Memorial Day 1973

As the U.S. remembers their fallen, I am reminded of a day years ago that made the war in Vietnam real to me. I was a teenager and a ball tournament near the border let me mingle with Americans.

At the beer garden after the games, I met a young man a few years my senior. We talked about the war and he showed me his draft card. His status teetered on the very edge of the draft lottery, which ended for good soon after our meeting. The reality of this fellow’s fate and how different it was from mine struck me and I think of it — and him — every year at this time.

A while ago I wrote a story based on that long-ago border town baseball encounter. “A Vile Insinuation” appeared in CommuterLit in June of 2016 and it’s linked here, along with the other pieces of the trilogy to which it belongs.

In June 2016 Toronto-based CommuterLit published “The Red River Valley Trilogy“:  “Encountered on the Shore” (Rerun Friday, October 6, 2017), “A Vile Insinuation”and “Without Reason”. The linked stories concern, respectively: the aftermath of a violent encounter on a city street; a young American leaving the ball fields of North Dakota for the killing fields of Vietnam; and a devout Mennonite man grappling with cancer and faith. These trilogy stories question “things happen for a reason” morality.

allfornow,
mjt

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Toopoabeide

TOOPOABEIDE*, or “working together” is the Plautdietsch word for collaborate. And, thanks to the generosity and skill of one of my hometown heroes, that is what I am able to do in an upcoming story.

I clearly remember sitting cross-legged on the floor in John Henry Friesen’s Steinbach sign-painting shop in the sixties, watching with unflagging attention as he lettered signs and trucks. I attended, usually along with my dad, while “John Henry” built, sculpted, painted or otherwise, “hucked stuff together”. He is a wonderful artist, a creative wonder-worker, and a local institution.

John and I have connected on the internet a few times and not long ago I showed him a draft of a story that I wanted to send out for consideration by literary magazines. A while later he came back with the drawing shown above. In the meantime, my story was accepted by the Canadian publication Pulp Literature and — with JHF’s permission — I sent them a copy of his fanciful artwork. 

Editor Jennifer Landels replied in the affirmative and John’s art will grace the title page of my short story, “Away Game”. I am pleased as I am sure John is too. (“Cool.”) I can only imagine my late father, who has an inspirational role in both the story and the art, is happy about our prose-ink collaboration. Dad was a great fan of John’s and, if my story is at all accurate, still is.

I’ll post the publication details as soon as they are available.

~~~

* Tawp-oawr-bide

 

Fiction on the Web Presents “City Lights”

My short story, “City Lights” is up on Fiction on the Web. FotW, based in Londonis one of the first literary magazines to appear online. It was founded by writer-editor-screenwriter Charlie Fish and has been running continuously since 1996.

An earlier version of “City Lights” first ran on LingoBites as “The Light Pool” and is available on that site in English and Espanol, in both text and audio. It’s a dark story of class conflict, bias and selfishness.

Another story of mine, “Nothing to Lose”, was chosen for inclusion in “Best of Fiction on the Web”, an anthology that launched in January of 2018 and contains 54 stories from FotW’s 23 years of publication. This outstanding collection is available for £16.99 | USD$19.95 and all proceeds go to the Guy’s and St. Thomas NHS Foundation Trust.

You can buy the book from Amazon (UK linkUS link).

“The Doeling” in Cabinet of Heed

May 6, 2018: One of my short stories has been accepted in Cabinet of Heed. CofH is a newer literary publication run by Simon Webster and it contains top writing, including many award winners, past and future.

My 2,800-word scamper, “The Doeling”, is in Editor Simon’s eighth issue. I hope you like it.

May 7, 2018: Also, be sure to read some of the other poems, flash fiction and stories you find in the Cabinet – it’s top drawer!

And if you are a lover of planets with a red sun, the twilight zone, red pill-blue pill dilemmas and other such alternative circumstances, I’ve linked a copy of “The Doeling” with a completely different ending. Is you is or is you ain’t?

The Doeling_Toews, Mitchell, Alternative Ending

 

Nobel Driving

When I was 16-years-old, I received my driver’s license, on my second attempt. Being headstrong and conceited, I wanted to show off my prowess behind the wheel and I drove my mom’s car fast, reckless, and erratic. Pedestrians and other drivers were terrified, except for the few knuckleheads who, like me, mistook foolishness for power and strength.

I continued my wanton ways, knowing in my feckless heart that my judgement was better than the established lawmakers and traffic regulators. Many others feared a tragic and destructive end to my selfish story. The townspeople cowered in their carports, not wanting to venture out into the street lest I appear in their rear-view mirror, my wind-whipped mane waving like a speedway banner out the window of Mom’s ’68 American Eagle.

I continued to drive wild, much to the chagrin of the police, judges, my parents, and unsuspecting townsfolk. If they objected, I called them names and revved my engine, which was a very large engine, let me assure you.

Not long into my reign of terror, the province carried through on a long-planned and much-awaited change to the traffic laws. The speed limit on the nearby TransCanada highway was increased from 60 MPH to 70.

“See!” I crowed proudly, sailing downwind on this fortuitous but tainted breeze. “I told you those restrictive speed limits were no good. If it wasn’t for my bold actions, challenging the established norms and imposing my superior will, we would never have achieved this historic milestone! The province has ME to thank.”

“Here! Here! Do a burnout!” cried the adoring crowd, who now looked at me with new respect as I thundered by, 50 MPH in a school zone, Deep Purple thumping in a “Hail to the Chief” kind of way. The people cheered like had never been heard before in the history of hearing as I displayed my impressive skill, swerving smoothly to avoid a careless child and crossing guard. What were they doing on the street? SAD!

Following a groundswell grassroots campaign, I was nominated for and awarded the National Driving Award. Speeding down the TransCanada on the way to the presentation ceremony, I lost control and sideswiped a busload of my supporters. The Eagle landed upside down in the ditch and while no one on the bus was injured, they all had to have their heads examined, this I can tell you.

 

 

Pre-marathon

SUBTITLE: NOT A WHOLE LOT OF PEOPLE COULD REALLY CARE LESS ABOUT THIS. But still, it’s my blog, so, “I don’t GAVE a F*CK,” as the gruff locals say on Penrose Pond.

I understand from watching the Olympics and such that marathoners often do a lengthy run shortly before the race for which they are training. This final simulation gives them relatable experience and confidence in their preparation. At the same time, it’s not as long as their actual race, so they have to project a mental extension into their fatigue and expect intangibles like competitive spirit, adrenalin, desire and other unknowables to emerge on race day.

There’s a danger in this. In fastball, I remember hitting several consecutive home runs in a batting drill, just before our season opener. The Jugs pitching machine was set at full speed and was whirring in dropballs. I was hammering those pitches all over the ball diamond. My confidence ran high and I couldn’t wait to see our opponent’s live pitching.

Those, of course, were the last dropballs I saw that season.

So, to drag the original metaphor over the finish line, the pre-marathon that is a novel’s first draft can be deceptive, I suppose. I don’t know, because I’ve only ever written one and I just finished it last night.

On November 11, 2017, I wrote the first 673 words. I wrote a flashback opening sequence. I thought my editor would balk, but, like Mikey of  Seventies breakfast cereal fame, “He liked it!”

From there I went on, stroking out line drives and sharp grounders. I pulled fat pitches around the foul pole — and yes, beloved daughters of mine, there are some foul ones in there. (Sorry!) I bulled my way through a cold November and withstood both the freeze-up of our plumbing and the mid-novel doldrums of December. With a flip of my calendar page, I turned January into last month, passing Janice’s birthday with hardly a flicker. (Paying dearly – a mistake I won’t repeat, no matter how compelling the MC!) February leapt by and soon it was March. The fifteenth became the nineteenth — more notable birthdays that I met in the sweat latitudes — as I wrote steadfastly about the distant boreal and her splendour.

Then, on March 22, (good old double-digits, my lucky charm) I wrote 2,599 words, the concluding litany of a string of 100,089. The last two: “The End.”

“A back-country road trip into the secret, lethal places within the Canadian boreal forest through the four seasons: friendship, loss, guilt, and violence.”

* * *

“What’s next?”

Good question. I am hoping Editor James holds out his hand and asks, “the red pill or the blue pill?” Somehow, I don’t think it will be that easy. I think that I just recently got used to the loping cadence and easy restrictions of my original precis. Will this familiar pace continue? I trashed that first outline into an all but unrecognizable hulk. Will I run rampant in draft two? If I do, what will be left?

So many questions. For now, I will save a place for my familiar characters, and maybe leave a spot open in case someone new drops in. I know that if I keep the ending I wrote at 2:07 A.M., I’ll then have to change the flashback opening – maybe just one word though.

Or maybe all of them?

Still and Cold boathouse mulholland

 

The 8K-word Story

Around Halloween, I sent my freelance Editor, James, a precis for a story that I hoped would be, “a little longer than my usual 3,500 or so.”

He replied that I should not feel bound by the 8,000-word limit I had set in mind. “You’ve more than an 8,000-word outline here, looks to me,” he wrote back.

“Well, we’ve been playing catch with this thing since November and I am now on the brink of the 90,000-word elevation. OMG. Startled emoji. #climbingEverest. I have kept my routine intact for this long-form excursion – write every day, usually in the morning. Edit a little, but not full-out. Read segments aloud to Jan.

I’ve been sending James instalments every three or four days. He usually replies within two or three. He suggests, trims, refines, but uses small tools – the big John Deere is still in the shed.

The novel cadence, I find, is a little like a game of catch with a football. You catch, adjust the ball in your grip, line up the laces, chatter a bit, set up, take a step and toss it. Repeat.

James keeps things in bounds that tend to creep around, run aground, deafen with too much sound, and bark like a hound. Like… The plot: “You killed him?” The location: “I thought they were out in the boat, not on the dock!” Character traits: “Don’t be so soft on him. Make him a real bastard!” Style: “I’d say this is rather not Toewsian! You do well with the ands, not the short sentences, don’t be afraid!” The POV:  “Why are we in Vivaca’s head?” Mechanics: “Why do you use so many semi-colons?

Etc.

And now we are reaching the end. It’s scary. It’s not the REAL end, it’s the end of the first draft, James reminds, but still. Change is afoot. Hope I can still go to sleep in a rowboat adrift on Bannock Lake and wake up pushing a pick-up truck out of the snow on the side of a granite outcropping. I’ll keep talking like my characters and secretly trying out dialogue on Jan. I’ll miss the words, “hollowway, loon shit, diewel, thwart,” but there will be plenty more, I’m sure.

top of everest

Things to Look Forward To:

! James cutting a broad, gory swath on his first overall read-through edit!

! Replies from Beta readers.

! Submitting edited novel excerpts to literary journals!

 
I expect that the summit of my first draft will be like the top of Mt. Everest — littered with lots of discarded material. I fear that, but, it’s a tough business. Pass the oxygen.

Tray Bong!

Mitch

 

 

I’m One of Those

I received a forward from a friend who I enjoy a lot and also respect, not a little. He’s a person almost anybody could model their life after and enjoy many improvements in the process. That goes for me, that’s for certain!

Anyway, he’s of a more conservative bent than me, for the most part. Not altogether and not in the context of the current binary way of things. I believe we can disagree civilly.

The forward was about the dangers of large-scale immigration and why we should object to it in Canada. The message closed by encouraging recipients to: “Forward to everyone on your contact list!”

But… “everybody on my contact list” contains mostly people like me: those whose antecedents arrived here with no money, little or no English, next to no desire to learn English, demanding their own schools, refusing to join the army, getting free land for nothing while people who lived here for generations were forced to give up land for these newcomers.

The ladies wore weird headgear, the men’s closets were imbued in octopus ink, women were treated like indentured cooks-maids-baby incubators and every third adult male started his own church when he wasn’t debating buttons versus hooks and other matters of eternal salvation.

I come from a long line of ‘undesirable aliens’ — similar to the ones we Canadians are now supposed to “watch out for!”

I and my kind are lucky our predecessors were given a free, tax-payer-sponsored, gov-enforced sanctuary on the East Reserve, or all the gun-toting Canadian citizens back then might have chased the invading hordes of Mennos the heck back to Mother Russia to get ground up like foarmaworscht in history’s most violent wars.

The wide-eyed Molotschnian folk who arrived here were dependent in many ways on the kindness of strangers. They received that from Canadians — and Germans and Brits along the way, too! Now it’s our turn, even if we don’t like the looks of this incoming bunch. Some of them are religious fanatics. Oba!

By 2050, Canada will be 50%+ Asian and the U.S. will be a Hispanic majority, so really, squabbling now is just a waste of our znackzote-scented breath anyway.

My grandkids are French-Menno-Ukrainian-Metis and I’m proud of it and I suspect old Delegate Toews might be too if he was still around. He is one of those responsible for some of the details of the Mennonite diaspora, back in 1873.

charter

I respect opposing opinions because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants us the ability to be 100% full of horse dung, a by-product that — when frozen — is good for road hockey but wears out its welcome in a warm room full of loud-talking Mennonite settlers’ offspring.

“Disagreement makes the world go ’round.”
— Chuck Toews (to me, my sisters, my daughters, and quite a few others)

Best of Fiction on the Web

Write. Edit. Research. Submit. Wait.

Repeat.

For short story writers, this is the air we breathe – the ink we drink. The, “Thank you for submitting,” e-mail we dare not open. It can be a grind because even the best get rejected. Even the best are shunned.

But occasionally the stars align, the would-be fatal bullet hits you right in the pocket flask (or Bible; it’s either Gibsons or Gideons) and you survive. A story appears. People read it and a few of them comment. One or two like it. The story makes its way around and the editor might think, well, that was a pretty good pick!

Then, riding that rare rogue wave – you get picked again. You are, dear boy, a ‘Best of’ author. (Cue: Whistling Bridge Over the River Kwai music or maybe Chariots of Fire – bare feet slapping through the surf.)

Anyway, this is a long way round to tell you that my story, “Nothing to Lose” is one of those fortunate few to be picked for Charlie Fish’s first ever anthology of Fiction on the Web (1996-2017).

Mine is a story about a Canadian man and some of the choices he had to make on the prairies in the early 1960’s. Do we ever fully release ourselves from the grasp of regret? At what cost?

All I know for sure is it’s nice to be picked.

I remember the ribboned woodgrain of that pale yellow door. I remember the diesel exhaust residue from the Zamboni and the other smells – ice, sweaty leather, and the stick of Juicy Fruit the caretaker gave me. He’s beside me at the back of the pack, me trying to see. It’s the Bantam team try-out results.

.

I had no real chance. I started skating late and despite a love for it, the goalie spot was unlikely for me. “A foregone conclusion,” as my dad, a famous defenceman in his day — try-out with the Red Wings — used to say.

.

“Think you made it?” Mr. Thiessen said, looking down at me.

.

“Nah. Pete, and then Bobby, as back-up,” I said, flipping wet hair off my forehead.

.

“Can you see?” I said to him. The list was taped to the door of the dressing room. It was on the coach’s Royal Bank of Canada stationery. Typed names. Double-spaced.

.

“Gotta do the ice,” he said, chewing hard on his gum. “Huskies play tonight.” He nudged me as he walked off. “Let me know,” he said, turning half around, his boots loud on the skate-scarred wood planks.

.

goalie

The Best of Fiction on the Web press release

Chapter 26

Mulholland and Hardbar

My WIP novel work continues and I have reached 64K words. That’s 64,000 first draft words. That number will likely turn into quite a few less after some slasher action by the grim reaper, formerly of Cambridge… now a regular at the White Hart, near Gunthorpe Street of Whitechapel. (My freelance editor James, who believes the only good adverb is a dead adverb. He likes his verbs naked.)

It is a pivotal chapter – where the book’s title characters meet! Here’s a chapter blurb:

Chapter 26 – Mulholland has a guest. Hardbar has injected himself into the world of Penrose Pond. They start out with an apropos sea-faring adventure, on April One. It’s Grandfa’s birthday, and also a wee tip-o-the-cap to the author’s real-life father-in-law – a dark-skinned gent named Henry (Heinrich) Kasper, born on April 1 and said to be descended from one of the three wise men.

The introduction of Mul and HB, featuring: Krüt, a parka Jesus, and a “beastly waat schneemachine!”

And a first-draft snippet:

With a glower, Hardbar dove headlong off the foot ramp of the snowmobile where he stood. He was powerful, and he cleared the water easily, his padded chest landing with a muffled, “whump!” on the ladder. A crescent of ice near his knees broke away and floated creekward. His lower legs were immersed, and he scrambled, cursing — his eyes wild — towards Mulholland.

“Back! Pull backwards!” he yelled as he scampered forward, banging his knees on the ladder rungs and scuttling forward, all ahead full.

Mulholland, kneeling behind the ladder, jerked hard to pull it towards him. It did not budge with the 150-pounds of Hardbar weighing it down. It was too heavy for Mulholland and his awkward position. He jerked again and again, but his knees and toes just slipped on the ice. As he tugged, the grey, deeply fissured wood dowel that was the bottom rung made a cracking noise. He stopped for fear of snapping it.

Hardbar was now more than halfway towards him. Another large half-moon had broken away behind him and a grinning semi-circle of dark swirling water reached as far as Hardbar’s feet. The snowmobile end of the ladder was submerged.

“STOP!” Mulholland commanded. Hardbar looked up at him, his face wet and granules of ice stuck in his beard. “We gotta slide the ladder along with us. It won’t move with you on it – I got no grip!”

“Okay, yeah!” Hardbar said, understanding the predicament immediately. He flopped off the ladder, lying alongside and hugging it one-armed and one-legged in a post-coital embrace. He untied the knotted arms of the parka. “Here,” he said, flipping the coat at Mulholland who was shimmying down along the other side of the ladder, bringing himself abreast of Hardbar. They each grasped a sleeve and the hooded parka lay atop the ladder spread-eagled.

“Like Jesus on da cross,” Hardbar commented, looking at the parka figure. Then, his accent faint, he said, “serious, can you swim? I really can’t.”

Tray bong, tray bong…
Mitch