The Masters Review Blog

Apr 13

Flash Fiction Contest Open! $3000 for Under 1000 Words

Oh yes. We love a good piece of flash fiction. Flash is a small but powerful form. A flash story is a little capsule for innovation, for velocity, for emotion. We are proud to announce that our second-ever Flash Fiction Contest is now open to submissions. The winner receives $3000 and publication on the site and second and third place receive $200 and $100 respectively, along with publication. See the guidelines below and check out all of the details on the contest page.

GUIDELINES:

  • Winner receives $3000 and publication
  • Second and third place prizes are $200 and $100 respectively
  • Stories under 1000 words
  • Previously unpublished stories only
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions allowed
  • Emerging writers only (We are interested in offering a larger platform to new writers. Self-published writers and writers with story collections and novels with a small circulation are welcome to submit.)
  • International submissions allowed
  • $20 entry fee allows up to two stories – if submitting two stories, please put them both in a SINGLE document.
  • Deadline: May 31, 2018
  • Please no identifying information on your story
  • All stories are considered for publication
  • Dazzle us
  • Have a question? Check out our FAQ!

<<Submit Here>>

Apr 10

Debut Author Spotlight: The Same Chair by Rachel Z. Arndt

Rachel Z. Arndt’s debut collection of essays, Beyond Measure, is out from Sarabande books today. In the words of the publisher: “Beyond Measure is a fascinating exploration of the metrics, rituals, routines, and expectations through which we attempt to quantify and add value to our lives.”  Today, we are lucky to feature an essay from Rachel herself on the experience of writing the manuscript that would become her first published collection.

“I wrote first thing in the morning, assigning myself at least a paragraph a day. And on Sundays, I went to my parents’ house for dinner, toting my computer and notebooks to work there, where I sat on a white couch, their poodle lying on my feet.”

I wrote much of the manuscript that would become my first book sitting in the same chair: a boxy gray Mellby from Ikea, far more comfortable than it looked. It faded in the west-facing windows’ sunlight over the three years it sat in the corner of my living room, a change I noticed all at once, as if it had been bleached, the aging sped.

Every day for nine months, I’d sit in the chair, wearing Adidas soccer pants and a college t-shirt, feet on a wooden step stool, notebook propped on my legs. I’d write for a couple of hours, taking breaks only to play Two Dots, a game whose 20-minute cycles of life-regeneration strictly structured my pauses. I’d write and then eat lunch and after lunch I’d write a little more until I’d fall asleep for 10 or 15 minutes, the sun warm on the top of my head, my basil and rosemary plants fragrant behind me, craning.

But then grad school ended and I moved, at last, back to Chicago, where I grew up, where I hadn’t lived since high school, and the Ikea chair didn’t fit in my new aparment, and the windows faced north, and my basil and rosemary shriveled dry. I worked a regular day job. I lived near my parents and their dog. I saw my high school friends.

For a while, I couldn’t write. I won’t pretend it’s ever been as easy as it was in grad school. But in those first months in Chicago, it was especially impossible. Just as I often tried to recreate the circumstances of a particularly successful essay—writing at the same time of day with the same book splayed open beneath my notebook—I tried to imitate Iowa in Chicago. No matter that I had often wanted to leave Iowa while I was living there. No matter that I had wanted to be in Chicago for years.

So that first summer back, I sat with my notebook open, the same stool beneath my feet, the same pants on. But I was on a couch, not the chair. The pockets of the pants bunched in a new way, and the stool creased the rug and crept away from me. I accidentally bought the wrong notebooks and their slightly thinner covers flopped and folded beneath the weight of my pen. Weekends got away from me and weeknights I was too drained by staring at spreadsheets to think in words.

Eventually, I stopped trying to copy Iowa. I got a new rosemary plant and plant light to keep it alive. I wrote first thing in the morning, assigning myself at least a paragraph a day. And on Sundays, I went to my parents’ house for dinner, toting my computer and notebooks to work there, where I sat on a white couch, their poodle lying on my feet. Then I’d seek critique: I’m lucky to have an editor and agent who gave me helpful and encouraging feedback. They weren’t the same as my peers in workshop, but they shouldn’t have been. After all, this was “real life,” I told myself. The limbo of grad school was over. And had it really been so idyllic? I often, as it happened, thought it was a mistake.

But grad school was, it turned out, like most things: better in retrospect, morphed not only by the lens of nostalgia but by the very real gratitude that grad school—the people there, the there there—helped me create a book. Chicago did too—it just did it differently. Place is still important, but what ended up being most important was the same in both places: a routine. Not the same routine, just a routine, something that would make me feel good when I did it and would make me feel off when I didn’t. A routine provided the certainty I needed to scaffold my writing. It provided the certainty whose lack motivated each of the essays in the book. It provided, as it were, a firm notebook cover.

Apr 6

New Voices: “The Monsters” by Paul Crenshaw

It’s officially spring, and baseball season has just begun! What better way to honor the sport than with a story about a Little League team made up of adolescent monsters? In “The Monsters” by Paul Crenshaw there is one very unusual team: vampires play the outfield; the pitcher is a werewolf; the catcher is a frankenstein; the shortstop is a satyr; and the coach is, of course, a minotaur. However, they are still, after all this, just kids. Read on and be amazed. 

“The second and third basemen were both Bigfoots. The shortstop was a satyr. They whipped the ball around the infield so fast you couldn’t follow it, then, as if to remind us they were only children, the third baseman made a fart noise with his hand under his arm while the satyr splashed through a puddle behind the dugout.” 

“They’re monsters,” Miles told me, but I didn’t believe him because no one believes in monsters, even when they’ve seen them before.  

We were getting ready for his first game. This was just after Miles’s father left. No note. Gave Miles his old baseball glove, but the webbing was torn out, which was Rick right down to the worn leather.  

I’d heard of the Monsters already, but I thought they were just big kids. Last year, there’d been a pitcher for the Summerfield Rattlers who was already shaving. He looked to be seventeen, at least. Miles is twelve. You can’t put a seventeen year old pitching against sixth graders. They grow so fast those few years, and change so much. Their voices deepen. They start shaving. It’s a serious disadvantage.  

But from what the other Little League mothers had told us, the opposing teams were already at a serious disadvantage. The Monsters had won their first four games by an average of fifty runs. None of the games went past the third inning before the umpire invoked the slaughter rule. 

Of course we heard this from the other mothers, because most of the fathers didn’t make the practices. They’d be there for the games if they could, but never the practices. Rick used to come to T-ball games, and when he wasn’t depressed he would play catch with Miles in the back yard, but at practices it was mostly us mothers sitting in the hot sun fanning ourselves. 

“There’s a team,” Judy McGruder said, when the last cool days of May hadn’t yet melted into July, “that is made up of monsters.”

“What do you mean monsters?” Sarah Smith-Canton said.  

We had been talking about the men who’d left us and maybe she meant monsters in that way. Or she meant big kids, like how late in the year Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham pool all the best players for the Little League World Series. 

“Monsters,” Judy McGruder said. “Vampires, werewolves, mummies. Picture Lon Chaney or Bela Lugosi.”

Lisa Larsen said monsters couldn’t be any worse than the men she dated, and we all laughed, then went back to watching the shadows of our boys stretch out, making them seem smaller than they were. 

Miles heard about the Monsters from the other kids, who heard about them from the men who won’t even come to practice. He told me this sitting at the kitchen counter with a glass of milk and a PB and J. His glasses had fogged over after coming inside from the heat. His hands were so smooth it hurt me. The house was empty without his father there, and I wondered where Rick had gone, if he was trying out for some Single A team again, knowing he wouldn’t make it. Sometimes at night I listed the names of towns he might be in. I wondered when he might turn up again.  

To read the rest of “The Monsters” click here.

Mar 30

Featured Fiction: “Last Bridge Burned” by Ron Rash

Today, it is our honor to publish an original story by the esteemed Ron Rash in our Featured Fiction section, in which we publish work by established authors. In “Last Bridge Burned,” a man is closing up his gas station late at night when a woman in need of help knocks on the door. This story dives into the best and worst sides of human nature, and is a dose of good medicine for these times.

“A muddy heart, that’s what his second wife Teresa told him once. She’d actually said moody, Carlyle realized later, but muddy seemed right and the last eight years had been an attempt to settle that sediment inside him.”

When the woman knocked on the locked glass door a few minutes after midnight, Carlyle was startled because no car or truck lights had swept across the storefront. He’d taken the .38 from its place behind the counter. He did not go to the door but sidled to the window behind the register. The woman was barefoot and a scrape above her left eye seeped blood, her right forearm scraped and bleeding also. Though it was October, she wore only frayed jeans and an oversized black t-shirt. The clothes looked slept in. One day you’ll learn trouble finds a man easy enough without you inviting it in. Carlyle was sixteen when his exasperated father told him that. By the time he’d finally followed the advice, Carlyle had lost three jobs and two wives. This woman at the door had trouble written all over her. He searched the shadows near the exit ramp for accomplices. The woman knocked again, softly, and Carlyle stepped around the counter, the .38 tucked in the back of his jeans. He stepped in front of the door and pointed at the “Closed” sign.

The outside lights and gas pumps were turned off, the register emptied, but Carlyle still needed to sweep. He kept the gun tucked in his jeans and picked up the broom, worked his way around the shelves and did not look up. In the ten or so minutes it took, there were no more knocks on the door. He set the broom back in the closet. All that was left to do was turn off the radio and inside light. Then, as he did every night after closing, Carlyle could sit in the dark on the store’s back porch before going home. He’d smoke a cigarette and watch headlights pass below on the interstate. After a day of dealing with people, their soft yellow glow soothed him, as did the sound of the vehicles themselves, a sound like approaching rain.

But now, as the words of the song on the radio reminded him, he had glanced at the door and seen that the woman was still there.

On a late-night east of Nashville

My last bridge burned, my money gone

The kindness of a stranger

Showed me a way to go on.

That night when he’d gone to the door and pointed again at the “Closed” sign, she did not raise a middle finger or curse him, as even regular customers often did when he pointed to the sign. The woman wasn’t even looking at him, chin down and arms clutched to her chest. She looked abandoned, like the dogs that appeared from time to time, dropped off by city folks who’d tired of them. Cats too were abandoned, but they always seemed to find a way to survive, but the dogs stayed close to the exit ramp. They simply waited.

“What do you want?” he’d asked after unlocking the door.

“I don’t know,” the woman finally answered.

Her long hair was stringy and disheveled, the eyes red-veined and glassy. Drunk or drugged, Carlyle knew. She reeked of cigarette smoke, amid it a whiff of perfume. Younger than he’d thought too, thirty at most, but a hard-lived thirty. She was shivering.

“You don’t know?” he asked.

“I was with some people, in a car and they pushed me out of the car,” she said, raising her eyes.

“Why’d they do that?”

“I think we were having some kind of argument,” she said, looking toward the exit ramp. “What state am I in?”

A damn sorry one, Carlyle thought, then told her North Carolina.

To read the rest of “Last Bridge Burned” click here.

Mar 27

April Deadlines: 14 Lit Mags & Contests with Deadlines This Month

They may seem too good to be true, but we promise that none of these events are April Fool’s Day pranks! We checked each and every one ourselves, so you can go ahead and submit with confidence!

The Orison Prizes in Poetry and Fiction

Every year Orison Books accepts submissions of full-length poetry and fiction manuscripts between December and April, and this year’s window is closing fast! Fiction entries may be novellas, novels, or collections of short stories and flash fiction, but they must be a minimum of 30,000 words. Poetry entries may be between 50 and 100 pages. Vandana Khanna is judging poetry, Lan Samantha Chang is judging fiction, and the winners of each genre receive $1500, publication, and a standard royalties contract. Check it out!
Entry Fee: $30 Deadline: April 1

The Southampton Review

TSR accepts submissions in different categories twice each year, and they’re only accepting entries for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, plays, and screenplays until the beginning of April. You may only submit once per reading period, but if you want to be published alongside the best established authors and newcomers, this could be your shot! Submission guidelines here.
Entry Fee: $3 Deadline: April 1

Waterston Desert Writing Prize

Inspired by author and poet Ellen Waterston, this prize provides financial and other support to writers of literary nonfiction whose work illustrates artistic excellence and a connection to the desert. The Waterston Desert Prize recognizes one writer with $2000, a reading and reception, and a four-week residency at Summer Lake, OR. Applicants need to provide a biographical statement, a proposal, and a writing sample. Details here.
Entry Fee: FREE Deadline: April 1

Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting

If you think that you’re the next cinema legend, now’s your chance! This contest awards up to five $35,000 fellowships to amateur screenwriters, who are allowed to enter up to three original screenplays no longer than 160 pages. Fellowship winners are expected to complete at least one original feature film screenplay during the fellowship year. Do it!
Entry Fee: $60 Deadline: April 10

Cowles Poetry Book Prize

In honor of Vern Cowles, a man who loved literature, Southeast Missouri State University Press offers this prize for an unpublished poetry manuscript. It is open to any living poet writing in English, age 18 or older, and the manuscript only needs to be 48-100 pages! First place receives $2000, publication, and receives 30 copies of their book. Get started!
Entry Fee: $25 Deadline: April 13

Chautauqua Editor’s Prize

The Chautauqua Institution is an educational center in New York State, and their literary journal has always focused on personal, social, political, spiritual, and aesthetic inquiry. Now, for the first time, Chautauqua will be awarding a prize to the writing that best features an issue’s theme and the spirit of the journal! They publish one volume a year, at the start of summer, and this year’s theme is the courage, grit, determination, and energy that make up moxie. All submissions to the publication are automatically considered, and the winner receives $1000 and a nomination for the Pushcart Prize! Learn more here.
Entry Fee: $3 Deadline: April 15

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Mar 26

“The Visitor” by Lydia Davis Selected for Best Small Fictions!

We are thrilled to announce that The Visitor” by Lydia Davis, which appeared in our Featured Fiction section last year, has been selected by Aimee Bender for the Best Small Fictions 2018 anthology from Braddock Avenue Books. We are also proud to share the news that The Wheelchair” by Mahreen Sohail , which we also published last year, was named a semifinalist. Check out the announcement from Braddock Avenue Books here.

Read “The Visitor” by Lydia Davis.

Mar 23

The Masters Review Volume VII – Last Week To Submit!

This is the last week to submit to our seventh annual print anthology, judged this year by Rebecca Makkai. Each year, we publish a collection of the best emerging authors writing fiction and nonfiction today. The ten writers selected will earn a total of $5000, publication, and exposure to top editors and agents across the country. See our anthology page for all the details. Submit by March 31.

<<Submit Here>>

Mar 20

Interview: Ramona Ausubel

This month, we had the opportunity to talk with one of our favorite writers on the planet: Ramona Ausubel. Her fourth book, Awayland, published earlier this month. In this, Ausubel’s second collection of short stories, a Cyclops looks for love online, a rootless mother turns to mist, and a couple loves each other so intensely that they want to, literally, exchange hands. Here, Ausubel shares her wisdom about using magic to tackle complex emotions, about forging lovely sentences, and about arranging a cohesive story collection. Read this interview, and then get lost in Awayland yourself.

“Language is my home base. Sentences and images are the reason I write in the first place, the reason I’ll never quit even if no one ever pays me or reads a single word again. It’s about naming a precise feeling or moment in a world that is constantly rushing us ever onward. It’s about dredging up the fantastically complex inside life and allowing it a way to live above ground.”

First of all, let me just say how much I enjoyed Awayland. I am a huge fan of both your novels and your stories and I was so thrilled to see another collection by you. Like your first collection (A Guide to Being Born), Awayland is also broken into four distinct sections: “Bay of Hungers,” “The Cape of Persistent Hope,” “The Lonesome Flats,” and “The Dream Isles.” Can you talk a little bit about how you arrived at this structure? Did you write the stories to fit it, arrange the structure based on the stories, or a little bit of both?

I’m delighted to talk to you! I wrote these stories over the course of several years and there are so many questions and layers of my own life and mind in them and the themes in the collection come from these places. But I wanted, in the end, to turn eleven stories into one book and I like the way those sections help build a larger arc. In this book, which takes place all over the world, I wanted a kind of mythical landscape on which to plot the stories and their individual geographies.

Some of my favorite stories of yours have magical elements. What stands out to me about them is that they all have a real, emotional anchor—which is always beautifully expressed. In “Fresh Water from the Sea,” for example, a woman’s mother is literally turning into mist but this is closely tied to the mother’s own feeling of rootlessness. How do you accomplish this? What comes first: the magical component or the emotional one?

I love to use magic as an amplification of something real in the emotional realm. I have felt that feeling of rootlessness (for entirely different reasons than the character in that story) and yet I’ve always had a hard time naming that feeling clearly. In the story I gave the feeling a physical manifestation so that I could see and feel it at its real emotional volume. Sometimes I come up with the conceit first—what if a Cyclops filled out an online dating profile?—and then build the realness into it and sometimes I come up with the feeling first and then build a physical life for it.

What are you reading (and loving) right now?

In my bag right now I have three books: The Seabeast Takes a Lover by Michael Andreasen, which is a collection that I loved long before it was a book (Michael and I went to grad school together) and am besotted with once again; There There by Tommy Orange (out in summer, 2018) which is a ferocious and amazing novel centering on a cast of contemporary Native American characters in Oakland, California; and Fever Dogs by Kim O’Neil, another splendid collection from an old friend and another book I have waited for with baited breath.

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Mar 16

New Voices: “If I Could Have Anything, I’d Only Choose This” by Jill Rosenberg

Today, we are pleased to present the winner of our Fall Fiction Contest judged by Brian Evenson: “If I Could Have Anything, I’d Only Choose This” by Jill Rosenberg. Evenson had this to say about the story: “The trouble with reality is that it’s all too prone to slip and slide and collapse, and when it does it takes us down with it. What happens when you’re a girl with not only a real sister but also an ‘alternate’ one, and not only an alternate sister but an alternate self? You need to hide this from your real sister, who doesn’t understand, who doesn’t see how important it is, but you need to keep talking to your alternate sister so you can become your alternate self.” Dive in. 

“First I feel a bullet racing around my body that is filled with the happy, buzzing feeling of being Hop, and then that feeling spreads everywhere and my feet turn into Hop’s cute, pink, little feet and then up through my legs and torso and then my whole body is my alternate, perfect and tiny body of Hop.”

This is how it works: When I am with Helen, I can have Hopscotch and Butterscotch with me too, but I cannot acknowledge them when Helen is there. Helen is my real sister, and Butterscotch is my alternate sister. Hopscotch is the alternate me.

When I say that I don’t acknowledge Hop and Butter, what I mean is that I don’t acknowledge them in any way that Helen could notice. For example, if I am sitting on the couch watching TV with Helen, Butter can sit on the floor with her back against my legs, and if I want to talk to Butter, I don’t have to actually talk—I just hold my fist to my mouth and that’s our microphone and because Butter is my alternate sister, she can hear me. When Butter talks, I put my fist to my ear, but I make it look like I’m just rubbing my face with my fist because it itches or like I’m holding my fist to my face because I’m being thoughtful.

When Butter is down by my feet I don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen next because Butter wraps her arms around my legs and I hold my fist to my ear and she says, “You’re okay—I’m here. You’re Hop. You don’t have to worry.”

When she says that, I turn into Hop. First I feel a bullet racing around my body that is filled with the happy, buzzing feeling of being Hop, and then that feeling spreads everywhere and my feet turn into Hop’s cute, pink, little feet and then up through my legs and torso and then my whole body is my alternate, perfect and tiny body of Hop.

When Helen is focused on her TV show, I keep Hop at my side on the couch so I can remind myself that she’s there, with her very skinny legs against my actual legs, like I can choose to have her legs instead of my legs whenever I want.

When Hop’s body is against my body and Helen is there in the room, the sensation is both magical and real: the best me is attached to the actual me and I am both of us at once.

I should explain that sometimes I am Hopscotch, and sometimes I watch Hopscotch. It took me a while to realize that this was the case. I like it best when I am Hopscotch, but sometimes I have to enjoy her from the outside in order to make it even better once I am inside Hop.

Sometimes the barriers between the two aren’t as clear as I’m making them sound. Sometimes I’m inside and outside at the same time.

I never imagine that I am Butterscotch. Sometimes I let myself imagine what it would be like to be Helen, to get to live in her body and to know what her thoughts are like, but I want none of this from Butter. I just want Butter to exist, and I want her right by me, like a human pillow or a blanket that I can hug or curl up under. If I ever imagine that I’m inside Butter, it’s more like I’m wrapped up inside her, but I’m still me, or I’m Hop, or both, and then we’re protected because Butter blocks us from everything and hides us. I really don’t want to know what that’s like for Butter. Just the idea of it makes me feel guilty and nervous and ruins the whole point of Butter.

To read the rest of “If I Could Have Anything, I’d Only Choose This” click here.

Mar 14

Read Me, I’m Irish!

Forget about leprechauns and lucky clovers, there are bits of Irish culture that have actually managed to spread so far and wide that they’ve become functionally invisible! Here are just a smattering of words that started out on the Emerald Isle, but made their way throughout the world!

Hooligan

Usually a fairly mild reprimand for being rowdy and disruptive, a hooligan can also describe a rioting sports fan these days. Travel back to the 19th century, however, and you were likely referring to someone named Hooligan. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there was a particularly rowdy Irish family in a music hall song named Hooligan, and their antics have left a lasting impression on the English language!

Boycott

Unusually for the progression of language, the usage of the word “boycott” can be precisely traced back to the year 1880 in Ireland’s County Mayo. Captain Charles Boycott was incredibly unpopular after attempting to evict tenants, who responded by refusing to work his fields, do business with him, or even deliver his mail. It cost Boycott over 6000 pounds, and he fled to England soon after. The situation was reported in newspapers from London to New York, and less than a year later the term “boycott” had become a normal verb!

Slogan

Derived from Irish Gaelic, specifically sluagh-gairm, it originally conveyed the vast chanting of a battle cry by an army. It merged together into the anglicised term “slogorn,” before becoming recognizable as the current word in 1704. This does give an interesting undertone to modern commercials and their slogans, though!

Quark

An integral part of quantum mechanics, quarks are elementary particles first proposed by physicists in 1964. They were named by the American Murray Gell-Man, who happened to be reading through James Joyce’s book Finnegan’s Wake where he saw the line “Three quarks for Muster Mark.” The number three is an essential part of the quark’s nature, so it was simply meant to be!

Malapropism

Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan created the character Mrs. Malaprop in his 1775 play The Rivals, to both great acclaim and great comedy. Her humorous misuse of similar sounding words that mean the opposite of her intention was indelibly intertwined with her character, and Lord Byron himself was using the word “malaprop” by 1814!

Lilliputian

Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels became popular as soon as it was published, and the term “lilliputian” entered many languages meaning “small and delicate.” There are model houses called Lilliput’s Lane, tiny fittings called the Lilliput Edison screws, and a short Dutchman is called a lilliputter. It is certainly a huge impact from such tiny characters!

by Kimberly Guerin

Mar 12

Debut Author Spotlight: Glori Simmons

In our Debut Author Spotlight series, authors contribute essays about the path to the publication of their first book. In this installment, Glori Simmons talks about writing the stories that would comprise her first two collections. She, at first, thought of them as one book and she began to write them as a distraction from the novel that she was working on during her Stegner Fellowship in 2003. Glori Simmons’ collection Carry You came out from Autumn House Press on March 7.

“Three presidents later, American troops are still in Iraq and what I began as a side project was now two full-length books informed by parenthood, marriage, work and time. Life had happened and through it all, my writing had evolved.”

People may see that I have had two books of short stories published in consecutive years and think I’m a prolific or fast writer. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I began the first three linked stories that would become Suffering Fools and Carry You around 2003. I was a Stegner fellow working fulltime in a University art gallery. The U.S. was at war. The short stories were a distraction from the novel I was supposed to be writing, an exercise in form, one story unfolding from another, all set in the present. They were organic, gratifying and fun to write, but I was working on a novel set in another place and time.

When the fellowship ended, I focused on the novel. Its publication was the milestone I was seeking. I got an agent. I gave birth to a daughter. The market crashed. I moved from San Francisco to Oakland. Whenever I turned to the short stories, it felt as if I were having an affair—cheating on the novel. They felt fresh and were a way for me to understand the present day events even as I wrote and revised, but never sold, the novel. Meanwhile, the war in Iraq escalated and then officially ended and then we again sent in more forces. All that while, the Shepherd family kept finding their way to the page. The main character, Clark, had gone to war too.

By the time the stories were ready, my agent had quit the business. Another told me the stories worked well, but needed more—more Iraq, more war. I made excuses, stalled, and then spent two years attempting to write stories set in a country in which I’d never stepped foot. I had a new, more demanding job and a kid in public school. I finally sent the new manuscript off to the agent who’d encouraged me to write more. He said, “thanks, but no thanks.” After more rejections, I looked over my stories. They were unruly as a group and lacked balance. Could it be with a few of my non-linked stories (yes, I’d cheated while I was cheating) that I had two manuscripts? I thought so. I sent them off to small press contests and was pleasantly surprised when they were chosen for publication. Of the trilogy that started this journey, only one of the stories contains the original experiment. Another has been shelved. What was once contemporary fiction is now historical fiction.

As I reflect on the years between the first stories and the last, I am reminded of something a friend once said, “Life happens between books.” Focusing on publication of my first project, the novel, as the ultimate form of legitimacy, had often made it seem as if the hours at my desk were amounting to nothing. It felt, correctly, as if I was not in control of the process. In those moments, it was tempting to ignore my new obsessions or see the other parts of my life as superfluous or intrusions, instead of what they were—stories unfolding, challenges shaping my perspectives and experiences that would make me a better writer. Three presidents later, American troops are still in Iraq and what I began as a side project was now two full-length books informed by parenthood, marriage, work and time. Life had happened and through it all, my writing had evolved.

by Glori Simmons author of Carry You (Autumn House Press, March 2018) and Suffering Fools (Willow Springs Books, March 2017)

Mar 9

Debut Author Spotlight: Get Yourself Some People by Michael Andreasen

Today, we are excited to debut our Debut Author Spotlight series with a contribution from the wonderful Michael Andreasen, whose first collection The Sea Beast Takes A Lover came out from Dutton at the end of February. Our Debut Author Spotlight series aims to illuminate the work of exciting new authors as their first releases hit the shelves. Authors contribute essays that talk about their path to publication; whether it be the inspiration for their book, finding motivation, connecting with an agent, or designing their book cover—these personal essays help demystify the publishing process. In our inaugural installment, Michael Andreasen talks about the importance of finding a group of writers who will give you valuable feedback and hold you accountable. Sometimes a little pressure is a good thing.

“Writers will tell you that they write for themselves, that they write to see worlds born and dreams realized, and I suppose that might be true, but that ain’t all of it. At least not for me. I write so that the people I love and admire will say, ‘I liked that story. Tell me another.'”

I don’t remember how long I had quit writing for, but it was long enough that I remember thinking: I guess that’s it. I guess I’m done with writing.

I was maybe a year out of an MFA programa program which had been great, by the way. Great teachers and smart readers and a handful of dedicated, insanely talented friendseverything you could want, which made the quitting feel that much worse. It wasn’t writer’s block, which has always been described to me as a kind of artistic constipation, all those pressurized ideas desperate to get out. What I felt was the opposite of pressure. Nothing was coming because nothing was expected, least of all by me. I’d never encountered this in my conversations with other writers. For them it always seemed a lack of time was the problem, or a dearth of ideas, or a demoralizing parade of rejections. I wasn’t getting rejected for the simple reason that I wasn’t sending anything out. There didn’t seem to be any reason to. You hear about muses leaving and lives changing, but no one ever tells you that you might wake up one day and feel that most crucial desirethe desire to tell someone a storygone as the goddamn ghost.

Flash forward farther than I’d care to admit: I’m at a party with some friends from my writing program, because we’re all still in the area and we’re all still friends. We reminisce about workshop. We admit that the things we used to dread about itthe deadlines, the critiques, the obligation to dig deep and excavate the very best within uswe miss those things now. We want them back. We hatch a scheme to start workshopping again, just the four of us, just a little, just to see. We propose a meeting the following month.

I hadn’t had the heart to tell them I’d quit. I didn’t want them to think I’d gotten soft and atrophied. Oh god, had I gotten soft and atrophied? Was I about to embarrass myself in front of these dedicated, insanely talented people whose work I adored? I needed to get home. I needed to get writing…

And out of nowhere, there it was: the pressure. I was an idiot. I hadn’t wanted to write for so long because I hadn’t had anyone to write for, no one who knew me and knew my stories and wanted to see more of them in the world. And not just anyone, but these amazing people whose stories I loved and whose approval I craved. Writers will tell you that they write for themselves, that they write to see worlds born and dreams realized, and I suppose that might be true, but that ain’t all of it. At least not for me. I write so that the people I love and admire will say, “I liked that story. Tell me another.”

It’s been almost a decade since I came back to writing. I still meet with the same friends (again: dedicated), all of whom now have at least one book with their name on the spine (again: insanely talented), and as of last February, so do I. We’re all in each other’s acknowledgements, and we’ve all admitted to each other that we might not have this work if not for the group. We don’t meet as often as we used to, but we’re still writing for each other, and whenever there’s new work, there’s an email, and a discussion, and all the insight and incisiveness that can only come from years of reading each other. They know when I’m off my game, and they tell me. They let me experiment and help me hone. They’re the people I’m writing for, the ones I want to impress, the source of that pressure and responsibility that I need to keep going. “I like that story,” they say to me. “Tell me another.”

Get yourself some people. Find them anywhere you can. Find one, just one, who reads you well, who can be honest without being cruel, who can notice your strengths and nurture them. Write to impress them. Write to entertain and enthrall them. Give them the best story you’ve got, and then another, and another, and never, ever let them out of your sight.