Archive for the ‘Kim’ Category

Book Review: You Are One of Them


You Are One of Them is one of the year’s most highly anticipated novels. Debut author, Elliott Holt was awarded a Pushcart Prize for her short story “Fem Care,” originally published in The Kenyon Review, was runner-up for the PEN Emerging Writers Award, and was one of New York Magazine’s six “literary stars of tomorrow.” Needless to say, when a writer of such promise publishes a novel, the literary world pays attention.

You Are One of Them begins with a childhood friendship in Washington DC. Sarah and Jenny are best friends in the 1980s, enjoying the life of affluent ten-year-olds, though they come from very different backgrounds. With Cold War tensions on the rise, Sarah decides to write Soviet Premier Yuri Androdov and plead for peace. Jenny does the same, though hers is the only letter to receive a response. Jenny’s letter becomes a national sensation and Sarah is left behind when Jenny is invited to the Soviet Union by the Premier to prove that it too is a peace-loving nation. Not long after, terrible circumstances arise and Sarah is left to reconcile the remnants of a complicated friendship. Years later, she receives a letter regarding Jenny, which propels Sarah on her own trip to the Soviet Union. While abroad, Sarah digs into her memory of Jenny in search of a balance between perception and reality. You Are One of Them is a smart and thrilling exploration of friendship, memory, and how we reconcile the two.

You Are One of Them satisfies in the very same way Ms. Holt’s short fiction does, which is to say I found myself lost in the pages. Holt has a way with storytelling that is witty and approachable, and it’s this element I like most about her writing. Holt’s sensibility as an author speaks for itself — there are no parlor tricks here, nothing over wrought, no drippy details, just good strong writing — and her messages are clear. You Are One of Them takes the reader on an in-depth exploration of friendship, the reliability of memories, and the maturity it takes to reconcile these feelings to a satisfying end. Perhaps what Holt so skillfully portrays is that our memories and the truths within those memories are constantly shifting. Much like the Cold War and Cold War propaganda, relying on an unreliable resource will only yield difficult answers. The journey Elliott Holt takes us on in You Are One of Them is a joy to read. Holt is a true talent, and I can’t wait to see more of her work.

If you’re interested, Ms. Holt linked to a piece on her blog referencing Sarah Smith, a young girl who served as the motivation for her novel.

You Are One of Them
The Penguin Press
May 30, 2013

Reviewed by Kim Winternheimer

Tips: Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

Please note this was originally published via tweets by Emma Coates, a former Story Artist from Pixar. Eventually this lovely infographic was made. We’ve seen a lot of writing tips, but these concrete and approachable tips are some of the best we’ve seen.

Pixar 22 Rules of Story

The Low-Residency Question


By Kim Winternheimer

Deciding between a low-residency program and a more traditional course of study to pursue your MFA can be difficult. Low-residency programs are fairly new to the scene, offering writers who can’t commit to a program that requires living on campus the opportunity to pursue their creative writing goals. Aside from a few residencies each year (two sessions a year on the campus where the program is offered is typical) writers in low-residency programs live as they normally would. Many of them have fulltime jobs, kids, and attend to the 20-30 hours a week their MFA program demands of them when time allows.

The pros and cons associated with pursuing an MFA in creative writing vary greatly, and the dialogue about whether low-residency programs are worth their salt is a source of discussion among MFA applicants who are faced with the difficult decision as to which program is right for them. As an editor for The Masters Review, I see stories from MFA students pursuing both forms of study. While The Masters Review showcases all new and emerging writers, our flagship publication is an anthology of ten stories written by students currently pursuing their MFA, MA, or PhD in creative writing. While we do see stories from students in the latter two categories, the majority of our submissions are from students enrolled in MFA programs. Last year, The Masters Review published four stories written by students in low-residency programs. Four stories we claimed were among the best in the country. Four stories that were screened and chosen by New York Times bestselling author, Lauren Groff. While we had submissions from many highly ranked fulltime MFA programs — stories from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the Michener Center for Writers, and UC Irvine, just to name a few — it does make a strong case for those pursuing an MFA remotely: that although the programs differ in structure, there is absolutely no difference in terms of the quality of writing.

Now, this isn’t a case against the schools and programs that offer full-residency. Those programs have proven time and again to churn out writers of extremely high merit. My only point is that our publication is a very clear testament to the quality of stories being produced from writers who are able to pursue their degrees remotely. That improving your craft through a program which allows you to live a very real writer’s life is just as valuable as some of the more traditional options. In fact to me, the very definition of a low-residency program mimics the life of an aspiring writer. You write when you can, you carve out minutes, hours, and nights to tend to your craft . . . then you get up in the morning and you go to your real job. I don’t mean that to be cruel. I simply mean that most emerging authors aren’t sustaining their lives with fiction, and one of the clear pros I see to a low-residency program is the ebb and flow of developing that sort of balance to your life.

Of course there are cons to choosing a low-residency program, just as there are cons to pursing a graduate degree on campus. One such criticism is that low-residency programs don’t provide the focus on teaching necessary for graduates to land a job. While most remote programs don’t require students to teach in order to receive funding, and therefore don’t focus as tightly on aspects of teaching, there are many excellent schools that do provide this concentration. I would tell someone who really wants to teach to look into those programs. He won’t have a hard time finding one. However, this does bring to light one of the greatest differences between the two programs, which is the issue of funding.

Many fulltime courses of study provide students with funding in order to offset tuition. Usually students are required to teach undergraduate classes and engage in a certain number of work hours for the university in exchange for this reduced tuition. This is a fantastic way to reduce the cost of pursuing a graduate degree and give students a working example of what life is like for the creative-writing teacher. It’s a win-win for the universities as well as for the students.

Unfortunately for low-residency programs, logistics get in the way. Because students aren’t on campus and are generally unavailable for work study, they aren’t able to ‘earn’ a reduced tuition. There are an increasing number of low-residency programs that will allow students the opportunity to work for the university, however this isn’t a common construction and it isn’t as widely available as most students would like. The bottom line is, pursuing your MFA remotely does tend to cost more. However, total tuition costs are less than many traditional graduate programs and low-residency students have the added benefit of continuing to work for their current employer while they pursue a degree.

One can go into a lengthy discussion about what works best and what doesn’t, the fact of the matter being that both programs produce truly wonderful writers. Talented writing can and is being nurtured through remote programs and I am continually amazed at the quality, ingenuity, and sensibility behind that writing. Anyone considering a low-residency program who is nervous about the quality of their degree should look carefully at the many highly qualified low-residency schools. Take into consideration that from our perspective, in comparing the two programs, the end product – your writing – is the same.

Book Review: I Am Holding Your Hand

collins_coverI Am Holding Your Hand  is a rare treasure. This collection of short stories brought to us by new author Myfanwy Collins is a wonderful example of writing that feels fresh and intoxicating, while maintaining the sensibility of an author who writes like a seasoned pro. Many of the stories in this fine collection were previously published in literary reviews such as The Kenyon Review, PANK, and Flatmancrooked, to name a few. So it’s clear that while Collins is still new to the playing field, she is adept — and has been recognized as such — at short story writing of the highest quality.

I appreciated the number of pieces under 2000 words in this collection. So often with new writers, overwriting — both in terms of words on the page and in story arc — runs rampant. Collins proves herself skilled in offering readers the smallest glimpse into the life of a narrator which impacts as though we’ve been exposed to much more. I applaud her for her depth of vision and the way in which she accomplishes building so much within some of her shorter works. Her narratives contain a tenderness toward the difficult and the ugly, but they arrive at beautiful conclusions through masterful writing. There is a great deal to appreciate and enjoy in this collection, and I know I will return to it again and again.

Myfanwy Collins’ debut novel Echolocation is now also available.

Nobody’s Perfect – Eight Classic Book Mistakes

It’s true that nobody’s perfect. But there’s an undeniable guilty pleasure in spotting a typo while reading a book. In early prints, the presence of typos and continuity errors are much more likely. Usually by the second, third, or paperback printing, all the errors have been flushed out. So while you’re editing your own work, take solace in the fact that publishers and authors do make mistakes from time to time. Here we’ve listed a few of our favorites.

The 1631 King James version of the Holy Bible clearly states in Exodus 20:14, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Gulp.

How can Ron and Lavender be in a ‘prominent corner’ of the Common Room when in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the room is described as circular? (To J.K. Rowling’s credit, she was incredibly prolific with the Harry Potter books, and in later copies was reluctant to use editing. Unfortunately, the popularity of the series has resulted in forum after forum of continuity errors in the books.)

In this version of HP Lovecraft’s The Fiction, a passage incorrectly states, “…our vessel was made a legitimate prize, whilst we of her crew were treated with all the fairness and consideration due us as navel prisoners.”

In The Story of Dr. Doolittle, among the monkeys and apes waiting in Africa to be cured by the doctor, orang-utans are mentioned. But orang-utans are not native to Africa, and it is highly unlikely that they might have crossed the Indian Ocean all the way from Borneo.

In the first edition of this anthology by many popular writers, there are several typos. In “Bluebeard in Ireland” by John Updike, a sentence incorrectly reads, “I’ll loose my balance.” While later, in “Psyche’s Dark Night” by Francesca Lia Block, a stray period makes its way into a sentence. “… then he was awake and she was telling him he didn’t love her enough. and then, that she didn’t want to see him anymore.”

In the popular Hunger Games trilogy, the first edition, second hardback printing incorrectly states on page 117, “Well, you better learn fast. You’ve got about as much charm as a dead slug,” say Haymitch.”

At the start of Part 6 in Stephen King’s popular book-to-movie adaptation, when the men let Percy out of the closet, they take the tape off his mouth and he starts to rub his lips. The problem being, a few sentences later, Percy is still in the straight jacket.

In Cormac McCarthy’s first print, first edition of The Road, a beach is innocently mistaken for a bench. Page 228 reads, “A moment of panic before he saw him walking along the bench downshore with the pistol hanging in his hand, his head down.”

Do you have any of your own favorite continuity errors or typos? Let us know in the comments. 

From the Vault: Book Review – Ablutions by Patrick deWitt

Ablutions by Patrick deWitt was published in 2010 and is deWitt’s first novel. We chose this From the Vault pick because it’s the perfect book to review at the start of a New Year. Somewhat ironically, the book is filled with characters and situations one would resolve against when picking Resolutions, as this book is as much about addiction and self-loathing as it is a study on effective literary writing. The first thing you notice about Ablutions is the point of view. It’s told in second person, which would send many readers running for the hills, but because deWitt executes flawlessly, the construction only enhances the reader’s sense of a narrator who is distanced from a life that is spiraling toward a dark end. The story, which primarily takes place in a bar and focuses on the down-and-out regulars, could very easily border on cliche, except again for deWitt’s deft use of characterization and the strong sense of something building beneath the novel’s gritty surface. The book is simultaneously funny and sad, with a productive ebb and flow that draws you in and spits you out. I would label this a “guy book” because of the overall tone and the predominantly male characters, but readers who enjoy dark novels with flawed characters, drugs, alcohol, and a depressing facade will appreciate much in this small book. Again, somewhat ironically, and much to deWitt’s credit, everything you likes in this book is the very thing you dislike. Because it’s a quick read, and because it delivers in full force, we’re honoring this debut novel as our first review of the year.

Book Review: What Remains by Carole Radziwill

Full disclosure. I learned about What Remains while watching the Real Housewives of New York. (Absorb this for a moment. Okay, let’s move on.) Carole is by far the most normal woman on the show, by which I mean she treats people with common decency and seems to have impeccable manners. She’s the Housewife I’d most like to have dinner with, unless that dinner was taking place on New Year’s Eve and it was time to get rowdy, in which case I’d pick Ramona… or Sonja. Let’s be real: you’d all pick Ramona or Sonja. But I digress. Carole dated John Kennedy’s cousin, and was besties with Carolyn. (She’s one of those not-normal, normal people.) I learned about her memoir and the events within the book from the show, and before I even considered reading it, I was scoffing. I haven’t taken a Real Housewife seriously as a person, ever, and her mere presence on the BRAVO network didn’t bode well for changing such impressions. Still, curiosity sparked as to whether the book was good, bad, or terrible (I had placed my bets somewhere in the latter category) and when a friend, and then another friend told me they enjoyed it, I inched closer to a copy. This is also Radziwill’s first published book, making her a debut author and (gasp!) a candidate for our review series. And while yes, we most commonly review literary fiction (please note, however, our own collection has a gorgeous nonfiction essay by Erica Sklar), after reading this book I needed the emotional cleanse of reviewing it here.

This is when I tell you I really liked this book.

Carole was a journalist for ABC and her writing is reminiscent of newsy prose. It’s succinct, easy to read, and her thoughts turn over beautifully. Considering how emotionally charged the subject matter — she lost her two best friends in a plane crash and then her husband to cancer within weeks of each other — Radziwill’s thoughts on cancer and loss are poignant without being preachy. Sure, there were moments at the start of the book that felt tinged with ego. The sense that as a reader I was receiving a nostalgic view of her upbringing and the start of her career in New York to enhance the effect of the drama that unfolds later. But soon I settled in with Carole, and really began to appreciate the emotional bravery of her story. The amount of loss Radziwill incurred is harrowing, and I applaud her for such a beautiful account of it. In fact, I’m slightly ashamed of how harshly I judged the book before starting. The fact of the matter is this, Radizwill’s memoir glitters and shines. It will make you cry. If there’s been cancer in your life, you must read it.

Book Review: The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets

Kathleen Alcott’s debut work, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets is stunning, and thrills on a sentence by sentence level. The insight she offers through prose is striking at times, and brilliant, with much more depth and maturity than you’d expect from a first-time novelist. It stands as an excellent example of talented debut writing.

The book examines the complicated relationship between Ida, and two boys she grew up with, brothers, Jackson and James. Ida and Jackson find themselves in various stages of love, as best friends in childhood, and then as tumultuous lovers. However, the premise of the book is more intriguing than simply an examination of complicated relationships. There is a tragic death, a sick parent, and the crafty addition of somnambulism, much to the pleasure of readers. While the work as a whole is entirely satisfying, my favorite parts of the novel were Alcott’s scenes regarding the characters’ childhoods, primarily the introduction of the sleepwalking brothers. Ida’s realization that the brothers are linked by some familial bond within sleep emphasizes one of the many recurring themes in The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets: the boundaries of family and love. Ida recognizes that although she’s as close as an outsider to the family can be, she’ll never share this brotherly bond. Similarly, the plot construction of somnambulism provides a thread for Ida and Jackson’s relationship as they become adults. Ida’s desire to understand, or make use of, Jackson’s sleepwalking is a deft example of how we push toward the people we love in flawed ways, despite our best intentions.

Alcott’s novel is a lyrical treat. She is a true literary talent and skilled beyond her years. I eagerly look forward to reading more of her work.

The Random House and Penguin Merger

Unless you’re living under a rock, you already know about the merger between Penguin and Random House, which will leave the new company cleverly re-titled: Penguin Random House. (Insert unimpressed face here.) The deal is one of the largest in publishing to date, combining the forces of two Big Six publishers into one. The merger has caused a ripple of anxiety in the industry among publishers, authors, and readers, all of whom are wondering how the merge will affect prices and competition. We’ve broken down the issue into laymen’s terms, isolating the specific concerns of those who will likely be affected.


The biggest issue surrounding the deal involves Amazon and their incredible market share of e-books. Penguin Random House is expected to invest heavily in e-books and digital production after the merge, in an attempt to compete directly with the low price point of other retailers like Amazon, Apple, and Google. Remember, e-book prices were in the news recently when Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, and Hatchett Book Group settled in court over allegations that they approached Apple to look for a way to force Amazon to raise prices. Put simply, the issue of Amazon’s low e-book prices has been a bane for the Big Six publishers for years.

It’s also worth noting that consolidation of smaller to mid-size presses into larger publishing companies is hardly rare. For example, Random House is is a conglomerate of Alfred A. Knopf, Pantheon, Crown, and Doubleday, all of which were previously independent. Many are calling the merge between Penguin and Random House inevitable, which raises the question about the possibility of future mergers. Anti-trust authorities will of course have to approve the consolidation, but it isn’t likely they’ll find issues. After all, similar instances have occurred in the music industry, with four major labels now controlling the majority of the market. Musicians and artists complain this has created fewer opportunities for new artists, and a loss of competitive price points, which echoes current concerns from authors and agents regarding Random House and Penguin.

Authors and Publishers

The biggest concern for authors and their agents is the idea that with fewer companies to bid to, authors will ultimately see lower bids for their books. There are also worries authors will have less bargaining tools when it comes to contracts, because of how much of the market Penguin Random House will own. (Projections put this number somewhere around 25% of all English-language book sales.) While these concerns are valid, optimists are discussing the opportunity for niche publishers and small presses to adapt and grow, providing new avenues and opportunities for authors to publish. Though vague, it’s likely these optimists are referring to the digital platform, and the ease and affordability it provides publishers. Though the adaptability of being a small press has its advantages, production costs still come with high margins, and in order to turn a profit, even in the digital-age, it seems easier said than done.


Because the merge will likely lower book costs (especially e-books), it’s possible readers could benefit. However, there are some concerns that with fewer companies, and less opportunities for new authors, the available books at the low price point will diminish for readers. All of this remains to be seen, but it does seem likely that if mergers in the industry continue, new authors will struggle to emerge from big publishers and diversity for readers will also suffer. However, in our opinion, the merge will probably cause an increase in mid-sized and smaller publishers, and diversity won’t be a problem.

The Glitch

On the night of November 8, 2012, the “Buy” buttons disappeared from  many publisher’s Kindle pages on Amazon. Among them: Random House, Penguin, and other Big Six publishers. Amazon is calling the problem a “glitch“, offering no information as to why nearly 50 of the top 100 sellers were unavailable for so long, and why the problem didn’t occur for small and independent presses. You can call it coincidence, but skeptics are raising eyebrows as to the possibility that something bigger, and more malicious could be afoot. Regardless, it’s a strong reminder of the power Amazon yields in the book-buying marketplace.

Amazon’s Best Books of the Year

Amazon just released their top 100 books of the year. Titles include: The Round House by Louise Erdrich, The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn,  A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers, The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg, and Mortality by Christopher Hitchens among others. Click on the link above to see all 100 books.

What books would you recommend as the best of the year? Let us know in the comments. We’ll be tweeting answers all day.

A Trifecta of Awesome

Ken Liu’s short story “Paper Menagerie” just won all there of Science Fiction’s big awards: the Hugo, the Nebula, and The World Fantasy Award. To our knowledge this has never been done before, which makes this, well, pretty damn incredible. Check out the story through the link above and let us know what you think.

(As a quick aside, here is a link to another one of our favorite Nebula award winners. Kij Johnson’s “Ponies” won in 2010 and is majorly swoon-worthy. Plus, it’s about ponies so… duh.)

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

The bulk of our book reviews focus on debut novels and books from independent publishers, however, occasionally we choose to review a novel written by a seasoned author. In this case, we chose The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. A book that made waves in publishing with feats like breaking the record for most pre-orders (more than $2 million) and for being so secretive in the weeks prior to its release. Simply put, we wanted a chance to get a word in as well.

First a little history. We won’t bore you with details on Rowling’s past as the author of the Harry Potter novels, but there is something to note about children’s authors attempting to move into adult literature that sets a difficult stage for this book, at least historically. Even the beloved Roald Dahl had a difficult time harnessing the attention of adults with his literary fiction. Whether it’s an issue with content or audience expectation, the fact remains that many authors prior to Rowling’s first adult fiction release struggled with this task, proving this bar was set high from the get go. Add to this the fact that Rowling is one of the most lucrative authors in history and to say this book was mired in expectation would be an understatement. Each of these elements (and more) casts a certain light on The Casual Vacancy that is neither good nor bad, but highlights how a mix of fame and expectation inevitably affects how readers will respond to the novel. As you might expect, it also makes writing a review difficult. I wrote this review as if I was reading the book from any author of note. I expected strong writing. I expected a mature sensibility. I expected it to be good. And with that I can say, whole-heartedly, The Casual Vacancy is a very good book. It wasn’t perfect, and I have suspicions that Rowling’s reluctance to let an editor comb through it too much contributed to such flaws, but the book was fulfilling, and it delivered.

The novel takes place in the fictional town of Pagford and begins with the death of councilman, Barry Fairbrother. The open seat left by Fairbrother serves as a catalyst for many issues in town, the most notable being a divisive political argument regarding the available funding for public housing and a methadone clinic. The impending vote on this issue lifts a veil on a set of characters’ lives that comes into colorful focus as the pages of The Casual Vacancy turn over. The themes in the novel are many, oscillating from heroin addiction, cutting, adultery, love, and of course, the battle for a political seat largely driven by personal agendas. The point of view varies, with passages from both children and adults. It contains a cleverly plotted puppeteering act executed by the kids in town (independently and unknowingly from one another) that unearths many of the secrets pulsing beneath the town’s mundane surface. The book achieves its goal in delivering a message about the complexities of life and the fallibility of people, and to me it remained hopeful, even with its dark conclusion. The prose is enjoyable, with some truly gorgeous passages — there are flairs of brilliance here, I assure you — and the book has a very English feel, which contributes to the personality of the story in a very charming way.

The problems with the book are few, but distracting. The point of view shifts mid-page and mid-chapter feel jarring, and could have been smoothed considerably with the use of section breaks. Again, I suspect this was the result of Rowling’s stringent control over creative aspects of the book, and her reluctance to work with editors. I also felt the early chapters contained some forced passages regarding sex and sexuality. To me they came across as anchors for the reader; Rowling’s attempt to drive home the fact that this is an adult book. The feeling waned as I read on, but I can’t escape the sense that it was too heavy handed and would benefit from some trimming. In spite of these blips, The Casual Vacancy leaves a strong impression and is a great book by a talented writer. I don’t think Rowling deserves anything less than a round of applause from satisfied readers.