Monday, July 15, 2013

Interview day with R.J.Harlick

A warm welcome to R.J.Harlick (Robin) for our Monday Interview. As its summer we will be sure to find her at her log cabin in the wilderness of West Quebec dealing with a myriad of wild animals and domestic ones as well. Two beautiful standard poodles, Sterling and new pup Molly, keep her company when she is not taking pictures of an assortment of woodland creatures.

   For a city girl she sure likes roughing it.

Canoeing, snowshoeing and hiking in the forests where you live a good part of the year play a big part in your writing of the Meg Harris stories.  The wilderness setting and your knowledge of the First Nations culture contribute a wonderful insight into aboriginal lore. How did you go about researching for this series?

 Let me say how thrilled I am, Pam, to be doing an interview for your blog.  Thanks for inviting me.

They always say write what you know, so I set my series in a place I know and love, the West Quebec wilderness where my cottage is. I also wanted to populate this setting with the people who traditionally live there, English Canadians, Quebecois and Algonquin First Nations. I initially only intended that my Algonquin characters have a walk-on appearance, but as the writing of the first book, Death’s Golden Whisper, progressed, I became very attached to them. And so First Nations people and their stories became an integral part of my Meg Harris series. 
However, my knowledge of their customs was minimal, so I relied on the internet and library for my research. I also wanted to ensure I reflected their culture as accurately as the story would permit, so I consulted with several members of Kitigan Zibi, the closest Algonquin reserve to Ottawa.
When Meg Harris travels to other Native communities, I consult with members of those communities too.  Since I am not as familiar with these settings as I am with the Meg’s West Quebec home of Three Deer Point, I travel to these fare flung places myself and invariably come back filled with story ideas that I never would’ve gleaned from the internet.

 Your sixth book in the Meg Harris mysteries, ‘Silver Totem of Shame’ is in the publisher’s hands and is due for release in 2014. Do you see yourself running out of stories to tell about Meg? Can you tell us a little about it?

 I had great fun writing Silver Totem of Shame. Once again Meg gets to travel, as did I, this time to Canada’s west coast, to Vancouver and Haida Gwaii, the home of the Haida.  I’d grown up with stories about these fabled islands from my father who’d worked in one of the logging camps as a student before WWII. So when the time came to send Meg on another trip, I leapt at the opportunity to explore them and came back bubbling over with inspiration.
As the title suggests the plot revolves around totem pole carving. Meg Harris and her new husband are staying in a houseboat on Granville Island. While out exploring the island, Meg comes across a crime scene where a young Haida carver was murdered. This sets off a chain of events that sends Meg to Haida Gwaii in search of his killer.
During my trip to the islands, I learned that the many crests carved into a totem pole are not haphazard, but are meant to tell a story. So I have interwoven into the plot the unfolding of an ancient Haida story through the carving of a totem pole. Needless to say,it all comes together with a surprise at the end.
I wish I had a copy of the new cover for you to post, but unfortunately it’s still in the drafting stage.
To answer your first question, Pam, I have too many stories about Meg in my head to ever run out. In fact, I am busy plotting the seventh Meg Harris mystery.

Shortlisted for the 2010 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Crime Novel! -
Your fourth book ‘Arctic Blue Death’ is a favourite of mine. You travelled to the Arctic to experience life in the frozen north. Tell us about your experiences there?

I have always wanted to visit Canada’s Far North, so when it came time to write the 4th Meg Harris mystery, I decided to send Meg to Baffin Island, so I could go too. Although so much information about the Arctic is available on the internet and in magazines and books, I felt I had to experience it first hand to get a real sense of this mysterious, barren and hostile land. So during the longest days of the year, I visited Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut and Pangnirtung, an art centre, where I learned about Inuit print making, which became a central theme of ‘Arctic Blue Death’.  I met many people, from a young Inuk RCMP constable to a retired teacher who’d spent over 30 years living in the north. I came away with story ideas that couldn’t have come from the internet or books. Many found their way into the plot.
I also learned that though it was a fascinating land to visit, it was a place where I couldn’t live. As I result I couldn’t write about it with rose-coloured glasses. Many readers familiar with the north have told me how accurately they felt I had portrayed it. I have even had a couple of readers use it as a travel guide on their first visit to Iqaluit. Thanks goodness, I had everything in their right place.

               Robin and I at the Chapters .
In ‘Green Place for Dying’ Meg is a crusader and rails against injustice and the indifference she finds with the authorities when native women go missing.  Are you a crusader Robin? Could you or would you confront the police into more action on these missing women?

 I will make a lot of noise and rail against this or that, but I’m afraid I’m not as brave as Meg.  And although I may carry on about it with my husband, I’m afraid that is usually as far as it goes. Perhaps Meg is my way of dealing with injustice.

You are able to weave city life with the wilderness and two different cultures to blend into a story we can get our teeth into.  Does storytelling come naturally to you?

I find this whole process of storytelling fascinating. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Ask me to fully plot out a story before writing it and I wouldn’t be able to. But put a pen in my hand or more accurately a keyboard under my fingers and the story seems to flow through the writing of the words. Sure I have my moments when I’ll hit a wall and wonder what in the world Meg should do next, but invariably she makes her way through a crack and carries on, often taking a completely different direction from the one I thought we were following.

Without giving too much away we learn that Meg has many human frailties. She battles alcoholism, feels guilty and makes many wrong decisions regarding her relationships. Yet she is a fighter. Is Meg someone you have known or is she truly a fictitious character?

 Meg was spawned in my mind and has taken on a life of her own.  I feel I’ve had little control  in the kind of person she has become and I rather enjoy journeying with her through each successive book. If you were to ask me to describe her, I probably wouldn’t be able to. But I know what she is all about, her likes and dislikes, her reactions to events, to people. Occasionally my editor will suggest a change related to Meg and I will instinctively know that it is something Meg wouldn’t do.

You worked in the corporate world for many years. How hard was it to make the transition to novel writing?

When I decided to write my first novel, I had pretty well finished with the corporate world. It wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Writing was. Writing had been one of the activities I had enjoyed most while working. But it was business writing, which I quickly learned was very different from creative writing. So with the writing of my first book, Death’s Golden Whisper, I learned how to write fiction. I rewrote that book four times until I finally mastered it.

As the president of Crime Writers of Canada  can you use your crystal ball and tell us how healthy or not Crime/mystery writing is in Canada?

It is a very exciting time for Canadian crime writing. Twenty years ago, there were only a dozen or so crime writers, many of them languishing undiscovered in the back book shelves. Today we have over 250 published members in Crime Writers of Canada with a number hitting the best seller lists not only within Canada but also internationally as more and more readers discover our uniquely Canadian voice. I like to think that the next big wave in popularity will be the Canadians.  Watch out Scandinavians, here we come!

Who has influenced your writing the most?

 Pam, I am not sure if any one writer has influenced me. But I do love reading mysteries and have done so since a child, starting with Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie. I have always enjoyed British mysteries and the way they are subtly crafted. Writers like, P.D. James and Ruth Rendell. I also have my favourite American writers, like Michael Connelly and Elizabeth George, who is really writing along the British tradition, and Elliot Pattison.  I particularly enjoy reading Canadian authors and do have my favourites to numerous to list.

What are you reading right now and is your next book in the works?

I am currently enjoying the post Great War period of Mel Bradshaw’s latest book, Fire on the Runway. While I haven’t yet put pen to paper, my mind is a whirl of plot ideas for the seventh Meg Harris mystery. Meg will return to her beloved Three Deer Point, and she will find herself cut off from the rest of the world by a major blizzard.  With Eric away, her only companion will be Adjidamo, the boy Sergei saved in Red Ice for a Shroud. And she just might have a new puppy….

Thanks Robin for spending the time with us today. We wish you much success with your series and we look forward to ‘Silver Totem of Shame’ due in 2014.

RJ Harlick is an escapee from the high tech jungle. After working for over twenty-five years in the computer industry, first for major computer corporations such as IBM and DMR Group, then with her own management consultancy practice, she decided that pursuing killers by pen would be more fun than chasing the elusive computer bug.
Originally from Toronto, R.J., along with her husband, Jim, and their standard poodles, Sterling and Miss Molly now bides her time between her home in Ottawa and log cabin in West Quebec. A lover of the outdoors, she spends much of her time roaming the forests of the Outaouais. Because of this love for the untamed wilds, she decided that she would bring its seductive allure alive in her writings. This she has done in her Meg Harris mystery series, where the wilderness setting plays almost as large a role as the main character, Meg Harris. There are currently 5 books in the series, with the sixth, Silver Totem of Shame, due for release in June 2014. The 4th book, Arctic Blue Death, was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel.
She has also published short stories with the latest When the Red, Red Robin… appearing in the Ladies Killing Circle Anthology, Bone Dance. One of her stories, Lady Luck, was a winner of the 2002 Bony Pete award and appears in the Bloody Words Anthology.

I hope you are all enjoying these interviews as much as I enjoy doing them. The next author interview is to be posted Friday, August 2nd. Vicki Delaney is in the hot seat.
Keep cool where you are.
Talk soon,

1 comment:

Melodie Campbell said...

Great interview, Pam, Liz and Robin. I found your research into different first nations cultures most interesting, Robin, and I'm sure that's partly what makes Meg so likeable. My grandmother was 1/2 Chippewa, by the way.

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