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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.

March 5, 2017

Mitzi Bytes in the World

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

Mitzi Bytes Events

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.

February 25, 2017

Hometown Paper!

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

Romantic Deal-Breakers

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

Mitzi Bytes Cover Reveal!

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

25 Books, Including Mitzi Bytes

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

Three Cool Things

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

The Toronto Review of Books’ Seasonal Affective Party!


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.

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