WINNER – “Burning” by Adeline Lovell
This story had me from the first sentence—the promise of dramatic potential, the ultimate question, the end of the world. I was moved to tears by Henry and Leo, and I gasped with delight in these richly cinematic scenes (what euphoria in a Target). “Burning” is a particular kind of American story, a road trip tale announcing itself with a reference to The Road on the first page. I love watching these characters form a close bond out of the most difficult circumstances. “Do you think it will hurt?” Henry whispers, and Leo tightening his hand says, “No, it’ll be quick.” I was with these characters in that moment, feeling their emotions, the deep sadness between them but also such beauty and hope. Simply lovely. I will think about this story for a long time to come. – Kali Fajardo-Anstine, guest judge
Contact Information: firstname.lastname@example.org
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. I am a sophomore at Smith College majoring in English with a focus in creative writing and Study of Women and Gender. “Burning” is my first piece of published work.
As a writer, I am drawn to quiet, intimate stories about complicated relationships under strain from outside and inner factors. Burning was a slight deviation from what I usually write about, which tends to focus on an ‘outsider’ in a high-stakes dynamic: a woman returning to her father’s deathbed, shunned by her family for leaving her hometown; a young man on a trip with his girlfriend’s absurdly wealthy family; a self-proclaimed progressive college student forced to confront her morals when her father is exposed for abuse. Not all, but most of my stories focus around LGBT main characters, sometimes with identity as the main tension, but more likely not.
I am currently working on an untitled novel about two women and their relationship over several years. It begins in high school, as a fervent summer fling between Valerie, living in a small town in South Carolina still reeling from a long-ago family tragedy, and Mia, who is visiting a resort there with her wealthy family and semi-famous producer father. The first section focuses on the tenderness and thrill of a first love between two girls who, though socially, economically, and geographically are from very different worlds, feel astonished at the fortune of not only having found each other but having found romantic love in a world where soft, happy, age-appropriate love between women is scarcely celebrated or shown. Over that summer, and the course of a long-distance relationship, it becomes apparent that there are differences between them that both are too immature to confront or accommodate. Nine years later, Mia is an A-list actress with a career built on nepotism, and Valerie has broken away from a deeply dysfunctional family, and they are reunited and forced to come to terms with their pasts, circumstances, and what they were and are to one another.
My influences include Elizabeth Strout, Hanya Yanagihara, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Brit Bennet, Ocean Vuong, Mary Gaitskill, Jhumpha Lahiri, Annie Proulx, and Roxane Gay. After finishing undergrad, I hope to pursue a degree from an MFA program.
Interview with the Author at The Masters Review
SECOND PLACE – “Matchbox” by Nancy Ludmerer
I was first pulled into “Matchbox” by the strength of the writer’s voice. The prose is conversational and natural yet filled with striking moments of wisdom, an attention to language that amplifies and reflects human nature. Through stark realism “Matchbox” presents a story rife with thematic questions, the weight of our crimes, nature versus nurture, betrayal, and love. Vast ideas populate this story but do not weigh down this swiftly moving narrative of two sisters, identical twins, Candace and Lottie. I was intrigued by their characterization and found myself both charmed and saddened by their actions, which speaks to the power of this story. Candace and Lottie’s story might probe questions of the highest order, but they are also deeply complex and individualistic characters, women who are rounded, complex, flawed, and capable of change. – Kali Fajardo-Anstine, guest judge
Long before Lottie shows you the Times article, you found the studies showing that identical twin embryos, from the same fertilized egg, start to be different a month after conception. During the first trimester they undergo an average of 300 genetic mutations. Also called copy errors. You love and hate that name: copy errors. One of your tasks at work is to make sure there are no copy errors when an evidence book is prepared for a judge or arbitrator. But copy errors in identical twins are inevitable. They’re what make you different from Lottie.
Contact Information: email@example.com
I am a writer and retired attorney living in New York City. For 30-plus years I was a litigator at a large firm, writing short fiction while working full-time. For much of that time, I was also a single parent, raising my son. In my legal work I represented an array of alleged wrongdoers and claimants, from prisoners with mental illness and their families, illegal immigrants, victims of domestic violence, and Holocaust survivors (these were all pro bono clients) to Italian bankers, New York politicians, underground utility workers and engineers, and lawyers accused of legal malpractice. From my work with these litigants and others, I learned about point of view, motivation, deception, greed, and desperation. I found that both writing and law require looking beneath the surface.
In April 2018, after years fitting my writing into weekends and vacations, I retired and turned to writing full-time. My stories have appeared in Kenyon Review, Electric Literature, Litro, the Saturday Evening Post, Masters Review (twice), New Orleans Review, Best Small Fictions, Cimarron Review, and many other places. My non-fiction is in Literal Latte (“Kritios Boy,” named a notable essay in Best American Essays 2014), Green Mountains Review, The American Lawyer, Vogue, and Brain, Child. In February 2020, my story “A Simple Case” won the fiction prize in Carve Magazine’s Prose & Poetry Contest, and in late 2020, in addition to “Matchbox,” two other stories won prizes: first prize in Pulp Literature’s Raven Short Story Contest (“Good Intentions”), and first prize in Streetlight Magazine’s flash fiction competition (“Mayim”). Last year I also put together a collection, “A Simple Case and Other Stories” (a mix of full-length stories and flash fiction) and a chapbook, “Some Things Happen Twice” (full-length essays and flash fiction). A second source of material is my interest in Jewish culture, particularly figures outside the mainstream, including World War I poet Isaac Rosenberg and a 19th-century female Hasidic rebbe, Hannah Rochel Verbermacher. Finally, my experiences as a single mom and caring for my own mom during her declining years (she died in 2018 at age 98) provide thematic material as well.
My work – whether short story, flash, or essay – is peopled by characters I care deeply about, characters I believe my readers haven’t met before. They include:
- a court reporter who finds that witnesses’ testimony about a fatal car accident illuminates her own life (“A Simple Case,” the Carve prize-winner);
- a wedding photographer still haunted by a fellow camper’s death, who recalls her interrogation by a police detective when she was twelve (“The Russian Girl” in Literal Latte);
- a young American lawyer who goes to London for a conference, wondering if she will find traces of her runaway British husband there (“A Summons to England” in The Saturday Evening Post).
“The Loneliness Cure,” a 7800-word story about a female Hasidic rebbe who lived in Poland in the early 19th century, is currently under submission, as is another new story, “Dream Job,” in which an employment agency executive on the verge of retirement cannot forget the young woman she sent to a job at the World Trade Center fifteen years earlier.
I am inspired by the greats, from Joyce, Chekhov, Paley, and Olsen to Munro, Trevor, Yiyun Lee, and Edith Pearlman (another “late bloomer”). I’ve been privileged to study with terrific writers, beginning with John Edgar Wideman and Kristin Hunter at the University of Pennsylvania many decades ago and including, most recently, Karen Bender.
Link to other work: “A Simple Case” published in Carve Magazine
Interview with the Author at The Masters Review
THIRD PLACE – “Como La Flor” by Dayna Cobarrubias
“Como La Flor” is a fascinating story that explores the bonds between two women, Mari and Delia, their connection to one another and the ways we come together and apart. I was impressed and intrigued by the subtle attention to these strong women characters, their psychology, their passions, cultural and class differences, and their longing for family and togetherness that permeates the entire story. “Como La Flor” asks questions of race, assimilation, class, and privilege in a way that feels naturalistic and carefully observed. Above all else, this story feels honest, and that level of truthfulness is part of what makes literature feel like magic. – Kali Fajardo-Anstine, guest judge
Delia tsked, a sound Mari had grown accustomed to hearing from all the women in her family. The tsks all meant different things; tsk what an asshole, tsk his loss, tsk that’s so sad, tsk how will you get remarried at your age, tsk you have no kids to show for it, tsk, tsk, tsk. Delia’s tsk was thick with pity. “But you so pretty, Miss,” like it was a shame her good looks were going to waste without a husband. Mari wished beauty was the antidote for a lasting marriage. She would have nailed it.
Contact Information: firstname.lastname@example.org
I am a third generation Angelena and non-profit executive in education. I am an alumna of Voices of Our Nation (VONA) Summer Workshop, Tin House Summer Workshop, and a graduate of Stanford University.
Growing up as a third-generation middle-class Chicana, I grappled with both privilege and marginalization in predominantly white educational institutions. I felt isolated from my “culture” and the whitest brown girl alive yet still out of place in a world in which I was supposed to belong due to my middle class status and American-ness. This experience has directly influenced my work and the questions that I raise regarding Latinx identity.
As a writer, I hope to contribute to shaping new identity narratives and broaden existing ones in Latinx literature. The predominant Latinx narrative in current fiction is often closely linked to a struggle narrative connected to a first or even second-hand experience of immigration and poverty. While these represent critical and essential narratives, my aim as a writer is to examine the role race, ethnicity, gender, and class play for diasporic communities when they are upwardly mobile and generations removed from the immigrant experience. Much of my work is a form of individual processing, a way to unpack and heal the scars of assimilation. I’m currently working on two projects, a story collection — of which “Como La Flor” is a part — and a novel, Battle at St. Martha’s.
In “Como La Flor” I tackle themes of racial authenticity and ambivalence by narrowing in on the gap between who the main character Mari believes she is supposed to be and who she actually is. Mari’s insecurities and contradictions are reflected back to her through her relationship with her housekeeper Delia who shares her ethnic identity but lacks Mari’s class and citizenship privilege. This story, like much of my work, is inspired by my own failures to be “good” at any of the identities projected upon me. It is part of a larger story collection that explores the different strategies privileged women of color use to survive a white patriarchal society and the battle wounds they incur and inflict upon themselves in this process of navigating career, relationships, and fertility. In another story, a divorced woman dabbles for the first time in interracial and online dating, yet is forced to define her values when she meets the man of her dreams, Latino, successful, and educated, yet is confronted by his xenophobic political views. In another, the relationship of a couple, once bonded by their racial identity politics in college, is tested when they disagree over what to name their child surfacing their disparate views on their aspirations.
I am currently working on my first novel, The Battle at St. Martha’s, which tackles many of these same themes during a critical moment of identity formation in adolescence. Battle at St. Martha’s captures Felicity’s coming of age as a privileged, ambitious brown girl who battles the daily microaggressions of private school life while struggling to find self-acceptance. According to her name, Felicity Campos is supposed to be happy. Daughter to Mexican-American yuppies, Felicity is growing up in the suburbs amidst a racially charged, anti-immigrant backdrop of Los Angeles in the 1990s. As her name foretold, she is lucky enough to enroll in prep school, tennis classes, and skiing lessons. Her Spanish is limited to pet names and swear words and she doesn’t consider herself different until she meets her new classmates, the “Legacy Girls” at St. Martha’s Academy. As a middle-class “coconut,” she struggles to connect with both her Mexican background and prep school culture. When her mom enrolls her in St. Martha’s, Felicity is suddenly caught in-between worlds: her parents want her to take advantage of the perks of private school while still being a good Catholic daughter; her friends who initially bonded by being the “other” girls of color are preoccupied with fitting in with the popular (aka white) girls; and her first-gen boyfriend, Miguel, wants her to get over her virginity fears. As Felicity is forced to decide where she will go to college, she must also come to terms with defining her own desires. I currently have 50,000 words completed and see this book as lying somewhere between I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez, Who Put This Song On? by Morgan Parker and Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld.
Some of my influences include Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Danielle Evans, Morgan Parker, Danzy Senna, Justin Torres, Junot Diaz, Sandra Cisneros, and Kali Fajardo-Anstine. My fiction and non-fiction has been featured in PANK and The Seventh Wave.
Link to other work: “Reckoning with Brown” published at [PANK]
Interview with the Author at The Masters Review
HONORABLE MENTION – “Petrified” by Clare Howdle
Inside with us, Our Boy feels safe. We invite the gaps between the gaps in him to widen, filling them with stone, cement, plaster. We muddy the boundaries of what is him and what is in between.
Contact Information: email@example.com
As a reader, I’ve always been drawn to stories where I’m immersed in worlds and ideas that make me see things differently. As a fiction writer too, it’s most often where I start. I’m interested in the complex dynamics of human relationships and how our perspectives, experiences and circumstances shape who we are. My writing explores the blurring boundary between reality and possibility, often with a dark undertone; all in a futile attempt to understand the world around us. My longer projects include a work-in-progress short story collection focused on our connection to water, and my first novel, Dusk in the Bones for which I am currently seeking representation.
Dusk in the Bones tells the story of Grace Bosanko, a woman fighting to uncover the truth behind a childhood tragedy while her family fights back to keep it buried. Channeling Daisy Johnson’s dark spirit and Tessa Hadley’s familial observation, cut through with du Maurier-esque Cornish Gothic, the novel explores issues of freedom, control and power in the bonds we form.
In 1978, Grace’s great uncle returns to Cornwall from Rhodesia and over the course of a summer hacks a hole in his sister’s house, sticks his bare feet through the wall and takes his own life. Twenty-four years later and spurred on by the death of her grandmother, Grace is forced to confront the long-hidden secrets about her great uncle’s demise and find a way to survive them.
Through the shifting perspectives of Grace as a child and adult, recalled conversations, discovered letters and clippings, Grace finds herself wrestling with what truth really means, the realities we shape for ourselves and what people will do for the ones they love.
A literary commercial novel, Dusk in the Bones takes inspiration from stories of my grandmother’s house on the Cornish coast and her husband’s experiences in colonial Zimbabwe, where white minority rule dominated, shaped and damaged the lives of millions until 1980.
I am a copywriter, editor and brand strategist living in Cornwall, UK where I run my own content agency. On the fiction side, I’ve been published in The Sunday Times, Popshot magazine and Cornish Short Stories (History Press, 2018) among others. In 2019 and 2020 my short stories were longlisted for the Bath Short Story Award and Mslexia Short Story Prize and shortlisted for the Grindstone Literary Prize.
Link to other work: “Outside, In” published at Stranger Collective
Interview with the Author at The Masters Review