Dappled Thoughts

Image: James Farl Powers, 1917-1999

Dappled Things has announced the finalists for its 2022 J.F. Powers Prize for Fiction, and I am one of the 28 authors selected.

“Well, now,” I said to myself, “I sometimes do interviews with other writers. Why not do one with me? An auto-interview?”

So here it is, with inspiration from interview subjects near and far, young and old, Catholic and Mennonite…

What drew you to this contest?

That is an excellent question. You are not only handsome but wise. Okay, here’s what Dappled Things say about the content they seek for the periodical.

“People fascinate us; sin bores us. Beauty amazes us; surface concerns leave us cold. Experience intoxicates us; world-weariness makes us yawn.”

That appealed to my sense of loftiness. Of aiming high. So that’s what I did — with the story and with the submission.

Were you, a Mennonite, concerned by the fact that the publication and the J.F. Powers contest are sponsored by an organization that is “Wholeheartedly Catholic?” Did this fact change your approach to the story?

Not concerned, as much as intrigued. In my experience in South Eastern Manitoba where disparate small towns dot the farmland, there are many predominantly Mennonite, Lutheran, Catholic, and Ukrainian places. Despite coming from distinctly homogenous communities, each with its own dominant religion, people somehow always end up mingling. Whether it is through work, play, school or — inevitably — romance, intersections are created and blending results. Not right away, but over time. I saw this many times in my own family and beyond.

In this way, my story about a mixed Catholic and Mennonite family with a close sibling relationship between two of the children seemed to be a natural fit for the ethos of Dappled Things and the J.F. Powers Prize.

Did it change my approach? No. In fact, the merging of two, I would say, strong faiths, plus the fact that the early “Mennists” grew out of the Catholic religion makes the religious undercurrent in the story a strengthening factor and one that adds an interesting complexity.

Does religion play a major role in your story?

No. Religion is there, the same way the Manitoba prairie is there, to offer context and grounding. In fact, I can’t see how the story could have “got out of its own way” if religion would have been the central theme. I wanted the characters’ inner humanity and the always present tension between our selfish desires and our innate generosity and compassion towards others to be the core conflict. Describing where that generosity comes from is not part of my authorial responsibility. I’m just there to tell a clear story and let the reader find in it what they may.

So… you have a chance?

Nah. Like a platter of Niejoahsch’kuake1 in the church basement on Christmas Eve, I will be long gone after the first wave. The writers in this prize are the Iowa Writers’ Workshop types, The Paris Review essayists, the ones who put the “Masters” in MFA.

And yet?

Yes, and yet if I read my story, I know there is always hope.

1 New Year fritters. Deep-fried, dusted with icing sugar, sinfully good.

The Morning After Nothing

Image: Cover, “Strange Weather” Becky Hagenston Press 53

Most mornings… in fact, most mornings as long as I can remember, I wake up happy. It’s a trait I would not trade. I am a cheerful morning person with a positive outlook. However, I must admit that some mornings are more of a poutlook. Soo gohne daut; so goes it.

Pouty mornings I sometimes call, “The Morning After Nothing.” A kind of bitter hollowness, apropos of nothing, with nothing left to lose, and nothing is more true than that you still have to get up and make the bed and get going. There is no cancel button for this illness.

“Cancel” starts with a C. What else starts with C are the things that conquer the dog-breath stench of waking up on a Morning After Nothing: coffee, chickadees, and creativity. My go-to fixes, respectively: Medium C, Little Cs, and Big C.

Coffee and the antics of our neighbour chickadee pals are self-explanatory cheer-bringers. Creativity is the third great remedy because it takes you away from the grumbly place and puts you far on the other side of Nothing. This last C takes you straight to Elsewhere: rapping at a keyboard, pushing wood through a saw, trying to learn a new move on the windsurfer. Painting something for a friend or for one of our pog grandkids. (That’s my wife Janice’s usual way out.)

“Dee-dee-dee!”

Today, I found the coffee less than stimulating and the chickadees were their usual acrobatic and fearless 15-gram selves but I still had the look of the guy at the back of the longest line at the grocery store… the guy with the dripping container of ice cream.

But, C-ing is believing, as the saying goes, so I moved on to Creativity: “C’mon Creativity, papa needs a new toque!” I wound up considering a difficult short story I’ve been working on for a long time. It’s an outside-your-comfort-zone story, with nary a Mennonite in sight. The story is dark and harsh, and carries a gut-shot of implicit violence. Well, if you’re gonna write about toxic masculinity, I guess you gotta break a couple of… Uhh, scratch that—sounds too glib, and not a little.

Cal Rhinehart. Big and mean. Damaged goods and all about the booze and the dope. Everyone else’s fault but his. Maybe his dad beat the shit out of him or maybe one fight too many or maybe he just had bad chemicals in his head; got dealt a rotten hand, Fiona thought, sad and furious and terrified all at once. Maybe understanding too well. Maybe even feeling a sort of mongrel kinship. But she shook that thought away. Positive thinking, Doctor Tracewski always says.

—Main Character, Fiona Hewel, in “Four Baths, Great View, Bank Owned Mountain Home”

This is the story that started up in my head after reading an incredible story by the super-pog Becky Hagenston, “Midnight, Licorice, Shadow.” I was determined to jump outside of my skin—that old, wrinkly bag of derma—and take on the many risks attendant for an older man who writes a story that contains difficult passages; violence both emotional and physical and violence against both men and women.

Violence is real. Violence towards women happens. Violence is at the heart of the topic I wanted to broach, and yet, how could I, “go there?”

Would it be best to just bail-out? Let someone else handle this topic? Did you just shout, “Hell yeah?” I understand, and yet, I have an indelible memory; something that happened to me, in real life, in the real world on the #1 Highway just west of the Bow Flats, at the feet of Big Sister, Middle Sister, and Little Sister.

“What in the world? Look at that!” Joe said, straightening his back and shifting his attention to the road ahead. A red SUV accelerated along the merge lane of an intersection. Behind the speeding car, a tattooed, bareback man ran in a dead sprint.

“Is he chasing them?” Fiona said.

Tall and broad shouldered, the man had an athletic build and long dirty blonde hair. The white drawstrings of his grey sweatpants fluttered and snapped behind him like kite tails as he ran after the vehicle. His bare feet pounded on the gravel strewn pavement.

The bizarre drama played on and Joe slowed the car as they closed on it. A white, flatdeck truck, “Rhinehart Well Drilling” in bold letters along the side, sat parked at a cockeyed angle near the intersection—driver door open, blinker on.

The running man slowed and hopped a few strides on one leg, then staggered to a lame halt. He bent at the waist to inspect his foot. The SUV sped away on the highway.

—”Four Baths, Great View, Bank Owned Mountain Home”

As you can see, I choose to go ahead with the story. The early iterations were the cause of some “Morning after Nothing” feels, but “vann aul, dann aul,” as is said in the Plaut: “if already, then already,” or “if you’re going to do it, go all the way!”

So I did.

Ugh. The result was more than one editor, I fear, not seeing the Red Badge of Courage in my choices, but instead feeling triggered and put upon. More than one editor who might have stroked me off a list or two. For good, or longer.

Still, this the way of it, is it not? If there’s no risk, then I will stay forever in the safe-feeling place—potentially a moribund state for my writing—where I just write happy, little stories about wise Mennonites. Where grey-bearded Opas nod knowingly and open their mouths to release a dazzling, atmospheric river of axiomatic truths and cornpone savviness. Savvy like, “vann aul, dann aul.”

But… many rewrites and tough critiques later, I feel as though the story has evolved and now comes closer to the way I want it. Consider: I am a male writer, someone who grew up in times and places where even the worst acts of wanton male violence were sometimes forgiven—forgiven (or given up) even by those who suffered the violence. Forgiven by those whose job is was to police this violence: pulpit, patrol car, politician. I lived this condition, directly and indirectly. Is that not a story worth considering? Is it not important to write from a point of view that—without absolution and without friendly framing—tells a human story in all of its unsettling truth?

I vote yes.

There’s a part near the end of “Midnight, Licorice, Shadow” where the author describes something being thrown into a dumpster, “with a thud,” and your heart sinks, and you feel a bit sick to your stomach. Without that passage the story is still wonderfully strong, but when you read it… when you read, “with a thud,” you are moved in a way that will last.

That! That result is the big prize, the one worth taking some risks to attain. It’s how a story can make a difference. It’s certainly one way to beat the Morning After Nothing blues!

Besides, as some wily Mennonite Oma must have said, to some future author on some far shore: “the best way to catch fish is to keep fishing!”

So I will.

Jus’ Noodlin’

Image: My grandparents and my uncle Ken in Steinbach, MB during the 40s; Mennonites hiding in plain sight.

As I idle down the back lanes of my brain’s daydream centre, procrastinating before my session on the rowing machine, I imagine what the logline might look like for a collection of my short stories. Note that I’m idling along the back lanes—where windmills and cobwebs exist in perfect harmony—on a brand-new, electric Ural sidecar motorcycle. Hey… if you’re gonna daydream, go carbon-friendly or go home!

Mitchell Toews’ collection of insightful short stories, “Pinching Zwieback – Prairie Stories,” reveals the confines of small-town life in a Mennonite community. Vivid characters demand to be heard and recognized. The book’s mixture of the iconoclastic and the nostalgic delivers reality through the little-seen lens of an outsider—but one with a deep insider pedigree. Toews’ heartfelt expression of lives lived captures the conflict and the contradictions that are unavoidable in these insular Jemeend*.

Pulling apart the clockwork of the axiomatic Mennonite profile, Toews probes for what is common to all and what is beautiful and what is problematic within faith, culture, domestic life, commerce, and interaction with the wide world beyond.

“Out of patience, I stood up and began angrily shouting down the ridiculous, muddled stereotypes coming from the lecturer in my ‘Introduction to Geography’ course. I was at the University of Victoria in 1974 and we were discussing Canadian Mennonites. At almost the same time a tall, blonde woman from the Interior rose to protest, and also another; a young Albertan from La Crete who was on the men’s J-V basketball team. All of us disavowed the reckless, almost comical blending of Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite tropes. At that moment, I saw myself and my ‘brethren’ in the way others must and furthermore, I saw the confusion within our own ranks.”

Mitchell Toews

__

*Or Gemeinde: Communities or congregations

Jessica Lake IMPRESSIONISM

I’m working a lot lately on creating stories that follow my understanding of an “impressionistic writing style.”

Impressionism as manifest in Scene; Character; Action; Sensation; and Style.

This is, you see, part of the Jessica Lake MFA I’m enrolled in. The internet and my writing group, the reading I do, my readers and editors are the instructors. I am definitely the coolest guy in my MFA. In fact, I’m the only guy in my MFA, but then, I always avoid giving statistics too much credence.

The overriding rules go a little like a Lightnin’ Hopkins song — there’s some improvisation involved as you go along:

  1. Writen in the present, without reflection or authorial comment
  2. No narrative intrusions of any kind — the story simply unfolds in the reader’s mind
  3. Choice of words is left to “Mot juste” or a sense of using just the “right” word that contributes to the totality of the piece without undue attention to the beauty of the prose.

Scene — a reportorial flow, objective, use of understatement and simple words, clear imagery, repetition and reiteration of key words and phrases, strong description of action, use of landscape to echo emotion… the last bit suggested by author and writing instructor Lauren Carter of Winnipeg.

Character — describe traits or activities, but not physical attributes

Action — up close and participatory with reader as onlooker, cinematic: rapid (fluttering) or slow motion and may utilize a bird’s-eye view from above that is clipped and declarative

Sensation — actions are felt by the reader, be concrete and crude, be simple and realistic, work the senses

Style — author should express their individuality as a writer (untarnished), focus always on the subject and what the subject experiences, use the iceberg technique to hide the worst and only show the surface — the tip — of what is wrong, and ala Hemingway and Manitoba memoirist Donna Besel, write slow and clear about the most terrible and the most hurtful.

Note: A good deal of this came from a doctoral thesis (from a few decades ago) I found on the web and now cannot relocate to cite. Acch. Quite a bit is of my own invention so… maybe the no citation is okay here. If you recognize it, lemme know!

Third Time’s a Charm?

[…] From Wikipedia: The Pushcart Prize is an American literary prize published by Pushcart Press that honors the best “poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot” published in the small presses over the previous year. Magazine and small book press editors are invited to submit works they have featured. Anthologies of the selected works have been published annually since 1976. It is supported and staffed by volunteers.

The founding editors were Anaïs NinBuckminster FullerCharles NewmanDaniel HalpernGordon LishHarry SmithHugh FoxIshmael ReedJoyce Carol Oates, Len Fulton, Leonard Randolph, Leslie FiedlerNona BalakianPaul BowlesPaul EngleRalph EllisonReynolds Price, Rhoda Schwartz, Richard Morris, Ted Wilentz, Tom Montag, Bill Henderson and William Phillips.

* * *

My story, “Sweet Caporal” about a morning of fishing on Big Whiteshell Lake has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Editor Robert Boucheron on behalf of the quarterly literary journal, Rivanna Review, of Charlottesville, Va.

This is my third Pushcart nomination, the first from a U.S. periodical. It is the second time a version of “Sweet Caporal” has been nominated.

“What’s it about?”

I’ve assembled a collection of short stories to present to small presses in Canada. My hope is that I can attract a skilled, smart, simpatico partner to work with and publish the collection. I have several unpublished works and just over 90 published stories from which to choose.

I curated the stories into a themed collection and they are mostly those tales I have written that I consider “MennoGrit.” I define this in a sloppy way — like when you have to saw a board with your left hand:

Stories about real life. Ordinary people who encounter difficult situations and respond in a manner incommensurate with their simple station in life. Allegedly simple.

“So, what’s your book about?” is the question that everyone from agent to publisher to the person in the line at the pharmacy, pimple cream in hand, might ask.

Good question. To better understand this I pulled up the manuscript and made a list of the themes or messages that are at the core of each story. I was surprised by what I found. Here is that Thematic Table of Contents:

Loyalty…toxic male behaviour

Women’s rights in a patriarchy

Growing up…responsibility…saying no

Friendship and its obligations

Pacifism…courage

Bullying…courage

Regret

Womanhood…courage

Right and wrong…courage

Racism…insularism

Forgiveness…alcoholism

Nativism…equality

Class struggle

Alcoholism…class struggle

Pacifism

Toxic religion…abuse of authority

Deceit…class struggle

Mental health

Faith…life and death

Cruelty…guilt

Empathy

Abuse of authority

Life and death

Written as they are in the mind of my times, I can focus ice cold on these themes. They come from the lives that exist in all places, including those I know best. There is no “trending” in these familiars, where I am the son — both homegrown and prodigal — only observations scooped up and saved in a coffee can, resting placid and true on the high shelf where they have cured; some softening, some hardening.

The working title of the book is “Pinching Zwieback — Prairie Stories.”

What All I Don’t know

“What all I don’t know,” is a kind of Steinbach* way of describing all that I’ve not yet experienced or learned.

My what all deficit is big. This is true even though I’ve experienced a lot. (I’m kind of old and a high-miler in some ways.) Anyway, what all I don’t know is a lot. How big “a lot” is, I don’t know because, well, I don’t know what all I don’t know.

Who does know what all I don’t know? And what would I do if I did know what all I don’t know about querying and novels and short story collections and literary agents and small presses and synopses and loglines and other Cinderella story bullet points? Predictably, I don’t know.

I DO know that there are those who know what all I don’t know.

Who are these what all knowers? I believe they are a facet of Cinderellaness called MENTORS. These fabled folk, awash in knowledge and given to sharing and patience and paying back and paying forward and other characteristics that may earn them wings, or a permanent place at the ball, or other indications of grace… as the glass slipper fits.

I know they exist because they have snuck into the collection of what all I do know. I have experienced them by chance and good fortune and benefited from their abundance. They include: abiding friends who waded through early drafts. The writer friends and comrades who did likewise; who were tough but kind, honest and objective. The paid freelance editors who gave me my money’s worth and much more. Much more. The Writers in Residence who also did what they were selected to do — help writers with their craft — and took an interest; gave more than required by their mandate. The Guild and lit journal volunteer readers, editors, and website builders and etcetera specialists who work in the wille hundat** of the literary world. The family members who bit their tongues when biting was not their first inclination and cheered even when cheering seemed a little “Toews sinks a lay-up with his team down 27 and 55 seconds left on the clock,” ish.

There is link between the two what alls: what all I don’t know and what all I do know. There must be! The link, the synapse, the causeway, the gossamer thread is this aforementioned group of virtuous MENTORS.

Where are the MENTORS that form this link? What are they doing right now? Do they herd or are they lone wolves? What or who do they prefer to mentor? What is the extent of their range and how are they best found in the wild? Are there Mentor-whisperers?

How do I become a MENTEE?

~~~

*Steinbach: my old hometown in rural Manitoba.

** wille hundat: a Plautdietsch or Low German expression meaning, “of unknown origin or towards an unknown destination” as defined in the “Mennonite Low German Dictionary.” (Jack Thiessen, Max Kade Institute, 2003) I think of this as the hundred acres, or so, on a farm that is not yet cleared and constitutes a wild bushland of unknown native flora and fauna; an unexplored landscape of mystery and supposed, unspecific threat.

Winter Shrinkage

My contribution to Earth Day, April 22, 2020.

With sorrow for coronavirus victims—direct and indirect… past, present, and future.

With hope for humankind; hope that we change the things that brought this pandemic upon us.

 

Winter Shrinkage

by Mitchell Toews

It was an average winter. I spent idle days virtual-thumbing through online catalogues, dreaming ready-to-assemble dreams, exercising my PayPal muscles and the Charter of Rights and Free Shipping. But one morning, Janice and I were unnerved — not a little — when we were forced to climb out of bed like U.S. Marines going over the side of a troop carrier in a Turner Classic Movie.

“It’s that shrinking virus,” our doctor’s young voice boomed after a half-hour wait, my damn cell phone now the size and shape of our Trolstrop end table and just as heavy.

Shrinking? But how? This is Canada, not Skull Island! Was this to be our polio? Our influenza? Our Walking Dead, now come to pass?

And it was true. We were shrinking. All — or at least, most of — the people in the world were getting proportionately smaller. Just like The Atom or Ant-Man in the primary colour universe of my pre-teens but without the attendant super-powers. Unable to undo my lifelong sense of divinely assigned supremacy, I felt as though it was not us shrinking, but the rest of the world growing. The world was suddenly upside-down, growing enormous due to some horrendous mistake, through no fault of the people of the Earth.

I frowned through the window at the grinning, darting chickadees. The size of flying monkeys. Disturbed, I imagined a population of mutant human giants — immune, immense — clomping around in Adidas Gazelles the size of actual gazelles; amok in our shrunken Canadianopolises, now Kandors, with no tiny Supergirl, boy or man to protect us. I want to be immune, I thought, a little pouty.

#

After a month or so, for amusement, Jan and I sit atop our Frukskol serving tray. Its buoyancy — pounded out of a bucket full of ground Amazonian treetops — floated us serenely during our laps around the meltwater in the swimming pool. A cat, swaggering poolside big as a dragon, watches us with yellow eyes and we stay in the middle until it pounces on the mini-deliveryman, here to drop off our latest package of mini-toilet paper rolls. He screams like a robin chick fallen from the nest.

“Maybe we all just need to go back to eating more carbs?” I suggested as we paddled along, making smooth synchronized strokes with our Svart Svan salad serving spoons. The plastic is so light — made with real boreal forest tree flour!

Our desperation grows. We succumb, weary of our teeniness. Despondent in our miniature solitude we sit each evening in the never-ending flickering blue light that shines down upon us like our own personal drive-in movie… reclining, as we do, on a stack of expired Netflix gift cards, we watch the pandemic on TV, eating popcorn puffs the size of cantaloupe. We the shrunken, armed only with our snacks.

“I’m glad about one thing!” I posted online with cheery intent to distant unseen friends in less-effected regions — racing home before they can no longer see over their dashboards. “This malady does not affect our heroes…” I wrote. “Gretzky is as big as ever; he hasn’t shrunk an inch.”

“That CBC interview last night?” A buddy texts me back. “That’s just an old replay. He’s actually the size of an Ütfart flower vase now, I saw him on the news last week.”

How belittling. I find it on YouTube. Gretzky, his hand-puppet sweater tucked in on one side, wearing a Jofa helmet made out of a thimble.

And what about the billionaires? They too have become tiny but, their wealth remains Costco-sized. They urge us to keep doing “normal” things, to keep the economy going despite our dimunuation. “People may shrink but our economy must remain LARGE,” they say with conviction. Right… They don’t have to dodge hungry sea gulls on their way to the Wendy’s drive-thru in a Barbie Star Traveller motor home! We do — we feed the trickle; the trickle-way-way-down.

#

But then the tide turned. Stealthily, the blessed Tillväxt came among us, lifting Her cloak tails discretely as She crept along, and we began to grow. Praise Tillväxt.

“A long cool woman in a black dress,” one alleged eyewitness reported. Soon after, steady enlargement came announced only by the smallest of shudders, like a cement truck hitting a pothole outside your office building. Humankind began its journey back.

One day, I noticed how it only took me a few minutes to stamp out a text to our daughter, whose small children were like a string of ellipses, following behind her, their 14 pt. ampersand mom. I jump on the keys like Tom Hanks to send out my message, ending with, #feelingweighty. r u guys growing? I ask, with joyous smiley faces on a field of red hearts.

Incrementally, day by day, our statures grew. All of us, around the world. O blessed renewal! Some claimed it was on pace with the mercury in the thermometer. Others cleaved to the ascendant gospel of the Tillväxt, now the third-leading religion worldwide. Sun theory or benign magical Mother Almighty, I welcomed our return to normal and the coming warmth of summer. I could hardly wait to be tall enough to turn on the air conditioning!

#

Whatever it was that caused it all, whatever the scientists can cipher — once they are again big enough to operate their laboratories and not self-immolate in the flame of their Bunsen burners — the human population enlarged. Jan and I soon found ourselves standing eyeball-to-bullnose with our Fullspäckorp kitchen island countertop. Progress!

Comforted by the unknown natural vaccine, the grace of Tillväxt, or whatever, I luxuriated, expectant, my anticipation sky-high. I relished the mental imagery: Visions of humankind, rising up and reaching outwards like that pansy caught in time-lapse photography on The Nature Channel.

I renewed my password-protected online consumerism but it felt a little off, as though something had changed in me during my big-small-big passage. Disconcerting thoughts filled my head. Packed freeways. Smog-filled urban skies. Jet trails playing Hangman in the sky above. Mountains and forests and glaciers and clean water once again going, going, gone.

Yes, we’ll grow back. We’ll unshrink! Once more the human race will reach titan proportions and resume our species’ ordained privilege; our filthy, greedy, pleasure-dome domination of the planet and its lesser beings — flora, fauna, and anything else we can batter and fry, cut and pulp, exploit and extirpate.

Until that is, the next usurper comes to take away our crown — invited unknowingly by we humans and the havoc we create as we attempt to hold dominion over nature, acting för stor for our britches, as always, I fear.

End

 

CC BY ND

“Here’s what the coronavirus pandemic can teach us about tackling climate change.”

“Life in a ‘degrowth’ economy, and why you might actually enjoy it.”

 

 

 

The Fighting Writing Fool

In the first round of a tough fight, only a FOOL shouts, “I yam fuh-reaking’ lovin’ dis crap!” usually just before being knocked out by an infinitely more dangerous opponent.

Also, although I own a black toque, I ain’t Rocky and the world of fiction ain’t sides of beef. Hell, I ain’t even Italian.

Undeterred, I move forward, absorbing jabs and body shots. Relentless, bloody, concussed—I stumble on. It feels good to hit, it feels even better to be able to TAKE a hit…

Alls I’m sayin’ HEAH, is… I’ve been writing a lot lately. And, like heavyweight champ, Winslow Homer, I’ve been experimenting boldly.

The result is a small but wiry catalogue of recent work that I am actively pitching or intend to pitch to upper-tier, paying mags. Sure, some of these are gonna get knocked out before the first paragraph is read. It’s likely to be a bit of a bloodbath and “We’ve chosen not to include your story at this time,” will be spray-painted across the subway cars of my submission train more than once.

And that’s okay.  I won’t wail every time I get rejected but I will let you know when I land a punch! (I’ll grunt.)

The Mighty Hartski—A 7,400-word rommedriewe, from a snowmobile crash on a frozen field to a shared understanding, bedside in Bethesda. Still brooding over this one, ’cause I’ve been writing it for fifty years.

Tiptoe—Teenage hangovers hurt the most. Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson and a smoky donut shop on Osborne.

Grudge—Worked hard for this one, put some Beta readers through their paces too. Waiting for one more critique before I set this Victoria story free. A crime spree down by the Bay Street Bridge.

Red Lightman—You can’t spell empathy without r-e-s-p-e-c-t. 2,400-words.

“I’m burly and brawny,
not squirrely or scrawny
and if you don’t like me
that’s tough.

I shit thunder and lightning
and everything frightening
and where I come from,
that’s enough.” 

Hazel Creek—1,500 words, set in the place where I live, sharp and hard as life can be.

The Three Sisters—The type of story that gets you mad: At me, at the sad protagonist—pure as the wind, at the sister who won’t play along. 3,400 words.

~ ~ ~

FIND recent stories of mine online here: “Shade Tree Haven” in (mac)ro(mic)…  “Holthacka’s Quandary” in Lunate Fiction…“The Business of Saving Souls” in Literally Stories…  “Encampment” in TINY SEED LITERARY JOURNAL.

COMING SOON to Literally Stories, Blank Spaces, Agnes and True, and Pulp Literature.

 

The Sacrifice Fly

If you play enough baseball, you get to a point where you can produce certain outcomes with regularity. This is most true in fielding where extraordinary plays become almost routine. Predictable outcomes are less common in pitching and batting.

At the plate, it’s often the role of the batter to hit a flyball far enough into the outfield to score the runner from third base. The pitcher knows it and throws high riseballs and drops to keep the hitter on the ground or pop her up. But a decent player can often deliver that lazy SAC fly.

I think this is true across a broad spectrum. An average sales professional can renew a long-time account… a basketball player can hit the open J… a practiced politician can deflect uncomfortable questions and provide a safe non-answer without mussing her hair.

However, artists who reach the safety zone are drawn to go beyond. Dylan went electric… Vincent rendered his 200th (500th?) sunflower and looked to the heavens for a new challenge… “Finnegan’s Wake” came out and slapped a lot of people in the face. Art, to reach its potential, needs—at some point—to venture out into uncharted territory and put the artist at risk. “To boldly go where no one has gone before,” as a small Canadian actor with good hair, dimples and a cute little paunch used to say in the opening voice-over, weekdays at 5:00 p.m. in our house on Sunrise Bay.

One of my artistic heroes, Winslow Homer, wrote that one must “experiment boldly.” I agree and even though I still need to hone basic skills (a lot) I feel it’s also time for me to leave my own friendly confines and be bold.

Trouble is, unlike the master, I am not endowed with a limitless amount of talent and a universally loved body of work. But no matter, the feeling of being alone, friendless and at risk is, like landing head-oeuvre-heels in the deep-end… “good for ya!”

Lately, I’ve been on this bold mission. I’ve let myself be led by my Writing Circle and by the greats who went before. Becky Hagenston, Flannery O’Connor, and even Jean Luc Picard—my doppelganger with a Shakespearean accent. (My accent is more East Reserve, with a side order of Simon Biester coarse Mennonite brogue.)

Image result for brogue shoe

Over the last few days, I’ve gone down swinging a few times as I sought the fences. Reviewers and critiquers have sent me packing, without so much as a foul tip. They did give me tips, though—“Bet heavy—sleep on the streets” or messages of that ilk.

Yesterday, a small breakthrough. An acceptance for one of my Nina, Pinta, and hail Santa Marias. From a wonderful band of editors who know the stench of a book bonfire and are not afraid to toss ugly trash into it, but also take a dim view of too easily barbequing writers whose work takes the path less travelled. (They’re not wild about the above confusing potpourri of images, but, hey—this is just a blog, so edges may be rough.)

Speaking of rough edges, “I am a series of small victories,” comes to mind. This quote from Charles Bukowski, an experimenter if ever one there was. NO, I don’t defend his misogyny or off-handed violence, alcoholism, or other missteps and ignoble romps. I like a lot of what he wrote and respect his boundary-crossing as a part of his artistic journey.

Writers must stray. We must, “dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight,” from time to time. Must we not? Not to become a part of that world, but to know how to avoid falling into it.

Anyway, I’m excited to be doing what I’m doing and hope I can come out on the other side, better for the whippings I will take along the way.

allfornow,
Mitch

News on this story in May, when it is due to hit the internet.