Keeping You A-Prized

2nd Runner-up: ‘All our Swains Commend Her’ by Mitchell J Toews

“What I thought the most while reading this one for the first time was: ‘This must have taken so long to write!’ Every sentence is packed with detail and not a word is spared. A highly skilled piece of writing with a lot to say about the way we live and how we treat one another. Can’t believe such a short piece of writing left me with such memorable characters and so much to think about!” — Raven Contest Judge Leo X Robertson

Part of my writing routine is to enter literary contests. It’s an imperfect venue but offers some advantages in the immense ocean of strung-together words that English-speaking creative writing is today, in the internet age. Plus, there are unique benefits to prizes, like… well, prizes!

Before I began publically calling myself a writer (and changed my signature from Mitch to Mitchell because it sounded sooo much more writerly) I had a hot streak going. I entered every “Send us a 100-word essay on what makes our spindrift calibrators the best in the market and win a free JUICER!” contest: that kind of thing. My pinnacle was winning a new Animal wristwatch when my piece about losing my last Animal watch in Jessica Lake took top honours.

Another unique benefit of story contests is the vanity aspect. Self-confidence, joh? Just like getting your essay pinned up on the bulletin board by Miss Hildebrand in Grade Four (see my C-V for details), I find an undeniable allure in “grabbing some podium.” (A phrase which sounds like something you’d get thrown out of a strip bar for doing.)

Anyway, as the universe’s lone marketing advocate for Mitchell J. Toews, Writer and Animal Watch Loser, I hereby announce that the aforementioned writer, MJT, has grabbed some PULP podium. (Again, I admit there’s something off about that would-be idiom. I’ll workshop it with the gang down at Animal.)

The podium—corvid podium, no less—is as follows:

The PULP Literature 2023 Raven Short Story Contest

Catriona Sandilands with ‘Revolutions’ WINNER
Alison Stevenson with ‘Foam’ 1st RUNNER UP
Mitchell Toews with ‘All Our Swains Commend Her’ 2nd RUNNER UP
Kevin Sandefur with ‘Marty’ Honourable Mention

Still here? You must be procrastinating about something. (I am one who knows.) Well, to enable your delay tactics, here is a list of my Greatest Hits from the literary contest and prize bandstand:

“So Are They All” — short story, Second Place in the Adult Fiction category of the Write on the Lake Contest, (Ca) 2016 ISSN: 1710-1239

“Fall from Grace” — short story, Honourable Mention in The Writers’ Workshop of Asheville Memoirs Contest, (US) 2016

“The Phage Match” — short story, Finalist in Broken Pencil’s (Ca) annual Deathmatch Contest, 2016

“Cave on a Cul-de-sac” — short story, Winner in The Hayward Fault LineDoorknobs & Bodypaint Issue 93 Triannual Themed Flash Contest, (US) 2018 

“I am Otter” — short story, CommuterLit (Ca), Runner-up in for Flash Fiction Feature, 2018

“Sweet Caporal at Dawn” — short story, nominated by Blank Spaces for a PUSHCART PRIZE, 2019

“Piece of My Heart” — a 750-word or less flash fiction was named “Editors’ Choice” in the 2020 Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest from Pulp Literature Press (Ca)

“The Margin of the River” — short story, nominated by Blank Spaces for a PUSHCART PRIZE, 2020

“Fetch” — short story, one of 11 finalists in a national field of over 800 entries: The Writers’ Union of Canada’s Short Prose Competition for Emerging Writers, (Ca), 2021

“Sweet Caporal” has been nominated by Rivanna Review, Charlottesville, Va. for a PUSHCART PRIZE, 2021

“The Rabid,” finalist in the 2022 PULP Literature Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest, (Ca)

The 2022 J. F. Powers Prize for Short Fiction (US). This open competition drew over 400 submissions from around the world from writers in all stages of career development. “The Spring Kid,” was one of 28 longlist finalists and later advanced to the shortlist.

“The Mighty Hartski”: 2022 longlist for the Humber Literary Review/Creative Nonfiction Collective Society (CNFC) Canada-wide CNF contest

“Winter in the Sandilands” was named to the longlist for the 2022 PULP Literature Hummingbird Flash Fiction Contest, (Ca) Mitchell’s story, “Luck!” was on the shortlist in this same contest.

Several of these award-winners (highlighted in the list above) will be part of the forthcoming 2023 short story collection from At Bay Press, “Pinching Zwieback: Made-up stories from the Darp”

Editing

Editing is difficult but rewarding.

Difficult because you are erasing what you have created. You are subtracting from or changing the very thing that got you in the publishing game! Feels risky.

Rewarding because your changes create something new, all over again. Plus, the editor is your ally and a trusted source that comes to you from a place other than the rocky mass between your (my) ears. Thank God for that.

I am preparing 24 stories for publication in the spring. Several folks are weighing in on my work and each day there’s a knot in my shoulders and that night’s dreams are peppered with flickering replays of scenes from the collection. I wake up, make notes, fall back asleep and then laugh at my scribbled nonsense in the morning.

Here is a segment, edited recently. I offer it as a fast in situ peek at the crime scene. It is from the story, “The Peacemongers” and the topic is Canadian Mennonites during the wars, WW2 in this case, who deigned to be officially named “Conscientious Objectors.” This meant they would work in labour camps in Canada rather than serving in the military.

I thought of Corky’s uncle John who worked at Loeb’s lumberyard. He wore a red vest and a plaid shirt and stood behind the counter at the lumber desk. He was a big man with very white teeth and he would stand there smiling and writing down what you wanted to buy. My dad would always order lumber from him and it always started out the same way. Dad would say, “I need some two-by-fours,” and John would say, “how many and how long do you need ’em?” Dad would reply “twenty pieces and forever!” Same joke every time. Then John would yell for one of the yard boys to come and load the order into our truck, his pencil poised above the order form, looking at my dad over his glasses. “Twelve-footers,” or whatever length he needed, was the answer, served with a slanted smile.

Dad said John had been in a C.O. camp during the war. He told my dad stories about it and how he made lifelong friends there. “Some were in the camp for other reasons, but most were there to follow the Word. That meant something to us and it was like our battle, to stay true to what we had been taught and to what we would teach our children.” I heard him talk about this to my dad and other men at the lumberyard. He stood straight up and looked into the eyes of the person he to spoke to. His voice was firm and he was not trying to convince anyone—he was just telling it. I was too young to understand everything, but thought he was telling the truth, exactly as he knew it and believed it.

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I sometimes felt as though John and many others like him in our town believed, maybe secretly, that God was the biggest, toughest, most bad-ass Mennonite of them all. As if God would do all the fighting for us, and He would take no prisoners. I’m not sure that made our desire to live a life of pacifism any better. Possibly worse. It made God seem to me like a kind of bully—forever smiting Old Testament armies and kings that He didn’t like and constantly fighting with the Devil. Like Archie and Don, who fought almost every day after school at the corner of Hannover and Kroeker, accomplishing nothing but scuffed chins and bloody knuckles.[MT1]


 [MT1] Added 22-09-10 in a moment of random inspiration.

—Considered but not promised, for “Pinching Zwieback” At Bay Press

Prosetry 22

Simplicity.

A summer night, where the thunderheads fist-bumped and parted ways, leaving our skies more Prussian blue than ash grey. Mosquitoes too were deported, sent elsewhere to do their whining — we think they all rented tiny jet-skis and rode off across the river.

Friends arrived just as the make-shift stage (soon to be returned to its rightful duty as a dock — rather than doc. — segment) was commissioned into service and we chatted and snacked and popped open bottles and cans and congratulated ourselves on being capable of being in such a place… in space and time, on Earth, today.

The loaner mic in friend & neighbour Jack Schellenberg’s hand-crafted and skookum-engineered mic stand crackled and away we went, led with panache by author Roger Groening. Knuckleball is Roger’s novel. (The author’s legs appear above, royalty-free; they’re the stems to the right.) He read a recent WIP excerpt that had us reaching for our decades-ago-discarded DuMauriers and l-o-l-ing and giggling through his vivid description of a wry woman tasking a man in a room without solutions.

Next came Leslie Wakeman who brought so much: snacks, wine, a beautiful quilt, handmade cards and her story, “The Goddess Cup.” We were gradually drawn in as her character’s embarrassment grew and our appreciation for Leslie’s deft, humourous-and-so-human touch led us along.

And then it was my sister Marnie Fardoe’s turn with a reading of a diary entry she had repurposed for us, for this perfect evening. She called herself a novice but we knew better. In addition, we got the family discount as Marnie gave us a quiet and moving performance of our sister Char Toews’ powerful poem, “Schedules are subject to change without notice”

[...] If the weather's that shitty it's kind of iffy
You're better off in the air or on the land

Or living or dead, which is what my Dad did
And me with a number of things planned

Then home in May, cutting the grass that first day
Mowing and crying and thinking about worms and their dirt [...]

Vid by Bonnie Friesen: https://www.facebook.com/580948274/videos/800154487823298/
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The perfect lead-in to Wes Friesen and his soulful playing and singing. Two beautiful Leonard Cohen songs following by a fascist-killing presentation of Deportee/Plane Wreck at Los Gatos, by Woody Guthrie.

Vid by Bonnie Friesen: https://www.facebook.com/bonnie.friesen.9/videos/1403462673497989/

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More poetry, from Winnipeg poetess Phyllis Cherrett who wowed and dazzled, showing us her calm control over word and emotion, ending with the perfectly-suited dent de lion

Phyllis Cherrett also gave a truthfully written acknowledgement of PLACE.

I offered a pair of flash fictions, “New War — Old Technology” and “Luck!”, bookending our great friend Christiane Neufeld’s spelky delivery of poet Ceinwen Haydon’s Gooseberry, a repeat-performance from Prosetry 2019.

It should be noted that Chris’ hub Hans Neufeld (aka John E. Neufeld) was present but chose not to present this year. Hans was, without doubt, the most prolific writer on the property at Prosetry 22, him being the daily author of THE MEANDERER http://themeanderer.ca/: a most profound and enjoyable gathering place, enjoyed by many online.

Two best-selling and truly masterful authors closed out the evening. MaryLou Driedger (Lost on the Prairie) offered us the first chapter of her WIP SEQUEL novel, set in 1936.

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Writer, memoirist, author, instructor and warrior-woman Donna Besel did not disappoint, giving us a thematic reading about a boathouse construction job set at nearby Brereton Lake. The story was a piece from her hit collection of short stories, “Lessons from a Nude Man.”

MaryLou Driedger as Gustave Flaubert would have seen her https://maryloudriedger.com/
Donna Besel https://www.mcnallyrobinson.com/9781926710303/donna-besel/lessons-from-a-nude-man

Through all of this, photographer Phil Hossack was doing his quiet and unobtrusive professional best, circulating among us, taking pictures that caught mood and feeling as much as light and dark.

Phil Hossack https://philhossackphoto.ca/workshops/

Cheers to local artists Janice Toews, Gale Bonin, and Allison Rink whose brushwork filled the SheShed with brightness and colour.

NEXT YEAR: Book the day, slot it in and make it sacrosanct… we want you here to read and listen, to watch the clouds part, to smell the woodsmoke and taste the wine, to read, to hear and experience. We’ll make it more of an afternoon event — we’ll start at 1 PM and make it possible to leave without rushing before the sun goes down.

For those who stay, maybe we can set the boreal ringing with this unforgettable folksong refrain:

Wes Friesen

…Goodbye to my juan, goodbye, rosalita,

Adios mis amigos, jesus y maria;

You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane,

All they will call you will be “deportees”

🎶
Janice Toews
Showtime minus 90 minutes
2017 U.S. Inauguration crowd
Ruth & Roger Groening
2019 Prosetry (July 20)
MaryLou Driedger reading at Prosetry 2019
Yet more Toews
Leslie, Marnie, Bonnie
SEE YOU NEXT YEAR! “Daj Boże!”
Janice and I reside in the boreal forest just north of the Fiftieth latitude in eastern Manitoba on Treaty 1 and 3 lands. Our property is situated on Métis land: Anishinabe Waki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ  http://www.anishinabek.ca/ 

A Collection of Short Stories

Here it is… the announcement I’ve been waiting to make public since my story in grade four at Southwood School in Steinbach made it onto the classroom bulletin board.

Bigger me, bigger bulletin board.

Cheers, respectively, to teacher Miss Hildebrand and publisher Matt Joudrey.

“Pinching Zwieback” is a themed fictional account of the lives and characters in a place on the Canadian prairies called Hartplatz. It features the Zehen family and many others whose comings and goings represent events both real and imagined under the Prussian blue sky. Among them: Hart & Justy, Schmietum Jake, Pete Vogel, and Matt Zehen, whose journey is observed from childhood to later in life. Characters that really schmack!

More info as we get closer to the spring 2023 launch. Watch this space and my Facebook and Twitter pages. (LinkedIn too.)

two flash collections to love

Here are two flash fiction collections to love:

“Small Shifts” edited by Shawn L. Bird (Lintusen Presshttps://lnkd.in/gRNdw659 and “This Will Only Take a Minute — 100 Canadian Flashes” edited by Bruce Meyers and Michael Mirolla (Guernica Editionshttps://lnkd.in/gp6fJVcE

Many exceptional writers with some of their best stories in two books packed tight with wisdom, pathos, and humour. Plus, the boring bits have been removed. (As flash lovers already know, this is what generally happens.)

#flashfiction

Canada-wide Creative Nonfiction Contest

Thanks, danke seea, to the Humber Literary Review and the Creative Nonfiction Collective for placing my story, “The Mighty Hartski” on the longlist for this year’s contest. A blintering, stellar array of writers and me, happy to be in this stacked stack.

Shortlist in early June. The winner will be announced at the CNFC annual conference. Bonne Chance to all the finalists.

“Rommedriewe!”

Books for Sale!

I have a story in a funky little anthology that’s coming out on July 2.

“Small Shifts: Short Stories of Fantastical Transformation” is a collection of ten fantasy stories from Lintusen Press (Shawn L. Bird). My contribution is “I am Otter,” a short story about a distraught Jessica Lake otter and the social unrest encountered by a congregation of “Otterites.”

Life presents particular mortifications when your alternate form is a dung beetle or a bumblebee. Featuring stories by Chris McMahen, Finnian Burnett, Mitchell Toews, Shawn L. Bird, Jarrod K. Williams, Lee F. Patrick, Patricia Lloyd, Jessica DeLand, Batya Guarisma, Philip Mann, and Andrew G. Cooper”

Pre-orders (e-books) are open for business, print expected July 2.

https://books2read.com/Prose-by-Toews


E-books $4.99 USD. Print $9.99 USD, 6″X9″ 122 pages. 

#shapeshifters #collection #ebooks #prosebytoews

Flyway- A Captivating Family Story That Will Have You Asking Hard Questions

There are many great books about the various disruptive Mennonite experiences. People and place stories. Trauma stories. Healing stories. MaryLou’s descriptive review makes me want to read this one.

What Next?

In her beautiful book Flyway Sarah Ens tells her Mennonite grandmother Anni’s story in the form of a long poem. We begin in Ukraine during the period between 1929 and 1945. Anni’s little sister dies, the churches close and Anni’s father is arrested and taken away. Famine comes.

Hunger taught us to wake slowly, to lift, as if from water.
If you did not starve, hunger taught you

to watch and wait. If you did not starve,
the stone of your stomach turned traitor.

Anni does housework and childcare for her younger siblings while attending school and then graduates just as the Germans invade Ukraine. Amid the war Anni’s brother Peter drowns.

Where is God my mother said.
I saw his body blue beneath a smooth skin of water

After a time of German occupation the Red Army approaches and

evacuees crawled the road……..
35,000 stumbling through the murk. You…

View original post 433 more words

Dappled Thoughts

Image: James Farl Powers, 1917-1999

Dappled Things has announced the finalists for its 2022 J.F. Powers Prize for Fiction, and I am one of the 28 authors selected.

“Well, now,” I said to myself, “I sometimes do interviews with other writers. Why not do one with me? An auto-interview?”

So here it is, with inspiration from interview subjects near and far, young and old, Catholic and Mennonite…

What drew you to this contest?

That is an excellent question. You are not only handsome but wise. Okay, here’s what Dappled Things say about the content they seek for the periodical.

“People fascinate us; sin bores us. Beauty amazes us; surface concerns leave us cold. Experience intoxicates us; world-weariness makes us yawn.”

That appealed to my sense of loftiness. Of aiming high. So that’s what I did — with the story and with the submission.

Were you, a Mennonite, concerned by the fact that the publication and the J.F. Powers contest are sponsored by an organization that is “Wholeheartedly Catholic?” Did this fact change your approach to the story?

Not concerned, as much as intrigued. In my experience in South Eastern Manitoba where disparate small towns dot the farmland, there are many predominantly Mennonite, Lutheran, Catholic, and Ukrainian places. Despite coming from distinctly homogenous communities, each with its own dominant religion, people somehow always end up mingling. Whether it is through work, play, school or — inevitably — romance, intersections are created and blending results. Not right away, but over time. I saw this many times in my own family and beyond.

In this way, my story about a mixed Catholic and Mennonite family with a close sibling relationship between two of the children seemed to be a natural fit for the ethos of Dappled Things and the J.F. Powers Prize.

Did it change my approach? No. In fact, the merging of two, I would say, strong faiths, plus the fact that the early “Mennists” grew out of the Catholic religion makes the religious undercurrent in the story a strengthening factor and one that adds an interesting complexity.

Does religion play a major role in your story?

No. Religion is there, the same way the Manitoba prairie is there, to offer context and grounding. In fact, I can’t see how the story could have “got out of its own way” if religion would have been the central theme. I wanted the characters’ inner humanity and the always present tension between our selfish desires and our innate generosity and compassion towards others to be the core conflict. Describing where that generosity comes from is not part of my authorial responsibility. I’m just there to tell a clear story and let the reader find in it what they may.

So… you have a chance?

Nah. Like a platter of Niejoahsch’kuake1 in the church basement on Christmas Eve, I will be long gone after the first wave. The writers in this prize are the Iowa Writers’ Workshop types, The Paris Review essayists, the ones who put the “Masters” in MFA.

And yet?

Yes, and yet if I read my story, I know there is always hope.

1 New Year fritters. Deep-fried, dusted with icing sugar, sinfully good.