Where do authors get their inspiration and ideas for novels?
Readers often ask where authors get their ideas. My answer: Everywhere. Everyone has a story. I keep my eyes and ears open and always ask, "What if...?" I also keep a notepad handy.
But most of my inspiration and ideas come from world travel, my second passion. When I travel, I look for the unique features of the country or for pieces of information about the culture that spark a story idea. Sometimes just a word, a phrase, a street scene, an historical event, etc. can spark a full storyline, other times they provide incidents to enrich a novel.
The Kingdom of Morocco
But first, let’s talk about the Kingdom of Morocco [al-Mamlakah al-Maġribiyya]. Sounds incredibly exotic, and it is!
Morocco, an Islamic country in North Africa, has a population of approximately 32 million and a land area of approximately 274,000 square miles. It is separated from the southern coast of Spain by the Strait of Gibraltar.
Moroccan history goes back at least twelve centuries. In spite of a long and colorful history, it became an independent country only fifty years ago, March 2, 1956, when the French relinquished their rule.
Like many other countries, it has been conquered and inhabited by numerous cultures. The original Neolithic inhabitants, dating back to 8,000 B.C., were ethnically Amazighs/Berbers. As early as the sixth century B.C. the Phoenicians established settlements and eventually the area became part of the Roman Empire until around the fifth century A.D. when it was conquered by the Vandal, Visigoths, and then the Byzantine Greeks [in rapid succession]. The first Islamic conquest in North Africa in 670 A.D. brought Islamic expansion into this region. In modern history, France showed an interest in Morocco as early as 1830 and, after a series of crises, the Treaty of Fez made Morocco a French Protectorate.
Traveling in Morocco Today
Tourism a big part of the nation’s economy, and Moroccans work hard at catering to visitors. The crime rate is low, the government stable, and it’s generally a safe place to travel. However, vendors are aggressive and can be very “in your face.” Everyone should respect the customs of the country/culture in which they travel, but in Morocco, in particular, women should be attentive to what they wear.
Lost in the medina in Tangier
The original idea for All For A Dead Man’s Leg predates the writing by nearly ten years. On my trip to Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, and Morocco in 1994, I asked our guide, Carl about his worst experience as a tour director. His answer: when he first started working as a tour director, one of his tourists died in Morocco and they had to smuggle the body back to Spain to avoid delaying the tour.
What a great idea for a novel! Over the years, I tried several approaches, but none of them worked. In 2003, my tour director on a trip to Central Europe suggested I use it as the plot for a dramatic WWII novel set in Germany. That same tour director―Paul Fletcher―also told me his worst experience was when a tourist slipped crossing a ramp, caught his foot between the sides of two boats, and lost his prosthetic leg in the river.
Yes, that really did happen! As soon as Paul told me that―Boom―the tourist dying in Morocco came together with the tourist losing his prosthetic leg, and I was off and running. As soon as I got home, I started writing the novel.
Not only did the story idea for the first book come from the Morocco/Spain trip, but also the opening scene draws from my personal experience getting lost in the Tangier medina, the old walled city or souk which is an outdoor street market. The streets were narrow and winding, it was crowded and hot. I stopped to buy post cards, and when I turned around, my group had disappeared. Instead of staying put, I set out to search for them and became hopelessly lost in the twists and turns of the market. Of course, I couldn’t speak Arabic and couldn’t find my way out.
That’s when I realized I didn’t know the name of our hotel and couldn’t have pronounced it, even if I’d known. Since then, I always carry with me a business card from the hotel. You can show that to a taxi driver, even if you can’t say the name or the street. Live and learn.
Now I know Carl wouldn’t have left me there, although I would have spent a couple of hours wandering around on my own and getting into who-knows-what kind of trouble. But what did I know? Not much, apparently.
I saw this quote the other day, although I don’t know who said it. “Bad Choices make good novels.”