Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The View From My Pen by RJ Harlick

 Described by the Ottawa Citizen as “one of the best new voices in the mystery business”, Canadian author, RJ Harlick, writes the Meg Harris mystery series set in the wilds of West Quebec. And 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. But unlike Meg, she doesn’t find a body at every twist and turn, although she certainly likes to put them in Meg’s way. There are currently four books in the series. The 4th book, Arctic Blue Death was a finalist in the 2010 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. The fifth,  A Green Place for Dying, will be published in Spring 2011.

The view from my pen

Or I should more aptly say “from my computer” for I haven’t used a pen since I started this writing business. In fact I so seldom write by hand these days, that my writing has become an indecipherable scrawl, one even I can barely read. But I prefer to use ‘from my pen’ for it conjures up a more romantic image and better sets the mood for this blog. 

Like many writers, I had a desire to write novels as a child and had my own secret drawer full of carefully penned stories that never went beyond my own eyes.  As the years progressed, events and economics transpired to keep this desire out of reach yet not entirely forgotten.  Whenever I thought of writing I had this image of me writing in some idyllic rural location with the sun shining, the birds twittering and the breeze gently ruffling the pages.

The day came, when I felt the time was ripe to realize that dream and I knew for me my writing location would be critical. It would serve as my muse, my inspiration. Curiously enough, at the time of this decision, I was sitting in the screened porch of our log cabin on a hot summer day, overlooking the forested hills of our West Quebec wilderness. Dappled sun filtered through the screen, while birds flitted in and out of a near-by feeder and a soft breeze played with the wind chimes.

It is a place of peace and calm.  During my working years, it was a place where I would seek weekend relief from my 14 hours-a-day job in the highly competitive high tech industry. It was probably what kept me sane during those stressful years.  I knew it was the kind of retreat my heroine, Meg Harris, an escapee from the big city and an abusive marriage, would need to heal her wounded soul.

And thus Three Deer Point was born.  Unlike my own simple log cabin, I gave Meg the cottage of my dreams, a fanciful, rambling Victorian cottage made from sturdy timbers of white pine and fieldstone. Years ago, while visiting a friend’s cottage, I came across a high, pine-covered granite point jutting out into the crystal clear waters of the northern lake. At the time I felt, if I were ever to have a cottage, I would want this type of location.  Though it never happened for me, I made sure Meg’s cottage was perched on a similar lofty point.  From the screened porch of her wrap-around verandah, she can view the passing seasons on Echo Lake while she rocks back and forth in her great-aunt’s bentwood rocker contemplating the latest curve life has thrown her. 

Since the Canadian cold isn’t exactly conducive for writing outdoors, I can only write in my screened porch during the warm days of summer.   The rest of the time, I work in my office with my desk in front of a window with a commanding view of the surrounding wilderness.  Whenever I am at a loss for words and need inspiration I look at the drama unfolding outside; a ten point buck standing stately and proud by the salt lick, rain pummeling the land as lightening lights up the night sky or the sudden white and brown blur of a merlin swooping down to nab an unsuspecting chickadee. Invariably the words start to flow.

As beautiful as this wilderness can be, it can also be cruel. Danger can lurk behind the next bend in the river, beyond the next hill, or can be as close as behind the next tree.  It might pounce as you walk past or lurk in the shadows waiting for you.  And what better place to hide a body, a secret, than in a land where trees out number people a million to one and lakes a thousand to one.  All of which makes this wilderness a perfect setting for a murder mystery.  And I take full advantage of this.  I have Meg paddling down a foaming river, fleeing a raging forest fire, chasing a killer through a forest locked in ice or encountering a moose with her dog Sergei.

In my latest book, A Green Place for Dying, to be released in the spring, Meg finds herself dropped by float plane into the middle of northern Quebec, hundreds of miles from nowhere in search of two missing people, one who is very near and dear to her heart. This is a vast, empty land, where lakes outnumber people a million to one and trees a billion to one. And although it’s not the view outside my office, it is a place I can easily conjure up from my northern canoe trips in a land as stark and empty, but filled with all sorts of villainous possibilities.


danielle-momo said...

Living myself in the beautiful province of Quebec, I can understand how nature is important for inspiration and as setting for a mystery.
Thanks to you Kaye, I discover a new autor for me.
As I appreciate your post RJ,I surely will find and read your books.

Bobbi Mumm said...

I've read several of your books, RJ, and loved hearing about how settings and ideas have come to you. Pretty photos of your cottage!

Brenda Buchanan said...

Your books sound fascinating! I've jotted your name on the "books to buy" list I keep in my wallet and look forward to reading the first in the series soon. Thank you, Kaye, for this introduction.

Brenda B. from Maine

Vicki Lane said...

You paint enticing pictures with that pen/computer!

RJ Harlick said...

Hi Bobbi, I'm so glad you enjoy my books and its wonderful to meet new readers. I hope you enjoy them too. All the best in this holiday season.