Jus’ Noodlin’

Image: My grandparents and my uncle Ken in Steinbach, MB during the 40s; Mennonites hiding in plain sight.

As I idle down the back lanes of my brain’s daydream centre, procrastinating before my session on the rowing machine, I imagine what the logline might look like for a collection of my short stories. Note that I’m idling along the back lanes—where windmills and cobwebs exist in perfect harmony—on a brand-new, electric Ural sidecar motorcycle. Hey… if you’re gonna daydream, go carbon-friendly or go home!

Mitchell Toews’ collection of insightful short stories, “Pinching Zwieback – Prairie Stories,” reveals the confines of small-town life in a Mennonite community. Vivid characters demand to be heard and recognized. The book’s mixture of the iconoclastic and the nostalgic delivers reality through the little-seen lens of an outsider—but one with a deep insider pedigree. Toews’ heartfelt expression of lives lived captures the conflict and the contradictions that are unavoidable in these insular Jemeend*.

Pulling apart the clockwork of the axiomatic Mennonite profile, Toews probes for what is common to all and what is beautiful and what is problematic within faith, culture, domestic life, commerce, and interaction with the wide world beyond.

“Out of patience, I stood up and began angrily shouting down the ridiculous, muddled stereotypes coming from the lecturer in my ‘Introduction to Geography’ course. I was at the University of Victoria in 1974 and we were discussing Canadian Mennonites. At almost the same time a tall, blonde woman from the Interior rose to protest, and also another; a young Albertan from La Crete who was on the men’s J-V basketball team. All of us disavowed the reckless, almost comical blending of Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite tropes. At that moment, I saw myself and my ‘brethren’ in the way others must and furthermore, I saw the confusion within our own ranks.”

Mitchell Toews

__

*Or Gemeinde: Communities or congregations

Ageism in Literature. An Analysis Kit for Teachers and Librarians.

The title of this essay is the actual name of a research and analysis paper written by Anita F. Dodson and Judith H. Hauser. The paper was sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Education and the publication was released in 1981.

https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED211411

I discovered this document online when searching for resources about the improvements made in modern literature in respect of ageism, embedded bias, and systemic elder malignment. Like you, perhaps, I assumed that progress has been made in this area; that certain antiquated and demeaning stereotypes had been scrubbed out of literature by a watchful literary vanguard of editors, publishers, librarians, teachers, readers and right-minded people in general.

“We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there.”

I believed, like American industrialist Charles F. Kettering must have (quoted above), that age bias is the product of an illogical mind and that it would, especially in today’s atmosphere of rapid, broad communication and ultra-scrutiny be all but eradicated. While discrimination over race, religion, gender, or sexuality continues to plague society, open hate-speak and flagrant animosity have been essentially banned in world literature. The same should be true for ageism, yes?

Well… “Hey, BOOMER!” No.

Here are the some of the findings of the Dodson/Hauser paper. Their research included visits to, “public, college, and school libraries, as well as bookstores. Approximately eight hundred books from the kindergarten through adult levels were investigated.” The authors reason that what readers absorb through reading—particularly the young—will influence their opinions and beliefs. How true.

In summary, the authors concluded the following:

[…] “analysis of past and present literature shows that the aged have been stereotyped and portrayed negatively. By not assigning them a full range of human behaviours, emotions, and roles, authors have categorized them, resulting in ‘ageism’—discrimination against the elderly.

Literature conveys writers’ and society’s stereotypic and negative images when:

  1. Authors consistently use adjectives such as “old,” “poor,” “little,” “sad,” and “wise” to refer to the elderly.
  2. Older men are depicted with wrinkles, white hair, and canes, while older women are portrayed as fat or skinny, with their hair in “buns” and wearing aprons.
  3. Senility is considered to be synonomous with old age.
  4. The aged are pictured as sitting in rocking chairs or engaged in passive roles, such as storytelling, fishing, or housekeeping.
  5. Personality is characterized in two forms—crotchety or unfailingly pleasant.

1-5, above, are the faults present in a certain cross-section of American literature at the time the study was done forty years ago.

The authors identified important categories as a way to break down and better analyze a piece of literature in respect of its treatment of elders.

  • Significance. In Canada today, StatsCan estimates, “Almost one in five (18.5%) Canadians are now aged 65 and older, and the number of centenarians rose 1,100 year over year to 12,822 as of July 1, 2021.” https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/210929/dq210929d-eng.htm Simply put, are one in five contemporary literary characters age 65 or older? What systemic initiatives (funding, grants, contests, mandates, education) exist to promote the significance of elders in modern literature?
  • Ethnic and Racial Composition. The study contends that, in 1981,

“When older characters appear in literature, the vast majority are white. Ethnic and racial minorities tend to be stereotyped to an even greater degree, assuming roles that are even more typecast than whites. While some behaviors are not inaccurate, they are shown in exclusion to others. For example, Asian-Americans operate laundries or gift shops or participate in dragon festivals, while Blacks appear in servile roles.”

  • Character Role. To what degree are elders depicted as main characters?
  • Occupational Role. Are elders, “shown in a diversity of meaningful occupations and employment settings?” The study found that:

The majority of older characters are placed in indeterminate occupational roles or those that require only passive participation… When there is obvious employment, the positions require little mental acuity or are outside the experiences of the average student. Women’s roles are repetitive… generally engaged in housework or gardening.

  • Behavioral Characteristics. Elder characters found by the 1981 study usually created problems Today, are they depicted solving problems too? Are behavioural characteristics stereotypical? A somewhat recent example is Canada’s “Corner Gas” television show. The ensemble cast includes two prominent elder roles, a husband and wife. The show often elevates the female elder to a person of agency, responsibility, strong character and otherwise gives her a role equal to younger characters, although she seems to me too often petulant and vengeful and her role in the home and the community are based on typecast models. Her husband is a comical dumping ground of grouchy old man tropes, spun out relentlessly, episode after episode, giving authority for other writers to continue down the caricature trail, unabated; angry old white man… Difficult old lady.
  • Physical Traits. In 1981, “Older characters are rarely given fully developed physical descriptions. Instead, they are described by three adjectives–“old,” “little,” and “ancient.” “Old” is used approximately seventy-five percent of the time. No other generation is completely described by the use of one word.”
  • Personality Traits. Do older characters express, “a full range of emotions with the opportunity for continued growth?”

~ ~ ~

The sample size is small. It’s a review of predominantly American literature and may not be representative of the Canadian reality—then or now—particularly in respect of Indigenous characters, for which significant differences exist between American and Canadian cohorts. (Example: Métis peoples are seldom represented in American culture or literature.)

Despite these shortfalls and potential inaccuracies, when I read the findings and conclusions, I can’t help but see a description of many parts of modern day Canadian literary content. Few elder characters are drawn in the same way as their younger counterparts and many suffer from the same endemic flaws as those highlighted in 1981.

What, if anything, has changed? Is this unalterable? Will literary and genre fiction remain forever bound by and within these “old” tropes and lazy caricatures?

A few nights ago, the doddering, heavily made-up character portrayed by “Saturday Night Live’s” Mikey Day, fell headlong and without reserve into almost every insulting, belittling device cited by Dodson & Hauser. When in doubt, slander the elderly and grab a cheap laugh! This recent example from one of the big-audience icons of Western pop culture suggests that elder discrimination is still openly permitted. The zeitgeist has spoken.

~ ~ ~

On the plus side, and I’m sure there are many, I was impressed with Ralph Benmergui, author of

I THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD: A SPIRITUAL MEMOIR

during his CBC radio interview from Winnipeg yesterday. Author-broadcaster-spiritualist (and likely much more), Mr. Benmergui is, like me, a 1955 product and I thought his take on elder invisibility was a direct hit. BOOM! He later added a positive tone to his comments, pointing out many of the things that have changed and are changing concerning the role of seniors in Canadian society. I’m sure his book will contribute to the dialogue.

His is another book for me to buy and it may find a place on the shelf right next to Sharon Butala, and her wonderful book of essays,

THIS STRANGE VISIBLE AIR: ESSAYS ON AGING AND THE WRITING LIFE

~ ~ ~

Please accept my apologies for being on a bit of a birthday-induced rant about all of this, but as Kettering pointed out, it is in our best interests—and that of generations to come—to grapple with issues of ageism now and with permanence.

Jessica Lake IMPRESSIONISM

I’m working a lot lately on creating stories that follow my understanding of an “impressionistic writing style.”

Impressionism as manifest in Scene; Character; Action; Sensation; and Style.

This is, you see, part of the Jessica Lake MFA I’m enrolled in. The internet and my writing group, the reading I do, my readers and editors are the instructors. I am definitely the coolest guy in my MFA. In fact, I’m the only guy in my MFA, but then, I always avoid giving statistics too much credence.

The overriding rules go a little like a Lightnin’ Hopkins song — there’s some improvisation involved as you go along:

  1. Writen in the present, without reflection or authorial comment
  2. No narrative intrusions of any kind — the story simply unfolds in the reader’s mind
  3. Choice of words is left to “Mot juste” or a sense of using just the “right” word that contributes to the totality of the piece without undue attention to the beauty of the prose.

Scene — a reportorial flow, objective, use of understatement and simple words, clear imagery, repetition and reiteration of key words and phrases, strong description of action, use of landscape to echo emotion… the last bit suggested by author and writing instructor Lauren Carter of Winnipeg.

Character — describe traits or activities, but not physical attributes

Action — up close and participatory with reader as onlooker, cinematic: rapid (fluttering) or slow motion and may utilize a bird’s-eye view from above that is clipped and declarative

Sensation — actions are felt by the reader, be concrete and crude, be simple and realistic, work the senses

Style — author should express their individuality as a writer (untarnished), focus always on the subject and what the subject experiences, use the iceberg technique to hide the worst and only show the surface — the tip — of what is wrong, and ala Hemingway and Manitoba memoirist Donna Besel, write slow and clear about the most terrible and the most hurtful.

Note: A good deal of this came from a doctoral thesis (from a few decades ago) I found on the web and now cannot relocate to cite. Acch. Quite a bit is of my own invention so… maybe the no citation is okay here. If you recognize it, lemme know!

Third Time’s a Charm?

[…] From Wikipedia: The Pushcart Prize is an American literary prize published by Pushcart Press that honors the best “poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot” published in the small presses over the previous year. Magazine and small book press editors are invited to submit works they have featured. Anthologies of the selected works have been published annually since 1976. It is supported and staffed by volunteers.

The founding editors were Anaïs NinBuckminster FullerCharles NewmanDaniel HalpernGordon LishHarry SmithHugh FoxIshmael ReedJoyce Carol Oates, Len Fulton, Leonard Randolph, Leslie FiedlerNona BalakianPaul BowlesPaul EngleRalph EllisonReynolds Price, Rhoda Schwartz, Richard Morris, Ted Wilentz, Tom Montag, Bill Henderson and William Phillips.

* * *

My story, “Sweet Caporal” about a morning of fishing on Big Whiteshell Lake has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Editor Robert Boucheron on behalf of the quarterly literary journal, Rivanna Review, of Charlottesville, Va.

This is my third Pushcart nomination, the first from a U.S. periodical. It is the second time a version of “Sweet Caporal” has been nominated.

“What’s it about?”

I’ve assembled a collection of short stories to present to small presses in Canada. My hope is that I can attract a skilled, smart, simpatico partner to work with and publish the collection. I have several unpublished works and just over 90 published stories from which to choose.

I curated the stories into a themed collection and they are mostly those tales I have written that I consider “MennoGrit.” I define this in a sloppy way — like when you have to saw a board with your left hand:

Stories about real life. Ordinary people who encounter difficult situations and respond in a manner incommensurate with their simple station in life. Allegedly simple.

“So, what’s your book about?” is the question that everyone from agent to publisher to the person in the line at the pharmacy, pimple cream in hand, might ask.

Good question. To better understand this I pulled up the manuscript and made a list of the themes or messages that are at the core of each story. I was surprised by what I found. Here is that Thematic Table of Contents:

Loyalty…toxic male behaviour

Women’s rights in a patriarchy

Growing up…responsibility…saying no

Friendship and its obligations

Pacifism…courage

Bullying…courage

Regret

Womanhood…courage

Right and wrong…courage

Racism…insularism

Forgiveness…alcoholism

Nativism…equality

Class struggle

Alcoholism…class struggle

Pacifism

Toxic religion…abuse of authority

Deceit…class struggle

Mental health

Faith…life and death

Cruelty…guilt

Empathy

Abuse of authority

Life and death

Written as they are in the mind of my times, I can focus ice cold on these themes. They come from the lives that exist in all places, including those I know best. There is no “trending” in these familiars, where I am the son — both homegrown and prodigal — only observations scooped up and saved in a coffee can, resting placid and true on the high shelf where they have cured; some softening, some hardening.

The working title of the book is “Pinching Zwieback — Prairie Stories.”

Do They Remember?

Does the gravel road remember

the border of pastel yarrow, my footprints and the hollows made by my knees and the heels of my hands, me concentrating on staying awake while ravens oversee, soaring, violet mystique wings outstretched

Does the sky remember

glaring down on the old drunk, in his yellowed Stanfields, lying in a soaking puddle in the backyard morning, sprinkler ran all night and he drowned but didn’t know it

Does the backstop remember

me up on the mound, black socked Juan Marichal leg kick, wild as an air hose when the nozzle breaks off, baseball’s the next perfect thing after the last one blew apart

Does the kitchen floor remember

her pinwheeled on the cornflower tiles, alone and snoring, pajama top only, mustard on her pointed chin, the yellow badge of surrender, but what would I know of it?

Do the unknowing remember

all the things they can’t know when they say “Good for you…” but judge with unwrinkled eyes and tiny fists shooting venom, like Marvel halftone beams white hot with denial

Does the delivery room remember

my red moustache in an eighties flow, holding those babies so precious, waited through all the bad befores and here they are, perfect and undefinable, all worth it

Does the shy boy remember

how it felt to build the rink, leaves falling amber, nailing the boards, dragging the curved corners flat, dreaming of me yet to come, faceless, so I took his with its smiling eyes

Does the upstairs bedroom remember

her reading from Grimm’s, cover corners worn like the tongue of a boot, eyes the sagging hue of fall light but still life giving and aglow, “Who’s that walking across my bridge?” and the silver fillings glitter in the laughter of it

Detailed C-V

MITCHELL TOEWS: A big list…

 ONLINE ADDRESSES

Mitchellaneous.com
@Mitchell_Toews
Author pages on Facebook, Goodreads, and LinkedIn

 CURRICULUM-VITAE

Updated 07.31.22

EDUCATION

University of Victoria (1974-75)
University of Winnipeg (1975-77, dangerously close to a B.A. in Sociology)
Masters Certificate in Marketing Communication Management, York University (2001)
“So You Want To Write Indigenous Characters…” Manitoba Writers’ Guild (2019)

 ASSOCIATIONS/MEMBERSHIPS

Member — Manitoba Writers’ Guild
Professional Artist — as designated by Manitoba Arts Council
New/Early Career Artist — as designated by Canada Council for the Arts

Past Member — Winnipeg Public Library’s Prose Writing Circle, led by Winnipeg Public Library Writer in Residence Carolyn Gray (2019-2020)
Past Member — The Sunday Writers Group, led by Donna Besel (Lac du Bonnet, MB)
Member — WriteRamble, led by Lauren Carter, Winnipeg Public Library Writer in Residence, 2020-2021
Member — Write Clicks, a Winnipeg River/Winnipeg city alliance: a critique circle formed in 2021
Member — Winnipeg River Arts Council
Member — The Writers’ Union of Canada

 PUBLISHED WORKS

2016:
16 short stories | 15 online, 2 paid print, 9 Canada, 6 UK, 1 US

2017: 20 short stories | all online, 4 Ca, 1 India, 7 UK, 8 US

2018: 14 short stories, 1 interview, 1 podcast (audio) | 1 paid print, 3 unpaid print, 6 Ca, 4 UK, 1 Ireland, 5 US

“I am Otter” — short story, CommuterLit (Ca)

“Fall From Grace”, short story, Literally Stories (UK)

“Of a Forest Silent” — short story, Alsina Publishing LingoBites (UK – English and Spanish)

“City Lights” — short story, Literally Stories (UK)

“The Bottom of the Sky” — short story, Fiction on the Web (UK)

“In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence” — short story, riverbabble (US)

“Nothing to Lose” — short story, riverbabble (US)

“Shade Tree Haven” — short story, Doorknobs & Bodypaint (US)

“Sweet Caporal at Dawn” — short story, Blank Spaces (Ca), paid print

“Sweet Caporal at Dawn” — short story, Just Words, Volume 2 Anthology (Ca), print

“Away Game” — short story, Pulp Literature (Ca), paid print

“Groota Pieter” — short story, River Poets Journal, Special Themed Edition, “The Immigrants” Anthology (US), print

“Five Questions for Mitchell Toews” — interview, Mennotoba (Ca)

“The Narrowing” — short story, Scarlet Leaf Review (Ca)

“Wide Winter River” — podcast, Not Ready for Prime Time (US)

2019: 14 short stories, 1 interview, 1 CNF essay | 1 paid online, 1 paid print, 2 unpaid print, 3 Ca, 2 UK, 1 Australia, 3 Iran, 8 US

“The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine” — short story, Literally Stories (UK)

“The Toboggan Run” — short story, The MOON magazine (US)

“Peacemongers” — short story, The MOON magazine: “Out of This World” Anthology The Best Short Stories from the MOON (US), Volume 1, print

“Cave on a Cul-de-sac” — short story, The Hayward Fault Line, Doorknobs & Bodypaint (US) Issue 93

“Din and the Wash Bear” — short story, The Hayward Fault Line, Doorknobs & Bodypaint (US) Issue 95

“Died Rich” — short story, Fabula Argentea (US), Issue #27, paid

“I am Otter” — short story, Short Tales – Flash Fiction Stories (Iran)

“Away Game” — short story, Short Tales – Flash Fiction Stories (Iran)

 “4Q Interview with Author Mitchell Toews” — interview and excerpt from WIP novel, “Mulholland and Hardbar”, South Branch Scribbler (Ca)

“Concealment” — short story, Me First Magazine (US)

“Groota Pieter” — short story, Pact Press (Australia), “We Refugees” Anthology, print

“Fast and Steep” — short story, Riddle Fence (Ca), Issue 34, paid print

“Holthacka’s Quandary” — short story, Lunate Fiction (UK)

“Shade Tree Haven” — short story, (mac)ro(mic) (US)

“My Writing Day” — CNF essay, my (small press) writing day (Ca)

“Our German Relative” — short story, Xmas Stories (Iran)

2020: 11 short stories, 2 CNF essays, 2 interviews | 6 print, 1 paid online, 2 paid print, 5 Canada, 3 UK, 4 US

“The Business of Saving Souls” — short story, Literally Stories (UK)

“The Log Boom” — short story, in “A Fork in the Road,” 2019 Special Theme Edition Anthology of River Poets Journal (US), print

“Encampment” — short story, Tiny Seed Journal (US)

“Regrets de Foie Gras”— short story, Literally Stories (UK), May 2020

“The Grittiness of Mango Chiffon” — short story, Agnes and True (Ca), paid online, Summer 2020

“My Life as a Corkscrew” — a CNF essay “On Writing” in Blank Spaces (Ca), June 2020, print

“Piece of My Heart” — short story, Pulp Literature, (Ca), paid print

“Away Game” — short story, Quail Bell Magazine, (US), paid print

Interview — Maysam Kandej Talks (Iran), https://maysam.id.ir/talks online, August 2020

“My Life as a Corkscrew” — a CNF essay “On Writing” in the Just Voices anthology (Ca), September 2020, print

“The Sunshine Girl” — short story, Cowboy Jamboree Magazine (US), Fall 2020 (John Prine Tribute issue), print and online

“Died Rich” — short story, Fiction on the Web (UK), September 2020

“Baloney, Hot Mustard and Metal Filings” — short story, WordCity Monthly (Ca-Intl), September 2020

“Our German Relative” — short story, WordCity Monthly (Ca-Intl), December 2020

2021: 8 short stories, 2 interviews | 1 paid print, 4 Canada, 4 UK, 2 US

“Interview with Contributor Mitchell Toews” — Blank Spaces (Ca), January 8, 2020

“So Are They All” — short story and interview, Literally Stories (UK), February 14, 2021

“Fast and Steep” — short story, CommuterLit “Love Stories,” (Ca), February 14, 2021

“The Grittiness of Mango Chiffon” — short story, Literally Stories (UK), March 9, 2021

“Fast and Steep” — short story, Fiction on the Web (UK), March 29, 2021

“Featured Artist — Mitch Toews” Winnipeg River Arts Council, interview was written by Donna Besel (Ca), June 2021

“The Log Boom” — short story, WordCity Monthly (Ca-Intl), July 2021

“In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence” — short story, The Twin Bill (US), July 13, 2021

“Sweet Caporal” — short story, Rivanna Review (US), September, paid print

“Fast and Steep” — short story, Fenechty Anthology (UK), print

2022: 9 flash/short stories | 2 paid print, 2 US, 7 Canada

“Hundred Miles an Hour” — short story, Rivanna Review, (US), paid print, March 2022

“Piece of My Heart” — short story, Miramichi Flash, (Ca), Spring/Summer 2022

“Downtown Diner” — short story, Cowboy Jamboree, (US), Bruce D’J Pancake Issue

“Winter Eve at Walker Creek Park” and “Shade Tree Haven” — Guernica Editions’ This Will Only Take a Minute: 100 Canadian Flashes, (Intl), a collective anthology edited by Bruce Meyer and Michael Mirolla, August 2022

“I am Otter” — short story, Lintusen Press “Small Shifts: Short Stories of Fantastical Transformation” edited by Shawn L. Bird, (Ca), anthology, royalties print, July 2022 https://books2read.com/Prose-by-Toews

“Sanctuary Quandary” — short story, WordCity Monthly (Ca-Intl), July 2022

The flash fiction “New War — Old Technology” will appear in The Fieldstone Review (Ca), Fall 2022.

“No Strings” — short story, Bell Press “Framework of the Human Body” edited by Catherine Mwitta, (Ca), anthology, paid print, 2022.

 CONTESTS-PRIZES-AWARDS

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The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses is an annual award that has chosen stories for a prestigious anthology for the past 45 consecutive years. Mitchell has three PUSHCART PRIZE nominations (See below for details.)

“So Are They All” — short story, second place in the Adult Fiction category of the Write on the Lake (Ca) contest, 2016, paid print

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

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

“Cave on a Cul-de-sac” — short story, winner in The Hayward Fault LineDoorknobs & Bodypaint Issue 93 Triannual Themed Flash contest, 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, print

“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, paid print

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

“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.

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

“The Rabid,” finalist in the 2022 PULP Literature Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest. (750-word max.)

The 2022 J. F. Powers Prize for Short Fiction. 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. Mitch’s story, “Luck!” was placed on the Shortlist in this same contest.

 FUNDING

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Manitoba Arts Council, June 30, 2020. Financial support for the creation of a unique Manitoba artbook, ekphrastic in nature and featuring artistic photography and short fictional stories. The theme is “People, Places, and Light”. Photography by collaborator, Phil Hossack. Project extended due to Covid 19 to July 1, 2022.

February 2022. Mitchell has been partnered with veteran, award-winning author Armin Wiebe, a mentor in The Writers’ Union of Canada Mentorship Microgrant program. Armin and Mitch will be reviewing Mitchell’s debut novel: “Mulholland and Hardbar” (“Fargo with Mennonite accents.”)

 READINGS

  • Voices Launch, McNally Robinson, Winnipeg, MB, 2016
  • PULP Literature Issue Launch, Vancouver, BC, 2017
  • Manitoba Writers’ Guild, Artspace, Winnipeg, MB, 2019
  • Prosetry, Jessica Lake, MB, 2019
  • Driedger Readings, Winnipeg, MB, 2019
  • Victoria Writers’ Society, AGM—Open mic, 2020
  • PULP Literature Reading Series, live internet April 24, 2020
  • PULP Literature Issue 27 launch, live internet July 19, 2020
  • Mechanics’ Institute, San Francisco, Cal, COVID-19 open mic, live internet August 19, 2020
  • Just Voices Volume 4 virtual launch, recorded for September 26, 2020
  • PULP Literature Issue28 launch, live internet November 7, 2020
  • Jake Epp Public Library, Steinbach, MB (date TBA, pending Covid restrictions)
  • Rivanna Review editor Robert Boucheron reads an excerpt from the short story “Hundred Miles an Hour” on Charlottesville (VA) Cable Access TV, May 2022 https://bit.ly/100MPHat12min18
  • Read “Sweet Caporal” and “Winter Eve at Walker Creek Park” for an international audience organized by poet Fizza A. Rabbani (Fizza Abbas) https://www.facebook.com/fizzah.abas.9, May 2022
  • Several readings are recorded here: https://bit.ly/proseBYtoewsYouTube

 WORK IN PROGRESS

  • A short story collection, “Pinching Zwieback – Prairie Stories” is curated and being queried. The collection comprises a range of loosely related stories focused on Mennonite experiences in the fictional prairie town of “Hartplatz.”
  • “Mulholland and Hardbar” — a WIP novel (“Fargo, with a Mennonite accent”)
  • “People, Places, Light” — an ekphrastic Manitoba artbook including original photography and short stories (Funded in part by The Manitoba Arts Council | Le conseil des arts du Manitoba.)
  • A number of new short stories are always on the go, being submitted to literary journals, contests, and anthologies.
  • “The Mismaloya”— a proposed novelette screenplay adaptation. Awaiting a collaborator.

FRIENDS & FOLLOWERS

  • Twitter 5,591
  • Facebook 4,900
  • Goodreads 274 friends, 19 followers
  • LinkedIn 921
  • WordPress 216

PANELS

1.15.21 Mitchell Toews participated as an Artist Testifier for the Commission on Basic Income. This Ontario/Canadian (Ontario Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts) jointly-sponsored commission requested Mitch to “share your experience and thoughts with our commissioners and to inform their future report on the issue of Basic Income for Artists.”

A Fetching Tale

I have good news. “Fetch, a short story I submitted to THE WRITERS’ UNION OF CANADA was chosen from a pool of 785 contestants as a finalist in their 2021 Emerging Writer Short Prose Contest.

https://www.writersunion.ca/news/mirabelle-chiderah-harris-eze-s-dark-wins-2500-prize-short-prose-competition

Phew! Feels good to say it. This was my year to enter contests and I was getting a bit (okay, a lot) pouty faced about it. It’s not the not winning that is so bad (I’m lying, that is bad) it’s more the dreadful silence. Not a creaky cricket. Not a fractional decibel, just the buzzing silence that means, well, it means nothing.

So I did not actually win this nation-wide contest but I was recognized and their procedure is sufficiently difficult to make me crow a little. I can take it as a victory and move along.

Where and to what?

To my work-in-progress novel — thanks for asking — which is in the late stages of final edits, Beta readers, and getting down to the QUERY level. It’s a 85K-word lit fic called “Mulholland and Hardbar” and you’d describe it in a sentence as, “Fargo, with Mennonite accents.”

Next: A collection of short stories I’m querying. It’s a group of stories that run to the GRITTY end of the register and they’re about Mennonites, so, I have coined a category for it: “MennoGrit.” This short story collection includes the aforementioned most excellent story, “Fetch,” and a whole bunch of others, new and old, many that are EVEN BETTER. (Always be selling?)

🙂

Last in this trio of writing projects I have on the go is a new EKPHRASTIC ARTBOOK project, yet to begin officially, due to Covid. The Manitoba Arts Council (MAC | CAM) has funded its creation with a grant. My collaborator photographer partner Phil Hossack and I will begin soon with road trips and research on interesting Manitoba people and places. Being a Manitoba project, it will inevitably be drawn to places where there is a giant sky, lots of sunshine and the iconic great LIGHT our province is known for by photographers and artists around the world. Plus, maybe the prose can add another angle to the photography: The lightness of being? Being light-hearted? Finding the light? Can you help me out, buddy? — I’m a little light…

Anyway, back to the contest: I want to thank The Writers’ Union of Canada — a classy joint — the judges, the pre-selection readers, and my mentors and critique readers on this story. Of the latter, there were several and they did an outstanding job of helping me with this piece — one that I managed to write in the most difficult way possible! I had a lot of help.

Congratulations to the winner and to my co-finalists and to the nearly 800 entrants who, like me on many other occasions, heard the silence and I know they are gearing up to enter again next year. Yikes.

Plus… I do have a lot of contest entries still in play. So cross your fingers and maybe I can fetch up another one.

PROPER MENTION to “Write Clicks” pal and songleader Zilla Jones of Winnipeg who outdid herself with THREE stories in the final eleven.

Treasures small and LARGE

[Image Caption: Re-purposements… a 1960 fishing plug used as the pull-chain fob on the Toews’ living room ceiling fan.]

Trigger Warning: This article contains a lot of sexy plumbing talk.

Almost every day as I ramble around our home in the north woods I am always struck, like a proud curator, by how many treasures I have around here. Things we have bought (meh…) that have served well, but more so stuff Jan and I have thought up, designed and built. Ahh, endorphin rush sting me with thine euphoric prick.

Sorry, that last line didn’t come out quite right, but time is money and there’s no money for editing this month.

To continue about treasures… I get a thrill from the various objects that we have built, mended, replaced, and re-purposed. That last one, re-purposed, is an awkward but useful word that has not yet achieved hyphenless status, even though “hyphenless” has, according to Grammarly and WordPress. I particularly treasure those items that have had their purpose re-defined and radically so, such as the 2001patio door leaves that have become fixed windows in my writing room by the lake; the 1950 fir windows that now grace the She-Shed gazebo-screen porch down by the shore; the old Mistral windsurf board that hangs as a thematic outdoor light fixture above the garage door (can you picture that?) and other detritus of eras past and patents not applied for.

But the Mona Lisa of my collection is the 1950s-era child’s fishing rod that now is a a flexible actuator-whacker for the start-stop switch on our water pump. It’s obvious this needs further scientific/theological description, like the definition of the Holy Ghost, so here goes: The switch has lost its fine-tuning. If you set it so that it starts the pump when needed (like during the rinse-cycle of a shower) it won’t shut-off when the demand is satisfied. Arggh. Conversely, if I literally crawl into the crawlspace beneath the cottage where the pump and its harem of 10-trillion spiders live, and re-adjust the switch so it will shut-off, it then becomes obstinate about STARTING. Yoma leid etj sei! That is, it will shut-off just fine but will not for love nor Lubriplate, start-up! Doh! and double-doh! There is no middle-ground, only a crawly, dusty, oneiric no-man’s-land where spiders wear octa-legged harem pants and thick mascara and the potentate pump grins sardonically, as pumps and potentates are wont to do, damn their O-ring eyes!

Anyway… I note in my curse-filled administrations that a light tap with my screwdriver allows the pump to overcome its refusal to start. (Freudian?) Aha! A clue to the solution? So, what if… I set the actuator switch to always automatically shut-off without fail — thus eliminating the danger of a pump run-on that would burn out the dry-running guts — and then I came up with a way to manually give it a light tap to get it to start-up. Hmm. The trouble is, the only way to tap it is to crawl under the cottage. This crawling is a big ask for me, a guy with joints made of goat-cheese and ossified bone as pitted and porous as Manitoba limestone. How then, to tap without crawling down into that dim spidery hellspace?

I eye the kitchen floor above the pump, Makita drill in hand. “Ey-yi-yi,” Janice says with a you-gotta-be-kidding pump-grin, “Can’t you come up with another approach? We can’t have a hole in the middle of the floor! For the love of Cloaca Maxima!” she says, with a callous reference to the God of Plumbing. (We have a shrine to her in our garage.)

“But the crawling, the T-A-P-P-I-N-G… ” I whine like our truck in reverse.

“Figure something else out.” Her final edict. Inalterable. She hath spake.

Alive and filled with mother-of-invention impetus, I rake through the junk on the junk-shelf, next to the shrine.

“What are you looking for?” Cloaca Maxima asks. (Gods are so nosy!)

“I’ll know when I find it,” I reply in perfectly plausible circular logic. In that instant, I strike gold. A 1950s-era three-foot long fiberglass fishing rod. My re-purposer synapses fire like George Gatling’s murderous gunpowder hydra and I SEE it in my mind: a cord running from the edge of the deck and underneath all the way to the crawlspace wall, through a tube, into the crawlspace, with its terminus at the tip of the midget fishing rod. I TWANG and release the cord and the flexy rod will snap against the actuator switch, effectively mimicking my crawling tap-tap-tap. Like humankind’s ancient forbearers, I have risen up from the crawling stage and have freed my hands to grasp tools. Vive la évolution!

There it is: a way to administer an actuating sting with my re-purposed flexible prick. (Again, not really liking the way that image plays out, but, gotta finish this post and get out there in the sunshine, so I’ll just leave it as is.) The point is (eww!) this is the kind of MacGyvering that passes for progress around here, and I, inventor son of an inventor son of an inventor, find it provides a highly endorphilic, artistic pleasure for me here in the Fifth Re-purpose Arrondissements Municipaux de Jessica Lake. Gertrude Stein would be impressed, “A prick is a prick is a prick!” she might observe.

Anyway-anyway-anyway… The real purpose of this long build-up is to say that, like my invented treasures here-about, I take an equal amount of JOY from my literary works of art. They don’t bloody my knuckles — well, not in a literal way — but they take just as much effort and like my craftwork at Jessica, they come from old objects, re-purposed. Life experiences of mine and others taken and writ large in stories and essays.

Here is one such. It’s one of my favs and I like to show it off, like one might a ’57 Chevy with “Old Fart” license plates, only my stories are re-purposed to give a different kind of a ride on a different kind of a road. The story “Fast and Steep” first appeared in the Canadian lit journal, Agnes and True.

https://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/2021/03/fast-and-steep-by-mitchell-toews.html

And, for a little variety, here’s another — a short essay that graced rob mclennan’s blog some time ago, it is a wise-crack that let some light in, in a Leonard kind of way: http://bit.ly/mySMALLPRESSwritingdayToews

allfornow,

Mitch

What All I Don’t know

“What all I don’t know,” is a kind of Steinbach* way of describing all that I’ve not yet experienced or learned.

My what all deficit is big. This is true even though I’ve experienced a lot. (I’m kind of old and a high-miler in some ways.) Anyway, what all I don’t know is a lot. How big “a lot” is, I don’t know because, well, I don’t know what all I don’t know.

Who does know what all I don’t know? And what would I do if I did know what all I don’t know about querying and novels and short story collections and literary agents and small presses and synopses and loglines and other Cinderella story bullet points? Predictably, I don’t know.

I DO know that there are those who know what all I don’t know.

Who are these what all knowers? I believe they are a facet of Cinderellaness called MENTORS. These fabled folk, awash in knowledge and given to sharing and patience and paying back and paying forward and other characteristics that may earn them wings, or a permanent place at the ball, or other indications of grace… as the glass slipper fits.

I know they exist because they have snuck into the collection of what all I do know. I have experienced them by chance and good fortune and benefited from their abundance. They include: abiding friends who waded through early drafts. The writer friends and comrades who did likewise; who were tough but kind, honest and objective. The paid freelance editors who gave me my money’s worth and much more. Much more. The Writers in Residence who also did what they were selected to do — help writers with their craft — and took an interest; gave more than required by their mandate. The Guild and lit journal volunteer readers, editors, and website builders and etcetera specialists who work in the wille hundat** of the literary world. The family members who bit their tongues when biting was not their first inclination and cheered even when cheering seemed a little “Toews sinks a lay-up with his team down 27 and 55 seconds left on the clock,” ish.

There is link between the two what alls: what all I don’t know and what all I do know. There must be! The link, the synapse, the causeway, the gossamer thread is this aforementioned group of virtuous MENTORS.

Where are the MENTORS that form this link? What are they doing right now? Do they herd or are they lone wolves? What or who do they prefer to mentor? What is the extent of their range and how are they best found in the wild? Are there Mentor-whisperers?

How do I become a MENTEE?

~~~

*Steinbach: my old hometown in rural Manitoba.

** wille hundat: a Plautdietsch or Low German expression meaning, “of unknown origin or towards an unknown destination” as defined in the “Mennonite Low German Dictionary.” (Jack Thiessen, Max Kade Institute, 2003) I think of this as the hundred acres, or so, on a farm that is not yet cleared and constitutes a wild bushland of unknown native flora and fauna; an unexplored landscape of mystery and supposed, unspecific threat.