We asked Jean Pendziwol five questions about her new international bestseller, The Lightkeeper’s Daughter, and how music played a role in writing the book. You can find her at IFOA 2017, and IFOA Thunder Bay on October 30th.
IFOA: What are the main themes you wanted to explore in Mitzi Bytes?
Kerry Clare: The idea of a woman who finds out people are reading her blog who aren’t necessarily her intended audience, to put it delicately, turned up in a story I wrote a long time ago, and that idea preoccupied me for a long time after. At some point I made a connection between this idea and the children’s novel Harriet the Spy (which itself explores some mature and complicated themes), in which Harriet writes nasty things about her friends and classmates in her notebook, and then her notebook falls into the wrong hands. I realized that an homage to Harriet the Spy would give me the framework I needed to write my novel, and that the idea of my character not knowing who’d found her out would inject the story with some necessary and urgent plot.
IFOA: Marissa Stapley, bestselling author of Mating for Life, has called Mitzi Bytes ‘provocative’. What makes this story provocative?
Kerry Clare: Mitzi Bytes is provocative because (like Harriet the Spy) it’s part of a fine literary tradition of books whose protagonist doesn’t learn her lesson and change at the end. It’s not a tidy book, and all this is less common and more controversial than one might expect. The last few months in particular have shown me that we live in a world in which women can be so reviled for the fact of their gender, and so I think it’s more important than ever to tell stories of people resisting narrow notions of how women should be.
IFOA: For the last 15 years you have been blogging about books, experiences, family and the world. You have said that blogging “is about showing one’s work, being open to and curious about the world…”. What advice would you have given your heroine when she first started blogging?
Kerry Clare: I’m not sure she would have needed my advice, or that anybody does, for that matter. Because the point of blogging is to be blazing a trail, which is what Sarah was doing when she started her blog in 1999, and she was just one of a handful of people who were doing that then. And she did it really well, which is why she built up a huge audience without even intending to do so—she was just telling her stories. Maybe I would advise her not to keep her online self and actual self so divided—I think blogs are best approached with a spirit of openness. But then again she was writing about blowjobs in taxicabs and sex with ventriloquists—her blog was much more interesting than mine has ever been—so perhaps that advice might not apply to her!
IFOA: Who is Mitzi, who is Sarah? Can these two “identities” exist in the same realm?
Kerry Clare: This is the central question of the novel, I think, and the answer is: of course they can! Only on stupidly provocative magazine covers do women have to decide between being one thing or another. In real life, we’re all lots of things. We contain multitudes. And while negotiating these can be tricky, it also keeps the world interesting. It keeps us human too.
IFOA: What’s most exciting about having your debut novel published?
Kerry Clare: As a ridiculously avid reader, it’s been thrilling to learn about the process of bringing a book into the world, and all of the people who are part of that process. Production editors, proofreaders, and copyeditors are now superheroes to me, and I’ve been lucky to work with people who are so good at what they do. I am also excited to start visiting bookstores and festivals, because these are my favourite places to be. And finally, to know that people out there are actually reading this story I sat down and wrote three summers ago. It’s the very best thing, and such a great privilege.
Kerry Clare and Rebecca Rosenblum talk about love, loss and what it means to bear witness with Amy Jones on May 10 at IFOA Weekly. Join them as they discuss the lives of women looking for the truth. Sheniz Janmohamed will host.
Information and tickets, here!
Robin Sloan, debut author of the enchanting novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, took the time for a Twitter chat with us in advance of his appearance at IFOA.
Our favourite quote?
“I’d say @Penumbra’s Google is one-third fact, and then the rest is playful extrapolation—or maybe satirical inflation…”
The multi-talented Emma Donoghue, author of the bestselling Room, joined us for a Twitter chat with HarperCollins Canada this morning. Our favourite quote? On how long it took her to research her new short story collection, Astray, which spans four centuries:
“A decade and a half. I’m like your crazy aunt who never throws anything away.”
But she said a lot of other amazing things, too. If you missed the chat, here are some highlights: