Canada-wide Creative Nonfiction Contest

Thanks, danke seea, to the Humber Literary Review and the Creative Nonfiction Collective for placing my story, “The Mighty Hartski” on the longlist for this year’s contest. A blintering, stellar array of writers and me, happy to be in this stacked stack.

Shortlist in early June. The winner will be announced at the CNFC annual conference. Bonne Chance to all the finalists.

“Rommedriewe!”

The Morning After Nothing

Image: Cover, “Strange Weather” Becky Hagenston Press 53

Most mornings… in fact, most mornings as long as I can remember, I wake up happy. It’s a trait I would not trade. I am a cheerful morning person with a positive outlook. However, I must admit that some mornings are more of a poutlook. Soo gohne daut; so goes it.

Pouty mornings I sometimes call, “The Morning After Nothing.” A kind of bitter hollowness, apropos of nothing, with nothing left to lose, and nothing is more true than that you still have to get up and make the bed and get going. There is no cancel button for this illness.

“Cancel” starts with a C. What else starts with C are the things that conquer the dog-breath stench of waking up on a Morning After Nothing: coffee, chickadees, and creativity. My go-to fixes, respectively: Medium C, Little Cs, and Big C.

Coffee and the antics of our neighbour chickadee pals are self-explanatory cheer-bringers. Creativity is the third great remedy because it takes you away from the grumbly place and puts you far on the other side of Nothing. This last C takes you straight to Elsewhere: rapping at a keyboard, pushing wood through a saw, trying to learn a new move on the windsurfer. Painting something for a friend or for one of our pog grandkids. (That’s my wife Janice’s usual way out.)

“Dee-dee-dee!”

Today, I found the coffee less than stimulating and the chickadees were their usual acrobatic and fearless 15-gram selves but I still had the look of the guy at the back of the longest line at the grocery store… the guy with the dripping container of ice cream.

But, C-ing is believing, as the saying goes, so I moved on to Creativity: “C’mon Creativity, papa needs a new toque!” I wound up considering a difficult short story I’ve been working on for a long time. It’s an outside-your-comfort-zone story, with nary a Mennonite in sight. The story is dark and harsh, and carries a gut-shot of implicit violence. Well, if you’re gonna write about toxic masculinity, I guess you gotta break a couple of… Uhh, scratch that—sounds too glib, and not a little.

Cal Rhinehart. Big and mean. Damaged goods and all about the booze and the dope. Everyone else’s fault but his. Maybe his dad beat the shit out of him or maybe one fight too many or maybe he just had bad chemicals in his head; got dealt a rotten hand, Fiona thought, sad and furious and terrified all at once. Maybe understanding too well. Maybe even feeling a sort of mongrel kinship. But she shook that thought away. Positive thinking, Doctor Tracewski always says.

—Main Character, Fiona Hewel, in “Four Baths, Great View, Bank Owned Mountain Home”

This is the story that started up in my head after reading an incredible story by the super-pog Becky Hagenston, “Midnight, Licorice, Shadow.” I was determined to jump outside of my skin—that old, wrinkly bag of derma—and take on the many risks attendant for an older man who writes a story that contains difficult passages; violence both emotional and physical and violence against both men and women.

Violence is real. Violence towards women happens. Violence is at the heart of the topic I wanted to broach, and yet, how could I, “go there?”

Would it be best to just bail-out? Let someone else handle this topic? Did you just shout, “Hell yeah?” I understand, and yet, I have an indelible memory; something that happened to me, in real life, in the real world on the #1 Highway just west of the Bow Flats, at the feet of Big Sister, Middle Sister, and Little Sister.

“What in the world? Look at that!” Joe said, straightening his back and shifting his attention to the road ahead. A red SUV accelerated along the merge lane of an intersection. Behind the speeding car, a tattooed, bareback man ran in a dead sprint.

“Is he chasing them?” Fiona said.

Tall and broad shouldered, the man had an athletic build and long dirty blonde hair. The white drawstrings of his grey sweatpants fluttered and snapped behind him like kite tails as he ran after the vehicle. His bare feet pounded on the gravel strewn pavement.

The bizarre drama played on and Joe slowed the car as they closed on it. A white, flatdeck truck, “Rhinehart Well Drilling” in bold letters along the side, sat parked at a cockeyed angle near the intersection—driver door open, blinker on.

The running man slowed and hopped a few strides on one leg, then staggered to a lame halt. He bent at the waist to inspect his foot. The SUV sped away on the highway.

—”Four Baths, Great View, Bank Owned Mountain Home”

As you can see, I choose to go ahead with the story. The early iterations were the cause of some “Morning after Nothing” feels, but “vann aul, dann aul,” as is said in the Plaut: “if already, then already,” or “if you’re going to do it, go all the way!”

So I did.

Ugh. The result was more than one editor, I fear, not seeing the Red Badge of Courage in my choices, but instead feeling triggered and put upon. More than one editor who might have stroked me off a list or two. For good, or longer.

Still, this the way of it, is it not? If there’s no risk, then I will stay forever in the safe-feeling place—potentially a moribund state for my writing—where I just write happy, little stories about wise Mennonites. Where grey-bearded Opas nod knowingly and open their mouths to release a dazzling, atmospheric river of axiomatic truths and cornpone savviness. Savvy like, “vann aul, dann aul.”

But… many rewrites and tough critiques later, I feel as though the story has evolved and now comes closer to the way I want it. Consider: I am a male writer, someone who grew up in times and places where even the worst acts of wanton male violence were sometimes forgiven—forgiven (or given up) even by those who suffered the violence. Forgiven by those whose job is was to police this violence: pulpit, patrol car, politician. I lived this condition, directly and indirectly. Is that not a story worth considering? Is it not important to write from a point of view that—without absolution and without friendly framing—tells a human story in all of its unsettling truth?

I vote yes.

There’s a part near the end of “Midnight, Licorice, Shadow” where the author describes something being thrown into a dumpster, “with a thud,” and your heart sinks, and you feel a bit sick to your stomach. Without that passage the story is still wonderfully strong, but when you read it… when you read, “with a thud,” you are moved in a way that will last.

That! That result is the big prize, the one worth taking some risks to attain. It’s how a story can make a difference. It’s certainly one way to beat the Morning After Nothing blues!

Besides, as some wily Mennonite Oma must have said, to some future author on some far shore: “the best way to catch fish is to keep fishing!”

So I will.

Jus’ Noodlin’

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

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

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

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

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

Mitchell Toews

__

*Or Gemeinde: Communities or congregations

“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.”

Detailed C-V

MITCHELL TOEWS: A big list…

 ONLINE ADDRESSES

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

 CURRICULUM-VITAE

Updated 06.06.22

EDUCATION

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

 ASSOCIATIONS/MEMBERSHIPS

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

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

 PUBLISHED WORKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2022: 6 short stories | 1 paid print, 2 US, 4 Canada

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

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

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

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

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

 CONTESTS-PRIZES-AWARDS

space

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

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

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

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

“Cave on a Cul-de-sac” — short story, winner in The Hayward Fault LineDoorknobs & Bodypaint Issue 93 Triannual Themed Flash contest, 2018 

“I am Otter” — short story, CommuterLit (Ca), Runner-up in for Flash Fiction Feature, 2018

“Sweet Caporal at Dawn” — short story, nominated by Blank Spaces for a PUSHCART PRIZE, 2019, print

“Piece of My Heart” — a 750-word or less flash fiction was named “Editors’ Choice” in the 2020 Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest from Pulp Literature Press, paid print

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

“Fetch” — short story, one of 11 finalists in a national field of over 800 entries: The Writers’ Union of Canada’s Short Prose Competition for Emerging Writers.

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

“The Rabid,” finalist in the 2022 PULP Literature Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest.

The 2022 J. F. Powers Prize for Short Fiction. This Open competition drew over 400 submissions from around the world from writers in all stages of career development. “The Spring Kid,” was one of 28 longlist finalists and later advanced to the shortlist.

“The Mighty Hartski”: 2022 longlist for the Humber Literary Review/Creative Nonfiction Collective Society (CNFC) Canada-wide CNF contest.

 FUNDING

space

space

sa

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

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

 READINGS

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

 WORK IN PROGRESS

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

FRIENDS & FOLLOWERS

  • Twitter 5,588
  • Facebook 4,800
  • Goodreads 274 friends, 19 followers
  • LinkedIn 918
  • WordPress 209

PANELS

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

A Fetching Tale

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

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

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

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

Where and to what?

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

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

🙂

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

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

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

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

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

Treasures small and LARGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

allfornow,

Mitch

Literally Rerun

Received great news from the ripping UK online lit mag, Literally Stories. They have chosen my story, “So Are They All” for a rerun on February 14, 2021.

In my travels around the virtual literary world these last six years, I’ve been able to meet a lot of special people. The crew at Literally Stories is just such a romp, such a cabal, such a band on the run.

FUN FACT: The plural noun for a group of bulldogs (British or otherwise) is… a FART of bulldogs. Now, I don’t know if this descriptor applies to the assembled writers, poets, editors, and artful dodgers at Literally Stories, but given enough ale, black pudding, bangers and beans, etc. — it may well be.
.
I do know that the literary caucus at that particular joint is certainly warm, but is (definitely) not silent, nor deadly — rather lively, I’d say — and would not abide by the evidentiarily assumptive phrase, “He who noted it, is he who floated it…”

They are sharp, funny, agile, devoted, and big-hearted. So to be twice touched by their regal sword of acceptance is an honour I do not take lightly. Not only will the story run again, but it will be accompanied by a couple of questions from the mysterious Leila, a writer-editor-interviewer with Salish Sea roots. (I think.)

Here are her questions, check out the Literally Stories site on Feb 14 for my answers.

Black and white library. Red heart emoji transparent | Heart emoji, Emoji,  Cute patterns wallpaper

Q: 2020 marked Cornelius and Rosa’s hundredth wedding anniversary*. An imbecile (such as Wolf Blitzer) would ask something like “What would they make of today?” Instead I wonder if you believe that the present is always so conceited that there’s a belief that the people in the past couldn’t cut it today? (Seems to me that Rosa would do just fine on social media, because she’d have interesting experiences to relate. Also, feel free to rant loosely, incoherently, as I seem to be doing.)

*Dec. 17, MJT

 Q: Yes, A. Let’s play Jeopardy! Answer to the question is: Simply the finest thing ever to come out of the bakery. 

SIDEBAR: What the loquacious Leila is referring to (Cornelius and Rosa) are two recurrent characters that come from a series of stories set in the fictitious Canadian Prairie town of Hartplatz. Cornelius (“Roy”) and Rosa Zehen are the grandparents, with Rosa being the materfamilias of the Mennonite staum of bakers, shoemakers, hockey players, and windmill tilters.

SIDEBAR SIDEBAR: Breaking News — The Zehen clan is represented in about forty short stories. Recently, I’ve pulled 29 of them together into a coherent collection that runs in a roughly chronological order from 1920 to the present and beyond, into a dimly viewed future. I have begun to query the collection, polishing and curating to offer the least kuhshiet-spattered grouping I can muster.

A shart of short stories? The collection is tentatively titled: “The Barkman Avenue Peace Accords”

Piece of My Heart

I had the opportunity to read one of my flash fictions for the virtual launch of Issue 28 of PULP Literature Magazine. The video is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIcbCsZCMpk&feature=youtu.be
and my segment is the first one, running from about the 2:00 minute mark to 9:30.

PULP Lit is a special lit mag. It is, like my kids and grandkids, located in B.C. and also like my kids and grandkids and my sis Char and old friends I don’t see much anymore except for Facebook, one of the many — so many — reasons I love to return and visit B.C. (Damn covid!)

Each issue of the magazine is beautiful to see and something to be absorbed, like a tincture. Curation, editing, art (!), lay-out and theme are carefully balanced and interconnected. Evocative, original, soothing, disturbing… an intellectual event. Their online launch is even more sensorial adding video, voice, imagery and the strange magical sense of flying out across the world with ZOOM wings made of a hybrid chitin of memory and syntax and imagination and hope and words spoken low and slow.

Anyway… despite appropriate Mennonite guilt, I love to read my stories and was pleased to be asked to join in. I get nervous — not a little — doing this type of thing. But somehow, reading my own stories is mostly exempt from that stage fright. It’s a part of the art, an extension I suppose, that allows me to relive the creation of it and add my own live expression, ad hoc. Plus I can enjoy the story as if detached and no longer the author but rather the presenter and part of the audience… both, at once.

~~~

I’ve been reading some wonderful academic writers lately who look at art and writing and Mennonite writing or writing that happens to be done by Mennonites, or that happens to be done by Mennonite imposters, cultural Mennonites, secular Mennonites or Mennonite moles that have tunneled — whiskers twitching — under the village walls.

Two notables have surnames that surely have been represented in Southwood School Valentine card mailings, SRSS grad class rolls, on Mennonite church Sunday School classroom doors, and as alumni of colleges where art debate, Inter-Scholastic Christian Fellowship, and curling bonspiels were all of equal importance. Schillinger! Shun! Sweep!

The two are Magdalene Redekop and Grace Kehler.

Their concepts and ideas are beautiful, complex, and written with the kind of codified care saved for those rare Sundays when the Pastor and his wife are scheduled to “drop by for Faspa!”

For me, the reading is trench warfare. That sounds disparaging but it’s not. It is high praise. I find myself pulled violently down so many rabbit-holes and stuck to the flypaper of all the many soaring ideas — two or three per page! — that I end up taking week-end side-trips that turn into year-long sabbaticals.

The confluence that I am labouriously working towards is that of Redekop, Kehler, Tolstoy (et al), Toews and “Piece of My Heart.” As I read for PULP Lit and especially after I finished, I saw for the first time some of the intricate embroidery of literary academia in my story.

“Piece of My Heart” is, in its bare-boned simplicity, an example of art that seeks to be sincere. An expression. A means of communication. A conversation. A dematerialization. Perhaps seasoned with a sad hint of Mennonite melancholia.

And though the story is austere and spare, it is also a tessellation of Mennonite chapter and verse together with many Gem pickling jars that brim with lore and insinuation. Savoury and not forgotten, packed with dill from the garden, is my autoethnographic version, albeit brief, of the Mennonite creation myth, “across the brutish North Atlantic… sod-hut sanctuaries… hymns sung with the fervour of nothing left to lose,” and more.

To use Author Redekop’s phrase, my little story claims to be “history knowing.”

~~~

As you’ll see in the video, after the story, Editor JM Landels asks me about my WIP novel, “Mulholland and Hardbar.” Here’s some WIP blurbage about the book:

Logline 1: “Fargo, with a Mennonite accent.”

Logline 2: “A journey through the four seasons of the boreal: friendship, deceit, loyalty, and violence.”

Blurb: Set in the Manitoba boreal forest, Mulholland and Hardbar is a unique and moving story about an odd pairing of young men, their complex and dangerous relationship, and their need to learn how to face difficulty with courage and the absence of malice.”


Statement of Location: The author and his wife reside in the boreal forest just north of the fiftieth latitude in eastern Manitoba. Their home — like the Penrose cabin in the novel, “Mulholland and Hardbar” — is situated on Métis land: Anishinabe Waki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ

Print Catalogue

As this rabid cannibal of a year winds down, I wonder about my writerly struggle and the artistic return on investment for me as a writer, 2015-2020.

ROI, baby.

Aside from all the “hard work is its own reward,” kind of sentiment, to which I subscribe and to whose driving power I owe one of the best periods of my redheaded life (apart from the baby powder tinged, little league coaching, proud dad/granddad parts), I wondered about how much of an imprint I’ve been given/achieved so far.

What is my gravitas quotient, or lack of same?

Am I #futility or do I stand a chance? There’s no punter (in the UK slang sense) who knows how to handicap me, there’s no Vegas line on my puny literary squirming, like the last water bug of the season making a tiny ripple that no one else notices.

An editor commented recently that I had a unique voice worth publishing. I fought back the urge to argue with her, and in that moment of cessation, found a glimmer. A glimmer not of hope — that sworl of Van Gogh luminant turbulence is still light years away — but a lifeline thrown out to me in the cold, deep water by a compassionate friend.

When I look at my C-V, I see a lot of online acceptances, a lot of out-of-province markets, and several repeat markets. This is telling of the state of the world of fiction, my preferences, my ability, my relative reputation in a world of water bugs, and my inclination to spend the years on the far side of three score with friends and heroes, not the miserable and the banal.

Anyway… I noticed that the attention of the curator for a certain specific geschichte writer list is focused solely on PRINT. I accept that. There’s so much online writing that it makes sense to begin your list with those in print. Not that I’m not proud (and more than a little) of many of my online publications, but, you know — I get it.

So here fellow water bugs, punters, friends, heroes, banal high-horsers out for a romp among the plebs… is my 2015-2020 Print Catalogue, based on about 100 distinct flash fictions and short stories sent out in over 400 submissions all over the English language literary world.

Ca — “A Fisherman’s Story” Rhubarb Magazine Issue 39 2016
Ca — “So Are They All” Voices Vol 16 No.2 2016 Anthology
India — “I am Otter” The Machinery – A Literary Collection 2017
UK — “Nothing to Lose” The Best of Fiction on the Web 1996-2017 2017 Anthology
Ca — “Sweet Caporal at Dawn” Blank Spaces Magazine 2018 Pushcart Prize Nomination
Ca — “Away Game” Pulp Literature Issue 20 2018
Ca — “Sweet Caporal at Dawn” Just Words, Volume 2 2018 Anthology
US — “Groota Pieter” River Poets Journal Special Themed Edition: “The Immigrants” 2018 Anthology
US — “Peacemongers” The MOON magazine: “Out of This World” The Best Short Stories from the MOON Volume 1 2019 Anthology
Australia/US — “Groota Pieter” Pact Press “We Refugees” 2019 Anthology
Ca — “Fast and Steep” Riddle Fence Issue 34 2019
US — “The Log Boom” River Poets Journal Special Themed Edition: “A Fork in the Road” 2020 Anthology
Ca — “My Life as a Corkscrew” (CNF) Blank Spaces Magazine 2020
Ca — Piece of My Heart” Pulp Literature Issue 27 2020 Winner of the Editors’ Choice in the 2020 Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest
US — “Away Game” Quail Bell Magazine 2020
Ca — “My Life as a Corkscrew” (CNF) Just Words Volume 4 2020 Anthology
US — “The Sunshine Girl” Cowboy Jamboree Magazine John Prine Tribute Issue 2020
Ca — “The Margin of the River” Blank Spaces Magazine 2020 Pushcart Prize Nomination

(Updated 12.4.20)

A few of these are printed on a rolling basis and so may not be out in the wild yet.

I also have 65 stories in various online publications in the US, the UK, and Canada.