65 Writing Contests in December 2022 – No entry fees – by Erica Verrillo… — Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

on Publishing … and Other Forms of Insanity: This December there are more than five dozen free writing contests for short fiction, novels, poetry, CNF, nonfiction, and plays. . Prizes range from $45,000 to publication. . None charge entry fees. . Some of these contests have age and geographical restrictions, so read the instructions carefully. […]

65 Writing Contests in December 2022 – No entry fees – by Erica Verrillo… — Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

The Doll Factory

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth MacNeal

In this novel, a pair of twin unhappily work in a doll shop and  a collector of rare specimens, Silas, takes interest in one of them. Iris also fall under the gaze of a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of painters hoping to take Victorian London by storm.

The drudgery of Iris’ work is palpable. What she wants more than anything is to become an artist. Louis, a member of the Brotherhood, offers her a chance of a lifetime. He tells Iris,

“I can teach you how to use oils, and perhaps next year you can enter a canvas into the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.”

The offer, however, is contingent upon her becoming a model for him. He promises to also teach her to paint–something that Iris has longed for all her life. 

Her family disowns her after she becomes Louis’ model. They feel its unbecoming of a woman to live alone and work as an artists model. This leaves her more vulnerable to the local psychopath, Silas. 

MacNeal skillfully creates this character by first hiding his flaws. Silas originally appears as just another impassioned artist, except in his case he is interested in curiosities. He preserves dead animals and skeletons, butterflies, and other odd assortments.

Oddly enough, several women associated with Silas go missing–Flick, Bluebell, and now Iris. 

The novel skillfully draws readers into the Victorian world. Readers care about the plight of the protagonists–Louis who has gotten himself in a quandary–and Iris who desperately wants to be free to paint. Like the queen in Louis’ painting, Iris finds herself figuratively and literally imprisoned. 

In writing that rivals the best suspense novel, MacNeal takes readers into the mind of a serial killer and a desperate woman’s fight for freedom. 

What is a lyric essay?

Lyric essay

A Family of Strangers by Deborah Tall

A lyric essay is a cross between an essay and a lyric poem. In “Knit One,”  Suzanne Cody writes in Eastern Iowa Review about a woman’s sorrow and dejection by using the metaphor of knitting:

“Sorrow ravels the sweater from the bottom–a slow, slow process. He appears to think the young woman doesn’t notice. But she does. He may well know this, but likes to pretend.” 

Their relationship is becoming unraveled just like the sweater:

“If you don’t make time for this, eventually the pulling will go faster than the stitching and there will be nothing left between you and me but a pile of tangled wool”

The term lyric essay was invented by the late Deborah Tall, a professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Tall wrote A Family in Strangers in which she employed the lyric essay, a form she has been obsessed with for thirty years. 


Combining coding with music

If your students like music and coding, there are great new ways to combine both interests.

Tutorial–composing Music


Made with Code’s Music Mixer


The Music Mixer from Made with Code is possibly the simplest way to play with code and virtual musical instruments.

Made with Code’s Mentor Video (Ebony Oshunrinde)

DiscoverE Engineering


Sound Proof Box activity.



While this isn’t free, it gives students and coding clubs the opportunity to create songs.



Use python or javascript to mix music in a DAW. Free.

Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen.


Hannah’s life is upended when her boyfriend Matt disappears. Hannah lives in the Wirral peninsula and is on the fast track for promotion at the company where she works.

Matt doesn’t just disappear. He obliterates his presence by taking every single item he owns from her apartment and deleting every photo and text from her computer and phone. 

A quick call to the architectural firm where Matt worked establishes the fact that he no longer works there. His mother has also changed residences. No one can give Hannah any answers. Worst of all, she has been receiving strange text messages and believes someone has been entering her house without her permission. When she goes for a jog, someone films her, and then sends the video to her phone.

While this tense-filled situation has no easy explanation, several characters are suspect. Katie, Hannah’s best friend, has always been insanely competitive with Hannah. Her next door neighbors, members of the neighborhood watch, are seriously creepy. Her co-worker seems to be on her side but he also seems deceitful.

 Given how shady her close associations are, any one of these characters could be gas lighting Hannah. Matt has always seen supportive but maybe she’s seeing a side of Matt she never knew existed?

Torjussen gives her character an intriguing puzzle to decipher. The reader gets a jolt when a surprising twist is thrown in to the mix. A thrilling, yet well-developed novel with a unexpected conclusion. 

Shuri Castle

Sadly, Shuri Castle that dates from the Ryukyu era has burned to the ground in Okinawa. The World Heritage site was mostly made of wood.

Photo by Galen Crout on Unsplash
Shuri Castle was probably built during the Gusuku period and used as a palace of the Ryukyu kingdom between 1429 and 1879.  Throughout history, the castle has been burned and rebuilt many times. Hopefully, the castle will be rebuilt after the most recent fire. 

By 663highland – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6988105

Merriam-Webster adds 530 new words

New words have just been added to the Merriam Webster dictionary from these categories: politics and law, games and sports, race and identity, pop culture, psychology, business and finance, linguistics.

For more information, see, https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/new-words-in-the-dictionary?nw2019

Examples of some of the new words are “Dad joke”, “Bechdel test”, and “pain point.”

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

Naomi’s earliest memory is of herself as a ten-year-old running naked in a strawberry field. She runs towards migrant workers who take her to a sheriff.

Twenty years later, Naomi is a thirty-year-old private investigator trying to find a child who has disappeared while out on a family trip. Naomi has become a private investigator to atone, as she puts it, to “atone” for her past. 

The child she seeks to save, however, has been lost for three years in a remote part of Willamette Valley. There’s no evidence to suggest that the child is alive. The case is inactive and its assumed she has perished in the snow. 

Naomi learns from each case and this case gives her most valuable insight yet. Glimmers of the past return as she finds the living conditions of the girl, a cave in a remote claim.

Denfeld, a former private investigator, writes a taut, psychological mystery with details that ring true.  

A harrowing work of psychological fiction set in Oregon’s Willamette Valley where fur trapping is still commonplace in remote towns. In one such town, a mysterious figure lives in obscurity. Years ago, he had been kidnapped and tortured by someone he calls simply “The Man.”

Could this be mysterious figure be tied to the missing girl?

As Naomi reaches out to her foster bother, some of her lost memories return. After solving the case of the missing girl, called the “Snow Girl,” Naomi vows to solve a more personal missing person case. 

The Butterfly Girl is the second novel in the Naomi Cottle series. 

Foxlowe by Ellen Wasserberg

Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg, book jacket
Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg

This atmospheric, creepy novel uses a superb narrative technique. The story is told through the eyes of Green, a young girl who has grown up in an artists commune at Foxlowe.

She has no parents and all is shared equally in the family in a pile called the Jumble.  Green thinks, however,  she belongs to Freya Marsh. Freya, the de facto leader, is an affectionate tormentor who loves and tortures Green.

The family’s actions are compared to a shoal of fish; none of them wants to be “edged” or ostracized. Green feels being “Edged” is worst than taking the Spike Walk–a horrid punishment that Freya invented.

Though the family think they have retreated into safety, real danger lurks through the halls of the ancestral home. Freya takes a baby away from her mother. The Family seems unable to sense the growing moral uncertainty. 

Instead of checking her authority, the family goes along with whatever Freya decides. Thus, when Freya arrives with an infant, the family never questions her origins. They simply welcomes the infant as a new family member. Curiously, Green names the infant Blue.

In order to feel safe from the outside world, the family performs numerous rituals. During the Winter Solstice  they perform the Scattering–a line of salt is poured around the house to protect the house from outsiders. Green, in a fit of jealous, puts the infant outside the salt line, an action that will have serious repercussions . 

Green, Blue, and Toby grow close in the years that follow. The grown believe that they have provided the children with the most magical childhood. They don’t go to school and are not subjected to society’s rules.

The ungrown are not given access to the most basic things e.g. mirrors and cannot leave the grounds or talk to strangers. Green in never given a chance to leave Foxlowe until a tragedy occurs.

Psychologically damaged, Green may never be able to integrate into society.  One of the growns who became a Leaver is determined to give her a chance. Can he help her or will he only make things worst? 

Green is a fascinating yet unreliable narrator in this novel that is both complex and frightening.

Eleanor Wasserberg has also written The Light at the End of the Day (2020).

Normal People by Sally Rooney

In this novel, two teenagers avoid each other at school yet are also fiercely, strangely attracted to one other. 

The two come from different worlds. Marianne has a much higher socioeconomic status than Connell. Her parents are barristers whereas Connell is raised by a single Mom. Connell’s mother is, in fact, a housekeeper for Marianne’s parents. 

Due to some quirk on her part, Marianne has a lower social status in school than he does. Connell is a popular football player while she is lonely and ostracized.

In spite of this, the two teenagers come together for secret trysts. Terrified, though, that anyone would find out about their affair, Connell treats Marianne coldly. He invites someone else to the Debs.

At Trinity University, the pair become friends and lovers once again. She is now more popular than he is yet they still struggle to communicate. Their relationship continues to be passionate, volatile, and heart-breaking.

After a misunderstanding, the two start seeing other people. Marianne, intelligent yet damaged psychologically by her family, seeks out boyfriends that are cruel to her. 

Connell feels Helen is a better choice until a funeral at his home town bring his illusions crashing down. 

This novel, which was long listed for a Man Booker prize, will soon become a 12-part half-hour drama on BBC3.

The VanApfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean

The Missing

This debut by Australian author, Felicity McClean, is a tantalizing page-turner. This exciting novel is a mystery and coming-of-age story in one. Tikka remembers her childhood–she grew up in a small Australian river valley.

One incident irrevocably changed the Tikka’s life: the summer of 1992. Her neighbors, Corrie, Hannah, and Ruth, disappeared one fateful day. The police assume its a missing case but Tikka and her sister are withholding information. Tikka knows that the Van Apfel girls were planning to runaway, a fact she kept from police. Years later, as an adult, she wonders if she made the right choice.

She dwells on the Apfel girls’ disappearance to the point where it begins to affect her mental health. As Corrie’s memory consumes Tikka, she begins to see Corrie everywhere, or at least people who that look like Corrie.

McLean has a delightful sardonic wit. She frames the story with the Lindy Chamberlain case, a woman whose baby girl disappears while on a camping trip.

Tikka stages a skit based on the case for a school event the evening of the Van Apfel girls’ disappearance. Just as it had in the Chamberlain case, the Van Apfel case causes many tongues to wag. Characters jump to conclusions about a male teacher.

Many novels focus on missing girls. Julia Phillips’ Disappearing Earth focuses on how a Siberian community reacts to the disappearance of two of their own. 

Though it addresses the self-help industry and single motherhood,  Jaclyn Moriarty Gravity Is The Thing, is also about missing persons. 

Other titles about missing persons:
Lippman, Lauran. Lady in the Lake.
Miranda, Megan. All the Missing Girls.
O’Nan, Stewart. Songs for the Missing

Biloxi by Mary Miller

Louis McDonald, Jr always assumed he would inherit his father’s estate after he retired. He didn’t count on his wife leaving him and his Dad leaving the bulk of his estate to her.

Though he is, at times, an unlikeable character who drinks too much, Louis can also make amusing, wry observations.

His life goes in an unexpected direction when Layla, an overweight mixed-breed dog, and her wacky owner, Sasha, comes into life.

Louis’ plight will appeal to anyone whose life didn’t turn out the way they expected.

His life is peppered with a myriad of inconveniences. For instance, there is a bird that keeps hitting his window each morning. Even though his wife left him, his brother-in-law keeps visiting with left-overs. He is diabetic but can’t remember to manage his sugar levels. 

Louis is an endearing curmudgeon who has a hard time finding the right things to say to people. The only one who seems to accept his failures are Layla, the dog who has entered his life by coincidence.   While there’s not much action, there’s a lot of reflection and humor in this novel.

While Louis is upset when he first learns of the details of the will, Louis realizes he does not really need the money. He has Layla and a chance to reunite with family members he has long neglected.

“A Sense of Belonging” in The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Netflix series of the same title, though different, has spawned new interest in this classic about a haunted house.

Dr. Montague invited participants to the house that he believes are susceptible to the paranormal. Only later does he realize the enormity of his misjudgment. One of the participants, who is more fragile than the others, is driven to insanity.

What Eleanor wants more than anything is to be accepted. She has taken care of her ailing mother at the expense of her own happiness. Now, in her thirties, in want of adventure, Eleanor “borrows” her sisters car and meets the group at Hill House.

Soon it becomes apparent that Eleanor has no where else to go. Eleanor has lied about having her own apartment–she only has a cot in her sister’s house.

Poignantly, Eleanor thinks that she has made lasting friendships in less than a week. Naively, she assumes Theo would want to continue their friendship after the Hill House adventure is over. Eleanor says she intends to move into Theo’s small apartment after she leaves Hill House.

This is surprising at first given how much they argue. They fight over foolish things e.g. Luke’s attention or being in the group’s “spotlight.”

More than anything else, The Haunting of Hill House is about yearning for a sense of belonging. “Come Home, Eleanor,” a ghostly hand writes on a wall in blood. Eleanor is mortified that the ghost has called her out by name. This isn’t the spotlight that she wants.

Eleanor, who acutely yearns to belong, is afraid of appearing foolish and being rejected.

When Luke says she isn’t welcome anymore, after her unusual behavior on the staircase, Eleanor is beyond crushed. The tragic ending coincides with her lamentations at being rejected from Hill House.

An Unsolvable Problem

Like an unsolvable mathematics problem, this situation remains undecipherable. Just when I think we’re getting close to a solution, it turns out not to be a solution at all. As it turns out, doctors, medications, treatment facilities are all just variables that fit into formulas that return no answers.

Into the Water

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

What looks like an accidental drowning might actually be a suicide. Told in alternating voices, this suspense-saturated drama is Hawkins’ second novel. 

If you missed it the first time around, like I did, your library probably has plenty of copies.

Nel isn’t very well liked in her small community. Even her sister bears a grudge against her. The community resents that she’s writing a book about the witchcraft trials and other historical events that took place in Beckford. 

Nel chooses to write not only about the historical deaths by drowning but also the more recent drownings. This infuriates Louise, the mother of a girl who recently committed suicide in the pool. 

Soon afterward Katie’s death, Nel also drowns in the drowning pool. Some family members think she has killed herself but others suspect something more sinister.

Among the suspects, there is a jealous sister, a handsome male teacher, a dangerous ex-boyfriend, an outraged mother, and a cantankerous cop.

Nel’s teenaged daughter is also in danger, leaving readers to wonder if she will suffer the same fate as her mother and all the other “troublesome” women. 

Though some have said they enjoyed this book less, its actually more enjoyable than The Girl on the Train. Into the Water is multi-faceted and surprising, thought-provoking and riveting.