March 20, 2017
The neat thing about Mitzi Bytes in the world this week is that Mitzi Bytes is actually in the world this week! The book launched on Tuesday, whose highlights were the appearance of an excellent review in Quill and Quire (“The novel’s cover makes it seem like a light read–and it is fun… At the same time, though, Clare makes us rethink what it means to be a mother, daughter, husband, and friend, and places the book directly within the current conversation about parenting in the 21st century.”) and an appearance on CBC Here and Now. I am also particularly proud of this review by Rohan Maitzen, who is a critic I admire immensely. On Thursday, we had our launch party here in Toronto, which was sponsored by the Toronto Lit Up Program via IFOA and the Toronto Arts Council. It was a terrific evening, and I got to read the ventriloquist sex scene, so that was amazing. It was so nice to have so many friends there and celebrate properly, and sign many many books. So grateful to Ben McNally Books for hosting us!
On Saturday Mitzi Bytes received the best imaginable review possible in the Toronto Star, which concluded with “Entertaining, engaging and timely, Mitzi Bytes is a pleasure to read from start to finish. It heralds the arrival of a fantastic, fun new novelist on the Canadian scene.” So THAT was nice. (!!!!) And then we were off to Peterborough for a hometown launch at Hunter Street Books, and we sold all the books. Which I can’t take much credit for, really. It just turns out that I am the child of incredible networkers (and very proud parents!) who invited everyone they’d even known to the launch and are well-liked enough that the people even came. I am so grateful to everyone who was there, and glad we had very cool Mitzi Bytes cookies for everybody. It was a really fun event, and great to see old friends and hang out in Michelle Berry’s wonderful shop. It was a grey and gloomy day, but the inside bookstore was so bright.
PS It was nice to read reviews from the HCCFirstLook program. I am grateful to these great readers for talking about the book.
March 16, 2017
March 14, 2017
Having a book is like having a baby, except with less heartburn, but what I mean is that there is so much waiting, and then all at once the waiting is done and the day is here, and it kind of feels like there should have been something in between the anticipation and arrival. Or maybe I’m just nuts, which is possible. Nevertheless, it is March 14, which means that Mitzi Bytes is officially now in the world, even though it’s been making its way into bookstores and even groceries stores over the past week or so. We went to Indigo at Bay and Bloor yesterday, and it was very exciting, and I got to sign a stack. A cool thing is a Mitzi Bytes rave from Susan at Pocket Alchemy, who even made a cross-stitch pattern for the cover. I also did a really fun event at the Writers Community of Durham Region on Saturday, and a writer in attendance posted a wonderful piece in response to my blogging workshop. And now we’re getting ready for the launch on Thursday at Ben McNally Books and the hometown launch in Peterborough on Saturday. It’s going to be fun. And be listening to CBC Here and Now tomorrow at 4:45 to hear my live interview with Gill Deacon. I’m looking forward to it.
March 12, 2017
I had this plan that I would be blogging about things other than my book when my book came out, possibly the same way I’d once upon a time planned to not be a person who posts copious photos of her children on social media. But those kinds of plans aren’t always rooted in reality. My whole approach to blogging is that you blog about what’s in front of you, and the book is everything right now. If I were blogging about things other than Mitzi Bytes at this moment in time, that would be inauthentic.
And today I’m thinking about the books that are Mitzi Bytes‘ literary foremothers. On International Women’s Day, Jessica Rose posted a photo of a page from Mitzi Bytes (with brackets. Someone drew brackets in my book. This is huge) and it reminded me that I’d written that part of the novel under the influence of After Birth, by Elisa Albert. This was in the second draft, written in the spring of 2015, when it was beginning to get warm but there weren’t yet leaves on the trees. I spent Sundays at Robarts library writing this draft, and I think this was added because I wanted to show more of her process as a blogger. I was inspired by the rage in After Birth (and its treatment of female relationships) and wanted to convey that same feeling, but it was also inspired by Reta Winters’ rage in Carol Shields’ Unless. At some point my character says, “It’s because I’m a woman,” the same way that Reta Winters thinks her daughter’s trauma comes down gender and oppression. And it does, but it’s more complicated than that. Like Carol Shields, I wanted to write a woman who didn’t always see the whole picture. (Because who always sees the whole picture?)
And like Louise Fitzhugh did in her novel Harriet the Spy (which I didn’t read until I was 27, but then I named my firstborn after it and wrote a book in homage to it—what an impression…) I wanted to write a character who doesn’t learn her lesson and change at the end. This is still controversial and frustrates readers. And it’s why I feel very lucky to have found an editor who supported this aim of my project, who recognized that this radical notion was essential to the book. I suppose it’s another thing I admire about Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette? too, along with all its other goodness. Bernadette is suffering from depression and admitting that and beginning to get over that will be important to her—but she’ll still kind of always been an asshole. And there are people who love her anyway. I wanted to write a person like it. (It is distinctly possible that I am a person like that.)
And speaking of Bernadette, oh, that book. The book I stayed up all night reading the night after Iris was born, and I just loved it so completely that I secretly resented every other book for not being Bernadette for months afterwards. As I read it I also knew that this was kind of novel I wanted to write—a novel that was smart and funny at once. I reread it perhaps a year later to discover if it was really as good as I remembered, or if it had just been the pain meds. And it was just as good. Only thing, it dawned on me that my work might never reach such levels of greatness, which left me despondent for about five minutes. And then I got over it, and thanked my lucky Semples for the inspiration.
Another book that’s been so important to me is Mommyblogs and the Changing Face of Motherhood, by May Friedman, from which I got the phrase “critical uncertainty in practice,” which pretty much underlines everything I ever get up to. Friedman’s book is a wonderful history of women in blogging and one of the most excellent books about feminism I’ve ever read. (She has also become my friend, and I feel so extraordinarily lucky that endorsement is on the back of my book.)
And finally To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf, which ended up in my novel because I reread it the summer I wrote the novel (and like my character, I’d just bought a new copy and replaced the old one with my childish and embarrassing marginalia). I think it is possible that I might be able to weave themes from To the Lighthouse into every project I ever write. The questions Woolf poses about who women are and how they are seen and how they spend their time and their preoccupations are no closer to being answered for than they were a hundred years ago. But those questions themselves and the ideas they are inspire remain oh so rich.
March 6, 2017
I believe it was Ernest Hemingway who once said that a novel is not a novel until it has both its own pinterest board AND a soundtrack, and while I’ve satisfied all terms on the former front, the latter is the final item on my agenda before my book comes out next week. And it’s such a pleasure to deliver. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it.
1. “Lover of Mine,” by Alannah Myles
While my novel is fiction, it’s made up of bits and pieces of the world as I know it, and one experience I do share with my protagonist is that of having one’s hair catch on fire at karaoke. I’ve always embellished this story (because lying is what I do best: hence my propensity for fiction) and unlike my character, I was not on stage singing “Lover of Mine,” by Alannah Myles, when the fire occurred. While I had been singing that night, I’d returned to my place in the audience and then my hair got too close to a tea light. But I have told the story so many times that in my mind now I was indeed on stage when the flames broke out, just as Sarah in my novel was. I have her singing “Lover of Mine” because it’s my favourite song to sing in the shower, and while there are rumours going around that I only wrote my novel in order to have an excuse to sing karaoke at the book launch, it’s not remotely true.
2. “If Not For You, by George Harrison
My favourite part in the novel was not written until the third or fourth draft, and it’s two scenes, the first in which Sarah and her husband Chris have an altercation that almost makes me cry when I read it, and then the part where he tries to explain what he meant, what he said. He paraphrases lyrics from this song, which is by Bob Dylan, but I love George Harrison’s version of it best. I remember listening to this song over and over years ago and yearning for someone to love this much. Also, while readers have mentioned that the male characters in the novel are not as realized as the women, I want to affirm that Sarah’s husband Chris is the least robotic man I’ve ever rendered in fiction, and for me this is a stunning achievement.
3. “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” by Cher
This is actually one of my favourite songs to sing at karaoke (apart from “Bad Bad Leroy Brown and “Almost Paradise [Love Theme from Footloose]”) and I taught it to my children, who fell in love with it. I didn’t realize the implications of this until they started asking me why the singer’s daddy would have shot the boy they picked up south of Mobile if he’d known what he’d done, and why Mama was dancing for money. So I just rolled with it, and decided this was a great opportunity for my children to learn about accidental pregnancies, which you don’t necessarily have to be born in the wagon of a travelling show to know something of. In the novel, Sarah’s daughters are singing this song in the backseat of the car (which, n.b., is also fiction: I don’t have a car) while she’s considering Virginia Woolf and the multiplicity of selves, something that Cher in her various incarnations could probably tell us a great deal about. (I take pride in Woolf and Cher existing together in the same sentence in my novel. Not enough writers have made this connection.)
4. “The Harper Valley PTA,” by Jeannie C. Riley
This song doesn’t turn up in the book, but the song’s narrative of small minded people condemning a mother for her unconventional approach to life is a theme—witness Sarah’s dread every time she approaches the school yard to pick up her children. But I hope that readers will see this as an illustration too of Sarah’s own small-mindedness in how she approaches the other parents she meets. Sarah is not entirely wrong about the mothers, but she doesn’t consider that she’s one of them in many ways and that perhaps they’re also worthy of more generosity of spirit than she shows them.
5. “As Cool As I Am,” by Dar Williams
“And then I go outside to join the others, yeah, I am the others…” is a line from this song, which is about the trouble women have relating to other women, some women’s insistence in seeing themselves as apart from the rest. The trick being that women are just as multitudinous as the selves Virginia Woolf refers to, but this detail keeps surprising us. The solution, as I write, is that not women need to be more supportive of each other and all think the same, rah rah sisterhood, because how boring would that be, but instead that we need to make more space and allowance for difference. We need to be cool with other women not liking us. But no, Dar is right too—we should not be afraid of women.
6. “We Shall Not Be Moved,” by Mavis Staples
I love this song as a song of resistance. I wanted to write about a woman who refused to yield to everybody’s expectations of her, for better or for worse, and this song underlines that spirit.
7. “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile,” from the Annie Soundtrack
I have loved the 1982 version of Annie for nearly my entire life, and so it was to my great joy that my daughter fell in love with it too during the summer I wrote Mitzi Bytes. Every day she watched the movie while I wrote 1000 words and the baby slept, and that was how this book got written, a most miraculous arrangement. (The 2014 version of Annie would come out later that year and we loved it just as much.)
8. “History Remade”, by the Fembots
In the first draft of the novel, Mitzi Bytes was obviously set in Toronto, but in order that the story might have greater global appeal, it was edited to be less specific. But discerning readers might still recognize the city, especially the reference to the park where there had been race riots during the 1930s. Those same riots are mentioned in this song (“Here’s where the rioters raged over baseball and race…) by the Fembots from their 2005 album, The City.
9. “Virginia Woolf,” by the Indigo Girls
“And here’s a young girl/ On a kind of a telephone line through time/ And the voice at the other end comes like a long lost friend/ So I know I’m all right/ Life will come and life will go/ Still I feel it’s all right/ Cause I just got a letter to my soul/ And when my whole life is on the tip of my tongue/ Empty pages for the no longer young/ The apathy of time laughs in my face /You say “each life has its place”” I reread To the Lighthouse the summer I wrote this book, which is how that novel made it into the story, but it belongs there. I have long found so many connections between Woolf and blogging, and the connection described in the song indeed reminds me of blogs, voices like long lost friends. They particularly felt like that when blogs were new.
10. “I Feel the Earth Move,” by Carole King
This song is included because when Sarah has sex with her husband for the first time, this very tall but otherwise nondescript (apart from his vile underpants) man she’s falling in love with turns out to have surprisingly remarkable sexual talents.
11. My Ding-A-Ling, by Chuck Berry
For a massive prude, it was surprising to me that so many penises kept turning up in my novel. “My Ding-A-Ling” is mentioned at Sarah’s book club meeting where they’re reading To the Lighthouse (phallic) and her friend is worried about her son who keeps exposing himself at daycare, and it turns out that this song is one of his favourites.
12. “Ripple,” by the Grateful Dead
There should be a long silence on this soundtrack in homage to the album that Sarah’s brother-in-law Evan will never actually get around to making, even though he crowd-sourced it and everything. A lying dirtbag, Evan is a total loser who fancies himself as a genius, but his greatest claim is some regional success in a second-tier Grateful Dead cover band.
13. “The Greatest Love of All”, by Whitney Houston
I hope that anybody finding Mitzi Bytes hard to get through (though I can’t imagine HOW THIS WOULD BE POSSIBLE) will persevere when they know that the last two sentences of the novel reference “The Greatest Love of All.” And to anyone who might find that off-putting, well, perhaps we were never meant to be…
14. “Oh, That Mitzi,” by Maurice Chevalier
I continue to be grateful to my friend Roseanne Carrara for bringing this song to my attention with its absolutely perfect line: “Should I be brave and misbehave?” Inspired by my gutsy character, my own answer to question these days is mostly, YES.
*Thanks to my husband for the Mitzi Bytes/Hard Days Night image here. Without your love I’d be nowhere at all, and utterly graphic designless.
March 5, 2017
And now is the time we all bow down to publicists, because mine has done the most stunning job imaginable of getting Mitzi Bytes out into the world, as has certain online retailers which have apparently shipped pre-ordered copies even though the book doesn’t come out for another week. It’s all very exciting. This week, my mind was blown when Mitzi Bytes was called “an entertaining and insightful read” by actual HELLO! Canada. I got my first blogger review, from Tegan at One Mama Reads, which thrilled me to no end, particularly when she talked about the book as a series of juxtapositions. In preparation for my upcoming launch, I got to answer five great questions about the book from the good people at IFOA. And Mitzi Bytes is on “The Savvy Guide to March” at Savvy Mom and they called it “a beautifully penned story about truth, friendship, motherhood, and discovering who you are really are.” Also, someone else wrote a review and gave it 3/10, calling it slow and boring, but I kind of love that, because somebody hating your book is an authorial milestone and means that people beyond my immediate family are reading it. And in most important news, my friend Denise made a Mitzi Bytes cake. Seriously. This book and I have been very lucky.
February 28, 2017
Tomorrow is March, which is the month I get to start sharing Mitzi Bytes with the world. (!!!!) I’m looking forward to the following events, and I hope you can make it to some of them.
- March 11, Whitby ON, Writers Community of Durham Region
- March 16, Toronto Launch, Ben McNally Books
- March 18, Peterborough ON, Hunter Street Books
- March 26, Uxbridge ON, Books and Brunch with Blue Heron Books
- April 4, Toronto ON, In Her Voice Reading Series, Dora Keogh Pub
- April 5, Toronto ON, Pivot Readings Series
- April 6-9, Hamilton ON, gritLIT Festival
- April 13, Toronto ON, the eh List Author Series, Toronto Public Library
- April 26, Waterloo ON, Wordsworth Books’ Appetite for Reading Book Club
- April 27, Toronto ON, Toronto Public Library Bibliobash
- May 5-7, Gananoque ON, Thousand Islands Writers Festival
- July 14-16, Lakefield ON, Lakefield Literary Festival
February 25, 2017
Mitzi Bytes and I were in the Peterborough Examiner the other week with plans for the upcoming launch at Hunter Street Books on March 18. Thanks to Joelle Kovach for a fun interview, a great piece, and for appreciating the novel so well. You can read her article here.
February 14, 2017
I was happy to take part in a feature at the Globe and Mail in which authors nominate the one book that would be a deal-breaker if you discovered it on a potential partner’s bedside. For me there was no question! Read here to find out the title. And hope you all had sweet Valentines Day, whether it be sweetened with chocolate or cake.
January 31, 2017
It’s been a long time coming, but man oh man it was worth the wait. I am officially in love with the final cover for my novel, Mitzi Bytes, which arrives in the world in just a few short weeks from now, on March 14. Lots of events on the calendar, and I hope to see you out at some of them! If you haven’t pre-ordered the book yet, you can do so at your local bookshop or online at Chapters Indigo or Amazon. You can also make sure it’s on order at your local library, and add it your shelf on Goodreads.
Grateful to everybody for so much support!