Place and Time

foc flannery place and time quote only

Ah, eternity.

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.

“The Doeling” A brother and sister’s lives entwine from an east coast Canadian city to Belize and back. The Sixties to current day, various seasons.

“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”

 

 

 

 

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Memorial Day 1973

As the U.S. remembers their fallen, I am reminded of a day years ago that made the war in Vietnam real to me. I was a teenager and a ball tournament near the border let me mingle with Americans.

At the beer garden after the games, I met a young man a few years my senior. We talked about the war and he showed me his draft card. His status teetered on the very edge of the draft lottery, which ended for good soon after our meeting. The reality of this fellow’s fate and how different it was from mine struck me and I think of it — and him — every year at this time.

A while ago I wrote a story based on that long-ago border town baseball encounter. “A Vile Insinuation” appeared in CommuterLit in June of 2016 and it’s linked here, along with the other pieces of the trilogy to which it belongs.

In June 2016 Toronto-based CommuterLit published “The Red River Valley Trilogy“:  “Encountered on the Shore” (Rerun Friday, October 6, 2017), “A Vile Insinuation”and “Without Reason”. The linked stories concern, respectively: the aftermath of a violent encounter on a city street; a young American leaving the ball fields of North Dakota for the killing fields of Vietnam; and a devout Mennonite man grappling with cancer and faith. These trilogy stories question “things happen for a reason” morality.


allfornow friends,

Mitch
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Where I am Less-lesser-known

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:

1200px-EnglandCornwall.svg

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.

* * *

us flag reader

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.

baseball
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.

Anyway, you can find many wonderful poems, flash fictions, short stories and essays here: riverbabble 32 Winter Solstice 2018, including my fiction, “In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence”.

riverbabble 32 cover

Tray Bong! 

allfornow friends,
Mitch
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Babbling in Berkeley

Like many people, I check my phone too often. Like all writers with work outstanding, “Pending Response”, as Duotrope describes it in a much-muted fashion, I check my inbox WAY too often.

A few days ago, I received a note from Publication “X”, with whom I have a short story under consideration. Their note was not directly related to my submission, however; it was addressed to me as one of a group of “Contributors”. My writey-sense a-tingle, I double-checked and the answer came back from my beer-blunted memory, “No, you have not yet been accepted by this pub!”

I shrugged it off as a Mail Chimp accommodation – the message had come to me as a request for a donation to Pub X’s funding efforts for 2018. I had not contributed a story, but I had submitted and I supposed that they had amalgamated the lists — submitters and contributors — into one mega-list for their pitch mail-out.

Knowing the punch-in-the-throat feeling of believing, “Score!” only to have Lucy yank the pigskin away with a flourish, I was guarded with my feelings. Oh yes, the ponies were ready, all right:  the wild horse in the breaking surf joy. Galloping joy. Unbridled. Splashy, splashy. Joy.

But, I said, no. “Whoa, horsey,” I proclaimed aloud, sipping my Beausejour Co-Op dark roast, in-store special blend. I remained an inscrutable Mennonite, the horses quiet in my mental house-barn.

So, anyhow… I then received a note from riverbabble. Like Publication X, I did have a submission pending with these good Berkeleyites. The email contained a publication release form. My blood froze – just like my sewer line did a week ago. Here is a better way to put it:

 Cold oils slid along his vein chilling his blood…

JAMES JOYCE, Ulysses, Calypso, 2734-2743.

Oh bah yo! I heard a distant nickering. Then an urgent whiney. Hooves stomped on hay-strewn floorboards and equine snot made a splatting, sticking, allegorical dark spot on the half-dry concrete of the barn’s centre aisle.

The horses wanted out! “Let us the beach be running,” they cried to one another, eyes wide and nostrils flared. Horseflesh shivered like potluck Jello from the cheap guy at the office. Metaphors reared up on their hind legs.

And then it was true and I was astride one of them – a fierce blue-black beauty who led the thundering herd, salt water and sweat frothing his flanks. I gripped gritty fistfuls of wet mane hair and wept while I shouted and rode the hardpacked sand at full speed, reckless and jubilant.

Typing furiously, I spilled my cuppa Co-op coffee in a crescendo of communicative copulation… Oh. Too much. Sorry.

riverbabble 32 cover
So, it’s true. My short fiction, “In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence” will be a part of riverbabble 32, Winter Solstice Issue, 2018. Having run out my delirium, I sit now at my writing desk, a barn blanket warming me as the sweat cools on my back. “In the Dim Light…” is a story that is as noir and clenched as this blog post is fractured and silly. Light and dark, they both have their place, it’s said.

Thanks to Editor Leila Rae and her clan. It’s my second admission to this group and I know now — I didn’t the first time — just what a fine thing it is to be a contributor to riverbabble!

And who knows, maybe Publication “X” will come through as well. If so, the beach will beckon again and I’ll be only too happy to pound along that broad strand, “with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea,” as they say in Hibbing, MN.

 

 

allfornow friends,
Mitch

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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

And When I Dream of Death

 

Hi all,

Here are a few excerpts from a new short fiction that I wrote. I will be submitting for publication with journals that feature flash fiction. I flashed the sign for curveball on this one.

1,129 words

And When I Dream of Death

By Mitchell Toews

WHEN I DREAM of death, I dream always of baseball. Oh, how unaligned these two things are! One threatens absence in the lurking dark while the other reaffirms presence and joy at the bottom of the boundless, lighted sky; the bluest thing in all the world, put there so we could, “Play ball!”
 [SNIP]
Remember?
I do: the rasping of rakes on the basepaths and the tink-tink-tink of rusty spikes at 60’6″. And the Gatling-gun, syncopated smacking as the warmup tosses go back and forth. And bantering, “Howza kids, howza job, howza arm?” to settle nerves and shed workaday worries.
 [SNIP]
I see our boys on the bench, leaning forward, chattering as the first batter digs in. Then I am up and I see the red stitches spinning as the soft liner clears short and settles in front of the galloping fielder, one-hopping into his glove.
[SNIP]
I can see the catcher’s eyes through his mask as he gauges my lead. Too much chaw, I think. He looks drunk. As if he heard me, he tilts up his mask and a thin brown stream re-wets a dark spot on the sand. The Mexican pitcher, shoulders like a pit bull, rubs the ball with leathery hands as he looks towards home.
“Never know,” says Kornelsen as I take my lead.
[SNIP]
And then a funny thing happens and the air goes still and so do the crickets and frogs in the ditch. A purple black cloud is edging towards us out of the west and I hear a woman in the stands say, “He flew too close to the sun,” which is a damn strange thing to hear at a ballgame.
[SNIP]

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2017

Do You Fiction on the Web?

You should.

Editor Charlie Fish @FishCharlie publishes a lively, online short story compilation. Each day sees a new story – from fast-moving flash-fiction pieces to longer short fictions. The stories span all genres, styles and topics. Fiction on the Web is UK-based, but it features authors from around the world.

Charlie was kind enough to publish one of my favourite stories, “Nothing to Lose” and I’m hoping you will read it here, on: FICTION ON THE WEB. It touches on baseball, hockey, family and regret. Nothing, I’m afraid, about Donald or Hillary, so you might want to shout, “You’re the puppet!” a few times, just to tide yourself over.

http://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/2016/07/nothing-to-lose-by-mitchell-toews.html

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

Season of Humiliation

IN GRADE SCHOOL, I found a lovely book in the library called, “The Red Schoendienst Story” (Gene Schoor, Putnam, 1961). It was the biography of an American baseball player. But for me, it may just as well have been a biography — if not an endorsement — of the country.

From humble beginnings, suffering through adversity and against harsh odds, a Germantown, Il coal miner’s son became one of the finest players in the big leagues. It was a story of determination. It was also the story – more deeply – of right conduct and moral authority.

“The Red Schoendienst Story” led me to believe that if you provided “good service” (the approximate translation of the surname Schoendienst) you were liable to succeed. Just like America.

I loved the USA, our newly mighty neighbour about seventy miles to the south. At the very least, I loved the idea of the USA. I loved the Kennedys, and the space program, the Peace Corps and the grainy TV broadcasts that came to us from this nearby titan. Most of all, I loved baseball.

I remember our minor hockey trips to Warroad, MN, where the Marvin Window company dominated the town. The Marvin boys were star players and their business was impressive – an icon in our part of the world. Everything about America then seemed like these grinning, shouting Marvin boys, their slapshots echoing off the boards in the brand new arena with their name in ten-foot letters on the wall. It was a place where sleeves were rolled up; where you expected to succeed by working hard and enduring without complaining. It was a place where one of the Marvin offspring – a daughter – ending up running the show for more than twenty years.

Life was good of a day in the quiet north woods.

I grew and aged and kept my eye on America. Some of my innocence was shed as a consequence of life’s confusions. Likewise, events seemed to conspire to impede America from its apparent course. The Kennedys were killed; MLK was shot down; Vietnam revealed its vile nature – from My Lai to napalm. I met Vietnam veteran helicopter pilots at a fishing lodge in Northern Ontario and knew – in minutes – how the world and everything in it was ruined for them. Irredeemably frozen in a horrible place and time, these were young men, not much older than me at the time. I was still a boy, but they had skipped that.

I saw the humiliation of Nixon and could almost smell the foul rot. I was reminded of a dirty halloween prank – back when quite a few farms still had outhouses, kids would throw fishheads down the hole. Next spring, on a still, sunny day after the thaw, it was like a bomb had gone off – the stench seemed to bore holes into your skull. It was unbearable and yet you were somehow drawn closer, sniffing cautiously – to see if it was really  that bad.

As a young man, I cowered, clinging to my naive, “Black Like Me” sensibility, as I met salesmen and business connections from the US. After sizing me up (how would I react?) they would probe a little harder. “How’s your red n***er problem, up there? Hear they are quite an issue!”

Shocked, I’d taste the bile in my mouth and quietly change the topic, my morals offended but my fear – to lose the account or jeopardize my job – prevailing. Shame on me. And why was I shocked? I’d heard that and worse on my side of the border. Hatred is not exclusive.

Travelling for business to Charlotte, Atlanta and Dallas, I saw the ugliness all around me. And yet, it was always counterbalanced – and more – by an abundance of bright, determined, decent-minded people. They had that old Marvin fervor; the can-do attitude. This rigorous, well-intentioned segment of American society knew what was nonsense and what was not. They discerned as I did, they believed as I did; they acted with courage in the face of hatred and bigotry. At least – they did when they were with me. As I did when I was with them.

Life carried on and then stopped when the planes crashed. So much violence distilled into a few terrible hours. I suffered too through “Shock and Awe”, watching bombs fall, missing only Slim Pickens riding one of them down, with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea.

I grimaced with the world when the “Mission Accomplished” banner was unfurled.

Columbine and the long string of gun deaths, ongoing today, have hollowed me out.

In recent years, I’ve watched as we scurry from place to place listening not to Red Schoendienst turning two at Sportsman’s Park, but to athletes-cum-entertainers who earn a lifetime or more of Schoendienst or Musial or Kaline salaries in a single year – regardless of the value of their service. We daily revere the repugnant and the loud and the swaggering. The world’s population, heads bowed and thumbs twitching, are bedazzled by Entertainment Tonite emperors, who know not what they do.

Who cares about content or character, so long as we click on it.

Just another old man complaining. But then on Sunday night, I crept as near to the stench as I dared: the Presidential debate. What has happened to the America I loved? Teetering, has it now been shoved aside completely by an unapologetic vulgarian? A blabbering pipsqueak pandering to racial, gender and religious bias. A merchant of hatred. The caricature of a misogynist in sad, pinstriped splendor, strutting the stage.

Is he not exactly the blustering bully you pick out — the one you walk up to and challenge to make the pack back down?

Who will disavow him?

#

Certainly, the America I loved was an idealism. It was a dream but it was based on truth. For me, a truth wrapped up in a invigorating, unassailable collage of people and things epitomized by baseball. It was Springsteen self-confidence and Dylan introspection. It was Kurt Vonnegut, Janis Joplin and Ken Kesey. America was awesome, before everything was awesome. Brash? Sure, sometimes, but big-hearted at the same time. Abiding and good.

I am hopeful that after this long election season of humiliation, the real America will come back. I doubt it, but I’ll keep watching, in case it does.

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

Nothing to Lose

ONE OF MY EARLIEST short stories, and one that has undergone literally hundreds of re-writes, was published not long ago.

“Nothing to Lose” appeared on the outstanding UK-based literary site, Fiction on the Web.

fiction-on-the-web

Fiction on the Web, hosted and edited by Charlie Fish, is a wonderful webpage for readers and writers alike. Charlie encourages comments and it is interesting to read the discussions that typically arise.

Please check out, “Nothing to Lose” and feel welcome to make a comment or a suggestion! There’s lot more on the site and it is a great place to spend a fall evening.

Do you ever wonder, “What if?” We all do, and some regrets recur and can dominate if we let them.

I hope you enjoy Nothing to Lose! See my Gravatar for a current list of my published works: http://en.gravatar.com/mitchtoews

allfornow – Mitch

P.S. – if you like BASEBALL, there’s a segment in the story you may enjoy.

 

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016