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!
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
The list is getting long enough to have its own dedicated page. I’ll keep this page more or less up to date and that is all I’m gonna say about that.
Last updated: June 2, 2020
Since June 2016:
“Encountered on the Shore”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2016
“A Vile Insinuation”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2016
“Without Reason”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2016
“Zero to Sixty”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2016
“The Margin of the River”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2016
“Nothing to Lose”, Fiction on the Web (UK), 2016
“Heavy Artillery”, Fiction on the Web (UK), 2016
“Breezy and the Six-Pack Sneaker”, Literally Stories (UK), 2016
“The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine”, Literally Stories (UK), 2016
“South of Oromocto Depths”, Literally Stories (UK), 2016
“A Fisherman’s Story”, Rhubarb Magazine (Ca), Issue 39, 2016
“Our German Relative”, Red Fez (Ca), Issue 96, 2016
“Graperoo”, Fair Folk Journal (US), 2016
“So Are They All”, Voices (Ca), Volume 16, No. 2, 2016
“The Phage Match”, Broken Pencil (Ca), 2016
“The Rothmans Job”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2017
“Winter Eve in Walker Creek Park”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2017
“South of Oromocto Depths”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2017
“Encountered on the Shore”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2017
“The Preacher and His Wife”, Literally Stories (UK), 2017
“The Beefeater and the Donnybrook”, Literally Stories (UK), 2017
“The Light Pool”, Alsina Publishing LingoBites (UK – English and Spanish), 2017
“Nothing to Lose”, Digging Through the Fat (US), 2017 (Link)
“Heavy Artillery”, Digging Through the Fat (US), 2017 (Link)
“The Business of Saving Souls”, Literally Stories (UK), 2017
“So Are They All”, Literally Stories (UK), 2017
“The Rothmans Job”, Sick Lit Magazine (US), 2017
“The Business of Saving Souls”, Sick Lit Magazine (US), 2017
“I am Otter”, The Machinery – A Literary Collection (India), “Fauna” 2017
“The Log Boom”, Storgy.com (UK), 2017
“Encountered on the Shore”, Occulum (US), 2017
“The Peacemongers”, The MOON magazine (US), 2017
“The Margin of the River”, riverbabble (US), 2017
“The Seven Songs”, Fictive Dream (UK), 2017
“I am Otter”, CommuterLit (Ca) 2018
“Fall From Grace”, Literally Stories (UK), 2018
“Of a Forest Silent”, Alsina Publishing LingoBites (UK – English and Spanish), 2018
“City Lights”, Literally Stories (UK), 2018
“The Bottom of the Sky”, Fiction on the Web (UK), 2018
“In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence”, riverbabble (US), 2018
“Nothing to Lose”, riverbabble (US), 2018
“Shade Tree Haven”, Doorknobs & Bodypaint (US), 2018
“Sweet Caporal at Dawn”, Blank Spaces (Ca), 2018
“Sweet Caporal at Dawn”, “Just Words, Volume 2” (Ca), 2018
“Away Game”, Pulp Literature (Ca), 2018
“The Doeling”, Cabinet of Heed (Ireland), 2018
“Groota Pieter”, River Poets Journal, Special Themed Edition, “The Immigrants” (US), 2018
INTERVIEW, Mennotoba (Ca), 2018
“The Narrowing”, Scarlet Leaf Review (Ca), 2018
“Wide Winter River” podcast Not Ready for Prime Time (US), 2018
“The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine”, Literally Stories (UK), 2019
“The Toboggan Run”, The MOON magazine (US), 2019
“Peacemongers”, The MOON magazine: “Out of This World” The Best Short Stories from the MOON (US), Volume 1, 2019
“Cave on a Cul-de-sac”, The Hayward Fault Line, Doorknobs & Bodypaint (US) Issue 93, 2019
“Din and the Wash Bear”, The Hayward Fault Line, Doorknobs & Bodypaint (US) Issue 95, 2019
“Died Rich”, Fabula Argentea (US), Issue #27, 2019
“I am Otter”, Short Tales – Flash Fiction Stories (Iran), 2019
“Away Game”, Short Tales – Flash Fiction Stories (Iran), 2019
INTERVIEW and EXCERPT from WIP novel, “Mulholland and Hardbar”, South Branch Scribbler (Ca), 2019
“Ifs and Butters”, TurnPike (US), 2019
“Concealment”, Me First Magazine (US), 2019
“Groota Pieter”, Pact Press (Australia), “We Refugees” anthology, 2019
“Fast and Steep”, Riddle Fence (Ca), Issue 34, 2019.
“Holthacka’s Quandary”, Lunate Fiction (UK), 2019
“Shade Tree Haven”, (mac)ro(mic) (US), 2019
“My Writing Day”, my (small press) writing day (Ca), 2019
“The Log Boom”, River Poets Journal, Special Themed Edition, “A Fork in the Road” (US), Date TBA, 2020
“The Business of Saving Souls”, Literally Stories (UK), January 26, 2020
“Encampment”, Tiny Seed Literary Journal (US), February 8, 2020
“Regrets de Foie Gras”, Literally Stories (UK), May 2020
“My Life as a Corkscrew” (CNF), Blank Spaces (Ca), June 2020
“The Grittiness of Mango Chiffon”, Agnes and True (Ca), July 2020
“Piece of My Heart”, Pulp Literature (Ca) Issue 27, Summer 2020
“The Margin of the River”, Blank Spaces (Ca), Sept 2020
“Away Game”, Quail Bell Magazine (US), TBA 2020
CONTESTS & AWARDS
“So Are They All”, Second Place in the Adult Fiction category of the Write on the Lake (Ca) contest, 2016
“Fall from Grace”, Honourable Mention in The Writers’ Workshop of Asheville (US) Memoirs Contest, 2016
“The Phage Match”, Finalist in Broken Pencil’s (Ca) annual “Deathmatch contest, 2016
“Cave on a Cul-de-sac”, Winner in The Hayward Fault Line—Doorknobs & Bodypaint (US) Issue 93 Triannual Themed Flash contest, 2018
“I am Otter”, CommuterLit (Ca), Runner-up in for Flash Fiction Feature, 2018
“Sweet Caporal at Dawn”, Nominated by Blank Spaces (Ca) for a PUSHCART PRIZE, 2018
“Piece of My Heart”, winner of the Pulp Literature magazine Editors’ Choice in the 2020 Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest.
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, Victoria Central Library, Open Mic, Jan 8, 2020
Pulp Literature Reading Series, live internet April 24, 2020
Jake Epp Public Library, Steinbach, MB, 2020 (date TBA)
Goodreads 209 friends, 12 followers
A friend and colleague signed his writerly email, “in the struggle”. I liked that in a whole bunch of ways. My new occupation is revenue-negative and offers many noble struggles. I’m in it, for sure.
I have always been the “man of action” type. If I have a problem, I set about fixing it without delay, despite not knowing what the hell I’m doing.
“What are you looking for?” Janice often asks, in a reasonable effort to help as I buzz by, like an angry wasp looking for something to sting.
“I’ll know when I find it,” says I.
So too, it goes with writing. I received some professional prep along the way in my days at Dun & Bradstreet, but those reports were so clipped and “factoidinal” that even the current U.S. President would find them too brief. (If he spoke English, which Las Vegas stakes at 4:1 that he does not.)
My long wasteland sojourn as a propagandist for various window and door makers also gave me some writing chops, but not, I fear, of the MFA/bright new voice variety. For example, I once penned this slogan for a wood window and door manufacturer: “Dedicated to Wood”. I did, it’s true, not see eye-to-eye with my boss — nice fellow though he was/is — and I let that obvious, smirk-inducing double-entendre go to bat for us, so to speak, partly out of my mean spirit. (He approved it, so – I guess it’s on him.)
So, unprepared as I was, the last three years of writing and submitting stories to literary magazines and contests has been educational! I’ve relied on my lifelong survivalist instinct and “Imma quick learner, eh,” attributes to see me through. Now I have a truly gifted freelance editor on ‘my team’ and my learning curve is a-spikin’.
The thing that continues to puzzle and inspire is the audiences that I have found – or that have found me.
The twitter graph above tells the tale. My stories tend to do well in the U.S. and also in the U.K. & Ireland. Canada is on the podium, but you’d think — at least I did — that the True North would be my base. I supposed my hometown crowd would be the one that GOT all my arcane references and cheered every goal and razzed the penalties. (“REJECTIONS SUCK…REJECTIONS SUCK!”) Instead, my Canadian twitter followers are third ranked.
Granted, my >4K sample of twitter stats is an imprecise demographic, but at least it gives me some kind of a read on who out there is, uhh, reading me and where they’re from. (57% female, mostly professional and making more money than I ever did flogging fenestration.)
I suppose part of it is because my stories of Canada and its small towns, quirky Mennonites, zillion-tree forests, and sparkling waters are a fresh take for U.S. and U.K./IE readers living in crowded cities filled with unminded gaps and too-handy handguns.
I went with this apparent vibe and have hooked my word wagon to the star of a London-based editor. Mr. McKnight also gives me insight as to why Brits and other non-Canucks might appreciate my oblong characters from a square world.
As I write my novel, I have felt the subtle nudge from Albion and have included some characters from further afield:
Billy Penrose: a Cornishman transplanted to the prairies; a lover of the Boreal biome and at home in his adoptive Canadian version of the 50th parallel – far from his salt-soaked origins. He is my MC’s Grandfa.
Patel: An Indo-Canadian youth, born in Canada and a friend to the MC. He is subject to the racism and ignorance that was (and is) part of the Canadian patchwork quilt society. This character is both a tip of the metz to my 2% follower-reader cohort from India, and also a reflection of my own life experience on the University of Victoria campus in the mid-seventies.
* * *
Sooo, seeing as 53% of you reading this are statistically-likely to be American, and I have already twisted your tail by teasing your Pres (“Ol’puddin-head”) I should acknowledge you – a loyal and mighty clan.
Several U.S. literary sites have done me the honour of accepting my work. I do have quite a few U.S. points of reference in my stories because, well – we’re neighbours. Also, I’ve worked for and with Americans and much of my travelling has been in the States.
My most recent publication will sit on a rocking chair on the front porch of a Berkeley, CA publication: riverbabble. This site has been in operation since 2002 and I feel a special thrill to be included.
My story here is based in part in Tacoma, WA and also spends some dreamy time in a ballpark somewhere along the Canadian/U.S. border. In the era the story is set, there were cross-border leagues in operation featuring teams from neighbouring states and provinces. It was “country baseball”, all bruised knuckles and peeling paint, but it embodied the kind of earthy, poetic beauty that I find in almost all sports.
I am so far in, I’m out again.
Here, deep in the rotting guts of my novel WIP, “Mulholland”, it’s winter. This place is cold and isolated. It’s fearfully unforgiving. I’ve killed one already — a boy — and I’m laying the groundwork to take another life. Meanwhile, my main character is festering; his will to do good snapping like a frozen twig along the trail.
Centipedes, weevils, and maggots follow me around. Crows perch on the sundeck railing like it was a gallows, gossiping loudly in Hitchcock voices about my murderous intent. Snapping turtles have roused from their rock-hard winter sleep, yawning hungrily and awaiting fresh carrion.
My hands already blooded, I can’t go back and I reach for the black-hearted keyboard…
Mulholland drove on, thinking hateful thoughts. He was out of sorts. The sky was cloudless. Blue as a package of Black Cat cigarettes; clear and cold. The red needle on the temperature gauge sagged below the equator into the COLD half of the register. He knew tonight would be bitter, the stars out and bright, but providing no heat – only suggesting that somewhere, far away, it was warm.
Phew! Good thing a diminutive Mennonite named Hardbar (he’s a Friesen) arrives soon to lighten the mood. In Friedensdorf, a town full of Friesens, Hardbar is one of seven sons with six paternal uncles and a dog named… what else? Friesen.