M93 is “New & Hot” at Indigo

Messenger 93 was featured on Sherway Gardens Indigo YA Book Club as a pick, and also on the ‘New & Hot’ and ‘New Releases’ Shelf in the physical store!

Excerpt of M93 appears in Town Crier (The Puritan)

Posted July 13, 2020 | Link to post:

[Excerpt] Placards stabbed the spaces around me. Calls and chants echoed in my ears. Tourists and suits blocked my way as they stopped to watch.

Then I saw him. Standing apart from the crowd, outside the circle of dancers. Tweed cap, black hoodie, over-stuffed backpack strapped to his back. A knife holstered underneath his sleeve. White faceless mask hiding his identity. 

Someone had to stop him from doing what he came here to do

He jabbed the Jocelyn-poster over his head in time to the drumbeat. No one seemed to notice him. Even though he looked packaged. Packed with aggression. 

It swarmed me in a cathartic rush: HE IS THE FALL. I was Joan of Arc. Driven by purpose. Protected by armor. Marching into battle. I was doing what I was called to do.

Book cover for "Messenger 93" by Barbara Radecki showing a crow against a blue background, with the title overlaid.
Messenger 93 by Barbara Radecki

Article by Barbara Radecki on writing M93: The White Saviour and Saving the World in Messenger 93

Posted July 16, 2020 at

This article, written by Barbara Radecki on her book Messenger 93, is presented in partnership with moorehype.

I got the idea for Messenger 93, my second novel, years before I began to write it. It came soon after a teenager told me that her white boyfriend believed he was Jesus reincarnated. From what I could tell, there was no manifestation of Jesus-hood in this boy’s day-to-day life. But that revelation—that here was someone certain he’d come from extraordinary lineage despite any hard evidence, and that he was maybe destined to save the world—became the seed for my next story. I knew that I wanted to explore saviour syndrome. 

Portrait of author Barbara Radecki outdoors, smiling, from shoulders up.
Author Barbara Radecki

I sent my protagonist, M, an alienated teen, a message that she must “save her” in order to “save us all.” As M grapples to figure out what the message means, she becomes convinced of a destiny: she must save someone. She runs away from home to search for another runaway, a white girl, her high school enemy. 

As I was writing my first draft, I was also following the news about Tina Fontaine’s murder, which was in turn amplifying the tragedy of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People across the country, and how governmental and societal systems are failing them. The discussions around her murder also amplified the disconnect between how many Canadians see themselves, and how this country and its governments are structured, and to whose advantage. Tina Fontaine—how she was abandoned by the system when she was alive, then abandoned by the justice system when her murder was brought to trial—exposed the lack of meaningful action in this country when it comes to Indigenous peoples, on whose stolen lands we live. And by “exposed,” of course I mean that it was news to various intersections of privileged Canadians who had never had to question these failings before.

I introduced a Cree (nêhiyaw) character into Messenger 93. M meets him on her journey because he’s also searching for someone—a missing nêhiyaw girl. When M chooses to follow this boy, my saviour syndrome theme became one of white saviour syndrome. 

In storytelling, the writer is not obligated to answer the questions at its centre. But if I was going to keep writing this story, I had to answer some foundational ethical questions. Because I inhabit several aspects of unearned privilege (first-gen white settler, middle class, able-bodied, cishet woman), could I write characters who live outside my socialized experience? And if it was possible, how did I go about it without causing further harm? How could I reflect aspects of the ongoing MMIWG2S+ tragedy without appropriating the voices of the people directly in it?

Stories tell us who we are, but they also tell us who others are. For all their glory and worth and delight, stories are also responsible for our stereotypes. We invent stories to uplift ourselves and each other, and also to justify our violence. 

Writers are, by our very act of writing, literally centering our own voices

I decided to find my way through the novel with these characters—along with the promise that I would ask permissions of at every step. I pledged to withdraw the book if any one of them felt I should. (There isn’t space enough to list all of my educators here, but they are listed in my acknowledgements with their permission.) I kept fumbling on because I rebelled against the idea of continuing to create fictional worlds where all the characters are white, default-white, or mirrored-white. I wanted to learn where the various lines were that I could and could not cross—at the time of writing, and to the best of my personal and our collective knowledge. I clung to those learnings to resist the fall into white saviourism myself (for example, consider nuances within words like “save” and “help,” and “support” and “accountability”).

Writing Messenger 93 became hard, mucky work. Not hard in the way that living with injustice and oppression are hard. Not hard to find resources and educators and guidelines. It was hard in the way it is for many creators. Where you question your purpose. You question the worthiness of the work you create. The integrity and honesty of your voice. It’s hard because your inner core is required to upheave and realign. It’s hard because how do you decentralize your own voice when it is trying so hard to get your attention?

If you’re white, white saviourism is a quick and easy route to feeling good about yourself. That’s why it’s so insidious and so prevalent. If you’re a writer, appropriation of voice is a (comparatively) quick and easy way to write. That’s why it has created so many problems in our stories. Untangling deep-rooted biases and relearning your art and craft and then inviting criticism is tough. 

Even if we all have different reactions and different strategies within our different environments, I think we can all viscerally feel that there is something wrong with the systems built around us. No wonder so many of us want to be bigger, greater, more impactful than our ordinary selves. 

I don’t want to give away the ending of my novel, but it’s probably no surprise that I’m still asking its central question: how do we actually change the world? How do we save us all?  

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 a 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, came out April 2020.

Video: Bibliovideo interview

Bibliovideo is a news channel dedicated to Canadian books for young readers. The Q&A clip from my Messenger 93 (Virtual) Book Launch is featured here. Diane Terrana asks me some great questions!

Video: Reading for CBC Books

CBC Books hosted several authors reading from their books in the summer of 2020. Here I am reading the first chapter from Messenger 93.

Interview with The Miramichi Reader

Link to original article

“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 93 would 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.

Thanks, Barbara!

For more information on Messenger 93 and Barbara Radecki, click here.

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 (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

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?


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!