Place and Time

foc flannery place and time quote only

Ah, eternity.

My stories—and everyone else’s—spring from life. Life lived, life observed, life imagined. Life reconstructed.

A vital part of each story—and each life—is place and time. Truths from one era or one location or one moment in a given journey alter and define the future.

Driven by my own curiosity, here is a roll-call of Place, Time, and basic protagonist context from my stories:

i — “Encountered on the Shore” A university student makes an unsettling discovery in downtown Winnipeg, in the fall of 1973.

ii — “A Vile Insinuation” During the summer following, the main character from “Encountered on the Shore” considers fate and blessings at a baseball tournament in Vita, Manitoba, near the US border.

iii — “Without Reason” Now retired, the MC from “Encountered” and “Vile”, is diagnosed with cancer and he considers his plight and that of others like him. Set in his small Mennonite prairie hometown, current day.

i — “Zero to Sixty” A retired man is attacked, near Christmas in Chilliwack, BC, current day.

ii — “The Margin of the River” and the audio except, “Wide Winter River” The MC from “Zero to Sixty” considers what happened the day before and sees first hand the inequity and sorrow that is built into life. All life.

“The Rothmans Job” An odd couple set out on a dubious nighttime caper during a fierce winter blizzard in Winnipeg, during the 1970s.

“South of Oromocto Depths” A teenage boy gets into a foolish skirmish with his father on the Victoria Day long weekend in 1971 New Brunswick.

 “Nothing to Lose” A former hockey player looks back on his life and his regrets in rural Manitoba during the dusty heat of summer, in the Sixties.

“Heavy Artillery” A young baseball fan in 1962 becomes embroiled in adult suspicion and prejudice in a small prairie town — predominantly Mennonite. (The imaginary, recurrent town of “Hartplatz, Manitoba”.)

“A Fisherman’s Story” In 1970, on the Mexican Pacific coast, an elderly woman and her young daughter are dealt an unfair hand. (P.S. — the prequel and the sequel to this story appear in the trilogy “The Bottom of the Sky”. See link below.)

“Winter Eve in Walker Creek Park” A trio of females on a wintery night in St. Catherines, Ontario, near Christmastime, current day.

“Breezy and the Six-Pack Sneaker” A rainy, beery night in Hartplatz in the Sixties is the scene for a tangled yarn of deception.

“The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine” A straight-laced Mennonite husband and wife take on danger in a dark Winnipeg alley in 1934. (Rerun on Literally Stories, Feb 17.)

“Frozen Tag” A man encounters a strange reprise from his past (at the Minneapolis Athletic Club in 1980) in the Chilliwack Leisure Centre, current day.

“The Business of Saving Souls”  A youth pastor in the fictitious city of Tribune, in the northern US Midwest meets challenges in the sanctuary of a gleaming megachurch, current day.

“The Preacher and His Wife” Palace intrigue, Harplatz style, throws a family into an untoward uproar in the 1960s.

“I am Otter” A shunned congregant discusses culture, power, and enfranchisement with a stranger near a lake in Manitoba, current day.

“The Beefeater and the Donnybrook”  A mild-mannered Halifax, NS tourist is mistaken and mistook in drizzly London, current day.

“The Log Boom” Poignant points of view — a father, son, and grandfather in the Lower Mainland of BC, current day.

“The Peacemongers” War, bullies and knuckle justice from the perspective of a boy in Hartplatz, circa 1965.

“Fairchild, McGowan and the Detective” Recalling employment, both the good and the bad in Hartplatz and Winnipeg, 1970-80.

“Graperoo” A piece of Graperoo bubblegum experiences the four seasons in rural Manitoba in the Sixties.

“So Are They All” It’s September 1961 and a young boy receives an education in loyalty and courage in his grandmother’s country raspberry patch.

“The Seven Songs” A middle-aged Canadian man meets a local contemporary at a resort in Mexico, current day.

“Fall From Grace” A boy gets stuck in a fraught adventure and learns about his father through it in the heat of a prairie summer in Hartplatz, 1963.

“Away Game” A 50-something man meets with an older family member at the side of a dreamy, summery lake in Manitoba’s boreal forest, current day.

“In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence” The reader travels back into Canadian small-town hardball with the MC, reliving a fateful doubleheader from the Fifties.

“The Doeling” A brother and sister’s lives entwine from an east coast Canadian city to Belize and back. The Sixties to current day, various seasons.

“City Lights” A small-town “up-and-comer” gets in over his head in Toronto, current day.

“Groota Pieter” Spring softball in small-town Mennonite Manitoba is described, from the Sixties to current day.

“Sweet Caporal at Dawn” On a moody Manitoba morning near a spring lake, a youngster and an older confederate fish for pickerel during the mid-Seventies.

“The Bottom of the Sky” A trilogy that follows a “pinche” cabin-boy and the ship’s captain on a fishing charter boat from 1955 Acapulco to the future in a fishing village in the Seventies. (P.S. – If you’re inclined, give this story a read and tell me if you think it could be adapted into a screenplay. I see it in flickering snatches of film in my head and just wonder if that occurs to anyone else. If you’re a screenwriter or in film, I’d love an opinion — tough love included. —mjt)

“Shade Tree Haven” An adult remembers more than he cares to as he thinks back to summers at a favourite swimming pool in the early 1960s.

“The Narrowing” A sensitive boy and his straight-ahead grandfather go through a harrowing experience in the Manitoba wilds, current day. An important secondary character in Abbotsford, BC is part of the story.

“The Phage Match” In a surreal radio broadcast from somewhere in Canada, current day, the evils of drug addiction are the backdrop for some strange characters.

“Died Rich” A high school freshman in a frigid southern Manitoba winter in 1961 struggles to endure.

“Concealment” A fledgling Manitoba business traveller gets more than he expects on a springtime trip to the Atlanta Zoo in the 1980s.

“Mulholland & Hardbar” (Novel WIP) A troubled youth experiences the four seasons in the Canadian Shield: love, friendship, deceit, and violence. 1972.

Drama: From the Greek, “to do” or “to act”

 

 

 

 

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The Bottom of the Sky

Hi everyone!

I have a new story.

It is a prequel to the story that first appeared in Rhubarb Magazine, “A Fisherman’s Story”. This piece becomes a Part 1 to that original tale of a family on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Part 1 is in 1955, in Acapulco and tells of one of the original characters, when he was a younger man, captaining a fishing charter boat. The original piece is Part 2 and is told primarily through the experience of the wife; the mujere.

I have re-named it, “The Bottom of the Sky” , comprising Part 1 Acapulco 1955 and Part 2 Puerta Vallarta 1975.

Here are a few excerpts:

Avelino walked the tourist beaches. His officina, as he liked to joke with the Americans who lay like white cordwood in neat rows, toes pointing at the sun. He had a photo album with pictures of the azul boat; fish strung on the scale at the Acapulco dock; smiling American faces, sun-tanned with movie-star sunglasses and drinks in hand. He was charming and good looking and he hooked many gringo fish.

[Snip]

After a quiet half-hour of trolling they came to a feeding fish. In the split second before it happened, Jose could feel the strike. Then the rod bucked in the holder and the line peeled out in a persistent zazzzzz sound like fingernails on nylon. The pinche yelled and the woman named Angel clapped her hands, her red fingernails looking like spattered blood against the bright horizon.

[Snip]

“Senor Bart! Por favor,” Jose strode rearward with the rod harness, its buckles jingling, passing it to the large man. Then he hurried to the transom where the fishing line danced and swung like a kite tail above the bubbles in the wake of the boat.

[Snip]

The boat rocked in silence at the wharf, next to the scales. Jose sat on the dock staring down into the dirty water. The American had shouted something, cursing as he climbed into a taxi with the women. Doris stared at Jose from the car, her eyes dark and hateful – not the fairy blue they were when she reached over and touched his arm with hers.

[Snip]

YOU KNOW HOW IT IS, RIGHT? You create something that you feel good about – it’s honest, or you believe it to be so. You love it. Shitface drunk love. Then you slowly get to know it – you see it age like a child – and you recognize flaws that you were earlier willing to ignore. You work on it over and over until it is the best you can do; things become stale and the edits you make just become a false shuffle of the deck – nothing really changes.

Then a month goes by (or six) and you read it again. You see things and maybe after a sleep – waking up at three A.M. – you figure out what to do.

And then you love it again the same way it was when it was born, except maybe it’s a more mature love – maybe you accept it in a way you could not before, including the things that you could still change, but, you don’t. The story, like the characters in it, is partly good and partly bad – flawed but capable of splendor.

Blah-blah-blah. 🙂

I am a proud father today and maybe this will find a publication home. I’ll send it to a few “early readers” in the meantime and will report it here if it does get picked up.

Another day in the life — I better get down to the beach before my wife becomes certain that I have lost my mind.

allfornow – mitch

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2017

 

 

 

 

Am I a Writer?

FRIENDS, THAT IS NOT my butt in the image above. It is one more famous than mine will ever be. It belongs to a writer who, like me, prefers to write standing up.

He is a writer – no dispute there.

In my case – it is more fudgy. See…when people ask what I do, I SOMETIMES say *it*. That is, I reply, “I’m a writer.” But I tend to say it quietly. With dissonant caveats – “Not making a damn cent doin’ it tho’, har-har…”. You know. Kinda sneakin’ up on it. Like when someone says, “Are you quitting smoking?” and you answer, “Trying to!” It’s a yes, with built-in wiggle room.

So, let’s go to the Tale of the Tape as Cossell used to say before a big fight:

Writing for how long?  

Well, now. Let’s define that a bit more: writing to a deadline + writing for public consumption. In those bounds, since 1997. Mostly damnable propaganda for my Mennonite employers along the way:

“Why close your jacket with BUTTONS when HOOKS are so much better? See us today for Hiebert’s Handy Hooks!”

I have been writing FICTION on the other hand – for about the last four years. Early in 2016, I achieved a kind of orbital altitude — since that time I have managed to write every day, several hours a day — between two and six hours. Mostly in the morning.

Training? 

The weak link for me. Besides a relentless English prof at the University of Victoria – complete with a proper, tweedy London accent – I have little formal training. My BA in Sociology and a certificate in Marketing from Schulich do not qualify me. I live at the far end of the wild woods and so I have neither a nearby course to take or a group to join. Otters and pine grosbeaks do what they can for me, but I am a Googling fool, on the shores of Jessica Lake, where modifiers dangle and MCs are MCs.

How much have you produced?

Again, some definition – like Papa’s shapely calf muscle. Without adding bulge via photoshop or any other form of exaggeration, I have written 100,000 words in 2016.

Blog: Core page content plus around 50 posts. The posts run from 200 to 1000 words apiece. Maybe 10,000 words in total.

Short Fiction: 30,700 words unpublished…36,000 published. Many – oh so many – rewrites and editing scans.

Novella: 16,000 words.

Paid Content: Propaganda and “the truth with attitude” for employers – 5000 words or so.

Milestones?

Using Duotrope and Submittable, I reckon I have submitted about 120 times or so. I have had 16 stories accepted and have had two other stories find success in contests.

I submit to big, well-known print journals – mostly Canadian. They have so far (almost) uniformly rejected my work. I also send stories to smaller print/online reviews; to online-only literary ezines and literary sites; and to writers’ groups and publishers that produce journals or contests. I have 18 unpublished short stories that I am sending out as slush pile fodder as well as my sci-fi thriller novella, “Tafelberg”, which will receive a rigorous adverb-ectomy this winter. Three new stories near completion.

I am actively seeking chapbook and anthology collections for my published works.

A few of the bigger journals to whom I have submitted my shabby shorts have offered sympathetic replies of the, “don’t give up” variety. Sometimes these are genuine. Other times they are intended to cajole me into shelling out another $15 for their next “opportunity for new Canadian voices”. Yeah, right. More like, “so I can buy another jar of beard wax, you hopeless bottom-feeder!”

Either way, I usually do shell out, so next time see you see a youngish MFA with a fine, shiny beard or a new plaid shirt — think of me, brethren. (To be accurate, my observation is that there seems to be far more female readers and editors, than male. Furthermore, literary journals do not appear to be a get rich quick scheme. So, respect; I’m happy to shell out a little, here and there.)

Anyway, to answer the question, after adding it all up, I`m gonna say yes. I`m a writer.

Now who wants to fight me?

allfornow – Mitch

IMAGE — Hemingway: “Damn fine legs for a dead guy.”

Where I Write

I AM FORTUNATE. I can follow Emerson’s wise advice. Being semi-employed and only mildly (knock wood) occupied fixing broken things, I can do so. Well, honestly, that could be a typo – sometimes I am wildly occupied with fixing stuff. Yesterday, at -25 Celcius, I positioned the extension ladder and had Janice spot me as I climbed up to brush the ice off of our internet dish. Lifeline re-established.

We tramp the trails; feed the birds; chop holes in the ice and fish; cut firewood and basically Daniel Boone the shit out of each day. (A more current pop culture reference: “…basically Survivor the shit out of each day.” Take your pick.)

In all of this, I have established a pleasing discipline to write, edit, re-write, edit some more, blog, tweet, facebook, submit. Repeat.

view

My usual routine is:

  • Morning exercise. Today I flooded the little rink I have scraped out of the snow on the ice. This afternoon, I will skate on it. I often row, paddleboard, windsurf or X-country ski – depending on season; conditions; state of mind; state of joints and relative orneriness of arthritis. I also sit on my arse and stare at the lake. Vigorously, mind you, and pardon the orphaned adverb.
  • Yoga – watched by inscrutable Pine Grosbeaks and a large Raven who swoops by and utters in disdain what can ONLY be cuss caws as I display my comical inflexibility
  • Breakfast and (Ah!) coffee
  • Numb my nether cheeks on the outdoor biffy — no welcoming Japanese toilet/bidet with an electronically warmed and automated seat; pleasing music; cleansing spritzers of rose-petal infused water and soothing lighting. (Sorry to subject you to all this #2 detail, but many of us N of 60 – years not latitude – are proud of this moving occurrence and so, I am actually bragging.)
do-do-sm
A picture’s worth a thousand turds. (Too much?)
  • Write ’til noon or so
  • Lunch with Jan followed by a hike together on one of the trails or out on the frozen lake. Chop wood, fix things; build things, read things. Do a little contract marketing work if there is something in the inbox.
  • Write some more fiction
  • Beer-o’clock around 4 bells or later if I am deep in the belly of the creative beast
  • Supper and then a fire and visiting with friends or TV or more writing. I try to make this a non-writing time, but you know; if it happens, it happens.

I spent the last 45 years NOT following a utopian day timer like this, so I never feel too guilty about it. In fact, if I followed the playbook of many of my Mennonite brethren, I’d say I earned this routine; or was selected to receive it as a divine reward. (You know – score a touchdown and point to the sky?)

Yeah, right.

If anything, I fell ass-backwards into all this, oblivious to the great fortune it took – over generations – to allow me to drink the wild air.

To put things in perspective: A few days ago I helped a neighbour with his annual wintertime boat dock tasks. He brought along a church-sponsored immigrant to help out and also to receive a Manitoba winter driving lesson.

The fellow, Yussef, was not exactly built for winter in Manitoba. An Ethiopian by birth, this resilient young man spent nine years in the world’s largest refugee camp in Somalia. There he and half-a-million co-inhabitants lived in tents or cardboard shanties in a dystopian desert hell. Here, the three of us stood out on the frozen lake, the nearest human miles away across the barren ice. The sky was blue. The Raven skimmed by and croaked, “Tourists!” at us, a grin on his pointy beak.

“Where does the water begin,” Yussef said in his British influenced, African accented English.

“There,” I answered, pointing back to the shore where we had come from. Yussef stopped shivering and literally jumped up in the air when he realized he was standing on the ice.

camp

Anyway – I live at the lake and write fiction every day.

I figured it was important that you know. Blog on, my writerly brothers and sisters.

allfornow – mitch

P.S. – That is P for promotion and S for shameless & self  OR it could be PS for Please See my publications page for links to the 14 short stories that I have had accepted so far. Red Fez, a stylish and well-organized literary site online, has just picked up number 15 – the Bart Starr of my short story published list. It is a Christmassy story of life in Russia circa 1920, “Our German Relative”. They will publish it soon. I’ll letcha know when that happens and also make sure I announce Joe Montana, as soon as that one comes along.

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

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

#amwriting

I have not blogged for a few days, but I have been hard at work on a lot of other writerly tasks.

  • Rowing on the lake; hiking the trails in the snow; scattering miniature marshmallows for the suspicious Whiskey Jacks (I save the sunflower seeds for myself!); prepping my workshop/writer’s studio for winter and otherwise bobbin’ and weavin’ and feeding my soul .
  • Working on a major re-write slash tune-up of a new story that I have in first draft stage. It is a satire. I received a little expert advice from a great writer + blogger with some chops in this area. Gonna incorporate her mentorly comments. Maybe send her a ring of Winkler sausage or two.
  • Re-did this blog a bit. Put in a Publications page now that I have a few places online and in print where my stuff resides. I’ve also replaced the stock photos with a few Samsung snaps of the place where Janice and I live and drink the wild air 1.
  • Waiting for some expert editorial assistance on a story a few of my “early readers” have enjoyed. I have high hopes for this sad tale of resistance and regret. I hope to knit up my ravell’d sleave 2 and enter this one in some contests! If you’d like a preliminary copy of “The Log Boom” to read and possibly flop me an op, (RSVP a POV?) lemme know!
  • Part way through a new story about Hartplatz (Steinbach on a sunny day in my imagination) narrated by an inanimate object. “Graperoo” should be done soon!
  • I have been cleaning up some existing stories that I hope to submit to some of my fav lit sites and maybe some new ones too. Now that I have a small portfolio of acceptances, I am hopin’ to scramble a bit higher up the mountainous submission piles of some of the bigger-name Canadian literary journals. It is a big hurdle, that. Afterall, I am naught but a humble country mouse who LOOKS like a Trump deplorable (but sure ain’t) and has no discernible prose DNA, except for a famous surname that some may suspect – oh, so wrongly – I have usurped. Maybe I should try a pen name? How about “Rich Davis” — that’s what my real name sounds like when I say it with a stuffy nose. Or, “Carly Menno Simons?”  A virtual gender swap might shake up those weary slush pile readers who sputter, over-caffeinated – “What, exactly, IS a Rennie, Manitoba?”
    rejection-letter-schultz 3

allfornow – Mitch/Rich/Carly

~~~
1 – R.W. Emerson
2 – you know who
3 – C. Schultz, but you prolly knew that one too

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

So Are They All

I WROTE A SHORT STORY CALLED “So Are They All”. It is one of a collection of over fifty that I have created, many of them about the fictitious Mennonite village of Hartplatz. This story concerns acts of honour, violence, justice and redemption. I took cues from Julius Caesar where some of the same timeless themes may be found.

The story was entered in the Write on the Lake fiction contest held by the Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group where it won second place and was published in their semi-annual journal, Voices. On Sunday, Nov 20, I attended the launch of Vol 16 Number 2 and read an excerpt from the story.

This is the twentieth consecutive publication of the Voices literary journal, so, as Leamington Dave would say, “this ain’t no disco”.

The President, Jeanne Gougeon; the editor, Maurice Guimond and the large turnout were all welcoming and I could feel them willing me to do well as I began my oration. I am no stranger to public speaking like this but, damn, I still hate it. I have died many a coward’s death the night before these kinds of events. One of my unfortunate involuntary affectations – brought on by nerves I suspect – is sniffing. (Yes, like Donald Trump in the US debates.)  It’s as if my family-size nose, and its enthusiastic contribution to the nasal quality of my voice, becomes moistened by all the reverberation. An annoying drip results and the mic picks up each snuffling snort.

Snot issues aside, it went well, except that Jan – my wife and stalwart (but not a braggart) corner woman – was nowhere to be found! Her bright red jacket was not in the audience as I looked up during my reading. I searched for her reassuring nod and smile – but she was AWOL.

Turns out she was in the audience, just not this particular audience. McNally Robinson was holding two events that cold November Sunday on the frozen tundra of Grant Park Shopping Centre: the LWWG launch of Voices (2 PM, south reading room) and the launch of best selling author Romeo Dallaire, retired general and former senator, who was there to present “Waiting for 1st Light” a much anticipated memoir. (3 PM, north reading room.)

Although his and mine are both stories about noble intent, conflict, honour and the consequences therein, author/general (ret)/senator R. Dallaire’s talk was the more strongly attended. The place was BLOCKED! Jan and I had been separated when we entered the bookstore (potty break). When Jan saw the (north) lectern and noticed the available seating was filling up fast she grabbed a seat and saved one for me.

Alas, at about this same time I was just south of her accepting my humble accolades and sniffling my way through an excerpt of my story. With my phone turned off, I was oblivious to Jan; pinned down on the nearby Dallaire beachhead and requesting reinforcements.

Here friends, countrymen and countrywomen is the excerpt I read:

Hence :

Second only to the Hedy Lamarr beauty of Em Gerbrandt was the beguiling feminine charm of the Gidget-like Ms. Froese, our teacher. Of course, Ms. did not exist then, only Misses and she was one. Around five feet tall, bobbed blonde hair, saddle shoes, cashmere sweaters and rocket bras. I am sure I had no distinct thought then of the part of her anatomy contained therein, only that it was soft and pleasing when she leaned over to help you with a problem and she happened to make fuzzy impact with your head or shoulder.
.
Miss Froese was sweet-natured and young and I remember the utter sadness I felt when, later that same school year, on November 22, she ran crying from the room after telling us that school would be cancelled for the day because of what had happened in a place called Dallas, Texas.
.
The next day we returned to school and added, “America the Beautiful” right after our normal singing of “God Save the Queen”. A big box of Kleenex sat on her desk and was empty before science that afternoon. Baseball and the Kennedys were things about the United States that our well-traveled neighbour, Mr. Vogel, had made certain that I appreciated so I felt a special kinship with Miss Froese that desperate day in November.
.
Lenny’s dental reckoning was months before the events of Dealey Plaza, but I already had a crush on Miss Froese by then. I was happy to clean chalk brushes after school, run to ask the janitor to open sticky classroom windows on hot afternoons, or agree to appear in the class play. If she had a need, I agreed. So, it was not surprising that when she asked where Lenny was on the second day of his absence, I raised my hand, eager to share with Miss Froese the solemn news. Though under oath to keep this quiet, how could it harm to tell HER? She was, like me, only concerned with Lenny’s well-being.
.
“Yes, Mattheus?” she asked, seeing my upraised hand. “Do you know why Leonard is not here again today?”
.
“Yes, ma’am. He is at the dentist. His teeth are all black from too much candy and he is getting them fixed. He is brave and he probably won’t even cry,” I reported in detail.
.
That day was Friday. On Saturday afternoon, as I collected interesting rocks from the driveway between Grandma’s house and the back of the bakery, Lenny pedalled up to me. He let his bicycle fall clattering as he jumped off.
.
“Zehen!” he shouted, through a clenched jaw still tender from the dentist.
.
“Hi, Lenny,” I said, standing, “How are your teeth?”
.
“Why don’t you ask Eleanor?” he said, scoffing, “or Ruby, or the Kehler twins or…”
.
Wait,” I yelled, putting my hand up to stop his rushing words

*SNIP*

The Voices book is only $12 CAD and can be had here *or at McNally Robinson in Winnipeg. Besides finding out how Lenny and Matt sign the Barkman Avenue Peace Accord, you may also read a lot of other terrific prose and poetry. The Adult Fiction~First Place story, “The Rocking Horse Keeper” is a moving tale, with mythic aboriginal overtones and a lightness that makes it, well…rock!

*$34 CAD, for TWO copies of Voices (Vol 16, No. 2 and 3), including shipping and handling.

allfornow – m

~~~
#NovemberNotes – Nov 22

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

Chicken Fingers, Fritos and Frankensteins

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.

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

November Palette at 50° N

November Notes – Day 7

The sun has risen. It is a blob of dirty yellow pigment, smeared by a giant Van Gogh thumb, obscured by the low grey cloud bank to the east. As a result, the early light is only that which is reflected by the clear blue dome above. This morning light is strangely weak with no shadows and no glare. Nature appears soft – a watercolour on cottony cold-pressed paper.

A chickadee and a squirrel natter at each other like old men in a cafe. Only half-interested; they have had this argument before.

It is fully Fall now, despite the unseasonable warmth. Greys and rocky taupes dominate the register. Yellow poplar leaves, the Romans of just two weeks ago, lie in ruin, piled into hollows and crevices. Their bright yellows and matchstick oranges are gone, rotting wetly into silent umbers, ochres and noble browns.

Only the brave tamaracks stand at attention, brandishing their saffron flag to the last.

Green is not going without a fight. The conifer needles and hardy understory plants still ply their verdant trade, lighting sections of the boreal with a lively glow. The massive rocks of the Shield are no longer hidden and they unfurl their attire: deep green mosses and the bizarre chartreuse of the indestructible lichens.

The raucous ferns, so green and flowing in the summer are now dark and rusted, flooding the forest floor in a leafy dulce de leche.

The pale jaune clair of the reeds rises up out of the lake water. Their faint hue belies their hard nature – they will stand, rustling as if in secret conversation, unhurt by the ice through the iron of winter.

In the ditches beside the black asphalt road, the woods have applied a splash of winter make-up. It is the deep maroon of the willow whips that stand in profusion, naked of leaves, darkly crimson and waving seductively in the breeze off the nearby open water.

Mourners at a graveside, the silver birch stand vigilant and in brilliant white contrast to the forest around them that pulls a dusky blanket over its shoulders and prepares for slumber.

#

For #NovemberNotes: November 7 – “Yellow” by Coldplay (Or it could be Nov 22 – “Free Fallin'” by John Mayer.) https://thesarahdoughty.wordpress.com/tag/novembernotes/

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016