The Masters Review Blog

Feb 21

September Selects: “The Woman in the Tree” by Lisa Beebe

The third winner of our September Selects series is Lisa Beebe with “The Woman in the Tree”! This Sudden Stories winner was chosen by The Masters Review‘s staff for the power in its understated prose. Congratulations to Lisa, and check back on Friday for her profile!

At first, I closed the blinds tightly as soon as the sun set, knowing that while the darkness made it harder for me to see her, the lights inside the house made it easy for her to see me. I didn’t think she was a bad person, but I didn’t like the idea of a stranger watching my every move. 

When I first saw the woman in the tree, I posted about her on the neighborhood’s online message board. I titled it “Lady in tree,” described her location, and asked if anybody knew where she’d come from. None of the commenters were able to identify her, but a few hazarded guesses that she was homeless, mentally ill, addicted to drugs, or all of the above.

The tree in question was directly across the street from my house, where our development borders a state forest. I feel sort of possessive of those woods, so I didn’t appreciate a stranger making herself comfortable there.

I could see her from my living room window. She had a bunch of stuff with her in plastic shopping bags, and she’d tied a hammock between two branches as if she planned to stay awhile.

She was still in the tree when people got home from work that evening, and a few of the neighbors gathered to try to talk some sense into her. I didn’t join them, but I watched out the window as they stood around, shouting up into the branches. The woman rested in her hammock without acknowledging them in any way. After a while, the neighbors abandoned the effort and went home. She was still up there, swaying gently in the breeze.

That night, on the message board, the neighbors questioned if she might be deaf or if her unwillingness to communicate was further evidence of mental illness.

The next day, a man who lives over on Roosevelt posted that he’d called the parks department and asked them to remove the woman. They told him they didn’t have the resources to send someone unless the woman was doing permanent damage to the forest or starting a fire outside of an approved campfire area.

As the days went on and the woman remained, the discussion turned darker. People expressed concern that she would scare their children, damage their property, or attract a “bad element” to the neighborhood, despite the fact that she never seemed to leave the tree.

One night, a couple a few streets away had the catalytic converter stolen from their SUV while it was parked in their driveway, and a commenter wondered if the tree lady could be selling car parts on the black market.

To continue reading “The Woman in the Tree” click here.

Feb 17

Litmag Roadmap: West Virginia

Rebecca Paredes is leading us back east—this time to West Virginia! Let’s find out what excellent literary institutions call the Mountain State home below!

Also known as the Mountain State, West Virginia’s rich cultural history is grounded in Appalachian arts and heritage. On this leg of our literary roadtrip, we’re taking a look at active fiction publications based in West Virginia, ranging from zines to university presses. Let’s dive in.

Cheat River Review

Founded in 2013, the Cheat River Review is a biannual online literary journal based out of the West Virginia University MFA program in Morgantown, West Virginia. The journal features both emerging and established writers and artists, and it publishes fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and visual art. According to the journal’s About page, the Cheat River Review is named after a river that flooded and destroyed an entire town in 1985—evidence of not only nature that adapts and shifts, but also “has a consistent presence in West Virginia’s landscape and culture.”

Fluent Magazine

Fluent Magazine is a free quarterly e-zine covering the arts and culture in West Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and neighboring regions. Launched in 2012, its mission is to promote the art and artists of the greater Eastern Panhandle region and to make art (and the free magazine) accessible to everyone. Fluent Magazine accepts fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.


Founded in 2015, Heartwood is an alumni-run, semi-annual online literary journal associated with the low-residency MFA program at West Virginia Wesleyan College. Every spring and fall, Heartwood publishes poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, and an interview with a writer who has been a guest reader or guest faculty member for WVWC’s MFA program.


Kestrel is the literary magazine of Fairmont State University. The biannual print journal was established in 1993, and its mission is to “explore the human condition and to share a vision of the human experience with readers in West Virginia, Appalachia, the United States, and abroad.” Kestrel publishes fiction, poetry, translations, and creative nonfiction by established and emerging writers.

The Poorhouse Rag

The Poorhouse Rag is a literary magazine of Western Virginia University at Parkersburg dedicated to publishing work that brings “awareness to varied social justice topics and themes including marginalization.” The publication accepts poetry, flash fiction, fiction, creative nonfiction, children’s stories, and artwork from people affiliated with WVU, such as students, alumni, faculty, and family members.

West Virginia University Press

As the largest publisher and only university press in West Virginia, West Virginia University Press publishes books and scholarly journals by authors around the world with a particular emphasis on the Appalachian Region. The press also publishes literary short fiction, fiction, and creative nonfiction by new and established writers from across the globe, especially literature that deals with “diverse aspects of all cultures and bears a strong sense of place.”

by Rebecca Paredes

Feb 17

Submitter Spotlight: Paulette Pierce!

Our September Selects winner on the theme of “Anti-Love” was published this week, in opposition to Valentine’s Day—learn more about the piece’s author below, but not before you’ve read their piece, “Behind the Falls” here!

Congratulations on winning in our first September Selects series! Would you say “anti-love” is a theme you explore often in your work?

I would say that. The characters in my work often find themselves in fraught relationships for one reason or another. They tend to confuse other things (manipulation, co-dependency, sex) for love, and fail to notice when they’ve actually brushed up against something genuine that they can trust. They make a lot of a bad decisions.

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

It tends to start with an image or a feeling, snippets of dialogue or scenery that I don’t have context for yet. I’ll collect those in a notes file until I reach a point where I don’t know the entire shape of the thing but have the distinct sense that it’s finally time to figure it out. That’s when I’ll open a new doc and start a proper draft, incorporating any of the snippets that end up working. On a writing day, I strive for a goal of a thousand words. As far as editing goes, I definitely like to get some distance from the text before diving in again. I think one of the universal challenges of writing is learning to expand your capacity for patience. We’re always fighting for those bits of forward momentum, but any time I’ve started to edit a piece too soon or sent it to people for input too soon, I end up wishing I’d waited a bit longer.

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

Joy Williams hasn’t really left my mind since I read The Honored Guest collection a couple years ago, and after reading The Changeling this year, my obsession has only deepened. Her work is lawless and strange in such a unique way. There’s no one quite like her. Richard Mirabella, whose novel I’m very excited to read when it comes out next month. Leigh Bardugo, Madeline ffitch, Julia Fine, Mona Awad, Megan Abbott.

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

I’m wrapping up my first edit of a novel I drafted last year. Hoping to keep at it for a while, but I enjoy drafting so much more than editing. Editing a novel is such a nebulous process. With short stories, I can feel myself getting a handle on it with repetition, but novels always feel like strange, mysterious beasts that only let you know them to a certain extent. Despite being the one who created it, you’re still halfway in the dark, and depending on the day, that’s either exhilarating, terrifying or a combination of the two!

Feb 15

Stories that Teach: “Novostroïka” by Maria Reva—Discussed by Brandon Williams

When we think of teachable stories, we often reach deep into the rucksack of the literary past, pulling out classroom-tested stories that have worked their way into the canon. While there is obviously a ton to learn from these pieces, contemporary short story writers are also completing strong work built upon teachable literary foundations, while also finding fascinating ways to advance the form. In this space, we’ll highlight some of these more modern stories and explore a bit of what they have to teach us as we continue to do our part to push literature forward.


In “Novostroïka” by Maria Reva (published in The Atlantic), Daniil Ivanovich Blinov has some problems: He’s recently been allotted an apartment, and every day more of his family moves in; his job is asking him to create literal impossibilities; he hasn’t received a paycheck from his employer in quite a while; the heat has gone out in his complex, and snow has started to fall; and, perhaps most vexingly, it appears that his apartment does not officially exist. Oh, and everywhere he looks, there is evidence that the USSR is collapsing.

In all of this, Daniil just wants to live his life and enjoy his new apartment, which is so big and roomy he can “lay down on the kitchen floor, his legs squeezed into the gap between the stove and the table.” But there’s no heat, and the apartment has been taken up by fourteen family members plus a coterie of small animals. He tries to solve the heat issue through government channels and is stymied multiple times, so the family eventually scrounges up enough money to buy a single space heater. In its very first scene, the heater is immediately broken, ridiculously, by workers commandeering the apartment because they’re carrying a coffin too big to be turned around in the hall. With no heat and no savings, his job and life falling apart and no particular prospects for saving any of it, Daniil goes outside to claim the numbers of his building and prove, to anyone who may doubt it, that it, and by extension he, does exist.

Plot as Character, Character as Plot

On a simple plot level, this is a story about the apartment complex (the titular Novostroïka), and Daniil’s struggle to get it seen and heated. We get that from the opening scene, where the conflict is laid out explicitly for us. On a more complex level, the plot is about Daniil’s effort to carve out some semblance of existence for himself in the crumbling world he inhabits. This, again, is shown in that opening scene, where he’s so easily dismissed by a failing bureaucracy, and it is doubled down upon with our conclusion, where he takes concrete physical hold of the apartment to prove that it is tangible.

But the genius of this story is in the way that it uses that larger conflict to wind through multiple challenges in Daniil’s life while building his character solely through his interaction with these events. Everything we know of Daniil stems from the apartment: His job gives it to him, his hanger-on family appears because of it, his world-weary passiveness is shown even as he attempts to solve the heating issue, and the way he is brow-beaten by everyone from government officials to his family to his boss comes through every time he tries to take any action. Daniil simply moves from one moment to the next, always one more problem appearing in front of him. We take almost no time away from the events of this story; there are precious few moments spent describing characters, or in Daniil’s thoughts, or in narrative summary. At one point, Daniil doodles a cartoon creature, and there is a recurring interaction with an old man who mentions a specific type of candy, but other than these two references the story doesn’t use much in the way of context or even a tremendous amount of cultural specificity, though the latter of course can be seen in many narrative choices and character actions.

This is what plot is supposed to do, present challenges to a character that then reveal character, but it’s rare to see a story handle it so efficiently. It’s something I take note of, and try to copy, every time I read this story: The large conflict of this piece spirals out to affect everything that Daniil does, so that wherever we are, we’re constantly engaging with the throughline of the piece on both the character and plot level. If Daniil loses his job because he can’t solve the design puzzle his job has presented to him (or because he’s heating the apartment illegally, or because of all the people and animals living there who shouldn’t be, or because he’s made too much of a nuisance of himself by gently pointing out the existence of his building), then he loses his apartment. If his apartment doesn’t exist, then he never had his one piece of pride. If Daniil can’t get heat, then the apartment that gives him that pride is worthless, and on top of that he cannot provide for his family. If he cannot provide for his family, what good is his apartment or his pride?

In all of these ways, conflict leads to internal development which adds layers of context to the conflict. Plot builds character, which then deepens the plot.

The Ridiculous Absurdity of Reality

Nearly every scene in this story bursts with moments so ridiculous that I want to call them absurdity. I’m still not sure if that’s the right descriptor for them, nor the right mode in which to be reading this story, but it’s the best one I, as an outsider to this world, have. The story seems to intentionally play with this awareness: There are plenty of moments that are clearly ridiculous, such as in our opening scene where a government official declares Daniil’s housing complex nonexistent because it’s not in her records; but there are other moments that almost toe the line of absurdity, such as the grandmother ensconced in chickens who bursts in the very instant Daniil moves in demanding to stay with him, or the government workers doggedly wandering into various apartments as they attempt to maneuver a coffin down multiple flights of stairs through which it cannot fit. They’re all played with the same exhausted disbelief, as if the world is slipping away from Daniil and he can’t for the life of him imagine how to respond. Indeed, that’s perhaps what makes these moments feel most absurd, the way he is left speechless, and actionless, at each one.

But then there are the more heavy-handed examples of something like absurdity, from Grandfather Grishko producing money from his testicles (“Don’t ask me where I’ve been stashing it”) to Daniil’s job’s insistence that he completely engineer and produce a new type of vegetable, a triangular green bean, solely for the sake of saving a few cubic millimeters of space. These are again handled with Daniil’s almost stunned stoicism; there is nothing he can do in either moment but move forward.

It’s important to note that none of these things are absurdism as impossibility, things that could not physically happen in our reality. Rather, they are poking quite clearly at the absolute nonsense that exists clearly within reality. Daniil’s acknowledgement of each of these things, the way they seem to fill his life as easily and surely as the snow on Lenin’s statue, only serves to highlight how strange these events are, how non-real these very real moments feel. It’s incredibly effective in building tone, in building uniqueness of character and situation, in making memorable moments and set pieces within the story, but it also points to a lesson that I feel like I glean from most truly amazing stories: to come at story itself, all story, from a unique perspective.

The maxim I often tell my students: You need to either tell an old story in a new way, or find an entirely new story to tell. What I mean by that, setting aside the pithy note-taking verbiage, is that stories need to have something unique to say, something individual that no other story, no other writer, can present. This story, in the way it slants these events so that they feel something like realistically impossible, builds itself a voice that is entirely its own.

In Conclusion: Empathy (vs. Relatability)

My professor and mentor Charmaine Craig (hey, she’s judging The Masters Review’s Novel Excerpt Contest this year!) talks often about the scourge of relatability in our modern literary consciousness. So often we look for stories that confirm what we already know, and we allow ourselves to write things that sit comfortably in our personal bubble of awareness and knowledge. There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of the places where you’re an expert, and write what you know is a perfectly valid guiding light, but unless you’re writing nonfiction, it can only take you so far. When this thing we do is done right, as writers we are imagining our way into people other than ourselves, and as readers we are discovering people other than ourselves. Yet I often speak to students who think it’s something close to impossible to write anything other than their own experience, and when reading they’re looking for characters who confirm their own worldview exclusively.

From what exists on the page, I have very little in common with Daniil: I’ve never even been out of the United States. I’ve never lived in anything like an apartment complex. And if anything, I’m a drain on my family rather than the opposite as Daniil experiences. And there’s nothing other than those details for us to latch onto, as we know nothing about his general opinions or what he looks like or how he comes across to other people outside of this situation. Unless you’ve somehow literally had the exact same experiences as Daniil, there is nothing to “relate” to in this piece. Maybe that makes some of my comments about the absurd fall flat, maybe there are things I’m missing about what is normal in this place or how Daniil responds to his situations. That’s all right, I’ve been wrong before and will be again many times. There are a lot of things in this story to which I can’t relate, for which I have no frame of knowledge.

But what this story does, in addition to all the other lessons we can take away from it, is give us enough of this character, his world and his troubles, to empathize with him. Whoever he is, whatever he is doing, we read him and we are there, right with him. We can feel his plight, and we respond to it. That humanistic ability to respond doesn’t need sameness, requires no tribal or gender or cultural connection.

This connection is the magic of story, of course, but this piece masterfully pulls off that alchemy while avoiding backstory, or narrative summary, or much in the way of cultural references or even internal thought. Rather, we have a character struggling in a moment, drawn so deftly that the moment itself pulls us along. There’s something in here about trusting your reader to follow the path you set, there’s something in here about conflict being the engine of story, but mostly, the lesson to walk away from comes down to this: you don’t need to build a million reasons for your reader to care about a main character. There’s no need to setup some perfect backstory that tugs at every greeting-card heartstring. Story comes from the struggle of characters in challenging situations, whoever they may be.

Sometimes, it really is that simple.

by Brandon Williams

Feb 14

September Selects: “Behind the Falls” by Paulette Pierce

On this Valentine’s Day, The Masters Review is celebrating Anti-Love with the second winner of our September Selects series, “Behind the Falls” by Paulette Pierce! Be sure to check out their profile this Friday. Congratulations, Paulette!

Lights are projected onto the water, reds pulsing into purples, greens fading into blues, and Lainey supposes they’re meant to be calming. Romantic nighttime ambience for cooing lovers taking smiling selfies. But as Lainey watches the whole hypnotic scene, the drone of the falls sounds like a coded call to action, one of those mysterious phrases that snap brainwashed soldiers into movement. It’s everywhere. It’s as inescapable as the wind.

When Lainey looks at Niagara Falls, all she can think about is Jenni Olson and the Golden Gate Bridge suicides. She remembers the hook of Keller’s leg under the blanket as they watched The Joy of Life, Olson’s narration about the city’s refusal to erect a barrier of protection around the bridge, Keller’s limbs fastened around her like a net strapping her in. It was a night of warmth and skin on skin, a distant memory now.

It’s nearly ten at night and the air is swirling with snowglobe flurries. The rapids volley the flakes directly into Lainey’s face, marking her cheeks with the force of tiny steam burns. Keller smiles and waves from the waist-high metal barrier, beckoning her closer.

“I’m good here,” Lainey says, but it’s swallowed by the sound of the falls, churning and crashing like an ancient death machine. She shakes her head instead.

The barrier is so low, it can’t be safe. If she steps closer, curls her hands around the railing, she knows she’ll lurch forward without ever deciding to do it. The falls will fling their watery tentacles outward, wrapping around her body and pulling her down into the plunge pool. Lainey stares into the water, wondering how quickly it would beat her body into nothing more than a living bruise, bones split in half like twigs snapped for kindling, and she thinks this is probably not a normal thought.

Lights are projected onto the water, reds pulsing into purples, greens fading into blues, and Lainey supposes they’re meant to be calming. Romantic nighttime ambience for cooing lovers taking smiling selfies. But as Lainey watches the whole hypnotic scene, the drone of the falls sounds like a coded call to action, one of those mysterious phrases that snap brainwashed soldiers into movement. It’s everywhere. It’s as inescapable as the wind.

“It’s the negative ions,” a gravelly voice says, and Lainey jumps back. He’s too close for comfort. The man is bundled as though about to embark on an arctic expedition: thick furred hat with earflaps, parka as puffy as a marshmallow, the high collar covering half his face. “They’re good for ya in small doses. But if you’re here for too long, they can kill ya. They’ve done studies!”

He says this last part with an upturn to the syllables, like he expects an argument, a skepticism about the factual basis of this claim.

“Oh,” Lainey says because the fewer words spoken, the least encouragement given. She’s been a woman in public long enough to glean the quickest routes of escape. While there’s something to be said for placating smiles to ward off danger, sidling off stage before it has even begun is preferable. Life should have trapdoors. She takes a step toward Keller, her fair isle beanie with the pompom on top like a flag planted in the ground to signify safety, but the man keeps on, louder this time.

“It helps your mood and your sleep. The mist is in your lungs right now. You can’t breathe purer air than this. You’re at the inception of it all, girlie. You’re home.”

To continue reading “Behind the Falls” click here.

Feb 10

Submitter Spotlight: Nora Studholme!

In case you missed it, we published the first of our September Selects winners on Monday: “A Dictionary of How Things Break” by Nora Studholme. Make sure you read this terrific hermit crab before getting to know Nora Studholme a bit better!

Congratulations on winning in our first September Selects series! Do you often work with hermit crabs, or other fixed forms?

I would not say I “often” work in fixed forms, but I try to give myself some set of rules to bounce off of. It is a cliche at this point, but I believe firmly in the jazz theory of creativity—that a little pre-imposed structure can make space for a lot of innovation and play.

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

My writing always starts with an idea, a little spark, or a seed if you will. I carry that seed around me for days, turning it over, poking at it, reading things adjacent to it. I call this the “marination” phase, where I’m reading and listening and thinking, adding ingredients and letting them stew in there together. For longer pieces, that marination process can last even longer, sometimes weeks. Then I’ll get something – a first green shoot, if you will – be it a first sentence, or a clear scene, or even the voice of a character. At that point, it’s a race to write it all down as fast as I can.

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

Recently, I have been loving George Saunders and Neil Gaiman for short stories; for novel length pieces, I have been reading Kazuo Ishuguro and Amor Towles. If I had to find a common thread between these writers, I think it would be the contrast of intensely—sometimes painfully—real characters living in a speculative or somehow surreal world.

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

So many—I always have four or five exciting projects on deck that I’m pondering, but the two I’m deepest into are retellings of familiar fantasies (werewolves and fairy tales, without saying too much).

Feb 8

Now Open for Book Reviews, Interviews, and Craft Essays!

That’s right: We’re now accepting submissions of Book Reviews, Interviews and Craft Essays through Submittable. Find the full submission details below or on our Submissions page—we anticipate quick responses to submissions in this category!


The Masters Review Blog – Book Reviews, Interviews & Craft Essays

The Masters Review is now accepting submissions of completed book reviews, interviews and craft essays for publication on our blog. Please do not send pitches or queries to this category. Submissions must be previously unpublished. We do not consider reprints. At the moment, we are unable to pay for book reviews or interviews, but we can pay $50 for craft essays. If you have a pitch or query, please contact us at contact [at]

Genre Guidelines

Book Reviews

  • Book Reviews must be of books scheduled for a 2023 release. We recommend submitting your review at least one month before the scheduled publication date. Earlier is better.
  • Book Reviews should be between 700-1200 words.
  • Include in your review at least one sentence that conveys your overall stance on the book and embolden it. (e.g., The Survivalists by Kashana Cauley ruthlessly interrogates what it means to be successful as a Black woman, a Millennial, and a liberal living in an urban center.)
  • Our primary interest are debut authors and indie presses. Occasionally, we will consider and publish reviews from major presses or of notable authors.
  • Rarely, we will consider a review for a book with a past release date, but it must have been published within four months. If you have questions about this policy, please contact us at contact [at]


  • We are interested in interviews with authors, editors, agents or other industry professionals, with a particular focus on recent publications or activity. Our mission is to bridge the gap between new and established writers, so any insight into the profession of writing is valuable (e.g., this interview with agent Miriam Atlshuler).
  • Interviews should be between 1,200-2,500 words.
  • Please include a bio of both the interviewee and the interviewer with your submission, as well as an introduction to the interview.

Craft Essays

  • Craft Essays should focus on a particular aspect of the craft of writing fiction or nonfiction.
  • Please do not send craft essays about poetry.
  • We are especially interested in craft essays which examine the craft of a particular story. Please see our Stories That Teach and From the Archive series on the blog for examples.
  • Craft Essays should be between 1,200-2,500 words.


Feb 6

September Selects: “A Dictionary of How Things Break” by Nora Studholme

Today, we’re thrilled to share the first winner of our September Selects series! Nora Studholme’s “A Dictionary of How Things Break” was chosen by The Masters Review‘s staff as the winner of our Hermit Crab category. Study up on your terms below, and check back on Friday for a profile with the writer. Congratulations, Nora!

The cracks don’t show like they do on glass. You think at first people are like water. They close over a hundred tiny wounds again and again, surface unbroken. But really they’re like bones: bending and then—one more loss, one more betrayal—the break is complete, broad, irreparable.

1. Glass: radially. Flicking outward in forking fingers, fleeing the force until all its power is spent and it settles into an uneasy stillness.

2. Metal: reluctantly. It shouldn’t be breaking. It is supposed to be impervious. It splits hot and howling, its edges vengeful, seeking flesh.

3. Water: doesn’t. It shifts and splashes, playful, a mockery to weight. It refuses to be serious. It accepts, it envelops, it closes over. As whole as before.

4. Bones: raggedly. The halves slip away from each other in matching jigsaw shards, as tight as teeth. The bones of teens can bend at first, but then they snap. They pop and puncture inside a body, no hiss of air, but wouldn’t you expect it?

To continue reading “A Dictionary of How Things Break” click here.

Feb 2

Seventeen Books We’re Looking Forward To in Early 2023

2023 is already off to a terrific start with new releases—and so many more are still to come. We’ve compiled a shortlist of the books we’re most looking forward to this year. If these aren’t on your radar yet, then they should be!

The Survivalists, Kashana Cauley

January 10, Soft Skull Press

We reviewed Cauley’s debut earlier this month, which reviewer Joanna Acevedo called a “ruthless [interrogation of] what it means to be successful as a Black woman, a millennial, and a liberal living in an urban center.” If you haven’t picked up your copy of The Survivalists yet, which Samantha Irby has called a “banger of a book,” what are you waiting for?

A Guest at the Feast, Colm Toibin

January 17, Scribner

One of Ireland’s finest living writers, Toibin is back in 2023 with a collection of essays ranging in topics from his cancer treatment to religion to growing up in Ireland. The opening essay, “Cancer: My Part in Its Downfall” was published back in 2019 in the London Review of Books, so check that out first if you are for any reason hesitant to pick up this new collection.

The Sense of Wonder, Matthew Salesses

January 17, Little Brown & Company

We’re huge fans of Matthew Salesses here, especially his Craft in the Real World, part of which we assign to all of our volunteer readers when they get started. So we’re beyond excited about his new novel, The Sense of Wonder, inspired in part by the sudden rise in stardom of Jeremy Lin in 2012 with the New York Knicks. Won Lee, “The Wonder,” a new Asian American NBA star leads his team to a seven game winning streak and sportswriter Robert Sung covers his new-found fame from the sidelines, while grappling with his own missed opportunities.

The Guest Lecture, Martin Riker

January 24, Grove Press

Described as a mix of The Chair and The Good Place by LitHub, The Guest Lecture is Riker’s new novel about a young economist’s midnight preparation for a speech she is set to give the following day. Joshua Cohen (author most recently of The Netanyahus) calls Riker’s voice “as clear, sincere and wry as any [he’s] read in current American fiction.”

My Nemesis, Charmaine Craig

February 7, Grove Press

No list would be complete without our recent guest judges making an appearance! Charmaine Craig (guest judge of the 2022 Novel Excerpt Contest) is back with her next novel My Nemesis. Tessa, a writer, begins a friendship with Charlie, a philosopher and scholar based across the country in Los Angeles. LitHub and Electric Lit both list Craig’s novel in their own roundups of most anticipated books of 2023 and Publisher’s Weekly says this novel is “sure to spark conversations.”

Endpapers, Jennifer Savran Kelly

February 7, Algonquin Books

A debut novel from Jennifer Savran Kelly¸ Endpapers is a coming-of-age novel of a “genderqueer book conservator who feels trapped by her gender presentation” in New York City in the early 2000s. Dawn, the protagonist, discovers one day at work a queer love letter penned in 50s, and is driven to track down its writer. Kelly’s fiction has been published at some of our favorite litmags: Black Warrior Review, Iron Horse Review and Green Mountains Review, so we’re sure this novel will be memorable.

I Have Some Questions For You, Rebecca Makkai

February 21, Viking

Another former TMR judge, Rebecca Makkai returns with her first book since the unforgettable The Great Believers. Andrew Sean Greer has called this new book “unputdownable”, so at the end of February, if you’re looking for us, we’ll probably be buried in this new literary mystery from one of our favorite writers!

Empty Theatre, Jac Jemc

February 21, Mcdonnell Douglass

A new historical satire novel from the incomparable Jac Jemc has our heads spinning in anticipation. Empty Theatre immerses readers in the lives of cousins King Ludwig II and Empress Elizabeth of Austria and their “rarefied, ridiculous, restrictive world.” To pass the time before you can get your hands on this novel, check out Jemc’s “Hunt and Catch” in our Featured Fiction section.

Hey You Assholes!, Kyle Seibel

February 24, Bear Creek Press

Back in 2021, we had the fortune to publish “Master Guns” by Kyle Seibel. It’s one of those stories where you know from the instant you read the first lines that you’ve found a writer with an exciting voice you won’t soon forget. “I didn’t like Master Guns. Not one bit.” Seibel’s debut collection is set to release at the end of February. Keep an eye on this space for an interview about his work!

Bark On, Mason Boyles

February 28, Driftwood Press

Another former TMR contributor, Mason Boyles’s debut novel, Bark On, will be published at the end of February from Driftwood Press. Bark On follows two young runners as they train for the Ironman under the tutelage of extreme coach Benji Newton. We’ll be running a review of Bark On in February, so check back on our reviews page at the end of the month!

Thirst for Salt, Madelaine Lucas

March 7, Tin House

Listed by Bustle, LitHub, Debutiful and NYLON among their most anticipated novels in 2023, this debut from Madelaine Lucas is sure to be a release to remember. Leslie Jamison wrote of the novel, “A love affair so richly and attentively imagined it carries the grace and gravity of memory itself.” Check out Thirst for Salt in early March.

White Cat, Black Dog: Stories, Kelly Link

March 28, Random House

Yet another former TMR judge, Kelly Link’s newest collection is set to release at the end of March. White Cat, Black Dog features, in typical Linkian fashion, stories inspired by The Brothers Grimm, speculative merged with realism, death, divorce, love and sorrow. As we all wait for this exciting collection, refresh yourself with our interview with Link here on the release of her last collection!

Sea Change, Gina Chung

March 28, Vintage

In the first paragraph of Sea Change, readers are introduced to Dolores, a horny octopus. There’s really not much more we need to say to get your attention, is there? Chung’s stories have been featured in Kenyon Review, Pleiades, Gulf Coast and elsewhere. Sea Change is her debut novel – and next year, she’s set to release her first collection, too.

Small Animals Caught in Traps, C.B. Bernard

April 4, Blackstone Publishing

“In the town of Disappointment, Oregon, washed-up boxer Lewis Yaw makes ends meet as a fishing guide.” So begins the summary of Bernard’s debut novel, set for release early this spring. Bernard’s book is a good one to keep an eye on for fans of The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah or David Vann’s Legend of a Suicide, or for folks familiar with Bernard’s nonfiction book Chasing Alaska, which was a finalist for the 2014 Oregon Book Award.

Veniss Underground, Jeff Vandermeer

April 11, Picador

What? Another former TMR judge? We’re technically cheating on this one, since this is a re-release, but Jeff Vandermeer’s early novel Veniss Underground is receiving a wide re-release through Picador this April, featuring a brand new introduction from Charles Yu (and including a brand new Vandermeer story!). If you haven’t had the opportunity to read Vandermeer’s novel, inspired in part by the Orpheus and Eurydice story, now’s your chance.

The Late Americans, Brandon Taylor

May 23, Riverhead

Brandon Taylor never stops working, it seems. The Filthy Animals and Real Life author is back in 2023 with a new novel from Riverhead: The Late Americans, receiving early praise from Elle and Vulture, follows a group of friends in Iowa City during a “volatile year of self-discovery”. Make sure to make time for this new book at the end of May!

by Cole Meyer

Feb 1

The Masters Review’s Anthology Vol. XII Submissions are Now Open!

Submissions are open starting today until April 2nd for TMR’s Anthology Volume XII! This year’s guest judge is Toni Jensen, author of Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land and the story collection From the Hilltop. Jensen will be selecting ten stories and essays to publish in our printed book next spring from a shortlist of thirty prepared by our editorial staff. Stay tuned for news on the publication of last year’s book, with stories and essays selected by Peter Ho Davies, too! Find the full details for the submissions below or on our contest page.

//Submissions Open Through April 2nd//

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Every year The Masters Review opens submissions to produce our anthology, a collection of ten stories and essays written by the best emerging authors. Our aim is to showcase ten writers who we believe will continue to produce great work. The ten winners are nationally distributed in a printed book with their stories and essays exposed to top agents, editors, and authors across the country. Our third volume was awarded the Silver Medal for Best Short Story Collection through the INDIEFAB Awards in 2015, and our fourth volume was an honorable mention for best anthology. Check us out on Amazon!


Each year The Masters Review pairs with a guest judge to select stories. Our editorial team produces a shortlist of stories, which our judge reviews to select winners. Our past judges include Lauren Groff, AM Homes, Lev Grossman, Kevin Brockmeier, Amy Hempel, Roxane Gay, Rebecca Makkai, Kate Bernheimer, Rick Bass, Diane Cook, and Peter Ho Davies. This year’s judge is Toni Jensen!

Toni Jensen is the author of Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land, a finalist for the Dayton Peace Prize and a New York Times Editors’ Choice book (Ballantine 2020). An NEA Creative Writing Fellowship recipient in 2020, Jensen’s essays have appeared in OrionCatapult and Ecotone, among others. She is also the author of the story collection From the Hilltop. She teaches at the University of Arkansas and the Institute of American Indian Arts.


  • Previously unpublished works of fiction and narrative nonfiction only
  • Up to 7000 words
  • We accept simultaneous submissions as long as work is withdrawn if it is accepted elsewhere
  • Multiple submissions are allowed
  • International English submissions allowed
  • Emerging Writers Only. Writers must not have published a novel-length work at the time of submission (authors of short story collections and self-published titles can submit as can authors with novels or memoirs with a low distribution [no more than 5000 copies])
  • Standard formatting please (double-spaced, 12 pt font, pages numbered)
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: April 2nd, 2023
  • Please, no identifying information on your story
  • All submissions are considered for publication in the anthology as well as New Voices
  • If requesting an editorial letter, please indicate on your cover letter if the submissions is fiction or creative nonfiction
  • A significant portion of the editorial letter fees go to our feedback editor, according to the rates established by the EFA
  • All submissions will receive a response by the end of June
  • Winners will be announced by the end of July
  • To view a list of our most commonly asked questions regarding submitting to The Masters Review, please see our FAQ page
  • Friends, family and associates of the final judge are not eligible for this award
  • Writers who have earned an Anthology Prize before and whose work appears in our printed book cannot submit to this category but are welcome to send us work in other open categories

We don’t have any preferences topically or in terms of style. We’re simply looking for the best. We don’t define, nor are we interested in, stories identified by their genre. We do, however, consider ourselves a publication that focuses on literary fiction. Dazzle us, take chances, and be bold


  • $500 award.
  • Publication in our nationally distributed journal.
  • Exposure to over 50 literary agencies.
  • Contributor’s copy.
  • All writers are part of an exclusive mailing. We send our anthology to editors, writers, and literary institutions across the country.


Jan 31

Final Call: 2022-2023 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers, Judged by Morgan Talty!

Today is the final day to get those submissions in to this year’s Winter Short Story Award for New Writers! We’re looking for your best—up to 6,000 words. The winners will receive cash prizes, publication and agency review. Submissions may be up to 6,000 words, and must be previously unpublished. Full details can be found below or on our contest page. Morgan Talty will be selecting this year’s finalists!

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Winter is coming! The Masters Review’s Short Story Award for New Writers is a bi-annual contest that recognizes the best fiction from today’s emerging writers. Judging 2022-2023’s winter contest is Morgan Talty, author the story collection Night of the Living Rez. Winners and honorable mentions receive agency review from five agencies as well as publication. The winning story earns $3000, while the second and third place runners up receive $300 and $200, respectively. Participating agents include: Nat Sobel from Sobel Weber, Victoria Cappello from The Bent Agency, Andrea Morrison from Writers House, Sarah Fuentes from Fletcher & Company, and Heather Schroder from Compass Talent. Our mission from day one has been to support emerging writers. We want you to succeed. We want your words to be read.


  • Winner receives $3000, publication, and agency review
  • Second and third place prizes ($300 / $200, publication, and agency review)
  • Stories under 6000 words
  • Previously unpublished stories only
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed
  • Emerging writers only; writers with book-length work published or under contract with a major press are ineligible. (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Authors with short story collections are free to submit new, unpublished work, as are writers with books published by indie presses or self-published.)
  • International English submissions allowed. No translations.
  • Double-spaced, 12 pt easy-to-read font (i.e., Times New Roman, Garamond, etc.) please!
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: January 31, 2023
  • All stories are considered for publication
  • All submissions will receive a response by the end of April
  • Winners will be announced by the end of May
  • Friends, family and associates of the final judge are not eligible for this award. Consider submitting to the Summer contest!
  • A significant portion of the editorial letter fees go to our feedback editor, according to the rates established by the EFA

We don’t have any preferences topically or in terms of style. We’re simply looking for the best. We don’t define, nor are we interested in, stories identified by their genre. We do, however, consider ourselves a publication that focuses on literary fiction. Dazzle us, take chances, and be bold.


Morgan Talty is a citizen of the Penobscot Indian Nation where he grew up. He is the author of the critically acclaimed story collection Night of the Living Rez from Tin House Books, which won the New England Book Award, was a finalist for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers, and is a finalist for the 2023 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. His writing has appeared in Granta, The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, TriQuarterly, Narrative Magazine, LitHub, and elsewhere. A winner of the 2021 Narrative Prize, Talty’s work has been supported by the Elizabeth George Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts (2022). Talty is an Assistant Professor of English in Creative Writing and Native American and contemporary Literature at the University of Maine, Orono, and he is on the faculty at the Stonecoast MFA in creative writing as well as the Institute of American Indian Arts. Talty is also a Prose Editor at The Massachusetts Review. He lives in Levant, Maine.


Jan 30

New Voices: “Now or Never” by Leo Ríos

In today’s New Voices, we are pleased to welcome Leo Ríos and his story “Now or Never.” In a Denis Johnson-esque style, a man named Gordo accompanies our narrator to his old frat house for a party. Ríos’s prose is simple, terse but brimming with an earnest honesty, a deep longing for genuine human connection. This is a story you don’t want to miss.

I didn’t know anything about their world anymore. All the people I was closest to had graduated. I missed them. We had grown to love each other. Now, a lot of us were unemployed. Most of us had moved back in with our parents, still believing we were gifted and born to one day rise from the clutter of our lives.

That other time, with that neighbor kid, it had scared me—hearing him yell like he’d been shot, the wound on his thigh muscle red and sliced open. He’d tried to jump the fence and failed, impaling his leg on one of the metal spikes that lined the top. Peeking out from behind my living room curtains, I had stared at him agonize and bleed and curse his dumb luck.

Now I was the one on the wrong side of the fence. I couldn’t imagine pulling my body over because of that memory. So I just stayed there, not knowing what to do, until I saw someone across from me on the other side of the alley. Out of range from the alley’s orange lights, he was standing inside one of the parking garages. I had never seen anyone inside that parking garage. Usually, it was occupied with vehicles. Now this guy was in there. Big and tall, he had a glowing speck of red near his head. It kept dancing around like a sparkler. This guy, it seemed, was holding a cigarette and doing hand motions as if he was singing a hip hop song.

I thought to myself, This foo’s a paisa.

Our garages here were like small caves for beat-up cars. My paisa neighbors liked to kick it deep inside by the cars’ hoods. The diligent LAPD patrolled here like a virus. My paisa neighbors avoided the police because papers: They might not have them, reason enough for becoming invisible.

That was my working theory anyway. I wanted to write a feature article about it one day. Maybe our alley was just high school or college or prison, segregated groups consigned to specific locations: paisa foos posted up inside parking garages, neighborhood foos crawling where they wanted, all the overeducated foos inside their apartments, watching TV or playing video games.

Yeah, gentrification was happening in our neighborhood and young college graduates were moving in. That’s how me and my roommates—two foos I’d met in college—ended up here. But that’s another story. The dilemma of this night had me paranoid. I had no way in to my apartment. Some guy was intimidating me. Maybe gangsters were going to show up and ask me questions again. I tried acting cool but I could feel the paisa foo staring. He had a privileged position. It wasn’t fair. He could see me, but I couldn’t see him, except for that sparkling red glow, the vague outline of his body. I started feeling fearful, edgy, defensive and I guess for no good reason. I didn’t have anything valuable on me except for two twenty-dollar bills. If that paisa foo ended up being my enemy, what was the worst that could happen?

To continue reading “Now or Never” click here.