The Rothmans Job

Dec 30, 2017 – It’s 30 below zero (Celcius) and our sewer line is frozen. Here’s a story to suit. This story appeared on CommuterLit January 30, 2017 and was reprinted on SickLit March 30, 2017.

The Rothmans Job
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.

And the people, knowing about these storms, stayed home. In the downtown core, only buses, snow ploughs and police cruisers were out. These motorized vehicles, accustomed to roaring at will, crept along the blanketed streets in peevish silence, their motors and tires muted by the all-enveloping snow.

No humans, no dogs, no birds. It was up to the storefront mannequins – who must have longed to sit – to maintain a watch over the streets. Vigilant, they gazed unblinking through the plastered glass at the frozen lunar streetscape.

Through this otherworld trudged Waxman and Thunderella. The diminutive Waxman led. He wore two snowmobile suits and his knees could not bend more than a few degrees. A bearded Weeble, he waded roly-poly through the drifts ahead of his towering accomplice, Ellen Thundermaker; aka “Thunderella”.

Thunderella towed in her powdery wake a red and yellow child’s sled. It was a Union Flyer and a likeness of flighted Pegasus was screened in reflective paint on both side rails.

Waxman, Thunderella and Pegasus pressed on like arctic explorers. Their goal was the unlocked side door of the Rothmans Cigarette warehouse on Harbour. Waxman had promised fifty bucks to Abie Wiebe – the inside man.

“Hey, Waxman,” Thunderella called from the rear. The wind had died and her voice only had to overcome the snow that coated every surface and baffled the air itself. This snowfall was ultra-absorptive like paper towel brands promised to be.

“WAXY!” she repeated, straining to be heard above the zizza-zazza of his nylon pant legs. He was a heavy man with thick thighs.

“What?” he shouted straight ahead, unable to twist around because of his insulated entombment. He halted, breathing hard, his moustache and scarfed chin hoary with frost. Thunderella bumped into him as she slogged along, head down.

The collision, one of many rear-enders on that street that winter, was enough to push Waxman off-balance. He fell, landing in a puff of white. Cursing and then laughing, he walrused his weight over so that he lay on his rounded backside. He picked a package of Rothmans out of the top pocket of his quilted inner overalls.

“We gonna make it?” she asked, reaching for a smoke.

“No problemo, ‘Rella,” he replied, shooing her hand away. “Two blocks, then through the side door by Perkins Cleaners; then open up the cage. That’s where the expensive stuff is. Abie says that cage lock has been busted for a year.”


Roland Barislowski bent forward, touching the freezing cold steering wheel with the absolute least amount of finger skin required to maintain vehicular control.

He peeked through the tiny fan-shaped portal of clear windshield.

“Need a periscope, like Lindbergh,” Roland said aloud. His voice sounded muffled in the anechoic enclosure; six inches of stubborn snow capping the rooftop.

The call had come around two A.M. He had just fallen asleep after pounding Old Viennas with Art, his brother-in-law from Virden. Art was stranded in the city because the highway was shut-down.

“Warehouse alarm went off. Cops’re there,” said his boss, Pozzo.

“Where’re you?” Roland said into the phone, his voice phlegmy.

“Regina airport,” Pozzo said, placing an unenthusiastic Rollie in charge.

Roland’s bottom was warm on the quilt he had tossed into the front seat but the small of his back felt like it was packed in ice. He lit a cigarette and blew smoke rings at the windshield. The rings – twirling in languid slow motion – disintegrated when the blast from the defrost fan hit them.

His brother’s name was Paulos. Everyone called him Poland — Roland and Poland. Very funny, Roland thought. They weren’t even Polish. But nicknames were nothing new in the North End – everybody had one.

Just like Paulos, Roland worked at Rothmans. It was Paulos’ job to take calls like this – the wonky alarm was set off by rats every two weeks or so. But Paulos was out-of-town and so Rollie had been given the key on this cryogenic night.

“Man, there is no one out here!” he said in the coffin quiet of the car interior.

He drove west until he hit a major street that had been cleared. Heading north he came up on the warehouse. An empty police cruiser sat idling at the curb. The trunk was open a crack and a bungee cord, hooked to the underside of the bumper held it shut. He parked beside the police car and went in through the side door of the warehouse, which stood wide open.

“You Poland?” said the cop. There were two of them. This one and a little guy down near the cigar cage. Mutt and Jeff thought Rollie – what his dad, Otto, always said when there was a big guy with a little guy.

“No, I’m his brother, Rollie. I work here too. Paulos is outta town.”

“Eh? Who’s this Paulos guy?” the big cop said, bleary-eyed.

“Paulos is ‘Poland’,” Rollie said, employing the ever-useful air quotes. “His real name is Paulos and he’s my brother. He’s away and I work here too and I got the job of coming out on this mother of a night.”

“Who’s a  mother?” said the little cop. He had walked over from the cage and was holding a few crushed packages of cigars and cigarettes. He saw Rollie studying the packages and said, “Gotta take these. Evidence.”

‘Yeah, fine,” said Rollie. “So, I guess you want me to do an inventory – see what’s been taken?”

“Good idea, Poland,” said the big cop, yawning. He yanked his police hat down low over his face, closed his eyes and leaned back against the forklift. “You guys sure you wanna report this?” he said without opening his eyes. “Seems like a lot of bother, this close to Christmas, for a lousy coupla-hun worth of smokes.”

“We’ll see,” Rollie said, grabbing the clipboard from its spot on the cage door. He used the pencil that was attached by a string to check off the missing items.

“Hey, Officer! Flip the cage light on please – the switch is right behind you,” he yelled. “Close that side door too.”

The little cop stopped stuffing the cigar boxes into his overcoat and did what Rollie asked.


Rollie sat in his car, which was now uncomfortably warm. The plastic frost-guards on the windows were broken and while the rest of the window was clear, the section in middle was fogged. He keyed letters into his pager, holding his breath as he concentrated on tapping the tiny buttons. He entered Pozzo’s number and typed the message:

Many CASES RothM King missiong. Cops took stuff but don’t think they were in on it. Call me!! – R

It’s gonna be an insurance jackpot, Rollie thought. His boss was crafty. He’d shut up about the stuff that Officers Mutt and Jeff had swiped – including the loot crammed into the cruiser trunk – in exchange for their listing an inflated tally on the police report. Pozzo would use their complicity as “wiggle room” to alter the report as required. Pozzo would make money on the deal; his Caddy stuffed with pricey goods that were easy to sell to bar owners and smoke shops.

Rollie and Paulos would get a C-note or so to play along.

“Nice work if you can get it,” Roland said to himself. That nugget courtesy of his late father, Otto. Otto Barislowski had run a ramshackle sash and door shop – BARIS GLASS – for thirty years. Honest guy. Never made much but his family was fed and clothed. “You get a roof over your head and there’s coal in the chute,” the old man would say to Rollie and Paulos.

Rollie pointed the old Ford east and took side streets home. He coasted through the stop signs at each intersection, as stealthy as Santa’s sleigh. After a few blocks, he killed the lights and prowled along at idle speed from streetlight to streetlight. Cranking down the window, he could hear the snow compressing under the tires. The air smelled clean like the laundry he would bring in from the winter clothesline for his mother – his t-shirts like stiff slabs of flake cod.

“Otto-Matic Windows,” Rollie announced to the empty park that abutted the road. He wound his window up a few turns and thought of his father’s invention – a house window that cranked open and closed like a car window. A year after Barislowski’s gadget came out, a big window brand from Minnesota launched a similar version – but more refined – and that was that. Otto Barislowski always believed the US outfit had stolen the idea from him. Disillusioned, Otto sold the company a few years later.


“Jesus H. Christ!” said Waxman. He panted as he lay on his back in a snowdrift, the heavy case of Rothmans Kings beside him. “It is frickin’ hard work being a criminal mastermind!”

Thunderella watched him. The Pegasus sled rested behind her loaded with its own case of cigarettes and also a 24-pack of Super-Fluft Toilet Paper Rolls. Three-ply.

“What the hell are you doing with that?” Waxman had growled at her when they were in the warehouse.

“They were in the bathroom! We are almost out at home – so, I figured, ‘Why not?’” she had explained, in reply.

“I guess we can get $3, maybe $4 per carton for the smokes,” Waxman said from the snow bank, bringing her back into the now. He held a mittened hand up so the big flakes would not land in his face. “So, we got 96 cartons – that’s three hundred bucks! Kids are gonna get some great presents this year.”

“No way, Waxy. It’s gonna be all imported cheese and fancy wine for you and me. 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.

“As if,” Thunderella added, suddenly serious. She pointed a gauntlet at the elfin figure below her, “you know the only two reasons I’m in on this stupid caper, right Einstein?”

“Yeah, and they’re both home sleeping, Ellen,” Waxman said, holding a hand up to her.

“It’s a bent-ass world,” she replied. It was her stock comment to the many philosophers who populated the dingy Nox Beverage Room where she worked slinging draught beer. It seemed to fit the moment.

Thunderella helped Waxman up. “Ready to go?” she asked.


Rollie saw them about the same time they saw him.

“No sense in running, ‘Rella,” Waxman said without breaking stride.

“It ain’t a cop anyway,” his wife replied. “Maybe we can get a ride? I’m pooped.”

Waxman stopped. He dropped the case of cigarettes down off his shoulder and held it against his belly, arching his back. “Hell, yeah. My back is killin’ me, eh.”

“Fuckin’ A,” she said, tugging at the sled. “Let me go first.”

“Yeah, show a little cleavage,” he said.

Thunderella stuck her tongue out at him and strode; pushing through the fallen snow with purpose towards the approaching car.

“Jesus H. Christ,” Rollie said to himself. He rolled the window all the way down. It’s them! He recognized the “Rothmans” name and logo on the side of the boxes. He calculated: one case on the sled, one case being carried. “That makes two plus one that the cops had and the two in my trunk,” he said out loud. “Five cases of RM Kings altogether.” This was perfect, seeing as he had told the cops to mark down ten cases as stolen.

“Hi, honey!” Thunderella said to him as she neared the car. He shifted into park. She was a tall woman. It looked like she was about six-months pregnant, but it was hard for Rollie to tell because of the puffy parka she wore.

“Mother of a night, or what?” said the man behind her. Roland was surprised by Waxman’s appearance – short and almost round. He walked like a wind-up toy.

“Listen,” Thunderella said, fanning her face with a mitten. “We live maybe ten blocks that way, at Schultz Street,” she said, pointing east. “Any chance a girl could get a lift?”

“What’s that?” Roland said, feigning ignorance and pointing his chin at the cigarette cases.

“Well,” Waxman said, leaning sideways to speak around Thunderella. “We was shoppin; and then this buddy of mine, he got a deal on smokes. So we went down to his place and scored these smokes and then we had a few pops – well I did, anyway, she’s up-the-stump, eh.” Waxman spat the story out and while he did, Thunderella swivelled around so Rollie couldn’t see her face and gave her husband a cross-eyed look.

“Got a helluva deal on the ass-wipe – I mean toilet tissue,” Waxman said – a bit distracted – in conclusion.

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Rollie said.

Rollie rubbed a glove against the inside of his foggy windshield, thinking about what to do. The cops had left the warehouse by now. These two lived right on his way home. He peered ahead in the headlights – there were no signs of movement in any direction. Not a creature was stirring. He considered himself, Paulos, Pozzo and also Mutt and Jeff. He considered the little beaver of a man and the beautiful, imposing pregnant woman standing beside the road in the frigid, forsaken night with stolen cigarettes and toilet paper.

A minute later the old Ford crept down Flora Avenue, the snow-crusted roof bearing three cardboard boxes and a flying horse. The red taillights vanished in a flurry of blowing snow.


Pozzo walked into his office, tucking in his shirt and adjusting his tie. He sat down at his desk and then dialed the phone, pushing the little buttons with extra vigour. He was in a fuming swivet about something.

“Poland!” he said in a loud voice. “What the hell is wrong with that shit-for-brains brother of yours?” Pozzo listened intently to Paulos’ reply.

“What do mean, ‘What do you mean?’” he said in a sing-song voice. “First I get stranded in the bloody Regina airport then I find out we got ripped off. And then,” he re-gripped the phone and moved it close to his mouth. “And then I go to the can just now for my morning constitutional and guess what?”

“No frickin’ TOILET PAPER, that’s what!”

Fall from Grace

Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind?” Big mistake, Facebook.

In fact, I am excited to have another of my ‘Hartplatz’ series of stories hit the galactic ether via the internet. This one is called “Fall from Grace” and it launches Dec 18 on the UK-based lit mag, Fiction on the Web. Voracious readers take note — FotW is a smashing site! Brilliant, yeah? And the site’s UK/Irish readers can’t get enough of  Menno characters, places and stories!

This tale is from my childhood and blends two streams of life. The first, a criminal act from my past involving flying fruit. It originally took place in Kyle, SK with my old buddy Craig S. Added to this is something that happened to my dad and some of his older brothers back in an imaginary, snowy Steinbach of the late thirties.

My Toews grandparents make a cameo appearance and ‘Snotty’, a childhood friend o’mine, makes a meaningful, green-hued contribution in this nostalgic piece. My dad, disguised as ‘Hart’ in this series, plays a key, flour-dusted role in, “Fall from Grace”.

*Noh waut woat daut lohte?* (This last bit courtesy my copy of J. Thiessen’s wörterbuch.)

You can support Fiction on the Web via Patreon!

In January, editor Charlie Fish will launch a print anthology of stories chosen from the site’s twenty years of publication. Some Toews prose is included; a story called, “Nothing to Lose”.

A Good Week

A GOOD WEEK @ Jessica North of Fifty. Two of my stories were accepted and by Canadian print literary mags, yet! Also, the Canucks had two sweet victories, and although I’ll take the former over the latter any day, a simulwin is CANNONADING!

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*Blank Spaces* will publish “Sweet Caporal at Dawn” in their June magazine. It’s one of my older pieces. The tale started out as a poem, was turned into prose, and finally found a home but only after the main character was transformed from a leger version of younger moi to a francophone girl. Light up a Gauloises and enjoy!

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In, “Away Game”, I go full-knackzote and I admit that the Plattdeutsch content received life-support from a pair of two-eyed Jacks – one Schellenberg and one Thiessen. It’s old-timey and concerns voyages and long-lost “boddies”. *Pulp Literature* will include this in the next while (TBA).

If you need some enjoyable edification, add these two exemplars of literary discernment to your winter reading! Both are priced to suit Mennonite spending tendencies – or lack of same. These pubs are like the seasons, four per year.


Unholy Union

I am easy to judge. Or am I?


I am a Mennonite. Or am I?

The Affirmative: Jo! He’s a Menno!

My paternal great-great-grandfather was a delegate from the village of Fischau in Southern Russia’s Molotschna region. He visited Manitoba and other places in the world at the behest of governments eager to populate unceded land and thereby lay claim to it. Mennonites, renowned for farming, dike building, and low-land draining were prized acquisitions, particularly in the annually sodden Red River Valley. The payoff to these 1870-vintage inbound Mennos was a get-out-of-jail-free pass for Canadian military service, schooling, religious freedom and all the sunflower seeds they could eat. Opa settled his flock of Kleine Gemeinde congregants on the east side of the Red River.

My maternal ancestors were likewise rooted up out of the black Russian soil and shipped to the frosty northern prairie biome where they grew wheat in varieties tolerant to short growing seasons. They farmed, painted houses, sold cars and were otherwise fruitful in both the East and the West Reserves of land given to their antecedents.

My wife is a baptized Mennonite, as is one of my two daughters. My wife is bilaterally descended from families, the Esaus and the Kaspers, who travelled to Canada in the 1920s from Steinfeld in Molotschna. (Yahtzee! Kanadier and Russlaender mixed together in a Frisian witch’s brew of disparity, for those of refined judginess.)

I grew up in Steinbach, Manitoba which is a sticky spot (spilt schmaundtfat; oh bah nay!) on the edge of the Canadian Shield where the argument over buttons vs. hooks created generational divides.

I played many sports, volleyball being one of them and arguably the most Menno of the pack. Proof? Our volleyball coach would roar,”Toom donna hahn!” – his way of swearing, Mennonite style, without getting tossed from the game. It’s kind of like, “for Pete’s sake!” The literal translation is ‘for thunder chicken’, so it’s not offensive, though it may be fowl.

(Banging of gavel.) Quiet! or I’ll clear the courtroom!

My paternal great-grandfather built a wind-powered grist mill on the shores of the Roseau River in Southern Manitoba. My paternal grandfather, who helped in the windmill construction, was a shoemaker in Steinbach. His occupationally derived nickname was “Shusta“, differentiating him from the many other Cornelius Toews klomping around the sticky clay on both sides (ditseid & yanseid) of the meandering Red River of the North.

My mother is a polyglot of the most wonderous skill; her Plautdietsch is the linguistic equivalent of a Stradivarius – plucky and orotund. How can such sonorous music come out of an instrument so small and light?

My dad was a baker famous for his zwieback and as a hockey player known for his great skill in separating local Red Wings, Saints and Aces from their pregame, coffeeshop bullshit. (A hip-check is worth a thousand words.)

My wife and I took a nine-year pilgrimage to Chilliwack, British Columbia (“Steinbach with a view”) where people could pronounce my surname whether they were hockey fans or literary types or neither.

I have eaten more than my share of Revels (ravel sticks). I have pawed through the deep discount bins at Eaton’s im Tjalla, owned many a pick-up truck, fished with a ‘rad davel’, received a tjutje on Christmas Eve, consulted with relish my signed copy of MENNONITISCH-PLATTDEUTSCHES WöRTERBUCH and I’ve pumped a lotta ‘pane down in New Orleans. (Oops. That last one just seemed to fit, with the cadence of #606.)

I have a close relationship with The Daily Bonnet and consider it my personal blog and satire.

I rest my case (of Uncle Ben’s beer).

The Negative: Neimols not a Menno!

Sure, my g-g-gramps was a delegate, but he was also at the wheel when many of the migrants followed him off-road, down the bumpy path laid by an American named Holdeman. This made him a visionary to some and a regrettable lacky to others. His excursion was the beginning of my paternal family’s travels with a dog named Controversy.

My g-gramps followed and he too bit off more of the same knackwurst. He, likely through his own peccadillos–but who knows for sure?–fell out of favour in his church and was given the boot. His wife Sarah was then summarily informed that her options were to shun husband John or be ousted herself. Being a woman of jrett, stout leather and fortified WonderOil, she held fast (and probably a Rempel or two) and SUED the church, the all-male Deacons, and the all-powerful Pastor.

What kind of Mennonite sues the church? So naysay the naysayers. For shame!

My Plautdietsch (or Plattdeutsche, according to frint Thiessen) is poor. While my mother was a savant, my father’s clan sought to eliminate German. English was the language of the land and they decreed that we should be English speakers. Etj kaun nicht vestohne.

Oh, but! While in Chilliwack, I mostly worshipped at the altar of golf. That and some haulf-moazh pew sitting at the United Church, where incense was waved and women took to the pulpit and may have even driven the family car to church! (Sounds like the behaviour of a ‘Cultural Mennonite’ at best, not?)

I never attended DVBS, I was not a camper at Red Rock Bible Camp, and my sword drill talents were scorned by those who knew there was no such thing as Neuteronomy. A dirty trick question – if you ask me!

My paternal grandma–whom I resemble and revere–was a respected woman in the Steinbach halls of the holy, but her clay feet left suspicious scuff marks on our reputation because she was baptized a Baptist. Devout though she was, she may well have been relegated to Baptist heaven, not up front with the Chortizers and such, in First Cabin, cooled by eternal moist towelletes and Yerba tea.

As a writer, I have ZERO stars on the CanLit scale of proficiency. This is the lowest ranking by a Mennonite, even a lowly Kanadier lacking in urban urbanity, since Corny Wiens wrote his ode to Unjabetje, “Kate, Kate”, on the Kornelson Boys Room wall.

Janice is not my cousin. I married her anyway, but now see the folly – we regularly disagree on what type of soup to make and I really have to hustle to get the crust on the bread. Serves me right.

So there you have it. A sordid past, a spotted present and a dubious future.

I welcome your judgement, I accept your condemnation and won’t suggest that our children play together. Mine are in their thirties, but still – you know what I mean.

Aules haft en Enj:
Bloss de Worscht haft twee Enja.

Everything has an end-
except a sausage. It comes to two ends.

Page 520,
Mennonite Low German Dictionary

Brooda Toews

P.S. – A not-at-all Mennonite story was just published on LingoBites  Connect through your phone to the APP to read it. FREE to Mennonites. Also free to non-Mennonites, but perhaps less satisfyingly so. Send this link to your phone, if you’re not already on it: “The Old Guardsmen”

This story is provided in both English and ¡Spanish!

Call Me Popeye

“Call me Ishmael.”

No. Too much.

“Call me Popeye.”


Why? The arc of my fiction writing career, while it is not literally about whale hunting, certainly could be said to have a metaphoric resemblance to the life of the harpoonist. Taking the famous opening line from Melville’s tale might help me to express the idea that I hope to be – like Ishmael – a survivor and one of those who regularly set out to engage fearsome behemoths in a foreign place. And–like Popeye–remain true to me. In either case – the great American novel or the great American cartoon – I find myself like those protagonists; ill-equipped and naive. I seek my fortune without truly knowing the cost of that quest.

I am what I am. That is my both my raison de’entre and my preparation. Am I unlikely? Am I preposterous? Am I nuts? Am I a long-shot in flannel pajamas? You bet yer plaid arse I am.

First, I suppose I need to support the idea that what I do qualifies as a career. I admit, with Alford guilt, that career might be at best an overstatement; at worst an inaccuracy. I have been writing and submitting short stories (and one sci-fi novella) to literary magazines and contests for approximately two years. In that time I have submitted about 183 stories. Most have been fictional short stories, a lesser number were flash fictions of less than one thousand words. I have also pitched – with little finesse and even poorer prospects of success – a collection of short stories to a handful of publishers.

In 2015, I submitted two short fictions; in 2016, 106; and in 2017, 75, so far. I have had 37 acceptances. My happy tally includes 28 individual, distinct stories and nine reprints. I have a few contest notables (“W’s” in my book, if not theirs) and several sincere, encouraging rejections asking for additional submissions. (A tie, in sports parlance?)

Nine unpublished stories are currently outstanding, awaiting a decision from editors. Two more unpublished stories await their next assignment – they have each been rejected a few times and will be sent over the top again, soon. I have a handful of work-in-progress and at least one red-hot concept that I wake up to each morning.

My last point on the career question is negative: How can it be a career when I lose money – not a lot, but enough to piss me off – each year?

State of the Union

Although I won’t get the standing ovations that U.S. Presidents receive when they deliver their summary reports, neither do I hand out plum jobs or government largesse. My self-assessment is as follows (please hold your applause to the end):

  • I have had more stories accepted than I would have guessed. Duotrope tells me that statistically, I am ahead of the pack when it comes to batting average. I’m right around Ty Cobb’s lifetime BA, so, I ain’t bitchin’.
  • Getting a story READ by the big publications is still far beyond my current dan ranking (Mennodan)
  • I have remained true to my original ideas of “how I should write”
  • I’ve worked with a professional editor a few times now and I can shout from the mountaintops that this is my greatest literary revelation, to date. Editors are remarkable and help a shabby mechanic like me in a most profound way. I need an editor.
  • Writing begets writing. Blogs and twitter nonsense are consumers of time and energy, but they do pay some rent in terms of practice and trial & error. (Like this article.) Also, from a marketing perspective; social media is a necessary tool for all but the most gifted of the gifted.
  • Rejection is manageable. I can handle it. It’s no fun, but, it’s part of the deal. I dislike, however, the amount of time many publications take to respond – it seems like a kind of (mild) artist abuse. Duotrope reported 276,000+ submissions in 2016. This multitude of stories was sent to the 6,000 or so English language lit mags out there. That is 46 stories per publication, on average, so why do so many pubs take three months to respond? I know it’s more complicated than that, but it hurts to wait.
  • At this point, I have exceeded my most optimistic pre-game visualizations. I have sent out homegrown stories about average Joe’s – many of them of the work-a-day variety, quotidian Mennonites, Ukrainians, and Francophones. I scattergunned these yarns out to an editorial demographic that might be described as urban, urbain, 30-something, female valedictorians with a much-photographed cat and an MFA. And guess what? These stormtroopers of the slush pile accepted them. They published my stories!

My God! Bright, worldly editors and audiences in the US, Canada, the UK and Ireland have taken to my stories about rural Manitoba in the Sixties. Is this a dream?

I will continue. It’s getting harder because I am taking more chances with my writing and I am submitting to bigger markets. My acceptance in riverbabble, for one, suggests that I have the chops to tip-toew down some hallowed halls. I’m beginning to feel like I have a few supporters out there who might remember my name for uncomplicated reasons, like, they liked what they read.

I hope so if, for no other reason than that characters like Pete Vogt, my grandma Toews, my dad and other co-combatants with shit-spattered boots from the not-that-peaceful streets of my Steinbach upbringing deserve a little playtime outside of “Ditsied“.

gloria gaynor lyrics
Sing along…


Across the Pond and Beyond

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I am honoured to be in the Literally Stories mix once again. My short story, “So Are They All” appears in this week’s collection of original short fiction – a short story curation that LS has been providing for the past 138 consecutive weeks.

This is my sixth acceptance in this United Kingdom based literary journal. The stories they have chosen (they have rejected five) have in common a Canadian setting and characters that represent various segments of life in Canada, across a number of eras.

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Several other UK literary journals* have also published my stories. The UK and Ireland are apparently in my sweet spot and damned if I know why!

I asked my Irish born – now Canadian Permanent Resident – son-in-law what he thought might be the attraction. While he had no conclusive theory, he supposed that the details, set in places and times in Canada that are not mainstream, offer a kind of “comfortable alien” nature. I accept that because the stories Tom tells about his childhood in Nobber are a source of fascination to me, in that same way.

Whatever the chemistry of the long distance relationship between the stories and the readers, I feel privileged to be part of the Literally Stories lineup.

*Fiction on the Web (4 stories published) – Charlie Fish, Editor; Storgy (1 story) – Tomek Dzido and Anthony Self, Editors; Fictive Dream (“The Seven Songs”, to be published on Nov 26) Laura Black, Editor; LingoBites, a part of Alsina Publishing (1 story, with a three-part serial in the edit suite and coming soon) – Lisa Dittmar, Editor (Although–full disclosure–Ms. D is a product of Cascadia, and like all of the editors I have encountered, she is foremost a citizen of the world.)

I hope to add more! (I write every day. Even when it hurts.)

P.S. – of the 35 titles of mine that have achieved virtual orbit online and in print, (“So far, damn it!” the author says through gritted teeth, a clinging scrap of spinach ruining the dramatic effect) quite a few have found Canadian and American platforms, and one Indian publication too.  I love all of my prose offspring equally; so too their adoptive homes.

allfornow – Mitch

Volunteer Prose

For years, my wife and I grew Pansies in a planter that ringed our small cabin. We live in the boreal forest and as far as flowers go, we have to choose species that the deer will not nibble. Pansies and Geraniums fit the bill, among others.

That planter is long gone, but the Pansies persist. They poked their yellow and purple heads above ground last week and we were happy to see them make a return engagement.

Janice transplanted some into a small flower bed. Others were left where they grew, brightening the stony soil beneath our wood deck.

I thought of these hardy blossoms and was reminded of my stories, many of them successfully “planted” on web sites across the internet landscape. The stories have been featured online and in print where they have flourished for a short time – receiving a brief glimpse of the sunlight of exposure. (I hope you will permit the metaphoric idea of readers being the sun. It works for me because readers are the source of life in my writing.)

Anyway, I wondered how I could revitalize those existing published stories, in much the way that wild Pansies have sprung up in the shady space beneath our deck where daylight lies on the ground in long white stripes.

One solution is to submit them to sites that allow reprints (as I did with “The Margin of the River” on riverbabble.) Another approach is to employ focused redirection – here on Niume, and on twitter via retweeters like #IARTG and #BeingAuthor. Also, if my work eventually makes into an anthology – great! But that’s a venue I don’t control and can only hope for.

Overall, I feel I should be aggressive; use whatever promotional bucket brigades I can connect with to bring new readers to my stories. (And my stories to them – a bi-directional brigade.)

It seems to me after all, that the cumulative hard work of conceiving, writing, editing and submitting has been DONE. An editor has been wooed and won! That’s no small feat given the thousands upon thousands of writers who, like me, saturation- bomb the slush piles of the English speaking literary world. It seems a shame to waste this enormous accomplishment – getting accepted – by simply letting my stories flicker like a strobe light for a few seconds and then recede into the frenzied blizzard of words that is the web.

So, please wander in my garden (sounds creepy, but it’s better than “sniff my Pansies”) and tell your friends and let my stories volunteer their way into your reading list. Here are a few of my fav yarns from some of my fav publishers:


riverbabble, one of three literary journals published by Pandemonium Press of Berkeley, CA, published “The Margin of the River”, a story of unintended violence. (It is a piece that first appeared in CommuterLit – home to seven of my short stories and one flash fiction.)

The tragic tale, “The Log Boom”, appeared on @morestorgy had this to say:

“The impressive ‘The Log Boom’ by Mitchell Toews, a brilliant author and voice which we are proud to be bringing you!”

Literally Stories (UK) published the twisted yarn, “Breezy and the Six-Pack Sneaker”; as well as the nostalgic walk down a dangerous alley in 1932 Winnipeg, “The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine”; the contemporary tale, “Frozen Tag”; the story of teenage friendship, drink and folly, “South of Oromocto Depths”; and the satiric imaginings of Big Church in, “The Business of Saving Souls”.

Visit the Search field on Fiction on the Web and query Toews. Your search will bring up four stories chosen by Editor Charlie Fish.

For my complete back catalogue and upcoming publication dates, please see:

allfornow – Mitch

Episodic Moi and LingoBites

I recently had a short story accepted by a new start-up in the “Learn a Language Online” business. Given the amount of refugeeism in the world today – not to be confused with refugee-whiz-ism (in short supply, I’m afraid) – there must be a lot of newly relocated people in Canada and other places who would like to speak English.

A company called Alsina Publishing is creating a platform for language learning – English and many others – and one of the central tools they use is the short story. It’s intuitive to imagine a language student, who, when provided with a story produced in both their native tongue and their target language, uses this resource to flip back and forth. They will read the story and learn new words, syntax, and more from the narrative. Furthermore, they can discover the subtleties of conversation through the story’s dialogue. I’m no linguist, but this must be a proven method, I’m sure.

My personal experience confirms this too. I don’t speak much French, but thanks to similar duplicate, bilingual formatting on Canadian cereal boxes and shampoo bottles, etc., phrases like “bien agiter” and “servez froid” are not just letter jumbles to me. I learned them via repetition, without trying, because the material was at hand in front of me at the breakfast table, in the restaurant, or in the tub. (High-concept stuff, wot? Eh? Si?)

The new platform Alsina Publishing has created is called LingoBites and it is in the final stages of development and will launch soon. My story, “The Light Pool” will be one of the first literary works that learners will use to climb the Tower of Babble.

LingoBites refines that basic cereal box concept – with more method and less mirth – and offers it to those who want to learn a new language. Here’s how they describe it at

LingoBites gives you what you’ve been looking for: a way to practice language through creative short stories tailored to your level and interest. Read or listen anywhere on your phone. Support authors from all over the world make a living from their craft and enjoy learning, all at the same time. We are currently in startup stealth mode, but sign up to be the first to hear about our launch plans!

Please follow this link for an interesting third-party description of the LingoBites app from contributor Patricia Duffaud:

It’s always great to be accepted for publication but in this case, my work will be a part of the process of – OMFGliteracy! That is a security clearance I seldom achieve, although I guess LingoBites might just as often be used by leathery travellers from Pittsburgh or Shaughnessy, or maybe Haywards Heath to polish up their “eye-tie” before a trip to the Continent. That’s okay with me – I’ll take readers of all stripes.

“Vi prego di mettere più whisky nel mio             cameriere di bevande!”

And, lucky me, LingoBites has accepted a second submission of mine – one I wrote expressly for them. My editor at the publication suggested that serialized stories were a perfect fit because they allowed readers to establish and reuse a knowledge base of words, names, characters and settings developed while reading earlier instalments. My three-part story, “Of a Forest Silent” will also be appearing in LingoBites, after some editing.

Tune in next week cap

It’s interesting to me how closely the publication works with the writer to ensure that the story is appropriate for learners. Within flexible boundaries, the editors strive to keep sentences short, to restrict the vocabulary and to keep cliches, local slang, and regional references out of the stories. I was afraid this might “dumb down” the prose, but instead, I find it clean and readable. (Many are nodding knowingly now – I can feel it!)

LingoBites offers three FREE stories per month and the subscription fee – for full rights to the site – is nominal. It’s a great value for language learners or those just looking to find great new stories and writers.

voice over

One more COOL THING: Stories will be converted into audio recordings presented by professional voice actors.

The LingoBites site is running in Beta now (July 22).

allfornow – Mitch




South of Oromocto Depths

I’m happy and grateful to have a reprint of my maple syrup imbued, tres Canadien, playoff beard of a short story, “South of Oromocto Depths”, appear in Toronto’s CommuterLit. Editor Nancy Kay Clark has been generous with her coveted space once again and this will be my eighth appearance in this respected (and entertaining) literary ezine.

The short fiction, which first appeared in Literally Stories, will appear this Thursday, July 6, in CommuterLit. It follows previous publications of:

“Encountered on the Shore”– reprinted by Occulum (previously called Fair Folk)

“A Vile Insinuation”

“Without Reason”

(The three stories above comprise “The Red River Valley Trilogy”)

“Gather by the River” Part One (“Zero to Sixty”)

“Gather by the River” Part Two (“The Margin of the River”) – reprinted in riverbabble

“The Rothmans Job”– reprinted in SickLit

“Winter Eve at Walker Creek”

“South of Oromocto Depths” – first published in Literally StoriesVisit CommuterLit commencing July 6 to see this story in its latest incarnation.

We let the motor warm up. It idled in baritone, gurgling as gray smoke rose up out of bubbles that popped on the surface behind the big white motor. Every half-minute or so it ran slightly faster, then vibrated, shuddering back down to the lower idle speed, sometimes coughing unexpectedly.

35 chryco obscure


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