Saturday, January 17, 2015

When the dream becomes a reality

This weekend's guest blogger is my very good friend and fellow Ottawa writer R.J. (Robin) Harlick, whose gritty, thought-provoking Meg Harris series is set in the rural wilderness of nearby West Quebec. Part mystery, part thriller, always exciting. Here she blogs about how and why she got started.

I’ve enjoyed the discussion on the Bechdel Test and the gender bias in literature and film. I will admit I could write ad infinitum on the topic, but like Donis, I will save this discussion for over a glass of wine.

At some point in our lives we writers make the decision to become one. Some of us know from a young age that writing stories is what we want to do, while for others, it is a more gradual transformation.

For me, there was never really a definitive moment when I shouted, ‘Yes, I want to be a writer.” I more or less slid into it, starting where most writers start, as a reader. As a child, I devoured books, in particular mysteries beginning with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and eventually graduating to Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, Dorothy Sayres, Raymond Chandler, Nero Wolf and the like. Sometimes I thought it would be fun to write one of these myself.

Though I loved reading, English wasn’t my favourite subject. I found the piecemeal taking apart of a story destroyed the magical hold it had over me.  But I loved the creative writing part of English classes and would spend many an hour on class assignments making the stories that swirled around in my head come alive with words. Needless to say many had a mystery angle to them.

In university, I continued to enjoy playing around with words. I excelled at making essays sound as if I knew something about the topics about which I was writing, when I didn’t. Studying wasn’t one of my strengths. Perhaps this is where my penchant for creative writing started.

I also continued to read voraciously branching out into the world of the greats. Though I thought it might be fun to become a writer, like Ernest Hemingway or Somerset Maugham, I didn’t treat it seriously. I didn’t really think I had it in me.

This enjoyment for words continued on into my work life. I invariable preferred the writing part of my job to other aspects. But it was business writing; letters, proposals and reports. Nonetheless I continued to harbour the dream of being ensconced somewhere bucolic penning the next great Canadian novel.

To satisfy my need to write, I started recording my time spent at my log cabin in the woods in a journal. Finally, one day after reaching a significant birthday, I decided it was time to find out if I could become the fiction writer in the bucolic setting of my dreams. The setting was easy. I was already sitting in it; the screened-in porch of my log cabin overlooking the surrounding forests. And so I set out to write what would eventually be published as my first Meg Harris mystery, Death’s Golden Whisper.

My first goal was to see if I could even write a novel. Until that point, none of my business writing had approached the 100,000 word length of a typical novel. The next was to determine if I could write fiction, for I quickly discovered fiction writing is a totally different animal from business writing.  As I marched along this new adventure, scene after scene, chapter after chapter, towards the climactic end, I realized I really enjoyed it. And so I decided writing was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Six books and the odd short story later here I am continuing the adventure with the next and seventh Meg Harris mystery, A Cold White Fear.

What about you? Was it a slow gradual slide into becoming a writer or did you know from the get-go that you wanted to be one?

RJ Harlick writes the popular wilderness-based Meg Harris mystery series set in the wilds of Quebec. RJ divides her time between her home in Ottawa and her log cabin in Quebec. And like her heroine Meg Harris, RJ loves nothing better than to roam the forests surrounding her wilderness cabin or paddle the endless lakes and rivers. There are 6 books in the series. The fourth, Arctic Blue Death was a finalist for the 2010 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. In the latest release, Silver Totem of Shame, Meg travels to Canada’s west coast, to Haida Gwaii, the mystical islands of the Haida, where she unravels a story of shame and betrayal that reaches back to when the Haida ruled the seas. She is a past president of Crime Writers of Canada. She is currently working on a Cold White Fear, the seventh Meg Harris mystery, scheduled for late 2015 or early 2016 release. Visit her website:


Barbara Fradkin said...

That's what happens if I post before coffee. Exciting, not editing!

RJ Harlick said...

I see I made a typo too. invariable instead of invariably. Oh well....though I'm not sure I can use the same excuse. said...

Hi Robin, I enjoyed hearing about your journey in the writing world. Part of my journey was similar, however, I wrote my first book in middle shcool and always wanted to write stories. Family pressure sent me off to earn a living, something they felt could not be done with writing. Through various jobs I wrote all that work related "stuff" and wrote my fiction sporadically at home. I always said when I retired, I'd write an publish... and I did. And I love it. I write beause I am a writer! I'm a bit behind you - I'm working on book 3 of my Caleb Cove Mysteries set in Nova Scotia. Write ON

RJ Harlick said...

Good for you, Mahrie, and great to hear from you.

Eileen Goudge said...

I always knew I would be a writer. Wrote my first "novel" when I was 8. Well, it was bound, anyway. Haven't stopped since. May you be blessed with many more years of writing, Robin.

RJ Harlick said...

Thanks, Ellen and may you be blessed too...