R.J. Harlick on Writing a New Path

R.J. Harlick on Writing a New Path

Posted on November 20 by R.J. Harlick in Mystery
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As a writer of a mystery series, it is easy to fall into a routine and take the easy path with your writing, the path you’ve followed in the previous books. But this becomes boring not only for the reader but also the writer, so with the Meg Harris mystery series, I strive to travel down new paths. In every other book, I take Meg to a different part of Canada. This gives her the protagonist, you the reader and me the writer an opportunity to explore the uniqueness of this new wilderness setting and the stories and culture of the people who live in it. I also like to explore a different social issue, sometimes tricky ones, in each book, particularly as they pertain to First Nations.

In the writing of A Cold White Fear, the seventh book in the series, I set myself a significant challenge. The previous six books are murder mysteries, where the major storyline is Meg solving a murder as an amateur sleuth, although there are usually plenty of other storylines contributing to the main one.

I decided to make this book a thriller and put Meg in a life or death situation and see if she can get out of it unscathed.

I also added to the challenge by limiting the setting to the interior of Meg’s rambling Victorian cottage, Three Deer Point, while it is being bombarded by a major blizzard. I plunged her into darkness with a power outage. Not only does she have to deal with no light and no heat as the temperature plunges, but also with no communications to the outside world, for her phone link has been cut off. This while there are strangers in her house, menacing strangers I should add, who emerged out of the pummelling snow.

I also limited the time to less than a day.

I found that I couldn’t rely on action to be the main driver. I had to rely on my characters to bring the story to its climactic end. And so A Cold White Fear became more character driven than the previous books, although my characters usually have a big say in where the story is going in all my books.

The biggest challenge, though, was having Meg endure something that even in the writing of these words makes me cringe. After seven books, she has become a very close friend. I so didn’t want this to happen to her, but I knew it had to. It took me three revisions of the scene to take it as far as it needed to go. But in its writing I felt that I had grown that much further along my journey of being a writer.

With A Cold White Fear just released,  I am thinking about the next Meg Harris mystery and wondering what challenge I will give myself and Meg this time.

R.J. Harlick

Posted by Kendra on December 6, 2014
R.J. Harlick photo

R.J. Harlick

R.J. Harlick’s love for Canada’s untamed wilds is the inspiration for the Meg Harris mystery series. The fourth in the series, Arctic Blue Death, was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for best crime novel. R.J. Harlick divides her time between Ottawa and west Quebec.