The Music Girl

img_2256I am not a musician, but I have always wanted to be. Simply because musicians can make people feel things instantly.

My parents recently inherited my great-mother’s piano. It was the piano my father grew up playing and it was the piano, aside from the one in my own house, that my siblings and I used to bang on whenever we visited my grandparents. Growing up, the piano in my house was always well-used, thanks to my father. Stories of his stint as a talented teenage pianist, travelling with bands from summer camps to churches to prisons, will still randomly come out at family get-togethers (or if Dad and I are alone and there is too much silence). My grandmother and my aunt are also wonderfully musical. When I began writing as a young girl, I knew it was only a matter of time before music became one of the main threads in one of my stories.

If summer was the first spark of inspiration for Reeds & Wicks, then the second was, of course, music. In fact, there remained a giant hole in the book for a few years until a friend introduced me to a musician I had never heard before, and like magic, the book finished itself, better and stronger than ever. That artist was Strahan. “You’re the Dawn”, “Deliverance” and “Vineyard” from his album, Posters, are my favourites. This is “You’re the Dawn”. I can’t listen to it without getting swept away.

Hudson Taylor’s EP Battles embodies so much of John Luke’s emotions, most of which he doesn’t realize are there until the end of the book. “Walls” by Gideon Grove is a soft, strong song that just sounds like John Luke’s thoughts. Same with “Stars and Satellites” by Dan Griffin. Plus, anything by NEEDTOBREATHE. And I mean anything.

Then there is Johnny Flynn and John Fahey. Johnny Flynn’s album A Larum helped me shape my first serious attempt at serious writing way back when I was a baby (17, actually). He basically changed my life forever (no big deal), but that’s another story. Literally. One I hope to share with you one day. So, if Strahan helped me finish R&W, then Johnny Flynn helped me start it. This is “Leftovers”.

Nate credits his discovery of his love of music in Mr. Rickshaw’s music store after listening to a record by American fingerstyle guitarist John Fahey. Here is “In Christ There is No East or West”.  Keep listening. 1:11 is when I just get so happy.

Mumford & Sons’ album Sigh No More is one of my favourite albums still to this day because of the lyrics. Such poetry. I must include this video of “Roll Away Your Stone”.

“Madelyn and the guys sang “Georgy Girl” by The Seekers, an Australian pop group from the sixties, just to annoy Ross. When he and Dad were in the seventh grade, their school put on a musical, featuring songs by the band. Ross wanted the lead, but it went to Dad instead. To this day, I still hear Dad singing the songs under his breath while completing chores around the house.”

True story. When my dad was in 7th grade, he starred in a school musical, featuring songs by the Australian band, The Seekers. To end this letter dedicated to the music behind Reeds & Wicks, I have to include this awesome video of the band performing in 1967.

In Good Company

img_2250My sister painted this illustration while I was working on some late drafts of Reeds & Wicks. She asked me which instruments she should base her drawings on, so I suggested a few, especially the inclusion of a steel-bodied resonator guitar, which is Nate’s guitar of choice in Reeds & Wicks (you can read the first chapter here). I really do love the cast of characters which star in this book, so I thought it was a good time to share some sketches.

No. 1 Nathaniel Poet, The Brother

“Dad’s name was Christopher Poet. So, my name, too, was Poet and I always felt the pressure to be deep or meaningful. Sophisticated even, like I should compose or write or be artistic. But ever since I could remember, all I’d ever wanted was open space, sky or sea. I thought that was all Nate wanted, too. I thought we were together in everything. But Nate was a poet. He wrote, he composed, he was artistic. His ambitions went beyond open space. I was reminded of our differences every time I found him doing weird things. Like laying in the middle of my bedroom floor, listening to my tape of “Stairway to Heaven” on my Walkman and refusing to come down for dinner, no matter how many times Mom shook his shoulder.”

I’m going to start with Nate. Nathaniel Poet is our protagonist’s older, musical brother. He is at once mature and childish. Wise and foolish. Caring and unfeeling. He feels things deeply and struggles with constantly climbing up from lows and crashing down from highs.

“It wasn’t hard to understand why she was in love with him, if that’s what she was. Nate was good-looking, talented; he always said the right things at the right time, managing to sound poetic and tough simultaneously. He had convinced Madelyn to overlook her self-doubt with one word, one look, and she was absent to the rest of us.”

John Luke has always felt protected by his brother. He has always trusted his brother. But there is always something in his charm, which John Luke knows is deceptive.

No. 2 Madelyn Odine, The Girl

“The first time I saw Madelyn Odine, I thought she was a ghost…Her shoes were the only things which grounded her. The rest of her clothes were made with muddy colours of pink, and her hair was the colour of pinewood.”

Next is Madelyn Odine. I can’t call her a protagonist or an antagonist because I don’t want to ruin any future reading of the book. She is the newest member of Reeds and Wicks, and the only female character with an active role throughout most of the story. She’s beautiful, talented and hurting. And she causes most of the conflicts—or at least, in the end, causes the roots of the problems in John Luke’s mind to be exposed. She is at best, a paradox like Nate.

“Sometimes, Madelyn seemed a thousand years-old to me, knowing all the way around life. Then, at other times, she appeared to me like a child, lost and perhaps suffering. I wanted to protect the little girl, but a part of me was intimidated by the woman. The child made me feel ten feet tall, asking for help, for affection. But the adult left me feeling inferior, waiting to be scolded for a crime I didn’t know I committed.”

But once the band is on the road, away from everything familiar and secure, John Luke can’t help it: he’s in love with her.

No. 3 John Luke Poet, The Narrator

Finally, there is John Luke Poet—our narrator. He’s 16 years-old when the book begins. He lives for sunshine and silver water, for unchartered territory and, as he puts it, “the dust and dirt of our cropless land”. He is contemplative; quick to listen and slow to speak—not always because he’s wise, but because he’s shy. I don’t want to say much about him because the instant you start reading, you meet him. And I think you’ll be friends.

“What are you expecting out there?” I asked Nate about the road.
“Gold, Jay. I’m expecting gold.”
Then he looked at me and grinned and we both started to laugh like only brothers could laugh.”

Normally, I would shout STAY GOLD, PONYBOY after a moment like that, so I guess, I will.

Stay gold, Ponyboy.

P.S. If you have never read The Outsiders, please read The Outsiders.

P.P.S If you love my sister’s artwork as much as I do, you can purchase this print (and heaps more) here.

Visions of Summer

“The sky was perfectly blue and the sun was a golden-white circle directly above me. The air was heavy and made things blurry, melting trees and pavement into watery waves of colour.”

Reeds & Wicks is drenched in summer. The first time I shared it with anyone, I sat on a sun-soaked dock at Jones Falls Park on a hot July afternoon and I read page after page of these brothers and their struggle to grow up. And although, the book stretches into autumn and winter (“The months of heat had left the land scarce and empty, ready to receive a fresh transformation into a cold and white wasteland, distorting it with the beauty of delicate snowflakes and crystal clean banks.”), the story lives in summer.

“I tugged the headphones from my ears to listen to the wide-open spaces. The Beach Boys sang almost silently in a tinny irritating buzz around my neck as I stared in the direction the creek flowed. If I looked hard enough I could imagine where the stream met the St. Lawrence River. I couldn’t see the actual river, but I knew it was there, calling to me.”

If you have read my first novel, Meet Me Back Here, Alright? then you will be familiar with John Luke’s Woolf Island. However, Alex Podolski’s Woolf Island and John Luke’s Woolf Island are different. For one reason: John Luke loves Woolf Island. (Click here for Alex’s impression of this real/ imaginary place.)

“The beach was a mile-long curve in the bay of the Island, a band of soft yellow sand twenty feet wide then small gray stones, washed smoothed by the unending surge of water. We sat in the sand and waves rolled quietly into whitecaps and rushed toward our feet.”

When I saw this ad on TV (while I was watching an episode of Murdoch Mysteries with my mum, as one does) I was like THAT’S WHERE I’M FROM. Proud moment. Come and visit some time.

The Countdown Begins

Grice (10)Daydreamer John Luke Poet has just graduated from high school two years early. Instead of planning his next academic achievement, all he wants is to explore the waterways of the St. Lawrence River on his dad’s new catamaran sailboat. His older brother, Nate and his amateur folk-rock band dream of more.

John Luke has always supported Nate’s wild, musical aspirations. So when Nate announces plans for a gig-filled summer road trip, John Luke has no problem tagging along. Until he meets Madelyn Odine, the band’s beautiful new member–and Nate’s new girlfriend. Love and loyalty are tested as the band heads toward glory and experience, and only one thing is certain: nothing will ever be the same again.

Available Aug. 16, 2018

Click here to Pre-order today exclusively in the Kobo Store

Click here to read Chapter One

 

O Bright-Eyed Hope

The day I met my friend Nick he took this picture. Those are my hands and that light is from a candle at my best friend’s wedding. When Nick posted this photo, he wrote some very lovely things about me and my writing, and I was extremely flattered. At the end of his write-up, he said this, “It’s an amazing thing realizing the powerful stories that people keep hidden. It doesn’t take much to expose them though—just a little light.”

John Keats wrote a poem called “To Hope” in 1817. There is a line in it that says, “O bright-eyed Hope”. Ever since I read that poem years ago, I’ve written that line down everywhere, in my notebooks, on scraps of paper, at the top of blank pages awaiting words of my own. I don’t even remember what the rest of the poem was like or if I even enjoyed it or understood it, but those words marked me and in turn marked my writing.

I’ve been thinking about those words and that picture recently and I can’t get the feeling out of my head—hope and light, light and hope. Maybe it’s because I always read Keats when Spring is about to burst into winter or maybe it’s because my amazing friend Nick loves Keats too. Maybe it’s because so much tragedy has rolled out before the eyes of the world recently.

From February 22nd to February 26th Meet Me Back Here, Alright? will be on sale in the Kobo Store. I wrote this book a few years out of high school, healed from the wounds of adolescence but still high on the brightness of youth and sincerely aching to commit my thoughts and experiences to paper. I always knew I wanted to share my stories with the world. I had written other books, books I thought were going to be my debuts. But Meet Me Back Here turned into a project that I couldn’t ignore—thanks mostly to Nick and that day we met. It is a story about redemption amidst dysfunction, hope refreshed in times of lack. It’s about the knotty issues of pain and hard things, about asking why, why, why. And in the end noticing those tiny embers in the seemingly dead coals of life, waiting for breath to bring a flame out of them.

What I love most about the books I love is connection. Because connection has always brought me healing, most often to the places of my heart I didn’t even know were bleeding. It’s that connection, no matter how small or big, that screams “I know exactly where you’re coming from”. If you want a copy of Meet Me Back Here, Alright? at 40% off, click here and use the promo code: 40SALE. If you’re searching for light in the darkness, look and keep looking. Because it’s there.

“Let me tell you why you are here…”
Matthew 5:13

 

Fact vs. Fiction

Meet Me Back Here Edition 

Although Meet Me Back Here, Alright? is a fictional story, inspiration came from countless tiny moments which dotted my young life, giving colour to the characters, settings and plot points of the book. Here are the top 7 real-life places that inspired the imaginary settings of Meet Me Back Here.

No.7 THE BOAT CLUB
“Every other afternoon I bike to the ferry and cross a skinny part of the St. Lawrence River to get to the harbour on the mainland, in time for the dinner shift at the boat club. I work in the members-only clubhouse, serving preppy old people from the city in my navy polo, khaki shorts and white Keds. Sometimes I roam the boardwalk to make sure everyone who is checking out the sailboats is supposed to be checking out the sailboats or tell people about the night’s specials and invite them into the dining room. Rich people’s children come and jump off the docks into the water at sunset and the crew team from St. David’s come to practice. The Kayak and Canoe Club teaches kids how to wear life-jackets properly and it’s all an extremely lively place until October comes and everyone goes away and I don’t have a job anymore.”

Where I’m from, you can’t drive very far without spotting water. Lakes, rivers and creeks bend across the land, breaking up earth which is stockpiled with conifers, and irrigating acres of farm land. Boat and yacht clubs are plenteous, ranging from the quaint and comfortable to the large and luxurious.

I have never worked at a boat club, neither have I ever been a member of one. But I have spent many summer and autumn mornings sitting by our harbours, watching life work around the concrete piers or wooden boardwalks. I have squinted under the sun at noon and watched the sparkling water of the St. Lawrence River push against the rocky shoreline, sometimes quietly, sometimes violently, while seagulls screech from the top of a lamppost.

In places like these, characters and the lives they lead almost build themselves. I see someone in my mind’s eye, I hear their voice, and a scroll falls open before me, a long papery canvas waiting for the ink and paint of a life that could be.

No. 6 THE HOSPITAL
“Grandma’s hospital room is narrow and windowless and has a sliding door, which stays open most of the time. A nurse sits right outside the door at a desk and stares at Grandma or at the screens monitoring vital signs, and talks to other nurses about shoes they bought at the mall.

I have to tell Dennis the Security Guard that Miller is my cousin on account of FAMILY ONLY so we can both go in at the same time…

I know Miller feels awkward and scared and uncomfortable. I could tell the second we walked through the main entrance downstairs and he saw patients in wheelchairs smoking cigarettes outside and people losing their hair because of cancer treatments and crying families huddles in the cafeteria because of bad news they’ve just received.”

My first memory of the hospital was visiting my father after he was paralyzed because of a spinal cord stroke. I was eleven. My oldest sister had just celebrated her first wedding anniversary and in two weeks she would give birth to her first child. Over the fourteen years that have past, trips to the hospital have come in bunches or after long stretches of freedom from emergencies. But every time I navigate the underground parking garage or step through the sliding glass doors that do not say “Welcome Home” or “Enjoy your stay!” but are marked with words like “EMERGENCY” and “ICU”, I stand a little bolder, I breathe a little easier because I have visited these spaces dozens of times. They are halls I have paced and prayed through, waiting rooms I have lounged and laughed in, and chapels I have wept in. And although I have never personally suffered from medical dilemmas, I love people who have and who do suffer today. So, whenever a trip to the hospital comes along, I look into the eyes of others, who are weary and so sick of being sick, and the only thing I can offer is a smile. I don’t know what it tells them, but I hope it tells them that they are not alone.

No. 5. THE FERRY
“And then we walk onto the ferry together, climb the stairs to the viewing deck and sit on a bench. With sailboats gliding on the horizon and the September sun setting, we manage to talk about everything that matters.”

When I was seven or eight, my dad took me on the Wolfe Island Ferry for the first time. We parked in the asphalt parking lot near the dock and walked onto the white barge as ferry operators directed vehicles onto the loading deck. It was cold and the sky was spitting at us, so Dad and I sat sheltered under the viewing deck. I remember sliding on the chilly metal bench seat until my hip hit the side of the boat and my nose almost touched the window pane. The window was round and made me feel like I was in the submarine from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the river throwing stormy, angry water at me as the ferry cut a path to its destination.

The horizon was fog and silver, with waves turning into whitecaps, and the sky was heavy with clouds. When the ferry docked at Wolfe Island, the cars, vans and trucks offloaded and new vehicles took their places. Dad and I never got off the boat. We sat, still staring, still feeling like we were about to plunge 20,000 leagues.

No. 4 THE POOL
“I haven’t been inside the pool since grade nine when my PE class learned how to play water polo. I imagine my former classmates and me bobbing around in our school bathing suits and trying not to drown…The shiny chlorine water is placid, but the navy lines on the bottom of the pool appear to wobbly slightly. There is red, white and blue bunting decorating the walls.”

All my memories of Olympic-sized pools, high dives and springboards come from my local YMCA and the pool at our university. My high school never had a swimming pool. When I started writing the first draft of Meet Me Back Here, I happened to be watching swimming on TV. I thought, “I’m going to make one of these characters a competitive swimmer.” Yes, my process is that complicated.

No. 3 THE MOUNTAIN
“There’s a footpath that dissects the woods behind my house. It inclines almost invisibly until you notice your calves start to hurt. Sophy calls it The Mountain because Bristol and I called it The Mountain when we were little. It’s not a real mountain, of course, it’s just sort of a really big hill. Once you’re at the top there’s a field surrounded by trees and it’s all natural and wild with tall grass and purple and yellow flowers.”

The Mountain isn’t a real place. But there is a field behind my grandparents’ house and if there was ever going to be a doppelganger of the field in the story, that field would be it. Truth be told: I didn’t have it in mind when I started writing Meet Me Back Here.

One day, after my brother bought the property, I was visiting and I walked and walked until I reached the fence at the back of his field, and on the other side of the fence was Sophy’s field of “Wild Mountain Thyme”. I love when I see things I thought I made up.

No. 2 WOLFE ISLAND
“Woolf Island takes up the skyline. The wind turbines turn slowly. The trees are silhouettes because of the sunset, and yellow lights from windows glow in distant homes.”

The “Woolf Island” in Meet Me Back Here is not the actual Wolfe Island that sits along the St. Lawrence River, though it did inspire me to put Alex’s small town on an island like it.

The first time I went there, I was too young to remember. What I do remember is when my sister and I visited on my eighteenth birthday. It was November and it was raining. We drove and drove around the line-less country roads, and parked under the towering wind turbines, just staring up.

In the summertime, the fields are golden and the ditches are full of Queen Anne’s lace. Every once and a while, whether you’re walking or driving, you’ll look over your shoulder and catch a glimpse of windmill blades, turning silently and slowly in the August humidity.

No. 1 HIGH SCHOOL
“Today at school there’s a pep rally and we have to sit on the gym floor because our school isn’t one of those fancy catholic schools with auditoriums and cushy chairs like the school Cece goes to. Kids from the fancy catholic schools call us hicks because we don’t have lines on our main roads and because we only produce farmers and football players. We only get to sit on chairs when it’s something important like Remembrance Day or because someone has died. So during the assembly today we have to sit cross-legged on the dusty gym floor, cramped inside the dark with only random spotlights shining on the student council rep and the cheerleaders as they bounce around in front of the stage…

And I sit there while my brain starts to melt and my feet fell asleep, wishing that this stint of my life was already over.”

I don’t think I need to say anything else about that one 😉

Fact vs. Fiction

The first time I remember sitting down to write outside of school, I was nine and I filled an 80-page Hilroy spiral-bound notebook from front to back. It was purple and I wrote with a red pen.

It took time to fill those lined pages, one after the other, and I distinctly remember the satisfaction of reaching the last page and relishing the act of writing in large, bold and sloppy print: “THE END”.

The story I wrote was part-Lizzie McGuire episode, part-Mary-Kate and Ashley movie. I thought I was going to be on Oprah. The next thing I remember was standing in front of my sister’s bookcase and running my index finger along the queue of paperback spines, thinking, “Hmm. I can do that.” Write a book, I meant. I can write a book.

It was always books. Long, detailed accounts that needed beginnings and middles and ends. Characters had to have pasts. They had to live on after the closing sentence. I was hooked on the journey of world-building and character creation.

At first, my stories read like plays. I set each scene with a few sentences, a caption, or a block of character directions. Then I wrote dialogue, each line following a character’s name and a colon. I wrote in blue ink, red ink, colourful gel pen ink. I scribbled and babbled and shaped horribly melodramatic tales of teen love or rip-offs of every adventure movie I had ever watched. Stranded in the Brazilian jungle—memory loss story (duh). Study towers in the middle of the ocean—young woman must confront the shark which killed her father (no kidding). Students lost in the woods without parents or teachers—more than one of the students are evil (yes way).

The first time I decided to include narration, to actually write something that resembled a novel, I was 12. A book about seven brothers and sisters, which turned into seven individual books (of course). Then there was a book about a girl who is forced to go to Ireland for the summer and dates the future King of Ireland???—that’s not even a thing. But I kept going. Figure skaters. Detention camps. Rich kids. Troubled kids. Girls and boys, and boys and girls. New York City. There was a book about a 15-year-old girl who had no parents and five brothers. And a book about an 18-year-old who had both parents and five sisters. Both. Involved. The mafia (mic drop). The first time I used first-person narration, I was 15 and I decided I would be a special government agent, tasked with protecting a recuperating kidnapping victim. Yes, I decided to be a 35-year-old man.

It wasn’t until I was 17 when I wrote something important. Important to me, important to my writing life. I had graduated from high school. My grandfather had recently past away. It had been six years since my father was paralyzed after a stroke. I had been filling notebooks, printer paper and file folders with stories, and stories nothing like my own. But that summer, I wrote about a young man who lost his grandfather, set in a town on the mainland across from his treasure island.

The countryside where I grew up groomed every page. Ferries and tall grass and lakeside views. College towns and farms and wide-open spaces. Music and old photographs and regrets and dreams. I listened to Johnny Flynn on repeat and I wandered around the make-believe/ real-life places, which welded into one world where so many of the characters I carve today still live.

I will always be grateful for the old stories. Because without them I wouldn’t have been able to write the new ones.

Never stop writing the adventurous, the outlandish, the romantic. Write them forever. I do. There’s been a dystopian future novel cooking in my laptop since I was 18—I won’t deny it. These stories may never be read by anyone other than myself, but they need to be told.

Today I have come to love mixing fact with fiction, and I hope I always will. I won’t say that I’ve learned all there is to know about writing a story. Because when I was that 12-year-old girl with a purple gel pen and a purple Hilroy notebook, I said, “I’ll never write narration, narration is so overrated.” And when I was that 15-year-old girl I said, “I’ll never write about myself, forget about writing what you know.” So, now, as a 25-year-old young woman, I sit with a pencil and a green 3-subject Hilroy notebook and say, “I can write anything I want to write.”