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 readers. Real life. Feelings, characters, and place.
“I come to writing fiction from the storyteller’s places: the campfire, the backseat on a long drive, the beer parlour.” —MJT
Executive Summary: I always hated that self-congratulatory phrase, “executive summary,” until I came to congratulate myself for being an executive — by optimistic self-analysis, but certainly not by salary.
I’m a fellow of a certain age and fiction writing something I always loved. I wrote for work — ad copy, corporate communications, marketing material — from about 2002 on, but was too chicken to go all in when the kids were little and the mortgage big. Devoted myself to FICTION in 2015 or so, retiring from my day job in 2016.
Being a writer is hard work. I write every day: flash fiction, short stories, CNF, and novellas. I edit and re-write and submit. I blog.
Big Thing ONE: I have begun querying a themed collection of stories set in the imaginary town of Hartplatz, Manitoba and the lives of the characterful Zehen family. The stories go from 1920 Russia to the future, share events and quandaries big and small, in places near and far — but all in Canada, and many not too far from home, wherever that may be. “Pinching Zwieback — Prairie Stories” is the working title.
Big Thing TWO: A WIP Novel. It’s called “Mulholland and Hardbar” and is a MennoGrit flight from the village to the bush. “Fargo, but with Mennonite accents,” I guess you could say. Others have said: dramedy, Bildungsroman, coming of age.
“Mulholland and Hardbar is a unique and moving story about an odd pairing of young men, their complex and dangerous relationship, and their need to learn how to face difficulty with courage and the absence of malice. The story follows the four seasons in the boreal: friendship, mistrust, deceit, and violence.”
The final overall edit is complete (four full edits from my U.K. freelance editor, James Mcknight.) Beta readers have had a run at it and sensitivity readers will too before the query process begins.
If my short story collection is, “Schitt’s Creek, but with 17 churches and more sin,” (yet more sin, as you might say in the vernacular) then this novel is “Fargo, but with Mennonite accents.”
And the NEXT Big Thing: In June, 2020 the Manitoba Arts Council awarded me with a financial grant to help with the expenses for an ekphrastic artbook based in Manitoba — photography and related short story fiction. Covid is delaying that project as photographic collaborator Phil Hossack and I are not able to travel.
“A book of Manitoba portraits, visual and literary.”
Some, but not all 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.
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: One of my formative mysteries is Religion. My Great Grandpa was shunned. Pow! Then he and Great Grandma sued the church! (In the 1900s, no less.) Counter-Pow!
His grandson, my dad, later shunned the church. Reverse-Pow! Pre-emptive-Pow! But Dad’s position came at a high personal cost to him in our little, homogeneous, fishbowl town. I never thanked him but I guess I should have. It strikes me that he — an intelligent man, brilliant in everyday math & physical law, mechanical design, and raw creativity — was also just a kind, loving guy who suffered silently without the community comfort of a church; the succor and brotherhood. But that was not enough, nor was the enormous peer pressure he faced to change his views.
He faced gossip, (So what?) financial blackmail (Big deal!) and ample sniffy, self-righteous indignation (Bronx cheer…) for his privately held views. Social ostracization too, in abundance. (Good riddance!) Dad saw things clearly but in a way others dismissed as heresy. Aufjefollna…At the same time, we kids were free to choose for ourselves. No strongarm tactics from Chuck.
Yeah, I should have thanked him. He seceded from religion to save his soul, and in so doing, spared his children from the burden.
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 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.”.
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’m normally a bit shy in front of a group, but I love doing short readings of my work.
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 and I’ve promised to go back to it some more, focusing on Warhol’s fascinating blotted line ink and watercolour mono printing technique. (Oh good, another project!) I am an avid windsurfer (and windsurf hydrofoiler, if you know what the skeg that is). 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.
Jan and I reside in the boreal forest just north of the Fiftieth latitude in eastern Manitoba. Their property — like the Penrose cabin in my upcoming novel “Mulholland and Hardbar” — is situated on Métis land: Anishinabe Waki 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: 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.
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