The Masters Review Blog

May 27

June Deadlines: 10 Contests And Prizes With Deadlines This Month

We’re about to officially enter summer, and that certainly deserves a celebration! Use the extra hours of sunlight to fuel your spirit for short stories and consider entering these wonderful contests and magazines with deadlines in June.

Featured! The Masters Review Flash Fiction Contest $20000 and Publication in PEN America

Don’t forget this important late May deadline! Our own Flash Fiction Contest ends on May 31 and the winner earns $2000 and publication on PEN America online. Second and third place winners earn publication in The Masters Review and $200 and $100 respectively. SUBMIT NOW!
Entry Fee: $20 (for up to two stories) Deadline: May 31

Thomas A. Wilhelmus Short Prose Award

There’s only a little time left to enter Southern Indiana Review’s writing contest for short prose! Each submission should only be 40-80 pages, whether it is a novella, a novel excerpt, or a creative nonfiction piece. The first-place winner is awarded $2000 and their collection will be published by Southern Indiana Review Press. Don’t miss it!
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: June 1

American Short Fiction

American Short Fiction and amazing judge Lauren Groff are looking for writers who are confident, concise, and creative — could that be you? Stories must be between 2000 and 6500 words, but multiple entries are allowed. First place receives $1000 and guaranteed publication, one runner-up receives $500, and all entries are considered for publication. Details here.
Entry Fee:
$20 Deadline: June 1

Boston Review’s Annual Poetry Contest

Now open, Boston Review’s Annual Poetry Contest is a big one, with the winner receiving $1500 and publication. Submissions are five poems, on ten pages or less, and any poet writing in English is eligible! Judged by the wonderful Mónica de la Torre. Submit here.
Entry Fee:
$20 Deadline: June 1

2017 Travel Writing Contest

The award-winning literary travel magazine Nowhere is looking for writers who know how to convey setting and atmosphere with ease and grace! Submissions may be fiction, nonfiction, or essay, and can range from 800 to 5000 words. The winner receives $1000 and publication, and up to 10 finalists will be published as well. Check it out!
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: June 1

Bard Fiction Prize

This amazing prize is offered to a promising emerging writer through Bard College, and the winners receive a stipend of $30,000, an appointment as writer-in-residence on campus for one semester, and the opportunity to give a public lecture. Be aware, though, they’re looking for writers who are 39 years old or younger. You’ll need to have published a book in order to apply, but this is the chance of a lifetime! Learn more here.
Entry Fee:
FREE Deadline: June 15

New American Fiction Prize

If you have an unpublished fiction manuscript, this is opportunity knocking! New American Press and Lori Ostlund are currently accepting submissions for this prize. A full-length fiction work of outstanding merit will be selected, and the winner will receive a publication contract, 25 author’s copies, and $1000. Do it!
Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: June 15

Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award For New Writers

Occurring three times a year, this is the summer installment of Glimmer Train’s contest. It’s only open to writers whose fiction has not appeared in a print publication with a circulation over 5,000, and entries are capped at 12,000 words. The winner receives $2500 and publication in Glimmer Train Stories, along with 10 copies of that issue. Submission guidelines here.
Entry Fee:
$18 Deadline: June 30

Autumn House Press Contests

In this threefold contest offered by Autumn House Press, contestants can submit manuscript entries for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. The categories are judged by Amina Gautier, Alison Hawthorne Deming, and Alberto Ríos, respectively. Not only do the winners in each contest receive $2500 and publication, but promotional help as well! Make sure to choose the correct category when you submit, and good luck! Find more details here.
Entry Fee:
$30 Deadline: June 30

Drue Heinz Literature Prize

This contest has some very stringent requirements, but it also has a prize that is worth it! In order to be eligible for the University of Pittsburgh Press’ award, you must have been published by a reputable journal, magazine, or publisher, before you can submit your manuscript for consideration. The winner of this award, however, will have that manuscript published, and then receive $15,000! Details here.
Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: June 30

LAR Awards

Here is a great chance for writers of all stripes, as The Los Angeles Review’s contest rewards authors in creative nonfiction, short fiction, flash fiction, and poetry! Chelsey Clammer judges creative nonfiction, Bryan Hurt judges short fiction, Siel Ju judges flash fiction, and t’ai freedom ford judges poetry. The winner in each category receives $1000 and publication — Make sure you submit to the correct category! Submit here.
Entry Fee
: $20 Deadline: June 30

by Kimberly Guerin

May 26

New Voices: “Operation” by Scott Gloden

Today, it is our pleasure to present to you the first-place winner of our Winter Short Story Award for New Writers: “Operation” by Scott Gloden. This pithy story is told from the point-of-view of a sixteen-year-old girl whose sister suffers from chronic kidney disease. The narrator struggles with her own guilt over his sister’s illness, as she herself comes of age.

“Call it being a seven-year-old girl, call it fear, call it selfish, call it an inexplicable failure at both math and love, but I wanted my kidneys the same way I didn’t want to be sick like Nance.”

I was seven when my sister was taken to the hospital, screaming, her stomach swollen, like how the yard would get when we ran the sprinkler for too long and the grass turned into a water balloon. She was nine, and she needed a kidney transplant. After this need became understood, my father took me to the hospital cafeteria, and we sat across from each other in plastic chairs, a plate of tacos with broken yellow shells in front of us.

Just before we left to have our food, I could hear my parents talking out of eyeshot.

“It should be something she has to do, Marc,” my mother said.

“And it probably will be, Grace. But we’re giving her the option. You let her decide on church, I’m letting her decide on this.”

My mother was silent after this comment, though I could believe she rolled her eyes, or motioned something similar before returning to my sister’s room. I had never heard my parents say their real names aloud. Before then, these names were only used among friends and family, and always in that pleasant conjugation of: Markie, Gracie.

From my plate, my father took his fork and stabbed into a pinto bean that was buried in my rice. He slipped it between his teeth.

“How did it feel when I did that?”

“Did what?” I asked.

“When I took your food.”


Though this wasn’t a game, I liked this game. I liked answering questions at this age, which were conditioned on me and me alone.

“Honey, you know that Nance is sick, yes?”

I nodded, my face down at the edges of the orange lunch tray we shared.

“She’s very sick. She needs a kidney. Do you know which one that is?”

I stabbed into a pinto bean and held it up, which though my father didn’t smile, I like to think he must have on the inside, because what an absolute genius move for me to make.

“Exactly,” he said, and continued on, “Do you know how many kidneys you have?”

“One,” I said.

“Actually, you have two kidneys. And what’s neat about having two is that you really only need one. Humans need two lungs, two arms, one heart, and one kidney.”

My father pantomimed this list: deep breath, winged stretch, a beat on his chest, another bite of bean off my plate.

“Now, Nance has no kidneys, which is why she’s been so sick—but, as luck would have it, you are a one-in-a-million match to give your sister a kidney to make her better.”

I didn’t show interest.

“That’s pretty cool, huh? One-in-a-million, and you live in the same house.”

“How do I do it?” I asked.

And, like the ever visual-learner he is, my father took his knife and fork, and carved a slit into the border of Styrofoam plate. With his fork, he put the bean into his picnic incision, and that was that.

To read the rest of “Operation” click here.

May 24

“This Is How A Writer Writes A Story” by Margaret Malone

Margaret Malone crafted this wonderful essay about her path to becoming a writer. It’s charming, funny, and one of our favorite essays this year. “The feeling of writing for me, and why I fell for it so hard, was one of total freedom.” Thank you for this, Margaret. Readers: enjoy!

  1. Something From Nothing

At twenty-seven, unsure what to do with my life and thinking I might like to write, I enroll in my first creative writing class through UCLA’s Extension program. That first evening we introduce ourselves and read a couple stories together as a group and talk about some simple elements of narrative like character and point of view and place, and then at the end, in the last few moments of class, the instructor says, “Your assignment for next week is to write a short story.” Five pages or so. And goodnight.

Wait, I thought. What? I’m here to learn how to write a short story. I can’t just go home and write one because I don’t know how to write one yet and that’s why I’m taking this class so you can teach me to do it.

I was pissed. And terrified. And I wanted my money back. And then I went home and wrote a short story.

The writing was bad, but once I was doing it I don’t remember caring about its badness because, look, now I had written my first short story. Holy shit, that teacher was a genius. That’s how you write a short story: you sit down and write a story.

That first year or two of writing, that’s exactly what I did. I was working in a bookstore in Los Angeles and I’d spend nearly every working day’s hour-long lunch break outside at the rusting patio table under a decades-old Bodhi tree writing stories in my journal. I used black and white speckled composition books, and I’d open to the next blank page and hope I had some sentence or idea bumping around in my head to start with, and whether I did or not, I’d write. I wasn’t phobic yet about it being good, or important, or having meaning. I simply thought, write. I’d put my plastic fountain pen on the white-lined paper, turn off my thinking brain, and put words where there had not been words before.

My rule was that I couldn’t stop writing until I’d come to a good ending point, or at least until my lunch break was over. I wasn’t allowed to stop and think. I’d let one sentence lead to the next and the next and the next and when I’d stand up and brush the pages free of the dust and dirt and the miniscule insects that had fallen from the dense canopy of the tree, I’d go back inside to finish my shift. I wrote pages and pages of stories this way, filling journals with my half-cursive scrawl.

The feeling of writing for me, and why I fell for it so hard, was one of total freedom. The mechanics of the whole thing, that a picture or idea could be transmitted from my brain down to my arm and out through my hand moving an instrument that made scratches on paper, was mind-bending: I could keep the pen moving and make anything happen.

At the time, I didn’t know enough to call these journal stories first drafts. It was the making of the thing I loved most, the nothing into something I was interested in, not yet concerned with making anything good or better. Okay, that’s a lie. I wanted it to be good, of course, but I also had an intuitive sense that if I was filling notebooks with stories, even bad ones, it’d be best to keep on going and figure the rest out later. (more…)

May 22

The Masters Review Volume VI Shortlist – Roxane Gay

Congratulations to the thirty writers recognized on this year’s anthology shortlist. Roxane Gay will select the ten winning stories and essays for publication, which will announce in mid-June. Thank you to everyone who submitted. We received more submissions than ever before and were blown away by the quality of the work. We look forward to bringing you a killer anthology this fall. Stay tuned for the final results!

The Masters Review Volume VI Shortlist

“The Morning After the Hometown Diner Burned Down” by Mike Alberti

“Gormley” by Chris Arp

“Thirteen Platitudes” by Bree Barton

“Corpse Walks Into a Bar” by Lesley Bannatyne

“Love Danny” by Cailin Barrett-Bressack

“A Pack a Day” by Betty Jo Buro

“Steal Away” by Nicole Cuffy

“The Cock in Cadwalader Heights” by Ariel Dixon

“Confessions of a Lady-In-Waiting” by Rachel Engelman

“Katie Flew Again Tonight” by Trent England

“The Girl With Fish Eyes” by Mary Fifield

“Big Sister” by Janelle Garcia

“Schitsu’umsh: Those Who Are Found Here” by Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry

“Migrations” by Michele Host

“Hope Gold” by Leslie Jones

“Meat Shack” by Kate Jayroe

“The Milkmaid” by Jessi Lewis

“A Man Stands Tall” by Gabriel Moseley

“Captain America’s Missing Fingers” by Molly Olguin

“Rubber Time” by K. W. Oxnard

“This is an Exercise in Detachment” by Amy Purcell

“Come Closer” by Molly Reid

“What This Is” by Allee Richards

“Rules of Visitation” by Ann Ryles

“Sand Angels” by Jeremy Schnotala

“Little Men” by Matthew Sullivan

“Speakers of Other Languages” by Maria Thomas

“Things He Left” by Deborah Thompson

“Out of Our Suffering” by Kasey Thornton

“Freedom” by Jonathan Vatner

May 19

New Voices: “White Out” by Caitlin O’Neil

Congratulations to Caitlin O’Neil and her haunting story, “White Out,” the second-place winner of our Winter Short Story Award. In “White Out,” New England is under feet of snow, which has separated families and loved ones from the rest of the country. The affected area worsens, enters a state of emergency, and becomes a military state. This story follows a woman struggling with the physical and emotional elements of survival as she contemplates what is at stake — and what it will take — to reunite with her son and husband. Enjoy this creepy and compelling tale.

“There was something familiar about her solitude, something that felt like a correction.”

The snow had started the way it always did, quiet and perfect in the night. Three weeks later, it still hadn’t stopped. It wasn’t much, just an inch or two a day. But it was adding up. The governor had closed the roads so the big trucks could come through with supplies, but Tess snuck out for more firewood.

When she saw him—walking like a man but so clearly a boy—she powered down the window.

“Get in!” she shouted.

He shook his head. “You shouldn’t be out here.”

“It’s cold. You can warm up at least.”

She drove alongside him for a few minutes, watching his breath cotton over his face. The hood, drab green and threadbare, masked all but his profile. Work boots, jeans, Jansport backpack. This was not a well-planned trip.

The radio played Pet Shop Boys; the news was getting creepy, but then so was everything. Finally he stopped. She hit the break.

Once inside, he pulled down his hood and pressed his hands to the heating vents. His finger hit the scan button.

“Not a new wave fan?”

“Not Brit-pop. Blondie’s okay, but I’m more into punk.”

He kept his eyes on the road. They were sliding a bit, bouncing against the snow banks, but it was okay. They were the only ones out. It was a very compliant citizenry.

“Where to?”

“You know that D&D by the highway?”

“On 24?”

“Yeah, there.”

“What’s there? Besides coffee.”

“They don’t serve coffee anymore.”


“The trucks aren’t due until Thursday.”


“A buddy of mine is coming down from Worcester. He’s giving me a ride.”


“Anywhere. I just need to get the fuck out of here.”

The radio was playing Portuguese Fado now, thrumming guitar and wailing voices that sounded celebratory. Tess smiled and nodded. Everything seemed okay again since she’d started taking David’s pills. She hadn’t counted on feeling quite so wonderful.

“Won’t someone be missing you?” She thought of David and Daniel stuck in Florida. The airports had been closed for two weeks.

“My sister kicked me out.”


“Not in my world.”

He turned and she saw the acne sprinkled across his cheeks, the dark brown of his eyes that made his pupils come and go. The roads he was asking her to travel would surely be patrolled, but when the turn came, she took it. He was in her world now.

When they reached the patrol cars, she made up a story about insulin and blood sugar and they got an escort to the D&D where the boy—his name was Dev—got the last chocolate crueller in Massachusetts.

Dev nodded at the door. “You can go.”

“When’s your friend coming?”

He glanced at his phone. “He’s almost here.”

“Where are you headed?”

“He’s got a cousin in Jersey.”

There were two makeshift resettlement camps they were allowed into, one in Connecticut, one in Jersey.

“I’ll wait until he gets here.”

“It’ll be dark soon.” Bad things were happening at night.

“At least let me call you. Then you’ll have my number.”

He recited, she typed, his phone buzzed.

“Good luck,” she said.

Then, unthinking, she ruffled his hair the way she did Daniel’s, her hand surprised by prickles of stubble and the warm skin beneath. She’d taken for granted all the times each day that Daniel grabbed her, how often Dave cupped her shoulder or hip. Touch was a hunger now. She was all hunger these days.

The boy shook her hand off like happy retriever and smiled. “Good riddance, Massachusetts.”

She left, the twinge of jealousy in her stomach staunched by the bright edge of drug in her blood. Oh, how she had needed it.

<<  Read the rest of “White Out” here  >>

May 17

Two Weeks! Submit to Our Flash Fiction Contest With PEN America and Poets & Writers

Writers, there are only two weeks left to submit to our flash fiction contest. The winner earns $2000, publication in PEN America and The Masters Review, and special recognition in Poets & Writers Magazine. Second and third place writers earn $200 and $100 respectively, publication in The Masters Review, and recognition. Full details can be found here. We look forward to reading your work, but hurry! May 31 is fast approaching.

||| SUBMIT NOW |||

“Notice the small things. The rewards are inversely proportional.”

We’ve partnered with PEN America and Poets & Writers for our flash fiction contest. The winner will receive $2000, publication on PEN America’s site, and recognition in Poets & Writers Magazine.

Our love of flash fiction runs deep. And throughout our six years of reading work by emerging writers we’ve seen some incredible pieces of small and powerful fiction, but we’ve never hosted a call for flash. So here it is: a home for your very best small fiction. Send us big worlds in tiny packages, large ideas with a low word count. Dazzle us with your best fiction under 1000 words.


  • Winner receives $2000, publication on PEN America (later reprinted in The Masters Review), and recognition in Poets & Writers Magazine
  • Second and third place prizes ($200/$100, publication in The Masters Review, and recognition in Poets & Writers)
  • 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 for up to two stories
  • Deadline: May 31, 2017
  • Please no identifying information on your story
  • All stories are considered for publication (pays $0.10/word up to $100)

To submit a story click the submit button:

May 16

“Red” by Katie Knoll Finalist For Shirley Jackson Award

Enormous congratulations to “Red” by Katie Knoll, our 2016 Summer Short Story Award Winner. This incredible and haunting story was not only selected for publication in Best Weird Fictions but has also been named a finalist for Best Short Fiction in The Shirley Jackson Awards. Congratulations, Katie!

<<  Read “Red” here  >>

May 15

Flash Fiction by Ben Loory: “The Candelabra”

Last May for Short Story Month we were fortunate enough to publish a story by Ben Loory titled, “The Candelabra.” This flash fiction piece is just about five hundred words, but it conveys the ways in which we take those we love for granted, down to the smallest detail. If you’re inspired by this wonderful short story, consider submitting to our Flash Fiction Contest, which closes at the end of this month.

The grandmother starts staying up later and later, long after everyone else has gone to bed. She sits in the living room, in the dark, with her hands folded in her lap.
One night the mother—her daughter—finds her there. She’s on her way to the bathroom.
Mother, she says, what are you doing?
She reaches out and turns on the light.
Don’t, says the grandmother.
She holds up a hand.
But what are you doing? the mother says.
She waits for an answer.
No answer comes.
You can’t just sit here in the dark, she says.

The next morning, the grandmother gets up early and goes out for a walk.
She looks through the shops that line the street.
In one of them, she finds a candelabra.
How much is this? she asks the shopkeeper.
That old thing? he says.
He names a price.
It’s mine, she says.
He wraps it up and hands her the bag.

The grandmother puts the candelabra in the closet. Late that night, she sets it up. She puts in the candles, one by one, when everyone else is fast asleep.
She strikes a match to light the candles, but just then the mother appears.
Oh! she says.
She rushes forward.
You’ll burn the whole house down! she says.

The grandmother sighs. She blows out the match. She sets it down on a tray.
I’m sorry, she says.
She takes out the candles.
What’s gotten into you? the mother says.

The next morning, the grandmother doesn’t get out of bed. Instead, she lies there, staring at the wall.
Somewhere around noon, the mother looks in.
Are you feeling all right? she says.

The grandmother nods, but doesn’t say a word. The mother stands there for a while. Then she turns and walks off down the hall.
The grandmother passes on.

The family is stricken. They arrange the funeral. They put on their mourning clothes. They go and stand and watch as the grandmother is lowered into the ground.
For weeks afterward, they don’t know what to do. They get dressed, go to work, come home.
One night the mother decides they should put things away, clean out the grandmother’s room.

They go into her room and start to clean. They look through photo books, old clothes. They handle the jewelry and leaf through old letters.
They find the candelabra in the closet.

They take it to the living room and set it up. They put all the candles in. They go into the kitchen and find the matches and light the candles, one by one.

They sit in the dark, all together.
Not one of them says a word.
And they watch as the shadows dance on the walls.canelabra small
And for a while, the grandmother’s returned.

Ben Loory’s stories have been published in The New Yorker, Fairy Tale Review, and The Antioch Review, among others. His collection Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day was published by Penguin in 2011. He is also the author of the children’s book The Baseball Player and the Walrus. Ben attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the American Film Institute. He lives in Los Angeles.

May 12

New Voices: “Malheur Refuge” by Rick Attig

In Rick Attig’s wondrous and moving story, “Malheur Refuge,” a foster father is forced to part with his foster daughter after his wife leaves them both. They spend their last day together on a journey to band sandhill cranes in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. This story beautifully navigates complex physical and emotional landscapes. “Malheur Refuge” is the third place winner of our Winter Short Story Award for New Writers. It is not to be missed.

“Sitting side by side, shoulder to shoulder like this, sometimes they can carry on an actual conversation. It’s when they face one another, when he can see the pain in her eyes, she the doubt in his, that he stammers and stumbles, she smiles and shuts up.”

Late at night, Lee sits on his unmade bed with a tumbler of melted ice and looks through a gap in the window blinds, searching the darkness for the flash of headlights. He’s still in his sweat-stained uniform, the patch with a leaping salmon and a fleeing duck high on the shoulder of his khaki shirt. Mia told him she was going to a dance with her new boyfriend, then maybe out to grab a burger afterward. She was supposed to be home by midnight, but now it’s almost one-thirty. Lee’s called twice and sent three texts. She’s not answering.

This one’s name is Brock. He looks at least eighteen, three years older than Mia. They’re always older, the boys who whoop and swoop around her like hungry crows. Brock was a starting tackle until he got caught sucking on a bong in the school parking lot and kicked off the team. Now he’s just another ranch kid fast going to seed. He came to pick Mia up in drooping jeans and a black t-shirt stretched over a promising beer gut and breasts bigger than hers.

Lee’s cracked the bedroom window to listen for the crunch of tires on gravel, but the only sound is the low, anxious chatter of a flock of weary Canada geese resting in the flooded pasture behind the house. Sitting there, he feels a sudden gust of fear, like a skier hesitating at the top of a steep slope in the late afternoon shadows, thinking how absurd it would be to fall and blow out a knee on the day’s final run. This is his last night as her foster father. She’s leaving tomorrow afternoon, moving, being moved, across a hundred and thirty miles of sagebrush to a new foster home in Redmond. It’s not her choice, or his. Their old farmhouse on the edge of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, where Mia lived with him and his wife, Joni, for the past two years, no longer is a “suitable placement,” according to her caseworker. Two weeks ago Joni left him, taking only clothes, a few pictures, and a box of favorite books, like she was fleeing from a wildfire. Mia wanted to stay with him, but her caseworker nixed that idea. Hovering in the hall outside the kitchen he eavesdropped on that conversation and replays it again and again, Mia pleading, insisting she would be safe there, safe with him, the caseworker’s voice firm: “Honey, you know we can’t take that risk.”

Lee should have burst into the kitchen right then and fought for her. He knows how hard another move will be, another house of strangers, another new school, all those kids staring, sizing her up, sniffing for weakness. But he also knows how it would sound, how it would look: a forty-four-year-old man whose wife has just run off arguing that this girl who has been hurt so many times before ought to be left alone with him way the hell out in the middle of nowhere.

To read the rest of “Malheur Refuge” click here.

May 9

“The Three “L”s You Need to Make Lovely Little Fictions” by Tara Laskowski

We’re so lucky to have this essay by Tara Laskowski. Tara has been the editor for flash fiction publication Smokelong Quarterly since 2010, and is the authority on short short stories. Today, she writes about The Three “Ls” of flash fiction and how to craft pieces that are both memorable and powerful. If you’re thinking of submitting to our Flash Fiction Contest or to Smokelong’s wonderful library, read on and enjoy!

The Three “L”s You Need to Make Lovely Little Fictions

My son loves those little sponges you buy at the grocery store that come condensed in pill form, but when dissolved in water pop open to reveal a large, colorful animal to play with in the bath. He enjoys the surprise of watching them open up and become something delightful. It is a certain magic.

A good flash fiction story does something similar. It can be tiny and unassuming, but you realize when you begin reading how much it expands and reveals. Whole worlds and histories hang on beautiful descriptions and rhythm, and the great ones can make you weep, laugh, or cut you to the core (sometimes all three at once).

The hard part, of course, is producing those great pieces of flash. Many writers new to the form assume that it’s all about the word count. “They’re just really short stories, right?” we say, sometimes lobbing off scenes and descriptions from longer stories to get them below the word count of a particular publication’s guidelines.

While length is certainly a factor, there is much more that goes in to making an excellent piece of flash. I like to think in terms of “three Ls”—length being one, but also language and the linger effect. Put together, these three “L”s can turn your flash fiction from a story that just happens to be short to something verging on magical.


You can’t start a discussion about flash fiction without talking about length. Flash fictions, generally, are stories that are 1000 words or less. Within that word count you can further subdivide—microfictions are generally 100-200 words, Twitter fictions are 140 characters, or the length of one tweet.

You can easily get caught up in definitions and word counts, but you’d be missing the point. It’s not just about how long a story is; it’s about how long it should be. I believe that stories will tell us how long they need to be. When you come up with a concept for a story, you’ll often guess how long it might be. A novel idea feels different than a short story idea. But when you start to write, sometimes that idea morphs into something else. Sometimes the animal that emerges from the sponge is a zebra, not a fish. If you embrace that change it can lead to surprising paths.

I’ve often sat down to write a piece of flash fiction only to realize that the story needed to be longer. The characters became more interesting than I first thought, or the plot became too complex to resolve in just one or two pages.

Here’s an extreme example on the other spectrum: I wrote a 500+ page novel for my MFA thesis. I struggled with it over many years, and in revising it for a third or fourth time, I pulled a 250-word excerpt that felt self-contained and submitted it to Wigleaf. They published that story. I now believe I might’ve spent close to ten years writing that novel just to get that one piece of flash out of it.

I would not advise writing a novel in order to get to a flash, but my point is that you have to trust that your story will eventually tell you how long it wants to be. We get a lot of submissions at SmokeLong Quarterly, the flash fiction journal I edit, where our staff comments, “This just doesn’t feel like flash.” Meaning, it’s a story that needs to be something else and just hasn’t found out yet what that is. Trying to squish a full-length traditional story into a flash will read like you’ve tried to get last winter’s coat on your growing toddler—the arms are too short and the poor kid can’t breathe. Give him room. Let him inhale.

On the other hand, if what you are working on is of flash length, pare it down to its essence. Edit, edit, edit. Cut out unnecessary words. Be precise. In flash more than any other fiction genre, it is important to be economical. If your character says, “Oh you scared me,” you don’t need to explain that the character is frightened. Don’t be afraid to make the reader work a little. They will take the leaps with you. (more…)

May 5

Short Story Month Highlights

May is Short Story Month, and for the fourth year running we are proud to bring you original content to honor a form that is near and dear to our hearts. Before we get to the wonderful fiction and criticism we have lined up for you this month, we would like to take a look at some highlights from years past. So take a few minutes (or longer) and appreciate (some of) the awesome and varied forms a short story can take.


Interview with Aimee Bender 

For our first-ever Short Story Month, we were absolutely thrilled to chat with Aimee Bender, whose magical realist stories we adore. Aimee spoke with us about the role of magic in her fiction, her own influences, and the recent wave of women writers coming out with magical realist tales.

“I think the emotional life is the core and seed of the story—that’s where the story lives and breathes. So the magic is a way to access that, and I will happily use whatever way I can to get to the emotional stuff.”

Flash Fiction: A Discussion Between Editors 

Flash fiction is one of our favorite forms, so it was a pleasure for the editors to chat about some exceptional flash stories, the freedom of flash, and the power of these short tales. Maybe this discussion will give you some inspiration for our Flash Fiction Contest, which is open now!

“It seems contradictory, doesn’t it, that by confining a story to a small space you increase the number of forms in which that story might be told? I think and agree, therein lies the magic behind flash fiction.”

 Fiction: The Boy and The Bear by Blake Kimzey 

We were thrilled to publish Blake Kimzey’s intricate, fable-like piece of flash “The Boy and The Bear,” which was later published in his chapbook out with Black Lawrence Press and selected for Best Small Fictions.

“The boy was cold, his nose frozen with ice that cleaved as he drew in full, waking breaths. His lungs burned with the deepness of his breathing. The boy couldn’t remember how long he had been asleep, hibernating.”


Interview with Daniel Orozco 

Our own Cole Meyer interviewed acclaimed short story writer Daniel Orozco about portraying the workplace in fiction and Orozco’s famous story “Orientation.” No matter what your office looks like, you will enjoy this interview.

“I’ve come to believe that there’s no greater arena for high drama than the workplace, whether your job is a grocery bagger or an administrative assistant or a test pilot.”

Animals in Fiction: A Discussion Between Editors 

A few years ago, we decided to devote a whole week of May to examining the different roles that animals play—as symbols, as narrative forces, or foils—in some of our favorite stories. We did not regret it.

“Animals can add a level of tension or mystery to a story, they can drive the plot, or they can simply add texture. Though they can (often) be cute, animals are powerful presences in a story, and it’s interesting to consider the many different ways that they add to tales by contemporary writers.”

Fiction: House Hunt by Jessica Lee Richardson

As a continuation of our study of animals in fiction, we were pleased to publish Jessica Lee Richardson’s charming story “House Hunt,” about a woman who is searching for a new home with her best friend, who just so happens to be a lion.

“I could see that Miles was crouched. The agent had turned his back to the lion. I could think of no stupider position in the history of the world.”


May 1

Partnering With PEN America and Poets & Writers – One Month Left to Submit Flash Fiction!

There is only one month left to submit stories to our flash fiction contest. $2000, publication with PEN America, and recognition in Poets & Writers Magazine. Send us 1000 words or less by May 31!

We’ve partnered with PEN America and Poets & Writers for our flash fiction contest. The winner will receive $2000, publication on PEN America’s site, and recognition in Poets & Writers Magazine.

Our love of flash fiction runs deep. And throughout our six years of reading work by emerging writers we’ve seen some incredible pieces of small and powerful fiction, but we’ve never hosted a call for flash. So here it is: a home for your very best small fiction. Send us big worlds in tiny packages, large ideas with a low word count. Dazzle us with your best fiction under 1000 words.

For full guidelines and contest details, visit our flash fiction page.

||| SUBMIT NOW |||