Archive for the ‘Kim’ Category

Flash Fiction: A Discussion Between Editors

Join Masters Review editors Kim Winternheimer and Sadye Teiser as they discuss one of their favorite forms.



Flash fiction is one of my favorite forms and I think it’s because in spite of how short the story is, an entire world unfolds. On an emotional level, I’ve felt just as much impact by flash as I have entire novels. I remember one in particular, a story by Neil Gaiman (who I mention here proudly as he is a writer who spans so many genres) titled, “Nicholas Was…” This piece is only 100 words but I remember being so moved by the power and imagination behind it. I understood so much in such a short space. This got me thinking about how flash is actually quite broad, as humorous as it may sound for fiction that is so short. To some, it is any piece under 300 words and to others it can be much longer, 1000 words or more. At The Masters Review, we don’t have a strict word count, but we do have a strong history of publishing what I would consider flash fiction. When do you think a story stops being flash? And do you have any favorites that really pushed you to explore/appreciate this genre?


I agree that flash fiction holds a particular intensity. The best flash stories are complete, concentrated worlds that point to complexities outside of themselves. Broadly, I tend to think of flash as a story of 1,000 words or fewer. And there are all these subsets, like nano fiction, which is 300 words or less, or hint fiction, which is 25 words or less. As you say: I know flash when I see it. The writer who first sparked my interest in the genre is Lydia Davis, which is interesting because her work is not, as far as I know, overtly marketed as “flash” fiction. Her story “The Cedar Trees,” a fable-like tale about the women of a town turning into trees, has a strange cadence that has never quite left me. A new favorite writer of mine is Ashley Farmer, whose stories all communicate a feeling, a particular state of mind, with that economy of language that makes flash so powerful.

These examples illustrate what I love most about flash fiction: its extreme variety in terms of form. Every piece of flash invents a new form for itself; it decides how it will take you from point A to point B, and then it fulfills that promise. Of course, this can be true of all kinds of fiction, but I see a lot more variety in these very short stories. In flash, you can easily have a story that is all questions (like Donald Barthelme’s “Concerning The Bodyguard,” which actually inspired your “Concerning the Housewife”), that is made up of (surreal) dialogue (like “How The Water Feels to The Fishes,” by Dave Eggers), or that is a meditation on a single, cooked fish (“The Fish,” Lydia Davis). It’s so interesting how flash can often focus on a single fictional element: it is all plot, all setting, all interiority — but, more often than not, it tells a full story. Do you feel that, in looking at submissions and in your own writing, there is a certain freedom that comes with this shorter form? Are there any flash stories in particular whose forms have surprised you? (more…)

Poets & Writers Abandons MFA Ranking – UPDATE


UPDATE: Please take some time to read the comments section. The Masters Review is somewhat ashamed to report this was an April Fool’s joke taken seriously by our editorial team. Perhaps what’s more shameful is that Poets & Writers propagates a survey that really doesn’t hold much empirical validity. Our editorial team apologizes for not properly fact-checking this data. We didn’t read this with satire in mind. Thank you, commenter, B, for pointing this one out to us.

Best American Poetry announced yesterday that it received news from writing-resource stalwart Poets & Writers, indicating the organization will not release any more MFA rankings as it has done in previous years. Senior director of Poets & Writers Jason Terry said, “… may have influenced MFA program applicants to spend money on applying for programs for which they were ill-suited.” It’s an interesting choice, marked by a long history of disapproval from universities. An article in the The New Yorker in 2011 highlighted distaste for the rankings from faculty members via an open letter to Poets & Writers criticizing their methods and how the rankings influenced applicants. (more…)

Book Review: The Apartment by Greg Baxter

17899706The premise of The Apartment by Greg Baxter is straightforward. An unnamed American expat searches for an apartment in an unnamed European city. At the book’s start, the narrator leaves his hotel and heads into the city with local friend Saskia, who helps him search for permanent lodging. Over a single day, the book unfolds through the narrator’s stream of consciousness, slowly revealing details from his past. The novel’s themes and events expand from this principle, filling in like the snow that lightly falls throughout this cold and solemn text. The Apartment is successful in painting a portrait of a man struggling with a difficult past through slim and understated discoveries unveiled by his exposition. The book’s greatest success is it subtlety. It is also entirely elegant. I enjoyed every page.

The apartment is the driving force behind the narrator’s actions, and he and Saskia move toward it not entirely linearly, but deliberately. They pop into Christmas markets, stop for drinks, examine a fountain, and shop for a coat, all along their way to an apartment-viewing. The holidays add an element of warmth to an otherwise inhospitable winter, a sentiment that is echoed in our narrator. He is somewhat distant—apathetic and shut off—yet, thoughtful. He acknowledges, “It always seems a degree or two warmer inside Christmas markets” moments before his thoughts shift into darker territory:

Nobody in rich countries wants to face responsibility for the lives of people in poor countries. They just want cheap groceries. But now I am going on about something I don’t want to think about. Everything human beings can imagine has been thrown at injustice, and injustice just absorbs it, and enlarges.

Early in the book there is the discovery he is ex-military; that he served actively in the Middle East. References to being a “citizen” are offered by Baxter, reminders that there is a distinction between being a civilian and having served that is ever-present. Violence certainly clings to the text, though it is rarely explicit. In this way it haunts the protagonist, building in awareness throughout the book. The Apartment isn’t an observation on PTSD, nor is it anti-war, but the narrator’s central conflict regarding his part in the war (first in the Navy and then as a private contractor in Iraq) contributes to his characterization in a significant way. (more…)

Q&A With Lev Grossman

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Submissions for our printed anthology, open to MA, MFA, and PhD creative writing students, close on March 31, 2014. We sat down with guest judge and New York Times bestselling author Lev Grossman to discuss his likes and dislikes in fiction and nonfiction. For those of you still polishing your stories, check it out. (You guys, he’s amazing.) Then, submit your story!

Forgive the broad question, but can you describe what makes a piece of fiction successful in your eyes? What elements of craft inform the pieces you enjoy the most?

It is a bit of a broad question. It’s hard to single out one element. Fiction is one of those unforgiving mediums where for it to truly work well all the pieces have to be there: the style, the sense of place, the sense of character, the narrative flow, and whatever else. You don’t get to choose. You have to check all the boxes.

But if I had to pick one element that means the most to me, personally, it’s structure: the flow and the rhythm of the narrative. I want to — have to — feel that the story is a whole, that all the pieces work together,  that every piece of the story is in that place for a reason, each one passes you on to the next, until at the end it all narrows to a sharp point — that pierces you, right through.

We primarily publish work from emerging writers. What mistakes do you see new writers make and what would you advise them to avoid?

I’ll mention one mistake that I know well, because I’ve made it myself, plenty of times. “Write what you know” is a cliché because it’s true, but the tricky party of it, the unstated part, is that it can be very difficult to identify exactly what it is that you do know. By default a lot of emerging writers write about themselves, which makes sense. But it takes a long time to know yourself well. Not a lot of people can do it at 23. As an emerging writer one more often has insight into other things and other people.

Do you have a favorite short story or essay? What specifically do you like so much about it?

It’s hard to pick a favorite, comparisons being invidious that way. But I’ll mention Joyce’s “The Dead,” Cheever’s “The Swimmer,” Munro’s “Runaway” (really anything by Munro), Barthelme’s “Paraguay,” Borges’ “The Secret Miracle,” Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” and Kelly Link’s “The Faery Handbag.” If they have something in common it’s that they’re bursting with intelligence, and they’re by people who not only write brilliantly but who read brilliantly, and who’ve learned from what they read, and who have read everything.

And these are stories that work hard for their readers. They earn their crust. They’re stories written to please the reader, not the writer.

In terms of essays, John Jeremiah Sullivan strikes me as just about the state of the art these days. Check out “Upon This Rock,” his essay about going to a Christian music festival.

When you are reading a piece critically how does it differ — or does it — from when you read a piece purely for the sake of reading? How can writers hope to strike a successful balance?

It doesn’t differ at all. When I’m reading critically I take notes, that’s the difference. I want to read like a reader, not like a critic, whatever that is.

 What do you look for in a creative nonfiction piece that you feel most writers fail to achieve? (What makes a creative nonfiction really great as opposed to only okay?)

The first question I ask myself is, would I be embarrassed to say any of these sentences out loud? It’s surprising how little nonfiction gets over that bar.

And after that it just has to read like a story. Even if it’s not a story, even if it’s just a chain of abstract logical reasoning, it needs to read like one, to flow and tense and begin and end like a story. And the writer needs to know how to tell a story, and her or she needs to know what the story they’re telling is about.

What, if anything, are you sick and tired of reading?

Anything that isn’t funny. God knows great writing doesn’t have to be a laugh a minute, but if I’m not laughing at least once every, say, 5,000 words … it’s not a dealbreaker, but there better be a damn good reason for it. Even Kafka laughed when he read his work.

Liteary Links – New Fiction, Graywolf Press, Womens Prize Longlist, and Super Speed Reading

Untitled-2Book services packaged like magazines? Wired highlights publishers struggling against plunging prices and shrinking audiences in this article which claims, The Future of Books Looks a lot Like Netflix.

The Women’s Prize for Fiction, which awards a cash prize of £30,000 announced their longlist this week. Nominees include Booker Prize winner The Luminaries, Margaret Atwood bestseller MADDADDAM, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, and The Flamethrowers. Their shortlist announces April 7th, and winners on June 4th. Don’t forget, our 2013 judge, AM Homes, won it last year.

Graywolf Press champions aspiring authors on the premise that all outstanding writers deserve to be heard. Celebrating their 40th anniversary, Graywolf has grown from a one man operation to a leading nonprofit publisher. Happy 40th to a wonderful press!

Jonsing for some new fiction? This week Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading (subscribe! It’s fantastic.) is brought to you by Karen Russell, who introduces “Girl and Giraffe” by Lydia Millet. “Millet produces a slender masterpiece about humans’ engagement with and estrangement from the natural world.”

This new reading app will have you reading faster than ever before. Research shows up to 500 wpm, with full retention. Click on the link to see what 500 wpm looks like.

Words connecting people: Raimundo Arruda Sobrinho has written poetry most of his life, but few have read his words because he is homeless living in Sao Paulo. A passerby created a facebook page highlighting his poetry and now he is on the path to publishing, has over 45,000 likes, and has reunited with estranged family.

Author Interview – Molly Antopol

14248504-mmmainMolly Antopol is a recent National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 writer and author of THE UNAMERICANS, a book of short stories published in February to critical acclaim. Reviews of Antopol’s work applaud her ability to explore our connection to a place or an event, applying this notion to the human condition with her witty and heartbreaking prose. THE UNAMERICANS examines character’s lives as they take place in Israel, the Soviet Union, and the United States, during events over the last century. It is a wonderful collection by a talented young writer.

We spoke with Antopol about writing, how her collection began to take form, her family’s personal history, and her upcoming novel, The After Party. Take a look!

Can you tell us a little bit about your start as a writer? What drew you to short stories as a form and what draws you to the content of your own writing when you’re starting a story?

I’ve always loved short stories. The stories I admire most feel novelistic in scope, where you can feel a writer pouring everything she has into it until there’s nothing left. I feel that way about so many writers, including Deborah Eisenberg, Alice Munro, Edward P. Jones and Edith Pearlman. But becoming a writer myself wasn’t ever a conscious decision. I was always a big reader and I knew, early on, that writing would be central to my life, but I didn’t see it as something I could actually do as a career. Growing up, I didn’t know any writers and it seemed to me like some mythic, unattainable job, like being an acrobat or a magician. I figured I’d sneak in time to write when I wasn’t working; when I was a kid I wanted to be a zoologist or a marine biologist. Even now, as an adult, I’m happiest when I’m outside, on some kind of adventure.

You have been working on these stories for nearly ten years. Did you have a plan for them as a collection? When and how did that start to take form?

The first story I wrote that made it into the book was “Duck and Cover.” Many of my earliest stories were set during the McCarthy era and inspired by my family history, notably their involvement in the Communist Party. I was about halfway into writing the book when I realized my stories all explored, in some way or another, the triangle between Cold War-era East European politics, Jewish American liberalism and the effect they had on contemporary Israel. But that was totally subconscious. And it was only once all the stories were done that I discovered they weren’t linked by setting or character but by a question I hadn’t even realized I’d been asking myself: What are the complicated—and sometimes devastating—effects that one person’s quest to improve the world have on the people closest to them? (more…)

Track Your Submissions!

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Here’s a useful sheet for tracking submissions. A helpful column for when your story was born (submitted) and whether it lived or died (was accepted or rejected).

Live, dammit!

Access the pdf with more lines for living and dying, here: Submissions Sheet

Book Review: Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail

Three+Scenarios+in+Which+Hana+Sasaki+Grows+a+TailThree Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail is a notable debut on two platforms. It is the first short story collection from writer Kelly Luce, whose sensibility and prose rings brilliant on the page. It is also the first book from publisher A Strange Object, co-founded by publishing veterans Callie Collins and Jill Meyers. Luce and her publishers have aligned a lovely and startling collection of short stories that readers will devour. I absolutely did. I fell in love with this book.

Luce crafts fiction that draws you in and disarms you. Clean and subtle prose gives way to magical worlds, and a playful quality connects the two, moving readers along in an easy, effortless way. All but one of the stories in this collection takes place in Japan, where Luce lived for some time. There is a strong sense of physical landscape to these stories, but it is the emotional topography that is navigated so well. Luce’s works peaks to a great truth: grief, love, belonging—even existential dread. Her collection is both otherworldly and yet firmly rooted, and it is this balance that makes enjoying her writing so easy.

In “Ms. Yamada’s Toaster” a town is confronted with a device that tells you how you’re going to die. In “The Blue Demon of Ikumi” a man reconciles the strange relationship developing between him and his new wife, while the legend of a blue demon haunts their honeymoon. In “Cram Island” a girl vanishes from a karaoke studio and the theories behind her disappearance range from the dark to the truly unfathomable. In the book’s titular story, we watch three tails emerge. (more…)

Literary Links – How to Write a Humor Piece

Untitled-2Mid-week strikes and we’re in for some cold weather out here in the northwest. Curl up by the fire, pour yourself a cup of joe (tea, bourbon, …whatever) and enjoy some links of the literary sort.

Teddy Wayne provides us with a break down of how to write a humor story. Comedy writing might not be your bag, but if you click (the many) links in this piece, at the very least you’ll be laughing out loud by article’s end. And look, now you’re submission is McSweeny’s worthy.

According to The Atlantic, the “book lover” is in serious decline, with a quarter of Americans reporting not having read a single book last year. Le sigh.

Love it or hate it, Lena Dunham’s GIRLS is a hit show. We won’t get into the bigger debate surrounding its criticisms, but there is a publishing thread in the plot to enjoy. Now you can read the first chapter of Hannah Horvath’s ebook (or physical book… or no book at all…) If you’re a fan of the show, or simply eye-rolling over the fact that a twenty-something’s memoir could possibly be published before any of your own work, stew over this.

Kyle Minor’s debut novel PRAYING DRUNK is out this month and is getting a lot of buzz. He talks with Tin House about his book and also rectifies a collection of untruths he was told as a child. Read this.

Buzzfeed put out a list of 15 of the most highly anticipated books from (mostly) small presses. PRAYING DRUNK is at the top of their list as are many other notable debuts. Scroll around and put together your reading list.

One of the largest literary conferences in the country is this month, with AWP taking place in Seattle. It’s not too late to book attendance. Take a look at the schedule and start making plans. (We will be there. See you at table i4 y’all.)

A ‘Little Failure’ Book Trailer

Today announces the book release of Gary Shteyngart’s highly awaited memoir, Little Failure, a moving and comical account of Shteyngart’s American immigrant experience from the Soviet Union. Steyngart is known for his self-deprecating humor and extraordinary wit, all the while providing a touching lens to a coming-of-age story that is anything but typical. Already garnering five-star reviews, Little Failure is sure to be one of the most talked-about books of 2014, no easy feat considering the new year is but one-week-old.

Aside from a guaranteed enjoyable experience, Shteyngart has provided us with a multimedia preview to his new work in the form of a book trailer, a fairly new, but oft-used technique to promote upcoming titles. Much has been said about the effectiveness of this medium, and we’ve all seen enough terrible book trailers to know the truly good ones are few and far between. However, Shteyngart strikes smooth again with the book trailer for Little Failure, a true success of the form if you ask me. Go ahead and enjoy the video below. And as if you needed any more baiting: Franzen, Franco, and Rashida Jones make for worthy costars. Also, pink robes.

By Kim Winternheimer

Book Review – The Center of the World by Thomas Van Essen

imagesThomas Van Essen has crafted an excellent tale in his debut novel, “The Center of the World.” We’re calling this book ‘A Great Summer Read’ in the highest regard, because it belongs not with the airport paperback beach-reads, but among those rare page turners of higher literary esteem.

The book focuses on a painting, The Center of the World, a depiction of Helen of Troy painted by the famous, JMW Turner. The narrative alternates between present-day New England and nineteenth-century Europe, offering glimpses of the exotic painting as its presence begins to upend the lives of the people it touches.

This book is as much an examination of the power of art as it is of human fallibility. In this case, the painting’s erotic beauty threatens to become a modern man’s undoing and its conception in nineteenth-century Europe exposes, and also fuels, fear surrounding its erotic power.

The mystery of the painting and the narrative structure are executed nicely and Van Essen provides a lovely context for how people relate to art. The pages turn easily and on a warm summer night you’ll find, as we did, Van Essen is a great new voice to curl up with. Love, sex, beauty, erotica, all with some literary flare: a great summer read.

The Center of the World

Other Press

June, 2013

Reviewed by Kim Winternheimer

What We Saw – A Review From Submissions


This year we were thrilled to see some truly exceptional work. Out of hundreds of submissions we saw a pretty wide array of stories and styles from students across the country. We asked the editors and readers who reviewed stories to discuss some of the areas they felt stories could improve, and while the majority of the work was highly publishable, there were some elements worth mentioning. Here  is what they said.

Sloppy Writing

You’ve heard this one before and it falls under the “all you have to do is follow directions” spiel. If you’re submitting to a journal with a New York Times bestselling author as judge, it stands to reason your narrative would have to be pretty damn impressive to pass along if  your work is riddled with punctuation, grammar, and spelling errors. Mistakes happen all the time and a missed plural here and there is no big deal, however, the cleanliness of your work is a testament to how much time you’ve spent with your story, and editors don’t want to feel like they’re reading a first draft. Trust me, we can tell.

Also, and because it must be said, please follow directions.

Point of View

We saw a lot of second-person narratives this year. Second person can be a difficult POV to do well and there were some truly excellent stories that were written from this perspective. However, most of the second-person narratives we saw weren’t flushed through or working properly. In a contest, you want to set yourself up to be successful. Because second-person is a challenge, you probably aren’t achieving it as well as you need to be (or think you are). It’s a great way to practice and push yourself as a writer, but unless it’s shining glimmering perfection, you might want to think again. If you’ve got a good first or third-person narrative you’ve been workshopping, we’d really like to see that. Shoot, our submissions are free. Send us both.

Subject Matter

If there’s anything that convinces me we all share the same set of experiences just seen through different eyes, it’s  reading submissions. Studying abroad, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, feeling out of place in a new environment, struggling to fit in, the list goes on. As unique as you think you’re being, you’re not. But that doesn’t mean your story’s not worth telling! Find a way to make your story unique. Find a way to make the reader care. The simple ebb and flow of your plot usually isn’t enough to draw the reader in and make them feel like what happens to the protagonist really matters. To me, this is the biggest divide between good writers and really great writers. A great writer can put together a piece about sitting down to breakfast and will make it feel profound — probably because what’s happening beneath the Cheerios and coffee is something profound! By a novice writer, it will feel like another lack-luster breakfast. Think about what you’re trying to say. Think about what your story means to you. Then, make the reader feel it too. It’s the hardest thing in the world to achieve but I saw it time and time again in some of the stories we passed on this year. The story doesn’t matter. Nothing is happening. I want to care. Make me!

Narrative Nonfiction

A good narrative nonfiction piece conveys a real event but through a voice that feels like a fictional narrative. Most of the nonfiction we read didn’t speak to a bigger issue or picture. It was mostly a small glimpse into the life of the writer. While this is fine if done well, I was craving stories that used a single event as a microcosm for a bigger argument. Similarly, I would have loved to have seen a piece of narrative nonfiction that wasn’t about the writer himself. A research piece, a political commentary, or a historical essay about a hometown; each of these can strike home just as powerfully as a writer’s personal journey abroad or through a hard time in his life, for example. My feeling is, some creative nonfiction with some powerful research elements would have really shown through the submission numbers. I don’t think we saw a single one.

The 6,999 Word Submission

Our word count limit was 7,000 words. We saw an enormous number of pieces just below 7k and just above 6900 words. I’m not saying your work didn’t truly come in under the word limit. But there were times where the trimming felt forced. Do the contest justice and submit a piece that stands up to the word count. If it’s an excerpt or part of a larger string of short stories, that’s great. But try to send us something that feels like it stands on its own. There’s just something irksome about a 6,999 word submission. Call me the devil, but there just is.


I want to end by saying I was overall truly impressed with the caliber of work and the creativity in the stories this year. I felt like writers were taking chances, jumping off cliffs, baring their souls. It was wonderfully refreshing and I applaud everyone who submitted. I hope writers who submitted and who are reading the above can take the feedback graciously. For the most part, we saw some damn fine short stories. The process of submitting and waiting and then hearing back is daunting for authors at every level. I want to thank each and every one of you for the work you put into your submissions this year and for providing me and the staff at The Masters Review the opportunity to read them. There are so many of you I want to shake and kiss and buy brunch for and whose pet’s birthday parties I’d like to attend. I am rooting for you. Keep writing. Please, please, keep writing.

By. Kim Winternheimer, Fiction Editor.