Who Am I? ~ Executive Summary ~ The Rest ~ Blogging ~ Goals ~ Bio
“The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring.”―
Who Am I?
Mitchell Toews lives and writes lakeside in Manitoba. His work appears in print and online, in places near and far. He is working on a novel. You may follow him on the trails or out on the water or ice, or more conveniently here at Mitchellaneous.com, or on Twitter or Facebook.
I WRITE ABOUT fictional everyday heroes and gritty situations familiar to most. Real life. Feelings, characters and place.
Executive Summary: (I always hated that phrase, until I came to consider myself an executive — by optimistic self-analysis, but certainly not by salary. Now I am on the executive of the “She Shed”, my summertime writing room, where I serve at the pleasure of Janice, the rightful owner of the shed. )
Anyway, to continue the Exec Summary: I’m a fellow of a certain age and fiction writing is my Act II career. Always loved writing, and wrote for work daily from about 2002 on, but too chicken to go all in when the kids were little and the mortgage big. Chucked it all (not the kids—they chucked me long before) and devoted myself to FICTION in 2015 or so.
Being a writer is hard work. I write every day: flash fiction, short stories and novellas. I edit and re-write and submit. I blog. There is a novel that my freelance editor, James McKnight, and I are editing—that really gets the old heart beating and flushes out the stents!
In June, 2020 the Manitoba Arts Council awarded me with a small grant to help with the expenses for an ekphrastic artbook based in Manitoba—photography and related short story fiction.
I also have a short story trilogy which I have come to believe would make a good screenplay. The trilogy is called, “The Bottom of the Sky” and it ran in October 2018 as the “Pick of the Month” on the UK literary website, Fiction on the Web. See the Publications page for details.
Some of my 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 with 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 polyglot 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. Often gritty. K-mart fiction or maybe better yet: schmaundtfat fiction.
“God causes it to rain on Chevs and Fords alike,” as Diedrich, 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.”.
Furthermore, it is also true what writer, critic and Professor Emeritus of English, Magdalene Redekop said, that:
“There is no better way to give thanks for art than to pay close attention to it.” (“Making Believe,” U of M Press, 2020)
As I submit stories to literary journals and contests, I learn. This iterative, dialogical education-conversation 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, for example—seem to have embraced the Hartplatz stories in particular.
The Hartplatz stories follow 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 here at the lake where we live year-round. I 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. I row my sleek shell in the dawn calm. 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, our property is situated on Métis land: Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ http://www.anishinabek.ca/ We love it here in the forest, but we sure do miss the BC coast and our wonderful BC grandkids.
(They’re older now, but I like these paintings of them I did when they were little grommets.)
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 of the Canadian advanced secondary wood manufacturing industry from 1997 on. I have met the inflexible demands of both payrolls and deadlines. I mostly frickin’ hated it, but whatchergonnado? I did meet some great folks and we shared battles, bloody defeats, individual ignominy and corporate anomie, and the occasional success.
Now I am doing what I love—writing fiction. Living in the wild. (The wild with a good-ish internet connection, mind you.)
By Luisale - Own work - Full citation below
My writing goals are to get a print publisher to invest in me and my writing. I work with a freelance editor, James A.C. Mcknight of London. In the works: more short stories (a print collection?), a lit fic novel that is in its third draft edit, a children’s book, screenplay adaptation of a short story trilogy set on the Mexican coast, a SFF novella that needs some love and attention, and a MAC | CAM “Create” grant award to produce an ekphrastic photo art book of short fiction.
“A book of Manitoba portraits, visual and literary.”
I’m normally a bit shy in front of a group, but I love doing short readings of my work.
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 metz to pedal digits and hard-to-pronounce Mennonite names.
The Imagery on this web 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)
Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2018, 2019, 2020