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Our German Relative

Our German Relative

By Mitchell Toews

Whenever our family got together, it was inevitable that we would sit and tell stories. We would gather in my grandparents’ adjoining kitchen and living room, tjinja on the floor to make room on the couches and chairs for our elders. Here at the heart of their warm and crowded house, no one would be out of earshot. Yarns were unravelled and our feelings rose and fell. It was as if we were on a ship and the prairie around us was a rolling ocean – in all that sprawling snowy sea, my grandparents’ house was the safest harbour. And yet the stories often reminded us of the many dangers that exist in what seemed such a placid and familiar world.

At Christmas, Grandma always told the final story. That was our tradition. It was about my great-aunt Rosa when she was a child in Russia.

Enunciating with care in her precise English, Grandma Zehen told the story. Her narration was theatrical and thrilling, but still heartfelt and purely told. She would fill in detail and sentiment, adding dialogue to suit. But most engaging of all, she always told the story as if it was ours. This may not have been strictly so; it may have been cultural lore as much as family history. I never felt that it mattered – I just remember waiting for the story every Christmastime.

Lights were dimmed, candles lit. Out came the platters of Christmas cookies from the warmth of Grandma’s oven. Baked fresh this evening, we had been smelling them since the stories began, all of us waiting for them to arrive. I will never forget the candy taste of the pink icing, the buttery aroma with just a hint of vanilla. I can still see the warm glint of the crystal sugar in the candlelight. Best of all, dee tjinja got first pick from the overflowing trays!

Grandma began her special story once everyone had their cookies and we chewed as quietly as we could to listen.

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Not too far from Odessa, on the shores of the Black Sea, there was once a place called Molotschna Colony – ‘Milk River’, you know, as Englanders say it. My mother’s sister, my Taunte Rosa, attended grade school in one of the villages there. By Soviet dictate, the lessons were taught in Russian. The teacher, however, was brought in from Germany for the school year. Naturally, she was fluent in Hoch Deutsch – the language the Molotschna Mennonites spoke in church. She spoke Russian too, but best of all, thisLehrerin was also able to get by in her Mennonite students’ native PlautdietschObah, for the tjinja, of course, Plautdietsch was like the difference between day-old rye bread and fresh raisin toast with butter!

After Russia’s Godless Revolution, another state dictate forbade all religions. It was illegal to come together in any kind of gathering, especially for groups with obvious proclivities towards worship. Why even our little get-together today would have been banned under these new laws! Ambitious and diligent, the government officials were particularly strict in overseeing the local Mennonites in everything they did: at work, at home, and in Taunte Rosa’s school.

But there were still some aspects of Christendom that refused to fade in Russia. In a practical sense, this referred to the calendar and the arrangement of holidays, most of which were based on old religious traditions too deeply ingrained in society to go away overnight. Christmas ceased to exist, but a single day of rest near the end of December was permitted in Taunte’s village. Despite this, officially, even the simplest Yuletide symbols were banned.

Can you imagine? We have not experienced oppression like this in Canada, but let me tell you, it was a profound stimulant to Christmas joy back then! There is a kind of enthusiasm for celebrations that only forbidding them can produce. Ha! Bibles came out of secret hiding places. Clandestine late-night services were held in barns and haylofts and carols were sung in whispered voices. Even the auf’jefollna cast aside their backsliding ways and rediscovered their fervour!

Now, kids, I’m sorry for all the big words and grown-up talk! What Grandma is saying to you is that Christmas was taken away. And not just Christmas, but Easter too and even going to Sunday School. It was a mixed-up time, joh? But you little ones shouldn’t worry – the next part of the story is really for you, most of all!

So, now…little Rosa was very excited and too young then to grasp the full extent of the ban. She felt that taking away Christmas was like a game the adults played – the government on one side, trying to catch you; the parents and kids on the other side, trying to be clever and feeling the dangerous exhilaration of outsmarting the apparatchiks and their stuffy No-Christmas rules.

Christmas baking was one of many pieces in this complex game. Most Mennonite families still made Christmas cookies and other festive treats, but these traditions were known to the officials and were part of the ban. Christmas cookies were kept secret and were hidden.

A few days before Christmas Day one year, Rosa joined the game. That day, her mother had baked a batch of these secret Christmas cookies, and young Rosa couldn’t stop herself. She took one of the best, one with pink icing and red and green sugar crystals on top – and snuck away. She wrapped it in oiled paper, then in a folded piece of cardboard and secured it snugly with a thin ribbon she had saved from her birthday. Her coat had an inside pocket and she placed it there, near her heart. This was her Christmas gift for her teacher, Fraulein Rosenfeld. Rosa was so fond of her pretty teacher, you see, and was always broken-hearted in the springtime when Fraulein packed her trunk and left on the train.

Imagine the winter sky, children, as big there and just as blue as it is here. Think of Taunte Rosa as she hummed ‘Stille Nacht’ ever so softly while she walked to the schoolhouse, her boots squeaking in rhythm on the hard-packed snow path. Rosa, you see, felt guilty for not telling her mother about the gift. But, you know just how she felt, joh? She wanted to give this gift so badly and feared if she had asked, the answer would be no.

After lunch at school that day, while the other children dressed to go out and play, Rosa walked shyly to Fraulein’s desk and placed the ribboned gift in front of her. Fraulein tilted her head, not used to gifts from children in her class. Desperately saving for passage to strange, distant destinations like Canada, America, and Mexico, the families of Molotschna had little left over. And, of course, no one in any of the Russian Mennonite Colonies gave gifts for Christmas.

“What’s this?” the teacher asked.

Rosa stood at the edge of the desk, her heavy parka over her arm. At first, she was terrified, sensing that her teacher was angry and that she had done something wrong. “A present, Lehrerin,” was her meek answer.

Fraulein answered with a hum and a slight frown. She was a prim woman, thin and neat and somewhat severe. Her eyebrows raised and her eyes flicked up to see if anyone else was in the room. It was empty; all the children were already on the playground. She picked up the light bundle and unwrapped it with long piano fingers, laying the shiny ribbon on the varnished desktop. She undid the folded oil-paper and looked down at the small Christmas cookie.

“Well, well,” she said, before taking a deep breath and sitting upright in her chair. “How nice, Rosa. But, tell me please: did your mother give you this, for me?” She left her steady gaze on the child but took care not to stare too hard.

Rosa looked down, her cheeks flushing. “Nay, Lehrerin. It was me,” she confessed.

Nicht Mutti?” replied the teacher in more formal High German; her tone firmer, a hint of accusation lingering.

Nein, Fraulein. Mother doesn’t know.”

Fraulein Rosenfeld nodded curtly. She rose and walked swiftly to the doorway, her heels like hammer blows on the oiled wood floor. Looking down the hall and then closing the door, she paused there, her hands clenching as she gathered her thoughts. Rosa waited, feeling ever smaller next to the tall desk. The door locked with a sharp snap.

Nah joh,” Fraulein Rosenfeld began. When she turned back to Rosa she was smiling. “This is so nice.”

Rosa squirmed, basking in the moment.

“It’s just so nice!” Fraulein repeated. “Can we have it now, Rosa?”

The little girl studied her teacher’s face. Then, eyes shining, she said, “Joh!

Fraulein Rosenfeld looked through the window to the playground. Then she returned to the desk and broke the cookie into smaller bits. She ate some of it, passing a small piece to Rosa.

They ate together, chewing busily like church mice, with the teacher standing between little Rosa and the door. Fraulein fretted from door to window and to the large white-faced clock on the wall behind her, above the lined blackboard, keeping watch all the while.

Soon the cookie was gone. The teacher took the wrapper and folded it over and over until it was a small square. She pushed it deep into her pocket, together with the curly ribbon. She moistened her fingertip and dabbed at the few remaining crumbs. Holding one finger upright in front of her pursed lips, she took Rosa’s little hands and squeezed them gently, leaning over to kiss her on the forehead in the silent classroom.

“Our secret, joh?” Fraulein said in a whisper.

Rosa nodded, elated to have a secret with Fraulein – an honour she did not fully grasp. But perhaps it was just what the Fraulein had been lacking in cold and distant Molotschna.

 

molotschna sm
Page 232, “Building on the Past”, Raduga Publications, Rudy P. Friesen

 

You see, Fraulein Rosenfeld was much revered by the officials who ran the school. They saw her presence as a special concession to the Mennonites. On the other hand, the local teachers felt it was a slight to them and they treated her with cool disdain. For Fraulein, from a remote dairy farm in southern Germany, this teaching position was Godsent. It combined her gift for language and her love of children. To her, some minor social distance was a small price to pay. But ask any oma or opa whose children have since begun their own lives and families, and they will tell you, it’s easier to feel lonely at Christmas than at any other time of the year.

Fraulein gazed with fondness at the tiny girl, she saw the brightness in her eyes and touched her braided blonde hair.

Just then, the first of Rosa’s red-cheeked classmates huffed into the cloakroom stomping snow off their boots and unwinding scarfs, their yarn-strung mittens wet and dangling. They looked at the two at the front of the classroom. Rosa’s friend Tina called out that they missed her for the game of fox and geese they had played, running in the fresh snow. Before Rosa could reply, the bell rang and the children returned to their seats.

Now tjinja, you might ask, how dangerous was that one innocent küak? Surely no great peril could come from something so small? But all it would have taken was for the wrong official to find out about the cookie – why what would have happened to them then? Those Russians, obliged by strict orders to find them, might have detained Rosa’s family. Maybe they would have been sent to a distant work camp or suffered some secret cruelty in Moscow, too horrible to name. Who knows?

And all because of a Christmas cookie.

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Grandma folded her hands in her lap. The house fell still and silent until Grandpa prayed, his voice solemn and thick with emotion. When he finished, after, “Amen,” we sang, giving thanks for our deliverance, rattling the windows, billowing our hearts; “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”

At last, late on Tjrist’owend, I would lie in my bed and retell myself Great-Aunt Rosa’s story. Fraulein Rosenfeld was like a relative we saw just once a year – a loyal and trusted member of our family there in the tiny house behind the bakery on Barkman Avenue. With this visitor, never distant though she came from far away and long ago, our Christmas was complete.

 

Reprints and re-blogs are welcome. A version of this fiction appeared on Red Fez Christmas, 2016.

The Business of Saving Souls on SickLit

Update: My prickly story about the conflation of business, big church and politics appears on SickLit Magazine today, May 15.

This is a reprint of the story which first appeared on another of my favourite literary journals, Literally Stories.

This is what SickLit Senior Editor Nicole Ford Thomas had to say about it:

“I really like “The Business of Saving Souls,” as it seems at first like a warm and fuzzy church parable about doing good, but down deep, it’s a lesson about standing up to corruption–all corruption–and fighting to take care of each other.”

SickLit recently ran a reprint of another of my stories, “The Rothmans Job”, which first appeared on the vibrant Canadian literature site, CommuterLit. I have a total of seven stories on CommuterLit and another five on Literally Stories. Thanks to the editors of all of these exceptional online literary journals!

I hope you enjoy the pieces and welcome your comments.

Special thanks to the editors at SickLit. They are awesome sauce. (Or, “hosanna!” as they’d read responsively at the NTCCF.)

Allfornow – Mitch

The Beefeater and the Donnybrook

 

Update: 4.11.17 – Hi, from a sunny day in April, beside the lake,

Janice and I have been travelling and have both been down with a cold lately. My blog activity has been limited, though I have been able to keep up with daily writing. Today I heard from editor and literary paragon, Charlie Fish, that another of my stories has been accepted for his award-winning site, Fiction on the Web.

Feedspot has named FotW a TOP 20 short story site on the internet!

Short-story_20_transparent_216pxHere’s what Charlie says about FICTION on the WEB: “It is a labour of love. Every single story on here is hand-picked and carefully edited by me. I don’t have a staff, and I don’t make any money. I do this because I want to give authors a chance to get their work out there, and I love sharing great stories with the world.

FICTION on the WEB has been online since 1996, which makes it the oldest short stories website on the Internet.”

Here are a few snippets from my latest story:

The Beefeater and the Donnybrook

By Mitchell Toews

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2017

MICAH JAMES WAS shorter than average and had an interesting kind of face. His eyes were recessed and penetrating and his complexion had the weathered texture and ruddy colour of a mountain climber or a big game hunter. He was neither. Micah James was a quiet, middle-aged family man – an engineer working for the City of Halifax in Canada.

The Jameses were leaving together soon on a long-awaited trip to London. His wife, Marion, had planned the trip from the packing process through tipping and all conceivable forms of disaster planning.

[SNIP]

“Ok, I’m on it! Walk will do me good.” Micah said, giving Marion an assuring glance and summoning up some energy for the trip. It was fine – the kind of little blip he had been secretly hoping for.

[SNIP]

Twisting in his crouch, Micah was eyeball to kneecap with a pair of creased black pants, gold piping on the sides. His eyes followed the stripes up to a white satin tunic and topping that, a dapper red fez. Then the voice again, but softer, “Are you alright, mate?”

[SNIP]

He waited in line at the reception desk, listening to an instrumental version of a Bob Dylan song. It was piping out of a speaker in the tile ceiling above him and he laid his head back to peer at it. Thinking of his own rapid descent into hell, he picked detritus from his oily beard; bits of styrofoam and other rancid urban spod. His thinning hair hung in limp disarray and the belt of the raincoat had come loose and was dragging on the ground behind him like an obedient, filthy snake.

[SNIP]

See it on FotW on May 19: an ever-worsening yarn that plays out on the streets of central London. 

Other stories that have appeared on Fiction on the Web:

Nothing to Lose

July 8, 2016. A baker and former hockey player reminisces on his colourful history as he delivers buns in the dusty Manitoba sun.

Heavy Artillery

Oct. 30, 2016. The story of young Matty and his characterful neighbour encountering a travelling salesman in the sleepy Manitoba town of Hartplatz.

The Preacher and His Wife

 Jan. 23, 2017. In Hartplatz, rural Canada, a neighbourhood scandal brews when young Sarah reports that her grandmother’s engagement ring has gone missing.

The Rothmans Job

February 19, 2017 UPDATE

SickLitMagazine has advised that they will be publishing a reprint of “The Rothmans Job” which first appeared (see below) on CommuterLit.com.

The story will run in late March or early April.

sicklit

allfornow – Mitch

January 30, 2017 UPDATE

TODAY, this twisted Canadian yarn, born in absurd truth and transported on the wings of a fictional 1991 prairie storm, is published by CommuterLit – a Toronto based online purveyor of morning short stories, lox and bagels. (And they are all out of lox and bagels.) 

http://commuterlit.com/

If a Neo-Noir Xmas Tragicomedy sub-genre exists, then this story belongs there. If not, then maybe this story inspires it?

A snowy night. An unlocked warehouse. A characterful materfamilias.

The Rothmans Job – EXCERPTS
By Mitchell Toews
.
A STORM LIKE THIS was rare. Snowflakes blocked out sky and sun and moon and stars. The flakes – as big as baby fists – had been falling for three days. Light and dry, they flew, then settled, then flew again – whipped by a dodgy north wind. At night, the tops of buildings disappeared except for the occasional glimpse of a red tower beacon or a snapping row of flags, like those atop The Bay.
.
Through this otherworld trudged Waxman and Thunderella. Waxman led. He wore two snowmobile suits and his knees could not bend more than a few degrees. Lumbering and stiff, he plowed through drifts for his female accomplice, Ellen Thundermaker.
.
[snip]
.
“No way, Waxy. It’s gonna be all imported cheese and fancy wine. Crab meat. Vienna sausages…” she said, stopping to let him join in.
.
“Ha-ha. Yeah – uhh, Heineken beer, Dijon ketchup, Swiss chocolate – or, you know, one of those giant bars, ahh,”
.
“TOBLERONE, TOBLERONE!” she shouted out, filling in the missing name.
.
“AS if,” she added, suddenly serious…
.
[snip]
.
(about 2,400 words)   Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2017.

#

Waxman, Thunderella, Pegasus, Otto the inventor, the police, Pozzo, Roland, and (in absentia) Poland, all look forward to making your acquaintance.

allfornow – Mitch

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 7.31.21

EDUCATION

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

 ASSOCATIONS/MEMBERSHIPS

Member — Manitoba Writers’ Guild
Past Associate Member — Victoria Writers’ Society
Professional Artist — Manitoba Arts Council
New/Early Career Artist — 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)
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 of writers, a critique circle formed in 2021
Member — Winnipeg River Arts Council

 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, 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

“The Doeling” — short story, Cabinet of Heed (Ireland)

“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: 15 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)

“Ifs and Butters” — short story, TurnPike (US)

“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 essay, 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 to date: 7 short stories, __ CNF essay, 2 interviews, __ print, __ paid online, 1 paid print, 4 Canada, 3 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 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, 2021

 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.

“Fast and Steep” — short story, Summer 2021 Anthology of Short Fiction, Fenechty Publishing (UK), 2021 print and ebook

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

 FUNDING

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Manitoba Arts Council, June 30, 2020. Financial support for the creation of a unique Manitoba artbook, ekfrastic in nature and featuring artistic photography and short fictional stories. The theme is “People, Places, and Light”. Photography by collaborator, Phil Hossack.

 READINGS

  • Voices Launch, McNally Robinson, Winnipg, 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, 2020 (date TBA, pending Covid restrictions)
  • Several readings are recorded here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsA7vS0kVqP5etL2cPnlM4w

 WORK IN PROGRESS

  • “The Barkman Avenue Peace Accords” — a themed, MennoGrit short story collection is being queried. A second collection iteration, “Pinching Zwieback” has also been created for queries and contests. The latter collection comprises a wider range of stories, but is also focused on Mennonite experiences in the wille hundat (the great unknown).
  • “Mulholland and Hardbar” — a novel (“Fargo, with a Mennonite accent”) This 85K-word WIP is out to Beta readers. Not yet querying.
  • “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.) Just getting back underway after Covid-19 restrictions.
  • About 12 short stories are on the go, being submitted to literary journals, contests, and anthologies.
  • “Tafelburg” — a science fiction novella is written, first draft only.
  • “The Mismaloya”— a proposed novelette screenplay adaptation. Awaiting a collaborator.

FRIENDS & FOLLOWERS

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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.

From Fetch:

[…]

The engineer’s grinning at us. No, mostly he’s leering at Sarah, who sits with her hair blowy in the passenger seat. I feel the thrum of the train engine. Feel it in my fillings. Then I’ve had enough. Enough of the clatter. More than enough of the old hogger flexing his rolled-sleeve bicep at Sarah. My foot’s off the pedal and we lag behind. Caboose lights blink goodbye.

Sarah straightens her hair with one hand and rolls up the window. The evening sun is sullen behind us, drowning golden in the swamp. Her head is backlit, wild honey in the horizontal glare. Dust motes swirl inside the cab and two noisy horseflies butt their heads against the back window.

“Have you told Mom and Dad?” The last of the warm summer light angles across her face. Her lips are glossy. They part as if to speak but she does not.

[…]

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.

One Day on Mars

Last May (2020) I wrote this, a bit of snide comedy in response to The Mango Schiet Stain’s openly racist comments at the time. Now, a year later, we see the horrible, tragic aftermath as his repugnant legacy of racist violence lives on. And grows. I hope we speak out against would-be Canadian copycats who mimic these core hatreds, endorsed by American conservative leadership, and by extension, their evangelical yesmen.

“Queen Sensula, do you mean to tell me that the Romulans created and then spread the deadly Space Virus? (Appalled. Much Elizabethan flavour.)”

One Day on Mars

Novel Thoughts — Audience

As my debut novel nears completion I am working on understanding the basics of the business side of writing. The book will become one of millions of items competing for audience share. Who will my book appeal to? Why? How can I reach them to let them know what I have written? How will I stand out from the massive crowd of competing works that vie for those same consumers of literature?

What’s in my toolshed?

Thinking in this arena is not new to me. Marketing and advertising are how I made a living as I raised kids and paid bills and lived life (a wonderful one) while waiting for my opportunity to focus on creative writing. I even have some applicable education: I studied Sociology at the undergrad level and have a Masters Certificate in Marketing. Also, I made a paycheque for more than twenty years as “the creative guy” for manufacturing firms in Canada and the U.S.

Still, even with my background, literature and the world of literary book marketing and sales is all new to me. I may have sold lots of windows and doors, but apart from expertise in the basics of marketing, I have no insider knowledge when it comes to publishing and book sales.

So, I’m learning as I go. Experts abound and it’s not finding advice that is a challenge, but more a matter of figuring out which advice to follow. Several experienced authors, including my regular freelance editor, have made suggestions. Their ideas range from self-publish to approaching small presses who consider “agent-less” authors to seeking out a literary agent. These mentors have given me a lot to think about.

My own best advice circles around finding like-minded, fun, smart professionals with whom I get along. (I didn’t flog fenestration for all those years just to align myself with a bunch of miserable people, after all!)

Over the past six years of dedication to writing fiction and CNF, I’ve wrestled with the self-publish vs. traditional publishing quandary. There are plenty of factors to consider and it’s not an easy decision. It is the main decision though: everything follows, depending on what you choose. I feel strongly inclined towards a traditional approach. I think this is because my greatest involvement in literature as a reader was during the time when “vanity presses” were a weak alternative to regular channels. Times have changed, but I have to admit that my perspective is still somewhat biased. But biased or not, I would certainly go down the current self-publish path if not for the heavy commitment to marketing.

It’s kind of ironic — I’m an experienced and successful marketer and yet marketing is the activity that dissuades me from choosing self-publishing. Here’s the thing: I have spent more than twenty years obsessing over marketing and persuasion and advertising. I did it for a living and it was, in many ways, a grind. So to jump right back into that grind is not appealing to me. Furthermore, I know the methods and channels and players in my old industry, but I am not equipped in the same way for literature. In traditional publishing, I know I will still be saddled with a heavy obligation to market myself and my work, but at least I’ll have a knowledgeable and invested partner to direct me. As a self-publisher, I have to figure everything out by myself.

From Writer’s Digest

I’m told the first thing an agent or a publishing house wants to know about a novel is “Who will read it?” And why, I’m sure. In my case, even though I come from the Segment-Target-Position world, I did not think about the larger audience when I wrote the book. As I’ve run through edits and revisions (over the last two years+) I’ve come to have a sense for WHO that WHO is, categorically and in the person of a proto-reader.

I’m inclined to believe that my proto-reader might resemble me in some ways. I wrote it for myself after all — consciously or subconsciously — and others who have experienced similar life circumstances might most naturally be attracted to the story. Plus, I believe that the things about relationships, loyalty, and violence that brought me to write the story in the first place will find an appreciative audience in others. I suspect so. I hope so.

So… for starters, who am I? 65 Y.O. white, cisgender, hetero, male, backsliding (or never really slid forward in the first place) Canadian Mennonite. Hmm… oughta be about 70 or 80 of those. I’ll need more, so what next?

Cast a broader net; find and engage others. Objective: read my book, like it, experience catharsis, empathy, and emotional rise and fall, a few chuckles, some “exactly!” moments and some “no way!” experiences too. A book you tell friends about at Tim Hortons, in church, at book club, at old-timer baseball, sewing circle, on a wine-tasting tour, on your walk, at the grands’ hockey game, etc.

They will likely be readers who enjoy and gravitate towards: big characters, intense stories, dramedy. How do they feel about Miriam Toews work? Patrick Friesen? (Whoa! — I ain’t sayin THAT… I’m JUST sayin… you know, kinda-sorta-maybe a bit… some generalized similarities owing to some broad commonalities in that general direction and certainly from the same original whole cloth, but a different batch. Make sense? Have I been “humble of heart” enough?)

They will be individuals who like nature, the boreal forest. They might like fishing, snowmobiling, bird-watching, hiking, hunting. They might have memories of small towns, farm life, the whole Menno schtick, urban or rural, Canadian or U.S. Frintschoft? They might have them in Steinbach, Fraser Valley, Winkler, Kitchener-Waterloo, Leamington, Midwest US. Or they might find Mennonites kind of interesting even if they are not of that faith or cultural origin themselves, but buy the sausage and love the quilts.

They might have read and enjoyed: Of Mice and Men, Never Cry Wolf, The Sisters Brothers, Don Quixote, Tortilla Flat, Papillion, On the Road, Calvin and Hobbes 😉 and A Complicated Kindness and The Shunning. (Just to ring that bell again.)

They could be lovers of: Fargo, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Thelma and Louise, The Nick Adams Stories… Their favourite kind of sci-fi movie might be from the “last person left on earth” genre.

Okay, all right…coming into focus, through the glass darkly.

“Well, how can I tell if I’m going to like the book unless you tell me what it’s ABOUT?”

The Target Reader: Interviewed while enjoying a mid-priced Canadian wine, on the deck of their summer home in the boreal forest, grand-children at their feet.

“Good point. Okay…It’s called Mulholland and Hardbar. Think, ‘Fargo’ but with Mennonite accents. Here’s a brief synopsis:

Burdened by a tragic event in his recent past, college freshman Aubry Penrose, who goes by the self-chosen name “Mulholland” decides to ditch school after the first semester. He consolidates his limited savings and rolls out of Winnipeg in his pick-up truck heading north, not to his home town of Friedensdorf but further into the wilds of the Manitoba boreal. He plans to live alone in the isolated cabin his Welsh Grandfa Billy built in the Fifties on the shore of Penrose Pond.

Alone he is until—resolve weakening—he finds himself roaming the region’s cabin country looking for easy-pickings. Out of character, he begins stocking his larder and taking things he needs with a less-than-certain promise to return them. He keeps a well-intentioned list of his plunder until he’s joined unexpectedly by “Hardbar”, a unique, larger-than-life stranger with whom Mulholland strikes up an uneasy alliance. They combine forces, share the darkness in their pasts and wander down an ever steepening path of mayhem, led mostly by the fierce, single-minded little man who arrived mid-winter on a stolen snowmobile.

The story follows the four seasons in Manitoba’s forestland: friendship, mistrust, deceit, and violence.”


Oh, and “Mulholland and Hardbar” takes place in the 1970s on Treaty 1 and 3 lands, unceded Indigenous lands that are the traditional home of the Anishinabe and Swampy Cree nations and the home of the Métis Nation.

SO, BOIL IT DOWN, ALREADY… what is the condensed version? I’m working on that. The grid below is part of the distillation process. A succinct way to get to the key traits, tendencies, influences and cultural biorhythms that make the human world go round and round.

That’s all for now. But I’ll be thinking about it, so that when the question is asked, “Who will want to read it?” I won’t say, “It’s a book for everyone!” because I actually don’t believe that it is.

Basic Income Artists’ Commission

I was approached by an organization tasked to investigate Basic Income in Canada, with special attention to those of us in the Arts. They created a commission and invited artists from around the country to offer opinion and comment on the concept of Basic Income and how, specifically, it might affect the lives of artists.

I was invited to provide an Artist’s Testimonial and here is what I wrote:

I believe that Canada, wealthy and progressive as we are, could become a country that invests in its marginalized people by providing a guaranteed annual income for all citizens. I envision a graduated scale designed to offer a helping hand to get started or a financial safety net to mitigate financial trouble in an individual’s life and also to be there for those with obstacles to their ability as wage earners. 

Why do this? Because life is unscripted and almost everyone, even those in our large “middle class” population needs help from time to time. Furthermore, and maybe of most importance, there is widespread suffering in Canada caused by poverty. By acting proactively, we have an opportunity to reduce suffering and at the same time empower a class of Canadians who may not otherwise achieve their dreams or even, in truth, live the life that most of us take for granted. 

“The Poor” do not want to be “The Poor!” 

A guaranteed basic income would reduce hardship, support upward mobility and drive greater aspiration across all levels of financial reality. 

Plus, guaranteed basic income is in large part simply moving the dollar investment from the end of the cycle — being reactive and giving cash or services to people in desperate circumstances — to the beginning. We should spend to prevent rather than to rescue. Prevention offers a solution earlier in life, when people are in the formative process, especially concerning education and career.

Now, as to artists, specifically: Choosing the path to your dream of a career in the Arts is daunting because of the long, difficult period of education, training, and incubation. This means, with few exceptions, that those who wish to be professional artists — whatever the discipline — must expect and endure a long initial period as low-income earners.

In my personal experience, even with my parents’ financial support available as I finished college, I chose not to pursue a career in the Arts. I decided to take the safer route, financially, and “save” my art for a later date. That later date took a lifetime to arrive and while I have no complaints, I did not devote myself to my love — fiction — until age sixty. Now I am an emerging artist at age sixty-five and while I am extremely pleased with these last five years, I can’t help but wonder… “What if?”

In my case, perhaps the security of a guaranteed basic income would have given me the courage to chase my artistic dreams and not postpone or dismiss them? It’s impossible to say, but I can say for certain that our society is made more vital by the availability of choice. It’s empowering to know that your basic needs will be met even if the career path you are on will take a while to reach fully-supportive status. Furthermore, Arts Councils, armed with the underpinning of guaranteed basic income could focus all of their efforts on the many professional aspects and not worry about the artists’ core financial needs. The guaranteed basic income would take the pressure off the artists and the Arts Councils, for the betterment of both. This is true for all stakeholders in the artistic “value chain” and would breed an environment of possibility and less of a dismal “starving artist” scenario that defeats many artists before they begin.