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 I have several unpublished works and just over 90 published stories from which to choose.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 mannerincommensurate 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
Right and wrong…courage
Toxic religion…abuse of authority
Faith…life and death
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.”
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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)
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
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.
Note: 2017 short stories Include: Best of Fiction on the Web: 1996-2017ISBN: 9780992693916 (ISBN10: 9780992693, ISBN13:9780992693) and The Machinery: Fauna ISBN: 9781544723266.
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) (“Pinching Zwieback” 2023)
“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) (“Pinching Zwieback” 2023)
“Nothing to Lose” — short story, riverbabble (US) (“Pinching Zwieback” 2023)
“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 2Anthology (Ca), print ISBN: 9781775279273 (ISBN10:1775279278)
“Away Game” — short story, Pulp Literature (Ca), paid print
“Groota Pieter” — short story, River Poets Journal, Special Themed Edition, “The Immigrants” Anthology (US), print (“Pinching Zwieback” 2023)
“Five Questions for Mitchell Toews” — interview, Mennotoba (Ca)
“The Narrowing” — short story, Scarlet Leaf Review (Ca) (“Pinching Zwieback” 2023)
“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) (“Pinching Zwieback” 2023)
“Peacemongers” — short story, The MOON magazine: “Out of This World” Anthology The Best Short Stories from the MOON (US), Volume 1, printISBN: 9781078315326 (ISBN10: 1078315329, ISBN13: 978-1078315326) (“Pinching Zwieback” 2023)
“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 (“Pinching Zwieback” 2023)
“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)
“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 ISBN: 9781771837514 (softcover) Identifiers: Canadiana (print) 20220195986
“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-ToewsISBN: 9781989642351 (ISBN10: 1989642357 ISBN13 9781989642351)
“Sanctuary Quandary” — short story, WordCity Monthly (Ca-Intl), July 2022
“New War — Old Technology” — flash fiction, The Fieldstone Review (Ca), Fall 2022.
“No Strings” — short story, Bell Press “Framework of the Human Body” edited by Catherine Mwitta, (Ca), anthology, paid advance/royalties print, 2022. ISBN: TBA
“The Spring Kid” — short story, Macrina Magazine, (US, Intl), Summer 2022
“A Cultivated Halloween” — short story, CommuterLit (Ca), October 2022
“Sweet Caporal” — poem, WordCity Literary Journal (Intl) November 2022
“The Sewing Machine” — short story, Rivanna Review (US), paid print, December 2022
2023: 6 flash/short stories | 1 royalty agreement, 1 UK, 2 Aus, 1 Canada. 2 US
“The Margin of the River” and “I Am Otter” — short stories (2), D.A. Cairns “I Used to be an Animal Lover: An extraordinary and eclectic collection of short stories.” (Au), anthology, royalties print, 2023. ISBN AU: TBA
“Piece of My Heart” — short story, Literally Stories (UK), January 26, 2023
“All Our Swains Commend Her” — short story, PULP Literature (Ca). Spring, 2023
“Pass It to Freddie” — short story, The Other Journal (US), Spring, 2023
“Angel Delorme and the Craigflower Bus” — short story, Hawkshaw Press, “Hardboiled and Loaded with Sin Volume 1” edited by Dianne Pearce (US), anthology, print. Fall 2023. ISBN: TBA
TOTAL: 111 short stories/flash fiction/interviews/essays/poems/podcasts in total out of approximately 650 submissions.
“So Are They All”— short story, Second Place in the Adult Fiction category of the Write on the Lake (Ca) contest, 2016, paid print ISSN: 1710-1239
“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 Line—Doorknobs & 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 (“Pinching Zwieback” 2023)
“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. (750-word max.)
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 (“Pinching Zwieback” 2023)
“Winter in the Sandilands” was named to the longlist for the 2022 PULP Literature Hummingbird Flash Fiction Contest. Mitch’s story, “Luck!” was on the shortlist in this same contest.
“All Our Swains Commend Her” 2nd Runner-Up in the 2022 PULP Literature Raven Short Story Contest.
“What I thought the most while reading this one for the first time was: ‘This must have taken so long to write!’ Every sentence is packed with detail and not a word is spared. A highly skilled piece of writing with a lot to say about the way we live and how we treat one another. Can’t believe such a short piece of writing left me with such memorable characters and so much to think about!” -Judge Leo X Robertson
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. Complete.
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.”)
A short story collection, “Pinching Zwieback” is underway (At Bay Press) and a spring 2023 release is expected. The collection comprises a range of loosely related stories focused on Mennonite experiences in the fictional prairie town of “Hartplatz” and elsewhere in the world.
“The truth behind the fiction, the truth behind the friction.”
(NOTE: In the story listings above, those pieces selected for inclusion in “Pinching Zwieback” are, in their first appearance on the list, shown in blue.)
“Mulholland and Hardbar” — a WIP novel (“Fargo, with a Mennonite accent”).
“Myths and Troubadours” — a WIP collection of short stories. A wider range of topics, places, people, and circumstances than “Pinching Zwieback.”
“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. Seeking a collaborator.
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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.”
Please feel free to share this post! I welcome all comments.
I was approached by an organization tasked to investigate Basic Income in Canada, with special attention to those of us in the Arts. They created a commission and invited artists from around the country to offer opinion and comment on the concept of Basic Income and how, specifically, it might affect the lives of artists.
I was invited to provide an Artist’s Testimonial and here is what I wrote:
I believe that Canada, wealthy and progressive as we are, could become a country that invests in its marginalized people by providing a guaranteed annual income for all citizens. I envision a graduated scale designed to offer a helping hand to get started or a financial safety net to mitigate financial trouble in an individual’s life and also to be there for those with obstacles to their ability as wage earners.
Why do this? Because life is unscripted and almost everyone, even those in our large “middle class” population needs help from time to time. Furthermore, and maybe of most importance, there is widespread suffering in Canada caused by poverty. By acting proactively, we have an opportunity to reduce suffering and at the same time empower a class of Canadians who may not otherwise achieve their dreams or even, in truth, live the life that most of us take for granted.
“The Poor” do not want to be “The Poor!”
A guaranteed basic income would reduce hardship, support upward mobility and drive greater aspiration across all levels of financial reality.
Plus, guaranteed basic income is in large part simply moving the dollar investment from the end of the cycle — being reactive and giving cash or services to people in desperate circumstances — to the beginning. We should spend to prevent rather than to rescue. Prevention offers a solution earlier in life, when people are in the formative process, especially concerning education and career.
Now, as to artists, specifically: Choosing the path to your dream of a career in the Arts is daunting because of the long, difficult period of education, training, and incubation. This means, with few exceptions, that those who wish to be professional artists — whatever the discipline — must expect and endure a long initial period as low-income earners.
In my personal experience, even with my parents’ financial support available as I finished college, I chose not to pursue a career in the Arts. I decided to take the safer route, financially, and “save” my art for a later date. That later date took a lifetime to arrive and while I have no complaints, I did not devote myself to my love — fiction — until age sixty. Now I am an emerging artist at age sixty-five and while I am extremely pleased with these last five years, I can’t help but wonder… “What if?”
In my case, perhaps the security of a guaranteed basic income would have given me the courage to chase my artistic dreams and not postpone or dismiss them? It’s impossible to say, but I can say for certain that our society is made more vital by the availability of choice. It’s empowering to know that your basic needs will be met even if the career path you are on will take a while to reach fully-supportive status. Furthermore, Arts Councils, armed with the underpinning of guaranteed basic income could focus all of their efforts on the many professional aspects and not worry about the artists’ core financial needs. The guaranteed basic income would take the pressure off the artists and the Arts Councils, for the betterment of both. This is true for all stakeholders in the artistic “value chain” and would breed an environment of possibility and less of a dismal “starving artist” scenario that defeats many artists before they begin.
Please feel free to share this post! I welcome all comments.
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.
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 MagazineIssue 39 2016 Ca — “So Are They All” VoicesVol 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 SpacesMagazine 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 SpacesMagazine 2020 Ca — “Piece of My Heart” Pulp LiteratureIssue 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 WordsVolume 4 2020 Anthology US — “The Sunshine Girl” Cowboy Jamboree Magazine John Prine Tribute Issue 2020 Ca — “The Margin of the River” Blank SpacesMagazine 2020 Pushcart Prize Nomination
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.
Please feel free to share this post! I welcome all comments.
A writer whom I’ve connected with often on the internet — but not yet in person — is Gregg Norman. He’s an interesting guy and like me, comes to fiction as more of a “second act” but in Gregg’s case he absolutely hit the prose trail running hard and fast, lean and loping.
Gregg and wife Jenine reside in western Manitoba and like Janice and I, they spend a lot of time staring out at open water, or seasonally adjusted, an expanse of snow-covered ice.
I invited him to answer a couple of questions and provide writing from his recent work. Here goes:
MJT — “What has shaped and influenced your writing? Life experiences, places, reading, movies, people?”
I was a bookish type as a child though I grew up in a virtually bookless home. I credit my love of the written word to a wonderful librarian in my hometown and some inspirational English teachers and professors in high school and at university. I read voraciously and eclectically. Beyond all that the biggest influence on me as a writer is my wife, Jenine, who is intimately involved in many aspects of the creation of my novels and who believes in what I do (which puts her at the top of my list of morale supporters).
MJT — “In reading your work, I get a sense of Elmore Leonard’s idea that the ‘writing should disappear.’ Is this intentional or is that just a part of your natural style? Would you care to illustrate with an excerpt?”
Elmore Leonard was a wise man. He said, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” I think that is good advice. A writer needs to know when and how to stay out of his own way. The idea is for the writer to be hidden in the background, out of sight. Tell the story, paint the picture, but keep out of it. My style is fairly spartan, I think. I try to resist the urge to write run on or complex sentences or to use too many adjectives.
Excerpt from “A Gift of Scars” —
The line of pot-beaters advanced quickly to close the gate. They cast aside their sticks and tin and took up bats and clubs and ax handles. One man carried a knobbed shillelagh, another a golf club, while others wielded hoes or shovels. They entered the pen, spread themselves out among the carpet of rabbits and started killing. The killers were tentative at first, feinting this way and that at the moving mass of animals. Then they swung their weapons with deliberate aim, encouraged by the skulls crushed, backs broken, eyes popped and guts oozing out between legs still kicking. They settled to their work quickly enough, killing methodically and with grim satisfaction.
One man swung a piece of lumber studded through with nails to which the rabbits became impaled, the better to confirm his kills as he flung them away and counted them aloud. Another man was stomping and crushing rabbits with both booted feet while swinging an ax handle in each hand, his arms and legs jerking wildly like the dancing of some mad marionette.
Excerpt from “Oz Destiny” —
Keeping her eyes downcast, she slowly removed her hat and leaned to set it on the ground. Then, with movements slow and easy, she toed off her boots and slipped out of her horsehide jacket and trousers. She wore a man’s undershirt and drawers and she removed these too. She stood naked with her head down, eyes averted. The stallion arched his neck and took a step toward her. By inches she turned away from him, lowered herself to her hands and knees, and bent her head to the ground, presenting herself to him.
Jesus, Rat rasped, I can’t believe what I’m seeing.
Neither can I, Oz said in a hoarse whisper.
I’m not sure I want to see what might happen next.
Then quit watching.
I can’t, dammit!
The stallion came forward haltingly, a few paces at a time, snorting and skittering in sidelong steps. At a distance of ten yards, he lowered his head, sniffed and blew twin clouds of dust below his muzzle. He lifted one front hoof as if he might advance further, but then abruptly whirled and charged off at a gallop to harry his mares into flight away down the valley until they were just dust and the dying sound of hoofbeats.
While they watched her dress and begin to climb back toward them, Oz and Rat shared an uneasy silence until Rat finally said, She’s completely gone in the head.
I’m not so sure of that, Oz said thoughtfully.
All I can say is it’s a helluva way to try to catch a wild horse.
In the first round of a tough fight, only a FOOL shouts, “I yam fuh-reaking’ lovin’ dis crap!” usually just before being knocked out by an infinitely more dangerous opponent.
Also, although I own a black toque, I ain’t Rocky and the world of fiction ain’t sides of beef. Hell, I ain’t even Italian.
Undeterred, I move forward, absorbing jabs and body shots. Relentless, bloody, concussed—I stumble on. It feels good to hit, it feels even better to be able to TAKE a hit…
Alls I’m sayin’ HEAH, is… I’ve been writing a lot lately. And, like heavyweight champ, Winslow Homer, I’ve been experimenting boldly.
The result is a small but wiry catalogue of recent work that I am actively pitching or intend to pitch to upper-tier, paying mags. Sure, some of these are gonna get knocked out before the first paragraph is read. It’s likely to be a bit of a bloodbath and “We’ve chosen not to include your story at this time,” will be spray-painted across the subway cars of my submission train more than once.
And that’s okay. I won’t wail every time I get rejected but I will let you know when I land a punch! (I’ll grunt.)
The Mighty Hartski—A 7,400-word rommedriewe, from a snowmobile crash on a frozen field to a shared understanding, bedside in Bethesda. Still brooding over this one, ’cause I’ve been writing it for fifty years.
Tiptoe—Teenage hangovers hurt the most. Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson and a smoky donut shop on Osborne.
Grudge—Worked hard for this one, put some Beta readers through their paces too. Waiting for one more critique before I set this Victoria story free. A crime spree down by the Bay Street Bridge.
Red Lightman—You can’t spell empathy without r-e-s-p-e-c-t. 2,400-words.
“I’m burly and brawny, not squirrely or scrawny and if you don’t like me that’s tough.
I shit thunder and lightning and everything frightening and where I come from, that’s enough.”
Hazel Creek—1,500 words, set in the place where I live, sharp and hard as life can be.
The Three Sisters—The type of story that gets you mad: At me, at the sad protagonist—pure as the wind, at the sister who won’t play along. 3,400 words.
If you play enough baseball, you get to a point where you can produce certain outcomes with regularity. This is most true in fielding where extraordinary plays become almost routine. Predictable outcomes are less common in pitching and batting.
At the plate, it’s often the role of the batter to hit a flyball far enough into the outfield to score the runner from third base. The pitcher knows it and throws high riseballs and drops to keep the hitter on the ground or pop her up. But a decent player can often deliver that lazy SAC fly.
I think this is true across a broad spectrum. An average sales professional can renew a long-time account… a basketball player can hit the open J… a practiced politician can deflect uncomfortable questions and provide a safe non-answer without mussing her hair.
However, artists who reach the safety zone are drawn to go beyond. Dylan went electric… Vincent rendered his 200th (500th?) sunflower and looked to the heavens for a new challenge… “Finnegan’s Wake” came out and slapped a lot of people in the face. Art, to reach its potential, needs—at some point—to venture out into uncharted territory and put the artist at risk. “To boldly go where no one has gone before,” as a small Canadian actor with good hair, dimples and a cute little paunch used to say in the opening voice-over, weekdays at 5:00 p.m. in our house on Sunrise Bay.
One of my artistic heroes, Winslow Homer, wrote that one must “experiment boldly.” I agree and even though I still need to hone basic skills (a lot) I feel it’s also time for me to leave my own friendly confines and be bold.
Trouble is, unlike the master, I am not endowed with a limitless amount of talent and a universally loved body of work. But no matter, the feeling of being alone, friendless and at risk is, like landing head-oeuvre-heels in the deep-end… “good for ya!”
Lately, I’ve been on this bold mission. I’ve let myself be led by my Writing Circle and by the greats who went before. Becky Hagenston, Flannery O’Connor, and even Jean Luc Picard—my doppelganger with a Shakespearean accent. (My accent is more East Reserve, with a side order of Simon Biester coarse Mennonite brogue.)
Over the last few days, I’ve gone down swinging a few times as I sought the fences. Reviewers and critiquers have sent me packing, without so much as a foul tip. They did give me tips, though—“Bet heavy—sleep on the streets” or messages of that ilk.
Yesterday, a small breakthrough. An acceptance for one of my Nina, Pinta, and hail Santa Marias. From a wonderful band of editors who know the stench of a book bonfire and are not afraid to toss ugly trash into it, but also take a dim view of too easily barbequing writers whose work takes the path less travelled. (They’re not wild about the above confusing potpourri of images, but, hey—this is just a blog, so edges may be rough.)
Speaking of rough edges, “I am a series of small victories,” comes to mind. This quote from Charles Bukowski, an experimenter if ever one there was. NO, I don’t defend his misogyny or off-handed violence, alcoholism, or other missteps and ignoble romps. I like a lot of what he wrote and respect his boundary-crossing as a part of his artistic journey.
Writers must stray. We must, “dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight,” from time to time. Must we not? Not to become a part of that world, but to know how to avoid falling into it.
Anyway, I’m excited to be doing what I’m doing and hope I can come out on the other side, better for the whippings I will take along the way.
News on this story in May, when it is due to hit the internet.
Please feel free to share this post! I welcome all comments.
Last summer a good friend visited. We drank cold Belgian lager beside a warm Manitoba lake. It was idyllic and pleasant. To add to the enjoyment, Irene told us a story from her past—her mom is my aunt’s sister and that family is famously as full of life and spontaneity as a sizzling firecracker.
I confessed to our friend Irene that the story was terrific and that, guiltily, I was tempted to steal it. She said I could steal with her permission—so, a theft, but legally pre-excused.
Over the next few months, I wrote it first as a short essay, then changed it to be used as the first segment of a more complicated three-part story.
It was, I believed, a truly Canadian story and more so a Canadian Mennonite tale, even though my friend’s mom is not, by origin, a Mennonite. (But she sure as heck lived with Mennonites, as did her sister—my aunt.) I sent it out for consideration by several literary journals, hoping for the best.
Ultimately, I decided to withdraw the story. I had grown dissatisfied with it and a few readers—other writers whose opinion I trusted—felt it was convoluted and disjointed, even if they didn’t say it exactly that way…
But, one of the markets spoke up. Like several of my writer friends, they said the first segment of the story was worth keeping and would I care to rewrite it as a solo piece? “Sure,” says I, happy for the lifeline.
So I rewrote and resubmitted. I felt positive, partly because of the resurrection and also sensing that the reduction from that longer piece was now more purely refined; “Un sirop nappant,” as, René, a spontaneous Jessica Lake neighbour and skilled cook, might have said.
Happily, the editors agreed and come July, “The Grittiness of Mango Chiffon” will appear in Agnes and True, an exceptional Canadian publication.
Agnes and True is a Canadian online literary journal.
Our journal was founded on the belief that there are many writers whose work has not yet had the chance to be appreciated and many stories that have not yet found their literary home.
As our name suggests, Agnes and True celebrates the achievement of women, though not exclusively. We are particularly interested in discovering and publishing the work of emerging older writers (both female and male).
My thanks to the editorial team at Agnes and True, home to more than a few sizzling firecrackers, I am sure.
Photo Caption: Here we are on July 20. Photo by Phil Hossack.
POSTED HERE EARLIER (Pre-event): Janice and I live in a 1950 cottage on the shore of a lake in the Whiteshell Provincial Park in Manitoba.
We try to live simply out here in the boreal–WiFi and Polish beer notwithstanding–but even the residents of Walden Pond gave in to the occasional venture back to the city for supplies and human contact. Us too.
On July 20 we will try to bring the city to the Park. We hope to be swamped by forest-thirsty urbanites, neighbours, and friendly randos here at our Walden. We will welcome these visitors to be our guests and, if they can, to bring a story, a poem, a song, a painting and share it with the gathering.
A night under the stars. Informal artistic expression and reflective appreciation. Come by boat, windsurfer, canoe. Swim, hike in, ride a bike or fill a vehicle–float plane, microbus, Red River cart, or a 1947 Lincoln Zephyr. . . whatevs–with your most convivial merry prankster friends.
[…] “twas in another lifetime,
one of toil and blood.
When blackness was a virtue, the road was full of mud.
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form.
‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you shelter from the storm.'”
Let us, like Bob Dylan’s friend in his mystic lyric above, offer you an evening of shelter from the storm.
AND, if you can’t make it in person, we’d welcome your proxy–a snippet or an excerpt or a few lines of verse. We’ll present your work with reverence and hope. Then we’ll toast you and hope once more—that you join us next year.
Contact me here or on Facebook, twitter, email, Goodreads, phone, or drop in for details. firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about the point in time and space where reality meets infinity, borne on blintering starlight at the 50th latitude.
An outdated song-movie reference, but truly, what IS it all about?
Followers. Friends. Connections.
I have them, I value many… some not so much. I’ve made new friends via twitter and Facebook. It is a time-consumer, the internet is, that’s for sure but I’ll gladly put in the time if there is a pay-off.
And if the pay-off is simply getting to know a few more cool people on the planet? I’m in.
What do the figures mean? What is helpful to a writer? What does an editor or a literary agent or a publisher really care about beyond the story?
Build your base, countless consultants with extremely white teeth and button-down collars proclaim.
I’d be glad to know about the Malcolm points that magically tip things in my favour and take my story from “promising” to “compelling” or from “not a good fit for us right now” to “we are goddamn-freaking-mind-blown to have you on board, you massive rock star in a blue plaid shirt!” Or words to that effect.
At the same time, I have my own disclaimers. I care about working with people who like me and whom I enjoy — I feel like I’ve earned that privilege and so my journey up & down the rocky, steep, and sometimes treacherous fiction trail is among friends and pleasant, fun people. Sure, they’re skilled and sharp and they gotta be smart. Hard-working and honest; of course, but they also must be just plain old nice. Share a deserted island with nice. Two-hole outhouse nice. (Okay — no one is that nice.)
Anyway, please tell me… what’s it all about?
Twitter = 4,484 followers @Mitchell_Toews (See my mapped follower results in the image above.)