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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lost in Tangier

Yay! I’ve signed with Breathless Press for the re-release of my romantic suspense novel ALL FOR A DEAD MAN’S LEG (first book in the Tour Director Extraordinaire Series), set in Spain and Morocco. Release is scheduled for June 1, 2012.

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.

Needless to say, my panic grew. Finally, I found and followed another English-speaking group, thinking that it would end up at the plaza where the tour buses parked. Wrong! It was a group from a cruise ship which, I found out later, was headed for an entirely different location. When the tour stopped at a carpet factory showroom for a sales pitch, I spoke to the guide and the showroom manager. He summoned an employee who dealt with, and knew, most of the tour directors. I described my guide. The man took me back into the Medina to look for Carl. When he found my group, I was so relieved and flustered, I gave him a fifty dollar tip.

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.”


Lisa Kessler said...

Congratulations on the new home for your book Ann!!!


The pictures are great!

Lisa :)

Viola Russell said...

I love traveling, and travel has inspired a lot of my work. A colleague of mine is from Morocco, and she frequently returns home to see her family. I'd love to see that part of the world.

jean hart stewart said...

Loved Morocco, even though you couldn't venture out of your hotel without a guide. All those pitiful children begging for a coin of any kind broke my heart. Especially when our Morrocan guide picked one child up by his ears and tossed him to the side. But Morocco itself was unbelieavably fantastic.

Fran Lee said...

Thanks for a great post! Truly enjoyed it.

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