By R.J. Harlick
What sources do you draw on for ideas for your stories?
I tell you, it’s a tough life. I’m basking by a pool in the land of sun and fun, listening to palm trees clatter in the breeze, while at home winter doesn’t want to leave after burying the streets in another record-breaking snowfall. I feel for my fellow Ottawans.
Feeling very mellow and relaxed in this new-found sun, I find myself having to write a blog. I’d planned on doing it before I left the snow, but…you know, one thing led to another and before I knew it I’d run out of time. No problem, I’ll write it by the pool. Except I can barely lift a finger to tap on a key, let alone summon up the energy to think. But I don’t want to let my fellow Minds or our readers down, so here goes. My apologies beforehand if I end up rambling…but, you know, the pool does beckon. And oh, this heat, this sun feels so delicious. It feels like an eternity since I’ve felt such soothing warmth.
The short answer to this week’s question is I draw from many different sources for my story ideas. Often for the major overarching themes of a particular book, I will draw on the news media for the major issues facing First Nations people today. In Green Place for Dying as the number of missing indigenous woman in Canada climbed with little to no attention being pay to these women by the police and other authorities, I decided to build a story around it to do my bit to raise their profile. I had been avoiding the residential school issue in my books, knowing it was a complicated subject. But after the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report I felt the time had come. In the upcoming book, Purple Palette for Murder, I write about the repercussions of having ‘the Indian wiped out of them’ by these schools on several generations of a Dene family.
The overarching theme in A River Runs Orange came from a conversation with a gentleman at a cultural centre at the Kitigan Zibi Reserve. He was very excited about a beaver pelt petition he and several others were going to present to authorities at an Ottawa museum. The petition was asking for the repatriation of 5000 year old remains that had been found in the Ottawa River on an island the Algonquin consider within their traditional territory. They believed the individual was an ancestor and should be returned to Mother Earth and not studied and put on display.
Sometimes the ideas come from my own life like the underlying Inuit art theme of Arctic Blue Death. The very first work of art I bought was a stone cut print of an owl by Cape Dorset artist Pitsiolek. Because of this print, I became intrigued with Inuit print making so decided to interweave it into the story. Red Ice for a Shroud opens with Meg and Eric clearing cross country ski trails, something my husband and I along with others do every fall in the forests surrounding our log cabin. I mustn’t forget whitewater paddling. A River Runs Orange opens with Eric and Meg paddling madly through rapids of a wild river. It was based on my first whitewater paddling trip. While I based Meg’s river and its rapids on the river I paddled, the Dumoine, I named Meg’s river after my dog DeMontigny. By the way, Meg doesn’t like paddling through rapids any more than I do.
I also draw on my family for ideas. In Death’s Golden Whisper, the Grand Tour of Europe that Meg’s Great-aunt Agatha went on just before the start of The Great War, was based in part on the European trip my grandfather made at the same time, even down to voyaging home on the Lusitania a couple of years before it was sunk by the Germans. I chose the setting for Silver Totem of Shame because I’d grown up on tales of these mystical Haida Gwaii islands or the Queen Charlottes as they were called by my father. His father, my grandfather, used to travel to them when he worked on the boats and my father spent a summer or two in a logging camp while he was going to university.
Lastly, I mustn’t forget human nature and all its variations and complexities, the best source for a motive for murder. I rely on it heavily for all my characters actions.