Call Me Popeye

“Call me Ishmael.”

No. Too much.

“Call me Popeye.”

Better.

Why? The arc of my fiction writing career, while it is not literally about whale hunting, certainly could be said to have a metaphoric resemblance to the life of the harpoonist. Taking the famous opening line from Melville’s tale might help me to express the idea that I hope to be – like Ishmael – a survivor and one of those who regularly set out to engage fearsome behemoths in a foreign place. And–like Popeye–remain true to me. In either case – the great American novel or the great American cartoon – I find myself like those protagonists; ill-equipped and naive. I seek my fortune without truly knowing the cost of that quest.

I am what I am. That is my both my raison de’entre and my preparation. Am I unlikely? Am I preposterous? Am I nuts? Am I a long-shot in flannel pajamas? You bet yer plaid arse I am.

First, I suppose I need to support the idea that what I do qualifies as a career. I admit, with Alford guilt, that career might be at best an overstatement; at worst an inaccuracy. I have been writing and submitting short stories (and one sci-fi novella) to literary magazines and contests for approximately two years. In that time I have submitted about 183 stories. Most have been fictional short stories, a lesser number were flash fictions of less than one thousand words. I have also pitched – with little finesse and even poorer prospects of success – a collection of short stories to a handful of publishers.

In 2015, I submitted two short fictions; in 2016, 106; and in 2017, 75, so far. I have had 37 acceptances. My happy tally includes 28 individual, distinct stories and nine reprints. I have a few contest notables (“W’s” in my book, if not theirs) and several sincere, encouraging rejections asking for additional submissions. (A tie, in sports parlance?)

Nine unpublished stories are currently outstanding, awaiting a decision from editors. Two more unpublished stories await their next assignment – they have each been rejected a few times and will be sent over the top again, soon. I have a handful of work-in-progress and at least one red-hot concept that I wake up to each morning.

My last point on the career question is negative: How can it be a career when I lose money – not a lot, but enough to piss me off – each year?

State of the Union

Although I won’t get the standing ovations that U.S. Presidents receive when they deliver their summary reports, neither do I hand out plum jobs or government largesse. My self-assessment is as follows (please hold your applause to the end):

  • I have had more stories accepted than I would have guessed. Duotrope tells me that statistically, I am ahead of the pack when it comes to batting average. I’m right around Ty Cobb’s lifetime BA, so, I ain’t bitchin’.
  • Getting a story READ by the big publications is still far beyond my current dan ranking (Mennodan)
  • I have remained true to my original ideas of “how I should write”
  • I’ve worked with a professional editor a few times now and I can shout from the mountaintops that this is my greatest literary revelation, to date. Editors are remarkable and help a shabby mechanic like me in a most profound way. I need an editor.
  • Writing begets writing. Blogs and twitter nonsense are consumers of time and energy, but they do pay some rent in terms of practice and trial & error. (Like this article.) Also, from a marketing perspective; social media is a necessary tool for all but the most gifted of the gifted.
  • Rejection is manageable. I can handle it. It’s no fun, but, it’s part of the deal. I dislike, however, the amount of time many publications take to respond – it seems like a kind of (mild) artist abuse. Duotrope reported 276,000+ submissions in 2016. This multitude of stories was sent to the 6,000 or so English language lit mags out there. That is 46 stories per publication, on average, so why do so many pubs take three months to respond? I know it’s more complicated than that, but it hurts to wait.
  • At this point, I have exceeded my most optimistic pre-game visualizations. I have sent out homegrown stories about average Joe’s – many of them of the work-a-day variety, quotidian Mennonites, Ukrainians, and Francophones. I scattergunned these yarns out to an editorial demographic that might be described as urban, urbain, 30-something, female valedictorians with a much-photographed cat and an MFA. And guess what? These stormtroopers of the slush pile accepted them. They published my stories!

My God! Bright, worldly editors and audiences in the US, Canada, the UK and Ireland have taken to my stories about rural Manitoba in the Sixties. Is this a dream?

I will continue. It’s getting harder because I am taking more chances with my writing and I am submitting to bigger markets. My acceptance in riverbabble, for one, suggests that I have the chops to tip-toew down some hallowed halls. I’m beginning to feel like I have a few supporters out there who might remember my name for uncomplicated reasons, like, they liked what they read.

I hope so if, for no other reason than that characters like Pete Vogt, my grandma Toews, my dad and other co-combatants with shit-spattered boots from the not-that-peaceful streets of my Steinbach upbringing deserve a little playtime outside of “Ditsied“.

gloria gaynor lyrics
Sing along…

allfornow,
Mitch

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That Guy

It used to be, when I was a teenager and we drank too much because that was the sole objective, we had this funny thing we’d say in the morning. We would comment, of a too bright morning, “One of these days I’m gonna catch that guy.”

Chorus: “Which guy?”

“That guy who sneaks into my room and shits in my mouth right before I wake up!”

Sorry – low-life that I am – I still think that is funny.

But now, I have graduated. Now I can deliver a new punch line:

“That guy who sneaks in and messes up all my sentences right before I press send!”

allfornow – m

 

“Why Do You Write?” he asked, one dark and stormy night.

OK, this sounds completely boring and self-important, but it is really kind of a tough question.

At the risk of becoming even more internet repellant – sonetimes I feel like I am RAID! for followers – here goes. Please weigh in, or whey in (feeling cheesy?) or shoot over a scathing one-liner or an interesting comment. Or if you are intrinsically repellant like me, just do whatever it is we would do instinctually and hope that it is opposite day.

A fellow writer asked on twitter,

“Why do you write ? For money , or for a release ?”

I am of course tempted, repeller that I am, to jump in with a juvenile comment of the “That’s what Phlegyas said,” type, but I will restrain myself.

SIDEBAR: If you DID NOT have to Google ‘Phlegyas’, then please send in a pithy comment. You could definitely offset some of my native repellency. A pronunciation guide would serve to validate your braininess.
If on the other hand, you immediately thought of Steve Carell saying, “That’s what SHE said,” in a ten-year old episode of The Office, then, welcome, fellow repeller; meine abstoßenshaft.
SIDEBAR P.S. – writing things in German that you obviously just translated online to make it seem like you actually speak another language is classic repellency. 

If – like me – you thought, “Define release,” then please read on. I actually responded in a kind of mildly non-repellant way. I base this on the reply from the OP (which stands for Objectionable Person in the Internet Repellency club, of which I am the President. And Past President.) I answered the OP (onomatopoeia producer? I know OP stands for something relevant and internetty, but I can’t think of it.) by saying that, “release is closer, but misses”.

Pretty good, eh?

He replies, “What hits the nail?”. Also good.

So what is it? What is the answer that Orion’s Pantleg seeks?

Here is my half-serious, not trying to be funny rather than being gutty and layng it out there, slightly non-abstoßen response:

For me, it’s a kind of compulsion; almost involuntary.

It is analogous to splinters, for those of you who – like me – get a lot of splinters (slivers: wood or metal) in your hands. If you can’t get the splinter out right away, it sits in there for a while until a little pus cocoon develops around the splinter and then, one evening, while you are re-reading Inferno by a roaring fire (naturlich), your body just EXPELS the splinter.

Bloop. A little wet spot shows up on your hand and there is the splinter: wet and shrunken and looking way less fearsome than when it shoved its intrusive way in there.

The point is, once the sliver (let’s call that THE IDEA) enters the skin (THE CREATIVE MIND) it must be dislodged (WRITTEN) by the pus (THE STORY).

In my experience, this is true for gardening, writing, art, innovation, marriage, child-rearing and sometimes, survival.

Also blogs.

allfornow – m

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

To the Crocus Born

My wife and I are home in Manitoba for the first winter in nine years. We spent the last damn-near-decade in Chilliwack, BC – where every Manitoba Mennonite has a relative and where the view is better but the pews are just as hard.

Not that I would know about the pews, but maybe I’ll start my own Mennonite Conference – ACC or Pac 10, if they don’t mind sharing the name – and become an expert.

Anyway.

Incidentally, “anyway” is a word that I need to use frequently when I blog. (OK, Fussy Frances – when I write in my blog.) I need it so much that as the self-decreed prose laureate of Jessica Lake (including the islands) I also decree that “Anyway.” is a proper sentence. Grammatically correct, for all prose written at Jessica Lake (and the islands).

It’s like dirty sex talk — the rules of grammar may be suspended, by mutual consent, for proper effect. Not that I would know about such, but for the sake of argument.

Anyway. (SEE!? I was totally down a descriptive rabbit hole there, and AbraCadabraIjustWannaGrabYa, I write an ‘Anyway.’ sentence and I am OUT.)

Back to the topic. Jan and I are facing the prospect of a Manitoba-length winter, REASONABLY truncated by a term in Mexico, but still long and cold. But what I have noticed is that even after a stretch on the coast, in Canada’s best weather/insect/insufferable loud-mouth schnook combination climate (two outta three), we are still Manitoba stock. We are grizzled. We are hardy – and I don’t mean the familiar for Hartmund, although some of the nicest people I know are Hartmunds. (“Robusto” in Spanish. Now there’s a freakin’ name!) I mean tough, dude.

Here’s my Top Ten ‘TOBA TUFF TELL-TALES. (Out-alliterate that, you Ontario pantywaistes!)

Note: There may not be ten, as counting is made ‘toba Tuff because I may have lopped off a digit or two working construction in the summers, and/or I am slightly blind from a youth filled with Uncle Ben’s Beer/Anti-Freeze.

1 – I have frozen my ears often enough to have a doctor tell my parents that if I freeze them, ONCE MORE, they will fall off. My Mom still tells me I should wear a toque (rusty or otherwise) and I am bloody sixty!

2 – I think it’s OK to have cyclists pedal on the 2-5/8″ wide yellow stripe on the edge of the pavement, next to the gravel shoulder. The only paved shoulder in the province is still that commemorative stretch out by Portage where the Queen pulled the motorcade over to spit, right? Hasn’t changed?

3 – I would waterski in the Red River. I would waterski in the Red River, fall and then squirt a mini-geyser of river water out through the tiny gap between my two front teeth until (deep breath) …until it plugged.

4 – I could identify Nick Hill by voice alone on an episode of CSI Miami (the one out by Portage) before the DNA could come back from the lab.

5 – I have played Fris-beer in winter; in the snow; by headlight. Bonus points – I did it while stoned on Rosemary from Ben Friesen’s Mom’s spice rack. “Nice rack, Mrs. F.,” I said, and then we all laughed for a really long time.

Anyway.

That’s about it. These blog things should be kept short so that my devotees are not delayed from also playing Words With Friends. As long as they don’t send me a thousand of those stupid Candy Crush requests. Oh but ignorant.

#

If you want more reading punishment of a similar nature, please visit this awesomer than average site where more of my real stories — ones where the “Anyway.” bylaw is not in effect — may be found. It is a UK site and everyone knows they are terrible smrt, so be sure to mention that at coffee tomorrow: https://literallystories2014.com/authors-k-z/t-u/toews-mitchell/

The website is Literally Stories and the tagline is Short story fiction from around the world and especially Manitoba”

SKILL-TESTING QUESTION: What do the English call the two items in the picture?

Hint: The one on the left is a glass of water from the Red River.

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016