The Masters Review Blog

Aug 5

“Mythbusting: All Workshops Are Created Equal” by Katey Schultz

In the culmination of her Mythbusting series, and the follow-up to last month’s “Why Workshops Can Kill Your Writing“, Katey Schultz is back this month to break down what a writer should do when preparing to enter a workshop—at the right time. And if you missed them, read Part One and Part Two from earlier this year!

All Workshops Are Created Equal

Last month I went out on a limb, stating that workshopping your writing should be the exception in academic and continuing education writing classes—not the norm. I even went so far as to suggest that most workshops are premature and misaligned with the writer or the writing, and therefore risk killing a manuscript that could have otherwise been award-winning. I believe this so firmly, I risked the entire success of my business by flipping the critique model on its head and inventing a pedagogically deep mentorship model that more pervasively integrates writing and revision skills into a writer’s life.

But there is, in fact, a time and place for the well-curated workshop experience. If writers and teachers can approach workshop with an inquisitive mind, and if recruiters and registrars can approach marketing with a platform of deep integrity, workshop could, indeed, make a profoundly positive impact on a greater number of writers’ lives.

Let’s break that down in terms of something you can take with you the next time you consider submitting a stand-alone piece, an excerpt, or a full manuscript for review to any paid service.

Do ask the instructor how they guide a group toward useful feedback, given what your unique and current goals are as a writer. What, according to the instructor, constitutes a concrete, applicable “suggestion”? What you’re looking for here is clarity about whether or not the instructor is willing to routinely guide the conversation toward specific, pinpointed, useful feedback that meets you (the writer) and your writing (the draft) where they are, at the time. The instructor must be willing to stop at any point and give a sort of “mini lesson” to drive home a particularly good suggestion, making it useful for everyone in the workshop—even those whose work is not under consideration at that moment.

Do ask how other participants are vetted, or in the least how they are taught by example in the workshop itself, to guarantee a small group experience that is both useful and demonstrative. This does not mean that participants have to submit resumes, have gargantuan egos, or be published. But it does mean that the instructor or sponsoring organization needs to have a clear set of protocols and expectations for the kind of learning it values most. Seriously—try asking them that question: What kind of learning do you value most and how do you guide writers toward that during workshop? That will tell you a lot about the kind of workshop you’re walking into.

But there’s more; you can also ask: Does the instructor or organization offering the workshop come with a lot of prestige or hype? If so, make sure that the hype is about the workshop itself—not about someone’s CV or latest award. I can’t say that enough. Too many writers get star-struck angling to “get in” with so-and-so amazing writer, only to find out that so-and-so amazing writer isn’t actually an amazing teacher or that so-and-so amazing writer attracts hobby writers with big wallets. Not many writers I’ve met on the literary trails are willing to say what I just said; after all, programs need to fill workshops in order to run, and all writers like to be “invited back” to teach at coveted places (therefore they’re also under pressure to fill-fill-fill those workshops).

Do ask the instructor what they think about creative process and its impact on early drafts. What you’re looking for here, in my opinion, is a response that demonstrates the instructor understands an early draft at workshop is more about mining the draft for clues about what’s at stake in a particular piece of writing. Why? Because this will reveal that the instructor understands something inherent about the process of writing from germination to completion, and hopefully also understand where any given piece of writing being workshopped will fall along that spectrum.

Do be prepared to advocate for yourself through gentle but firm, tactful communication before, during, and after workshop. In the best situations, you won’t need to do much advocating. But more often than not, you will need to have done some “self-work” to quiet any defensiveness or attachment you might have about your piece of writing, and instead focus on advocating for your next best draft. I’ll say that again—you’re fighting for your right to access the next draft. Not to defend the draft everyone has just read.

What that looks like in real-time, in a classroom or in a one-on-one with an instructor, is a writer saying something like this: “My intention here is to explode the metaphor about the flowers so that it stills the moment in this scene. Not because I care about the flowers, really, but because the metaphor highlights the parallel concerns that the narrator has about being able to blossom in her own life, so to speak. Knowing that, have I pulled it off? If so, where and how did I do it and how can I do it again, to up the ante and the stakes for my story? If not, where am I coming up short and what clues have I left myself about how to fix things?”

All of that said, I want to give a nod to throwing caution to the wind, signing up blind for a workshop, and coming out the other side not only as a better writer but a better reader. As fellow author and advocate Karen Schauber shared with me, “I thrive on workshop feedback and learn a great deal both about how I write, and how I can best express my own ‘writing’ voice. With the feedback I received (and gave) in small workshop milieus, I learned how to write fiction.”

Indeed, a good workshop isn’t a bad place to get your feet wet. But what makes it good is that it must also be a good place for seasoned writers to go deeper. A workshop that has a mix of open-hearted, keen beginners and similarly tempered seasoned writers, might be the best one can hope for in a workshop. Every writer needs to grow and keep learning, after all, even “the best of the best.” That—more than anything—is what workshop proves again and again.


KATEY SCHULTZ is the author of Flashes of War, which the Daily Beast praised as an “ambitious and fearless” collection, and Still Come Home, a novel, both published by Loyola University Maryland. Honors for her work include the Linda Flowers Literary Award, Doris Betts Fiction Prize, Foreword INDIES Book of the Year for both titles, five Pushcart nominations, a nomination to Best American Short Stories, and writing fellowships in eight states. She lives in Celo, North Carolina, and is the founder of Maximum Impact, a transformative mentoring service for creative writers that has been recognized by both CNBC and the What Works Network. Sign up for my newsletter and receive a free craft lesson and resource guide The 5 S’s That Will Help Get You Published at www.kateyschultz.com.

Aug 4

An Interview with Diane Zinna, Author of The All-Night Sun

Diane Zinna is a longtime champion of the literary community and author of the debut novel, The All-Night Sun, out on July 14 from Random House. Diane was kind enough to correspond with The Masters Review Reader, Courtney Harler, about her book, which was longlisted for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize.

Courtney Harler:  First, congratulations on your debut novel. I read that The All-Night Sun was twelve years in the making, and its publication was potentially complicated (but only in your mind?) by the release of the horror film Midsommar. It’s been a long yet satisfying journey for you, and I do want to ask you more about your writing process, but I have to confess something first, something that may offer some structure for our conversation about your book: Of course the best books are those that help others feel seen and heard, as your protagonist Lauren so desperately needs and desires. Yet the very best books for me, in particular, are the ones that miraculously seem to see/hear me as an actual individual. I’ll try to explain this (selfish?) instinct more as we go on, but suffice it to say for now, these points of connection feel like windows into my mind/soul that the author was somehow able to fashion, then fling wide open. As a rabid reader, for me, these moments offer an emotional/intellectual cleansing, followed by a spark of knowing. To get to the point, your debut novel absolutely just lit up my mind. And I don’t doubt others will have a similar experience, even if my particular reading experience seems unique (and self-centered?) to me.

I felt the first spark quite early on, for instance, at this point: “Teaching gave my life some aspect of normalcy, and I thought then that it was normalcy I craved.” As a writer and instructor myself, I read that line and thought, “Yes, I delude myself, too.” It was a stark recognition, encapsulated in a seemingly logistical sentence. The truth is, we writers are always distracted—by the needs of ourselves and our families, by the daily humdrum of regular life, or even by our next great idea. In the end, twelve years is not a long time to write a book, especially a good book, and especially if the writer has other important work to do. I know you’ve been doing very important work in the literary community, that you’ve held positions that probably didn’t afford you a lot of time to work on your debut novel. I also read you liked to escape to your car to write—but why the car? What other innovative quirks in your process allowed you to “stick” to your story, so to speak?

Diane Zinna: I love that you said twelve years is not a long time to write a book. It reminds me of an early moment in my novel after my main character, Lauren, tells her student that she’s been mourning the deaths of her parents for ten years. The young woman responds, “Ten years—it’s not really that long, is it? Sadness is long. It’s always long. A long string from a big ball that you roll and roll.” I have always felt that is the moment Lauren recognizes Siri as someone like her.

But yes, back to your question about writing in the car! When my daughter was born, I had a hard time separating from her to do anything for myself. My husband would encourage me to go write at a café across town, and I’d try to go there, but I’d usually only get down the block before getting too nervous that something would happen that would require me to come home quickly. So I started pulling into the parking lot at a shopping center around the corner and just wrote there, with the motor still running. Over the past eight years it’s become where I feel most comfortable. I guess the muse knows to find me there. She floats out to me from the storefronts of CVS and Ross Dress for Less! But really, I’m away from Wi-Fi, so there’s less distraction for me; I am in a space where I can adjust the view and the temperature; and if I’m stuck, I can drive around and think a scene through while in motion, which always helps. Or I can park somewhere, take a walk wherever I want. I can people watch. I just wish I still lived near the water. Growing up on Long Island, I knew so many spots where I could park and think and write with the water taking up the whole view through my windshield.

My car is my regular writing space, but when I am on deadline for a big project I will often spend the night in a local hotel, again, just down the road. This also started my daughter was a baby. They would drop me off in the afternoon, I’d write through the night, and then they’d meet me for breakfast in the lobby restaurant the next morning. After breakfast my daughter would always want us to chase her up and down the narrow hallways of that Hilton Garden Inn. So thinking about it, the car, the hotel—they’ve been creative separations, but ones where I was still able to take my family into consideration.

CH:  As I read along, devouring the book in just a few short days, a felt a lot of those little zings, and as much I’d love to gush about gorgeous lines and stunning images—again, I am going to try to create some focus here for us: You seriously zapped me when Lauren travelled to Gothenburg. Here I was, reading this beautiful book set in Sweden, yet having absolutely forgotten about my Swedish grandfather. My mother’s father, Louis, died suddenly when she was only a small child. She never knew him, so I never knew him, and what stories she told, I could never truly believe, because, like Lauren, my mother was “a great fucking liar.” However, she always said he came “straight off the ship” from Göteborg, and because she used the Swedish spelling, I was happy to believe that then. There’s more to my grandfather’s story, of course, much of which I explore in my own writing, but my question for you is—why Sweden? What spark began your obsession with the country, its ancient kennings (the lovely mångata), its elusive Midsommar traditions? And how did you dedicatedly develop that interest over time? How did your particular passion inevitably become your debut novel?

DZ: Like my character of Lauren in The All-Night Sun, I too went to Sweden during a time when I was feeling emotionally fragile. I often describe that trip as a time of thawing out after a long period of grief, but I didn’t think of writing about it for many years.

The feeling for this book was actually given to me in a dream. I woke up one morning, ran to my computer, and quickly outlined twenty chapters. My dream was about two women traveling by train through Europe. They stop in Paris. One woman goes down into an underground bathroom full of art on the walls. And in walks a former lover. The feeling of the dream was that she was going to have to make a choice between staying with this lover or getting back on the train and continuing this journey with her friend.

Almost as soon as I started to write, Paris floated away and I found myself describing Stockholm because it was a city I knew so well. The underground bathroom filled with art was likely my subconscious remembering the art-filled subway stations of Stockholm. Once I allowed myself to remember the feeling of being in those stations, I realized that the friend in my dream was the friend I had traveled with to Sweden all those years ago. And I knew that the choice my protagonist was making was not between a friend and a lover but between two sides of herself.

People can see how much I love Sweden from the way I wrote about it in The All-Night Sun. I’ve tried to keep the memory of my time there close to me. I’ve taken several Swedish classes at Svenska Skolan, a Swedish language school outside of Washington, DC. And there is a description in the book of a Santa Lucia service that Lauren attends, with a Swedish bazaar happening in the church hall next door. All of that is based on a Santa Lucia service I’ve gone to every year for twelve years in Potomac, Maryland. Every time I watched the girls sweep into the church in their white robes, I’d tear up and wonder if I’d someday get to share my Santa Lucia scene and my novel with readers.

CH:  Another zinger, especially in the Age of the Selfie: “I was always the kind of person who hated to have her photograph taken, dreading that instant when the camera might catch me looking stupid or at a bad angle, reduced to one version of myself, someone thinking that’s all I am. Something like death in a photo. A stranger might pick it up, and to them that’s all you’ll ever be, this moment you had no control over, that had no before and no afterward.” I’ve felt this way about photos my whole life—like they somehow steal my living soul and replace it with a dead one—and I often claim to be “philosophically opposed to selfies,” though I have a few pics I keep “archived” for emergencies. I also then thought of this TV series I recently watched called Dead Still, a darkly comedic murder mystery about a funereal photographer. And then I thought of the photo I have on my dresser of my dead son, who died at birth—his clothes blue, his face already gray. Strange that it took me three whole cognitive leaps to get to him, but I think that is what grief is like—some of us have to avoid it, like we avoid the camera. We don’t want to be forever “caught” in the throes of it, but the more we push it away, the more it pushes against us.

All through your book, Lauren is in a fistfight with her grief. It makes her selfish, clingy, needy. Once Siri steps in to “save” her, Lauren needs that relationship to be her new “family,” her new sense of the sacred. Lauren says again and again she wants to be “alone” with Siri’s friendship, to be the sole recipient of her affection and attention. Lauren can only be herself with one other, one who can isolate with her in her grief. Hating photos is another expression of self-isolation, as photos themselves are meant to celebrate and preserve community, the mutuality of existence. But a writer too must isolate—perhaps in her car?—to really see, hear, and feel enough to put it all on the page. Maybe I don’t have a fully formed question here—maybe I am just having a suspended moment, brought on by your book. Like Lauren, I am still suffering. What can you say to me, that your book hasn’t already said? Obviously, you’ve touched me deeply, and maybe I didn’t realize how deeply until I tried to write this “question.” Maybe I want most to know how you managed to so deftly and thoroughly explore such deep grief without losing yourself to it. Did your book, in allowing you a metaphorical “drawing” of grief—one that delved much more deeply than a mere photograph, a quick snapshot—ultimately “save” you, too?

DZ: First, I want to thank you for honoring me by sharing about your son. I will never forget that.

And I so appreciated how you described making those cognitive jumps. There are these energetic connectors that exist for us between memories and as we push back or we push our way forward, we can often find ourselves—especially if we are people who have experienced deep grief—suddenly in the throes of a memory and not knowing how we got there. That is what I was trying to show in the telling of Lauren’s story—how these sometimes synesthetic connectors work on her, how grief can be a memory overlaid with real life, nearly hallucinatory. I am probably most proud of the chapter in my book that is a retelling of an earlier scene. The retelling is studded with what once seemed to be random details, but in that moment we see the items, words, and images that have had a power over Lauren, that existed as those connectors for her.

You mentioned the word mångata, which literally translates to “moon road,” or the reflection of the moon on the water that gives the appearance of a luminous path. I think of Lauren walking it. I think her every step is like a drowning.

I just had so much love for Lauren and wanted her to be okay at the end. Earlier versions had her getting married. I had her getting a new job. I showed her with hobbies. She was a scrapbooker and went to parties where she decorated photo albums and drank wine with good friends. I was trying to do too much for her because I wanted her to be okay. I am happy with the end now. It simply shows her no longer drowning. We see her coming up for air after being underwater for so long and taking her first, deep breath. We breathe with her and we know that there will be another breath, and another day, and she is ultimately going to be okay.

When Lauren speaks of grief in The All-Night Sun, she is speaking in my voice. I am often asked if the book was healing to write, and I suppose no one can be that intentionally close to a long, similar pain for years and not be changed by it. But it has been the reception of this book by empathetic readers that has felt most healing. I truly thank you for the way you’ve expressed connecting with the story.

CH: Final question, for now (and one you can skip, if you like). The pandemic has made many of us more mindful, more compassionate, more empathetic than ever before, I think. Especially those of us who read and think deeply. But I have another confession to make—I attended AWP this year, not yet thinking much of the virus, thinking it wouldn’t be so bad here in the USA, thinking it almost inevitable. My accommodations made, I convinced myself that I needn’t miss the biggest literary event of the year: AWP 2020 in San Antonio, a conference and city I longed to visit once again. Armed with foresight (which we are now ironically calling “2020 Vision”), you felt differently. In fact, you left AWP on the basis of your convictions—an act I admire more now, given the facts. To respect your privacy, I don’t want to delve too deeply into that decision, unless you feel comfortable doing so. Instead, I’d like to ask you about human decency. In 2020, we’ve seen disasters, nature-made or human-made. We’ve seen the calls for justice, for equality, for fairness, in a world that is broken by its privilege. Frankly, it’s a lot to process at once, and it’s a kind of grief in itself. In your opinion, what can and should we do, as writers and teachers, to best help ourselves and others work through this time, and to help others be seen and heard?

DZ: With every book we read, with every story we allow to come into our hearts and change us, we build up our empathy. As writers and readers, that has always been our superpower. We intentionally seek out the work of writers who are making art from experiences unlike our own. It doesn’t just inform or entertain us. It changes us. We seek out not just their published work but the stories of their journey and what’s made it difficult for their work to be heard. The more we read, the more we care. The more we see that solutions come from doing what is right for the most vulnerable. The more we will know what’s right when voices say otherwise.

Interviewed by Courtney Harler

Aug 3

New Voices: “The Driver” by Samantha Xiao Cody

“‘The Driver’ opens with the image of expensive, imported lemon trees being painstakingly transplanted into non-native soil; we know from the outset that this will be a story of contrasts,” Kimberly King Parsons, our 2019-2020 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers guest judge, writes about the grand prize winning piece. “In nuanced, exquisite detail, we learn about a family steeped in both Eastern and Western thought, old and new money, wisdom and innocence, violence and kindness. The prose reflects this delicate balance, and is by turns delicate and direct, lush and sparse, sensuous and withholding. As tension builds—between mother and daughter, sister and sister, employer and employee—the desire for belonging, like the heat, becomes all-consuming. I love this story—it has stayed with me.”

As a child, I did not yet understand my mother’s place in China, the anxious longing she felt returning to the land that had once been her home. I noticed that she had become mysterious and distant upon coming to my uncle’s house, but attributed it to the novelty of hearing her speak in another language, as if I were now looking at her through filtered glass. As an adult, I would return to my uncle’s house alone, and realize how strange and difficult it was for my mother to walk through the door of their Western-imitation home, even to look about her at the surrounding city, clamoring for the sky, devouring its old self.

The summer we visited my aunt and uncle’s new house in Changsha, they were having dozens of lemon trees planted in the front yard. A large team of workers had been hired for the task. They were loud and bold—sitting where they liked, setting up makeshift tents here and there on the lawn, telling jokes and drinking beers. When dusk fell, dirty old trucks drove them away, and my sister and I would kick the fruit from some of the older trees into the plaster fountain where they floated in lazy clusters.

“This is western,” my mother said, looking at the trees, the house, the plaster fountain. “Those trees aren’t native here.”

When we went to China, my mother loved to inventory the things that had and hadn’t changed, making sure her home wasn’t vanishing beneath her feet. She noted everything, new and old, with the same solemnity, nodding in resignation at the ugly new high-rises that looked like they had leapt blindly forth from the earth, giving the slightest smile to the older men sitting in plastic chairs in the shade, shirts pulled up over their stomachs, cigarettes hanging indifferently from their age-worn lips. China was like a teenage boy growing too fast, my mother always said, his clothes never fitting him properly before he started growing again. My sister pointed out a chicken pen, half-hidden and coy behind a screen of stirring lemon branches.

“When we were kids they just ran around,” my mom said. “Even inside.”

Her own mother had once given her chicks to take care of. One night my mother had forgotten to close the hatch and woke up in the morning to find that foxes had eaten them all.

When my mother told that story her voice had the sadness of a child, a regret she tried to make light for us.

To continue reading “The Driver” click here.

Aug 1

2020 Summer Workshop Now Open!

Every year, we offer a remote summer workshop featuring guest editors with experience editing journals like Paris Review, American Short Fiction, and (the sadly now-shuttered) Tin House. Get your manuscripts whipped into shape with feedback from your preferred editor by signing up for summer workshop, which is now open! Register today before enrollment fills up, and submit your manuscript by August 30th. Full details below!

Cost: $299

Enroll Below:

submit

Participants Receive:

  • an editorial letter from your instructor with specific suggestions and developmental edits that will help elevate your story to the next level
  • PDF of materials including craft essays from The Masters Review, editorial notes on what we see from the slush pile, information on submission strategies, and additional advice on submitting
  • free submission in a forthcoming Masters Review contest
  • suggestions on literary magazines and contests that would be a good fit for your work, along with reading recommendations from your instructor
  • an archived copy of The Masters Review anthology
  • Writers will receive feedback no later than September 30. Early submissions may yield earlier feedback.

Nate Brown is a Baltimore based fiction writer and editor whose stories have appeared in the Iowa Review, Mississippi Review, Five Chapters, REAL, Carolina Quarterly, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Vermont Studio Center, the Ucross Foundation, and the Maryland State Arts Council. He’s the managing editor of American Short Fiction magazine. He teaches first-year writing at Georgetown University and creative writing at Johns Hopkins University.

Adeena Reitberger’s stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Warrior ReviewMississippi ReviewCimarron ReviewNimrod International JournalSierra Nevada ReviewNANO Fiction, and elsewhere. She lives in Austin, Texas and is the co-editor of American Short Fiction.

Adam Soto is a co-web editor at American Short Fiction. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His debut novel, This Weightless World, will be released fall 2021.

Lauren Kane is the assistant editor at The Paris Review.

Michelle Wildgen is the author of the novels You’re Not You, But Not For Long, and Bread and Butter, and the editor of the food writing anthology Food & Booze. Her work has appeared in places including the New York Times Book Review and Modern Love column, O, the Oprah Magazine, RealSimple.com, and Best Food Writing 2009 and 2013. Previously a longtime executive editor with the award-winning literary journal Tin House, she is now a freelance editor and creative writing teacher in Madison, Wis., where she is completing her fourth novel.


Enroll Below:

submit

Jul 31

New Writing on the Net: July 2020

In this month’s New Writing on the Net, Nicole VanderLinden shares her favorite fiction she’s found online this month! Find your Friday reading list below:

We Make Our Own Beaches” by Angela ReadmanJellyfish Review, Issue 58

The streets are deserted and guys in orange jackets fix the roads. They drill and freeze, looking up. Two teenagers stick their feet out of a fourth-floor apartment, pearly polish drying on their toes. The workmen cheer. The girl’s laughter somehow chipping through the sound of their drills, the way some people can pick out birdsong in a city.

Bloody Angle” by Jade Song | Waxwing, Summer

My coworker Jack was my first. He thought it hilarious to mock the accents of food delivery guys who brought us dinners during late night client asks. With jolly cheeks shining from office pantry wine, he rid of the letters L and R:  Herro, yoah ordurr is hurr, ching chong. So I stabbed him in the neck with the wooden chopsticks that arrived neatly packaged with his General Tso’s Chicken, his body quietly crumpling over his desk. Moonlight shone through his coveted corner office windows, the ones he had won after stealing my ideas, presenting them in a neat PowerPoint with minimal slide animations. His blood was surprisingly viscous, a slow current infecting the mahogany grains in his desk when I chopped up his torso. This was the only part of assassination that surprised me: his mouth ran faster than his blood.

In Which I Learn Something from Something, At Last” by Nuala O’ConnorFractured Lit, July 23

I was the one who took the photograph of the princess with her toes in the mouth of a man who was not her husband. I didn’t mean to take it. I was sent to pap them and I did not want to be there, not one bit. It had been a long day and a hard one.

The Son’s War” by Elwin CotmanThe Offing, July 27

It came time, his father decided, that the son move into his own house, one built sturdily of palm logs and mud. Before he left, however, father and son decided it best he have companions. The father gifted him a diamond stone and a jade stone, both the size of a fully grown person. For one sleepless, sweaty night, the son’s chisel flashed up and down in the candlelight. Jewel shards glimmered among the rushes and a green mist thickened the air. Once he’d carved two women as beautiful as his eyes had seen, he gave them such biological functions as necessary for their purpose. He gave them advanced AI brains and ruby hearts that sparkled through their translucent breasts, the better to refract light into their cadmium veins. He sewed boots and dresses for them. Sharp in feature, lean in build and bearing the color of their jewels, they lived to serve him. These courtiers he named Diamond and Jade.

Search Party” by Rebecca TurkewitzSmokeLong Quarterly, July 27

I recognized the name instantly. Hannah was a dark-haired, doll-faced American girl with plump cheeks and long eyelashes. She’d gone missing from her locked hotel room in Portugal two weeks ago. She was twelve years old. Her photo was on every News channel, followed by flashing numbers to call to report a sighting. Someone had spotted Richard and me and thought I might be Hannah, after a hasty haircut and two weeks of malnourishment. “I’m not her,” I said. “My name’s Marigold. I’m fifteen.”

Crème de Menthe” by Carmen Price | The Forge Literary Magazine, July 6

“I’m gonna make my own ramen,” the Granddaughter announced sourly. The Grandmother, without opening her eyes, gave what could’ve been interpreted as a nod of affirmation, and the Granddaughter felt something singe her insides. She jumped off the couch, took the Grandmother’s half-full bottle of crème de menthe off the coffee table, and poured what remained all over the clementine shag carpet before stalking off to the kitchen.

Curated by Nicole VanderLinden

 

Jul 30

New Voices Revisited: “Calculus BC: Final Exam” by Abigail Hodge

In an experimental work we first published in early 2015, Hodge explores the pressures and insecurities of high school students through the questions on an AP Calculus final. Think you can pass? Retake the test below:

Calculus BC: Final Exam (500 points)

1.question

 

A. Bathroom stall, six minutes until calculus. He uses his dad’s credit card to cut neat white lines on the copy of The Two Towers he stole from the library this morning. Don’t worry, he’ll give it back. He only has a few chapters left. A one dollar bill does the trick. (No need to show off inside a high school bathroom stall.) Teacher won’t notice, classmates won’t notice, friends won’t notice. No one cares what a genius does in his free time as long as he gets perfect scores and raises his hand before speaking.

B. Red Bull number seven on top of a caffeine pill. She knows the sugar is bad for her vocal cords, but the audition isn’t until tomorrow. Worry about exams today. Honey tea exists for a reason. She feels like puking, but can recite the entire study guide, equations and all. Something about being surrounded by effortless genius inspires her, even if she rots her teeth and has heart palpitations in the process.

C. Bathroom mirror, five minutes until she has to be in calculus. She touches up her lip gloss and smiles at her flawless reflection. She wants to be reviewing the second integration technique they learned last week, but she knows those aren’t the numbers most important in her life. Height, waist, bust, shoe size, dress size, ACT, SAT, GPA, calories consumed, miles run. Get those in order, then you can have fun with indefinite integrals and graphing limits.

D. They’re called boyfriend and girlfriend. They wait outside calculus class before it starts, perpetually bound by the same set of earbuds, listening to NPR and bands with names like “Psychic Teenagers” or “Neverland PD.” (“LOOK AT HOW INTERESTING WE ARE.”) They don’t speak about anything other than what Ira Glass tells them is topical, analyzing without context, creating pseudo-philosophies, running their brains on stationary bicycles. You would think they’re happy.

E. An elaborate setup: classroom door locked, lights turned off, cheap plastic fan oscillating, back door propped open with a broken desk, teacher sneaking a joint out back and grading quizzes. The only kids who might recognize the smell are the ones who understand enough to keep their mouths shut about it. He hasn’t been sober since second period. Advanced placement calculus is bearable; remedial trig and basic algebra are not. (He feels his soul wither every time someone asks for the Python-agon theorem.) Is this purgatory or hell?

F. All of the above.

To continue reading “Calculus BC: Final Exam” click here.

Jul 28

August Deadlines: 10 Contests and Prizes Ending This Month

Do you need something to take your mind off the heat? Take a look at these prizes, but don’t stare for too long… These contests won’t stick around, so submit as fast as you can!

FEATURED Summer Short Story Award for New Writers

There is no need for modesty here, when it comes to our biggest submission period of the year! The Masters Review is looking for stories under 6000 words, written by emerging writers who have a way with words and a passion for prose! The winner receives $3000, publication, and agency review, and the runners-up also receive cash prizes, publication, and review. Judged by Kali Fajardo-Anstine, don’t let this opportunity slip by! Submit here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: August 30

Red Hen Press Novella Award

This is the third year for Red Hen Press’ contest, and the prize is for a previously unpublished, original work of fiction! Acceptable submissions include entries between 15,000 and 30,000 words. The winner, selected by judge Donna Hemans, receives $1000 and publication by Red Hen Press. Details here!

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: August 1

Stories That Need to Be Told: The Contest

Presented by TulipTree Press, the best entry for this contest is a submission that truly tells a story. The grand prize is $1000 and a gift certificate for two years of Duotrope. Additional prizes are offered to stories that excel in humor, passion, depth, and love. Entries must be less than 10,000 words, but multiple entries are allowed. Learn more here!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: August 3

2020 ½ K Prize

Indiana Review and judge Tiana Clark are looking for writers who are sharp, short, and definitely not shy – could that be you? Entries must be less than 500 words, but multiple entries are allowed! All genres are accepted, and first place receives $1000 and guaranteed publication in Indiana Review! Details here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: August 15

Poetry and Short Fiction Prizes

In these contests offered by Kallisto Gaia Press, contestants can submit entries for short fiction or poetry. The two winners of the Chester B. Himes Memorial Short Fiction Prize and the Julia Darling Memorial Poetry Prize will receive $1000 and publication in The Ocotillo Review.  Make sure to choose the correct category when you submit, and good luck! Submission information here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: August 20

Blue Mesa Review Contest

There are actually three contests offered here, looking for fresh prose and powerful poetry! The judges are Eduardo C. Corral for poetry, Amy Irvine for nonfiction, and Denise Chavez for fiction. Submissions may be up to 6000 words, or up to 3 poems, and the winner of each contest receives $500 and publication. Make sure to select the correct contest for your submission! More details here.

Entry Fee: $12 Deadline: August 31

Gemini Magazine Flash Fiction Contest

Here is a great chance for writers of all stripes, as Gemini Magazine’s contest is open to any subject, style, or genre! Entries must be unpublished, and the maximum length is 1000 words. The winner receives $1000 and publication. Submission details here.

Entry Fee: $5 Deadline: August 31

Kenneth Patchen Award

If you have an unpublished fiction manuscript, this is opportunity knocking! The Journal of Experimental Fiction is currently accepting submissions for this prize. An innovative full-length fiction work will be selected, and the winner will receive publication and $1000. Judged by Yuriy Tarnawsky. Do it!

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: August 31

2020 Publishing Lab Prize

The University of New Orleans Press is looking to publish the best novel/short story collection written this year, to bring innovative publicity and broad distribution to authors! The contest is open to all writers, and entries are allowed any length and any subject. The winner receives a $10,000 advance and a publishing contract, along with promotion from The Publishing Laboratory at the University of New Orleans. Submit here!

Entry Fee: $28 Deadline: August 31

The St. Lawrence Book Award

If you have an unpublished poetry or short story collection, this could be your big break! Black Lawrence Press is currently accepting submissions from any author who has not yet published a full-length collection. The winner will receive book publication, $1000, and 10 copies of the book. Details here.

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: August 31

by Kimberly Guerin

 

 

Jul 27

New Voices: “Joe Blake” by Raeden Richardson

The second place finalist from our 2019-2020 Winter Short Story Award is sure to unsettle you. Kimberly King Parsons, guest judge, writes: “From the very first lines, ‘Joe Blake’ fully plunges the reader into new territory. Now that her grown son has left for the United States, Australian empty-nester Vrinda is unmoored and lonely, a ‘woman stuck like a wasp in wax.’ But things get very interesting with the gift of a strange new creature/roommate. This story is delightfully disorienting—from the outback setting to the magical circumstances to the quirky dialogue—but as the plot gets increasingly bizarre, ‘Joe Blake’ manages to be more and more relatable. At its core, this is a story about resilience and independence. Inventive and fresh, it’s truly unlike anything I’ve read.

But she needed their security, the loving obsession with which her husband had kept his belongings. He had taught her that these hills were harsh, unquestionably brutal, that even the most sensitive creatures needed layers and defenses. His belongings had been preserved from droughts and bushfires and even death, as here they were, untouchable, seven months since he had left to the next life all by himself.

In late summer, Vrinda awoke to her phone chiming beside the argabatti.

Her son was off, dropping Ma a few texts, scooting early to the airport with his girl, cheers for the extra vitamin m, cheers for helping his mates host a going-away, soz for the mess, he’d see Ma at Chrissy, he’d call her on the al capone if his girlfriend said yes, he would call, promise promise promise, and hopefully fly home from the States with a beyoncé like Ma’d been praying for.

She dropped her phone in her pocket, swung her feet over the carpet and stretched her toes on the rug. Her ponytail was matted, slick, and the night’s sweat shone off her shoulder blades. A wave of cicadas bellowed from the hillside and blowflies twitched beneath the bed, waning in the heat. She took her mug, twirled the dregs of chai with a forlorn finger and rose to inspect the living room.

The coffee table was covered in beer bottles, cans of spiked seltzer and a coconut husk filled with ash. The carpet had turned brown, the color of lentil masala. An upturned suitcase lay by the rice cooker, filled with collared shirts and leather shoes, and reams of silly-string clung to the bronze Nataraja, like the intestines of a rainbow Shiva.

But mostly Vrinda saw the absence of her son. She could not avert her eyes. His presence lingered in the handprints on the fridge, the indent on his bed, the tinny electro music playing from a cracked iPod in the saucepan. The distance between them had already begun to grow, as if nurtured by the excitement of elsewhere, and not here, to the history of this house, and to this woman stuck like a wasp in wax.

Stepping to the kitchenette, Vrinda found a cola can beside the pot of basmati rice, sawn cleanly across in a line. She unfolded a scrap of newspaper beside the can and found a note.

Ma. Here lies one hectic Joe Blake. RIP. I drowned him in the loo.

She peeked inside the can and backtracked to the fridge, bunching her fingers into fists. She peeked again and yes, there he was, a Joe Blake after all, limp and rubbery, as long as her hand, as thin as her finger, deep black scales on a flat wide head, yellow on his belly and amber in his eyes.

But the poor fellow, she said. The poorest and deadest of fellows.

To continue reading “Joe Blake” click here.

 

Jul 24

The Masters Review 2020 Summer Workshop Editors

Our annual remote Summer Workshop is around the corner! We are excited to announce the editors who will share their expertise with us this year. The editors have years of industry experience, working with journals such as American Short Fiction, The Paris Review, and Tin House. If you need help getting your manuscripts in shape for submission this fall, look no further. Registration will open on August 1st, and be sure to sign up early, as spots are limited!

Cost: $299

Participants Receive:

  • an editorial letter from your instructor with specific suggestions and developmental edits that will help elevate your story to the next level
  • PDF of materials including craft essays from The Masters Review, editorial notes on what we see from the slush pile, information on submission strategies, and additional advice on submitting
  • free submission in a forthcoming Masters Review contest
  • suggestions on literary magazines and contests that would be a good fit for your work, along with reading recommendations from your instructor
  • an archived copy of The Masters Review anthology
  • Writers will receive feedback no later than September 30. Early submissions may yield earlier feedback.
Jul 22

Craft Chat: 1st Person vs. 3rd Person POV

It happened. We got into a small argument: Which is better, first-person or third-person POV? It’s a pointless argument, one you can never win, but we thought the resulting conversation was worth sharing. Which side of the aisle are you on?

Melissa Hinshaw: I would like to start by saying I would love to apply a blanket rule that third person narration is better than first person narration, but every now and then I run into something amazing and get mad it’s in first person, because it reminds me I’m not allowed to make this rule.

Third person is way harder to do and I think that as a result of that it forces better writing. With first person you engage imaginative empathy by being like, “Hm, how would it be to write from this character’s perspective?” but with third person it goes one step further—you literally have to get outside yourself without actually being the other character. It’s so hard to be objective. The best third person narrators are able to tap into that sense of subjectiveness we love in first person writing via omniscience (literary buzzwords ftw) and we love them because it maximizes objectivity and a more universal subjectivity—sort of the core of being human, ideally. Maybe transhuman? God-mode, you know? There’s a tangent, whoa. Anyways, first person narrators are awesome for getting at the good and dirty angles of flawed humanity, but, like in real life, it’s all too easy to get stuck in the same ruts and ticks from being pissed off or messed up or depressed or what have you. I guess I’m making a moral argument or value statement about third person narration… I’ll caveat that by saying I think a really really skillful first person narrator can be as compelling as a third person narrator, but a third person narrator is way harder to write than a first person narrator, so we end up with a lot of really meh first person narration coming through the slush, and that’s why I get peeved about it.

Even the most famous/renowned first-person accounts—think Gatsby, etc.—are with narrators we forget are there. They start in that “I” mode, and then they lose it because they’re so good at observing everyone else.

Brandon Williams: I want to say that I love first person, but that’s not quite true; I really love the unique narrators that can pull it off, who can manage to build narratives that sound like theirs without having to fit in that catch-all first-person descriptor “voicy.” I’m thinking of short stories like “Boys Town,” by Jim Shepard, “A Love Story,” by Samantha Hunt, “The Pugilist at Rest” by Thom Jones, and what I love about them is that there’s a REASON, a clear narrative argument, for them to be in first person. And for me, that’s the big thing—third-person still has this feel of being the natural storytelling mode, and it deserves that distinction for all the reasons Melissa mentioned.

I also really, really agree with the point about how much middle-of-the-road first-person narrators we see. Sometimes they’re trying to make an argument for themselves because of style/voice tics, sometimes they’re rolling with that reflective narrator in occasional paragraphs (and we’ve talked internally about how much I absolutely hate that), and sometimes they’re so stuck in their own head that they’re in the way of the story. If we’re in first, the narrator needs to have a clear reason for telling us the story, and we need to remember that they’re aware that they’re telling a story—that means objectivity is out the window, but also that they’re actively trying to convince us of the things we’re seeing, and that they have a reason for doing so which almost certainly isn’t going to be apparent on the surface level. That’s awesome, but also that’s not most stories, and that’s not what I see most first-person stories trying to do anyway. If they’re just going to lounge by the pool and think dark thoughts for a while, then third could do that just as well, even if it “feels” like we need to hear that incredibly unique speaker or whatever.

Cole Meyer: It’s funny—when I think about my favorite stories, the ones that come to mind when I think, That’s what a short story is, they’re almost all in first-person. Aimee Bender’s best work is in first-person. “The Ceiling” by Kevin Brockmeier, first person. Saunders’ “Semplica-Girl Diaries” and “Sea Oak” and Raymond Carver and Carmen Maria Machado and on and on and on. As Brandon said, it works because the voices guiding us in those stories are so compelling. I’m not sure I agree that third person is harder, but like Brandon said, both POVs have their strengths, and the best writers know how and when to utilize both. I actually got into a bit of an argument with a professor over this, who was saying any story could be told in first or third-person. And maybe that’s true, but I still contend that some stories (some narrators) are much more successful in one POV over another.

It’s important to emphasize your point, Brandon, that narrators in a first-person narrative are aware they’re telling a story. There’s a reason you’re reading (hearing, really) their point-of-view. They want to sell you their perspective. And that’s fascinating to me. I recently (finally) finished There There by Tommy Orange, which is an excellent novel for many reasons, but relevantly, it moves between first- and third- (and in one instance, second-) person throughout the novel, as often as it moves between characters. A chapter about a character may be in first-person in Part 1 but in Part 3, a chapter about the same character may be in third-person. Orange wrote that he “[likes] how it can reveal different aspects of the characters’ reality,” which I think is a great way to approach a story.

Brandon: I just today switched out a story that I’ve been struggling with from first to third (for the exact argument laid out here—the narrator had no real reason to be telling the story, and if he was telling the story he wouldn’t have said some of the things I want the story to say, because it reflects so poorly on him), and the three scenes I’d been unable to get down just sorta exploded onto the page for me. So, count me as a believer that there are definitely stories which should exist in one or the other.

I’d forgotten that There There switched like that; I always remember it as a first-person (with the one second-person section). Interesting to go back and reread and see if I just liked the stuff in first more, or if the third felt more natural and so I wasn’t paying attention to POV there, or if I’m just a terrible reader who forgets details really fast.

 

Jul 21

July Book Review: Collective Gravities by Chloe N. Clark

Our second book review of the month is here! Today, Abbie Lahmers explores the new collection from Chloe N. Clark, Collective Gravities, published earlier this month by word west. This collection “propels us into invented universes, uncanny in their likeness to our own, and sets them into orbit.”

Aptly named, Chloe N. Clark’s Collective Gravities propels us into invented universes, uncanny in their likeness to our own, and sets them into orbit. Diving into this collection is like emptying a bag of marbles and watching them spin. Each feels suspended by its own gravitational pull. And while many occupy speculative spaces or the aftermaths of outer space voyages, I’m reluctant to pigeonhole them into the sci-fi genre (though they take plenty of cues from it). Just as many of these stories dwell in the less literal great beyond, letting down the barriers of our known world for the mystical to slip through—for the murky realms of ghosts and shadows to hover in our peripheries. Shying away from anything too technical or overly involved, a good world-building balance is struck, giving us just enough to live in the space without asking questions, or rather to keep us asking the right kind of questions.

Read more.

Jul 20

New Voices: “The Easiest Thing in the World” by Taylor Grieshober

The third place finalist from our Winter Short Story Award for New Writers, “The Easiest Thing in the World” by Taylor Grieshober, quickly caught the attention of guest judge Kimberly King Parsons. “I was immediately hooked into the funny, irreverent, voice-driven prose that dominates ‘The Easiest Thing in the World.’ Narrator Nadine wants “to be a famous biographer, to…awaken with a clear purpose each day—to unravel someone’s life question by question, to create an in-depth record of every dalliance and heartbreak, every death, figurative or literal.” Yet, like most of us, Nadine has a big blind spot when it comes to examining her own hopes and desires. For all of her bad decisions, odd attachments, and zany fixations, Nadine is charming and endearing. I found myself rooting for her and hoping she gets what she wants, as soon as she figures out what that might be.”

Blaise dropped the mouse into a cage with a white and orange snake, a Corn Snake he told me. Its jaw unhinged and seized on the mouse swiftly, clamping down on its head, deflating it like a pool toy. It was off-putting, not only because of the circumstances of the death, but because I could sense the snake’s longing, its short-sighted goals, how satisfied it seemed when it attained them.

What was it with the men in my life? There were simple solutions to their problems, but they never thought of them. My boyfriend slept on a sleeping bag he’d had since Scouts. He had no other blankets. He lived by the highway in an uninsulated attic studio because it was cheap. He got a handyman discount.

I refused to stay at his place. It was frigid and his pillows were bullshit—all the cotton balled up in the corners of the shams, rendering them useless.

“They’re fine,” he said. “You just have to wrap the pillow around your head like a hot dog bun.”

“So, my head is the hot dog?”

“Yes.”

And then there was Timothy, my roommate. Timothy, who at forty-two still bragged about his undergraduate GPA, made a big show of sweeping the stairs with a bandana tied around his face and sneezed loudly all day, punishing me for my dogs instead of just moving out. He complained they kept him up at night. “They bark at a fart,” was how he put it. I didn’t buy it. Sure, sometimes they needed to go out in the middle of the night, and they’d get antsy if I didn’t wake up right away, and romp around, their claws click-clacking on the wood laminate, but overall, they were good boys.

We lived on the shitty side of a fancy neighborhood that flanked the city park—me, Timothy, my dogs. I tutored rich kids who went to schools that didn’t use letter grades. The work came and went. My pupils graduated with glowing performance reviews and no longer needed me. I supplemented my income by writing human interest pieces for the local paper for ten cents a word and a yearly pistachio allotment. I was twenty-eight and spent a lot of time daydreaming. I wanted to be a famous biographer, to live off the writing and awaken with a clear purpose each day—to unravel someone’s life question by question, to create an in-depth record of every dalliance and heartbreak, every death, figurative or literal.

My column, “On the Record,” appeared in the weekly City Paper on Thursdays. I’d written profiles on all kinds of local weirdos: a geriatric who ran a tantric sex workshop, a woman who ate with plasticware because she thought real flatware caused cancer. One of my favorites was on this homeless guy who blasted 90’s R&B from a gigantic boombox. People called him Radio Raheem. He claimed he made $300 a month playing songs for passersby, which was enough at the time for an apartment in Pittsburgh, if you knew where to look. He seemed to know something I didn’t about satisfaction, how to limit my expectations and get more out of life.

To continue reading “The Easiest Thing in the World” click here.