February 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

  1. A Pen In Each HandChange one essential detail & rewrite
  2. “They lit a fire for us.”
  3. End of a busy project: now what?
  4. your MC driving behind a truck with a “Trump 2016” bumpersticker.
  5. “It’s just like counting by sevens…”
  6. Use these 5 words: heart, congestion, parasitic, bookish, hallucinations.
  7. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: stairs, seasons, wanted, understand, memory.
    2. Making up nicknames for other people.
    3. Write about someone your character shouldn’t admire, but does.
  8. “You assume so much about me.”
  9. If your MC could manipulate the calendar…
  10. a competitive frenzy.
  11. “Oh that. How far behind am I?”
  12. Use these 5 words: zombie, onesie, marching, neutral, destroyed.
  13. “I’m not late yet.”
  14. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: twisted, street, hid, dismantle, chair.
    2. After a very long wait, it’s finally here.
    3. Write about napping in the sun.
  15. “What do you mean, there’s no more coffee?”
  16. “Why do some people have all the luck?”
  17. “Should I worry that you just read my mind?”
  18. a message that makes your MC’s blood boil.
  19. Picking up after a flood.
  20. Use these 5 words: bakery, cocoa, sunset, inventive, screen.
  21. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: slights, windy, rest, dress, pestilence.
    2. Use the phrase, “Just last week…”
    3. Write about the fourth example of something, breaking the rule.
  22. “I haven’t woken up from the dream yet.”
  23. In the seventh week of February…
  24. deadly weather
  25. Adapting to a new disability.
  26. Use these 5 words: red carpet, performance, diversity, ensemble, couture.
  27. It’s the last weekend in Feb, and we ALL know what THAT means!
  28. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: shakes, stair, stone, alter, working.
    2. Fill in the blank: “Next year in ______[place name]”
    3. Write about that one time, at band camp.
  29. An event that happens each leap day.

Fifteen Ways to Get Your Submission Into My “No” Folder

Absolute BlankBy Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

  1. Simultaneously submit. Even once.
  2. Assume that your lack of publication credits will mean automatic rejection.
  3. Assume that your age has any bearing on whether your story is accepted.
  4. Use your cover letter to talk about how little faith you have in your skill/talent.
  5. Mention that you have to submit somewhere because of an assignment and you chose Toasted Cheese just because you liked the name.
  6. Don’t give your story a title.
  7. Describe your character within the first paragraph by using his full name, height in feet and inches, his weight in pounds, his hair color, and his eye color.
Background Image: Brian Wilkins/Flicker (CC-by-nc)

Background Image: Brian Wilkins/Flicker (CC-by-nc)

  1. If it’s a contest entry, don’t use the genre required.
  2. Don’t proofread.
  3. Write inauthentically about a setting I know.
  4. Use double punctuation on your sentence, like a question mark paired with an exclamation point. One exclamation point pushes it enough.
  5. Have female characters who serve no purpose other than set dressing, being a trophy for the male main character, or to have conversations about the male main characters.
  6. Kiss the word count. Then when you get near the end, chop it off and call it finished instead of rewriting.
  7. Throw in a Shyamalan twist ending.
  8. Respond to a rejection by saying that TC sucks anyway, submit again.

Polishing Your Submissions

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Resolve to write good cover letters. You can use a template and personalize it as needed. Be brief. Refrain from writing more than a sentence or two about the piece you’re submitting. Include any publication credits. If this is your first submission, say so! Editors love discovering emerging writers. Read the “about the author” blurbs at journals to get ideas for a 50-word bio you can use in your cover letters. It’s fine to include your age, especially if you’re a teen or a senior, but don’t presume that your story or poem will be rejected due to your age (certainly don’t include that presumption in the content of your cover letter).
  2. Title every story and poem you send out. Include the title above the work. When discussing submissions, some editors refer to them by the name of the piece.
  3. Read a bit of the journal to which you’re submitting. Unless it’s part of your assignment or part of a journal’s guidelines, there’s no need to include your reason for selecting a journal in your cover letter. That said, including the title of a piece you enjoyed in the journal is a nice way to say you think your work is a good fit. It also shows that you’ve read what the journal publishes.
  4. Proofread your piece before you send. If possible, read it on a device other than the one you wrote it on (ex: Wrote on a laptop? Read it out of your cloud on your phone). Fresh eyes reading fresh screens can catch errors.

January 2016
Daily Writing Prompts

  1. A Pen In Each HandWrite about leaving something behind for the new year.
  2. Use these 5 words: opens, shelter, reached, sailing, holy.
  3. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: good, every, aeroplanes, women, broken.
    2. Use the phrase, “I used to know how to do this.”
    3. Write about negotiating about food.
  4. Write about an understudy.
  5. When’s the next day off work??
  6. “It takes a lot to shock me.”
  7. Make up a perfectly cromulent word and use it.
  8. Use these 5 words: secret, festive, landmark, global, midnight.
  9. “Don’t expect it to last.”
  10. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: earth’s, language, memory, battle, secret.
    2. Use the phrase, “There’s only one left.”
    3. Write about that song that’s stuck in your character’s head.
  11. Write about living in a tiny house.
  12. Your MC time travels.
  13. Write about an annoying roommate.
  14. “…dropped a bombshell.”
  15. “Well, learn how to like it!”
  16. Use these 5 words: research, excesses, wartime, yachts, music.
  17. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: broken, private, stone, moves, lunar.
    2. Use the phrase, “Come sit with me.”
    3. Write about washing glasses.
  18. The view from the top.
  19. Write about sleeping in a doorway.
  20. “I wasn’t referring to you, was I?”
  21. Hand-me-down clothing
  22. Use these 5 words: center, creepy, comfort, charge, collaboration.
  23. Obsessively reloading a website.
  24. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: every, walls, gloves. muffled, librarian.
    2. Use the phrase, “All around the area.”
    3. Write about a surprising photograph.
  25. Looking up a fact in an actual encyclopedia.
  26. A massive storm system.
  27. Use the phrase “This space intentionally left blank.”
  28. “Naked yoga?”
  29. Thinking up a strong password.
  30. Use one of the “I saw you” messages at this link to start your story.
  31. Get today’s prompts on Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: scribbling, rhapsody, color, hearts, bloom.
    2. Use the phrase, “By his paw, the lion is known.”
    3. Write about a peculiar hair color.

Dead of Winter 2015 Winners

We’re happy to announce the winning stories for our annual horror short fiction contest Dead of Winter:

  • 1st: “A Lovely Neighborhood: by Matthew Boyle
  • 2nd: “The Wran Song” by Robert James
  • 3rd: “Bittersweet” by John Howe

The first, second, and third place stories will be published in our March 2016 issue.

Dead of Winter 2016 opens October 1 and ends December 21 with theme and word count parameters to be announced. Our next contest is Three Cheers and a Tiger (Spring). As always, there’s no fee and there’s no registration required to enter any of our contests.

Congratulations to our winners and to everyone who entered!


15 for Fifteen

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

This month we’re celebrating 15 years of Toasted Cheese. As we look back on some of our proudest moments from the past decade and a half, we invite you to do the same.

Day to day, progress can sometimes be so slow, it feels like you’re not moving forward at all. Pausing and reflecting from time to time is a good way to not lose sight of the big picture.

Make a list of 15 things you’ve accomplished writing-wise since January 2001. Big or small, anything you’re proud of can go on this list. If you have a writing buddy or group, this would be a great exercise for all of you to do and then share with each other.

Celebrate your accomplishments. Write a blog post or share on social media. (When you hit a low point you can look back on your list to give yourself a boost.) Invest in your writing life. Get yourself some new writing supplies or that software you’ve been meaning to purchase (if you don’t have it yet, Scrivener is well worth the investment). Do something fun! Freshen up your writing space, go to dinner with your writing buddy and toast your successes, throw a party for yourself and your writing group.

What’s next? Set 15 new short- or long-term writing goals. Tuck it away somewhere safe and revisit it in a decade or so to see how you did. Happy writing!

December 2015
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. Write about what you would do if you were unafraid.
  2. Write about unseasonable weather
  3. “I wish I knew how to use emojis.”
  4. Imitate auto-corrected drunken typing
  5. Use these 5 words: caucus, commit, refugees, challenge, executive.
  6. Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: beyond, lunar, sailors, crooked, seasons.
    2. Write about a distraction at a critical moment.
    3. Use the phrase, “You lost your shoe.”
  7. A distressing Facebook status.
  8. A reunion where the locals stay home
  9. “We’ve got to get the old guard out.”
  10. Your character has memory loss
  11. Use these 5 words: reboot, sabotage, record-smashing, sequel, dream.
  12. “It’s different where I come from.”
  13. Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: crooked, looking, degradations, together, bark.
    2. A character rapidly summarizes the situation.
    3. Use the phrase, “Today answers the question.”
  14. Look what the cat dragged in.
  15. Add a character who wears a leather vest and a fanny pack.
  16. Sorting someone else’s bookshelf
  17. “Violence is not inevitable, but…”
  18. Everyone else is leaving town.
  19. Use these 5 words: anthem, valuable, referee, collectors, legend.
  20. Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: depends, author’s, strength, o’clock, ready.
    2. A character gets tangled up in words or syntax.
    3. Use the phrase, “How nice for you.”
  21. A fake relationship.
  22. Thinking up new holiday traditions
  23. “He lied about being a scientist!”
  24. “All through the house…”
  25. Use these 5 words: intertwined, nostalgia, snowing, ocean, train.
  26. “It’s all over but the shouting.”
  27. Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: would, shore, forever, corner, clings.
    2. Use the phrase, “It’s a dangerous game.”
    3. Write about something so lifelike it’s uncanny.
  28. “There’s more than one way to do it.”
  29. Tell a story using only found pictures.
  30. Realizing that good posture actually is a good thing.
  31. Your MC gives a speech and… *drops mic*

What We Were Reading in 2015: Recommended by the Editors

Absolute BlankBy Stephanie Lenz (Baker)

Last November we shared some of our favorite reads from the year. We decided to do it again for 2015 and as our list came together, we discovered that our suggestions range from audio books to blogs to novels. These were all things we read in 2015, regardless of when they were published. The list includes at least one ARC for a work to be published in 2016.

Background Image: Fatima M/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Background Image: Fatima M/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Baker’s recommendations:

I read practically all day long, mostly non-fiction and news. I’ve always been a slow reader. More accurately, I’m a reader who likes to savor the read. When I get close to the end of something I’m loving, I read more slowly and in shorter bursts so that it lasts. My recommended reads from 2015 made it impossible for me to throw that brake.

Essays by Charles Pierce

Charlie is my political reading recommendation for 2015. He writes for Esquire, usually from a progressive viewpoint but those on the left aren’t any safer from his laser focus than those on the right. His humor is impossible to hide but when the subject is serious, his wit becomes razor-sharp critique. My feeling about his writing, particularly his voice, makes me think of a line Clark Gable delivers as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind: “We’re alike. Bad lots, both of us. Selfish and shrewd but able to look things in the eyes and call them by their right names.” Nearly every day, Charlie’s essay (or essays; he’s prolific) gives voice to what’s on my mind.

The Last Days of Graceland” by Elise Jordan

I read this article on a somewhat stressful day, when I needed a portable distraction. With free wifi and lots of downtime, I thought Buzzfeed would fit the bill so I headed to the site. Instead of another silly list or meme, I found this fascinating, inspiring account of Paul MacLeod’s life, death, and passion: Graceland Too, a “museum” that was little more than a display of a zealous fan’s collection of memorabilia. The key to this essay is Jordan’s connection to its subject; Graceland Too was the stop-and-point house in her hometown of Holly Springs, Mississippi. By adding her personal experience, she creates the frame of community within which she sketches out a near-Shakespearean tragedy of family, obsession, and murder.

Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

My favorite read of 2015, this is more than a memoir. Coates structures the book as a letter to his son, which makes this reflection on blackness in America an intimate conversation as well as an impetus to a long overdue examination of race in our national history, in our culture, and in our future as well as in our own hearts and minds.

Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming

Another memoir, this time by actor Alan Cumming. I liked the “then/now” structure, the suspense and mystery carried throughout, and the theme of fathers, sons, and what we withhold versus what we give and how.

Being A Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence” by Anne Thériault

Women share universal experiences relevant to their sex. Thériault chronicles a handful of instances of abuse, sexism, assault and more against the backdrop of male aggression that’s accepted in our culture. In the final section, she states that she tries not to be afraid yet admits that she is (a piece of bravery in its own right). In an online world where outspoken women receive death threats and rape threats for the simple act of speaking their truth, voices like Thériault’s are rare and deserve to be amplified, not silenced.

Mystery Science Storybook: Bedtime Tales Based on the Worst Movies Ever by Sugar Ray Dodge

On a light note, I loved this comic by Sugar Ray Dodge. Dodge maintains the RiffTrax wiki and is also a talented artist. His unique drawing style fits perfectly with the RiffTrax aesthetic and his story work hits the sweet spot between homage and satire (like its source material). Drawing on the original works that the RiffTrax and Mystery Science Theater 3000 crews riff(ed), Dodge follows in the traditional by skewering all sides. No one is safe and your sides will pay the price.


Broker’s recommendations:

Snapshots From Space by Emily Lakdawalla

Lakdawalla blogs at the Planetary Society website about planetary science, and did a lot to piece together the pictures from the Pluto flyby of the New Horizons spacecraft (the data are still coming in!), in addition to other space probes out there exploring our solar system.

Bad Astronomy by Phil Plait

Plait is also in the business of making astronomy accessible. Phil’s interests are more wide ranging, including some non-astronomical topics, and he’s great at explaining things in the news.

Widower’s Grief by Mark Liebenow

And to shift gears completely, check out Liebenow’s blog. Mark lost his wife suddenly a few years ago, and he writes honestly (and well!) about the process of coping with grief.


Harpspeed’s recommendations:

Finding time to read this year has been a challenge. Yet the idea of not reading is so unfathomable.  I met that challenge with a little ingenuity and some stolen time—I’m learning to multitask. My personal reading selections this past year have been exclusively audio books. I generally read about 30 minutes most mornings while running or walking really-really fast. The 30 minutes explains the shortness of my list. It takes several hours to finish a story. And I never do the math when I am contemplating purchasing a story; I never ever calculate in advance how many hours it will take me to finish a particular book. That would be depressing with so many books on my list.

Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Winter People has elements of mystery and historical fiction. It is the story of two women separated by time whose fates cross in a thrilling realization: The dead can come back. Think Laura Ingalls meets Sleepy Hollow. This story is also about the family ties; mothers and daughters are prominent. This is my current listen and McMahon’s story has hooked me with her rural characters and eerie setting. The landscape in this story holds many secrets revealed bit by bit in its folklore. I’ve met some of the historical characters and anticipate meeting their modern counterparts soon.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

This story was recommended by my friend, Lisa, who loves horror and psychological thrillers. She is my go-to-girl for a good thrilling read. Malerman’s story has has elements of both. A realistic fiction story set in an alternate, post-apocalyptic world. This story is terrifying because in order to survive, the characters must keep their eyes closed when they venture outside—outside to where curious and dangerous creatures roam. Much of the story is told in flashback by the main character—a young mother of two in a desperate flight to find a mysterious sanctuary from the creatures and from a hopeless existence. The pacing is excellent. Malerman dials up the terror, chapter by chapter, leading the reader up a very steep climax and over the edge to the very last page.

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

Gruen’s story, set in Scotland during World War II is a cozy, entertaining read. Three wealthy American socialites cross the Atlantic to hunt the Loch Ness Monster. The characters reminded me of classic old movie characters with their speech, mannerisms and triangle—say Cary Grant, Clark Gable, and Loretta Young. Gruen writes great characters and I enjoyed all the discourse and conversations that strayed from what I thought was the main plot. Or was it?  This story is more about the journey than the destination and much is revealed in small moments in the small Scottish village where Maddie and her two handsome friends wait out the war hunting for Nessie.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I love reading stories set during World War 2. This Pulitzer Prize winning story was exceptional. Two star crossed characters—one a brilliant young orphan boy who is commandeered by the German army to fix radios and the other character, a young blind French girl who spends her days in a Paris museum where her father works as chief locksmith. The two characters are drawn to each other unknowingly at first by a legend of an exquisite diamond that the blind girl’s father smuggles out of the museum before Paris falls. The Germans know of its existence and of the legend it promises to its owner. Meanwhile, the French resistance is infiltrating German intelligence and the brilliant German orphan boy finds himself in Paris working for the wrong side when he becomes aware of the lovely, blind French girl with a dangerous secret whom his commanding officer will kill for.


Billiard’s recommendations:

Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson

As I wrote on Goodreads, I really, really loved this. I saw that another reviewer described it as “If there were a Girl Scout camp in Gravity Falls,” and I was like, “Yeah, that’s about right.” If paranormal weirdness isn’t your thing, you might want to skip this one. Some people seem to be put off by the art style, but I thought it was cute and suited the story quite well.

As You Wish by Cary Elwes

Published in 2014, but I read it in 2015. Delightful.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler: SNL alum, Tina Fey bestie, Leslie Freakin’ Knope. Amy Poehler is an awesome lady who does awesome things, of which this book is just one of many, many examples.

Reflections (Indexing #2) by Seanan McGuire

Indexing is a Kindle serial. It combines a procedural with fairy tales and I often wonder how no one has optioned it for a TV series yet.


Bellman’s recommendations:

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

This latest installment in Bujold‘s Vorkosigan series is a change of pace from the usual, so it may not appeal to someone expecting her usual fast-pasted adventures. Described as “a book for grownups”, I’d classify it as a pastoral story, and I found it a delightful change of pace. One of the reasons I return to Bujold over and and over is for her persistent message of how it’s never too late. It’s never too late to turn your life around, or to find your life anew, or to change. That’s a message I never tire of, and Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is a trumpet of defiance in the face of the constant “You’re too old…” messages society bombards us with.

The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove

The world-building premise of The Glass Sentence is that time and space have fractured and resettled in unconnected pieces. So 1890s Boston and the prehistoric ice ages coexist side by side. In addition, the “Great Disruption” that shattered the world caused many of these eras to develop alternate histories to the ones people were familiar with. Map-making is half science, half magic, and the various maps include maps to people’s memories. It’s a fascinating world, and the adventures of Sophia Tims, the thirteen-year-old heroine of the book, create a solid story within it.

The Riverman by Aaron Starmer

This is a dark book for middle grade readers. It looks at friendship and trust through a very twisted lens. Alistair is approached by his grade-school friend Fiona, who tells him about a world where kids’ daydreams are made real, but that the kids there end up disappearing from the real world when they are taken by The Riverman in the other world. Starmer does a really good job of creating a truly creepy and disturbing atmosphere where it is hard to tell what’s real, what’s imagined, and what’s good or bad.


Beaver’s recommendations:

The way we tell stories is evolving along with our smartphones” by Kate Pullinger

Pullinger is both a traditional novelist and author of digital fiction. She co-created the ongoing digital novel Inanimate Alice.

As well as using our phones more, we are also accessing multiple forms of content on these devices. We make and watch videos, we take and share photos. We chatter. We play games. We watch movies and TV. We listen. And we read. We read texts and messages, we read social media feeds, we read journalism, we read gossip, we read commentary. A lot of the time we spend staring at our phones we are reading.
And yet most of us don’t consider our phones to be our primary reading device, despite evidence to the contrary; when asked “what are you reading?” (does anyone ask this question anymore?) we might look a bit guilty, as the title of the last book we finished escapes us.

Humans of New York. “HONY provides a worldwide audience with daily glimpses into the lives of strangers in New York City.” Yes, there’s a book, but the best way to read/view these snapshot stories is in their original form on social media. The typical story is a one-shot, but others are serialized over multiple posts. Tumblr | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

Where Love is Illegal. “Documenting and sharing LGBTI stories of discrimination and survival from around the world.” Similar in format to HONY—glimpses into the lives of people around the world through a single photograph and brief story. Tumblr | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

What Would You Grab in a Fire?” by Megan Stielstra

There’s a Tumblr I’ve followed for years called The Burning House. It’s a hypothetical exercise in what you’d grab if your house was on fire. Stielstra’s piece is The Burning House come to life—the decision-making moments after she finds out her home is on fire. I read it in January, but the piece took on added weight a few months later when I woke in the middle of the night to shouts of “fire!” It turned out it was the building next door, but it was a close enough call that I did learn for myself what I’d really grab in a fire.

Farewell to America” by Gary Younge

Of the many things I read this year on the current state of affairs in the US, this piece lingered with me, perhaps because of Younge’s outsider/insider perspective.

This is the summer I will leave America, after 12 years as a foreign correspondent, and return to London. … [W]hile the events of the last few years did not prompt the decision to come back, they do make me relieved that the decision had already been made. It is why I have not once had second thoughts. If I had to pick a summer to leave, this would be the one. Another season of black parents grieving, police chiefs explaining and clueless anchors opining. Another season when America has to be reminded that black lives matter because black deaths at the hands of the state have been accepted as routine for so long. A summer ripe for rage.

The Chef Who Saved My Life” by Brett Martin

A story about life and food and writing…

Meanwhile, through the years, I told the story of my own meal with Jacques. Often. It’s a good story—heavy but not too heavy, semi-confessional, a dash of celebrity, a happy ending. One evening, occasioned by a shared plate of prosciutto at The Tasting Kitchen, a restaurant in Venice Beach, I told it to an especially sharp friend. When I was done, he looked at me for a long time. You should write about that, he told me. Sure, I plan to, I said.

Then he said, ”Don’t make it an obituary.”

What Do You Recommend?

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Recommend on social media at least one thing you’ve read this year. If you don’t use social media, recommend in person. Independent authors are particularly grateful for recommendations.
  2. Create some recommendation business cards and leave them with your favorite works in the bookstore. You can print them at home. They could be as simple as the word “recommended” with a thumbs-up or a shelf card that lists why you recommend the book. Don’t put stickers on or in the books.
  3. Ask for recommendations at a used book store and/or independent bookstore. If you’re lucky, your local chain bookstore will have fellow book lovers who are well-versed enough to recommend as well.
  4. Recommend a book to a friend on Goodreads.
  5. While you’re there, write a recommendation of a book. If you’re stuck for one, think of a book you discovered on your own and write the review as though you’re speaking to your younger self.

Toasted Cheese 15:4

The December 2015 issue of Toasted Cheese features poetry by Miki Byrne, Erin McIntosh, Sonnet Mondal & Lauren Scavo; flash by Paul Hetherington, Ajay Patri & Christina Sanders; fiction by James Butt, Kim Farleigh, Maithreyi Nandakumar & Deb Smith; and creative nonfiction by Theresa Kelly.

TC 15:4 also includes the Fall 2015 Three Cheers and a Tiger Writing Contest winning stories by Matthew Boyle, Mark Neyrinck & Clarissa Pattern.

At Candle-Ends, Shelley Carpenter reviews Undertow by Eric E. Wallace.

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

The cover image is by Allagash Brewing 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!