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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Confessions of a Serial Describer

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

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

Except the last part.

Let me reverse digress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See what I mean?

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

allfornow – Mitch

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

#amwriting

I have not blogged for a few days, but I have been hard at work on a lot of other writerly tasks.

  • Rowing on the lake; hiking the trails in the snow; scattering miniature marshmallows for the suspicious Whiskey Jacks (I save the sunflower seeds for myself!); prepping my workshop/writer’s studio for winter and otherwise bobbin’ and weavin’ and feeding my soul .
  • Working on a major re-write slash tune-up of a new story that I have in first draft stage. It is a satire. I received a little expert advice from a great writer + blogger with some chops in this area. Gonna incorporate her mentorly comments. Maybe send her a ring of Winkler sausage or two.
  • Re-did this blog a bit. Put in a Publications page now that I have a few places online and in print where my stuff resides. I’ve also replaced the stock photos with a few Samsung snaps of the place where Janice and I live and drink the wild air 1.
  • Waiting for some expert editorial assistance on a story a few of my “early readers” have enjoyed. I have high hopes for this sad tale of resistance and regret. I hope to knit up my ravell’d sleave 2 and enter this one in some contests! If you’d like a preliminary copy of “The Log Boom” to read and possibly flop me an op, (RSVP a POV?) lemme know!
  • Part way through a new story about Hartplatz (Steinbach on a sunny day in my imagination) narrated by an inanimate object. “Graperoo” should be done soon!
  • I have been cleaning up some existing stories that I hope to submit to some of my fav lit sites and maybe some new ones too. Now that I have a small portfolio of acceptances, I am hopin’ to scramble a bit higher up the mountainous submission piles of some of the bigger-name Canadian literary journals. It is a big hurdle, that. Afterall, I am naught but a humble country mouse who LOOKS like a Trump deplorable (but sure ain’t) and has no discernible prose DNA, except for a famous surname that some may suspect – oh, so wrongly – I have usurped. Maybe I should try a pen name? How about “Rich Davis” — that’s what my real name sounds like when I say it with a stuffy nose. Or, “Carly Menno Simons?”  A virtual gender swap might shake up those weary slush pile readers who sputter, over-caffeinated – “What, exactly, IS a Rennie, Manitoba?”
    rejection-letter-schultz 3

allfornow – Mitch/Rich/Carly

~~~
1 – R.W. Emerson
2 – you know who
3 – C. Schultz, but you prolly knew that one too

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

Chicken Fingers, Fritos and Frankensteins

NEXT TO A LAKE ON A SUNNY DAY IN NOVEMBER, I just want to say, with reverence, that writing short stories is hard as hell.

Do tell – or whine on – you might say. I will, but only the former – I promise. Plus, there is the opportunity to learn about the fascinating world of pencil grooves and ink wells.

It is non-fiction to say that there are many people writing fiction. They comprise a lot of young writers and a teeming, grey pool of boomers, unshackled from their jobs. With the barriers to entry not seemingly insurmountable, there are a lot of contestants in the race. Especially now that self-publishing has made so many Frankenstein monsters — and some beautiful strangers.

Nonetheless, a large pool of skilled writers are active. So many stories are wonderful – the kind that make you want another one right away. Like chicken fingers.

To even out the score, there are literally thousands of places where a writer may submit a story, both print and online. That is a good thing for aspiring writers, but the competitiveness of the literary journal segment makes those publishers exceedingly tough on new voices. The vast majority of lit journals make it their business to deliver new authors to the scene, but they must be, and are, ruthlessly diligent in finding the best of the new writers.

There are a lot of journals, but so many are new that the available financial income – not abundant in the first place – is spread thin. As a result, there are a lot of dedicated volunteers, working late and dusting Frito crumbs off their keyboards as they toil on the slush pile. Sometimes, response times can be too long and, well, I’m not getting any younger. 

In addition, the aging white man narrative is one that is not at the top of editors’ short lists these days. My stories have to soar because they are not supported by a mandate or precondition. Women, LGBTQ, People of Colour, Feminists, People with Disabilities and many other cohorts have specific themes – or whole journals – available to spotlight their particular segment. This offers them an enhanced opportunity to be seen. To be discovered.

Now before you push back and say, “here we go,” hear this: I have no qualms with that approach. It is, in many cases, overdue and given the need to bring in fresh, first-person experience, necessary. A single mom, working two jobs and supporting three kids does not have the time to write. Offering her a forum with an inherent fast-track makes sense.

So it’s just a fact and I deal with it. Besides, if I tough it out, without any fast-tracks, I could benefit as a writer by being borne solely by the popularity of my stories; by the quality of my writing. I can’t forget that.

So too, is it of value that most editors are younger than me. That may create obstacles because of dissociation – they might not know what my references mean (see the “Featured Image” above). But once again, it forces me to write better. If I am lazy and rely on an old, fuzzy-edged meme to support my point, I will fail with an editor who does not intuitively understand the embedded inference.

My objective must be to give readers experiences like this:

“Crystal clear details of a world that I do not know. A journey to another place.”

And the little town slept.

I will battle on. I’m not exceptionally patient and wish I was more so – that would help. I tend to press a little and maybe get a little too self-promotional. It is part of the old white guy songbook – when your life occasionally feels like the last few bars of Stairway to Heaven (pardon any dissociation) you tend to want to get shit done.

allfornow – m

See LINKS to the scribblings of mine that made it past the Frito crumbs of the slush pile, HERE.

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016