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!
January 14, 2017
Today I was thrilled to find Mitzi Bytes in the paper, in grand company on a list of “25 Books We Can’t Wait to Read” in The Toronto Star. You can read it online here. Other books on the list I’m particularly excited about include new non-fiction by Sharon Butala, Marianne Apostolides, and fiction by Eva Crocker, Suzette Mayr, Eden Robinson, and, well, everything.
January 4, 2017
1. I was on CBC Ontario Morning today talking about books you really should get around to reading—and what a pleasure was that! You can listen again here at 45 minutes (although I regret we ran out of time before I was able to mention Marnie Woodrow’s Heyday, but you should definitely pick up that one too). Anyway, this was fun. What a privilege to go on the radio and get to talk about some of your favourite things.
2. I got to curate a shelf at Hunter Street Books in Peterborough, and I selected a theme of “Strong, Powerful (and funny!) Women’s Voices”. My picks are The Mothers, by Brit Bennett, Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple, and Rose’s Run, by Dawn Dumont. If you’re near Peterborough, head to the shop and pick one of my recommendations up. And if you’re not local, go somewhere else to get them.
3. And finally, Quill & Quire’s Spring Preview is now on newsstands, and I’m thrilled to see Mitzi Bytes in the mix. It’s a very nice thing to imagine that you might not be the only one waiting for your new book to come into the world. Also pleased to see the book in such good company with so many other titles forthcoming in the first half of this year.
December 5, 2016
I’m looking forward to reading as part of the Toronto Review of Books’ Seasonal Affective Party on Tuesday December 6, 7pm at Poetry Jazz Cafe in Kensington Market. I’ll reading alongside Andrew Pyper, Trevor Corkum, and Catherine Graham. TRB Managing Editor and novelist Damian Tarnopolsky will be reading too, along with TRB Senior Editor and writer Kelli Deeth.
The Facebook event is here! See you there?
I’ll be reading the infamous pork shoulder scene from Mitzi Bytes, and it’s going to be great.
November 1, 2016
Moms who have desks is an idea that comes up several times throughout Mitzi Bytes. My character has an office on the third floor of her house, a space she struggles to justify to herself sometimes and to her family—and not just because her most vital occupation (her blog) is a secret to everybody in her life. Her friends have similar desk angst—one has put hers in a closet, but since she’d previously worked in a cubicle without a door, this represents a kind of promotion. If you squint.
The above image is a screenshot from a feature I read a few years ago about organizing your home—if I recall correctly, it quite rightly irritated readers and was subsequently removed from the feature. But it stuck with me, that dismissiveness about women’s work, about a woman’s place in her home, for its derision of household management (which is totally a job) as an occupation worthy of its own tabletop. When my character takes into account her desk—a hulking solid oak object she found on the curb years and years ago and dragged home all by herself, a relic of a life she lived a thousand years ago—she thinks of this feature. “Moms who have desks.” As though this is a sweet affectation.
I thought of this again the other night as we read Spic-and-Span: Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen, about Gilbreth—psychologist, industrial engineer, efficiency expert, mother of twelve, best-known for the Cheaper By the Dozen book and movies. She also invented the shelves in the door of your fridge and the foot-pedal trash can. Not only a mom who has a desk, but she was a mom who invented a desk. Her Gilbreth Management Desk (pictured left) was unveiled at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933: “Intended for the kitchen, the desk had a clock and, within easy reach, a radio, telephone, adding machine, typewriter, household files, reference books, schedules, and a series of pull-out charts with tips on organizing and planning household tasks.” (Info from here.)
Intended for the kitchen, yes, but Gilbreth did not underestimate the tasks on a mother’s or any woman’s to-do list.
Ironically, however, I don’t actually have a desk. I mean, I’ve had a few. Once upon a time I had a desk that my husband carried home for me on his bicycle, which is a form of devotion the likes of which have been rarely matched. And in another lifetime, I too worked in a closet, although it had electricity and a window—but no heating, and now that space is crowded with toddler-clothes-intended-for-hand-me-downs and boxes upon boxes of Christmas decorations. And on one hand I could feel put-out by this, by the absence of a room of my own, but I don’t feel the lack. I don’t need a desk exactly, because I’ve chosen to make the world my desk, table-tops the planet over. My kitchen table, my lap as I lie down on my bed or on the couch, or the arm of the couch on a day when I’m required to be upright. The table in the window of the coffee shop I’m sitting in right now on College Street as I wait to go pick up my daughter from Brownies…
What a desk is is permission, I think, to take yourself and your work seriously, no matter what it is you do. It can be actual (solid as oak) or metaphorical. A surface upon which to take stock, to finally begin.
October 21, 2016
Mitzi Bytes is here! Advanced copies are, at least. There are no French flaps and the cover art is only temporary (although I like it) but it’s a book all the same, and ready to be sent out into the world and hopefully connect with (advance) readers. I am so grateful to May Friedman, Anakana Schofield, and Marissa Stapley, who were kind enough to read the book when it was still a pile of paper, and write such gorgeous blurbs. The photo above is a lie, as the children were mostly annoyed to have to put aside their Archie comics in order to pretend to be excited about Mitzi Bytes. I feel similarly chill about the whole thing. Not underwhelmed, but certainly not over. Just whelmed. But not literally. Perhaps unwhelmed is what I mean? Which is not a bad way to be.
I was just as excited as they were to spy their names on the dedication page, however!
October 16, 2016
A few weeks ago, I went looking for a room. The whole thing was a bit like a dream; you know, the ones when you’re walking through a place that’s kind of your house and kind of not. Except this wasn’t at all my house. It was Emmanuel College, the building at Victoria College in which the EJ Pratt Library was temporarily located during its renovation in 2000/2001. I worked at the library throughout my undergraduate years, which included the renovation, a period during which the student workers really weren’t very busy. I used to spend hours and hours on Saturday afternoons at a desk in a room where a bunch of computer terminals had been brought in. I recall watching the sun go down at the end of day outside the west-facing window.
I wanted to find that room. The west-facing window was a clue, but I wasn’t sure about the rest of it. When I walked into Emmanuel College a few weeks ago, I was completely disoriented. Where I thought I’d find the room, I found instead a corridor, and there was a stairwell up to the second floor, but I didn’t remember it. I had to pass through the Emmanuel College Library proper (notable for being where the video for “Head Over Heels” by Tears for Fears was filmed), and I have no recollection of the library being en-route, but so it goes. And then I emerged from the library, and there it was. I think. I have no memory of a fireplace, but perhaps the fireplace was less remarkable against the computer terminals (where this creepy man used to come and look at porn and the printers still had continuous stationery).
There was a desk on the righthand side just inside the door, and that’s where I used to sit, with a computer of my own with access to the internet. Which was remarkable. In previous years, student assistants had only had access to the library catalogue and the circulation system, and I used to get a whole lot of class reading done. But less so once the World Wide Web was at my fingertips. I don’t remember what sites I used to visit, or what my online routines were at all. (The very first time I went online was in a class at high school, and my teacher told me to click on a button called “What’s Cool.”) But somehow I found my way to a livejournal belonging to a girl I’d gone to high school with, and I loved the way her livejournal was a window onto her mind, its eclecticism, its mundane details and pop song lyrics and fervent pleas, and idle records of idyl days, and posts that meant much more than that. I read it and thought, “I want to do that too.” And so one Saturday afternoon in October 2000, at my desk just inside the doorway, when I was thoroughly unoccupied and the autumn light might have been much like it was this afternoon, I signed up for an online diary of my own.
From Mitzi Bytes:
“So she started writing the words down in a diary, an online diary, which seemed particularly private since nobody else she knew spent any time on the Internet. The only people online were lonely just like she was, other people who couldn’t sleep at night. It seemed like there was just a handful of them, all networked on the online diary site. This was when she’d never heard of a ‘blog,’ let alone a blook.
She wrote about insomnia, the fish shop, the depressing corner into which she’d painted her life. She signed up for dating websites, and began to write about that too, the triumphs and the horrors of attempting to begin again. When she finally had sex with a man who wasn’t her gay ex-husband, her online friends had showered her with jubilation. This was the post that had indicated that perhaps her online diary had some resonance with the wider world. A bunch of popular blogs had linked to her post, which she’d called ‘Notes on Finally Sleeping with a Heterosexual Male,’ and the resulting traffic had crashed the server of the online diary site.”
Obviously, there is a lot I don’t have in common with the protagonist of my forthcoming novel (not least of which: I have never had sex with a ventriloquist; in my online diary years, I wasn’t having sex with anybody, which isn’t very story-worthy, and so I was unlikely to crash a server) but what we do share is the amazing connections that came from putting our ideas out into the world, ideas that were obviously intended for an audience, never meant to be as solitary as the term “online diary” suggested (…although who really intends even their analogue diary to be unread anyway. Otherwise, what is the point?).
When I started blogging (although I didn’t call it that then) I was young and impressionable, and I learned so much about the world and life and culture and experience from the people who were giving me windows into their own universes. Blogging is “a very public way of working shit out for myself,” as Emily Wight mentions in our conversation, and the “shit” I was working out and have still been working out is everything. My blog was thoroughly ridiculous back in 2000, because I was, fixated on boys whose experiences I was completely peripheral to; full of angst and longing for things I couldn’t even articulate, let alone figure out how to achieve; overwhelmed by the goodness of friends who’d stand by me all the days of my life; and swept away by the sentiment of cheesy pop lyrics, the closest thing I knew (I know?) to poetry. My blog is the path I took from there to here.
A blog needs space to grow and room to wander, exactly the way a life does. Room. A room. I’m thinking about Virginia Woolf, of course, but also that room in Emmanuel College where I created my first post, and resisted all good sense and pressed publish.
If I hadn’t been bored and a bit lonely with time on my hands, what ever would have become of me?
October 13, 2016
My novel has a little bit of the sex in it. Not much, but a bit. I am still not sure how I feel about this. I continue to know that having published a book in which I document my abortion, everything else after it seems like cotton candy. Sure fictional sex is no big whoop. And yet…
Yesterday I met with the wonderful Noelle, Managing Editor at Harpercollins Canada, and we went through the proofreader’s notes on Mitzi Bytes (which will soon be seen in galley form! So exciting!). Anyway, I am pretty good at being edited, and so the process was going smoothly…until we got to a note in the middle of a sex part. And I couldn’t even look at the page, let alone the words.
“Oh, Sweet Jesus,” I shouted, averting my eyes, “Cut it, add it. Whatever it is. I don’t care.” Noelle started to say something. “Just let’s move on,” I told her. “I don’t want to talk about this. I can’t!”
Which makes me think I’m probably not going to be reading those parts at readings and festivals. You will have to read them alone at home.
July 13, 2016
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.
June 28, 2016
Yesterday I responded to a tweet by Joni Murphy (remember Joni Murphy? She wrote the wonderful novel Double Teenage that I devoured last month) about the ridiculously small window of books coverage in the mainstream media. She’s absolutely right—once the “new release” glow fades, so does a lot of interest…but I suggested that this doesn’t matter. I mean, yes, it would be altogether excellent to find oneself on a bestseller list the week one’s book was published, and for the momentum to be undeniable and inexhaustible, and to have your book be everywhere. Yes, authors do need to work and hustle to get the word out for sure. But here it is: you can only do the best that you can do. And even that is not really guaranteed to get results. And so what an author really needs to do is be satisfied with immediate coverage, but also keep the long view, and have faith in the book and its readers.
For sure, this kind of faith is not the stuff of bestsellerdom, but ultimately it is what really matters. It’s the difference between your book living on someone’s bookshelf for years and years, and being put out on the curb. It means your book not being available en-masse at secondhand bookstores six weeks after the pub date (and hello copies of The Nest and The Girl on the Train. I see you!) It means real people connecting with your work rather than just hearing about it, knowing the cover. The thing about books, good books, see, is that they have long lives, even if it’s hard to measure just how. Although the most excellent thing about the internet is that we do have some kind of a record now, a way of registering reader responses long past the on-sale date. (“The standards we raise and the judgements we pass steal into the air and become part of the atmosphere which writers breathe as they work,” writes Virginia Woolf in her 1925 essay “How Should One Read a Book,” anticipating the literary blogosphere[s]). It would be really wonderful to write a book that set the world on fire, but it’s just as stunning for me as a writer to discover, say, that my book is still being picked up and appreciated over two years after it first was published.
My point proven by two things that happened after my exchange with Murphy: last night I discovered a blog post from last month by the fantastic Red Tent Sisters (who I met when they were at our book launch way back when…) called “Why Is Mothering so Difficult?” It’s a terrific post, but I was even more thrilled by their suggestion that reading a book like The M Word might make mothering a little bit less difficult. They’ve also included The M Word on their Top Fifty Beautiful Books for Soul Sisters, which you can receive if you sign up for their newsletter (and here’s a tip—if you put somebody’s book on a list they receive if they sign up for your newsletter, that somebody will ALWAYS sign up for your newsletter). So I was feeling pretty good about that, and then this morning I was tagged on Instagram by a woman called Leah Noble with a gorgeous photo of The M Word alongside a just-as-delicious-seeming breakfast. Two signs from the universe that the book goes on, after a while of radio silence. Yes, both readers are connected with writers in the book, so I’m not suggesting that the whole thing is made from fairy dust, but there is an element of serendipity about it. You really do have to trust that the book will find its way—and the good books really will. Even if sometimes the ways are small and quiet.
And here’s another thing that I discovered last night, the other side of the publishing coin, eight months before the release date. My novel Mitzi Bytes is now available for pre-order, and unless I have a rabid superfan I am unaware of, my sister purchased the very first copy last night. But this doesn’t mean that it’s too late for you: you can pre-order the book at Chapters Indigo, or from Amazon, or head over to your local proper bookshop to do so.
(But my point is that even if you don’t, it doesn’t fundamentally matter. Life is long and good books are even longer.)