Thanks to Editor Rick Taubold for accepting my work. This is a “silver story” of both friendship and hardship that comes from personal experiences and a buddy who left too soon.
Active since 2012, Fabula Argentea receives over 500 submissions per year and from that produces three issues of about 8-12 stories each. Here’s an interview with Editor Taubold that succinctly describes the magazine’s approach:
Greetings! I wake up most mornings with a half a dozen characters, a plotline or two, and a bunch of run-on sentences running around in my head. After the requisite morning constitutions are ratified, I oftentimes just let these night-grown inspirations fade away.
Well, no more! I am resolved to give my readers something to read! How about a good old-fashioned serial? Compelling, bent-widget characters with a rollicking plot fraught with lotsa knots, cliff-hangers and roundabouts that meet in the middle.
In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, it will be voluminous, spontaneous, and free-flowing. You don’t know where the story and the characters are going, so why should I? I won’t promise 50,000 words, but you never know what my morning coffee will deliver!
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This SERIES gets quite a few hits—by my humble standards, that is—so I thought I’d throw in a bit more explanation:
Fun? I hope so! The chief goal is to entertain. A happy, unique space on the internet where conspiracies are blatant, not latent. An ulterior motive is to build a readership of readers and writerly folk who appreciate my brand of schiet-stained rambling and are on-board for something maybe not so much fine arts mastered but more glockenspiel on acid. You know what I mean?
Episode One: Wading for Godot (915 words, about a six-minute read)
Donald and Maria Oswald were happy. They had a quiet, loving marriage and lived in a paid-for double-wide—(“This Unit will make your smiles DOUBLE WIDE!”)—just a fat pitching wedge away from the Beauchamp Highway. Their corner lot was neatly tended, grass grew dense and dark green on the sloping lawn. No weeds defiled this Gretna Green.
“Just ‘cuz we don’t have no basement, don’t mean we don’t need no drainage,” Donald would proclaim. Standing stiff and tall inside next to the ‘Proud Panoramic Picture Window’ like an animated John A. Macdonald statue, he would watch the rain come down. He took inordinate satisfaction from seeing the rivulets run off the convex dome of packed topsoil. “Glad I mixed ‘er wit pea gravel,” he would murmur, his Adam’s Apple riding up and down like a ball on a string.
“Fallin’ on my head like a mammary,” he would sing-song, grabbing Maria’s blue jean mama butt as she walked by and the torrents poured out of the sky.
In Spring and Fall, there was a lot of rain. During the brief heat of Summer, thunderstorms visited them almost nightly, hammering the tinny roof in a deluge. These were angry, driving rains, the drops making pock-marks in the sandy aggregate of their block road that dried hard as smallpox scars. Often hailstones collected, glimmering white in the blue lard bucket that held the downspout, looking like batting practice baseballs before a Reimer Reindeer game.
“Real cedar siding,” Donald would point out to visitors, tapping on the horizontal slats and sneering at neighbouring vinyl facsimiles, their brittle, embossed skins yellowing in the sun.
On the adjoining lot were two Granny Houses. They were placed one at each end of the seigneurial shaped, convex-topped grass strip like identical twins on either end of a teeter-totter.
“We got the Little Big House Deluxe models,” Maria would chime-in as they toured visiting relatives from Wawanesa. “It was a little more money but Juanita and Wade are worth it. Family, you know.”
The Little Big Houses were likewise clad in cedar, with black shingle roofs—(“low-slope”)—and eight-by-eight decks, each holding identical Canadian Tire MeatMaster barbeques. Each home was like a brown Lego piece, wedged snugly into its end of the fish-finger shaped lot, the two protruding decks facing one another like four-year-olds with their tongues sticking out.
Juanita lived in the rearmost cube. She was a pert, big-busted woman with grey hair tousled just so and her strip mall clothes tight-fitting and providing an easy-to-follow focal pathway to her freckled but still-smooth cleavage. “Gotta show the boys what they want,” she’d trill, pushing her butt out and pointing her breasts up. “Hi-beam!” she’d proclaim proudly as Wade cringed. Gino, owner of the local service station and a widower, came by on alternate Wednesdays to align her headlights.
Juanita’s son by Donald was a middle-aged man named Wade. He was her detached co-habitant on the narrow property, living across the grassy curtilage that separated their tidy abodes. Wade was a man for whom two things were true. First, he was not yet achieving the success he foresaw for himself as a child. Second, he won $25,555 in the first ever Lotto 5/55 draw held in Manitoba in 1982. His five numbers won second-prize – he needed the bonus number to claim the top prize of $55,555. It was widely believed that the existence of this latter cash fact greatly contributed to the ongoing truth of the former life fact. This apparent causal relationship was invisible to Wade’s parents, Donald and Maria, and his birth mother, Juanita, but was plainly evident to all of the neighbours in the Jolly Reindeer Trailer Court and Retirement Club.
He was known as “Wade-a-minute,” or, “Wade-down,” or sometimes, “LightWade,” by the sharp-tongued ex-farmers and ex-cops and ex-Reimer Reindeer truck drivers that populated the ticky-tack, block-on-block grid. They thought little of this 48-year-old bachelor living next to the rolling strip of black macadam that stretched from Prairie’s End, Manitoba to Toronto, Ontario.
“He’s just lucky he hit that jackpot,” they’d say, their cups of Timmies steaming in mute agreement. “I’d be set for life too if I’da won that kinda money when I was twenty!” Truth is they didn’t, they wouldn’ta and they had no clue.
Wade knew of their name-calling, but he didn’t care. It was him after all, not them, who had taken the $25,555 Lotto cheque and signed it over to his cousin Woody, a newly-minted investment advisor in Winnipeg. His money went all-in… Apple (AAPL) at $220 USD per share. He had invested on a drunken bet, Woody saying he would give Wade his new Camaro if Apple stock did not at least double in the first year.
Had he not panicked and sold most of his shares in the tumble of 2009, just last year, Wade would be worth a couple of million now. But, unknown to his family and neighbours, he still had done well. Really well, or, “Seea scheen!” as his boss, Old Man Reimer, would say. Wade kept his financial success to himself and worked patiently on his master-plan. He tapped the keys of a calculator and smirked to himself, his pencil poised above a neat column of ledger entries at the kitchen table in the Deluxe Little Big House.
“Just Wade ’til next Tuesday!” he whispered to himself. “Then we’ll see who the ‘under-achiever’ is around here!”
Next: The Stampede is Ont!
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A new publication came to my attention and I was intrigued by the unique model it employs.
“At Alsina, we connect your work with readers from the outset. Our readers are engaging with our product to learn a language, so you are connecting with a whole new group of people that you would not otherwise have access to. When they read your work, they can follow you to get updates when you publish your second or third story with us. They have easily-accessible links to your website, so they can link through to your longer work, sign up for your mailing list, and so on.”
So, it’s a fresh opportunity to put out a flash fiction (1000-word maximum) and have it translated into several languages. Readers use the stories to develop their language skills in an enjoyable and intuitive way.
I submitted a 968-word story called, “The Light Pool”, and was delighted to have it accepted by Alsina Publishing!
Opening the window, I listened to the crickets and frogs calling from the valley below as the beautiful silver sedan crossed the Don River Bridge. I inhaled, expecting to smell fresh summertime vegetation – ferns and flowering trees. Instead, there was the vile stench of hog rendering, the heavy synthetic odour of chemical discharge and the sharp, acrid reek of poultry effluent. I pushed the button and the glass hummed up into the thick rubber rim. [snip]
The story will run in the near future, after an editing round. I have been challenged by the Alsina editors to serialize my story and come up with sequels to “The Light Pool”. This approach makes sense for both writer and reader and it’s clear how a “mini-series” could be an especially good way for ESL readers (and learners studying in other languages) to build on the words and concepts they have learned by reading previous instalments in the same set.
Altogether, a thoroughly innovative and exciting proposition! Stand by for a publication date for “The Light Pool” soon and meanwhile, visit some of the links provided on this page to see what Alsina is all about! http://www.alsinapublishing.com/blog/
allfornow – Mitch
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Albert Thibodeau’s sister Suzanne was sick. His parents were ashen-faced and silent, going about the farm and household business by rote. Albert did homework in her room, his scribblers spread out on the flat, quilted blanket.
Suzanne lay unmoving. When Albert came in the room she would stir, her eyes opening and a thin smile on her lips. Her gums were too red. He would read her jokes from his Archie and Jughead Digest.
…”One dog, with peppers,” said Bob, busying himself with a bag of buns.
“And MUSH!” said Albert Thibodeau. “Gotta meet sis today and hear about how great she is doing.”
“Tell her I love her.”
“No dice. You are below that woman’s pay grade. You are a smelly dog, selling smelly dogs to other smelly dogs.”
“I love you too, Thibodeau,” said Bob, handing him a foil-wrapped hot dog. Albert tooled down the opposing ramp, skidding into a turn at the bottom in the March slush and then pumping hard twice to get to a picnic table on the courthouse lawn.
“Hey, drivers and registration please!”
Suzanne lay in the chaise. She was shaded by a wicker palapas and palms. Several green and brown coconuts lay in the sand around her. She gazed out past the reef – “beyond the swash,” like they said here – to where the water was a darker blue.
An easel stood near the lounge chair and a watercolour was underway.
“Carolina blue, cerulean blue, cobalt blue,” she said, from under the brow of a sun hat.
“Labatt’s Blue,” said Albert…
13:05 1.8.17: Wish me luck in placing this flash fiction with an ezine or lit journal! I’ll post if and when it runs; if it becomes a cherished, “We are pleased to inform you…”
allfornow – mitch
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NEXT TO A LAKE ON A SUNNY DAY IN NOVEMBER, I just want to say, with reverence, that writing short stories is hard as hell.
Do tell – or whine on – you might say. I will, but only the former – I promise. Plus, there is the opportunity to learn about the fascinating world of pencil grooves and ink wells.
It is non-fiction to say that there are many people writing fiction. They comprise a lot of young writers and a teeming, grey pool of boomers, unshackled from their jobs. With the barriers to entry not seemingly insurmountable, there are a lot of contestants in the race. Especially now that self-publishing has made so many Frankenstein monsters — and some beautiful strangers.
Nonetheless, a large pool of skilled writers are active. So many stories are wonderful – the kind that make you want another one right away. Like chicken fingers.
To even out the score, there are literally thousands of places where a writer may submit a story, both print and online. That is a good thing for aspiring writers, but the competitiveness of the literary journal segment makes those publishers exceedingly tough on new voices. The vast majority of lit journals make it their business to deliver new authors to the scene, but they must be, and are, ruthlessly diligent in finding the best of the new writers.
There are a lot of journals, but so many are new that the available financial income – not abundant in the first place – is spread thin. As a result, there are a lot of dedicated volunteers, working late and dusting Frito crumbs off their keyboards as they toil on the slush pile. Sometimes, response times can be too long and, well, I’m not getting any younger.
In addition, the aging white man narrative is one that is not at the top of editors’ short lists these days. My stories have to soar because they are not supported by a mandate or precondition. Women, LGBTQ, People of Colour, Feminists, People with Disabilities and many other cohorts have specific themes – or whole journals – available to spotlight their particular segment. This offers them an enhanced opportunity to be seen. To be discovered.
Now before you push back and say, “here we go,” hear this: I have no qualms with that approach. It is, in many cases, overdue and given the need to bring in fresh, first-person experience, necessary. A single mom, working two jobs and supporting three kids does not have the time to write. Offering her a forum with an inherent fast-track makes sense.
So it’s just a fact and I deal with it. Besides, if I tough it out, without any fast-tracks, I could benefit as a writer by being borne solely by the popularity of my stories; by the quality of my writing. I can’t forget that.
So too, is it of value that most editors are younger than me. That may create obstacles because of dissociation – they might not know what my references mean (see the “Featured Image” above). But once again, it forces me to write better. If I am lazy and rely on an old, fuzzy-edged meme to support my point, I will fail with an editor who does not intuitively understand the embedded inference.
My objective must be to give readers experiences like this:
“Crystal clear details of a world that I do not know. A journey to another place.”
And the little town slept.
I will battle on. I’m not exceptionally patient and wish I was more so – that would help. I tend to press a little and maybe get a little too self-promotional. It is part of the old white guy songbook – when your life occasionally feels like the last few bars of Stairway to Heaven (pardon any dissociation) you tend to want to get shit done.
allfornow – m
See LINKS to the scribblings of mine that made it past the Frito crumbs of the slush pile, HERE.
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.
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
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!”