Friday, January 24, 2014
SCHMOOZING WITH R.J. HARLICK
It is hard to pinpoint any one influence. There have been so many over the years from the time when I was a young avid reader and wanted to write a mystery story just like Agatha Christie and Nancy Drew to today when a lengthy power outage I endured last winter is similar to the one Meg is putting up with in the book I am currently writing. Well written books, people I’ve met, places I’ve visited, my own experiences, newspaper stories, Canada’s great outdoors, my log cabin in the wilds of Quebec, family stories, other people’s stories and the list goes on. All have combined to influence my writing one way or the other. Of course I mustn’t forget my husband who has been my constant companion on this writing adventure.
2. What are you working on now?
For the 7th book in the Meg Harris series, I thought I would try something different, so Meg finds herself at the centre of a thriller. After her travels to BC, Meg is back at Three Deer Point. It is a week before Christmas and a major blizzard is blocking off her world. Eric is away and she’s alone in her rambling Victorian cottage with Adjidamo, the young boy Sergei rescued several winters ago, when a knock on the front door rings through the house…. And so it goes. I am having great fun writing it.
3. In what ways is your main protagonist like you? If at all?
When you write in the first person, you can’t help but have some similarities with your protagonist. Although I have endeavoured to make Meg as much unlike me as possible, some of me does come through. We both have a love for nature and wild places and enjoy spending many hours exploring the hidden delights of a forest or paddling the many lakes and rivers that wend through the land.
I’m probably as big a chicken as she is, but she invariably overcomes her fears to do what she needs to do, like walking into a situation she knows is threatening. I don’t think I could. Mind you, like Meg I feel far more at ease on a particularly dark moonless night at my cottage when I have my big standard poodles by my side. Meg is more impulsive than I am and has a tendency to jump into situations without thinking them completely through, which can get her into trouble. I tend to sit back and wait to see what happens.
One of the aspects I have enjoyed in writing the series, is creating Meg and watching her grow and evolve from book to book. For me and hopefully for my readers, Meg has become a real person with her own unique quirks.
4. Are you character driven or plot driven?
I am not sure I could separate the two in my writing. While I usually start with a vague idea on a plot, often what drives the plot is Meg herself and her reaction to situations. Many times the story has taken a completely different turn from what I had envisioned because of Meg’s actions. So I would have to say I am both.
5. Are you a pantser or a plotter
I guess I should hide my head in shame and admit I fly by the seat of my pants. As mentioned, I start with a vague idea of a story theme and plot, its setting and a couple of characters besides Meg and Eric. I tried outlining with my early books, but the end story bore no relationship to the outline, so I don’t bother anymore. I call it writing by juggling. As I progress through the story I throw many balls into the air and hope, more like pray, they land successfully. I’m always amazed when they do.
6. What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?
I strive for nothing more than my readers turn the last page of one of my books with the feeling of satisfaction of having finished a good read. I also hope that they leave knowing a little more about the wild place in Canada that I am writing about and the people that live there.
7. Where do you see yourself as a writer in 10 years?
Ten years seems so far away. I can only look as far as the next book. I have thoroughly enjoyed the time I have spent with Meg thus far, a good 15 years or more. As long as I continue to enjoy her company, I will keep writing about her. Thoughts of doing another series have crossed my mind, but I will only do that once I tire of Meg.
8. What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?
Gosh, I’ve no idea. I feel my life is like an open book and not very exciting. I like to start my mornings with a bracing cup of English Breakfast tea instead of the Canadian hot drink of choice, coffee. I love floating silently over the land in a hot air balloon or drifting over the mirror calm water of a lake in a canoe. My favourite writing spot is the screened-in porch at my cottage, where Meg’s world is only a millimetre thick screen away.
9. What do you like to read for pleasure?
I love to read, have done so since a child. Needless to say mysteries are and have always been my preferred read, but I enjoy good literary novels and have read most of the greats. My key requirement for a good book is a well constructed story with engaging characters and a setting that transports me to another place. I do have my favourite authors and the one that immediately comes to mind is Dorothy Dunnett. Though she wrote a mystery series, it is her historical series, The Lymond Chronicles, that have enthralled me. I think I have read the six hefty volumes of the chronicles a good 4 or more times and each time gain more insight into the complex character of Francis Lymond and his fascinating 16th century world.
10. Give us a summary of your latest book in a Tweet
In Silver Totem of Shame, the murder of a young carver sends Meg Harris to Haida Gwaii, where she unravels a tangle of betrayal that reaches back to the 1880s
Described by the Ottawa Citizen as “one of the brightest new voices in the mystery business”, RJ Harlick, writes the acclaimed Meg Harris mystery series set in the wilds of Quebec. Like her heroine Meg Harris, RJ loves nothing better than to roam the forests surrounding her own wilderness cabin or paddle the endless lakes and rivers. The 4th book, Arctic Blue Death was a finalist in the 2010 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. In the 6th book in the series, Silver Totem of Shame, to be released in June, Meg travels to Haida Gwaii, the mystical islands of the Haida situated on the edge of the Canada’s west coast. RJ is the current President of Crime Writers of Canada.