“Lyrical prose and magic realism flavour the haunting story of M, a lonely girl who is called upon to find and save her enemy. The ensuing journey goes disastrously awry when M falls for a boy in search of another missing girl. This brave novel by Barbara Radecki tackles bold subjects—missing girls, celebrity culture, white privilege and cultural appropriation—as it explores one girl’s pilgrimage of self-discovery.” – Diane Terrana, acclaimed author of THE WORLD ON EITHER SIDE
“Messenger 93 is a driving story that twists and turns and entertains. Barbara Radecki has written a poignant book that asks hard questions about compassion and belonging.” – Ken Murray, award-winning author of EULOGY
“Radecki’s masterful turns of suspense and mystery send M, and the rest of us, on a thrill ride from downtown to the deep woods. It’s a can’t-put-down, must read adventure!” – Thom Vernon, award-winning author of THE DRIFTS
Messenger 93 released in the middle of a pandemic. We scrambled to replace our brick-and-mortar launch slated for April 22 at Ben McNally Books. Instead we did a virtual launch featuring author-publisher-agent talks, actor-readings, and a Q&A. It was awesome! Check it out here.
“In seven days, she will fall,” say the crows. “As she falls, so do we all.” Who falls? wonders M. The ominous, supernatural message starts M on a quest that could save more than one life. But what if the person in danger happens to be her nemesis? Along the way, M meets up with Gray, a Cree boy with his own hopes of saving a runaway Indigenous girl. As they begin a wild journey through the city and into the bleak northern woods, M grasps for the true meaning behind the crows’ messages and pushes deeper and deeper into worlds she doesn’t know or understand, holding fast to a questionable dream that she might be a modern-day Joan of Arc.
Messenger 93 is the sophomore YA novel from Toronto author Barbara Radecki. Thom Vernon, award-winning author of The Drifts says, “Radecki’s masterful turns of suspense and mystery send M, and the rest of us, on a thrill ride from downtown to the deep woods. It’s a can’t-put-down, must-read adventure!”
Barbara Radecki started her career as an actor and is probably best known for voicing Sailor Neptune in the original English dub of the popular Sailor Moon series. She has transitioned to writing, with a focus on full-length fiction and screenplays. She co-wrote a modern adaptation screenplay of Jane Austen’s Persuasion due out in 2020, starring Alicia Witt and Bebe Neuwirth.
Her debut novel, The Darkhouse, came out to acclaim in 2016/17, including a Kirkus star and spot on CBC’s 15 Great Reads for Young Readers (1 of 5 for YA). In 2017, she was shortlisted for the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize. Her second novel, Messenger 93, comes out in April 2020.
Radecki answered some questions about her writing and her new novel.
How does symbolism play into the creation of your novel?
A key component of Messenger 93 is the reader-question of whether the events in the story are symbolic or if they are real. This strikes at the original reason I was inspired to write the book: if we believe, for whatever reason, that we are meant to “save someone,” can we? Should we? Is this the foundation for human survival, or is it our egos searching for validation? If it can be one or the other, then where is the line and how do we find it? How have our ideas been fashioned by social constructs? What is the basis of true compassion? So the crows and the messages that appear throughout the book are always floating in and out of that liminal space, asking the reader to ask, “What does it really mean?”
Teenage protagonists have changed a lot since the 1990s. Back then, coming of age meant a whole different thing. What is it like writing for a readership that wasn’t even born when Kurt Cobain killed (1994) himself or even when Winona Ryder, famed mom from Stranger Things (and some other movies) was charged with shoplifting. (2002)?
The most specific change I see is in the portrayals of female protagonists. In years gone by, it seemed necessary for a teen female hero to ride one of two narratives: her goal was love, or she had to be a mirror for the male characters we glorified in stories. That was always constraining to me, even though I value love as a central theme for stories, and even while I cheer on the female warrior. But today’s protagonist doesn’t have to be a warrior to be a hero. She finds her strength in sometimes unlikely or unexpected ways. Characters who must face their deepest selves, learn who they really are, take responsibility in greater society, engage with others in meaningful, authentic ways, these narrative arcs are moving in on the ones about the aimless fascination with excess and success. I think the teen protagonist now has a greater sense that they fit into a bigger world and that the world is controlled by forces they no longer trust or assume to be static and unchangeable. They have more awareness and want to have greater agency in all aspects of our societies.
“Today’s protagonist doesn’t have to be a warrior to be a hero.”
What is your writing process like?
My writing process has changed a lot over the years as I’ve developed my craft. The one constant is the arrival of the idea. It drops in like an unexpected parachute-borne package. But, because the story starts with a galvanizing idea, I then have to figure out how to write my way into it. For my first two novels, The Darkhouse and Messenger 93, I booked off a chunk of time and wrote, virtually stream-of-consciousness, until the stories were done. The Darkhouse in six weeks (ten pages a day!), and Messenger 93 in 4 months. Except that turned out to be a very inefficient way of writing. Both books required dozens of drafts of rewrites before the most effective storylines were revealed. Both laid waste to hundreds of pages of gorgeous (and terrible) prose that never served the arcs. For Book 3, I’m taking my own teaching advice and outlining a fundamental story arc before I write. Outlining allows me to tweak elements that I can see lack function or don’t make sense, so this time I have a (mostly) clear path to explore. As a result, I can sit down with a very broad list of story points necessary for the scenes I’m about to write, and I still have plenty of room for creative flow. Now I have a better sense that I’m not only writing for my own enjoyment but for my readers’ enjoyment too.
“When I’m ready to begin writing, I set aside two hours a day to work in creative free-flow. I’ve found that two hours is usually my limit on any given day for prose-building.”
My refined process is that I begin with an immersion in some necessary research, then I set aside several weeks to plan my main story events and structure. Along the way, I flag character developments, sub-plot events, and thematic points I might want to include. When I’m ready to begin writing, I set aside two hours a day to work in creative free-flow. I’ve found that two hours is usually my limit on any given day for prose-building. But, after that, I can unplug from my inventing power source and plug into my editing power source and find that I have another robust burst of creative energy. I can edit (if time allows) for many more hours than I can free-flow write. And because I know this about myself, I schedule my writing days accordingly. I can interrupt editing with life-errands, but I do like to know that I have that two-hour creative writing block available without interruption. And that said, I’m a huge believer and advocate for “write every day, even if it’s only fifteen minutes,” because writing makes you feel much better than not-writing, and fifteen minutes will still leave you with something on the page, even if it will be edited, or changed, or cut.
How did your work in tv/film influence your own writing?
My work in film and TV has been extremely useful to my fiction writing. On the plus side, I’ve learned that bringing a story to the world is collaborative. In screen work, every production requires a team of creative minds to come together and nurture it from idea to final product. Without the dreamy creation of a story, there is no story, but without the input of an audience of some kind, you can’t know if your ideas have landed. As a writer, I needed to develop my listening skills in order to hear, accept, and celebrate later input by beta-readers, agents, and editors. I also learned from inhabiting characters on set. The importance of aspects like motivation and emotional depth. I learned how key dialogue is, how you don’t waste words on mundane conversation but find the heart of the conflict or connection in every interaction.
What about the rejections? Are publishing and acting similar in that regard?
Working in the film industry has also built up super-muscles for how I handle rejection. Oh, the rejection you face auditioning for roles! I learned how to deflect the “no” and not personalize it. I learned how to persist. I learned how to accept feedback and turn weaknesses into skills. I learned how to reject feedback that didn’t resonate, and to search for other ways to dig deeper into my storytelling.
What is the hardest thing about being a writer?
By far the hardest part about being a writer, for me, is the nebulous space after I’ve written a story and when it’s being launched into the world. I live in a state of anxious worry that readers won’t find it. The possibility that your story will fade away—after so much attention on research and building and writing, after so much thought and analysis and refinement, after years of that work—it’s so sorrowful. The book is a living, breathing entity to you for so long, and then in an instant, it becomes… like a ghost. Misty, intangible, billowing away from your grasp. This is the only stage where the writer has no control. The only way I can resist that distraction and sorrow is by jumping into my next story. Because writing makes you feel much better than not-writing.
Who do you think would like to give Messenger 93 as a gift and why?
I think Messenger 93would make a great gift from parents (or any adults) looking for a page-turning read for their teen daughters or other teens in their lives, who enjoy a dynamic read, but who are also asking big questions. Also adult readers to adult readers who’ve been wondering: “What does it mean to save someone?” And who might want to gift this book as a part of that conversation.
For more information on Messenger 93 and Barbara Radecki, click here.
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)
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.
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.
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.
Chasity Findlay is a high school English teacher and a graduate student at the University of Manitoba.
Author Barbara Radeckiis 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.”