The Best of Toasted Cake 2018

written by David Steffen

Toasted Cake is the idiosyncratic flash fiction podcast published, edited, hosted, and most often narrated by writer Tina Connolly. As noted in last year’s Best Of list, Toasted Cake had gone on hiatus for a couple years to make more time for writing deadlines and raising young children, but in the fall of 2017 she brought it back as an ongoing publication, publishing weekly during the school year. 2018 is the first full calendar year of publication after the end of the hiatus.

Tina Connolly has great and varied editorial taste and she’s an experience and excellent narrator as well. If you like flash fiction that is weird and unique and many times fun (but not always, there is serious fare as well), you would do well to check out the podcast.

The List

1.“A Scrimshaw of Smeerps” by Shannon Fay*
Future holiday traditions, wherein we tell the children that cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin comes to our home every year.

2.“Re: Little Miss Apocalypse Playset” by Effie Seiberg
Internal corporate email chain about the business decisions underlying the realistically catastrophic children’s toy

3.“We Need to Talk About the Unicorn In Your Backyard” by Mari Ness
A letter from the homeowner’s association, about the unicorn in your backyard.

4.“Immeasurable” by H.E. Roulo
The new teen trend is to download an app that measures all of your real-life activities by reaching achievements based on your goals.

5.“The Empire Builder” by Eden Robins
The feeling when you wake up with a sentient train in your bed.

Honorable Mentions

“Dear 8B” by Matt Mikalatos

Award Recommendations 2018

written by David Steffen

Here are some recommendations for selected Hugo and Nebula categories. (Note that I’ve listed them in alphabetical order, rather than order of preference, and have listed more than the 5 ballot options when possible). I don’t think I’ve read any eligible novels this year, so that category is not represented.

Best Novella

“Umbernight” by Carolyn Ives Gillman, in Clarkesworld Magazine

Best Novelette

“A Love Story Written On Water” by Ashok K. Banker, in Lightspeed Magazine

“A World To Die For” by Tobias S. Buckell, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“The Last To Matter” by Adam-Troy Castro, in Lightspeed Magazine

“Dead Air” by Nino Cipri, in Nightmare Magazine

“Hapthorn’s Last Case” by Matthew Hughes, in Lightspeed Magazine

“The Fortunate Death of Jonathan Sandelson” by Margaret Killjoy, in Strange Horizons

“To Fly Like a Fallen Angel” by Qi Yue, translated by Elizabeth Hanlon, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“House of Small Spiders” by Weston Ochse, in Nightmare Magazine

“Thirty-Three Percent Joe” by Suzanne Palmer, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“Master Zhao: An Ordinary Time Traveler” by Zhang Ran, translated by Andy Dudak

Best Short Story

“After Midnight at the ZapStop” by Matthew Claxton, in Escape Pod

A Scrimshaw of Smeerps” by Shannon Fay, in Toasted Cake

“Variations on a Theme From Turandot by Ada Hoffman, in Strange Horizons

“Secrets and Things We Don’t Say Out Loud” by José Pablo Iriarte, in Cast of Wonders

“Octo-Heist in Progress” by Rich Larson, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“Hosting the Solstice” by Tim Pratt, in PodCastle

“Marshmallows” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires, in Clarkesworld Magazine

“The Death Knight, the Dragon, and the Damsel” by Melion Traverse, in Cast of Wonders

“Some Personal Arguments in Support of the BetterYou (Based on Early Interactions)” by Debbie Urbanski, in Strange Horizons

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form / Ray Bradbury Award

Ant-Man and the Wasp

The Incredibles 2

Kevin (Probably) Saves the World

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, for Nintendo Switch

A Wrinkle In Time

Interview: Anatoly Belivosky

anatolybelilovskyAnatoly Belilovsky is a rising star in the steampunk subgenre. He was born in a city that went through six or seven owners in the last century, all of whom used it to do a lot more than drive to church on Sundays; he is old enough to remember tanks rolling through it on their way to Czechoslovakia in 1968. After being traded to the US for a shipload of grain and a defector to be named later (see wikipedia, Jackson-Vanik amendment), he learned English from Star Trek reruns and went on to become a pediatrician in an area of New York where English is only the 4th most commonly used language. He has neither cats nor dogs, but was admitted into SFWA in spite of this deficiency, having published stories in NATURE, Ideomancer, Immersion Book of Steampunk, Daily SF, Kasma, UFO, Stupefying Stories, Cast of Wonders, and other markets.



ANATOLY BELILOVSKY: A story unlocks its market the same way a key opens a door, by lining up its bits with lock pins. Some bits must match the publication’s needs , length, style, subject matter; some must, in some ineffable way, tickle the editor’s fancy. I’ve had excellent experience with DSF; they tend to publish what I like to read more often than not, and also more often than not they like what I send them. In fact, if you look at my bibliography, NATURE, Kasma, Stupefying Stories, Toasted Cake, and DSF bought 3 or more of my stories, each. That’s half of my entire output in only five markets. Granted, these are the five most flash-friendly publications, but there is also undoubtedly an excellent match between my sensibilities, and their editors’.



Steampunk is basically 19th century fanfic, and my homage to authors of that era who shaped my own writing: Poe, Verne, Pushkin, Gogol, Chekhov, Conan Doyle. And I’m a history buff, too, so it’s a natural fit. Other subgenres , alternate history, magic realism, humor. Or combos thereof. One of my own favorite stories will be reprinted soon by Fantasy Scroll magazine: “Hither and Yon,” wherein a nexus of alternate realities converges on… but why spoil it?



Must have been that immortal phrase I had my fictional Richard Wagner utter: “Fools! They seek to defeat me with Bizet!” Although at least one editor fell in love with the military rank I invented for the story, “Timpanenfuhrer.”




Not quite the first, but yes, very early. The editor of IMMERSION BOOK OF STEAMPUNK was actually one of its critiquers on the Critters workshop and asked for it specifically. “Prep work” — this reminds me of a literary agent I met once at a con almost 30 years ago. I told her I wanted to write, and about what was going on in med school – I had just started clinical rotations then. She nodded and said, “It’s all copy.” So here we are, 30 years’ worth of family, career, and other experiences later. Yes, from the viewpoint of my writer side, it’s prep work. From every other viewpoint, it’s life. A bit farther down I mention my favorite line from a Chekhov story – but it didn’t hit me how brilliant that line is, until I actually saw enough undemonstrative people under overwhelming pressure, and saw how small and subtle and poignant are the ways of their display of these pressures.




Yes! Of this I dream: to crank out my novels, see them sold before me, and hear the lamentations of their copyeditors. One of my literary heroes is Georges Simenon, he of the novel-a-week school of writing. I can pretty much manage a thousand words a week, two thousand if inspiration strikes. Now if only there were a niche for flash novels…




Inspired, yes: in the footsteps of Chekhov, Bulgakov, Conan Doyle (the usual physician writer suspects) in drawing upon that experience for knowledge of how people act under pressure. But I rarely write medical fiction: too many biomedical ideas get discarded because I know they wouldn’t work in real life, and can’t get past the shame of perpetrating a palpable falsehood in the one subject about which I may never be intentionally misleading , “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.” (As you can see from QUANTUM MECHANICS, I have no such trouble with other sciences.) Two exceptions – NOR CUSTOM STALE, in NATURE, and DON’T LOOK DOWN, in Daily SF and Toasted Cake, both touch upon medical aspects of aging. A lot of what happens in medicine is a lot less exciting than it sounds. As a resident, I oversaw a voodoo exorcism of a dying boy in an intensive care unit. It was a last-ditch measure that the parents asked to try, and they brought their own practitioner, and everyone agreed that it could do no harm but no one wanted to be there when it happened, so I volunteered. So this quiet, unassuming gentleman in a business suit came to the ICU, whispered a prayer, sprinkled something on the child’s forehead, thanked me and left. That was that. Total anticlimax.


FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT READ ANATOLY BELIVOSKY’S LATEST DAILY SCIENCE FICTION STORY, SPOILERS IN THIS QUESTION AND ANSWER. In “Quantum Mechanics,” a man’s life is rewritten by, guess what, quantum physics. Was it the Mexican restaurant cook or the mechanic across the street who rewrote the main character’s life? Based on the implications of the next question, I’m guessing the cook. Why is the cook’s girlfriend alarmed when the customer asks about the shark bite that took the cook’s hand, and later, sad when she manned the cash register to take the customer’s money? Did the cook lose his hand saving his girlfriend’s life? Does he practice quantum mechanics on people who ask about the shark bite and the lost hand to prove to them that their life isn’t as bad as they think, ie, he lost his hand but it was worth losing and his life is still good because he has his girlfriend?

No, I was actually thinking of the mechanic: the unseen offstage presence, the actual hand that closes the lid on Schroedinger’s box, then opens it again to reveal the new reality – or at least “good as new.” Then again, once the story is out it belongs to the reader: one interpretation is as good as any other. Subject to the same caveat, this is my interpretation , and, again, not speaking ex cathedra: Here is the cook who, yes, lost his arm saving a woman from a shark. He lives across the street from “quantum mechanics” who, for a very modest fee, can rebranch the reality to where he got to keep his arm , good as new , and the shark got to keep its breakfast. Her anxiety, in part, is from her triggered recollections, and in part perhaps from a sense of insecurity , will he, or won’t he, reconsider his decision? He knows that will never happen; the answer to: “Did that hurt?” , is for the woman’s ears: “Not that much. Not really” , meaning: I’ve no regrets about the bargain I’ve made. And maybe for them, this is the second branch? Perhaps the cook first watched her die, then, with the mechanic’s help, went back to save her, and both of them remember both realities? And, knowing this, both look upon the story’s narrator with “countenance more in sorrow than in anger?” If you will allow a small digression, let me mention what I believe to be one of the most brilliant sentences ever written. It’s from Chekhov’s “A Lady with a Dog,” from the scene where the narrator sees the eponymous, and quite attractive, lady, with the eponymous dog, and approaches, ostensibly, to look at the dog. At which point: “He does not bite,” she said and blushed. I may be reading too much into it, and be wrong, but it’s my prerogative as a reader: I think this gives a wide-open view of her state of mind, of her desire to get the narrator to come closer, of her longing for, imagining, and blushing at the thought of the touch of the narrator’s hand. Analyzing my own line in retrospect: “Not that much. Not really.” It feels like it’s treading the middle ground, between: “Not in the least!” – which would have been a palpable lie, and: “Hurt like hell!” – which would have given the woman grounds for feelings of guilt on her part, or for thinking he might trade her back at some point when the sacrifice might seem not worth the outcome. Here he is both acknowledging her feelings, and tries to assuage her. This is all in retrospect, of course. Ultimately, it seemed the right thing to say at the moment and so I wrote it.



One original (NIGHT WITCH to Tales of Old,) the rest reprints. I love podcasting; my writing runs to storytelling, I have to hear the story in my head before I can write it, and the podcasts I’ve been on so far have done magnificent jobs with narration and sound engineering, and given both the higher expense of audio production, and the lack of revenue stream endemic to all Creative Commons endeavors, payments have ranged from token to low-semipro. But to hear the perfectly timed musical punchline to KULTURKAMPF as produced by Cast of Wonders, or Tina Connolly’s sublime Toasted Cake interpretation of LAST MAN STANDING, a zombie story that quotes Sartre and Camus, is a pleasure that overrides all other considerations. All stories audio produced so far have been submissions; the one “shoulder tap” was for a sequel to a story previously podcast. The sequel is written and first rights sold to its original market, but the publication of that anthology is woefully delayed, and so the podcast waits for its availability.



ENGLISH IS NOT YOUR NATIVE LANGUAGE. I have a degree in journalism and 25% of my freshmen class failed their first English department writing course. So I know from experience that even most native speakers don’t have good writing skills. I teach English as a Second Language and I’ve taught several writing classes to ESL students. So I also know from experience that most ESL students, even most of the English majors, can’t write a complex sentence completely and correctly, much less a polished, understandable, interesting manuscript. Even the English majors who specialize in translation make a lot of minor mistakes. You were not raised in America and it’s much harder to learn a second language as an adult than as child. How then did you not only master English but also master fiction?

Nabokov may have been too modest (or falsely so) when he wrote, in the preface to LOLITA: “My private tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody’s concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian language for a second-rate brand of English.” Nabokov, of course, gets the medal for best literary command of English as a second language, with oak leaf clusters for French and German in which he had also wrote published stories while living in Europe. Starting in another language can make one more acutely aware of the fine structure of English, of how English sentences work, of how it compensates for lost declensions and abandoned conjugations; of how our first language’s classics had been translated (or mistranslated) into English, and vice versa. It certainly has not deterred the many amazing multilingual writers working now , I know for certain that Ken Liu and Alex Shvartsman both acquired English far later than they did their respective first languages, but the same is probably true of a number of others. Ken Liu, Alex Shvartsman, and James Beamon belong at the top of another relevant list – writers whose advice, encouragement and critique, all dispensed with unstinting generosity, brought me much farther than I ever would have gotten without them. To quote your question — “How then did you not only master English but also master fiction?” If “master” even remotely applies, as a verb, a noun, or an adjective, to any of my writing, it is to them that the credit is due. And then there is the subject of literary translation which a whole ‘nother bag of skills altogether, which I am trying to break into with variable success – the “uptick” of “variable” being my translation of WHITE CURTAIN by Pavel Amnuel, out in the May-June 2014 issue of F&SF to very encouraging reviews (all of which say nothing about the translation, a fact I find most flattering as it means I succeeded in making the translation seamless and invisible.)


In my neighborhood, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu. In which I say, respectively, Spasibo, Gracias, and Shukriya.


Note: One of Anatoly Belilovsky’s Daily Science Fiction stories is a collaboration and was published under the pen name A.J. Barr.


Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

Interview: Tina Connolly

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

tina_connolly-300x450Flash podcast site Toasted Cake was launched in 2012 by speculative fiction author, theater buff, and painting hobbyist Tina Connolly. Toasted Cake recently posted its 100th podcast. Connolly’s first novel, Ironskin, published by Tor, is a fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre and was nominated for the Nebula award. Ironskin was followed by Copperhead. The third in the series, Silverblind, is due in the fall of 2014. Seriously Wicked, a YA novel, is due in the spring of 2015. Connolly’s short stories have appeared in Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Strange Horizons, and many other magazines. She is a graduate of the 2006 Clarion West workshop.


CARL SLAUGHTER: Why did you decide to launch a podcast?

TINA CONNOLLY: Because once upon a time in 2008 or so, Rachel Swirsky asked me to narrate a story for Podcastle. Podcastle led to Escape Pod led to Drabblecast led to Pseudopod led to Beneath Ceaseless Skies led to Three-Lobed Burning Eye led to Cast of Wonders led to Strange Horizons led to Far-Fetched Fables led to John Joseph Adams & Hugh Howey’s anthology, The End Is Nigh. And so on. Basically, I got hooked.

So there I was in 2012 with a book coming out (Ironskin) and another book under contract (Copperhead) and a one-year-old boy and a new-to-us fixer house, and I said, Self, you know what would make this year even better? Podcasting a new story every single week, that’s what.

TL;DR: I be crazy overscheduled, yo.


CARL SLAUGHTER; How did you choose the name Toasted Cake?

TINA CONNOLLY: I knew I wanted it to be a flash fiction podcast, so I was batting around ideas that would play off of the bite-sized idea. Things like Snackcast. They were all taken. I kept brainstorming tasty -pod and -cast names, but still, all taken. Eventually I just got to things I like, like Pie for Breakfast (taken.) And eventually, Toasted Cake. (Listen to episode 32, “The Hungry Child” by Romie Stott, to hear an outro about why you should totally toast your cake.)

It has been since pointed out to me by more than one person that Toasted Cake and Tina Connolly share a set of initials. I did not do this intentionally, but I suppose my subconscious may have gotten the best of me….


CARL SLAUGHTER: Why restrict the podcast to flash fiction?

TINA CONNOLLY: One, because I wanted to podcast an episode every week, and that wasn’t going to be feasible with full-length fiction (not doing it all myself, anyway.)

But two, because I LOVE flash fiction, and I think it gets a bit overlooked. A really good piece of flash fiction is just a different creature than a full-length story, or a poem. (Listen to episode #13, Helena Bell’s “Please Return My Son Who Is In Your Custody”, for an outro with some of my Brilliantly Insightful Theories (TM) on what makes flash fiction work.)

The fact that I DO love flash fiction has made Toasted Cake work out really well, I think. I mean, in that you should probably only start a magazine if a) it’s filling a niche, and b) if it’s something you’re passionate about. I never wanted to become a magazine editor in particular, but boy howdy, I do love reading a piece of flash fiction each week.


CARL SLAUGHTER: How often do you post readings?

TINA CONNOLLY: Once a week. (With occasional misses for laryngitis.)


CARL SLAUGHTER: What type of stories do you feature?

TINA CONNOLLY: A few descriptors I like are weird, quirky, dark, twisted, funny, fun, literary, puzzling, bizarre, tongue-twistable, singable, patter-friendly, elocutionary, experimental, witty, and wistful.

A few of our amazing authors: Camille Alexa, Vylar Kaftan, Ken Liu, Cat Rambo, Rachel Swirsky, Caroline M. Yoachim, and I have to stop there or I never will. Most of the stories are reprints, and since they’re flash they tend to come from a few markets in particular,I notice a number of stories from Nature and Daily SF (and in the first year there were still a number from the late lamented Brain Harvest.) But I’ve also run original stories (“Zing Zou Zou” by C. S. E. Cooney, is a particularly awesome example), and stories from folks who’ve told me this is their first podcast appearance.


CARL SLAUGHTER: Who does the reading?

TINA CONNOLLY: Me! But while I was off on maternity leave, I had a few fantastic guest-narrators read for me: Dave Thompson, Graeme Dunlop, David Levine, and Matt Haynes. It ended up being all male voices, actually, because with three of the four of them I sent them something that I had wanted to run on the podcast but thought I wasn’t quite the right narrator for it.


CARL SLAUGHTER: You read for a variety of other podcasts. What type of stories do you like to read?

TINA CONNOLLY: Here’s where I post the list of descriptors I like again! 🙂 Seriously, though, what’s different about Toasted Cake is that everything I purchase has to be a) be podcastable and b) by ME. I sadly have to turn down stories that I personally like but I think I’m not a good fit for. So the stories on Toasted Cake are definitely the sort of stories that I think I will enjoy reading, and that will suit me. (But I also sometimes stretch a point and make my listeners listen to me sing, for example. 🙂

When an editor asks me what I feel comfortable with, my list usually goes something like: younger voices, alien/fey/otherworldly creatures, snarky, wistful. I’m planning to join Audible as a narrator one of these days,once the baby’s older, anyway! I would love to sink my teeth into a full-length book.


CARL SLAUGHTER: A number of your stories have been podcasted. Who chooses the reader for your stories, you or the podcast editor?

TINA CONNOLLY: The podcast editor does. I’ve had a lot of great podcasts run! Actually, my first exposure to Drabblecast was via hearing Norm Sherman read my On the Eyeball Floor for Escape Pod in a killer reading.


CARL SLAUGHTER: Toasted Cake recently reached a milestone. 100 podcasts. Can we expect any major changes or is it ‘steady as she goes’?

TINA CONNOLLY: Thank you! Yes, we did reach 100 , I’m thrilled to make it this far. (I was originally just planning to do one year, but then it picked up the Parsec award for Best New Podcast, so I thought, hmm, maybe there’s some people out there who’d enjoy hearing a little more of it… 🙂 No major changes,I plan to at least make it to 200, so there’s a good bit of Toasted Cake in store yet!


CARL SLAUGHTER: How does an author submit their story to be podcasted on Toasted Cake? How does someone volunteer to read for Toasted Cake? Do you accept prepackaged podcasts from the author or reader’s publicist or agent or fan?

TINA CONNOLLY: Right now I am the only narrator, although I wouldn’t rule out having another guest voice from time to time. Prepackaged podcasts is an interesting idea! I’m not sure if anyone’s doing that,at least, they haven’t contacted me with it. AFAIK, all the main podcasts, including mine, just accept submissions of stories. In text form.

I currently am doing two open submissions windows, one in February, and one in August (but not this year). Here’s the info, and I’m looking forward to the August submission period! Toasted Cake is a boutique market, which is a nice way of saying I can only pay $5. (You can also choose the option of me buying you a drink at a con, which I love as it means we get to sit down and chat a bit.) However, it is primarily a reprint market, which means you could have sold that story ten times already before sending it to me, and another ten times after. . . . Or, just come listen to the show!

Thanks for the interview, Carl, and for having me here on Diabolical Plots!


Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

The Best of Toasted Cake

written by David Steffen

Toasted Cake is a podcast launched in 2012 by writer Tina Connolly. She labels it as an “idiosyncratic flash fiction podcast”, and has managed to maintain a pace of a story a week for all of 2012. Her original aim was to do the podcast for all of 2012, but at the turn of 2013 she has decided to keep on with it, perhaps encouraged by her Parsec Award for “Best New Podcast”.

The stories are generally pretty quick listens, good for filling a few minutes of idle time. They also work well strung together on a road trip as I listened to them–the change of story every 5-10 minutes kept it easier to stay awake and alert.

Apparently I’m a fan of Caroline M. Yoachim–her story “Pageant Girls” was on my Best of Pseudopod 2011 list and appeared here as Toasted Cake #1–it may very well have ended up on the list as well, to make a Yoachim hat trick, except that I have set a rule for myself to not consider any story for more than one list so that each list has a unique set.

1. Deathbed by Caroline M. Yoachim
A man who remembers life in reverse order is on his deathbed. This is the story of his end from the point of view of his wife (who remembers things in the usual order)

2. On Writing “How an Autobot sunk the Titanic” by J. Bradley
A “behind the scenes” kind of look at a book that doesn’t exist. It’s a ridiculous idea, as you can guess by the title. Ridiculous enough that I would buy it.

3. The Occupation of the Architect by Jason Heller
Sentient buildings rise up and put an architect on trial for his crimes against buildingkind.

4. The Choir Invisible by Anatoly Belilovsky
A sentient vacuum cleaner tries to make the most of the time that it has.

5. Dear Ms. Moon by Liz Argall
A series of letters written to the moon, pleading for it to help the protagonist’s younger brother not fall so hard.

6. Zing Zou Zou by C.S.E. Cooney
The machine uprising, focused on a children’s schoolteacher bot.


Honorable Mentions

Golden Years in the Paleozoic by Ken Liu
Cute, written as a pitch for retirement homes in the ancient past.

Vermilion Dreams by Claude LalumiÃ’ re
Written as a series of book reviews of fictional books, entertaining, only part of the original list of books in the original publication.

Mothership by Caroline M. Yoachim
A ship who is literally a mother tries to do what is best for her child.