Morning Serial: Prairie’s End, Manitoba 1

I wake up most mornings with a half a dozen characters, a plotline or two, and a bunch of run-on sentences running around in my head. After the requisite morning constitutions are ratified, I oftentimes just let these night-grown inspirations fade away.

Well, no more! I am resolved to give my readers something to read! How about a good old-fashioned serial? Compelling, bent-widget characters with a rollicking plot fraught with lotsa knots, cliff-hangers and roundabouts that meet in the middle.

In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, it will be voluminous, spontaneous, and free-flowing. You don’t know where the story and the characters are going, so why should I? I won’t promise 50,000 words, but you never know what my morning coffee will deliver!

Fun? I hope so! My ulterior motive is to build a readership who appreciate my brand of schiet-stained rambling and are on-board for something maybe not so much fine arts mastered but more glockenspiel on acid. You know what I mean.

We begin…

Episode One: An Apple a Day (915 words, about a six-minute read)

Donald and Maria Oswald were happy. They had a quiet, loving marriage and lived in a paid-for double-wide—(“This Unit will make your smiles DOUBLE WIDE!”)—just a fat pitching wedge away from the Beauchamp Highway. Their corner lot was neatly tended, grass grew dense and dark green on the sloping lawn. No weeds defiled this Gretna Green.

“Just ‘cuz we don’t have no basement, don’t mean we don’t need no drainage,” Donald would proclaim. Standing stiff and tall inside next to the ‘Proud Panoramic Picture Window’ like an animated John A. Macdonald statue, he would watch the rain come down. He took inordinate satisfaction from seeing the rivulets run off the convex dome of packed topsoil. “Glad I mixed ‘er wit pea gravel,” he would murmur, his Adam’s Apple riding up and down like a ball on a string.

“Fallin’ on my head like a mammary,” he would sing-song, grabbing Maria’s blue jean mama butt as she walked by and the torrents poured out of the sky.

In Spring and Fall, there was a lot of rain. During the brief heat of Summer, thunderstorms visited them almost nightly, hammering the tinny roof in a deluge. These were angry, driving rains, the drops making pock-marks in the sandy aggregate of their block road that dried hard like smallpox scars. Often hailstones collected, glimmering white in the blue lard bucket that held the downspout, looking like batting practice baseballs before a Reimer Reindeer game.

“Real cedar siding,” Donald would point out to visitors, tapping on the horizontal slats and sneering at neighbouring vinyl facsimiles, their brittle, embossed skins yellowing in the sun.

On the adjoining lot were two Granny Houses. They were placed one at each end of the seigneurial shaped, convex-topped grass strip like identical twins on either end of a teeter-totter.

“We got the Little Big House Deluxe models,” Maria would chime-in as they toured visiting relatives from Wawanesa. “It was a little more money but Juanita and Wade are worth it. Family, you know.”

The Little Big Houses were likewise clad in cedar, with black shingle roofs—(“low-slope”)—and eight-by-eight decks, each holding identical Canadian Tire MeatMaster barbeques. Each home was like a brown Lego piece, wedged snugly into its end of the fish-finger shaped lot, the two protruding decks facing one another like four-year-olds with their tongues sticking out.

Juanita lived in the rearmost cube. She was a pert, big-busted woman with grey hair tousled just so and her strip mall clothes tight-fitting and providing an easy-to-follow focal pathway to her freckled but still-smooth cleavage. “Gotta show the boys what they want,” she’d trill, pushing her butt out and pointing her breasts up. “Hi-beam!” she’d proclaim proudly as Wade cringed. Gino, owner of the local service station and a widower, came by on alternate Wednesdays to align her headlights.

Juanita’s son by Donald was a middle-aged man named Wade. He was her detached co-habitant on the narrow property, living across the grassy curtilage that separated their tidy abodes. Wade was a man for whom two things were true. First, he was not yet achieving the success he foresaw for himself as a child. Second, he won $25,555 in the first ever Lotto 5/55 draw held in Manitoba in 1982. His five numbers won second-prize – he needed the bonus number to claim the top prize of $55,555. It was widely believed that the existence of this latter cash fact greatly contributed to the ongoing truth of the former life fact. This apparent causal relationship was invisible to Wade’s parents, Donald and Maria, and his birth mother, Juanita, but was plainly evident to all of the neighbours in the Jolly Reindeer Trailer Court and Retirement Club.

He was known as “Wade-a-minute,” or, “Wade-down,” or sometimes, “LightWade,” by the sharp-tongued ex-farmers and ex-cops and ex-Reimer Reindeer truck drivers that populated the ticky-tack, block-on-block grid. They thought little of this 48-year-old bachelor living next to the rolling strip of black macadam that stretched from Prairie’s End, Manitoba to Toronto, Ontario.

“He’s just lucky he hit that jackpot,” they’d say, their cups of Timmies steaming in mute agreement. “I’d be set for life too if I’da won that kinda money when I was twenty!” Truth is they didn’t, they wouldn’ta and they had no clue.

Wade knew of their name-calling, but he didn’t care. It was him after all, not them, who had taken the $25,555 Lotto cheque and signed it over to his cousin Woody, a newly-minted investment advisor in Winnipeg. His money went all-in… Apple (AAPL) at $220 USD per share. He had invested on a drunken bet, Woody saying he would give Wade his new Camaro if Apple stock did not at least double in the first year.

Had he not panicked and sold most of his shares in the tumble of 2009, just last year, Wade would be worth a couple of million now. But, unknown to his family and neighbours, he still had done well. Really well, or, “Seea scheen!” as his boss, Old Man Reimer, would say. Wade kept his financial success to himself and worked patiently on his master-plan. He tapped the keys of a calculator and smirked to himself, his pencil poised above a neat column of ledger entries at the kitchen table in the Deluxe Little Big House.

“Just Wade ’til next Tuesday!” he whispered to himself. “Then we’ll see who the ‘under-achiever’ is around here!”

Next: The Stampede is Ont!

 

 

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Fiction on the Web Presents “City Lights”

My short story, “City Lights” is up on Fiction on the Web. FotW, based in Londonis 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.

You can buy the book from Amazon (UK linkUS link).

 

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:

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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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A final plane and polish, by Sue Tyley

 

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.

A final plane and polish, by Sue Tyley

#

For more information on the “The Best of Fiction on the Web” anthology, follow the following fish:

icon_FOTW 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.


allfornow friends,

Mitch
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The Rothmans Job

Dec 30, 2017 – It’s 30 below zero (Celcius) and our sewer line is frozen. Here’s a story to suit. This story appeared on CommuterLit January 30, 2017 and was reprinted on SickLit March 30, 2017.

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!”

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.

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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

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

A Beautiful Day by the River Babble

Dog bites man. Man writes story.

Small things that happen in a simple life. Or are they really small? A dog bite may be small to a lion tamer, but less inconsequential to most others. A story about a dog bite may be an uncomplicated retelling or it could be more – an imagining and a quick, unobscured peek into the lives of others.

Anyway – whatever the magic potion was, it was enough to make it into a publication that has a good many more stripes on its sleeves than me. I’ll take the upgrade and work hard not to aww-shucks it into something less than it is, nor succumb to the creeping inclination to think “CCCChhrist, I’m good!” as I run a board though the table saw and nip the tip of my pinky off, flitzing it into the nearby bush to become a snack for an omnivorous, unpretentious squirrel.

The story is “The Margin of the River” and it first appeared in the Canadian journal CommuterLit, last December as ‘”Gather by the River, Part 2″.  A painting of mine – “Brown Eyed Girl”, which has a small connection to the story, is the cover image of the Summer issue of riverbabble, number 31, Bloomsbury 2017.

Thanks to the kind people at Pandemonium Press for including my work in riverbabble.

allfornow – Mitch

Ink and Virtual Ink

I write every day. It’s a reliable and productive way to do the job and besides, I am an obsessive sort, given to 15-year spurts of sometimes/usually idiotic fervour.

Entering now my second full year of devotion to fiction only somewhat interrupted by the needs of my splintered 67-year-old cottage, I now appreciate that “writing every day” has strata and graduations.

Yesterday, for example, I did a lot of “real writing”; top strata stuff. I wrote about half a story — a tale of logging in the temperate rainforest in British Columbia. Next, I refined and polished an existing 2300-worder that is quite new and in which I have a lot invested. It has been shit-canned (declined) a few times but I think it’s getting close. I redid the ending and the opening sentence – hard stuff, there. Neat. No rocks or mix. After polishing, I submitted it to a site that I am excited about and hope to get my second base hit in as many at-bats with them.

That almost covers the pale; writing, re-writing & editing, polishing, blogging, tweeting.

The first four are production. The last two are sales and marketing. Those two major divisions–production | marketing–are similar to the disciplines in which I spent, respectively, much of my work career. The first sixteen years making things out of wood; the next 21 making things out of thin air. Well, words and pictures, anyway.

Like everyone else, when I made the jump to hyperspace and gave myself freely to the gods of fiction, it was with the belief that I would be writing. That’s it. I’d write stories. People would read them. Various levels of mutual satisfaction and progress would ensue.

I had no notion that there would be various levels or that I’d be like every cop character on every crime drama on TV, ever — I would love the real police work (ie. writing) and detest the ignoble job of “paperwork” (ie. promotion). Ironic, since I spent the last two decades trying to persuade people to buy stuff. I was a brass-knuckled, bull moose promoter.

So, to recap: the item you are reading right now is blogging. This level of writing is without doubt, not pure art. Nor is it pure fluff. It’s somewhere in between and would take a far stouter mind than mine to reckon where on the entertainment vs enlightenment scale it falls.

A few days back I had TWO short stories launching on one day. Two distinct stories on two distinct sites. A good day. (June 5 – buy a lottery ticket next year. Trust me.) So that day was spent in the throes of persuasion and proclamation. I had written two stories, sweated the shit out of them and put my bloody, beating heart into them. Risked ridicule. Banished doubt – if only long enough to press SEND. I had been rewarded by two smart, discerning, educated and deadly serious editors with two separate acceptances. (Take THAT, Duotrope statistics!) So, you have to agree, having put all that soul into the scribblings, I owed it to myself to see to it that a few readers learned of these acceptances – these hallowed, hard-won publications. 

Can I get an AMEN?

But. Yeah, “but.” The fly in the proverbial colloidal gel is that all that time I spent being glib and puntastic on twitter and Niume and FlipBoard and whatever-the-hell-other intercapped literary promo web sites you got… was time spent–all together now–NOT WRITING.

Yes, instead of writing the first half of that lumberjack story or finishing one of the other dangling dirty realities I have on my artiste’s workbench, I twiddled and twaddled and twittered. I blithered and I blogged and the fork ran away with the spoon.

So, in the final analysis, promo is just part of the job. The writer’s job. There’s no doubt. Pipsqueak writers like me, afloat in the immense literary ocean, splash and wave and try to flash a mirror in the eye of the hoards of readers and literati who sail by. Big shot authors have their people* do all the promo stuff, BUT they have to make the rounds. They have to dress well, be literate beyond the “How about those Canucks?” level and speak intelligently and with the appeal of the celebrity class about their writing; other writing; all writing; art; and LIFE.

Life, Goddamnit, life.

So, I had better get used to it. (Again.) Back to the promotional coal mines. Back down–like Vincent Van Gogh and the children of Borinage–into the pitch black of the coal mine of sales, marketing, advertising. Back to the banalities of brand, the anal obsession with attributes, and the diatribe of differentiation.

Toews short stories: “Great Taste!” “Less Filling!”

“One third fewer adverbs per page!”

“Read, WOMEN WITHOUT BONNETS for raw, unbridled Mennonite dance party descriptions, ripped from the lives of ditt sied!”

I think I will just let my inner smart-ass take over the marketing department and, you know, let the F-bombs, the arcane references, and the obscure puns fall where they may. Who knows? That may be the best marketing plan of all.

allfornow – Mitch

(*They have people, don’t they? I want them to have people.)