The Masters Review Blog

Dec 20

Reading Through the Awards: Hell of a Book by Jason Mott

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. Jason Mott’s Hell of a Book, winner of the 2021 National Book Award, is our next selection.

Quick Book Summary (from the official blurb): “In Jason Mott’s Hell of a Book, a Black author sets out on a cross-country publicity tour to promote his bestselling novel. That storyline drives Hell of a Book and is the scaffolding of something much larger and urgent: since Mott’s novel also tells the story of Soot, a young Black boy living in a rural town in the recent past, and The Kid, a possibly imaginary child who appears to the author on his tour.”

In Hell of a Book by Jason Mott, an unnamed author goes on a book tour across the country, converses with a possible figment of his imagination, and a boy named Soot deals with bullying and loss. Each of these characters must reflect on and reckon with their Blackness, and Mott manages to execute these in often comedic ways. In one of the many meta moments of the novel, the narrator/author seemingly discovers that he’s Black. This triggers several conversations about his life, his skin color, and his book with several charming side-characters. Echoing the humor sprinkled throughout, Mott manages to simultaneously ground his world in current events like Black Lives Matter protests and keep it suspended in the strange interactions surrounding those events. In a similar move to amplify that floating nature of the narrative, every person he meets raves about his book, but the author hardly even knows what it’s about. “Hell of a book,” he and everyone around him says, but specifics are nonexistent on the page. At the same time, the novel explores the story of Soot, a young Black boy who wants to (and can?) turn invisible. Soot more immediately navigates the trauma of bullying, loss, and what it means to him to be Black in America—something the author also must process. At its core, Hell of a Book is about love of family, of self, and how to protect and preserve that love.

Leah Dawdy

Hell of a Book is smart, immersive, cinematic and hilarious. There is a real electricity to the voice: both a moral urgency and an insistence on entertaining. Mott miraculously plants his novel very firmly in the present moment and American history, the novel calling equal parts to Ralph Ellison as it does to, say, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. It reminds us that, in all the heated urgency that was 2020 (and, less so, unfortunately, 2021) American racismand our often-scripted responses to itis nothing new. The novel coerces us into the uncomfortable question: how much has changed, really, from when Ellison published his Invisible Man in 1953 to Mott’s publication of Hell of a Book (featuring, it’s worth noting, the invisible and possibly imaginary character, The Kid) in 2021? Still, the book is not perfect. And, you know, I refuse to play the grouchy highbrow critic undermining a good and serious book for its playfulness. But the irony of the book, its blunt awareness of its artifice, its often-detached rendering of our writer-protagonist… there’s something about it that stopped me from feeling as invested and moved as I wanted to be. The novel indulges in its cheekiness. There is something thrilling about voice and dialogue to be sure, but there are moments nonetheless that, instead of deepening theme or advancing narrative, just sort of… linger. Which I mostly didn’t mind: Mott can damn well write. But there are sections of the novel that feel prolonged, indulgent, lost in conceit and voice and narrative frenzy.

Which is not to dismiss the fact that this is a very good book. I had a lot of fun reading it; I felt challenged and stimulated by the questions it asks about author and audience, the commodification of a writer’s identity, the ways our collective liberal consciousness confronts and ignores police brutality, the ways our collective humanity becomes shallowed by hackneyed news-cycle cliches. It’s funny: I’d probably like this book a whole lot more if I didn’t come in thinking, So what’s this National Book Awarder all about? It’s an interesting thing, how these accolades color our expectations and reading experience. What really matters is this: Hell of a Book is indeed a very good bookand despite its flaws, maybe even a great one.

Joshua Olivier

Jason Mott’s Hell of a Book, more than anything else, is a series of old stories framed in new ways. A successful writer on his first book tour self-destructs while grappling with alcoholism, mental illness, and a past he doesn’t want to remember or acknowledge; a Black boy with uniquely dark skin tries to find his place in a country inundated by racially-motivated police shootings; a book reckons with itself as a story and stories as reality.

At its best, the novel uses its humor and metatextualness to tackle familiar political and human concerns in a way that feels fresh. The unnamed author’s voice zings along like a go-kart, often laugh-out-loud funny and always aware of itself as voice, just as the book is always aware of itself as a book—the author’s novel, for instance, is also titled Hell of a Book, and he’s often unable to distinguish reality from fiction. Other standout examples include a scene wherein the author abruptly realizes he’s Black—which in addition to being hilarious raises some hard-hitting questions about identity and presentation—and one in which he’s confronted by a police officer responsible for killing a Black boy who refuses to take responsibility for what he did. “And that,” diagnoses the author, “[is] the whole problem.” The boy—nicknamed Soot—takes over for alternating chapters; these passages serve to ground the book in a childhood where being Black is a dangerous reality Soot’s parents continually try to shield him from, until they can’t.

At its worst, Hell of a Book gets lost in its own sense of untetheredness. Toward the conclusion, as the author’s break from reality becomes complete, some of the metatextual elements start to feel too familiar, and the characters Mott has spent the bulk of a novel molding lose some of their definition as people. It’s hard to feel by this point that they aren’t simply stand-ins for a generalized Black American experience, especially as the text calls in to question specifics of those characters’ histories and personalities. As purposeful as this may be, it also undermines one of the novel’s central theses: that people killed in the US as a result of their Blackness are first and foremost people with bodies and minds and communities. Although not every move Mott makes pays off, make no mistake—Hell of a Book grapples with race and violence in the US in a way that demands you pay attention. It’s imperfect, but also layered, timely, and very much worth reading.

Benjamin Van Voorhis

Curated by Brandon Williams

Dec 19

Chapbook Open Submissions Close Soon!

We’re still taking submissions for this year’s Chapbook Open, but only through the end of the month! Send in your 25-40 page manuscripts that don’t fit in anywhere else, because we want to read them. We want to publish your collections of flash, your mini novellas, your 40 page short stories. We want to publish your braided essays, your eclectic brainchildren, your experiments. However you want to tell your story, we want to read it. Full details can be found on our contest page.

Submissions Open Through December 31st!


This year, The Masters Review is holding an open call for chapbooks. We want to publish your collections of flash, your mini novellas, your 40 page short stories. We want to publish your braided essays, your eclectic brainchildren, your experiments. However you want to tell your story, we want to read it. (As long as it’s between 25-40 double-spaced pages.) Matt Bell will be deciding this year’s winner! The submission window will be open for the final four months of the year, and The Masters Review staff will select a small shortlist of our favorites to pass along to a Matt Bell, who will select the winning book.

The winning writer will be awarded $3000, manuscript publication, and 50 contributor copies. We’re seeking to celebrate bold, original voices within a single, cohesive manuscript of 25 to 40 pages. We’re interested in collections of short fiction, essays, flash fiction, novellas/novelettes, longform fiction or essays, and any combination thereof, provided the manuscripts are complete (no excerpts, chapters, works-in-progress, or other incomplete work). We are NOT interested in poetry. (We’re sure your poetry is fantastic, but we’re not qualified to judge its merit!)

The Masters Review staff will select a shortlist of 5-10 chapbooks to pass along to our guest judge, who will select the winning manuscript. Our judge will provide a brief introduction for the manuscript upon publication. The published manuscript will be available for sale as a physical copy and distributed digitally through our newsletter. Check back soon for an announcement of this year’s judge! Last year’s winning book, Mastersplans by Nick Almeida, selected by Steve Almond, will be published this fall, and is available to pre-order now through any submission category. Digital and print copies will be available.


  • Winner receives $3000, manuscript publication, and 50 contributor copies
  • Second and third place finalists will be acknowledged on our website
  • Manuscripts should be between 25-40 pages (not including front/back matter) with each story beginning on a new page
  • Manuscripts should be double-spaced and paginated
  • Manuscripts should include a Table of Contents (if necessary) and an acknowledgements page listing any previously published material within the manuscript
  • Manuscripts may contain some previously published work, but the published work cannot have appeared in any other chapbook or full-length collections
  • Self-published chapbooks are previously published and therefore ineligible
  • No poetry chapbooks, please (we will consider chapbooks which contain some prose poetry)
  • Electronic submissions only
  • Single author manuscripts only
  • International English submissions allowed (No translations)
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed (Please withdraw submissions if they are accepted elsewhere.)
  • Emerging writers only (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Self-published writers and writers with story collections and novels with a small circulation (fewer than 5000 copies) are welcome to submit.)
  • Entry fee: $25
  • Deadline: December 31, 2021
  • Individual stories or essays within the manuscript may be considered for publication in our New Voices series
  • We are not requiring blind submissions for this contest
  • Editorial letters for up to 3 individual pieces within the manuscript may be requested
  • A significant portion of the editorial letter and manuscript consultation fees go to our feedback editor, according to the rates established by the EFA
  • Please e-mail contact at with questions

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.

Matt Bell’s latest novel, Appleseed, was published by Custom House in July 2021. His craft book Refuse to Be Done, a guide to novel writing, rewriting, & revision, will follow in March 2022 from Soho Press. He is also the author of the novels Scrapper and In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, as well as the short story collection A Tree or a Person or a Wall, a non-fiction book about the classic video game Baldur’s Gate II, and several other titles. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Esquire, Tin House, Conjunctions, Fairy Tale Review, American Short Fiction, and many other publications. A native of Michigan, he teaches creative writing at Arizona State University.


Dec 13

New Voices: “A Banana” by Taylor Craven

Our final New Voices entry of the year is here! “A Banana” by Taylor Craven is an absurd, crushing flash about a Banana Horse. The earnestness of the narrator in asserting her banana is a horse compels you to believe her, and to look past the loneliness and crushing lack of self-confidence that live between the lines.

I didn’t want people to pay attention to me. I wanted them to pay attention to my horse. Then maybe they’d forget about me. Think of the free time I would have if I only had to worry about a horse instead of my personality.

I had never seen a banana gallop like a horse, until that day, when I held one in my hand and decided it was a horse, rocking it back and forth on the table, its beautiful yellow coat shining in the shaky fluorescents, oh, the slickest I’ve ever seen. I had taken it from the bowl on top of the fridge, just like the others, but this one was different, for a reason I can’t explain. It was a beautiful and interesting horse, I decided, so that I’d have somebody to keep me company all the time. Much better than a person, yes. Some people keep plants and water them, or tend to vast collections or trash, but I wanted a horse, merely for the fact that I had seen one before. Do you know how they move? Smooth.

I didn’t know much about the horse, or any horse really, but I thought it was impressive that I could know one. I should be grateful. That’s the secret to being happy, I think, so I took pride in it. It was the most valuable thing I had, everything I’d ever wanted, right in front of me. Something living, breathing. This horse had chosen me, and I owed it a full life, whatever that means.

I had no idea how to take care of something so new, so I just stared at it for a while. People like me don’t own horses unless they’re the kind that somebody found in an abandoned barn. But this horse made me feel like I was really somebody, and for that I loved it. I didn’t want people to pay attention to me. I wanted them to pay attention to my horse. Then maybe they’d forget about me. Think of the free time I would have if I only had to worry about a horse instead of my personality.

To continue reading “A Banana” click here.

Dec 10

Litmag Roadmap: Florida

If it’s getting a little cold where you are, consider joining us on our trip down to Florida! B.B. Garin’s rounded up the great literary journals that the Sunshine State has to offer.

It’s easy to joke about Florida. Spring Break. Gator Wrestling. The Interstate Mullet Toss. (Yup, that’s a real thing!) But all joking aside, Florida has some serious literary chops. From Hemingway’s home in Key West to Karen Russell’s Everglades-inspired Swamplandia!, this state has long been a fertile ground for writers. So, buckle up and don’t mind the wildlife as we head south on our litmag road trip!

Gulf Stream

Proudly declaring themselves “South Florida’s Literary Current”, Gulf Stream is published twice a year by the Creative Writing Program at Florida International University. This online journal cultivates an edgy, progressive style. They are open to genre bending work and innovative forms in fiction, poetry, CNF, and visual art. Submissions are open June-March.

The Florida Review

Every issue of The Florida Review is infused with an atmosphere of alligators and cypress trees. Born on the not-so swampy campus at the University of Central Florida, they have been publishing works with a strange and gritty flare since 1975. For both the print and the weekly online journal they seek fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and graphic narratives.

Swamp Ape Review

There’s nothing more Florida than the legend of the Swamp Ape. Big, fierce, and defying explanation—that’s what this journal is after. Produced by students at Florida Atlantic University, the editors are fascinated by the human tendency to create narratives around things that can’t be explained. Thus, in addition to regular submission categories of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, they offer “swamp” for works that defy genre. This is an excellent home for all things hybrid, subversive, speculative, and somewhere beyond the beaten path.

Southeast Review

The long-running SER is edited by graduate students at Florida State University. Their large, diverse staff brings a wide lens to the journal, creating an energetic and eclectic mix of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art. Work first published here has gone on to appear in Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize Anthology. Submissions are rolling for both the online and biannual print editions. An annual contest with several genre categories runs Sept-Jan.


Another college-based publication, Subtropics is produced at the University of Florida. They lean towards a contemporary, and often contemplative, style. With a stated aversion to second person narratives, more experimental works will probably not find a home here. However, this is the rare market accepting long fiction, including novellas and novel excerpts. They also accept poetry, essays, and translations.

Tampa Review

Founded in 1964, this is Florida’s oldest continuously published literary journal. It is filled with quality content inside and out, as this may be the only journal in the country printed in hardcover twice a year. They’ve recently reopened to poetry and prose submissions after a brief hiatus. Work is also considered for the Tampa Review Online, and entries to their prose and poetry contests are always open.

by B.B. Garin

Dec 9

Craft: “How to Put Forth, to Go Forth: Thoughts on Process & Product” by Courtney Harler

In our last craft essay of 2021, Courtney Harler discusses the importance sending our work out into the world, instead of remaining perpetually in the “process” space. In 2022, make it a resolution to put yourself out there! You never know what might happen.

As writers, we spend a lot of time in “process” or in “progress.” We hunker down, work on our “craft” or our “art.” We eventually “workshop” and “open mike” to share our work with others, to get valuable feedback which, in turn, refuels our writerly “process” or “progress” on the page. I put these terms in quotation marks because they are the hallmark terms of the writer’s working world. I also put these terms in quotation marks because they are, in my educated opinion, somewhat overused. Sometimes. Well, actually, a whole heck of a lot. Let me try to explain:

Almost every writer, at some point or another, unless they are Emily Dickinson, would probably, one day, some day, like to see their writing published in some format, whether in print or online. In fact, online literary magazines, with their corresponding digital submission forms, have made publishing much more accessible to a wider variety of writers. Many traditional print lit mags also now offer or even require digital submissions. The modern writer, or at least one who is in the habit of “submitting,” can’t quite imagine what it would be like to print and post every time they wanted a publication market to consider their work. Normally, a writer just attaches the file, pays the fee (if requested), and hopes for a good outcome. The submission process has become almost too easy: if everyone can do it, then why can’t we? Now, I think maybe we are starting to see how the words “submitting” and “publishing” can thus be deemed as equally “problematic” as “process” and “progress” and “craft” and “art.” Let me continue to explain:

Many instructors of writing, and even some professional industry editors, privilege “process” over “product.” Meaning, the process and progress, the craft and art, are prioritized over the submitting and publishing. I agree that we need to know and understand our own work, and our goals for our work, before we begin to send it into the wider world. However, I do not believe in keeping writers in a perpetual process space, especially if they express a sincere and studied wish to move beyond that process space into a product space. Not all writers are ready to publish, sure, but sometimes “failing” in that arena becomes part of the process, part of the progress.

Lots of writers have lots of work in-progress on any given day. On any given day, some work is ready to “go out,” while some may take years to be “ready” at all, for even a fellow writer’s eyes. As writers, as creators, ultimately, we decide when, where, and with whom, we share our work. Maybe the work is so unique or experimental that an instructor or mentor expresses their doubts. (This exact scenario occurred to Emily Dickinson, believe it or not.) Maybe the writer takes that well-meaning advice and dives back into process, even perhaps seeks more training in the craft. But maybe that same writer takes that same advice and quietly puts it where the sun don’t shine, if you know what I mean. Maybe that same writer submits that poem or that story or that novella. Maybe that same writer gets published. In both scenarios, the writer, most likely, keeps writing. And honestly, to keep on keeping on is the most desirable outcome of both process and product.

Let me say boldly now that “product” is not the opposite, or the antithesis, of “process.” Rather, and quite simply, product is the flip side of the process coin. We all begin somewhere, and we all finish somewhere. Joyce Carol Oates tells us that “finishing” a written work is very important for the practicing writer. We need a sense of “product” to fuel our next project, our next dream. Yes, we may return the product to a process space from time to time, as in, we may switch from open (generative) to closed (critical) creative modes in our work, and sometimes do so many, many times in the same day. As far as old “craft” axioms go, it’s true the written work is never “done,” but sometimes it is “good enough” to “go out” on the town. To go out in the wide, wide world and gain some acceptance, or some rejection, however the case may prove. Let me also say again that “failure” is a vital part of artistic process. How can we know what the market wants, if we never ask? We as writers, along with our written work, will never go forth, unless we put forth.

by Courtney Harler, MA & MFA

Dec 8

The Masters Review — Call for Readers!

The Masters Review is looking to add some talented new readers to our team this winter. If you love literary fiction and nonfiction, and three to four hours of reading submissions a week sounds like fun, we encourage you to apply. Our readers work remotely and can set their own schedules. BIPOC, marginalized and underrepresented writers are strongly encouraged to apply!


This position begins in January and involves a commitment through June. PLEASE NOTE: readerships are unpaid and on a strictly volunteer basis. If interested, please send a cover letter, resume, and at least one fiction or narrative nonfiction writing sample by 11:59 PT, Sunday December 19th. We look forward to hearing from you!

Dec 6

New Voices: “Aprovecha” by Mason Boyles

This week’s New Voices story comes to us from Mason Boyles. In “Aprovecha,” Rena’s brother, Walt, makes an unexpected appearance, early, for once, for her birthday. Walt’s career has caused friction in their family, and now Rena doesn’t know what to expect of Walt. Will this time be any different? Boyles’s prose, relying on sharp, precise verbs, carries this humid story along its strange journey. Sink in below.

The lady pulls a button bag out of her pocket. Two emoji-yellow tablets gleam under the plastic. The plastic seems to swell as she prickles the seal open, like the heat of her grip is causing the air inside to expand. She drops them into Walt’s palm. He cups one into his mouth and offers the other to Rena. “Aprovecha.”

This year Walt breaks into the trailer early. Rena’s rushing air into her bicycle tires when the gravel patch down by the 133 turnoff starts prickling. Only her brother would risk such a skid on that hairpin. She ditches the bike pump and ducks behind the hydrangeas just as his Jeep fishtails into their driveway.

He gleams shirtlessly out of the driver’s side, bicep-curling his backpack. He sets it down to kickstand her toppled bike. “Sis?”

Rena stays crouched.

He fishes the spare key from the bird’s nest and shoves inside. Rena peers through the front window, feeling eleven all over—she used to stoop outside his bedroom window just like this to snoop on him.

He pops the lid of her takeout and sucks a sauceless chicken wing, seasoning it with slurps from a spliff. The chest tattoo’s new, and the paunch blurring his abs.

Rena lurks through the doorway. “Are you bulking?”

“Missed you, too, Ms. College.” Walt scrapes the ECU magnet with the sharp end of a  wishbone like a scratch-off ticket. “Did you bury Ma under the carport after she connipted?”

“I’m applying for need-based.”

“You’re not Lumbee enough.” Walt points the wishbone out front. “What you got’s a pinch flat. Told you not to ride those tires on gravel. Wheezing that bike pump won’t do a lick till you change the tube.”

Rena tries to place that alphabet of ink margined under his collarbone. A streak of epitaph- looking capitals. Maybe Greek. Better than the alleged Hebrew that looks more like SWAN on his bicep. Her brother a Rosetta Stone of languages he doesn’t know, breaking that wishbone. He sags into the La-Z-Boy and offers her the long end.

“Your birthday’s in my gym bag.”

The zipper splutters powders when Rena opens it. She digs through the Ziplocks of whey protein and creatine, coughing chalk and synthetic sweet. A new Macbook. A shaker bottle plush with mold. Glad-wrapped nugs of skunk weed. She reels up a lava-lamp printed fanny pack.

“Warmer,” Walt says.

Rena spanks out his wallet. Two tickets loll from the billfold. Roundtrip flights to Lima. Walt gives the wishbone a paper-football flick. “Happy early eighteenth. Don’t kiss me.”

“This flight’s for tomorrow.”

Walt just sucks at his spliff.

“I’ve got work,” she says.

“Horace’ll manage. Without your ass to grab he can cook with both hands.”

Somewhere out on the state road a truck engine starts gargling.

Rena rubs the tickets together. There used to be CPS files just like this, a matching pair of papers headed with their names. “How’d you—where, I mean—”

“Got a patron.”

The tickets go gross in her fingers. She sticks them to his sweat-wet chest. “I’m closing tonight. Will you be here when I’m back?”

Walt heaps his stare toward the carport.

“Ma’s on a headhaul to Fresno. She left yesterday.”

He hands her back the tickets with his keys. “Take the Jeep.”

To continue reading “Aprovecha” click here.

Dec 4

2021 Summer Short Story Award Shortlist

We are excited to announce the shortlist for the 2021 Summer Short Story Award for New Writers! These fifteen selections are now with Kristen Arnett who will select the finalists, and we anxiously await her decision. Thank you to all of our submitters, and congratulations to our fifteen shortlisted writers!

Easter Morning by Caleb Berer

Night Stencils by Sherine Elbanhawy

Degenerate Matter by Jen Galvao

The Summer House by Merel Gerretsen

Ships in the Night by Neta Harris

The Treasure Room by Cristina Hartmann

Certainty by Pauline Holdsworth

Wish You Were Here by Carlee Jensen

The Professor by Amelia Kreminski

Don’t Move by C.M. Linley

When I Speak by Saras Manickam

Idolize by Daniel Perlstein

Bendiciones by A.J. Rodriguez

All This is Yours to Lose by Marcus Tan

Foxhunt by Kate Velguth

Dec 1

2021-2022 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers Now Open for Submissions!

The 2021-2022 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers is now open for your submissions through the end of January. You can find out all the details on our contest page. We’re proud to continue to offer this great contest to all of our fantastic submitters.


The 2021-2022 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers is an annual contest that recognizes the best fiction from today’s emerging writers. Judging this year’s contest is Ye Chun, author of Hao, a collection of stories recently longlisted for the 2022 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence. 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 winning stories and any notable Honorable Mentions will receive agency review by the following: 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.


Ye Chun is a bilingual Chinese American writer and literary translator. Her collection of stories, Hao (Catapult, 2021), was an Indie Next Selection and was longlisted for 2022 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. She has also published two books of poetry, Travel Over Water and Lantern Puzzle, a novel in Chinese,《海上的桃树》(Peach Tree in the Sea), and four volumes of translations. A recipient of an NEA Literature Fellowship, a Sustainable Arts Foundation Award, and three Pushcart Prizes, she teaches at Providence College and lives in Providence, Rhode Island. Visit her at (photo credit Mira Feifei Ye-Flanagan)


  • 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 are welcome to submit. Writers with novels published with small circulations (around 5000 copies) can also submit.)
  • International English submissions allowed
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: January 31st, 2022
  • 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
  • A significant portion of the editorial letter fees go to our feedback editor, according to the rates established by the EFA


Nov 30

Deadline TONIGHT: The Masters Review Novel Excerpt Contest Judged by Dan Chaon Closes At Midnight!

If you’re waiting until the last minute to submit, well, it’s almost here. Our first Novel Excerpt Contest closes tonight at midnight PT—give a final look to those 6,000 word excerpts and send them our way. We can’t wait to read what you’ve written.

submitThe Masters Review is hosting its first Novel Excerpt Contest! We’re looking for excerpts that show off a sense of style, with a clear grasp on craft: narrative, character, and plot. Choose wisely! Your excerpt can come from any point in your completed or in-progress novels, but a synopsis should not be required for understanding the excerpt. Excerpts must be from previously unpublished novels; if your novel has been self-published, it is ineligible for this contest. As always, we have no limitations on genre, though we are primarily interested in literary fiction. Dan Chaon will serve as our inaugural judge and select the finalists from a shortlist provided by The Masters Review’s editorial team. The winning excerpt will be awarded $3000 and online publication and an hour-long consultation with a literary agent. Second and third place excerpts will be awarded online publication and $300 and $200 respectively, in addition to 1 page of feedback from a literary agent.


  • Winner receives $3000, publication and consultation with an agent
  • Second and third place prizes ($300 / $200, publication and agent feedback)
  • Excerpts under 6000 words
  • Excerpts from unpublished novels only
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed
  • Emerging writers only (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Self-published writers and writers with story collections and novels with a small circulation (fewer than 5000 copies) are welcome to submit.)
  • International English submissions allowed
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: November 30th, 2021
  • Please, no identifying information on your excerpt
  • All excerpts are considered for publication
  • A significant portion of the editorial letter fees go to our feedback editor, according to the rates established by the EFA

Q: What’s the deal with my rights if I want to publish my book eventually?
While we’re not able to speak for every publisher, since we’re not publishing your work in its entirety, it should not be a problem going forward. Rights also revert back to the author after 90 days. If an opportunity came up for you to publish your work before the 90 days, we are happy to revert rights back to you sooner.

Q: Does it have to have a beginning, middle and end?
We want an excerpt that stands well on its own, that makes us want to read the full book. We want a sense of conclusion from the excerpt, but we also know that we’re only reading part of a novel and don’t expect all threads to be resolved. You can read Jennifer Marquardt’s “The Analyst” for an example of the kind of novel-excerpt we’re interested in.

Q: When should I expect to hear back?
We will try to respond to every submission by the end of February, and hope to have the finalists announced at the end of March or beginning of April. If this timeline changes significantly, we will notify all authors. We appreciate your patience!

Q: Can I submit two chapters if its under 6000 words?
You can submit as many chapters as you’d like, as long as the word count is under 6000 words.

Q: How firm are you on word count?
We allow for some wiggle room; don’t force your revisions into 6000 words. We’d rather read a couple hundred extra words than a cramped conclusion!

Q: Can I submit a synopsis/prologue with my excerpt?
We recommend that you don’t; your excerpt will be judged on its merit alone, and the synopsis will not be published alongside your excerpt.

Q: Can I submit with a co-writer?
Sure; but you’ll need to split the prize money.

Q: What if a small portion of the book has already been published?
As long as the excerpt you’re submitting has not been published in any form, and the novel itself has not been published, we’re happy to consider your work!

Q: I self-published my novel on my blog but later took it down; can I still submit an excerpt?
Unfortunately because it’s been published in some form or fashion, the excerpt would no longer be eligible for this contest.

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.

Dan Chaon is the author of several books, including the National Book Award nominee Among the Missing, the national best sellers Among the Missing and Ill Will, and the forthcoming novel Sleepwalk (Henry Holt, April, 2022). Photo credit: © Géraldine Aresteanu


To thank you for your continued support of The Masters Review, we’re excited to offer you the following opportunities with your submission: is offering 15% off any of their classes this year, and the discount code will be included in the confirmation e-mail when you submit.

Literature & Latte is offering a 20% discount on their incredibly helpful Scrivener writing software for macOS and Windows users. There will be a discount code in the confirmation e-mail when you submit.

The Writing Salon is offering every submitter a 10% off discount code on a writing class with a discount code included in your confirmation e-mail!

Keep working on your novel with one of Catapult‘s classes. A discount code for 10% off any upcoming class will be included in your confirmation e-mail.


Nov 29

New Voices: “Humboldt Park Blues” by Randy William Santiago

Randy William Santiago’s “Humboldt Park Blues” is a coming-of-age story set in the inner city of Chicago. The narrator of Santiago’s story discovers a world in which he can no longer rely on his brother’s protection, after Rubén meets Vanessa. “Humboldt Park Blues” explores family and masculinity in a voice that is fresh, earnest and true. We are so proud to share this story with you all.

Walking home from school was easier when Rubén was around. Having him near didn’t make run-ins with gangs less prominent, and it sure as hell didn’t prevent them from chasing us down Kostner whenever we wore anything that deviated from the neutral black and white, but it felt safer. There’s comfort in getting jumped with another person, in laughing it off once you’ve survived. The deep vibrations of their laughter clutching your body like a firm hand as it wobbles above the pavement.

That all changed when Rubén met Vanessa. Suddenly Kostner seemed larger, its threats amplified.

These pendejos get a taste of some ass and suddenly think they can fly, Ma said to me after Rubén started dating Vanessa.

Ma only talked to me when she was pissed at Rubén, cursing his name behind the embers of her blunt. She’d vent to me one day and kiss Rubén’s ass the next.

Made me wish Rubén hadn’t switched up on me when Vanessa came into the picture, so that I wasn’t left to deal with Ma’s mood swings alone.

It used to be that Rubén and I chilled often, that we talked about the girls we wanted or the dudes we hated or the dreams of escape that we never believed in. But then Rubén met Vanessa, and it was like she had her own gravitational pull and Rubén couldn’t help but be with her.

And sure, Vanessa was fine.

She was tall, with wavy hair and hazel eyes. Golden hoops dangling from her ears. A frail neck piece to match. To top it off, she was Puerto Rican, White Puerto Rican (like Ma and Rubén, but we never talked about that). All anyone talked about was what they would like to do with her (which wasn’t appropriate to address in public either) or what they believed she did with random guys around Humboldt Park.

As far as Rubén was concerned, there wasn’t another man in Humboldt Park. Maybe even the world. Vanessa was his and no one could convince him otherwise. Ma tried to once, told him that he’d forget how to see if he got too close.

Can’t see anything if your head’s up her ass, she said.

No doubt Ma was still bitter toward the men who left, who abused, who cheated. Bitter about their ability to transition from their current lives to new ones once their interest faded.

Despite her bitterness, Ma was also lonely. She liked the idea of Rubén locking fingers with a Puerto Rican girl from our hood, leaning against her locker at a precise angle, slightly tapping her shoulder with his in that manner that says I’m feeling you.

That’s how your dad used to do me, Ma said, nostalgia creeping into her voice.

After a while, Ma began asking Rubén everything she could about Vanessa, a silence falling whenever I entered the room, as if the two of them were in the know of something confidential. Rubén and Ma transformed our sala into their very own gossip mill, talking shit through the wee hours of the night.

This forced me to melt my eardrums until they spilled onto Fullerton Avenue, where red light traffic whirred my psyche into paralysis, thrusting me into that limbo that straddles complacent and discontent.

To continue reading “Humboldt Park Blues” click here.

Nov 28

December Deadlines: 12 Contests and Prizes Ending This Month

2021 is coming to a close, soon, and so are these 12 contests and prizes! Strike up a fire and get those manuscripts whipped into shape. There’s a new year coming!

TRIPLE FEATURE! The Masters Review’s Novel Excerpt Contest Closes Nov. 30th!

Okay, okay. This isn’t a December deadline. BUT: Our first Novel Excerpt Contest, with guest judge Dan Chaon, is closing for submissions on Nov. 30th. The winner receives a $3,000 prize, online publication, and an hour-long consultation with an agent on their manuscript. Second and third place finalists will receive $300 and $200 prizes respectively, along with online publication and a page of feedback on their excerpt from a literary agent. Find all the details here.

Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: Nov. 30

The Masters Review’s Chapbook Open Closes Dec. 31st!

This year’s winning chapbook will be selected by Matt Bell. We’re looking for your collections of flash, your mini novellas, your 40 page short stories. We want to publish your braided essays, your eclectic brainchildren, your experiments. However you want to tell your story, we want to read it. (As long as it’s between 25-40 double-spaced pages.) The contest’s submission window closes at the end of the year, so you’ve only got a few weeks to submit! Check it out.

Entry fee: $25 Deadline: Dec. 31

The Masters Review’s Winter Short Story Award for New Writers OPENS Dec. 1st!

Last in our triple feature: Our always-popular Short Story Award for New Writers opens for submissions on the 1st. You’ve got until the end of January to submit your fiction and creative non-fiction (up to 6,000) to this annual contest. As always, we’re looking for great new work from emerging writers. The winner gets a $3000 prize, along with online publication and agency review. Other finalists will receive cash prizes, online publication and agency review as well! This year’s contest is judged by the spectacular Ye Chun. Learn all about it.

Entry fee: $20 Deadline: Jan 31

Wallace Stegner Fellowship

This prestigious fellowship is offered annually to ten writers: five in fiction, and five in poetry. Fellows are considered artists, and the only requirements are workshop attendance and writing. The fellowship is open to all writers, regardless of age or education. A living stipend of $43,000 a year is offered to each of the ten fellows per academic year. For fiction, your manuscript may be up to 9,000 words; for poetry, submit up to 15 pages. Read more.

Entry fee: $85 Deadline: Dec 1

W.Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction

If you’ve published a novel this year set during a period in which the United States was at war, consider submitting your novel to the W.Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction. This prize earns the novelist $5,000 and a 24k gold-framed citation of achievement. The novel does not need to be driven by incidents of war; a war may only provide the setting for the novel. If you think your novel may qualify, submit now!

Entry fee: FREE Deadline: Dec 1

Chautauqua Prize

The Chautauqua Prize is an annual contest run by the Chautauqua Institution, honoring a book of fiction or narrative non-fiction that was published in the previous year. The winning writer receives a $7,500 prize and a one-week residency, and will give a 30 minute reading at an event in the winning writer’s honor. In order to be eligible, you may not have won a Chautauqua Prize previously, and your book must be published in the calendar year of 2021. Learn more here.

Entry fee:  $75 Deadline: Dec 15

Dorset Prize 2021

Tupelo Press’s annual Dorset Prize is open for full-length poetry manuscripts until December 31. The winning manuscript will be published by Tupelo Press. There’s also a $3,000 cash prize, and the winning writer receives a week-long residency at MASS MoCA and 20 copies of their book. The manuscripts may not be previously published, though individual poems may be published in magazines, journals, anthologies or chapbooks. Results will be announced next spring. Don’t miss it!

Entry fee: $30 Deadline: Dec 31

Lascaux Prize in Fiction

Lascaux (pronounced like lasso) is open once again to fiction submissions of up to 10,000 words. Both published and unpublished submissions are eligible to win this prize, which comes with a fancy bronze medallion! The winner receives a cash prize of $1,000 and finalists receive $100. All winners and finalists will be published in the online and print editions of The Lascaux Review. Find out more details here. 

Entry fee: $15 Deadline: Dec 31

River Styx Microfiction Contest

The 2022 Microfiction Contest offered by River Styx is open for your submissions until the end of the year. You may submit up to 3 500 word micros per submission fee. First, second and third place winners are guaranteed publication, while all submissions are considered for publication in River Styx. The first place prize offers a $1,000 prize this year, so make sure to check this one out.

Entry fee: $15 Deadline: Dec 31

Press 53 Award for Short Fiction

Press 53 wants to publish your collection of short stories! This annual competition is open to all writers, regardless of publication history. The manuscript must be in English, and the writer must reside in the United States or one of its territories. The winner recieves a $1000 cash advance on their book along with fifty copies. This year’s winner will be selected by Press 53’s short fiction editor, Claire V. Foxx. Submit!

Entry fee: $30 Deadline: Dec 31

Boulevard’s Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers

$1,500 and publication will be awarded to the writer of the best short story submitted to this contest (up to 8,000 words). Submissions are limited to writers without a book of fiction, creative non-fiction, or poetry published by a nationally distributed press. The winning story will be announced in June, and will be published in the Fall or Spring issue of Boulevard. Do it!

Entry fee: $16 Deadline: Dec 31

Virginia Woolf Award for Short Fiction

This prize, offered annually by LitMag, celebrates the best short story, between 3,000-8,000 words, submitted before December 31st. The winner receives $2,500 dollars and agency review by a slate of wonderful literary agents. Three finalists will each receive a $100 cash prize. This contest is only open to previously unpublished short stories. Check out all the details and submit!

Entry fee: $20 Deadline: Dec 31

by Cole Meyer