The Masters Review Blog

Mar 20

Interview: Ramona Ausubel

This month, we had the opportunity to talk with one of our favorite writers on the planet: Ramona Ausubel. Her fourth book, Awayland, published earlier this month. In this, Ausubel’s second collection of short stories, a Cyclops looks for love online, a rootless mother turns to mist, and a couple loves each other so intensely that they want to, literally, exchange hands. Here, Ausubel shares her wisdom about using magic to tackle complex emotions, about forging lovely sentences, and about arranging a cohesive story collection. Read this interview, and then get lost in Awayland yourself.

“Language is my home base. Sentences and images are the reason I write in the first place, the reason I’ll never quit even if no one ever pays me or reads a single word again. It’s about naming a precise feeling or moment in a world that is constantly rushing us ever onward. It’s about dredging up the fantastically complex inside life and allowing it a way to live above ground.”

First of all, let me just say how much I enjoyed Awayland. I am a huge fan of both your novels and your stories and I was so thrilled to see another collection by you. Like your first collection (A Guide to Being Born), Awayland is also broken into four distinct sections: “Bay of Hungers,” “The Cape of Persistent Hope,” “The Lonesome Flats,” and “The Dream Isles.” Can you talk a little bit about how you arrived at this structure? Did you write the stories to fit it, arrange the structure based on the stories, or a little bit of both?

I’m delighted to talk to you! I wrote these stories over the course of several years and there are so many questions and layers of my own life and mind in them and the themes in the collection come from these places. But I wanted, in the end, to turn eleven stories into one book and I like the way those sections help build a larger arc. In this book, which takes place all over the world, I wanted a kind of mythical landscape on which to plot the stories and their individual geographies.

Some of my favorite stories of yours have magical elements. What stands out to me about them is that they all have a real, emotional anchor—which is always beautifully expressed. In “Fresh Water from the Sea,” for example, a woman’s mother is literally turning into mist but this is closely tied to the mother’s own feeling of rootlessness. How do you accomplish this? What comes first: the magical component or the emotional one?

I love to use magic as an amplification of something real in the emotional realm. I have felt that feeling of rootlessness (for entirely different reasons than the character in that story) and yet I’ve always had a hard time naming that feeling clearly. In the story I gave the feeling a physical manifestation so that I could see and feel it at its real emotional volume. Sometimes I come up with the conceit first—what if a Cyclops filled out an online dating profile?—and then build the realness into it and sometimes I come up with the feeling first and then build a physical life for it.

What are you reading (and loving) right now?

In my bag right now I have three books: The Seabeast Takes a Lover by Michael Andreasen, which is a collection that I loved long before it was a book (Michael and I went to grad school together) and am besotted with once again; There There by Tommy Orange (out in summer, 2018) which is a ferocious and amazing novel centering on a cast of contemporary Native American characters in Oakland, California; and Fever Dogs by Kim O’Neil, another splendid collection from an old friend and another book I have waited for with baited breath.


Mar 16

New Voices: “If I Could Have Anything, I’d Only Choose This” by Jill Rosenberg

Today, we are pleased to present the winner of our Fall Fiction Contest judged by Brian Evenson: “If I Could Have Anything, I’d Only Choose This” by Jill Rosenberg. Evenson had this to say about the story: “The trouble with reality is that it’s all too prone to slip and slide and collapse, and when it does it takes us down with it. What happens when you’re a girl with not only a real sister but also an ‘alternate’ one, and not only an alternate sister but an alternate self? You need to hide this from your real sister, who doesn’t understand, who doesn’t see how important it is, but you need to keep talking to your alternate sister so you can become your alternate self.” Dive in. 

“First I feel a bullet racing around my body that is filled with the happy, buzzing feeling of being Hop, and then that feeling spreads everywhere and my feet turn into Hop’s cute, pink, little feet and then up through my legs and torso and then my whole body is my alternate, perfect and tiny body of Hop.”

This is how it works: When I am with Helen, I can have Hopscotch and Butterscotch with me too, but I cannot acknowledge them when Helen is there. Helen is my real sister, and Butterscotch is my alternate sister. Hopscotch is the alternate me.

When I say that I don’t acknowledge Hop and Butter, what I mean is that I don’t acknowledge them in any way that Helen could notice. For example, if I am sitting on the couch watching TV with Helen, Butter can sit on the floor with her back against my legs, and if I want to talk to Butter, I don’t have to actually talk—I just hold my fist to my mouth and that’s our microphone and because Butter is my alternate sister, she can hear me. When Butter talks, I put my fist to my ear, but I make it look like I’m just rubbing my face with my fist because it itches or like I’m holding my fist to my face because I’m being thoughtful.

When Butter is down by my feet I don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen next because Butter wraps her arms around my legs and I hold my fist to my ear and she says, “You’re okay—I’m here. You’re Hop. You don’t have to worry.”

When she says that, I turn into Hop. First I feel a bullet racing around my body that is filled with the happy, buzzing feeling of being Hop, and then that feeling spreads everywhere and my feet turn into Hop’s cute, pink, little feet and then up through my legs and torso and then my whole body is my alternate, perfect and tiny body of Hop.

When Helen is focused on her TV show, I keep Hop at my side on the couch so I can remind myself that she’s there, with her very skinny legs against my actual legs, like I can choose to have her legs instead of my legs whenever I want.

When Hop’s body is against my body and Helen is there in the room, the sensation is both magical and real: the best me is attached to the actual me and I am both of us at once.

I should explain that sometimes I am Hopscotch, and sometimes I watch Hopscotch. It took me a while to realize that this was the case. I like it best when I am Hopscotch, but sometimes I have to enjoy her from the outside in order to make it even better once I am inside Hop.

Sometimes the barriers between the two aren’t as clear as I’m making them sound. Sometimes I’m inside and outside at the same time.

I never imagine that I am Butterscotch. Sometimes I let myself imagine what it would be like to be Helen, to get to live in her body and to know what her thoughts are like, but I want none of this from Butter. I just want Butter to exist, and I want her right by me, like a human pillow or a blanket that I can hug or curl up under. If I ever imagine that I’m inside Butter, it’s more like I’m wrapped up inside her, but I’m still me, or I’m Hop, or both, and then we’re protected because Butter blocks us from everything and hides us. I really don’t want to know what that’s like for Butter. Just the idea of it makes me feel guilty and nervous and ruins the whole point of Butter.

To read the rest of “If I Could Have Anything, I’d Only Choose This” click here.

Mar 14

Read Me, I’m Irish!

Forget about leprechauns and lucky clovers, there are bits of Irish culture that have actually managed to spread so far and wide that they’ve become functionally invisible! Here are just a smattering of words that started out on the Emerald Isle, but made their way throughout the world!


Usually a fairly mild reprimand for being rowdy and disruptive, a hooligan can also describe a rioting sports fan these days. Travel back to the 19th century, however, and you were likely referring to someone named Hooligan. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there was a particularly rowdy Irish family in a music hall song named Hooligan, and their antics have left a lasting impression on the English language!


Unusually for the progression of language, the usage of the word “boycott” can be precisely traced back to the year 1880 in Ireland’s County Mayo. Captain Charles Boycott was incredibly unpopular after attempting to evict tenants, who responded by refusing to work his fields, do business with him, or even deliver his mail. It cost Boycott over 6000 pounds, and he fled to England soon after. The situation was reported in newspapers from London to New York, and less than a year later the term “boycott” had become a normal verb!


Derived from Irish Gaelic, specifically sluagh-gairm, it originally conveyed the vast chanting of a battle cry by an army. It merged together into the anglicised term “slogorn,” before becoming recognizable as the current word in 1704. This does give an interesting undertone to modern commercials and their slogans, though!


An integral part of quantum mechanics, quarks are elementary particles first proposed by physicists in 1964. They were named by the American Murray Gell-Man, who happened to be reading through James Joyce’s book Finnegan’s Wake where he saw the line “Three quarks for Muster Mark.” The number three is an essential part of the quark’s nature, so it was simply meant to be!


Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan created the character Mrs. Malaprop in his 1775 play The Rivals, to both great acclaim and great comedy. Her humorous misuse of similar sounding words that mean the opposite of her intention was indelibly intertwined with her character, and Lord Byron himself was using the word “malaprop” by 1814!


Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels became popular as soon as it was published, and the term “lilliputian” entered many languages meaning “small and delicate.” There are model houses called Lilliput’s Lane, tiny fittings called the Lilliput Edison screws, and a short Dutchman is called a lilliputter. It is certainly a huge impact from such tiny characters!

by Kimberly Guerin

Mar 12

Debut Author Spotlight: Glori Simmons

In our Debut Author Spotlight series, authors contribute essays about the path to the publication of their first book. In this installment, Glori Simmons talks about writing the stories that would comprise her first two collections. She, at first, thought of them as one book and she began to write them as a distraction from the novel that she was working on during her Stegner Fellowship in 2003. Glori Simmons’ collection Carry You came out from Autumn House Press on March 7.

“Three presidents later, American troops are still in Iraq and what I began as a side project was now two full-length books informed by parenthood, marriage, work and time. Life had happened and through it all, my writing had evolved.”

People may see that I have had two books of short stories published in consecutive years and think I’m a prolific or fast writer. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I began the first three linked stories that would become Suffering Fools and Carry You around 2003. I was a Stegner fellow working fulltime in a University art gallery. The U.S. was at war. The short stories were a distraction from the novel I was supposed to be writing, an exercise in form, one story unfolding from another, all set in the present. They were organic, gratifying and fun to write, but I was working on a novel set in another place and time.

When the fellowship ended, I focused on the novel. Its publication was the milestone I was seeking. I got an agent. I gave birth to a daughter. The market crashed. I moved from San Francisco to Oakland. Whenever I turned to the short stories, it felt as if I were having an affair—cheating on the novel. They felt fresh and were a way for me to understand the present day events even as I wrote and revised, but never sold, the novel. Meanwhile, the war in Iraq escalated and then officially ended and then we again sent in more forces. All that while, the Shepherd family kept finding their way to the page. The main character, Clark, had gone to war too.

By the time the stories were ready, my agent had quit the business. Another told me the stories worked well, but needed more—more Iraq, more war. I made excuses, stalled, and then spent two years attempting to write stories set in a country in which I’d never stepped foot. I had a new, more demanding job and a kid in public school. I finally sent the new manuscript off to the agent who’d encouraged me to write more. He said, “thanks, but no thanks.” After more rejections, I looked over my stories. They were unruly as a group and lacked balance. Could it be with a few of my non-linked stories (yes, I’d cheated while I was cheating) that I had two manuscripts? I thought so. I sent them off to small press contests and was pleasantly surprised when they were chosen for publication. Of the trilogy that started this journey, only one of the stories contains the original experiment. Another has been shelved. What was once contemporary fiction is now historical fiction.

As I reflect on the years between the first stories and the last, I am reminded of something a friend once said, “Life happens between books.” Focusing on publication of my first project, the novel, as the ultimate form of legitimacy, had often made it seem as if the hours at my desk were amounting to nothing. It felt, correctly, as if I was not in control of the process. In those moments, it was tempting to ignore my new obsessions or see the other parts of my life as superfluous or intrusions, instead of what they were—stories unfolding, challenges shaping my perspectives and experiences that would make me a better writer. Three presidents later, American troops are still in Iraq and what I began as a side project was now two full-length books informed by parenthood, marriage, work and time. Life had happened and through it all, my writing had evolved.

by Glori Simmons author of Carry You (Autumn House Press, March 2018) and Suffering Fools (Willow Springs Books, March 2017)

Mar 9

Debut Author Spotlight: Get Yourself Some People by Michael Andreasen

Today, we are excited to debut our Debut Author Spotlight series with a contribution from the wonderful Michael Andreasen, whose first collection The Sea Beast Takes A Lover came out from Dutton at the end of February. Our Debut Author Spotlight series aims to illuminate the work of exciting new authors as their first releases hit the shelves. Authors contribute essays that talk about their path to publication; whether it be the inspiration for their book, finding motivation, connecting with an agent, or designing their book cover—these personal essays help demystify the publishing process. In our inaugural installment, Michael Andreasen talks about the importance of finding a group of writers who will give you valuable feedback and hold you accountable. Sometimes a little pressure is a good thing.

“Writers will tell you that they write for themselves, that they write to see worlds born and dreams realized, and I suppose that might be true, but that ain’t all of it. At least not for me. I write so that the people I love and admire will say, ‘I liked that story. Tell me another.'”

I don’t remember how long I had quit writing for, but it was long enough that I remember thinking: I guess that’s it. I guess I’m done with writing.

I was maybe a year out of an MFA programa program which had been great, by the way. Great teachers and smart readers and a handful of dedicated, insanely talented friendseverything you could want, which made the quitting feel that much worse. It wasn’t writer’s block, which has always been described to me as a kind of artistic constipation, all those pressurized ideas desperate to get out. What I felt was the opposite of pressure. Nothing was coming because nothing was expected, least of all by me. I’d never encountered this in my conversations with other writers. For them it always seemed a lack of time was the problem, or a dearth of ideas, or a demoralizing parade of rejections. I wasn’t getting rejected for the simple reason that I wasn’t sending anything out. There didn’t seem to be any reason to. You hear about muses leaving and lives changing, but no one ever tells you that you might wake up one day and feel that most crucial desirethe desire to tell someone a storygone as the goddamn ghost.

Flash forward farther than I’d care to admit: I’m at a party with some friends from my writing program, because we’re all still in the area and we’re all still friends. We reminisce about workshop. We admit that the things we used to dread about itthe deadlines, the critiques, the obligation to dig deep and excavate the very best within uswe miss those things now. We want them back. We hatch a scheme to start workshopping again, just the four of us, just a little, just to see. We propose a meeting the following month.

I hadn’t had the heart to tell them I’d quit. I didn’t want them to think I’d gotten soft and atrophied. Oh god, had I gotten soft and atrophied? Was I about to embarrass myself in front of these dedicated, insanely talented people whose work I adored? I needed to get home. I needed to get writing…

And out of nowhere, there it was: the pressure. I was an idiot. I hadn’t wanted to write for so long because I hadn’t had anyone to write for, no one who knew me and knew my stories and wanted to see more of them in the world. And not just anyone, but these amazing people whose stories I loved and whose approval I craved. Writers will tell you that they write for themselves, that they write to see worlds born and dreams realized, and I suppose that might be true, but that ain’t all of it. At least not for me. I write so that the people I love and admire will say, “I liked that story. Tell me another.”

It’s been almost a decade since I came back to writing. I still meet with the same friends (again: dedicated), all of whom now have at least one book with their name on the spine (again: insanely talented), and as of last February, so do I. We’re all in each other’s acknowledgements, and we’ve all admitted to each other that we might not have this work if not for the group. We don’t meet as often as we used to, but we’re still writing for each other, and whenever there’s new work, there’s an email, and a discussion, and all the insight and incisiveness that can only come from years of reading each other. They know when I’m off my game, and they tell me. They let me experiment and help me hone. They’re the people I’m writing for, the ones I want to impress, the source of that pressure and responsibility that I need to keep going. “I like that story,” they say to me. “Tell me another.”

Get yourself some people. Find them anywhere you can. Find one, just one, who reads you well, who can be honest without being cruel, who can notice your strengths and nurture them. Write to impress them. Write to entertain and enthrall them. Give them the best story you’ve got, and then another, and another, and never, ever let them out of your sight.

Mar 8

AWP Panels We Wouldn’t Miss

AWP is kicking off in Tampa, Florida and we are bummed that we won’t be there this year. It’s always such a wonderful opportunity to see old and new literary friends. There are so many awesome panels, but here are a few we would definitely be attending if we were there. Let us know how they are, guys! We hope to catch you at next year’s conference in our hometown of Portland, Oregon.



Learning Curve: The Challenge of Building Inclusive Communities

VIDA: Women in Literary Arts will host this important panel about how teachers, writers, and editors across the literary community can better address social issues relating to gender, sexual assault, privilege, and authorship. Don’t miss this one.
Panelists: Lynn Melnick, Hafizah Geter, Amy King, Hector Ramirez, Katherine Sullivan
Time: Thursday; 10:30 am – 11:45 am
Location: Grand Salon C, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor

Writing the Body in the 21st Century 

Graywolf Press is organizing this panel of fiction writers and poets who all write about the body in their own ways. It includes a reading and a discussion. Plus Carmen Maria Machado is one of the panelists!
Panelists: Steph Burt, Tarfia Faizullah, Carmen Maria Machado, Danez Smith, Steve Woodward
Time: Thursday; 12:00 pm – 1:15 pm
Location: Room 18 & 19, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor

Stranger and Truthier Than Truth: Fiction in the Age of Trump

We know that this is going to be a full room. In this panel, authors such as Kelly Link and Manuel Gonzales will talk about how writing with unreal elements can reveal important truths about our politically turbulent world. We are truly kicking ourselves for missing this one.
Panelists: Marie-Helene Bertino, Manuel Gonzales, Toni Jensen, Kelly Link, Helen Phillips
Time: Thursday; 4:30 pm – 5:45 pm
Location: Ballroom A, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor

The Ecstasy and the Laundry: Gender, Families, and the Writing Life 

Sometimes, you just want to talk about the nitty gritty of the writing life, which includes how writing fits into your life. This panel focuses on how to balance creative space with domestic duties while avoiding outdated gender roles.
Panelists: Elizabeth Kadetsky, Imad Rahman, Jess Row, Emily Raboteau, Kate Tuttle
Time: Friday; 12:00 pm – 1:15 pm
Location: Room 16, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor

Mar 6

Literary Throwbacks: 8 Books That Are A Blast To The Past

Our nation’s nostalgia for bygone days is awfully pervasive, even for those of us born after those decades have ended! Here are eight books that will tug on your memories and your emotions, whether it’s the age of jive or the age of grunge. While all of these were published during the past few years, they are set in the later decades of the twentieth century. So settle down with these particular time machines, and you can take a quick trip to the fairly recent past. Without further ado, here are some of our favorite literary throwbacks!

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

A late-nineties suburb may seem idyllic, but there are secrets simmering below the surface, and constant suspicion. The crux of this novel is a battle between rules and freedom, a skirmish about the nature of art and identity, and a fight over the custody of a Chinese-American infant.

Best paired with: Zima!



South and West by Joan Didion

Less a book, and more a collection of notes, Didion takes us along with her as she drives through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama during the summer of 1970. Her impressions of syrupy heat and stifling racial tension are as relevant now as ever, and they offer a glimpse into the writing process of a legendary author.

Best paired with: Sweet Tea!


Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

There is something terribly wrong in the town of Nevada, Iowa, where movie rentals are being returned due to unsettling and eerie video additions. Video clerk Jeremy is caught up in the mystery, which stretches in time far past the 1990s, and becomes part of an impossible search for an unimaginable goal. This is definitely not your average cookie-cutter mystery!

Best paired with: Crystal Pepsi!


Ill Will by Dan Chaon

It is the height of the Satanic-cult panic during the 1980s, and a young boy’s tearful testimony sends his adopted brother Rusty to prison for life. 40 years later, and DNA evidence exonerates Rusty, sending everyone reeling. This is just the beginning of a slowly creeping mystery that peeks under the lies we tell ourselves, and shines a light on the perils of self-deception.

Best paired with: New Coke!


The Unseen World by Liz Moore

When Liz’s brilliant father begins losing his memories to Alzheimer’s, her quest to rediscover his past is a journey that connects her childhood to her adult life. Set in a cutting-edge computer science lab in 1980s Boston, the futuristic themes of virtual reality and artificial intelligence are delicately intertwined with thoughts on family, psychology, and compassion.

Best paired with: Lemon-Lime Slice!


Swing Time by Zadie Smith

The protagonist Tracey is a compelling and relatable character, who often thinks back to her grand goals as a dancer and close friends growing up in eighties London, a contrast to her current job as a personal assistant. Her nostalgia is our nostalgia, and while the juxtaposition of fond remembrance and reality isn’t comfortable, it is a piercing glance behind the curtains of memory.

Best paired with: Orange Tango!


Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

This touching and sentimental story takes place over the year of 1986, and follows two outcast teens as they try to navigate a tumultuous time—in anyone’s life! You will find yourself yearning for the incomparable eighties, and the rosy glow from your first love.

Best paired with: LifeSavers Soda!



Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

Set in the 1980s, amidst The Troubles in Northern Ireland, an 18-year-old boy has a strange connection to a girl who died in an ancient age, who has a haunting familiarity in his dreams. Winner of a Carnegie Medal and classified as a historical novel, a YA book, and children’s fiction, it occupies an interesting place on our list, but a well-recommended one nonetheless!

Best paired with: Club Rock Shandy!



by Kimberly Guerin

Mar 2

New Voices: “Lepidomancy” by Maria Lioutaia

Today, we are proud to present “Lepidomancy,” the second-place winner of our Fall Fiction Contest judged by Brian Evenson. This story blew us away from the start. In “Lepidomancy,” there exists a conservatory full of butterflies who can foretell people’s future. Hannah and her husband Steven have a daughter with a rare chromosomal disorder, and they must decide whether or not to take her to see the butterflies.

“The butterflies don’t seem to care for questions about the future of humanity, the outcomes of wars, the meaning of life. They won’t reveal winning lottery numbers, name which horse to bet your retirement fund on, or proclaim the outcome of an election. You can’t ask questions about someone else, either—only the personal is under their purview.”

The fortune-telling butterfly conservatory first opened in Beijing two years ago, in the refurbished Olympics velodrome, and when it became clear this wasn’t a stunt or a hoax, people waited in line for days to glimpse their destinies. A couple of months later the conservatory moved on to a stadium-sized complex erected in place of an abandoned Soviet-era village near Moscow, and people traveled from as far as Magadan to ask their questions. Cape Town, Oslo, Dubai, Adelaide followed. It’s the oldest human desire, to attempt some measure of control over the vagaries of fate. The butterflies arrived in their first North American location a month ago—a gleaming glass dome near Dead Horse Bay in south Brooklyn. The feverish buzz is that the butterflies haven’t been wrong once yet. Sitting up in bed at night, a pillow bunched behind her lower back, the laptop screen dimmed almost to black so as not to wake up Steven beside her, Hannah tracks the butterfly news stories, eyewitness reports, forums, with a hunger that won’t let her sleep. The steady hiss of their daughter’s ventilator from the next room fills the night.

*     *     *

When Hannah comes into the University of Pittsburgh Department of Biology office Monday morning, everyone is clustered around Beth’s desk with the kind of strained, zealot attention that can only mean one thing.

“I went!” Beth calls to her from the middle of the congregation.

There are five people in the office who have visited the butterflies already. Antoine—Dr. Siegal—was shown that he’ll meet his future spouse on a dog sledding trip, so he immediately booked a week-long excursion to the Yukon during winter break. They told the facilities services manager, Inna, that she’ll die at ninety-two, so she started smoking again after a decade on the wagon, sometimes sucking on two cigarettes at once. Arslan the grants administrator wouldn’t share what he asked or how the butterflies replied, but he was off for a week afterward and came back quiet, withdrawn, his gaze failing to find purchase on anything.

“I’m going to have three grandbabies!” Beth says. Her office is decorated with photos of her family clothespinned to a length of twine zigzagging across the wall, a progression of her only daughter featured in baby photos, graduation portraits, sun-lit vacation snaps, interspersed with evil eye charms and origami cranes dangling from strings.

“How did they show you?” asks Lee, the international student liaison, who went to the conservatory a week ago with her whole extended family as though it was Disneyland.

“Drew it—there I was, a toddler in my lap and two older children, a boy and a girl, sitting crosslegged beside me, looking up at me. I seem to be telling them a story.” Beth holds up her palms as though the image is still there, a fragile daguerreotype of her future progeny.

To read the rest of “Lepidomancy” click here.

Feb 27

February Book Review: Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon

Today, we are pleased to feature a review of Self-Portrait With Boy, Rachel Lyon’s debut novel, which came out earlier this month. Our reviewer Tessa Yang writes: “With a vividly rendered setting, an emotionally turbulent narrative, and a spine-chilling dose of the paranormal, Self-Portrait with Boy has me dwelling on the dark side of creative expression and eager to see what Rachel Lyon produces next.”

Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon

“I’ll tell you how it started. With a simple, tragic accident. The click of a shutter and a grown man’s beast-like howl.” With these opening lines, Rachel Lyon pulls us into a fast-paced and haunting narrative that dramatizes the friction between professional success and personal loyalty. When does art become exploitative? To what does the emerging artist owe her allegiance? To community? To love? To her own aspirations, and nothing else?

Lyon’s narrator, Lu Rile, is a recent art school grad living in Brooklyn in the early 90’s. She’s got big dreams and no money—a familiar combination, but rest assured, Lyon strips the starving artist cliché of all its tired romanticism. Real estate developers are closing in on Lu’s building, a ramshackle warehouse whose artist residents have been squatting for years. The landlord’s nowhere to be found. As Lu’s expenses swell (the tenants have hired a lawyer to file a suit for legal residency, and her father needs eye surgery), she finds herself working at a ritzy day school, a 24-hour Photo, and a health food store, and stealing from the latter because she still can’t afford groceries. Read more.

Feb 23

March Deadlines: 18 Lit Mags & Contests with Deadlines This Month

Spring is bursting into bloom, and so can your creativity. Take a small chance, submit to these contests, and watch your confidence grow!

FEATURED The Masters Review Anthology Prize

It’s finally that time of year again, when The Masters Review is accepting entries for our annual print anthology! Submissions can be fiction or narrative nonfiction, but they need to be less than 8000 words. The 10 winners will be published in the seventh volume of The Masters Review, and will each receive $500. This contest is judged by the fantastic Rebecca Makkai, and she will be looking for today’s best new emerging writers. Get started!
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: March 31

2018 Contest: The Future

The future is always full of possibilities, and Sonora Review is willing to pay you to find out your thoughts on the subject! Each year they award $1000 and publication to a winning short story, essay, and poem, and this year’s contest theme is The Future. Charles Yu is judging fiction, Rubén Martínez is judging nonfiction, and Harmony Holiday is judging poetry. Get ready here!
Entry Fee: $15 Deadline: March 1

International Poetry Competition

In this contest meant for poets, the Atlanta Review is looking for original and unpublished creative work. Entrants can send in up to 10 poems, although the reading fee increases after the first two poems. The Grand Prize winner will receive $1000 and publication, but the next twenty winners will also be published! Learn more here.
Entry Fee: $11 & up Deadline: March 1

Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency

This is a unique chance for any author who feels the need for unparalleled solitude while working on their current project! In return for an hour a day of maintenance, the resident receives a $5000 stipend and the use of a comfortable house in the Rogue River backcountry of southwestern Oregon for up to 10 months. Applications need to include a brief resume, a 20-page writing sample, and a letter explaining your suitability for the experience. More details here!
Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: March 1

Non/Fiction Collection Prize

Journal is looking to publish the best essay/short story collection written this year, and they are very upfront about their plan! The contest is open to writers of fiction and creative nonfiction, and entries must be less than 350 pages. The winner receives $1500 and a publishing contract from The Ohio State University Press. Check it out!
Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: March 1

Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing Fellowships

This is a golden opportunity for any student finishing up their MFA or PhD in Creative Writing by August 15! If that’s you, then here is your chance to receive a nine-month fellowship that includes a stipend of $38,000, generous health benefits, and several teaching assignments. It is also important that applicants have not published more than one book. Applications must include a resume and a writing sample. Apply here!
Entry Fee: $50 Deadline: March 1

The Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize

If you want a chance to have your story of 750 words or less read aloud on Selected Shorts—then enter this contest! The winner will also be published in Electric Literature, earn $1000, and get a free course through Gotham Writers. This year’s judge is Jess Walter. So cool. Check out all the deets here.
Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: March 1

Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction

Colorado State University sponsors this prize, through the Colorado Review, and awards $2000 and publication to the winner. There are no theme restrictions, but entries must be over 2500 words to qualify! Judged by Margot Livesey, all submissions will be considered for publication. More details here.
Entry Fee: $15 Deadline: March 14


Feb 21

Stories That Teach: “Letter to the Lady of the House” by Richard Bausch & the Power of Schmaltz

In our Stories That Teach series, we take a close look at our favorite tales to see what they can teach us about craft. We’ve examined the fictional lessons and social relevance of Susan Minot’s story “Lust,” dissected the elegant sentences in Lauren Groff’s “Ghosts and Empties,” and considered what makes Steven Barthelme’s “Heaven” so effective. In our February edition of Stories That Teach, we discuss one of our old favorites: “Letter to the Lady of the House” by Richard Bausch. Here, we question the notion that sentiment is for suckers and examine what makes this romantic—but realistic— epistolary story so moving. 

“In “Letter to the Lady of the House,” sheer sappiness bumps up against moments of ugliness. Grand proclamations about the nature of love follow descriptions of the mundane. Its sentimentality is not only excusable; it’s extremely effective.”

Listen to “Letter to the Lady of the House” here.

Discussed by Sadye Teiser

I will admit that I used to listen to Richard Bausch’s story “Letter to the Lady of the House” (as it was read on This American Life) every Valentine’s Day. And I would cry. The entire story takes the form of a letter that a husband writes to his wife the night before his seventieth birthday. She has gone to sleep after an evening of petty arguing and, after some whiskey, he decides that the best way to make his feelings known is by writing her a good, old-fashioned letter.

There is a reason why people disparage Hallmark sentimentality. After all, isn’t one of the first things that we learn in writing workshops the old adage Show Don’t Tell? It’s easy to dismiss a sentimental story as having flimsy craft. But letters encourage us to be direct. Especially when they are written to someone we love, they promote sappiness. A letter is a particularly risky form for a story to take. So, how do you write a successful story in the epistolary form? And is schmaltz really so bad for fiction?

Richard Bausch’s story “Letter to the Lady of the House” first appeared in The New Yorker way back in 1989. I will admit that it has many lines that would be at home in a Hallmark card. However, several elements save the story from falling into a pit of mushiness. First, its sentimentality is often combined with harsh, but realistic, observations on marriage. Second, although it has its abstractions: the story is rooted in the commonplace.

The letter starts out by recounting the small stuff. The husband, John, and his wife, Marie, fight about whether or not the pepper that the husband puts on his potatoes will upset his stomach. She goes to bed angry. He drinks whiskey. He watches TV. He thinks about how they have to prepare the house for their children and grandchildren’s visit tomorrow. He considers leaving: going for a walk around the block, or sleeping in a hotel for the night, or perhaps never returning at all. He makes this decidedly ungenerous proclamation:

I saw our life together now as the day to day round of petty quarreling and tension, that it’s mostly been over the past couple of years or so. And I wanted out as sincerely as I ever wanted out of anything.

Now, that is something that you would never find on a greeting card. However, it is a realistic thought for a couple in the middle of a fight, after decades of marriage. Then, of course, the tone softens. The husband stands in the bedroom doorway and looks in on his wife, asleep under the covers, and thinks only of her smallness, her vulnerability. He goes for a walk in their neighborhood. He is seized by the fleeting but strong feeling that this is his last night on this earth. Well, of course, he returns home and gets a little bit sentimental. (I usually start crying right around here:)

When I stood in the entrance of our room and looked at you again, wondering if I would make it through to the morning, I suddenly found myself trying to think what I would say to you if indeed this were the last time I would ever be able to speak to you. And I began to know I would write you this letter.


Feb 16

New Voices: “Together, Maureen” by Amanda Emil Anderson

Today, we are pleased to present the third-place winner of our Fall Fiction Contest judged by Brian Evenson: “Together, Maureen” by Amanda Emil Anderson. In this story a woman, Maureen, literally becomes two different people after the sudden loss of her husband. The new Maureen and the old Maureen are left to mourn their loss together and to figure out the next step in their lives.

“Despite the visitors, Maureen and Maureen are mostly alone. Trailing one another from the living room to the kitchen, or waiting to turn into the driveway with the blinker softly ticking, the old Maureen will be struck with a thought: that was my life, and now this is. The idea plays in her head like a mantra. How strange, at this age, to get to know a new version of herself.”

First there is Maureen pacing a wide cement dock, watching rescue divers dip below the frozen lake and emerge minutes later numbed, empty-handed. This for hours.

Everything that comes after—condolences, casseroles—will happen to a different Maureen. The Maureen of now worries the lid of a gas-station coffee long gone cold. She tucks strands of gray hair under her hat, shuffles her boots against cement. By this point she could tell you many things about the dock: forty-five steps long, twelve steps across, pebbled and barnacled and slick with black ice where the lake has lapped up over its bounds. Large enough for a number of boats to tie up (in better weather), for over a dozen police officers to cluster, walkie talkies squealing, and yet the expanse feels too small to contain her.

She, this Maureen, still thinks there is a chance, or did think so; the feeling recedes with the sliding sun, lower and lower as the lake and horizon blur into an endless icy blue.

*      *      *

No—first is Whit, raspy-voiced and reedy, neither bad nor good. Whit manning the fuel pumps at his uncle’s gas station. Whit silent beside her at a school dance, his hand a thrill against her back. In an army uniform, in waders, in a borrowed suit on their wedding day. Whit who is not quite the man she expects, after they marry, but then again who is?

There is Whit with his hand a vice at the nape of their sons’ necks, just daring them to fuck up. His hand a vice around her wrist. Whit in his recliner with the TV blaring, and at the dinner table forking peas into his mouth, nothing to say, and in their still dark bedroom during deer season, soft and tender, telling her to get back to sleep while he tugs on thick socks. There is Whit at the end, collapsing through the ice with a Bud in one hand and a fishing pole in the other.

But there’ll be time enough to think on this later.

A diver is pulled back to the dock on an inflatable raft. Shivering, weak, he unhitches a harness from his shoulders. “It was like looking through tissue paper under there,” he says.

She thinks of an elementary school project, crinkled waves and seaweed inside a shoebox. Whit a flimsy paper doll glued to the cardboard.

The police chief guides her toward land. “I’m sorry. We’ll continue the recovery when conditions improve,” he says, and she’s lived through enough winters to know the difference between a rescue and a recovery. Overnight the temperature will plummet and ice will clot every opening in thick, jagged slabs. There’s no chance of finding him alive. Now they are only hoping for a body.

A new Maureen lets the chief lead her toward her car. The old Maureen waits a moment longer at the edge of the lake, not so easily convinced, then hurries to catch up to herself.

To read the rest of “Together, Maureen” click here.