Archive for the ‘sadye’ Category

Craft Essay: The First-Person Plural

When it is done right, a story told in the first-person plural can hold incredible power. In this craft essay, we take a look at successful uses of this point of view and some of its common pitfalls.


“If the first-person plural tries to be too sweeping, if it does not acknowledge its own subtleties, it can miss the mark.”

Here at The Masters Review, we often see trends among submissions. During any given reading period, patterns emerge: sometimes, there are a remarkable number of stories with surreal elements; lately, we’ve been seeing a lot of pieces about drones; for one anthology, we received an uncanny number of stories that involved fish hooks. One of the most interesting trends to identify, however, is the popularity of specific points of view. For a while, we received an enormous amount of stories told in the second person (and we still get a bunch of these). But what we have been noticing a lot of lately (and loving) is fiction told in the first-person plural. Authors are embracing the collective voice—“us” and “we”—to tell tales about group experience.

While reading for our Short Story Award for New Writers this summer, we encountered multiple stories told in the voice of an entire town. In more than one case, the author used the first-person plural to explore a community’s reaction to a strange, shared event. A town overtaken by pests. A swath of mysterious drownings. The first-person plural is certainly hot right now. So, it’s worth getting down to the nitty-gritty and looking at it on the level of craft. What makes the collective voice particularly effective? How can authors best harness its strengths? And, what are some common pitfalls that authors encounter when writing from this point of view? To me, the most crucial question that the first-person plural raises is this: how do you speak from the perspective of the group without speaking for the group?

Over ten years back, a New York Times article discussed the rarity of the first-person plural in contemporary literature, and the extreme difficulty of pulling it off successfully: “Modern readers find collective first-person narrators unsettling; the contemporary mind keeps searching for the familiarity of an individual point of view, since it seems impossible that a group could think and feel, let alone act, as one.” However, about two years ago, an article in The Guardian discussed the growing popularity of recent novels that “provide varying degrees of differentiation within the collective experience.” It named Chang-Rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea and Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to an End as two notable examples. It also aptly noted that: “Many contemporary first-person plural novels give voice to the previously overlooked.” Of course, both articles mention the Greek chorus as an early and powerful example of the first-person plural voice.


5 Awesome Chapbook Presses

Chapbooks rule. These small collections of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry are often a great first publication for up-and-coming writers. They can also be a wonderful way to enjoy work by one of your favorite authors, bound in a new form. Whether you’re looking for a contest to submit your short manuscript to, or simply a fun new book that will fit in your purse or pocket, here is a list of some of our favorite chapbook presses.


Rose Metal Press is, in its own words, “an independent press dedicated to the publication of hybrid genres.” While they also publish longer works (they have a pretty awesome Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction) they host a great annual Short Short Chapbook Contest. We were happy to review the winner of the ninth contest, Ghost Box Evolution in Cadillac, Michigan by Rosie Forrest. The judge for this fall’s contest is Amelia Gray, so get those manuscripts ready!

Kimzey_cover-250x386Black Lawrence Press

Like Rose Metal Press, Black Lawrence Press publishes both chapbooks and longer-form manuscripts, and they welcome submissions during their open reading periods. They also host two competitions for fiction and poetry chapbooks a year, one in the fall and one in the spring. They published Masters Review author Blake Kimzey’s kickass chapbook Families Among Us.


Madras Press publishes short stories as well as novella-length booklets from the likes of Kelly Link, Kevin Brockmeier, and Aimee Bender. Let us tell you: these books are beautiful. Each author chooses a charity for the proceeds of the sales to be donated to.

ROPEWALKRopeWalk Press

RopeWalk Press is run through the University of Southern Indiana and hosts an annual chapbook contest. Past winners include the likes of David James Poissant.



Bull City is an awesome micropress based in Durham, NC. Along with publishing a quarterly magazine and poetry chapbooks (check out the Frost Place Chapbook Competition) they have been publishing fiction and nonfiction chapbooks since 2015, when they partnered with Origami Zoo Press.

by Sadye Teiser

The Masters Review Interview Series

As part of our platform, The Masters Review strives to provide informative and inspiring online content for emerging writers. One of our favorite ways to do this is through interviews with authors, editors, and agents. We’ve had the chance to talk to many amazing thinkers, but here are a few selections from our interviews archive.

 Kevin Brockmeier

We talked to Volume IV judge Kevin Brockmeier about his first memoir, the art of the sentence, some of the different shapes novels can take, and genre and literary overlaps:

author interview_brockmeier“I would love to see a future in which the distinction between literary and science fiction, mainstream novels and graphic novels, realism, surrealism, and magical realism, has become much more permeable, and books are measured by their vitality, their degree of accomplishment, and the fidelity they pay to their own obsessions rather than by the happenstances of genre.”

Read the interview here.

 Ellen Datlow

Veteran editor Ellen Datlow has been working with science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for over thirty years, during which she has edited over sixty anthologies and racked up a number of accolades. We were honored to talk to her about horror as part of our Scary Story Showcase last October:

 ellen datlow“Effective horror explores the truths that humans are loathe to face: death most prominently—the fact that we’re all going to die. The loss of loved ones, losing one’s control, fear of the unknown, pain. These things scare us whether couched in the supernatural or psychological.”

Read the interview here.

 Benjamin Percy

We were thrilled to talk to Benjamin Percy about his recent post-apocalyptic novel The Dead Lands, which reimagines the Lewis and Clark expedition in a world full of water scarcities and mutant animals.

 deadlands cover“ . . . suffice it to say that we’re all nearing a state of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fatigue. Everyone is overly familiar with the way the world ends. The Dead Lands takes advantage of this. There is a super flu, of course, and there is a nuclear apocalypse, of course. This is merely my key in the door, the gateway into my story. The way the world ends is mostly irrelevant. I’m concerned with the way the world is reborn.”

Read the interview here.

Laura van den Berg

The wonderful Laura van den Berg chatted with us about the short story form vs. the novel, the role of research in the writing process, her ever-shifting writing space, and her path to success.

vandenBerg_interview “So I think that’s the thing about publishing: it’s a very rare situation where the views are going to be completely uniform. You know, you don’t need everyone to say yes, and you don’t need everyone to think that the path you’ve chosen is the right path. You just need that one person who sees things in a way that you do and I was lucky enough to find that.”

Read the interview here.

Aimee Bender

Aimee Bender’s magical realist stories have earned her a loyal following—and with good reason. Here, we talk to the acclaimed writer about women in magical realism, her use of this construction, and the power of magic in stories.

BENDER“I think the emotional life is the core and seed of the story—that’s where the story lives and breathes. So the magic is a way to access that, and I will happily use whatever way I can to get to the emotional stuff. For me, for whatever reason, I like to go to it indirectly, and via metaphor, but hopefully not metaphor that’s too easily unpacked.”

Read the interview here.

by Sadye Teiser 

Listen To Your Reading: Selections from Four of Our Favorite Literary Podcasts

There are a lot of great literary podcasts out there. Here, we’ve selected a few of our favorite episodes, all available for free. These stories (and, in one case, an essay) are perfect to listen to while you’re working out, cooking dinner, riding on the bus, or just relaxing on a summer afternoon. We like to return to them, again and again, for a little inspiration.

Richard Bausch“Letter to The Lady of the House” by Richard Bausch, This American Life

This one is an oldie but a goodie. In this Valentine’s Day episode of This American Life from ’98, Richard Bausch reads his story “Letter to the Lady of the House” (Act One). This incredible story, in the form of a letter, examines the history of a marriage. It gets us every time.

<< Listen Here >>

Miranda July 2“Roy Spivey” by Miranda July, The New Yorker Fiction Podcast

David Sedaris reads Miranda July’s story “Roy Spivey,” and discusses it with New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman. Sedaris is the perfect reader for July’s humorous and sad story, about a woman who sits next to a celebrity on an airplane, and the way that this experience carries through the rest of the woman’s life.

<< Listen Here >>

Joy Williams“Why I Write” by Joy Williams, Tin House Workshop Podcasts

Writing is a solitary act, and it’s nice to hear from other writers, from time to time, about their experience. Even Joy Williams has her own frustrations with writing, but we think you will find this reading of hers strangely inspiring. Take a fifteen-minute break to listen to Joy Williams read her essay “Why I Write,” recorded live at the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop in 2010.

<< Listen Here >>

Ramona AusubelA Reading and Discussion with Ramona Ausubel and Claire Vaye Watkins, BookCourt Podcasts

This is sort of a long one, but it’s definitely worth it to hear Ramona Ausubel and Claire Vaye Watkins read their fiction and talk about putting together their first short story collections in this recording of a reading at BookCourt in Brooklyn.

<< Listen Here >>

Summer Reading from New Voices

 It’s officially summer. School is out, days are long, and temperatures are rising. It’s the perfect time to sit down and read a story. We have been revisiting our New Voices section, which consistently publishes fresh fiction and nonfiction from emerging authors online. We’ve compiled a list of five solid summer reads from the New Voices archives here.

“Tierkling” by Justine McNulty

A group of boys is out of school for the summer. They spend their days at an arcade, wondering about the lives of the animals in the adjacent exotic pet store. Don’t those creatures, too, deserve to be free?

Tierkling_3“We were certain it was the glass that confined them that lead to this lethargy, that the cages themselves somehow stifled the creature’s vigor. The wildness we knew was lying just beneath the surface—the wildness we felt in ourselves as we raced down the backstreets on our bikes, hooting and laughing, trying to stick our sneakers in between the flickering slats of each other’s tires, clanging sticks along mailboxes—yearned to be released.”

Read the story here.

“Someone To Listen” by Phil Quam

In Phil Quam’s essay, a summer trip to a cabin by the Shenandoah River serves as the backdrop for his moving meditation on two stories of loss.

someone_cabin“McNab’s cabin sat above the Shenandoah River, atop cut bank along the south fork that had been carved out over time by flood and drought. If everything was quiet enough on the porch, you heard the water making its run. But any noise made by man—conversation, a whirring hum of traffic on the bridge—and the river’s allegro was subsumed. It was here that my father and I found Doc Story, after we arrived at the cabin one afternoon in June, 1991, in the year after my brother, Jeff, drowned in the lake behind my childhood home, and ten years before Doc took his own life.”

Read the essay here.

“Shine” by Ron A. Austin

In this story, a boy sets out on his bike to bring his rebellious sister home. “Shine” is remarkable for its unique and energetic voice, full of character and heart.

Grunge summer background“I rode past dead zones, defunct storefronts and buildings like sick men with twisted bones. Weeds tangled through my spokes, honeysuckle exploded through chain-link fences, and wild chicory blazed ethereal blue. I turned onto Garrison and hit a filthy mess of kids playing freeze tag.”


Read the story here.


Hint Fiction: Six Stories to Read in Under a Minute

In celebration of Short Story Month, we are studying fiction in all forms and sizes. People often bemoan the fact that stories are getting shorter and shorter. But fewer words does not necessarily mean less impact. The first week of our Short Story Showcase focuses on hint fiction, stories of twenty-five words or less. Hint fiction can carry a mighty heft. These miniscule tales are craftily distilled. They “hint” at larger stories. On Friday, we will feature an interview with Robert Swartwood, who coined the term back in ’09 with his essay “Hint Fiction: When Flash Becomes Just Too Flashy.” Until then, here are a few hint-fiction stories for your reading pleasure. They may take less than a minute to read, but they will stay in your mind all day.

hint fiction

We love Sherman Alexie’s brief, but devastating story “The Human Comedy,” featured as part of Narrative’s six-word stories series.

Wigleaf published a selection of stories by authors who were published in Norton’s Hint Fiction anthology, among them: “I Know Things about the Girls Next Door”  by Roxane Gay.

Nanoism publishes twitter-fiction (stories of 140 characters or less) online. Its collection includes many pieces of hint fiction, such as this one by Michael Jagunic.

Lydia Davis was writing flash before it was flash and hint fiction far before the term was invented. Check out her hint pieces “Honoring the Subjunctive” and “Losing Memory” in this collection of her stories on NPR.

Monkeybicyle features some great one-sentence stories, many of which come in at under twenty-five words. Be sure to check out R. Gatwood’s potent eleven-word piece “Dandelions Actually” here.

Robert Swartwood, the official authority on hint fiction, published “Summer of ‘84” in Everyday Genius. This story is a series of hints that can stand alone but that, together, form a larger narrative.

Leave your own hint fiction in the comments.

by Sadye Teiser

The Masters Review Book Review Series

The Masters Review book review series continues our mission of introducing readers to the next great authors. It is your source for exciting releases by writers who have something new to say. We are particularly interested in books from small and independent presses, chapbooks, graphic novels, experimental forms, and innovative works. We aim to focus the bulk of our reviews on writers who have published no more than two novel-length books, though we do occasionally review notable established writers.

From Kelly Luce’s magical debut story collection from A Strange Object, to Christy Crutchfield’s first novel, which plays with form, to Kim Zupan’s quiet, haunting debut, here are a few of our favorite reviews.

Three+Scenarios+in+Which+Hana+Sasaki+Grows+a+Tail“Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail” by Kelly Luce

Three 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.

Read More.

Crutchfield-Cover-Front copyHow to Catch a Coyote by Christy Crutchfield

Christy Crutchfield’s How To Catch A Coyote tells the tragic narrative of the Walker family by expertly defying traditional narrative structure. Straightaway, the reader is given the bare bones of the story. Within the first ten pages we learn the principal narrative events, so I don’t think it’s giving away too much to describe them here: Hill Walker drops out of college and marries Maryanne when she gets pregnant with their daughter, Dakota; later, they have a son, Daniel; Hill molests his daughter; Maryanne kicks Hill out; the daughter leaves town; Hill dies from rabies. In the subsequent chapters, meat is added to the bones of this narrative, until it becomes a living, breathing creature. Read more.

The PloughmenThe Ploughmen by Kim Zupan

The Ploughmen, now available through publisher Henry Holt, is the perfect book to read this autumn. Kim Zupan weaves a story that is equal parts discomfiting and beautiful, desolate and richly imagined. Set in the wilds of rural Montana, The Ploughmen follows the complicated relationship between a rookie deputy and the serial killer caged in his jailhouse. The novel explores the essence of friendship and morality. Valentine Millimaki is the cop who searches for those lost in the unyielding wilderness, and lately all he’s been able to find are the dead. It has been too long since he’s rescued someone; the string of those he was unable to help stretches out behind him, following his footsteps. When he’s assigned to the night shift at the jail, he’s already haunted—both by his work and his failing marriage. Read more.

Interested in joining our team? We are looking for book reviewers who have a love of contemporary fiction and nonfiction and a passion for critical writing. If you would be interested in reviewing books for us, please contact for more information.

Fifteen Books We’re Looking Forward to This Year

2015 promises to be an exciting year in books. Here are some books we are excited about to start the year off right. From debut fiction and nonfiction titles to acclaimed short story writer Laura van den Berg’s first novel to Kelly Link’s long-anticipated third collection—here is the list of books from the first half of 2015 that we can’t wait to read.

Hall of Small MammalsHall of Small Mammals by Thomas Pierce

This book is already out, but we’ve only just started reading it. We are loving Pierce’s debut collection, in which the domestic meets the extraordinary. A woman’s son brings home a wooly mammoth, and then leaves her to care for it. A man is jealous of the other husband his wife has in her dreams. Full of invention and Southern charm, these stories astound us.

Publication date: January 8

The First Bad ManThe First Bad Man by Miranda July

After reading Miranda July’s brief, radiant stories, we’re eager to see how her eccentric style translates to a longer form. In The First Bad Man, Miranda July’s debut novel, narrator Cheryl’s idiosyncratic, solitary life changes dramatically when her bosses’ daughter moves in with her. In her recent New York Times review, Lauren Groff writes of July’s debut: “It has a heartbeat and a pulse. This is a book that is painfully alive.”

Publication date: January 13

Trigger WarningTrigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman

As Neil Gaiman devotees, we know we are not alone in our excitement about his forthcoming collection Trigger Warning. Gaiman’s previous stories incorporate everything from trolls to the Holy Grail—in new and jarring ways. We can’t wait to see what he does next. Check out an excerpt from the introduction here.

Publication date: February 3

Get in TroubleGet in Trouble by Kelly Link

It’s no surprise that Kelly Link has developed a cult-like following for her dense, dark, and electrifying stories. “Stone Animals” remains one of our favorite scary stories of all time. Now comes Link’s long-awaited third collection for adults, Get in Trouble. Sarah Waters says of the stories: “These are not so much small fictions as windows onto entire worlds.”

Publication date: February 3

Find MeFind Me by Laura van den Berg

We’ve been anxiously awaiting Laura van den Berg’s debut novel since she discussed it with us in an interview. In Find Me, America is overtaken by a pandemic that robs people of their memories. The narrator, Joy, who is immune to the disease, travels first to a hospital in Kansas and then journeys to Florida to find her long-lost mother.

Publication date: February 17

MisadventureMisadventure by Nicholas Grider

We loved A Strange Object’s  two previous titles Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail and Our Secret Life in the Movies. They are back again with another debut collection: Misadventure by Nicholas Grider. In ASO’s own words: “In Misadventure, men search for themselves, for each other, for the sources of sanity and sickness, power and grief.”

Publication date: February 18


Author Interview – “Someone Else” by Diana Xin

The third volume of The Masters Review, with stories selected by Lev Grossman, is available now. To celebrate, we’re conducting interviews with the ten wonderful emerging authors it features. In Diana Xin’s story “Someone Else,” a couple moves in together for the first time. But everything, from the dead animal they find on the porch to the otherworldly actress who lives downstairs, is infused with an eerie quality. In this interview, Diana Xin talks about Kelly Link, the importance of place, and the inspiration for this story.

someone_else“Juliet explained that after she had come home from an advertising gig a few days before, she found all of their spoons lined up in a row along the countertop. George had not done it, and she certainly hadn’t. Yet there they were, the spoons all in a row.”

Your story, “Someone Else,” is set in Chicago, and it includes a clear sense of and love for place. I know that you lived in Chicago, yourself, and I’m wondering: to what extent was the story inspired by the city?

I started writing this story about two years after leaving Chicago, and while it was one of the first cities I came to know and love, I knew then that I was not interested in moving back. I suppose, for me, the city represents another relationship that is coming to an end. I was very happy incorporating some of my favorite places, describing the neighborhoods I had loved, and setting the story in a duplex very similar to two places where I had lived. I don’t think the story was necessarily inspired by the setting, but it is one of my first pieces to feature geography and place more prominently, and I hope that more stories will come out of the places I’ve been able to explore. It does seem, at times, that certain landscapes speak to us and evoke various characters and voices, in different levels of vividness. I’ve also had stories that I’ve been working on for years that perhaps never had a clear or well defined setting, and then one day I visit a new place, and I realize, oh, this is where that story lives. After that, the story gains this completely new energy. Setting can do so much for tone, and with research, it can add a lot for context and plot as well.

You also do a great job of portraying a deteriorating relationship between two young people, Holly and Sean. How did you build this relationship between two fictional characters?

I started writing this story at the final ending of a relationship that had many false endings. The relationship had gone on almost five years, and it had become like a body dead on the floor that came to life and grabbed your ankle as soon as you had one foot out the door. It wasn’t a bad relationship, just one that had no staying power. We cared about each other a lot, but never enough. Writing this story became a way for me to remember the relationship and to acknowledge its ending. I wouldn’t say that it’s biographical, but there is a lot of me in it, at least from one aspect of one period of my life. I think that’s usually how most stories work.

I really admire the way that “Someone Else” hints at supernatural elements, but doesn’t go overboard. I find several of its passages deeply unsettling, and I mean that as a compliment. What was your approach here? How did you conceive of and view elements such as the mysterious dead animal, the claw marks, and Juliet’s otherworldliness?

Thank you! I thought of this story for a long time as my haunted house story, inspired by Kelly Link’s “Stone Animals.” I wanted the house to speak for the relationship. Although the duplex looks great on the surface, there is something off about it that neither of them can really verbalize. That was the starting point. I went many directions from there. In the first few drafts, the supernatural sort of took over. Parallel dimensions, eyes glowing in the trees, all kinds of crazy stuff happened. Exciting, but it didn’t feel like the story I was trying to write. In the end, I borrowed from real life more than I typically do. The dead animal my ex found on his deck seemed like an appropriate image for readers encountering the story and for Holly and Sean encountering their new home. His neighbors, who had complained about their furniture being rearranged in their absence, were people I had always wanted to write about, though I’d never actually met them. In the final draft, I tried to stick with the ordinary but imbue that with a sense of unease.


Familiar Terrors: What Scares Us About the Domestic Surreal

What is the scariest nightmare you’ve ever had? I’ve had dreams that terrified me in which my cat turned into a turtle, my family morphed into strangers, and I picked handfuls of snakes off my childhood playground. It’s not the complete unknown in my dreams that scares me, but rather the transformation of the known. The familiar becomes less real. The same holds true for the stories that give me the deepest chills.

Merriam-Webster defines the adjectival form of surreal as “very strange or unusual” or “having the quality of a dream.” Like a dream state, the surreal presents the familiar to us . . . altered. In the stories that follow, authors use the surreal in conjunction with the domestic (dishwashers, pets, strange neighbors, soap, household pests)—to terrifying effect.

Study #1: “Stone Animals” by Kelly Link

rabbit“Stone Animals” is a classic example of a scary story that takes the ordinary and slowly distorts it. It begins with a conversation that isn’t flat-out surreal, though it is strange. What are those stone animals outside the house that this family is considering buying? The son thinks they’re dogs. The mother: lions. The real estate agent: rabbits.

The family moves into the house, and their everyday lives start to break down. The family begins to discard and avoid household objects because they feel off: first, the son refuses his toothbrush; then, the husband throws out a bar of soap; the kids, then the wife, stop watching TV; next it’s everything in the father’s office that feels wrong, down to the paper clips; the list continues. The pregnant wife can’t stop painting and repainting the walls. The daughter sleepwalks.

Rabbits begin to infiltrate the family’s life. They congregate in droves on the front lawn. They consume the family’s thoughts. Before the surreal takes over the “real world” of the story, it dictates the family’s dreams. The father has a dream in which: “He tries to sell a house to a young couple with twitchy noses and big dark eyes. . . . ‘Let’s stop fooling,’ he says. ‘You can’t afford to buy this house. You don’t have any money. You’re rabbits.’” The mother dreams that, over cups of paint with sugar, her neighbor asks her what color she plans to paint the rabbits.

When the family first moves into the house, before the surreal elements have begun to take root, the wife, Catherine, thinks of her husband: “It worried her, the way something, someone, Henry, could suddenly look like a place she’d never been before.” This is the scariest suggestion: that you don’t know what (or who) you think you know. The surreal in scary stories works in much the same way as the terrifying rabbits in “Stone Animals”; it’s a surprise when something we expect to be friendly turns out to be menacing—the initial comfort the object offered makes it all the more frightening once transformed.

I’m not going to summarize “Stone Animals” because I don’t want to ruin the suspense; and, the truth is, it doesn’t sound scary in summary. It is a testament to the strength of Link’s writing—and the power of the surreal—that the storyline is terrifying because of the off-kilter world that has been built around it.


Flash Fiction Techniques: Part 2


Other than the length of one thousand words or less, how do you describe flash fiction? In the first installment of this essay, I discussed how generalizations about flash are often contradictory. (If you missed part one, read it here.) Part of the beauty of flash is that it resists easy definition. Within that one thousand word limit is an incredible freedom. Of course, this is true of all fiction, but the variety of form in flash is particularly remarkable. Each piece dictates its own rules, creates its own universe. So, then: how do you talk about technique in flash fiction? Discussing the techniques we love best (without making generalizations) can provide inspiration for writers who experiment in the genre, and give longtime readers of flash an outlet for their impressions. Here, I discuss five techniques used in my favorite flash stories. Certainly, there are innumerable others. Share your favorite with us.

The Progression of The Surreal

Authors use the surreal in flash in all sorts of different ways. One thousand words is often the perfect size for an alternate reality. One technique that I’ve been drawn to, in particular, is this: many times, a surreal conceit is introduced at the beginning of the story, and then progresses to its logical end. Here, a complex surreal idea fuels the story.

In “Babies,” Amelia Gray introduces the conceit in the first sentence: “One morning, I woke to discover I had given birth overnight.” The story that follows develops this premise.

In “The Crown,” by Ben Loory, a dishwasher finds an invisible crown in the sink, and the rest of the action is propelled by his reaction to this discovery.

In “The House’s Beating Heart,” Kate Folk takes the reader inside a house that, as the title suggests, has a live, pulsing heart. Of course, the question soon arises: where are the building’s other organs?

Imposed Restraints

Many of the pieces of flash I love best operate under some type of formal restraint (other than the word limit, of course), whether the author consciously imposed it on the story before writing it, or not. I was lucky enough to do an independent study on the short short with my advisor in grad school, and she pointed out to me that most flash doesn’t contain all of the formal “elements of fiction.” Many times, a story will focus on just one. Whether it’s allowing just one element of fiction, or limiting the story to all questions, all answers, or all dialogue—flash often flourishes under further restraints.

I love Jessica Soffer’s “Beginning, End,” a story that that is so moving because it is all plot.

In “The Mountainview Middle School Geography Bee,” James Davis limits his story to the dialogue of the mediator for this zany event.


Author Interview – “Go Down, Diller” by Eric Howerton

Get ready. Our third anthology, with stories selected by Lev Grossman, publishes on October 1. It showcases the best emerging writers in graduate-level creative writing programs. In anticipation of publication, we are conducting interviews with our ten fantastic authors. This week, we talked to Eric Howerton, author of “Go Down, Diller” about Faulkner, talking bears, teaching fiction, and living with his characters. Howerton spent five years crafting this story, and it came to us as a flawless, complete world. You don’t want to miss this one. Pre-order the anthology here.

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       “Which is stranger?” Diller asked. “That the bear can talk or that he’s working fast food?”
        Shelly chewed her salad slowly. “Why would it be weird for him to talk?”
        He stared at her as constellations of freckles jounced in rhythm to her chewing. “Because bears can’t talk.”
        She looked at him quizzically and swallowed hard. “Of course they can.”


What are some of your all-time favorite stories?

As you can probably tell from “Go Down, Diller,” I gravitate toward stories that dabble in the strange and off-kilter. E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Sandman” is one of my all-time favorites. Hoffmann wrote the story that The Nutcracker ballet is based on, and every time I read “The Sandman” I get chills. Vladimir Nabokov’s “Signs and Symbols” is a classic, and I teach it to every creative writing student I encounter because of its ambition, intelligence, and economy. Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” also tops the list. “Bartleby, the Scrivener” is also one of my girlfriend’s favorite short stories, and we named our dog Bartleby as homage. The name fits too. He’s a beagle, so you can try and give him a command and what you get in return are these large eyes staring back at you, as if to say “I prefer not to.”

Other short story authors who have influenced me greatly and give me endless enjoyment are Flannery O’Connor, Donald Barthelme, Haruki Murakami, Aimee Bender, Roberto Bolaño, and Etgar Keret.

Your characters in “Go Down, Diller” are so clearly drawn: Diller’s critical and sweet daughter Shelly; the annoying and endearing Wine Guy at the hotel where Diller works; even the talking bear, whom you introduce flawlessly. Where did you come up with these personalities?

They were completely made up. I have the bad habit of not basing my characters on people I know (which my friends and family probably appreciate!), so it can take a long time for me to bring characters to life. I can churn out a story draft in a week or two, but to really make the characters speak and feel whole I have to welcome them as imaginary friends in my head for an extended period. How long this occupancy takes place is unknown at the time I start revising, so in order to “invite a character to stay” I have to really believe that the story has merit and is worth cohabitating with for months or years. As I’m revising the story—which in the case of “Go Down, Diller” took about five years—I’m sort of remembering these characters in my spare moments. I check in with them, see how they’re doing, talk to them, put them in scenes and play those scenes over and over again, tweaking little details here and there until those characters feel like they’re naturally acting of their own accord. That’s sort of how this story—and a lot of my non-flash fiction pieces—work. I grew the characters in my head like plants. What kind of fruit those plants produced was a surprise even for myself.

Now that this piece has finally been published, I’m evicting Diller et al. and leasing that headspace to another tenant. But Diller, Shelly, the bear, and even the Wine Guy will be missed. Maybe someday they’ll send me a postcard from wherever it is they go.