South of Oromocto Depths

I’m happy and grateful to have a reprint of my maple syrup imbued, tres Canadien, playoff beard of a short story, “South of Oromocto Depths”, appear in Toronto’s CommuterLit. Editor Nancy Kay Clark has been generous with her coveted space once again and this will be my eighth appearance in this respected (and entertaining) literary ezine.

The short fiction, which first appeared in Literally Stories, will appear this Thursday, July 6, in CommuterLit. It follows previous publications of:

“Encountered on the Shore”– reprinted by Occulum (previously called Fair Folk)

“A Vile Insinuation”

“Without Reason”

(The three stories above comprise “The Red River Valley Trilogy”)

“Gather by the River” Part One (“Zero to Sixty”)

“Gather by the River” Part Two (“The Margin of the River”) – reprinted in riverbabble

“The Rothmans Job”– reprinted in SickLit

“Winter Eve at Walker Creek”

“South of Oromocto Depths” – first published in Literally StoriesVisit CommuterLit commencing July 6 to see this story in its latest incarnation.

We let the motor warm up. It idled in baritone, gurgling as gray smoke rose up out of bubbles that popped on the surface behind the big white motor. Every half-minute or so it ran slightly faster, then vibrated, shuddering back down to the lower idle speed, sometimes coughing unexpectedly.

35 chryco obscure

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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/

 

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.

bb48de0d4e107d2f3c9922b13a254df5 pegasus

allfornow – Mitch

@Mitchell_Toews

And When I Dream of Death

 

Hi all,

Here are a few excerpts from a new short fiction that I wrote. I will be submitting for publication with journals that feature flash fiction. I flashed the sign for curveball on this one.

1,129 words

And When I Dream of Death

By Mitchell Toews

WHEN I DREAM of death, I dream always of baseball. Oh, how unaligned these two things are! One threatens absence in the lurking dark while the other reaffirms presence and joy at the bottom of the boundless, lighted sky; the bluest thing in all the world, put there so we could, “Play ball!”
 [SNIP]
Remember?
I do: the rasping of rakes on the basepaths and the tink-tink-tink of rusty spikes at 60’6″. And the Gatling-gun, syncopated smacking as the warmup tosses go back and forth. And bantering, “Howza kids, howza job, howza arm?” to settle nerves and shed workaday worries.
 [SNIP]
I see our boys on the bench, leaning forward, chattering as the first batter digs in. Then I am up and I see the red stitches spinning as the soft liner clears short and settles in front of the galloping fielder, one-hopping into his glove.
[SNIP]
I can see the catcher’s eyes through his mask as he gauges my lead. Too much chaw, I think. He looks drunk. As if he heard me, he tilts up his mask and a thin brown stream re-wets a dark spot on the sand. The Mexican pitcher, shoulders like a pit bull, rubs the ball with leathery hands as he looks towards home.
“Never know,” says Kornelsen as I take my lead.
[SNIP]
And then a funny thing happens and the air goes still and so do the crickets and frogs in the ditch. A purple black cloud is edging towards us out of the west and I hear a woman in the stands say, “He flew too close to the sun,” which is a damn strange thing to hear at a ballgame.
[SNIP]

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2017

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

The Beefeater and the Donnybrook

 

Update: 4.11.17 – Hi, from a sunny day in April, beside the lake,

Janice and I have been travelling and have both been down with a cold lately. My blog activity has been limited, though I have been able to keep up with daily writing. Today I heard from editor and literary paragon, Charlie Fish, that another of my stories has been accepted for his award-winning site, Fiction on the Web.

Feedspot has named FotW a TOP 20 short story site on the internet!

Short-story_20_transparent_216pxHere’s what Charlie says about FICTION on the WEB: “It is a labour of love. Every single story on here is hand-picked and carefully edited by me. I don’t have a staff, and I don’t make any money. I do this because I want to give authors a chance to get their work out there, and I love sharing great stories with the world.

FICTION on the WEB has been online since 1996, which makes it the oldest short stories website on the Internet.”

Here are a few snippets from my latest story:

The Beefeater and the Donnybrook

By Mitchell Toews

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2017

MICAH JAMES WAS shorter than average and had an interesting kind of face. His eyes were recessed and penetrating and his complexion had the weathered texture and ruddy colour of a mountain climber or a big game hunter. He was neither. Micah James was a quiet, middle-aged family man – an engineer working for the City of Halifax in Canada.

The Jameses were leaving together soon on a long-awaited trip to London. His wife, Marion, had planned the trip from the packing process through tipping and all conceivable forms of disaster planning.

[SNIP]

“Ok, I’m on it! Walk will do me good.” Micah said, giving Marion an assuring glance and summoning up some energy for the trip. It was fine – the kind of little blip he had been secretly hoping for.

[SNIP]

Twisting in his crouch, Micah was eyeball to kneecap with a pair of creased black pants, gold piping on the sides. His eyes followed the stripes up to a white satin tunic and topping that, a dapper red fez. Then the voice again, but softer, “Are you alright, mate?”

[SNIP]

He waited in line at the reception desk, listening to an instrumental version of a Bob Dylan song. It was piping out of a speaker in the tile ceiling above him and he laid his head back to peer at it. Thinking of his own rapid descent into hell, he picked detritus from his oily beard; bits of styrofoam and other rancid urban spod. His thinning hair hung in limp disarray and the belt of the raincoat had come loose and was dragging on the ground behind him like an obedient, filthy snake.

[SNIP]

See it on FotW on May 19: an ever-worsening yarn that plays out on the streets of central London. 

Other stories that have appeared on Fiction on the Web:

Nothing to Lose

July 8, 2016. A baker and former hockey player reminisces on his colourful history as he delivers buns in the dusty Manitoba sun.

Heavy Artillery

Oct. 30, 2016. The story of young Matty and his characterful neighbour encountering a travelling salesman in the sleepy Manitoba town of Hartplatz.

The Preacher and His Wife

 Jan. 23, 2017. In Hartplatz, rural Canada, a neighbourhood scandal brews when young Sarah reports that her grandmother’s engagement ring has gone missing.

The Rothmans Job

February 19, 2017 UPDATE

SickLitMagazine has advised that they will be publishing a reprint of “The Rothmans Job” which first appeared (see below) on CommuterLit.com.

The story will run in late March or early April.

sicklit

allfornow – Mitch

January 30, 2017 UPDATE

TODAY, this twisted Canadian yarn, born in absurd truth and transported on the wings of a fictional 1991 prairie storm, is published by CommuterLit – a Toronto based online purveyor of morning short stories, lox and bagels. (And they are all out of lox and bagels.) 

http://commuterlit.com/

If a Neo-Noir Xmas Tragicomedy sub-genre exists, then this story belongs there. If not, then maybe this story inspires it?

A snowy night. An unlocked warehouse. A characterful materfamilias.

The Rothmans Job – EXCERPTS
By Mitchell Toews
.
A STORM LIKE THIS was rare. Snowflakes blocked out sky and sun and moon and stars. The flakes – as big as baby fists – had been falling for three days. Light and dry, they flew, then settled, then flew again – whipped by a dodgy north wind. At night, the tops of buildings disappeared except for the occasional glimpse of a red tower beacon or a snapping row of flags, like those atop The Bay.
.
Through this otherworld trudged Waxman and Thunderella. Waxman led. He wore two snowmobile suits and his knees could not bend more than a few degrees. Lumbering and stiff, he plowed through drifts for his female accomplice, Ellen Thundermaker.
.
[snip]
.
“No way, Waxy. It’s gonna be all imported cheese and fancy wine. Crab meat. Vienna sausages…” she said, stopping to let him join in.
.
“Ha-ha. Yeah – uhh, Heineken beer, Dijon ketchup, Swiss chocolate – or, you know, one of those giant bars, ahh,”
.
“TOBLERONE, TOBLERONE!” she shouted out, filling in the missing name.
.
“AS if,” she added, suddenly serious…
.
[snip]
.
(about 2,400 words)   Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2017.

#

Waxman, Thunderella, Pegasus, Otto the inventor, the police, Pozzo, Roland, and (in absentia) Poland, all look forward to making your acquaintance.

allfornow – Mitch

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

Gratitude for a Loyal Colony

The internet is much like a sea filled to furious capacity with fish. Viewed from a height, such as a high flying gull might attain, larger fish can be discerned and the general trends of schools and shoaling fish can be observed.

But should that gull swoop down low to snatch a morsel, it will find a teeming confusion – a frothing, overabundance of individuals each pushing and straining to the surface. The madding crowd, where many are not fish but are foul.

And yet, in all of this tumult and to my surprise, a few have found my pan-sized offerings and have returned for more. To these loyal wingmen (hens and drakes alike) I offer today’s labour – working on my short fiction, “The Log Boom”; a little story that I hope can become a big fish.

I’ll do that writing after I frame and case a pocket door and build a backsplash. The unrelenting, land bound needs of our 66-year old cabin come first. Plus, like my writing, there’s a lot of editing required.

Meanwhile, here is a short excerpt from, “The Log Boom”, for loyal Early Readers and other lone birds who have landed here:

This changes everything. This changes nothing, Marty thought. He had wondered how people react when they were told this. But he still did not know. He was quiet.
.

As they drove, Marty looked out at a tugboat towing a boom of logs on the Fraser. The logs flowed down the inexorable river, riding the current. Frederick noticed Marty looking at the boom and feeling the tension in the moment was happy to focus on it as well.
.
“Wow. That is huge – how many separate booms are strung together?” Fred asked.

.
“At least three,” Marty said as he pulled the truck over at a spot where construction vehicles had a ramp down to the river. They sat together and watched the tug as it guided the immense weight of the logs past the pilings of the Alex Fraser Bridge.
.
“The boom is going downstream, so it is relatively easy to control, I suppose,” Marty commented. “But I guess you still have to be pretty sharp and plan the path carefully.”

.
“Do you think it’s harder to tow them upstream?” Fred asked, glancing at his dad, his eyes moist.

allfornow – mitch

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

The Business of Saving Souls

11.8.16 – Here is an excerpt from a new satirical piece I am working on, “The Business of Saving Souls”. I previously had it posted here in full to gather some feedback from ‘early readers’. Once I have collected all of their notes, I’m gonna shine’er up and submit for consideration to a literary journal!

Let me know if you would like to enlist as an ‘early reader’ for this story. I’ll send you a full draft — just put a note in the comment section below. And, thanks!

My complete collection of published stories, with links to the online pieces, is here: Publications 

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11.26.16 – OK, I have received some wonderful edit notes and I am shutting the story down for early readers. (That was that unease you sensed in the force just a few minutes ago.) Thanks to early readers and editors!

Here, below, is the new intro excerpt. I hope to submit this to a few literary journals in the next little while. The rewrite is around 3,200 words.

 

The Business of Saving Souls

By Mitchell Toews

THE SMALL HYUNDAI COUPE circled the church parking lot slowly. The car’s driver peered anxiously to ensure there were no homeless people around the dumpster or congregated near the large hot air outlets on the rear of the building.

Pastor Penn Benner hated to see homeless people on the property.

“We pay to support four separate homeless shelters here in Tribune and I’ll be damned if I have them people piling up on our spotless yard. This is The Lord’s home and I aim to keep it neat and tidy,” he had said covertly to Jason on more than one occasion.

Jason found it pleasurable to hear Benner say, “I’ll be damned,” and he felt guilty for it. Benner was, after all, the Head Pastor of the Southern North Tribune Church of Christian Fellowship and was also his boss.

“We’re in the business of saving souls not picking up old blankets and all the other crip-crap they leave behind,” Penn Benner would say in the empty church as Jason Halpnuscht listened. The words would echo in the immense chamber, bouncing off the acres of white drywall, the glimmery pot lights and the inlaid glass diamonds that formed a sixty foot cross in the ceiling, stretching from nave to second balcony.

“God loves them, but they are messy. You are the Youth Pastor, Halpnuscht, why don’t you organize the youth into an outreach group for when they – the homeless – congregate on the yard? Have the church youth interact with them. There should be a paucity of homeless on our property.”

Jason Halpnuscht hated Penn Benner’s Word of the Day desk calendar.

Halpnuscht patrolled the yard with particular care today. It was Senior Council day — the second Saturday of each month, the SNTCCF’s senior group met to review church business. The meeting consisted of Jason; Head Pastor Benner; the Chairman of the Senior Deacon Council, Ronald Himmelstrup; and the church Secretary, Jedidiah Davidson. If there were issues concerning specific church functions that were managed by one of the three Associate Pastors (APs), or their assistants (the Sub-Associate Pastors) then they would also be required to attend.

Jason often wondered about his presence at these meetings. Interested and eager to contribute though he was, he was seldom called upon to participate. Furthermore, when issues became controversial, he was routinely asked to leave. “Give us the room please, Jason,” Benner would say. The Pastor started using this expression after he heard it on an episode of “24”.

As he made the last of his inspection rounds, Jason noticed a few pansies, growing yellow and purple in the weak November sun. The flowers were huddled in a sheltered spot near the clothing drop off bins.

“They neither labor nor spin,” he said quietly to the Hyundai’s Camel interior with Burl Oak accents.

#

As he unlocked the council chamber and began to make sure all was in readiness for the meeting, Jason thought back to his patrol of the yard.

If there had been homeless people there, so what? Some churches – even some businesses – take a more direct approach and set up small structures or distribute clothes and blankets. Sending them to the downtown homeless shelters seemed a little cold. Did Jesus point to the nearest Long John Silver’s and yell, “All you can eat, maximum two sides…it’s on me, multitudes!”

*SNIP*

allfornow – m

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016