures daily. Make it an extension of you, another appendage. Daily writing, too, will help you improve your craft. Second, he recommended that amateurs in both fields find a mentor they can trust, someone who’s better than them, that they can touch base with on a regular basis for honest feedback and critique. It’s a hard field to get good in, Reid said, because it’s work we do alone. Most writers and photographers work in a solitary environment. Find a mentor, get involved in a writing group, he suggested. Or maybe, enroll in a workshop.

For their thirtieth year, Santa Fe Workshops is undergoing a rebranding. Reid said they wanted to bring more focus on their writing workshops—even though they’ve been advertised in their newsletters, the photographers who attend their workshops seem to be generally unaware that Sante Fe Workshops offers classes on writing. Reid was excited about the success they’ve had combining photography and writing at some of their workshops in San Miguel, which brought awareness to their writing courses. With the rebranding, Reid hopes to attract a younger crowd to their beautiful campus in Santa Fe. Find out what courses are offered in 2020 on their website, and take the trip.

By Cole Meyer

Content sponsored by Santa Fe Workshops

Nov 15

New Writing on the Net: November

The cold is sweeping across the country and settling in—so why don’t you settle in and read our favorite fiction and nonfiction published around the net over the last month!

Fire Escape” by Eric Rasmussen | New Limestone Review, November 1

Somewhere in the middle of my tasks I heard the bell above the door ding. Before I saw who it was I dashed back behind the counter, where I felt a rush of air and heard a buzzing noise, almost as loud as a lawnmower. A fly about the size of a large cat landed on counter near the register. “Hi,” it said. “My name is Mary.”

Home Economics” by Kim Magowan | Booth, November 1

When June was a newborn, every single thing that could go wrong with breastfeeding did. Within ten days, I’d plowed through every chapter of The Nursing Mother’s Companion. A clogged duct escalated to mastitis escalated to an abscess escalated to, finally, quitting breastfeeding altogether. My first “failure” as a parent, caused because I had too much milk—it would spray across the room, actually hit the wall. June’s demand could not keep up with my excessive supply. The breastfeeding book promised that eventually one’s milk would adapt to one’s baby’s needs, but mine never got a chance to regulate. I remember the shame of quitting, and the ungodly relief.

I remember tearing through those “what can go wrong” chapters now, reading the book Birch loaned me about raising adolescent girls. “When to worry” is the conclusion of every chapter.

Now. Now. Now.

“So,” says Matt, calmly-grimly, “our daughter is a liar, a thief, and apparently an addict. What’s next?”

Fugato” by Rebekah Frumkin | Granta, November 4

Ellen was gone. He was alone in the office with Marsha, who was probably moving glacially around the little alcove where she sat behind the sliding glass window, gathering her phone and crossword puzzles and stress ball made to look like an alien’s head before she left. He sat still, waiting for the growling to begin again. It had been atavistic, a feral dog’s growl. He went to the window and looked down into the street. No dogs, and he was too high up to hear them even if there had been any. It could be an auditory hallucination, for which he typically prescribed risperidone, aripiprazole, olanzapine, ziprasidone or quetiapine. When those drugs failed, clozapine or haloperidol.

Ruins, 2005” by J.E. Reich | Little Fiction, November 6

Years later, I will remember looking to Walt’s eyes, and I will know what the feeling is. It’s not forgiveness or sympathy or empathy, but something closest to the idea of forbearing, of understanding without absolution. I’ll think of Walt and the men who brought bombs with them below where a city breathes, and I will wonder what it’s like to love and to hate so much that you can’t stand to stay inside of your skin. To be so torn and incomplete that it can only be assuaged by obliterating every brick before you on the sidewalk, making the heart chambers of others implode.

Good Girl” by Melissa Moorer | matchbook, November 11

You thought two girls would be enough, would be safe, but there’s really no such thing. Two girls is just an extra victim. You found this out when you were twelve and your best friend wanted to meet some guy she’d met on the internet and she talked you into going along just to be safe even though you were smaller than her and eleven.

Three girls isn’t even enough. You know this from the news. Four girls, four strong teenage girls can sometimes be enough, but rarely.

Party Girl” by Monica D Drake | Gay Mag, November 13

The intern — who was, not surprisingly, young, white and male — turned my writing into a party girl forced to jump out of a cake, or a stripper hired for the entitlement and entertainment of drunk men. Men in charge, women as object, these are the only stories he knew, apparently.

It’s important to think about the cultural gatekeeping role he’d been granted, as an intern, and the apparent limits of his willingness to extend respect to submitted material. I’m going to say he liked my work. He liked it enough to carry a copy with him to a party.

The Unlovables” by Len Kuntz | BULL, November 14

We carried our gunnies and worked our way down the rain-slicked slope, trying not to slide or topple. I offered my hand to Mother, but each time she batted it away, so cruel thoughts trundled through my head, images of Mother tumbling down the craggy slope, landing broken and helpless in the garbage along with everyone else’s unlovable junk. And then, of course, I felt guilty and despicable for thinking such things. I was thirteen years old, nearly a man. I should have known better.

Curated by Cole Meyer

Nov 14

Craft: That’s Not the Story by Melissa Madore

TMR reader Melissa Madore synthesizes advice from essays we’ve published in the last year and elsewhere and reflects on her own process on writing in this fabulous essay on the craft of short-story writing. Look no further for the perfect advice to apply to your own stories as you polish them up for our Fall Fiction Contest!

Kim Winternheiner, founder of The Masters Review, said in an interview:  “I sometimes think people don’t realize how close they are to the finish line.”

If you are the writer who’s just received a rejection letter, you’re probably asking yourself: Is that me and How close am I?

That’s part of the reason I submitted an application for the readership at The Masters Review: I wanted to read stories, yes, definitely, but I also faced rejections and I was stuck with my prose. I wanted to immerse myself with stories, swim the waters of the so-called slush pile.

How was the experience as a reader for TMR? Extremely humbling. I found myself reading stories, often thinking, This is good, but no. Why? Because stories that are almost there are not there. Good enough is not a yes. This was the truth I simply couldn’t admit about my own work.

So when are we close to the finish line?

Creative writing classes offer us tons of advice. If we don’t know where to start, they tell us: Begin with what you know. Say something true.

I’m from a small town in Canada. In the spring, sometimes, the river swells over the street. I might hit a deer while driving home at dusk. Once, a child fell through the crack of a frozen lake. Is that enough? (Well, yes there is Alice Monroe.)

But, and Melissa said it in her recent essay Against the Great Sadness of the Upper-Middle Class: There are heaps of stories about broken hearts, grief, etc. Your cancer story will sit in the shadow (for me as a reader at least) of “Do Not Disturb” from A.M. Homes (from her collection Things You Should Know) about a woman with ovarian cancer. This is not your average cancer story. Let me give you an example with an excerpt. Here the wife is speaking with her doctor. Her husband, the narrator of the story, is also present in the room.

“What has to come out?” she asks.

“What do you want to keep?”

“I wanted to have a child.”

“I could take just the one ovary,” the doctor says. “And then after the chemo you could try and get pregnant and then after you had a child we could go in and get the rest.”

“Can you really get pregnant after chemo?” [the husband] asks.

The doctor shrugs. “Miracles happen all the time,” he says. “The problem is you can’t raise a child if you’re dead.”

Your coming of age story will be measured against “Girl on Girl” by Diane Cook in which a teenage girl is beaten by her peers. But then it’s revealed she is in cahoots with her assailants; she asked them to kick her in the stomach in the hope that she would abort. Ouch. The competition is fierce.

At the same time, can we honestly escape writing about what in fact composes the very essence of the human experience?

Recently, I read Less by Andrew Sean Greer.

In the book, Arthur Less, the main protagonist, speaks with a woman named Zohra. He has just told her his book was rejected by his publisher and Zohra says:

“What was your new novel about?”

“It was about a middle-aged gay man walking around San Francisco. And, you know, his…his sorrows…” ‘

“A white middle-aged American man walking around with his white middle-aged American sorrows? … Arthur. Sorry to tell you this. It’s a little hard to feel sorry for a guy like that.”

“Even gay?”

“Even gay.”

What is Less about? It stages a middle-aged upper class heartbroken gay character traveling abroad and reflecting upon his failed love life. The book was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Okay, so maybe we can write about what we know.

A writer I admire, Laura Van Den Berg, said in an interview: “Also, don’t listen to people who say, ’Write what you know.’”

Emily Fridlund (another writer I’m very fond of) published an essay with The Masters Review titled “On Not Knowing Just Enough,” where she discusses one of her first published stories, “Expecting.” She refers to the story as being “about babies.” She says: “I was twenty-four years old when I wrote my Baby Story and pretty clueless when it came to babies…—and knowing a little but not too much about babies made it possible for me to test these ideas out.”

She also opens up about her experience of child loss: “Here’s what that miscarriage was like: I packed up a lump of tissue in a Tupperware, like a lunch, to take to the OB-GYN. I did not ever write a story about the Tupperware, the lump. That year, the third year I’d failed to carry a child to term, I wrote instead about a precocious boy whose parents and babysitter stand by and watch as that boy dies.”

The novel she is referring to is History of Wolves, shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2017.

So it isn’t that wise to draw from what we know best?  Yet, from my experience both as a reader and writer, trauma is often the first place we dive into to get material for our story. We want to turn our pain into something meaningful. We want our sorrows to matter. Nothing wrong with this. Using story-telling as part of a healing process has its merits. South Africa (where I currently reside) would be in a different position without the Truth and Reconciliation Commission where victims of apartheid were called upon to give statements about their experiences. In having the people telling their stories, it is believed that South Africa avoided a civil war.

And let’s face it: It’s hard to resist the temptation of drawing from what we know a lot, or made a strong impression on us: the day we stumbled onto a pod of beached pilot whales; that evening when the music was soft and we heard the sound of the lobsters scratching at the side of the pot where, we knew, their flesh was being scalded so that we can eat them later on; that afternoon we carried the ashes of our father in a washed ice cream container.  We think this would make a good story. (Hemingway got away with worse, didn’t he?)

And it might if you have a way with words, but more than likely it will not be enough. And you’ll run the very real risk of being too close and falling into the trap of mushiness.

* * *

Kim Winternheiner said, “So instead of adding depth and letting things layer, the piece ends up feeling empty.”

Layering. The other stories that are within your story.

According to the Guinness World Records as of 1995, the Bible is the best-selling book of all time, with an estimated 5 billion copies sold and distributed. I’m taking this example (and this will echo what Robert Olen Butler said in a lecture relayed in the book From Where You Dream)  because, well, the Bible is a book and it happens to be a bestseller and I feel that as a writer I would be a fool not to consider this. But especially because it’s a book about a man who wants to say something about the world, and he says: Let me tell you a story. And he does, except he doesn’t tell the exact story, he tells other ones that are meant, within their layers, to tell you THE ONE.

A psychologist once spoke to me about the rubber band effect. She said experiences echo with another so that when your boyfriend, for example, merely frowns at you (for whatever reason) and you find yourself reacting as if he’d thrown hot water— the rawness and intensity of your experience might find its origin in the fact that it awakened other pains, say an experience of bullying as a child. Pain doesn’t come alone. This means that if a story only tells one story—it doesn’t reflect life.

My husband once asked me, Why do you read fiction? He prefers biographies; to him it’s a better use of his time because it’s ‘real life.’  Now, we could enter a debate about the fiction in non-fiction (memory is subjective—there are tons of accounts of people remembering the same event differently; we are emotional beings and memory is often linked to our value systems, etc.) But apart from this, one rule in fiction is that we ought to create characters that readers will care about. To accomplish this (and I will stick to human characters for this example, but will suggest Karen Russell’s essay for the rules in alternatives realities), we need to give our human characters human characteristics: dreams, fears, desires, secrets etc. If we fail—we will lose the reader. If this is true, I told my husband, how can I not consider that the lessons I draw from the experiences of characters who, although fictional, act, react, dream, and desire like human beings, are not as valuable as the ones in non-fiction? (Of course they are; that’s the point of literature, isn’t it, to connect us and show what it means to be human?)

But how do we do this? Where is the Blue Fairy that can change our characters into real boys and girls?

Corbett gives us some clues in his essay, Secret and Contradictions. Let’s take the example from above—a girlfriend reacts exaggeratedly at her husband when he frowns. Let’s say that the girlfriend, throughout the narrative, has been described as even-tempered and has been acting as such, with a steady, quiet, attitude. And then there is a scene where she lashes out at her husband for a frown—there is a pattern (her soft nature) that is broken: suspense is created. And then later, through a backstory, we find out about the bullying (her secret). Here not only is there the manifestation of conflict that reflects life, but also the readers are engaged; they make hypotheses (Why is the girlfriend suddenly reacting like this?), they are given the tools—background stories— to draw their own conclusions (Ah, poor girl, she was bullied as a child! Of course she is reacting like this!) As a reader, this makes us feel clever, involved, satisfied.

So we need to be close, but not too close (not knowing just enough)—it seems like hard work. It is. Writing is hard, hard, hard work and I guess that is why we sometimes indulge in the day the sun entered our bedroom and lit it like a stage; we think, Ah, this is something. We think we can get away with it. But if our story only tells one story, then that’s not the story.

By Melissa Madore

 

 

 

Nov 13

Interview with the Winner: Kathryn Phelan

It’s been a few days since we published our first-place-winning flash story, “Homecoming” by Kathryn Phelan. If you haven’t read it yet, be sure to check it out now, and then continue on to our newest installment in our Interview with the Winner series below:

First, congratulations! “Homecoming” was published on Monday as the winner of our 2019 Flash Fiction Contest. Kathy Fish, our judge who selected the piece, commented on the story’s atmospheric quality, likening to a quiet, deeply moving short film, which is completely accurate. “Homecoming” tells us so much about the these two characters in a short space, and like all great flash stories, we get the sense that these characters have fully-realized lives outside the space of the story. Kathy Fish also pointed to the great, evocative details you chose to tell this story, and the first one I want to hone in on are the fish in this ending. “…For a while it surprised no one to see perch and bowfin flopping in the streets, gills straining for the water that stranded them there.” What a powerful concluding image. What inspired you to end here?

One thing I love about flash fiction is that sometimes you have to end before you want to. You just run out of words. You have to get off a stop too early. I love what the does to writing—it can render catharsis into something more artistic. And I talk too much, so it’s also a productive exercise in restraint. In longer pieces I’ve sometimes cut entire pages just to finish at an unobtrusive line, before the writing becomes an attempt at conclusion. In this case, not to oversimplify: I had to write 500 words, and I was getting close, and this was the point I’d reached.  But I was happy to leave it there because I relate to that tension and perversion of missing, ferociously, something that screwed you over in some way.

As a writer and an editor, I’m always fascinated by the idiosyncrasies of other people’s writing processes. A peer of mine recently told me she writes in layers, adding scenes after she’s laid out the bones of the story, so to speak. What does your process look like?

Ah, I knew you were going to ask this! I really see the value in being disciplined and process-oriented in writing, but I’m not wired like that. I’m Type A about a lot of things, so I think part of the appeal of writing for me is that it’s such a creative blitz. It’s a 3 a.m., nonstop, bad-posture-on-the-couch type gig. It’s usually when I’m increasingly anxious about something, or someone, and that buzz reaches a critical mass and I have to get it down on paper in a way that I recognize, and then I feel better. It’s almost like a purge. Then, unless I have a deadline, I’ll often close the file for a couple years before returning to edit it (usually also in the middle of the night). Does that count as a process? Making a living as a writer like this would obviously be a challenge.

What advice have you received that you’ve found particularly useful that you apply in your writing?

I refer often to something Mary Morrissey said in workshop: ‘Take out the parts that are for you.” I half-hate this advice because it’s such a challenge for me, especially in nonfiction, but of course she’s right. It’s a better telling if you can ditch the excuses or explanations or justifications—or whatever details mean something to you but weigh down the narrative. We had some good one-liners at Trinity. I think it was also Mary who said, “Put in as much as you can, and then take out as much as you can.” Finally, a slightly cynical one, delivered with good humor by Carlo Gébler: “The short story is a missed mortgage payment.” I remember this mostly because I thought it was funny—but it does help to keep things in perspective when you’re pitching to the black hole of magazines and newspapers and publishing houses and you think you’ve created something brilliant but no one responds to your emails.

Any great influences? Who are the writers you always turn to when you need something great to read?

I read Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies a few years ago and still can’t stop thinking about it. I’m really inspired by lyricism in writing—writing that listens to itself, that makes you stop and go ‘Ahhhhh,’ is so emotionally precise that it’s almost frustrating (in the best way). Case studies: “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith, “OCD” by Neil Hilborn, “Exactly What to Say” by Kim Church. I adore Frank O’Hara. I love Colm McCann, Nicole Krauss, Lorrie Moore. But honestly most of what I read is nonfiction, memoirs or travelogues or essays. Peter Fleming is a favorite. I’ve just started on E.B. White’s essays, and I have been laughing out loud.

Interviewed by Cole Meyer

 

Nov 11

New Voices: “Homecoming” by Kathryn Phelan

The winner has arrived! Kathryn Phelan’s “Homecoming” was selected by Kathy Fish as the grand prize winner for our Flash Fiction Contest this year. There’s so much to say about this wonderful flash, but let’s hear it straight from our judge herself: “This flash has the feel of a quiet, beautiful, deeply moving short film. It is deeply atmospheric and woven through with a palpable sense of loss and melancholy. It begins: ‘It was the year I painted the bedroom gold like kente cloth…’ I was immediately drawn to the voice and the internal tension of the piece, which somehow manages to convey an expanse of time and change in very few words. This writer chose evocative language and details to tell this story. I found myself lingering on ‘how different things comfort us, depending on where we have been.’ Memorability and emotional resonance are two things I look for especially when judging flash fiction. This story overflows with both.”

We strung up fairy lights but neither of us could figure out how to turn off the blinking setting. The rain didn’t stop—it plunged lawns into marshes, slurped with our footsteps, dripped from the ceiling.

After “A Second Time” by James Galvin 

It was the year I painted the bedroom gold like kente cloth, so pigmented you could nearly pluck it from the walls and weave it. You needed a haircut but wanted everyone to know you’d been through something. We read our old letters out loud to each other, twenty numbered pages, all covered in dust and dirt, felt the weight of the postage in our hands. In the autumn your dad’s kidneys failed. You offered one of yours but he wouldn’t take it: You carry that failure in your blood too, he said, and you might need both of them. The meteorologists spoke of lake-effect snow, but it fell to the ground as rain.

The apartment was almost what we wanted, and I bought frames so you could hang the photos you took. It rained and rained. Puddles collected everywhere, and you talked about the red dust of dry season. You said you’d get around to it—the haircut, the photos, everything. Convalescence seemed baggy on you, an awkward indulgence. You missed the Dogon mask dances you’d left behind, so you lit bonfires, sat under the poplars and waited for the same feeling. I don’t suppose our garden was anything like Africa but you breathed the smell of the little exhausted fire for as long as the rain held off.

To continue reading “Homecoming” click here.

Nov 8

Litmag Roadmap: Arizona

We’ve made the trek from the deep south to the southwest: 1,700 miles from Montgomery to Phoenix, but lucky for you, it only takes a second to navigate between webpages. Dive in to our dissection of the literary world of Arizona!

To understand the Arizona literary scene you must first understand the Arizona landscape: there is the Phoenix metropolitan area, which houses the bulk of the state’s population and most of its concrete/drywall buildings. To the north lays the Flagstaff area, a pine-studded enclave of anyone escaping the desert heat on a temporary or permanent basis. Then there’s Tucson to the south, often considered “scruffy” by some and “artsy” by others (think the “Austin” or “Berkeley” of Arizona, but with more cactus) and only 45 minutes from the Mexican border. To the sides of all these main metropolitan areas hides a whole slew of reservations, ranchland, ghost towns, national monuments, mining sites old and new, military mysteries, ancient ruins, meteoric craters, and so on and so forth. If you haven’t carved out a month or more to explore Arizona, put it on your bucket list. But in the meantime, put your finger on the pulse of one or a few of these publications to see what the gravity of a strange place like this creates and collects.

Sonora Review

With cover art consistently labelable as some version of “desert mod,” which is a good thing, SR is the peak example of work that toys with and is borne out of the sparseness-fullness polarity of a desert. While SR is not afraid to tout its David Foster Wallace connections, its ongoing success relies on the hard work of current University of Arizona MFA students and the consistent presence of high caliber poetry and prose. Pro tip: Sonora Review only has 2 submission windows each year for poems, essays, and fiction, but they accept unsolicited book reviews and interviews on an ongoing basis.

The ASU Triad

It’s no surprise that one of the largest universities in the country (pushing nearly 100,000 from its combined campuses and programs) has not one but at least three solid, smoothly-running lit mags. Hayden’s Ferry Review has a list of past contributing others that will first make you drool with envy and then deeply want to submit ASAP to join the ranks. And luckily, you can do so without sacrificing your current identity/s, sense of experimentation, and authenticity to the ever-flattening ideal of “traditional literature”: HFR’s archives house the work of longstanding legends like Raymond Carver and John Updike, and also places fresh, aggressive, and stunning emerging voices above the fold. Next, based out of ASU’s Mesa side, Superstition Review has a host of web design students backing it up, lending a well-structured online sharing network that lets your work get a head start on its way across the world wide web. A thriving blog and a heavy multicultural lens have kept SR running for just over a decade now. And finally, Canyon Voices is the youngest of the triad, a publication started in 2010 by students and faculty at the ASU’s New School’s (lots of schools to keep track of, guys) School of Humanities, Arts, and Cultural Studies.

The Diagram

For a traditional essayist or storywriter it takes a moment, admittedly, to wrap one’s head around what’s going on at The Diagram. Once you tap into that sort-of-engineery or sort-of-liked-biochem or sort-of-wanted-to-be-an-astronaut space in your head, tho (that’s not to say this is in any way a science literary magazine; that’s to say this is a literary space uniquely attuned to parts and happenings). The Diagram is a hodgepodge of the greatest finesse, and they’re interested in everything: they take art, they take reviews, they take stories and poems and pages clipped out of books you found in your great uncles’ garage.

Thin Air Magazine

So entitled because of its five-thousand-foot elevation rise above Phoenix, this pub is as quiet, unassuming, strong, and gentle as the pine desert breeze. Reading Thin Air Magazine is a little like going to the Grand Canyon: pretty far out of your way, but totally worth it. With an annual print magazine and work published online year-round, Thin Air welcomes a wide range of poetry, prose, and art and takes an especially favorable outlook on hybrid works.

Fairy Tale Review

FTR exists because Snow White retellings never get old, and say, what defines a fairy tale anyways? The baby and brainchild of fairytale championess (and TMR anthology judge) Kate Bernheimer, FTR’s subversive mission is one of diversity and inclusion. It is deeply interested in rewriting the canon, and what better way to do that than with poison apples, evil stepmothers, magic lamps, and more? Bonus whimsical and perhaps-inspiring detail: print issues are named after colors, i.e. “The Pink Issue,” “The Ochre Issue,” “The Translucent Issue.” Submit to one that fits your work’s aura!

Terrain.org

It might be a compliment or an oversimplification to call Terrain.org an “online version of Orion Magazine,” but in doing so we only seek to say that environmental literature and work of place is alive, well, and especially excellent when based out of this online hub. Terrain.org is the place to go for eco-geeks, recyclers, naturalist-writers, people seeking to scribble out the complicated vibes they from about their hometown or some city they passed through, or anyone who’s been online too long today who needs to remember what the environment is and feels and means. Annual contests and a new-to-2019 podcast series keep Terrain.org a place to return to again and again, as a reader and submitter.

Carnegiea

What started as an experiment by a handful of Tucson-area high school students earlier this year appears to still be going strong. Meet Carnegiea, a platform designed by and for young adults. Their mission, in so many words, is clear: you don’t need an MFA, a college degree, or a voter-registration-age birthdate on your ID to speak your truth into the world. Wrapped in a strong sense of place — named after the saguaro cactus found most abundantly in Tucson — this mag embraces diversity, not just of people but of craft as well. Feel free to submit embroidery, the script of a play, or video in addition to short stories, poems, and essays.

by Melissa Hinshaw

Nov 4

New Voices: “The Remains” by Felicity Fenton

Today, we’re sharing the second place finalist from our Flash Fiction Contest, selected by Kathy Fish. “The Remains” by Felicity Fenton: “Apocalyptic, unnerving, horrifying, and strange, this is another flash that begins with a great first line: ‘Earlier there was talk of explosion buttons and who might push them.’ I was in awe of the world building this writer managed in fewer than 500 words. There is also a stunning use of language throughout. I will not soon forget the powerful imagery of this piece nor how perfectly uneasy it made me feel.”

 

The button was scheduled to be pushed on a Wednesday, hump day, a day office workers considered easier than Tuesdays, but a day that still carried the heavy load of ongoing data entry, return on investments, and post-work body maneuvers such as pull-ups, back handsprings, and cyber football.

Earlier there was talk of explosion buttons and who might push them. Sidewalks, porches, begonias, all of it could come shaking down with one finger. It’s likely houses may sink low and soggy. Be prepared to swim. Make sure to store enough potable water, aspirin, and emergency blankets. Plan on there being no way out unless your fisted hands can punch through windows. Practice breathing in four counts. One, two, three, four. Strengthen your abdomen by gulping in sea air. Don’t confuse squirrels by ripping off their walnuts. You will need protein. Go ahead, eat shore clams.

Placards marched through school cafeterias and abandoned malls. Uproarious No’s shrieked everywhere. Votes were taken to adopt a leader. Ivy league. Old money. Tall. Broadcasts warned: toes, arms, and elbows will come off in lumpy drips. As a precautionary, use petroleum salve.

Drink aloe vera. Alternate the opening and closing of left and right nostrils by using the index finger and thumb. Caress canines before shooting them in the head.

To continue reading “The Remains” click here.

Oct 30

Halloween Reading List

What better way to cap off the spooky season than with a good ghost story? TMR reader Nicole VanderLinden has compiled a list of contemporary stories and novels about ghosts, haunts, and the generally unsettling. Can you brave the whole list?

Short Stories

Mark Mayer’s “The Clown”: It’s not easy being a clown—especially if you’re a homicidal clown working a day job as a real estate agent who’s “amicably divorced, amicably depressed.” This and the other stories in Mayer’s collection Aerialists explore what Carmen Maria Machado describes as “an abiding weirdness and darkness, a fascination with the sinkholes in the back of the mind.” In any event, we’ll never look at open houses in quite the same way again.

Carmen Maria Machado’s “Descent”: Here is the tale of a book club gathering, which descends into a chilling story of a high school teacher who attempts to fold in two survivors of a school shooting, which descends into one of the girls’ recounting of her experience, which descends even further. “Descent” would be a chilling story without any supernatural elements, but the ending, which riffs on classic urban legends a la “The Hitchhiker,” adds a spookier dimension to this tale of real human horror.

Caitlin Vance’s “The House”: Every kid knows the everyday fear of being unseen and unheard by adults, but in this piece of flash fiction, Vance takes the disconnect further, exploring the shaky foundations of trust and reliability through a child narrator entering a strange house. Sometimes, what haunts us most is not knowing where our reality picks up from another’s, especially from those who are supposed to protect us.

Steven Millhauser’s “Tales of Darkness and the Unknown, Vol. XIV: The White Glove“: From Millhauser’s Story Prize-winning collection We Others: New and Selected Stories, “Tales of Darkness” takes the classic woman-with-a-mysterious-ribbon-around-her-neck tale and updates it with a boy, Will, who can’t stop thinking about the one white glove his friend Emily wears day and night. Emily’s secret (what’s under the glove?) should, of course, be hers to share or hers to keep, but in a cutting and human examination of consent and manipulation, Will can’t accept that. And neither, it turns out, can we.

Helen Oyeyemi’s “Is Your Blood as Red as This?”: “Blame it on growing pains,” Radha, one of the story’s narrators, says early on, “or on the ghost I share my bedroom with.” If you like your ghosts more fanciful than fearsome, “Is Your Blood as Red as This?” from Oyeyemi’s celebrated What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours delivers not just ghosts that give advice, but puppets with varying degrees of agency—the story’s second part is, in fact, narrated by one of said puppets. In this strange tale of a puppeteering school that’s far from conventional, almost everything is fluid, from gender to humanness to feeling. Oyeyemi’s ghosts may not haunt in the typical sense, but they do disorient and captivate.

Jeff VanderMeer’s “No Breather in the World But Me”: Something terrible happened last year, though it’s hard to remember exactly what. And something terrible is happening again—the less on that point, probably the better.

Books

George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo: In a quiet crypt, in the midst of deep national turmoil and unfathomable pressure, Abraham Lincoln cradles the body of his dead son. Meanwhile, Willie—the son—lingers with a cast of lonely and disoriented Beetlejuice-esque ghosts inhabiting the bardo, or the state between life and rebirth. Saunders’ novel is as emotionally stunning as it is inventive, as he explores the ways in which we become stuck and unstuck through tragedy and triumph.

Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen: Although not technically a horror or ghost story, Eileen is an unsettling portrait of an old woman retelling the story of her youth, when she lived in squalor with an alcoholic father and worked as a secretary at a prison for boys. Eileen is hardened and vulnerable, resentful and hopeful. She likes “books about awful things—murder, illness, death,” and when she meets the beguiling, sophisticated Rebecca, her story springs into motion. Eileen takes brutal turns in its telling, but the titular character demands that we take it in on her terms, with spellbinding results.

Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (excerpt): Four women—a biologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and an anthropologist—enter Area X, an abandoned area of Earth that has become uninhabitable for mostly unknown reasons. What happens next is like Stephen King’s The Mist meets John Carpenter’s The Thing, but on a grander scale, with more unknowable elements. The best part? It’s just the first installment in the Southern Reach Trilogy.

Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House: Flournoy’s debut novel kicks off with a haint—a malevolent ghost—who tries to drag a central character out of the Turner family home. But is this haint real, or is he part of the family lore, and where does the intersection matter most? And what does it mean to be haunted? In The Turner House, generations of a black family living in Detroit wrestle with place, legacy, a city’s economic decline, and yes, occasional (though sometimes disputed) visits from the spirit world, though Flournoy ultimately raises the question of how much ghost stories require actual ghosts.

Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves: Part haunted house story, part existential thriller, House of Leaves is, at its most basic, the story of a family that moves into a house only to discover that its inside is bigger than its outside. Spooky but simple, right? Far from it. House of Leaves is literature’s answer to found footage films, and one flip through its pages will tell you that you’re in for a wild ride.

Toni Morrison’s Beloved: “124 was spiteful,” begins Morrison’s Pulitzer-winning tour de force. Set in Cincinnati shortly after the Civil War, Sethe and her daughter Denver attempt to build a life despite being haunted by an angry revenant. Morrison’s masterful examination of family, the enduring trauma of enslavement, repression, grief, and regret has haunted readers since its publication in 1987.

By Nicole VanderLinden

Oct 29

November Deadlines: 13 Contests and Prizes to be Thankful For!

The days may be getting shorter and shorter, but that only affords you the opportunity to practice writing by candlelight! Get into the spirit of the season by bundling up and then buckling down to submit your work to these contests.

FEATURED: Fall Fiction Contest

Of course we’re going to include our own contest! Judged by the wonderful Anita Felicelli, the winner receives $2,000, publication, and feedback on why they were chosen. This is a great opportunity for emerging writers, as all submissions will be considered for publication. Entries should be less than 6,000 words, and ought to dazzle us. Check it out!

Entry fee: $20 Deadline: Nov 30

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize

Open only to writers from the Commonwealth regions of Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, Caribbean, and the Pacific, The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded annually for previously unpublished short fiction between 2,000 and 5,000 words. Translated stories are accepted, as are pieces not written in English (be sure to check their website for the full details on which languages are accepted). Every year, 1 winner from each region will be awarded £2,500 and an overall winner will receive £5,000. Find out more here!

Entry fee: FREE! Deadline: Nov 1

The Briar Cliff Review Annual Contest

There is still just enough time to enter The Briar Cliff Review’s writing contest, so don’t miss your chance! Prose entries can be up to 5,000 words, poetry entries can include up to three poems, and simultaneous submissions are allowed. The first-place winner in each category is awarded $1,000 and will be published in the 2020 edition of The Briar Cliff Review. Submission guidelines here!

Entry fee: $20 Deadline: Nov 1

Gabriele Rico Challenge in Creative Nonfiction

Reed Magazine is currently accepting submissions for this award, but not for long! This prize recognizes outstanding works of nonfiction, up to 5,000 words, and the winner receives $1,333! Please note that entries must be creative nonfiction, such as personal essays or narratives, and not scholarly papers or book reviews. Learn more here!

Entry fee: $20 Deadline: Nov 1

John Steinbeck Award for Fiction

Another great contest from Reed Magazine ends this month, so make sure you check out this one as well! Send in works of fiction under 5,000 words, with a word count and a brief bio, and you could win $1,000! All entries need to be stand-alone short stories, however, not chapters from larger works. Judged by Vanessa Hua. Submit here!

Entry fee: $20 Deadline: Nov 1

Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest

The University of Alabama Press is looking for fiction that is too innovative, challenging, and ambitious for traditional publishing, and they’re willing to pay you for the privilege of publishing yours! Open to any author writing in English who hasn’t been published with their imprint Fiction Collective Two, submissions may include a collection of short stories, one or more novellas, or a novel of any length. The winner, chosen by judge Sarah Blackman, receives $1,500 and publication. Details here!

Entry fee: $25 Deadline: Nov 1

Walt Whitman Award

If you are an unpublished poet, this is an opportunity meant specifically for you! The Walt Whitman Award is meant to honor a poet’s first book, with a $5,000 prize, a six-week residency at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Italy, publication of the winning manuscript, and distribution of that book to all members of the Academy of American Poets. As an extra bonus, the judge is decorated poet Harryette Mullen! Do it!

Entry fee: $35 Deadline: Nov 1

Carve‘s Prose and Poetry Contest

From the journal named for the legendary Raymond Carver comes this year’s Prose and Poetry contest. Submit up to 10,000 words of fiction or nonfiction or 2,000 words of poetry to be eligible for this $1,000 prize. Genre judges are Lydia Kiesling (fiction), Benjamin Busch (nonfiction) and Analicia Sotelo (poetry). Check it out!

Entry fee: $17 Deadline: Nov 15

Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship

This is an amazing opportunity for any historical writer! Applicants should have a book-length project in progress, and it should address the history and/or legacy of the American Revolution and their founding ideas (very broadly defined). The fellowship includes a $45,000 stipend, a book allowance, and a nine-month residency in Chestertown, MD. Entries need to include a cover letter, CV, a writing sample, a description of a class they might teach, and a persuasive description of the work-in-progress. More details here!

Entry fee: FREE Deadline: Nov 15

The Robert C. Jones Short Prose Book Contest

This contest from Pleiades Press is open to all fiction and nonfiction writers, whose collections can include anything from short stories and flash fiction, to lyric essays and any other short prose you can think of! Manuscripts need to be at least 60 pages, and previously unpublished, while indicating whether they are fiction or nonfiction. Chosen by judge C.J. Hauser, the winning manuscript receives $2,000, and publication with national distribution! Guidelines here.

Entry fee: $25 Deadline: Nov 15

Nilsen Literary Prize

Are you wondering what to do with your just-finished manuscript? Well, this prize is meant for an applicant’s first novel! Submissions can be novels, novellas, or collections of closely-linked short stories. The manuscript must be unpublished, as the winner will be published through Southeast Missouri State University Press, and they will also receive $2,000. Check it out!

Entry fee: $30 Deadline: Nov 15

Sonora Review 2019 Contests

If you’ve ever had an encounter worth writing about, Sonora Review is willing to pay you for the privilege of publishing it! The 2019 Nonfiction Contest is judged by Rae Paris, and the 2019 Flash Prose Contest is judged by Lucy Corin. Both contests are awarding $1,000 and publication in Issue 77 of Sonora Review to the winners. What are you waiting for? More details here!

Entry fee: $15 Deadline: Nov 15

Narrative Fall 2019 Story Contest

This contest 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 $2,500, second is $1,000, and third is $500. All entries are considered for publication, and all contest entries are also eligible for the $4,000 Narrative Prize! Guidelines here.

Entry fee: $27 Deadline: Nov 30

The Baltimore Review‘s Winter 2020 Contest

This year’s theme for The Baltimore Review‘s Winter 2020 Contest is “rituals”. The final judge hasn’t been announced yet, but you can be sure they’ll be great. With a 5,000 word limit for fiction or creative nonfiction and a one to three poems for poetry, the winning submission among all entries will win $500, with $200 and $100 going to the second and third place selections. Apply your own writing ritual to this contest on rituals: Submit today.

Entry fee: $10 Deadline: Nov 30

By Kimberly Guerin and Cole Meyer