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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

Work

I wrote a short story called, “Fairchild, McGowan and the Detective” . It appears in Work Literary Magazine and it’s a fiction that draws from some of my past BOSSES and my experiences with them.

Like most of what I write – the characters are hybrids of many people, real and imagined.

One of the comments I received from the Niume Reads audience where I placed a link was, “Thanks for honoring work”. This struck me as I had not set out to honour work, nor had I paid particular attention to the work – I thought – as much as the characters who were employed in the imaginary workplaces (Loeb Lumber and Grambles Department Store).

I thought about the comment and it occurred to me that not only should we honour our work, but it is an honour to work. To hold a job; to be able to work; to have skills and so on is a prize. (Too often a surprize – but you know what I mean.)

Work is not a given.

Work can be an example of some of our best behaviour as humans. To get along at work, as we all know, can be trying. And yet, we manage it. An overwhelming number of us don’t swing a hatchet, be it figurative or literal, in response to the many that whiz (virtually) by our naked skulls on a daily basis. We act like grown-ups at work, even though most of us qualify for that distinction more by the pure fact of our age and not of our deeds, day-to-day.

And the little town slept.

That’s my signature segue (“And now for something completely different,”) that leads into…

HERE are a few other stories of mine that concern work and how we get through to the weekend. And by weekend, I unfortunately mean the time when a dismaying number of us do other work – whether that’s laundry, finding that all-important LEGO piece, getting the kids to ball practice, slinging burgers, or fixing the damn eavestrough. Again.

P.S. – We all struggle with bosses, don’t we? I do. I did. Most of us are not graced with great leadership skills. Personally, I finally realized – after 40-odd years – that I did not have good followship skills either. My LinkedIn connections seem to agree as this story is the most-read post on my LinkedIn page in a long time. 

allfornow – Mitch

 

Dad

2000th follower twitter

There are times when I can totally relate to Donald Trump’s compulsion to post on twitter, even if it’s a stupid-ass thing to do.

Humour needs expanded boundaries, is what I keep telling myself.

My dad would have got it. He would have had a sparkle in his eye and appreciated that I pressed send. Dad preferred – would have preferred – that I follow my natural inclinations and become an artist or a writer. Something in the creative layer of dirt. Instead, like so much of his discarded advice, I followed not what he said, but what he did. (Someone should make that into a memorable expression.) I became a guy with a family who showed up every morning for work and tried to eat my crap sandwich without too much moaning. Well, he and I both moaned a little.

Like Dad, what it got me was a happy life and a family I treasure. Not a bad deal. Pass the sandwiches, I’ll take another. Make it a double.

Anyway, cheers to my dad, a hale fellow well met of whom an observer both wise and kindred from Grunthal, Manitoba (home of the Red Wings) once said, “He could separate braggarts from their bullshit with a hip check.”

Here’s a story about him, posted a while back by Fiction on the Web editor @fishcharlie

Nothing to Lose

 allfornow – Mitch

A Beautiful Day by the River Babble

Dog bites man. Man writes story.

Small things that happen in a simple life. Or are they? A dog bite may be small to a lion tamer, but less inconsequential to most others. A story about a dog bite may be an uncomplicated retelling or it could be more – an imagining and a quick, unobscured peek into the lives of others.

Anyway – whatever the magic potion was, it was enough to make it into a publication that has a good many more stripes on its sleeves than me. I’ll take the upgrade and work hard not to aww-shucks it into something less than it is, nor succumb to the creeping inclination to think “CCCChhrist, I’m good!” as I run a board though the table saw and nip the tip of my pinky off, flitzing it into the nearby bush to become a snack for an omnivorous, unpretentious squirrel.

The story is “The Margin of the River” and it first appeared in the Canadian journal CommuterLit, last December as ‘”Gather by the River, Part 2″.  A painting of mine – “Brown Eyed Girl”, which has a small connection to the story, is the cover image of the Summer issue of riverbabble, number 31, Bloomsbury 2017.

Thanks to the kind people at Pandemonium Press for including my work in riverbabble.

allfornow – Mitch

Ink and Virtual Ink

I write every day. It’s a reliable and productive way to do the job and besides, I am an obsessive sort, given to 15-year spurts of sometimes/usually idiotic fervour.

Entering now my second full year of devotion to fiction only somewhat interrupted by the needs of my splintered 67-year-old cottage, I now appreciate that “writing every day” has strata and graduations.

Yesterday, for example, I did a lot of “real writing”; top strata stuff. I wrote about half a story — a tale of logging in the temperate rainforest in British Columbia. Next, I refined and polished an existing 2300-worder that is quite new and in which I have a lot invested. It has been shit-canned (declined) a few times but I think it’s getting close. I redid the ending and the opening sentence – hard stuff, there. Neat. No rocks or mix. After polishing, I submitted it to a site that I am excited about and hope to get my second base hit in as many at-bats with them.

That almost covers the pale; writing, re-writing & editing, polishing, blogging, tweeting.

The first four are production. The last two are sales and marketing. Those two major divisions–production | marketing–are similar to the disciplines in which I spent, respectively, much of my work career. The first sixteen years making things out of wood; the next 21 making things out of thin air. Well, words and pictures, anyway.

Like everyone else, when I made the jump to hyperspace and gave myself freely to the gods of fiction, it was with the belief that I would be writing. That’s it. I’d write stories. People would read them. Various levels of mutual satisfaction and progress would ensue.

I had no notion that there would be various levels or that I’d be like every cop character on every crime drama on TV, ever — I would love the real police work (ie. writing) and detest the ignoble job of “paperwork” (ie. promotion). Ironic, since I spent the last two decades trying to persuade people to buy stuff. I was a brass-knuckled, bull moose promoter.

So, to recap: the item you are reading right now is blogging. This level of writing is without doubt, not pure art. Nor is it pure fluff. It’s somewhere in between and would take a far stouter mind than mine to reckon where on the entertainment vs enlightenment scale it falls.

A few days back I had TWO short stories launching on one day. Two distinct stories on two distinct sites. A good day. (June 5 – buy a lottery ticket next year. Trust me.) So that day was spent in the throes of persuasion and proclamation. I had written two stories, sweated the shit out of them and put my bloody, beating heart into them. Risked ridicule. Banished doubt – if only long enough to press SEND. I had been rewarded by two smart, discerning, educated and deadly serious editors with two separate acceptances. (Take THAT, Duotrope statistics!) So, you have to agree, having put all that soul into the scribblings, I owed it to myself to see to it that a few readers learned of these acceptances – these hallowed, hard-won publications. 

Can I get an AMEN?

But. Yeah, “but.” The fly in the proverbial colloidal gel is that all that time I spent being glib and puntastic on twitter and Niume and FlipBoard and whatever-the-hell-other intercapped literary promo web sites you got… was time spent–all together now–NOT WRITING.

Yes, instead of writing the first half of that lumberjack story or finishing one of the other dangling dirty realities I have on my artiste’s workbench, I twiddled and twaddled and twittered. I blithered and I blogged and the fork ran away with the spoon.

So, in the final analysis, promo is just part of the job. The writer’s job. There’s no doubt. Pipsqueak writers like me, afloat in the immense literary ocean, splash and wave and try to flash a mirror in the eye of the hoards of readers and literati who sail by. Big shot authors have their people* do all the promo stuff, BUT they have to make the rounds. They have to dress well, be literate beyond the “How about those Canucks?” level and speak intelligently and with the appeal of the celebrity class about their writing; other writing; all writing; art; and LIFE.

Life, Goddamnit, life.

So, I had better get used to it. (Again.) Back to the promotional coal mines. Back down–like Vincent Van Gogh and the children of Borinage–into the pitch black of the coal mine of sales, marketing, advertising. Back to the banalities of brand, the anal obsession with attributes, and the diatribe of differentiation.

Toews short stories: “Great Taste!” “Less Filling!”

“One third fewer adverbs per page!”

“Read, WOMEN WITHOUT BONNETS for raw, unbridled Mennonite dance party descriptions, ripped from the lives of ditt sied!”

I think I will just let my inner smart-ass take over the marketing department and, you know, let the F-bombs, the arcane references, and the obscure puns fall where they may. Who knows? That may be the best marketing plan of all.

allfornow – Mitch

(*They have people, don’t they? I want them to have people.)

 

 

 

First Birthday

It will soon be a year, June 21, 2016, since my first short story was accepted and published by a literary journal. That story was Encountered on the Shore, on CommuterLit.

Since that time I have added 24 acceptances to my credit roll. By now, I am pretty sure I am committed to, “this fiction thing,” as those near me tend to describe it.

It has been hard work. “Ha!” you say, and the old-school, Menno scoffer in me tends to agree, but it’s true. I have submitted 112 times and have 21 submissions currently outstanding. My written word count is somewhere in the 125,000-word range. My acceptance rate on Duotrope is .342 for fiction. That’s the same as Babe Ruth’s lifetime batting average. (The Bambino, as you prolly know, was a helluva wordsmith…)

So far, it’s been fun. Rewarding; a satisfying ego boost when you see your name in print. There is collateral damage though. I am boring and tedious at parties, of which — no surprise — I attend few. Golf buddies roll their eyes and their putts. My wife is an excellent changer-of-topics.

It is also dismaying — seeing all the strained passages and obvious typos that everyone (mostly me) missed.

But, I am now entering the second ring. My stories are a little harder to write because I am choosing more controversial topics. I am beginning to piss people off. (Something I’ve always found easy to accomplish.) My kids don’t always want to read my stuff and I am pretty sure my son-in-laws have used the, “must be some other Toews guy,” excuse, at least once.

I am not sure what the outcome will be, but like old Ad Francis in “The Battler”, it feels good to hit and it feels good to be able to take a hit. (I have been scolded by more than one editor.) Here below is the current list of publications and a more detailed accounting (with links, log lines, and excerpts) may be found here: https://mitchellaneous.com/write-clicks/

 

Kits mitch zoom
Me, striking a prose…

 

CommuterLit
Rhubarb Magazine
Voices Journal
Fiction on the Web
Literally Stories
Red Fez
Broken Pencil
The Machinery
SickLit
Storgy
The MOON magazine
Alsina Publishing

#

Social media touchpoints: Facebook, twitter, Niume, LinkedIN, Flipboard, Stumbleupon, Tumblr, Google+, Gravatar, and Instagram. Also, as you well know, comments, liking, following, sharing and favouriting are things that help an emerging* writer in the hunt for readers.

Tweets: @mitchell_toews #mitchelltoews #amwriting #shortstories #canlit #mennonite #fiction

allfornow – mitch

*At my age, maybe more like submerging? A distinction that writer, translator and friend Hege Anita Jakobsen-Lepri pointed out. https://www.linkedin.com/in/hege-anita-jakobsen-lepri-8231856/

 

The Beefeater and the Donnybrook

Ever had one of those days? Micah James, a city engineer from Halifax, Nova Scotia has.

Read about it here on one of the internet’s first and best literature websites, Fiction on the Web!

 

“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 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 plastic and other rancid urban spod. His thinning hair hung in limp disarray and the belt of his raincoat had come loose and was dragging on the ground behind him like an obedient, filthy snake.”

Short-story_20_transparent_216pxFotW has been named a “Top 20 Short Story Blog”

 

The Log Boom

Every story I write is an amalgam of experiences and imaginings; a hybrid mixture that flows with the emotion and intention that are in me in at that moment. The experiences of others, particularly in difficult circumstances that amplify the things about them that I value, are often a profound source of inspiration.

The catch is that these stories are sometimes hard to relate. Here is one from that slippery category, on storgy.com

UPDATE: 6.10.17

“The Log Boom” is my most re-tweeted story, so far. Of the 25 or so stories that I have had published to literary sites in the past year, this is also one of the most-liked and most-viewed.  I realize that these are not big numbers but for an unknown guppy alone in the vast ocean of fiction, I am happy for the attention.

Glub. Glub.

(Thanks again to Storgy.)

Log Boom Twitter stats 6.10.17

I hope you enjoy it and if you care to, please feel free to comment – your feedback is welcome. https://storgy.com/2017/05/19/fiction-the-log-boom-by-mitchell-toews/

The two stood in a hard-packed dirt barnyard, facing the end wall of an old dairy barn. The smell of cows still permeated the air. It was sweet, fetid and oddly appealing – the kind of smell that was at first unpleasant but that, over time, one grew accustomed to. After a while, it was as if your nose craved it. Marty had always found that strange but undeniable. He craved it now.

The younger one of the two – a tall boy – sniffed and peaked his eyebrows.

“Same smell,” he said.

“Yeah, there hasn’t been a cow here for six years, but…” Marty’s words trailed off as he tilted his head up to find the familiar scent.

[snip]

Images: Storgy.com

storgy logo

STORGY was founded in 2013 by Tomek Dzido and Anthony Self as a means by which to explore the short story form and engage with readers and artists alike. An online literary short story magazine consisting of a core group of dedicated writers, STORGY aims to inspire artistic collaboration and provide opportunities for creative minds to meet. 

allfornow – Mitch

Striking a Prose

An unfortunate tourist(er) from “The Beefeater and the Donnybrook”, running May 19 on Fiction on the Web

Two Short Stories are Going Live on Friday!

Unrelated except that they are both original, previously unpublished stories of mine, these two yarns appear on two different literary websites. They are QUITE different; which is like saying that the current American President is quite unconventional.

That’s the beauty, right? Pathos, irony, absurdity and sorrow; alternating or simultaneous. What is more tragic — or more joyful — than a simple life?

Friday, May 19! Storgy.com: “The Log Boom”; tragedy across three generations in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, and Fiction on the Web: “The Beefeater and the Donnybrook”; humour on the gritty streets of London.

“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; make it hot by striking.”

(WB Yeats)

With thanks to the editors @morestorgy and @fishcharlie!

allfornow – Mitch

A Quick Ode to May 8

On May 8, 1968, I was a 12-year-old first baseman from Steinbach, Manitoba. Catfish Hunter was pitching in Oakland against the Twins and a Minnesota station re-broadcast the game. It was a hot night — strange for May — and I could not sleep so I went downstairs and turned on my parents’ RCA Victor console stereo radio. I listened to that game as it bounced in off low clouds to me, far to the north. 

It was one of my fair sister’s birthdays, but I got the perfect present. 

allfornow – Mitch

A Writerly Reinvention

A new publication came to my attention and I was intrigued by the unique model it employs.


alsina info“At Alsina, we connect your work with readers from the outset. Our readers are engaging with our product to learn a language, so you are connecting with a whole new group of people that you would not otherwise have access to. When they read your work, they can follow you to get updates when you publish your second or third story with us. They have easily-accessible links to your website, so they can link through to your longer work, sign up for your mailing list, and so on.”

So, it’s a fresh opportunity to put out a flash fiction (1000-word maximum) and have it translated into several languages. Readers use the stories to develop their language skills in an enjoyable and intuitive way.

I submitted a 968-word story called, “The Light Pool”, and was delighted to have it accepted by Alsina Publishing

Opening the window, I listened to the crickets and frogs calling from the valley below as the beautiful silver sedan crossed the Don River Bridge. I inhaled, expecting to smell fresh summertime vegetation – ferns and flowering trees. Instead, there was the vile stench of hog rendering, the heavy synthetic odour of chemical discharge and the sharp, acrid reek of poultry effluent. I pushed the button and the glass hummed up into the thick rubber rim. [snip]

The story will run in the near future, after an editing round. I have been challenged by the Alsina editors to serialize my story and come up with sequels to “The Light Pool”. This approach makes sense for both writer and reader and it’s clear how a “mini-series” could be an especially good way for ESL readers (and learners studying in other languages) to build on the words and concepts they have learned by reading previous instalments in the same set.

meanings

Altogether, a thoroughly innovative and exciting proposition! Stand by for a publication date for “The Light Pool” soon and meanwhile, visit some of the links provided on this page to see what Alsina is all about! http://www.alsinapublishing.com/blog/

allfornow – Mitch