July 13, 2016
To Sarah Brick, with gratitude
I’m having a ridiculous amount of fun going through the copy-edits for Mitzi Bytes, which came back to me last week. The feedback is incredible, so insightful, detailed, and nobody has ever read this book so well or carefully before. Sometimes it’s a little mortifying to have it all laid out, just how much you’ve got wrong—but then the gratitude that there’s someone who’s catching all that. But for me there is also the pleasure of reading the book all over again, and reading it at this point in the editorial process, which is the closest I’ll ever come to reading it as a reader instead of its writer. And doing so is reminding me of where it all came from, the little seeds that were planted.
In the years between my daughters’ births, I wrote 40,000 words of a novel, which I don’t think I ever finished. It was a novel about a family in a moment of crisis, each chapter from a different family member. One chapter was “If Life Gave Me Lemons,” which was the only bit that was ever published, and that chapter was very different and disconnected from the rest of the book. Mostly. Except for the part where my character comments that she’s been leaving anonymous mean-spirited emails on her cousin’s mommyblog. That cousin was a sister in the story’s central family, and an unhappy new mother. She was kind of autobiographical, which made the comment that “she was too mean-spirited to be sympathetic” a little insulting when it came back accompanying a rejection I’d received upon sending a chapter to a literary magazine. The novel itself was lacking focus, which is part of the reason I never finished it. Skimming through it the other day, I realized it wasn’t altogether terrible—but then I would appreciate it if we bothered to ask a bit more than that from our books.
The idea of the anonymous blog commenter stayed with me though, even after the novel was abandoned. I thought about it a lot, and this idea morphed into the premise for Mitzi Bytes: forthright blogger begins to question her project and fear for her sanity once she discovers a reader with nefarious intentions. My protagonist, Sarah Lundy, doesn’t share so many qualities with the character she was born from, although they do share a name. I didn’t realize this until I was looking through the old story the other night. It turns out that I am really a bit crap a naming characters, which I am trying to get better at. Reading Duana Taha’s book made me realize that a character with an interesting name inherently has something interesting about her because hers is the name she lives with, and so in the project I am currently working on, I have made an effort to name my characters with more originality. I.e. not call them all Sarah, I mean, although I didn’t even name Sarah from Mitzi Bytes—my daughter Harriet did. This was back when she also named everything Sarah, and in fact had a whole fleet of imaginary dogs called just that. So that’s just how bad my character naming is.
I like that they share a name though, Sarah Lundy and Sarah Brick from the old book. Even accidentally. And I am grateful too to Sarah Brick and her overt unsympatheticness and her hastily sketched, poorly drawn lines, and the failed literary project that she was a part of. Because Sarah Brick proof that nothing is ever really a waste of time. That even if work doesn’t get us to the finish line, it can also be useful in getting us to the place where we can finally begin.