Travel Inspirations – Past, Present, Future
As an author, I’m a sponge for places and people and experiences, soaking them in, to be wrung out later onto the dry page. Specifically, several memorable travel experiences have filled the well of imagination for a published novel, a current work on submission, and a future project.
My first published novel, Out of Xibalba, was literally inspired, that is, gasped into being, during a family vacation in Belize. First of all, I can’t recommend Belize highly enough as a place to experience the exotic past in an exceedingly American-friendly way. They speak English. They take dollars. The local food is delicious to our palate. And there are fantastically preserved Mayan ruins and knowledgeable guides who bring them back to a second life. In college I had discovered a fascination for meso-American archeology and anthropology as a welcome diversion from my biochemistry major, so I had some background in the culture, mythology, and history. We stayed at a small resort in Cayo, close to the Guatemala border, where our daily expeditions were preplanned and prepaid. We visited several cities in ruins, paddled canoes through a crystal cave, rode horses down a dusty trail to a river, walked the jungle with a naturalist by day, and sought the creatures of the dark with another naturalist. Leaf-cutter ants paraded under the glare of our flashlights. Poisonous caterpillars raised their spines. Howler monkeys called in the treetops. At one point, near a yellow tree frog peeping in the starlight, our guide lifted an arm to point to the full moon. “She was called Ix Chel by the Mayan people, the goddess of the moon.” And that was it. In a breathless epiphany, a story bloomed behind my lifted eyes—a story of an American girl, thrown back in time on the last day of the Mayan calendar, stranded in the past, and, with the name Michelle, mistaken for the moon goddess herself. Deep cultural research consumed me for most of a summer to build the authentic world of the waning days of the Mayan empire. The contemporary experiences of Michelle and her family before the disaster were completely informed by the adventures we had experienced in person. The cover photo of a cave opening was taken from my canoe as we returned from the underworld and emerged “out of Xibalba” ourselves. This book of my heart, a story that begins when the world ends, was published in 2011.
Paris, city of light and love and crepes and the tolling of the bells of Notre Dame, is one of my favorite places. I’ve been twice, the first time with two of my children for three long days, and the second, with my husband for the same. I’d specifically wanted to return to do site specific research for a story I was planning to write: Welcome to the Last Minute, about a teenaged girl trying to help her Gram put off the inevitable decline of Alzheimer’s. This is another book of my heart. When Gram’s most precious recollections of her long ago Paris honeymoon falter, Clio steals her away from assisted living on secret trip to Paris to try to reinforce the crumbling structure of memory. With my photographs, research notes, Google satellite view, and the lovely internet, I was able to take my characters into museums and churches, through the flower and bird market, and up the Eiffel Tower. I re-climbed the stairs with them, re-tasted crepes around the corner from Notre Dame, re-heard chanting in the cathedral. This manuscript has been on submission for more than a year, looking hard for an editor to love it as much as I do.
Finally, and most vaguely, my someday story will be set in Antarctica. This past winter, I had the amazing opportunity of taking a small cruise (100 passengers) from Ushuaia Argentina, along the famous Beagle Channel, across the violent Drake Passage (roughest waters in the world), and into the frozen preserve that is the most peaceful place on Earth. Actually, the penguins are pretty noisy. We saw every face of Antarctica’s weather, from brilliant sun to pelting blizzard. Aside from four different species of our tuxedoed friends, we visited an abandoned whaling station which looked like a scene out of the computer game Myst, an Argentine science station, and the most southerly British Post Office by far. There’s so much material for the writer’s imagination here, from a locked room murder mystery aboard a cruise ship to a love story featuring a haunted whaling station. I have no idea what will emerge from my fingertips and laptop, but I’m ever so curious to find out.
Thanks Liz for guest posting!
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