“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!
Here are two flash fiction collections to love:
“Small Shifts” edited by Shawn L. Bird (Lintusen Press) https://lnkd.in/gRNdw659 and “This Will Only Take a Minute — 100 Canadian Flashes” edited by Bruce Meyers and Michael Mirolla (Guernica Editions) https://lnkd.in/gp6fJVcE
Many exceptional writers with some of their best stories in two books packed tight with wisdom, pathos, and humour. Plus, the boring bits have been removed. (As flash lovers already know, this is what generally happens.)
My heartfelt tale of a neophyte basketball player—slash—jung Reiba ☠️ will be included in the May 2019 edition of the American literary magazine Fabula Argentea.
Thanks to Editor Rick Taubold for accepting my work. This is a “silver story” of both friendship and hardship that comes from personal experiences and a buddy who left too soon.
Active since 2012, Fabula Argentea receives over 500 submissions per year and from that produces three issues of about 8-12 stories each. Here’s an interview with Editor Taubold that succinctly describes the magazine’s approach:
jung Reiba is Plautdietsch (Low German) for “young pirate”.
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.
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:
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.
* * *
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.
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.
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.
The Rothmans Job
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.
And the people, knowing about these storms, stayed home. In the downtown core, only buses, snow ploughs and police cruisers were out. These motorized vehicles, accustomed to roaring at will, crept along the blanketed streets in peevish silence, their motors and tires muted by the all-enveloping snow.
No humans, no dogs, no birds. It was up to the storefront mannequins – who must have longed to sit – to maintain a watch over the streets. Vigilant, they gazed unblinking through the plastered glass at the frozen lunar streetscape.
Through this otherworld trudged Waxman and Thunderella. The diminutive Waxman led. He wore two snowmobile suits and his knees could not bend more than a few degrees. A bearded Weeble, he waded roly-poly through the drifts ahead of his towering accomplice, Ellen Thundermaker; aka “Thunderella”.
Thunderella towed in her powdery wake a red and yellow child’s sled. It was a Union Flyer and a likeness of flighted Pegasus was screened in reflective paint on both side rails.
Waxman, Thunderella and Pegasus pressed on like arctic explorers. Their goal was the unlocked side door of the Rothmans Cigarette warehouse on Harbour. Waxman had promised fifty bucks to Abie Wiebe – the inside man.
“Hey, Waxman,” Thunderella called from the rear. The wind had died and her voice only had to overcome the snow that coated every surface and baffled the air itself. This snowfall was ultra-absorptive like paper towel brands promised to be.
“WAXY!” she repeated, straining to be heard above the zizza-zazza of his nylon pant legs. He was a heavy man with thick thighs.
“What?” he shouted straight ahead, unable to twist around because of his insulated entombment. He halted, breathing hard, his moustache and scarfed chin hoary with frost. Thunderella bumped into him as she slogged along, head down.
The collision, one of many rear-enders on that street that winter, was enough to push Waxman off-balance. He fell, landing in a puff of white. Cursing and then laughing, he walrused his weight over so that he lay on his rounded backside. He picked a package of Rothmans out of the top pocket of his quilted inner overalls.
“We gonna make it?” she asked, reaching for a smoke.
“No problemo, ‘Rella,” he replied, shooing her hand away. “Two blocks, then through the side door by Perkins Cleaners; then open up the cage. That’s where the expensive stuff is. Abie says that cage lock has been busted for a year.”
Roland Barislowski bent forward, touching the freezing cold steering wheel with the absolute least amount of finger skin required to maintain vehicular control.
He peeked through the tiny fan-shaped portal of clear windshield.
“Need a periscope, like Lindbergh,” Roland said aloud. His voice sounded muffled in the anechoic enclosure; six inches of stubborn snow capping the rooftop.
The call had come around two A.M. He had just fallen asleep after pounding Old Viennas with Art, his brother-in-law from Virden. Art was stranded in the city because the highway was shut-down.
“Warehouse alarm went off. Cops’re there,” said his boss, Pozzo.
“Where’re you?” Roland said into the phone, his voice phlegmy.
“Regina airport,” Pozzo said, placing an unenthusiastic Rollie in charge.
Roland’s bottom was warm on the quilt he had tossed into the front seat but the small of his back felt like it was packed in ice. He lit a cigarette and blew smoke rings at the windshield. The rings – twirling in languid slow motion – disintegrated when the blast from the defrost fan hit them.
His brother’s name was Paulos. Everyone called him Poland — Roland and Poland. Very funny, Roland thought. They weren’t even Polish. But nicknames were nothing new in the North End – everybody had one.
Just like Paulos, Roland worked at Rothmans. It was Paulos’ job to take calls like this – the wonky alarm was set off by rats every two weeks or so. But Paulos was out-of-town and so Rollie had been given the key on this cryogenic night.
“Man, there is no one out here!” he said in the coffin quiet of the car interior.
He drove west until he hit a major street that had been cleared. Heading north he came up on the warehouse. An empty police cruiser sat idling at the curb. The trunk was open a crack and a bungee cord, hooked to the underside of the bumper held it shut. He parked beside the police car and went in through the side door of the warehouse, which stood wide open.
“You Poland?” said the cop. There were two of them. This one and a little guy down near the cigar cage. Mutt and Jeff thought Rollie – what his dad, Otto, always said when there was a big guy with a little guy.
“No, I’m his brother, Rollie. I work here too. Paulos is outta town.”
“Eh? Who’s this Paulos guy?” the big cop said, bleary-eyed.
“Paulos is ‘Poland’,” Rollie said, employing the ever-useful air quotes. “His real name is Paulos and he’s my brother. He’s away and I work here too and I got the job of coming out on this mother of a night.”
“Who’s a mother?” said the little cop. He had walked over from the cage and was holding a few crushed packages of cigars and cigarettes. He saw Rollie studying the packages and said, “Gotta take these. Evidence.”
‘Yeah, fine,” said Rollie. “So, I guess you want me to do an inventory – see what’s been taken?”
“Good idea, Poland,” said the big cop, yawning. He yanked his police hat down low over his face, closed his eyes and leaned back against the forklift. “You guys sure you wanna report this?” he said without opening his eyes. “Seems like a lot of bother, this close to Christmas, for a lousy coupla-hun worth of smokes.”
“We’ll see,” Rollie said, grabbing the clipboard from its spot on the cage door. He used the pencil that was attached by a string to check off the missing items.
“Hey, Officer! Flip the cage light on please – the switch is right behind you,” he yelled. “Close that side door too.”
The little cop stopped stuffing the cigar boxes into his overcoat and did what Rollie asked.
Rollie sat in his car, which was now uncomfortably warm. The plastic frost-guards on the windows were broken and while the rest of the window was clear, the section in middle was fogged. He keyed letters into his pager, holding his breath as he concentrated on tapping the tiny buttons. He entered Pozzo’s number and typed the message:
Many CASES RothM King missiong. Cops took stuff but don’t think they were in on it. Call me!! – R
It’s gonna be an insurance jackpot, Rollie thought. His boss was crafty. He’d shut up about the stuff that Officers Mutt and Jeff had swiped – including the loot crammed into the cruiser trunk – in exchange for their listing an inflated tally on the police report. Pozzo would use their complicity as “wiggle room” to alter the report as required. Pozzo would make money on the deal; his Caddy stuffed with pricey goods that were easy to sell to bar owners and smoke shops.
Rollie and Paulos would get a C-note or so to play along.
“Nice work if you can get it,” Roland said to himself. That nugget courtesy of his late father, Otto. Otto Barislowski had run a ramshackle sash and door shop – BARIS GLASS – for thirty years. Honest guy. Never made much but his family was fed and clothed. “You get a roof over your head and there’s coal in the chute,” the old man would say to Rollie and Paulos.
Rollie pointed the old Ford east and took side streets home. He coasted through the stop signs at each intersection, as stealthy as Santa’s sleigh. After a few blocks, he killed the lights and prowled along at idle speed from streetlight to streetlight. Cranking down the window, he could hear the snow compressing under the tires. The air smelled clean like the laundry he would bring in from the winter clothesline for his mother – his t-shirts like stiff slabs of flake cod.
“Otto-Matic Windows,” Rollie announced to the empty park that abutted the road. He wound his window up a few turns and thought of his father’s invention – a house window that cranked open and closed like a car window. A year after Barislowski’s gadget came out, a big window brand from Minnesota launched a similar version – but more refined – and that was that. Otto Barislowski always believed the US outfit had stolen the idea from him. Disillusioned, Otto sold the company a few years later.
“Jesus H. Christ!” said Waxman. He panted as he lay on his back in a snowdrift, the heavy case of Rothmans Kings beside him. “It is frickin’ hard work being a criminal mastermind!”
Thunderella watched him. The Pegasus sled rested behind her loaded with its own case of cigarettes and also a 24-pack of Super-Fluft Toilet Paper Rolls. Three-ply.
“What the hell are you doing with that?” Waxman had growled at her when they were in the warehouse.
“They were in the bathroom! We are almost out at home – so, I figured, ‘Why not?’” she had explained, in reply.
“I guess we can get $3, maybe $4 per carton for the smokes,” Waxman said from the snow bank, bringing her back into the now. He held a mittened hand up so the big flakes would not land in his face. “So, we got 96 cartons – that’s three hundred bucks! Kids are gonna get some great presents this year.”
“No way, Waxy. It’s gonna be all imported cheese and fancy wine for you and me. 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.
“As if,” Thunderella added, suddenly serious. She pointed a gauntlet at the elfin figure below her, “you know the only two reasons I’m in on this stupid caper, right Einstein?”
“Yeah, and they’re both home sleeping, Ellen,” Waxman said, holding a hand up to her.
“It’s a bent-ass world,” she replied. It was her stock comment to the many philosophers who populated the dingy Nox Beverage Room where she worked slinging draught beer. It seemed to fit the moment.
Thunderella helped Waxman up. “Ready to go?” she asked.
Rollie saw them about the same time they saw him.
“No sense in running, ‘Rella,” Waxman said without breaking stride.
“It ain’t a cop anyway,” his wife replied. “Maybe we can get a ride? I’m pooped.”
Waxman stopped. He dropped the case of cigarettes down off his shoulder and held it against his belly, arching his back. “Hell, yeah. My back is killin’ me, eh.”
“Fuckin’ A,” she said, tugging at the sled. “Let me go first.”
“Yeah, show a little cleavage,” he said.
Thunderella stuck her tongue out at him and strode; pushing through the fallen snow with purpose towards the approaching car.
“Jesus H. Christ,” Rollie said to himself. He rolled the window all the way down. It’s them! He recognized the “Rothmans” name and logo on the side of the boxes. He calculated: one case on the sled, one case being carried. “That makes two plus one that the cops had and the two in my trunk,” he said out loud. “Five cases of RM Kings altogether.” This was perfect, seeing as he had told the cops to mark down ten cases as stolen.
“Hi, honey!” Thunderella said to him as she neared the car. He shifted into park. She was a tall woman. It looked like she was about six-months pregnant, but it was hard for Rollie to tell because of the puffy parka she wore.
“Mother of a night, or what?” said the man behind her. Roland was surprised by Waxman’s appearance – short and almost round. He walked like a wind-up toy.
“Listen,” Thunderella said, fanning her face with a mitten. “We live maybe ten blocks that way, at Schultz Street,” she said, pointing east. “Any chance a girl could get a lift?”
“What’s that?” Roland said, feigning ignorance and pointing his chin at the cigarette cases.
“Well,” Waxman said, leaning sideways to speak around Thunderella. “We was shoppin; and then this buddy of mine, he got a deal on smokes. So we went down to his place and scored these smokes and then we had a few pops – well I did, anyway, she’s up-the-stump, eh.” Waxman spat the story out and while he did, Thunderella swivelled around so Rollie couldn’t see her face and gave her husband a cross-eyed look.
“Got a helluva deal on the ass-wipe – I mean toilet tissue,” Waxman said – a bit distracted – in conclusion.
“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Rollie said.
Rollie rubbed a glove against the inside of his foggy windshield, thinking about what to do. The cops had left the warehouse by now. These two lived right on his way home. He peered ahead in the headlights – there were no signs of movement in any direction. Not a creature was stirring. He considered himself, Paulos, Pozzo and also Mutt and Jeff. He considered the little beaver of a man and the beautiful, imposing pregnant woman standing beside the road in the frigid, forsaken night with stolen cigarettes and toilet paper.
A minute later the old Ford crept down Flora Avenue, the snow-crusted roof bearing three cardboard boxes and a flying horse. The red taillights vanished in a flurry of blowing snow.
Pozzo walked into his office, tucking in his shirt and adjusting his tie. He sat down at his desk and then dialed the phone, pushing the little buttons with extra vigour. He was in a fuming swivet about something.
“Poland!” he said in a loud voice. “What the hell is wrong with that shit-for-brains brother of yours?” Pozzo listened intently to Paulos’ reply.
“What do mean, ‘What do you mean?’” he said in a sing-song voice. “First I get stranded in the bloody Regina airport then I find out we got ripped off. And then,” he re-gripped the phone and moved it close to his mouth. “And then I go to the can just now for my morning constitutional and guess what?”
“No frickin’ TOILET PAPER, that’s what!”
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.
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