The Masters Review Blog

Mar 22

Judge Announcement: K-Ming Chang Will Judge the 2023 Spring Small Fiction Awards!

In case you missed last week’s announcement, The Masters Review will be hosting its first Spring Small Fiction Awards, honoring winners in Microfiction, Flash Fiction, and Sudden Fiction. Today, we are thrilled to announce that the first judge of this new award will be none other than K-Ming Chang! For the full contest details, see below or on our contest page. The Spring Small Fiction Awards will open for submissions on April 1st.

//Submissions Open April 1//

We’ve long admired the mighty power of the compressed form, which is why we are expanding our search for the very best in small fiction. The Masters Review is excited to announce the new Spring Small Fiction Awards! This contest will honor a grand prize winner in three categories—Microfiction, Flash Fiction, and Sudden Fiction—by awarding $1,000 and online publication to each winner selected by the magnificent K-Ming Chang! This year’s judge will be announced next week. A runner-up in each category will also be honored with a $200 prize and online publication.

For this contest:

Microfiction is any story up to 500 words.
Flash Fiction is any story between 501 and 1,000 words.
Sudden Fiction is any story between 1,001 and 1,500 words.

We welcome up to two stories per submission, in any combination of the three categories. Please include both stories in one document.


K-Ming Chang is a Kundiman fellow, a Lambda Literary Award finalist, and a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree. She is the author of The New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice novel Bestiary (One World/Random House, 2020), which was longlisted for The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award. In 2021, her chapbook, Bone House, was published by Bull City Press. Her most recent book is Gods of Want (One World/Random House, 2022). Her next books are a novel titled Organ Meats (One World) and a novella titled Cecilia (Coffee House Press). She can be found birdwatching in California.


  • Grand Prize Winners in each category receive $1,000 and online publication.
  • Runners-up in each category receive $200 and online publication.
  • Microfiction is any story up to 500 words.
  • Flash Fiction is any story between 501 and 1,000 words.
  • Sudden Fiction is any story between 1,001 and 1,500 words.
  • Your $20 entry fee allows up to two stories. If submitting two stories, please include both stories in one document. If your two stories are from different categories, please check both relevant boxes in the submission form.
  • Submitted work must be previously unpublished in any form. Reprints will be disqualified.
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions are allowed, though each submission requires a $20 entry fee.
  • All submissions will be considered for publication in New Voices.
  • This contest is for emerging writers only. Writers with book-length work published or under contract with a major press are ineligible. We are interested in providing a platform to new writers; authors with books published by indie presses are welcome to submit unpublished work, as are self-published authors.
  • International submissions are allowed, provided the work is written primarily in English.
  • Note our deadline: June 1, 2023.
  • All submissions will receive a response by the end of August.
  • Winners will be announced by the end of September.
  • Friends, family, and associates of the final judge are not eligible for this award.
  • A significant portion of the editorial letter fee goes to your feedback editor.
Mar 20

New Voices: “Prelude to the Abyss” by Daniel David Froid

Denis Fine was destined for something—that much is certain in the opening lines of “Prelude to the Abyss” by Daniel David Froid, this week’s New Voices story. Equal parts funny and terrifying, Froid’s story profiles the world’s preeminent jingle-maker, Denis Fine, from his humble childhood, to, well, the end.

The world has not many very famous jingle-makers, for the art of the jingle is an obscure and lowly one. No, jingle-makers do not gain fame, but they do, sometimes, find fortune, if they are very good at their craft, and Denis Fine was, as we have established, infernally good.


As a young man, Denis Fine knew that he would one day do something very great and very terrible. This was no show of pride, of overweening and vainglorious ambition. No, it appeared to be a matter of fact, because he was told, or shown, and he tended to do as he was told.

But it was not until many decades had passed—not until the moment when he looked out upon the vast deep crater, surrounded by a ring of eager acolytes, holding hands and singing in concert—that he registered fully the great and terrible thing that he had done, the thing to which he had been led. As he gazed at the ruin that consumed first his city and gradually, he assumed, the rest of the planet, he felt a sense of relief.


Picture him as he was then, young Denis Fine, weak and pasty child, sitting at the dining room table in his parents’ home. Before him he had spread sheets of white paper and colored pencils. He had undertaken a drawing that proceeded according to the music of his mind. He heard a song—it entered his head fully formed—and then he did his best to record it. At this early stage of his life, drawing seemed to him a perfectly accurate and reasonable way to record the music that he heard.

His method was simple: to produce vivid, garish drawings that intuitively matched the music. He was just now nearly finished with one, which had taken a very long time to complete, for he had had to use the dark blue pencil to scribble all around the surface of the paper to its outer edges. The dark blue was the sea, and near the bottom was its bed. Beneath the abyssal plain, which he had colored in copper, slept the Great Dark Thing, which Denis saw perfectly well in his mind’s eye but which he struggled to capture with his pencils. He drew two spirals and a circle all in black. Might that have been its awful chitinous body, which rested across miles of the oceanic bed? Might those have been numerous limbs, slimy and covered in scales? And was that there a mouth, for does not the Great Dark Thing have a mouth with which it calls to the faithful? It was a mouth, Denis knew, for of course it whispered in his young ear the portents of an extinguished future.

When the drawing was done he showed it to his mother, who instantly fainted.

To anybody else—his parents, his teachers, one of the several child psychologists he would see throughout his long and interminable childhood—the drawings seemed to betoken a disturbed mind; signs, perhaps, of a sociopathic inclination. They found themselves all the more perplexed when Denis insisted that the drawings matched the music in his mind. They would then ask him to sing the music that had led him to create the fearsome drawings. And Denis would quaver in his little boy’s falsetto, a jangling tune without words, not particularly scary but annoying and infectious. Indeed, his parents found that Denis’s tunes would lodge in their ears for days at a time. Neither they nor any of his teachers or psychologists could bear the tunes and frequently commiserated about them. At some point in his childhood they would decide that there seemed to be nothing much wrong with Denis other than a perverse imagination, a deeply weird mind that produced both the most hideous drawings they had ever seen and the most singularly catchy and annoying melodies they had ever heard.

To continue reading “Prelude to the Abyss” click here.


Mar 17

Litmag Roadmap: Idaho

We’re headed all the way across country this month, from West Virginia to the Pacific Northwest, the Gem State: Idaho! Join editor-in-chief Cole Meyer on a tour of this great state’s literary institutions!

Idaho is known for its vast stretches of natural landscape, those gorgeous mountain ranges, and for being that place where your potatoes probably come from. And here’s something: No one knows why it’s called Idaho. The word seems to have been made up when territory names were being suggested. But what we do know is that Idaho is home to more than spuds: these terrific literary magazines also claim Gem State residence!

The Idaho Review

The Idaho Review was founded in 1997 at Boise State University, and half of the short stories in its inaugural issue found their way into the 1998 Best American Short Stories. That’s a hell of a debut! Since then, The Idaho Review has been regularly featured in the annual awards anthologies and has become a highly respected literary journal across the industry. Submissions are open in the fall, though occasionally will reopen in the spring. Most of the fiction they publish is under twenty-five pages, and they ask that you only send five poems at a time. Check them out!


Published out of the University of Idaho, Fugue has been a pillar of the literary magazine world since its inaugural issue in 1990. Their former contributor list is impressive: Steve Almond, Charles Baxter, Terrance Hayes, and Jim Shepard (just to pull a few) have all had their work featured in Fugue. They are open now for their annual poetry and prose contests, the winners of which will receive a $1,000 prizes! The journal otherwise publishes poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction, and will also consider your book reviews!

Stonecrop Magazine

Once upon a time, Stonecrop Magazine was known as Basalt, but the student-run journal published by the College of Western Idaho has undergone an identity shift in recent years. The journal hosts a unique microfiction contest, in collaboration with Storyfort, which encourages writers to incorporate the opening line of a song as the opening line of their micro. The contest is unfortunately closed for the year already, but keep an eye out for next year! In general submissions, the journal encourages you submit your fiction, nonfiction, poetry and visual art with few restrictions: no page limit, word limit, or submission limit per submitter! Go wild!

Talking River Review

Talking Review Review has called Lewis-Clark State College home since 1994. For those like me who are interested in institutional historical narratives, Talking River Review offers an oral history of its founding and first issue on the about page! The journal publishes two issues a year, and will read your poetry and prose from August to April.

by Cole Meyer

Mar 16

Introducing the Spring Small Fiction Awards!

We are excited to announce the newest iteration of our annual flash fiction contest: The Spring Small Fiction Awards! This year, we are expanding our call for all compressed form fictions: microfiction, flash fiction, and sudden fiction! Find out more below, and stay tuned for our special guest judge, who will be announced next week. Submissions for the Spring Small Fiction Awards open April 1!

//Submissions Open April 1//

We’ve long admired the mighty power of the compressed form, which is why we are expanding our search for the very best in small fiction. The Masters Review is excited to announce the new Spring Small Fiction Awards! This contest will honor a grand prize winner in three categories—Microfiction, Flash Fiction, and Sudden Fiction—by awarding $1,000 and online publication to each winner selected by a guest judge! This year’s judge will be announced next week. A runner-up in each category will also be honored with a $200 prize and online publication.

For this contest:

Microfiction is any story up to 500 words.
Flash Fiction is any story between 501 and 1,000 words.
Sudden Fiction is any story between 1,001 and 1,500 words.

We welcome up to two stories per submission, in any combination of the three categories. Please include both stories in one document.


  • Grand Prize Winners in each category receive $1,000 and online publication.
  • Runners-up in each category receive $200 and online publication.
  • Microfiction is any story up to 500 words.
  • Flash Fiction is any story between 501 and 1,000 words.
  • Sudden Fiction is any story between 1,001 and 1,500 words.
  • Your $20 entry fee allows up to two stories. If submitting two stories, please include both stories in one document. If your two stories are from different categories, please check both relevant boxes in the submission form.
  • Submitted work must be previously unpublished in any form. Reprints will be disqualified.
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions are allowed, though each submission requires a $20 entry fee.
  • All submissions will be considered for publication in New Voices.
  • This contest is for emerging writers only. Writers with book-length work published or under contract with a major press are ineligible. We are interested in providing a platform to new writers; authors with books published by indie presses are welcome to submit unpublished work, as are self-published authors.
  • International submissions are allowed, provided the work is written primarily in English.
  • Note our deadline: June 1, 2023.
  • All submissions will receive a response by the end of August.
  • Winners will be announced by the end of September.
  • Friends, family, and associates of the final judge are not eligible for this award.
  • A significant portion of the editorial letter fee goes to your feedback editor.
Mar 15

From the Archives: “Compound Fractures” by Alice Hatcher—Discussed by Rebecca Paredes

In July 2020, we published “Compound Fractures” by Alice Hatcher. Shortlisted for our Winter Short Story Award, “Compound Fractures” follows the fractured memories of a woman as she reflects on the lingering traumas of her childhood with an abusive father. Let’s take a trip into the archives.

 Compelling short stories are a little bit ineffable. You can point to the elements that make the story work, like well-structured language and narrative tension, but they also possess a quality that’s a little more difficult to pick apart: They make you trust the writer and where she’s headed.

That’s how I felt when I first read “Compound Fractures” by Alice Hatcher. The reader is hooked from the first line: “At eight years old, she already has a mastery of the orthopedic lexicon.” Our interest is piqued—how and why would a child understand muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons?

One of the things I appreciate about Hatcher’s story most is its form. Although bones and their fractures persist throughout the story, this work is really about the unnamed narrator’s childhood trauma growing up with an abusive, potentially PTSD-stricken father. Hatcher structures the story in a series of quick vignettes that not only give us flashes of insight into the narrator’s past, but also progress the plot and introduce new complications along the way.

In doing so, Hatcher builds a cohesive narrative out of many fractured pieces. The entire story is worthy of study, but we’ll focus on just the beginning. If you haven’t already, read the story first, then meet back here.

Ready? Great. Let’s talk about “Compound Fractures.”

Building momentum within vignettes

The first few lines of “Compound Fractures” set the scene with our introduction to the narrator: she’s eight years old and deeply familiar with the musculoskeletal system in the human body. This knowledge might seem like a quirk of a precocious child, until we hit this line: “Her father is responsible.”

This line immediately complicates the information we’ve learned about the narrator, and it does so in a way that feels darkly foreboding: “Her father is responsible” reads like an accusation, which colors the way we read the lines that he “doesn’t trust babysitters” and “takes her to St. Anne’s Hospital when he conducts rounds or responds to emergency calls.” These lines introduce what George Saunders describes as “the feeling of new meaning coming in quickly … Things keep getting more fraught and charged and urgent within it.”

From these few lines, we learn some necessary exposition: The narrator’s father is a doctor, this is likely a single-parent household, and the narrator has had to keep herself entertained for long stretches of time. We get this last bit of information in a long stretch of evocative descriptions that function as worldbuilding: We see photographs in medical journals, the plastic models of hinge and spheroid joints, the wired human skeleton and get a sense of the narrator’s dual boredom and fascination.

It’s all a little bit morbid, but a little bit charming—until this section’s ending line: “She can identify each point of articulation between its bones, but she is most confident in her understanding of misalignments and fractures.” Again, Hatcher introduces a little bit of darkness in this moment. Note that the narrator understands broken bones the best, which introduces one of the thematic elements that persists throughout the story: the nature of broken things and how they heal.

This paragraph, as a whole, isn’t quite a scene. Rather, it’s a tightly woven expository vignette; it introduces the narrator as a child and sets up the elements that will connect the flashes to follow. And by ending with fractures, Hatcher seamlessly sets up the dog’s broken bone in the next paragraph—a choice which signals to the reader that, even though we’re going to jump around different moments in the narrator’s life, we can trust that the writer knows where she’s going. There’s a throughline here, something to ground the reader as we make these jumps, and that foundation is enough to keep the reader tracking the pieces that are important to follow: the narrator, the father, bones.

Giving the reader scaffolding

I’m using the term “vignette” here, which is a nebulous word: it describes a scene or descriptive sketch. The Gotham Writers Workshop defines it as “a snapshot or a glimpse.” Each of these paragraphs are snapshots, but they build on each other by providing new details and new complications. Take the second paragraph: Aside from the deeply disturbing image of a dog’s exposed bone, we learn that the father is the type of person who will help the dog (even though this seemingly selfless action becomes horrifically complicated later in the story), and we’re invested in what happens to the dog: Will it live or die?

The third vignette zips us ahead in time; now we’re with the narrator and her therapist. This scene captures the lingering effects of the narrator’s childhood: She “looks in the mirror and sees her face as it would appear on an x-ray film,” and she takes supplements and drinks milk, despite potential risks. Here, the reader has been asked to do a lot: We’ve jumped from exposition to an intense kitchen scene. This vignette functions as a moment of narrative reprieve, allowing the reader to adjust to the story’s form—but note that we’re still in the story’s world because Hatcher stays with the bones.

We, as writers, can ask readers to trust us, but we have to give them some scaffolding to support their journey. Hatcher is introducing a lot of information in a short amount of space, but those thematic throughlines signal to the reader that we’re heading somewhere, and all of that information matters.

I’ll jump ahead a few vignettes to highlight this brilliant line: Every moment so far has been in a close third person perspective, but the sixth vignette is quite distanced. This distance makes sense, considering we’re talking about dissociative-depersonalization disorder. We learn, “Individuals experiencing depersonalization sometimes injure themselves in order to feel ‘real.’” As a whole, this vignette is the most distanced—but it also introduces an important plot point: self-injury, and why a person does it.

On a first read, I recognized that this was a complete story, but struggled to articulate the story’s turning point; at first blush, one could argue that “Compound Fractures” is a series of memories from a woman in therapy without a definable rising action, climax, and resolution. In reality, this story builds to a quiet climax: Three months after the narrator punches a doorjamb, she “feels what others call grief.” Six months after that, she recognizes that her bones and tendons are “still healing.”

Therein lies the beauty of Hatcher’s work; like a broken bone, healing from trauma happens slowly. It isn’t something that resolves itself within a neat timeframe, and even after a bone is “healed,” it can take time for the surrounding tissues to have enough strength to function normally. There isn’t a happy ending when you’re still healing from trauma. Recovery isn’t linear.

The form of this story complements the nonlinear nature of healing from childhood trauma: the childhood memories, the frenetic anxieties, the way those memories affect the realities of everyday living (as we see in the way the narrator reacts to the surgeon overseeing her thyroid procedure). These vignettes are intentional, and all the information contained therein is intentional—and that’s what makes this story work so well.

by Rebecca Paredes

Mar 13

New Voices: “Can’t Elope” by Miriam Camitta

In today’s New Voices, The Masters Review is excited to present the first creative non-fiction piece of 2023: “Can’t Elope” by Miriam Camitta! In this piece, Camitta explores her relationship with her older sister, Margot, who, in their childhood, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. “Sometimes,” Camitta writes, “my memories come in scenes.” These memories are emotionally fraught, complicated. Camitta works, through this piece, to apply a modern understanding of Margot’s illness to her memories, to recontextualize her childhood and try to understand what these difficult days must have been like for Margot. Read on below.

If Margot had lived in the Middle Ages, she would have been branded a witch, her symptoms attributed to demonic possession. The media and the entertainment industry share this view, likening the mentally ill, with their seemingly empty eyes, their robotic gait, to zombie-like monsters. Even in the era of twentieth century modern medicine, Kieran McNally writes, scientists described schizophrenic patients as monstrous, exhibiting “a sense of indefinable strangeness,” or as one scientist observed of his patients, “appearing not quite human.”

I didn’t invite Margot to my wedding. She was my brilliant older sister, diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was a child. Once, I’d adored her, but she’d fallen ill in the fifties and, failing effective or even adequate medication, might now, even in the eighties, savage my perfect day: talking to her familiars, declaring a rat in the cake, or loudly accusing a guest of murder.

She couldn’t contain herself, nor could I, overwhelmed as I was by her disease, imagine her suffering. I hadn’t thought I’d miss her after she’d gone.

* * *

Until I was eight, I lived in Harrisburg with my family of accomplished but temperamental intellects: my father, a rising union leader; my mother, a meticulous albeit reluctant homemaker: my doting grandmother, a retired dressmaker; and my gifted but troubled teenage sister.

I remember the red-brown bars of my crib, my mother’s easel and paints on the sun porch, the green horsehair sofas in our living room, and an upright piano in the dining room where my father, who could play anything by ear, frequently entertained. I remember the old clawfoot tub in the bathroom at the top of the stairs, and Margot, whose job it sometimes was to watch her little sister bathe, sculpting a unicorn horn out of my soapy hair.

Mostly, though, my sister feels absent from the family, although certainly, she was there—fussing at the table, pounding Shubert and Chopin waltzes on the piano, reading Latin at the little maple desk in her bedroom, sleeping, sweating faintly into her sheets. If I try, I can see her, primping at the mirror on the landing, covering her ears, which stick away from her head, with her thick black hair, twirling through the living room in a dress my grandmother had made—(I remember the voluminous skirt, the black and white checks, the white Peter Pan collar and cuffs at her wrists)—then fuming because suddenly she hated her dress, wailing and stomping upstairs.

I can see her at the lake on a Sunday excursion, standing knock-kneed among the pines, screaming.

We’d driven into the country, past farms and fields. When I’d tired of songs and stories, my father, who had a lively imagination, entertained me with a game of driving the car. No seat belts in those days, I stood with my hands on the back of his seat. “Push,” he said, “make the car go faster.”

The game, for some reason, annoyed my mother, who was sitting up front in the passenger seat, angrily powdering her nose. It possibly upset my sister, who was close to tears. My grandmother, tired from the drama that had begun so early in the day, rested her head on the frame of the window, open to a hot breeze.

Only my father and I were looking forward to the day. I remember a dunk in the chilly lake, my father lighting coals in a cast iron grill, my mother setting a large yellow bowl of potato salad, a specialty of hers, with chunks of hard-boiled eggs and pimento stuffed olives, on the picnic table, and Margot, pouting, stretched out, belly down, on a blanket spread on the grass.

She must have walked away when they weren’t looking, because I remember my parents abandoning the food, running through the park, calling her name, and their relief when they found her standing among the trees, their helpless anger, her yelling: She will not swim, she will not come down from there and sit with the family, she will not eat the hotdogs and hamburgers our father has grilled.

I think I ran to my grandmother, wriggled between her knees. Maybe she told my father, who was shouting, to calm down. Sha, di kind. “Quiet, the child.” The child, meaning me.

People stared; I wanted my sister to disappear. I wanted the shouting to stop.

Likely, this memory is a composite of several summer afternoons, some peaceful, some unpleasant. Perhaps, at times, my sister may have agreeably bathed and eaten the lunch my parents prepared. Possibly I remember my grandmother’s cautionary words because I heard them repeated at home. What I trust is my memory of the scent of the pines, the taste of leafy water, waiting, waiting for burgers on the grill, my mother’s ominous face, and the tightening in my chest as Margot screamed.

To continue reading “Can’t Elope” click here.

Mar 11

A Conversation with Lauren Fleshman, Author of Good for a Girl: A Woman Running in a Man’s World

Lauren Fleshman’s debut, Good for a Girl: A Woman Running in a Man’s World is part memoir, part manifesto. Fleshman, one of the most decorated American runners of all time, brings the reader on an intimate journey through her childhood and into her collegiate and professional running career, all while highlighting what’s broken for female-bodied people who participate at all levels in sports. Now a coach, activist and writer, Fleshman’s work can be found in the New York Times and Runner’s World. She also hosts women’s wild writing and running workshops called Wilder. Interviewer Paige Kaputch spoke to Lauren on the phone prior to her book release.

Paige Kaptuch: I don’t think I’ve ever read anything you’ve written about your dad before, and you do an amazing job creating such a complex big-as-life character. What were some of the challenges you had writing about him?    

Lauren Fleshman: It’s good to hear you say you felt he was complex.  It was important to me not to tell people how to feel about my dad, which meant that I had to stop myself or remove pieces over and over again where I was explaining him. I tried to let the reader think what they want and trust that as the book goes on, even if he looks really horrible in the beginning, they’re going to see all the different sides of him. It helped that he’s dead—not every person writing a memoir has that element. I don’t know that I could have written this honestly if he was alive, because we were really close.

Any advice for writers working on memoirs involving family members?

Assuming no one will read your book is the best advice I got so I could really excavate the truth and write about the scariest moments and the hardest things that happened. It felt like having the flu, at least for me… like I was vomiting up horrible, stuck things, but it was very important to do. And I learned that over time that just getting it in sequential order, turning it into words from the feeling soup that was in there, was good for me. One of the great surprises of writing the book was understanding. I really feel like I understand the role my dad played in my life now and the parts of me that I’ve been puzzled about.

What was tough to cut?  How did you wrestle with what had to be killed?

Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, I think that because I knew the relationship with my dad was super important to the story, even though it’s so specific, there couldn’t be a more specific part of the book that wouldn’t apply to other people’s lives than my dad. And if you’re talking about writing your memoir and you’re choosing moments that can serve as windows to the wider female athlete experience, my dad isn’t really one of them. So I think that early on, I didn’t know how he fit, but I knew in my gut he needed to be in there. And my editor, because of the way I was writing about it in drafts was like, I don’t think this storyline with your dad is really working. And I would be like, I agree, but I disagree because he has to be in here, so I’m just doing it wrong and I don’t know how I’m doing it wrong. So I probably had written another 25,000 words of scenes relating to him that got cut, because I just didn’t know which ones mattered to the book itself. And it’s so hard to untangle that because they mattered to me, and they mattered to the side of my life that wasn’t necessarily relevant for this particular book. Other things that got cut were a lot more of the kind of scenes in the college running life. A lot of the joy and camaraderie and adventures that I went on with many of my teammates, some of my most incredible friendships are not even mentioned. Those were tough to cut. My editor would be like, you can’t write a 400-page book. I had to make sure I included the joy of running and what I’m actually fighting for.

What was it like to craft a “part memoir, part manifesto”?

I needed to dance between narrative voice, expert voice and soapbox voice. And I needed to tell an individual story in a way where I selected scenes that will also be able to tell, or will be gateways to this larger, female-bodied-person-in-sports story. So, there was the wrestling match of which voice to use when, and how to get that balance right. It ended up leaning more and more into the memoir/personal narrative part because, as you know, if you can connect primarily through the heart, you can paint a really clear picture of a life versus a scientific paper or something like that. I never wanted to get too far away from the pulse of the story, but if it was just a memoir, it wouldn’t have accomplished any of the goals I had for writing it in the first place.

What felt harder to write: the personal narrative voice or the research-expert voice? Was there a voice that felt more natural? If you had a choice on one day of what to work on, where did you find yourself gravitating to?

Yeah, well, what I found myself doing in the drafting process was I would start in personal narrative because that’s what I’m most practiced at—so that part felt easier most of the time. But, of course, there’s some traumatic things in there that I still didn’t fully understand when I started. But in general, I would start with personal narrative, and then I would find myself going into soapbox voice because I had so much anger inside me about how these issues are affecting so many people. And so yeah, I would just end up on this tirade. Later, my editor would be like, Okay, you’ve already said it, we get it. And, I know you really want to say this here, but you actually just need to be uncomfortable and let the reader be uncomfortable and wait to drop this soapbox bomb for five more chapters. As far as research voice—research in general is painful for me. I didn’t have a lot of confidence as a researcher and I faced a lot of self-doubt when I was in those sections of the book. Like, yes, I know these research papers say this, but is there a better research paper that I’m missing because I’m not an actual scientist? Am I going to get just totally thrashed after this book comes out because I missed something important about the research? So that I just had to work my way through. I have a friend who is an MD, Sarah Lesko, who I leaned on to look at the research with me and just be a second set of eyes. That helped a lot.

What does writing like a runner look like to you?

Natalie Goldberg says it best—and I’ll paraphrase off the top of my head—that writing is like running, in that it’s a practice and you don’t wait until you feel good to run, because then you’d never run. And similarly, you don’t wait until you feel good to write or feel like writing to write. You make it a practice and you show up and you do it every day. And that way you’re in shape. You have the consistency, so that when you’re going to have a good day, you’re in shape to make the most of it. And if you don’t write every day, and suddenly feel inspired to sit down and do it, then you’re out of shape. I definitely found that to be true. Stephen King says in his book On Writing, “Writers write. You write every day.” When I was working on the book, I definitely developed that kind of attitude. It got harder to write if I took several days off. Then when I sat back down, it was like, Ugh!

I don’t write every day now. I do plan to get back into the practice of making it part of my day again, but I’m taking a pretty big break.

How did deadlines affect your writing process? Did it start to feel like a performance/competition having those deadlines vs. say, trail running for fun that you write so joyfully about?

Yeah, the deadline energy is very similar to race energy. At least for me, I can get caught up in perfectionism, and you kind of get these grand ideas about what you think you’d like to do in that big wide open amount of time. But then once your race is, let’s say six weeks away, you’re kind of like, okay—whatever my perfect plan was, is out the window. I have this many days, and here’s the realistic situation and here are the must-dos and here are the nice to haves. And then you just reshuffle your priorities. And to me, it’s much more efficient. I wouldn’t have been able to write a book without deadlines.

When you were writing this book, was running part of your writing practice?

Absolutely. Almost every day that I would write, I would run. Except for the early drafting stages when I was depressed, so I had a hard time moving my body and writing. But once I got healthier, I would think of my run as a tool, but also a treat. But I’m not really a scheduled person. I thrive best when I know what things I want to do in the day, but I leave some flexibility as to when I’m going to do them. And then I would run when I needed. When I felt stuck, I would run, or I would run when I finished a certain number of words, or I had to get through a particularly tough emotional scene that I had been avoiding.

I recommend a movement practice for any writer that doesn’t already have one. And I’m sure they’ve heard that a million times, but the research supports it. Plus, the anecdotal evidence of moving your body and getting the brain working and the creative mind working, and just connecting with yourself and connecting with your environment is a good way to ground you when you’re spending so much time in your head trying to make these pieces fit together in a long-form way. It’s such a puzzle. I just have so much respect for writers. Just like this, I’ve learned from them and if they can learn anything from me, it’s to move your body.

What are your hopes for someone who isn’t a runner, who has no idea about this world of competitive running, to get out of your book? How much did audience come into play with your goals for this book?

Yeah, I definitely want it to reach runners. There’s going to be people, young runners who are getting started, who could see some things in there that might redirect their path and for coaches, it could change how they reflect on their coaching. And there’s all the parents that it might help. So, I think there’s those things, but really, I was writing for a literary community. I thought about Lauren Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit for example, and how I knew nothing about horse racing and I don’t care about horse racing, but that book made me care and taught me about the Depression and the human spirit and all these things. And so, while I wanted my book to be a running book, I wanted it to be able to do some of that. But that gets harder when you’re putting these statistics in. The research voice and the soapbox voice can interfere with a literary memoir’s ability to be more universal. And I was aware of that trade-off when I was doing that. So that was part of the tricky dance I was doing, like I need this to be effective for my community, but the writer in me wants to move people beyond running and believes that I can with this story. And some of the readers, there have been some journalists and readers who don’t run and who are men even, that have really resonated with more of the literary elements, the narrative arcs, the way the different arcs interweave, like the pacing, that kind of stuff. And that always feels good because yeah, I’m a writer and I’m a runner, but the writer part of me isn’t like a total Venn diagram circle with the runner part of me. It really has its own identity.

I would love to know—and this goes again into writing like a runner or athlete—how would you define success with this book?  

I think it’s actually a pretty simple question in the end, because just like in sports, you can make it as complicated as you want, but in the end, did you show up? Did you do the best you could with what you had, the tools you had at the time? And that’s it. That’s all you could do. And that includes when shit went wrong— did you do your best to adapt to the situation? You don’t have to be perfect, but did you do your best? Did you keep showing up or did you come back, right? And I did, and I finished. The times in my life where I did races, where I didn’t finish when I could’ve, when I let my mind take me out of it enough to stop early. It’s just such a terrible feeling. It’s a terrible feeling. And so I think that yeah, this book is already a success because I wanted to stop so many times and give up. And I didn’t.

Also, in terms of “writing like a runner,” one of the tricky things about being an athlete and trying hard is that, at the end, you’re really going to know. You’re going to know how good you were. Whereas if you don’t try, you can live in this fantasy land of what your potential is in your mind, which is a much safer place to be. But then once you decide to try and you’re out there every day and you’re having the bad days and the good days and the medium days, you’re becoming more and more aware that you’re really going to find out whether or not you could do this thing or if you’re any good at it. With writing it’s similar. That was part of the battle that was similar to my running career—the joy of chasing your potential, but then also the horror that once you actually are doing it, you’re going to find out.

I love that… yes—the horror of finding out!

Yeah, and then that once it’s done, just as in sports, you’ll have to do the mental exercise of removing yourself from other people’s opinions and value of you, and reconnect to your opinion and value of yourself and ask yourself: How did this matter to me?

Interviewed by Paige Kaptuch

Mar 6

New Voices: “Ate Raw and Often” by J.A.L. Martinez

Today, we’re thrilled to share J.A.L. Martinez’s “Ate Raw and Often,” the newest entry to our New Voices catalog! “Julio’s shoes were half an inch too small.” That’s how Martinez introduces us to this world of migrant farm work, where Julio is the newest arrival. A seasoned worker, Jorge, takes Julio under his wing and teaches him what he needs to know to be safe, to succeed. But some things are easier said than done.

“When you peel,” Jorge said, moving Julio’s hands with his own, “you must curve with la pera, let the shape guide you.”

The knife in Julio’s hand curved with Jorge as he directed, the pear’s skin bundling together like a rolled-up ribbon as it was removed. Jorge took the fruit fully from Julio’s hands and rubbed his thumb against the now exposed inside.

“See?” Jorge smiled, like he had won something. “Llano.”

Julio’s shoes were half an inch too small. His Abuela had bought them when he entered high school, expecting his growing period to be over, only for him to shoot up an extra two inches by senior year. Now his toes had to curl slightly to fit, the joints pushing up against the roof and scratching slightly with every step. It had worn down all his socks, giving them a rough slit all the way across.

Nevertheless they had both survived the eight-mile walk from the nearest bus stop, the outsole already worn down enough to not leave any remarkable prints in the dirt. He had walked on the tarmac road for the first mile before a truck driver almost hit him. After that he decided the uneven terrain was better than the risk, even if it did make his ankles ache.

He had thought the pain would leave his mind the second he reached his destination, but seeing the slight incline to the orchard’s gate only seemed to make it worse. It didn’t help that he had been walking alongside the orchard for the past mile, passing by other Mexicans and the occasional electrical tower, metal legs craning into an arch. Out of the corner of his eye he would mistake them for an entrance. It was as if the world was toying with him.

The actual entry was framed by two wooden poles. There was no sign, just a gravel road leading to the two-story farmhouse surrounded on all sides by acres and acres of trees. A white man sat in a cheap, fold-out beach chair, a fresh novel held loosely in front of his face in one hand. There was a stack of empty baskets beside him. He took a long sip from his glass of water, a stray stream running down the side of his cheek that he wiped away. Julio had to bite his tongue to stop himself from panting like a dog.

“Where’s your basket?” the man asked. He didn’t look up.

“I don’t have one,” Julio said. His fingers fiddled with Abuela’s old earring, which he kept in his pocket. “Sir.”

The white man rested the book against his leg as he looked up towards Julio, eyes squinting at the bright sun shining behind him. His whole face scrunched in towards his nose. “Jesus kid, you reek.” He waved his hand in front of his face like he was swatting at a fly. “God, and your shirt is soaked. What’d you slip in your own piss?”

“No, sir.”

The man’s mouth hung loosely, the rest of his face just as scrunched as before while he looked Julio up and down. “Shit, did you walk here?”

Julio felt like correcting him, that while he had walked the last stretch of the trip he had also ridden the bus, but figured the man wouldn’t care. “Sí, sir,” he said instead.

“It’s yes sir.”

Julio nodded. “Yes, sir.”

To continue reading “Ate Raw and Often” click here.

Mar 3

Submitter Spotlight: Rosalind Goldsmith!

We wrapped up our September Selects series this Monday, with our final winner: Rosalind Goldsmith’s “You     Body”. But we can’t say goodbye to the series just yet—not until you’ve gotten to know our last winner a bit better.

Congratulations on winning in our first September Selects series! Do you often work in the second person, or other, I guess, non-traditional perspectives?

I like to work from different perspectives, not so often in second person, but frequently in first person. I like writing monologues, and sometimes I’ll write a story that is purely dialogue. I think this may come from my work in theatre. I was an actor for quite a few years, and I still think like an actor.

What does your writing process look like? We’re always interested in the different approaches to drafting and editing.

I always write the first draft by hand. I find there is an energy when I write by hand that I can’t duplicate when I’m typing. I write the first draft quickly, almost without thinking. Sometimes my handwriting will change depending on the subject or the person I’m writing about. I do a lot of crossing out and scribbling on that first draft before I go to the computer. The next step is to try and read my handwriting. Then I work slowly, reading aloud and editing for precision and flow. I will leave a story for a long time before I come back to it to do a final edit or fifteen. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. I have a lot of discards!

Who are the writers who’ve been on your brain recently?

Right now, I’m reading Wolfgang Borchert, who wrote stunning short stories after the Second World War. Cormac McCarthy, Lydia Davis, Dylan Thomas, Knut Hamsun and Karl Ove Knausgaard are always in my mind.

What are you working on now? Any exciting projects you can’t put down?

I’m working on the fifth draft of a novel.

Mar 2

Getting Unstuck: Plot as a Noun

We’re a few days late for February’s Getting Unstuck, but let’s blame it on the short month. In this post, assistant editor Jen Dupree suggests reimagining the way we conceive of plot, and offers a few resources for thinking of plot as a noun and not a verb!

When I started graduate school, I thought of plot as a verb: to determine ahead of time how the story would go. I thought of outlines and Roman numerals or rows of notecards pinned on a wall and I broke out in hives. I know there are people for whom that kind of planning is comforting, but for me it takes all the pleasure out of writing. So, for a long time, I eschewed all talk of plot, and that meant even talk of plot as a noun, which is to say I had stories in which nothing happened. For a long time, I held fast to the idea that a story could be just beautiful words and ideas strung together. And you know what? I didn’t get any stories published that way.

Plot as a noun refers to the engine that propels a story. It’s what’s at stake in the story. It’s what makes all those lovely words interesting to the reader.

In this episode of W/MFA, Silas House talks of how he thinks of the engine that drives his stories. “I get this little fingernail of a plot [but] the plot will only build itself,” he says, “if I create the character. So, plot can come from character. It can come from a confluence of ideas—a kidnapping, a flood, a TV preacher. Continuing to ask why—why is the father kidnapping his son? Well, maybe he changed the way he believed. How so?”

Essentially, House is suggesting he develops plot by following a line of questioning, of interrogating the motives and circumstances of his characters. He’s pointing out that plot cannot happen on its own—it is not just a good idea, but rather a thing that happens as the writer gets to know the characters, as they make one decision that leads to one outcome and then another decision and so on. And those characters are influenced by the world they live in—if they’re rich or poor or white or Black or Chinese or homophobic or dying of cancer or in love with their neighbor. I’m constantly interrogating my own work as well as the work that’s submitted to TMR with the question “Who wants what?” If that can’t be answered, there’s no plot.

Another way to think of plot is as trouble you create for your characters. In this episode of First Draft, Carlos Allende says, “[G]oals, challenges, and rules are the three main elements of engagement. And then I would say we don’t accept goals at random, we are not going to follow a character just because they have a goal. If I tell you that this story is about a rich man that wants to become richer, he is going to work hard, and smile to his customers and be always on time, that’s going to be a very, very boring story…what we need is some distress in there because compassion, it’s a very strong force that impels us to pay attention and to care about the other…So, to make your story compelling, what I advise my students is always, always, always make the need or the stress of your main character pretty evident.”

Allende’s approach to plot, like House’s, is based on character and circumstance. He’s looking at the circumstances his characters are in and seeing if he can create more trouble for them. By shaking up the world of his characters, he’s creating plot. This adds another layer to my earlier question: “Who wants what and what are they willing to do to get it?”

Not all plots are created equally. In this episode of Write-Minded, co-hosts Grant Faulkner and Brooke Warner talk about the different kinds of plot. There’s the propulsive plot (think Stephen King) versus the more subtle plot (think Rachel Cusk), but no matter where the story falls on the spectrum, there must be a balance of action and reflection. Things happen—whether they are world-ending, car-explosion things or they are internal-crisis things. No matter the approach, Grant says that “[t]here has to be suspense, there has to be narrative tension.” That tension can be circumstance-based (a car accident) or character-based (a breakup), but it has to be both external (what the protagonist sees and smells and tastes, etc.) and internal (how the protagonist feels about what’s happening).

If all of this talk about plot leaves you wondering if your story has enough plot or any plot at all, take Grant’s advice and re-read your favorite short story of all time to pick out the plot points. Take whatever story speaks to you and the aesthetic you dream of capturing and go scene by scene and jot down what happens. It can help to also note where the tension is. When you’re done, you should be able to see a change, even if it’s just a tiny shift, in the character from the beginning of the story to the end.

I do this with my own writing once I’m a few drafts in. Once I have my characters and a few scenes I feel good about, I jot down what’s happening in list form. By doing that, I can usually get a sense of what scenes I still need to get my character from point A to point B.

For even more concrete advice on plot, check out this episode of The Creative Writer’s Toolkit in which Andrew Chamberlain presents three elements of plot: plot must have shape, must have an engine, and must avoid cliches. In terms of shape, he suggests you should be able to sum up your story in just a few words. Doing so will help you figure out what’s missing or what’s weak in your plot, he says.

If plotting as a verb works for you, by all means go for it. But if you like to be surprised, as I do, by the work as it unfolds, that’s fine, too. In the end, though, there must be plot-as-a-noun holding all those perfect sentences together.

by Jen Dupree

Feb 28

February Book Review: Bark On by Mason Boyles

We are incredibly excited to share this review today of Mason Boyles’s debut novel, Bark On, out today from Driftwood Press! Back in 2021, we featured Boyles’s short story “Aprovecha,” a terrifically sharp and moving piece of fiction, and Bark On is sure to be more of the same.

From its first line, Bark On draws you into the world of the most intense physical endurance sport: the triathlon, consisting of swimming, cycling, and long distance running. Athletes are prepared to do anything to build their endurance, so they attract the type of coach who can get them there. In Bark On, Benji Newton is such a coach for Erza, the novel’s protagonist. Benji is addicted to the pliant obedience of young men and women desperate to win. Bark On, Boyles’s debut novel, is a critique of what can happen when this pliant obedience meets unscrupulous control.

Read more.

Feb 27

September Selects: “You     Body” by Rosalind Goldsmith

Today, we’re excited to share the fourth and final winner from our September Selects series: “You     Body” by Rosalind Goldsmith, in the category of Second Person Stories! Be sure to check back on Friday for Goldsmith’s profile. Thank you to all of our September Selects participants, and congratulations Rosalind!

You are onewithbody, spiritlife, sweet entanglement of force and form—heart and mind cleaving to body and body cleaving to heart and mind. Continual embrace. Ecstatic.

You wake up. Yawn. A long, drawn-out yawn from deep inside. Sleepy eyes, tousled hair. You stretch. This skin, this flesh, this you.

Your body is you. In your scant eleven years on this earth—you’ve never questioned it. Never had to. It carries your spirit inside, and you carry it in your small sturdy shoulders, your spine.

The feel of it is this, isn’t it: small and rickety, tentative as a foal as you step out onto a cold stone floor from a warm bed. Born into the day. It is early yet.

You swim in the fresh lake water. Waves course over you. You swim like a creature made of water. Inside you feel an aliveness, a dolphin spirit, and you own the breath and the joy of it, the triumph—to be alive inside your body—imagine—this living, tactile, fluid form that you have and that you are. Your stick legs, knock-kneed, kick up tiny storms as your own life energy ripples out from you and into the water around you. Gift to gift. You revel in the command of body—you spirit it into movement.

At times it turns and plays tricks on you—those burned fingers, that swollen toe—but pain can’t hold it back. You dance to the measure of body, and its music is always with you. Cold after the swim, you wrap its shivers in a thick white towel, plunging it into a new warmth as your body plunges you into new joy, blue lips and all.

To continue reading “You     Body” click here.