Tuesday, January 29, 2019

My own stories, my own voice

By R.J. Harlick

Have you ever written fan fiction? A pastiche? Tell us about that. If not, did you start out writing derivative fiction before finding your own voice? And you can tell us about that, too.

Though like Brenda, I’m not exactly certain what ‘fan fiction’ is or ‘a pastiche’, I can safely say that I have never written any kind of fiction other than my own.  I have never tried to copy someone else’s writing style or based my stories on another author’s.

For me, writing is all about creating my own stories in my own voice. From the moment I set out on my writing adventure, this has been my approach. If I based it on another author, the fun of writing would completely disappear for me.

Meg Harris, her world and her adventures have grown out of my own imagination and my own experiences. Her wonderfully wild Three Deer Point property is in part based on where my own cottage is located in Quebec and in part on my dreams, in other words her rambling Victorian timbre cottage complete with a turret and perched on a rocky point overlooking a pristine northern lake is the cottage of my dreams. My own log cabin is considerably more modest.

Many of her adventures, other than murder solving, are based on my own, like the establishment of a network of ski trails in Red Ice for a Shroudor the wild whitewater paddling in The River Runs Orange. Like me, Meg discovers she’s not keen on whitewater paddling. Mind you, her mad paddle along a river completely surrounded by a forest fire was entirely created from my own imagination. I’m not certain I would be brave enough to do what Meg did. 

Although few of my characters are based on people I know, there is one character or should I say two who are entirely based on real entities. I use entities because I am referring to Meg’s beloved dogs, Sergei and later Shoni. Sergei is my DeMontigny, a gorgeous, curly haired, black standard poodle, my first standard, who was not adverse to getting into trouble. I even put some of his antics into Meg’s adventures, like the time Sergei cavorted around with a deer leg dangling from his mouth in Death’s Golden Whisper. And the puppy Shoni , who first appears in A Cold White Fear is based on Miss Molly, the youngest of our two silver haired standards, who we adopted as a delightful eight week old puppy.

As for Meg, she came into being through my own words. Yes, she grew up in Toronto like I did and loves the wilderness like I do, but she is very much her own person with her own likes and dislikes and her own strengths and weaknesses. She is not based on any character in my life or any character that I have read about. Her voice emerged on the page from the first words I put down.  I didn’t draw a character profile for her. She just happened. Somehow, I knew intuitively that this was the kind of person Meg was, this was her voice. And so it has remained from book to book, currently eight in the series. Yes, she has grown and changed as events happen in her life. But she is still the same person, who first appeared in Death’s Golden Whisper.

When I started out, I hadn’t thought of any particular underlying theme for the series. But when I began populating Meg’s world with members from her neighbour, the Migiskan Anishenabeg First Nations Reserve, I realized they too had their own stories to tell and were very much a part of Meg’s life. I also realized how little we, the broader population, knew about our indigenous neighbours. So, in an attempt to raise the visibility on Canada’s indigenous peoples, I decided to give the Meg Harris series an underlying Native theme, in which I interwove their stories and culture into Meg’s life. Each book would explore an issue facing indigenous people today. Thus far I have delved into issues that include police prejudice against natives (Red Ice for a Shroud), the controversy over ancient remains (River Runs Orange), missing native women (A Green Place for Dying),adoption of native children by non-native parents (Silver Totem of Shame), and the impact of residential schools on families (Purple Palette for Murder)

Canada has many wild and wonderous places. I decided that I also wanted my series to bring some of these places alive to my readers, so I had Meg travel. Thus far she has travelled to Canada’s Far North (Arctic Blue Death), Haida Gwaii on Canada’s west coast (Silver Totem of Shame)and to the North West Territories (Purple Palette for Murder).

Of course, there is lots of murder and mayhem, because it is after all a murder mystery series.  And I have great fun plotting out the nefarious dealings and having Meg solve them. But from the outset I wanted to make the Meg Harris mystery series more than a simple whodunit. Only you my readers, know how successful or not I have been.


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Drawing from your own experiences and finding your own voice to tell the story, I couldn't agree more, Robin.

Susan C Shea said...

I learned things about the Haida Gwaii from Silver Totem of Shame, which added to my enjoyment of the story.