The Masters Review Blog

Dec 1

New Voices: “The Devil is a Liar” by Nana Nkweti

Today, we are pleased to share with you the second place winner of our Short Story Award for New Writers: “The Devil is a Liar” by Nana Nkweti. This story is told from the alternating perspectives of a mother and her adult daughter. It examines the differences, and similarities, between how each woman experiences her faith as the daughter is faced with a difficult decision after learning about a possible complication with her pregnancy. 

“After the call ends, Glory begins a catchall, cover-all prayer, infused with every blessing she has ever wanted for her only living child. But above all, she hopes her prayers will fortify her too-strong daughter whose voice—muttering “goodbye”—had been so breathy and fragile, one of wind chimes forlorn and tinkling in an airless room.”

There are hymns, there are hosannas, there are hallelujahs. There are some who are struck dumb in His presence and those who are newborn linguists—speaking in tongues. Eyes roll heavenward, limbs grow palsied, tears—of joy, of penitence, of defiance—are shed. Through this sound, this fury; Sister Glory Ngassa, Minister of Music for the New Africa International Church of the Holy Redeemer, Brooklyn Battalion, is praying fervently. Her voice, once whispery, rises, then rises again as she sways to the unsung chorus moving the faithful, twenty-person flock present for service that Sunday morning. And faithful they are to the fledgling church—its sanctuary, the front room of a dusty, Brooklyn apartment, a donated space still under a slow-going renovation which has spanned from Easter Sunday the year prior into an unknown future—unto the end of days, perhaps.

The congregation is sanguine in their shared burdens. Tried and tested; they will not be found lacking. So one had to watch one’s step on the unfinished floorboards; a mere reminder that Jesus himself was a carpenter, a man who knew the grain of cedar, of poplar, of acacia, and even of the bitterest wormwood. So the single-paned windows were unsealed and unshielding; their translucent tarp coverings fluttered in the draft like a host of angels’ wings. Yes, the congregants of the New Africa International Church of the Holy Redeemer know they are blessed. Their leader, Man of God, Pastor Godlove Akondeng, had journeyed all the way from church headquarters in Cameroon to share his special anointing. That very moment, the good pastor is laying hands on the forehead of Brother William—timbering all six feet of the man into the waiting arms of Sister Anna, chanting, “By the Spirit of Christ. By the Body of Christ. By the Blood of Christ.” Raining down rapid-fire holy fire to break the ancestral curses that had kept the good brother from receiving his promotion, his increase.

Now, Sister Matilda walks up haltingly with her husband. Unequally yoked these two, yet twined and twinned to each other in a Siamese lockstep. She, crutching herself against him in deference to a newly acquired limp. He, clutching her piety to him like a security blanket, eyes darting then downcast, seemingly evincing a sudden bashfulness at the knowledge that Glory, and all those present, know that he was the one who had hobbled his wife, disordered her steps. Pastor Godlove takes hold of the man. He prays, shouts, commands the evil spirit possessing the husband to release him. Release him in the name of God the Father, release him in the name of the Holy Spirit, release him, Jehovah-jireh; thy will be done.

And now music. Now songs of praise and thanksgiving.

Glory steps forward. She pushes up her +1.5 drugstore reading glasses—perhaps it is time for +2?—and peers down at her hand-assembled hymnal, the photocopied fruit of her labors to harvest gospel songs from back home, from across the continent: Nigeria’s Joe Praize, Cameroon’s Tribute Sisters, the Soweto Gospel Choir.

“Jesus we love you, Lord. You don make my life betta. I go de thank you for evamore, thank you Baba,” sings the congregation, keeping time by the baton of Glory’s pointer finger, tap-tapping notes in the air. She is gratified. There is no instrumental accompaniment to this chorus of warbling voices—Sister Anna is always flat!—yet she knows to her marrow that their voices are pleasing to He who matters utmost.

To read the rest of “The Devil is a Liar” click here.

Nov 29

December Deadlines: 14 Literary Magazines and Contests with Deadlines This Month

If you don’t feel up to braving the weather, you can build your endurance by braving these literary challenges instead! Screw your courage to the sticking place and send in your submissions!

ONGOING! Winter Short Story Award for New Writers

Our own contest isn’t ending anytime soon, but that just gives you more of an opportunity to get started! The Masters Review is looking for stories under 7000 words, written by emerging writers who have a way with words and a love for language! The winner receives $3000, publication, and agency review, and the runners-up also receive cash prizes, publication, and review. Don’t let this chance slip by! Details here.
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: January 15

Foglifter Submissions

Here is a great opportunity for daring and thoughtful writers, as your work could be published in Foglifter! This is the entry period for the upcoming spring edition, and they’re interested queering form and perspective, with cross-genre, intersectional, marginal, and transgressive works. Include a 50 word bio, and be ready to send in a photo if accepted! Submit here.
Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: December 1

Provincetown Fellowship

Given by the Fine Arts Work Center, this is a seven-month residency for writers in the emerging stages of their careers. The five poets and five fiction authors chosen will receive a monthly $750 stipend, as well as a living/work space. Writers who have published a full-length book are unfortunately not eligible. Applicants must send in a writing sample, a current CV, and an optional personal statement. There is a lot of competition, but there is no great reward without risk! Don’t miss it!
Entry Fee: $50 Deadline: December 1

Stegner Fellowship

This astounding fellowship is offered to ten writers through Stanford University, five in poetry and five in literary fiction, and the winners receive a yearly living stipend of $26,000 for two years, tuition, workshops, and other events. They’re looking for writers who are diverse in experience and style, who have talent and the ability to focus. You’ll need two contacts for recommendations, a statement of plans, and a manuscript up to 9000 words, but this could be your shot! Learn more here.
Entry Fee: $85 Deadline: December 1

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

There are some very specific contests out there, and this is one of them! Administered by the American Library Association, this award honors the best fiction published in the last year that was set in a time when the United States was at war. It recognizes the service of American veterans and military personnel, although the incidences of war may only function as the setting of the story. All entries are judged on the excellence of writing and attention to detail. The winning entrant will receive $5000 and a gold-framed citation of achievement. More details here.
Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: December 1

Chautauqua Prize

This competition is a daring gauntlet run by the Chautauqua Institute, but the reward at the end is worth the work! A $7500 prize and one-week residency is awarded to an author of a book of original fiction or narrative nonfiction that was published this year. They accept all books published in 2017, from short story collections to memoirs. Could this be you? Do it!
Entry Fee: $75 Deadline: December 15

(more…)

Nov 28

Our Winter Short Story Award for New Writers Is Open!

It is that time of year again. The days are short, the nights are cold. It is the season to spend time inside with loved ones and good stories. Our Winter Short Story Award for New Writers is open to submissions now through January 15. This is one of our most popular categories. The winner receives $3000, publication on The Masters Review site, and review from multiple agencies. The second and third place stories receive $100 and $200, respectively, publication, and agency review. This is a great opportunity for emerging writers. We have included some guidelines below, but you can find all the details here.

||| SUBMIT NOW |||

GUIDELINES:

  • Winner receives $3000, publication, and agency review
  • Second and third place prizes ($200/$100, publication, and agency review)
  • Stories under 7000 words
  • Previously unpublished stories only
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed
  • Emerging writers only (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Self-published writers and writers with story collections and novels with a small circulation are welcome to submit. Writers with works published with a circulation of less than 5000 copies can also submit)
  • International submissions allowed
  • $20 entry fee
  • Deadline: Jan 15, 2018
  • Please no identifying information on your story
  • All stories are considered for publication
Nov 27

Interview: Carmen Maria Machado

We were thrilled to have the chance to interview the talented Carmen Maria Machado. Her debut short story collection, Her Body And Other Parties, has been met with much-deserved acclaim and was recently shortlisted for The National Book Award. In one of her stories, a woman always wears a green ribbon around her neck, with the understanding that others aren’t meant to touch it. In another, a writer meets an otherworldly cast of characters at a residency. Machado’s voice is wholly unique. Here, we talk to her about her influences and what we can look forward to seeing from her next.

“I honestly just wondered if it would be possible to write a short story in the form of episode capsule summaries, where the episodes could function autonomously or as part of a larger narrative.”

First of all, I have to say that I really enjoyed your debut collection. The stories are wholly unique, and they are tinged with all sorts of different genres: fairy tales, ghost stories, horror, dystopian fiction. So I have to ask: Who are your influences? What do you love to read? 

Thank you so much! My influences are pretty wide-ranging. Some are obvious: Kelly Link, Karen Russell, Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter, Helen Oyeyemi. Some are set a little deeper in my past: Ray Bradbury, Lois Duncan, John Bellairs, Louis Sachar, Roald Dahl, Gabriel García Márquez.

I will follow that up with: what are some of your favorite scary stories?

Shirley Jackson’s “The Tooth,” Adam Nevill’s “Where Angels Come In,” Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber,” Victor LaValle’s “The Ballad of Black Tom.”

There are a lot of darker elements to your stories, but one of them is that many of the female protagonists are denied control over their own bodies. The wife in “The Husband Stitch” asks for only one private thing: that her husband not touch the green ribbon that is always tied around her neck. But, her husband cannot accept this. In “Real Women Have Bodies,” women begin to literally fade to nothing, and no one can explain it or help them. In “Eight Bites,” a woman who undergoes bariatric surgery is haunted by the ghost of the parts of herself she has given up (if you would agree with this description). This seems like a very intentional theme of the collection (it is even echoed in the title). Can you tell me more about the process behind it? 

It’s less intentional than you think! The fact is, women are denied control of their own bodies in a horrific number of ways, and so it makes a lot of sense that writing from my own voice, thoughts, and experiences would result in stories where this theme continually resurfaces.

The collection includes a novella in which you reimagine episodes of Law & Order: SVU as a series of short summaries full of an otherworldly cast of characters. The novella works beautifully as a whole, but the individual stories are also complete in themselves. I thought this was really cool! Could you talk about your inspiration for this story and the process of writing it?

I’ve always been interested in writing about TV. One of my favorite short stories is Kelly Link’s “Magic for Beginners,” which is its own surreal, fabulist love letter to fandom and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I honestly just wondered if it would be possible to write a short story in the form of episode capsule summaries, where the episodes could function autonomously or as part of a larger narrative. I used the actual titles from the first twelves seasons, so I had a little flake of inspiration for each one. Eventually, the plots and subplots grew out of there. As I was writing it, I found myself engaging with my complicated feelings about the show on the page. The rest is history.

What are you working on now? What will we see next from you?

My memoir House in Indiana is coming out with Graywolf in 2019, so those edits are the next big thing I’m tackling. I also have a few other things in progress—an essay collection, a novel-in-stories.

Interviewed by Sadye Teiser

Nov 23

Happy Thanksgiving

Enjoy the holiday weekend, friends! We are thankful for all of you.

Nov 21

9 Presses That Accept Unsolicited Manuscripts

Do you have a book-length manuscript that is ready to submit? Consider sending it to one (or many) of these nine awesome presses that accept unsolicited manuscripts. We are huge fans of these presses and are so grateful for the work that they do. So go ahead: check out this list of opportunities.

Atelier26

This independent press only publishes up to three titles per year, but welcomes submissions of literary fiction and creative nonfiction. Their writers include M. Allen Cunningham, Margaret Malone, Harriet Scott Chessman, and others. Atelier26’s books have been recognized by the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Balcones Fiction Prize, the Flann O’Brien Award, and more. Check it out.

Black Balloon

This publisher is an acclaimed imprint of Catapult, an independent publisher that also offers online and in-person writing classes and fosters new and emerging writers. Black Balloon is seeking fiction and narrative nonfiction with an innovative writing style and unique voice. Their books have been featured in The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, O: The Oprah Magazine, Esquire, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Atlantic, and NPR’s All Things Considered, among others. They accept manuscript submissions via Submittable twice yearly. Read more about Black Balloon here.

Coffee House Press

This is a small press that publishes literary novels, full-length short story collections, poetry, creative nonfiction, book-length essays and essay collections, and memoir. Their next reading period opens on September 1st, 2018, and is capped at three hundred, so it’s best to submit promptly. They have published Gabe Habash, Hernan Diaz, Eimear McBride, and others. Visit the Coffee House site for more information.

Two Dollar Radio

This acclaimed, boutique press has published exceptional writers such as Masande Ntshanga, Sarah Gerard, Shane Jones, and others. Their books have been recognized by the National Book Foundation, picked as “Editor’s Choice” by The New York Times Book Review, and made best-of lists at several other publications. For more details, check out their site.

(more…)

Nov 17

New Voices: “Iron Boy Kills the Devil” by Sheldon Costa

“Iron Boy Kills the Devil” was the third place winner of our latest Short Story Award for New Writers. This exacting story is told from the point of view of fourteen-year-old Iron Boy. He lives in a depressed, rural town where drones from a large company deliver all the necessary supplies. In this world, teenagers sometimes turn into monsters, leaving their parents to decide whether to send them away. “Iron Boy” explores what it is like to come of age in a beautiful, rough, and unforgiving world. 

“For years, Iron Boy has theorized that he’s a machine. Specifically: one of his mother’s. Perhaps her greatest work. He might look like a normal fourteen-year-old boy—pudgy, short, his eyes and mouth too close to his crooked nose—but he knows the truth. Underneath his skin, he is all whirring gears and sliding plates, cogs and actuators.”

At the junkyard, Iron Boy dreams of an afterlife for machines. He watches the heat shimmer over the heaps of trash and imagines the souls of all the gathered refuse ascending to the other side. He likes to think that in heaven, each piece of rubbish would find itself replenished, the blenders and refrigerators and the husks of old cars once again new and glimmering on the factory floor, ready to be useful again.

The summer heat has turned his world radioactive. Sorting scrap with his mother, Iron Boy can’t help but feel like some urchin of the apocalypse, thumbing his way through the ruins of civilization. It’s not a bad sensation, despite the sweat gathering in uncomfortable creases along his underwear. The hot air is cleansing. Every time he breathes he knows he is simply expelling exhaust, clearing a little room inside himself to make way for all his inner machinery.

He holds a burnished hubcap in one hand and a rusted pipe in the other, willing the junk into sword and shield. He licks his upper lip and tastes salt. When he bashes the metal together like a centurion calling out for war, his mother pulls her torso from the mouth of a discarded washing machine, a smile already on her face. She runs a thick hand along her forehead and leaves a shimmering trail of grease behind.

“Careful, Road Warrior,” she says. “Don’t hurt yourself.”

Behind his mother, Mr. Ramirez stands sentinel, arms crossed and face locked in the usual scowl. He scrutinizes each spring and screw that Iron Boy’s mother gently extracts from stained mattresses and old window frames. He is looking for hidden treasure—wondering if she is going to find some precious antique or valuable bit of metal that he missed in his own survey. But for all the years she has been coming here, Iron Boy’s mother has never taken anything of obvious value. She mostly gathers large hunks of scrap metal, easily melted down in the foundry she’s constructed in the backyard, and anything—thin strings of wire from the insides of clocks, chains unwound from rusted bicycles, torn fan belts brought in from the abandoned factories nearby—that can be reworked into the creaking interiors of her machines.

To read the rest of “Iron Boy Kills the Devil” click here.

Nov 15

Fall Fiction Contest – Last Day To Submit!

It is the last day to submit to our third annual Fall Fiction Contest, judged by BRIAN EVENSON! The winner receives $2000, publication, and a personalized note from Brian himself. Second and third place stories earn $200 and $100 respectively, publication, and a note from our judge. So go for it and send us your best stories of 7000 words or under. You have until the strike of midnight PST. Read the full guidelines and submit here.

// Submit Here //

Nov 13

Stories That Teach: “Lust” by Susan Minot – Discussed by Sadye Teiser

In our Stories That Teach series, we look at what some of our favorite works of short fiction can teach us about craft. In the past, we’ve examined the art of the sentence in Lauren Groff’s “Ghosts and Empties” and dissected the creepiness of Laura Benedict’s “When I Make Love to the Bug Man,” to name just two. Today, we examine the ineffable lessons that Susan Minot’s “Lust” can teach us about the fictional form, as well as its concrete commentary—still hauntingly relevant today—on relationships between women and men. You can read Susan Minot’s story here (you need to sign in with Narrative; it is free to register).

This story is about the—implicit and explicit—silencing of and disrespect for women that occurs in their romantic relationships with men. This is something that we certainly touched on, but did not linger over, in class discussions.

Read “Lust” here.

Discussed by Sadye Teiser

Susan Minot’s story, “Lust,” was always one of the most popular in the undergraduate creative writing courses I taught. When it came time for students to imitate the form of a story that we had read, many picked Minot’s unusual and pithy piece. “Lust” was originally published in 1989, before most of my students were born. But it teaches what is still a progressive lesson, namely: a story can take any form that it likes.

We would always discuss the story’s form and content, but the greatest lesson that I hoped “Lust” would teach my students was an ineffable one. It was a lesson I could not map on a Frye tag, assign vocabulary to, or quantify in any way. I wanted my students to realize that, though a story can take many shapes: you know a story when you read one. You know this because it feels complete.

Susan Minot’s “Lust” chronicles the relationships that its unnamed protagonist has with men while she is at boarding school. It is told in a series of stand-alone parts, from a sentence to a paragraph in length, that together form a cohesive story. They are told in first person and second person, in past and present tense.

There is a section about the protagonist’s parents, and their oblivious remarks about the boyfriends she had at boarding school. Though brief, the passage is brimming with specificity, such as the closing line: “My father was too shy to talk to them at all unless they played sports and he’d ask them about that.” There is a poignant, short section about the songs she associates with certain men. There is a sweeter, melancholy passage about a boy who dies in a car crash shortly after his tryst with the protagonist.

In one passage, she spends the night with a guy who is too shy to make a move until, as they fall asleep, he puts his arm around her—and that is the extent of it. Another passage describes a romance on a camping trip, sleeping bags zipped together. In another section, our protagonist talks, bluntly, about all the different types of penises she’s seen, remarking: “But it’s like faces; you’re never really surprised.”

Some passages are more sinister. One recounts a memory of the boys who lived next door while the protagonist was growing up. They tied her ankles together, and forced her to show them her underwear. Another recalls lines that men have yelled at the protagonist from cars. It ends with this: “So I’d go because I couldn’t think of something to say back that wouldn’t be obvious, and if you go out with them, you sort of have to do something.”

(more…)

Nov 9

Science Fiction Review Series: The Chimes by Anna Smaill

This review series began with a fairly recent science fiction work, Railhead by Philip Reeve, and has since explored some of the old titans such as Octavia Butler and Isaac Asimov, as well as the more recently established authors Stephen Baxter, Terry Pratchett, and China Miéville. I will close with another work from the last two years, The Chimes by Anna Smaill, a work that speaks to sides of science fiction that none of the others on this list have explored.

The Chimes is Smaill’s debut work, and undoubtedly a stunner. Her background as a poet and a classically trained violinist have clearly prepared her to write a story steeped in music and in the murky, symbolic world of memory. Her slow, dreamy voice is a far cry from Asimov’s dry, dialogue-heavy Foundation, making the narration feel as artful as the world she has created.

Set in London in an unclear time period—perhaps in the near future, perhaps in an alternate present—The Chimes immerses us in a society ruled by music. Merchants sing their wares to the crowd, navigation is handled through melodies, and, most importantly, the community is bonded through the morning and evening Chimes ceremony, played on a massive Carillon. While this world might sound beautiful, something unsettling lurks below the surface. Every citizen of this alternate London suffers memory loss. Most can only recall a day or two past. Through the investigation of a young, seemingly insignificant man named Simon and his mysterious mentor-lover Lucien, Chimes are revealed to be the tool of a tyrannical aristocracy, who subjugate the public through amnesia and a convulsive sickness caused by the deafening sound of the Carillon.

Like China Miéville’s The City & The City, The Chimes hovers on the edge of the science fiction genre, and is more concerned with developing a rich and unsettling urban culture than with exploring the scientific mechanisms that make the imagined world what it is. Besides a few passing references to the relationship between sound, psychology, and physiology, Smaill does not take the time to explain how Chimes gives an entire nation amnesia or causes people to contract a spasmodic disease. Rather, she explores the ramifications of a ruling class who is able to use a single tool to control the minds of an entire population, a scenario which forms the foundation for many dystopias.

The Chimes might actually share more with the dystopia genre than with traditional sci-fi. It follows a basic and recognizable structure: a protagonist is immersed in a dystopian society and unable to recognize the oppression, but slowly uncovers the sinister truth, and then, despite the odds, overturns the oppressive powers. The originality of Smaill’s dystopia is the specific world she has built, and the care with which she writes it. Her description of the music that knits this world together is nothing short of breathtaking: “His hands pull music out of the air. They carve it up; they split the chords. They render what I wrote—what we wrote together—true and beautiful.” Smaill could not get away with such a familiar plot if she did not create such a beautifully rendered landscape to place it in. (more…)

Nov 7

Fall Fiction Contest Closes Next Week!

The days are darker and chillier, the leaves are tumbling from the trees—fall is in full swing! There is just over a week left to submit to this year’s Fall Fiction Contest judged by none other than Brian Evenson. So cozy up with your stories on these crisp fall nights and send us your best fiction under 7000 words.

The winner of this contest receives $2000, publication, and a note from Brian on why he chose the story. Second and third place stories earn $200 and $100, respectively, plus publication and correspondence from our judge. Check out the full contest guidelines here, and read our past Fall Fiction Contest winners below. Submissions close November 15.

<<Submit Here>>

2016 Winners:

Winner:
Night Beast”
by Ruth Joffre

Second Place Story:
“Family, Family”
by Jeannine Ouellette

Third Place Story:
“Good Creatures, Small Things”
by Cate Fricke

 2015 Winners:

Winner:
“Linger Longer”
by Vincent Masterson

Second Place Story:
“Pool People”
by Jen Neale

Third Place Story:
“Animalizing”
by Marisela Navarro

Nov 3

New Voices: “A Pack a Day” by Betty Jo Buro

Today, we are proud to present Betty Jo Buro’s essay “A Pack a Day.” In this piece, Buro looks at smoking through many different lenses: from growing up in a household of smokers in the sixties, to becoming a mother herself, to watching the toll that a lifetime of smoking has on her parents. This essay is honest, vivid, and moving. Please join us in welcoming it to our New Voices library.

“One night, while my parents sit at either end of the dining room table, drinking their after-dinner coffee and smoking their after-dinner cigarettes, my sister Nancy reproduces an experiment suggested by her third-grade teacher. She has my father exhale his cigarette through a clean white tissue, and when he does, it leaves behind a brown smudge. She holds the Kleenex up by its corners for all to see.”

One

When I tell my sisters I want to write about smoking, their memories arrive clothed in nostalgia, as if our childhood spent breathing secondhand smoke in a stuffy station wagon was somehow enchanted. Patty fondly recalls her own first cigarette, an illicit Viceroy she puffed while crouched behind a sand dune at Good Harbor Beach with her best friend Allison. Susie reminds us how much fun smoking was, and suggests we all take up the habit again. Nancy remembers the brands my grandparents smoked—soft packs of Salems and Kents—and I am drawn in, transported to my grandparents’ Ohio living room. My grandfather’s silver lighter lies flat in the palm of my hand, cool and heavy. I run my fingertips over the names of his eleven grandchildren, engraved in small cursive script on its face. How many times had I watched him tilt his wrist to flip open the top? And then, with an expert flick of his thumb, produce the heady scent of lighter fluid, and as if by magic, a tall yellow flame.

Two

All of my first impressions appear in soft focus; our home a foggy haze, the faces of my parents separated from me by a veil of exhaled smoke. The scent of it permeates the wallpaper, the nubby plaid upholstery of the family room couch, the window curtains, my hair, and all of my little-girl clothes. But if you ask me what my childhood smelled like, I will tell you it smelled of percolated Maxwell House, my mother’s Jean Nate After Bath Splash, the rubbery scent of Barbie doll skin, of Breck shampoo and Ivory soap. The smoke was background, constant. I grew up on it, just like I grew up on Cheerios and Gilligan’s Island reruns, concentrated orange juice and am radio stations. I knew no different. Every place I went, I was cloaked in the invisible evidence of my parents’ vice, and all the while, I had no idea.

 

To read the rest of “A Pack A Day” click here.