The Masters Review Blog

Sep 21

New Voices – “You-You” by Grayson Morley: Part I

Today, we are proud to welcome “You-You” be Grayson Morley to our New Voices library. We are publishing this story in two parts, and the second installment will launch on the blog in two weeks. “You-You” takes you inside the mind of a college freshman who suffers from depression, who struggles with confidence and body image, who plays D&D, and who really, really wants to ask out a girl in his science class. “You-You” offers us a refreshingly unique and honestly drawn male protagonist.

“But it isn’t his DPS that makes Verner fun to play for you. It’s that he is what you want to be. Confident. Sexy. Slim. And while you don’t necessarily want to be the kind of guy who makes out with two women at a bar, you don’t not want to be that guy.”

You walk into the Chortlin’ Hog. The tavern is filled with miscreants, the kind you expect to find in a town such as this. You are far from high society, here in the Harrowed Hills, which, per its name, is a pretty hardscrabble place. The most popular occupation here is Hog Farmer. You are not a Hog Farmer. You are an Adventurer. You, Verner Ignobis, are not from such a low place as this. You come from high society, from a royal bloodline, even if you’re more second cousin than rightful heir. Regardless, you are beautiful, and you know it. So much more beautiful than the pathetic denizens of the Chortlin’ Hog.

Or so you picture it. You’re not sure how your friends picture Verner or the Chortlin’ Hog. The Game Master can only say so much. The rest is up to each player, in their head, to summon up. The only thing you were outright told by Mark, the GM, was this: “You walk into the Chortlin’ Hog, a local tavern. Before you is an assortment of locals, drinking and talking, and at a few tables even playing cards. The bar itself is busy, with only a single seat left open. What do you do?”

You are not Verner Ignobis, of course. You are you. Nondescript you, chubby you, nobody-looking-at-you you. But when you play with Mark, Ben, and Will, you are not you anymore. You can be free of you and instead be Verner Ignobis. Sexy, confident, sizzling Verner Ignobis, the flame-focused Sorcerer.

What would Verner do? you ask yourself.

Something you wouldn’t do if your life depended on it.

“I walk up to the bar,” you say to Mark, the GM. “And I flirt with the first person I see.”

He asks you to roll Charisma. You roll a d20 across the card table Mark set up in his dorm room, which barely fits in the cramped space. After clacking across the plastic surface, the die comes to a rest.

A 20. Critical Success. Rejoice, for tonight, you are kissing not one, but two buxom blondes.

To read the rest of “You-You: Part I” click here.

Sep 20

TMR Author Lydia Conklin Wins Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award!

Every year, the fabulous Rona Jaffe Foundation honors six emerging, women writers with awards of $30,000 each. This award is a true mark of distinction as well as an invaluable resource for writers in the early stages of their careers. We were so proud to publish Lydia Conklin’s story “Friendly Crossroads” in our New Voices section. It was clear to us, right away, that this author is going places! “Friendly Crossroads” chronicles a youth group retreat in New England in the mid-’90s, from the perspective of Corey, a high-school freshman, who often sees the world more exactly than the teenagers and adults around her. It is a story about coming out and coming of age, told in detailed, direct prose. Lydia is currently working on a short story collection, a novel, and a graphic novel. She says: “Freelancing and hustling for more freelancing swallows the lion’s share of my writing time and is stressful and unstable, which is a difficult place to write from. With the mental security and financial stability of this award, I plan to finish these manuscripts over the next year and submit them for publication.” Congratulations, Lydia! We can’t wait to see what you do next.

To read Lydia’s story “Friendly Crossroads” click here.

Sep 13

Spring Flash Fiction Contest Winners!

We are proud to announce the winners of our spring Flash Fiction Contest! Thank you to everyone who shared their small and powerful stories. Keep an eye out for our three winners on the blog this fall.

First Place: “Ebenezer, Ebenezer” by Ariel Chu

Second Place: “Out of the Fields” by Bryna Cofrin-Shaw

Third Place: “Spies” by Timothy Schirmer

Sep 11

Congratulations to Nick Fuller Googins!

We love seeing Masters Review authors go on to accomplish great things. We are especially proud to share the news that our recent Short Story Award winner Nick Fuller Googins recently found an agent thanks to the exposure from our contest. Congrats, Nick! This is why we do what we do.

Read “Drop Zone Summer” by Nick Fuller Googins here.

Sep 7

New Voices: “Edged” by Casey Guerin

Today, we are pleased to welcome “Edged” by Casey Guerin to our New Voices library. In this story, a high-school athlete struggles to come to terms with the cruelty shown by her coaches and classmates, and eventually to examine her own actions. Don’t miss this honest and surprising piece.

“Blood rushes through her head, ringing in her ears like laughter, tingling her fingers as it presses against the cold’s constriction, and when has she last felt so alive? Ahead in the clearing she sees the rounded disc of the track, the other runners stretching, Coach Kennison hunched over a clipboard discussing something with an assistant coach. They seem far away, tiny people in a snow globe, or a vision at the end of a long telescope, but then they are there, in front of her, or rather she is there, in front of them, at the end of her run. She stops her timer, looks down. 5:03:86.”

On the seventeenth lap Aisley’s toenail begins to bruise, a purpling she feels so deeply she can nearly see it through the mesh of her sneakers. On the twenty-third lap it cracks, softly, like an egg. She finishes her program, twenty five laps in total, then heads to the locker room showers where she unlaces her sneakers and peels off her socks and lets the bloody yolk run down the drain. It’s not the first toenail she’s lost, so she knows not to tug at the loose, blackened edges. In a few days the halves will fall away and a new nail will grow in behind it, just like that. She doesn’t bother checking her watch to note her time; she knows the nail distracted her, unbalanced her last few laps, slowed her down. She’s been sluggish for weeks, like coming out of a cold leaves you moving as if underwater. Coach Kennison gives her no slack so she’s here at the track on her day off, pacing herself through laps instead of running the wooded course, trying to burn out whatever is churning inside her in the open instead of on the shaded course crowded with chatty teammates and boys perched high above on the rocks they’ve scrambled onto to smoke and ogle.

Track used to be something she did to keep in shape during field hockey’s off season, but she isn’t going back to field hockey next year. She hasn’t told anyone this, has only made up her mind privately, but it is a definite decision, made one afternoon watching Brit, the JV team goalie, run around the track alone, clad in all her gear, urged on by the varsity head coach, Coach Quinn.

To read the rest of “Edged” click here.

Sep 5

Interview: Alice Hatcher

I didn’t know what to expect when I opened Alice Hatcher’s first novel, The Wonder That Was Ours (Dzanc, September 4). I’d read the press release telling me that the novel won Dzanc’s Prize for Fiction in 2017, that it was narrated by cockroaches, that it was about a crisis on a Caribbean island—but press releases never communicate the texture of a novel, or the experience of reading it, or how you’ll feel when it’s over. When I was finished reading, I had even more questions about Hatcher’s book. It was clear to me that the book was a knockout, that Dzanc knew what it was about in awarding the novel publication and a prize (as did the Center for Fiction, which put The Wonder That Was Ours on its longlist for the First Novel Prize), but I wanted to know so much more about the book’s origin, its author, her attitudes and her inspirations. So I asked. Alice graciously answered. -Katharine Colidiron

What was your inspiration for this novel?

The seed for the novel was a conversation with a friend working on a cruise ship. She had the depressing job of kicking disruptive passengers off the ship at the next port of call, usually belligerent drunks, people who had committed assault, or employees who’d had sex with passengers. She said her most depressing day at work involved escorting a failed suicide off the ship because the woman had violated her booking agreement by harming a passenger—herself.

As she talked about work, I had a vision of two people kicked off at the same port, in humiliating circumstances. It’s easy to assume that shared trauma creates close bonds between people, but shared trauma can push people apart, especially when they see each other as painful reminders of something they would rather forget. My novel started off as an attempt to explore the dynamic between two people with little but misery in common. Noroviruses on cruise ships happened to be in the headlines, and so I introduced a viral outbreak and quarantined the island to prevent my characters from heading to the airport and ending the novel on page ten.

How wonderful. Big ideas arising from small details, gathered together.

As for Wynston and the roaches, Helen and Dave needed to get to a hotel, and when I imagined a taxi, I flashed to a roach-infested car I once rented from a shady outfit in Miami. The roaches in that car would scuttle around behind the vents every time I started the car. They seemed agitated by certain types of music. A few times, they climbed onto the dashboard while I was driving. It was fascinating, not to mention dangerously distracting. I decided to keep the car for the week and observe them in their habitat, or my habitat, or maybe our habitat. Roaches and humans are both opportunistic species, and it’s hard to say who had greater dibs on that ruined car. The difficulty of peaceful coexistence is a prominent theme in the novel. Professor Cleave’s arguments with the roaches in his taxi begin to explore that theme.

The main scene I haven’t been able to get out of my mind is the set piece at the Plantations late in the novel. How did you write it? Did you base it on personal experience?

I wrote that scene after the massive earthquake of 2010 devastated Port-au-Prince. A day after the earthquake, as Haitians were searching for lost loved ones in the rubble, cruise ships were still docking in Haiti and conducting jet ski outings and barbeques at a walled resort guarded by armed soldiers.

I read that some passengers were horrified, but the prevailing attitude seemed to be “we’re spending money in Haiti, and we can’t do much beyond that.” Certain cruise lines donated deck chairs to the refugee camps. Enough said. I drafted the Plantations scene while people in Port-au-Prince were literally piecing their lives back together. I still feel sick thinking about it. But to be honest, the sorts of conversations that take place in the Plantations can be heard in white America’s suburbs. I based that scene on things I’ve heard all over the place.

It’s not hard to find that kind of material, I don’t think.

Sadly, the research for that scene was pretty easy to do. Once, at a cruise ship terminal in the Caribbean, I was sitting on a bench and got talking to an English woman. She remarked that she had just finished a “terribly disappointing” bus tour during which she and her husband had witnessed a local man being beaten mercilessly by six policemen with batons. As I knew, the police had been scouring the island and arresting anyone even vaguely suspected of mugging a white tourist a week before. I started explaining this to the woman, but she cut me off, saying “it completely ruined my husband’s lunch.” I told her the situation had probably ruined the lunch of the guy getting beaten, too. Just like this woman, most of the white tourists ensconced in The Plantations, the all-inclusive resort in my novel, are indifferent to the plight of St. Anne’s residents as the island enters a period of civil breakdown. They just keep drinking.

On that topic, tell me about how you squared your whiteness with the black characters and communities in the novel.

I did a great deal of hard thinking about this issue. In the end, I realized I had two choices, one of them risky and difficult, the other, grotesque and unacceptable. We’ve all read novels that present a place or culture as so much wallpaper, an exotic backdrop for the adventures or misadventures of white characters. The thought of writing a novel like that sickened me. The roach narrators might be unusual, but this is ultimately a pretty straightforward novel about the world we live in, with all its diversity. It would have been dishonest and strange to write about a Caribbean island, or any tourist destination, without writing about people who live there.

I’m sure I got certain things wrong, but a greater wrong, I feel, would have been to ignore race and other critical aspects of most people’s experiences. Ultimately, I tried to write a multi-cultural novel that registered the importance of race and class without reducing characters to sociological categories, or worse, stereotypes.

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Aug 29

Indie Press Corner: Coffee House Press

Today, our Indie Press Corner series continues with an interview with publishing powerhouse Coffee House Press. Thank you to publisher Chris Fischbach for taking the time to correspond with us.

We put a lot of emphasis on strong relationships with indie booksellers. We get to know them, their tastes, and be sure that they get very early copies of the books, since they are literature’s greatest advocates.

We are longtime fans of Coffee House Press here at The Masters Review and we have been fortunate to review many Coffee House titles. You publish debuts by authors like Gabe Habash and Lincoln Michel alongside books by established authors such as Brian Evenson and Kate Bernheimer. I would love to know a little about your selection process. What makes a manuscript stand out to you? How do you, ultimately, select which manuscripts to publish?

The final decision is up to me, as publisher and artistic director. Erika Stevens, our poetry editor, is someone we rely on to bring new poets forward for the list. And Lizzie Davis, our other main editor, part of her job is to go through all the manuscripts we have and bring suggestions forward as well (Lizzie also is fluent in Spanish, so reads all the Latin American submissions). She works closely with our publishing assistant Annemarie Eayrs, who works closely with interns and readers to go through the hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts we receive each year.

This isn’t always the case, but it often is: that when we’re reading something that we’re going to accept, there is a point where we can’t imagine anyone else publishing it. Then we know it’s a Coffee House Press book.

What is your editorial process like?

I can’t imagine it’s very different than any other press our size. At least I know we don’t do anything out of the ordinary. Well, I guess one thing that your readers might find interesting is that when I’m working on either a collection of poems or a collection of short stories, I place each poem / story out on our conference table so I can visualize the collection spatially. That’s the best way I know how to find a good order for the collection.

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Aug 24

Essay – YA Literature: Unchildlike Behavior by Megan Cummins

Today, we are proud to present an essay from Megan Cummins on writing complex young adult characters, and getting her audience to accept them.

“More than being misunderstood, I’m interested in how teenagers (and their fictional counterparts) might feel their experiences are discounted as lacking the insight of adulthood, when in truth they’re looking ahead at their futures more closely than they ever have before. It’s this tension—maturing while being called immature—that I find so rich and interesting about the teenage experience, and it’s why even though I’ve labeled one project as for teenagers and the other for adults, I write my teenage characters the same way in each.”

“I don’t believe a teenager would think this.”

This is a critique I’ve heard often while writing my YA novel, a story about a teenage girl who goes to live with her father in Sioux Falls one summer; when she arrives, she finds he’s left town. Rather than calling her mother, or the police, she gets a fake ID, gets a job at Hy-Vee, waits for his return, and writes her own YA novel about a girl transported to another world. “Why would she want to fend for herself?” readers have asked. “She wouldn’t write a sentence like this,” they’ve said about the novel-within-the-novel.

Writing isn’t successful unless the reader is convinced, but when applying this critique to YA literature, I’m beginning to believe in a self-fulfilling prophecy. We critique YA characters who appear too mature; on the flip side, we are quick to malign YA literature as non-literary. We scoff at adults for reading it. We sometimes scoff at children for reading it (“[Harry Potter] is written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons,” wrote A. S. Byatt in the New York Times). We criticize teens for not advancing to adult literature faster. Even as YA literature now takes a lead in publishing diverse writers doing the difficult work of introducing challenging topics to their young readers, somehow there’s something “less literary” about it, say some. But it’s teenagers who are the ones coming of age in this fraught world, everyday facing fears that adults can hardly fathom.

For some, literary may be the quality of the sentences; for others the complexity of the plot; for still others the nuance of character. For many, it’s all of these, and more, working differently in every book. We offer adult literature the benefit of many ways of being, but when a book is about teenagers, its YA. The end.

“I don’t believe a teenager would think this” has been said about nearly all of my teenage characters, whether I intended the piece for teens, adults, or both. These characters are all girls. The lifeguard at the pool, struggling with her best friend’s relationship with an older man. The sixteen-year-old who avoids the hospital after being injured by an exploding aerosol can. And the girl with the failing grades and the big ideas of escape whose dad is in prison for vehicular manslaughter (drunk, he hit and killed the father of her popular classmate).

But no one questioned the voice of the teen, male dropout who uses the word “moribund,” a word choice I was sure would raise at least one eyebrow.

By creating a character, a writer is growing that character up, placing her at a point in time that’s a result of school, and family dynamics, and relationships, and everything else that goes into a life. Who knows better what a character would think than her author? The character has to feel the story as much as the author, and the author must do the work of making a character’s life real, complex, and believable. Readers, if they love a book, will remember forever the people they met while reading it. But if we limit what a character can think because of her age, we limit who they can be—and in that way we limit our readers, too. When I read strong girl characters who aren’t allowed to feel—following instead the trope that to be a strong girl one must also be hardened or cynical—I’m sad for the young readers absorbing the idea that love and strength aren’t compatible.

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Aug 21

September Deadlines: 13 Lit Mags & Contests with Deadlines This Month

You’ve somehow made it through the dog days of summer, so we know that you can make it through the application process for at least one of these contests! We believe in you, and we believe in your heat-resistant perseverance!

FEATURED! Flash Fiction Contest

Never before has each word in a submission been worth so much…You might be limited to 1000 words, but the winner will be rewarded with 3000 dollars! Our summer edition of this contest won’t last forever, so it’s time to buckle down! Second and third place receive $300 and $200, respectively, and all stories are considered for publication. We’re only looking for previously unpublished stories, but you’re allowed both simultaneous and multiple submissions. Don’t miss it!
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: September 30

FEATURED! Frontier Award for New Poets

Open to new and emerging poets, Frontier Poetry is hosting a contest to find the best single poem – they describe it as one full of color and fire, that strikes hot… The winning poet will receive $3000 and publication for their poem, and second and third place receive $300 and $200 respectively. All fifteen finalists will be recognized. Get started!
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: September 15

FEATURED! CRAFT Elements Contest

CRAFT Literary is awarding a total of $3000 to stories that focus on one of three particular craft elements: setting, dialogue, or character. Deets.
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: September 30

Black Warrior Review

We want you to play to your strengths, and Black Warrior Review has an opportunity for everyone in this contest! The 2018 Fiction Contest is judged by Laura van den Berg, the 2018 Nonfiction Contest is judged by Kate Zambreno, and the 2018 Poetry Contest is judged by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal. The first-place prize is $1000 and publication in each genre. There’s also a Flash Contest, judged by Jennifer S. Chang, that awards $500. Let’s get started!
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: September 1

Dogwood Literary Prizes

These are actually three contests offered by Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry and Prose, looking for exceptional writing and outstanding poetry! Lia Purpura is the judge for poetry and nonfiction, and the fiction judge will only be revealed later! Submissions may be up to 22 pages, or a set of 1-3 poems, and the winner of each contest receives $1000 and publication. Make sure to select the correct contest for your submission! Submit here.
Entry Fee: $10 Deadline: September 5

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Aug 17

August Book Review: This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Today, Katharine Coldiron reviews This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga, which came out this month from Graywolf Press. Coldiron writes: This Mournable Body is a challenge, but it’s also awe-inspiring, a depiction of trauma, deterioration, and redemption accomplished with rare potency and grit.”

This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga

 

This is a hard book. Maybe I shouldn’t start that way, but it’s the first thing I can think to say about This Mournable Body. This book is a stunning, intricately crafted work of art by a writer who possesses insight into the human condition that rivals Hemingway’s, but it is also a dense, difficult piece of literature, and it would be dishonest of me to pretend otherwise.

A Zimbabwean author who writes in English, Tsitsi Dangarembga is a highly versatile and well-lauded artist. She has directed and written multiple films, and she is the founder of both the Women’s Film Festival of Harare and the International Images Film Festival. Her first novel, Nervous Conditions, won international acclaim, including a spot on the BBC’s list of 100 stories that shaped the world. Nervous Conditions was the first of a trilogy of novels telling the story of Zimbabwe’s independence through a village woman named Tambudzai. That trilogy continues with The Book of Not and concludes with This Mournable Body.

Read more.

Aug 15

Summer Flash Fiction Contest: Submissions Are OPEN!

We are proud to announce that submissions are OPEN to our Summer Flash Fiction Contest! This is the first time we have offered a flash contest to cap off the summer. Our love of flash fiction runs deep and this contest gives fiction writers the opportunity to earn $3000 for under 1000 words. Celebrate the end of the summer with a strong, pithy piece of fiction. Check out all the details here, and below.

// small. POWERFUL. //

GUIDELINES:
  • Winner receives $3000 and publication
  • Second and third place prizes are $300 and $200 respectively
  • Stories under 1000 words
  • Previously unpublished stories only
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed
  • Emerging writers only (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Self-published writers and writers with story collections and novels with a small circulation are welcome to submit.)
  • International submissions allowed
  • $20 entry fee allows up to two stories – if submitting two stories, please put them both in a SINGLE document.
  • Deadline: September 30, 2018
  • Please no identifying information on your story
  • All stories are considered for publication
  • To view a list of our most commonly asked questions regarding submitting to The Masters Review, please see our FAQ page.
  • Dazzle us
Aug 9

New Voices: “Trash” by Lindsay Reid Fitzgerald

Today, we are pleased to welcome “Trash” by Lindsay Reid Fitzgerald to our New Voices library. This is a wholly unique and surprising piece. The narrator’s tough, and often crass, exterior peels away as the tale progresses. Read on.

“She looked at me one day on the bus and did something to me with those eyes. Made me feel like I got jackknifed in the gut. She looked me in my face till she had her fill, and I couldn’t do anything but sit there and take it.”

Scotty’s got a hard-on for Fatass. It’s fucked and we know it, but we don’t ride him about it too hard. He hasn’t been himself since his mom found a lump in her tit and her hair fell out. He don’t know what end is up or down these days, and we get it. We’ve all had our shit.

Fatass lives in the trailer park out near DuBrey’s store and tonight we’re going to see if we can break in with a key Dean swiped. As for the trailer park, you’d have to pay me to go there. All day long, there’s howling kids running around, like no mother ever told them to stitch their lips and sit down or else. Fatass lives in the middle of that mess with her dad and her brother and all them dogs she collects. The brother has a face like a junkyard, with acne pits from ear to ear.

The dad is on the road most of the time. He was locked up for a while but now he drives truck. Word was, he shot a guy in the face but had good reason. A lot of people wagged their heads when it happened, but as far as I’m concerned you got a right to protect yourself if someone tries to hurt what’s yours. Anyway, if you saw him on the street you’d have a hard time picturing him pulling a pistol or some of the other things I’ve heard. He’s small like a woman, shoulders no wider than a ruler. He’s real polite and don’t talk hardly at all. They say he can shoot the nuts off a squirrel, but I haven’t seen it myself.

The mother lives downstate somewhere with a new husband and new kids. Nobody sees them drive into town. Aunt Faye says it’s a shame there’s no mother to tend to them two while the dad is gone, no one to teach that girl how to be a proper woman. I say if I was that mother, I’d want to leave them, too. Aunt Faye says I’ve got darkness in me, and if I don’t get it cleared out, there’ll be consequences I can’t imagine. She asks what kind of man do I want to be, anyway? Do I even want to be a good man? When she says that, I just shrug but I know what she means. She worries I’m going to end up like my older brothers, fried in the brain from drugs, or too poor to get their teeth fixed, or drowned at the bottom of a lake.

But she don’t know me, not really. No one does. If there’s one thing sure it’s that I won’t end up like them, and I won’t end up like my dad. Pissed at the whole world. Crying in his truck by himself. I see Aunt Faye look from him to me and back again, and someday before I move out I’m just going to tell her, Look, you did okay with me. I won’t be the kind of man anyone has to hide from or pray for.

Dean says you’re a man when you play life by your own rules. He says people will try to cut your balls off every chance they get. He reminds us of that when we get our backs up about some of his schemes. He says look. Whose rules we playing by, theirs or ours?

Lately I wonder if he knows what he’s talking about, but the way he says things takes the air out of your lungs. He tells us guys which way to go, and like fools, we do.

To read the rest of “Trash” click here.