The Masters Review Blog

Jul 31

Debut Author Spotlight: Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s debut Fruit of the Drunken Tree comes out today. It is a beautiful, polished, and vital novel about two girls who grow up in Colombia during the time of Pablo Escobar. We are honored to be able to share this essay from Ingrid Rojas Contreras about how she edited her first novel by literally using scissors and tape. Check out the essay, and then go grab the debut from this talented author.

“For me, it took printing out the work, and using actual scissors and tape in order to be able to restructure the material. . . . when I first printed my novel out, I felt the weight in my hands. I felt the light strain on my bicep, the girth of the manuscript clenched between my fingers. I felt that if it was tangible then I could understand it.”

At some point when editing a novel, a very particular problem emerges from reading the same words for months, and then years—you arrive to a point where you can no longer parse out what was ever good about what you’ve written, let alone identify passages that need to be improved. It’s like living in a building with a noisy heater, which at some point your brain edits out. You lose the ability to really hear what you’ve written.

There were many times throughout the writing of my first novel that while I was trying to edit the work as a whole and see it critically, instead I’d become lulled by the familiar and predictable order of the strings of words, and then I’d get lost in the most minute insecurities.

In my case, I questioned my commas. I spent all my time exchanging them for periods, restructuring words so they could expand around shiny EM dashes, trying on the flair of parentheses, breaking up sentences, inserting semi-colons. Then, defeated and exhausted after a meaningless hour spent pecking at my work, I’d go back to the original comma.

On good days, I was able to work on what I was supposed to be doing: editing for the sake of the order of information. I constantly asked myself—how do I ground the reader, keep the tension up, develop the characters, set up the scene, and run an underground of themes? On my computer, at first, I was thankful for the endless combinations. The bulk of my writing day was reduced to the office work of pressing Control X for cutting and Control V pasting. This, as you can guess, was not working either. There were too many options, and all of them seemed arbitrary and meaningless.

For me, it took printing out the work, and using actual scissors and tape in order to be able to restructure the material. I knew that on my the computer my novel was 2.3 mb—a nebulous number! and as airy as the world of the internet itself. But when I first printed my novel out, I felt the weight in my hands. I felt the light strain on my bicep, the girth of the manuscript clenched between my fingers. I felt that if it was tangible then I could understand it.


Jul 27

New Voices: “The Dumpling Makers” by Kristina Ten

We are proud to welcome “The Dumpling Makers” by Kristina Ten to our New Voices library. This story made our anthology shortlist and, when it was not selected as a finalist, we jumped at the chance to publish it on our site. This lovely tale is at once clear-eyed and mystical. It traces the invisible, invincible ties that bind us to our families, even as we assert our individuality. Read on.

“Making dumplings was a methodical, time-consuming task, and in most households, exclusively a social one. Doing it alone, you would go insane. Some parties were assigned to mixing, rolling, and cutting the dough; others to grinding the beef and placing the filling delicately in the center of each flat circle. Then everyone would come together to form the dumplings. The repeated series of steps—folding, pinching, joining the ends—was as distinctive to each family as a surname or crest.”

If you let you a leaky ceiling break you now, Nadia, then you deserve whatever dull, unexceptional plans this world has for you. That’s what Nadia told herself as she pulled the last glass from the cupboard and set it under the leak that had sprung overnight. Over the course of a week, her apartment had become a garden of cylindrical things: glasses, coffee mugs, buckets, a vase. And she tended it routinely, emptying each container as it filled, replacing it wherever seemed most urgent.

The landlords lived in the main house just across the yard from Nadia’s, though they were currently out of the country on something called a luxury treehouse tour. They had been gone two weeks. It hadn’t rained in four.

At first, the leak was kind of a thrill, something Nadia could tell the other research interns about when they exchanged renters’ grievances in the break room at work. It was the first time any of them had been on their own, and as they told their stories—one intern’s noisy neighbors, another’s knocking pipes—through their eyerolls and grumbling, their voices betrayed a certain pride.

By this point, for Nadia, the novelty was starting to wear off. Her white tomcat, Eggy, was a different story. He walked slowly through the new obstacles as if considering their fate, deliberating whether to lap up the water from this cup or paw at that one until it overturned. Nadia was cleaning one of his spills, Eggy grooming himself maddeningly across the room, when she got the call from her mother: The great chef Galina was dying five thousand six hundred miles away.

To read the rest of “The Dumpling Makers” click here.

Jul 26

Short Story Award for New Writers – Last Few Days To Submit!

We are heading into the home stretch of summer and our Short Story Award for New Writers is closing for submissions on July 31. So, send us those thrilling summer stories of 7000 words or less! The winner receives $3000 and publication online. Second and third place stories will receive publication and $300 and $200 respectively. All winners and honorable mentions will receive review by five agencies. This is a wonderful opportunity for emerging writers. Check out all the details.

<<Submit Here>>

Jul 24

August Deadlines: 10 Lit Mags & Contests with Deadlines This Month

It may seem too hot to write, but you can use the power of persistence, or at least the advantage of your air conditioning, as you finish up and send in your submissions!

FEATURED Masters Review Flash Fiction Contest

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but no photos are accepted for our contest starting August 1! We want to make sure you have the time to craft your perfect flash fiction, considering the winner will be rewarded with 3000 dollars! Second and third place receive $200 and $100, respectively, and all stories are considered for publication. We’re only looking for previously unpublished stories, but you’re allowed both simultaneous and multiple submissions. Get ready! Get set! Go!
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: September 30

Emerging Voices Fellowship

Meant for new writers who are unfamiliar with the literary establishment, this prize provides financial support, professional mentoring, classes, and public readings to poets and writers of fiction and creative nonfiction! This 7-month fellowship awards a $1000 stipend, but participants must reside in LA for that period and housing is not provided. Applicants need to provide a professional CV, two letters of recommendation, and a writing sample. Learn more here!
Entry Fee: $10 Deadline: August 1

2018 Barthelme Prize for Short Prose

This is Gulf Coast’s current contest, and they’re looking for a very specific and very succinct sort of entry! Submissions can be prose poetry, fiction, or essays, but they all need to be less than 500 words. The winner receives $1000 and publication, and it’s judged by Laura van den Berg! Check it out!
Entry Fee: $18 Deadline: August 15

2018 ½ K Prize

Indiana Review and judges Bryan Borland and Seth Pennington are looking for writers who are sharp, short, and definitely not shy – could that be you? Entries must be less than 500 words, but multiple entries are allowed! Fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction are accepted, and first place receives $1000 and guaranteed publication in Indiana Review! Details here.
Entry Fee: $20 Deadline: August 15

2018 Publishing Lab Prize

The University of New Orleans Press is looking to publish the best novel/short story collection written this year, to bring innovative publicity and broad distribution to authors! The contest is open to all writers, and entries are allowed any length and any subject. The winner receives a $1000 advance and a publishing contract, along with promotion from The Publishing Laboratory at the University of New Orleans. Submit here!
Entry Fee: $18 Deadline: August 15


Jul 20

Two Summer Book Reviews: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai & The Blurry Years by Eleanor Kriseman

There is nothing like a good book in the summertime. Today, we present reviews of two recent summer releases. First up, Will Preston reviews our Volume VII judge Rebecca Makkai’s latest novel The Great Believers. Preston writes: “With this, her fourth book, Makkai has crafted a deeply compassionate character study that is also a genuine, one-more-chapter-before-bed pageturner, a sweeping historical saga that never loses sight of its emotional core.”

Next, Katharine Coldiron reviews Eleanor Kriseman’s debut novel The Blurry Years. Coldiron writes, of the book’s narrator: “Callie is a heroine to remember, a perfect personification of the era of adolescence when decisions were easily made and long regretted. She doesn’t reflect much on her behavior, or offer evidence that she understands why she acts so self-destructively. This isn’t a negative quality; it’s another piece of the book’s authenticity.”

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai’s magnificent new novel, opens at a funeral. More specifically, it opens at a funeral party. The actual funeral, for a young man named Nico Marcus, is unfolding concurrently twenty miles north: it’s 1985, and Nico is dead from AIDS, and his family has made it abundantly clear that his lover and tight-knit circle of friends are unwelcome at the church where he is being laid to rest.

About halfway through the night, one of Nico’s closest friends, Yale Tishman, is overcome with emotion and retreats upstairs to collect himself. When he emerges, some thirty minutes later, he is greeted by a surreal sight: the party has been abruptly abandoned. Half-drunk bottles and cocktail glasses are scattered throughout the room; the vinyl record spins in silence. Both doors are dead-bolted.

Read more.


The Blurry Years by Eleanor Kriseman

If you’re a reader, you can run, and you can hide, but you can’t escape the coming-of-age story. It’s everywhere, a part of every era, a constant of literature as immovable as Hemingway himself. The only new ground is generational: the story varies depending upon the age of the person telling it. For Millennials, the variation arrives (at last) in the storyteller. Women, queer people, and people of color are telling their stories at last, which means that the coming-of-age genre has some new life in it for the first time in decades.

Read more.

Jul 19

The Masters Review Volume VII Finalists!

Our print anthology is one of our favorite projects. This year, we were thrilled to partner with the marvelous Rebecca Makkai, who selected the ten finalists whose work will appear in the anthology. Check out the finalists below and keep an eye out for the anthology, which will be out in early October. Thank you to everyone who submitted your work. We enjoyed reading your stories and essays.

The Masters Review Volume VII

“The Process” by Rebekah Bergman

“Rogue Particles” by Laura Demers

“Questions for Anesthesiologists” by Robert Glick

“Little Room” by Carrie Grinstead

“Pilgrimage” by Rebecca Gummere

“Doctor, Doctor, Doctor” by Blair Lee

“Shrove Tuesday” by Jeanne Panfely

“Ghost Print” by Anna Reeser

“The Sand Nests” by Emma Sloley

“The Collectors of Anguish” by Andrea Uptmor

Jul 18

Indie Press Corner: Autumn House Press

In our new Indie Press Corner series, we talk with awesome presses about the important work they do. It is all part of our mission to support emerging writers. We are grateful to be a part of such a vibrant literary community. We’re psyched to present the inaugural installment of this series: an interview with Christine Stroud, Editor in Chief of Autumn House Press. Autumn House is a nonprofit, Pittsburgh-based press with a twenty-year record of outstanding work.

“As a nonprofit, we are able to publish books we believe will have an impact on a greater audience, books that will make some kind of difference. The editors at AHP have the opportunity to work on books and with authors they have a deep interest in.” 

What is your editorial process like?

We work closely with our authors, and we’d like to think of our editorial process as a collaborative partnership. Each author works directly with one AHP editor, who serves as their production editor. After the book is accepted, the production editor will offer large content edits—focusing on how the book is working as a whole. We’ll consider how the manuscript is arranged, how dynamic the language is, how cohesive the theme and subthemes are working, etc. While an author works primarily with one editor, all of our editors and interns help in the production of the book.

What is one of your favorite things about being an indie press?

We sort of touched on some of this in the previous question, but I think it’s about the relationships we’re able to have within the office and with our authors. As a nonprofit, we are able to publish books we believe will have an impact on a greater audience, books that will make some kind of difference. The editors at AHP have the opportunity to work on books and with authors they have a deep interest in.

What are some of your favorite other indie presses?

So many! As far as presses, Copper Canyon, Milkweed, Coffeehouse, Ahsahta Press, Pitt Press, Dzanc, Civil Coping Mechanisms, Wave, Greywolf, and Fence Books.

Journals: oh, The Masters Review! Also, Prairie Schooner, The Adroit Journal, The Sun, Forklift, Barrelhouse, Ninth Letter, and Ploughshares.

One of your recent titles is Carry You by Glori Simmons. We were thrilled to be able to publish “Night Vision,” a story from the collection, online this year. “Night Vision” deals with the war in Iraq and examines what happens when people are pushed up against moral lines. Other stories in the collection tackle these themes, as well. What was it like editing a collection of stories all with similar themes and preoccupations?

Yes, that’s a great story, and we were so happy you all published it! Carry You’s production editor had a background in novel writing, so the collection being so thematic and linked was a benefit to her. It was fun for us to work with Glori on ordering the stories and playing with the nonlinear narrative.  Even though the central theme is war, the reader is taken a lot of places and given the ability to engage with several different perspectives. We all knew Glori’s book was important from the moment we read it. While so much has happened since the Iraq war, I think it’s important to remember, it wasn’t that long ago and it continues to have a lasting impact on so many people. The book is thoughtful and considerate, while never being didactic. I think Glori approached the subject matter with a lot of compassion and curiosity.


Jul 13

New Voices: “The Art of Ending” by Olivia Parkes

This Friday The Thirteenth, we present a triptych that explores three unusual, historic ends. In very few words, Parkes takes us on an eerie look back at the lives (and deaths) of Camille Claudel, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Saint Bernadette. Olivia Parkes is a writer to watch.

“His mind was a mess of thickets, mud, and sudden jarring turns. It was an ill fate, everyone agreed, for the man who had practically invented landscape design.”


Camille Claudel died three times. She slipped away first when her brother Paul signed the commitment papers. “I have fallen into a void,” she wrote to a friend, of her internment at the asylum, though her letters did not get out. Neither did Camille, though the sisters tried to release her to her family several times. Her family did not want her back. Camille was not much of a housekeeper and had demonstrated a nasty habit of smashing her sculptures every summer with a hammer. Besides, they had one genius in the family already. In the asylum, she did not sculpt or sketch. Her body became a block, her hands heavy and veined as marble. Time carved the lines of a madwoman in her face. In 1920 Camille expired officially, at least according to several popular books of reference that recorded this as the year of the artist’s death. But the artist was still alive! Or was she? When she died a third and final time, twenty-three years later, it seemed somehow too late, and yet too early, to place a stone upon her grave.

To read the rest of “The Art of Ending” click here.

Jul 9

Literary Charities

This year, we asked our wonderful readers to choose four literary charities for us to make donations to, in partnership with the team over at Frontier Poetry. We’re pleased to include the charities they picked below. We have made $250 contributions to each of these organizations. These donations were made in honor of all of our outstanding readers, submitters, and literary friends. Good will is especially important these days, and we are glad to be able to spread it. We couldn’t have done so without your help.

Literacy for Incarcerated Teens 

LIT strives to end illiteracy among New York’s incarcerated teens by providing them the resources that will allow them to read; this includes books, readings, and other literacy programming. From the site: “Reading and the practice of literacy—which include access to a library and library services—is a direct way in which young people can begin to focus their identities and outlooks more positively.”

Girls Write Now 

Girls Write Now helps empower women through the written word. As they say: “The relationships we foster tear down stereotypes, building a community of women writers of all ages who work to inspire and support one another with every pair session, every reading, and every workshop.”

Books to Prisoners 

Books to Prisoners mails books to people who are incarcerated. In their words: “We believe that books are tools for learning and for opening minds to new ideas and possibilities, and engage incarcerated individuals with the benefits of reading by mailing tens of thousands of free books to inmates across the country each year.”

Writers in the Schools 

“Storytelling reveals our truest selves. Since 1983, Writers in the Schools (WITS) has worked hand-in-hand with educators and professional writers to teach students the craft of writing. WITS is transforming the hearts and minds of young people all over Houston and beyond.”

Jul 6

10 Books We’re Looking Forward To This Summer

Summer is in full swing and there are still a lot of wonderful books to come. As usual, our emphasis is on debuts and small press titles. This roundup only scratches the surface of the exciting new works out this summer, including books by our old, established pals Lauren Groff, A. M. Homes, Ottessa Mosfegh and Laura van den Berg. So kick up your feet, relax on the screen porch, in the pool, or just on your favorite comfy chair, and enjoy one of these refreshing summer reads.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai 

We are so pumped about The Great Believers that we’ve just gotta include a shoutout to our Volume VII judge Rebecca Makkai, whose outstanding novel The Great Believers hit the shelves in June. Don’t take our word for it, though. The New York Times had this to say: “It’s a pleasure, as well, when a narrative opens up worlds not familiar to most readers, when it offers actual information along with the momentum of its story and its characters.”

Publication date: June 19

How to Love a Jamaican: Stories by Alexia Arthurs

The literary world is abuzz in anticipation of Alexia Arthurs’s debut collection. Zadie Smith has this to say: “In these kaleidoscopic stories of Jamaica and its diaspora we hear many voices at once: some cultivated, some simple, some wickedly funny, some deeply melancholic. All of them shine.”

Publication date: July 24


I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux

The world really needs Michael Arceneaux’s debut collection of essays and, luckily for us, we only have to wait until the end of the month. Arceneaux’s essays have appeared in publications such as The Guardian, The Root, New York Magazine, and the New York Times. His essays describe, among other things, what it means to be a gay black man in America today.

Publication date: July 24

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

There are just so many wonderful debuts coming out in July. Fruit of the Drunken Tree, Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s first novel, is set in Colombia during the time of Pablo Escobar and told from the point of view of a seven-year-old girl.

Publication date: July 31


Let Me Be Like Water by S.K. Perry

The debut novel for Perry, who was longlisted for London’s Young Poet Laureate in 2013, relies on a budding friendship between a heartbroken girl and a retired magician. Don’t miss her book, out from Melville House in the dog days of August.

Publication date: August 14


Jul 3

Happy Fourth of July from The Masters Review

We would like to wish everyone a Happy Fourth of July from The Masters Review. We hope that you enjoy the barbecue, the fireworks, and the outdoors. We will be back at the end of the week with more literary goodies.

Jun 29

New Voices: “My History With Careless People, and Other Stories” by Christian Winn

Today, we are proud to present “My History With Careless People, and Other Stories” by Christian Winn. This irreverent and moving story examines what it is like to strive for a true human connection in a world in which people are careless, and you yourself are far from perfect. It’s surprising, dark, and real. Don’t miss this unique tale.

“A lot of times I’ve wanted it back, that hug, that series of moments, because there was a lot that would happen between Thom and me that we did not yet know would happen, and that hug was what was before all that.”

Carrie was this fat chick who lived next door and whose husband I stole, sort of, for a little while, until later she stole him back. I never liked Carrie, nor she me, but her husband, Thom, this balding sporting goods salesman, I always thought he was cute. He had a charming, gap-toothed smile that reminded me of David Letterman. Back then I loved to come home after the bar, crack a bottle of red and watch Letterman. This was when Letterman first started out, when late-night TV still seemed something you felt happy to stay up for.

One day in July, Carrie got run over by a school bus on her 10-speed. She died. And like that, Thom was a widower. And like that, their little boy, Carlton, was motherless.

I was crazy busy and didn’t hear about dead Carrie for a day and a half, though it seemed everyone else had—especially my nosey Mom and my brother, Zack. They knew details, and they didn’t even live in the neighborhood anymore. It was because our small city is not full of a lot of news about local moms dying in broad daylight beneath a school bus.

And then things got blown up even more because it turned out the bus driver was a deadbeat dad and a parole violator from three states away. This intrigued people like Zack and Mom.

Me, I felt some sadness as a fellow human, but I was mostly relieved not to have Carrie staring knife eyes at me every time I saw her. I often felt hate coming off fat dead Carrie and landing on me, and I was glad she was gone from my life.

When we ended up at Carrie’s funeral that next weekend Zack told me trustworthy rumor had it Carrie was weaving her way back from The K-Club’s happy hour, had blown through a stop light and was eating a Rueben sandwich when she got run over. Though it seemed more than halfway believable, I thought maybe this was just Zack being Zack—being an idiot, standing up for my side of things. He’d often heard me talk shit about Carrie. We are loyal people, except to our father who’s gone, out there somewhere in the world, don’t matter.

We were within the warm huddle of Carrie’s funeral mourners when Zack whispered, “My friend, Mike Cunningham, he works the grill at the K, made that Rueben special for her—extra kraut, extra sauce.”

“Doesn’t mean getting mowed down was her fault,” I said.

Someone hushed me from two rows back. I held up my middle finger.

“Rueben sando ends up half-eaten on the gory cement?” Zack whispered. “Thousand Island dressing and Swiss cheese end up across her neck?”

I shrugged.

The pallbearers, including Thom, floated her coffin through the church.

“Bet they’ll have sore shoulders tomorrow,” Zack said, snorting.

I pinched his skinny rib hard, but he didn’t flinch.

Interestingly enough, as Zack whispered the details of fat Carrie’s demise, who I felt sorriest for was that bus driver. He was fucked—arrested and humiliated with his happy I’m-a-good-man-trying-to-make-my-life-okay-again school district ID photo all over the news. Even if killing Carrie wasn’t truly his fault, it seemed pretty obvious his life was now fractured beyond repair because of a careless person’s carelessness.

To read the rest of “My History With Careless People, and Other Stories” click here.