We would like to wish everyone a Happy Fourth of July from The Masters Review. We hope that you enjoy the barbecue, the fireworks, and the outdoors. We will be back at the end of the week with more literary goodies.
We would like to wish everyone a Happy Fourth of July from The Masters Review. We hope that you enjoy the barbecue, the fireworks, and the outdoors. We will be back at the end of the week with more literary goodies.
Today, we are proud to present “My History With Careless People, and Other Stories” by Christian Winn. This irreverent and moving story examines what it is like to strive for a true human connection in a world in which people are careless, and you yourself are far from perfect. It’s surprising, dark, and real. Don’t miss this unique tale.
“A lot of times I’ve wanted it back, that hug, that series of moments, because there was a lot that would happen between Thom and me that we did not yet know would happen, and that hug was what was before all that.”
Carrie was this fat chick who lived next door and whose husband I stole, sort of, for a little while, until later she stole him back. I never liked Carrie, nor she me, but her husband, Thom, this balding sporting goods salesman, I always thought he was cute. He had a charming, gap-toothed smile that reminded me of David Letterman. Back then I loved to come home after the bar, crack a bottle of red and watch Letterman. This was when Letterman first started out, when late-night TV still seemed something you felt happy to stay up for.
One day in July, Carrie got run over by a school bus on her 10-speed. She died. And like that, Thom was a widower. And like that, their little boy, Carlton, was motherless.
I was crazy busy and didn’t hear about dead Carrie for a day and a half, though it seemed everyone else had—especially my nosey Mom and my brother, Zack. They knew details, and they didn’t even live in the neighborhood anymore. It was because our small city is not full of a lot of news about local moms dying in broad daylight beneath a school bus.
And then things got blown up even more because it turned out the bus driver was a deadbeat dad and a parole violator from three states away. This intrigued people like Zack and Mom.
Me, I felt some sadness as a fellow human, but I was mostly relieved not to have Carrie staring knife eyes at me every time I saw her. I often felt hate coming off fat dead Carrie and landing on me, and I was glad she was gone from my life.
When we ended up at Carrie’s funeral that next weekend Zack told me trustworthy rumor had it Carrie was weaving her way back from The K-Club’s happy hour, had blown through a stop light and was eating a Rueben sandwich when she got run over. Though it seemed more than halfway believable, I thought maybe this was just Zack being Zack—being an idiot, standing up for my side of things. He’d often heard me talk shit about Carrie. We are loyal people, except to our father who’s gone, out there somewhere in the world, don’t matter.
We were within the warm huddle of Carrie’s funeral mourners when Zack whispered, “My friend, Mike Cunningham, he works the grill at the K, made that Rueben special for her—extra kraut, extra sauce.”
“Doesn’t mean getting mowed down was her fault,” I said.
Someone hushed me from two rows back. I held up my middle finger.
“Rueben sando ends up half-eaten on the gory cement?” Zack whispered. “Thousand Island dressing and Swiss cheese end up across her neck?”
The pallbearers, including Thom, floated her coffin through the church.
“Bet they’ll have sore shoulders tomorrow,” Zack said, snorting.
I pinched his skinny rib hard, but he didn’t flinch.
Interestingly enough, as Zack whispered the details of fat Carrie’s demise, who I felt sorriest for was that bus driver. He was fucked—arrested and humiliated with his happy I’m-a-good-man-trying-to-make-my-life-okay-again school district ID photo all over the news. Even if killing Carrie wasn’t truly his fault, it seemed pretty obvious his life was now fractured beyond repair because of a careless person’s carelessness.
It’s hard to believe we’re heading into the middle of summer, but we’re already nearing the end of our chances for these contests. It’s time to cross some of the items off your summer wishlist, and you can start by finally pressing that submit button!
Our contest has finally arrived, and we couldn’t be more excited! The Masters Review is looking for stories under 7000 words, written by emerging writers who are good with grammar and show finesse with fiction! The winner receives $3000, publication, and agency review, and the runners-up also receive cash prizes, publication, and review. Don’t miss your chance! Details here.
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: July 31
All three of the Bellevue Literary Review’s contests are ending soon, so enter now if you want to receive one of the three $1000 and publication first-place prizes! All entries should be related to themes of health, healing, illness, the mind, and the body. Maud Casey is judging fiction, Jennifer Bartlett is judging poetry, and Elisabeth Rosenthal is judging nonfiction. Honorable mention winners also earn $250 and publication! Guidelines here.
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: July 1
Inspired by journalist and essayist Richard J. Margolis, this prize has provided financial and other support to a promising journalist whose work combines warmth, humor, and wisdom with social justice since 1992. This prize recognizes one writer with $5000, and a one-month residency at the Blue Mountain Center in Blue Mountain Lake, NY. Applicants need to provide a biographical note, a project description, and two writing samples. Submission guidelines here.
Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: July 1
These fellowships are meant to help emerging Oregon writers initiate, develop, or complete literary projects, whether they are writing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or drama! Literary Arts has awarded over 600 authors and publishers since 1987, and dispensed more than $900,000 in fellowships and award monies. Submissions require the completed application and a writing sample, in triplicate, and possibly an addendum if you qualify for the Women Writers or Writers of Color fellowships. There’s a fellowship for everyone, so don’t be shy! Specific details here.
Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: July 9
These awards, presented by Nimrod International Journal through the University of Tulsa, honor the work of writers at the beginning of their careers in either fiction or poetry. Contestants can enter up to five pages of poetry, and up to 5000 words of prose. The winner of each category will receive $500 and their manuscript will be published in the spring issue of Nimrod! Details here.
Entry Fee: $12 Deadline: July 15
Breakwater, operating from the University of Massachusetts, is searching for something new in poetry, and thus this contest specifically has no restrictions in content or form. Clearly this is a call to all poets who think that their work can make the cut! Judged by the fantastically creative Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, the winner receives $1000 and publication in Breakwater’s fall issue. Submit here.
Entry Fee: $10 Deadline: July 15
Summer is here, and we are looking for some bright new readers to join our team. If you love contemporary fiction and nonfiction, then this readership might be for you! The position involves three to four hours of reading a week, and a commitment through the end of the calendar year. All our readers work remotely and set their own schedules. Readerships begin by the middle of July.
If interested, please submit cover letter, resume, and at least one writing sample by Saturday, June 30. You can apply right here on our Submittable site. Thank you very much, and we hope to hear from you!
We are proud to announce the shortlist for our seventh printed anthology, judged this year by the illustrious Rebecca Makkai. These thirty stories and essays represent outstanding work by emerging writers. Makkai will select ten from this list to appear in the printed anthology. Stay tuned for the finalists announcement next month! Thank you to all of the wonderful writers who submitted to this years’ anthology. It was a pleasure to read your work.
“Life-Giving Doubt” by Ian Belknap
“The Process” by Rebekah Bergman
“Signs of Damage” by Stacy Trautwein Burns
“Summers With Dedushka” by Philip Brunst
“Rogue Particles” by Laura Demers
“The Marchioness” by Corey Flintoff
“Ben Franklin” by Kelly Flowers
“These Are My People” by Steve Fox
“Residential Units” by Marcie Friedman
“Questions for Anesthesiologists” by Robert Glick
“Little Room” by Carrie Grinstead
“Pilgrimage” by Rebecca Gummere
“Ships Made of Stone” by Sarah Helen
“We the Mothers” by Kathleen Hansen
“Doctor, Doctor, Doctor” by Blair Lee
“The Mouse and the Elephant” by Nichole LeFebvre
“Waiting” by Donna Marsh
“Why Do Voles Fall in Love?” by Una McDonnell
“Cristeros” by Bonard Molina
“Shrove Tuesday” by Jeanne Panfely
“Humane Dispatch” by Matt Plass
“Ghost Print” by Anna Reeser
“Imperative” by Beth Richards
“The Sand Nests” by Emma Sloley
“It Goes Both Ways” by Kate Simonian
“The Words to Say It” by Rosanna Staffa
“The Dumpling Makers” by Kristina Ten
“Kamikaze Dressed in Light” by Sophia Terazawa
“The Collectors of Anguish” by Andrea Uptmor
“Closer Than They Appear” by Marylin Warner
Today, we are proud to welcome “Luces” by Ran O’Wain to our New Voices library. In this story, Luz, the protagonist, deals with an increasingly strained relationship with his partner. At the same time, he is working on an artistic project that explores his childhood in Iowa, coming of age, and the discovery of his sexual identity. At least, that is the plan.
“In his heart and mind he was not a woman, as his biology suggested, but undoubtedly male. Never did he feel more fulfilled, more real, than in moments when, strap-on aside, he was in a position to change a tire, to build a shelf—cliché masculine performances that made Luz giddy with self-satisfaction. If Luz must choose, if he had to categorize himself then he was a gay man, butch for sure. But that’s it isn’t it, Luz thought, the crux: the O’Malley’s knew nothing of Luz and Luz had so purposefully maintained this mystification that Mother sent Christmas and Birthday cards that read To My Precious Daughter. Home is a fantasy.”
The first time Luz saw the new neighbor, he and George were fucking, not making love, no, to make love one needed some semblance of foreplay, an act the two often neglected. Neither preferred doggy-style, but ever since Bastion Hill won an American Soap Award and George was promoted to head writer, Luz had refused any other way; he hated how George stared down at him with this self-satisfied look and besides George complained that kneeling hurt his back—everything else came easily for George, after all.
Luz watched the thin man across the alley as he ran his fingers along the windowsill inside what had been, at least since Luz had moved into George’s second home in Asheville, a reliably empty apartment. Luz was transfixed and George noticed the change, the body now cold with distraction.
George plopped down on the bed, sweating heavily. Before he could say anything, ask questions—Where did you go? Where do you always go?—Luz pulled on a velour robe and went to the bathroom for a shower. When he returned, brushing out wet tangles, George stood in a pair of jogging pants at the bedroom window. “Neighbor?”
“People move out and people move in,” Luz said. “If we were crustaceans we’d have new neighbors each time the moon finished a cycle.”
“Is that true?” George asked. “Do crustaceans float with the tide?”
Luz didn’t know if this was true or not, but enjoyed the reckless imagery of crabs scattering along the ocean floor.
“I fly to the city at nine,” George said. “How about Indian food?”
Luz pulled on a pair of cotton underwear that belonged to an ex. They were thick with holes around the waistband and felt utilitarian in a way that made him want to work for long hours. This, the house and allowance, was his time to produce something great. Too many years had been spent distracted by romance and Luz didn’t want to squander the security George offered. A balance had to be struck between black lace and white cotton.
“No eating out tonight,” Luz said. “I had a vision.”
The vision, a memory: Luz lost their virginity to a boy named Wally, an act Jo Ann said didn’t count because Luz had not been penetrated, such Catholic wording, but had instead worn a strap-on. Wally, a freckled boy of sixteen who had never hid his infatuation with Freddy Prince Jr., was so eager for the experience, Luz recalled. Luz hadn’t known what type of sex he desired, not like Wally had known, but when approached suddenly Luz had never wanted anything more than to wear Wally’s jet-black dildo. Wally was still in Iowa, Luz realized, working at Game Pros in the Coralville Mall.
Today, we are proud to feature a review of Akil Kumarasamy’s debut Half Gods by our very own Will Preston. Kumarasamy’s debut follows the different members of a Sri Lankan family who flee their country’s civil war and resettle in New Jersey. Preston writes: “Indeed, Half Gods gains its emotional resonance not only from its characters’ nuanced internal lives, but from the cumulative effect of stacking these narratives next to each other. The result is a subtle and complex book that requires and rewards a reader’s attention, one that feels less like a group of individual stories and more like a sweeping family epic in disguise.”
Every few years, somebody resurrects the old debate over whether reading books can increase a person’s empathy. On the one hand, researchers at The New School and the University of Toronto have conducted studies that suggest that, yes, projecting ourselves into the lives of fictional characters makes us more sensitive toward others. On the other, as essayist Teju Cole has observed, no less than the Nazis harbored a deep admiration for high culture, and Barack Obama’s love for Marilynne Robinson did not stop him from launching drone strikes throughout the Middle East.
I thought of this debate while reading Akil Kumarasamy’s captivating story collection Half Gods, which follows a single Sri Lankan family as they flee their country’s bloody civil war to seek asylum in New Jersey. This massive displacement echoes sharply down the family line, from Muthu, the aging patriarch who grew up on a Sri Lankan tea plantation in the 1950s, to his daughter Nalini, to her two American-born sons, Arjun and Karna. Theirs is a story irrevocably marked by loss and unbelonging, a slow, steady undercurrent of pain that leaves them as emotionally estranged from their new home as they are from their old.
Today, it is our pleasure to feature an interview with the incomparable Rita Bullwinkel. Her debut collection of Short Stories, Belly Up, recently came out from A Strange Object. We chatted with Rita about her path to publication, craft, cannibalism, and what we can expect to see from her next.
“And, I think, because of this, because writing is a thing I do to please myself, to remind myself that I am living, that I don’t allow my mind to get in the way with how my writing should or should not be.”
Your first collection of stories, Belly Up, just came out from A Strange Object. It’s a beautiful collection, both in terms of the vivid prose and as an object in itself. Can you tell us about your path to publication and what it was like to work with ASO?
Jill Meyers, who is my editor and the co-founder of A Strange Object, is a completely fearless warrior of words. I’ve adored working with her, and am immensely grateful that she saw a book in what was sent to her. The paper and finish of the book, as you well noted, are magnificent. Also, the interior design of the book, which was designed by Amber Morena, is incredible. The exterior of the book was designed by Kelly Winton, who also designed Maggie Nelson’s unforgettable Jane: A Murder. Winton is a master. And the hands belong to Geoff McFetridge, whose work I’ve loved since I picked up his beautiful, now shamefully out of print, compendium of visual body questions titled Studies.
Jill was very generous about allowing me a say in the visual identity of the book. She has impeccable taste in all arenas, including the visual, and so I trusted her selections for design with my eyes closed.
You have a style that I would describe—for lack of a better word—as deadpan disaster. Your characters bear witness to terrible misfortunes: In the first story, the protagonist witnesses a fatal car wreck on the way to work; in another, a man is called to sleep (in the same bed) with women in his neighborhood whose husbands have just passed; in yet another, a woman loses her husband to a heart attack. At the outset, these characters all deliver the news of these misfortunes in very matter-of-fact, unaffected language. That is not to say that these characters don’t have deep layers of emotion—they certainly do!—but these are revealed as the stories progress. The stories resist meditating on these disasters head on, which is perhaps more realistic.
This is difficult to describe, so please forgive me if I have failed altogether—but it is really admirable. How did you develop this style? (If you would agree with me,) how do you view this craft choice?
I don’t think of writing fiction as a series of choices. I think of it as compulsive, and something I can not help but do. I would write if no one told me to, and, indeed, let me be clear, no one is telling me to write, no is making sure that I write anything but me. And, I think, because of this, because writing is a thing I do to please myself, to remind myself that I am living, that I don’t allow my mind to get in the way with how my writing should or should not be. It is, simply, the things I am circling, written in the style in which I circle them. Even my earliest stories had some of the same mannerisms, and were circling some of the same things. It’s not that I think I haven’t gotten better. One must believe they are getting better, that their mind is becoming sharper, but, I’ve never had a conscious thought while writing about what kind of style I wanted to write in. The brilliant writer, Diane Williams, when once asked why her stories are so short, replied something like, “I am a pear tree. I make pears. I would be equally happy if I bore walnuts, but I don’t. Only pears to see here.” I feel similarly.
I really admired your story “Arms Overhead,” in which two girls who are just entering high school make sense of the disrespectful and violent ways that adults are starting to view their bodies (men yell at the girls from cars, teachers get angry when one girl accidentally bears her midriff) by conducting thorough research on cannibalism. Can you talk about the process of writing this story? Where did you get the idea to combine these two themes and how did you come to create these two great, complex characters?
There was a period of time between 2012-2014 where I read a lot about cannibalism. I did read historical accounts, but I mostly got stuck in these long reading bouts of news articles about modern day criminal cannibals, which nearly universally involved a man murdering a woman and then eating her limb by limb. There are a few documentaries about people who have been convicted for eating other people. And then, while I was already in this cannibalism hole, the story about the cannibal cop in Queens began to unfold. I was living in New York at the time, and had a friend who was working as a paralegal for a public defender that got assigned to defend him. So, through her, I had all this inside cannibal cop information. Every time I saw her I asked her about him, how he dressed, how he acted, what he said that was worrisome or made him seem very sad or very normal and fine. But I wasn’t interested in any of this because I wanted to write a story about it. I was just very interested. And then, in 2016, I met Mary and Ainsley, who are the two teenage girls in “Arms Overhead”, and they came to me, and it seemed that they would be likely to also be interested in cannibalism and what it implies. From what I gather, the desire to eat someone does have to do with the desire to possess them. Men want to possess women so badly that they kill them. I was interested in this desire for possession, specifically as it pertains to the way Mary and Ainsley walk through the world in “Arms Overhead”. A desired girl is already being eaten bit by bit, by the evil, dehumanizing society in which she lives. I wanted Mary and Ainsley to be able to eat the world that is trying to eat them. I wanted Mary and Ainsley to be able to figure out a way to get revenge.
What are you working on now? What can we expect to see from you next?
Interviewed by Sadye Teiser
The sun is out and the stories are ripe for the picking. Our Summer Short Story Award for New Writers awards $3000 and publication online. Second and third place stories will receive publication and $300 and $200 respectively. All winners and honorable mentions will receive agency review by: Nat Sobel from Sobel Weber, Victoria Cappello from The Bent Agency, Andrea Morrison from Writers House, Mark Gottlieb from Trident Media, and Sarah Fuentes from Fletcher & Company. This is a wonderful opportunity for emerging writers. DEADLINE: July 31. Check out all the details.
Akil Kumarasamy’s debut Half Gods hits shelves today. To help celebrate, we are proud to feature an essay from Kumarasamy on how she arrived at the structure for this unique collection. Check out this essay and then pick of Kumarasamy’s beautiful book today.
“I used the tightness and versatility of the short-story form and the accumulative power of the novel. For a book dealing with borders, it made sense that the structure would fall somewhere in between.”
When I think of my book, Half Gods, I am reminded of a broken teapot that I had once tried to resurrect with superglue. I had brought it for my mother from England, and sitting outside on our porch in Jersey, I tried to piece together this colonial gift that had shattered in transit. Even after all my efforts, the thin gashes in the porcelain ensured it would never hold water. Still, my mother kept this teapot, which had lost its purpose. “Travel is not easy on the body,” she told me.
The crack down the center of the teapot showed how a teapot could become a light catcher, how sometimes fractures could be luminous. In telling a story of a displaced family in Half Gods, I had to reconstruct it in pieces, cutting across time and countries; making something that didn’t necessarily fit clean but that was surprising and expansive; letting the reader peer through a fissure to find, perhaps, a new sense of geography: Haiti next to Sri Lanka, Tamil and Punjabi in a single name. I used the tightness and versatility of the short-story form and the accumulative power of the novel. For a book dealing with borders, it made sense that the structure would fall somewhere in between.
Half Gods follows two brothers named after demigods from the Mahabharata and looks into their origins and destinies, crossing time and countries. A lonely Angolan butcher from Botswana visits the family in New Jersey for dinner in one story while in another a baby girl is renamed as a Hindu goddess but raised as a Muslim after an act of violence. The stories build sequentially in revealing the characters and showing the connections between parents, children, and friends in unexpected ways.
While speaking to the larger narratives of war and family histories, I want the stories, like the shards of a teapot, to capture the jagged edges of individual human lives. Characters, like us, are contradictory beings, struggling to articulate their own experiences—sometimes willfully, sometimes blindly. If I look at the teapot, I can still see all the cracks, the empty space, but those absences tell stories. In fiction, what is left unsaid can be just as revealing as what is on the page.
Today, it is our pleasure to present “The Visible Spectrum” by Carlee Jensen. This lovely, languid, and aching summer story is the perfect start to June. It is told from the perspective of Samantha, whose older sister is determined to swim the length of the lake one summer. As they embark on their journey—Samantha in the rowboat, her sister Ingrid swimming—the endeavor becomes increasingly complicated.
“The water was clear, and when Samantha looked over the side of the rowboat, she could see fractals of sunlight splintering over Ingrid’s bare back. Ingrid cut a sweeping, irregular path: now a burst of sparkling drops a few yards from the rowboat, now a rippling figure just below Samantha’s oar. It had a magical quality, this series of appearances and disappearances. However Ingrid might have been struggling on the other side of that rippling divide—whatever fear she felt as she opened her eyes on that emptiness below her—there was a power in her body, the clumsy way it cut through the water.”
Ingrid stood with her back turned on her mother and younger sister, her eyes fastened on the brilliant orange sunset swallowing the sky, and announced that she was planning to swim across the lake the next morning.
Samantha, who had fixed her gaze on the pale streak of sour cream in her chili, surfaced at the sound of these words. Ingrid was leaning against the railing of the deck, still dressed in the sweaty clothes she had worn running. She liked to run at sunset, when the road was not so hot and dusty. Their mother accepted this arrangement despite the fact that Ingrid was almost always late for dinner as a result. Most nights that summer, Ingrid had not had dinner with them at all. She waited until late in the evening to microwave a bowl of whatever they’d had, and ate it standing in the kitchen.
Samantha watched as her mother took a contemplative bite of chili. The lake was a mile across where they were, maybe a little more, and the water was still frigid though it was the second week of July. “You can’t go alone. You’ll need someone in the rowboat,” her mother said.
“Sam can come with me.” Ingrid turned to look at her sister and raised her eyebrows, conveying a message that was neither a request nor an order.
Samantha was, of course, the obvious choice. Their mother was not averse to rowing, but she had spent that summer preoccupied with little invented chores: riding her bike into town at sunrise to collect the daily newspaper; securing loose boards on the deck, though they had spent years simply stepping over them. Twice a week, she drove forty-five minutes into Syracuse to see her own mother, who still lived in the big, unwieldy house where she had raised her children.
Their father was a good rower, strong though he had always been small, but he was home in Connecticut. He would materialize for a few days at the end of July, working on his laptop in the full sunlight of the deck.
Their mother followed Ingrid’s gaze, resting her eyes on Samantha’s face. Samantha did not know which one of them to look at, so she looked over Ingrid’s shoulder at the sunset. The muscles in her neck seemed to stretch and compress involuntarily. Yes, she said, she would go along. She watched her sister’s face relax into a smile.
Temperatures have certainly started rising, but there’s no excuse for falling into the summer doldrums just yet…These contests should kick your mind into high gear, and you can truly relax once you’ve submitted your best work!
Our own contest is just about to begin, and we’re here to give you an excellent head start! The Masters Review is looking for stories under 7000 words, written by emerging writers who have a knack for nouns and a facility with phrases! 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: July 31
Now open, Boston Review’s Annual Poetry Contest is a big one, with the winner receiving $1500 and publication. Submissions should be kept to five poems, on ten pages or less, and any poet writing in English is eligible! Judged by the astute and insightful Mary Jo Bang. Submit here.
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: June 1
There’s only a little time left to enter Southern Indiana Review’s writing contest for short prose! Each submission should only be 40-80 pages, whether it is a novella, a novel excerpt, or a creative nonfiction piece. The first-place winner is awarded $2000 and their collection will be published by Southern Indiana Review Press. Judged by David H. Lynn. Don’t miss it!
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: June 1
Offered through Suffolk University, Salamander is working with Molly Antopol to discover amazing new fiction! Each submission must be less than 30 pages, include a two-page cover sheet, and be entirely unpublished. First prize is $1000, second prize is $500, and all entries are considered for publication. Check it out!
Entry Fee: $15 Deadline: June 4
American Short Fiction and brilliant judge ZZ Packer are looking for writers who are confident, concise, and creative—could that be you? Stories must be between 2000 and 6500 words, but multiple entries are allowed. First place receives $2500 and guaranteed publication in an upcoming issue! Details here.
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: June 15
This amazing prize is offered to a promising emerging writer through Bard College, and the winners receive a stipend of $30,000, an appointment as writer-in-residence on campus for one semester, and the opportunity to give a public lecture. Be aware, though, they’re looking for writers who are 39 years old or younger. You’ll need to have published a book in order to apply, but this is the chance of a lifetime! Learn more here.
Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: June 15