Meet our TQ2 Prose Open contest judge: Matt Bell

Matt Bell Author Photo



Matt Bell’s debut novel In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods was long-listed for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. He is also the author of two previous books, How They Were Found and Cataclysm Baby. His writing has been anthologized in Best American Mystery Stories, Best American Fantasy, and 30 Under 30: An Anthology of Innovative Fiction by Younger Writers. He teaches creative writing at Northern Michigan University. You can visit his website here.




Click here for the Prose Open contest guidelines on Submittable


About Matt’s latest book:


In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, from Soho Press




In this epic, mythical debut novel, a newly-wed couple escapes the busy confusion of their homeland for a distant and almost-uninhabited lakeshore. They plan to live there simply, to fish the lake, to trap the nearby woods, and build a house upon the dirt between where they can raise a family. But as their every pregnancy fails, the child-obsessed husband begins to rage at this new world: the song-spun objects somehow created by his wife’s beautiful singing voice, the giant and sentient bear that rules the beasts of the woods, the second moon weighing down the fabric of their starless sky, and the labyrinth of memory dug into the earth beneath their house.

This novel, from one of our most exciting young writers, is a powerful exploration of the limits of parenthood and marriage—and of what happens when a marriage’s success is measured solely by the children it produces, or else the sorrow that marks their absence.


“This is a fiercely original book—at once intimate and epic, visceral and philosophical—that sent me scurrying for adjectives, for precedents, for cover. Matt Bell commands the page with bold, vigorous prose and may well have invented the pulse-pounding novel of ideas.” —Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins and We Live in Water

“Matt Bell does not write sentences—he writes spells. He is not a novelist—he is a mystic. This book, which will grip you in an otherwordly trance, reads like something divined from tea leaves or translated from a charcoal cipher on a cave wall.” —Benjamin Percy, author of Red Moon, The Wilding, and Refresh, Refresh

In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods is a big, slinking, dangerous fairy tale, the kind with gleaming fangs and blood around the muzzle and a powerful heart you can hear thumping from miles away. The story’s ferocity is matched by Matt Bell’s glorious sentences: sinuous and darkly magical, they are taproots of the strange.” —Lauren Groff, author of Arcadia

“There is a power here that is almost overwhelming. The force of the writing is derived from something elemental and primal. Unlike anything I have read in a long time.” —Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

“A masterful debut, pure genius, so lovely and brutal it feels like a dream. In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods is a stunning work of fiction—it has the innovative, mind-bending power of Borges and Calvino, but it is like nothing you have ever read before.” —Dawn Tripp, author of Game of Secrets

“It’s hard to imagine a book more difficult to pull off, but Bell proves as self-assured as he is audacious. His prose, which manages to be both mournful and propulsive, is undeniable.... Bell’s novel isn’t just a joy to read, it’s also one of the smartest meditations on the subjects of love, family and marriage in recent years.... the novel is a monument to the uniqueness of every relationship, the possibility that love itself can make the world better, though of course it’s never easy.” —Michael Schaub, NPR

“Bell puts the fable in fabulism... This spare, devastating novel... is as beautiful as it is ruinous. A tragedy of fantastic proportions, the book’s musical, often idiosyncratic prose will carry its readers into an unfamiliar but unforgettable world.” —Molly McArdle, Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“Meticulously designed, with a particular focus on the musicality of its sentences... an unflinching portrait of the struggle to keep a family intact.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A challenging, boldly experimental attempt at myth-building.” —Publishers Weekly

“It’s impossible that anyone else could have written such a thing. It’s a novel that—as Borges wrote of Kafka—invents its own precursors... what Bell accomplishes here is something that doesn’t happen very often: he has invented an entirely new rhetoric of fiction and marked unique territory of his own.” —Andrew Ervin, Tin House

“Somber, incantatory sentences to hold you within [Bell’s] dreamlike creation... This unique book leaves you with the haunting lesson that even if you renounce and cast away your loved ones, you can never disown the memory of your deeds.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

“One of the year’s best novels ... Bell keeps the narrative evolving, shifting groundrules and revealing more about his setting and characters. Disorienting and evocative, this is a fantastic reading experience.” —Tobias Carroll, Vol 1. Brooklyn

“A gorgeous, bottomless book.” —Ploughshares

House feels like a Tolkien epic set inside Plato’s cave written by Carl Jung, and it’s just as frustrating and mind-boggling and satisfying as you’d expect a book with that description to be.” —The Stranger

In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods is dreamlike and fairy-tale-like and fable-like. But like dreams and fairy tales and fables, there is something recognizable and real at its heart.” —Fiction Writers Review

In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods is a terrifying and wonderful fable that has nestled itself somewhere deep inside my shoulder blades. I have never come across a book that is so close to a dream state, with all the wildness and wonder and transfiguration that implies.” —Flavorwire, Staff Pick

“Matt Bell’s In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods self-consciously delves directly into fable, and House becomes a law unto itself... a story that gets told, doubled and echoed, but still expresses an absolute, singular understanding of the limits and compromises and compulsions of love.” —Justin Bauer, Philadelphia City Paper

“A terrifying and entirely spell-binding story about what it means to be a husband, a father, and, more simply, a man.” —Mythili Rao, The Daily Beast

In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods does not disappoint—though it does haunt, as a chronicle of a world coming apart.” —Hugh Sheehy, Rain Taxi

“...[A] gripping and tragic work of art. There’s always been a positivity to Bell’s writing underneath all that’s grim about it, perceptible as a love of the creative act itself... the success of this novel argues that there can be no defeat in total devotion to the work of making them.” —David Rice, HTMLGIANT

“I can’t decide which is more impressive: Bell’s boundless imagination or the spare-yet-lyrical, simply lovely way that he has woven words together to express it. Prepare to be mesmerized.” —Joelle Herr, BookPage

“Wildly original.” —The Oregonian

“A novel of catastrophic beauty and staggering originality.” —Booklist

In The House Upon The Dirt Between The Lake And The Woods reads like a fairy tale with the emotion and psychology of a contemporary novel....  [Bell keeps] his readers awake night after night. But it’s ok, because when you’re wrapped up in a Matt Bell story, you don’t want to sleep anyway.” —E.B. Bartels, Columbia Journal

“In his first full-length novel, In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, Matt Bell (Cataclysm Baby) shatters narrative convention to deliver an allegory with the compelling power of mythology... Though unrelentingly heartbreaking, this debut novel wrings such beauty from pain that readers will relish every shred of sorrow.” —Jaclyn Fulwood, Shelf Awareness

“Put Italo Calvino, Cat Valente and the Grimm Brothers in a blender, and you get Matt Bell... an effing amazing debut novel. This is one hell of a book.” —Liberty Hardy, Book Riot

In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods is as difficult to describe as a dream. This onslaught of primordial imagination will confound, confront, and absolutely amaze you.” —Jill Owens, Powell’s

“Bell cracks us in the mind’s eye, drops us in inky waters, leaves us dripping with love potions and scarred from our innermost animal natures.... In the tradition of Calvino, Borges, and Kafka, this is a mystic’s tale—the gods here are most definitely crazy.” —Interview Magazine

“A deeply affecting, wildly inventive fable on parenthood and loss.” Chicago Tribune

In the House left me with the literary elation of having read Faulkner. With his first novel, Matt Bell breaks new ground to construct a masterpiece.” —Margaret Brown, Shelf Unbound

“Grief can be so powerful that it makes its own reality.... Bell writes with a singular voice—folkloric tone and syntax but also very much aware of the modernity that it is ignoring.... it’s a gut punch.” —Austin American-Statesman

“[This] book will consume you. You’ll get lost within the dusty floorboards of the cabin, feel the murky bottom of the lake, and begin to hear voices coming from deep within the woods. The best part is that you won’t want the voices to go silent.” —Patrick Trotti, Heavy Feather Review

“Unlike anything else in contemporary literature today... a deeply moving story, both intimate and universal, told so ingeniously and meticulously it is sure to become a modern day classic.” —Kristy Webster-Milton, Thursday Review

“When you open In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, you leave your world behind and enter a shadowy and forbidding landscape. And you will be so glad you did.” —Jaime Boler, Bookmagnet

In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods is one of the most wholly original and haunting novels I’ve read... an unflinching examination of love, marriage, and parenthood and how we define its success.” —Rory O’Connor, Fourth Street Review

In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods is more novel than allegory, more story than tale, more prose than scripture... an excellent book, a solid debut, and, hopefully, the beginning of a long career for a very talented storyteller.” —Josh Cook, In Order of Importance

“The book wisely denies the reader and the characters easy resolutions, but does offer at least a glimmer of hope. Bell has crafted a frightening world inhabited by complex and imperfect characters, and by doing so, he has also written a wonderful novel.” —Josh Mallory, 20SomethingReads