Welcome to Kez’s bookshelf.
What a privilege it is to participate in the Musings Blog Tour hosted by Forever Valentine and help bring awareness to the great things ‘Musings – An Argyle Empire Anthology’ is doing. Through its support of homeless youth in crisis, 100% of proceeds are going to Covenant House in loving memory of Terry Aisenstein (a fellow muse of Argyle Empire).
‘Musings – An Argyle Empire Anthology’ is a collection of nine short stories written by seven talented authors that partly make up the muses of Argyle Empire (the official fan site for readers of Sylvain Reynard). These seven accomplished authors are:-
Susan K Swords
The Anthology is a fabulous read with topics covering comedy, romance, suspense, fantasy, drama, prose and with the forward written by Sylvain Reynard, who wouldn’t want to own a copy. Today however, I wish to focus on one story in particular that I found quite endearing and very thought provoking.
I was fortunate to sit down with the author to discuss their story and the anthology in more detail. What I uncovered was an intellectual and inspiring author with so much to share and a message of hope for each of us.
Please join me in welcoming our special guest Becca Vry as we take a closer look at her short story with a powerful message…
Welcome to Kez’s Bookshelf Becca.
Thank you so much for your time today, it’s an honour to have you stop by.
Kez, I’m truly honoured that you’ve wanted to interview me, so thank YOU for taking the time to do this.
You’re welcome Becca.
Please tell us a little more about Becca Vry, your interests, how you became a writer, likes, dislikes, etc?
New readers can learn a lot about me by viewing my blog, at: www.beccavry.com – My interests include art, writing, poetry, music (I’m a huge lover of the Goth/Industrial genre) … anything with a creative pulse immediately draws my focus. I’m definitely right-brain oriented, and have written poetry and short stories even as a young child, but never dreamed that I’d pursue the written craft later in life. I’m a lover of words, and how they make me feel, which probably sounds strange. Even as a very young child, I’d sneak my parent’s thesaurus or encyclopaedias off of the bookshelf and write down words/meanings that I found compelling and interesting, and then use them in sentences at school. My teachers got a kick out of this odd, wordy propensity and often encouraged me because they realised my creativity/imagination coming through, but kids my own age often found me “strange” and didn’t understand my interests; they teased me mercilessly. Now, I own that “strangeness” and even wear it as a badge of honour, but my gosh, I was bullied as a kid. I think those formative memories pushed me in the direction of creative writing over the years, a kind of embracing of my strangeness, my being a wordy bitch ;).
Other likes: Big Cities. Doctor Marten’s. Unique cultural experiences. Xanax. Leather Corsets laced extra tight. Wearing black. Dancing in dark clubs. Tattoos. Vodka. A good, cleansing cry to release pent-up emotion. Cognitive Therapy. Open-mindedness. Kindness. Being able to laugh at yourself and notice your own absurdities.
Dislikes: Passive Aggressiveness. Sarcasm (I don’t like the snide, round-about-ness of it, just come out with what you actually mean, IMO). Walking barefoot on grass, dirt or in the wet, gritty sand (it’s a texture thing). Sports. Politics. Religion. Country/Jazz/Gospel music (Country music depresses me and the unstructured/erratic sonal elements of Jazz and Gospel messes with my ADD, makes me tense and incredibly anxious). Driving a car … I don’t belong behind the wheel of a vehicle, my anxiety sky-rockets and I can’t take it – thus my “like” of Xanax!
As we know, your story Hopescape is featured in ‘Musings – An Argyle Empire’s Anthology‘. Argyle Empire is the official fan site for Sylvain Reynard readers. How did you come across Sylvain Reynard’s writing and meet the amazing people who make up the muses of Argyle Empire?
Back in the 1990’s, I discovered Jane Austen Fan-fiction on the internet and began posting in Yahoo forums and other discussions under the pseudonym GothicTemptress. Over the years, my adoration of fan-fiction took me into many fandoms, and in 2008, my obsession with Twilight Fan-fiction began. I discovered a fan page/discussion forum on a website called “Twilighted” and there I found myself engaged in story discussions – meeting like-minded people from all over the world. One of my favorite stories was being written/posted by a very shy yet incredibly kind Canadian … the amazingly talented Sylvain Reynard. Through him and his story discussions, I connected with the Muses and many of the Argyle Empire participants, along with EL James and The Bunker Babes, Deborah Anastasia, Shay Savage, Helena Hunting (all who were posting stories of their own at the time) … Twilighted and my Twilight fan-fiction obsession/discussions led to some of the most treasured friendships of my life. These same friends now encourage me to chase my own creativity and dreams in new ways, and Sylvain Reynard has been a huge inspiration in this way. His influence on my creativity, as well as the encouragement of the Muses and the other friends listed above, is undeniable, and for that beautiful fact, and their unwavering support, I’m so very grateful.
Congratulations on your story ‘Hopescape‘, I smiled widely when I read it. With so many people fleeing war torn countries over recent years and families displaced to various countries throughout the world. I found this story very apt for today’s society. What made you write about Yara’s story?
Thank you, Kez. I’m so happy that you enjoyed it. And yes, its tone and topics are very pertinent to modern day. It’s a story that evolved over years. My aunt married a wonderful man from Syria (he immigrated to Chicago and they met in medical school in the 80’s). Over the years, his family has visited the US or moved to the States and to Canada, and hearing their stories regarding the changing political and religious landscape, their fears, the threats of remaining in Syria, all played a part in the slow formation of Yara’s back-story/character. Researching for certain scenes while composing Hopescapes was a really disturbing, hope-crushing, frightening experience – so much so that I credit Jennifer Locklear for being a guardian angel of sorts … she walked me through some really dark places as I was writing/editing the story, and I paid more visits to my Therapist while writing it than I’d care to admit.
The way that groups of people use their beliefs or their “god” to force acquiescence and control over others…the way that fear and hopelessness is instilled in large groups of innocent people, so much so that they feel it imperative to flee their homes and homeland in order to remain alive … what some must endure in pursuit of a happier, emotionally and physically healthier life … what “freedom” means to each of us, and at what cost we achieve it … Sadly, Yara’s story is the story of millions, in every country. It’s so sad, yet layered with incredible hope, too, if we allow it within ourselves to see the positive, making lemonade out of lemons.
Here is a banner I made myself early on to inspire me while writing, as well as images that I compiled to keep me on track while composing Hopescapes. Just sharing it with you as reference, should it interest you. I printed these out and taped them on my computer screen, to keep the feeling and “tone” at the forefront while I wrote.
‘Hopescape‘ gives a great insight into Yara’s life as a refugee, the thoughts and emotions she deals with as she tries to move forward with her life. I found this story a timely reminder of the human factor behind the displacement of refugees and asylum seekers. Was it your intention to create awareness of the personal challenges people who experience such traumatic events and relocation face?
Yes, it was my intention to create that awareness, but I also think that I was influenced by deeper intentions on a subconscious level, too … that of a hope that people would stop to look at the hopescapes around them in the same way that Yara’s mentality shifts by the end of the story – where she transforms from 5 perilous steps away from death, to 5 breaths – and realising the shining hope-filled examples of “life” and inspiring forward-movement around her. Those same positive affirmations surround all of us, in some way.
This is a lesson that I began learning the hard way, while facing a health crisis at the beginning of 2016, and I found myself in an incredibly trying situation of having to make many life-changes in order to overcome my morbid obesity and get healthy. One of those decisions was to seek treatment for compulsive over-eating. Over time, it struck me how dysfunctional and harmful my eating was to my health, and how important it was to “displace” myself from the habits and amounts of food that were raising my blood sugars, blood pressure and killing me slowly, sending me into a health crisis. In many ways, I think that it took me experiencing this scary, life-changing situation and dealing with the associated emotions in order to really embrace Yara’s own emotional struggles. There is no comparison between what I suffered and what people in Yara’s situation suffer, but I do see some similarities between the conflicting emotions associated with “life changes” and having to face your past in order to move forward in a happy and healthy way. Letting go of pain, of harboured emotions, of whatever it is holding us back … I feel as though I was able to draw from my own personal emotional experiences and channel them into the fleshing of Yara’s character in specific, and more thoroughly.
When it appeared all hope was lost, along came Raizie. A survivor with her own remarkable story to tell, but if it wasn’t for her kind and gentle hand, Yara’s story could have ended very differently. What was it that Raizie saw in Yara that day as she joined her on the park bench?
I once saw a quote that has stuck with me over the years:
“Your perception of me is a reflection of you; my reaction to you is an awareness of me.”
This mentality had a profound impact on the formation of that initial scene, as I imagined Raizie approaching Yara on the park bench.
Raizie is product of my own family history. My grandmother, grandfather and mother all survived a German Work Camp in WW2, and “survival” and “pushing on” has always been a lesson I’ve witnessed in their own pursuit of happiness. Raizie is also based on a dear friend of mine with the same name from the Twilight fandom – an inspirational Jewish woman who is dedicated to her faith, her family, her friends and her community, making the life of those around her a better place. Between my own family stories, and watching my friend Raizie advocate for causes and volunteer time serving and bettering her community, allowed me to form her character/back-story in Hopescapes with a great deal of ease. While her history is utterly painful and terrible to learn about for the reader (and compose as the author), she really is a warrior, an inspiration.
When Raizie first notices Yara at the beginning of the story, she realizes that Yara is in a bad place because Raizie was also once in that same emotionally perilous place, too. She “sees” Yara in a way that very few human beings actually could. She relates to the war-ravaged, traumatized young woman on a deeply visceral and human level because she’s had time to reflect, heal and move forward – it’s the awareness of herself that allows Raizie to react to Yara in the way she does in the story. In truth, Raizie “sees herself” sitting on the park bench, and chooses to comfort, relive her torment and inspire Yara in a way she’d needed to be comforted herself, so long ago. That quote I mention above has made a huge impact on my writing, as I compose scenes. It inspires me to look at interaction between characters in a new way.
When Raizie’s traumatic story of survival is revealed and it is clear to them, they are both survivors, only from different events in history. It was a profound moment for Yara. Was this the turning point for her, the moment the flicker of hope began to burn for her again?
Yes, and that’s why I stressed the “Five Steps” many times throughout the story. Those five steps were all Yara needed to take to plunge into that ending to her suffering that she longed for at the beginning of the story, and throughout much of it, actually. Survivors guilt and the torment, the suffering, are very real to those that live when their loved ones die. It’s only near the end, as Yara begins to look at the cold, grey landscape around her as hopescapes, as she resolves herself to take 5 cleansing breaths, instead … her initial desire to take those five tragic steps turns into inspirational, forward-moving and life-affirming steps into the future at the end. That distinction is perilous, however, and that’s why I felt it imperative that Yara witness Raizie’s family together at the end of the story. It’s the future, shared love and happiness Yara and all human beings deserve, I believe. That’s not to say that Yara needs to push out babies or make other conventional life choices in order to be happy. Hell no! But by Yara witnessing the manifestation of Raizie’s pushing on, being a warrior, and “living” – that kind of visual, a validation of progress and hope for the future … that certainly is a moment of turning towards the future, not desiring the angry waves that will end her life, in my estimation. Five breaths instead of five steps. That choice to live fully and persevere. Yes, please!
Thank you for mentioning the five steps to five cleansing breaths, ‘Hopescapes‘ is a great example of how it can bring someone hope and ultimately change their life. For others out there who maybe working through their own life changing events, what is your philosophy behind the five steps to five breaths and how could others apply it to their own situations?
Kez, on a very personal level, I spent many years of my life (especially in my late twenties and early thirties) living in a pretty dark place – I often refer to this as my “Decade of Woe.” I suffered four miscarriages, gained over 140 pounds, experienced post-partum depression after the eventual blessings of my two children (and even had to check myself into the hospital for a few days after the birth of my first child because I became suicidal), and remained weighed down beneath the life challenges that seemed too daunting for me to carry. I allowed the darkness to define my outlook, my existence. The weight I carried grew to be physical as well as mental. When I started therapy, I began discovering that I was doing it to myself, keeping that darkness around me when I had the option to let light and happiness in. It would take me another decade to deal with the physical weight I carried, but from an emotional aspect, I began re-learning the eye-opening, burden-lifting language of ongoingness. That will sound familiar to you, because I mention it explicitly in Hopescapes … that philosophy of optimism, positivity, being mindful and appreciative of what is around us, even if what we have suffered in the past or face in the future may not be pleasant to reflect on at first – the shift in imagery at the end of Hopescapes, where Yara no longer looks at the buildings biting at the bruised sky, instead she sees this…
I realize now how the landscapes of our lives can shift, just as our appreciation of them. We each make the choice of seeing dreary sadscapes or inspiring hopescapes – that beautiful philosophy of optimism creating inspiration, if we allow ourselves to be moved toward the positive, and not keep ourselves laden down by the negatives we keep focusing on in a self-destructive way. I did it for so long, and feel such relief for this positive shift into an optimistic perspective.
In truth, I believe most humans have a “bench moment,” just as Yara endured – a stagnant, dark, miserable place where we sit by ourselves and mull over the worst our life has presented us with, as we hurt and suffer and feel alone. Each of us may not ever consider those five steps in the way Yara did. Some of us do consider death, but others may consider the “five steps” towards a bar, a buffet, a relationship that is destructive, or a crime … we embrace the negative and self-harm in so many ways – we are all “five steps” away from something. I think that “bench moment” is natural and even necessary place to sit for a time, because sitting in a place like that teaches us a lot about ourselves. But willingly STAYING in that dark place for an extended length of time is where it gets dangerous and detrimental to our well-being. Sitting on that bench for too long shuts us out of the inspiring potential of a happier future, of a better life we are capable of embracing. Five steps towards self-harm, or five cleansing breaths and the decision to re-think what you’re suffering? If you make the conscious choice to take the life-affirming breaths instead of the future-ending steps in the other direction … I believe that is one of the most self-affirming and inspiring actions of all, and a perfect example of the philosophy of ongoingness.
Raizie and Yara create an incredible bond on that park bench that day, one that you know will stay with them a lifetime. A touch of human kindness and compassion can do miraculous work. What lasting message from Yara and Raizie would you like to leave with readers?
I believe that if we all took a moment to be kind to someone, to show compassion in their time of need … this world would be a much more beautiful place. See an elderly person struggling to cross the street with their walker? Stop to walk slowly beside them, to help them over the curb. Notice someone frowning on the street? Smile at them, let that smile reach your eyes, and show them that you noticed their suffering – that their feelings mattered to you enough to react in a positive way, even if you are a stranger. The next time you turn on the news – try to look at what’s happening in the world with new eyes, and show/feel some empathy for the plight of others, and that includes everyone (the average person and world leaders alike, because we’re all dealing with difficult situations, in our own ways). Instead of blaming, judging, or casting negativity on the journeys of others, stop for a moment and consider of how you can be a positive force in their life. By being compassionate, you invite so much warmth into the lives of all you touch.
In truth, Raizie has lived in Chicago for many decades. Like every seasoned big-city dweller, she had every right to assume that Yara was a mentally disturbed homeless person with violent tendencies, and could’ve turned the other way, never to approach the young woman who was obviously distraught, crying on the park bench at the beginning of the story. Turns out, Raizie saves a life and “created light” that day, not only in Yara, but also the reader (I hope). That’s why I end the story as I do, with that final question … there is more to every story than initially meets the eye. How will YOU make your world a better place, or bring light into your life or the lives of someone else? Yara is a victim of many things, but will not remain a victim if she wants to move ahead and embrace the hopescapes of her future. Raizie’s choice to sit next to her, to try to comfort her, and reach the distraught woman … that kind of instigation of “connection,” especially with a stranger who is need of kindness and compassion … we are ALL capable of that. I just wish it happened more often, because what a different world it would be if we all just tried to understand, exhibit more empathy and help each other a little more.
All proceeds from ‘Musings – An Argyle Empire Anthology’ is to benefit the Philadelphia chapter of Covenant House, can you tell us a little more about this?
Terry Aisenstein was an active participant in the Argyle Empire group, a huge fan of Sylvain Reynard and a loving friend to many, including The Muses. She often volunteered at Covenant House because she loved the kids and believed in the mission of helping homeless youth. Unfortunately, she passed away after a hard-fought battle with cancer, and SR and a few Muses began talking about ways to honour her memory as well as bring awareness to a cause she believed strongly in. Jennifer and Morgan Locklear spearheaded the collaboration and we all decided to write a collection of stories, Musings: An Argyle Empire Anthology, and donate the proceeds to Covenant House, in Terry’s honour. We were all so honoured that Sylvain Reynard composed the forward to the collection. All in all, it was a beautiful way to remember Terry, as well as a way to encourage each other in our own creativity, all in the name of charity.
What is next for Becca Vry, do you have any projects you’re currently working on?
After completing Hopescapes, I was convinced that Yara was content in my leaving her future wide open (as I left the ending of the story positive and vague) – but much to my surprise, both Yara and Raizie will not remain still … They’ve been poking me all summer (while I hoped to take a break from writing to spend time with my two teen daughters and husband). They definitely may appear in future works, if they have their way with me yet. 😉 I also have a selection of short, romantic stories that keep growing, and I’m hoping to turn them into a series one day in the near future. But at the moment, my husband and I have begun writing about our journey towards better health, and everything we’ve experienced while losing over 100 pounds each … and how that quest for health broadened our perspectives on what it means to live a fulfilling (and honest-with-self, health-focused) life. For the longest time, he and I both discovered we were being dishonest with ourselves as we ate our way towards diabetes and into early graves. The lies we were telling ourselves about what we were eating, how much, and why it hurt us in ways we’re only beginning to understand. This collaboration is exciting for us, and it’s a constant work in progress.
As my special guest to Kez’s Bookshelf, what thought provoking message about love and life would you like to leave for readers.
One of my all-time favourite quotes is by Mark Twain:
“Let us endeavour to live so that when we die, even the undertaker will be sorry.”
This concept resonates with me so much because I believe that taking creative risks and pursuing an excitement-filled, “interesting” life is what’s important in love and life in general. Our most important endeavour is to live a life to the absolute fullest – and while that means something different for every person, seeking out new, exciting experiences by yourself or passionately, with a loved-one by your side , is a hell of a lot more meaningful and interesting than being a stagnant observer, never participating, letting life pass you by. It’s my opinion that these are words to live and love by. I hope they resonate with your readers as well.
It’s been an honour doing this interview Kez. I wish you and your readers happiness, health, and the formation of the most beautifully rewarding Hopescapes in your future.
Much love from a very appreciative Becca Vry!
What an incredible woman!
Having read ‘Hopescapes‘ and spent time with Becca today, I believe we can each walk away not only with a little more empathy towards refugees and asylum seekers beginning their new journey for a better life; but also for those people we may recognize around us going through their own life changing challengers, perhaps readers may even see this within themselves. Thank you so much Becca, for all that you so generously shared with us today. Your insight behind this powerful story and the message of hope is truly enlightening.
Before signing off today, I also wanted to pay tribute to Patricia Hinojosa who won the Musings Fan-art contest using a great quote from ‘Hopescapes’. Congratulations Patricia for this beautiful fanart creation…
If you’d like to know more about this inspiring author, below is a copy of Becca Vry’s Bio:-
Becca is a Chicago native who prefers high-rise living and hasn’t owned or driven a car in over twenty years. She and her husband are about to celebrate their 20th Wedding Anniversary, and she’s a stay-at-home mother of two daughters.
When not doing the mom thing, she can be found at Art Galleries, poetry readings, or creating something on a canvas. Becca loves the freedom modern art affords her, creatively, and gravitate toward the textural/multi-dimensional aesthetic of mixed media. She prefers to not only work on the canvas but expand outward as new ideas take shape.
When not being creative, you’ll find Becca bounding in the mosh pit at a concert with her beloved husband Maximilian, or on the dance floor of her favorite Chicago Goth/Industrial haunts. No matter the setting, she’s usually wearing black and her sidewalk-stomping Doc Martens.
What started out as a secret hobby of writing online stories has turned into an insatiable passion for creating stories that inspire and provoke. Becca is now branching out into original prose with her first release, “Hopescapes.” It’s an inspirational short story that appears in Musings: An Argyle Empire Anthology. The story is about the evolution of lifescapes and how the promise of new beginnings inspire many dreamscapes. The theme of this story centers on emerging from the embers of profound loss and hopelessness to realizing the importance of survival, ongoingness, and the power that comes from re-learning the language of happiness . . . Two strangers discover that the journey to happiness often comes at a tragic price – the conversation between them, and the connections they realize they share will alter their perspectives in the most unexpected ways. They will never look at the Chicago skyline or the broadening hopescapes that expand before them, in the same way ever again.
Becca hopes to release a couple of steamy romances in the near future and we can’t wait to read more from her!
Remember readers, ‘Hopescapes’ is just one short story you’ll find in the great little read – ‘Musings – An Argyle Empire Anthology ‘. Don’t forget THROUGH Covenant House, 100% of the proceeds will go to benefit homeless youth at risk.
Purchase your copy of ‘Musings – An Argyle Empire Anthology’ here:-
Amazon USA * Amazon UK * Amazon AUS
To learn more about the great work of Covenant House, you can visit their website here:-
Readers, if you haven’t caught up with this fabulous anthology, then now’s the time to do so.