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April 24, 2017

My Book in the World This Week

It’s going to be a very fun week in the world for Mitzi Bytes, which kicks off with my interview on CBC’s The Next Chapter With Shelagh Rogers. Our interview is broadcast today at 1pm and on Saturday at 4pm, and you can listen again online. And yes, our talk—which took place in February—was an excellent experience, everything a debut novelist could dream of. Really, it was such a pleasure.

April 18, 2017

Mixed Reviews

My book has been rendered as jewelry, bunting, a cross stitch pattern and cookies, and now its latest incarnation is as a wood carving. Seriously. My best friend’s mom made it for me and it has a spine and everything, and it’s pretty much mind-blowing. I never imagined that such a thing could exist, but it’s perfect. So many good people have ensured that this experience of publishing a book is one that is rich with delight.

Although just being read is almost more than a person can ask for. It’s huge, really, to have someone take the time to enter your fictional universe and spent awhile inside a story you invented a few summers ago. When readers have done so and understood exactly what I’m going for, it’s means everything. I have had the fortune of really positive reviews, and as a book blogger it’s been a particular pleasure to have writers I admire, such as Steph and Rohan, review my book with such care and respond with such insight. Not all readers have been as enthusiastic, some for precisely the reasons I’d anticipated and wrote the book intentionally for—I wanted to a difficult protagonist who never learns her lessons. And if that is the basis of a reader’s criticism, then at least they’re reading the book I wrote, and I still appreciate that.

(It’s also illuminating to learn that Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, which is my very favourite book in the whole world, has critical reviews on Goodreads. If this is the case, it is possible there is nothing worth worrying about ever again because the world is that unfathomable…)

In terms of being reviewed, however, I have just discovered that the most fascinating experience of all of them is the critical reviewer who reads your book so well but in ways you never anticipated. The reviewer whose interpretation, it turns out, can broaden your perspective on the very book your wrote—how cool is that? What I got up to in the book wasn’t quite her jam, and the reviewer isn’t wrong in her interpretation. The part that surprised me the most was when she wrote about her disappointment in the ending, that Sarah permits her husband to validate her identity. I’d never considered that the book could be read that way. My own idea is that she isn’t asking him to validate her identity—she’s pretty secure in who she is, but the experiences in the novel rattle her security in her relationship (and for good reasons—they’ve got a communication problem). So when he tells her that he needs her, it’s underlining the foundation of their family, which is important. But the fact of her identity, in my opinion, is never really up for debate: she knows who she is (and this is part of the reason her husband loves her). Moreover, she likes who she is and I’m imagining that now being able to own her authorial identity of Mitzi Bytes and reconcile her two selves will be a positive step forward. I see the end of the novel as her beginning: she’s going forth into the world and she’s even going to sign her name to things. A writer has been born—for real. While it’s true that she’s the centre of their home life, as her husband tells her, she’s the centre of a lot of things. And for the first time in her life, she’s going to attempt to bring all those things together.

…Which doesn’t really matter, of course, is that’s not what the reader read. But that’s the beauty of books, I think, the infinite possibilities and interpretations contained within. It’s fascinating to me how being an author and being read is such a process of discovery. That every time a person reads my book, it’s a new book every time.

April 13, 2017

My Book in the World Cont.

So yes, I recognize that it’s ridiculous to say, as I did in my previous post, that I’ve found the last few weeks anything short of fabulous and exhilarating. Especially when the last few weeks have really been so fabulous and exhilarating, which I want to talk about now. I got to answer the Magic 8 Questionnaire at CBC Books. I want to talk about Mitzi Bytes was a number two bestseller on the Canadian indie list for trade-fiction the week it was published. I was outsold by Katherena Vermette, Roxane Gay and Chris Hadfield on the overall bestseller list, and I think that’s a sign that all is as it should be in the universe. And I want to talk about too how the excellent Melanie took Mitzi Bytes to Iceland and presented a copy of Iceland’s first lady, Eliza Reid (who is Canadian!). When one publishes a book, one never foresees the adventures upon which that book might travel.

Photo Credit: Ann Y.K. Choi

And I want to talk about the pleasure and joy of my trip to Hamilton this weekend for the gritLIt Festival. At first I was unexcited about having to take the bus, but then it turned out to be a double decker bus, which was amazing. I also got to visit J.H. Gordon books, whose origins I followed online long ago, and I was so pleased to see it in person. My first event at gritLit was a panel with Merilyn Simonds, whose book I’ve made no secret of my affection for. We had the very best time, talking about books and technology and how tech has enhanced the experience of literature for readers and writers, but also how The Book isn’t going anywhere and we love it so. And late in the afternoon, I taught a blogging workshop, which I’ve done enough times now that doing is just an absolute pleasure. In between, I checked out events with Scaachi Koul and Ann Y.K. Choi, Kyo Maclear, and Denise Donlon. For a great sum-up of gritLit, check out this post. And the topper most of all the pleasures was a night in a hotel room ALL BY MYSELF, and I went for an early morning swim before returning to my room to order breakfast. Breakfast being the greatest revelation: room service is a thing a person can do. And oh, it was wonderful. I’m never going to forget it.

April 11, 2017

Coming Up

March 28, 2017

Mitzi Bytes in the World this Week

This week the “Mitzi Bytes in the world” distinction is literal. As per the photos below, Mitzi has been to Moscow, Paris, Jamaica, and Disney World. I have it on good authority that she makes for good poolside reading—and thank you to everybody who’s sharing their photos. The week’s big excitement was an appearance on Global TV’s morning show, which was as delightful as the clip makes it seem. I got to talk about blogging’s epistolary roots on television, and they asked questions about Harriet the Spy. It was amazing. This week, Mitzi Bytes was also the featured read on The Savvy Reader, which came with this serious endorsement. I love it. And I got to attend Blue Heron Books‘ Books and Brunch Series on Sunday, which apparently was the most raucous event they’ve ever had. So glad to be part of the raucous—we had so much fun.

This week, things are a bit quiet, but I’m looking forward to reading at the Pivot Reading Series on April 5 and then attending GritLit in Hamilton on April 8, where I will be participating in a panel with Merilyn Simonds on in the afternoon and teaching a blogging workshop at 5pm. It’s going to be great.

March 20, 2017

Mitzi Bytes in the World this Week

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

Tonight!

March 14, 2017

It’s Mitzi Bytes Day!

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.

PS As I’ve written about before, my book shares a birthday with my friend Rebecca Rosenbaum’s novel, So Much Love. I’m reading it right now and it’s stunning. Definitely pick this one up.

March 12, 2017

Literary Coattails

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

Mitzi Bytes: The Soundtrack

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.

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