2023 Savage Mystery Writing Results

Congratulations to the winners of the 2023 Savage Mystery Writing Contest!

First Place: “A Dance Around an Oak Tree” by Ogu Nnachi
Second Place: “Grandpa’s Map of Amazing Places” by Miguel A. Rueda
Third Place: “The Curse of Too Much Air Time to Fill” by Sue Seabury

The winning entries will appear in the upcoming issue of Toasted Cheese.

We’d like to thank everyone who entered. There were many creative treasure clues and treasure hunts. I hope everyone had as much fun writing the stories as I had reading them.

Amanda (The Bellman) Marlowe

The Savage 48-hour Writing Contest is back in September with our science fiction/fantasy edition.

The 2023 A Midsummer Tale Narrative Writing Contest (open to creative nonfiction and non-genre fiction) is currently open for entries.

2022 Savage Mystery Writing Results

Congratulations to the winners of the 2022 Savage Mystery Writing Contest!

First Place: “The Wonderland House” by Robin Hillard
Second Place: “Plums” by Janet Innes
Third Place: “The Case of the Missing Princess” by Sue Seabury

Honorable Mention: “The Merest Glimpse” by Eric Williams.

The winning entries will appear in the upcoming issue of Toasted Cheese.

We’d like to thank everyone who entered. Antique dollhouses hold so many creative mysteries. I hope everyone had as much fun writing the stories as I had reading them.

Amanda (The Bellman) Marlowe

The Savage 48-hour Writing Contest is back in September with our science fiction/fantasy edition.

The 2022 A Midsummer Tale Narrative Writing Contest is currently open for entries.

2021 Savage Mystery Writing Results

Congratulations to the winners of the 2021 Savage Mystery Writing Contest!

First Place: “Off Your Block” by Cara Brezina
Second Place: “Mystery at the Museum by Morgan-McKay Hoppmann
Third Place: “Memories from Franklin County, Missouri” by Jay Bechtol

The winning entries will appear in the upcoming issue of Toasted Cheese.

We’d like to thank everyone who entered. The unexpected uprooting of trees revealed a variety of mysteries. I hope you had as much fun writing the stories as I had reading them.

Amanda (The Bellman) Marlowe

Congratulations to the winners of the 2020 Spring Three Cheers and a Tiger contest!

Gold: “One of Wyeth’s Two Hundred and Forty Seven” by Jay Bechtol
Silver: “Fetch the Tuna” by Jason Porterfield
Bronze: “Small Town Magic” by Jennifer Pantusa

The winning entries will appear in the upcoming issue of Toasted Cheese.

We’d like to thank everyone who entered. Mystery and magic made for an exciting set of stories. I hope you had as much fun writing the stories as I had reading them.

Amanda (The Bellman) Marlowe

How to Write a Book Review (and How to Request One)

Absolute Blank

By Shelley Carpenter (Harpspeed)


I think one of the important components in writing a book review is mindset. One needs to be open minded to reading books that they may not typically read. Professional editors and writers may have the option of choosing the books they review with the added perk of a salary. At Toasted Cheese and many other literary journals the editors and writers review books for the joy of it and to support fellow writers. It is a labor of love.

Revving Up before Reading:

Another practice I follow is to learn about the author before reading his/her book. I visit blogs, social media, and websites. Knowing something about the author makes the reading a more personal experience and may help later when it is time to write the review and the short biography that follows. I also look in the Toasted Cheese archives to see if there are submissions and links to other writing. It is like taking a test drive before driving cross-country.


The task also requires mindfulness. Before I open a book that is slotted for review, I always ask: What makes this a good book? This is a great question particularly if one is reviewing a book that is outside of their writing or reading genre(s). Giving myself an assigned question truly helps to focus on the task. Within the context of the question there are three sub-parts that I consider: What is this book about? This relates to genre, character and plot, the general information that most reviews contain. What do I notice within the text? This refers to style, language, theme, vocabulary, etc. a.k.a. the writer’s toolbox. Lastly, what do I notice beyond the story? Does it relate to the real world in any way? Are there comparisons or contrasts that can be drawn?

Another name for this practice is active reading. Meanwhile, I’m annotating the copy—I’m circling, underlining, highlighting, and writing notes in the margins. I also attach sticky notes on the pages that answer my question(s). By the time I finish reading, there are usually a dozen or more colored notes sticking out of the copy.

I take my time with every book and collection of poetry and stories and when I’ve finished reading and annotating, I let the words simmer in my mind for days before my fingers touch the keyboard. This is how I begin.

Photo Credit: Horia Varlan/Flickr (CC-by)

Photo Credit: Horia Varlan/Flickr (CC-by)

By Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

Tips for Writing a Review for Toasted Cheese:

  • Keep in mind Candle-Ends is our way of connecting the TC community with the literary journal. We’re looking for positive/neutral reviews that support the writers in our community.
  • We’re ok with fluffy, but not with false praise. Be honest, but kind.
  • We know one of the reasons writers hesitate to write reviews is they’re unsure how to handle reviewing a book they didn’t love unequivocally. Here are some suggestions:
    • Describe the book. For a novel, tell readers about the key characters, the gist of the plot, the setting. For short stories or poetry, give readers an overview of the types of stories or poems they can anticipate. Write about the overall theme of the book. Describe the writer’s style.
    • Let the book speak for itself. Include representative quotes in your review so readers can see what to expect and judge for themselves.
    • Highlight the the book’s strengths.
    • Sandwich criticism between praise. If there is a weakness you think is important to mention, put it in the middle. Start with a positive and end with a positive.
  • A brief mention of why you personally related to the book is fine, but don’t digress too much. Keep the focus on the content of the book.
  • Provide a brief biography of the author as well as links to their website and/or social media accounts.
  • Please mention if you have a personal connection to the author.

Tips for Requesting a Review from Toasted Cheese:

  • Requests for reviews should be sent to our reviews editor at reviews@toasted-cheese.com
  • Be sure to mention the author’s connection to Toasted Cheese (please note: we only review books by writers with a pre-existing connection to TC).
  • Author or publisher must be able to provide a digital and/or print copy of the book to the reviewer.
  • Indicate your willingness to write a review. Not only is it good karma to reciprocate, but requesting authors who write a review will be moved to the front of the queue.

Toasted Cheese Writer Survey

Absolute BlankBy Theryn Fleming (Beaver)

Thank you to everyone who took the time to answer our survey. Our goal was to get to know our readers better and we were very pleased with the number and range of responses.


How old are you?
30-49 (31)
18-29 (18)
50-69 (14)
13-17 (8)
70+ (1)

Where do you live?
North America (63)
Europe (7)
Asia (2)

Is English your first language?
Yes (68)
No (4)

It wasn’t surprising that the majority of our respondents were English-speakers from North America, but it was good to see some of our international readers represented as well. We have had submissions from most continents (not Antarctica, though that would be very cool—any research scientists at the South Pole reading this?) so we know we have a wide reach even if the majority of our readers are “local.”

It was interesting to see that all the age categories were represented. This is something we weren’t sure about but will definitely take into account when planning future articles. We should note we didn’t include the 12-and-under age category on the survey because of COPPA but we do know we have readers in that group as well (see next section).

Background Image: Farrukh/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Background Image: Farrukh/Flickr (CC-by-nc)


If you are a teacher who uses TC in your classes, what level do you teach?
College / University (2)
High School (1)
Adult Education (1)
“My teacher used it. Does that count?”

If you are a teacher, what subject(s) do you teach?
English (4)
Creative Writing (3)
Literature (1)

If you are a teacher, what section/part of TC do you use the most?
“Hard to say; pretty much the whole site.”
“Just refer students here in a general way.”

We’re not going to lie, we’d hoped more teachers would respond to the survey. From our site stats, specifically the number of incoming links from schools and teacher pages, we know that a lot of teachers use TC as a resource and refer students—including preteens who weren’t an age group we originally anticipated using the site—here, and we would love to know more about why you like TC and if there’s anything we could do that would improve the user experience for you. We’ll keep trying to connect.


Which of the following apply to you?
I have a job that’s not writing-related. (29)
I’m a student. (19)
I have a writing-related job. (15)
I’m a stay-at-home parent. (7)
I’m retired. (6)
Other answers: I am self employed. | Teacher/author/reviewer | I write | Former college professor | I write short fiction | My job is writing-intensive, but not writing-related. | Recent college grad, living with parents. | Unemployed.

How much time do you spend writing weekly?
0-10 hours. (31)
10-20 hours. (23)
Less than 40 hours but more than 20. (11)
It’s my full-time job. (5)
Other answers: More than 40 but I write a lot for work. It’s skill practice, but not quite the same as creative fiction. | Binge poetry fiction/creative non.

What genres do you write?
General Fiction (literary, mainstream, etc.) (56)
Supernatural Fiction (scifi, fantasy, horror, etc.) (36)
Flash (31)
Poetry (29)
Creative Nonfiction (20)
Other Nonfiction (essays, articles, etc.) (17)
Mystery (16)
Fan Fiction (9)
Other answers: Historical fiction | Romantic Comedy | Speculative / Borderline | small one or two line pieces to go with a photo series. | Anything TC contests require.

We see that TC has a broad audience, that no single category dominates. We have those who write on their own time to those who write for a living, those who write a little to those who write a lot, and all genres well-represented. On the one hand, that’s really cool; on the other, that doesn’t really help us to narrow down what type of content to focus on! We suppose it’s a sign we should continue what we’re doing, but perhaps add some more niche articles that would appeal to different groups.


Do you write with the intent of publishing your work?
Sometimes (43)
Always (26)
Never (3)

Have you submitted for publication?
Yes, in the last month. (20)
Yes, but not recently. (19)
Yes, in the last year. (15)
No, not yet (but I plan to). (13)
No, I write for myself only. (3)
No, I prefer to self-publish. (2)

How many times do you edit a piece before submitting?
More than 3 but less than 10. (37)
2-3 times. (24)
10+ times. (9)
Once. (2)

Have you had work published?
Yes, a few times. (29)
Not yet. (27)
Yes, many times. (9)
I have self-published. (4)
Other answers: First one in November | Once, but not paid | Poetry Anthologies | I submitted my work to a TC contest. Does that count?

What do you do with your rejection letters?
Keep / save / file / archive them. (29)

“…for motivation to try harder”

“…for reference”

“…to learn from them”

“…as motivation to continue trying”

“…to review them occasionally”

“…in hopes of laughing at them someday!”

“I make notes on things to change, then put them somewhere I cannot find them.”

Throw them away / delete them / ignore them / nothing. (20)

“I make note of reflections in a log, then delete/toss them.”

I have not received any yet. (14)

Depends on contents. (5)

“I collate both good and bad criticisms if written down. If it’s an automatic rejection, I simply delete it from my inbox.”

“I ignore them unless the editor offers constructive comments.”

“It would depend on the contents: save-trash”

“I’ve been ridiculously lucky and haven’t gotten any yet. When I do, I’ll keep them in a file to refer to a) when I’m looking for ways to improve my writing and b) to remind myself that I’m actively trying, putting stuff out there.”

“Read and recycle unless they are particularly encouraging. Then I save them.”

Use as motivation. (4)

“Turn them into motivational posters.”

“Post them on my board next to the positives.”

“Frame them. If I get a personal note.”

“When I receive one, I’ll be happy to frame it.”


We’re thrilled to see how many of our readers are submitting their work and having success at publishing, but don’t worry, we’ll never forget those of you who are just starting out. It also warms our cold editor hearts to see the number of times most of you revise your work before submitting.

It looks like rejection letters could be the subject of its own article—kudos to those of you who find creative ways to turn rejection into motivation. Group hug!


Do you have an email address just for writing-related business?
No, I use my primary email. (51)
Yes. (19)
Other answers: I use my University email. | No.

We’re disappointed no one admitted to using someone else’s email and/or an email with a random name on it, because this happens on a regular basis and we’re so curious as to why! Get your own email people who do this. Everyone else, carry on.

Do you have an online portfolio or writing-related website?
No. (35)
Yes, I have a writing-focused blog. (21)
Yes, I promote my work via social media. (18)
Yes, I have my own website. (13)
Other answers: I also referred people to my publisher to read blurbs on my books | Online writing websites | Kind of. I write on it, about books. | Under construction.

This question had a definite divide. We found it somewhat surprising that nearly half our respondents had no online space for their writing at all, while the other half in most cases had more than one space to share their writing. This could potentially be the subject of a future article.

How do you research markets?
(for submissions) I do my own research by reading a variety of publications. (47)
I use a website (like WritersMarket.com). (25)
I use a resource book (like Writer’s Market). (21)
(for queries) I do my own research by visiting agent and publisher websites. (20)
I’ll worry about that later. “First I must learn to write!” (10)
Word of mouth (5)

“ask friends and colleagues”

“I know several authors and editors well enough to ask them for advice.”

“people’s bios”

“Talk to readers about what they are reading, what they like and don’t like etc.”


If you use a book or website to research markets, which one?
Writer’s Market (19)
Duotrope (7)
Poets and Writers (3)
WritersMarket.com (3)
Poet’s Market (2)
Newpages.com (2)
Other books/sites: Novel and Short Story’s Writer’s Market, Cozy-Mystery.com, The Submission Grinder, freelancewriting.com, Mslexia, querytracker.net, The Writer magazine, thereviewreview.net, Writer’s Chronicle, Writer’s Digest, Ralan, Dark Markets, www.writing.ie

Google / the internet generally (7)

“I just surf the net for contemporary poets and check out where they’ve already published.”

“I mostly use writer blogs and websites”

Many / Various (6)

“Multiple genre-related sites”

“Depends on the piece”

“Not a specific one…”

None / “What is a market?” (18)

There were so many different responses to these questions. We liked the word-of-mouth responses—we neglected to include that in our options, and obviously connections are an important resource. As well, some of the market resources you use were new to us. We had a couple respondents ask “what is a market?” so it looks likely that markets/market resources will be the subject of a future article.

Props to those of you who are taking the time to focus on developing your writing craft before worrying about submitting.That phase of the writing life is too often undervalued.


Do you participate in writing challenges?
No, challenges aren’t for me. (32)
Yes, NaNoWriMo. (18)
Yes, other writing challenges. (22)

If you answered “other writing challenges” in the question above, which one(s)?
TC contests / Mini-Nano (7)
Other contests/competitions (not specified) (8)
Other: Liberty Hall, On the Premises, StoryADay, WriteChain Challenge, monthly poetry challenges available on Facebook, mostly blogging challenges, school writing challenge, weekly prompt challenges, writers group.

Other responses:

“goals I set for myself”

“I don’t do challenges other than ones I set for myself”

“I don’t understand the question. writing is a challenge.”

“I have done NaNo and some other challenges, which is how I learned they aren’t for me.”

We weren’t surprised to see a divide on the responses to these questions. About half the respondents aren’t interested in writing challenges, while others had many/varied responses. This mirrors the divide we’ve always observed between contest entries and regular submissions, i.e. there is next to no overlap between these two groups of writers. We think it would be fascinating to interview writers on both sides and dig deeper into the differences.


What types of writing articles do you like to read?
Elements of fiction (character, plot, setting, etc.) (53)
Inspiration / Creativity (50)
Business of writing (submitting, querying, etc.) (41)
Author interviews (41)
Anything really / Everything (2)
Other answers: Articles about writer’s spaces and time management. | book reviews | grammar/weak words/transition words and phrases | how to make 3D characters | I don’t.

Apparently you like a bit of everything (except for the person who doesn’t like reading articles about writing at all, lol). Which we guess tells us to continue what we’re doing. And for the person who mentioned book reviews, that article is coming very soon!

Any comments or questions?

How does your payment system work regarding the authors’ work you accept for publication? Is there revenue sharing? Is your magazine distributed in the form of hard copy, digital, or through online publication? —um.

I love the monthly writing prompts and playing with the contest themes. Also, I enjoy messing around in the forums when I have the time and inclination even though I have yet to coax myself into posting something myself. All-in-all, I love your site!! —thank you!

I rarely do surveys, but this was fun! Served to also make me think about where I am writing-wise and what I’m looking for out of writing resources and support materials. Many thanks! —thank you!

I really really appreciate your Twitter presence. Your writing prompts are pretty sweet! —thank you!

I’m at a point where I’m focusing on learning what I think are intermediate skills: how do I approach revising large works (novella, novel), what are the steps to querying agents, when do I get an editor involved, what is the editorial relationship like, and how can I maximize my learning throughout this process? Things like that. I like TC’s writing prompts and fiction contests, and find these useful for practicing the craft. —thank you, and thanks for the suggestions!

Love your site —thank you!

More power to Toasted Cheese this 2015! 🙂 —thank you!

No questions. I just love your site. You guys do great work, and you do it consistently. —thank you!

No success locating an agent. —so… an article on finding an agent perhaps?

Spork. —scuppernong.

This is an unusual quiz, don’t forget about the new authors. —ok!

What the heck is a market? Also, when will you be revealing the DoW 2014 winners? —article on markets, gotcha. Dead of Winter winners are announced January 31; this is in the contest guidelines, ffr.

Thanks again for participating and be sure to check out the A Pen In Each Hand exercise.


A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

community:  a group of people who have the same interests

We love that you love visiting and reading TC (yes, we see you—hi!), but we’d love it even more if you interacted with us, too. So in this exercise we challenge you to speak up. Comment on a post or article. Talk to us on Twitter or Facebook. Start a thread at the forums. Do something to give us an opportunity to get to know you better.

If you appreciate TC, speaking up is the easiest way to give back. We know it can be scary to delurk, but you can do it! Help put the community back in writing community. We can’t do it without you.

The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud. Coco Chanel (1883-1971)

I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t. Audre Lorde (1934-1992)

I think most of us fear reaching the end of our life and looking back regretting the moments we didn’t speak up. … there’s a time for silence, and there’s a time for waiting your turn. But if you know how you feel, and you so clearly know what you need to say, you’ll know it. I don’t think you should wait. I think you should speak now. Taylor Swift (1989- )