The Bottom of the Sky (Dos)

Here’s a fast literary, “Guess what!” in case you were just waiting for some random information from the noireal. My short story trilogy, “The Bottom of the Sky”, is Fiction on the Web‘s Pick of the Month.

movie poster tbots 2
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The bottom of the sky is where allegiances collide: a charter boat owner, the ship’s captain, and a young deckhand. When an act of needless violence plays out on the waters of Acapulco Bay in 1955, simple lives are pushed off course, perhaps to be lost forever.    
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Note that “Part 2” appeared as a solo piece in Rhubarb Magazine back in 2016 as “The Fisherman’s Story”. I had to find out more, so I wrote the prequel and the sequel.
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FotW is a London based literary site, the first of the species, to be exact – publishing online since 1996!
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P.S. – It’s been suggested that this trilogy might lend itself well to a screenplay conversion. What do you think? “CUT!” or “That’s a wrap!”? 
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sailfish
allfornow friends,
Mitch
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The Bottom of the Sky (Uno)

London is calling! Great news from England. My trilogy, “The Bottom of the Sky”, will be published in Fiction on the Web. Editor Charlie Fish read the three-part short story at my request to critique and assess. Normally, FotW does not run stories longer than two or three thousand words, but Charlie has begun to consider lengthier pieces.

“I’ve increasingly been publishing longer pieces (to the considerable detriment of my time, but mostly totally worth it), and this would just about fit into one release.”

– Writer, Editor, Screenwriter – Charlie Fish.

“The Bottom of the Sky” began as a single short story that was published by Rhubarb Magazine in Winnipeg. (Now sadly out of publication.) “A Fisherman’s Story” ran in issue 39, back in September 2016. My thanks to Editor Bernice Friesen who was kind enough to give me my first fiction opportunity in print. Ink!

It was exciting but the full story including the things that had happened to me, or those I had witnessed, the experiences that triggered the story in the first place, remained untold. So too, the many circumstances — both causal and consequential — that I imagined continued to nag at me.

I wrote “A Fisherman’s Story” in 2014. During January of 2017, I was inspired to complete the story. I wanted to write a prequel and a sequel. The first segment, the prequel, was completed that year: “Part 1 – The Mismaloya — Acapulco, 1955”

Part 1 introduces the chief characters, Avelino and Jose, cousins who are partners in a charter fishing boat in Acapulco. The cousins are from the tiny fishing village of Mismaloya, near Puerto Vallarta. A young boy, a pinche named Carlos, signs on as a crew member aboard the Mismaloya for a sailfin day trip.

A number of changes were made to the original story and it became, “Part 2 – The Fisherman’s Story — Mismaloya, 1975”. This account tells of Jose and his wife Violeta and their daughter Josefina. The viewpoint is that of Violeta and the reader also is introduced to Matthew, a Canadian Mennonite church volunteer living in the village. There to help build a school, Matthew meets Jose and the two become oddly-matched friends, fishing with handlines in the bay most evenings.

In “Part 3 – Avelino and Carlos — Acapulco, 1976”, Avelino engineers an unexpected reunion and the story concludes near where it began, on the Pacific shore overlooking the bottom of the sky.

All told, the trilogy involved over three years of writing, on and off, the support of freelance editor James McKnight (another Londoner), and the difficult but necessary learning curve provided by numerous litmag rejections. 🙂

Thanks to Charlie Fish, who is a charming and skilled literary friend with roots in NYC, Birmingham and London.

Charlie Fish wrote an award-winning short film that starred Richard E Grant, Warren Clarke, Emilia Fox and Celia Imrie. He hung out with the guy who wrote Pirates of the Caribbean and Shrek. @fishcharlie

 

Charlie is the creator, editor and hard-working jackfish-of-all-trades for Fiction on the Web, the internet’s first online literary magazine. 

Image result for screenwriting image
This trilogy has attracted several comments about its suitability as a screenplay. 

Cinema ain’t my jam, but I admit that I had visual—and sometimes cinematic—scene-play in mind as I wrote.

So, if you know a screenwriter looking for an intense, visceral story that can be filmed in one location with a small cast – pass along the Fiction on the Web URL! (Sorry: no bloody chainsaws, no aliens, not a rom-com.)

You can read “The Bottom of the Sky” trilogy on October 22.

Check THIS out too, on Amazon UK-CA-US:

Hint: I’ve got a story in it!

allfornow friends,
Mitch
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A Day in the Life

What activities fill a writer’s days at Jessica Lake? Usually, it’s routine: up an’ attem, walk, yoga and then eat. Or, brecky first and then get right to work on projects. Projects like building a shed, fixing the dock, or making a couple of rock and cement steps on a gravelly path that can sometimes be slippery.

If I am working on a short story, a re-write, an edit, a submission, or my novel – then that writerly craft supercedes the physical kind. Sometimes I blog and act the fool on social media. The bonus of being a class clown on twitter is that there’s no teacher to send you out in the hall like the pipsqueak that taught me in 1968 by negative example not to have a supercilious speech affectation, lest people believe I am a pretentious and secretly self-loathing boob in a too-tight tracksuit.

Whatever… I get up in the morning and make some shit – whether it’s words or waves or something made of brick and mortar.  But not sticks and stones – I don’t argue on twitter.

Partly, I try to avoid arguing online because I lose — how do you win, really? — and partly because I feel like that twitter-wars are more of a forum for the same light livered guys who used to phone in and yell at our receptionists and then became sweet-as-Rogers Corn Syrup when I got on the phone. Weasels and bit players. Sorry for the digression – that kind of loudmouth schnookery gets me whipped up.

I’m a damn lib and I mock the USA’s Le Petite Orange and all those in Canada who would have us go that yelling-at-the-receptionist direction. I try to be supportive of thoughtful people in an offbeat and often cryptic way, even if we disagree. It’s kinda fun.

Back to activities: If there are kids and/or grandkids around – they trump all and any other. It’s the law. When conditions beckon, there’s windsurfing and cross-country skiing here at Jessica the Awesome.  (BTW, I’m writing this in my wetsuit, waiting for the wind to pipe up, so if you smell neoprene, that’s why.)

Yesterday, I finished off a small project of the outdoor-splinters-in-the-fingers variety and then made a final edit for a story that launches today in riverbabble 33. My literary friends in Berkeley have shone the light of publication down on me once again and I’m feeling pretty plucky about it if I do say so myself. I sometimes think my luck in the Golden State is owing to the ghost of Randy Joe P, a RIP Fresno State alum and long-ago potentate of Steinbach’s third street. He was a fine fellow who might have some supernatural sway down there in the Bay area. I remember him a grade ahead of me. I recall him not taking any guff from the aforementioned boob in the tracksuit and so, Randy was a fav of mine and if anyone can control the roulette wheel from the twilight zone, it would be him.

Anyway, I was cleaning up my tools when I spotted something strange out in the middle of the lake. My binocs confirmed that it was a capsized canoe with the two paddlers hanging on. The short version is I zipped out in our boat and pulled them out of the water, dragging the canoe in behind us. They were, like the unfortunate Canada Goose gosling earlier that day that was taken by surprise by a hungry seagull, inexperienced. Luckily, good things exceeded bad — youth, warm water, and most of all, life jackets — and the voyageurs’ soaking experience ended well.

I was thinking today as I edited my novel — my editor, btw, is a godsend, or at least, “highly recommended by 7 out of 10 deities” — that I am fortunate to live in the woods, hard by a clean lake, and experience daily the wondrous shock and awe of nature. True, I miss society and mostly just grunt expressively when I am in a civilized social setting, but that’s a small price to pay.

To conclude, a few whitecaps are showing and I just might be able to get out there and sneak some sailing in before my calcified and scarred OWG joints seize up and demand beer, so I’ll end here with the admonishment to avoid arguing on twitter and furthermore, never turn your back on a seagull.

“The Margin of the River” riverbabble31   http://iceflow.com/riverbabble/issue31/issue31.html

“In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence” riverbabble32
http://www.iceflow.com/riverbabble/issue32/issue32.html

“Nothing to Lose” riverbabble33
http://www.iceflow.com/riverbabble/Welcome.html

bofotw best of fiction

My story, “Nothing to Lose” first appeared in “Fiction on the Web” and has appeared elsewhere on the web since. The story is also in print in “The Best of Fiction on the Web” an anthology and you can BUY that door-stopper of a beauty for less than the price of a tracksuit!

CA – https://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0992693918/ref=nosim/fantasticfi0e-20

UK https://www.amazon.com/Best-Fiction-Web-1996-2017/dp/0992693918

USA –– https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0992693918/ref=nosim/speculativefic05

 

allfornow friends,
Mitch
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Memorial Day 1973

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

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

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

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


allfornow friends,

Mitch
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Toopoabeide

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

* Tawp-oawr-bide

 

allfornow friends,
Mitch
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Fiction on the Web Presents “City Lights”

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

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

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

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

 

allfornow friends,
Mitch
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“The Doeling” in Cabinet of Heed

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

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

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

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

The Doeling_Toews, Mitchell, Alternative Ending

 

allfornow friends,
Mitch
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Pre-marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“What’s next?”

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

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

Or maybe all of them?

Still and Cold boathouse mulholland

 

allfornow friends,
Mitch
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The 8K-word Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

Etc.

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

top of everest

Things to Look Forward To:

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

! Replies from Beta readers.

! Submitting edited novel excerpts to literary journals!

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

Tray Bong!

allfornow friends,
Mitch
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Best of Fiction on the Web

Write. Edit. Research. Submit. Wait.

Repeat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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goalie

The Best of Fiction on the Web press release


allfornow friends,

Mitch
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