“Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.”
“Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.”
Editing is difficult but rewarding.
Difficult because you are erasing what you have created. You are subtracting from or changing the very thing that got you in the publishing game! Feels risky.
Rewarding because your changes create something new, all over again. Plus, the editor is your ally and a trusted source that comes to you from a place other than the rocky mass between your (my) ears. Thank God for that.
I am preparing 24 stories for publication in the spring. Several folks are weighing in on my work and each day there’s a knot in my shoulders and that night’s dreams are peppered with flickering replays of scenes from the collection. I wake up, make notes, fall back asleep and then laugh at my scribbled nonsense in the morning.
Here is a segment, edited recently. I offer it as a fast in situ peek at the crime scene. It is from the story, “The Peacemongers” and the topic is Canadian Mennonites during the wars, WW2 in this case, who deigned to be officially named “Conscientious Objectors.” This meant they would work in labour camps in Canada rather than serving in the military.
I thought of Corky’s uncle John who worked at Loeb’s lumberyard. He wore a red vest and a plaid shirt and stood behind the counter at the lumber desk. He was a big man with very white teeth and he would stand there smiling and writing down what you wanted to buy. My dad would always order lumber from him and it always started out the same way. Dad would say, “I need some two-by-fours,” and John would say, “how many and how long do you need ’em?” Dad would reply “twenty pieces and forever!” Same joke every time. Then John would yell for one of the yard boys to come and load the order into our truck, his pencil poised above the order form, looking at my dad over his glasses. “Twelve-footers,” or whatever length he needed, was the answer, served with a slanted smile.
Dad said John had been in a C.O. camp during the war. He told my dad stories about it and how he made lifelong friends there. “Some were in the camp for other reasons, but most were there to follow the Word. That meant something to us and it was like our battle, to stay true to what we had been taught and to what we would teach our children.” I heard him talk about this to my dad and other men at the lumberyard. He stood straight up and looked into the eyes of the person he to spoke to. His voice was firm and he was not trying to convince anyone—he was just telling it. I was too young to understand everything, but thought he was telling the truth, exactly as he knew it and believed it.
I sometimes felt as though John and many others like him in our town believed, maybe secretly, that God was the biggest, toughest, most bad-ass Mennonite of them all. As if God would do all the fighting for us, and He would take no prisoners. I’m not sure that made our desire to live a life of pacifism any better. Possibly worse. It made God seem to me like a kind of bully—forever smiting Old Testament armies and kings that He didn’t like and constantly fighting with the Devil. Like Archie and Don, who fought almost every day after school at the corner of Hannover and Kroeker, accomplishing nothing but scuffed chins and bloody knuckles.[MT1]
[MT1] Added 22-09-10 in a moment of random inspiration.—Considered but not promised, for “Pinching Zwieback” At Bay Press
Here it is… the announcement I’ve been waiting to make public since my story in grade four at Southwood School in Steinbach made it onto the classroom bulletin board.
Bigger me, bigger bulletin board.
Cheers, respectively, to teacher Miss Hildebrand and publisher Matt Joudrey.
“Pinching Zwieback” is a themed fictional account of the lives and characters in a place on the Canadian prairies called Hartplatz. It features the Zehen family and many others whose comings and goings represent events both real and imagined under the Prussian blue sky. Among them: Hart & Justy, Schmietum Jake, Pete Vogel, and Matt Zehen, whose journey is observed from childhood to later in life. Characters that really schmack!
[…] From Wikipedia: The Pushcart Prize is an American literary prize published by Pushcart Press that honors the best “poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot” published in the small presses over the previous year. Magazine and small book press editors are invited to submit works they have featured. Anthologies of the selected works have been published annually since 1976. It is supported and staffed by volunteers.
The founding editors were Anaïs Nin, Buckminster Fuller, Charles Newman, Daniel Halpern, Gordon Lish, Harry Smith, Hugh Fox, Ishmael Reed, Joyce Carol Oates, Len Fulton, Leonard Randolph, Leslie Fiedler, Nona Balakian, Paul Bowles, Paul Engle, Ralph Ellison, Reynolds Price, Rhoda Schwartz, Richard Morris, Ted Wilentz, Tom Montag, Bill Henderson and William Phillips.
* * *
My story, “Sweet Caporal” about a morning of fishing on Big Whiteshell Lake has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Editor Robert Boucheron on behalf of the quarterly literary journal, Rivanna Review, of Charlottesville, Va.
This is my third Pushcart nomination, the first from a U.S. periodical. It is the second time a version of “Sweet Caporal” has been nominated.
My stories—and everyone else’s—spring from life. Life lived, life observed, life imagined. Life reconstructed.
A vital part of each story—and each life—is place and time. Truths from one era or one location or one moment in a given journey alter and define the future.
Driven by my own curiosity, here is a roll-call of Place, Time, and basic protagonist context from my stories:
i — “Encountered on the Shore” A university student makes an unsettling discovery in downtown Winnipeg, in the fall of 1973.
ii — “A Vile Insinuation” During the summer following, the main character from “Encountered on the Shore” considers fate and blessings at a baseball tournament in Vita, Manitoba, near the US border.
iii — “Without Reason” Now retired, the MC from “Encountered” and “Vile”, is diagnosed with cancer and he considers his plight and that of others like him. Set in his small Mennonite prairie hometown, current day.
i — “Zero to Sixty” A retired man is attacked, near Christmas in Chilliwack, BC, current day.
ii — “The Margin of the River” and the audio except, “Wide Winter River” The MC from “Zero to Sixty” considers what happened the day before and sees first hand the inequity and sorrow that is built into life. All life.
“The Rothmans Job” An odd couple set out on a dubious nighttime caper during a fierce winter blizzard in Winnipeg, during the 1970s.
“South of Oromocto Depths” A teenage boy gets into a foolish skirmish with his father on the Victoria Day long weekend in 1971 New Brunswick.
“Nothing to Lose” A former hockey player looks back on his life and his regrets in rural Manitoba during the dusty heat of summer, in the Sixties.
“Heavy Artillery” A young baseball fan in 1962 becomes embroiled in adult suspicion and prejudice in a small prairie town — predominantly Mennonite. (The imaginary, recurrent town of “Hartplatz, Manitoba”.)
“A Fisherman’s Story” In 1970, on the Mexican Pacific coast, an elderly woman and her young daughter are dealt an unfair hand. (P.S. — the prequel and the sequel to this story appear in the trilogy “The Bottom of the Sky”. See link below.)
“Winter Eve in Walker Creek Park” A trio of females on a wintery night in St. Catherines, Ontario, near Christmastime, current day.
“Breezy and the Six-Pack Sneaker” A rainy, beery night in Hartplatz in the Sixties is the scene for a tangled yarn of deception.
“The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine” A straight-laced Mennonite husband and wife take on danger in a dark Winnipeg alley in 1934. (Rerun on Literally Stories, Feb 17.)
“Frozen Tag” A man encounters a strange reprise from his past (at the Minneapolis Athletic Club in 1980) in the Chilliwack Leisure Centre, current day.
“The Business of Saving Souls” A youth pastor in the fictitious city of Tribune, in the northern US Midwest meets challenges in the sanctuary of a gleaming megachurch, current day.
“The Preacher and His Wife” Palace intrigue, Harplatz style, throws a family into an untoward uproar in the 1960s.
“I am Otter” A shunned congregant discusses culture, power, and enfranchisement with a stranger near a lake in Manitoba, current day.
“The Beefeater and the Donnybrook” A mild-mannered Halifax, NS tourist is mistaken and mistook in drizzly London, current day.
“The Log Boom” Poignant points of view — a father, son, and grandfather in the Lower Mainland of BC, current day.
“The Peacemongers” War, bullies and knuckle justice from the perspective of a boy in Hartplatz, circa 1965.
“Fairchild, McGowan and the Detective” Recalling employment, both the good and the bad in Hartplatz and Winnipeg, 1970-80.
“Graperoo” A piece of Graperoo bubblegum experiences the four seasons in rural Manitoba in the Sixties.
“So Are They All” It’s September 1961 and a young boy receives an education in loyalty and courage in his grandmother’s country raspberry patch.
“The Seven Songs” A middle-aged Canadian man meets a local contemporary at a resort in Mexico, current day.
“Fall From Grace” A boy gets stuck in a fraught adventure and learns about his father through it in the heat of a prairie summer in Hartplatz, 1963.
“Away Game” A 50-something man meets with an older family member at the side of a dreamy, summery lake in Manitoba’s boreal forest, current day.
“In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence” The reader travels back into Canadian small-town hardball with the MC, reliving a fateful doubleheader from the Fifties.
“City Lights” A small-town “up-and-comer” gets in over his head in Toronto, current day.
“Groota Pieter” Spring softball in small-town Mennonite Manitoba is described, from the Sixties to current day.
“Sweet Caporal at Dawn” On a moody Manitoba morning near a spring lake, a youngster and an older confederate fish for pickerel during the mid-Seventies.
“The Bottom of the Sky” A trilogy that follows a “pinche” cabin-boy and the ship’s captain on a fishing charter boat from 1955 Acapulco to the future in a fishing village in the Seventies. (P.S. – If you’re inclined, give this story a read and tell me if you think it could be adapted into a screenplay. I see it in flickering snatches of film in my head and just wonder if that occurs to anyone else. If you’re a screenwriter or in film, I’d love an opinion — tough love included. —mjt)
“Shade Tree Haven” An adult remembers more than he cares to as he thinks back to summers at a favourite swimming pool in the early 1960s.
“The Narrowing” A sensitive boy and his straight-ahead grandfather go through a harrowing experience in the Manitoba wilds, current day. An important secondary character in Abbotsford, BC is part of the story.
“The Phage Match” In a surreal radio broadcast from somewhere in Canada, current day, the evils of drug addiction are the backdrop for some strange characters.
“Died Rich” A high school freshman in a frigid southern Manitoba winter in 1961 struggles to endure.
“Concealment” A fledgling Manitoba business traveller gets more than he expects on a springtime trip to the Atlanta Zoo in the 1980s.
“Mulholland & Hardbar” (Novel WIP) A troubled youth experiences the four seasons in the Canadian Shield: love, friendship, deceit, and violence. 1972.
Drama: From the Greek, “to do” or “to act”
A group of artists gathers for a meal. They each bring two dishes, one edible and the other inspirational.
The first of them lifts the lid on a steaming Dutch oven full of exotic stir-fry. She is small, with fine features and possessing a direct, flowing gaze that makes each one at the table feel a personal connection to her before she even says a word.
“Each mouthful is different, an adventure, a departure from the last, an experience defined by its variety,” she says, flourishing the lid with eloquence. “And yet, they each come from a similar culinary tradition and are all prepared by the same chef, in one communal pot. Each ingredient is spiced with varying amounts of identical additives: conflict, joy, desire, personality, sorrow and more. Much more.”
After plates are loaded and the group tucks in, a thin man with a sparse beard stands.
“My friends,” he begins, “I’ve brought wine. It’s meant to complement and heighten the enjoyment of the meal, but if you give it a chance, I hope that you can find in its complexity a fulfillment that stands alone. Savour it for what it contains, however well-hidden and blended the constituents are and enjoy the way each lends itself to the plenary, just as each wave adds its own shape to the shore.”
Glasses chime and there is a moment of satisfaction expressed by the table as collective stillness while the wine’s secrets are shared.
Without introduction, a brassy fanfare sounds followed by the swirl of parting curtains that separate the dining room from the house. A brawny, serious figure enters. With long, powerful strides this latest presenter commands the room’s immediate attention and is followed by a troupe of brightly costumed servers. Perfectly conceived and composed plated entrees are set before the diners.
“Each is a masterpiece—with a beginning, a middle and an ending—that is delivered not only by taste but by the presentation, artistry, and the interaction between each delicacy. The arrangement of every morsel a work of art of its own!” Music swirls and fills the room from some unseen orchestra and those assembled take their seats, voices hushed, attention rapt.
In a dark corner, unnoticed, a furtive, wide-eyed rat keeps an unblinking watch with keen lamps that blinter like wee distant winter stars.
“How? Where did they learn these arts? How do I join them? Won’t I be crushed by their greatness?”
In sensuous forepaws, a shred of cabbage is braided and interwoven with a trifle of cheese so thin it is opaque. The grey rat weaves with busy concentration. Clawed fingers fret, the fragile conception set on a single sparkling sequin dropped without care or worry from the bedazzlement above, so far above.
“I’ll offer this portion from my pantry. Perhaps, someone will like it…”
Overture: I wake up most mornings with a half a dozen characters, a plotline or two, and a bunch of run-on sentences doing the polka in my head with their work boots on. After the requisite morning constitutions are ratified, I oftentimes just let these night-grown inspirations fade away.
Well, no more! I am resolved to give my readers something to read! How about a good old-fashioned serial? Compelling, bent-widget characters with a rollicking plot fraught with lotsa knots, cliff-hangers and roundabouts that meet in the middle.
In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, it will be voluminous, spontaneous, and free-flowing. You don’t know where the story and the characters are going, so why should I? I won’t promise 50,000 words, but you never know what my morning coffee will deliver!
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This SERIES gets quite a few hits—by my humble standards, that is—so I thought I’d throw in a bit more explanation:.
Fun? I hope so! The chief goal is to entertain. A happy, unique space on the internet where conspiracies are blatant, not latent. An ulterior motive is to build a readership of readers and writerly folk who appreciate my brand of schiet-stained rambling and are on-board for something maybe not so much fine arts mastered but more glockenspiel on acid. You know what I mean?
Episode Two: The Stampede is Ont (1,100 words, about a nine-minute read)
The trucking company was called, “Reimer Reindeers” and the company logo had been created by the owner’s diffident step-son, Benjamin, or “Little Ben” as he was known in Prairie’s End.
The garish logo showed a herd of galloping reindeer, antler-to-antler in a frenzied dash across the map from Eastern Manitoba to Toronto. Spinning, smoking wheels replaced legs and hooves. A bold, swooping font declared,
“THE STAMPEDE IS ONT!”
It had started out in Ben’s mind as, “The Reimer Stampede is on!” This was just at the time when the federal government decreed that all provinces would go from three or four-letter acronyms to computer-friendly, consistent two-letter identifiers. Thus, Manitoba went from Man. to MB, Alberta from Alta. to AB and so on.
Little Ben thought that since the Reimer company only trucked between its terminals in Kenora and Toronto, all within the province of Ontario, or ON, that a clever, meaningful slogan could be made. “The Reimer Stampede is ON!” set on a map graphic would tell people that Reimer was an Ontario carrier. Besides, he liked the herd of charging reindeer. “Tres Canadien,” he thought.
Unfortunately, Big Ben, or Old Man Reimer as he was known in Prairie’s End, thought that the two-letter names were a temporary inconvenience. “That will never LAST!” Based on this viewpoint, and in the dubious interests of saving decal material, he ordered the graphics company to create a shorter, less clever slogan, “The Stampede is ONT!”
* * *
Wade walked up to the three-step wooden porch hung on the side of the construction trailer. REIMER REINDEERS – OPERATIONS was stencilled onto the corrugated sidewall and a busy cluster of alien-looking antennae poked up into the pale blue Manitoba sky from the flat roof. A radio tower was bolted to the end of the trailer and it stood erect, a lone 40-foot weed in a field of alfalfa.
That’s quite an impressive erection, he thought.
Checking his briefcase just before he entered, Wade ensured that he had all of his paperwork, the contract documents, the bank draft and the Non-disclosure agreement. He paused on the porch, striking an improbable Superman pose before he entered, to steel his nerve.
Inside, as always, sat Mr. Reimer at a desk made from sawhorses and a sheet of cabinet plywood. A (crude) oil rendering of a stampeding herd of reindeer was screwed to the buckled panelling behind his desk. CB radios sat in a clustered congregation behind him, little green bands pulsing brightly, indicating that the drivers were accessible, should he need to speak to them. A tangle of microphone cords spilled onto the ground – a brimming cornucopia of coils.
“Nice of you to drop in on us this afternoon, Wade,” Reimer said without looking up.
The clock read 7:53. “Yes, sir. My pleasure.”
Reimer looked up quickly, his normally stern, heavy-jowled countenance now made even grimmer by a pouting grimace. “Eh?” he grunted, glancing sideways at a young man a few feet away at a small wooden desk. “Accounts Receivable” was written in felt pen on a scrap of two-by-four standing edgewise on the desktop.
The fellow seated there—he was maybe twenty or so—glanced up at Wade, then over at Reimer. The boy shrugged, tossed the blonde hair out of his eyes and tapped his watch. “Tap-tap-tap,” said the Timex.
Schinda, Wade thought to himself, taking care to register no emotion or concern.
“It’s my day off, sir. Remember? Besides, I start at eight, so…” Wade replied.
“So, why are you here den?”
“Well, Mr. Reimer, there’s something I’d like to discuss with you,” Wade said, peering down and fishing around in the briefcase. He pulled up a clutch of papers like he was retrieving a stringer of perch.
“You’re gonna hafta wait a minute. Wade a minute, eh?” He grinned a wide, toothy smile towards the skinny boy behind the Accounts Receivable two-by-four. The boy smiled back and then spat a full mouthful of sunflower seeds into a white foam cup on his desk. He transferred the contents from the cup to a round, grey metal wastepaper container at his feet. The metal pail was half full of wet, spent seeds.
No wonder his hair’s so yellow, Wade thought to himself. He’s turning into a sunflower.
“Is it possible we could have a private conversation, sir?” Wade asked. He shuffled sideways, scraping his feet to indicate that the ribbon-headed AR clerk could sidle by him and out the door of the crowded trailer. Reimer’s wooden chair creaked.
“About what?” Reimer said, leaning back. The schinda clerk did not move. He watched Reimer like a cat staring through window glass at a bird feeder. If he had a tail, it would have twitched.
“A business matter, ” Wade said, then cleared his voice and restated his case, “a very important business matter. Urgent, as a matter of fact.”
“It can’t Wade?” the sunflower/cat/boy said, one clinging black seed giving him a Jack-O-lantern grin. Bobby Clarke, 1969.
Reimer snorted out a guffaw, and then said, almost in one word, “Randy, get outta here for a while.”
Randy shut his ledger, grabbed a handful of seeds from a near-full dish and went out a door behind him, grabbing his jacket as he left.
“Welllll,” Reimer said, dragging a chair to the side of his desk for Wade to sit. “When yer accountant says he has urgent business, then I guess you gotta take a minute and listen.” He reached to the other side of the desk and plugged in a kettle. A jar of instant coffee sat open on his desk. “Prips?” he asked, motioning at the coffee.
“No, thanks,” Wade said. He sorted the papers in his hands like he was alphabetizing them, stalling for time. Sitting upright on the hard plastic seat, his chair was almost tipping forward. Is the offer enough? It’s three times the value of the rolling stock, parts, and the buildings. His receivables run at only 50K, so that’s easily covered. What if he counters? Of course, he’s gonna counter, Brainiac—just go already. It’s a shitload of money and he’s gotta retire soon! He can pay off his house, get that big fishing boat he always talks about.
“Mr. Reimer, I’ve come here this morning to make what I consider to be a very…”
Before he could finish, there was a crash and a tall, muscular body filled the open doorway. Square shoulders blocked the sun – an impenetrable silhouette, an amorphous Rockem-Sockem black shape.
And there too, hopping and bobbing from behind the imposing hulk, trying to see inside, Wade spotted Little Ben’s balding, cue-ball-white head.
In a twinkling of bedazzled-nails, the shadowy figure held up a gold badge and in a dark brown voice, she said, “DANIELLE OARLESS! U.S. BORDER PATROL. YOU’RE UNDER ARREST!”
Next: “Everything must come to an end. Except for farmer sausage, that has two ends.” (Airs Nov 13, 5:55 am)
My short story, “City Lights” is up on Fiction on the Web. FotW, based in London, is one of the first literary magazines to appear online. It was founded by writer-editor-screenwriter Charlie Fish and has been running continuously since 1996.
An earlier version of “City Lights” first ran on LingoBites as “The Light Pool” and is available on that site in English and Espanol, in both text and audio. It’s a dark story of class conflict, bias and selfishness.
Another story of mine, “Nothing to Lose”, was chosen for inclusion in “Best of Fiction on the Web”, an anthology that launched in January of 2018 and contains 54 stories from FotW’s 23 years of publication. This outstanding collection is available for £16.99 | USD$19.95 and all proceeds go to the Guy’s and St. Thomas NHS Foundation Trust.
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.
Editing: “Nuts and Bolts and Oiling”
January 10, 2018. Here’s a thoughtful article from a skilled editor. Sue Tyley did the editing on the upcoming print anthology, “The Best of Fiction on the Web”, in which my short story, “Nothing to Lose”, appears. The book is in for typesetting now and Senior Editor Charlie Fish is working on a cover and other design and content decisions. A foreword by author Julia Bell and a felicitous contribution from actor-writer Richard E. Grant – of Game of Thrones fame, and more – are two items to be included.
For more information on the “The Best of Fiction on the Web” anthology, follow the following fish:
And here’s the LATEST from Fiction on the Web, a cool place to hang out, NAWMEAN!? P.S. – My affected London accent has a flat, nasal, Plautdietsch ring to it. Keanu Reeves ain’t got a ‘fing on me.