The Masters Review Blog

Aug 28

New Writing on the Net: August 2020

This month has featured incredible writing online. Settle in, because we have your weekend reading list right here. And don’t forget, our Summer Short Story Award for New Writers and Summer Workshop both close for submissions on Sunday!

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Black Lives Matter, Protests, and Editing Vanity Fair” by Ta-Nehisi Coates | Vanity Fair, August 24, 2020

One way to both do evil and preserve one’s “manners and morals” is to emit a smog of euphemisms—extraordinary rendition, enhanced interrogation, peculiar institution, heritage not hate. In the wake of Bloody Sunday, a dissembling George Wallace recast native Alabaman John Lewis as an “outside agitator.” But beneath a rain of blows, Lewis, blazing at the highest flame, illuminated the stark brutality of Jim Crow for the whole world to see. Whiteness thrives in darkness. It has to—because to assert itself in full view, to admit to calling a congresswoman a “fucking bitch” to her face, is to have one’s own “manners and morals” degraded. A thousand Eric Garners will be tolerated, so long as they are strangled to death in the shadows of the American carceral system, the most sprawling gulag known to man. And so evil does its business in the shadows, ever-fearing not the heat of the Great Fire but the light. To clearly see what this country has done, what it is still doing, to construct itself is too much for any human to take. So it was with the slave narrative. So it is with the cell phone. The reaction of the beholder is physical. They double over in disgust. They wail on the floor. They punch the air. They pace the room until they are at last compelled out of their sanctuary, out of their privilege, out into the streets, out into the diseased air, to face off with the legionaries who guard the power implicit in their very names.

The Life Breonna Taylor Lived, in the Words of Her Mother” by Ta-Nehisi Coates | Vanity Fair, August 24, 2020

I think about how I had to tell Breonna how to make chili a hundred times, and she would still call me when she would go to the store. She worked third shift. So she gets off of work at 7 in the morning, and of course I’m at work by then, because I start work at 4, 4:30 in the morning, you know? And so Breonna would be in the grocery store at 7 in the morning, calling my phone, and it would be funny because this is what my coworkers will remember the most about her—they always talked about Breonna in the grocery store, calling me like, Mama, what do I need to buy for chili? Blah, blah, blah. And I would say Breonna, can you write this down, because I don’t understand why I got to tell you this all the time. And she would say, I don’t need to write it down, I can just call my mama. My coworkers would just laugh. But she’d just say, I need to talk to my mama. And I’m like, Girrrll…

Hairs” by Tatiana Duvanova | Necessary Fiction, August 26, 2020

Several stories later I found a hair between the pages. I traced it with my finger and the hair fell on the floor and disappeared. It was the last part of my lover I ever touched.

Bad Fish, Black Sheep” by Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar | CHEAP POP, August 27, 2020

Bad fish, black sheep, Sister Lawrence, the warden, tsks. Suzie has been sent home, she says and adjusts her habit. No one must talk about her.

Fairy Tale in Which You Date the Morally Ambiguous Boy in Math” by Charlotte Hughes | Monkeybicycle, August 28, 2020

When your best friend tells you that he was messing around with a mutual friend in the parking lot, hex the mutual friend. Spiders and scorpions fall from her mouth when she speaks. She’ll go to urgent care, twice.

That is the day he says he forgives you.

Writers’ Guidelines” by Siân Griffiths, Dave Housley, & Aaron Burch | HAD, August 28, 2020

We want to know that the other half is warm and clean and found—but we’re not interested in that piece. We want the one that remains elusive and unlocatable. We do not accept stories with dentistry. Send us your best work.

Curated by Cole Meyer

 

 

Aug 28

Final Weekend to Register for our Summer Workshop!

Registration for our Summer Workshop closes tomorrow night, and spots are limited, so don’t wait until the last minute or you might miss out! Details below, and on our Summer Workshop page.

Cost: $299

Enroll Below:

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Participants Receive:

  • an editorial letter from your instructor with specific suggestions and developmental edits that will help elevate your story to the next level
  • PDF of materials including craft essays from The Masters Review, editorial notes on what we see from the slush pile, information on submission strategies, and additional advice on submitting
  • free submission in a forthcoming Masters Review contest
  • suggestions on literary magazines and contests that would be a good fit for your work, along with reading recommendations from your instructor
  • an archived copy of The Masters Review anthology
  • Writers will receive feedback no later than September 30. Early submissions may yield earlier feedback.

Nate Brown is a Baltimore based fiction writer and editor whose stories have appeared in the Iowa Review, Mississippi Review, Five Chapters, REAL, Carolina Quarterly, and elsewhere. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Vermont Studio Center, the Ucross Foundation, and the Maryland State Arts Council. He’s the managing editor of American Short Fiction magazine. He teaches first-year writing at Georgetown University and creative writing at Johns Hopkins University.

Adeena Reitberger’s stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Warrior ReviewMississippi ReviewCimarron ReviewNimrod International JournalSierra Nevada ReviewNANO Fiction, and elsewhere. She lives in Austin, Texas and is the co-editor of American Short Fiction.

Adam Soto is a co-web editor at American Short Fiction. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His debut novel, This Weightless World, will be released fall 2021.

Lauren Kane is the assistant editor at The Paris Review.

Michelle Wildgen is the author of the novels You’re Not You, But Not For Long, and Bread and Butter, and the editor of the food writing anthology Food & Booze. Her work has appeared in places including the New York Times Book Review and Modern Love column, O, the Oprah Magazine, RealSimple.com, and Best Food Writing 2009 and 2013. Previously a longtime executive editor with the award-winning literary journal Tin House, she is now a freelance editor and creative writing teacher in Madison, Wis., where she is completing her fourth novel.

Aug 27

September Deadlines: 11 Contest Deadlines for This Month

As we approach the beginning of fall, these carefully selected contests can also be a new beginning for you. There are opportunities for every type of writer, and we hope that you choose to share your voice with the world!

Black Warrior Review Contests

We want you to play to your strengths, and Black Warrior Review has an opportunity for everyone in this contest! The 2020 Fiction Contest is judged by Lucy Corin, the 2020 Nonfiction Contest is judged by Mayukh Sen, and the 2020 Poetry Contest is judged by Paul Tran. The first-place prize is $1000 and publication in each genre. There’s also a Flash Contest, judged by C Pam Zhang, that awards $500 and publication. Let’s get started!

Entry Fee: $15 Deadline: September 1

Young Lions Fiction Award

If you’ve published a book during the 2020 calendar year, and you’re younger than 35, this is an amazing opportunity tailor-made for you! Offered through the New York Public Library, both novels and short story collections are accepted, and the winner receives $10,000. This year is the 21st anniversary of the first contest, and excitement is building! Books must be entered by the publisher, not the author. Learn more here!

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: September 11

Barthelme Prize for Short Prose

This is Gulf Coast’s current contest, and they’re looking for a very specific sort of entry! Submissions can be prose poetry, fiction, or essays, but they all need to be less than 500 words. The winner receives $1000 and publication, two honorable mentions get $250, and it’s judged by Jenny Offill! Check it out!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: September 15

Frontier Award for New Poets

Open to new and emerging poets, Frontier Poetry is hosting a contest to find the best single poem – they describe it as one full of color and fire, that strikes hot… Paige Lewis, Camonghne Felix, and Jake Skeets are judging. The winning poet will receive $3000 and publication for their poem, and second and third place receive $300 and $200 respectively. All ten finalists will be recognized. Get started!

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: September 20

The Berlin Prize

The American Academy in Berlin is now accepting applications for their residential fellowships, to enrich transatlantic dialogue in the arts and address the themes of migration and social integration. Writers need one published book to be eligible, and fellowships are restricted to US residents. About twenty Berlin Prizes are awarded each year, and those selected receive round-trip airfare, a monthly $5000 stipend, and lodging at the Hans Arnhold Center. More details here!

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: September 25

Cullman Center Fellowships

The Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers offers up to fifteen fellowships each year, for academics, journalists, and creative writers. Part of the New York Public Library system, this is an amazing opportunity to access the research collections at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building! A Cullman Center Fellow receives a stipend of up to $75,000, an office, and full use of the Library’s physical and electronic resources. Don’t miss out!

Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: September 25

Dzanc Books Contests

Dzanc Books is offering a plethora of opportunities for all writers, with three different contests all ending this September! The Dzanc Books Prize for Fiction, judged by Anne Valente, Tina May Hall, and Jessie van Eerden, awards a $5,000 advance and publication for the original and daring winning manuscript. The Dzanc Books Short Story Collection Competition celebrates imaginative and inventive short form writing, offering a $2500 advance and publication to the winning submission. Lastly, the Dzanc Books Diverse Voices Prize bestows a $3000 advance and publication upon the winning work of fiction that is brilliant and daring, by an author who is from a minority, underrepresented, or marginalized community. Check them all out!

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: September 30

Hackney Literary Award for Novels

Sponsored by the Morris Hackney family, this is an amazing prize for any aspiring novelist! This $5000 prize will be awarded to an unpublished novel, and there is no limit on length or subject matter. Check it out now!

Entry Fee: $30 Deadline: September 30

Juniper Literary Prizes

The University of Massachusetts Press honors the memory of Robert Francis, who lived and wrote his poetry in Fort Juniper, and applicants should keep in mind his dedication to creativity and nature! The Juniper Prize for Poetry awards $1000 and publication to two original poetry manuscripts, one first book prize for an unpublished author, and one prize for a previously published author. The Juniper Prize for Fiction also awards $1000 and publication to two original fiction manuscripts, one for a short story collection, and one for a novel. The Juniper Prize for Creative Nonfiction awards $1000 and publication to one original manuscript. Learn more here!

Entry Fee: $30 Deadline: September 30

Miller Williams Poetry Prize

This prize is named for and operated to honor the longtime director of the University of Arkansas Press, Miller Williams. Submissions of book-length poetry manuscripts should reflect his preference for poetry that was plain spoken, evocative, ironic, and humorous. The top four entries will receive publication, and the first-place winner also receives $5000. Submit here!

Entry Fee: $28 Deadline: September 30

Red Hen Press Fiction Award

Red Hen Press is looking for a fresh and original story of fiction, and they’re willing to pay for it! Open to all authors, the fiction manuscript must be a minimum of 150 pages, and submitted without any identifying material. The award is $1000, and also includes publication of the winning entry. Judged by Susan Straight! Details here.

Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: September 30

by Kimberly Guerin

Aug 26

New Voices Revisited: “My Sam and I” by Nick Fuller Googins

This month’s New Voices Revisted story is the one-of-a-kind “My Sam and I” by Nick Fuller Googins. In this tale, a husband and a wife decide to become stowaways on a train ride across Canada, as the wife develops her formula: one that, she hopes, will stop time.

“Our time will slow, ooze like spilt honey. Our mornings will split open even wider than before, exposing their hidden fibers. My Sam and I will have conversations that span seasons. Our gazes and touches will unfurl and stretch, enjoying the kind of space ordinarily reserved for entire lifetimes. We’ll forge a new infinity, My Sam and I.”

T = 1- [f(n) + (o) + (w)]

where T = time

There’s My Sam, standing shirtless in the boxcar doorway, watching the forests and lakes shoot by. Hands on his hips, sunlight whitening his body. I call him the half-naked hobo king of Canada.

No way, he shouts. Not Canada, just Ontario. Ruling more than one province would be way too much trouble.

His voice, his laugh, carries over the rush of the train. He holds his arms out wide, tilts back his head, says something about swallowing the sky.

Careful, I tell him. Remember to chew. Don’t choke on those clouds. You’ll be picking rainbow out of your teeth for weeks. Indigo gets stuck worse than corn on the cob.

There are no clouds, no rainbow. The color blue owns the morning sky. But this is how My Sam and I see things now, amid the thrill of illegal freight-train travel: the sky becomes breakfast. We measure, discuss and admire the sights and sounds in nonsensical and amusing ways. It’s delightful.

It’s called imagination, teases My Sam, and we laugh.

That’s me at the far end of the boxcar, hair tied in two loose braids, fingertips smudged in black marker. The inside of our boxcar has become my blackboard, my traveling laboratory. We roll west and my formula goes with us, rows of numbers unfolding across the walls.

We only wanted to do something different, My Sam and I, riding boxcars from Quebec to Calgary. Crossing Canada as stowaways on the back of a freight train—land blurring by, wheels clunking along the tracks, air sweet with pine, hay and dew—and it never grows old, not for a second. But somewhere between Quebec and Ontario something else happened, something more thrilling than the ride itself: I discovered how to stop time. Almost. My formula still needs fine-tuning. I’d thought it was a matter of getting T down to zero. I hadn’t considered, until now, a further possibility. Imagination, playfulness, laughter—all could contribute toward negative T: time folding back upon itself.

To continue reading “My Sam and I” click here.

Aug 24

New Voices: “Inheritance” by Adam Byko

“Understand this,” the narrator of Adam Byko’s “Inheritance” commands in the opening line: “My father was born with a bullet in his head.” A brilliant opening line for a brilliant speculative story that explores the physical manifestation of the sins of our ancestors. Sink into “Inheritance” below, our New Voices story for this week.

At sixteen, my father took a straight edge razor to his forehead. He dug at the bullet, hand unsteady from the pain. Blood streamed down his nose, splattered on the pale blue carpet of his bedroom. My grandmother would find him unconscious, maimed and puddled on the floor.

Understand this: My father was born with a bullet in his head.

My father came into this world late and screaming. This was 1953, inside the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, off the New Brunswick trolley line. My grandmother panted in her bed, blinded by her labor. The nurse only noticed after bathing the child. Flecks of blood swirled down the drain, the tender stump of the umbilical cord shriveling in the water. Skin pink and soft except for the grey bump pebbling in the infant’s forehead, right between the eyes.

The nurse noticed, but she did not understand. She assumed a defect, maybe an infection. It wasn’t until my grandfather entered the room, observed his son snuffling quiet in the bassinet, that anyone realized the true nature of the child’s condition.

Отчего?” he cried out. “This cannot be. He is an innocent.”

The nurse ushered my grandfather out into the hall. She could only parse every other word, my grandfather lapsing between Russian and heavily accented English, but guessed the lamentations concerned the deformity in the baby’s skull. The severity of the reaction, the depth of my grandfather’s shock, seemed out of proportion to the injury.

“Sir, please calm down. It’s probably just a minor cosmetic condition. I’m sure we’ll be able to clean it up if it doesn’t go away on its own.”

My grandfather waved off the nurse’s comfort. Squinted the water out of his eyes, straightened his suit jacket.

“Nyet. No. This, this is not a thing that will go away. Not on its own.”

To continue reading “Inheritance” click here.

Aug 23

Last Week: The Summer Short Story Award for New Writers Closes August 30th!

August 30th is just one week away—that’s when this year’s Summer Short Story Award for New Writers closes for submissions. Kali Fajardo-Anstine is this year’s judge, awarding the winning story with a $3,000 prize, in addition to publication and agency review from six agencies! If you haven’t submitted yet, what are you waiting for! Get to it!

$3000 + Publication + Agency Review!submit

Add to Calendar

The Summer Short Story Award for New Writers runs from July 1st to August 30th. The winning story will be awarded $3000 and publication online. Second and third place stories will be awarded publication and $300 and $200 respectively. All winners and honorable mentions will receive agency review by: Nat Sobel from Sobel Weber, Victoria Cappello from The Bent Agency, Andrea Morrison from Writers House, Sarah Fuentes from Fletcher & Company, Heather Schroder from Compass Talent, and Siohban McBride from Carnicelli Literary Management. We want you to succeed, and we want your writing to be read. It’s been our mission to support emerging writers since day one.

Guidelines:

  • 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 (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Self-published writers and writers with story collections and novels with a low circulation are welcome to submit.)
  • International English submissions allowed
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: August 30, 2020
  • Please, no identifying information on your story
  • All stories are considered for publication
  • If requesting an editorial letter, please indicate on your cover letter if the submissions is fiction or creative nonfiction
  • To view a list of our most commonly asked questions regarding submitting to The Masters Review, please see our FAQ page.

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.

Kali Fajardo-Anstine is a National Book Award Finalist and the author of Sabrina & Corinaa finalist for the PEN/Bingham Prize and The Story Prize, and longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize. Fajardo-Anstine is the 2019 recipient of the Denver Mayor’s Award for Global Impact in the Arts. Her fiction and essays have appeared in The American Scholar, Boston Review, Bellevue Literary Review, The Idaho Review, Southwestern American Literature, and elsewhereKali has been awarded fellowships from Yaddo, MacDowell Colony, and Hedgebrook. She has an MFA from the University of Wyoming and is from Denver, Colorado.


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Aug 20

Reading Through the Awards: Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

In a continuation of our series of micro-reviews, assistant editor Brandon Williams brought together a group of ardent readers to give their quick-hit impressions of recent novels which have won major awards from the literary world. Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf, recent winner of the Locus Award for Best Horror Novel (among other honors: the L.A. Times Ray Bradbury Prize, a finalist for the National Book Award), is our next selection.

Quick Book Summary (from the official blurb): Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard. As Tracker follows the boy’s scent–from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers–he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?


Clocking in over 600 pages, Marlon James’s 2019 fantasy novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the first of planned trilogy series exploring a mythical Africa full of magic, warring city-states, and enchanted humans. The plot is structured around a conversation between the Inquisitor and the protagonist known only as Tracker, who is a skilled hunter with a magical “nose” that helps him find people. Tracker tells the Inquisitor his story in sections of flashbacks beginning with his early childhood, and several quests, ultimately leading to the main journey he undertakes with several other magical beings to find a child who was missing for over three years.

Promoted as an excellent blend of African folklore, literary fiction, and fantasy, James’ novel promises intrigue before readers even turn the first page, but did it live up to the hype? I argue the hype is irrelevant as it all comes down to the kind of reader you are. As a reader, there were times I couldn’t set the book down where the maze-like prose was almost fun to solve and gave the impression of being told a folk story in the oral tradition, adding to the mythological nature of the book. Other times, that intricate prose and lack of investment from the protagonist in his adventure proved arduous, confusing, and made me wonder whether I wanted to continue reading. By the end of the novel, I was vaguely aware of the plot, a little tired, and yet somewhat satisfied because this is a different kind of read. It neither cares about the plot of the story it is trying to tell, nor what kind of audience is reading it. Its brilliance lies in the subtle but powerful truth of the novel that the protagonist only cares about his emotional need to flee his family trauma and the legacy it wrought at any personal cost. Again, this purpose of the book isn’t apparent upfront, but is my takeaway after serious consideration of why the book’s plot felt irrelevant. Moreover, I think this concept of the Tracker’s emotional need outweighing everything else in the novel, and themes that his need enacts is really what makes the book intriguing. Plus, who doesn’t also find witchcraft and men who can turn into leopards kind of cool to read?

Overall, while Black Leopard, Red Wolf is refreshing and different, it is also neither a fun read, a hype read or something for ardent readers who love a good challenge. In the spirit of the novel’s opacity, look into what kind of reader you are and go for it if you so choose.

Cassandra Wagner


Marlon James’s 2019 long-anticipated high fantasy novel, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, was always going to be brutal. Described half-jokingly by James as an “African Game of Thrones,” and by reviewers as “Rashomon-esque,” its hype presaged the novel’s focus on truth and violence. And on these counts it delivers. Tracker, a gifted mercenary who hunts using his powerful nose, is enlisted in the search for a missing boy. But the quest is surrounded by mistruths and half-truths, plagued by creatures and demons drawn from both James’s imagination and an astonishing breadth of African folklores. Tracker imbues the narrative with his concerns and his fallibility, and we are set up, from the first page, to question the truth of his story.

But the finely-tuned world of inspirations is, like Tolkien’s Middle Earth and Le Guin’s Earthsea before it, the chief draw of Black Leopard, Red Wolf. For all those heady conceits that orbit around unreliability, sexuality, changeability, it’s the sheer delight with which James constructs his universe that renders it as uniquely vivid and moving as it is. Here, demons strike only from ceilings, vampires conduct electricity. Tracker forms a bond early on with a group of ghostly, orphaned children and comes to see them in many ways as his own. And here James’s instincts for character work shine a light on Tracker’s tenderness. “Say this about a child…” he tells the reader. “They cannot imagine a world where you do not love them, for what else should one do but love them?”

Yes, the action is often blow-by-blow. It sometimes overstays its welcome. And for all the complex ideas the text offers about trauma, sometimes the violence overwhelms more than it needs to. But those are small gripes, and in the end, that’s how this world is—the one inhabited by James’s characters, at least. “Truth is truth and I do not own it,” Tracker tells us. “It should make no difference to me who hears it, since him hearing the truth does not change it.”

Benjamin Van Voorhis


The first section of the novel is interesting, surreal, and has a modest cast of characters that we, the readers, can grasp and easily come to revile or appreciate. The culture of the Ku, Tracker’s own people, is painted somewhat uniquely. Their ideas about sexuality and sexual maturity, in particular, raise many questions—but this is all unfortunately scrapped once the second section arrives. In fact, a lot of the magic, characters, and descriptions that were initially fascinating are either stripped away or oversaturated with hefty explanation in order to introduce the ‘real’ story—which is gathering a group of random, clearly distrustful strangers to go and track down a mysterious boy.

The subsequent chapters contrast greatly with the first five, as we realize Tracker is narrating his story to his captor, which takes away some of the familiarity we had with him when he was much younger and just barely becoming ‘a man’. Section two also suffers from stunted pacing and dull imagery, since the suddenly enormous cast of characters are required to wander around a dreary city and engage in overloaded political dialogues. This forced entrance of so many new faces, as well as the ubiquitous justification of these individuals and their actions, are not only overwhelming, but unfortunately not exclusive to the second part. The remaining sections fall prey to these same characteristics, with too much telling and reminding—in case the reader wasn’t paying attention.

We spend over half the book trying to figure out why this child is so important, and what’s strange is that even the author seems to be aware of how slow and tedious the narrative is. Actual quotations from Tracker and other characters include: “I am lost. What are we talking about now?”, “I was suffering through boredom”, and even “Let us make the story quick” when the actual story was not quick, but very long-winded. Even the two characters who lend themselves to the book’s title are not nearly as important as we think. In fact, most things don’t appear to be as important as we want them to be, and by the end there isn’t as much satisfaction as I had hoped. The last chapter serves as a literal summary of what the whole ‘search for the boy’ quest was about, leaving both those pages and the reader wondering if there was perhaps too much happening at once. Overall, it’s a very tiring read.

S. N. Valadez


Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf was pitched as an African Game of Thrones. Some executive crafted this tagline out of desperation, hoping to coax a [white] Western market into giving a fantasy story by a black man rooted in African mythologies and oral storytelling tradition a fair chance. This tactic, however, does James’ writing a disservice. He is no George R. R. Martin and this is no Game of Thrones.

James seems to delight in playing with the tropes that writers like Martin hold sacred, twisting them into new possibilities that subvert internalized expectations. He takes readers on a traditional Hero’s Journey, rearranging the formulaic stages then wham! There’s a journey within a journey and the end you were led to expect is no more. He offers a Chosen One as motive for the journey, only to then warp the character so the Chosen One is wrong and a former Villain in the arguable right. The use of African mythology, playing up the horror of beings and gods unknown to western audiences—because of the way the West has exploited what it could and ignored the rest—makes the world-building feel original.

However, it takes until the 60% mark for the pacing to pick up, and the writing style comes across as pretentious, with language that twists into riddles and philosophical observances that detract from the action. No conversation can be had without being both profane and profound. If a list of trigger warnings had been included, most lay readers would be dissuaded from proceeding. Sexual imagery is treated as the ultimate form of description, to an extent I haven’t experienced since a college class about Freudian interpretation in literature. The wall of a cave looks like “a screaming face, or elephant legs, or a young girl’s slit,” while another wall, this time of a house, is “spotted with nipples made of clay.” More than once the smell of genitalia, including that of a child, is referenced, and the image of a man ejaculating “a spray of man milk that hit her face and knocked her back four steps” is one I could have done without. Perhaps I am more Victorian in mindset than I realized, but this reached a level of abase crudity that went beyond distasteful and was unnecessary to the progression of the plot and characterization.

Cen Hansel

Aug 19

2020 Flash Fiction Contest Shortlist

Drum roll, please… It’s time to announce the 2020 Flash Fiction Contest Shortlist! These 15 stories are now in the hands of Sherrie Flick, who will decide the contest’s three winners. Check back in a month for the results, and wish all the authors on the shortlist good luck! Thank you to every one of our submitters, whose work we were incredibly pleased to read for this year’s flash fiction contest.

Bedtime, Celine Aenlle-Rocha

Heirlooms, Amanda Akers

Glass Birds, Sacha Bissonnette

NSFW, Elise Burke

Fire Season, Vincent Chavez

Bury Me Next To Your Name, Dayna Cobarrubias

A Visiting Poet, Frederica Morgan Davis

Consider the Shape of Your Fist, Leah Dawdy

Red on Yellow, Steph Grossman

Nineteen Eighty-Five, Katherine Hubbard

Choices, Scott Karambis

Dishwasher Hero, Justin MacGregor

A Short History of Missing Girls, Kate McQuestion

Crocodile, Ashleigh Pedersen

On Taking a Nap, Donna Tang

Aug 17

New Voices: “Different” by Sindya Bhanoo

In this week’s New Voices story, “Different” by Sinyda Bhanoo, Dr. Chandrasekharan’s life is thrown into disarray when a reporter from the local newspaper calls to ask questions about alleged misconduct on his part, involving his students and unpaid housework. Even worse, the university is opening an investigation into the allegations. Chand must understand, going back to when he was a graduate student himself, “Things were different then.”

Chand collected saliva into a ball in his mouth and pushed it through the gap between his two front teeth. The “incident” two years ago had been nothing, over before it started. John had said so himself. Just a student who had complained to the department about having to housesit without compensation. So much had happened in the last two years that Chand had forgotten about it. Since then, he had won one major federal grant, published four papers, presented at a half-a-dozen major conferences, and seen three former graduate students receive tenure at prestigious research universities.

For three decades, Chand gave his Indian graduate students his house keys when he and Raji left town. He told them to relax and use his spacious home as a place to rest and study, to use the hot tub in the back, and the grill, as long as they did not put beef on it. “Sleep in the guest bedroom,” he said. “Escape your dreary apartments.” It gave him pleasure to offer comforts that graduate student stipends could not afford. In his home, students could watch satellite channels like Zee TV and TV Asia and catch up on episodes of Koffee with Karan and Kaun Banega Crorepati. Before Skype and WhatsApp and FaceTime, some students made long distance phone calls from his landline. Chand never charged them for it. He treated them like family, because their own families were so far away.

He had been a graduate student once, in a small town in Montana, tens of thousands of miles away from Vellore, his hometown in South India. Things were different then. When he moved to America, he called his parents once every three months, and was careful to think through what to say before dialing. Back then, calls cost three dollars for the first minute and one dollar for every minute thereafter. He remembered the loneliness, the immense sorrow that came from going months without uttering a word of Tamil. There was no way for him to express certain thoughts, certain feelings, in the English language. He remembered the warmth he felt when the one Indian professor on campus, a Punjabi chemical engineer named Dr. Gupta, occasionally invited him to his home for dinner.

In the early days, there had been almost no age difference between Chand and his students. He was like their older brother. When male students arrived, if they had no apartment to live in, he offered them the couch and a sleeping bag for as long as they needed it. He drove them to campus and took them out to lunch. With female students he was courteous and helpful, but careful not to be too nice. He knew that lunch with an unmarried girl could easily be seen as something different than what he intended. When he turned twenty-eight, he flew to India and married Raji, his selection from a shortlist of potential brides his parents had ready for him. He selected Raji for her sturdy build, and her steady gaze. Unlike the others, she did not look away when he spoke to her.

After Raji joined him in Pullman, they threw dinner parties for Indian graduate students several times a year. She cooked vats of food and sent students home with full stomachs and generous leftovers. Ziploc bags and Tupperware containers full of cinnamon and clove infused pulao made with Basmati rice and korma, with coconut milk and ground cashew nuts. When a Hindu student and a Muslim student fell in love and failed to win the approval of their parents in India, he and Raji held a small wedding for them in their own backyard. The bride wore a strand of jasmine in her hair, made with flowers Raji ordered from Seattle.

Chand and Raji invited Indian graduate students over for all the holidays that Americans gather for, when foreigners don’t know what to do. Easter, Christmas, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving, which for years had been a festive, fusion meal in Chand and Raji’s house. Their older son, Mo, always made turkey with black pepper brine. Raji and Deepa, Mo’s wife, took care of the Indian food.

To continue reading “Different” click here.

Aug 15

The Masters Review Volume IX Finalists

We are so excited to share at last the shortlist for our ninth volume of our annual anthology. Rick Bass narrowed the field from 30 excellent stories and essays to a mere 10, which was surely a difficult task. We can’t wait to share these finalists with you!

 

Cicada Summer, Emma Choi

Everyday Horror Show, Paola Ferrante

Pirating, Jack Foraker

Exchanges, Dara Kell

The Monroe House, Charisse Kubr

The God in the Dark, Leeyee Lim

Proper Forage, Barbara Litkowski

Above Snowline, Rachel Markels Webber

Mortal Champions, Stefani Nellen

Whitney in the Real World, Stephanie Pushaw

Aug 14

Interview with the Winner: Samantha Xiao Cody

Samantha Xiao Cody’s “The Driver” was selected by Kimberly King Parsons as the winner of our 2019-2020 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers, and we were proud to publish her phenomenal story last week. Now, dive into her interview with Melissa Hinshaw below, as she discusses her influences, writing process, and the soundtrack to “The Driver”.

“The Driver” felt like such a classic, traditional story when we read it, in the sense of how clean and straightforward the writing is. Is this typical of your writing? What sort of influences drove (pun intended) the style of this piece?

I actually began writing the first iteration of this story nearly five years ago. I was reading a lot of Alice Munro at the time, but the story that most directly influenced “The Driver” was “A Real Durwan” by Jhumpa Lahiri. There was something so straightforward, almost parable-like, about the story that I admired and tried to emulate. I was also influenced by Yiyun Li, who has a strict and sparse prose that does a lot within the bounds of its cleanness. I would say that this style is fairly typical of my writing, especially my longer pieces of short fiction, though my stories have become a little weirder in the five years since.

It’s not often we read a piece about a suspicious character or possible-near-villain like this. Did you build the story around its title character, or did he appear once you began creating this world?

This character was an attempt to personify a particular feeling evoked by a 2010 trip to China. We were visiting my ma’s cousin and her husband (an airport executive, and the basis of the uncle in the story). I remember being very aware of the power that came with his position and their “new-money” status, a class positioning far from what my ma and her cousin had grown up with. It was unfamiliar to me, as well. I was aware of this power in the way of a child—sensing the shapes of things, without the words to describe them. I felt it in the way we found cars waiting for us as soon as we disembarked from the plane; the board dinners in ornate, private rooms full of officials and airport executives, where massive political decisions were volleyed over a table full of lavish food; the fully-arranged trip to the mountains. These extravagances always seemed to necessitate human resources—drivers, silent servers waiting to pour more baijiu, hired guides. I wanted to capture the layers of power I experienced that summer, the way even familial gatherings felt too large or significant. I wanted to create a character (the driver) who has a slightly dangerous mode of engaging with this wealth and power, someone whom the narrator thinks she understands, because she too is trying to figure out how to engage. I also wanted to explore the way in which people with wealth can sometimes project certain attributes—friendship, fondness, attachment, even love—onto their household employees, and in doing so, ignore or deny the power gradients at play.

What percent of this work of fiction is based on real-life experiences, if any?

If I were to quantify it, I would say around 60% of this work is based on real-life experiences. The familial relationships were slightly changed, and there is no such driver like the one in the story, nor a possible affair/theft. The narrator is based on my own experiences and perceptions, and the mother character is based on my own mother, whom I have always seen as quite strong, mysterious, and wise.

What do you focus (or ignore!) as you write in order to capture a child’s narrative style and point of view so well? 

For me, being a child involved having strong intuition and reacting to that intuition, without the ability to fully understand what I was reacting to. I was often aware of something being significant or strange, but couldn’t grasp why. Returning to this state feels fairly natural. Even though I’ve progressed beyond childhood in years, I don’t think I’ve left my child-state behind; I don’t think anyone has. It emerges in moments of intense fear or joy.

I still find myself in situations where my intuition is telling me something that I only form connections to weeks or months later. In this story, I focused on conveying the innocence of the narrator and how she observes without realizing what she is observing, such that the reader is (hopefully) able to see more of the truth than she can. I also wanted to capture her interest and trust in Xiao Wu, which I also feel is a childlike quality—being disproportionately attached to certain people, despite not knowing them (as well as the flipside, distrusting certain people but not being able to justify why, which is how Mei sometimes reacts to Xiao Wu).

There are so many class and culture distinctions at play in this story—so much information, and yet none of it feels life fluff or “extra.” How do you think about these elements when you sit down to write a work of fiction?

This is funny to think about because I always try to cram a lot into my stories, and am often unsuccessful. For this piece, I was aided by the real-life experience of wading through these intersecting layers of class, culture, and modernity, and seeing how these factors projected onto daily decisions and interactions. I generally approach a piece knowing the different intersections and layers I want to capture; the success is determined by whether I can pin those abstract ideas to more concrete goals and motivations held by the characters. In this piece, the goals of each character are fairly simple. If my characters’ motivations aren’t entirely clear to me, or if their decisions seem unreasonable, the “abstract themes” fail to emerge in a believable way, or perhaps the piece feels overcrowded. I’m currently writing a novel that my brother has lovingly told me is “trying to tackle a lot at once.” Only time and extensive revisions will tell if everything fits together in a reasonable way.

The piece ends on such a nostalgic note and sad note. How did you decide that that was the proper final touch for this story?

I wanted the story to end as a mirror to its beginning, showing the change that has happened in and between the characters. At the start, the aunt has the driver pick up the family; at the end, she has ordered a taxi to send them away. All the characters have lost the driver—the status signifier he was used to represent; his competency; his practiced (or not-so-practiced?) companionship with his clients, and their false sense of his friendship. At both the beginning and the end, the mother comments on the lemon trees, mourning how much her home has changed. By the end of the story, the mother is realizing that it is more than just the material markers of her former home that she has lost; her sister is no longer the person she was in their childhood, and in that sense, the loss of home is deeper than she initially realized.

If “The Driver” were a movie, what songs might be on its soundtrack?

This is the hardest question! To capture adolescent longing and confusion, I think I would go with Nao’s album “Saturn,” plus any and all Sally Yeh ballads. If I were to throw some jazz in, I would go with “Across the Crystal Sea” or “If I Forget You” by Danilo Perez, both of which have a dreamy and nostalgic quality. I have no idea if any of these songs go together.

Interviewed by Melissa Hinshaw

Aug 13

Interview with the Winner: Raeden Richardson

Today, we’re thrilled to share this interview with the 2nd place finalist from our 2019-2020 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers, Raeden Richardson. Digest the interview below and then wrap your head around the wonderfully bizarre “Joe Blake”.

I remember sitting down with the other TMR editors to read this story and we were all like “Joe Blake is a snake, right?” Tell us about that—is that a common name for snakes in Australia? What’s the backstory behind it? We’re still curious.

When I was a child, my father would jokingly warn me about cycling too deep into the bushland around the house for fear of encountering a “Joe Blake”. I never quite understood what he was talking about until one day I rode over a snake and swerved my bike into a tree! Using “Joe Blake” for “snake” is part of Australian rhyming slang, a dynamic, peculiar lexicon that overlaps with other codes of English language spanning Ireland, East London and West Hollywood. Rhyming slang is another reminder of the ways we use words to convey and obfuscate in the same instance.

Japanese anthropologist Hiroyuki Yokose wrote that “despite a preoccupation with drinking, gambling, body parts and fornication, the language is essentially good natured.” I feel that this is apt—but perhaps a little too naive. The history of rhyming slang is a history of vulgarity. We needn’t look too far down the list of phrases to see that these euphemisms conceal menace inside playfulness: “state election” for erection, “civil answer” for cancer, “optic nerve” for perve and “cut lunch” for punch. I’m captivated by writing that twists language to its limit, testing our rules until they crack and reveal the unexpected; that tension between threat and banter, at the very core of rhyming slang, seemed ripe for fiction.

Boring question but we must know: How did you get the idea for this story?

The story began with the image of a woman in an empty house, closer to the end of her life than the beginning, who survives her loneliness by accepting a gift from the outside world. Could the subversive quality of rhyming slang become a character? Could this character offer the woman an intimacy to transcend her suburban life? And, in accepting her new lover, would the woman also accept the menace and danger central to his being? The woman became Vrinda. The gift became Joe Blake.

During my early drafts I came across a newspaper article about a boy in Cambodia who grew up alongside a Burmese python. They shared a bedroom, lived happily together for twelve years and became celebrities in their town. By the time he hit puberty, she weighed 150kg (330 lbs)! But one day, after missing her massive daily meal, she bit the boy’s foot and was exiled to the zoo. I couldn’t believe it… maybe “Joe Blake” wasn’t as make-believe as I thought!

One of my favorite parts about this piece—and there are many—is how integrated and embedded the metaphor is, without being overt or blatant about it. How did you manage to walk that balance as you wrote, or dive into and fully embrace the metaphor your choice of characters presented?

This story began with the premise of a person falling in love with a snake. During the earliest drafts, I had to dive into this premise in order to plunder questions of loneliness, shame, dependence and predation. So much of this story rests on the divide between Vrinda’s private life and the outside world. Life in The Gully follows a logic coldly familiar to many of us: mass land developments encroaching on wildlife, faraway investments segmenting untouched land, tradesmen eyeing off housewives… But inside Vrinda’s house, as she grows to nurture and love Joe Blake, we find delicate desires and gradations of magic. All of this felt new and unpredictable! Why not sit the reader inside, right by Vrinda’s side, rather than out there? The pleasure of this story came when these two spheres would meet, and the reader, knowing full well the sinister aspects of Vrinda’s private love, could anticipate the inspector’s demise in way that he could never fathom—not in a million years.

What influences (literary or otherwise) feed your writing / imagination motor, especially in regards to “Joe Blake”?

One of my favorite stories is Henry Lawson’s “The Drover’s Wife”, in which a bushwoman defends her children and her dog from a rampaging snake. The story creates a sharp sense of desperation and terror, a classic human-versus-the-land story, that still endures even a century after it was first published. I also admire Lawson’s effort to make the domestic space, so often discarded or ignored, something dramatic and unpredictable. It feels as if every scene is wrought from urgent, biblical sentences. Ottessa Moshfegh’s “An Honest Woman” is also a delightfully menacing story about a woman and her pervert neighbor, separated only by a chain-link fence, with no one looking but the helplessly enthralled reader.

At an aesthetic level, I’m drawn to the work of Zadie Smith, Salman Rushdie and C Pam Zhang, three (of many) writers who invite a plurality of voices onto a single page. I’m compelled by fiction that allows multiple iterations of English to sift out between its characters, giving us access to truth not through a singular, essential ‘voice’ but in the harmony between separate tongues. I wanted to bring the different variations of English used by Vrinda, her son, the inspector and the narrator into one story, allowing them to combine for something unexpected, like rubbing separate sticks together to start a single fire.

We’re aware you have a novel-in-progress. Is “Joe Blake” somehow part of it, or anything like it? How much is this style of story your “home base” as a writer and /or how is it distinct from your other work?

In some ways, “Joe Blake” is a distillation of the questions that echo throughout The Degenerates—How far can our language take us? How do we make fictional those moments of suffering when we hear our words become inadequate? Thematically, there’s also an overlap in preoccupations with displacement, loneliness and storytelling. But at the level of the sentence, however, the works are two totally separate beasts! To switch between codes in “Joe Blake”, I had to strip the narrator from the consciousness of Vrinda, or any other character, making it simpler and sparser, whereas in The Degenerates, each section drapes itself intimately in the different voices central to the novel.

Interviewed by Melissa Hinshaw