Across the Pond and Beyond

literally stories logo

I am honoured to be in the Literally Stories mix once again. My short story, “So Are They All” appears in this week’s collection of original short fiction – a short story curation that LS has been providing for the past 138 consecutive weeks.

This is my sixth acceptance in this United Kingdom based literary journal. The stories they have chosen (they have rejected five) have in common a Canadian setting and characters that represent various segments of life in Canada, across a number of eras.

main-qimg-c52a555c991ccfdda8925bab3a6d30a1 UK and Ireland sm

Several other UK literary journals* have also published my stories. The UK and Ireland are apparently in my sweet spot and damned if I know why!

I asked my Irish born – now Canadian Permanent Resident – son-in-law what he thought might be the attraction. While he had no conclusive theory, he supposed that the details, set in places and times in Canada that are not mainstream, offer a kind of “comfortable alien” nature. I accept that because the stories Tom tells about his childhood in Nobber are a source of fascination to me, in that same way.

Whatever the chemistry of the long distance relationship between the stories and the readers, I feel privileged to be part of the Literally Stories lineup.

*Fiction on the Web (4 stories published) – Charlie Fish, Editor; Storgy (1 story) – Tomek Dzido and Anthony Self, Editors; Fictive Dream (“The Seven Songs”, to be published on Nov 26) Laura Black, Editor; LingoBites, a part of Alsina Publishing (1 story, with a three-part serial in the edit suite and coming soon) – Lisa Dittmar, Editor (Although–full disclosure–Ms. D is a product of Cascadia, and like all of the editors I have encountered, she is foremost a citizen of the world.)

I hope to add more! (I write every day. Even when it hurts.)

P.S. – of the 35 titles of mine that have achieved virtual orbit online and in print, (“So far, damn it!” the author says through gritted teeth, a clinging scrap of spinach ruining the dramatic effect) quite a few have found Canadian and American platforms, and one Indian publication too.  I love all of my prose offspring equally; so too their adoptive homes.

allfornow – Mitch

Episodic Moi and LingoBites

I recently had a short story accepted by a new start-up in the “Learn a Language Online” business. Given the amount of refugeeism in the world today – not to be confused with refugee-whiz-ism (in short supply, I’m afraid) – there must be a lot of newly relocated people in Canada and other places who would like to speak English.

A company called Alsina Publishing is creating a platform for language learning – English and many others – and one of the central tools they use is the short story. It’s intuitive to imagine a language student, who, when provided with a story produced in both their native tongue and their target language, uses this resource to flip back and forth. They will read the story and learn new words, syntax, and more from the narrative. Furthermore, they can discover the subtleties of conversation through the story’s dialogue. I’m no linguist, but this must be a proven method, I’m sure.

My personal experience confirms this too. I don’t speak much French, but thanks to similar duplicate, bilingual formatting on Canadian cereal boxes and shampoo bottles, etc., phrases like “bien agiter” and “servez froid” are not just letter jumbles to me. I learned them via repetition, without trying, because the material was at hand in front of me at the breakfast table, in the restaurant, or in the tub. (High-concept stuff, wot? Eh? Si?)

The new platform Alsina Publishing has created is called LingoBites and it is in the final stages of development and will launch soon. My story, “The Light Pool” will be one of the first literary works that learners will use to climb the Tower of Babble.

LingoBites refines that basic cereal box concept – with more method and less mirth – and offers it to those who want to learn a new language. Here’s how they describe it at http://www.lingobites.com/:

LingoBites gives you what you’ve been looking for: a way to practice language through creative short stories tailored to your level and interest. Read or listen anywhere on your phone. Support authors from all over the world make a living from their craft and enjoy learning, all at the same time. We are currently in startup stealth mode, but sign up to be the first to hear about our launch plans!

Please follow this link for an interesting third-party description of the LingoBites app from contributor Patricia Duffaud:

http://www.patriciaduffaud.co.uk/lingobites-app-languages-stories/

It’s always great to be accepted for publication but in this case, my work will be a part of the process of – OMFGliteracy! That is a security clearance I seldom achieve, although I guess LingoBites might just as often be used by leathery travellers from Pittsburgh or Shaughnessy, or maybe Haywards Heath to polish up their “eye-tie” before a trip to the Continent. That’s okay with me – I’ll take readers of all stripes.

“Vi prego di mettere più whisky nel mio             cameriere di bevande!”

And, lucky me, LingoBites has accepted a second submission of mine – one I wrote expressly for them. My editor at the publication suggested that serialized stories were a perfect fit because they allowed readers to establish and reuse a knowledge base of words, names, characters and settings developed while reading earlier instalments. My three-part story, “Of a Forest Silent” will also be appearing in LingoBites, after some editing.

Tune in next week cap

It’s interesting to me how closely the publication works with the writer to ensure that the story is appropriate for learners. Within flexible boundaries, the editors strive to keep sentences short, to restrict the vocabulary and to keep cliches, local slang, and regional references out of the stories. I was afraid this might “dumb down” the prose, but instead, I find it clean and readable. (Many are nodding knowingly now – I can feel it!)

LingoBites offers three FREE stories per month and the subscription fee – for full rights to the site – is nominal. It’s a great value for language learners or those just looking to find great new stories and writers.

voice over

One more COOL THING: Stories will be converted into audio recordings presented by professional voice actors.

The LingoBites site is running in Beta now (July 22).

allfornow – Mitch

https://www.facebook.com/lingobite/

https://twicopy.org/LingoBites/

 

 

 

South of Oromocto Depths

I’m happy and grateful to have a reprint of my maple syrup imbued, tres Canadien, playoff beard of a short story, “South of Oromocto Depths”, appear in Toronto’s CommuterLit. Editor Nancy Kay Clark has been generous with her coveted space once again and this will be my eighth appearance in this respected (and entertaining) literary ezine.

The short fiction, which first appeared in Literally Stories, will appear this Thursday, July 6, in CommuterLit. It follows previous publications of:

“Encountered on the Shore”– reprinted by Occulum (previously called Fair Folk)

“A Vile Insinuation”

“Without Reason”

(The three stories above comprise “The Red River Valley Trilogy”)

“Gather by the River” Part One (“Zero to Sixty”)

“Gather by the River” Part Two (“The Margin of the River”) – reprinted in riverbabble

“The Rothmans Job”– reprinted in SickLit

“Winter Eve at Walker Creek”

“South of Oromocto Depths” – first published in Literally StoriesVisit CommuterLit commencing July 6 to see this story in its latest incarnation.

We let the motor warm up. It idled in baritone, gurgling as gray smoke rose up out of bubbles that popped on the surface behind the big white motor. Every half-minute or so it ran slightly faster, then vibrated, shuddering back down to the lower idle speed, sometimes coughing unexpectedly.

35 chryco obscure

Work

I wrote a short story called, “Fairchild, McGowan and the Detective” . It appears in Work Literary Magazine and it’s a fiction that draws from some of my past BOSSES and my experiences with them.

Like most of what I write – the characters are hybrids of many people, real and imagined.

One of the comments I received from the Niume Reads audience where I placed a link was, “Thanks for honoring work”. This struck me as I had not set out to honour work, nor had I paid particular attention to the work – I thought – as much as the characters who were employed in the imaginary workplaces (Loeb Lumber and Grambles Department Store).

I thought about the comment and it occurred to me that not only should we honour our work, but it is an honour to work. To hold a job; to be able to work; to have skills and so on is a prize. (Too often a surprize – but you know what I mean.)

Work is not a given.

Work can be an example of some of our best behaviour as humans. To get along at work, as we all know, can be trying. And yet, we manage it. An overwhelming number of us don’t swing a hatchet, be it figurative or literal, in response to the many that whiz (virtually) by our naked skulls on a daily basis. We act like grown-ups at work, even though most of us qualify for that distinction more by the pure fact of our age and not of our deeds, day-to-day.

And the little town slept.

That’s my signature segue (“And now for something completely different,”) that leads into…

HERE are a few other stories of mine that concern work and how we get through to the weekend. And by weekend, I unfortunately mean the time when a dismaying number of us do other work – whether that’s laundry, finding that all-important LEGO piece, getting the kids to ball practice, slinging burgers, or fixing the damn eavestrough. Again.

P.S. – We all struggle with bosses, don’t we? I do. I did. Most of us are not graced with great leadership skills. Personally, I finally realized – after 40-odd years – that I did not have good followship skills either. My LinkedIn connections seem to agree as this story is the most-read post on my LinkedIn page in a long time. 

allfornow – Mitch

 

Dad

2000th follower twitter

There are times when I can totally relate to Donald Trump’s compulsion to post on twitter, even if it’s a stupid-ass thing to do.

Humour needs expanded boundaries, is what I keep telling myself.

My dad would have got it. He would have had a sparkle in his eye and appreciated that I pressed send. Dad preferred – would have preferred – that I follow my natural inclinations and become an artist or a writer. Something in the creative layer of dirt. Instead, like so much of his discarded advice, I followed not what he said, but what he did. (Someone should make that into a memorable expression.) I became a guy with a family who showed up every morning for work and tried to eat my crap sandwich without too much moaning. Well, he and I both moaned a little.

Like Dad, what it got me was a happy life and a family I treasure. Not a bad deal. Pass the sandwiches, I’ll take another. Make it a double.

Anyway, cheers to my dad, a hale fellow well met of whom an observer both wise and kindred from Grunthal, Manitoba (home of the Red Wings) once said, “He could separate braggarts from their bullshit with a hip check.”

Here’s a story about him, posted a while back by Fiction on the Web editor @fishcharlie

Nothing to Lose

 allfornow – Mitch

First Birthday

It will soon be a year, June 21, 2016, since my first short story was accepted and published by a literary journal. That story was Encountered on the Shore, on CommuterLit.

Since that time I have added 24 acceptances to my credit roll. By now, I am pretty sure I am committed to, “this fiction thing,” as those near me tend to describe it.

It has been hard work. “Ha!” you say, and the old-school, Menno scoffer in me tends to agree, but it’s true. I have submitted 112 times and have 21 submissions currently outstanding. My written word count is somewhere in the 125,000-word range. My acceptance rate on Duotrope is .342 for fiction. That’s the same as Babe Ruth’s lifetime batting average. (The Bambino, as you prolly know, was a helluva wordsmith…)

So far, it’s been fun. Rewarding; a satisfying ego boost when you see your name in print. There is collateral damage though. I am boring and tedious at parties, of which — no surprise — I attend few. Golf buddies roll their eyes and their putts. My wife is an excellent changer-of-topics.

It is also dismaying — seeing all the strained passages and obvious typos that everyone (mostly me) missed.

But, I am now entering the second ring. My stories are a little harder to write because I am choosing more controversial topics. I am beginning to piss people off. (Something I’ve always found easy to accomplish.) My kids don’t always want to read my stuff and I am pretty sure my son-in-laws have used the, “must be some other Toews guy,” excuse, at least once.

I am not sure what the outcome will be, but like old Ad Francis in “The Battler”, it feels good to hit and it feels good to be able to take a hit. (I have been scolded by more than one editor.) Here below is the current list of publications and a more detailed accounting (with links, log lines, and excerpts) may be found here: https://mitchellaneous.com/write-clicks/

 

Kits mitch zoom
Me, striking a prose…

 

CommuterLit
Rhubarb Magazine
Voices Journal
Fiction on the Web
Literally Stories
Red Fez
Broken Pencil
The Machinery
SickLit
Storgy
The MOON magazine
Alsina Publishing

#

Social media touchpoints: Facebook, twitter, Niume, LinkedIN, Flipboard, Stumbleupon, Tumblr, Google+, Gravatar, and Instagram. Also, as you well know, comments, liking, following, sharing and favouriting are things that help an emerging* writer in the hunt for readers.

Tweets: @mitchell_toews #mitchelltoews #amwriting #shortstories #canlit #mennonite #fiction

allfornow – mitch

*At my age, maybe more like submerging? A distinction that writer, translator and friend Hege Anita Jakobsen-Lepri pointed out. https://www.linkedin.com/in/hege-anita-jakobsen-lepri-8231856/

 

A Writerly Reinvention

A new publication came to my attention and I was intrigued by the unique model it employs.


alsina info“At Alsina, we connect your work with readers from the outset. Our readers are engaging with our product to learn a language, so you are connecting with a whole new group of people that you would not otherwise have access to. When they read your work, they can follow you to get updates when you publish your second or third story with us. They have easily-accessible links to your website, so they can link through to your longer work, sign up for your mailing list, and so on.”

So, it’s a fresh opportunity to put out a flash fiction (1000-word maximum) and have it translated into several languages. Readers use the stories to develop their language skills in an enjoyable and intuitive way.

I submitted a 968-word story called, “The Light Pool”, and was delighted to have it accepted by Alsina Publishing

Opening the window, I listened to the crickets and frogs calling from the valley below as the beautiful silver sedan crossed the Don River Bridge. I inhaled, expecting to smell fresh summertime vegetation – ferns and flowering trees. Instead, there was the vile stench of hog rendering, the heavy synthetic odour of chemical discharge and the sharp, acrid reek of poultry effluent. I pushed the button and the glass hummed up into the thick rubber rim. [snip]

The story will run in the near future, after an editing round. I have been challenged by the Alsina editors to serialize my story and come up with sequels to “The Light Pool”. This approach makes sense for both writer and reader and it’s clear how a “mini-series” could be an especially good way for ESL readers (and learners studying in other languages) to build on the words and concepts they have learned by reading previous instalments in the same set.

meanings

Altogether, a thoroughly innovative and exciting proposition! Stand by for a publication date for “The Light Pool” soon and meanwhile, visit some of the links provided on this page to see what Alsina is all about! http://www.alsinapublishing.com/blog/

allfornow – Mitch

Every Picture Tells a Storgy

A lot of things in life can be streaky. The leading scorer in the league – pick your sport – gets to the playoffs and goes. Ice. Cold.

When it happens to you, you think, “I’ve lost it.  Or maybe I never had it, maybe it was all a massive fluke.” You kick the dog, get bitchy with your friends and co-workers, lock your keys in the car, get the shopping cart that eats your coin – or you think it did, until a lady with a walker comes over and pulls on the handle and the cart pops free. Easy as pie. And she explains that there is no coin required; that you just shoved a dollar into a crack in the plastic grip.

Stupid Home Depot.

Then it turns and while no one really knows what it is… we all know exactly what it feels like when it comes or goes.

But, really, I brought it on myself. I dared it to leave. “How?” you ask?

I took on topics that were harder to write: race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and age. Plus, I submitted to unfamiliar sites and journals with big league reps. So, if I went a little cold, I have no one to blame but the crusty old bugger in the mirror.

Stupid old guy.

Anyway, today I received an email from Anthony Self, Head of Film and Co-Director @ Storgy.com. They liked my story. They are going to publish it.

storgy

It’s back, mother****er, it’s back!

“The Log Boom” will be presented on Storgy.com on May 19.

allfornow – Mitch

P.S. – Thank you, Storgy!

The Rothmans Job

My noirish crime fiction, “The Rothmans Job”, has earned a reprint in SickLit Magazine. Readers seem to like the characters in this story. Me too.

SickLit is an online zine with the tagline, “Bringing the real. Keeping the weird.” I suppose that this twisted tale fits that mandate. Thanks to SickLit for picking me up on such a cold, dark night. Thanks too, to CommuterLit, who ran the story originally.

Like ‘Rella, in the story, I remain optimistic. “Against all odds”, is not such a bad place – at least you know where you stand. If you like this story – please share it. If you hate it – hit me in the face a few times and I promise not to counter-punch or argue. I’ll just get back up and keep trudging until I disappear in a flurry of snow.

bb48de0d4e107d2f3c9922b13a254df5 pegasus

allfornow – Mitch

@Mitchell_Toews

The Creative Economy

Hardworking Old Dude…

I am in the middle – eight hours today – of editing a collection of short stories. 200 plus double spaced, TNR 12 font pages of prose from Toews.

As a formality (I thought) I searched for “ly” in Word and to my dismay, TO MY UTTER DISMAY, I found that my manuscript contained 768 ly words. Lots of adverbs like “nervously”, “amateurishly”, “hopelessly”, “f*ckishly”, and the always-lyrical, “rejectingly”. Non-adverbial LY words like “family” & “only” were present in the text and were not guilty of a felony, but still: 768??

768 is a lot. That number is the total combined career home runs hit in major league baseball by BROTHERS. It’s an easy Google search, but how about a FREE ZWEIBACH BUN for anyone who can name these brave-hearted brothers, without looking it up.

That is almost four adverbs on every page — too many for a self-proclaimed* “dirty realism” adherent like me.

(* And some readers say so too. I love those people.)

“The adverb is not your friend.”  –  Stephen, “The Adverb-Slayer”, King (No less!)

So, having pulled my short fiction collection together, created a TOC, and an Acknowledgements Page, I thought I was pretty close to crying havoc! and pressing send. After all, most of these stories have been accepted by literary journals and have been edited and re-edited many times. Some have gone under the knife so often they look like zombies on The Walking Dead! So they should be somewhat adverb-free. Nope.

As a result, this Sunday was spent curbing my adverbyism. “Out, Out! Damn adverb!”

In Search of Art…

“What is Art?” you might ask. Good question. For a Mennonite, the answer could be, “Art Martens? He’s a farmer,” or “An EMBer,” and so on.

But I ask, “What is Art?” because that appears to be what I am working for: Art for Art’s sake. To scratch the creative itch.

It has come to my attention, thanks to a wonderful article in Broken Pencil Issue 74 by Suzanne Alyssa Andrew (The Hustle, page 20) that, in Canada, “the market for art, writing, and music is broken.”

The author goes on to present these disappointing, but true, statistics for the True North:

  • Canadian musicians only earn an average $7,228 a year from music…
  • Most musicians can only afford to spend 29 hours a week on music…
  • Canadian writers are making 27 percent less today than they were in 1998…

I worked my guts out from 1977 to last year so that I could finance food, heat, power, beer and wine AND write me some fiction. Now it seems like I should have quit in 1998 to become inky.

More dire stats showing the 19-year, and counting, slide away from the ever-increasing COL for l’artiste:

  • Affordable housing, studio and venue space is at a premium…in 2016, the median monthly rent for the average one-bed-room apartment costs $1,740 in Vancouver, $1,350 in Toronto and $960 in Montreal.

Ms. Andrew concludes that, “The creative middle class is dead.”

For me, this is unfortunate but not debilitating. However; had I followed my dad’s advice back in the seventies and followed the creative trail – trying to make a living from the artistic side of the dirty, confused world – it could have been a hard go, with things getting worse every year. I worked for forty years to finance my current slim pickins, so it’s not as bad por moi as it is for the many young artists today working one or two part-time jobs to finance their passion.

Ideas…

I suppose I could pay starving artists $0.10 per adverb for pest control in my short stories? But, with some perseverance, I can eradicate them myself. (Note how I did not write, “Hopefully,  I can eradicate them myself.” Eh? Ehhhh!!!?)

What about:

  • More funding for, less bitching about, Canada Council for the Arts?
  • The PM gives artists a major tax break, because Canada is close to committing the eighth social sin: Living without art. (Art the life-affirming pursuit, not that Martens guy.)
  • For street performers: Plop down a FIVER instead of a meagre Loonie. (Mennonites of course only ever applaud with gusto – we need to start with a Loonie and work our way  up.)
  • TIP HEAVY and prevent someone from sleeping on the streets. C’mon Moneybags, you have made gross, old guy, creepy remarks to the angel that brought you that Caesar with Extra Chicken & Diet Coke – now it’s time to bust the 15% ceiling. He or she may or may not be an artist, but either way — they need that extra coupla bucks more than you.
  • Buy some art. Yes, for the next few birthdays, Xmas, Hanukkah – go downtown, find a seller and shell out top dollar for Canadian art, music, writing. Think of it, sitting at the hockey game telling your buddy you just bought a $400 piece of art. They are gonna think you are loaded and – hoping for a hot stock tip – invite you to their cottage where you and Mrs. Moneybags can consume $425 worth of ribs, steak, wine, beer and outboard motor gasoline. (Do not mix consumables.)

The artist wins, your wife is lookin’ at you kinda funny (the good funny) after her third glass of free merlot, AND you are up $25 bucks! Tax-free!

(PLUS… you have just read an LY adverb-free article. No extra charge.)

allfornow – Mitchly