R.M. Greenaway has a hell of a way with words.
She’s firmly situated as the captain of the ship when it comes to stark police procedurals. Her B.C. Blues Crime series takes readers to the criminal underbelly of beautiful British Columbia, into the minds of twisted souls, and those committed to bringing them to justice. At five titles so far, including her newest book “River of Lies” and beginning with the gritty first book “Cold Girl,” it seems Greenaway is just getting warmed up. Each book in the series can be read alone or all together – another great reason to start on this series and slip copies into your home library. And let’s not forget her amazing contribution to the Noir series published by Akashic Press, “Vancouver Noir,” with her story “The Threshold.”
I got a chance to sit down for some virtual coffee with the author and tossed a few questions her way. Read our exchange below!
WHITEHURST: What’s next for you now that you’ve finished River of Lies, which just released this month?
GREENAWAY: Thanks, Patrick! I’m really not sure what’s next. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted lives worldwide in horrific ways, and just following the news takes up much of my day it seems. Of miniscule importance, it’s also moved my publication date back on the book I’m now working on, “Five Ways to Disappear.” I got the substantive edit report back in early March, and was going full steam when I was told everything’s on hold. So my deadline’s been extended indefinitely.
I’m still hoping it will be out there in 2021. “Five Ways” is the series finale, and once that’s complete, I’m free to work on a prequel, sequel, a whole new series, a standalone, whatever. I’m thinking of working on short stories for a while. Or maybe I’ll do like Poirot, chuck it all and grow vegetables. More likely I’ll miss my crew enough that I’ll bring them back for another round of abuse in BC Blues II.
GREENAWAY: Lots of reading. I thank my parents and the mobile library van for first getting me hooked on books. As I got older I read crime series. I think the attraction of crime fiction for me is when bad things are fixed and characters work together to hurdle adversity it gives one hope; also, in a series, a sense of belonging.
In my younger years I wrote stacks of adventure fiction (on foolscap, if you recall the stuff), then progressed to a Smith-Corona and specialized in angst. Then stopped writing when I had a son, aka responsibility, and moved north for work.
But something pinged. I was out of town for work, in a hotel room in Prince Rupert with time to kill and an idea circling in my head. Got myself a cheap notebook and got started on what turned into Cold Girl. I still have that notebook with its first handwritten chapters. Neither the prose nor the handwriting are anything to boast about!
WHITEHURST: You’ve worn a few hats in your past. How did your former jobs, such as court reporter, inform your writing career?
GREENAWAY: As a court reporter I sit very quietly and listen to everything being said, type it all down, and hope to hell nobody asks me to read it back. In one of the first major trials I did, that’s just what happened, and in the worst way: the jury wanted a whole witness’s testimony read back from my steno notes, which took me hours to do. But I did get an ovation afterwards.
That’s beside the point. I think immersion in dialogue via the courtroom setting was good for me as a writer. Getting the two sides to every story was also great. And hearing testimony regarding crime scenes and police procedure, as well as checking out the demeanour of everyone from killers to cops to forensics experts, was of course very helpful. My mind is not hugely retentive, in fact it’s sort of sieve-shaped, but I think the essence of all that crime and punishment sank in.
WHITEHURST: Tell me more about your writing process?
GREENAWAY: Not as structured as I’d like it to be. I write a lot but then edit a million times before I’m satisfied. And then I’m only satisfied until it comes out in print, at which point I’m afraid to look at it. Which is dumb and cowardly, I know. All the same, I’d rather shut the chapter on what I can’t change and move onto the next.
I do count myself incredibly lucky to have five books and three short stories published, and hopefully more to come. I’m happy to receive mail from people who have read the series and enjoyed it. It’s surreal to know that I’ve transmitted emotion to perfect strangers through my own inner confabulations. It really is a blessing and an honour for an introvert like me to make that connection.
WHITEHURST: What writers influenced you?
GREENAWAY: I grew up on British crime fiction like Ruth Rendell, but Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct is probably my biggest influence.
WHITEHURST: What advice would you give those interested in writing?
GREENAWAY: Try to figure out what lies within the books you read that makes you want to read on. For me it’s simple. In no particular order: interesting characters, grit, unpredictability, humour, and a dose of pathos.
The approach I think works best is to write for yourself first. Find your voice and don’t worry about getting it perfect. Or write for someone you admire, dead or alive. But at the same time, do a lot of reading and learning about the craft. And be open to criticism, internal or external. When you feel yourself improving, start putting the reader first. That last bit is some advice I received that seems obvious enough, but it made me sit back and think. And If you’re writing a series, like I am, envision the overall arc so you don’t introduce a bunch of subplots that you’ll have trouble tying up. The more work you put into the planning, the less you’ll have to put into rewriting and hair-pulling. See above, my million edits? That’s because I’m not a good planner. Maybe that’s because I’ve found that the story will often go where it wants to go, and the plan goes out the window.
On the housekeeping side, get your virtual filing cabinet in order sooner than later. You’re going to end up with dozens of folders, some hard to classify; i.e. it’s handy to keep group photos from events in one place, maybe separated from photos of “now just me”, then there’s your blurbs and bios and all their incarnations, correspondence with readers, resource material collected, character studies…. no end to the folders it’s good to have ready so you can find items when needed.
And then have faith.
More about R.M. Greenaway:
R.M. began writing crime fiction on a Greyhound while northbound to Prince Rupert, in a blizzard. Street names became character names as the bus passed through towns and villages, and the blizzard became the setting for her first book. Cold Girl won the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for best unpublished novel, which led to her ongoing B.C. Blues Crime series, published by Dundurn Press. Fifth in the series, River of Lies, was released in March 2020 in the midst of a pandemic. In 2018 two of her short stories were also published: The Threshold and Rozotica. If you’d like to know more or get in touch, drop by www.rmgreenaway.com. She’d love to hear from you!
Visit her online here.