First Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kits mitch zoom
Me, striking a prose…

 

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

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

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

allfornow – mitch

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

 

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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

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

Glass Half Empty

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

11.13.16 – I have decided to submit this flash – satire – fantasy – historical fiction partridge in a pear tree to a literary journal. In respect of that submission, I have removed the main body of the story here and left an excerpt.

Thanks to those who offered opinions.

I will post a link to the published version if and when that happens. Polls indicate almost no chance of that happening; however…

Glass Half Empty

By Mitchell Toews

In 1935, a successful German immigrant, businessman Friedrich Rook, commissioned a history to be written about his life and times. Mr. Otto Brechtzeit was the Seattle agent hired to assemble a team to create this biography. Here is one day in Mr. Brechtzeit’s prosecution of that task.

THANK YOU FOR SEEING ME, Mr. Brechtzeit. Let me just say, to start with, that in the occupation of narrator, we beer steins have not made ourselves well known. Still, I believe in the American dream and feel that, despite certain disadvantages having to do with my being an inanimate object, I deserve a fair chance.

Yes, I have credentials. As I stated in my letter of application dated October 5, 1935, I was employed during the period in question – 1885 – by the Sommerfelder Bar in Puyallup, in the then-unincorporated Territory of Washington.

I am a beer stein and I was used to convey cold beer, an alcoholic beverage made out of grain, yeast, hops and water.

It is flavourful, I agree and no, due to the non-porous nature of my body, I do not absorb sufficient amounts in order to become inebriated. I am in no way an alcoholic, sir. Nor am I a teetotaller — I still enjoy allowing the suds to soak in around my rim and the salt from the imbibers’ lips is also delicious.

What? Oh, sorry – the salt is from the pretzels. Yes the pretzel salt is quite zesty. I believe the salt is from Utah. Yes, it is washed away – sometimes more than once a day. It is washed away in the way all residue is, with soap and warm water. Alright, I hope that answers your questions about the salt – that’s a lot of questions about salt.

What makes me the best candidate for the job? Well, Mr. Brechtzeit, that is a most central question…

*SNIP*

allfornow – mitch
mitchellaneous.com

Au Vent Fou

I LOVE THE WIND.

I have come to love it because I am, and have been for twenty years, a windsurfer. Windsurfers pay attention to the wind, for obvious reasons. It becomes an obsession – I cannot pass by a pond of any size greater than a few board lengths and not mentally assess the quality of the chop, the direction and the relative strength and stability of the breeze blowing across its surface.

The wind is the engine and it is the determining factor in all decisions the sailor makes. Windsurfing, perhaps more than any other kind of sailing is closest to the wind. The sailor holds the wind in her hands, by proxy. Rudderless, the windsurfer depends on the intimate interplay between three, critical and infinitely variable elements: the craft on the surface of the water, the fin that imparts the energy from the sail, and the sail itself. Point of sail, mechanical differences, skill and luck play key roles too, but water, physics and wind make the stew; the other factors are more like flavourings.

Windsurfing – strangely counterintuitive despite its apparent simplicity – is difficult to learn and therefore, worthwhile just for that reason. For example – the greatest speed is found across the wind, on a reach, not downwind as beginners so often suppose.

There are many other rewarding factors too. One of the best being the look on the faces of boaters and other sailors who return to shore when the wind promises to be wicked. Windsurfers rig up and go out when that happens. We pass each other, coming and going – we matching the wind’s foolishness; them practicing moderation. I am grateful for being on the fool’s side of the equation and hope to continue to enjoy this cocky excess for as long as I can.

#

In the normal course of non-windsurfing life, we generally don’t learn much about the wind. We suffer it and curse it, when it is ruinous. We savour it, when it offers cooling succor. We experience it without really understanding it. Where does it come from? How is it controlled? It is, above all, mysterious. The wind operates in anonymity; invisible except to the touch. The falling barometer can divine it but offers no real idea as to the exact time, duration, location or the strength with which the wind will blow.

The wind is notoriously unpredictable. It comes and goes – a steady wind is rare, gusts are the norm. Even in the mistrals and siroccos of the world, where breezes can be forecast with a degree of daily certainty, the wind reserves the right to variegate – if not with colours, for it is transparent, then with intensity and direction.

The Mayans worshipped several gods and one of them, named Huracán (remind you of something?) ruled the wind. Well, that is, it did its best to try. The wind had other ideas. In the Mayan tradition, it was truly wild; uncontrollable and without heed.

#

Here are the things about the wind that I have learned by sailing in it, or that I believe to be true. The wind is sticky. In fact, the air that is propelled by the wind is the sticky bit. It sticks to itself – clinging to similar molecules like an evangelist to his pew. Temperature and humidity form into homogenous clumps that travel together. These clumps adhere to shorelines and points of land; they avoid dissimilar clumps like magnetic poles. This meniscus – or surface tension – characteristic seems to me, more than any other single factor, to define the physicality of the wind.

So, as I look out to windward, I watch the colour and texture of the waves: grey, wrinkly chop (like in the picture above, with the incredibly handsome – but also grey and wrinkled – sailor) foretells of a low, powerful gust – an even more accurate telltale than whitecaps. Context clues like trees, flags, and other sailing vessels help to enrich the description. Then the gust arrives and…nothing. The next time, with the identical context clues, …whoosh! A powerful gust.

Tumbling Tumbleweeds

My theory – more of a mental picture, really – to explain this inconsistency is that the wind is like a series of passing masses, travelling like giant, invisible tumbleweeds of moving air. There is a rowdy mob of them, randomly jostling, pairing and shouldering one another out of the way. They crowd forward on the water and despite manifesting signs like waves, chop, and flag-waving they sometimes bounce right over my sail – leaving me waiting; bereft of wind power. Their stickiness and propensity to cling to a surface and then suddenly release gives them this strange variability. Like a stampeding herd they race across the surface, sometimes jumping over, other times bulling their way through those objects they encounter on their unplotted path.

I think of these invisible tumbleweeds as gleeful and childlike; or like antelope or a flight of plover – unified and unscripted, a spontaneous choir in a rapturous choreography. This is of course influenced by my personal bliss at being part of this natural symphony; of being in the wind, and I am sure the wind is as uncaring and detached as the falling snow or a single flame in a raging fire. We assign emotion and judgement based on the outcomes and our perceptions.

My logical mind knows the wind is neither angry nor kind. It just is.

On a still, hot Spring afternoon, I raked leaves near the shore of our lake. Hearing a strange noise, I looked up towards the sound to see a swirling upwelling of leaves, branches and dust. It sounded like a highway tractor with a heavy trailer load, slowing down to stop, its brakes hissing.
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Suddenly, our neighbour’s under-construction boathouse floor was lifted off of its foundation and became a giant pinwheel of plywood, spinning in slow motion and spitting nails and splinters of wood like a gattling gun. It rose up to maybe twenty feet in the air and then dropped to land mightily on the flat calm of the water. A zephyr of water carried on,  jetting away like a motorboat across the surface and then abruptly lifting off and disappearing.
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All of this happened in under ten seconds and after the waterspout vanished, the air was once again perfectly still and the only noise was the lapping of the wavelets caused by the boathouse floor landing in the lake and a few leaves and twigs falling into the water.
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I stood stupefied, holding my rake up in mid-air, looking to see if anyone else was around – to corroborate what I had just witnessed.
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Hot air, bound and then releasing in an explosion of movement was to blame. The spin of the earth put English on the rising column of air as it rove down the wooded hill and picked up the thousands of pounds of fir plywood and 2X8s like so much kindling.
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“Au vent fou,” I said aloud into the quiet, dumbstruck, thinking of the name of the Quebec windsurfing shop where I had just bought some gear, online.

Think of us, we windsurfers, when you drive your car on a warm day, your window open. Let your flat palm play in the wind like a foil, lifting and dropping in the stream of air. Then imagine that feeling; that unseen, natural power and think what it would be like to have your whole body pulled along over the water, at speed, the board slapping impatiently at the surface and the wind – a careening, magical hoard rushing towards you, raucous and eager as hounds in the hunt.

There you have it, that is the wind, and logic be damned.

The Trump Patch

I THINK I NEED A BREAK. Too much Trump, too much despair. I never want the whole world to agree with me, except now. I want the world – every person – to disavow Trump. That’s not healthy.

It’s also a wee, tiny bit judgey. Besides, it’s an American thang, so wuddaIcare? (Yeah, right. Like when your neighbour gets a new stereo and plays Abracadabra by the Steve Miller Band all Sunday afternoon. It has an unavoidable spill-over effect.)

So, to ward off all this bad mo-jo, I’m going on the patch. The Trump patch (“May cause nausea and/or rectal discharge”.)

If he does not get elected, things will carry on in apple-pie order. By the way, isn’t that a great saying? I know, right? (As my sister likes to say, accompanied by a funny facial expression.) The apple pie saying is an idiom used by Joseph Conrad and more recently by a really good contemporary poet named Trish Hopkinson.

Anyway, back to Trump; he does not win, all is well. He goes away except for some parting deplorable remarks and I go off the patch. End of story.

And if Trump wins? Accch. I have no idiom for that. “Deportation order? Court order? Out of order?” Hey Joe! – little help here? (Mr. Conrad knows about darkness, after all.)

I think what I would do if Trump becomes POTUS is gather my wife and my daughters and all the strong women I know — it’s a lot; I have the best women — and I’d find a person with a really obnoxious pro-Trump t-shirt and I’d let him explain to my grand-daughter how this all works. The whole rape culture thing, I mean.

And maybe my grandma Toews could come back for that one meeting and give us some tips on what she did when her generation of women rose up and set aside a lot of these crazy notions, like, fifty years ago.

Grandma is not gonna be pleased – she already weeded that row of beets.

So, bye-bye CNN, I’m on the patch. Smell ya later, Stephen Colbert, I’m outta here. Alec Baldwin: have a blast. (Heyyyy, isn’t he also the scream-at-his-daughter-on-the-phone guy?) No matter, they will figure it out without me. As John Wayne used to say, “Exercise yer conscience, if ya got one!”

POST SCRIPT: Wait. There is good from this – maybe I need to stand up and take it like a . . . well, just take it. After all, I have abused my maleness. I admit it. You have too, male reader. So maybe THAT is the silver lining here. Reminding all us would-be figuratively lily white, testiclularly-endowed humans that we have pulled a few trump cards ourselves. Maybe this spray-tanned, comb-over windbag was placed here for a reason. 

 

 

Nearly Friends

ON FACEBOOK THERE IS A CATEGORY called Nearby Friends. I glanced at my phone this morning without my glasses and thought it read, “Nearly Friends”.

How would Facebook know? I wondered, addressing my fried egg via mental telepathy.

Then I opened today’s rejection letter from a literary journal.

“Aha,” I said, and the egg gave me a knowing look. The sausage looked bored and read his Manchester Guardian. Poser.

I re-read my short story rejection letter as if it were the response to a request to be a friend of someone on Facebook:

Dear Mitchell, you simpering, insignificant wad of banality;
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If you weren’t already dead (I speak of your social life, as described on FB) I would have you killed. Or maimed – at least then you’d have something to post.
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Thank you for applying to be our friend, but unfortunately, with over 12 submissions this social period, we have been unable to find a place for you and must reject your application for friendship.
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We applaud your submission – it’s adorable, really. In fact, we here at the Forlorn Recycled Paper Depot want to spend about eight seconds knitting together a few cliches to smugly show our complete and utter lack of regard (that’s one, for those scoring at home). We’d take the time to actually say something meaningful about the content of your application, or anything really but, no. Like a well-worn trollop, this is fast and easy and we know where everything goes.
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In fact, let’s all just save some time, shall we? Just re-read one of your other rejections.
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Please be sure to compost this letter – it is made with the hopes and dreams (that’s two) of would-be Forlorn friends. (And fish heads — there are fish heads in this paper too. Also bull manure.)
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Keep friending!
Marzy & Pan
Friendship Editor and Assistant Friendship Editor

“Look,” my half-eaten egg said, slurring its words slightly due to the drool of yolk oozing out over the plate. “See that clear, somewhat eggish stuff you left in the frying pan?”

I looked. Sure enough, there was a cellophane skin of egg-yuck left in the pan. I had cut it away with the spatula before lifting the egg onto my plate.

“Well, you are kind of like that clear stuff,” the egg said, continuing patiently. I ate the sausage, pretentious cableknit sweater and all, as I listened.

“We know the clear stuff is egg. It came from the eggshell; it would pass an egg DNA test — in fact there was an episode like that on TV last night (on two different CSI-style shows, actually). It’s egg, buuuut, it’s not egg. Ya know? Where’s the yellow? Where’s the yummy? Where’s the cholesterol — although I am pretty sure we as a pop culture are off of hating eggs now, but I have not listened to CBC Radio for a few days, so don’t quote me, eh?”

She — by the way, I asked and she identified as a female. Her WordPress blog name is Madame Ovary. Pretty good stuff, if a little scrambled. Anyhow, she took a deep breath as I slid her onto a piece of buttery rye toast for the coup de grâce.

“Look, buddy – don’t feel bad. You are like the cellophane. You are a Nearly Friend, just like that clear eggy stuff is a Nearly Egg.”

allfornow – m

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016