That is “CNN-Scary”!

I LIKE AMERICANS. I also like Somalis. Or, de Dutch. Or Bull Riders. (Some examples.) I like most people I meet, so I may not be the most discerning guide.

I know more Americans than I do Somalis. Also, the Somali leader’s activities do not generally affect my investments, the Canadian government, my sleep, and I am not bombarded with news about it, 24-7.

So, I pay attention to Americans. It’s hard not to. I am pleased when we Canadians resist the immense pop culture spill-over and continue to think and act like Canadians. I don’t like Tim Hortons coffee, except as a metaphor. As a handy symbol for Canuckness – I LOVE my cuppa Timmee dubble-dubble, or whatever you tastebud-dead people say eight-squillion times a day, your cars idling in the line-up like Mike Duffy’s stretch limo on the Confederation Bridge at rush hour.

Somalis looking for jobs and Syrians holding babies are not scary to me. Many say, “Paus opp, Toews!” (Mostly that comes from our alarmist Plautdietsch neighbours – squirrels and crows and the like.) And while no Mennonite trusts Russians, nor are we afraid of them because we can out-farm them any day. Wary as I may be, I am not seeing masked soldiers roaring out from behind rusting granaries near Whitemouth in old Datsun pick-ups, waving black flags and parting my hair (figurative hair) with a machine gun. I don’t believe they will be taking my job (my semi-job) or doing other bad guy stuff that used to be the responsibility of Chuck Norris and Rex Murphy to fix. I don’t think they are going to ruin our economy or wreck our education system or blare call-to-prayer loudspeakers into my bedroom at dawn.

badenov
Sneaky Russian Hacker Terrorist (Note “beet-red” eyes.)

If they do that last thing, the loudspeakers, I may have to go ballistic (you’ll get it in a minute, keep reading) and don my spandex shorts and do my yoga out on the yard. That would at least give me a bargaining chip (and give them an unshakeable mental image).

So, when I hear James Earl Jones doing the promo it’s like a dinner bell to me. I think I’ve been slipped a mickey – a CNN roofie.

Anyway, as you can see, I am normally not that interested in international affairs. Justin has not called me up to discuss foreign policy and so, I’m leaving it to him. But, we do have a TV and we do get CNN. So, when I hear James Earl Jones doing the promo it’s like a dinner bell to me. I think I’ve been slipped a mickey – a CNN roofie. I sip coffee and shout liberal platitudes at the screen. I scroll through tweets and think of puns like, “He’s on Flynn ice!”

But now it’s getting really scary as the local otters are taking Korean lessons online and my financial guy is either having caviar baths or making cat food and peanut butter sandwiches. He seems “uncertain”.

I don’t know what to think. If Trump is a success, I am scared we will get a made-in-Canada clone – O’Leary; Relic from The Beachcombers; Don Cherry; that guy from the A&W commercials… it’s a spooky list.

Here’s hoping that Trump gets in big trouble with the principal (that Bannon guy and his Blue Ox); gets his twitter account put on a time-out for a few years; does a bunch of very, very unfair things that make my investment guy buy cigarette boats by the carton and then… after a totally embarrassing sexting scandal with Arnold Schwarzenegger (so predictable) fade away into the Presidents-that-shoulda-been-impeached seats at Yankee Stadium.

Then the Democrats can put that ballsy Yates lady in charge for eight years and she can repeal deplorable laws, like:

  • no torture on Sunday,
  • no lynching on Sunday,
  • CBHO* lanes on highways (*Coal Burning Hummers Only)

You heard it here first.

allfornow – Mitch

The Bottom of the Sky

Hi everyone!

I have a new story.

It is a prequel to the story that first appeared in Rhubarb Magazine, “A Fisherman’s Story”. This piece becomes a Part 1 to that original tale of a family on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Part 1 is in 1955, in Acapulco and tells of one of the original characters, when he was a younger man, captaining a fishing charter boat. The original piece is Part 2 and is told primarily through the experience of the wife; the mujere.

I have re-named it, “The Bottom of the Sky” , comprising Part 1 Acapulco 1955 and Part 2 Puerta Vallarta 1975.

Here are a few excerpts:

Avelino walked the tourist beaches. His officina, as he liked to joke with the Americans who lay like white cordwood in neat rows, toes pointing at the sun. He had a photo album with pictures of the azul boat; fish strung on the scale at the Acapulco dock; smiling American faces, sun-tanned with movie-star sunglasses and drinks in hand. He was charming and good looking and he hooked many gringo fish.

[Snip]

After a quiet half-hour of trolling they came to a feeding fish. In the split second before it happened, Jose could feel the strike. Then the rod bucked in the holder and the line peeled out in a persistent zazzzzz sound like fingernails on nylon. The pinche yelled and the woman named Angel clapped her hands, her red fingernails looking like spattered blood against the bright horizon.

[Snip]

“Senor Bart! Por favor,” Jose strode rearward with the rod harness, its buckles jingling, passing it to the large man. Then he hurried to the transom where the fishing line danced and swung like a kite tail above the bubbles in the wake of the boat.

[Snip]

The boat rocked in silence at the wharf, next to the scales. Jose sat on the dock staring down into the dirty water. The American had shouted something, cursing as he climbed into a taxi with the women. Doris stared at Jose from the car, her eyes dark and hateful – not the fairy blue they were when she reached over and touched his arm with hers.

[Snip]

YOU KNOW HOW IT IS, RIGHT? You create something that you feel good about – it’s honest, or you believe it to be so. You love it. Shitface drunk love. Then you slowly get to know it – you see it age like a child – and you recognize flaws that you were earlier willing to ignore. You work on it over and over until it is the best you can do; things become stale and the edits you make just become a false shuffle of the deck – nothing really changes.

Then a month goes by (or six) and you read it again. You see things and maybe after a sleep – waking up at three A.M. – you figure out what to do.

And then you love it again the same way it was when it was born, except maybe it’s a more mature love – maybe you accept it in a way you could not before, including the things that you could still change, but, you don’t. The story, like the characters in it, is partly good and partly bad – flawed but capable of splendor.

Blah-blah-blah. 🙂

I am a proud father today and maybe this will find a publication home. I’ll send it to a few “early readers” in the meantime and will report it here if it does get picked up.

Another day in the life — I better get down to the beach before my wife becomes certain that I have lost my mind.

allfornow – mitch

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2017

 

 

 

 

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

The Preacher and His Wife

January 23, 2017

“The Preacher and His Wife” is a comical look at the comings and goings of Mennonite life in a small town in the sixties. It is as pure as the view from inside the cocoon can be — but it’s just one cocoon.

The story goes live TODAY (January 23) on Fiction on the Web

Please find below a few short excerpts and also a couple of links to two other “Mennosphere” stories of mine that are in the FOTW archives.

On FICTION ON THE WEB JANUARY 23
“All family congresses were held in the tiny house and we sat packed as tight as two-yolks in a shell. Chair legs intersected like a village of miniature wigwams, and above that, our arms and forearms were in constant contact; sometimes linked. Our Zehen freundschaft heads – complete with high, overhanging brows – bobbed as one as we laughed or bowed in prayer or swiveled to see the facial expressions of the storyteller of the moment. The incoming newlywed uncles and aunts who found themselves part of this household became used to the close quarters. They soon grew adept at stepping over overlapping legs and socked feet as they picked a path through from the kitchen to the living room, doling out fresh coffee and buns with jam while a dozen conversations hummed and budgies squawked in their cages.”

[SNIP]

“One fall day, when winter parkas were in order, Sarah ran into our house to announce that, ‘Grandma can’t find her engagement ring and she is pretty sure that the Preacher’s wife has it.’
‘What?’ my mother said, stopping in mid-paw as she dug through a box of warm clothes to outfit us for winter. Grandma’s ring was her lone extravagant luxury and unlike other items of some beauty in her possession – furniture and rugs for example – this ring had no redeeming practical use. It symbolized love and fidelity and was purely a thing of pleasure. Grandma loved her ring, which had set a much younger Grandpa back almost a whole season of timber cutting in the Redekopp forests south of town.
‘That’s impossible,’ Mother said, with no opportunity for rebuttal, standing up straight with her hands on her aproned hips.”

[SNIP]

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

http://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/2016/10/heavy-artillery-by-mitchell-toews.html

You may also enjoy, “Our German Relative”. a Christmassy tale from Russia found on Red Fez, or other tales from the fictional prairie darp of “Hartplatz”, on Literally Stories or CommuterLit.

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016
Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2017

The Rothmans Job

February 19, 2017 UPDATE

SickLitMagazine has advised that they will be publishing a reprint of “The Rothmans Job” which first appeared (see below) on CommuterLit.com.

The story will run in late March or early April.

sicklit

allfornow – Mitch

January 30, 2017 UPDATE

TODAY, this twisted Canadian yarn, born in absurd truth and transported on the wings of a fictional 1991 prairie storm, is published by CommuterLit – a Toronto based online purveyor of morning short stories, lox and bagels. (And they are all out of lox and bagels.) 

http://commuterlit.com/

If a Neo-Noir Xmas Tragicomedy sub-genre exists, then this story belongs there. If not, then maybe this story inspires it?

A snowy night. An unlocked warehouse. A characterful materfamilias.

The Rothmans Job – EXCERPTS
By Mitchell Toews
.
A STORM LIKE THIS was rare. Snowflakes blocked out sky and sun and moon and stars. The flakes – as big as baby fists – had been falling for three days. Light and dry, they flew, then settled, then flew again – whipped by a dodgy north wind. At night, the tops of buildings disappeared except for the occasional glimpse of a red tower beacon or a snapping row of flags, like those atop The Bay.
.
Through this otherworld trudged Waxman and Thunderella. Waxman led. He wore two snowmobile suits and his knees could not bend more than a few degrees. Lumbering and stiff, he plowed through drifts for his female accomplice, Ellen Thundermaker.
.
[snip]
.
“No way, Waxy. It’s gonna be all imported cheese and fancy wine. Crab meat. Vienna sausages…” she said, stopping to let him join in.
.
“Ha-ha. Yeah – uhh, Heineken beer, Dijon ketchup, Swiss chocolate – or, you know, one of those giant bars, ahh,”
.
“TOBLERONE, TOBLERONE!” she shouted out, filling in the missing name.
.
“AS if,” she added, suddenly serious…
.
[snip]
.
(about 2,400 words)   Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2017.

#

Waxman, Thunderella, Pegasus, Otto the inventor, the police, Pozzo, Roland, and (in absentia) Poland, all look forward to making your acquaintance.

allfornow – Mitch

Our German Relative

http://bit.ly/RedFezOurGermanRelative

Red Fez’s Story of the Week. Next: world peace. Stand by…

In 2015, I was told this story – parts of it at least – by a resident in a predominantly Mennonite senior home in British Columbia. Some friends and I were there for lunch — the restaurant in the building had famously delicious food. One of the women at our table told us a moving account of incidents that had happened in Russia, during the early days of Communist rule.

Later, on the way back to work, we discussed her story. All of us had heard versions of it before even though the three of us were raised in Mennonite communities in BC, Alberta and Manitoba, respectively.

This story is a fiction based on true experiences passed down from that place and time. Whether it was a Christmas cookie or a Bible (or the Koran, for that matter) or a cross necklace; the danger was real for all those who dared to stand against the will of the state. This is possibly instructive, as some would banish religious symbols-practices-peoples in our free society today. In the 70’s, a friend of mine smuggled Christian Bibles into East Germany. He risked prison but did it gladly, working for a group organized at his Mennonite bible school in Switzerland. Prohibition makes its opponents bold.

I knew then that I wanted to share it as a piece of Mennonite lore. It speaks volumes, in a soft voice, about Mennonite culture and the quiet constancy that is common to many within the community.

I won’t say any more – it’s a short story and I don’t want to spoil it for you! A fiction based on certain historical accuracies, I hope you enjoy it, regardless of your beliefs. I also hope that it adds to your “Christmas spirit” and feelings of thankfulness.

Please see it here on the RED FEZ website. A great place to read, submit, discuss or lurk. 🙂 “Our German Relative” is just one of an entertaining and eclectic mix of stories posted in this Christmas-themed issue (No. 96).

“Red Fez is a melting pot of people interested in creating, sharing and discovering writing, music, art and more.”

Published This Week on CommuterLit 

This week I have two stories appearing on the Toronto-based e-zine CommuterLit.

This is, respectively, the thirteenth and fourteenth time I have had a story published online or in print. It feels different than the first time (which was also on CommuterLit!) but mostly just in intensity. All of the insecurity stuff is still there, but just a little quieter. The excitement too remains but is subdued; tempered by the reality of about 10,000 other stories that go live every day. #noproblemEH?
Still, these stories are a bit different because they are more raw. So, the amperage is up a bit.

Good thing that I only have a few hundred more stories in my head; popping up on my morning walk or at 3 a.m.; interrupting my yoga-for-the-comically-inflexible; causing me to suddenly stare off into space…

 hold-fast

Dec. 7, 2016
Wednesday’s episode:

Dogs that bite and other prejudices. “Gather by the River, ” the first of a  two-part story by Mitchell Toews

 

brown-eyed-girl-sm
Dec. 8, 2016
Thursday’s episode:

Reconsidering the situation.  “Gather by the River,” the second of a two-part story by Mitch Toews

 

Your comments are most welcome!

fraser
Previously published stories (3) on  CommuterLit: http://commuterlit.com/authors-by-last-name-n-z/authors-t/toews-mitchell/

Swingin’ the Can

DURING MY SIXTEENTH YEAR I jumped in my mom’s new AMC Gremlin and drove from Steinbach, MB to Ladner, BC. I went to work on my dad’s cousin’s farm where potatoes and strawberries were grown for McCain to flash freeze.

I learned how to drive a tractor and load a flatbed trailer with skidboxes of potatoes. On the way there, in the mountains, a grizzly bear taught me a little about the writing business. Of course, I did not know it then, but I have come to realize the similarities now that I write fiction every day.

On the first day of my westward trip I had driven non-stop, as a sixteen-year old would, and ended up in a wayside rest stop near Golden. I was too tired to carry on to the next town and so I just reclined the plastic seat and fell asleep.

Around dawn, I was awakened by a strange noise. It was the creak-creak-creak of metal followed by some rough noises like gritty sandpaper rubbed across the grain of a plank. I lay with my head just below the bottom of the car window. Feeling for the lever, I raised the seat up a few inches. There, about thirty feet from me was a full grown male grizzly bear. He stood on his hind legs and with his gigantic front paws, swung a 45-gallon steel drum that hung on two chains. The drum – a garbage can – was “bear-proof”; suspended in this manner from a horizontal cedar beam that stood on two sturdy posts buried in the ground.

I watched him for a while. The creaking sound was the rusty chain, complaining as it stressed its steel moorings in the wooden spar above. The bear, heeding the call of an aromatic potpourri of watermelon rinds and half-eaten chicken salad sandwiches, was grunting and half-growling in his exertions to defeat the uncooperative swinging drum. His gruff exhalations were the sawing wood sounds.

After a time, he dropped down – heavily – onto all four legs and stood resting, sniffing the air. He whined with irritation like my daughter’s canine buddy Rude Dog does when you are busy with your double-double and interrupt the game of fetch at the park. It was the bear equivalent of, “for shit’s sake!”

The drum swung silently, slowly ebbing, losing the energy the giant omnivore had put into it. As the drum went back and forth the grizzly’s attention was on one of the cedar posts. On each pass, as the drum bobbed from upward amplitude – to apogee – and then was pulled back down by gravity, the post shifted.

The bear and I watched together as the post pivoted in the sandy ground on each swing of the heavy drum. A little pile of fresh, damp sand had built up at the base. Ambling towards the pole, his expressive face looking as human as his ursine features would allow, the brute stopped and sniffed deeply at the wet sand. Staring, he stood for a long moment without moving. Then so abruptly that I twitched in surprise and was instantly aware of my puny defenses, the giant bear stood and began enthusiastically rocking the post.

Luckily, Smokey was so engrossed in his new tactic that he did not notice me sitting up in my seat and only put his beady gaze on me as I tore out of the lot, spitting gravel behind the car as I left.

I stopped on the deserted early morning highway a few hundred yards down the road. Opening my window, I could hear the clacking reverberations of the drum chains as the bear gained purchase and I could imagine the can gyrating wildly as 700 pounds of hungry, determined bear attacked the support with cycloidal ferocity.

He pushed the crap out of it until it broke.

#

So, you, me and the impassive bear in the image above are all wondering – what’s the message in the metaphor?

Good question and here goes: the bear’s strength was never in question; it was more a matter of how he applied it.

There’s little doubt – according to the abundance of meme wisdom on my tres writerly twitter feed – that the more I read and the more (fearlessly, honestly, blahblahblah-ly) I write; the greater my chances of success. (What the eff is success? That’s another blog, by someone smarter than me.)

Maybe this is the message of the bear in the forest near Golden:

Swing the drum and trust your strength.

However; what the bear might tell me, as he picks Skittles and KFC residue off of his chest fur, is to swing smarter.

But that is the tough bit. I suspect ‘swing smarter’ here might mean to write great blog posts; enter contests; tweet with pith; suck up to editors and influential literati; and otherwise do everything except WRITE. 

Does the bear look skeptical? He looks skeptical to me. 

If I think about it some more (remember the bear staring at that loose post?) I conclude that I don’t know what I don’t know. Less cutely written – I don’t know shite. So, for me to figure out the “angles” that will  give me success (and I am an impatient fool; not a little) seems like I would be depending on a lot of luck.

So, swing smarter? Sure – but just because it is FUN; it provides a change of pace; it cleanses the palette (like Skittles). Not as a strategic ploy, but because writers-editors-publishers are smart, self-deprecating, funny as hell and well – and I should know – garrulous and outspoken.

So, I’m gonna go swing the drum now — I have three short stories on the go and I have a fantastic passage to write for one of them about a wolf frozen solid in a trap. (I saw this, when I was twelve. I don’t think it was done for McCain.)

allfornow – m

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

Confessions of a Serial Describer

It is November on the 50th parallel. The scrub White Spruce is still a vibrant green while the surrounding ferns have turned a rusty mocha. Bright lichen florets make the rocks stand out in bold contrast.
.
It is late November. Where the hell is the snow? I can only truly enjoy Mexico if my friends at home are completely miserable.

Man, that was descriptive. Phew! Chills. Need a tissue?

Except the last part.

Let me reverse digress.

Setting, tone, pace, narrative arc, word choice, description, dialogue, exposition, themes and plot — all of these and more are at play in the creation of fiction.

It’s a lot for a small-brained lad to keep track of and yet I must! I have to admit that after twenty years of having product imagery, branding, price and audience as my guiding lights, I need to do some relearning.

Many writers, editors and readers today prefer a “leaner” kind of writing. This includes several key style considerations. One important factor is the interdiction of adverbs. Shoot them out of the air before they can land and defile your verbs with those filthy ly-suffixed words!

Adverb avoidance makes sense — no argument here. Let the verbs do the work.

Exposition or summarization is seen today in literary fiction as unnecessary and dated. A knowledgeable editor I know stresses the need to “show not tell”. At the same time, I’ve often read that many classic pieces of literature are filled with exposition and they are still loved today. Would those classics succeed if written now? Probably, but contemporary conventions can be powerful and I believe a writer needs to be both skilled and confident in their approach if they choose to buck these trends.

Note to self: don’t buck around with trends unless you have a good reason to do so.

SIDEBAR: I think there are some outliers here – the editor I referred to states that she personally is less inclined to enforce a hard “no exposition” rule. Additionally, my personal experience may indicate that not all regions are on the same wavelength when it comes to exposition. London literati may take a different view than their Vancouver cousins, for instance. Certainly, literature is more global than ever and regional idiosyncrasies are hard to prove, but my own anecdotal experience suggests some commonalities based on geography.

Furthermore, my editor friend highlights the fact that, “exposition is very much alive in genre fiction (romance, sci fi, fantasy, suspense thrillers). However, there’s no doubt that too much telling stops the pace of the story and causes the readers (who we are told these days have very short attention spans) to become less interested in reading on.”

Description is a story-telling tool that I use a lot. It is not a favoured structure by all. There are those who see it as simply “copyism” — the tree is green and the surrounding plants are brown. Big deal.

I get the point. Description stops the action and is a close relative of exposition in terms of not sufficiently trusting the reader to figure things out.

But. Yes, I have a but – a small one (God willing, it will continue so). I love to describe things that may be out of the experience of the reader. Or it may be that description can help to support a feeling or mood or to otherwise move the story along. The examples that follow are personal favourites: “Big Two-hearted River” and “Islands in the Stream” by Hemingway, and “Robinson Crusoe” and “Moby-Dick”, as well.

In the Nick Adams short story “Big Two-hearted River”, we are told exactly what the man eats; the types of trees in the forest and swamp; and the temperature of the water as Nick wades into the current to cast. Hemingway describes the way the grasshopper – used as bait – spits “tobacco juice” on the hook. All of these minute, intimate details put the reader in the place and time with the Nick Adams character and condition us to be curious to understand and empathize with him. “Why is he so sad?” is the thing that occurs to readers even as the detailed description continues to push us away from this central question.

In “Islands in the Stream” our dread is raised by the calm, clinical depiction of the sea, the waves, the colours of the water, the sky, and the sea bottom while the giant hammerhead shark bears down on a young boy who is oblivious; “goggle fishing” in the shallows. Thomas Hudson, the father, fumbles as he loads his rifle and sights on the shark’s fin, firing and missing — and each miss is described in excruciating detail. It raises the hair on my neck just writing about it!

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the ocean, Defoe’s numerous, lengthy, arcane descriptions of Crusoe’s fortifications and the architecture of his island home are famous examples of description. I loved every six-penny nail!

Last, I remember lying in bed at home, recuperating after a nose operation at about age thirteen. (As an air passage, it made a pretty good coat hook.) I had ordered Moby-Dick from the University of Manitoba Extension Library. The book arrived, wrapped in brown kraft paper and bound with butcher’s twine. A white sticker on the front read: “1.) Melville – Moby-Dick 2.) Young – A Boy at Leafs’ Camp”. Home early from work, my dad delivered it, coming into the warm bedroom, snow dusting his winter parka. He tossed the bundle on my bed. “Your books came in the mail,” he said. “How’s the schnase?”

See what I mean?

See three of my descriptive short stories on the outstanding Canadian e-zine, CommuterLit, edited by Nancy Kay Clark — one of the top five Nancy Clarks in all the land!

allfornow – Mitch

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016