The Rothmans Job

My noirish crime fiction, “The Rothmans Job”, has earned a reprint in SickLit Magazine. Readers seem to like the characters in this story. Me too.

SickLit is an online zine with the tagline, “Bringing the real. Keeping the weird.” I suppose that this twisted tale fits that mandate. Thanks to SickLit for picking me up on such a cold, dark night. Thanks too, to CommuterLit, who ran the story originally.

Like ‘Rella, in the story, I remain optimistic. “Against all odds”, is not such a bad place – at least you know where you stand. If you like this story – please share it. If you hate it – hit me in the face a few times and I promise not to counter-punch or argue. I’ll just get back up and keep trudging until I disappear in a flurry of snow.

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allfornow – Mitch

@Mitchell_Toews

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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.
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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

Commute…Commune…Convive

AN ONLINE LITERARY PUBLICATION to which my stories have been posted is called CommuterLit. It is run by a sharp editor – meaning she is clever and does not miss much, not that she is noticeably angular or drawn by Picasso. Nor does it mean that she is in pain, or plagued by pangs of hunger or regret.

Well, we all have regret. Like me, right now – stuck way out on this implausible introductory branch, with no apparent way down.

Anyway…when my stories ran on CommuterLit, which is Toronto based, I always imagined the trains alongside the 401 and other major routes. I like the names of the stops, glottal and otherwise: Coburg and Newcastle; Yonge, Mount Pleasant, Baif Boulevard and Halton Hills. Very Ontario sounding to my Manitoba slash BC ears.

I like also to think about the people who read my stories on those trains. Who they were (are, will be). They could be professors and plumbers, students, office employees, hungover people, still-drunk people, high-minded folk who ride for political reasons, frugal people who don’t, people fed up with driving,  annoying people kicked out of their car pools, ambitious people churning away on their laptops to prep for a meeting and wanting a quick mental wasabi to clear their cognitive pathways and leave them mentally…

Sharp.

There. Back on terra firma. Phew.

CommuterLit ran a trilogy of mine called The Red River Valley Trilogy – so named because all three installments took place within easy snowmobiling distance of the winding Red River of the North.

Here is a link – for all of you professors and plumbers, to my stories on CommuterLit. Each story has pingbacks (no, that is not a Trump pejorative; they are links) to the other stories in the trilogy. The overall theme has to do with guardian angels – but I am sure you will get that, hungover, or not.

So please – feast on the trilogy, and on the many, many other great stories on offer – for free – on this great reader’s website.

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

 

Red River Valley – Stories 2 & 3

THE SECOND STORY in the Red River Valley Trilogy takes place within a year of the first. It is set in Manitoba in the early Seventies.

A Vile Insinuation  At a bordertown baseball tournament, several young Canadians meet a ballplayer from the States. The issue of the Vietnam war and the draft comes up. The boys, from Hartplatz, a largely Mennonite village not far from the border, speculate on how life could have changed had their forefathers chosen to re-settle in the USA instead of Canada.

“So, it’s a low draft number. I’m going to Vietnam, unless the war ends, ya know,” Marty finished the thought, and his beer. “They are already in the eighties now. I’ll be called up almost right away after my birthday. You betcha’.”

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We were quiet for a minute. “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple drifted across the beer garden from a boom box near the bar.

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“What song is that?” said Marty.

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“You said your Mom was a Menno from Winkler, right?” Cornie asked, ignoring Marty’s question.

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The last installment of the Red River Valley Trilogy takes place in the present. The characters from the ball tournament have aged. (Or, they may have aged.) One of them is facing a situation he had hoped to avoid.

In Without Reason, the concepts explored in the preceding stories are tested and re-evaluated.

He loved that old truck. Dietrich had it just the way he wanted it. His one prideful excess – Lord knows he could afford it – was the retro Cragar chrome mags. There were two other customizations: he had one handle from a favourite pair of ski poles as the knob on the stick shift lever. Also, the kids had given him a Reggie Jackson autographed number 44 Louisville Slugger bat. He had mounted a gun rack in the rear window for the lovely wood bat to reside, riding shotgun with him on the still streets of Hartplatz.

I hope you enjoy these stories and I would love to hear your thoughts. Your perspective may be entirely different than mine and there may be things about the incidents that you can refocus. I welcome critical comment. (Honest!)

Even if these stories are not your bowl of borscht, CommuterLit is a wonderful – free – resource for readers. Give it a try!

In the future, if my stories pass this ezine’s strict editorial scrutiny, I hope to have more work published on CommuterLit! For a linked list of my published pieces:  http://en.gravatar.com/mitchtoews

…allfornow – Mitch

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

 

 

The Red River Valley Trilogy

I started submitting to literary journals, both print and online, in February of 2016. It was while we were on a vacation in Curacao and I concentrated on writing, windsurfing and Heineken. The first time my fiction was published online was when Editor Nancy Kay Clark accepted my three-part trilogy, “The Red River Valley Trilogy” for inclusion on Toronto-based CommuterLit.

CommuterLit.com is a literary ezine for readers on the go. It delivers to readers a new story or poem each work day that can be read on their mobile devices.

Here are a few author’s notes on the three interrelated stories that ran on consecutive days on CommuterLit this July.

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“Encountered on the Shore” Following a reckless youth, with more than my portion of a false sense of indestructibility, I have come to wonder about the presence of guardian angels. So often, catastrophes were avoided – no matter how foolish my actions were in bringing them on in the first place. In fact, it almost seems that bad news is a harbinger of good news, if you can just hold fast and not lose your nerve as you round the cape of bad fortune.

“Where, here quiet, awaits my guardian angel?”  from Encountered on the Shore

I did some research on the various beliefs concerning guardian angels and some of this went into this story, which was based on a true occurrence from my past. I don’t know if there was an angel interceding back then, on Portage Avenue, but I like to think there was.

The idea of guardian angels is ancient and widespread and is present in many religions and cultures. Guardian angels are often associated with telltales like: birds, bright colours, double digits and the ringing of bells, à la Jimmy Stewart. These heavenly agents are said to assume very beautiful or very unusual and physically powerful mortal forms.

Wings, of course, are a big part of the Christian doctrine concerning guardian angels.

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“Jackpot on Page Fifty-Five”  In this tale of unintended consequences, the protagonist is a struggling writer named Chap Buque. In desperation, on the heels of the bottom half of a bottle of Jack, Chap sends a rambling, late night email/rant to her publisher. In it, she describes a plan to include a coupon entitling the bearer to a $10 mail-in REBATE on the cost of the book. “It works for Benjamin Moore and Home Depot,” she reasons drunkenly, taking examples from the never-ending home renovation project that consumes her day & night, pulling her away from writing.

Communications fail and the coupon is bound into the book. Well, the promotion takes off like a summertime comic book movie and Chap and her hapless publisher are left holding the bag, seeing as the book ends up selling for $7.50 CAD on Amazon. (HINT: An Arts Council Grant may come to the rescue.)

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Huh? In truth dear reader – and I do mean dear! – this is just a tease to see if anyone is actually reading this blog. Like Chap’s home reno, I am taking time away from “real” writing to produce this humble web log, so is it worth it? Is my blog busting through the literary clutter of the titanic internet and the million-or-so other blogs out there?

Does my guardian angel read my blog?

Is Chap not a great name for a woman?

Sorry… to be clear, “Jackpot on Page Fifty-Five” IS NOT part of the trilogy. A bit disrespectful to you who have read this far — but I wanted to see if anyone was actually, you know, out there. So, I made up this storyline as a kind of “read herring”. To tell you the truth, I now find the premise kind of interesting and want to write it! (The Adventures of Ms Buque!)

I will sign off right now and return with more about the other two, REAL instalments of the trilogy. Be sure to read them, and many other wonderful stories and poems from around the world, on CommuterLit!

  1. Encountered on the Shore 1,425 words – the kindness of strangers
  2. A Vile Insinuation 1,665 words – a call to arms
  3. Without Reason 1,389 words – do things really happen for a reason?

…allfornow – Mitch

 

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016