Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

New Voices: “When You Lived Inside the Walls” by Krishan Coupland

In Krishan Coupland’s New Voices story “When You Lived Inside the Walls,” a man’s daughter forms an unnatural bond with a swarm of otherworldly rats that is slowly taking over their house. His wife is distant, watching an endless loop of disasters on the news. Within this surreal world, Coupland depicts the love a father has for his child, and the horror he feels as she matures and begins to keep her own secrets.

Silhouette of a gray rat

There are few at first. You hear them scuttling under the floorboards, pinpoint claws clicking wood. At night you think you can discern their squeaking—so high-pitched it is almost inaudible. It is a month before you actually see one. You come into the kitchen one night, empty glass in hand, and flick on the light. A brown body—larger than you had imagined—streaks for the gap beneath the fridge.

On instinct, you throw the glass. It shatters so loud that it pierces your ears. Fragments skitter across the tiles, but the rat is already gone.

You tell Dinah about it while she sits up in bed reading the paper. On the cover are pictures of bombs detonating over foreign cities, smoke curdling into fist-shaped clouds. “We’ll have to get some traps,” you say. “Traps and poison. We have to deal with this quickly.”

“That sounds like your department, Dear,” says Dinah. “Do you want to take the car tomorrow?”

You nod. You think of your daughter Millie tucked up in bed. The rat was the size of her tiny arm. Bigger maybe. “Yes,” you say. “Yes, I will. I’ll take care of it.”

*     *     *

Millie’s school has a teacher-training day, so you take her with you to the hardware store. She likes it there—begs to come whenever you need a new lightbulb or a screw for the kitchen shelf. While you look at traps, she browses the reels of cord and chain and wiring, touching each as though she longs to unwind them.

“The ones with jaws are best,” says the man behind the counter. He’s old enough to be your father, and so you trust his wisdom. Twice he’s duplicated keys for you on the squeaky machine in the back room. You’ve always found it a marvel that a man with hands as big and broad as his can do such delicate work.

“Aren’t they dangerous?” you say. “I’ve got a little girl.”

The hardware man looks past you to where Millie is rattling a rack of graded screwdrivers like wind chimes.

Vermin are dangerous. Traps are just traps.” But he disappears into the back room and emerges with two bulky corridors of wire—humane traps. Used, he tells you, but in working condition. It isn’t until you come to load them into the back of the car that you notice the wire is stained with blood.

To read the rest of “When You Lived Inside the Walls,” click here.

New Voices: “Linger Longer” by Vincent Masterson

FALL FICTION WINNER! Today, we present the winner of our Fall Fiction Contest judged by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer: “Linger Longer” by Vincent Masterson. In this story, Lori and Michael visit a cabin in the woods for a getaway with friends. Throughout the weekend, Lori struggles to keep a clear head. Michael chalks it up to her “difficulties,” but for Lori, tracking reality becomes an increasingly blurred line.

linger longer

I. Arrivals

It was their first vacation together, a log-cabin weekend with Michael’s old friends from grad school, and Lori was determined not to ruin it. This was more her fear than his, and she had overcompensated with eager questions—Where was this Quad? Who’s Dupin? What’s absinthe?—her eyes wide and searching and wanting more. But somewhere between Tallahassee and the mountains of eastern Tennessee, Lori grew weary of Michael’s nostalgia. Her temper was tripped easily—by his voice, by the loose flapping of the Wrangler’s rag top, by a stomach upset from too many filling station snacks. Didn’t he know she never wanted to go? Why couldn’t he have left at her home with her TV and magazines, refilling her favorite blue mug with dark wine?

She pressed her forehead to the cold window, thinking of the stupid questionnaire Dr. Ryerson had given her during a session earlier that week. I sometimes have strong feelings that do not seem like mine, score from 0 to 10. Focus instead on your breathing, she thought. Conjure tranquil images: pristine mountains, waterfalls, softly falling snow. Beside her, she could feel Michael coiling tightly. The last hour of Lori’s sulky shrugs and one-word answers had finally burned up the last of his good cheer. How many miles had they driven in that bitter and troublesome silence? She didn’t know. A phrase lifted in Lori’s mind, a father’s frequent advice to his inscrutably moody little girl, Please, honey, just try to have fun.

She reached over and squeezed Michael’s knee.

“I love you.” She winced to hear herself. I love you? It was overblown and over-sudden and, worse, it wasn’t what she meant. What she meant was, I’m sorry, it’s just me, I’m trying to snap out of it. What it meant was, Can’t you just pretend I’m happy, or that you are?

To read the rest of “Linger Longer,” click here.

Author Interview – “County Maps” by Joe Worthen

The third volume of The Masters Review, with stories selected by Lev Grossman, is available now and garnering excellent reviews. To celebrate, we’re conducting interviews with the ten wonderful authors our anthology features. In Joe Worthen’s story “County Maps,” a girl attempts to discover and make sense of herself by mapping the county. In this piece, writer Joe Worthen examines his characters by pairing them with a very clear sense of place. It is a quiet and direct piece, filled with nuance and texture. We’re thrilled to be publishing it.

Young woman walking in a wheat field

“They find an old motorboat flipped between two cypress trees, covered in algae. Jack walks out on it and smokes a cigarette. Suzanne looks at the shape of him and chews the edge of her pencil.”

“County Maps” is a story about a young woman who is attempting to map her county, including a small island. Where did you get the idea for this piece? Are you interested in cartography? The outdoors?

I’m not really interested in either of these topics directly. This story started with the image of younger children watching Suzanne wade across a shallow river next to an overpass. From there I added her motivation to map the island but I can’t remember why. I think it stuck because I liked the idea of a teenage girl with GPS technology documenting a gross, used-up place. Her mission sort of ramps up the faux post-apocalyptic vibe that strip mall Appalachia naturally produces.

In “County Maps” the story’s two characters, Jack and Suzanne, are trying to reconcile their feelings toward one another as they walk the island. Why did you choose to explore a relationship within this context?

There’s a sense of place in the south that people really internalize. Even though everything in Suzanne’s county is sort of busted and weird, polluted, Styrofoam cups and old cell phones, that’s her place and who she is (and who Jack is). So the characters and their histories are part of the landscape (not just the mountains and islands but the Chili’s and Texas Roadhouses and vape huts) in the same way the landscape is part of the characters. Suzanne thinks that knowing the county will allow her to know herself and her family. But she winds up getting to know Jack using the same proxy, which she sort of encourages/lets happen. It’s a more positive outcome for her probably, because it’s hopeful. I guess the mapping of the island also provides a pretty direct metaphor for navigating the day after a one-night stand.

Is “County Maps” similar to your other writing? What are you working on now?

I tend to write language intensive stories that are either very regional (like “County Maps” that deal with youth in SC) or totally magical where language and imagery drive the narrative to places that it would never go in a realistic story. So, sort of, I guess. It’s on the more realistic end of the spectrum of things that I write.

Which writers or stories do you turn to for inspiration? Where there any in particular that served as the inspiration for this piece?

“County Maps” definitely draws from Mary Miller’s Big World collection as well as Barry Hannah’s Airships. They write the sort of short stories I feel the most connected to. Where really raw, colloquial language meets up with extremely deliberate syntax and rhythm to the end of creating a poetic gloss over the prose and allowing for a sense of heightened meaning/emotionality even if the narrative itself is simple and the drama muted. (more…)

New Voices – Fiction by New Writers

Our New Voices section is the best place to find stories from talented up-and-coming authors. Each month new pieces are added to our growing archive, which offers hundreds of online stories for free. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to new writers and to see the kind of work we publish. Below we’ve listed a few of our favorite stories from the archive.

To access our full New Voices library, follow the link.


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life after teaserkimzey-teas

October Recap – Fiction, Essays, Interviews

In case you missed any of the amazing fiction, essays, or interviews we published last month, here is a list of all the goods. Enjoy!2008-08-06-a-devils-distinction


“What Happened to Eloise” by MANUEL GONZALES “At first we assumed she was the only one, the young woman with a thick smear of blood on her lips.”

“Other Dangers” by BEN HOFFMAN “The Japanese people were dust now and soon we would be dust too, if we did not line up promptly, if the Soviets had their way, if our cursive wavered, if we did not keep our voices down.”

“The Punk’s Bride” by KATE BERNHEIMER “So she went and they listened to records. They got really drunk on tequila, the kind that comes in a glass skull. The next day she made him breakfast. Then lunch. Then supper. After a few years like this he said they should get married.”

Contest Winner: “In Ribbons” by PAUL MCQUADE “He has asked grandma how Miss Pak came to be blind, but each time, grandma shook her head and said, ‘There are some things little boys shouldn’t know.’ ”


“Vocabulary of Fear” by LINCOLN MICHEL “On the surface, horror and terror seem like synonyms, but Radcliffe argues that “Terror and horror are so far opposite…” Do you know the difference between horror and terror?

“Familiar Terrors: What Scares us About The Domestic Surreal” by SADYE TEISER “These stories call into question what it is we know about the very basis of our lives. They change the constant; they make the familiar grotesque. The scariest tales tell us that nothing can be known for sure. What is more frightening than that?”

“Fear Works — Scary Stories in Children’s Literature” by KIM WINTERNHEIMER “Suddenly, the thrill of a scary story becomes more than a fun way to spend a dark evening — it becomes key to development.”


Lemony Snicket – AN UNFORTUNATE INTERVIEW: “Because it’s so absurd that it’s happening to children that the line between it being terrifying and funny is more easily straddled.”

Ellen Datlow – AWARD WINNING HORROR AND SCIENCE FICTION EDITOR: “One thing I’ve learned is that the borders are fluid. Many of the most interesting stories combine science fiction and horror, or drift uneasily between dark fantasy and horror. There is science fiction that feels like fantasy and fantasy that feels like science fiction.”

Julia Elliott – AUTHOR OF THE WILDS: To me, every text—whether religious, artistic, or scientific—is a reinvention of reality.

Freak Us Out – October at The Masters Review

We’re dedicating thirty-one days to our favorite sort of writing: the creepy, the disturbing, the scary, and the frightening.

Lucky (or unlucky) $13 earns writers a chance at a $500 prize and publication on The Masters Review. Send us your best disturbing, hair-raising, and creepy literary fiction. 

With original fiction from Manuel Gonzales of The Miniature Wife and Other Stories and Nelson Algren Award, Zoetrope, and Origami Zoo Press contest winner Ben Hoffman, there will be plenty of bone-chilling moments. We conclude the month by publishing our Scary Story Contest winner on Halloween Day. (Deadline October 15, 2014)

Electric Literature and Gigantic Magazine editor Lincoln Michel is contributing an essay on the distinctions between horror and terror, and Masters Review Founding Editor Kim Winternheimer examines fear in the field of children’s literature. Editorial Director Sadye Teiser shows us how people use the surreal to tell scary stories, and we’ve also asked 13 editors in the field to name their favorite scary story.

Storied anthology editor and horror-expert Ellen Datlow talks about her preferences in the horror genre and writer Julia Elliott, author of The Wilds (Tin House, Oct.) talks with editors about her use of gothic and gruesome textures in her writing. We are also interviewing Lemony Snicket! Novelist and children’s writer Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket) has agreed to chat about his experience writing dark themes in a genre for children as well as his experience writing fiction for adults.

Interview: Laura van den Berg

The amazing Laura van den Berg, whose second collection The Isle of Youth just made the Frank O’Connor shortlist, talks with The Masters Review about paving her own path in the arts, her upcoming novel, and her constantly shifting writers office.

vandenBerg_interviewOne of the reasons I find your career remarkable is that you, so far (and I know you have a novel out soon) have gained success purely as a storywriter in a publishing world that seems skewed toward the novel. You had a chapbook of stories with Origami Zoo Press, then What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, another story collection [with Dzanc Books] and this past year The Isle of Youth, with FSG. I guess my question is: how did you do it? Did you find it was more difficult to publish a debut collection of stories, in particular? Did you ever feel pressure to write a longer work?

I mean, the most straightforward answer is that I just did it because that was the form that was speaking to me at the time. I think sometimes it can be difficult to engineer a particular path in the arts, as much as we might want to. I love reading novels and I just finished a novel. I started with the first chapter of that novel in 2008. So certainly as I worked on the novel, I’d been writing stories along the way. For me the two forms were kind of bleeding together at a certain point, as opposed to making some sort of holistic gearshift from storywriter to novelist. Everything was a little bit more mixed together than that.

I went to an MFA program and I wrote stories for workshop and my first collection, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us . . . my MFA thesis was an early version of that book. And then what happened with the second collection, Isle of Youth, was that I started a novel in 2008 and I was working on it, and I had never written a novel before. And so it just took me much, much longer than I ever could’ve anticipated. And meanwhile, you know, I was writing stories and sending them out, etc. At a certain point I felt like the novel still wasn’t quite there, but that the collection was pretty well done, and I showed them both to my agent, and she agreed. We made the decision to send out the second collection in its completion with the first hundred pages of the novel. And certainly we heard from some editors who had difficulty with the idea of doing a second collection and thought that it would be better for me to wait until the novel was done and have a novel be my second book. The idea of doing two back-to-back collections didn’t seem viable to them. They sort of felt like it wasn’t a good strategy for me career-wise. But I don’t really believe in thinking about it that way. I was just sort of like: well, this is the book that’s finished. And I fell in love with fiction by reading short stories. The story is a form that’s very, very close to my heart. And so, I love the idea of getting to build a body of work as a storywriter. And then my editor at FSG just had a completely different take. She thought having a second collection of stories was a great way to build a readership as a storywriter before they publish my novel.

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.

I think story collections . . . there’s a lot of bad press for them in terms of salability, and it’s true that there are particular challenges with selling collections. But I think the honest truth is there are particular challenges with selling anything. So a little part of me dies when I hear someone say something like: “Well, I wrote a story collection but I know it’s not salable, so I’m working on a novel instead.” I just think of all of the people I know who have unsold novels or unsold memoirs, which are supposed to be the easiest thing to sell. The reality is that it’s all extremely difficult to sell, and so I’m not really convinced that one form is more difficult than another. (more…)

Friends in Fiction: The Short Anthology

bookThe Short Anthology  is proud to announce its first issue available online, and listen friends, this is a cool project. Each issue of The Short Anthology uses work from a photographer as inspiration for fiction.

This first issue involved writers from around the world interpreting of a set of eight photographs. The photos were taken by Joe Coleman and featured images of the sea from Turkey, Australia, and New Zealand. The stories range from science fiction set in Uganda, to a story about immigration and loneliness in Dover, UK.

It’s a great concept, and cool use of art providing inspiration for writing. For more information you can contact the editors at: editors (at) theshortanthology (dot) com. And for a better taste of their style, check out a photo from the interior, below.



Book Review: You Are One of Them


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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed by Kim Winternheimer

From the Vault: Book Review – Ablutions by Patrick deWitt

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

NYC Midnight – Short Story Challenge

NYC Midnight is doing another fun fiction challenge, this time in the format of short stories. (On occasion they’ve hosted flash fiction, screen writing, and others.) Registration is open now until February 21, 2013. Here is some more info about the contest from the site. Check it out and dust off your short story skills!

The 7th Annual Short Story Challenge is a creative writing competition open to writers around the world.  There are 3 rounds of competition.  In the1st Round (February 22-March 2, 2013), writers are placed randomly in heats and are assigned a genre, subject, and character assignment (see examples of past assignments here).  Writers have 8 days to write an original story no longer than 2,500 words.  The judges choose a top 5 in each heat to advance to the 2nd Round (April 11-14) where writers receive new assignments, only this time they have just 3 days to write a 2,000 word(maximum) short story.  Judges choose a top 25 from the 2nd Round to advance to the 3rd and final round of the competition where writers are challenged to write a 1,500 word (maximum) story in just 24 hours (May 17-18).  A panel of judges review the final round stories and overall winners are selected!