The Masters Review Blog

Jul 25

New Writing on the Net: July

July’s edition of New Writing on the Net comes to us from Kimberly Guerin. We’re excited to share new work from Josh Potter, Keen Short, Steve Young, Shasta Grant and Anne Rasmussen, Karen Kao, and Nato Green. Find your weekend reading list below!

Stories about families, endings, and beginnings – and how we relate to one another.

“Beautiful in the Distance” by Josh Potter | Guernica, June 24, 2019

“We pitched camp hastily and slept intermittently, anxious from the unfamiliar energy haunting us in the total silence and dark that only a foreign wilderness can contain. The moon looks different in every new valley. This fresh information—the Earth as an infinite geography that expands into both constellation and bedrock—unsettled me. Until then, I had been convinced that everywhere was the same; that every mother drove a Ford Windstar minivan and said I love you even when they were mad; that everyone I will ever love I’ve already met. But beyond the steep, sharp edge of the eight-thousand-foot Half Dome Mountain was an unknown distance into unknown dark I hadn’t known existed.”

“All Good Things” by Keene Short | Bodega, July 2019

“She said the newest commandment, which was more like an afterthought on God’s part, was that all good things must come to an end. Someone pointed out to her that this wasn’t really a commandment so much as a proverb or a general state of things, but she pointed a long fish-caked finger at him and said in this loud, crunchy voice that it was a direct order from God. That good things must come to an end, that all of them, wherever they are, must be put to an end. We should love our neighbors and put good things to an end.”

“Balloons” by Steve Young | Pif Magazine, July 2019

“He shut off the light, stepped into the tub, and stood behind the half-drawn shower curtain — the perfect hiding place. Too perfect; the kids gave up and forgot about him. From somewhere distant, through the party noise, he could make out the trills of Jordan and Emily’s excited laughter, the thumping of kids’ feet on the stairs. But he lingered, stood rooted in the darkness, cherishing this thin and precarious sanctuary, the innocent smells of Ivory soap, Janet’s apricot hair conditioner. A strange, whimsical feeling overcame him, hiding so successfully in his own home, in the middle of his own birthday party. At the center of things, yet invisible.”

“Grapevine” by Shasta Grant and Anne Rasmussen | Little Fiction, July 2019

“When Jill came to visit me with blue highlights in her hair, swiping through pictures of men on her cell phone, I should have told her that she was acting like a fool, that if she wasn’t careful, she’d lose everything we’d worked so hard for. But it wouldn’t have mattered, Jill never listened to me. It was certainly not my idea to park me in that facility and yet here we were now, moving me back home. And it wasn’t because of that spat I’d had with the director. No matter what Jill said, I knew it was because there was no more money.”

“The Mapmaker” by Karen Kao | The Common, July 11, 2019

“The mapmaker rummages through a kitchen drawer 3,000 miles and a lifetime away from the place she once called home. At last she finds what she needs, the nub of a waxy green crayon to show her daughter where the fruit trees stand. The mapmaker is tempted to draw herself onto the page but which of her many lives should she choose? Her fingers turn black and blue. Her thumbprint is a whorl of geography. As she props her chin onto her inky palms, meaning transfers from page to cheek. Her hand is tired but her heart is hot. Memories flow quicker than ink.”

“Introducing Lamoishe and Hezbollah Schoenfeld” by Nato Green | The Rumpus, July 23, 2019

“Naomi and I wanted to buck the archaic patriarchal tradition of assuming that children automatically get their father’s last name. Making the kids Schoenfelds wasn’t a hard choice for us. In a relationship, if you both have strong opinions about something then you negotiate. But if only one of you feels strongly, the person who wants the thing wins. I don’t need to invent opinions about barstools (actual recent example)or lineages, to create leverage for negotiation. Curtains and surnames can be her choice. I’ll play hardball about the serious stuff—light fixtures.”

Curated by Kimberly Guerin


Jul 24

New Voices: To Kill The Second: Part 3 by Di Bei

Today, we conclude Di Bei’s “To Kill The Second.” Part 1 can be read here, and Part 2 can be read here. Or, you can read the piece in its entirety at this link. “To Kill The Second” chronicles young Jade’s celebration of her first-born status in the wake of the repeal of China’s one-child law, and her rebellion against the social stigma of her sex and intelligence. This is Di Bei’s first English publication, and we are thrilled to share her story.

Doctors were not allowed to reveal the gender in China. If it was a girl, they would say a long list of the sweetest things: your baby was healthy, was strong, well-developed. If a boy, they would simply say, “Congrats.”

Mom was out for the weekend. “Business trip,” Dad said. He cooked spicy beef tendons with lots of cilantro. It was my favorite three years ago. I pushed my plate away.

“Can’t Mom go some other time?” I asked. “I thought she would miss me.”

Dad said he was sorry. Of course Mom missed me.

“Do you need pocket money?” he asked.

I shook my head gloomily but he insisted. Just when I was about to give in and accepted his generosity, we heard a knock on the door.

Swallow was knitting a scarf for Chen Ben, and she came for advice on the color. “White,” I said. “The color of sleeping lotus reminds me of you.”

The color of dough. The color of rice. The color of colorless. Swallow blushed a little and smiled. She looked around and asked, “What are you going to do for the final?”

“Study, I guess.”

“What if you lose?” she asked. “Oh Jade, why would you bet your hair?”

I sighed. Swallow clenched her fists. She looked around again, then whispered to me, “Have I told you that my uncle is a chemistry teacher at No.7? I could try to – get his passwords, you know? I might access the tests –”

She really thought of me as her friend. I didn’t have much experience with the kindness from my own gender, and it was overwhelming. I stared at Swallow too hard. She stopped in the middle of her sentence. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I wasn’t –”

“Thank you,” I said softly. “But it’s about my dignity. Sometimes we have to fight wars that we are destined to lose.”

It was such a great line. Swallow must have been worshipping me. After she left, I threw Li Jun’s jacket into the washing machine. He was one of the few who stayed on campus during the days off, and I had offered to wash his jacket since I wore it so often. Before I returned the jacket to him, I sprayed a little perfume on the collar.

To continue reading “To Kill The Second: Part 3” click here.


Jul 23

New Voices: “To Kill The Second: Part 2” by Di Bei

Today, we’re continuing the wonderful “To Kill The Second” by Di Bei. You can read Part 1 here, and make sure to check back tomorrow for the final act. “To Kill The Second” chronicles young Jade’s celebration of her first-born status in the wake of the repeal of China’s one-child law, and her rebellion against the social stigma of her sex and intelligence. This is Di Bei’s first English publication, and we can’t wait to share her powerful story in full.

I put the phone aside, letting her cool down for a couple of hours, or days, but it buzzed again. Gosh, Swallow. I glanced at the screen, ready to be impatiently amused, but it was not her. It said:

How did you do it? Did you drug your Mom? Did you push her down the stairs?

“The best gift a wife can give her husband is her virginity.”

On the projector, Teacher Tao played video lectures. The theme of our weekly class meeting was Virtue. I doodled in my textbook. Just when I was adding moles to Confucius’ face, Teacher Tao called my name.

“Jade, what do you think of the lecture?”

Always. Whenever we talked about virginity and self-respect, my name was mentioned. I remembered the days when I used to blush. “It was interesting,” I said.

“Do you agree with the lecture?” Teacher Tao asked.

“No, not really,” I answered.

“Why is that? Don’t you plan to give this gift to your husband?”

“Oh, I just thought it’s a little unfair,” I said. “Virginity is like a one-time thing, right? It’s like a disposable gift. If I were the husband, I’d want something everlasting, like diamond rings.”

Some boys giggled. The rest of the students didn’t know how to react, so they sat in silence. I watched Teacher Tao’s face turning red. Too bad she could not kick me out of her class. At No.7, a teacher’s performance was measured directly through the college admission rate of the class. Since I was one of the best students at No.7, losing me would be a great deduction in her bonus.

Deep in my uniform pocket, my phone buzzed. Phones were not allowed on campus, but I carried it anyway. At No.7 there was no tattletale. No one would even wake me up if I fell asleep on the desk. The less time I spent studying meant my classmates had a greater chance to get ahead of me.

To continue reading “To Kill The Second: Part 2” click here.

Jul 22

New Voices: “To Kill The Second: Part 1” by Di Bei

This week, we are ecstatic to present our first serialized story of the year. “To Kill The Second” will be published over the next three days, chronicling young Jade’s celebration of her first-born status in the wake of the repeal of China’s one-child law, and her rebellion against the social stigma of her sex and intelligence. This is Di Bei’s first English publication, and we can’t wait to share her powerful story in full.

I studied her expression as I spoke, trying to find a trace of something. She had a face like dough, pale and plain. Normally I didn’t mingle with girls not my kind, but Swallow and I lived in the same building. I wondered if she had heard something from my household. Noises or rumors. Something from last year, about my suicide attempt.

Outside the barbed wire and crudely built brick walls, parents were waiting. Cars, motorcycles, a few tricycles and bikes, feet, feet, feet. At Hebei No.7 Experimental High School, we had one weekend off every month. For the rest of the days, we studied and slept on campus. When the college entrance examination ended, half of our graduates would be accepted into top universities in China, defeating rivals from Beijing and Shanghai even with the preferential policy for residence.

Students flooded into the hallway as soon as the last class ended. Chen Ben was waiting outside my classroom. As usual, we chatted about his girls. “She flew all the way from Hong Kong,” Ben said, “just to see me.”

“What a pilgrim.”

“Her name is Spring,” he continued. “I bought her lunch. That’s all. My girlfriend at the time was mad at me. I don’t get it. Would you be mad if you were my girlfriend?”

He was waiting, so I lingered a little before I answered.

“You know,” I said, “you are not that innocent.”

“What do you mean?”

“It is not good for boys to be pretty. You get spoiled so easily.”

His laughter was drowned out by the tower bell. It was the last notice for students to leave. Startled pigeons flew across the wine-colored sky. Roofs and bricks were dyed rosy in the sunset. I watched Ben’s reflection in the blazing glow on the glass window behind him. He had long and curly eyelashes, casting shadows under his eyes with a subdued softness.

To continue reading “To Kill The Second: Part 1” click here.

Jul 19

Summer Workshop Editors Announcement!

Our annual remote Summer Workshop is around the corner! We are excited to announce the editors who will share their expertise with us this year. The editors have years of industry experience, working with journals such as Tin House, American Short Fiction, and The Paris Review. If you need help getting your manuscripts in shape for submission this fall, look no further. Registration will open on August 1st, and be sure to sign up early, as spots are limited!

Cost: $299

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
  • automatic inclusion 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
Jul 17

The Masters Review Volume VIII Finalists!

Kate Bernheimer has spoken: These ten authors will have their stories featured in 2019’s edition of our annual anthology. Thank you so much to all of our submitters for trusting us with your work. We quite literally would not exist without you! And finally, congratulations to our ten finalists on their selection!


“Chlorine” by Kate Bucca

“Face to Face” by Jenna Geisinger

“Quiet Guest” by Dawna Kemper

“Paper Boats” by Lydia Martín

“Electric Guests” by Naïma Msechu

“An English Teacher and an Arab Walk Into A Bar” by Adriana Páramo

“June” by V. Efua Prince

“Lida” by Belal Rafiq

“Fear” by Divya Sood

“American Crusader” by Lavanya Vasudevan

Jul 15

New Voices: “Another Life” by Olivia Parkes

We are excited to publish a new story from Olivia Parkes, whose “The Art of Ending” we were privileged to publish last year. “Another Life” follows Magda, widowed, on a blind date with a Dr. Levi at a restaurant in which everything is for sale. The evening that follow is far from expected. Read on below.

Magda was early, seated at the appointed corner table near the back of the restaurant, considering the stuffed tiger beside her, which was standing behind a velvet rope on a shallow stage. She was fairly sure that it wasn’t real, or rather that the skin, which was sometimes stretched around something else and called a tiger, was also fake.

Magda was in pieces again. As she bent to pick up the largest shards, she caught the curve of her shoulder, the palm of her outstretched hand, her nostrils, obscene from this angle, and a thrillingly blank piece of ceiling. Since discovering her reflection, Gracie had been trying to ascertain if it was friend or foe, and the new dog had finally knocked the standing mirror down. Magda had only just settled on its final position in the foyer, having spent weeks shunting the heavy glass from room to room, her own image clasped to her in an awkward embrace. Since the procedure she had been struggling with the subtleties of Feng Shui: You wanted a mirror near your entryway to offer a positive glimpse of yourself on the way out, but not to reflect you within five feet of entering your home, which would cause your chi to bounce right back out the door. It had taken patience to find the place from which she could see herself leave but not return.

Magda herded the quivering sheepdog into the yard, where she promptly began running laps around the freshly laid grass. She would not, she resolved, replace the mirror, which was in fact already a replacement. She had returned the previous one to the eastern imports store a full two years after purchasing it, having one afternoon seen swastikas, or things that were not unlike swastikas, thriving in the elaborately-carved wooden frame. She had been susceptible to signs then, omens and portents, counting the number of flies on the windowsill each day in the year after David had died. At that time such a burst of bad luck—seven years—would have transformed her into a shrew knitting her own nerves.

But this was the new Magda, she reminded herself, and she would not be rumpled by such a thing now. The transformation had begun last year, when, on the fifth anniversary of his death, David had appeared to her in a dream, naked and beaming, borne aloft in a giant egg, and she had woken flooded with radiant happiness. Soon after, Magda had begun. She acquired a puppy and a host of spiritually apposite furnishings: a set of singing bowls, an acacia-wood bodhisattva, and a coffee table that had, apparently, been a rafter in a Tibetan temple in its previous life. She had even begun dating again. Friends set her up with nephews, late bloomers, or men who had married out of the faith and learned their lesson, who had good health insurance, good teeth, and needed only to be delivered into the hands of a good Jewish woman. They had bored her into the same calm suspension between comfort and sadness that she felt in the moments before falling asleep.

To continue reading “Another Life” click here.

Jul 10

Interview with the Winner: Joe Bond

“Damico,” the winning story selected by Aimee Bender for our 2018 Winter Short Story Award, was published on Monday. Read it in its entirety here. Assistant Editor Melissa Hinshaw caught up with Joe Bond to discover a little more about this story’s history. Read on below.

What was the inspiration behind “Damico”? How did this idea come to you?

I grew up around boys homes and residential treatment programs. I’ve always been interested in how kids without families cling to each other. Of course, they also terrorize each other, but the image of one desperate kid comforting another was what I wanted to write toward. In the homes I was around and later worked in, actual physical comfort—one teenage boy holding another—would have been a rare event, to say the least, and so I needed a story worthy of that moment. Damico is separated from his child, but in fact all of the boys at the home are cut off from the people they were supposed to love and who were supposed to love them. I wanted this story to give something back to them. I wanted it to be true to the kids I knew who had lost almost everything but somehow held on to their humanity.

What is this story’s development timeline like—is it a fresh new story, something you’ve been working on or a while, something you finished a long time ago and finally decided to submit, etc?

I think of it as a new story. I wanted to write about a boys home; I just didn’t know how exactly I should go about it. I burned a week writing poems about teenagers who had fired rifles at the Goodyear Blimp and who had eaten light bulbs and huffed gas and called begging for someone to come check them out of the psych ward so they could play in a basketball tournament. These things actually happened. The trouble was, I’m not much of a poet. I didn’t recognize what I was doing until one poem began to transform itself into a story, and at that, a work of fiction. The next turning point was locating the narrator inside the home. Once I realized he had been one of the kids there, the voice came to me almost instantly and the story ballooned into something that wasn’t exactly a story anymore so much as a map or master document. Suddenly I had twelve thousand words filled with the backstories and interlocking presents of at least a half-dozen boys. I picked out one moment—the moment I mentioned above, where one kid consoles another—and developed it into “Damico.” I’m working on the other boys’ stories now.

I appreciate the way you capture unique voices without dipping too deep into cheesy colloquial language. Were you able to pick this up naturally just from listening to people in real life, or did you have to work these voices over several times to find that balance and get it right?

I listened to these voices the first twenty-two years of my life. My dad ran a group home and later a couple of other programs with more than sixty teenagers at each place. I was just always around, especially when I was a kid. I’d sit in on group counseling; I’d listen to their stories. If the boys were going camping or cave exploring, I’d cram myself onto a van and go with them. They didn’t mind me, as far as I could tell. It helped that I was quiet—you could forget I was there. I heard some things I probably shouldn’t have, but the benefit was that even from a young age, it was impossible for me to see the world in a narrow or simple way. As for getting the voices down in a story, I tried hard not to screw them up. The confined setting of the boys homes I knew, which gathered teenagers from all over, produced its own blended vernacular with strains of street, country and what I would call Appalachian treatment speak (the homes were in Kentucky). Honestly, I loved listening to it. It was fun to write, too, but I revised with an ear for toning it down some.

One thing I love about this piece is how it doesn’trely on setting so much. It does so much without big old descriptions of landscape and somehow you always know exactly where you are. In what ways do you see this as an “everyplace” story? Or, is it connected to somewhere specific?

I suspect readers have a notion of a group home—a reference point gleaned from TV or film or perhaps personal experience—that makes it unnecessary to describe every crack in the wall plaster. I needed a fire escape, a shower and a room for visitation and counseling. In the other stories I’m writing, I do let the home itself come a little more alive with its drafty windows and clanging radiators, with its condom-clogged toilets and smoke-stained ceilings and malfunctioning popcorn machine that sets off the sprinkler system every Saturday night during movie time. But descriptions of the outside world are intentionally limited because the boys have been removed from it. They see a highway and the woods they’ll have to run through to get there—that’s about it, and still, I think there’s great potential in the starkness of their isolation: imagine if, say, in another story a rogue counselor were to pack the boys onto a van and drive them five hundred miles to see the ocean. To get back to your question, though, I think the home in this particular story could be anywhere in America, absolutely, as long as it’s ten or fifteen miles out of town. People are happy to let a group of juvenile delinquents rake their leaves and clean up their streets, but they’d rather the boys be housed elsewhere.

Which of the characters do you relate to most? What’s your authorial stance on whether characters do, don’t, can, or can’t relate to an author?

I feel the most for Damico, but I can’t say I’ve suffered in the ways that he has, and yet I do feel connected to him in that he reminds me of the boys I knew and cared about. That said, I probably relate most directly to the narrator through his voice and the perspective he’s gained having been at the home for so long. I never beat up anyone in the shower, but if I were him, I might have. I think if you can’t relate to your characters in some way—on a basic human level if nothing else—you’ve got a problem.

If this story had “parents”, what/who would they be (i.e. certain authors, books, or movies)?

The voice in Richard Ford’s Rock Springs, which echoes through Wildlife and Canada, certainly is an influence. The dialogue in Richard Price’s Clockers. The kids in the fourth season of The Wire—they could have been some of ours in the weeks before they were sent off. But at the risk of going on and on about them, the boys in the homes I grew up around were the truer inspiration. They were no angels, trust me. Their situations—where they were from and where they were—could lead them to acts of terrible cruelty, and yet many of them, in other moments, were also capable of profound kindness and compassion. Something happened with my sister once. We were in a park with my dad and a group of boys. We were leaving, and my sister—seven years old, impulsive, excited about something—darted across several lanes of traffic and was struck by a pickup truck. One second we were all standing together waiting to cross, and the next, tires were squealing and there was a thump and my sister was skidding along the asphalt. By miracle, her injuries, however painful, proved mostly superficial (head-to-toe abrasions, a broken tooth), but in the moment you assume the worst. I mean, she was lying in the street in her socks. Her Keds were twenty yards back, near the point of impact. People were screaming, jumping out of their cars. As my dad and the other adults ran to her, suddenly the boys were without supervision. Most of them you didn’t have to worry about, but the newer kids, if you gave them an opening, they’d steal a car and turn up a month later in custody in another state. In this instance, their shock held them there on the sidewalk, except for one boy, who might have been fifteen or sixteen years old, whose immediate response to having just witnessed what appeared to be the death of a child was to grab the child’s little brother up into his arms. This was a kid who, I don’t even remember his name, and God knows what else he’d seen in his life, God knows what all he’d been through or done—I just remember him running with me, back into the park, trying to get me away from it all. These are the kids I’m trying to write about.

Interviewed by Melissa Hinshaw

Jul 8

New Voices: “Damico” by Joe Bond

Aimee Bender selected Joe Bond’s “Damico” as the winner of our 2018 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers contest. “With swift, fierce sentences, the story covers a lot of ground,” she said, “and we meet a group of boys I cared about quickly, and meaningfully. It kept my attention and I found myself invested in the narrator, and Damico, and Freckles, and Harley—and all the desperate ways they— and all of us– want to care and be cared for. Survival and vulnerability somehow live side by side in this story, and the words seemed driven by their own internal urgency.” Without further ado, the winner:

It was all the newspaper people wanted to write about, what was wrong with kids these days, what was wrong with society. They couldn’t use Damico’s name—he was a juvenile—and so they called him a thug instead. And it was true that he’d punched somebody, but the whole deal, Damico hadn’t meant for it to happen. Nobody wrote that he was sorry, that he didn’t want to hurt that old man. Really, he hadn’t even meant to steal the clothes. Just walked by and saw them in a store, the light blue pajamas with the little feet in them, the little pink shirt that said FREE HUGS. Nobody wrote that the clothes Damico stole were baby clothes.

A peer named Harley ran off and stole a motorcycle. We didn’t know what kind. Somebody said he wrecked it and tore off his leg. Somebody said he was still riding, that he’d called from Canada. It was hard to get good info.

We decided he wasn’t coming back. I took his Bible. Another peer took his condoms. Damico Sears took his pictures from home.

There were twelve of us. When a kid ran away or lost his mind or was otherwise removed from the program, I always swiped his Bible. Peers thought I was religious, but that was where they hid their money. They laid their bills out flat—a one slipped into the book of Job, a five wedged into Mark and so on. I gave a couple of bucks to Damico. He had a baby somewhere. It needed things.

Damico was sixteen. He told us stories about holding his baby in the palm of his hand. The truth was, he had never seen it. He didn’t know its name. He was pretty sure its birthday was in December, though. In December, the baby was turning one and Damico was going to be there.

Couple weeks after Harley went AWOL, we got a new peer. Fat kid with copper hair. He thought he had an attitude.

“Wipe that look off your face,” we told him the second he walked in the door.

The JTOs—juvenile treatment officers—shaved his copper hair down to his scalp. We could hear him putting up a fight. We dragged him into a shower, stripped him down and blasted him with ice-cold water. His skin was soft and freckled and lumpy.

“He’s got tits,” one of us said. “This peer’s got tits.”

Damico paired off with him and tried to teach him the Orientation handbook. Freckles called him a motherfucker. Damico took a smoke break.

It was 1988. They let you smoke cigarettes at boys homes back then. You could pair off with a Graduation phase, step outside and get away from the group for a few minutes.

To continue reading “Damico” click here.

Jul 5

Craft Essay: Against the Great Sadness of Upper-Middle Class Life

Today, we are excited to share this great essay from Assistant Editor Melissa Hinshaw: “Against the Great Sadness of Upper-Middle Class Life.” How can we write what we know if all we know has been written about so frequently? Our stories have become the mainstream. Melissa has some advice on how to write something new while sticking to your experiences, and how to get your story noticed.

The years surrounding the release of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (2010) saw an uptick in American fiction that falls in the vein of what I like to call “The Great Sadness of Upper-Middle Class Life.” It was something writers like Don DeLillo and Alice Munro had done earlier and better, but never something recognized on a sold-at-airport-bookstores scale. It was a great milestone for all of us aspiring young authors who’d whittled away the 90s and early 2000s being either just good enough or just bad enough: We finally saw we could truly do something with our lives. And that something was to find that perfect balance of narrative emoting that managed to be somehow grandiose and terse, languorous and sharp-witted—and then to fill three- to four- hundred pages with it. What was it about? Didn’t matter. It meant something. It was the American experience.

Today, I feel happy to report that in less than a decade this literary trend has slowed down, largely thanks to blogs on blogs on tweets on tweets harping against white privileged authors and their sorry, often sexist or racist plights and calling for inclusion of all types of American authors, young or old, black or white, gay or straight. That doesn’t mean folks like Marilynne Robinson and Jeffrey Eugenides aren’t still pumping out high-caliber work (actually… I could use a 2019-era Gilead), and that doesn’t mean people like you and I aren’t still working on our sense of authorial calling. Even though we cling to our esteemed literary magazines and quirky online publications, we still, as authors, dream of not just one day selling that first novel (and rubbing our clean hands across its silky matte skin), but also getting that Oprah Book Club sticker slapped across its cover. After all, Franzen did it! But what do we have to offer? Our lives are normal: a crushed heart, college, cancer, the occasional affair. “Write what you know,” our workshop gurus say, and we do. But is it enough? Here are a few suggestions for making sure it is:

  1. Beat the odds. One in three people gets cancer ( One in (three, four, or five, depending on which statistic you use —,,, repsectively) women gets sexually assaulted. One hundred percent of us still die. It feels special to you because it’s awful and confusing, but unfortunately it isn’t unique—and unless you distinguish your cancer story from everybody else’s cancer story, all the important stuff we need to bond and connect over will get lost in the shuffle. Doing this in fiction is so hard I can only recommend Alice Elliot Dark’s “In The Gloaming”, as well as this LitHub chat between David Oshinsky and Paul Harding that gets you thinking about why disease stories tend to fare better on large-scale, epidemic/dystopian planes.  We need eccentric characters, weird connections, and coincidences that aren’t arbitrary but which make us think twice to remind us of those same elements that live in us as readers—the things that make us human, but the things which we forget when we are overwhelmed by that sadness, rage, and terror. If you are getting stuck in those primary emotions, then your reader will too. Your story needs to be about something besides or beyond those, otherwise it will disappear.
  2. Outweird the weird. A challenge of the internet age is all the novelty thrown in our faces on a daily (nay, hourly) basis. We see so much weird shit it seems normal. Being weird for the sake of being weird, or being weird just to get attention, does work in the short term—i.e. you’ll usually get past the first round of the slush pile, but by the second round our readers are on to you. A hook without a line or sinker just kind of stabs a little bit. Once you’ve come up with your own unique element, put some thought into what it’s doing for your characters or in your story, and how you might weave it through the entire narrative instead of just showing it to us to show it to us (sorry, I’ve already seen that puppy video). I recommend Sianne Ngai’s in-depth exploration Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, and Interesting for anyone seeking to differentiate from the norms (but perhaps not quite ready to dive into dystopian fiction or manga quite yet). Authors who have toed this line particularly well are Claire Vaye Watkins (i.e. Gold Fame Citrus, 2015) and Karen Russell (Vampires in the Lemon Grove, 2013).
  3. Dig in to the tropes: In the event you are too exhausted to come up with something unique or new, then “Match it or beat it” is a good rule of thumb when it comes to looking at what’s already out there as inspiration for your next project. Maria Dahvana Headley’s The Mere Wife and Madeline Miller’s Circe are great recent spins on ancient legends. If an epic journey isn’t part of the family story you’re sitting on, then try this idea swiped straight from any recovery psychology textbook: Every dysfunctional family (of birth or of choice) has a dependent, an enabler, a hero, a scapegoat, a lost child, and a mascot. There are your characters, there’s six story arcs, there’s your novel—you’re welcome. Just want to write a short story? Pick one and go crazy. And if all else fails, grab a few books on Jungian archetypes. There is a lot of energy living in these old, rich, universal-leaning places, and tapping into them might give a sort-of-flat-feeling piece you’re working on you the extra depth it needs.

By Melissa Hinshaw

Jul 2

Summer Short Story Award Now Open for Submissions

The Summer Short Story Award for New Writers, judged by Tope Folarin, is NOW OPEN for submissions! Submit your very best fiction up to 6,000 words by August 31 for your chance to win $3,000, publication, and agency review! Next week, we will be publishing the winner of our Winter Short Story Award for New Writers, if you’re looking for inspiration.

$3000 + Publication + Agency Review

Submit now!

  • 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
  • Translations allowed, providing the story has not been published in another language
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed
  • Emerging writers only (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Self-published writers and writers with story collections and novels with a small circulation are welcome to submit. Writers with novels published with a circulation of fewer than 5000 copies can also submit.)
  • International submissions allowed
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: August 31, 2019
  • 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.
Jul 1

New Voices: “Caretaker Needed” by Meghan Daniels

“Caretaker Needed,” the 2nd place story in our 2018 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers was selected by Aimee Bender on the basis of its frank and anti-sentimental voice. She said, “I love how this voice will make a statement and then a sentence later modify the statement— the narrator’s voice is so frank and appealing in what she knows and doesn’t know about herself and her motives. The story is funny, and fresh, and then ends up quite affecting at the end with the reveal in her past that is written so well and moves into spaces unexpected several times over. It’s anti-sentimental while also unafraid to go into strong feeling.” We are thrilled to share “Caretaker Needed” with you today.

If you didn’t know already, babies are everywhere. They do not stop being in grocery stores just because you want them to. You see them in their car seats and at cash registers screaming in frightening pitches. They are in the liquor store and they are playing next door and they are bundled in a baby carrier on their mother’s chest while she tries to stop the baby’s older sister from catapulting head first down the slide.

I found Mr. Emory the week I arrived in New Mexico by way of a hardware store flier.


I called the number and drove the winding road to Mr. Emory’s home. His desiccated front yard was littered with cacti, rocks, lawn ornaments. A bent “Don’t Tread on Me” sign was staked into the dirt. Inside he served me cloudy tap water and told me he was dying. Cancer, he said. He said that he didn’t expect the job to last very long. “I won’t last very long,” he said. He said he’d given up on chemotherapy. He went into a long spiel I didn’t try to follow—something about the effects of toxicity of the blood on the afterlife. Without waiting for me to respond he said, “Let’s get down to brass tacks.”

As if remembering he was supposed to, he asked me my qualifications. I told him I was a former yoga teacher. I was familiar with anatomy. “Death doesn’t scare me,” I said.

He looked at me a moment and said, “You’ll do.” He shook my hand and thanked me. He called me “Miss.” I did not bother to correct him. I was married only in the technical sense. Any day now, a packet of notarized papers would arrive care of my husband’s lawyer in New York.

When my parents heard about the divorce—irreconcilable differences, I told them, I used those words—they had wanted me to come to Florida, where they’d retired and now spent their days playing tennis, drinking mojitos, and purchasing starfish-patterned bath towels for their musty beach-adjacent ranch. I didn’t go to Florida. The idea of it made me itchy. Instead, after an Ouija-like sweep of Google Maps, I found Devil’s Fire. It was a nowheresville outside of Santa Fe. I had never been to New Mexico but the idea of geologic formations shaped like tables appealed to me. I pictured ghosts suppering at the red-orange mesas. I was cheered at the idea that these phantoms might outnumber human residents. I found a rental apartment on Craigslist for $250 a month. I found Mr. Emory.

To continue reading “Caretaker Needed” click here.