By R.J. Harlick
Is your protagonist really you? How do you separate him/her from you?
Since I write in the first person this is a question I am frequently asked. In fact someone asked this very question at the end of my talk last week at the Bonnechere Authors Festival. But each time I am asked, it catches me by surprise and I’m never quite sure how to answer. Though I like to think Meg Harris is a completely different person, it’s hard not to pass some of myself onto her, particularly after seven books.
Meg is younger than I am. With her red hair and ski jump nose she doesn’t look like me, though we both have a tendency to put on the pounds. But in the latest books, she is doing a better job of keeping them off than I am.
Like me she grew up in Toronto, but she left the big city for an entirely different reason. While I followed my husband to a new job in Ottawa, she fled to the wilds of Quebec to escape a bad marriage. Mine by the way is going strong after 41 years.
Speaking of Quebec, that is something else we share. I gave her a setting I know and love well, the forests of West Quebec where my cottage is located, except I set her Three Deer Point home in a more remote location than my place.
One of the fun aspects of writing fiction is you get to give your characters things you have always wanted. So I gave Meg the cottage of my dreams, a century-old, rambling Victorian timber house perched on a rocky point overlooking the still waters of Echo Lake. I’m afraid my own log cabin is considerably smaller and not nearly so old.
I mustn’t forget Sergei, her wimpy standard poodle, who bears a remarkable similarity to my own standard poodle, DeMontigny, since passed on. But since I can’t be long without a furry companion, I now have Sterling and Miss Molly, two silver standards.
Meg and I have become very good friends over the course of seven books, and now eight as I begin the next Meg Harris mystery. Though a part of me is in Meg, she is her own person as much as I am mine. While she shares the same love for nature and outdoor activities and some of my other likes and dislikes, including my dislike for whitewater paddling, she has her own distinct personality and I never confuse it with mine. I tell you, she has me shaking in my moccasins at some of the antics she gets up to, things I would never do.
One of the aspects I enjoy about writing a series is I get to watch Meg develop from book to book and become a more rounded person as she faces the obstacles in her life. I like how she has become a real person not only in my mind, but also in my readers' minds. I am enjoying my friendship with Meg and hope it continues for a good long while.