Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Taking my writing to the next step.

By R.J. Harlick

It’s so easy to get into a ‘same old, same old’ rut with your writing. What do you do to break out of it?

This question is particularly apt for me as a writer of a series. With each new book it can be so tempting to fall into a routine and take the easy path, the one Ive followed in previous Meg Harris books. But this becomes boring not only for the reader but also for me, so with each new book I strive to travel down new paths. In every other book, I take Meg away from Three Deer Point, her Quebec home, 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. In each new book I also like to explore different social issues, often tricky ones, particularly as they pertain to First Nations.

In the writing of A Cold White Fear, the latest and 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 Megs 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 pummeling snow.

I also limited the time to less than a day.

I found that I couldnt rely on action to be the main story driver. I had to rely on my characters to bring it 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 on 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 didnt 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 now in bookstores, I am well into the writing of the next Meg Harris mystery. Though I have a title, Im not yet ready to share it. But I can tell you that the colour will be purple. This time the challenge I have set for me and Meg is to fly Canadas Far North to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories and to get to know the Dene who have inhabited this unique wilderness for thousands of years. Megs particular challenge is to prove her husband Erics innocence for he has been arrested for murder.


Susan C Shea said...

I love this method of keeping things moving. I used it in the 3 Dani mysteries, having her home base stay in San Francisco, but including a major plot element in a different locale in the U.S. But your latest challenge to yourself is awesomely difficult! Congratulations.

RJ Harlick said...

As you know, Susan, there is another upside to having your protagonist travel, you get to travel too...