WINNER – “Homeboy” by Nancy Garcia
From the first line, I was enraptured by the voice of Cielo. High energy, pitch-perfect dialogue, and quick intelligent humor weave through this aching, pining, and surprising story about unrequited love. “HOMEBOY” utilizes a voice I’d follow a lot longer than just these pages, and showed supreme control over the direct address form, that, when done this well, creates the perfect stage for exploring years and years with expert compression. It punched to the very end. I loved it. – Chelsea Bieker, guest judge
Contact Information: email@example.com
At the turn of the century, with a baby strapped to her back, my great-grandmother left a burning town in rural Mexico on foot and began her trek to Mexico City to begin her second life. My great-grandfather was presumed dead, captured and killed by a rebel army. My grandfather would grow up in Mexico City and so would his daughters. One of them was my mother. But in 1974, she would buy a one-way bus ticket from Mexico City to Dallas. There she would meet my father at a Latino church where he played the piano.
Soon after my parents married, my story, and that of my four siblings, begins. There is a wall of diplomas in my childhood home that speak to ways in which we have “won.” Look at what we’ve accomplished in three short generations, nine college degrees among us.
Yet, whenever I make my way South, I feel the heaviness of my parents’ American Dream etched in the calluses on my father’s hands, among the grief lines of my mother’s mouth. I wrestle with the price of my freedom, the price of my education. I know others do too. When I left home, I too was searching like the women before me. This my part of our story. Beneath each story is another not yet written.
Nowadays, I lay my hat in Westfield, Massachusetts. I work at Smith College and teach part-time in the field of ethics and community-based learning. My fiction has been anthologized via Shepherd University’s Appalachian Writers Series, and can be found online at The Acentos Review, as well as in podcast form via LatinX Audio Mag. My writing lives in a multiverse of super sad true love stories, Chicana culture, desolate spaces, and women at work.
In my book club, we read about conmadres, santería, the death grip of the Catholic Church on the Mexican imagination; we read about mothers letting their daughters go. I find radical empathy transformative about literature. Once, I traveled as a seed of hope to where I am now, this slippery space that feels a little Lynchian, a reality stranger and more magical than fiction.
Meditation practice has taught me to write with my body, and heal through my words. I am working on more stories in the voice of Cielo Salas, the character featured in The Masters Review. I write as the child of immigrants. I write for the Chicana in me, the geek in me, the poor suburbanite in me. I write as a mother brimming with love for her son, desperate for the power of change. I write to show a bit of who I am, and maybe what I’ve lost.
I find home at sobremesas around the kitchen table. My second home is between the pages of books, I am warmed by the words of Sandra Cisneros, Willa Cather, Yiyun Li. I want my LatinX readers to take away that we can be more than the futures imagined for us. We can be more than what we dreamed.
Link to other work: Museums in the Sky
Personal website: estapluma.com
Interview with the author at The Masters Review
SECOND PLACE – “Leap Year” by Chloe Alberta
A deeply flawed and funny character, I thought of Hollis long after reading, wondering what happened to her. At times relatable, raw, and equal measures wise and naive, this voice felt impulsive and unpredictable and yet somehow fully grounded in the well-drawn and yearning world of the Trunk House. Where else will Hollis’s misguided searching lead? I’d like to know. I’d follow the voice anywhere. – Chelsea Bieker, guest judge.
Neil was ugly in an interesting way. His eyes puffed out and his chin was tiny. But he had a great head of swoopy silver hair. Hollis liked his belly, which pushed his flannel shirt away from the rest of his spindly body like he’d tucked a small melon inside. His nose hairs poked out of their caverns and wiggled around when he talked.
Contact Information: firstname.lastname@example.org
I write to explore the absurdities of femininity, bodies, sex, and relationships. I’m especially interested in experimentation and often write across genres, balancing on the line of truth and fiction, playing with form, structure, and voice. I write often about the overlap of mental and physical health, drawing inspiration from personal experiences with chronic illness, a decade of gut health issues, anorexia, and other psychological disorders.
My current project is a collection, titled Close Encounters, composed of short stories, flash fiction, and essays, which meditate on themes of heartbreak, health, sex, self-harm, impulse, and infidelity. Each piece is about reaching for human connection: with yourself, the ones you love, those you’ve hurt and been hurt by. A fledgling writer gets sex advice from Anton Chekhov. A cockroach narrates a relationship as it crumbles in a bug-infested New York apartment. A woman meets a mysterious drummer at an Icelandic ski lodge. A daughter and her father attend a Porsche rally in the Smoky Mountains, searching for something unnameable lost between them after a sexual assault. In the near future, a woman grinds her teeth to cope with climate collapse and heartbreak while the CEO of a major corporation ignites a media circus over his alleged alien abduction.
Across the fiction/nonfiction divide, the writing in Close Encounters all revolves around a similar consciousness. The main characters—often twenty-to-thirty-something women—are not the same person, but they could be. In the vein of Lauren Holmes’ Barbara the Slut, they’re living separate lives fueled by similar pains and desires. There’s a constancy about the narrative voice that ties the women together. The collection also draws inspiration from Elissa Washuta’s My Body is a Book of Rules, which circles back time and again to the same traumas and hurts—a breakup, a sexual assault, a psychiatric event—to look at them in new ways, to try to understand them by bringing them into new contexts and forms.
In addition to the collection, I’m in the early stages of a novel, Meal Support, which is loosely based on a piece of flash fiction I published in Wigleaf. It’s about Isobel, a woman who moves in with her sister in the Smoky Mountains to recover from an eating disorder. The house doubles as an assisted living facility run by her sister, so the novel will explore themes of life and death and the ways in which we choose one or the other. I see it taking on the mood of a contemporary gothic, with a special interest in the grotesque, especially as it pertains to food, bodies, health, and sex. So far I see the novel in conversation with other writers who consider the physical body with a specific attention that verges on the strange or surreal, like Alexandra Kleeman or Gabe Habash.
I earned my MFA from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan, where I was a Zell Fellow in fiction from 2022-2023. I have attended the Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop and the Bear River Writing Conference, and my writing has been recognized with the Henfield Prize and a Hopwood Award in Short Fiction.
Link to other work: “The C Word” in X-R-A-Y, “Meal Support” in Wigleaf, “Spaghetti Western” in HAD
Interview with the author at The Masters Review
THIRD PLACE – “The Distant Daughter” by Brenda Salinas Baker
A novel packed into a short story, the tale of Vera’s life built itself line by line into utterly surprising and powerful territory. The complexity between the mother and daughter and the force of things unsaid culminated in a final heartbreaking outcome that was deeply moving. This story felt timeless and cinematic but offered enough specificity to become something all its own. I found it haunting in the best way. – Chelsea Bieker, guest judge
Vera cleans the dirt from under her fingernails. She can’t distinguish between the ornate words her mother lances her with: Ungrateful, defiant, disturbed. They all mean the same thing: Bad.
Contact Information: email@example.com
I am fascinated by who gets to tell stories. In my work, characters engage in narrative tug-of-wars, fighting over their right to frame the truth. As a journalist and fiction writer, I am proud to work in the tradition of Katherine Anne Porter, Nora Ephron, Mariana Enriquez and Isabel Allende.
I graduated from Columbia University with a prestigious fellowship from NPR, where I mastered the art of audio storytelling. I currently work as a Senior Producer at ABC News, where I edit and produce award-winning podcasts. I had always written as a hobby, but once my journalism career was established, I wanted to take fiction more seriously. Looking for an MFA program that I could balance with my career, I found The Writer’s Foundry at St. Joseph’s University in Brooklyn. I spent evenings workshopping with Lee Clay Johnson, Cleyvis Natera, David Gates, Andrew Martin and Steven Hobbs. I also started teaching undergraduate English in the mornings. Seven of the stories I wrote during those two years have been published to date. In addition to The Masters Review, I have been finalist in fiction contests organized by The Breakwater Review, Landing Zone Magazine and Pinch Journal. I’ve also been published in The Coachella Review, Big Muddy and Solstice Literary Magazine. These stories, along with “The Distant Daughter“, are a part of my MFA thesis. Dearly Domesticated is a collection of twenty-two thematically linked stories that borrow gothic tropes to explore modern-day womanhood, femininity, and rage from a Mexican-American point of view. In the title story, the adult narrator, Carmen, looks backs at how her mother trained her to fulfill her class and gender expectations. This theme reverberates throughout the collection, which includes stories of different lengths, geographies and genres.
In the year since graduating from my MFA program, I wrote a new novel. Copy is a political thriller in the vein of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. I describe it as a sexy speculative madcap. A young narrator tells us the story of Claudia Ayala, her journalism mentor who everyone thinks went crazy over a man. Claudia is a reporter at the Austin City News who reconnects with her flaky college boyfriend, Benny, during his mayoral race. Through the course of covering his campaign, sober-minded Claudia discovers something unsettling about Benny: he often appears to be in two places at the same time. Copy is the story of what happens when personal ambitions clash. I have read every chapter out loud to my writing group and have received wonderful feedback. I will be workshopping this novel this summer at the Tin House Writer’s Conference.
Additionally, I am currently revising a domestic thriller I wrote before graduate school. I initially intended Cottonmouth to be a Mexican-American response to the feminist domestic thriller boom, but in subsequent revisions, it’s become something entirely my own. An editor I showed an earlier draft to compared the voice to Ottessa Moshfegh, whom I love. Grieving the suicide of her high-achieving journalist mother, 22-year-old Marisol Suarez signs up for a campus research study in which half of the participants interact with an AI and the other half chat with a real-life therapist. Marisol struggles with the loss of control that comes with intimacy, but she’s emboldened to investigate her mother’s complicated past. As she confronts the bystanders who felt powerless to stop the tragedy, she learns all the ways her mom was victimized and the way she victimized others. But as Marisol unravels the mystery of her mother’s death, she can’t shake the feeling that she’s been caught in someone’s trap.
I will have three full-length works ready by the end of the summer, and I’m looking forward to starting on some new projects that I have in the pipeline. My dream is to be as prolific as Isabel Allende, who starts a new novel every year even well into in her eighties. I know that type of success requires a supportive infrastructure of people committed to making sure the work reaches a wide audience. I love spending time in my own imagination, focusing on craft, and reading my work out loud to my writer’s group, but I’m ready for the next stage of my journey. I want to collaborate with talented editors who will challenge my work in new ways and encourage me to break boundaries. I want to write literature that challenges American audiences to consider the Latino community in fresh ways and, most importantly, inspires Latino audiences to boldly tell their own stories.
Personal website: https://brendapsalinas.com/literary/
Interview with the Author at The Masters Review
HONORABLE MENTION – “The Sum of All Amazements” by Lyndsie Manusos
In 1901, the first woman went over Niagara Falls in a large wooden barrel. She was the first person to go over Niagara and survive. She was in her sixties. Poor. Her husband had died shortly after the Civil War. Her name was Annie, like me.
Contact Information: firstname.lastname@example.org
The writer Ashley Ford wrote that she likes “just enough haunt” in her house. It’s the style and atmosphere I aim for in my writing. I embrace speculative fiction to accomplish this, drawing inspiration from notable writers such as Shirley Jackson, Kelly Link, Angela Carter, and Helen Oyeyemi. Since becoming a parent of two young children, I utilize that haunting factor even more, because I am haunted by my children. What are toddlers if not ever-present poltergeists, equal in intensity and destruction?
Additionally, I have always been concerned with the climate crisis, bodies that birth, and world-altering decisions. My former agent, who left publishing in Fall 2022, used a term, “mothering the speculative,” to describe my work. I speak of mothering as a gender-neutral term, as it is a form of nurturing that can be expressed in all genders. We all have figures in our lives who are more nurturing than others, who can coax love and blossoming out of those around them.
In exploring these themes, short fiction is my primary medium. I have two versions of a story collection, one that focuses on my speculative and genre writing (WHISPER SONGS, ~74K), and another that focuses on my flash and literary-leaning stories, though some speculative stories are included (THE ENCIRCLING NEVER, ~58K). In addition to The Masters Review, my stories and flash have appeared in Barrelhouse, SmokeLong Quarterly, Passages North, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed Magazine, and other publications. My flash/short fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart, appeared in a Tor.com monthly Must-Read Speculative Fiction roundup, featured in Locus Magazine reviews, and narrated in podcasts. I understand collections can be a challenge with publishers, and I recently finished my novel, WHAT THE WATERS GAVE US (~77K), an eco-speculative novel set in the Midwest, inspired by the lake town where I grew up and the history and lore of its famous and now protected lotus beds.
Additionally, I have a novella, FROM THESE DARK ABODES, ~27K, which takes place in a sprawling house with no exits, where self-proclaimed immortals unzip from their skins and dance in their skeletons. At its heart, it is a queer love story and retelling of secondary Greek gods, about a goddess and the woman she loves, exploring what we would sacrifice for love, loneliness, and the chance to break out of the skins of our situations and bodies.
While raising my children, I contend with my personal goals and milestones–creating stories, freelancing for Book Riot and Publishers Weekly, working part-time as a bookseller for Wild Geese Bookshop, and acting as a co-editor of flash fiction for jmww journal. My constant goal is to write through the anxiety and isolation that inherently comes with the role of mother and caregiver. I want to be a parent who embraces art and passion, and to be seen by my children as having that passion. As such, I hope the memories of my writing around them, to be an artist amongst them, is enough of a haunting to guide them to their own passions. To haunt and be haunted in just the right amount.
Personal website: https://lyndsiekay.wordpress.com/
Link to other work: A Case for De-Extinction at the End of the World in SmokeLong Quarterly