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Who I Am
I WRITE ABOUT fictional everyday heroes and gritty situations familiar to most. Real life. Feelings, characters and place.
I am a hard working writer. I write every day: flash fiction, short stories and novellas. (At the urging of my editor, I’m 60K words deep in a first draft novel right now: Feb 2018)
Some of the stories recount events and conflicts from the “Mennosphere” – inwardly oriented communities that can generate wonderful characters and practical – often beautiful – solutions to life’s confusion.
But not always.
Part of my context is to have grown up in the little town of Steinbach, Manitoba. My great great grandfather was, “Delegate Toews”, a unique, forceful and devout man who was one of 12 emissaries from a group of Mennonite settlements in Southern Russia. They sought refuge as Russia caved in on top of them and their conspicuous isolation. The delegates chose the East Reserve — a parcel of land at the extreme eastern edge of the Canadian prairies.
SIDEBAR: With this classical historical imperative as a uniform blue watercolour background on my canvasses, I slather on some bold oils and smudgy charcoal. My parents didn’t go to church. Sure, Grandma Toews did her part – bible stories and Sunday School, but eventually, I rang the bell, Navy Seal style, and withdrew voluntarily. So like an (observant) seven-legged creature on the wall; neither spider nor ant nor fly, I grew up in Steinbach without a web to call my own. I didn’t have a DVBS story to tell, nor a favourite hymn. I sucked at sword-drill. In fact, if not for my mom and a few open-minded friends in high school, I might not have even learned the basics of Plautdietsch. (I now conceal/attenuate my lack of fluency via my windsurfing buddy JS and another Jack of all Tongues, former Grunthaller J. Thiessen of wörterbuch fame.) I ain’t that klüak, but I love to plaut moake my klüa, here and there.
Lots of people think their family history and personal travails are interesting. I guess I do too, but more than that, I like to borrow from the severe characters and schnuddanäses I’ve met along the horse-shit spattered way. Often, I’m a collector of the grit and gristle that gets boiled off of the pious and the prayerful.
(And I also like to leave the Mennosphere – the world is terrible big, not?)
See Doug Toews excellent account of our family history here: toews_family_history_sm2018
Steinbach was created from the aforementioned migration. I, in turn, have created the village of Hartplatz as the imaginary home for many of my characters. It is where vectors intersect – faith and doubt; pacifism in a world at war; honour and temptation; fervour and absurdity; the temptations of the wide welt, and of course, humour. Many of these “Hartplatz stories*” are in the bildungsroman tradition; in both first person and narrator formats.
“God causes it to rain on Chevs and Fords alike,” as Dietrich, the main character in “Without Reason” puts it. The way the characters resist, pitting their will against that of their foe – the foe they seek to love – can make for a good yarn.
I will defer to the wisdom of Alice Munro when it comes to Canada and short stories:
“It means something to me that no other country can—no matter how important historically that other country may be, how ‘beautiful,’ how lively and interesting. I am intoxicated by this particular landscape… I speak the language.”.
As I submit stories to literary journals and contests, I learn. This iterative education includes craft and structure, but it is also a way to find and recognize “my voice”. Audience composition and location/demographics have been particularly interesting. Mennonites and rural Canadians are a part of my readership so far and that was expected. More surprising is the way that more distant readers-in the U.K. and California-seem to have embraced the Hartplatz stories in particular.
*Published and unpublished Hartplatz stories include:
Nothing to Lose ~ The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine ~ Breezy and the Six-Pack Sneaker ~ So Are They All ~ Heavy Artillery ~ Fall from Grace ~ Our German Relative ~ Peacemongers ~ The Preacher and His Wife ~ Lone Island Lake Depths (“South Oromocto Depths”) ~ The Red River Valley Trilogy: Part 1 – Encountered on the Shore ~ Part 2 – A Vile Insinuation ~ Part 3 – Without Reason ~ Frozen Tag ~ Let Us Gather: Part 1 – Zero to Sixty ~ Part 2 – The Margin of the River ~ The Bottom of the Sky: Part 1 – Acapulco 1955 ~ Part 2 – Puerto Vallarta 1975 (“A Fisherman’s Story”) ~ Part 3 – Mismaloya 1976 ~ The Seven Songs ~ And When I Dream of Death ~ The Watering of Nations.
The list above follows the main characters from Russia to Canada, and on a timeline that button-hooks a few times from 1874 to 2048, with some lengthy pauses in the rich, nostalgic Sixties.
I build things in my little workshop and spend a lot of time fixing the uncooperative work, damaged digits, and the tools I break along the perilous way.
I love to paint. I am an avid windsurfer (action thriller) and golfer (tragicomedy). I brew up a drinkable ale occasionally. Janice and I catch a few pickerel and “hammer handles” in the lake and we travel when we can; volandos con fragatas.
We live at the lake in Manitoba during
mosquito season summer and pack up for the BC coast and our wonderful grandkids once the forest is bare and the prairie sky is barely blue.
I have two daughters. That and my middle initial are not my only parallels with Homer Simpson – just so you know. Just like Homer’s girls, mine are smart as hell, beautiful, talented and best of all, forgiving of their bumbling father. Both have inherited a “feisty nature” and I think they also secretly love to cuss. They got that from their mom.
Jan and I owned a manufacturing company for 16 years and I worked in the advertising and marketing side – strategy and execution – of the Canadian advanced secondary wood manufacturing industry since 1997. I have met the inflexible demands of both payrolls and deadlines.
Now I am doing what I love – writing fiction.
My blog goals are:
1. To have readers.
2. To invite response.
I write for myself, for that fleeting moment when I whisper, “Hey, that’s only partly crappy!” It has also turned out to be a fun way to meet like-minded and genuinely interesting people. I get to hear their opinions; share their experiences and learn. Maybe even make a friend or two?
3. To find a writers group to join.
4. To introduce myself and my work to editors, literary agents and publishers.
Re-blogging my stuff is OK with me (!) just show the source, of course.
By Luisale - Own work - Full citation below
My writing goals are to get a print publisher to invest in me and my stories by producing a collection. No problem, eh?
The following is a passage from “Nothing to Lose”: Walking slowly, he paused, letting the dust of the parking lot settle on his shoes. He watched as the ground seemed to reach up to grasp him. He was sure he could feel it holding him there like a fly to tape. Hart thought of punching a batch of dough early that morning, the first blast of escaping yeast gas hitting him – so strong he could feel it like a fan blowing in his face. Like most mornings, a few drops of sweat dripped from the tip of his nose or the line of his jaw, mixing into the dough as he lifted and folded, grunting at the live weight. He thought, as always, how he was in the bread – his sweat, his salt, his DNA, his quiet hopes, and his sadness or his joy. He baked it all in.
Link to the story. “Nothing to Lose” appears in a 2018 print anthology that Fiction on the Web produced from the one thousand or so stories they have published over the course of their long online history. (FotW is a U.K.-based lit zine that has been publishing since the late nineties.)
(Here’s a section so profound, it is presented in third-person!)
After years of meeting deadlines and writing marketing communications and ad copy in Canada and the USA, Mitchell Toews began submitting fictional short stories to literary journals in February 2016. See an updated list of ACCEPTANCES here:
OR visit the PUBLICATIONS section of this website.
Rhubarb Magazine launched Dis / Ability Issue R39 at Sam’s Place on Henderson Highway in Winnipeg. September 7, 2016. Janice and Mitch attended and heard some great readings while enjoying rhubarb tea.
“So Are They All” took second place for Adult Fiction in the 2016 “Write on the Lake” writing contest and will appear in the Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group’s semi-annual journal, Voices, Volume 16, No. 2. Mitchell was on hand at the launch to read excerpts from the short story at McNally Robinson in Winnipeg, on November 20, 2016.
MITCHELL TOEWS: A plump whiskey jack had this to say about him: “Chickadees say he’s a fiction writer. Short stories and novellas. He doesn’t do much else besides write and fix stuff around his cabin. He used to live on the West Coast. He lives here at Jessica Lake most of the year now and I think him and Janice head south in the winter, like those stupid-ass pelicans.
He’s a little stingy with the sunflower seeds.”
Former entrepreneur and repentant marketer/ad exec, now residing in the boreal primeval. He cleans the ice off of his internet dish. He watches for the aurora borealis. He feeds the winter birds, including those stupid-ass whiskey jacks.
My surname is pronounced “Tayvz” but “TOES” will do fine. My chief Hartplatz characters have the surname Zehen (meaning “toes”), which is a tip of the hat to pedal digits and hard-to-pronounce Mennonite names.
PSA: Other Manitoba TOEWSes are famous and deserve to be so. They would not recognize me if I hung a ring of former worscht around my neck. It is true, however; that our ancestors pioneered together, out on the cold, hard edge of the Canadian prairie, where there are approximately 55 fewer frost-free days than the place in Russia they left behind.
The Imagery on the site is mostly made up of seasonal snaps of our lakeside home and a few of my paintings. (And the odd bit scraped off the hull of the lumbering cruise ship called Wikipedia Commons; such as the inky one above; CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20984162)
allfornow – Mitch
Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2017