Author Archive for B R

Kirkus Starred Review: “…well-paced narrative… shocking conclusion”

Posted March 6, 2017 on kirkusreviews.com – Link to post

A lonely teen girl’s life is changed forever when she discovers horrifying secrets about her family.

Fifteen-year-old Gemma has never left the place she calls home, an island off the coast of New Brunswick. Her father, an amateur scientist, tells her that it’s for her own good. But he’s too busy with his experiments to spend much time with Gemma, and there’s no one else her age on the island. From the first page, Gemma’s lonely interior world is drawn in rich detail, as is the island setting. Gemma spends her days alone or with the island’s older residents, who are like family. The all-white community is tight-knit, so everyone takes notice when Marlie, a mysterious woman, comes to the island. Marlie’s arrival sets off a chain of events that leads Gemma to uncover terrible secrets about her father and her past. Distraught, Gemma embarks on a journey full of dangerous twists and turns. Strangers and longtime friends make the journey with her, but ultimately Gemma must decide how to reconcile the past with the present and the truth with the lies about her past. The well-paced narrative builds from Gemma’s quiet longing to her bold quest for the truth to a shocking conclusion readers won’t see coming.

Science, mystery, and family collide in this creepy, satisfying page-turner. (Thriller. 12-16)

Globe and Mail Review: ” gasp-worthy twists …beyond the boundaries of expectation”

Posted December 30, 2016 – Globe and Mail – Link to post

The Darkhouse
By Barbara Radecki
Dancing Cat Books, 244 pages, $14.95

It turns out that the creepiest place to set a thriller is a remote island off the coast of New Brunswick. This is Toronto author Barbara Radecki’s debut and it’s a showstopper. Fifteen-year-old Gemma lives with her father, a ferry driver and aspiring scientist who spends hours in a locked shed working on his “experiments.” Gemma has only a few adult island dwellers for friends as she’s not permitted to the leave the island for fear of her violent, estranged mother. Or, that’s what she’s told. When a mysterious woman visits the island, things start to get weird. And scary. And unpredictable. Radecki throws in gasp-worthy twists and takes the plot far beyond the boundaries of expectation – about 100 gripping pages past where most novels would end. It’s a smarter and more sinister The Face on the Milk Carton for this generation.

CM: Canadian Review of Materials reviews THE DARKHOUSE

Posted in CM Magazine | Volume XXIII Number 27 | March 24, 2017 Link to post

The Darkhouse by Barbara Radecki.
Toronto, ON: Dancing Cat Books, 2016.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Chasity Findlay.

***½ /4

Excerpt:

I turn around to check the rest of the room. Cardboard sheets like the ones I saw rolled into Jonah’s knapsack hang from the other walls. The sheet closest to me is edged and boxed with thick black marker. In the top corner is written: Experiment Marlie Luellen. Nothing is written in the space beneath.

The sheets next to it are covered with Jonah’s journal pages. Graphs and studies covering every inch of cardboard. At the top of each sheet is written: Experiment LLB. The name startles me like a shriek in the woods. Is the answer to the question here?

As I step closer to get a better look, my foot catches on something. On the ground is the most beautiful chest I’ve ever seen. Wood overlaid with decorative copper plating. Delicate patterns of interlaced diamonds and whorls. The chest Jonah pulled from the rocks in the Rock Pit. Underneath, cradling it, is the green frog blanket from the box in the back room.

I crouch down and carefully lift the lid. Inside is the wrapped bundle that made Jonah cry. I see now what made it so familiar when I first saw him handling it: the bundling cloth is soiled and stiff from being in the ground, but underneath the decay, it’s identical to the other green frog blanket. To my green blanket.

When I pick it up, the bundle buckles and jangles like a bag of gold. Even as I imagine the possible richness of a treasure, my heart starts to pound. My body begins to beg me to stop, urges me to get away before it’s too late. Aidie’s voice, the memory of it, echoes in my mind: You have to get out of here, Gemma.

But my hands keep unwrapping.

Inside the cloth, bones clatter to disorder. Bones like the ones Jonah sometimes showed me after foraging in the woods, or in his textbooks as fine-ink drawings of skeleton parts. The difference is, these ones are miniature.

Too-small ribs and femurs and metatarsals and more and more slight bones laid out in a pile. And, last of all, the bones Jonah never showed me: a tiny human skull.


Gemma, 15, has lived a very sheltered life. She lives with her father, Jonah, on a small island in New Brunswick, with no cell phones, internet, or computers. The only young person she has to communicate with on the island is her imaginary friend, Aidie. Gemma gets homeschooled by Peg, the island’s diner owner. Gemma’s mother was unfit to care for her and has not been in her life since she was a baby, leaving her with her not so attentive or affectionate father. Jonah, who works as the ferry captain and lighthouse keeper and spends much of his time in his top-secret lab on his evolutionary experiments, hoping to establish himself as a scientist and publish a big study.

As Gemma approaches her sixteenth birthday, she begins to develop independence of thought and action, which leads her to wonder about where her mother is, why she left, and to question everything Jonah has said about her early life. When a mysterious stranger, Marlie, arrives on the island, Gemma is intrigued by her presence, setting off a chain of events that unveils horrifying secrets and lies. Gemma’s discoveries lead her down a path of self-discovery that forces her to dig deeper to seek the truth about her mother and the stories her father has told her.

The Darkhouse is author Barbara Radecki’s debut novel. Prior to transitioning to writing, Radecki worked as an established actor, appearing in many television shows, films, and commercials. She has also written several screenplays that have been optioned or sold.

The Darkhouse is a young adult thriller unlike any other. It grabs readers’ attention right from the beginning and commands it throughout. Right away, readers will sense that something is not quite right with Jonah, his experiments, and his relationship with Gemma, but it will not be easy for them to put their finger on what exactly it is. The Darkhouse is different than many other teen thrillers in the sense that the outcome is unpredictable. The book is less of a whodunit and more of a “what is really going on here?”. The plot will leave readers on the edge of their seats and making predictions along the way as Gemma embarks on her quest of self-discovery.

Radecki’s work developing Gemma’s character through the first person narration is masterfully done. Her elegant prose is likely to capture readers’ attention, encouraging them to take note of the many instances of powerful diction as they learn more about Gemma and her life. Radecki demonstrates skill at bringing the character to life through showing, not telling, allowing readers to come to understand who Gemma is through her thoughts, feelings, actions, and flashbacks from her youth. The development of Gemma’s character will allow readers to connect with her, empathize with her experiences and feelings, and become involved in the story as she digs deeper into her background.

An important and compelling element of this book is the setting and its description. Radecki does a fantastic job of describing the beautiful, serene landscape of this New Brunswick island. The setting is a crucial aspect of this book as the plot could not have been the same if it was to take place in any other location. For this reason, it was very important that the author do justice to its description. Radecki nails it on this one—she paints a picture for the reader to visualize where and how the action is taking place. The beautiful landscapes of ocean, rock, and forest are described with pristine detail for the reader.

The Darkhouse has many characteristics that will appeal to the target audience. The first person narration and character development of the protagonist encourage readers to become engaged in the story. Additionally, the plot is unlike that of many other young adult thrillers in the way that it is unpredictable and suspenseful. Many readers will appreciate that the novel does not wrap up perfectly and predictably with a tiny red bow. The Darkhouse is a thrilling book that will take readers on a wild ride, forcing them to hold their breath until the very last page.

Highly Recommended.

Chasity Findlay is a high school English teacher and a graduate student at the University of Manitoba.

Interview – The Varsity: A creative impulse is a “direct route to your higher self”

Author, actress, and UTM instructor Barbara Radecki on creative inspiration

By ; Published: 12:46 am, 16 January 2017 on thevarsity.ca (Link to post)

A creative impulse is a “direct route to your higher self”Author Barbara Radecki is an accomplished actress and writer. Her new novel, The Darkhouse, is about Gemma, a young girl who discovers the dark truth about her identity and her father’s mysterious experiments.

Radecki explains the novel’s curious title by elaborating on Gemma’s journey. “At one point, Gemma, the main character, is going up the lighthouse and she sees that it’s very narrow and enclosed and she says to herself, ‘I realized for the first time it was a darkhouse and not a light one,’” Radecki says. “I just thought that was a perfect definition of where the book had landed, that this girl’s journey was… illuminated by points of darkness.”

The novel’s cover design also holds special significance to Radecki because her daughter, Stefanie Ayoub, designed it for her. As the voice of Sailor Neptune in the English version of Sailor Moon, Barbara was invited to attend Comic-Con. Her agent, Sam Hiyate of The Rights Factory, recommended that she get a postcard made to promote her upcoming novel while she attended.

Radecki asked her daughter to design the postcard and suggested to her publisher that they consider her daughter’s design for the cover. Pleased by the evocative and visceral design, they agreed that it would make a great cover.

Radecki has had many roles as an actress, and when asked what pushed her to transition from acting to writing, she replies, “I think I was meant to be a writer. I think I was acting because I enjoyed it. I mean, acting, if you get permission to be an actor, you get to dress up like people, so it’s a great career if you can get work in it.”

Radecki went on: “The other thing about acting is that you can’t perform a role that doesn’t look like you, so I can’t be a 70 year-old man or a 70 year-old Italian. When you’re a writer, you can be everyone, so to me, there was no comparison once I started to write.”

Radecki is also teaching a screenwriting course at UTM this semester. When asked about her number one tip for aspiring writers, Radecki said, “I think if you have a creative impulse of any kind you should be following through on that impulse, you should be exploring that impulse as much as you can because it is a direct route to your higher self, your higher way of thinking. The best parts of you are in the parts of you that have your creative expression. It’s the part of you that is free, it’s non-judgmental, it doesn’t care about what people think, it doesn’t care about what you think of it.”

She stressed the importance of frequent reading and writing, and believes that refinement and editing should come later in the writing process, after fully indulging the creative impulses.

In addition to teaching, Radecki is working on two other novels. This Life in Circles was the first novel she decided to write after her transition to writing. Radecki describes her other work in progress, Messenger 93, as being about a young girl “who gets a message in the middle of the night. She gets a vision of this crow coming at her and telling her she has to leave to save her sister, save the world, and be the next messiah.”

Interview – Talk to me #7 : Barbara Radecki, with daughters Stefanie and Michele

Posted May 2016 on DontTalktoMeAboutLove.org

Talk to me #7: Barbara Radecki, with daughters Stefanie and Michele
Where you learned to love. 

Barbara: The easy answer is that I learned to love at home. I have loving parents and sisters and I grew up in a safe environment. But when I was a child, my parents were very busy and often away and my independence was both a natural character trait and a gift to them. I remember being by myself a lot and practicing love. Oh, how I nurtured and coddled my baby dolls. Oh, how I conjured romantic liaisons under a tented sheet in my bed. Love was as much a product of my imagination as it was a real-life experience.

When I met my husband, Phil, I learned the difference between idealized romantic love and what it means to commit to someone. When I had my children, I learned what it means to love so expansively, you’d do anything to nurture and protect. And then I had to learn how to love unconditionally and still claim myself.

Michele: I’m not really sure where one learns to love. It starts with one’s family and friends. Then most likely from romance stories and the media. Then from those initial lusts, forays into love and romantic relationships. And then finally, finally, once all of that is said and done, one truly learns love from oneself.

Your first cut – was it the deepest?

Barbara: I’m going to get this out of the way right off the top: I met Phil in college in Montreal when I was 16-years-old (if that math doesn’t make sense, I skipped grade 3, and high school in Quebec only goes to grade 11). We studied drama together, and we’ve been together ever since.

However, he wasn’t my only boyfriend and I’m embarrassed to remember just how deep that first cut was. I was 15 when I started dating my first serious boyfriend. I hadn’t even noticed him before he asked me out, and in hindsight I think I fell prey to that specific infatuation that’s triggered when someone falls for you and you see yourself for the first time as being objectively loveable. Irony was, he only loved me for a brief period and after our break-up all I did was pine for him. My newfound lovability didn’t just unravel, it imploded. Crying jags, drunken pleading, hopeless grovelling, that’s what I remember. Cringe.

I think that experience did affect my outlook afterwards: “You must work harder at being a good girlfriend. You must be better at being loveable.” I think it’s one of the reasons I didn’t nurture female friendships for so long. I was too busy focusing on how to be good at love.

Michele: I think my first cut also made me think that I had been doing something wrong. I decided for a while I had to start acting like other people in order to get or keep the love that I wanted. It took me a while to undo that thought.

Your love who got away.

Michele: I’m going to quote from a John Steinbeck letter to his son about love: “If it is right, it happens. The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.” (Italics are mine.)

Your “type” – and why. 

Barbara: Here’s the one thing I know from having found my “type”—this is a nebulous and intangible quality. When I first saw Phil, it was as if light bloomed around him. It wasn’t because he was handsome and smart and funny and made me feel wonderful that I fell in love with him—all of which are true. It was because he had “it”—that special alchemy with me that can’t be manufactured. And everything after that beginning was about him having the same commitment to our relationship as I do. That’s my type.

Stefanie: I don’t really believe in “types”. I think it limits our vision of other people and our capacity to love. But if there is anything that could be called a type for me, it is the feeling that I can be absolutely truly myself with that person.

Your favourite literary romance. 

Barbara: It might be hard for me to choose “the one” since I devour books and never re-read anything, no matter how beloved. If I have to choose without a thorough re-read, I’ll go with A.S. Byatt’s Possession. It has it all: meaningful connections; a drawn-out mating dance; breathless romance; delicious writing.

Stefanie: Anything by Haruki Murakami or Milan Kundera. I love diving into the solitary and intimate worlds of their characters and then watching those characters come together and try to navigate the complexities of love in their own (often conflicting) ways.

Michele: Wuthering Heights.

Your thoughts on friends being lovers.

Barbara: Romantic cliché: My husband is also my best friend. But he wasn’t my friend when we got together. Our friendship was definitely secondary to that alchemy. However, when I counsel my daughters on anything love-related, I do place value on friendship. If you have chemistry in the bedroom but also have an emotional/intellectual bond with someone, that’s gold.

As a general rule: I place huge value on friendship and would never want to lose one for what might turn out to be a fling. One of my favourite couples started off as good friends and they were surprised and delighted to discover much later that they also had chemistry. They’ve been together now for over 20 years.

Michele: I would never want to be lovers with someone I wasn’t also friends with. Friendship builds trust and comfort. That just makes love better.

Your thoughts on the net amounts of pleasure and pain. 

Barbara: Every moment with someone you love can be calibrated on a pain/pleasure scale. If there’s a lot of pain, is it worth it? Are you gaining something—personal growth, a deeper union, physical gratification, spiritual insight? And you can ask the same of pleasure—is it worth it? Pleasure can re-wire our brains. It’s incredibly powerful and persuasive. So either really has the potential to be a curse or a gift.

Your story about unrequited love.

Michele: It’s hard for me to write about unrequited love because I’m still so young and everything feels so close together, like I don’t have the necessary distance. But the biggest thing I can say about it is shame. Feeling embarrassed and ashamed that you tried to ask that person for love and they said no.

I no longer believe in that notion of unrequited love that makes one person better or more desirable than the other. There are so many factors that go into love. Not getting the relationship you wanted with a specific person has nothing to do with your self worth. 

Your favourite author/artist on love.

Barbara: Frida Kahlo. We know of her abiding, passionate, tumultuous love for her partner, but she was equally dedicated to self-actualization and expression.

As for writing: maybe this doesn’t count because it isn’t fiction, but Michele gave me Bell Hooks’ All About Love, and that’s an amazing manifesto. So many precise, vigorous, unflinching meditations on love. Bell references M. Scott Peck’s definition of love, which I think bears repeating and repeating and repeating, and which I’m going to paraphrase here: love is nurturing your own and someone else’s spiritual growth.

That strikes me as very true. Love isn’t only a dewy romantic feeling. Real love is an evolution of souls.

Stefanie: I’m currently obsessing over David Whyte’s poetry. I feel like his words unlock certain very true and very secret things about my own experience of love.

Your reconciliation of the domestic and the erotic.

Barbara: When my daughters were little, my husband’s work began to take him on the road a lot. Not only was I suddenly on my own with two little girls, but I was trying to find my creative voice amid a houseful of dreary chores. I loved being a mom, but resented that domestic drudgery. I took it out on my husband. It took me a long time to realize that either I could writhe with resentment—while still having to do the dishes and laundry—or I could just do the work and let it go. Believe me, you feel a lot sexier, a lot more attracted, when you’re not listing all your partner’s mundane shortcomings in your head. And the chores lose their onus very quickly when you’re not seething about them. Anyway, in the end, domestic obligations balanced out between us.

Best reconciliation of the domestic and the erotic: the at-home date night.

Your thoughts on marriage. 

Barbara: There’s still a kind of innocent belief that if you get married, you sidestep pain and loneliness. Like a money-back guarantee. Of course, we all know that’s bullshit. But isn’t the idea of a wedding lovely? The dress, the flowers, the dancing. And what about the possibility that you’ll make it to the end together? Someone to eat dinner with. Someone to grow old with. Someone who understands you more and more each day.

When you have grown children, it’s hard not to imagine that one day they might get married. Yeah, I like that picture. But do I think my girls should get married? That their lives will be better for it? Safer? No.

Stefanie: It’s really tempting for me as a young woman to want to follow that ‘scripted’ timeline of relationship, marriage, children. I’m coming to that age where I get at least one engagement notification on Facebook per month. It’s easy to compare yourself to your peers and wonder, “Am I supposed to be doing that?” But following that trajectory can become a destructive fantasy if it causes you to neglect or ignore other things that are important to you.

Love changes when you have children.

Barbara: My husband and I had a lot of fun years together before we had our girls. He didn’t think he was ready for children, and I didn’t care, I wanted them so badly. Thankfully, when the first one was born, he very quickly grew into his new role.

Yes, when you have kids, your heart gets flooded with an unfamiliar, unexpected, intense, immense love. You want everything for them. That love fills you and consumes you. Then one day you blink in the light and remember that you also have this foundational relationship that means a lot to you and that it also requires regular feeding and changing.

We still loved each other through those early years, but we also needed to remember to “see” each other. Your partner isn’t a mirror on which you project your needs and wishes. The good news is that when the kids grow up, you really get to discover each other again. Fall in love again.

Michele: I remember coming home from university one year and noticing that my parents were falling in love again. Not that they had ever fallen out of love, but they were just going through a new round in their love life. It wasn’t weird to watch at all and instead inspired and excited me.

Your thoughts on resisting temptation.

Barbara: Resisting temptation is critical for me. I’m a monogamous person. I feel freer, less inhibited in a devoted relationship. I think some people soar only when they have no constraints and some people soar because of constraints.

It actually hasn’t been that hard for me to resist temptation. When I swoon over a piece of art, I don’t need to steal it to appreciate it.

Your advice on breaking up.

Barbara: This one I can address by way of advice to my kids. There is no easy way to break up, to break another person’s heart, or to have your heart broken. It’s always going to be hard and sad.

Be as honest as you can. But about yourself. What you’re going through, how you’re changing. Ultimately, that’s what every break-up is about: not what the other person isn’t, but what you are.

Use the post-breakup period as catharsis to your own development.

Michele: Yeah, I always have you cheesily repeating, “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” And I think that is true, despite any and all pain that I may have experienced in heartbreak. I also think remaining honest with yourself and your feelings, fully admitting to how heartbroken, lost or sad you are, is the best way to go through a breakup. A lot of the time it speeds things up because you aren’t exhausting yourself by repressing what’s there.

Stefanie: I agree completely that the most important thing is absolute honesty. You have to be willing to look into yourself without judging any of your feelings, and you have to be able to discuss those feelings with the other person, even at the risk of hurting them. It’s terrifying but I think facing that difficulty head on shows you how much strength you really have. There’s no other way to heal and change.

Barbara: It’s very difficult to watch your children experience heartbreak. I definitely go into “fight mode”—I get busy nurturing. I try not to overstep any lines—I let them have their space and am present as a support system. It’s against my nature to give absolute “you should/shouldn’t do this” type of counsel, and the few times I’ve broken my rule, it’s been physically painful. But both girls want to hear my honest opinions. They remind me that they’re capable of disagreeing with me and making their own decisions. Of course they are! And that’s a lesson I’m learning: if I’m coaching honesty, I need to be honest too.

The influence of Love in your work.

Barbara: I actually think a lot about love when I work. Even though I love being in love, and I’m in a long-term relationship, I’m very conscious when I write that I don’t want the message to be: your life only has meaning and purpose when you’ve found a lover. The hard work in life is finding and loving yourself. Shit happens, whether you deserve it or not (and you usually don’t), and your lover isn’t going to prevent that, or even make it easier to deal with. But who doesn’t love reading about love? We all want to experience it, to have it. Love is so elemental, so affecting. So I’m also aware of that when I write.

Michele: I feel like you write like a single person sometimes. Or your advice doesn’t seem like it would come from someone who has been with their partner since they were 16. I think you’ve remained very independent and separate as people, whilst also having this love relationship together. But I’ve never seen one bleed into the other.

Your lessons from love. 

Barbara: When my kids were young, I always told them not to be afraid of loving people. Even if it wasn’t obviously reciprocated. I’d draw a picture of a heart and put our names inside it, then draw another heart around it and put other family members’ names inside that, and then more hearts and more names. A simple pictogram for the truth that the more people you love, the bigger your heart gets.

Stefanie: Yes, I really feel like I’m still learning that every day from you! Giving love and being kind only makes your heart fuller and your life richer.

Michele: Yep. I remember this heart. This heart lives on forever in my mind.

Your greatest regret in love. 

Barbara: I only have one true regret in my life and that’s that I stopped writing from my teenage years to my mid-30s. I convinced myself that the love I shared with my husband and children was enough to make up for the void in my creative life. And that turned out to be the biggest lie I ever told myself.

Michele: Yeah, when I noticed you’d left “the one that got away” question blank, it made sense because I know you don’t have any lovers that got away. He’s in the kitchen or backyard right now. But then I thought, You do have a lover that got away. With fear and insecurities you let your writing “get away” for many years. Luckily first love never dies and you’ve found each other again.

Stefanie: Not listening to myself and what I really wanted deep down. I have a tendency to place the needs of my partner above my own in relationships, and it has caused me to ignore a lot of pain that I have felt over many years. It took a big wake-up call for me to realize I was repressing my true feelings, and just how depleted my energy was.

Your thoughts on infidelity – one night stand, fling, or affair.

Barbara: The defiler of trust.

Your feelings about the existence of a soulmate.

Barbara: The question of soulmates comes up a lot in conversations with my girls. They see their parents in a long-term relationship and it seems obvious that we’re soulmates. And we would probably even say to them, “Yes, we’re soulmates.” But I get a bit squidgy when I use the word because it sounds so magical. Like lucky happenstance. Like it’s a promise from the gods that on having found each other, these two soulmates will never have any difficulties or challenges. And that’s not true. It can’t be! How do we grow and learn if everything is sweetness and roses? If we’re not questioning on a regular basis where we’re at?

To me, a soulmate is that person who agrees to go on the ride with you, like the marriage vows say, through good and bad. Who drives you wild, drives you crazy, drives you to strive, drives you places. The soulmate stays.

Michele: I think it can be intimidating to have parents who’ve been together for so long and maintain a loving and healthy relationship. It’s intimidating because so few of my friends have that and they’re often captivated by it. It obviously influences me and my desires to find something similar. I think that kind of connection is a rare and special thing and I see so many benefits within it. But I do believe you can create a soulmate within anyone—friends, parents, lovers—if you are both willing to truly listen to the other person and share your honesty with them.

Your ideal love: madness or redemption?

Barbara: Redemption.

I googled the following phrase because I was so sure I’d recently read it somewhere, and now I can’t find it. So I give credit to someone else, but I write it here for posterity: Love is forgiving each other every day.

Stefanie: Maybe a bit of both? I’d like to think the ideal love would be absolutely wild and still have the ability to release/deliver you.

Your advice on making love last. 

Barbara: Truly see the other; truly listen.

My wonderful improv teacher reminds us that very often when we have conversations with people, we spend the whole time either drafting responses in our heads or just going off in our own world. How can you really hear the other person through all that inner noise? She uses the educational aphorism “listen to learn.” This makes all the difference in every relationship, and is critical to long-lasting love.

Michele: I think a true test to finding someone you really love, and actually enjoying your life and the love that’s in it, is to truly be yourself and relax within yourself. If you’re busy trying to be someone else to please that person then you’ll never really know how you feel and you won’t be able to genuinely enjoy the love that is there.

Barbara: I want to wrap things up on a sweet note. Love is much easier than we make it. It’s our choice to give and feel. Love is the single element that makes life transcendent.

Interview: Coffee House Chat – January 10, 2017

(Posted on Facebook by DontTalktoMeAboutLove, January 10, 2017 Link to Post)

#TheDarkhouse #CoffeeHouseChats #SailorNeptune

Alex Risen and I are sitting down with a pensive Barbara Radecki, as she talks about acting, writing, and her penchant for very dark stories.

CBC named her first novel, The Darkhouse, one of the five best YA novels of 2016. (And it was just launched in December.) The Globe and Mail called it a “showstopper.”

Diane: Welcome, Barbara.

Barbara: Thank you for having me.

Diane: My first question is about your transition from acting to writing: how did it happen?

Barbara: Well, originally—when I was very young—I only wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first novel when I was eleven. Then, when I was fifteen, a writing teacher told me I had no talent, so I despaired and thought okay, I’m never going to write again.

Diane: Okay. I have to interrupt. You wrote a whole novel? You finished a novel when you were eleven?

Barbara: Yes, I did. It’s in a basement cupboard right now.

Diane: What’s it about?

Barbara: I had just read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: that iconic book of young female childhood. It so inspired me, in the way it relayed the journey of this family and all the obstacles they had to overcome, that I had to sit down and write my own version of that book.

Diane: Wow. And who was this writing instructor that said you had no talent?

Barbara: It was a high school English teacher on my very first creative writing assignment. I was really excited. I was totally stoked. I was convinced my latent talent was about to be discovered—

Diane: After all you were a novelist.

Barbara: Yes! I was. (Laughs)

We handed in our assignments and when she marked them, she stood up in class as she handed them back, naming all the students who had talent.

And I wasn’t one of them. I was devastated.

Diane: This is a very bad teaching story.

Barbara: Yes. I actually don’t have very many good teaching stories. My best teaching stories are from my theatre teacher in high school. Which is probably why the choice to act felt very safe, and the choice to write felt very dangerous.

So I shoved writing aside. I tried a bit, but I always had a voice at my shoulder saying that I was no good. With acting there was a sense that even though I wasn’t the best, I was pretty good. And that made me feel wonderful. So I pursued it. I went to acting school. I went to the university of Windsor and got a degree in acting.

I came to Toronto as a young woman, and there were a lot of opportunities. I played wonderfully challenging parts. I got work. I got commercials. I paid the bills.

When I turned 35, the roles dried up. I felt like I was up against this inner turmoil that I didn’t understand, so someone suggested that I read the Artist’s Way. Do you know it?

Diane: It’s about finding your creative self.

Barbara: Yes. I started writing every morning: stream of consciousness, and I organically made my way into writing.

The kids would go to school, and I would just write. Stories about my own family, stories about growing up. The more I explored the writing side of things, the less interested I was in pursuing acting.

Diane: In another interview you said that writing was the love that almost got away.

Barbara: It was.

Diane: How do you think having been an actor influences your writing?

Barbara: It gives you a shortcut to accessing the emotions of a character, and when you’re writing you have to access a lot of characters. A weird thing though—and this is something I haven’t figured out—a lot of writers talk about improvising their scenes out loud. But I can’t.

I just need some quiet. I need to sit at the computer, until I can see my characters, hear their voices, know how they speak. Then my biggest task is to pull them from my imagination, through my hands on the keyboard and onto the page.

Diane: And structure? Have you studied it? I always thought an actor wouldn’t need to: you’ve spent so much time rehearsing scenes, performing in plays, imbibing it, as it were.

Barbara: I’m actually a huge believer in learning about structure. I think you can have a sense of it, an instinct, but you can have an academic understanding too.

Sometimes I’ll read a book that feels a little bit gooey, and I think I’d connect better if it were tighter, if scenes didn’t go on so long or weren’t repeated.

Diane: Yes. The repeated scene.

Barbara: You’ve made a statement. A thematic statement. An emphatic statement. A dramatic statement. Why make it again?

Diane: Because it worked so well the first time?

(Laughter)

Barbara: I’m a reader who appreciates structure. So I’m a writer who appreciates it too.

Diane: Moving from structure to subject matter: your novel for teenagers, The Darkhouse, is very dark. Why?

Barbara: It’s funny. I do this improv class where my work frequently gets dark, and I have a friend who says, “Aha! You have a dark side.” I say that I don’t, but it’s true that every story I’ve ever wanted to tell goes to that place.

As a child I loved German fairytales with these horrible twins, Max and Moritz, who would would wreak havoc wherever they went. They were awful, and I really enjoyed them. I have a strong curiosity about how horrible we humans can be.

But there is another element. Something that connects humans to each other is going into someone else’s story. Into dark spaces. It gives us empathy. That’s one of the great gifts of reading.

I also think that very many of us read because we want to know that we can survive. Every book is a guide to survival. How to survive the great whatever. Fill in the blank: mental illness, personal depression, terrible tragedy. Readers want the survival manual in the real world and also in a heightened world: more dramatic than something the average person will go through. Down the rabbit hole. I connect very deeply to Alice in Wonderland.

Diane: I didn’t even like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when I was young, because it was creepy, but I loved fairy tales, and, I realized when I got older, that they are really dark. I have a friend who hates fairy tales, and when she mentions them, she always goes back to Bambi. But how wonderful would Bambi be for the child whose mother has died?

Barbara: Or the child who is afraid her mother will die. Children imagine the worse. Weirdly, though, I hate horror.

Diane: I don’t think that’s a contradiction. Horror is very different.

Barbara: Yes, it’s gruesome. You can be dark without being gruesome.

Diane: What is your writing process?

Barbara: I’m a solitary person when I write. When I’m done, I go back out in the world, see my friends and have lunch. But as an actor I come from a collaborative background, and I write screenplays with a partner, so I also like the experience of working with an editor. I like hearing ideas. Actors are used to taking direction.

And successful writing is actually a team experience because you have to connect to your readers.

Diane: I never thought of it like that.

Barbara: So I also like to have readers along the way. To get responses and then go back to my work.

Diane: Do you write everyday?

Barbara: Every day. And I’m lucky that I can.

I get up at 8. I feed the dog, clean the kitchen, empty the dishwasher, have breakfast. I sit down by 9:00- 9:30 and write. I do three hours of just creative writing in the morning, based on what I think that scene should involve. Then I take a break, come back and revise, revise, revise. Revise. Then I’ll go to bed that night and wonder ‘did I get a pretty good idea of that scene?’

Diane: And if not?

Barbara: I don’t move forward. I revise.

Diane: That sounds like a good spot to stop. And good advice for aspiring writers. Thank you, Barbara!

Barbara: Thank you!

CBC Books panel recognizes THE DARKHOUSE as one of 15 great books for young readers in 2016

THE DARKHOUSE was chosen by CBC children’s book panel as one of 5 Great Young Adult Books in 2016. The list includes:

  1. The Darkhouse by Barbara Radecki
  2. Bad Girls of Fashion: Style Rebels from Cleopatra to La dy Gaga by Jennifer Croll, illustrated by Ada Buchholc
  3. Icarus Down by James Bow
  4. Aluta by Adwoa Badoe
  5. The Swan Riders by Erin Bow

“The children’s book panel with Michele Landsberg and Ken Setterington is an honoured tradition at The Next Chapter. This year, our trusty panelists recommend 15 books to suit the tastes of every young reader.”

Shelagh Rogers says: “Every year Michele Landsberg and Ken Setterington find some new magic and bring us fresh voices and titles…”

Link to Post on cbc.ca

View the complete list [PDF]