The 16th Annual “Dead of Winter” Writing Contest


Stories submitted to the 16th Annual Dead of Winter contest (December 2016) must use the theme THE HAND OF FATE (your entry must follow guidelines below).

This year’s theme is inspired by the 50th anniversary of the cult horror film Manos: The Hands of Fate. You may take as much or as little inspiration from the film as you like. You do NOT need to use elements of it for your story, although we’d like you to be inspired and have included some ideas about that below. Your only “must” is to use the theme THE HAND OF FATE.


Manos is universally acknowledged as one of the worst films ever made but its fans have latched onto its endearing elements. If you invest an hour of your time in watching the weirdness unspool, you’ll find something memorable, whether that’s a line of dialogue, a thrift store quality prop, or the strangely charismatic Torgo (as well as “the haunting Torgo Theme”). There’s a good story buried inside this weird little movie.

Note: the commentary tracks make the film more bearable to sit through; both include supplementary material to pad out a two-hour run time so the film itself begins about a quarter to halfway through (look for grainy footage of a family in a convertible). Manos: The Hands of Fate runs a little over an hour.

There are also several articles, reviews, and synopses online.

Ideally, your entry will not only follow the theme THE HAND OF FATE but will also employ some element of the film that inspired it. Examples (plot & character) include:

  • A couple/family gets lost on their way to a vacation resort
  • A couple/family finds something unexpected when they arrive at their destination
  • A cult whose leader is betrayed by his/her assistant
  • A cult revolts against its leader
  • A man who embraces 60s-era masculinity finds himself at the center of a situation he can’t control
  • A child who replaces a beloved pet with something sinister
  • A woman whose physical beauty makes her a target of desire for one, a “prize to be won” for another
  • A caretaker who abandons his/her post and faces physical consequences
  • The making of a low-budget movie goes awry

You might also be inspired by the time setting (1966), geographic setting (rural Texas borderland), or the film’s underlying (and unintended) themes, like sexism or servility.

We are not asking for, nor will we accept, Manos fanfic or any point-by-point retelling of the story of Manos: The Hands of Fate. Do not use the characters of Michael/Mike, Margaret/Maggie, Debbie, Torgo, The Master, or The Wives. You may take inspiration from them for your original characters.


  • Stories MUST be based on the theme provided.
  • Stories MUST be set in winter.
  • Stories MUST fall in the horror genre*.
  • The word count range for DOW2016 is 2000–4000 words.


The contest opens October 1, 2016 and the deadline for submission is 11:59 PM ET December 21, 2016.

Email entries to dow2016[at] with the subject line:
Dead of Winter Contest Entry

Follow general contest guidelines and general Dead of Winter guidelines


Apparently when you make a bet about telling a horror story, you end up either with Frankenstein or Manos.

Toasted Cheese 16:3


The September 2016 issue of Toasted Cheese features poetry by Richard Dinges, Marchell Dyon, Theresa Kelly, Marc Livanos, Lauren Scavo & Judith Taylor; flash by Jeff Bakkensen & Stephanie Gail; fiction by David E. Grubb, Kathy Mansfield, Michael Retzer & Gina Sakalarios-Rogers; and creative nonfiction by Autumn Shah.

TC 16:3 also includes the A Midsummer Writing Contest winning stories by Sarah Evans, Heather Finnegan & Gail Webber.

At Candle-Ends, Shelley Carpenter reviews Not For Art Nor Prayer by Darren C. Demaree.

This issue’s Snark Zone is by Theryn “Beaver” Fleming.

The cover image is by Benny Mazur on Flickr, with additional photos by photographers around the world, all of whom have generously made their work available for use under Creative Commons licenses. Please click through and check out their photostreams.

Congratulations to all. Happy reading!

A Midsummer Tale

Toasted Cheese is happy to announce the winners of the 2016 A Midsummer Tale Narrative Writing Contest.

1st: “The English Girl’ by Sarah Evans
2nd: “Liberal Arts” by Heather Finnegan
3rd: “The Net” by Gail Webber


First place will receive a $35 Amazon gift card and second place a $10 Amazon gift card. The first, second, and third place stories will appear in the September issue of Toasted Cheese.

Kudos to everyone who entered. We hope you’ll join us for A Midsummer Tale again in 2017 and that you’ll pass the contest info along to your writing friends! Next summer’s theme will be announced April 1, 2017.

September 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

  1. A Pen In Each HandThe cupboard is bare.
  2. Sign on door: “Closed for _____.”
  3. This place is not very old.
  4. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: blond, walks, telephone, spaces, mourners.
    2. Use the phrase, “cough and splutter.”
    3. Fill in the blank: “With ________ comes complexity.”
  5. The list just keeps getting longer.
  6. One of your characters is awarded an honorary degree.
  7. Each day must be better than the last.
  8. Use these 5 words: curiosity, fossils, collaboration, passport, sketchy.
  9. Looking back at a school paper from the beginning of the year.
  10. A hurricane-related storm.
  11. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: color, seducer, windy, tyranny, librarian.
    2. Use the phrase, “What about you?”
    3. Write about repeatedly asking, “Why?”
  12. A character who denies everything when confronted.
  13. “If there’s nothing there, I just _______”
  14. Use these 5 words: reclusive, flagship, brace, southside, impersonating.
  15. Everyone’s lease expires the same day
  16. A new ad campaign.
  17. Ambiguous directions send party goers astray
  18. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: shakes, woman, walks, surface, found.
    2. Use the phrase, “see and be seen.”
    3. Write about working down to the wire.
  19. “Tell me again why I used to like this?”
  20. “I’m going to save you and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
  21. Write about an extinct pest.
  22. Use these 5 words: staycation, dominoes, tango, power outage, heat.
  23. Emigrating to have two summers in a row
  24. Challenging a myth.
  25. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: against, sailor, telephone, depends, hearts.
    2. Use the phrase, “That’s going to be difficult.”
    3. Write about drowsily making a mistake.
  26. A character who’s playing to the cameras.
  27. “Oops, I missed one.”
  28. Use these 5 words: violent, rodents, bowling, cafeteria, prank.
  29. A sudden glut of reading material
  30. “I used to be obsessed with _____. I have no regrets.”

Three Cheers Fall 2016 is OPEN

The Three Cheers and a Tiger Fall Contest is now open!

Entries must be received by 5 PM Eastern Time, Sunday, September 25, 2016.

Write a science fiction or fantasy story where things at one location (or dream state, past/future life, situation) are the same, and yet different, from one that’s familiar.

Word range: 1,500-2,000.

  • Send entries to:
  • Your subject line must read: Three Cheers and a Tiger Contest Entry
  • Paste your story directly into your email. No attachments please.

For complete rules:
Three Cheers and a Tiger Guidelines
General Contest Rules

August 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. Write out writing goals for the month
  2. Use these 5 words: stench, guts, savage, rabid, giant.
  3. Much-needed rain, still inconvenient.
  4. an unexpected apology.
  5. Lap-critter with a foot on the keyboard.
  6. Start with this line: “I must be an asshole.”
  7. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: screams, bone, burst, pestilence, hesitates.
    2. Use the phrase, “You’re probably tired of this by now.”
    3. Fill in the blank: “You might think it would _________, but no.”
  8. Use these 5 words: renews, prescription, depression, struggle, streets.
  9. Old holiday becomes anniversary of something new.
  10. a character with an annoying voice.
  11. “Is there more coffee?”
  12. Use this line: “We’re altering your own immune cells.”
  13. A game becomes suddenly serious.
  14. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: famine, pin, strength, gloves, young.
    2. Use the phrase, “It could have gone either way.”
    3. Fill in the blank: “the best _________ since sliced bread.”
  15. Someone else’s wedding
  16. Use these 5 words: parachute, glimpse, champagne, swallowtail, summer.
  17. Talking at your phone/computer.
  18. claiming someone else’s narrative.
  19. Tentative first day out after being sick
  20. Use this line: “I’m so uncomfortable.”
  21. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: author, neglected, poem, hearts, public. Bonus: the popcorn of despair.
    2. Use the phrase, “force of nature.”
    3. Was it too much? Or too little?
  22. Use these 5 words: solar panels, optimism, scorpions, messiah, revelations.
  23. The meeting room after everyone has gone.
  24. a costly battle.
  25. “It’s easy with the right tool.”
  26. Use this phrase: “bleak but beautiful.”
  27. Last days before school starts.
  28. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
  29. “Who are you, really?”
  30. a trending hashtag that includes your MC’s name.
  31. Reprogramming the light timer creatively.

July 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. That nervous feeling in your stomach when…
  2. Use these 5 words: roasting, hungry, tough, spatters, heat.
  3. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: probe, gaunt, children, inside, ourselves.
    2. Write about being sick and the stuff you didn’t get to do.
    3. Use the phrase, “Major party foul.”
  4. Use this phrase: “the need to explain the obvious”
  5. New fireworks lighting up the smoke from old ones
  6. calling someone by a sibling’s name
  7. Working together to figure out what’s wrong
  8. Use these 5 words: reconciliation, journey, expat, insularity, activist.
  9. Many years later, on the same date…
  10. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: silent, song, fatalistic, sailors, doves.
    2. Write about turning off the news.
    3. Use the phrase, “I wanted to strangle him/her.”
  11. Substituting ingredients in a recipe
  12. Start with a character saying: “I actually did a double-take.”
  13. Obsolete technology saves the day
  14. a publicity stunt
  15. “What did we actually do, back then?”
  16. Use these 5 words: magicians, roller coaster, inhalers, key, prison.
  17. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: secret, lunar, ranklings, snarl, misused.
    2. Write about a street musician playing something beautiful.
    3. Fill in the blank: “The ______ made in hell.”
  18. Use this line: “I’ve been observing the pattern…”
  19. Late additions to the schedule
  20. a deleted tweet
  21. Repeat until you can’t remember how.
  22. Use these 5 words: engulfs, crashed, emotional, cloud, overturned.
  23. Wrong word comes out when flustered
  24. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: crossing, windy, woman, waterski, twists.
    2. Use the phrase, “I broke for egg rolls.”
    3. Write about forgetting to do something important.
  25. “I really didn’t change anything. Except…”
  26. Start with a character saying: “That’s not fair!”
  27. “I’ve been expecting you,” said to a stranger.
  28. the field of shark research
  29. People watching with an unlikely companion
  30. blue is the new pink
  31. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: strength, believe, those, shore, attempted.
    2. Use the phrase, “I don’t think anybody else knows that either.”
    3. Fill in the blank: “I was just brushing my teeth, when _________.”

Choose Your Own Adventure!

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

Write a “choose your own adventure”-style story. That is, start writing your story, but when you get to a point where your main character has to make a decision, first continue the story with the character making one choice (up to the point where another decision has to be made), then go back to the fork in the road and write the story with the character making a different choice.

Pick at least three points in your story where it could go in two or more directions and write each of the versions.

A simple version of this exercise would go something like this, and result in eight different versions of the story:

  • Original story 📝 at the first fork, choose A or B.
    • A story 📝 at the second fork, choose C or D.
      • C story 📝 at the third fork, choose G or H.
        • G story 📝 continue to the end.
        • H story 📝 continue to the end.
      • D story 📝 at the third fork, choose I or J.
        • I story 📝 continue to the end.
        • J story 📝 continue to the end.
    • B story 📝 at the second fork, choose E or F.
      • E story 📝 at the third fork, choose K or L.
        • K story 📝 continue to the end.
        • L story 📝 continue to the end.
      • F story 📝 at the third fork, choose M or N.
        • M story 📝 continue to the end.
        • N story 📝 continue to the end.

Of course, stories can get more complicated than this, with more options and storylines backtracking and crisscrossing on each other. Play around and have fun with it.

While a choose-your-own-adventure story can be meant to be read as-is, this is also a good exercise for exploring your options when working through the plot of a longer story or novel.

It’s also a great way to complete a challenge like NaNoWriMo if you “run out of story” before reaching your word goal. Go back through your story and look for points where it could have gone in a different direction and write those versions. You might find you like one of the alternate stories better than the original.

June 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. Forgetting to make coffee in the morning
  2. Use these 5 words: hype, version, second-degree, engagement, deadly.
  3. Raining on the parade
  4. Start with this line: “I’ll drink to that!”
  5. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
  6. no free meals
  7. Strange noises in a quiet house
  8. Use these 5 words: congestion, extended, haywire, dicey, tools.
  9. A departed loved one’s birthday
  10. Start with this line: “Don’t go home without a plan.”
  11. “Remember when these were rare?”
  12. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: memory, arrogant, remorseful, grunts, sights.
    2. Write about getting away with something.
    3. Use the phrase, “Is that what really happened?”
  13. Wanting to wear something forbidden
  14. struggling for relevance
  15. Forgetting how to ride a bicycle
  16. Use these 5 words: mapping, rights, underdogs, gold, wisdom.
  17. “Why are you so fussy today?”
  18. Start with this line: “Wow! Where have I been?”
  19. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
  20. illegal sales of spot prawns
  21. “Does it always take this long?”
  22. Use these 5 words: hybrid, fork, diamond-encrusted, juices, makeover.
  23. Doing something you know you shouldn’t.
  24. Start with this line: “Some people are so gullible.”
  25. Turning in a project to be reviewed
  26. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: world, excerpt, persons, lunar, boxes.
    2. Write about turning the picture over to see if it makes more sense.
    3. Use a non-standard answer to, “How are you?”
  27. A complicated story that’s not quite right
  28. a baffling array of long words
  29. For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost.
  30. Midyear check-in! Review your 2016 writing goals and revise as necessary 🙂

Modify an Old Book

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

In Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, the title character is an unidentified man whose only link to his past is an old book he used as a notebook / commonplace book:

She picks up the notebook that lies on the small table beside his bed. It is the book he brought with him through the fire—a copy of The Histories by Herodotus that he has added to, cutting and gluing in pages from other books or writing in his own observations—so they are all cradled within the text of Herodotus. (p. 16)

And in his commonplace book, his 1890 edition of Herodotus’ Histories, are other fragments—maps, diary entries, writings in many languages, paragraphs cut out of other books. All that is missing is his own name. (p. 96)

This month’s exercise is to use the English patient’s book as inspiration.

Step One: Find an old book to repurpose. I suggest starting with a used book that already has some scuffs and scrapes so it doesn’t feel too precious to modify.

If you don’t want to use a book you already own, look for a suitable book at a used bookstore (check the discount bin out front) or charity book sale. Tip: library book sales often sell hardcover books for $1 or less.

While you can start with any book, a copy of a favorite novel, a nonfiction book whose subject is interesting to you, or one with aesthetic appeal (but perhaps less-than-interesting content) are good options.

Step Two: Modify your book! You can play with the existing text or treat it more like a blank journal.

Some suggestions:

  • create found poetry using the existing text
  • paste in photos, clippings, tickets, etc.
  • doodle or draw
  • add patterns or color
  • write notes in the margins
  • journal between the lines
  • fill in blank pages
  • write an alternate ending or add a “missing” chapter
  • add a character
  • modify illustrations/photographs
  • dry leaves or flowers between the pages

Step Three: Continue until your book feels finished. Use your book as a source of inspiration for your writing—both during the process of creating it and afterward.

[Page numbers from the 1992 Vintage edition.]