Archive for the ‘Short Story Month’ Category

Essay: Literature and Technology

Every year, we use Short Story Month as an opportunity to dive deep into questions of craft. This year, we take a close look at how contemporary literature tackles technology. We discuss fiction that uses Instagram, selfies, text messages, and robots in order to help convey emotion, reflection, and meaning.

“So many futuristic tales ask this: where do we draw the line between ourselves and what we have created? If this is what it means to be a machine, what does it mean to be a person?”

The case could easily be made that literature and technology are opposites. Great literature is a celebration of our very humanity. It chronicles our subjectivity, our ugliness, our desires, and our fears. It is a record of critical thought and of lived experience. Technology on the other hand, is rote. It is comprised of mechanical parts, of code, of signals. It is pure functionality, devoid of thought.

No wonder we are so fascinated with it.

In fact, we’re obsessed. From Taylor Swift videos to Black Mirror to the Bladerunner sequel—there’s a wealth of contemporary media that interrogates our relationship with technology. Fiction is no exception. In the slush pile alone, we’ve seen many stories in the form of emails, several pieces featuring robots, a lot of fiction about drones, and one very special story that (somehow) analyzed complex trauma through emojis.

Here, we examine the ways in which technology is incorporated in contemporary stories and novels as a mirror that casts a different light on our own experience and a foil that shows us the best and worst of ourselves. Whether it’s the simple use of a text message or an encounter with AI, the use of technology in fiction often provides characters with an opportunity for self-reflection.

<<   >>

I must admit that I’ve always found the selfie to be a strange and tragic form. In them, we look like bewildered creatures, staring into the lens, studying ourselves.

This conceit can be incredibly useful in fiction. It’s often very difficult to have a first-person narrator talk about themselves without it feeling contrived. Technology provides an easy solution to this problem. In Tom Perrotta’s recent novel Mrs. Fletcher, Eve, a middle-aged woman explores her own (sexual) identity after her only son leaves for college. In this passage, she examines the selfies she took after a new haircut:

They were really good—not just the haircut and the clothes, but the look on her face, and even the way she was standing with her hand on her hip, and her head canted at the perfect, self-possessed angle. Everything felt right and true, just the way she wanted it.

There I am, she thought.

 Imagine this same scene with Eve looking in a mirror, and it feels more than a little contrived. This sort of (literal) self-reflection would be very hard to achieve without the help of the selfie—a form which asks us to study ourselves from all angles. In the final line, “There I am,” Eve is reaffirming her own identity through this image. The cover for the book itself features a drawing of a woman in bed, looking at her phone, the light from its screen illuminating half her face.

<<  >>


10 Stories About Technology

As part of our celebration of Short Story Month this year, we are studying the ways in which fiction grapples with technology—be it twitter, imagined futures populated by robots, or the unexpected power of the emoji. We would like to start our examination with a list of stories that tackle our relationship with tech. And what better way to read them then on the web? Here are ten stories that have definitely entered the information age, all available and waiting at your fingertips! Browse away.


“The Black Box” by Jennifer Egan

Technology is inextricably intertwined with communication, but how do we know if anyone is really listening? Here is a story about heroism, trust, and a very long data stream that documents the use of technology as espionage.

“Demonman” by Julialicia Case

The winner of our Summer Short Story Award for New Writers, this piece effectively contrasts the (initial) silliness of emojis with the horror of sexual assault. Told from a younger sister’s point of view, she uses emojis as her own language to describe a confusing and changed world.

“Likes” by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

Not all stories vilify technology, even when it is the most obvious disconnect between a father and his eleven-year-old daughter. He is constantly baffled by her Instagram account, and he doesn’t understand her social networks, but his willingness to soldier through his own bemusement is a lesson in true goodwill.

“Mika Model” by Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi has won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards, and it’s easy to see why. A detective is trying to decide if an android is human enough to be charged with murder, and the whole world says it isn’t. If you tell yourself something for long enough, can you ever truly come to believe it?

“Quantum Convention” by Eric Schlich

In a million different worlds, there must be a million different versions of yourself. Getting the chance to meet them might seem like an amazing windfall, but you’d better be prepared to face all of your failures, and all of your might-have-beens, and your eventual return to your own life.


Short Story Month Highlights

May is Short Story Month, and for the fourth year running we are proud to bring you original content to honor a form that is near and dear to our hearts. Before we get to the wonderful fiction and criticism we have lined up for you this month, we would like to take a look at some highlights from years past. So take a few minutes (or longer) and appreciate (some of) the awesome and varied forms a short story can take.


Interview with Aimee Bender 

For our first-ever Short Story Month, we were absolutely thrilled to chat with Aimee Bender, whose magical realist stories we adore. Aimee spoke with us about the role of magic in her fiction, her own influences, and the recent wave of women writers coming out with magical realist tales.

“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.”

Flash Fiction: A Discussion Between Editors 

Flash fiction is one of our favorite forms, so it was a pleasure for the editors to chat about some exceptional flash stories, the freedom of flash, and the power of these short tales. Maybe this discussion will give you some inspiration for our Flash Fiction Contest, which is open now!

“It seems contradictory, doesn’t it, that by confining a story to a small space you increase the number of forms in which that story might be told? I think and agree, therein lies the magic behind flash fiction.”

 Fiction: The Boy and The Bear by Blake Kimzey 

We were thrilled to publish Blake Kimzey’s intricate, fable-like piece of flash “The Boy and The Bear,” which was later published in his chapbook out with Black Lawrence Press and selected for Best Small Fictions.

“The boy was cold, his nose frozen with ice that cleaved as he drew in full, waking breaths. His lungs burned with the deepness of his breathing. The boy couldn’t remember how long he had been asleep, hibernating.”


Interview with Daniel Orozco 

Our own Cole Meyer interviewed acclaimed short story writer Daniel Orozco about portraying the workplace in fiction and Orozco’s famous story “Orientation.” No matter what your office looks like, you will enjoy this interview.

“I’ve come to believe that there’s no greater arena for high drama than the workplace, whether your job is a grocery bagger or an administrative assistant or a test pilot.”

Animals in Fiction: A Discussion Between Editors 

A few years ago, we decided to devote a whole week of May to examining the different roles that animals play—as symbols, as narrative forces, or foils—in some of our favorite stories. We did not regret it.

“Animals can add a level of tension or mystery to a story, they can drive the plot, or they can simply add texture. Though they can (often) be cute, animals are powerful presences in a story, and it’s interesting to consider the many different ways that they add to tales by contemporary writers.”

Fiction: House Hunt by Jessica Lee Richardson

As a continuation of our study of animals in fiction, we were pleased to publish Jessica Lee Richardson’s charming story “House Hunt,” about a woman who is searching for a new home with her best friend, who just so happens to be a lion.

“I could see that Miles was crouched. The agent had turned his back to the lion. I could think of no stupider position in the history of the world.”


Short Story Month 2016: RECAP

May is one of our favorite months each year because we dedicate all of our content to a celebration of the short story form. This year was no exception. In case you missed any of the literary goodies, here is a quick and easy guide to last month’s content, complete with links. Dive in.

short story month_2016 other





Appropriately enough, our Short Story Award for New Writerswhich includes publication, over $2000 in prizes and review by multiple agencies—also opened this month. Here’s to a great May, and to continuing to celebrate the short story form all year long.

Stories That Teach: “Ghosts and Empties” by Lauren Groff – Discussed by Kim Winternheimer

In this craft essay, Masters Review editor Kim Winternheimer uses Lauren Groff’s “Ghosts and Empties,” to examine how success on the sentence level affects story elements.

Fog with trees and lamp post

“New writers fill their sentences with syrupy words or too many adverbs, but good writers use prose to reflect a sensibility about the world.”

Read “Ghosts and Empties” here.

Discussed by Kim Winternheimer

“Ghosts and Empties” was published in The New Yorker last July, and while I’ve always been a fan of Lauren’s work (she judged our first anthology!) this story struck me as a special iteration of her ability to craft an incredible sentence.

The story begins with the line: “I have somehow become a woman who yells, and, because I do not want to be a woman who yells, whose little children walk around with frozen, watchful faces, I have taken to lacing on my running shoes after dinner and going out into the twilit streets for a walk, leaving the undressing and sluicing and reading and singing and tucking in of the boys to my husband, a man who does not yell.”

The piece then follows the narrator on a walk through her neighborhood, as she observes the people, houses, and goings on around her. “The neighborhood goes dark as I walk, and a second neighborhood unrolls atop the daytime one.”

I love a piece that dazzles on the sentence level. New writers fill their sentences with syrupy words or too many adverbs, but good writers use prose to reflect a sensibility about the world. They find something new in an old idea. All of Lauren’s writing is like this. I mark so many lines the page fills up with checkmarks, underlines, and stars. The page is left, literally, dazzling.

I like looking at stories on the line level because it is the first filter between story and reader. When a writer can deliver information in a readable way, but access a different economy in the language, you know immediately you’re in good hands. Take the following passage: “There’s an elegant, tall woman who walks a Great Dane the color of dryer lint; I am afraid that the woman is unwell because she walks rigidly, her face pulsing as if intermittently electrified by pain. I sometimes imagine how, should I barrel around a corner to find her slumped on the ground, I would drape her over her dog, smack his withers, and watch as he, with his great dignity, carried her home.”

David James Poissant mentions concrete imagery in his craft essay on Steven Barthelme’s “Heaven,” citing the importance of delivering vivid visuals to the world of the story. “Ghosts and Empties” feels like a story dedicated entirely to this notion, with this line serving as an excellent example. We can see the woman walking her tall, gray dog. We can see them moving gingerly through the night. We can see the dog, in the narrator’s nighttime vision—and in a quick break with reality—gliding away with the woman draped across his back.

But let’s examine what else is working on the line level. Revisit the passages I mention above, and note their length. Note that while delivering concrete imagery through the use of effective language, Lauren is also architecting sentences to mimic the pace of a long and breathless walk. Brilliant! What is also interesting to me in “Ghosts and Empties,” is the narrative arc that develops—and is enhanced by—Lauren’s choices on the sentence level.

As the narrator walks and watches, she begins to know the houses, people, and animals around her. One could argue that she knows her surroundings better than most, and yet, is kept at a formal distance. She sees, she observes, but is limited in her understanding based solely on what she can infer. She is the most intimate observer in the story, but is never an insider. And thus, the prose enhances the conflict: a duality between seeing and knowing surfaces. (more…)

Featured Fiction: “A Rogue Planet” by Thomas Pierce

We can think of no better way to end our week on strange stories than with a contribution from the incomparable Thomas Pierce. In his debut collection, Hall of Small Mammals, woolly mammoths are cloned, and a woman has a husband who resides only in her dreams. In this story, “A Rogue Planet,” a planet with a face has appeared in our solar system. The piece is composed entirely of questions. As the narrator goes on and on about this so-called planet, he begins to poke holes in our assumptions about human knowledge and relationships. This pithy and masterful tale shows us that, though we may think we’re sure of the workings of our world and our minds—we actually have no idea.

rogue planet

Are you watching this too? Do you see the face? How come we’ve never even heard of this planet until now? Can you believe this is really happening? When you first heard the news of a planet that’s come creeping into our solar system, a planet with a face, did you assume they meant that figuratively? Does it scare you that they most definitely do not mean that figuratively? Are you still in bed? Are you under the covers with the phone to your ear? Is your husband at work right now? If he was home would he be holding you in his arms or in the kitchen preparing himself a breakfast burrito?

Which channel are you on now? Why must video feeds from space always be so grainy? Did I ever tell you that my Uncle Roscoe—whom you met once at my father’s house after his back surgery—is among those internet-message-board commenters who believe the moon landing was filmed on a studio lot and that it was him who inspired the idea for my lecture on the impossibilities of romantic love post-JFK-assassination? Didn’t you take that class?

How much do you understand about adaptive optics, about super-mirrors, about space and time, the origins of the universe? The observatory that discovered the planet—is it even reputable? Are we right to trust them? From where do they receive the bulk of their funding? If the government—which government? Ours? The Venezuelan? The Iranian? Mightn’t that be useful information? To what degree is solving this mystery an international effort? What do the French think? Are the Chinese mobilizing? How long have the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and the FBI known about this, and if they’ve known for long, why would they have kept it a secret? Has the president been briefed? What does he think about a planet with an actual face? Does it scare him? Shouldn’t it? Has he paced a path into the Oval Office rug? Could this explain why he went gray so fast? What does the First Lady think, and what is she telling their kids? What will you tell Lucy? Are they letting schools out early today?

Have you been staring at a screen all morning too? Do your eyes ache? Does your heart? Have you paused the DVR and traced the image of the face with your finger? Are you looking at it now? Are you seriously freaking out right now? Do you still keep a few clonazepams in your sock drawer just in case? What’s this planet made of? Like ours, does it have a crust and mantle and core? Is there an atmosphere? Blue skies, red skies, purple skies? Milky seas or frozen seas or no seas at all? Endless deserts?

How long since you went to church? Are you still Unitarian? What would Buddha or Jesus or Gandhi have to say about this? Have you studied the enhanced image? Have you watched them digitally outline its nose, mouth, and eyes, bringing each feature into such stark relief? How much do these on-screen scratch marks remind you of football commentary? What does all this mean? How did the face get there? Could it be a naturally occurring geologic feature? Could it somehow be superimposed upon the surface? Or maybe it’s a physical structure—like the pyramids or Stonehenge but much more massive?

To read the rest of “A Rogue Planet,” click here.

Interview: Kelly Link

In Kelly Link’s stories, teenage girls buy robotic Vampire Boyfriends, astronauts tell ghost stories in outer space, superheroes hold conventions in hotels, and rabbits become creatures of bizarre menace. Get in Trouble, Kelly Link’s fourth collection, was recently a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. But Link has long had a loyal following, and it’s easy to see why. It’s clear that Link herself has fun with her fiction, and that energy is infectious. Here, we talk with Link about playing with genre conventions, short stories vs. novels, and the use of unreal elements in her stories.

kelly link

One of the things that I love about your stories is that they mix so many different genres. In your latest collection, Get in Trouble, astronauts tell ghost stories and horror stories (“Two Houses”). Many of your stories contain superheroes and supervillians (“Secret Identity,” “Origin Story”). And still others are populated by magical, otherworldly creatures (“The Summer People”). When you are writing, are you aware of the ways in which your stories are playing with particular traditions? How does this inform your technique?

Hi! Thank you! Look, when I think about writing at all, I’m usually thinking about genre and, more generally, about the conventions (the expectations that readers have) of certain kinds of story shapes. Most of the stories in the new collection started out with me thinking things like: how can I tell a ghost story on a space ship? What informs a ghost story if the people in it are isolated in every possible way from their own history, their own families, and the natural world? Or: what’s my entry point into a superhero story? Well, what if I set it in an abandoned theme park in the mountains of North Carolina? Even the one non-genre story in the collection, “The Lesson” is influenced by me thinking about genre in the sense that the rule for writing it was: I won’t utilize ghosts or monsters or genre elements here, so what can I put into a story that disorders/disarranges/estranges a reader in lieu of the fantastic element?

Up to this point, you have made your name as a short story writer. In my opinion the current literary environment puts a lot of pressure on writers to publish debut novels. Did you ever feel the pressure to write a novel early on?

It did seem clear enough, yes, that it would be easier to publish a debut novel than a debut collection. We started a press because we realized that there was a niche for short story collections, particularly collections that had at least a toe in genre. But on the other hand, I didn’t feel any particular pressure to write a novel because I wanted with all of my heart to write short stories. I want to write short stories even when I don’t like writing them. I don’t actually like writing. But I want (and wanted) to write short stories enough that it seemed worth doing despite how awful and difficult and uncomfortable it can be, figuring out how to make a short story work. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to write exactly the kind of things that I want to write, and to be published in the kinds of magazines that I most wanted to be published in. The initial goal—figuring out how to make a particular short story work in such a way that I felt satisfied with it—is still the thing that I feel I ought to pay attention to. Everything else is going much better than I ever expected.

It’s only in the last three years that I’ve had any desire at all to write something novel-shaped. And it’s more sideways than that. The stories that I wrote got longer and longer, and finally Holly Black pointed out to me that whether or not I meant to, I was headed in the direction of a novel. And I should be clear that even when I had no plans to write a novel, it was pleasurable to know that there were people who were enthusiastic about the idea of a novel, especially when I had no intention of writing one. Now that I’m writing one, it’s much less pleasurable. Much, much better to be the person who hasn’t written something that everyone wants, than to be the person who has written a novel that turns out not to be particularly interesting.


The Delicate Art of Character Folding

You probably knew, when you started writing, that you’d signed on for murder. I was warned well in advance: One of my favorite childhood books was Lois Lowry’s The One Hundredth Thing About Caroline, in which the title character finds the notebook of the man her mother is dating. “Eliminate the kids,” one note says. She and her brother swing into crime-fighting mode, only to discover in the end that this man, a writer, was talking about editing characters out of his work-in-progress.

Later, as I studied writing, I’d hear authors lament the characters they’d had to erase from draft two, the ones who “felt like real people” to them. Or they’d talk about the ones they kept around because, despite the fact that they served no real purpose in the narrative, they’d become old friends.

In fact, our first drafts are often overpopulated. There’s a reason: Your character needs a boss, so you invent a boss. He’s a typical boss. He wears a suit and does boss-like things. “Get me those numbers, Stan!” he says. You need someone to overhear the nighttime argument, so you invent the nosy neighbor. She’s always trimming her azaleas, of course. Naturally, she’s a widow in her sixties. Your character can’t get over someone, so you invent the ex. A cruel, beautiful ex who appears only in flashback, saying belittling things about your guy’s manhood. By halfway through a novel, you’ve got enough fictional characters to fill a cruise ship.

And how could you possibly cut any of them? If you lose the boss, you lose the whole storyline at work. You lose the neighbor, and all the pressure goes out of the fight scene. So you keep them all—which is often the wrong answer. Or you bite the bullet and have a stiff drink and sit down to cut those people, cut those scenes. Which is quite possibly the wrong answer too, and almost definitely unnecessary.

I faced this dilemma in my second novel, The Hundred-Year House. The last third of the book was vastly overpopulated. (It was set at an artists’ colony in 1929, so I needed lots of eccentrics running around. Did I need twenty of them? No.) I realized, with horror, that three characters served largely the same function. I had two celebrities there (the painter Georgia O’Keeffe and the poet Marianne Moore) and a fictional artist named Zilla Silverman. All were serene, charismatic. All spent their days working, their nights socializing with the other artists. There were differences, certainly. Moore was a baseball fan and only wore black. O’Keeffe’s husband, Alfred Stieglitz, was jealously waiting for her back in New York. Zilla was in love with a choreographer staying at the colony. I’d spent months researching O’Keeffe’s and Moore’s lives. I’d read an enormous volume of O’Keeffe’s correspondence, just to get her voice right. “Yes yes yes yes yes,” she’d written to her husband in one ecstatic overflow—and I’d put those words in her mouth in my book.

But they couldn’t all stay. Nor could they all go. I mourned for a few hours. I went for a very long walk around the grounds of the retreat where I was staying. If I’d been home, I’d have ignored the problem for days; there, I had to make a decision. I came back inside and saved my document with the date, and then I began outlining (on a scrap of notepaper) what the story would look like if these women weren’t cut, but combined. Folded carefully together like egg whites and cake batter. What would a Georgia-Marianne-Zilla hybrid look like? What would she do? Well, for starters, the fact that she’d have a jealous husband would make the relationship with the choreographer much more interesting. And of course she could dress in black. Why not? She could share Moore’s wicked sense of humor. I’d name her Zilla (I was a little worried all along about O’Keeffe or Moore feeling like superfluous cameos), but the painting she’d be working on that summer on would recognizably, to O’Keefe fans, be Oak Leaves, Pink and Gray. She could be famous. Everyone could know about the nude portraits her photographer husband had exhibited of her. She could say “Yes yes yes yes yes.”

And suddenly I had, instead of three characters each serving one function, one character with complexities and contradictions and nuance. I had a human being more three-dimensional than any of my original characters had been. (more…)

Interview With C. Michael Curtis – Fiction Editor for The Atlantic

C. Michael Curtis has been editing fiction for The Atlantic since the sixties, publishing writers like Ann Beattie, Tobias Wolff, and Joyce Carol Oates, to name a few. We spoke with him about the experience of publishing authors early in their careers as well as the value of short fiction in a publication that also publishes, news, culture, and politics. The Atlantic stands among a select few as a publication that readers and writers value for its quality and tenure — a real literary heavy-hitter. An enormous thanks to Mr. Curtis for discussing what The Atlantic looks for in fiction submissions, its attitude toward the slush pile, and advice for new writers.

atlantic editor

You’ve been editing fiction for The Atlantic since 1963 and have been Fiction Editor for the magazine since 1982. What stories and authors stand out most to you after five decades?

This is one of those “which-of-your-children-do-you-love-most?” questions. They all stand out, though for different reasons. We’re naturally pleased when we find and publish a writer with little or no track record, then watch as that writer becomes a substantial critical and often economic success.

The “beginning” writers I remember most are the ones who have become hugely successful, virtual household names: Joyce Carol Oates, Raymond Carver, and Louise Erdrich are among the most notable, but others whose first major publication was in The Atlantic include Ann Beattie, Bobby Ann Mason, Ethan Canin, James Alan McPherson, Tobias Wolff, John Sayles, and many others.

What was it like watching writers who were relatively unknown at the time become celebrated authors?

As above, we take great pleasure in the successes of Oates, Carver, and Erdrich, but we know that other editors have spotted their talents and rewarded them accordingly.

We also know, sometimes with discomfort, how difficult the struggle was. Erdrich, for example, began submitting her stories while still a Dartmouth undergraduate, and was still in her late 20’s before a story clicked with Atlantic editors. Carver was turned away for years, perhaps because otherwise shrewd editors failed to grasp that Carver’s blue collar lingo and settings masked a heartfelt understanding of working class anomie, that Carver’s troubled middle American was struggling with classic challenges of parenthood, class dignity, alcoholism, and spiritual numbness. Oates, whose earliest stories I read while assisting at Epoch, was both young and prolific while a writing student at Syracuse. She wrote then as “J. C. Oates,” and wrote stories fueled by drinking, violence, domestic wandering, and broken-down Chevrolets. I pictured “J. C Oates” as a scruffy garage mechanic with a sour view of humanity, someone I wouldn’t want to meet on a dark night. But whose writing, relentless as it was, had to be admired.

After I joined The Atlantic staff, taking leave from my graduate studies in Government, I soon encountered a submission from Joyce Carol Oates (mystery solved), which was way too long for Atlantic purposes and, we thought, oddly titled. After cutting and editing, and with a new title, the story appeared in The Atlantic and was subsequently chosen for inclusion in the next year’s O. Henry Collection, and identified as the “best story of the year.”

The Atlantic allows for unsolicited submissions. Do you still read stories from the slush? Can you comment on how many stories you publish from the slush pile in a year?

The Atlantic does continue to read every story submitted for consideration, though some require more careful attention than others. Stories in the latter category are dogged by bad spelling, bad grammar, bad language, and uncertain outcomes. We have always made room for stories by beginners or little-published writers, for a time publishing as many as a dozen or so each year. In those days, however, The Atlantic published several stories in each issue. In the 80’s the number dropped to one story per issue, and in recent years we have found room for fiction only periodically. Even so, The Atlantic’s appetite for work from the unannounced, remains firm.

What do you look for in a story? The quality of fiction in The Atlantic is always high, but with so little space available, how does one decide which stories to publish?

What do we look for in a story? Distinctiveness in the use of language, in both exposition and dialogue; plot mechanics that move the story along (less about “how things are,” more about “how things change”); control of language formalities (spelling, grammar, aptness, persuasiveness, sentence structure, etc.); and imagination. As for deciding which story to publish, of the selection available in our inventory, we take into account length, imminent publication (in a book) and fitness, given the other ingredients that make up an issue. In recent years we’ve kept our inventory small, not wishing to buy stories for which we never seem to have room. That has meant, in recent years, some taking and editing stories we then felt obliged to turn loose, wishing to give writers other opportunities. (more…)

Featured Fiction: “Creation Story” by Katie Chase

We’re so pleased to present the first piece of fiction for Short Story Month, “Creation Story” by Portland, Oregon, author Katie Chase. Chase’s work has been called brilliant, nuanced, fraught, and mysterious, and this piece, which appears in her debut collection from A Strange Object out May 10th, is each of these things. A city burns every year the night before Halloween, a girl walks a dead mall with her friends, and a sister comes to understand her brother.

“All his life, my brother must have felt that same flickering heat of a city set aflame inside him.”

An orange flame burning the roof of a little paper house

The last time the city burned, my brother didn’t stay for cake. Soon as we finished dinner, he pushed his chair out from the table and came back smelling of cologne. “I’m going out,” he announced.

Dad glanced at Mom, who tried to keep her face from falling. She’d already pushed the candles in. Black cake showed in rings where each had plunged through the vanilla, like soil under snow. I’d been playing with the plastic lighter, but now Dad took it, tossed it down beside the stack of paper plates. “Out where?” he demanded.

Out.” Daniel scowled and drew his hood over his head, his parting gesture anytime he left the house. Dark fuzz lay like a shadow between his nose and lip. Around his neck a gold chain glinted. He’d told Mom it wasn’t real, but I knew where he’d gotten it: at a pawnshop. The TV was on in the next room, and on the screen a news reporter wearing puffy gloves stood before a bungalow where flames licked out boarded windows. They cut to a helicopter shot of black smoke billowing from a forsaken factory I remembered seeing from the freeway.

Every birthday of my brother’s life, the city burned and our parents bade us stay in. When we were little, we made masks out of cardboard, painted to look tribal and fierce, and wore them watching from the window for suspicious activity. Specifically: people on foot, people with no business being here, darting stealthily between trees, carrying battered cans of gasoline. Our house was in a suburb seven miles from the city limits, and though we’d kept the cordless with us on the carpet, a girlish twin to Daniel’s bat, we’d never had to dial 911. The next night we could celebrate; the next night was Halloween, and we’d be giddy, the neighborhood ours again. We roved the streets as rowdy bands of shiny, store-bought superheroes, clutching clean pillowcases full of loot.

This was what I thought of as tradition, but how long had it been like this? There was a gap between us of five years, a space that could have accommodated the birth of other siblings. In recent years Daniel sat sulking in the living room, sneaking out for surreptitious smokes, and I watched the street alone. Now he was sixteen, one step closer to adult. Looped in his thumb was a clinking new set of keys.

“Don’t go anywhere stupid,” Dad said, meaning south, into the city.

“There’s only stupid places to go,” Daniel muttered and banged out the door.

As Mom got up to watch the car back out of the driveway, I swiped a swoop of frosting from the cake. That afternoon I’d helped her bake it, piped the border on myself. More for us, then, I thought. By the time Mom returned, bolting the lock, Dad had punched the volume up and turned his chair.

Without looking at Mom or me, he said, “We should never have gotten him that car.”

“Can I light them?” I asked.

To read the rest of “Creation Story,” click here.

Cover-3-name“Creation Story” is excerpted from Katie Chase’s recent story collection Man & Wife, out May 10th from Austin publisher, A Strange Object. To learn more about Katie’s collection or to order a copy, click here

The Short Story Today: Stories vs. Novels

story today 2

Just weeks ago at AWP, an entire Los Angeles convention center was filled with writers and readers attending panels and carrying literary magazines dedicated almost entirely to the short story. In this context, the moniker, “no one reads short stories,” is ironic. But outside those walls, sadly, it’s true. As any of the conference goers would tell you: big publishers aren’t as interested in story collections because they just “don’t sell.”

In an article on story collections vs. novels, Becky Tuch, editor of The ReviewReview, addresses this imbalance by examining publishing’s bias toward the novel.

Tuch’s article concludes that because commercial magazines have less of a budget—and thus less space—for short stories, commercial readership has developed a preference for the novel. Not surprisingly though, her article quotes a number of agents and writers expressing fondness for, and even a partiality toward, short stories. Maud Newton says: “‘I personally love short story collections… Some of the best literature—and entertainment—I’ve ever read were story collections.’”

Editor-in-Chief of, Lincoln Michel, who recently published the short story collection Upright Beasts, argues that the structure of major literary awards might also play a part. He asserts that that, too often, big prizes dwarf the accomplishments of storywriters and applaud novelists. Michel writes: “In theory, it is nice to have short story collections compete with novels in these awards… But in reality, they rarely win.”

There are few highlights of story collections winning major literary awards: Interpreter of Maladies won a Pulitzer in 1999 and two recent National Book Awards have gone to story collections: Adam Johnson’s Fortune Smiles (though it’s worth noting his novel won a Pulitzer first) and Phil Klay’s Redeployment. Another notable win was Alice Munro, who received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature for a career focused exclusively on short fiction. Lydia Davis, too, won the Man Booker for her collected works, Can’t and Won’t. And wins aside, recent nominees have also been short story writers. Two collections were National Book Award finalists last year, and George Saunders’ Tenth of December was among the finalists in 2013. This year the Pulitzer finalists included the story collection, Get In Trouble by Kelly Link, which was as notable for being a collection of stories as it was for operating in the speculative fiction genre.

These recent awards and nominations are anemic compared to the coverage novels receive in the same categories, but it might suggest a momentum gain. Though it’s interesting to note that both Saunders and Link—two authors who up to this point were exclusively short story writers— are working on novels. Why? (more…)

May is Short Story Month!

short story month_2016 other

Each May we celebrate Short Story Month by showcasing our favorite form. Guest editors and writers join us for thirty days of essays, interviews, and original fiction. Here’s what we have lined up for 2016.

In an essay on character folding, Rebecca Makkai discusses how to effectively combine characters. Contributions from Masters Review editors Kim Winternheimer and Sadye Teiser include an essay on the short story in today’s literary climate and an examination of The Strange in fiction. We also have exclusive interviews with recent Pulitzer Prize finalist and famed short story writer, Kelly Link, and The Atlantic’s Fiction Editor, C. Michael Curtis. Writers Thomas Pierce and Katie Chase are contributing original stories, and we cap off the month with a look at “stories that teach,” examples from guest writers on the stories they loved and why.

Our Short Story Award for New Writers also begins this month, with submissions opening May 15th. $2000, publication, and agency review from three agents goes to the winner. Runners up also earn cash prizes, publication, and agency review. It’s going to be a great month, so keep an eye on all our happenings!

short story month_details 2016