I Like Long Odds

This started out as a FaceBook reply but then outgrew its welcome.

In the “Fat Chance, Toews” department, I have hired a London editor; a young freelancer named James McKnight. He has a book out, a historical novel called “Letters from Erzurum”, and a degree from Cambridge. That’s likely good enough for this son of the prairie sod. I am not sure, but a sharp Seattle editor referred me to James and he and I have hit it off! So away we go.

James is helping me to edit all of my short stories, old & new, and pull them into a collection to pitch to publishers. Also, based on my editor’s encouragement, I am 29K-  words into a short novel. Irrevocably bound. This new story has some Menno bones but is not solely of that ilk. I toil on my novella almost every day and having a pro editor makes it much easier to keep track of a longer piece like this – most of my short stories are around 3.5K.

Why a UK editor? Of my 40 published works in lit mags, the biggest or best editor/reader response so far continues to come from the UK & Ireland and California, where perhaps 1973 rural Manitoba has a certain ALIEN appeal.

I yearn for Canadian uptake, but I still need to work for that. I remain optimistic, especially with James screening the goalie.

Characters based on the unforgettable Chuck Toews, my grandparents, Pete Vogt, Breezy, and petty crooks in the North End intermingle with various passing Schnooda-Rotz-näs folks. These fictional cast members are fresh and compelling, so I am told. I should have known – having grown up with them, and all.

James also puts me through prose-writing exercises and is a strict, relentless editor. (I am earning my “McFA”.) That’s valuable to me – a would-be author who spent most high school English classes building up an inventory of life experiences in the LaBroquerie bar and other institutions of ‘higher’ learning. NOT – I now sadly realize – availing myself of the teachings of Voth, BoPeep, Gunner and others fonts of literary know-how in the SCI/SRSS. The last 20-years writing ad copy for fenestration companies (bor-ringggg) further skewed and flattened the earth for me, literature-wise. Still, I was, “part of the creative economy,” I would remind myself.

Life is good. I am too young to retire (actuarially and optimistically) so it makes sense to have something hard to chip away at. Am I right? Damn rights I am!

I exercise, build stuff, fix the stuff I have built along with other broken, aged bits & pieces of the 1950 cottage we heat through the winter. I write several hours a day. For a break, I feed the birds and shout at the TV. I shout at Trump, who is like an uncharacteristically vile Pine Grosbeak who has somehow tricked the forest creatures into naming him king. I try to read a bit, too. Oh yeah, and Canucks games, when the lords of SportsNet deem it worthy to broadcast out to the wilds of Manitoba.

 

pine grosbeak
‘I am the King. Long live me. Very, very longly.’

 

Writing gives each day added shape and substance. If James can mould me into a better writer, I will benefit from the effort. If he pulls off a long shot and I am published, then I will greatly benefit. Either way, I’ve made a new friend and one with a younger, non-Canadian, non-Mennonitisch outlook and that’s a win even the King of the Pine Grosbeaks would envy.

allfornow, Mitch

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The Seven Songs

A new story. Two men in fictitious territory on Fictive Dream.

Fictive Dream

by Mitchell Toews

On our first morning I got up with the dawn. I sat on a stone bench, still cool from the night air, and peeled the store labels off my new boardshorts. The local avifauna kept me company. They chittered and squawked, upset at my intrusion.

An emissary male blackbird – curious, or angry, or mocking; maybe all three – landed close by. Fixing me with an unblinking white sequin of an eye, the bird gave me the full range of its vocal repertoire. Piercing passerine whistles, abrupt diphthongal clicks, feather-puffing, squeaky-door creaks and various complicated combo arrangements; it really “gave me the heck” – or that’s what our daughter would have said. I’d heard of the breed’s bravado, and here was persuasive evidence that all I’d heard was true.

We had similar birds back home. Red Wing Blackbirds – so common in Manitoba that when I pictured…

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Writing Exercise 1

My new editor is putting me to work. “Drop and give me twenty, maggot!”


Writing Exercise: Dialogue

“Hey, take a picture, it lasts longer!”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare. That’s a lot of aluminium you have there.”

“I am the best can collector on all of Portage Avenue, Mister Skinny-ass Bus Rider.”

“I’ve seen you out here a few times. I remember you.”

“Are ya sure now, pards? There’s a lot what looks like me, ya know. I mean, don’t we all kinda look the same – all the bums, that is?”

“Well, I never said you were a bum.”

“You mighta well as, Bus Rider. Bus riii-iii-iiider, ”

“Pretty good singing. Call me Matt.”

“I’ll call you shit on a stick if I wanna call you shit on a stick. What would you do about it? But never mind that, answer my question if you can. And speaking of can, boot that one over there to me… he shoots, he scores! Thanks, shit stick – I think I’ll call you shit stick. You can call me Cock Blessed, because I was blessed in the rooster department, swear to God-cuss at Moses, pards. Seriously; blue steel. Cat can’t scratch it.”

“Hey, this is my bus. See you tomorrow, Rooster.”

“Ha! Not if I see ya first, SOS!”

***

“Wuzzup.”

“Hey. See that guy there – the one picking the pop cans out of the basket on the street?”

“Yeah, the guy with the grey scarf and the mismatched boots? So? Was he givin’ you a rough time or what?”

“Nah, he’s harmless. He’s noisy and comical, but my guess is he has issues – that’s for sure. Whoa! Hang on! The driver is in a hurry today! Anyway – about that homeless guy, keep watching along this side. Look for one with a red jacket.”

“One what? Like a beggar or what have you? Alright – whatever. But I doubt that I’m gonna see, hey! Son of a gun. Okay, there’s a guy with a red jacket up ahead.”

“Yeah, yeah! That’s him. Now, think of that guy back where I got on. Remember what he looked like.”

“Yeah, right. Long hair, big beard. Short. Looked a little like Charles Manson? Hard to forget that mug.”

“Ha! Exactly! Manson – yeah, that’s perfect. Now take a close look at this guy with the red jacket when the bus pulls over. Look at his face, man.”

“Holy crap!”

“I know! Can you frickin’ believe it?”

“That’s crazy. Are they…?”

(mutual laughter)

“As far as I can tell. I mean, I don’t know them or nothing. I kept seeing the guy on my way to work and then again at five. I saw him a lot, if you know what I mean. It got me thinking.”

“No doubt. Holy crap! I’m gonna check it out on the way home tonight. See ya!”

“See ya.”

***

“Excuse me, young man? That fellow who just got off the bus. Yes, the one you were talking to. May I ask, is he your twin?”

 

The End

 

 

London is Calling

My story, “Nothing to Lose”, has been chosen for a print anthology in England. American writer-editor Charlie Fish–an expat living in London–has published the online literary zine, Fiction on the Web, since 1996. In that time he has published more than one thousand short stories by writers from around the world. Charlie is publishing a print collection of his favourite stories from FotW‘s 21-year history. Book sale proceeds will go to a London hospital charity: Guy’s & St Thomas’ Foundation Trust. The anthology will be available for purchase in the new year (2018).

Community No. 24

Willing to be consumed by literary omnivores on this site!

Digging Through The Fat

In this Community, we proudly present works by Jon Jackson, Mitchell Toews, Bruce Robinson, Andrea Rogers, Lisa Beere, Alex Clermont, Amy Leigh Wicks, Dominic Bond, Janey Skinner, and Anita Haas.

Congrats to all!

Jon Jackson

Child Soldiers

Litro, June 2, 2016

Lambda

Visual Verse, March 2017

Mitchell Toews

Nothing to Lose 

Fiction on the Web, July 8, 2016

Heavy Artillery 

Fiction on the Web, October 30, 2016

Bruce Robinson

Believe Me 

Mobius, the Journal of Social Change, December 2016

Four Poems: Rain Delay: ground rules; Their Romance; sitcom; dressing

Peacock Journal, December 2016

Andrea Rogers

How to Tell a Man You Love Him When You Don’t

The Adirondack Review, Spring 2016

Lisa Beere

Two Poems: Something Comes; The Hunter’s Tale

Ottawa Poetry Magazine, October 10, 2016

Alex Clermont 

Hungry Ghosts of Park Avenue

Black Elephant, April 2016

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Ink and Virtual Ink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can I get an AMEN?

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

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

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

Life, Goddamnit, life.

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

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

“One third fewer adverbs per page!”

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

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

allfornow – Mitch

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

 

 

 

Striking a Prose

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

Two Short Stories are Going Live on Friday!

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

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

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

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

(WB Yeats)

With thanks to the editors @morestorgy and @fishcharlie!

allfornow – Mitch

A Quick Ode to May 8

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

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

allfornow – Mitch

The Business of Saving Souls on SickLit

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you enjoy the pieces and welcome your comments.

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

Allfornow – Mitch

Beta Readers Wanted. Ein bät.

Hi, all!

My short story, “A Fisherman’s Story” appeared in Rhubarb Magazine about six months ago. Since that time, I have written two complementary stories around it, literally, to create a trilogy.

“The Bottom of the Sky” is a continuation of the fisherman’s story that was in Rhubarb. There’s a prequel – Part 1: Acapulco 1955 and a sequel – Part 3: Mismaloya 1977 that bracket the original story of the three-piecer, now going under the name – Part 2: Puerta Vallarta 1975.

j and yoko

So: would you like to give 3-pieces a chance? (All we are saying…) I am looking for pre-readers or “beta readers” (the cool name) to read and relate their observations. Literary stuff like, “Toews! Your brain is a rotting cesspool of dog vomit!” Or really tough criticism – whatevs.

Anyhoo, if you would like to give it a read, drop me a note and I will send you a dbl-spaced, TNY 12-pt Word doc with 1″ margins to accommodate your red ink.

Warning: it’s not very Mennonitish and has little to do with relationship break-ups, zombies, or kinky sex among the snow-birds of Phoenix. (Just threw that last one in there to see if you were still reading.)

Danke sehr, gracias amigo mio!

Mitch Toews
Rennie, MB