Monday, December 5, 2016

We Need To Talk About NaNoWriMo

November is over.

I do not have a 50,000 word novel.

I do have a new minivan, but that's a sad story for another time.

we need to talk about nanowrimo 2016
If you're connected to my Facebook page, you'll know I started NaNoWriMo off strong.

{And if you haven't connected with me there, WHY? And go do it! It affirms my existence!

I was actually ahead of the NaNo curve until Day 13—where I crashed and burned and tried to get over all that crying I'd been doing—and after that, I just couldn't get it back. Not because I didn't want to, and not because I didn't believe in the story I was telling, but just because sometimes a wall appears in front of you.

Walls suck. We don't like them. We speak against them. We call them names. 

Like 'Stupid Wall'.

BUT...

...what if some walls are erected to protect us? What if each brick is a lesson, and each lesson can push us to be the better version of ourselves?

They teach us humility. Surrender. Self-awareness. They teach us that no matter the height or breadth, if you look hard enough you just may find a window.

I built The November Wall all by myself and I lovingly mortared it with pristine cockiness. {You can't buy that stuff in a can. It grows like putrid mould over your soul.}

- Prep a novel for a proof-printing? Sure!
- Manage the social media/marketing ends of my author site and my magazine site? No problem!
- Have the second issue of Blank Spaces ready for release on December 1? Totally!
- Attend a Gilmore Girl's Year In The Life binge-viewing party? Obviously!
- Begin the preliminary background work on a project I can't talk about yet {oooooo, intrigue!}? You bet!
- Face and complete every day-job-project presented to me in top form? Piece of cake!
- Write a 50,000 word novel? Child's play!

Except...NO!

Because WHO DID I THINK I WAS?

And where is the window? That one I promised could be found in any wall...?

Oh, it's there. It's tiny. It's a little glimmer. And graffitied over it in hot pink spray paint, it says 'Know Thyself, Idiot!'

Sigh...

Sure, I want to do it all. I want to do it all and still have energy left over to be a good mom and wife and cat owner. {Poor Pippin, there were times during the month when I would have loved to spray paint 'Idiot' on his back in hot pink...thankfully I learned to respect the wall before those ugly feelings filtered over to my children and husband...but still...poor Pippin...}

So, I failed NaNoWriMo. But I did attend that Gilmore Girl's Year In The Life binge-viewing party, so November was basically a win! 

Also, by failed, I mean I wrote 32,526 words, I launched my magazine on time, I maintained my day-job, and my children still like me.

Every window is made of silver-lining. Sometimes you just have to scrape off the poor-me-grime.

What did I learn?


I learned that I have a limit. I learned that spreading myself too thin makes me feel sad. I learned that it's about the journey, not the destination. I learned that everything is Donald Trump's fault. I learned the importance of setting boundaries for myself and abiding by them. I learned that Loralie Gilmore started drinking more scotch than coffee and that's why the reunion shows weren't so great {#TeamJess and #RoryIsLame}.

Where will I go from here?


I will prioritize my tasks and set goals that make me feel successful.
I will read more.
I will keep seeking those 50,000 words at my own pace.
I will drink better coffee. {So long Folgers! #TeamLuke}
I will be nicer to my cat.

So what about you? How was your November...?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

My 'Friday Phrases' Interview

There's a quirky little writing website that hosts a Twitter hashtag game (#FP), through which writers across the globe are invited to share little snippets of their work. Through my participation in this exercise, the darling ladies behind 'Friday Phrases' reached out to me for an interview about a month ago. Yesterday, the interview was posted. How fun!

Here's just a little clip of what we talked about:

I like my stories deep and brooding, my chocolate dark, and my coffee with a little milk and sugar. I dream of the day when my passions will afford me the luxury of pursuing them full time; however, real life keeps me firmly planted in my responsibilities and I chase dreams in whatever spare moments I can steal back.

#FP: What do you love most about writing? What speaks to you?

AR: I love the freedom I find through writing. As an introvert, unless I’m very comfortable with a person, I tend to hide myself quietly in the background. I’ve found a boldness through writing that I’ve never known in my face to face living. I like to think of myself as ‘internally eloquent’ — in other words, when I try to say my thoughts out loud, they feel thin and forced; when I write them, they have a fluidity that boasts confidence. I used to wonder if this was a character flaw on my part, but I’ve learned to embrace it.


Want to read the rest? Great! Click on over here and you can read the whole thing.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Leonard Cohen: You Gave My Soul A Beam To Travel On

When things get really bad, just raise your glass and stamp your feet and do a little jig. That's about all you can do. Leonard Cohen
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/l/leonard_cohen.html

"When things get really bad, just raise your glass and stamp your feet and do a little jig. That's about all you can do."—Leonard Cohen

Sadness makes a lady weary...

I woke today to the news of Leonard Cohen's passing and I sat at the breakfast table, listening to Hallelujah because I needed to wrap myself in his voice, hot tears leaking down my face.

"Oh," Liam said. "You're crying."

They didn't know what to do with me.

"He was one of my favourite people in the world," I said, choking on my words, kissing them goodbye and ushering them out the door while they looked at me with a kind of 'what's up with mom?' wonderment.

I am emotionally fragile. This week has nearly killed me. I want to curl up in a little nest of blankets and listen to the echo of Leonard reciting 'My Lady Can Sleep'. I want to disappear for a time, to revel in grief because, though it hurts, it is one of life's most precious gifts.

Because through grief we understand what it means to truly love.




He was my guy. He was the provocative, raw, boundary-pushing artist who ultimately inspired my own artistic aspirations.

I remember the moment I found him, a stained paperback book of poetry on the high school library shelf. Opening those pages opened my eyes. I'd always thought truth had to be placated with flowers. His poetry gave me permission to be honest. He taught me that vulnerability is the most beautiful of all the abilities.

Leonard is quoted as saying, "I was 15 when I first became deeply touched by the rhythm and structure of words..." Well, when I was 15, I became deeply touched by the rhythm and structure of him. He touched a place within me that fiction never reached.

I will mourn him deeply because he touched me deeply. We lost a beautiful soul this week; it's my impassioned prayer that we never lose his spirit.


Fare thee well my nightingale
I lived but to be near you
Though you are singing somewhere still
I can no longer hear you
—Leonard Cohen, Nightingale


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hugging Hillary Clinton

When we finally turned off the news feeds and went to sleep on Monday night, the race was too close to call. My spirit was unsettled. Nerves pulsed through me like the moments before walking onto the school stage in seventh grade when I gave a speech in front of community judges about Beethoven.

I've never involved myself in politics. Not to this extent. And I've certainly never really cared what happened in countries beyond mine—yet things were different this time. This time I knew in my core, no matter the outcome, it would punch me somehow.

a canadian's thoughts on the american elections


During the early pre-dawn hours of November 9, while darkness pretended to wrap this side of the world in a lullaby, dreams rocked me until I was standing in a field. It was that magic hour when evening light shoots across the wheat in such a way it turns to gold and as I walked through it, I saw a woman standing in the distance—alone, arms resting at her side, fingers brushing the tips of the wheat. A heaviness rooted in my stomach at the sight of her, at the sadness in her face and the loneliness in her posture. I knew if I could extend one bit of grace to her, I would find a way to do it.

I approached and as I drew near I realized it was Hillary Clinton. She watched me come, shaking her head slightly as if to say, 'I'm strong, leave me be'. But I ignored her and continued until I could gaze directly into her wet eyes. I wrapped my arms around her and it felt, for a moment, like I was hugging the world. And then my mother appeared beside us and said in her gentle way, "It's all going to be all right."

I woke then, shaken, and grabbed my phone from the dresser beside me, flipping to Twitter, where of course, I learned the news with immediacy.

I couldn't sleep after that. And when dawn finally broke and I met the children in the kitchen, I asked them, "Do you know?"

They all did. We've been talking about it a lot.

"I feel sick," I said.

"Why?"

"I just don't know..."

But I do know. I know that I'm terrified by what this means for the whole world. What does it say that one of the major world powers allows an arrogant bully blow fish to be its leader?

What does it mean?

I cried on the way to work. I was listening to interviews on the CBC and I'd watched a video about a mob burning the American flag before I left and I was just shattered. My heart broke for America and my heart broke for us, and as I crested the hill into Allan Park a rainbow appeared to my right and that made me cry even harder.

I was a wreck. I drove an extra loop around town to gather myself.

Then, of course, the day continued in such a way: an hourly succession of more bad things. I got some different hard news that rocked me, I learned about the personal tragedy of a close friend, the marriage of another friend is dissolving, our Passat is officially headed to the wreckers...

The sky is falling and there isn't enough chocolate in the world.

I left work early because I was exhausted by trying not to cry. When I got home I snuck into my room, crawled in my bed, and tried to keep it together.

When my husband found me he asked, "Did you have a good day?"

"No."

"Why?"

"The world is falling apart."

And then I told him everything, wiping tears while he lay beside me and when I finished he called in the children and they piled on me with hugs and giggles and I remembered that the sun rises every day.

This is not a political post. I'm not looking to start a conversation about who you support and why. I want to talk about how we move forward. How can we plant a seed of hope after this volatile season? How do we spread the message of love? How do we swallow our judgements and trust—really trust—that something bigger is at play and that good will ultimately prevail?

I don't know. I do know that when I woke today, I wasn't quite so shattered. I am still sad. I am still suspended in this strange bubble of mourning I'm struggling to put words to and yet, as I sat on the porch step with my mug of tea, watching the last leaves falling and the blue sky behind I remembered that rainbow and the abundance of beauty that exists around us every single day and I know, somehow, just like my wise mother said, it's all going to be all right...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

My NaNoWriMo Survival Kit

The end of October looms, a nearly naked branch poised to let its final leaf fall. There's a smell to it—cold and faintly death-like—all that summer beauty rotting into a crunchy path that we track into the house no matter how hard we try not to. Ten cords of firewood were delivered in a manure spreader and dumped in front of our barn. Half of it remains, waiting to be piled. We'll get to it eventually.


There's been a constant fire burning in the wood stove. That's a smell I can embrace—though it dries the air so much I'm afraid my skin might split if I crack a smile.

Winter is coming. 

And so is NaNoWriMo.

And both of them are making me feel a little uncomfortable.

I don't have time! I don't have time for snow and I don't have time to write 1,667 words a day.

But the snow comes no matter our protest and those words...well, they'll get written—or at least they'll be given the old college try.

Because, like snow, once you've danced in the glow of a freshly rewarded NaNo victory, you know you have to do it again—no matter how much it hurts; no matter how your fingers ache or Jack Frost tries to ice over your inspiration—you get out there and post your footprints on Instagram because even in the pain there's something terribly beautiful to be discovered.

I tried to say no. I reminded myself that I have a magazine to finish editing, proofs to get approved and finals to be sent to the printers before the 21st of the month. I have two extra evening work meetings throughout November PLUS I've been invited to a Gilmore Girls Year In The Life viewing party and there's no way I'm missing that!

What I've decided is this: NaNoWriMo is worth it. Even if I fail.

Since the launch of Blank Spaces I've done very little fiction writing. I've played with some short stories and posted some chapters on WattPad but I haven't poured myself into something that can become...something.

Do you see?

I need the pressure to reignite the fire.

So I signed up. I have a very loose idea to use as a jumping off point, but honestly I have no idea what I'll be writing about. But that's part of the fun. If I can stick with it, I'll have a 50,000 word novel by December. It's a little bit magical, isn't it? Something from nothing. That's one of the things I love about writing.

The title? The Path That Takes Us Home.

What is it about? *shrugs* But it'll probably be amazing.

Ha!

SO, to help motivate/inspire myself, I've pulled together a little survival kit that will get me through this Month Of Being A Crazy Person...

Nanowrimo Survival Kit

  1. My laptop, happily equipped with Scrivener—THE GREATEST WRITERS TOOL OF ALL TIME—seriously!
  2. Headphones which will pump the blissful white noise of a coffee shop into my ears, courtesy of Coffitivity—THE MOST HELPFUL APP OF ALL TIME!
  3. A notebook that will travel with me everywhere I go for 'attack' moments of inspiration.
  4. Pens to accompany said notebook.
  5. Fingerless gloves. Trying to type with cold fingers is awful. I believe in being prepared!
  6. Candy. It's obvious why, isn't it?
  7. Mug & Tea/Coffee. So I haven't tried the tea pictured. I'm not a real lover of herbal options but CLARITY sounded like something I could use a lot of...
  8. My planner, to check off the days.
  9. Some motivation to hang by my desk. Because everyone needs a little 'You Can Do It' every now and then.

Not pictured: 
  1. A door - I need to be able to shut myself into my writing room and get to it, undisturbed.
  2. Frozen pizza. You didn't think I'd be cooking did you? 
  3. Slippers and heavy sweaters. I accomplish nothing if I'm not cozy!
 
There are other requirements, like saying no to other extracurriculars or instructing the children in the proper manner that they truly understand AND actually become cheerleaders in the whole process—but more than anything, it's about focus. 

And it's about turning off Netflix.

Do you think I can do it? Pop over to the NaNoWriMo site any time during November to see my progress {or lack thereof}. And if you feel up to the challenge, sign up and give it a try—we can encourage one another along the way.

Wish me luck! 

Monday, October 24, 2016

We're Moving To Sweden!

Life isn't interesting enough, is it? We have to go and throw in some crazy plan to keep things...well...crazy. As we sat at the dinner table a few weeks ago Zander announced our future: Let's move to Sweden!

"Okay," I said. "But why?"

"They pay kids to go to high school."

"Awesome! Tell you what, you go do some research. Report back the cost of relocating, flights, shipping our stuff, buying a new car, how much we could make on the sale of our house and the probability of it selling fast enough...and if it all checks out we'll go! Easy peasy!" 

"Yeah?"

"Yeah!"

He has yet to present his findings. I think he's all talk.

There is something appealing about it all though...but I do wonder...would IKEA instructions still come with an English option?

Monday, October 3, 2016

I'm Not Rich Yet

September is over. Just like that. How rude! Everywhere I look, it's 'pumpkin spice this', and 'let's go on a fall colour tour' and I'm just sitting here mourning the lazy days of summer when time felt manageable and dreams were more exciting than overwhelming and I'm mad because I have to wear socks.

The moment school kicks back I feel it like the rear legs of a bucking horse — it just knocks me down. I don't sleep well, I drag myself to work {wishing I was still in pajamas and slippers}, I stay up too late, and I want to do too many things.

AND YET...

I'm SO excited about what's going on.

Blank Spaces Magazine digital release

The first issue of my brand new magazine was released on September 1 to a great response. People have been so gracious and encouraging and actually buying it - which is incredible. It was {and continues to be} a huge risk. The return for the hours {days/weeks/months!} of work will not allow me to quit my day job and pursue my publishing dreams full time {and, let's be honest, that is my ultimate hope — that this pretty little vision could grow into a sustainable venture that allows me to chase my heart without being tied down to a job that turns my attentions from what I really want to do} BUT I'm having such fun seeing it all come together, I'm meeting some incredible people, and I'm so excited for the potential future it has.

Do you even understand what it's like to have people believe in your vision???

Yeah. It's pretty alright.

I wish I had adequate words to express the moment I actually held the first copy in my hands. Because the whole process was so foreign to me, I really had no idea what to expect. I did my research and I made intelligent choices but I was relying solely on the support of The Internet, and I don't know if you know this, but The Internet is FALLIBLE!

I had a list of what was important to me and a quality product was right at the top. I wanted thick paper. I wanted a glossy finish. I wanted crisp images. I wanted something that someone would feel good investing their hard-earned money into. I wanted more than a newspaper but less than a book. I wanted something that was as pretty in real life as it was in my head.

My list was no small order.

I had a dream that my shipment arrived printed on tissue paper and bound with staples. I have never been more scared. I felt the pressure of all those trusting contributors and all the beautiful people who pre-ordered sight-unseen — what could be more devastating than crushing my own dreams as well as theirs with a less-than beautiful product?

But then it arrived. Live and in colour and NOT in my dreams, and I was so overcome with relief that my hands shook as I flipped through the pages. IT WAS JUST SO PRETTY!

I have no regrets. I feel empowered and confident enough to get the second issue out for December 1. And I think, if I can just figure out how to get it into the hands of the right people, it's a project that could grow and grow into something really special.

I am practicing boldness. I am reaching beyond my comfort zone to wave it in people's faces. I just assigned a deadline to a Toronto Book Awards finalist who will be sharing her writing journey in the December issue! {True story! That really happened! Who am I??? A big-time magazine publisher, that's who! Ha! I promise to stay humble! Cross my heart!}

So thank you to all of you, because if you're here right now reading this, you were probably here when I announced this crazy venture back in May {good gravy, I can't believe it's only been four months —this has all happened SO fast!} and that means you've stood by me through it all and are here to greet me at the other end...just in time for it all to begin again.

{If you feel left out and want to snag yourself a print copy, I'm including the shop link at the bottom of this post. Because SHAMELESS PROMOTION! It's the only way to get anything done — and without sales, I can't keep the machine going. If you just want a digital copy, send me an email and put [BLOGREADER25] in the subject line and I'll give you 25% off the digital price just because you support me here ❤️}

What I really need right now is a marketing genius, a distribution guru, one million dollars, and a personal barista...because, well, you know...




Blank Spaces - September 2016
Blank Spaces Magazine: Blank Spaces - September 2016
Volume 1, Issue 1 of Blank Spaces is a celebration of Canadian talent, featuring the work of artists—writers, painters, photographers, poets, etc. We are continually accepting submissions.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Girl Who Forgot How To Hug

We believe in affection and we pride ourselves on being a house bursting at the seams with an over-kill kind of love. There are hugs and kisses and cuddles and tickles and giggles and hand-holding and all the other ways to say 'I love you' without words. Within our four walls, this is one value that rises to the top.

Touch is the most powerful of whispers.

There was a moment last year when I dropped my teenage son off for a field trip. Right there in front of the school. Right there in front of his friends. He kissed me goodbye like it was the most natural thing in the world. "Love you, too," he said, confident enough for them all to hear. I melted. I thought: every mother in the world wants to be me right now! And I'm not sure I'm wrong.

{Now, in the spirit of full honesty, I am not a hugger. Not really. Within my own home? Sure. But beyond those walls, I'm not the one to step out and wrap you up in the kind of embrace that makes a person grunt. I might love you radically and wildly but it's in a quiet kind of way. I love gently outside my home. I'll hug you if you are the initiator it but I'm not likely to grab you from behind in a sneak attack. If you want that from me then you'll have to move in!

the girl who forgot how to hug
My daughter is laden with a sweetness that oozes from her eyes in brilliant sparkles. I'm not sure she's fully human. No one really glitters like that, do they? It's like a fairy snuck in and stirred a little magic before she was born. And for six or seven years she was a full participant in our ongoing snuggle party.

But then it stopped.

She forgot how to hug.

And the dysfunction in her arms needled into my heart like a sliver you just couldn't get with the tweezers. "Hug me!" I'd beg, holding her against me, her arms limp at her side. "Hug me!"

But she wouldn't. I think part of her thought it was funny, but I think the other part did actually forget. 

She was broken.

Except she wasn't because she had a stuffed dog named Bailey to whom she'd warmly cling all night long.

It was a mystery I needed solved but I failed to follow the clues. There were none. No rhyme nor reason for her sudden lack of embracabilities. "Why won't you just hug me??!" I'd ask, physically taking her arms and putting them around my waist, holding them there so I could remind myself what it was once like. "How am I supposed to even know you still love me?" Trying to guilt her into a good squeeze.

"Because I love you," she'd say—too smart for passive aggressive persuasion.

Sometimes I would pick her up—even though she's much too big for that now—just so she'd have to hang on, just so her arms would cling to me out of necessity. It wasn't the same. 

I spent a year being unsatisfied.

And then. Magic. Two weeks ago she came up to me in the kitchen. Those two arms, longer than the last time they reached for me, came around my waist in a gentle whisper of all-on-her-own and they tensed in the soft kind of grip a hug is made of and I stopped everything and called out so the whole family could hear: 

"Good gravy, what is this?"

She giggled but didn't let go. That mean old sliver was loosened and dissolved into nothing. "Don't forget again," I said to her.

She just smiled the kind of smile that shakes glitter over your whole body and kept on squeezing.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Why Just-For-Fun Writing Is As Good As The Gilmore Girls

I had grand plans to write a million words over the summer. Of course, I also had plans to launch a magazine so you can guess how far I got with those plans...

But, despite all the craziness of a new venture {and I do mean craziness—I mean, have you ever started a magazine? It's insane. I don't know what I was thinking!} I've started playing with a new, entirely frivolous story because
            1.) I needed to write
     and 2.) I needed something low pressure and high fun.


gilmore girls fan fiction is good for you

Let me back up just a little bit.

I have this friend. She has this love. It's not necessarily a conventional love. It's not a man or a dog {though she does have both of those, too}—it's a television show. A 2000-2007 obsession. A where you lead me, I will follow kind of passion. When Gilmore Girls was a new, hot thing, I didn't even blink at it; she, on the other hand, fell madly in love and has been watching it over and over and over since its inception.

AND THEN Netflix announced a reunion show and she was all GAH and I was all whatever, I've never seen it. And she was all I'm going to have a viewing party when it airs and I was all I want to come to your party!

AND SO, I buckled in and I went for the seven season ride and it was glorious. Actually, I'm rather bothered by how much I loved it. I don't think of myself as a romantic comedy kind of a girl, but guess what? It caught me hook, line, and sinker. {#TEAMJESS}

How embarrassing!

ANYWAY, I needed something to get me writing and after finishing the seventh season I HAD SOME QUESTIONS!

How perfect!

So I've started a story, picking up five years after the season finale {and five years before the reunion season} just because.

It's stupid fun and very low pressure and maybe ten people will read it, but you know what, it keeps those writing muscles going even when I don't have the space for bigger things right now.

Like every other muscle, the more you work it, the stronger it becomes. Writing is no different. It's a snooze-you-lose kind of thing. The wider the gap you allow between moments with a pen or a keyboard, the easier those gaps become, and that's a terrible tragedy—especially if writing is something you claim as important.

a Gilmore Girls fanfictionWaiting for a break, for that moment of discovery, for a publishing deal, for a film-rights contract with Paramount Pictures {HA!} is just waiting. It's meaningless. Sure, I wrote a novel and yeah, I think it's pretty great, but that's not all I am. Writing should be present-tense. All. The. Time.

Gilmore Girls is great. Writing my own version of them is great. It doesn't matter that I can't make money off it because it's working my writing muscles, and that's great.

In conclusion: writing a piece of fanfiction {or other just-for-fun write-projects} is like yoga; it doesn't change the world but it does make you feel better about yourself.

If you're a Gilmore fan and you're curious about this silly little exercise, you can follow along with the story here.

And you know what, just for giggles, I'll paste the first chapter {teaser} chapter right here ↓ {and—hint, hint, wink, wink—the game is: how many music/song references can you find???}


~ the charcoal troubadour ~

CHAPTER ONE: BYE BYE MISS AMERICAN PIE
A long, long time ago
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
     The guitar came from a thrift store in Queens. It had a long, deep scratch on the body and I liked to imagine that some cowboy with a silver ring had done it intentionally, as a notch for the prettiest girl he’d ever seen. Like he’d cheered a jager-shot to a beauty in the back of the bar and drawled into the microphone in a slow surfer speak: you’re so groovy, baby. Anyway, that scratch helped me barter the sales guy down another forty-two dollars, which left me just enough in my pocket for a bus ticket and a questionable tuna sandwich from a gas station. 
     It was garbage. The guitar. Old and beaten up like an abused mistress. It stunk too. Like beer and sweat and bad decisions. Like maybe that ‘pretty girl’ wasn’t so pretty in the cheating light of morning. 
     I cleaned it with steel wool. I really leaned into it, stripping it down to the original raw wood until it was all naked and apologetic—like it didn’t know who it was anymore. I sat with it on the stained tiles of my kitchen floor (which was also my bedroom floor and my living floor) in my tiny studio apartment over the strip club in Brooklyn, with the bass pulsing through my body from below, churning in my gut with the same intrusive sickness it had stuck on me the day I moved in, trying to reinvent it with my attentions. I’d already been told I wasn’t getting my deposit back. As if the water-stains caused by the leaking bathtub in the apartment above were my fault. As if everything was my fault. As if I was a pariah and I deserved to leave with nothing. 
     No. Not nothing
     Some people want to rescue animals. I’m aiming to rescue the heart of rock and roll. And to do that, I need to rewind and re-find myself. 
     I fell in love with that ugly second-hand (third-hand? fourth-hand?) guitar. I rubbed olive oil into its raw surfaces and then I rubbed in my tears, too. I lay back on the floor and hugged that beaten instrument to my chest, and together we felt the music beat through us. We fit against each other like two pieces of a puzzle and we became one in that rocky, intimate space. It understood me. It felt like home.  
     And it birthed a strength within me that began to swell. 
     Music can save a mortal soul. I know it. Don McLean knew it, too, I just think he was afraid to be conclusive. A question mark feels so much safer than a period. 
     On my thirteenth birthday, my mother gave me a beautiful Epiphone acoustic with a warm, rich, woody tone. She paid for lessens from Roger Sprites who used to tour with Neil Young when he was actually young and I Bryan Adam-ed myself to the point of bloody fingers. Those were the best three years of my life. But then my mother met Nathan and Nathan used my magnificent guitar to break her cheekbone before emptying her savings account and skipping town. I was never able to play that guitar again. Every chord broke my heart like it broke her face. We sold it on Craig’s List. Mom bought me another one from the Sears catalogue, but its cheap twang destroyed my spirit, so I planted a bonsai tree in the sound hole and I named it Charlotte’s Web because that book broke my heart, too. Mom made me throw it out when the wood started to rot and that nearly killed me. “Suck it up, Charlotte,” she said to me, her face a little less pretty since The Incident, the left side just a bit sunken and lower—like a doll left in the sun long enough that her plastic cheek started to melt—her eyes a little harder even though she really wanted to be okay. “You did this to yourself. A tree in a guitar? Honestly.” 
     I’d cried then. Not a gentle kind of cry. No, this was a torrential downpour of adolescent angst that included slamming doors and piercing my ears with a sewing needle just to show her I made good decisions all the time. It feels good to lose it sometimes. Isn’t that when we’re the most human? When we’re raw and vulnerable? Just try and tell me that Eric Clapton wasn’t completely shattered while he wrote Tears In Heaven—snot running, face blotchy, voice hitching. That’s real. Real real. Life and death real. 
     I tested my fingers along the frets like I was playing the piano. There were no strings. Not anymore. The strings that came on it were dead, so old they had rusted where they curled around the tuning pegs. I’d taken them off and turned them into a wrap bracelet as a humble nod to the history of my new best friend. It circled my wrist like a ghost of something I couldn’t quite remember and it smelled like metal—the acidic irony blood-like smell that clings to the shiny things people stop loving—and I decided I wouldn’t take it off until I knew who I really was.  
     Should I stay or should I go? 
     No. Scratch that. 
     I will go. 
     Get rid of question marks. No hesitation. Hell, let’s get rid of the periods, too. 
     I will go!
     I lay the guitar in its case like I was putting a baby down to sleep in a crib and I stood in front of the fridge. An advertisement was held there by an ‘Eat Lombardi’s Pizza’ magnet. I read it again for the hundredth time.

OPEN AUDITIONS: TOWN TROUBADOUR.
Seeking one highly motivated singer/musician with:
    - eclectic (non-controversial) taste in music
    - willingness to contribute to small-town charm without showboating
    - humility and virtue (thou shalt not sing Madonna)
Offering flexible hours, affordable housing, community integration, complimentary WiFi, and one complimentary milkshake/week.
Please report to Taylor Doose at Taylor Doose’s Old-Fashioned Soda Shoppe in Stars Hollow, Connecticut, on Sunday, June 3. Line up at 8:30 am. Auditions to commence promptly at 9:00 am.

     I smiled to myself and it didn’t hurt me. I pulled the bus ticket from my pocket and used the same magnet to stick it up with the advertisement.

     I will go!

Want to read more? Click here for Chapter Two: I Drove All Night

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Blank Spaces Is Anything But Blank

I'm feeling overwhelmed with gratitude right now and there's nothing I can do except open up my arms and throw out a big thank you hug.

As of this moment, the first issue of my {heart-project} magazine has broken even. I don't know if I should laugh or cry. So I'm going to do both. Like I'm watching an episode of The Foster's. {Seriously, how does that show make happy-cry-sad-cry every single time??}

Blanks Spaces magazine is gaining traction
Maybe I shouldn't be surprised. Maybe I should shrug my shoulders and just be like: yeah, of course people believe in me. Except I really thought people would shrug their shoulders and write me off as crazy. I mean, who do I think I am, trying to launch a new Can Lit magazine? Who?

I began this project with intentions to lose money. No. Let me rephrase that. I began this expecting to lose a little money. It was an experiment. It was almost a whim {though I don't want to sound so flippant} and I had no way of knowing whether or not it would gain any traction. I thought, I'll give it a try. I'll see what happens. I'll front the money because it's my venture and that's fair. People pay for their own pursuits every single day.

When I set up a donation option on the website, I didn't expect much. But people gave.

When I promoted the pre-orders, I didn't expect much. But people pre-ordered.

Is it weird that I feel a little freaked out that this thing is actually working?

Yes. Yes, it is weird. I need to get over it.

All this is to say, when Blank Spaces 'hits the stands' on September 1st, it will not have cost me a single dollar. Of course, there's the HUNDREDS of hours I've poured into it, all that coffee I've been drinking, the time away from family, the late night editing sessions with my WONDERFUL/GORGEOUS/SELFLESS volunteers...but I'm okay with it because {for the most part} it's been fun! And it's exciting to see other people get excited by something that was birthed in my brain during one night of writerly frustration...

And so, profits from the sale of this first issue, from this moment on, will fund the second issue which means this is the real deal.

And that's scary AND amazing!

http://blankspaces.alannarusnak.com/p/shop.html
If you're interested in making me cry some more happy tears, you can head on over to the magazine website and put in your order for the premiere issue. I'm accepting pre-orders just until Saturday {August 20} so if you want one at my publisher's rate, you'll have to act fast.

To those of you who have believed in me by ordering and/or donating, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am humbled and amazed by your generosity. And when you do hold your freshly printed copy in your hands, I would be thrilled to hear your feedback. It's my hope that each issue will be better than the last.

Stay beautiful, my friends, and stick with me as we fill in the blank spaces...

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Do You Miss Me When I'm Gone?

Hey...remember when I used to blog? That was nice. We had a good thing going—this symbiotic relationship where I wrote my heart and you read it. Lovely.

And then, like every other adulteress before me, I snuck away and got myself a mistress...{or a mister?}...and became this flighty memory who slips in after dark and has a quick shower before I crawl into bed without saying goodnight.

How rude! To say the least.


So many times I've thought of you and me and this place and I wondered what it meant that I was ignoring it and I wondered what it meant to you that I was ignoring you. I've decided it means everything.

And it means nothing.

And that doesn't make any sense at all.

Really, I'm just rambling right now so I'll have something to post...you know, just so you don't give up and forget me in all the chaos of my affair.

And by affair I mean all the projects I have on the go; so put away the pitchfork, pour yourself a cup of tea, eat a cookie, and listen to what I have to say.

Um...

Phhht.

Funny how, in a season of dizzying busyness, I feel like I have nothing to talk about...

And so I'll give you a shotgun update:

Eve Undone is doing well. Not brilliantly well but it's not just sitting around gathering dust so I count that a win. As of this moment it has 3,384 reads on Wattpad where the audience has been very vocal and almost always positive. I've sold more than 100 copies—most of those are the Kindle version but the print books are getting out there, too. I actually sold one in the church foyer this morning—I found that funny. {Click here to read some reviews and order your own pretty little copy!}

My son got recruited to represent our hometown in the Provincial Softball Tournament in August. He's thrilled. Baseball makes him happy. One of my favourite parts of watching him play is listening to the other parents talk about him in the stands: 'Whoa, he's fast!' 'That Liam, he's like a ninja!' 

It's been a month since the last Writer's Jam. Summer is way too busy with baseball and I miss those beautiful ladies gathered around my table, talking about writing and supporting one another through our various projects. 

Blank Spaces is coming together. September's issue is ready for a thorough edit before it goes to print. I've been pleasantly surprised by the response and hope the momentum continues. Yesterday I was able to set up pre-ordering on the website as well as a digital subscription option so if you'd like to get your hands on a copy when it comes out September 1, pop on over to the magazine's website and sign up!

Crickets are chirping around my The Church In The Wildwood manuscript and that hurts my feelings. I'm so frustrated that it just sits there, being ignored by every single agent I send it to. More and more I'm leaning towards self-publishing because if you're not doing something, you're doing nothing AND NOTHING IS UGLY and I want to be pretty...or, I want my book to be pretty and I want people to read it, and just sitting on it with my fingers crossed, hoping against hope that the right person will give it a chance just seems like a silly dream—especially when I'm perfectly capable of making it happen myself.

The Passat kicked the bucket and now I'm driving a shiny red Chevy Sonic hatchback. Buying a new car was a financial burden we were not prepared for but there's something lovely about bombing around in a vehicle that's both adorable and sexy {you know, like Miley Cyrus before she cut her hair and lost her mind}.

Well that's that. My last month in a nutshell. It's not glamorous but real life rarely is, is it?  I'm not going to set myself up by saying I'll try harder to be more consistent. I want to be able to promise that but it would be silly to put myself in that position.

I'll pop by when I can and I hope you're here when I do!

Enjoy your summer. Pursue your dreams. And in all things, seek joy!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Truth About Editing and F Words

I am not a person who lacks vision but I am the kind of person who doubts that what I lay down will actually resonate with anyone beyond myself. This goes way back to weird childhood insecurities that don't deserve any bearing on the person I am today; and yet, there they are, sticking their tongue out at me and calling me sticks-and-stones names.

But they are only shadows; lingering fear-teeth that nibble away in moments of doubt—that I have no business feeling, by the way—BECAUSE the world is stepping up to the plate I laid out and taking beautiful swings that are leaving me breathless.

truth about being an editor

Submissions are coming in for the magazine I'm starting. {Remember? I told you all about it here.} They're not pouring in, but they're coming at a steady enough pace that I'm already plugging poetry into the fourth issue! And the biggest shocker is, they're coming in from complete strangers. I had this idea that it would be a major struggle to fill a whole magazine. I imagined myself begging people in my inner circle {like my fellow Writer's Jam members} to give me their work because I just knew I wasn't going to be able to spread the word fast enough to launch the premiere issue in September.

Ha!

The universe is having a nice belly laugh at my low expectations.

Things I didn't expect:

  • I didn't expect to be receiving submission emails daily. I didn't realize correspondence could take up SO MUCH TIME, and I now understand why every other magazine in the world has a huge team behind it.
  • I didn't think I'd be bold enough to reject a submission. I expected to be so desperate for content that I would accept everything; but, because of the great response, I've been able to confidently {and graciously} pass on anything I didn't think was quite up to par—and while some of the pieces I have accepted aren't my own cup of tea, I'm excited to be able to offer a very diverse collection—hopefully one that speaks to a large audience.
  • I didn't expect Americans to care. I mean, why would they? BUT, the moment I opened up worldwide guest blogging opportunities, they came knocking and I am blown away by the whole-hearted buy-in and support they're giving me.
  • I didn't expect to be taken seriously. Because who am I? What do I know about any of this? But, the most common comment I'm seeing as people introduce themselves in their submission cover letters is that they're connecting with my vision and they love the heart behind it. That's amazing and empowering!
  • I didn't expect hate mail. But does anybody? And I don't want to talk about it anymore but you can read about it here.
  • I didn't expect to stop writing. Okay. This kind of breaks my heart but it's true. I haven't written one word in my own fiction projects since I announced the launch of the magazine. This is unacceptable and I'm working to figure it out. Because I need to write and I need to write more than blog posts. I have to figure out how to manage my time.
  • I didn't expect it to be a full-time job. This was probably naive of me and has a lot to do with my point before. At my best estimate, I've already invested a good 200 hours into this: between building and maintaining the website, reading and answering emails, managing guest blog submissions, plotting layout, being active on social media {though I really need to up my game here}, interviewing artists, and writing articles. At minimum wage I should have a nice $2,280 sitting in my coffers {which would go a long way to cover printing and [astronomical!] shipping costs} yet, in my estimates, I'm sitting at a pretty negative {when you factor in lost time with my family, loss of sleep, and the copious amounts of tea and coffee that keep me plugging away until midnight}.
  • I didn't expect to be using the F word in my email correspondence on such a regular basis. In my submission guidelines it very clearly states: no vulgarity. I suppose this is relative. What is a swear word in my home is not a swear word in another persons home; yet, when it comes to The F Word, aren't we all on the same page as far as vulgarity? Again, perhaps I'm just naive. The following is a direct quote from my response to a submission {with The Words blanked out, of course}: We too, agree that no topic should be off limits; however, we do need to take a stand against strong language. 'S**t' we can handle. 'F**k' or any of its derivatives is something we want to avoid. That's a sentence I never thought I'd write! Thankfully, the submitter was wonderful about it, took no offense, and is thrilled that I'm going to publish his edited poem in the premiere issue!
  • I didn't expect to be thinking about building a team of volunteers to help me with the work load BUT I am. I'm not sure what that will look like, but if I come knocking, I hope you'll consider joining me on this crazy adventure {in which you'll exchange a stupid amount of hours for caffeine jitters and my wonderful company!}

Thanks to everyone who's been such a positive support on this venture. If you want to help, share Blank Spaces across your social media channels, consider making a donation to my negative coffers {if 20 people make a $1 donation, I can afford to send a contributor a print copy of the magazine their work appears in!}, submit your great work, or just give a nice atta-girl in the comments!

And don't forget, you still have a chance to win a copy of my pretty little short story, Eve Undone. Click on over here and enter the draw at the end of the post. It's running for a few more days so don't miss your chance.

 http://blankspaces.alannarusnak.com/p/submissions.html



Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Happy Release Day for EVE UNDONE!

It has been a lifelong dream of mine to see my name in print and friends, I have done it! Eve Undone is a simple little short story project but that doesn't make it any less fun to hold it in my hands and revel in the fact that words I spilled out from my heart are now enshrined forever in a perfect-bound little volume. It may only weigh as much as a greeting card but its sentiment goes much deeper!

The journey to a complete, self-published product is not easy. It's riddled with blood, sweat, and tears. Well, maybe not tears. I'm not sure I actually cried at any point during this particular undertaking...BUT, it was a lot of work. Three separate proof reprints, two different companies, tough choices to make between cost and quality, the agonizing wait between online proof approval and physical proof approval UNTIL FINALLY, the trumpets sounded and I said, "ENOUGH! APPROVED! IT IS FINISHED!" and she's out in the world like a shiny new baby.

Before you congratulate me on getting a book published, I want to be very clear: this is a short story. It is one little tale. It is the retelling of the story of Creation in four darling wee chapters. It looks like a book. It smells like a book. But can a book be called a book if it only contains 24 pages...?

Let's say YES and call it a day!

To celebrate, I'm giving away two of my proof copies! Sign up below for your chance to hold this pretty little thing in your hand! I'll even sign them—like a real author! Unfortunately, shipping prices and my current existence as a starving artist, limit this giveaway to Canadians BUT I can't bear the thought of leaving anyone out so I'm also going to give away two ebook copies and that can go anywhere in the world as long as you have email!

If you can't wait for a giveaway and just have to get your hands on a copy now {p.s. I love you!} you can order from Amazon or CreateSpace or, if you're local, order through me {this takes longer but gives me the biggest royalty - it's also cheaper unless you have enough other things to order on Amazon to qualify for free shipping} All purchasing options are available here, on the Eve Undone page.

And remember, whether you purchase or borrow or get it for free, please consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads as well as sharing it across your social media channels {#EveUndone} It helps me build my platform and puts my name out there!  

Get a FREE signed proof copy of Eve Undone! (The proof copy is exactly like a 'real' copy except it has PROOF stamped across the back page.)


a Rafflecopter giveaway a Rafflecopter giveaway Good luck!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Buck Up, Princess ~ You're In The Big Leagues Now

A sparrow died. Its tiny heart sputtered, a wing trembled like the first stirrings of an unborn child, and then it was all over. Its stillness became absolute and a minute hole opened in the fabric of the world, the gel of life pulsing to mend it back, stitching up that chasm before one more creature could slip away.

I watched it like a film reel. I felt it in the vibrations of the earth and in my strange anger that this little life wasn't even worthy of brake lights.

I'd been following that old farm Dodge all the way from Tim Horton's and I saw the sparrow swoop down from the right in some glorious smooth motion—like watching a paintbrush build upon a mountainscape. My heart heard the impact. I saw its little body arc up high as the truck roared beneath its rainbow. I watched it linger at the top; like God put his finger beneath it for just a second...even the least of these...before it fell—limp, ended, but still pretty; like the memory of the wind still lingered on its wing.



When the truck hit me, I was just a sparrow too. I flew, oblivious and naive, straight into the grill of a bitter Mack Truck.

Have I lost you?

Let me start again.

I did watch that poor little sparrow die as I drove to work on Wednesday. It made me sad.

On Thursday I opened a hateful email from a stranger, calling me ugly names, telling me to do ugly things, working hard to break my spirit and crush my dreams with vulgarity. That was my Mack Truck.

It made me think of the sparrow.

I've stepped out in bravery on this new CRAZY adventure of starting a magazine. I'm really excited about it and submissions have been coming in which makes it real and means people are believing in it {at least that's what I tell myself}.

But one angry email {out of so many nice ones!} whacked me hard, flinging me straight out of my positive trajectory into a tailspin of flushed face and nervous heart.

I had two choices.
  1. I could believe the email.
  2. I could trash the email.

There was a third choice, one I quickly rejected but oh, how sweet it tasted when I lingered there a moment...

TO: <senders email>
SUBJECT: Thank you for your powerful submission

BODY: Dear ********, 

Thank you for submitting to Blank Spaces. Your bold language and strong phrasing moves us. We are excited to tell you that we're accepting your 'poem' to be featured in our premiere issue. Kindly send us a 100 word bio and a print ready head shot, along with your full mailing address. We would be thrilled to send you a copy of your words in print when it is published in September.

Looking forward to working with you.

Alanna Rusnak
Editor in Chief, Blank Spaces  

Of course, I could never do this. I wouldn't dream of hurting any of your eyes with the words that I saw spilled across my screen BUT yeah... {and how cool is it that I get to sign emails 'Editor in Chief'??!!??!!}

That poor sparrow didn't have a comeback for the Dodge that took its life; instead, it faced its punishment with a grace we only find in nature.

I needed to do the same.

I blocked the email address and deleted the email. I recorded the senders name in a file called BANNED. I dumped my heart on Facebook so my community of positive advocates could rally around me and tell me yes, I could get up off the pavement. Yes, I can shake my fist at the truck but then I can forget about it because he has nothing to do with me or what I'm doing.

Anything worth doing probably comes with some kind of opposition. Perhaps that means I'm onto something here. People with aspirations frighten people without them. I won't let that be my problem. I'm about doing and chasing and spreading the joy. I'm happy where I'm at. This wasn't about me. It probably wasn't even about what I'm doing.

It's behind me now.

How sad that one person wastes time trying to make another feel small. The internet makes cruel souls brave. I can't do anything about that. I can only control my own response and I'm going to fly away from this. There's a great tailwind tonight and I just received the prettiest submission of photography...

http://blankspaces.alannarusnak.com/p/submissions.html

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Visiting The Scene Of The {Fictional} Crime

I've been quiet about my book. It's hard to speak about something that seems stuck in one place. It's hard to have a finished product just sitting there, leering at me with its wildwood eyes...and oh what pretty eyes she has...

The Church In The Wildwood is currently in the hands of several different literary agents and I'm dying a slow death as I wait for their response.

And though I don't talk about it, it is seldom far from my mind—anything birthed from your heart rarely is, especially when you're waiting for affirmation from complete strangers.

The Church in the WildwoodLast week I found myself turning my car down a forgotten road in an attempt to reconnect myself with the story that owned two years of my life. Setting is an invaluable asset. It sets the tone, it invokes feelings, it grounds the story into a tangible reality, and every setting I describe within my pages is somehow connected to a setting I know in real life.

Harridan Bluffs is entirely fictional. It is an abandoned ski resort, overtaken by The Prophet, a frightfully charming three-piece-suit who manipulates his followers into unspeakable behaviour.

abandoned ski resort
Years ago, I remember adventuring with my husband and a friend down a wasted lane to a foreclosed ski resort. I remember the sense of abandonment that lingered, the trash littering the ground, the sadness that seemed wrapped around the whole mountain.

That is the memory that built Harridan Bluffs and last week I revisited it.

The access to the main lodge is blocked by a heavy gate now but a pitted dirt path leading up the mountain remains unencumbered so I coaxed the station wagon up the grueling incline.

Trees hung over the 'road', casting eerie shadows, threatening to swallow me into their creepy maws. I drove slowly, a knot of nerves in my belly as I recalled the scene when Reverend Greene went to investigate the place that scarred his lover.

As I reached the top, the trees opened up to reveal a gravel plain lined with cement stoppers. A red and white sign hung from one but I deliberately looked away. Plausible deniability and all that...

broken chair lift

I picked my way along the edge of the treeline and then out to the skeleton of the chairlift, feeling the weight of the place I created with the memory of the place in which I stood. It was strangely powerful—as if, somehow, I had written truth.

I lingered there {after texting my sister my location in case John Peter Roth, the prophet of Harridan Bluffs appeared from behind the trees to drag me into his complex}. The view was incredible. The day was bright. The sun was warm. And I was moved, sitting in the untended grass, gazing on the place at the base of the chairlift where Roth buried the body of the woman who tried to escape him...

   “Oh, Iris, you must stop this. He cares for us in his own way.”
   Iris stopped in her tracks. “Does he, Mother?” She pulled her skirt high enough to show the fresh, raw cuts on her inner thigh. “Does he love me, Mother? Do you even care what he made me do last night?”
   Her mother rushed back and wrapped her arms around her. “I have nothing to give you, Iris. I would give you the world if I could. I would fly you away to the moon just like your father’s song. This is what we have been dealt. We make the best of it we can. Do your duty.” She pulled back and tucked a strand of hair behind Iris’ ear. “You’re strange and precious, darling, just like the iris for which you’re named. Be strong.”
   Iris buried her face in her mother’s shoulder. “You should have protected me from this,” she said around the lump in her throat. Her eyes smarted with hot tears.
   Her mother held her for a moment, petting her hair and hushing her with tender sounds that reminded Iris she was still just a child, though she was expected to behave as a woman.
   “I don’t know how,” her mother finally admitted. Iris heard tears in her voice.
   “I will never have a daughter,” Iris promised. “I will never bring another girl into this life.”
   Her mother remained silent, still smoothing her hair.
   “Has anyone ever left?” Iris mumbled into her dress.
   “Only one that I know of,” her mother said, unwinding herself from Iris’ arms, taking her hand and leading her to the opposite side of the building near the skeleton of an old ski lift. A small mound of dirt was visible through the weeds and a red cross had been painted on one of the old wooden crossbeams. “They ran her down with the pickup,” she said.
   “Are you trying to scare me?”
   “You should know the truth. Accept it. Make the best of it. This is our life.”
   “I will leave here someday,” Iris told her.
   “Then I will lay flowers on your grave,” her mother said sadly, putting her arm around her and pulling her close to her side before guiding her back up the path.


I all but lay my own flowers there. Now I wish I did. It would have been right...