A Day in the Life

What activities fill a writer’s days at Jessica Lake? Usually, it’s routine: up an’ attem, walk, yoga and then eat. Or, brecky first and then get right to work on projects. Projects like building a shed, fixing the dock, or making a couple of rock and cement steps on a gravelly path that can sometimes be slippery.

If I am working on a short story, a re-write, an edit, a submission, or my novel – then that writerly craft supercedes the physical kind. Sometimes I blog and act the fool on social media. The bonus of being a class clown on twitter is that there’s no teacher to send you out in the hall like the pipsqueak that taught me in 1968 by negative example not to have a supercilious speech affectation, lest people believe I am a pretentious and secretly self-loathing boob in a too-tight tracksuit.

Whatever… I get up in the morning and make some shit – whether it’s words or waves or something made of brick and mortar.  But not sticks and stones – I don’t argue on twitter.

Partly, I try to avoid arguing online because I lose — how do you win, really? — and partly because I feel like that twitter-wars are more of a forum for the same light livered guys who used to phone in and yell at our receptionists and then became sweet-as-Rogers Corn Syrup when I got on the phone. Weasels and bit players. Sorry for the digression – that kind of loudmouth schnookery gets me whipped up.

I’m a damn lib and I mock the USA’s Le Petite Orange and all those in Canada who would have us go that yelling-at-the-receptionist direction. I try to be supportive of thoughtful people in an offbeat and often cryptic way, even if we disagree. It’s kinda fun.

Back to activities: If there are kids and/or grandkids around – they trump all and any other. It’s the law. When conditions beckon, there’s windsurfing and cross-country skiing here at Jessica the Awesome.  (BTW, I’m writing this in my wetsuit, waiting for the wind to pipe up, so if you smell neoprene, that’s why.)

Yesterday, I finished off a small project of the outdoor-splinters-in-the-fingers variety and then made a final edit for a story that launches today in riverbabble 33. My literary friends in Berkeley have shone the light of publication down on me once again and I’m feeling pretty plucky about it if I do say so myself. I sometimes think my luck in the Golden State is owing to the ghost of Randy Joe P, a RIP Fresno State alum and long-ago potentate of Steinbach’s third street. He was a fine fellow who might have some supernatural sway down there in the Bay area. I remember him a grade ahead of me. I recall him not taking any guff from the aforementioned boob in the tracksuit and so, Randy was a fav of mine and if anyone can control the roulette wheel from the twilight zone, it would be him.

Anyway, I was cleaning up my tools when I spotted something strange out in the middle of the lake. My binocs confirmed that it was a capsized canoe with the two paddlers hanging on. The short version is I zipped out in our boat and pulled them out of the water, dragging the canoe in behind us. They were, like the unfortunate Canada Goose gosling earlier that day that was taken by surprise by a hungry seagull, inexperienced. Luckily, good things exceeded bad — youth, warm water, and most of all, life jackets — and the voyageurs’ soaking experience ended well.

I was thinking today as I edited my novel — my editor, btw, is a godsend, or at least, “highly recommended by 7 out of 10 deities” — that I am fortunate to live in the woods, hard by a clean lake, and experience daily the wondrous shock and awe of nature. True, I miss society and mostly just grunt expressively when I am in a civilized social setting, but that’s a small price to pay.

To conclude, a few whitecaps are showing and I just might be able to get out there and sneak some sailing in before my calcified and scarred OWG joints seize up and demand beer, so I’ll end here with the admonishment to avoid arguing on twitter and furthermore, never turn your back on a seagull.

“The Margin of the River” riverbabble31   http://iceflow.com/riverbabble/issue31/issue31.html

“In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence” riverbabble32
http://www.iceflow.com/riverbabble/issue32/issue32.html

“Nothing to Lose” riverbabble33
http://www.iceflow.com/riverbabble/Welcome.html

bofotw best of fiction

My story, “Nothing to Lose” first appeared in “Fiction on the Web” and has appeared elsewhere on the web since. The story is also in print in “The Best of Fiction on the Web” an anthology and you can BUY that door-stopper of a beauty for less than the price of a tracksuit!

CA – https://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0992693918/ref=nosim/fantasticfi0e-20

UK https://www.amazon.com/Best-Fiction-Web-1996-2017/dp/0992693918

USA –– https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0992693918/ref=nosim/speculativefic05

 

allfornow friends,
Mitch
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Babbling in Berkeley

Like many people, I check my phone too often. Like all writers with work outstanding, “Pending Response”, as Duotrope describes it in a much-muted fashion, I check my inbox WAY too often.

A few days ago, I received a note from Publication “X”, with whom I have a short story under consideration. Their note was not directly related to my submission, however; it was addressed to me as one of a group of “Contributors”. My writey-sense a-tingle, I double-checked and the answer came back from my beer-blunted memory, “No, you have not yet been accepted by this pub!”

I shrugged it off as a Mail Chimp accommodation – the message had come to me as a request for a donation to Pub X’s funding efforts for 2018. I had not contributed a story, but I had submitted and I supposed that they had amalgamated the lists — submitters and contributors — into one mega-list for their pitch mail-out.

Knowing the punch-in-the-throat feeling of believing, “Score!” only to have Lucy yank the pigskin away with a flourish, I was guarded with my feelings. Oh yes, the ponies were ready, all right:  the wild horse in the breaking surf joy. Galloping joy. Unbridled. Splashy, splashy. Joy.

But, I said, no. “Whoa, horsey,” I proclaimed aloud, sipping my Beausejour Co-Op dark roast, in-store special blend. I remained an inscrutable Mennonite, the horses quiet in my mental house-barn.

So, anyhow… I then received a note from riverbabble. Like Publication X, I did have a submission pending with these good Berkeleyites. The email contained a publication release form. My blood froze – just like my sewer line did a week ago. Here is a better way to put it:

 Cold oils slid along his vein chilling his blood…

JAMES JOYCE, Ulysses, Calypso, 2734-2743.

Oh bah yo! I heard a distant nickering. Then an urgent whiney. Hooves stomped on hay-strewn floorboards and equine snot made a splatting, sticking, allegorical dark spot on the half-dry concrete of the barn’s centre aisle.

The horses wanted out! “Let us the beach be running,” they cried to one another, eyes wide and nostrils flared. Horseflesh shivered like potluck Jello from the cheap guy at the office. Metaphors reared up on their hind legs.

And then it was true and I was astride one of them – a fierce blue-black beauty who led the thundering herd, salt water and sweat frothing his flanks. I gripped gritty fistfuls of wet mane hair and wept while I shouted and rode the hardpacked sand at full speed, reckless and jubilant.

Typing furiously, I spilled my cuppa Co-op coffee in a crescendo of communicative copulation… Oh. Too much. Sorry.

riverbabble 32 cover
So, it’s true. My short fiction, “In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence” will be a part of riverbabble 32, Winter Solstice Issue, 2018. Having run out my delirium, I sit now at my writing desk, a barn blanket warming me as the sweat cools on my back. “In the Dim Light…” is a story that is as noir and clenched as this blog post is fractured and silly. Light and dark, they both have their place, it’s said.

Thanks to Editor Leila Rae and her clan. It’s my second admission to this group and I know now — I didn’t the first time — just what a fine thing it is to be a contributor to riverbabble!

And who knows, maybe Publication “X” will come through as well. If so, the beach will beckon again and I’ll be only too happy to pound along that broad strand, “with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea,” as they say in Hibbing, MN.

 

 

allfornow friends,
Mitch

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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

A Beautiful Day by the River Babble

Dog bites man. Man writes story.

Small things that happen in a simple life. Or are they really small? A dog bite may be small to a lion tamer, but less inconsequential to most others. A story about a dog bite may be an uncomplicated retelling or it could be more – an imagining and a quick, unobscured peek into the lives of others.

Anyway – whatever the magic potion was, it was enough to make it into a publication that has a good many more stripes on its sleeves than me. I’ll take the upgrade and work hard not to aww-shucks it into something less than it is, nor succumb to the creeping inclination to think “CCCChhrist, I’m good!” as I run a board though the table saw and nip the tip of my pinky off, flitzing it into the nearby bush to become a snack for an omnivorous, unpretentious squirrel.

The story is “The Margin of the River” and it first appeared in the Canadian journal CommuterLit, last December as ‘”Gather by the River, Part 2″.  A painting of mine – “Brown Eyed Girl”, which has a small connection to the story, is the cover image of the Summer issue of riverbabble, number 31, Bloomsbury 2017.

Thanks to the kind people at Pandemonium Press for including my work in riverbabble.

allfornow – Mitch