The Masters Review Blog

Oct 31

Editors Discuss: Scary Stories

Join editors Kim Winternheimer and Sadye Teiser as they discuss what works in scary stories and what doesn’t, as our celebration of October fiction continues.

K: You and I love October so much because it’s the season of scary stories. And generally we try to focus our content on literary fiction that scares, disturbs, disgusts, or keeps us up at night. This month is particularly exciting because our Fall Fiction Contest  is open for submissions and is being judged by one of literary horror’s best: Brian Evenson. I feel like I have to mention here that he wrote a really creepy story called “Room Tone” for us last year, and anyone interested should check out his very dark collection, A Collapse of Horses, which will not disappoint horror-lovers. This year we have new fiction by Jac Jemc, whose story “Hunt and Catch” is also spine tingling. I’m so thrilled we have our own library of fiction that services scary stories, but more broadly I want to talk about why these kinds of stories are so appealing to us. Jac’s story is about a creepy garbage man and an unreliable world, Brian’s is about a dark obsession worth killing for, and “Linger Longer,” one of our Fall Fiction Winners from Jeff Vandermeer’s year, is about ghosts and the boarders between the real and unreal. Why are these so fun to read? Why do we like to be scared?

S: I think that scary stories offer a way for us to address fears that are just too difficult to tackle outside of a fictional lens. No one wants to sit down and think about death, or the violence that one human can exert upon another, or the secrets that the people we love most can keep from us. But we love stories about ghosts and zombies, horror stories, stories with the unknown lingering in every corner.

We have also published two, very different, ghost stories that I really like. In Double Exposure” by Megan Giddings, two young women move into an apartment where the rent is cheap because of one crucial fact: it is haunted. In fact, the downstairs neighbors are ghosts. As the women become friends with their neighbors, the line between the living and the dead is blurred in unnatural ways. You are not, after all, supposed to date a ghost, and you are not supposed to envy one. In Clean Hunters” by Lena Valencia, a husband and wife, who both have the Sense that can detect spirits, find it hard to bridge the widening distance in their marriage.

What are some of your favorite ghost stories? What do you think makes for an effective ghost story?

K: I have so many. As a kid I loved the Alvin Schwartz collection, Scary Stores To Tell In The Dark, particularly the ghost stories, and the truly gruesome illustrations only deepened the horror (and the pleasure) of reading them. As an adult I love the classics like The Haunting of Hill House, The Turn of The Screw, and Stephen King’s, The Shining. I also love “The Emissary,” by Ray Bradbury. What makes a ghost story effective, for me, is the suggestion of something scary and the suspense that comes from realizing, over time, that what you hoped wasn’t true has its hand on your shoulder or is standing just behind you, its reflection visible in the bathroom mirror. Ghost stories haunt all kinds of literary corners, but I think the most effective ones have what Henry James says are, “connected at a hundred points with the common objects of life.” I really don’t think there is anything scarier than your normal life being infiltrated with the horrible, especially a supernatural power that doesn’t abide by the rules of our physical world. Our lives are so governed by physics, when you are dealing with an entity that operates outside of those rules, well, nowhere is safe.

On the whole, and from a craft perspective, good ghost stories unveil ghosts and our interactions with them, with impeccable timing. Generally, suspense is being built from the suggestion of something scary to the full realization and occupation of that scary something, the apex of that interaction being the story’s climax. Most good ghost stories also ask questions about psychology and stability. It’s almost impossible to have a ghost story and not have a character ask: am I going insane? And lastly, I think a good ghost story evokes a strong sense of place, particularly a scary or unnerving atmosphere.

We recently took a closer look at Marjorie Sandor’s essay on the uncanny. Can you talk about the highlights of this essay and how it pertains to telling an effective scary story?

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Oct 27

November Deadlines: 12 Magazines with Contests and Deadlines This Month

The holidays are fast approaching! Before hunkering down with family and friends to gorge on turkey and mashed potatoes, give thanks for these twelve enticing contests.

FEATURED! The Masters Review Fall Fiction Contest

Our very own Fall Fiction Contest, judged by the estimable Brian Evenson, closes in the middle of the month. So go ahead and send us your best fiction under 7000 words. The winning story receives $2000, publication, and a note from Brian Evenson himself. Second and third place stories earn $200 and $100, respectively, correspondence from the judge, and publication. Peep the deets.
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: November 15

FEATURED! The Frontier Open

The Frontier Open will award a $5000 prize and publication to one winning poem. The contest is open to all poets, established and emerging alike. Ten finalists will also receive $100 each and publication with Frontier Poetry. For more details about this amazing opportunity for poets, click here.
Entry Fee: $20, for up to four poems Deadline: November 30

The Briar Cliff Review Writing Contest

This is The Briar Cliff Review’s annual contest for fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Winners in each of the three categories will earn $1000 and publication in the next issue of The Briar Cliff Review. Fiction and nonfiction submissions should be no more than 5000 words; poets can submit up to three poems per entry. To submit, go here.
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: November 1

Mid-American Review – Sherwood Anderson Fiction Prize & James Wright Poetry Prize

First prize for each contest is $1000 plus publication. Finalists also receive notation and possible publication. There is a 6000-word limit for fiction and you can submit up to three poems. Final judges to still be announced, but last year’s judges were Charles Yu and Jeannine Hall Gailey. For complete guidelines and to enter, go here.
Entry Fee: $10 Deadline: November 15

Pleiades Press – The Robert C. Jones Short Prose Book Contest & The Lena-Miles Wever Todd Prize for Poetry

Pleiades Press is holding two great contests that close this month. Dinty Moore is judging the short prose contest, which is open to collections of fiction and nonfiction: “short stories, flash fiction, lyric essays, and anything else you can think of.” The winning manuscript receives $2000, publication by Pleiades Press, and national distribution through LSU Press. Marcus Wicker is judging the poetry contest. The winning poetry manuscript receives a $2000 prize and $1000 to help pay for a book tour, plus publication by Pleaides press, and national distribution through LSU Press. And get this: the winning poet will have the opportunity to launch his or her book tour from the University of Central Missouri, where Pleaides is located. For complete details on both contests, go here.
Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: November 15

Ruminate: VanderMey Nonfiction Prize

This is a wonderful opportunity for authors of creative nonfiction. Ruminate’s prize offers $1500 and publication for an essay or short memoir of 5500 words or fewer. All applicants receive a copy of the prize issue. The finalist judge is Camille Dungy! Ruminate recommends that you read a copy of the magazine to get a sense of its style before submitting (a good tip for all contests and submissions!). Enter now here.
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: November 15

Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition

Writer’s Digest is looking for short shorts of 1500 words or less. The first-place winner receives $3000, publication, and a trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference in the Big Apple! The second-place winner receives $1500 and publication. For entry forms and more information, go here.
Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: November 15

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Oct 24

October Essay – Something’s Wrong in the Garden: the Uncanny and the Art of Writing by Marjorie Sandor

As All Hallows’ Eve approaches, we continue to examine stories that send chills up our spines. When people talk about scary stories, they often use the word “uncanny,” but what, precisely, does this word mean? Marjorie Sandor, editor of  The Uncanny Reader, takes us through the evolution of the word and provides tools that will help you write your own uncanny tales. Dive in.

“The sensation of uncanniness is, at its core, an anxiety about the stability of those persons, places, and things in which we have placed our deepest trust, and our own sense of identity and belonging. And what’s exciting about this for writers of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, is that it invites us to practice uncertainty.”

I’m eight years old, and my parents have gone out for the evening, leaving my older brothers in charge. This explains why I’m parked in front of the television set, watching a movie well beyond my tender years: The Innocents, based on Henry James’ unsettling ghost story, The Turn of the Screw.

A good twenty minutes into the film, the governess is in the garden, all in white and snipping white roses, still aglow with her good fortune in landing this gig at a big country house. The camera comes to rest near her voluminous skirts, on a small garden-statue nestled in the shrubs. It’s a cherub, but it looks deformed somehow, and there’s something hideous about its smile. That’s when, from out of its mouth, there issues a plump black bug. The bug dangles briefly on the cherub’s lip, waves its little legs, and drops out of sight.

A weird, sickish feeling wells up in my chest, both awful and exciting. It’s that insect, coming out of what appeared to be solid plaster. I don’t have words for the way I feel.

There is a word. I just don’t know it yet.

 Uncanny. Look it up in a standard collegiate dictionary, and you’ll get a brief, unhelpful definition.

Seemingly supernatural. Mysterious. [orig. Sc & N. Engl.].

But the slippage has already begun. Seemingly.

Scholars have traced the word back as far as 1593, and found it wobbling from infancy. In fact, the Scots/Gaelic word from which it emerges, canny, meant not only what you’d think—“safe” and “cozy” and “prudent”—but also “sly of humor,” and “having supernatural knowledge.” You might go to “a canny man” to have a spell cast on an enemy, or to have one reversed. So you might say that from early-on, “canny” secretly contained the seed of its own “un.” A shadow-word just waiting to emerge.

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Oct 20

New Voices: “Katie Flew Again Tonight” by Trent England

Each October, we showcase otherworldly stories that send chills up our spines. Trent England’s “Katie Flew Again Tonight” is one such tale. It is written from the perspective of a man whose wife, Katie, can fly. As Katie’s flights grow longer, they both know that one day, she will fly out of their apartment window and never return. Neither of them knows precisely where she will go, but it is certain that she will no longer share her husband’s rooted, domestic life. “Katie Flew Again Tonight” is a beautiful and chilling examination of how we all deal with finality.

“I understand very little about how my wife flies; she does not have any physical qualities associated with creatures of flight, and for all other intents and purposes, she is entirely human.”

Katie flew again tonight. She woke me up when she crawled into bed, and soon after she fell asleep, I quietly slipped out of the room. I saw evidence in our apartment of her flight: black yoga clothes shed on the floor made a trail down the hallway toward the living room window, where under the sill lay her ballet flats, haphazardly shed in the sleepy stumble to the bedroom that she makes after a night of flying. Her discarded clothes had taken on the scent of the Manhattan grit outside our windows. Katie absorbs the city’s smells when she flies; they cling to her the way a telling perfume clings to a guilty shirt collar.

I returned to the bedroom, lit blue from the alarm clock, and I slid under the sheets, inching my way toward the bare outline of her sleeping body. I had already seen the time, and couldn’t avoid calculating how long she’d been out. As she slowly breathed, I watched the violin curve of her body rise and fall to its own musical time. I reached out and I fell asleep with one arm resting on her. It is in moments like these that I feel as if I, too, have flown.

To read the rest of “Katie Flew Again Tonight” click here.

Oct 17

Horror vs Terror: The Vocabulary of Fear by Lincoln Michel

This October we’re focusing on literature that disturbs, disgusts, and frightens, and with it comes a craft talk about the elements of those stories that scare us most. In this essay by Lincoln Michel, he writes about the difference between horror and terror, exposing the fine line between what we know about scary stories and our visceral response to them.

“Terror is the feeling of dread and apprehension at the possibility of something frightening, while horror is the shock and repulsion of seeing the frightening thing. “

While it is common wisdom that the goal of art is to stir emotions, the vocabulary of creative writing doesn’t always reflect that. MFA classes and craft essays teach us dozens of terms for character (foil, stock, antagonist, antihero, etc.) and plot (climax, denouement, twist, subplot, etc.), but leave us only a few ill-defined words for the actual emotional and psychological effects of a work on a reader.

Or at least that feels like the case in literary fiction. The horror genre provides a counterpoint, giving us an array of terms with which to dissect and understand one of the most primal human responses: fear.

One of the oldest distinctions in horror fiction is the difference between “terror” and “horror.” In their literary usage, these terms were famously defined by the Gothic writer Ann Radcliffe in her essay “On the Supernatural in Poetry.” Radcliffe, although mostly forgotten today, was a best-selling novelist who helped define and legitimize Gothic fiction—the genre from which horror descends. On the surface, horror and terror seem like synonyms, but Radcliffe argues that “Terror and horror are so far opposite, that the first expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates them.”

So what is the difference? Terror is the feeling of dread and apprehension at the possibility of something frightening, while horror is the shock and repulsion of seeing the frightening thing. Terror is the sounds of unknown creatures scratching at the door; horror is seeing your roommate eaten alive by giant rats. Terror is the feeling a stranger may be hiding behind the door; horror is the squirt of blood as the stranger’s knife sinks in.

Many of the most iconic moments in horror fiction—Poe’s unseen beating heart, the unexplained noises in Hill House, Dracula slinking in the shadows—are driven by terror. They are partially obscured, letting our minds swell with tension and dread.

Why does terror enliven us while horror deadens? For Radcliffe, terror in its ambiguity moves us toward yet another effect: “the sublime.” The sublime is the confused awe at greatness and darkness our mind can’t grasp. We are both attracted and repelled by it. To Edmund Burke—whose philosophy Radcliffe references—it is “the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling.” The sublime is often associated with nature—think hurricanes, looming mountains, the infinite expanse of the sea—yet it is particularly effective in art. This is because the mind requires a little distance to feel the sublime. If you are caught in a tornado, you may feel nothing except panic. But if you read a powerful description of a tornado destroying a town, you may feel the sublime. (more…)

Oct 16

One Month to Submit! Fall Fiction Contest With Brian Evenson

There is only one month left to submit your best fiction for a chance at $2000 + publication + correspondence from our esteemed judge. Our 2015 winner, “Linger Longer” was just selected for a ghost story anthology edited by horror’s best editor, Ellen Datlow, and our 2016 winner “Night Beast” will appear in Ruth Joffre’s debut collection, out from Grove Atlantic next year. 

Judged by BRIAN EVENSON. The winning story receives $2000 + publication, and a note from our judge on why the story was chosen. Second and third place stories earn $200 and $100, respectively, publication, and correspondence from our judge.

//  Send us your best  //

GUIDELINES:

  • Submissions are open from Sept 15 – Nov 15
  • 7000 word limit
  • Fiction only
  • 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.)
  • $20 to enter
  • Previously unpublished work only
  • One story per submission
  • Multiple and simultaneous submissions are allowed, but please notify us if your story is accepted elsewhere
  • International submissions allowed

<<  Full contest details and information on past winners, here. >>

Oct 13

Featured Fiction: “Hunt and Catch” by Jac Jemc

Every October we focus on literary fiction that is dark, scary, and a little bit disturbing, and we couldn’t be more pleased (and a little creeped out) to present “Hunt and Catch” by Jac Jemc, an unnerving cat and mouse story about a young woman named Emily who leaves her office to find the world slightly off kilter. It begins with the man in the garbage truck… following her. She’s sure of it.

Enjoy this dark and disturbing tale from one of fiction’s best literary horror writers. And don’t forget to read Jac Jemc’s most recent literary horror novel, The Grip of It, out this year from FSG. Happy Friday the 13th.

Emily pushed the keys at a steady rhythm. Having finished her work for the day, she spent her final three minutes typing a string of meaningless letters and numbers. She shut down her computer at exactly 5pm. She gathered her half-eaten salad from the fridge and tried not to make eye contact on her way out the door, avoiding the inevitable invitation to happy hour.

The backdoor of the office delivered her into the alley, a half-block closer to her bus stop. When she glanced in the opposite direction, she spotted a dump truck. The man at the back of the truck pressed the lever to lower the lift and the dumpster landed with a clatter. He spotted her, smiled and waved, like he’d been expecting to see her, like they knew each other, like the moment he’d been waiting for had finally arrived.

Emily felt fear prick her skin, and she took off, walking swiftly in the opposite direction, afraid to look behind her. At the sidewalk, she took a right and wished hard that someone would join her at the stop, but the bus showed up quickly and she boarded, fumbling for her pass.

She spared herself the hassle of politely looking to the back of the bus for another open seat and allowed herself one of the handicapped spots in the front.

A woman looked up and startled at the sight of her. “Aren’t you supposed to be in jail?”

Emily furrowed her brow and shook her head.

The woman, still frowning, said, “Oh, OK. My bad.”

An elderly couple beside her spoke quietly until the old man said loudly, “Even blood has two colors,” and the old woman agreed.

Emily lifted herself from her seat and moved backward as the bus skipped forward. She felt rubber drunk, boneless, moveable.

<<  Read the rest of “Hunt and Catch” here  >>

Oct 11

October Book Review: Catapult by Emily Fridlund

October was made for curling up with a good book. And, lucky for us, there are many awesome debuts hitting the shelves this month. Today, we are proud to share our own Cole Meyer’s review of Emily Fridlund’s debut collection Catapult. Meyer writes: “. . . the characters of Catapult seem to be less certain of themselves, unable to articulate the source of their own discomfort. This is where Fridlund truly thrives. She utilizes such razor-sharp prose to elucidate this real, human inability to vocalize our dissatisfaction or unease.” Read on.

Catapult by Emily Fridlund

Emily Fridlund’s collection Catapult, winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, burrows under the skin to reveal what hurts the most. It shines a light on the ugly truths in relationships, discovers all the ways in which its characters aren’t quite compatible with one another and forces them into (often quiet) confrontations. This collection is as intelligent as it is incisive. I was continually impressed by the depth of Fridlund’s emotional well; it seemed as though every other sentence was another bit of wisdom, and the sentences in between only added further depth.

Catapult holds no punches in its opening line: “My wife could take your skin off with one glance, she was that excruciating.” Fridlund lets you know right up front the kind of blunt, exigent stories that are in store. The narrator of “Expecting,” the collection’s opening story, continues: “It is easy to be wrong about a person you are used to.” Read more.

Oct 10

Best Small Fictions 2017

We love a piece of flash or micro fiction and The Best Small Fictions has been a favorite of ours for some time. It’s a) an awesome collection of the best flash and microfiction published last year b) selected by our Volume V esteemed judge, Amy Hempel, and c) contains work from Cole Meyer, one of our longest and most trusted readers! And while we may be biased, you only have to read a few pieces from this collection to see that it is an awesome look at some small, but very special stories.

<<  Read The Best Small Fictions 2017  >>

PRAISE

“[T]his striking new series…has quickly become essential reading.”
~Amy Hempel, Guest Editor 2017

“The Best Small Fictions 2015…could be at the forefront of a burgeoning cultural movement.”
~The Newtown Review of Books

“It will be well worth your while to spend a minute or 60 with some of the brightest concise writing available today.”
~NewPages

Oct 6

Celebrating October at The Masters Review

October is a month that is uniquely suited to fiction. As people hang ghosts on their porches and decorate their front yards with skeletons, graves, and witches’ feet, the divide between the real and unreal feels more pliable. Kids, and many adults, don Halloween costumes and pretend to be someone else for the night, to tell another person’s story. Fiction, too, exists on this line between real and imagined worlds. That is why we dedicate every October to a Scary Story Showcase, focusing on the fiction that sends chills up our spines: stories that scare us, that surprise us, that make the boundary between our world and the unknown seem a little smaller. We have lots of goodies lined up for you this month, including original fiction by Jac Jemc and an interview with Carmen Maria Machado. But, to get in the spooky spirit, start by taking a look at some of the highlights from our October archives. Check out Brian Evenson’s story “Room Tone” about the horrific consequences of a filmmaker’s perfectionism. We are proud to have Brian as the judge for this year’s Fall Fiction Contest, now open to submissions. Take a close look at the difference between horror and terror, with this brilliant essay by Lincoln Michel. Let Marjorie Sandor walk you though the uncanny in this deeply unsettling essay. Don’t miss our interview with award-winning science fiction, fantasy, and horror editor Ellen Datlow. Or, read Adrian Van Young’s discussion of Laura Benedict’s supremely creepy story “When I Make Love to the Bug Man.” Hungry for more? Don’t worry. This is only the first week of October. There is lots more otherworldly fiction, essays, and interviews to come.

Oct 3

Short Story Award Winners – Summer 2017

Congratulations to the Winners and Honorable Mentions of our Short Story Award for New Writers! The winning story, “Demonman” by Julialicia Case is awarded $3000, publication, and agency review from Sobel Weber, The Bent Agency, Writers House, and Trident Media. Second and third place stories are awarded $200 and $100, respectively, publication, and agency review. Our Honorable Mentions will also be sent to agents and have earned publication. 

We were absolutely blown away by the quality of work we saw in this group and look forward to publishing these fantastic stories later this fall.

Winners:

First Place Story:
“Demonman” by Julialicia Case

Second Place Story:
“The Devil is a Liar” by Ngwah-Mbo Nkewti

Third Place Story:
“Iron Boy Kills The Devil” by Sheldon Costa

Honorable Mentions:

“Private Affair” by D.S. Englander
“Bluebeard” by Rayna Jensen

Sep 28

Submissions Are Open! Fall Fiction Contest – Judged by Brian Evenson

Fall is our favorite season. There is something about the chilly weather and changing leaves that spurs our creativity and makes us crave a good short story. So, we are stoked to put out a call for stories for this year’s Fall Fiction Contest judged by Brian Evenson. Send us your very best fiction of 7000 words or less. The winning story receives publication, $2000, and a note from our judge on why the story was chosen. Second and third place stories win $200 and $100 respectively, publication, and correspondence from our judge. Click here to read past winners, check out the submissions guidelines, and submit! Happy Fall, y’all.

//Submit Now//

/ About Our Judge /

BRIAN EVENSON is the author of a dozen books of fiction, most recently the story collection A Collapse of Horses. He is one of fiction’s best literary writers with a stellar eye for gothic and dark literary fiction. Evenson is a Shirley Jackson, International Horror, and Edgar Award finalist, as well as the winner of three O. Henry Prizes. This contest is in the very best of hands.

/ Guidelines /

  • Submissions are open from Sept 15 – Nov 15
  • 7000 word limit
  • Fiction only
  • 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.)
  • $20 to enter
  • Previously unpublished work only
  • One story per submission
  • Multiple and simultaneous submissions are allowed, but please notify us if your story is accepted elsewhere
  • International submissions allowed