Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Significant Birthday

By R.J. Harlick

It was a birthday, a significant one, which sent me off on this great writing adventure.  

Like many of my confreres, I followed many different paths before taking up that of a crime writer. Though when I think back, writing was often a part of them, as was reading. I’m a great believer of the adage that to be a writer you have to be a reader. My very first story, written while attending elementary school in Toronto, was a mystery, mainly because I was addicted to Nancy Drew mysteries and wanted to write my own. Sadly, this story was not quite up to Nancy Drew standards so was delegated to the deepest reach of a drawer. My mother eventually threw it out during a move.

My next venture into writing was at university, again in Toronto, where I concentrated on the social sciences, in particular psychology and anthropology. Needless to say, essay writing played a major role in garnering marks. Though I was no big fan of studying, I preferred hanging out with my friends than being holed up alone in my room, I found I loved writing essays and became quite a master of word manipulation such that I was able to convince my professors that I did know the topic, when I didn’t. This was my second foray into creative writing.

It was during this time that I developed my love for travel, spending a little over a year hitchhiking around Europe. Though I didn’t pick up a pen during this trip, I did always manage to have a book at hand, either gleaned from a scare English book store or obtained from a fellow traveler. I was also somewhat of a rebel, joining the massive anti-Vietnam war demonstrations at the Free University of Berlin and taking on a hippy persona, well perhaps not the persona, but the clothing. My parents almost died when I arrived home with hair down to my bum, flowing beads and bell bottom jeans.

Though my rebel days may have ended when I joined IBM as a programmer, my creative spirit
remained very much alive. I always figured I got the job because when asked the question ‘Why IBM?’ I answered with a straight face, ‘Because you are the biggest and best.’ I could hardly keep from laughing when the interviewer puffed out his chest and nodded in solemn agreement. And so began my foray into the world of computers, where I spent almost 25 years. As an aside I’ve noticed that many of my fellow crime writers, including fellow blogger, Terry Shames, also worked with computers. I wonder if there is a connection.

My time with IBM ended when I moved with my husband to Moscow where he took up a posting as a diplomat with the Canadian embassy. Because it was such a unique experience, I thought I should record it, so started a journal, but ended up recording most of my time there in film. The journal has long since disappeared, but I still have thousands of photos, no longer viewable, because I no longer have the required slide projector.

Once back in Ottawa, I continued my career in computing, this time as a consultant with a major Canadian consulting firm, with only one further interruption, when my husband was posted to the Canadian embassy in Washington. I did manage to remain involved with computers, working for Marriott Corp. in their IT department.

After this posting, we decided having lived in the capitals of the world’s two super powers, it was time to end our lives as diplomats and remain in our own national capital. My husband moved to other areas within the Canadian government and I returned to work as a computer consultant.

Now you may think computing has nothing to do with writing. But you will be wrong. As a
programmer, I wrote endless lines of code, creating computing procedures that would do things we humans did. Once I became a consultant, writing became a major component of the job. It was this writing aspect that I enjoyed most about my job. I loved using words to help sell ideas, be it to pass on the results of my analysis for a particular contract or to convince a prospective client to hire me and the company I worked for.

All through these many years of following other paths, I harboured a secret dream. I wanted to be a fiction writer. I saw myself looking out over some bucolic scene, while plunking away at a typewriter, which eventually became a computer, penning the next great Canadian novel.

So when I hit that significant birthday, I asked myself what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I knew I didn’t want to continue on as a computer consultant. I decided now was as good a time as any to follow my secret dream. At the time I was looking out over my bucolic scene, the woods surrounding my log cabin in Quebec. And so I began writing the first Meg Harris mystery, Death’s Golden Whisper, though the title came much later.

Writing a mystery wasn’t even a decision. Because I have been an avid mystery reader, it was
automatic that I write one. The setting was easy. I was looking at it. I have always enjoyed Canada’s great outdoors, so wanted to bring it alive in my writing. Creating Meg was also a bit of a no brainer. I gave her some of my history and her personality developed as the words flowed onto the page. The underlying native theme evolved as the writing progressed, but had its beginnings in my anthropology studies at university.

It took eight years of dogged persistence from the moment I penned the first sentence of Death’s Golden Whisper until I read them in the first printed copy. During that time I rewrote the book four times, received endless rejections from agents and publishers. There were a couple of times, I thought this was not to be. But I kept going, because I had discovered that I really, really liked writing.

Seven books later, with the eighth, Purple Palette for Murder, about to come out in October, I am still enjoying this marvelous journey.


Susan C Shea said...

What a fascinating back story you have. I had no idea of most of this and it resonates so strongly with me that you hit a milestone age and looked hard at what you wanted to do next. Owning up to dreams is the first step to making them real, isn't it? Congratulations!

RJ Harlick said...

Thanks, Susan. I imagine your route to writing is just as circuitous. Looking forward to reading it next week.

Unknown said...

I love hearing about everyone's long and winding road to writing. Meg Harris has been on my list for too long, as have many others, so this year I'm committing to read more. I even took the Goodreads Challenge. Now to figure out what it means and how it works! :)

Art Taylor said...

Love your story here--and love the idea of these introductions so we can get these stories! Thanks for sharing, and congrats (of course) on all your fine work. :-)