The Masters Review Blog

Nov 2

Winner of the Spring Flash Fiction Contest: “Ebenezer, Ebenezer” by Ariel Chu

We are honored to share with you the heart breaking “Ebenezer, Ebenezer” by Ariel Chu today—the standout Winner of the Spring Flash Fiction Contest. “Ebenezer, Ebenezer” softly leads the reader through loss and death, the heartache of a family robbed of their daughter, their sister. Poetic, tender, affecting—Chu’s writing demands your attention.

““You’re still hung up on that?” I asked. What I should have said was I want you here with me, not lost in some afterlife. But I was still in high school, and my sister should’ve been too.”


Jenny’s six feet under, getting eaten by mushrooms. Three months before she died, she told our parents to scrap their funeral plans. She’d found a biodegradable shroud on the Internet, infused with fungus that could decompose flesh. She wanted to be buried in that thing, sans coffin, sans fanfare.

“It looks like a friggin’ potato sack,” I told her, squinting at her laptop screen. She punched me from the hospital bed, but not hard enough to hurt. On the drive home, our parents cried—again—and begged me to “be sensitive.” Then they ordered the potato sack, which arrived on our doorstep a week later.

My sister was a teenage decompinaut. She was fascinated with the process of dying, being fed to the soil, getting reconstituted into That Which Gives Life. She tried to get me into it. Maybe she thought it’d help me process grief. At that point, though, everything was a big joke to me. I had to skip lightly over all my feelings so they didn’t suck me into some muddy, unforgiving hole.

She’d also started wearing the burial shroud over her hospital gown. That way, she said, she could “grow into it.” The shroud really was too big for her, but what unnerved me the most was the fungus. It ran in white veins across her body, a dormant flesh-eating monster.

“You look like a discount Muppet,” I told her one afternoon. She glared at me ineffectually. I’d snuck some of her favorites into the hospital room: Slim Jims, black cherry seltzer, three back issues of Cosmo. All things considered, she was in a good mood.

“I’ve been having the weirdest dreams in this thing,” she said, tearing at a Slim Jim. “Like the mushrooms are talking to me. Today I woke up, and this name was echoing in my head: Ebenezer, Ebenezer.”

“You’re more of a Tiny Tim.”

“Shut up,” she said, hurling the Slim Jim wrapper at me. “I’m just thinking that, I don’t know—I could be an Ebenezer in my next life.”

I wanted to say that the mushrooms were eating her brain. But she was serious; I could tell. I wanted to say something about how it wasn’t helpful to hear about her next life, or how seeing her in that fungus costume made me want to vomit. Instead, I rolled my eyes and asked her if she wanted to play Tetris.

Oct 29

November Deadlines: 11 Contests and Prizes Ending This Month

We told the rain to come again another day, and now those days have finally arrived… Don’t be too glum, though, because now you have the perfect excuse to spend all day perfecting your pile of submissions before entering them in one of these contests!

Annual Fiction, Poetry, and Creative Nonfiction Contest

There is still just enough to time to enter ​The Briar Cliff Review​’s writing contest, so don’t miss your chance! Prose entries can be up to 5000 words, poetry entries can include up to three poems, and simultaneous submissions are allowed. The first-place winner in each category is awarded $1000 and will be published in the 2019 edition of ​The Briar Cliff Review​. Submission guidelines here!
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: November 1

Gabriele Rico Challenge in Creative Nonfiction

Reed Magazine​ is currently accepting submissions for this award, but not for long! This prize recognizes outstanding works of nonfiction, up to 5000 words, and the winner receives $1333! Please note that entries must be creative nonfiction, such as personal essays or narratives, and not scholarly papers or book reviews. Check it out!
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: November 1

John Steinbeck Fiction Award

Another great contest from ​Reed Magazine​ ends this month, so make sure you check out this one as well! Send in works of fiction under 5000 words, with a word count and a brief bio, and you could win $1000! All entries do need to be stand-alone short stories, however, not chapters from larger works. Submit here!
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: November 1

Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest

The University of Alabama Press is looking for fiction that is too innovative, challenging, and ambitious for traditional publishing, and they’re willing to pay you for the privilege of publishing yours! Open to any author writing in English who hasn’t been published with their imprint Fiction Collective Two, submissions may include a collection of short stories, one or more novellas, or a novel of any length. The winner, chosen by judge Aimee Parkison, receives $1500 and publication. Learn more here!
Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: November 1

Walt Whitman Award

If you are an unpublished poet, this is an opportunity meant specifically for you! The Walt Whitman Award is meant to honor a poet’s first book, with a $5000 prize, a six-week residency in Italy, publication, and distribution of the winning book to all members of the Academy of American Poets. As an extra bonus, the judge is decorated poet Li-Young Lee! Do it!
Entry Fee: $35 Deadline: November 1

Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship

This is an amazing opportunity for any historical writer! Applicants should have a book-length project in progress, and it should address the history and/or legacy of the American Revolution and their founding ideas (very broadly defined). The fellowship includes a $45,000 stipend, a book allowance, and a nine-month residency in Chestertown, MD. Entries need to include a cover letter, CV, a writing sample, a description of a class they might teach, and a persuasive description of the work-in-progress. More details here!
Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: November 15

Robert C. Jones Prize for Short Prose

This contest from Pleiades Press is open to all fiction and nonfiction writers, whose collections can include anything from short stories and flash fiction, to lyric essays and any other short prose you can think of! Manuscripts need to be at least 60 pages, and previously unpublished, while indicating whether they are fiction or nonfiction. Chosen by judge Kazim Ali, the winning manuscript receives $2000, and publication with national distribution! Guidelines here.
Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: November 15

VanderMey Nonfiction Prize

Now open,​Ruminate’​s current contest is a big one, with the winner receiving $1500 and publication! Submissions need to be essays or short memoirs, 5500 words or less, and there are no limits on the number of entries per person. Judged by Jessica Wilbanks. Submit here.
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: November 15

Nilsen Literary Prize

Are you wondering what to do with your just-finished manuscript? Well, this prize is meant for an applicant’s first novel! Submissions can be novels, novellas, or collections of closely-linked short stories. The manuscript must be unpublished, as the winner will be published through Southeast Missouri State University Press, and they will also receive $2000. Check it out!
Entry Fee: $30 Deadline: November 16

Mid-American Review​ Poetry and Fiction Awards

These are actually two contests through ​Mid-American Review​, the Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award and the James Wright Poetry Award. Submissions may be up to 6000 words, or up to three poems, and the winner of each contest receives $1000 and publication. Make sure to select the correct contest for your submission! More details here.
Entry Fee: $10 Deadline: November 30

Narrative​ Fall Story Contest

This contest is open to all fiction and nonfiction writers, writing anything from short stories and memoirs, to essays and literary nonfiction! The entries need to be less than 15,000 words and previously unpublished, while containing a strong narrative drive and intense insights. First prize is $2500, second is $1000, and third is $500. All entries are considered for publication, and all contest entries are also eligible for the $4000 Narrative Prize! Guidelines here.
Entry Fee: $26 Deadline: November 30


Oct 26

Spring Flash Fiction Contest 2nd Place: “Out of the Fields” by Bryna Cofrin-Shaw

“Out of the Fields” by Bryna Cofrin-Shaw—selected as the Second Place winner of the Spring Flash Fiction Contest—is a tender, melancholy exploration of the relationship between step-mother and daughter. In only a few hundred words, Cofrin-Shaw delivers a rich emotional experience of loss and love through the perspective of a tenuous and fragile relationship.

“Comatose? I say. She was shaking earlier and then started breathing heavily, but she was not comatose. ”

I don’t know where the name Lucy came from. I imagine it meant something to Isabelle’s mother; Lucy was her dog. I used to wonder why she didn’t take the dog with her. Sometimes my husband calls Lucy the name of his ex-wife when he doesn’t know I’m around. He sings it out softly when they’re leaving for a walk, or whispers it as he pets her nose early in the morning when he goes to start the coffee.

Isabelle is sitting very still in the passenger seat with the dog taking up her whole lap. Lucy stopped shaking, Isabelle tells me. It’s true, the dog isn’t twitching anymore. Her body’s curled up like a stone with her face and paws hidden, so that the subtle rise and fall of this stone as it breathes is somehow surreal.

This is the first time my husband’s ever left me in charge of his daughter for more than a few days and it’s getting easier and easier to make mistakes. I didn’t tie up Isabelle’s hair when we were baking and now the ends hold clumps of frosting. When I lean too close I can feel the heat from Isabelle’s sunburned shoulders, though I know he won’t ask after forgotten sunscreen.
Each house we pass is a slight, grey smudge on the street, like small piles of driftwood staggered at low tide. The houses are old, but ours is made new by too many appliances and too few books, remains of the woman that came before me. Neighbors have been disappearing quickly, I’ve noticed, no doubt due to four cases of cancer that popped up within a few years of one another and caused families to flee, fearing the pesticides from the fields. I’ve only lived here five months, but sometimes I feel these pesticides in my breath, falling from my skin in the shower.

Stop that, I tell Isabelle. She’s shuffling around to scratch her neck. Try to keep the dog still, we don’t want her throwing up all over the place, I say. I don’t mean for it to come out cold. I’m trying to be warm toward the girl, but sometimes I slip.
There are empty fields out of both of our windows with dust rising from their bones. Up ahead are the same tall buildings that can be seen from our front yard. Isabelle used to draw those buildings before bed, speckled yellow dots as lighted windows. She revealed them to her father once and said it was New York City. With one hand petting Lucy, he explained that New York was too far away to be seen, and those were only the tall buildings of the University a town away.

When we arrive at the clinic, a woman in green scrubs takes Lucy from my arms. I follow her into a room with a cold steel table and she asks me when Lucy first became comatose.

Comatose? I say. She was shaking earlier and then started breathing heavily, but she was not comatose.

To read the rest of “Out of the Fields” click here.

Oct 25

MFA Program Spotlight: University of South Florida

We spoke to John Fleming, Director of Creative Writing at the University of South Florida. Take a look at what they have to offer MFA students and pay particular attention to Mr. Fleming’s advice for incoming students. He offers some valuable insight for writers in any program. Thank you, USF, for such a thoughtful interview.


What do you feel is the essential uniqueness of USF’s MFA program? 

Its openness—to people, to forms and genres, and to the possibilities of writing. The USF MFA application does not require you to apply in a single genre; if you have a specialty and want to submit only fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, or comics, that’s fine, but if you write well in multiple genres, you’re free to include samples of your work in those genres. Students who begin the MFA program in one genre frequently get turned on by the possibilities of another. Sometimes they switch their focus. We also have students writing hybrid theses that mix word and image or multiple genres. Our openness stretches into sub-genres, too. In addition to writing traditional literary works, our students work in Young Adult, New Adult, Speculative Fiction, and experimental forms of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry while making use of both still images and videos. We’re one of the few programs that offers courses and allows theses in comics/graphic narrative. Finally, and most importantly, the USF MFA is known for the openness of its students and faculty. Faculty here are generous with their time and are dedicated to helping students improve their work and succeed as writers. Students socialize with one another and with faculty, and the atmosphere in our workshops is supportive and constructive.


Your program really seeks to support the careers of its graduate students. Could you describe that process and mission a little more?

As with most MFA programs, our first concern is with the art and craft of writing. However, we’re also mindful of the writer’s need to sustain herself and her writing. We feel an ethical responsibility to prepare our students for life after the MFA.

For those interested in teaching, we offer pedagogy courses in composition, creative writing, and literature. MFA students all teach creative writing courses in their second and/or third years. MFAs who choose to focus on pedagogy can graduate with training, mentoring, and teaching experience in composition, creative writing, and literature and be well-positioned for the academic job market.

Students interested in publishing careers gain experience in our Literary Editing and Publishing course. Students in the course produce our literary magazine, Saw Palm, reading submissions, communicating with writers, reviewing art, working with InDesign, and organizing a release party. Publishing professionals–agents, editors, publishers, book reviewers, and copyeditors–Skype in or visit the Literary Editing and Publishing class in person. As part of the class, students embark on a substantial final project designed to advance their presence in the literary world. Some start their own literary magazines, edit anthologies, develop writing-related websites, write book reviews, blogs, or columns, or conduct interviews with writers. They begin projects that carry them beyond the semester and often beyond the MFA program.

We also have a graduate internship program that places students with literary agencies, publishers, websites, and local businesses and organizations for course credit. This program is fairly new and expanding rapidly. Sometimes students suggest a business they’d like to intern with, and our graduate director arranges the internship.

In addition, we offer graduate certificates in Professional and Technical Communication and in Digital Humanities. MFA students are able to complete these certificates without difficulty while also pursuing their MFA. Some of our students also get valuable training by tutoring students in the Writing Studio as part of their Graduate Assistantship.

For graduating students looking for jobs, the MFA faculty hold mock interviews and review resumes and letters. Students with completed book-length manuscripts consult with faculty on query letters and on searches for agents and editors.’


Would you describe USF’s MFA in fiction as highly literary or broader in focus?

The USF MFA fiction workshops have grown beyond a strictly traditional literary focus to include Young Adult, New Adult, Speculative Fiction, Horror, and other fictional genres. We recognize that, in a good writer’s hands, works in these genres can have every bit of the craft and complexity as literary fiction. This is part of the atmosphere of openness I mentioned above.


For potential future students, are there any suggestions you have for them as they put together applications? Any values or big ideas they should seek to grapple with or emphasize?

Always the most important part of your application is the writing sample. Revise your work endlessly and send us your best. In your Personal Statement, tell us who you are as a person and writer, what you’re interested in working on, and why you’re drawn to the USF MFA program.


If you could provide a piece of advice for incoming students, what would it be?

Remember to keep your focus on your writing. An MFA program is a wonderful opportunity for a writer to focus for three years on writing, surrounded by others on the same journey. There will be days when you feel the squeeze of teaching, grading, coursework, and extracurricular obligations or opportunities, and you’ll be tempted to put off your writing. Don’t do it. Put your writing first and let everything else fit itself around that. You’ll only have the MFA experience once; make the most of it.


How does the environment of Tampa and South Florida play into the experience of pursuing an MFA at USF?

USF and Tampa have a thriving literary scene. At USF, we feature the USF Visiting Writers series, with writers in poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, and comics coming to read from their work and meet with students. We also bring in prominent writers through the USF Humanities Institute. Two student-run reading series, Read Herring and 6×6, take place at local bars and coffee shops. We’re lucky to have three other writing programs in the area—at the University of Tampa, Eckerd College, and St. Leo University. These programs regularly bring in visiting writers and hold public events and writers’ conferences. Culturally, Tampa has a thriving downtown with museums, theaters, performing arts centers, professional sports teams, a long riverfront walkway, fine parks, rentable electric boats and water bikes, many excellent restaurants, and a trolley system. Some of the country’s most beautiful white-sand beaches are a short drive away. Ybor City, next to downtown Tampa, is our Cuban- and Italian-flavored old town that encompasses the old Tampa cigar factories. At night, Ybor City becomes a hotspot for nightclubs and restaurants. For theme park fans, the Busch Gardens roller coasters are visible from campus and DisneyWorld is less than an hour away.

Oct 19

Spring Flash Fiction Contest 3rd Place: “Spies” by Timothy Schirmer

We are so excited to share with you “Spies” by Timothy Schirmer today—selected as the Third Place winner of the Spring Flash Fiction Contest. “Spies” takes you into the heat of a family broken by divorce, exploring the disjointed relationships between parents and children. With poetic punch, Schirmer’s complex story quickly takes shape around avian imagery and untidy emotions.

“Honestly, I don’t have the stomach, the way they curl around your fingers, and you have to cut them into tiny pieces before they’ll stop moving. ”

I was nineteen when my mom remarried. It was the smallest wedding I’ve ever been to. They wanted it outside, in God’s country. Her God. The sky was clear and the air smelled of pine trees. The mountains were a red clay color and they surrounded us in elegant formations. The minister wore all black and I think that bothered my mom because he looked too formal, he looked like a priest with his shirt buttoned up so tight. In a cage that sat on the ground the minister had with him two white birds. My brother tapped me on the shoulder and he whispered, “What’s happening with the birds?” I said, “I’m not sure.” They were fluffing their feathers and making soft hooting sounds in their throats.

When we were boys our mom told us she was an atheist. Sometimes though—on rare occasions—she could be overheard saying to someone, “My church is at the top of a mountain.” Or, “My church is when the sun comes up and I’m on my bike.” Back in those days she was a triathlete. She would wake in the dark to run and bike and swim each morning before work. Her muscles looked like stones under her tanned skin. Now, once a month I go to a gym and I check for this inheritance inside myself. I still can’t jog for more than ten minutes without laser beams of pain in my chest.

She wore a simple dress that ended at her knees. It was white with shoulder pads and beads on it. That’s the first thing my dad wanted to know, and that’s what I told him, almost verbatim. I only mentioned the shoulder pads because I remembered once when he said that shoulder pads make women look like middle school quarterbacks. Then he asked my brother a different question. Our strategy was to answer him honestly, but with scant, colorless details. We were like captured spies, obtusely cooperating. Though there wasn’t much to tell. It had been a small, quiet wedding.


To read the rest of “Spies” click here.

Oct 16

Indie Press Corner: Forest Avenue Press

Today, our Indie Press Corner series continues with an interview with publishing powerhouse Forest Avenue Press. Thank you to publisher Laura Stanfill for taking the time to correspond with us.

We put a lot of emphasis on strong relationships with indie booksellers. We get to know them, their tastes, and be sure that they get very early copies of the books, since they are literature’s greatest advocates.

We are longtime fans of Forest Avenue Press–a fellow Portland publisher!–here at The Masters Review. Can you tell us a little about the genesis of Forest Avenue Press, its mission, and what makes it unique? 

We are fans of The Masters Review as well!

I started Forest Avenue in 2012, inspired by connecting with many local authors who had urgent, essential stories to tell—and recognizing that creating one more home for fiction could actually make a difference. Not necessarily in terms of quantity, but in terms of investing time and love and money in each book.

My background in journalism, public relations, and freelance manuscript editing gave me the basic skills to put together a small press. Local publishers agreeably answered my industry questions, giving me the courage to move forward with the business.

Two years later, I signed with a national distributor—Publishers Group West—and opened for national submissions for the first time, broadening our mission and our visibility, which in turn has exponentially grown our readership. Our core goal remains the same as in our earliest days: to bring authors and readers together in independent bookstores as a way of building in-person relationships, deep discussions, and a healthier literary ecosystem. We need each other, not just as book buyers or even book readers, but as human beings with stories to share. If we get together and make space for each other, whether that’s inside a library or bookstore, or through opening the cover of a novel and engaging with the characters, we won’t feel so alone. And we might be able, together, to change how the world works by making space for underrepresented voices and stories that affirm the importance of being present for each other.

What is your editorial process like? 

We’re very hands on, starting with offering our authors a packet about how our business model works and what to expect during the contract phase. Many of our authors are debut novelists, so we build extra time into the pre-publication process to make sure we can help them transition successfully from working on a book to holding the mic—sharing their work with the public.

With each manuscript, we begin with a rigorous developmental editing cycle, which sometimes takes a pass or two, and other times takes a year or two. When we complete that process, we make a limited number of coverless galleys to send out for reviews; this strategy helps us earn endorsements from big-name authors who might not agree to review a PDF. It also confirms to the author and those we ask for endorsements that we are investing time and money in promotion.

Then we go through the copy-editing phase while our amazing designer Gigi Little creates the perfect cover to help the book reach its target market. We combine the edited manuscript, the new cover, and marketing data into ARCs that we send out to our PGW sales team, reviewers, the media, booksellers, and librarians.

Between the ARC and the final copy, we work on sales and marketing opportunities, including helping our authors drill down into their goals for the book and how we can achieve them. We organize a book tour, build on the author’s existing community contacts, and seek new opportunities.

How do you select which manuscripts you publish? 

Our editorial committee convenes when we’re open for submissions—generally once a year for a condensed period of time of four to six weeks. We ask for query letters and fifty pages, and we try to be as clear as we can about what we’re particularly seeking and what we don’t like. This transparency and the national recognition we’ve been getting has helped us maximize the number of manuscripts we get that actually match our taste. And with this narrowed-down pipeline system, when we get manuscripts that are in our wheelhouse, but they aren’t quite right for us, we often have the ability to give individual feedback.

Not having to read through new submissions every week also allows me to go out and speak to writers and publishing professionals at colleges, universities, book festivals, and conferences. When pitches come in—and they always do—when we aren’t open, I try to be firm and polite in explaining our position.


Oct 12

Debut Author Spotlight: Camille Acker

Camille Acker’s debut Training School for Negro Girls came out this week. The collection of new short stories is a daring and bold declaration of the complexity of black and brown womanhood—vital new representation in a overwhelmingly reductive world. We are honored to be able to share this essay from Camille Acker about how she found the strength and passion to persevere in her vision when all seemed lost. Check out the essay, and then go grab the debut from this talented author.

“Somewhere out there a creative person is waiting to be inspired by the stories only you can tell. Work that is unapologetically you does that: inspires someone else to be more of who they are.”

The summer I finished a full draft of my short story collection I was living in New York, surrounded by cacophony and inspiration. In my MFA program in New Mexico the world had been ever so quiet, ideal for pure literary output but more challenging for generating ideas and capturing the rhythms of a city (specifically my hometown of Washington, DC) on the page.
I had ideas—opening scenes, sentence fragments, settings—but what shape many of the stories would take I hadn’t yet determined. I started out in grad school with nice stories, pleasant characters in challenging situations, but I had been contemplating other characters in different storylines. That summer, an exhibition of the work of designer Alexander McQueen was on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibit was entitled Savage Beauty and displayed in its filled to capacity spaces were the garments that had made McQueen a fashion legend. Leather masks with zippers and straps that engulfed the entire head. Shoes more akin to the hoof of an animal than a human foot. Impossibly voluminous dresses made of feathers next to frocks that would tightly cocoon the waist of anyone who wore it. It was weird, outlandish, bold and I left, dazed by the daylight outside and roiled by what I’d seen inside.

In cafes and libraries for the next few weeks, I wrote and revised my stories. I decided on new points of view for some stories and introduced subplots into others. I wrote characters I understood but didn’t immediately like. I smuggled humor into situations that had been dead serious. I let it all get a bit weirder.

And I decided on a title that didn’t hide that it cared about blackness and womanhood.

Seeing Savage Beauty that summer encouraged me to push my work to a new place and so did listening to Marvin Gaye’s lesser known concept album, Here, My Dear. The work of both was so full of vulnerability, so unashamed of who they were. I didn’t know what the reaction would be to my vision of my hometown but I knew it was the DC I wanted on the page.

In the years after that first draft though I doubted my vision. Rejections from literary journals and agents left me wondering if my writing would only ever sit in a desk drawer instead of on a bookshelf.

A writing group I was in when I was living in Chicago forced me back to the stories, if only because some months when I was up to be read I had been too neglectful of my writing to produce anything new. Their feedback helped me to re-engage with the stories and see how they could be better than they were, to be more fully what I had intended them to be.


Oct 11

The Masters Review Volume VII – Introduction by Rebecca Makkai

Our seventh anthology of outstanding work by emerging writers, with stories selected by Rebecca Makkai, publishes later this year. We are so excited, we couldn’t wait until next month to share Rebecca Makkai’s wonderful introduction to these ten awesome tales. We are so grateful to have worked with Rebecca on this volume, and we can’t wait to share it with you.

“What I’m always looking for, in everything I read, is the airplane factor. I don’t mean whether or not I’d enjoy this on an airplane. I mean: Is this a good pilot? Does this pilot stall out on the runway, or are we up in the air before I know it, happily captive to the plane’s course?”

What does it mean to be an emerging writer? All I know is that I was labeled as such at one point—I was invited to several festivals featuring “emerging writers,” all around the time when I had stories out but no novel, or one novel and no clue what was supposed to happen next—and that sometime thereafter, with no warning, I stopped emerging. It felt wildly unfair to me at the time, because wasn’t I just a brand new little baby writer with nothing but exciting promise? But no: by the time your second book appears, apparently you’ve emerged. Recently, I was joking with a couple of friends (writers who “emerged” before I did, and more thoroughly than I ever have) about launching, for those of us who’ve been around the block, a Submerging Writers Festival.

Which is all to say: I know, I remember, that this “emerging” thing is both fun and terrifying. As much as I look back with nostalgic longing at the moment when my first story was accepted for publication—when everything was potential and excitement—it’s only now from this point, looking back, that I know what that moment was the start of. At the time, for all I knew, it was a fluke. It was a mistake, soon to be corrected with an awkward follow-up note. The journal would fold before the story came out. A printing error would omit half the piece. No one would even read it. Everyone would read it, in horror that it had been published. When the journal in question finally arrived at my house (nine whole anguishing months later!) I couldn’t bear to look directly at the story. I made my husband look at it and check that it was real, that all the words were there, that they’d spelled my name correctly.

To judge any contest is daunting, but one for emerging writers is especially so. There’s the question, first of all, of what this would mean to the writers chosen—something I have no way of knowing. Is this a writer on the verge of giving up, or one who’s received ten acceptances and a six-figure book deal this year? If I squint hard enough, can I tell? (No; I cannot.) And then there’s the question of promise versus polish. Everyone here has an abundance of both, but for the final spot, as I’m considering a story weighted more towards spark and promise against one weighted more towards polish… Which way do I go? (Well: spark and promise. But not without a lot of hair-pulling.)


Oct 9

Featured Fiction: Heitor by Chaya Bhuvaneswar

Today, it is our honor to publish an original story by the esteemed Chaya Bhuvaneswar in our Featured Fiction section. In “Heitor,” a sixteenth-century slave examines his life before the firing squad. This story, from her recently released collection WHITE DANCING ELEPHANTS, dives into the darkest truths of our collective history, and bright possibility of personal transcendence.

“When death came, it would be by gunshot. Heitor would not be blindfolded. But no one would prevent him from closing his eyes when pistols were raised and seeing instead vivid memories.

One October evening in the Year of Our Blessed Lord, fifteen hundred and forty-five, a male Indian slave once advertised as being in the most robust health, skin of his young back shining like sturdy striped mahogany from pale healing scars of past whippings, stood chained in the cool courtyard of the convent in Evora, in Imperial Portugal. He was awaiting punishment.

As a mercy, one of the sisters had allowed him to continue wearing a loincloth, though, at the moment he crumpled in death, he knew that even this insignificant black rag would be forced off. The covering was for the benefit of the fifty-or-so women, some of them girls, who would live in the convent till they too died, and who, like Mariana, a sixteen-year-old novitiate, were never supposed to see any man’s genitals. Yet Mariana had contrived once to see Heitor sleeping on the ground outside the stables, had found his body beguiling, had ordered him to stand guard outside her bedroom door on several nights, though he had resisted doing more.

When death came, it would be by gunshot. Heitor would not be blindfolded. But no one would prevent him from closing his eyes when pistols were raised and seeing instead vivid memories.

As a child, Heitor was seized at the age of seven by slave traders from Lisbon, those proud descendants of da Gama. The traders had the Count of Vidiguera’s maps from a century before, when he had been the first to reach the Indian Ocean. In a village in Bengal, Heitor’s tiny mother was struck to the ground by one of the elders, who, without informing her, captured her son and, for a fat purse, surrendered him to those slave traders. Small for his age then, easily bound, Heitor was brought by ship and force, by members of large prosperous trading companies who gloried in sea routes. They were the brothers of men who had settled in Goa, the place in India where the first evidence of human life was ever found, in metavolcanics, rock art engravings. Spice traders who named kingdoms after explorers didn’t fail to notice Indian women: they married the most beautiful ones they could find, converting them to Christianity, gifting them with wedding jewels the Europeans had stolen from the women’s own ancestors.

Still mute from the sight of his mother imploring the elders, Heitor was sold for an elite price to work for the nuns of Evora, and to serve their novitiates. Indian, Chinese, Japanese slaves were bought and sold in Portuguese cities, believed to be more intelligent, and less potent as males, than African slaves, and thus allowed to work in the convents.

As a child, Heitor was striking for his quietude, forming a graceful harmony with the aggressive potential of his prematurely hard and strong limbs.

Beginning at the quick, observant, diligent age of eight, he was saved from harder labor, given to the convent’s Indian gardener and its cook.

These loving men were nowhere to be found on his last night. The men, lovers, were hiding for fear of being chained, drunk and in despair that they had not foreseen his fate. His two passionate, adoptive fathers, who knew how to grow the choicest sprigs of lavender to place on dinner plates, also knew the art of capoeira, a fighting form evolved to fend off slave traders, one of many methods of survival that Indians would learn from Afro-Brazilian men, the black crewmembers who frequented taverns and inns in the city where the cook and gardener were sent to do errands. These crewmembers, in their turn, purchased young Japanese women as slaves and bragged of how much they enjoyed them. The women had been sold by their families, so their menfolk could buy food. Or feudal lords traded these female slaves for gunpowder.

The Indian cook and gardener happened to be devoted to pleasure. Believing Heitor should have the same, they taught him capoeira, cooking, and all the other arts, believed all along he would outlast them and inherit their small trove of possessions. Those two men, slaves of the convent, suggested which girls in the village Heitor could make love with safely, in secret.                   Mariana, the rich virgin who desired Heitor, didn’t know about those girls.

If the oldest and most powerful of the nuns of Montemor had ever known about the welcoming village girls, each of whom were some respectable tradesman’s daughter – if the nuns, those grave authorities, had known how many lovers Heitor had before settling on one – by now the police would have torn off Heitor’s balls, then forced him to go one living and working.

To read the rest of “Heitor” click here.

Oct 5

New Voices – “You-You” by Grayson Morley: Part II

Today, we are proud to welcome the second part of “You-You” be Grayson Morley to our New Voices library. “You-You” takes you inside the mind of a college freshman who suffers from depression, who struggles with confidence and body image, who plays D&D, and who really, really wants to ask out a girl in his science class. “You-You” offers us a refreshingly unique and honestly drawn male protagonist.

“But it isn’t his DPS that makes Verner fun to play for you. It’s that he is what you want to be. Confident. Sexy. Slim. And while you don’t necessarily want to be the kind of guy who makes out with two women at a bar, you don’t not want to be that guy.”

“You what?” Mark says.

“You didn’t,” Will says.

“For the record, that is not what I advised,” Ben says. “And doubly for the record, I think it is a bad idea.”
You frown and fold your arms across your chest. The three of you are eating dinner in the dining hall. You had not expected this reaction. You had expected them to be happy for you. To go along with it. To roll a character for her to make it easier to start playing the next time. But primarily you had expected them to be happy for you.

“Permission to provide, in list form, the many reasons why this is a bad idea?” Ben says.

You grant it begrudgingly, knowing that it would be worse to tell him no. Will stops eating and sits back in his chair, setting down his utensils, as if for a show. You become irrationally mad at Will because of this. You think nasty things about his Mormonism and how it relates to his own nonexistent dating life at the small liberal arts college you all go to, at which Will might be the solitary Mormon presently matriculated.

“Firstly, if you’re trying to get laid, there are better ways to go about it,” Ben says. “For instance, remember when I told you to ask her to coffee? That comes to mind.”

Mark laughs.

“You two convened beforehand?” he says. “Pathetic.”

“You’re pathetic,” you say, and Mark mimics the mimicry like a Gibbering Mouther.

“Secondly,” Will continues. “Your endgame is weak. Think it through: she comes to the game, starts playing with us, and then, what? You ask her out as Verner? You roll Persuasion so hard that it isn’t just her character who falls in love with you, but her as well?”

“Okay, I get it,” you say. “I screwed up. I should’ve asked her to coffee. I panicked, okay? I panicked.”

“Yeah, you did,” Will says. “But that’s what I’m saying. This is not just a failure. This is a Critical Failure.”
You throw your hands up and go to leave, but Will pulls you back down into your chair.

“Fine, okay, sorry,” Will says. “I’ll let it go. I just think you probably should’ve asked her to coffee instead.”
“Well, I didn’t,” you say. “So where do we go from here?”

To read the rest of “You-You: Part II” click here.

Oct 1

October Deadlines: 16 Literary Magazines and Contests with Prizes This Month

It’s officially fall, and the cooler weather is a welcome relief from the summer doldrums. Now get ready to embrace pumpkin spice, rain jackets, and this huge array of writing contests curated just for you!

American Literary Review Awards

In this multifaceted contest offered by American Literary Review, contestants can submit manuscript entries for short fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry! Submissions may be up to 8000 words for short fiction, 6500 words for creative nonfiction, or up to three poems, and the winner of each contest receives $1000 and publication. Learn more here.
Entry Fee: $15 Deadline: October 1

Aura Estrada Short Story Contest

In memory of Aura Estrada, Boston Review is honouring her story by supporting other emerging writers. Any author writing in English is eligible, although entries should not exceed 5000 words in length. Alexander Chee is judging, and the winning author will receive $1500 and publication! Submit here.
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: October 1

Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize

In this threefold contest offered by The Missouri Review, contestants can submit entries for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Not only do the winners in each contest receive $5000 and publication, but there is also a reception and reading in their honor! Make sure to choose the correct category when you submit, and good luck! More details here.
Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: October 1

Mary C. Mohr Awards

All three of the Southern Indiana Review ’s contests are ending this month, so enter now if you want to receive one of the three $2000 first-place prizes! Rebecca Makkai is judging the fiction section, Aimee Nezhukumatathil is judging the poetry section, and Kiese Laymon is judging the nonfiction applicants. All of the winners and a selection of the runners up will be published! See more here.
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: October 1

Short Short Fiction Prize

If you believe brevity is the soul of wit, and you’re able to prove it, this is the contest for you! The Southampton Review is accepting submissions under 350 words, and the winner of their contest receives $350 and publication. Second and third place are also rewarded, and entrants may submit as many times as they like. Don’t miss out!
Entry Fee: $5 Deadline: October 1

Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival

There are four writing contests being offered this year, and they cover a full range of wonderful challenges and prizes! The one-act play contest, judged by John Guare, rewards the winner with $1500, a staging of the play, and publication. The poetry contest, judged by Greg Brownderville, offers $1000, a reading at the festival, and publication. The fiction contest, judged by Hannah Pittard, gives $1500, a reading at the festival, accomodation for the festival, and publication to the winner. Finally, the very short fiction contest, judged by Robert Olen Butler, awards the winner with $500, a reading at the festival, and publication. There are a lot more details here!
Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: October 1

Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction Competition

Founded by Francis Ford Coppola, Zoetrope: All-Story is meant to explore the intersections of story, art, fiction, and film. This contest is open to all genres of literary fiction, with no formatting restrictions! The entries need to be less than 5,000 words and previously unpublished, and will be judged by Colum McCann, winner of the National Book Award for
Fiction. First prize is $1000, second is $500, and third is $250. Check it out!
Entry Fee: $30 Deadline: October 1

Berlin Prize Fellowships

The American Academy in Berlin is now accepting applications for their residential fellowships, awarded to established and emerging scholars who want to engage in independent study. Writers need one published book to be eligible, and the fellowships are restricted to US residents. About twenty Berlin Prizes are awarded each year, and those selected receive round-trip airfare, a monthly $5000 stipend, and lodging at the Hans Arnhold Center. More details here!
Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: October 5


Sep 21

New Voices – “You-You” by Grayson Morley: Part I

Today, we are proud to welcome “You-You” by Grayson Morley to our New Voices library. We are publishing this story in two parts, and the second installment will launch on the blog in two weeks. “You-You” takes you inside the mind of a college freshman who suffers from depression, who struggles with confidence and body image, who plays D&D, and who really, really wants to ask out a girl in his science class. “You-You” offers us a refreshingly unique and honestly drawn male protagonist.

“But it isn’t his DPS that makes Verner fun to play for you. It’s that he is what you want to be. Confident. Sexy. Slim. And while you don’t necessarily want to be the kind of guy who makes out with two women at a bar, you don’t not want to be that guy.”

You walk into the Chortlin’ Hog. The tavern is filled with miscreants, the kind you expect to find in a town such as this. You are far from high society, here in the Harrowed Hills, which, per its name, is a pretty hardscrabble place. The most popular occupation here is Hog Farmer. You are not a Hog Farmer. You are an Adventurer. You, Verner Ignobis, are not from such a low place as this. You come from high society, from a royal bloodline, even if you’re more second cousin than rightful heir. Regardless, you are beautiful, and you know it. So much more beautiful than the pathetic denizens of the Chortlin’ Hog.

Or so you picture it. You’re not sure how your friends picture Verner or the Chortlin’ Hog. The Game Master can only say so much. The rest is up to each player, in their head, to summon up. The only thing you were outright told by Mark, the GM, was this: “You walk into the Chortlin’ Hog, a local tavern. Before you is an assortment of locals, drinking and talking, and at a few tables even playing cards. The bar itself is busy, with only a single seat left open. What do you do?”

You are not Verner Ignobis, of course. You are you. Nondescript you, chubby you, nobody-looking-at-you you. But when you play with Mark, Ben, and Will, you are not you anymore. You can be free of you and instead be Verner Ignobis. Sexy, confident, sizzling Verner Ignobis, the flame-focused Sorcerer.

What would Verner do? you ask yourself.

Something you wouldn’t do if your life depended on it.

“I walk up to the bar,” you say to Mark, the GM. “And I flirt with the first person I see.”

He asks you to roll Charisma. You roll a d20 across the card table Mark set up in his dorm room, which barely fits in the cramped space. After clacking across the plastic surface, the die comes to a rest.

A 20. Critical Success. Rejoice, for tonight, you are kissing not one, but two buxom blondes.

To read the rest of “You-You: Part I” click here.