MaddAddamites Came Out of Hiding to Meet and Greet Their “Eve”

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MaddAddamites Came Out of Hiding to Meet and Greet Their “Eve”:

In Person: Margaret Atwood at Indigo, Bay and Bloor

09.17.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

If you’ve read the first two books in the Oryx and Crake trilogy, you were most likely at one of the largest literary events at Indigo, Bay and Bloor, this past Sunday. I was. And so were a number of other Margaret Atwood devotees and fans of her latest novel, MaddAddam, which hit the bookshelves three weeks ago and made its way to the Indigo Bestseller list even before its publication based on pre-order numbers alone.

What’s all this buzz about, you ask? Well, aside from the messages we could potentially send or receive from bees in speaking with them, should we have that particular gift as the Eves do in the books, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam, the bees have spoken loud and clear—we, as readers would not be rejected, nor stung, but instead receive a bona fide appearance of our very own, Canadian, and much beloved, prolific writer, Ms. Margaret Atwood at the Manulife Centre in Toronto.

Okay, and yes, the book itself is quite good, too.

Which is why, for a simple purchase of a copy at any Indigo, Chapters, or Coles location, you could get the privilege of not only listening in on an interview with Margaret Atwood by Mark Medley of the National Post (who, by the way, if you’re following him on Twitter, you’ll know that he just had a haircut in perfect time to interview Margaret. Coincidence? Perhaps not.), but also get multiple copies of MaddAddam signed, as well as one to two back copies of Atwood’s books, with one title personally inscribed to you or whomever you choose.

That’s the thing. Out of a full, personal library of her work at home, how can you choose? Which is why my husband and I made the trek early to Toronto to secure a relatively good spot in line. I was expecting or (perhaps hoping for) long lineups, mania, large Atwood billboards, an activist sit-in in support of the fictional, environmental theology of the God’s Gardeners, covert spies of our modern-day CorpSeCorps equivalent, or blue-skinned Craker-inspired costumes minus the large, wagging penises (okay,…I’ll admit I wouldn’t mind seeing a replica of blue wagging penises—it would certainly be a sight).

But, because we were wise and patient enough to come early in the day, we were lodged in a group of the lucky few. We were close enough to the beginning of the line to actually see its event poster, and when it came down to being seated in the first-come-first-serve sitting area where the interview was to be held, my husband and I were quaintly seated in the third row from the front. Waiting time? A devoted two hours. We earned it.

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Indigo, Bay & Bloor, Toronto. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Indigo, Bay & Bloor, Toronto. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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In Person: Margaret Atwood Indigo event poster. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
In Person: Margaret Atwood Indigo event poster. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And since I’m not necessarily shy, plus I was jittery with excitement in attending my first Indigo book signing event in Toronto to also meet the-one-and-only-Margaret-Atwood-who-I’ve-bought-and-read-almost-every-book-that-she’s-ever-written-and-published—well, yes, I thought it important to make a few bookish friends to pass the time.

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Bookish friends at the Margaret Atwood book signing, September 15, 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Bookish friends at the Margaret Atwood book signing, September 15, 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Christa, a fellow book blogger was there and was productive enough to work on a book review while waiting; Jessica, a publishing intern was keen to share upcoming author events around town; two women who I’ve irresponsibly forgotten to ask their names while chatting, buzzed about their plans to attend the book festival, Word on the Street, in Toronto, next week. Yes, I was definitely amongst my favourite kind of people, the faithful (and fanatic) fans of the written word. I thought, “Finally. People who understand me.”

We were kind enough to play line tag, taking turns saving spots for one another while one went to take a pee break, grab a Starbucks coffee, peruse the Hot and New Fiction tables, or pound a few keys on the piano on the second floor. Otherwise, we shared our common love for books and not-so-secret-fandom of the author we were so anxiously waiting to see. We even posed for photographs. Time went faster this way and thankfully so.

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Esly and I waiting in line---yes, sitting on the floor. We arrived two hours early before Margaret Atwood's scheduled interview and worth every minute of our time. (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Esly and I waiting in line—sitting on the floor. We arrived two hours early before Atwood’s scheduled interview, but it was worth every minute of our time. (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Much like crazed fans of famous musicians in concert, we book nerds have our own form of mania—as quiet and introverted as it is, it does exist, and passionately so. Okay, yes, we didn’t push and shove fellow patrons in the lineup. We were respectful enough to follow Indigo’s black rope guideline and signing policy. We whispered in giddy gossip of the literary stars we’ve met in the past. We sipped our coffees like we would our red wine at wine & cheese parties that host elusive poetry readings.

We even refrained from screaming at the sight of Ms. Atwood when she glided into the room behind Mark Hedley onto the Indigo stage. And yes, we even refrained from bombarding her with embarrassing tears of adoration. And, no, I absolutely promised myself, I would above all things, not faint. If any book nerd will confess, it is of a passionate, yet restrained decorum in showing authors we love, some well-deserved respect and grace.

Besides, Margaret Atwood is the type of individual, I think, who would have none of that silliness. Who can really know Atwood as Atwood herself, other than “Atwood-the-Writer,” of whom we wish her to portray, and of whom she’s admitted to impersonating—no, let me correct that—perhaps, showcasing. There is and always will be the private self and the persona. And the one readers are privileged to see in the context of promoting her work is the persona of “Atwood-the-Writer.”

Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean she was less genuine nor less interesting. I simply mean, that in seeing her in person, hearing her interviews, reading her books, and even writing this blog post article, by in no way means that I know her anymore than anyone else can know her in a true and intimate way—that privilege is reserved for her close friends and family. (Lucky bunch, those guys.)

But, it does mean, I, along with others present at the Indigo event, were able to “bask in the limelight” of her literary stardom. If not bask, at least actively participate in its peripheral—there—and within the black rope seating area reserved for those devoted enough to come early.

In addition to our privileged seating, those who lined up early enough to snag a spot within the roped-off area were also privileged to choose a MaddAddam button, courtesy of Margaret Atwood (and I suspect, the wonderful marketing group at Random House of Canada). My husband and I chose a button each though I was extremely tempted to grab the entire bucket and make a run for it—thanks Ainsley, I only took one button for myself—(I am a hoarder of anything remotely bookish including swag and particularly of books written by Margaret Atwood, which are definitely high on my nabbing list!).

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Our MaddAddam buttons. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Our MaddAddam buttons. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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My partner, in his repulsion and refusal to eat pork, as well as his great sense of irony or perhaps subtle activism, chose the bright, pigoon button. Smart man, my husband, and potentially a donor to the future pigoon-gene-spliced-phenomena. I dug for the simple and sacred God’s Gardeners button as I secretly aspire to become an Eve, should our potential dystopian future demand it.

And while Ms. Atwood said so herself, “…everyone loves a good secret,” my husband and I, both refrained from choosing the Secret Burgers button in a clear stand against unknown dietary substances, which Atwood emphasized are indeed unknown as compared to lab meats, which are not unknown, and written about in her novel.

And as ancestors of the potential Craker blue-breeds, we also didn’t want to presume to be as innocent, nor gifted as those originally hatched in the “Egg,” of Crake’s original vision and creation, so we passed over the MaddAddam egg button.

And in my excitement and the availability of free Wi-Fi on site, I was able to tweet my real-time whereabouts and feelings within 140 characters, including, but not restricted to a clever hashtag and/or (in)direct contact with Margaret Atwood online! (For those of you yet to follow her, she can be found in the Twitterverse as @MargaretAtwood. Go ahead. Follow her now. All 427,079 of us who already do, will wait for you. And I’m sure by the time you finish reading this blog post, that number will have already risen. Betcha five bucks.)

I was ecstatic to discover that my tweet had somehow warranted a connection, however minute, with the humorous Atwood herself (which, by the way, I will enlarge, print, and frame for wistful dinner party conversation—the tweet, not Atwood):

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And that promise was dutifully kept. The Margaret Atwood we were all waiting to see, did arrive in a black ensemble with a red, butterfly printed scarf. (If it was indeed her secret clone or body double, it was surely difficult to tell. It certainly looked like her and sounded like her.) Her red eyeglasses were missing (I’ve seen her wear those before, but they’re most likely reserved for her lectures and readings)—but not her intelligent, articulate,  and sometimes cryptic answers that lashed out a sharp wit by an even sharper tongue.

You have to remember, Ms. Atwood is good at this. She’s been around long enough in the public eye providing a number of interviews in support of the work she’s created (all 59 books of them, as quoted by Mark Medley in the interview, though she made it clear that she didn’t count books that she’s published on her own without the help of a publishing house as part of that tally), as well as in support of the thoughts and opinions she has on society, and the clarifications and rebuttals she’s had to make in an act to ensure that she’s not misunderstood. It’s a big bill.

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The Indigo stage. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The Indigo stage. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Margaret Atwood. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Margaret Atwood. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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When asked if she thinks the future is a “hopeful” one in light of MaddAddam’s story being hopeful since characters and nature are able to survive the epidemic of the “waterless flood,”—bear in mind, I’m paraphrasing here; it’s not as if I actually took notes since I was too busy being starry-eyed while snapping photographs—Margaret Atwood agreed that like the percentage survival of the Black Death epidemic in the 1930’s, survival of the human race can be hopeful, as shown in the natural environment’s response in thriving as it must, and as it had in her novel, MaddAddam, should the human race cease to exist or not.

When asked what she thought made readers resonate with Zeb’s character in the book (a topic that spun off the tidbit that the German title of the book was changed to “The Story of Zeb,” since its original title didn’t translate well in the German language), Atwood’s reasoning was depicted in an honest example of why children like and are fascinated by large, toy dinosaurs. (My nine-year-old son would have applauded her right then and there!)

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toy dinsosaur

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While Atwood also chided that she’s busy “working on her own immortality” as we all are or would like to do, Mark Medley denied his own need to do so, and she blatantly refuted him, teasing him about being a “kid.” That kid is 32.

But, I have to agree with her. We, young pups, in the protection and sometimes naivety of our youth, often feel the bravado of facing the idea of our own deaths, since, in our minds, it’s still so deceptively far away.

I’m 38-years-old, but in a recent response to a serious Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) episode where my heart rate sped away at 200 beats per minute and I was forced to face the thin precipice between life and death with the possibility of no return—I wasn’t brave at all. I pleaded with the doctor as well as with God as who I understand God to be, to prolong whatever time I could get away with. Immortality? Yes, please.

When asked if she thought the character, Crake, was right (and for those of you who have not read the trilogy, well, now, you’ll have to, to guess), Ms. Atwood didn’t feel she could be presumptuous enough to know the psychology of her readers and would leave it up to us to decide. (In my opinion, Crake was right and wrong. And there’s no fence in sight. I may write an essay on it, should I feel so inspired.)

And when positioned with the same power of Crake and asked what she would do in his place, well, she teased again, refusing to share that with Mark Medley by answering back, “Well, I’m not telling you,” while smiling mischieviously back at him and the audience—because remember, she has choices. It’s her interview and she has no qualms about making them. If anyone is familiar with Ms. Atwood’s public personality, they’ll know that she’ll sometimes dodge any question that doesn’t interest her and will only speak to those that do. Good for her. (I’ll have to ask her to teach me how to do that the next time I meet her.)

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Margaret Atwood. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Margaret Atwood. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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There was also talk of the Intestinal Parasites app, a game created to mimic the game that Zeb, the character in MaddAddam plays in the novel, available for purchase through iTunes. And for you enthusiastic MaddAddamites, you’ll be excited to discover that the app is designed for both iPad and iPhone, and for a limited time, has a special launch price of only $0.99! For less than a buck, you’ll be charged with a mission as a MaddAddamite operative that could result in the agonizing death of millions of people. And no, I don’t believe you have to be a bio-geek to play. (Apparently, Margaret Atwood has reached Level 4—I recall reading this on her Twitter feed—but seems adamant in mastering the game. And like I said, I aspire to be an Eve, not a Zeb, so I don’t think I’d get very far.)

She also discussed the “battle” she had in fighting for a less “flowery” cover design of her book to not only better represent the story and context in which it was written, but to also appease the male readers who have also enjoyed the Oryx and Crake trilogy, of whom may be disgruntled by a more feminine, flowery cover design. How does she know this aside from being crowned our “literary prophet?” Well, she told us that she receives mail. A lot of it. From disgruntled readers and that she would most likely receive mail complaints from men who potentially wouldn’t like flowers on the MaddAddam book cover. When Mark Medley stated that she made a good “choice,” she refuted that, insisting that, no, she didn’t have a choice, but that it was a “battle.” We certainly have to pick and choose the ones we fight. And in this case, it’s clear Margaret Atwood, won.

After the interview, the floor was opened to audience questions:

When asked what advice she could give to aspiring writers, Ms. Atwood ‘s recommendation was to, rather than wait and think about writing, one should write and write often since the work of the writer is to do just that, “write letters on the page.” The person who asked the question was interested in writing commercial fiction and so, Margaret Atwood directed him to the website, Terrible Minds, a blog by Chuck Wendig, and warned him of the profanity used on the site.

Students of Victoria College, where Ms. Atwood is prestigious alumni, asked her when she would return to attend plenary, an existing weekly session where guest professors, visiting artists, writers, and ambassadors come to discuss points of interest with students and then offer their time afterwards in allowing students to speak with them informally and personally over coffee. Now, I see why these students were trying to hook Ms. Atwood into it. I’d like to have coffee with her, too! Instead, Ms. Atwood joked about “not being invited,” but also mentioned that should the students ask her publicist, she would most likely say no in consideration of her already busy schedule. Sorry, guys. *Feel free to insert, sad face here. *

When asked which book of hers and/or which character(s) in those books, does she favour the most, Margaret Atwood’s humor and ingenuity shined through her unwillingness to answer the question in order to protect the feelings of those in her books by saying she wouldn’t be able to tell us since her “books would overhear [her],” but that she could only say as most people do, “that [she] loves them each differently.” Ah, the personification of her books meant, too, that as their Creator, she was also unwilling to play favourites. No wonder she’s been so successful. Her books are healthy, and happy, and don’t bicker about who’s the best like most siblings do. (I would have chosen Zenia, from The Robber’s Bride because I found her to be equally sensual as she is frightening.)

But, don’t make any presumptions or judgements about Ms. Atwood when reading her books like one person did in stating that she was “negative about bio-geeks” and presumably about bio-engineering in light of the topic found in her book, MaddAddam. Ms. Atwood was keen to answer back quite sharply, “I’m not negative,” almost as if scolding a child who unfortunately misbehaved.

In posing his question, Ms. Atwood clearly spoke against her readers’ potential misjudgment and presumptions about her in the writing of her work and clarified by giving examples of bio-genetic work that she would welcome. One example she gave was some form of internal “insect repellant.” I forget the other example, but wholeheartedly agree with her on supporting the success of that particular project, should it exist or come into existence. How to mask our carbon dioxide output or imprint, which is how mosquitoes identify its prey through smell, would be a spectacular feat indeed. I know, since I went camping at the end of July this summer.

Thankfully, I braved a question myself by raising my hand and was privileged enough to be chosen from the audience to speak. I asked Margaret if she were a God’s Gardener and an Eve, what would be her particular speciality aside from speaking to bees? I had forgotten to expand on that by asking her what kind of message would she like to send or receive when speaking to bees, should she share that gift with her characters, Pilar and Toby? Or should she fail at completing her task of attaining her own immortality, what kind of tree would she like planted in her honour? See what happens when you get nervous? O, Mo-Hair, Liobam, and Firkin-Pigoon! I wasn’t as “swift” as Swift Fox in bedding her blue Craker-friends in sheer form of heightened libido and heightened curiosity. Bloody Painballer!

But, even more thankfully, when Margaret Atwood did attempt to answer my question, she not only gave it thoughtful consideration, I wasn’t bludgeoned for asking what I thought might come across as a silly question. (Phew.) And yes, I made eye contact with one of my favourite authors and spoke to her directly in a public event that gave me the privilege to do so! She told me that in that particular context, she would most likely be an Eve who specializes “in survival,” and joked about already having experienced enough with “mushrooms.” If you’ve read The Year of the Flood or MaddAddam, you’ll understand these references. If you haven’t, well, by all means, go out there and buy the books already!

We could be nearing a dystopia any day now. If I were to survive, I might just have to ask Margaret Atwood the secret to writing 59 books in a lifetime with a career that doesn’t look like it’s near any end any time soon. That, and how the heck can I make a great tasting coffee from dandelion root? Or befriend a blue Craker without becoming a mother or prophetess to the birth of an entirely new species? Also, how to kill a Painballer, as well as find out the best recipes for mushrooms that don’t necessarily mean I die or hallucinate into a dream-like Fallow State for more than 48 hours? Or—I could just ask her to sign my book… *Zara smiles sheepishly.*

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After the interview and question period with the audience was over, we were treated to a personal book signing. It was enough to want to bodycheck your peers as hockey players do in order to gain advantage on the ice. Security detail was watchful and available, but I was surprised Ms. Atwood didn’t have a personal entourage to accompany her.

While Indigo staff volunteers took photographs, her publicist intelligently played quality crowd control by wedging herself between you and the author for signing. She took your books from you and passed them onto Margaret as a way of quickening the pace, as well as protecting our beloved writer from unexpected and possibly embarrassing forms of adoration and invasion of space.

Simply said, if her publicist wasn’t there, we would have mowed her down with stifling hugs and unwanted gushing, idiotic small talk, and a slew of paparazzi photographs. Okay, correction. There was a slew of paparazzi photographs. It’s not easy being a literary star. (I’d say, “Canadian literary icon,” but I hear Ms. Atwood doesn’t like that.)

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Margaret Atwood signing her book for my partner, Esly. September 15, 2013. (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez.
Margaret Atwood signing her book for my partner, Esly. September 15, 2013. (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez.

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Margaret Atwood signing the Oryx and Crake trilogy for me. September 15, 2013. (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Margaret Atwood signing the “Oryx and Crake” trilogy for me. And me, smiling, ready to burst. September 15, 2013.               (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Margaret Atwood’s poise and patience is all part of her experience as a writer who has gained worldwide recognition. And we were so pleased to be able to meet her in person, as well as take home our tokens: personally signed books by the Canadian author we love.

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"Oryx and Crake" signed. September 15, 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
“Oryx and Crake” signed. September 15, 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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"The Year of the Flood" signed. September 15, 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
“The Year of the Flood” signed. September 15, 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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"MaddAddam" signed. September 15, 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
“MaddAddam” signed. September 15, 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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"The Door," the latest collection of Margaret Atwood's poetry, signed. September 15, 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
“The Door,” the latest collection of Margaret Atwood’s poetry, signed. September 15, 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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To read my book review of MaddAddam, you can visit here.

Also a special thanks to the event coordinators at Indigo, Random House of Canada, and the kind and patient patrons in line who made my wait an entertaining one, and to Margaret Atwood for giving us the privilege of meeting her in person.

Are you looking for upcoming events hosted by Indigo? Check out their website.

To connect with Margaret Atwood, you can find her online at a number of social networks:

Margaret Atwood’s Official website

Margaret Atwood on Facebook

Margaret Atwood on Twitter

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Have you had the opportunity of meeting Margaret Atwood in person?

If not Margaret Atwood, which authors have you been privileged to meet so far?

Given the opportunity to ask Margaret Atwood a question, what would you ask her?

What did you think of the book, MaddAddam?

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Until my next post, happy reading fellow bibliotaphes!

zara bird autograph

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One thought on “MaddAddamites Came Out of Hiding to Meet and Greet Their “Eve””

  1. Thank you very much for the detailed review of the day. I am new to the Atwood universe but loved “The Year of the Flood” so much and hope to get books signed during this tour.

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