Introduction: Wrong Answers Only is a novel attempt currently accumulating from a scattering of notes composed at the onset of July, 2020. I am feeling out where it goes, feeling it out through a distillation of untethered fragments. Where might it be heading? I like that I don't entirely know. I am deliberately attempting to further some threads from previous works of my fiction, from the published novel Missing Persons (2009) to the as-yet-unpublished short story collection, "On Beauty." There are times that even a finished story is worth checking in on, after the fact. But for the reader to notice, one has to be paying attention.

For more on novel-writing as "accumulation," visit rob mclennan's blog.

from Wrong Answers Only, or “in all their wounded particulars”


Stella plucks blueberries and raspberries from the mess of bushes that grow wild up the hill, beyond our small cottage. Her mother is working. Upstairs, our spare bedroom now a makeshift home office, and Clara barricades herself in. I am, for all intents and purposes, on sabbatical this year, which I consider incredibly lucky. My sabbatical has begun, and I am home. I am forever home. In what had been our spare bedroom, Clara is now set up with a desk and her laptop and boxes of files. 

The flies are biting. I have to go in.

What might Alice Munro see when she takes her daily walk? Given she has been living in the same house for years: generations of seasonal growth, I’d wager. She catches the changes that have occurred along her path. She sees what has changed, and what has always remained. It is never the same walk, twice.

Call it romance. 

We acknowledge anxiety here through its absence. What I will not write. These are not pandemic notes, but simultaneous notes. 

Stella moves through the house. Go outside and play with the fairies, I tell her. Clara overhears, and corrects: Do not play with the fairies.


On Sundays, Clara writes out her list for the week. She writes out the tasks she wishes to accomplish. Set both as goals and reminders. Finish another chapter of her dissertation. Laundry. Thursday eye appointment. Friday vet appointment for Stella’s new puppy.

Lionel. She named the puppy Lionel. For the life of her, she has no idea where she came up with that. Clara absolutely hates the name Lionel. And why bother naming a puppy at all? You don’t even have to speak, it already runs over anytime any of us enter a room. Clara could speak a series of random words, and the dog would come running. Not everything needs to be named.

It is Matthew’s turn to make dinner. She can already hear him rummaging around in the kitchen.

When she was eight, she wrote out lists of her life-goals. Astronaut. Astronomer. She filled notebooks with these, whole notebooks she carries from apartment to apartment in a locked truck in her living room, now held in her makeshift office. If she were to get rid of it, might her dreams disappear? Although she’s also worried that her lists quickly became goals unto themselves: she had only to write out her list of goals, and that was enough. She didn’t have to actually try to do any of them. As though writing them out might make them magically occur on their own.

Outside, Stella sprints across the lawn. Badminton racket, tennis ball, dog. 


Stella writes in her journal: I do not have to be good. I have only to be good enough.

Clara says to herself: I do not have to be good. I have to be perfect.


Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa, where he is home full-time with the two wee girls he shares with Christine McNair. He is the author of three works of fiction—white (Mercury Press, 2007), Missing Persons (Mercury Press, 2009) and The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014)—as well as two collections of literary essays, a tourist guide to Ottawa and more than two dozen full-length poetry titles, the most recent of which include A halt, which is empty (Mansfield Press, 2019) and Life sentence, (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019), with a further poetry title forthcoming in 2022 from University of Calgary Press. He won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012 and 2017. In March, 2016, he was inducted into the VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. 

An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Touch the Donkey ( and periodicities: a journal of poetry and poetics ( He is editor of my (small press) writing day, and an editor/managing editor of many gendered mothers. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at