The Masters Review Blog

Nov 23

Happy Thanksgiving

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

Nov 21

9 Presses That Accept Unsolicited Manuscripts

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


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

Black Balloon

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

Coffee House Press

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

Two Dollar Radio

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


Nov 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 15

Fall Fiction Contest – Last Day To Submit!

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

// Submit Here //

Nov 13

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

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

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

Read “Lust” here.

Discussed by Sadye Teiser

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nov 9

Science Fiction Review Series: The Chimes by Anna Smaill

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

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

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

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

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

Nov 7

Fall Fiction Contest Closes Next Week!

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

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

<<Submit Here>>

2016 Winners:

Night Beast”
by Ruth Joffre

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

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

 2015 Winners:

“Linger Longer”
by Vincent Masterson

Second Place Story:
“Pool People”
by Jen Neale

Third Place Story:
by Marisela Navarro

Nov 3

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

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

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


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


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


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

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?


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


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.


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.