April 3, 2021

A New Home For My Small Business?

In 2016, out of frustration over (what I believed to be) the unfair state of the publishing industry and my stubborn confidence in my own abilities, I registered with the government as an official Canadian publisher. Yes, it was a bit of a middle finger to Harper Collins and other members of the BIG FIVE, but it was also a move towards embracing the future I wanted to create for myself.

✔️I wanted full creative control over my own work.

✔️I wanted to be a lighthouse of encouragement for other writers expereiencing the same kind of frustration I was feeling.

✔️I wanted to be my own boss, design my own workday, take on the projects I wanted, and ignore the things I didn't feel passionate about.

2016 feels like a lifetime ago. So much living has happened since then. I've written three books, I launched a Canadian literary arts magazine, I've taken on publishing clients and am now beginning to produce books by other Canadian authors. And now, after five years, I am ready to expand.

When the library dream fell flat like a bird that flew into a window, I had some energy that needed to be directed somewhere new. I spent (wasted) HOURS on realtor.ca looking for alternative buildings or potential storefront rental properties, but nothing matched what I wanted.

When I found a local storefront quietly listed on Facebook marketplace for just $600/month, we zipped into town and pulled up against the curb to jump out of the car and peek in the windows only the discover that it was the size of a closet. Seriously. Not even room for a table, let alone my HUGE dreams of a creative community hub. 

The experience forced me to take honest stock of where I'm at and what I actually have at my disposal.

The main motivation for my search was space. My teeny, tiny home office has produced some MAJOR things over the last five years, but I have outgrown it.

Could I continue forward in my current space? Sure.

I could decide to be content and maintain the status quo.

But you know how they say a goldfish in a bowl will remain small, but if you place that little goldfish into a pond, it will grow?

I am a goldfish.

Perhaps the library fell through because it was an ocean. It forced me to look for a pond.

And I found one. Right on the property I already own.


The 'Chicken House' has always been that extra building down by the apple tree. It collects junk and looks kind of cute, but it's underutilized. It's wasted space.

And I think it's time to change that. 

No, it won't be the community hub I imagine, but it is one step closer, and I'm excited to see the opportunities a new space will open up for me!

Stay tuned. I plan to share the whole journey.

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March 15, 2021

Saying Goodbye: A Eulogy to Orange Brick and Heritage Columns

Early Saturday morning I went to say goodbye. The rapid snow melt left behind a mess of dirt and the landscaping looked like my feelings: a little sad, a little rejected, but hanging on to that promise of springtime.

The sold sign winked at me as I walked around front to snap a picture, and then, like a child clambering onto Santa's lap, I climbed the cement steps and sat down beside the iron railing. I whispered my apology like a wish... it just wasn't meant to be.

 [Don't know what I'm talking about? Catch up HERE.]

The truth is, I'd let go the moment I sent my proposal off to the mayor. I'd put it in the hands of the universe and already decided to trust the outcome.

My realtor told me that nine offers came in. Someone else told me they heard the winning bid was a whopping $100K over asking. Rumours are that a daycare centre is going in.

And I'm... okay. I'm sad that this beautiful piece of literary history won't be used as I envisioned it. I know children aren't going to appreciate the wooden mouldings or the built-in bookshelves, but some little person will likely draw on the wall, so it's kind of like it IS going to the arts...


I want to thank everyone for the support of my vision. I was surprised and delighted by the number of people who reached out with encouragement, who stood behind me, and who petitioned the town council on my behalf. Thank you. The dream isn't dead. Knowing there's so much local support for my idea has lit a fire under me that isn't going to be easily extinguished. So watch out! I am on a mission!

* * *

As I write this, I'm sitting in my tiny office that is currently bursting at the seams. I'm running an online  children's writing workshop in a hour and I barely have room for the little whiteboard I need. I know I'm at a point where I have to find a bigger space because the frustration of getting things done in this closet is hindering my progress. (Please don't misconstrue this as me being ungrateful — I know how privileged I am I have a dedication workspace in my own home!)

So, if you're sitting on a commercial property, or have office/shop space to rent in my locale, we should talk. I am ready.

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February 28, 2021

Historical Buildings and Reality Checks

Eyes closed, breathing even, space heater purring (because we're missing a section of our chimney — a story for another day), but I can't sleep. My brain is buzzing with the scent of Pine-Sol as I pour it directly on a rag, using it to polish the heritage trim of my mind's eye. I am high up. Ten feet? Fifteen? "Cathedral ceilings" the listing said. The ladder is steady and I'm not afraid and the wood is gleaming and I can't wait to tackle those cobwebs at the transom windows... 

I may never sleep again.

My sister sent me the link and I nearly lost my head. I was in the kitchen beginning supper when my phone buzzed with a new notification.

—You saw this, right? 

(One of the things I love about my sister is that she almost always uses correct punctuation in her text messages.)

It was a real estate listing for the old town library building.

And I had not seen it.

photo from realtor.ca

 In less than ten minutes, the whole family had congregated. Dinner preparations were put on hold while I cast a vision that, somehow, didn't seem to scare anyone.

  1. I have wanted this building since I was a child.
  2. Anyone who has ever had to listen to me talk about an eventual home for my publishing company/magazine knows this building has always been at the top of my list.
  3. Yes, it is bigger than what I need but that means MORE ROOM FOR ACTIVITIES!

"But can you afford it?"

Ah... my dream-crushing, reality bringing, heart-stomping, pragmatic nineteen-year old. 

No. I can't afford it, you monster!

Truth is, the building is listed far below where I expected to ever see it and that's the only reason this family meeting is actually happening: because I CAN SEE IT HAPPENING!

My brain works fast when it knows what it wants. I had a few proposals ready:

  1. We sell our house and live in the library basement and all we have to do is get it rezoned.
  2. We sell our house and live in the van and all we have to do is get rid of a few kids.
  3. We cash in our retirement savings for a down payment and carry two mortgages and everything will be okay because dreams come true every day.
  4. We ask if the town would be willing to lease and then I offer to run a town museum out of part of it for a break on the lease and then we can keep our house and leave our savings alone.

Each plan had its merits. (Okay, maybe not the 'get rid of a few kids' one.) And even though I love where we currently live, I was 100% ready to leave it behind. Because DREAMS!!!

"Let's go see it," my husband said. 

I don't need flowers or jewelry or trips to Europe. If you want to love me, I just need you to see me. I just need you to indulge my dreams, encourage my heart, and come along for the ride with a little touch of wisdom and grace.

We are in the middle of a pandemic. I haven't had a date night in eleven months. I texted back and forth with an agent and we booked a showing. This is the sexiest thing I've put on the calendar since March 2020!

I crunched numbers. I sketched floor plans. I tried to figure out what our current home is worth. I freaked the freak out when I found out that all offers had to be in by noon on Thursday — just five days after I saw the listing. This brought two things to the forefront:

1. Someone definitely wants a bidding war


2. I am a lover, not a fighter

On Tuesday night, we stepped through those old doors, the musty waft of thousands of stories hitting us through our face masks as if the books still lined the shelves. Windowsills held years of dust, dead flies resting in their dark corners like tiny soldiers that got tired on their watch. Filthy carpet muted our footsteps and I peeled it back to check the damaged hardwood underneath. Blue Ethernet cables followed the centre arch and stole some of the magic, while the old library desk stood empty and sad with one section hanging loosely. Bookcases stood affixed to the walls, romantic and grand, and I remember losing myself in those stacks as an eighth grader, finally migrated from the children's section in the basement. Huge windows framed in heavy trim, tall ceilings where cobwebs danced as we disturbed the air, the old fire alarm that dinged when you flicked it, the crank pencil sharpener attached to the wall in the librarian's office. 

I saw it all at once and one bit at a time. I knew where I'd host workshops and where I'd meet with clients. I saw the best spot for the coffee bar and that the light from the east window would inspire amazing new stories. I saw my children leading class field trips through this shiny hub of publishing glory. I imagined my nieces playing hide and seek around the corners and my nephews reading comic books on a leather couch. I felt the ache in my muscles after hours of freshening up the white paint. I envisioned a gallery of original work by local artists, and how my typewriter collection could continue to grow and grow and grow.

I saw it all.

I saw the water damage on the ceiling, the damp smell of the basement, and the critter with a million legs who approached my boot with little fear. I saw the "kitchen" that was really just a closet with a sink and a hot water tank. I saw the bathrooms which were... shall we say "less than desirable"? I saw the single pane windows that would never stop a brisk wind, and the limitations of taking on a designated historical heritage building. I saw dollar signs where accessibility ramps and chair lifts would have to be installed. I saw the outdoor space which was little more than a few parking spaces in the back.

Yes, I saw it all. Every nitty, gritty, painful, expensive detail.

But I was also Belle in the bookshop in Beauty and the Beast, pushing off on that library ladder as if I could fly. I was Belle in the castle when the Beast opened the curtains and showed her shelf upon shelf of stories to keep her company. I was Belle at the table when the candlestick invited her to be their guest...

Every romantic bone in my body said "yes!" 

But my brain said, "Whoa, girl!"

The moon shone down between the south wall and the next door church steeple as we returned to our car. "It was really important for me to do this," I told my husband.

I needed the reality check to bring my brain and heart in line.

I asked our agent to find out if the town would be willing the lease the building. The town said no, they want to sell. They planned to take the top two offers to the council meeting and make their choice. More confirmation that they were setting up a bidding war.

I decided to take their 'no' as a 'come at us' invitation, and I wrote a letter to the mayor. (See a brief excerpt of my letter posted below.) I shared my heart for the building, the importance I feel it holds to the history of our town and the vibrant arts community that has become such an ingrained part of our local culture. I talked of my own vision for the space, but more than that, pleaded that the council (should their end goal be to unload the property) to consider mission over money — not to sell it to a developer without a personal tie to our town — but to consider bids that will contribute to the arts. (Oh, and p.s. if nothing like that comes across the desk, maybe you'll think of me and my big plans and reconsider that option to lease.)


With readings, book signings, author events, workshops, mentoring, and more, I see that old building being a vibrant hub of creative activity. In partnership with other organizations (Words Aloud festival or Ontario Culture Days for example) it could be a venue for various cultural events year round. With a keen eye for local engagement and a mission of being a champion for creative living, it could also be a powerful tool in the mental health crisis - giving like-minded artists/authors/poets and anyone curious a community hub: a place to share their work and journey.

I love my little town. I love it's quirky arts community and I want to be a more visible part of it. And if that means wearing my heart on my sleeve and putting all my cards on the table then I'm willing to do it.

I believe in seeing what you want and then chasing after it. I believe that if things don't fall into place then it wasn't meant to be. I also believe that if one thing doesn't work, the dream is not dead. I may never hear back from the mayor. That's okay. I move on to fight another day. But for now (and I just checked) the listing is still active. So who knows... anything is possible in this strange shared experience we call life.

UPDATE: Less than an hour after pushing 'publish' on this post, the mayor responded to my letter, thanked me for my vision, and assured me that she would get it in front of the entire council. And if nothing else, it's so empowering to feel seen and heard. ❤️

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April 29, 2020

Tick Tock: A Writer's Guide to a Writer's Timeline

When it comes down to it, I think what I really want to be known as is prolific. I am wildly jealous of the authors who can line shelves with title after title. I revere a few of them and every day as I walk through my living room, I see their names lined up on my bookshelf and I wonder if someday somewhere there will be a shelf lined with my name too.

But the truth is, being prolific doesn't necessarily mean you're producing great work. There are 'authors' who are pushing out something new monthly and I refuse to believe there is much substance to such a practice. I want a story that is deep and nuanced and pushes me to think in new ways. I want an author who lets the characters drive the story, who understands the subtitles of humanity, who lets their passion leak off the page, who understands when a story is finished and doesn't let it go until then. I want an author who is the kind of author I'm trying to be.

So, in truth, maybe I want to be known as the author that 'writes well' as opposed to the author that 'writes so much.' I don't just want to tell stories, I want to tell stories that matter.

I knew I wanted to be an author from a young age. I didn't know what that would involve. I naively thought that since I liked to write stories, it would be just as easy to write books. Ernest Hemingway said it best when he said: There's nothing to writing, all you do it sit down at your typewriter and bleed.

Easy peasy, right?!

Comparison is my greatest hindrance.

Competition is my great motivator.

Compassion is the key to my timeline.


Dear Anne Rice/Ted Dekker/James Rollins/etc.
You are you. I am me. What you are capable of is not what I am capable of. What I am capable of is not what you are capable of. My life situation is different than your life situation and we're all just doing our best with what we've got. Amen.


There is so much value in striking up relationships with other authors who are in a similar situation as your own. For me that means authors who are independently publishing (or running their own publishing company), working 'regular' jobs outside their home, and raising families all while trying to put their writing out into the world. Whether these people realize it or not, I am in healthy competition with them. Watching them overcome real-life struggles to keep their writing a priority is massive motivation and I push myself to keep up. It's not about winning, it's about keeping pace in order to support one another.


Rejecting comparison and embracing friendly competition allows me to set realistic goals with a compassionate eye towards attainability. Being an independent author means I am my own boss: I set the rules, I set the goals, and I'm the only one allowed to break those. Leaving room for deviations leaves room to breathe. Sure, I deal with guilt when I feel like I-just-can't-write-another-word today/this week/this month, but I've also allowed myself the space to take that break. I never want writing to be a chore or a job. When that happens, I've sold out. I want to love it. Forever.

My second novel is currently in the beta reading stage. You probably think that means I have written a complete manuscript since the release of The Church in the Wildwood back in 2017, but you would be wrong. I wrote the first words of Black Bird in November of 2011, almost three years to the day before I wrote the first words of Wildwood. Black Bird has fought me every single step of the way.

There are many reasons a book refuses to be written and almost every reason has to do with the author, not the book. 

I was afraid. There were scenes the characters dictated that terrified me. There was one particular scene—the main conflict climax of the whole story—that I knew backwards and forwards in my mind but I couldn't make myself write it. I spent months trying to sit down and pull it from my head, but I just couldn't. My fingers were frozen. This wasn't writer's block. I knew exactly what I needed to type. This was resistance to what our dear friend Hemingway tells us: I didn't want to bleed all over the page.

And so, instead of writing what had to be written, I started writing a new book, a YA post-apocalyptic saga (because seriously, people keep buying those and I might as well have a title for pop culture as well as the literary fiction junkies, right?).

Timelines are messy and painful and defeatist, but looking back on it, I'm not sure I would change a thing. The old adage tells us that things happen for a reason, and I know that to be true. Had I not allowed Black Bird to simmer gently on the back burner, I would never have discovered the town of Fallmoore or the cult commune of Harridan Bluffs. I would have never learned that Bird's story happened in the same town. The richness of the story cross-over would have been lost—and though each is a story that can stand on its own, it holds so much more weight when paired up.

Just as my narratives are not revealed to the reader in chronological order, so too is my approach to writing.

November 2011 - began Black Bird
November 2014 - began The Church in the Wildwood
November 2015 - revisited Black Bird for the NaNoWriMo challenge
November 2016 - began The Path That Takes Us Home (working title - YA Post-Apocalyptic)
July 2017 - released The Church in the Wildwood
September 2017 - began The Ghost of Iris Carver (novella)
May 2018 - released The Ghost of Iris Carver
May 2019 - refocused on Black Bird
January 2020 - re-refocused on Black Bird

November 2020 - RELEASE BLACK BIRD

It will be nine years from first words to release. Nine years. That's 22% of my life; 75% of my daughter's life; 40% of my marriage...

And that's okay.

Everything in its own time.

To rush a thing is to cheat it. To let a thing unfold on its own is poetry.

So the moral of the story is, just go with it. Let your story guide you. Take the breaks you need. Give yourself permission to step away. Days, months, years. When the time is right, you will write.
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April 19, 2020

My Feelings are a Rainbow [or Jennifer Lopez, Please Sing Me a Lullaby]

Welcome to the world. It's not the world you remember and it's probably not the world you want, but it's all we've got so we'd better hang on.

Every day feels like Thursday. We're bouncing between sunshine and snow. Gas is cheap but we have nowhere to go. Numbers matter, but not like they used to. We're counting down to something, but no one is sure what that is...

It has been 40 days since the last baseball practice; 39 days since we learned Tom Hanks was sick; 38 days since it was announced that schools wouldn't open after March Break; 37 days since the June conference I was booked to speak at was cancelled; 36 days since I held my breath, waiting to learn if my sister was able to get back into Canada from Seattle; 35 days since my first Zoom staff meeting; 34 days since Ontario declared a state of emergency and started enforcing social distancing; 33 days since my husband has been able to play pool; 27 days since I sobbed in the car; 21 days since parks and trails were closed; 19 days since we pulled our van out of winter storage and then realized we couldn't take her anywhere because everything is shut down; 17 days since God sent us a rainbow to remind us He was still there...somewhere; 14 days since we started online home-school; 13 days since our septic system flooded our basement with sewage water; 10 days since my mother knocked on our patio door and then stood back six feet while I collected the bag of Easter treats she'd set down on the deck; 9 days since we got to watch a recovered Tom Hanks host a weird SNL episode from his kitchen; 4 days since my son's summer trip to Europe was cancelled; 3 days since we dug up our backyard to find the root of the problem in our sewer pipe (pun intended!); 1 day since Jennifer Lopez made me believe in humanity's capacity to survive.

There have been memes circulating about how introverts were made for times such as these—how we've been training for this our whole life. And it's true. To a point. I've been watching my fellow introverts posting about their free time and productivity and the wealth of creativity they've been able to tap into. And I'm just sitting here in my home office with my CORONA typewriters 😳, trying to catch my breath, and what even is free time?

I am lucky to be wildly busy with work. We are lucky that my husband signed a full-time contract with the Catholic school board just before the world shut down. You are lucky that my son works at the grocery store and is keeping the shelves stocked so your pantry doesn't go bare.

But I'm also jealous of the free time I'm seeing people brag (or complain) about. I want a chance to be bored. I want to write and read. I want to sit in the sunshine. I want Michelle Obama to take the reins for our floundering neighbours and I want to appreciate Justin Trudeau's quirky little eye squint he does when he answers a question. I want to watch all the Toy Story movies because suddenly it means more that Woody has a voice; and I want to listen to The Gambler because Kenny Rogers will never sing it again.

The new normal is anything but.  

There have been beautiful moments in all of this. I have laughed so hard that tears streamed down my face—I adore my family and can't believe how lucky we are to be stuck together—but I've also experienced real moments of grief and anger. I'm worried about rebuilding. I have deadlines I don't feel motivated to reach. I put on jeans once a week to make sure this body is still my body. Yesterday, I drove my son to work in my pajamas and flip flops.

Last night I watched 'One World: Together at Home' and Jennifer Lopez's version of People knocked on the door of my heart. Because that's the whole truth. People need people. We're in this together. And we will see the other side.

I have no answers and that's frustrating. But I do have hope and faith and love and ideas. I've been surviving for forty days and forty nights.

I think it's time to start living.

Stay safe out there friends.

* * *

If you'd like to read something a little less 'poor me' and a little more inspiring, pop over to this post I made on the Blank Spaces website: ART IS THE ANTIDOTE: FINDING PEACE THROUGH CREATIVITY.

If you're interested in learning about where I'm at with my latest novel, you can track with updates on the Black Bird website: WWW.BLACKBIRD.ALANNARUSNAK.COM
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June 20, 2019

Saying Yes to What Scares Me

My creative journey only began its forward trajectory when I started saying yes to things that scared me. 

It's easy and safe to live life in a bubble, and some people can be happy there. Who can blame them, really? Have you ever watched the way the light dances off a bubble? It's like an oily prism of gorgeousness. I could get behind someone settling into that for the long haul. But me? I was made for more than that. Not because I'm better or more ambitious, but because I'm personally fulfilled by the chase.

If you're in the race, you have to be ready for the baton.

Fact: I hate running with the passion of a thousand flaming spears aimed at the likeness of a certain politician I have a lot of not-so-shiny things to say about. (But I won't mar this sacred space of mine by giving them any air time.) I hate running the way a rabid dog hates water or like how my sister feels about sugar in her tea. But for the sake of the imagery, come along with me, won't you...?

(To be perfectly clear, the included photo of me is not one snapped as I'm 'out for a run'. I never have, nor do I ever anticipate, 'going for a run'. Instead I've started this new thing where I go for a morning walk, tackling the Hell Hill along the road by my house as a way to combat my slothy writer lifestyle. Each morning, I snap a picture of myself for a photo journal I like to call: Kill That Hill, Girl. You're a Warrior at 3km/hour! or How the Smell of That Raccoon Roadkill has Changed Since May 7th. Watch for it on Kindle in 2020. 😉)

So, I'm in the race. I'm wearing a pair of those cute little running shorts along with a pair of those socks that go halfway up my calves because the 70s called and they're really disappointed I didn't get to grow up there (even though it's obviously where I've always belonged). I'm carving my own path because the track is boring and I know what it's like to fall on that gravel and have to pick pebbles from my legs. There are stones in my way and I skip over them by starting my blog. There are twigs and I swipe past them. Sure, I get a few scratches, but through the brambles I'm able to write my first novel. I hop, skip, and jump across a stream or two and my sneakers get wet but there's something musical about the way they make that squeaky-squish noise and that propels the launch of my publishing company. And the farther I go, the bigger the hurdles get, and it's scary every time but I keep running because I know the moment I stop for air I'll just want to become one of the bubble people and bask in the bliss of a colourful blur.

Last weekend I faced the most uncomfortable hurdle to date: I led a workshop on being creatively reckless at a writer's conference in Hamilton.

When this baton was first placed into my hands I passed it right back. Because nope! I wasn't about to stand up in front of a room of strangers and play-act my knowledge before them like I was some expert on the other side of the chasm. I said no. A big fat not-in-a-million-years no.

Because I was afraid.

     But then I said yes.

Because doing hard things is what helps us grow.

I have things to share and I believe part of my purpose here is to inspire others by sharing my own journey. I can be the 'if I can do it, anyone can do it' spokesperson. Anyone can be that person. Every journey has its lessons that are worthy of sharing. When I finally said yes it was because I decided it was okay to own my path and to share it. The passion of one can ignite passion in another.

My insights aren't because I'm smart. They're because I tried and tripped and dusted myself off and tried again. They're because I said yes.

This is not a picture of me giving my presentation. Don't be fooled! I completed forgot about asking someone to snap a 'to prove I did it' picture. This is a picture of the room I presented in, photo-shopped together with the 'I'm really nervous' selfie I took that morning as I was leaving my accommodations to make my way to the conference hall, combined with the title slide of my Recklessly Creative workshop - which I really did show on that screen in the picture - it just wasn't there when I took the picture of the room. Isn't technology awesome!?

One of my favourite things about this race I'm in is the community I've built up around myself because of it. By allowing people to follow my journey, I've invited them to speak into my life, and that's an enormous gift.

I lamented my nervousness across all my social media platforms, calling on my circle to send out their positive vibes at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning. I was inundated with emails, texts, Facebook messages, Instagram comments, and Twitter DMs wishing me luck and assuring me I could do it, and every single one of those messages meant the world to me! Knowing there's a community that believes in me is one of the greatest gifts this journey has ever given me and it propels me forward every day.

So I hiked up my socks and I faced my fear. When there were technical difficulties getting my Mac to connect to the University's Windows system, I powered through and started without my slides. When it took a crew of three (or was it four?) staff members to figure it out, fumbling around beside me while I directed the attendees to write down a list of all the things that take up their time in an exercise that led to the identification of passions, I was (mostly) able to ignore them. When they finally figured it out and everyone applauded their techy help, I was able to keep on going with my slides as my allies.

I started shaky, but I finished boldly. The point is I did it and I feel pretty darn good about that.

It's hard to measure the success of a workshop like I did. Much of it called for personal reflection and for the first half it was a struggle to get anyone to participate by answering the questions I put forth. But at the end, one woman stood to her feet and, with tears in her eyes and a voice heavy with emotion, she publicly declared her creative goal (which is what I'd challenged everyone to do). Hearing her embrace that and spill it out with such fire was so powerful and I feel privileged to have given her a platform where she felt safe to do that. The same woman sought me out afterwards to hug me - not a 'hey friend' kind of hug. This was a heart hug. It felt like the kind of hug you'd give someone who just lost a loved one, like you're trying to give all of yourself: your condolences, your gratitude, your love. The kind of hug that lasts longer than social norms but feels like the whole world is nodding at you. Others shared their goals with me too, but that hug is what made the whole thing the right choice for me. It is what has fueled me up for the next big thing, whatever it may be.

I'm still sitting in that space of Writer's Conference Hangover (it's a real thing, trust me!), but I have ideas coming out of this experience to propel me onward. Would I do it again? Yes. Does it still scare me? Yes. Will I let that stop me? No. I feel good about how I look in these running shoes!

So, here's to the risk takers and the dreamers, the doers and the shakers, and the people like me who are trying to be just a little bit like them every single day.

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