Jessica Lake IMPRESSIONISM

I’m working a lot lately on creating stories that follow my understanding of an “impressionistic writing style.”

Impressionism as manifest in Scene; Character; Action; Sensation; and Style.

This is, you see, part of the Jessica Lake MFA I’m enrolled in. The internet and my writing group, the reading I do, my readers and editors are the instructors. I am definitely the coolest guy in my MFA. In fact, I’m the only guy in my MFA, but then, I always avoid giving statistics too much credence.

The overriding rules go a little like a Lightnin’ Hopkins song — there’s some improvisation involved as you go along:

  1. Writen in the present, without reflection or authorial comment
  2. No narrative intrusions of any kind — the story simply unfolds in the reader’s mind
  3. Choice of words is left to “Mot juste” or a sense of using just the “right” word that contributes to the totality of the piece without undue attention to the beauty of the prose.

Scene — a reportorial flow, objective, use of understatement and simple words, clear imagery, repetition and reiteration of key words and phrases, strong description of action, use of landscape to echo emotion… the last bit suggested by author and writing instructor Lauren Carter of Winnipeg.

Character — describe traits or activities, but not physical attributes

Action — up close and participatory with reader as onlooker, cinematic: rapid (fluttering) or slow motion and may utilize a bird’s-eye view from above that is clipped and declarative

Sensation — actions are felt by the reader, be concrete and crude, be simple and realistic, work the senses

Style — author should express their individuality as a writer (untarnished), focus always on the subject and what the subject experiences, use the iceberg technique to hide the worst and only show the surface — the tip — of what is wrong, and ala Hemingway and Manitoba memoirist Donna Besel, write slow and clear about the most terrible and the most hurtful.

Note: A good deal of this came from a doctoral thesis (from a few decades ago) I found on the web and now cannot relocate to cite. Acch. Quite a bit is of my own invention so… maybe the no citation is okay here. If you recognize it, lemme know!

Third Time’s a Charm?

[…] From Wikipedia: The Pushcart Prize is an American literary prize published by Pushcart Press that honors the best “poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot” published in the small presses over the previous year. Magazine and small book press editors are invited to submit works they have featured. Anthologies of the selected works have been published annually since 1976. It is supported and staffed by volunteers.

The founding editors were Anaïs NinBuckminster FullerCharles NewmanDaniel HalpernGordon LishHarry SmithHugh FoxIshmael ReedJoyce Carol Oates, Len Fulton, Leonard Randolph, Leslie FiedlerNona BalakianPaul BowlesPaul EngleRalph EllisonReynolds Price, Rhoda Schwartz, Richard Morris, Ted Wilentz, Tom Montag, Bill Henderson and William Phillips.

* * *

My story, “Sweet Caporal” about a morning of fishing on Big Whiteshell Lake has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Editor Robert Boucheron on behalf of the quarterly literary journal, Rivanna Review, of Charlottesville, Va.

This is my third Pushcart nomination, the first from a U.S. periodical. It is the second time a version of “Sweet Caporal” has been nominated.

Tweet from Charlie Fish (@FishCharlie)

Charlie Fish (@FishCharlie) Tweeted: In Mennonite Manitoba, hard-up teenager Diedrich Deutsch is getting bullied at school, and tries his hand at basketball. Read Mitchell Toews at https://t.co/dO9tFIbTVq https://t.co/Sgx6bczYGX https://twitter.com/FishCharlie/status/1309550748854878209?s=20

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

#

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/

 

Trump Accepts Resignation of “Big Dawg”

This just in!

BOTUS* Accepts Resignation of Favourite Driver, “Not reliable!”

The 9 degree, stiff-shafted driver has been shown, under a stream of Presidential oaths, to be, “unreliable under pressure,” Trump stated in a 4:55 a.m. tee-time tweet from Trump National in I-Hate-Scotland, Florida, his home course.

“Ball go right, into voods,” commented Trump’s long-time caddie and nuclear advisor, Igor “Fall-Out” Badenov. “Alvays right. Iss bad. Beeg league.”

“I am soooo disappointed,” Trump shouted to the gallery, the largest crowd ever to listen to a fat, old guy with a red cap whine about his driver.

“The king or Prime Minister or poo-bear of Sweden had the same club. Totally couldn’t hit it. But, I thought, hell, that’s a GD Swede! Might even be a woman, I frankly don’t care. No folks, that club is a BAD DEAL. It’s sad,” Trump declared at a press conference near the OB stake on the first fairway.

When reached for comment, Russian horsey-back rider and new “Celebrity Apprentice” host V. Putin was quoted as saying, “And he calls ME a hacker?”

George W. Bush, the new, non-ironically, favourite, former-President-who-is-not-Barack-Obama said, “Now watch this drive!”

Meanwhile, Wolf Blitzer of the so-called Fake News Network smiled, hugged himself and murmured, “Russia, if you’re listening, you are friggin awesome!” over and over and over.

-30-

*BOTUS – Biff of the United States

allfornow – Mitch

The Creative Economy

Hardworking Old Dude…

I am in the middle – eight hours today – of editing a collection of short stories. 200 plus double spaced, TNR 12 font pages of prose from Toews.

As a formality (I thought) I searched for “ly” in Word and to my dismay, TO MY UTTER DISMAY, I found that my manuscript contained 768 ly words. Lots of adverbs like “nervously”, “amateurishly”, “hopelessly”, “f*ckishly”, and the always-lyrical, “rejectingly”. Non-adverbial LY words like “family” & “only” were present in the text and were not guilty of a felony, but still: 768??

768 is a lot. That number is the total combined career home runs hit in major league baseball by BROTHERS. It’s an easy Google search, but how about a FREE ZWEIBACH BUN for anyone who can name these brave-hearted brothers, without looking it up.

That is almost four adverbs on every page — too many for a self-proclaimed* “dirty realism” adherent like me.

(* And some readers say so too. I love those people.)

“The adverb is not your friend.”  –  Stephen, “The Adverb-Slayer”, King (No less!)

So, having pulled my short fiction collection together, created a TOC, and an Acknowledgements Page, I thought I was pretty close to crying havoc! and pressing send. After all, most of these stories have been accepted by literary journals and have been edited and re-edited many times. Some have gone under the knife so often they look like zombies on The Walking Dead! So they should be somewhat adverb-free. Nope.

As a result, this Sunday was spent curbing my adverbyism. “Out, Out! Damn adverb!”

In Search of Art…

“What is Art?” you might ask. Good question. For a Mennonite, the answer could be, “Art Martens? He’s a farmer,” or “An EMBer,” and so on.

But I ask, “What is Art?” because that appears to be what I am working for: Art for Art’s sake. To scratch the creative itch.

It has come to my attention, thanks to a wonderful article in Broken Pencil Issue 74 by Suzanne Alyssa Andrew (The Hustle, page 20) that, in Canada, “the market for art, writing, and music is broken.”

The author goes on to present these disappointing, but true, statistics for the True North:

  • Canadian musicians only earn an average $7,228 a year from music…
  • Most musicians can only afford to spend 29 hours a week on music…
  • Canadian writers are making 27 percent less today than they were in 1998…

I worked my guts out from 1977 to last year so that I could finance food, heat, power, beer and wine AND write me some fiction. Now it seems like I should have quit in 1998 to become inky.

More dire stats showing the 19-year, and counting, slide away from the ever-increasing COL for l’artiste:

  • Affordable housing, studio and venue space is at a premium…in 2016, the median monthly rent for the average one-bed-room apartment costs $1,740 in Vancouver, $1,350 in Toronto and $960 in Montreal.

Ms. Andrew concludes that, “The creative middle class is dead.”

For me, this is unfortunate but not debilitating. However; had I followed my dad’s advice back in the seventies and followed the creative trail – trying to make a living from the artistic side of the dirty, confused world – it could have been a hard go, with things getting worse every year. I worked for forty years to finance my current slim pickins, so it’s not as bad por moi as it is for the many young artists today working one or two part-time jobs to finance their passion.

Ideas…

I suppose I could pay starving artists $0.10 per adverb for pest control in my short stories? But, with some perseverance, I can eradicate them myself. (Note how I did not write, “Hopefully,  I can eradicate them myself.” Eh? Ehhhh!!!?)

What about:

  • More funding for, less bitching about, Canada Council for the Arts?
  • The PM gives artists a major tax break, because Canada is close to committing the eighth social sin: Living without art. (Art the life-affirming pursuit, not that Martens guy.)
  • For street performers: Plop down a FIVER instead of a meagre Loonie. (Mennonites of course only ever applaud with gusto – we need to start with a Loonie and work our way  up.)
  • TIP HEAVY and prevent someone from sleeping on the streets. C’mon Moneybags, you have made gross, old guy, creepy remarks to the angel that brought you that Caesar with Extra Chicken & Diet Coke – now it’s time to bust the 15% ceiling. He or she may or may not be an artist, but either way — they need that extra coupla bucks more than you.
  • Buy some art. Yes, for the next few birthdays, Xmas, Hanukkah – go downtown, find a seller and shell out top dollar for Canadian art, music, writing. Think of it, sitting at the hockey game telling your buddy you just bought a $400 piece of art. They are gonna think you are loaded and – hoping for a hot stock tip – invite you to their cottage where you and Mrs. Moneybags can consume $425 worth of ribs, steak, wine, beer and outboard motor gasoline. (Do not mix consumables.)

The artist wins, your wife is lookin’ at you kinda funny (the good funny) after her third glass of free merlot, AND you are up $25 bucks! Tax-free!

(PLUS… you have just read an LY adverb-free article. No extra charge.)

allfornow – Mitchly

The Preacher and His Wife

January 23, 2017

“The Preacher and His Wife” is a comical look at the comings and goings of Mennonite life in a small town in the sixties. It is as pure as the view from inside the cocoon can be — but it’s just one cocoon.

The story goes live TODAY (January 23) on Fiction on the Web

Please find below a few short excerpts and also a couple of links to two other “Mennosphere” stories of mine that are in the FOTW archives.

On FICTION ON THE WEB JANUARY 23
“All family congresses were held in the tiny house and we sat packed as tight as two-yolks in a shell. Chair legs intersected like a village of miniature wigwams, and above that, our arms and forearms were in constant contact; sometimes linked. Our Zehen freundschaft heads – complete with high, overhanging brows – bobbed as one as we laughed or bowed in prayer or swiveled to see the facial expressions of the storyteller of the moment. The incoming newlywed uncles and aunts who found themselves part of this household became used to the close quarters. They soon grew adept at stepping over overlapping legs and socked feet as they picked a path through from the kitchen to the living room, doling out fresh coffee and buns with jam while a dozen conversations hummed and budgies squawked in their cages.”

[SNIP]

“One fall day, when winter parkas were in order, Sarah ran into our house to announce that, ‘Grandma can’t find her engagement ring and she is pretty sure that the Preacher’s wife has it.’
‘What?’ my mother said, stopping in mid-paw as she dug through a box of warm clothes to outfit us for winter. Grandma’s ring was her lone extravagant luxury and unlike other items of some beauty in her possession – furniture and rugs for example – this ring had no redeeming practical use. It symbolized love and fidelity and was purely a thing of pleasure. Grandma loved her ring, which had set a much younger Grandpa back almost a whole season of timber cutting in the Redekopp forests south of town.
‘That’s impossible,’ Mother said, with no opportunity for rebuttal, standing up straight with her hands on her aproned hips.”

[SNIP]

http://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/2016/07/nothing-to-lose-by-mitchell-toews.html

http://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/2016/10/heavy-artillery-by-mitchell-toews.html

You may also enjoy, “Our German Relative”. a Christmassy tale from Russia found on Red Fez, or other tales from the fictional prairie darp of “Hartplatz”, on Literally Stories or CommuterLit.

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016
Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2017

Our German Relative

http://bit.ly/RedFezOurGermanRelative

Red Fez’s Story of the Week. Next: world peace. Stand by…

In 2015, I was told this story – parts of it at least – by a resident in a predominantly Mennonite senior home in British Columbia. Some friends and I were there for lunch — the restaurant in the building had famously delicious food. One of the women at our table told us a moving account of incidents that had happened in Russia, during the early days of Communist rule.

Later, on the way back to work, we discussed her story. All of us had heard versions of it before even though the three of us were raised in Mennonite communities in BC, Alberta and Manitoba, respectively.

This story is a fiction based on true experiences passed down from that place and time. Whether it was a Christmas cookie or a Bible (or the Koran, for that matter) or a cross necklace; the danger was real for all those who dared to stand against the will of the state. This is possibly instructive, as some would banish religious symbols-practices-peoples in our free society today. In the 70’s, a friend of mine smuggled Christian Bibles into East Germany. He risked prison but did it gladly, working for a group organized at his Mennonite bible school in Switzerland. Prohibition makes its opponents bold.

I knew then that I wanted to share it as a piece of Mennonite lore. It speaks volumes, in a soft voice, about Mennonite culture and the quiet constancy that is common to many within the community.

I won’t say any more – it’s a short story and I don’t want to spoil it for you! A fiction based on certain historical accuracies, I hope you enjoy it, regardless of your beliefs. I also hope that it adds to your “Christmas spirit” and feelings of thankfulness.

Please see it here on the RED FEZ website. A great place to read, submit, discuss or lurk. 🙂 “Our German Relative” is just one of an entertaining and eclectic mix of stories posted in this Christmas-themed issue (No. 96).

“Red Fez is a melting pot of people interested in creating, sharing and discovering writing, music, art and more.”

Published This Week on CommuterLit 

This week I have two stories appearing on the Toronto-based e-zine CommuterLit.

This is, respectively, the thirteenth and fourteenth time I have had a story published online or in print. It feels different than the first time (which was also on CommuterLit!) but mostly just in intensity. All of the insecurity stuff is still there, but just a little quieter. The excitement too remains but is subdued; tempered by the reality of about 10,000 other stories that go live every day. #noproblemEH?
Still, these stories are a bit different because they are more raw. So, the amperage is up a bit.

Good thing that I only have a few hundred more stories in my head; popping up on my morning walk or at 3 a.m.; interrupting my yoga-for-the-comically-inflexible; causing me to suddenly stare off into space…

 hold-fast

Dec. 7, 2016
Wednesday’s episode:

Dogs that bite and other prejudices. “Gather by the River, ” the first of a  two-part story by Mitchell Toews

 

brown-eyed-girl-sm
Dec. 8, 2016
Thursday’s episode:

Reconsidering the situation.  “Gather by the River,” the second of a two-part story by Mitch Toews

 

Your comments are most welcome!

fraser
Previously published stories (3) on  CommuterLit: http://commuterlit.com/authors-by-last-name-n-z/authors-t/toews-mitchell/

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