“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
Writing is something I have always loved. I wrote for work — business reports for Dun & Bradstreet, ad copy, corporate communications, marketing material — but was always reluctant to go “all in” when the kids were little and the mortgage big. I 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.
1 — 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.
2 — A WIP novel is well underway. 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.”
‘Mulholland and Hardbar’ is now past its FIFTH full edit and stands ready to be queried sometime in the not too distant future. UPDATE March 2022: Courtesy of The Writers’ Union of Canada and their sponsorship of the Mentorship Microgrants program, I am one of the fortunate co-recipients of this outstanding program. I have partnered with proud TWUC member (and perennial all-star) Armin Wiebe to review this novel manuscript.
3 — In June 2020, I was the recipient of a Manitoba Arts Council financial grant to help with the expenses for an ekphrastic artbook based in Manitoba. It will feature photography and related short story fiction. Covid delayed that project as photographic collaborator Phil Hossack and I were not able to travel but it is back on track in 2022.
“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 (present-day Ukraine). 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. Subsequent relatives were shunned by one of the Mennonite churches and — remarkably for that time, the early 1900s — sued to try to negate what they viewed as an unfair act. My personal history is inextricably interwoven in Steinbach, in Manitoba, and in the Mennonite experience in Canada and beyond.
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 one of my stories 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 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. I am an avid windsurfer (and windsurf hydrofoiler, if you know what 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/
I have two daughters and three grandchildren.
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.
Now I am doing what I love — writing fiction. Living in the wild. (The wild with a StarLink internet connection, mind you.)