In 2010, the U.S. economy was recovering from a recession. Many magazines and newspapers either went out of business or moved their print publications online. Writer Kim Winternheimer listened to concerns about the potential death of physical books. She watched the demise of the Best New American Voices anthology. But rather than despair, she started The Masters Review as a way of celebrating emerging writers in an online literary journal.
“I made a deal with myself to stick with it through a lot of challenges,” she says. “Part of the game is staying in the game.”
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Nine years later, staff at The Masters Review publish fiction and narrative nonfiction as well as book reviews and interviews on their blog. They host contests for short stories and flash fiction and publish an annual print anthology of stories by emerging writers, judged by best-selling authors such as Roxane Gay and Aimee Bender. They maintain a submission category titled “New Voices,” open to new authors who haven’t yet published a novel or a book of nonfiction, and pay them for their work.
Tone, editorial content
Winternheimer and other staff at The Masters Review like to see pieces by writers who’ve taken the time to understand their characters’ growth through action and dialogue. “We want to see writers doing that character work to show that story is taking place on both a plot level and a literary level,” she explains. “It’s about characterization as much as plot trajectory.”
“We have limited space, and it’s always heartbreaking to reject a strong piece. People give up too soon.”
Editors offer the option of paying for a one- to two- page editorial letter that provides detailed feedback on a submission. Potential contributors learn what’s working in a story and where they might want to revise. Furthermore, editors suggest magazines that would be a good fit for the piece. “Writers always are craving that kind of feedback and really appreciative of it,” Winternheimer says.
Winternheimer particularly enjoyed Katie Knoll’s story “Red,” available to read on The Masters Review’s website. The story won the magazine’s 2016 Summer Short Story Award and later became a finalist for best short fiction in the Shirley Jackson Awards.
Knoll’s story begins:
“Before, we were blue. Bluer than robins’ eggs,
bluer than the tiny veins in our wrists and some
of our eyes. Even our skin was blue: palms,
fingernails, elbows and knees. Our mothers weren’t
as skilled before, and the dye from our clothes stuck
to us. Then the dye ran out, and our skin over time
unstained, and only our clothes were blue.”
“It’s a wonderfully lyrical coming of age piece, full of color and imagery and allegory,” Winternheimer says. “We’re so appreciative that it landed in our camp and then was recognized outside of our publication.”
Editors also enjoyed Ruth Joffre’s “Night Beast,” which won The Masters Review’s 2016 Fall Fiction Contest. It’s about a woman attending her brother’s wedding with the knowledge that his betrothed has had an intimate relationship with her while sleepwalking.
“It’s done so thoughtfully and with such care,” Winternheimer says. “We’re so proud of that piece. On a sentence level, it’s extremely strong, with wonderful interiority. She understands her characters so well.”
Advice for potential contributors
Editors at The Masters Review receive many stories written with a sort of formal distance, in Ernest Hemingway’s style. Winternheimer thinks this may be because they don’t yet understand the elements of their story. “So instead of adding depth and letting things layer, the piece ends up feeling empty,” she explains.
A wealth of interviews and reviews on the magazine’s blog give potential contributors insight into editors’ preferences in storytelling, along with writers’ insights into the process of creating characters and plot for a published piece.
The editors appreciate tenacity in prospective contributors. “We’ll see the same people submit to us three times a year, and we’ll begin to recognize a name and set the piece aside for further consideration,” Winternheimer explains. “I sometimes think people don’t realize how close they are to the finish line. We have limited space, and it’s always heartbreaking to reject a strong piece. People give up too soon.”
She cites a writer who once submitted a piece and opted for an editorial letter. “Two years later, I got an email from her, and the story had been picked up by Glimmer Train. She stuck with it, got feedback, worked on the piece, and landed in an amazing journal.”
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). melissahart.com.