21st Annual Dead of Winter short fiction contest

Stories submitted to the the 21st Annual Dead of Winter contest (December 2021) will use the theme STAY OUT OF THE ___ .

Since childhood, we’ve been warned to stay away from certain places like the forest or an abandoned house. We’re also told to stay out of arguments or not to shake the family tree. After all, it’s for our own good. What could possibly go wrong if we disregard this fundamental advice? Your characters will get to find out in the horror story you’ll write by completing and using that theme.

Your entry will not only use the theme but will also use it in a central way, not as a peripheral or “dropped in” detail. Give your story a unique title.


Stories MUST be based on the theme provided.
Stories MUST be set in winter.
Stories MUST fall in the horror genre.


The contest opens October 1, 2021 and the deadline for submission is 11:59 PM ET December 21, 2021.

Email entries to dow2021[at]toasted-cheese.com with the subject line:
Dead of Winter Contest Entry.

Include at the beginning of your entry: Title (word count)

The word count range for DOW 2021 is 1000–5000 words. You may round your word count however you like (example: a 4853-word-story could be “4853,” “4850,” or “~4900”). Stories that do not fall within word count parameters will be disqualified.

Follow general contest guidelines and general Dead of Winter guidelines.
See DOW guidelines for prize information.

Toasted Cheese 21:1

The March issue of Toasted Cheese features poetry by Mandy Haggith, Jenny Hockey, W. Joseph O’Connell, Liam Tait & DJ Tyrer; flash by Gigi Papoulias, Clara Schwarz & Shelbi Tedeschi; and fiction by Mari Carlson, Joey Dickerson, Samyuktha Iyer & Allison Meldrum.

TC 21:1 also includes the 20th Annual Dead of Winter Horror Writing Contest winning stories by Karen Sheard, H.B. Bendt & Matt Boyle.

At Candle-Ends, Shelley Carpenter reviews Hinterland by L.M. Brown and The Reflection in a Glass Eye by Simon Perchik.

The cover image is by Jonathan Ooi 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!

Dead of Winter 2020 Winners

Thank you for your patience as we determined our final Dead of Winter results, which are:

  • 1st: “The Cold Face of the Mountain” by Karen Sheard (Theme: Alaska)
  • 2nd: “A Guiding Light” by H.B. Bendt (Theme: The Haunted Lighthouse)
  • 3rd: “Carriers” by Matt Boyle (Theme: The Award)
  • Honorable Mention: “The Reborn” by Becca Yenser (Theme: Heart and Soul)
  • Honorable Mention: “The Seagull” by Alex Grey (Theme: Nevertheless She Persisted)

The most popular themes submitted to our 20th annual horror fiction contest were “Nevertheless She Persisted” and “The Hand of Fate.” The first, second, and third place stories will appear in Toasted Cheese 21.1, our Spring issue.

Our next contest is the renamed The Savage Mystery Writing Contest (formerly Three Cheers and a Tiger), which opens Friday, March 19 and ends Sunday, March 21. Please remember to follow theme, genre, and word count parameters on all contests. There is no registration, entry fee, or geographic restriction for this or any TC contest.

Dead of Winter delay

Due to (gestures around) everything, TC will be a little late announcing Dead of Winter winners. We will have our picks by February 6, hopefully earlier.

As always, entrants will be notified first. Then we will have a post here at TC for sharing on social media and finally on social media itself.

Thanks for your patience and for entries that have made choosing our finalists such challenging fun.