I am a traveller

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By Samreen Ahsan

The author at the Castle of the Moors, Sintra, Portugal.

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

This quote indeed fits on me as a writer. I’ve travelled to quite a few places and have incorporated them in my stories. Or, if I had wanted to add a particular place in my story setting, I try to visit it, later on, to experience it like my character. 

The CN Tower, Toronto

My first story: A Silent Prayer, a multiple award-winning romance novel is set in the city of Toronto, where I currently live. I have taken this city as an inspiration: the charming Christmas time, which I’ve always admired walking through the downtown streets, the sound of Christmas carols, the aroma of hot chocolate and lattes. I have tried to introduce the flavours and aromas of my multicultural city. 

Great Pyramids and Sphinx, Giza, Egypt

Since childhood, I had always wanted to visit the Pyramid of Giza but never had a chance. I introduced my characters to the majestic city of Cairo first, entering through the narrow passage of the pyramid, and a provocative conversation with a four-thousand-year-old jinni. I visited the pyramids later on, after publishing the series. As intrigued as my characters, I stayed in the same hotel across the River Nile as them, and I climbed the same claustrophobic passage of the pyramid, and had the same experience as them, except for meeting the real Jinni 🙂 

I’m also an admirer of castles and palaces, regardless of their geographical locations, and stroll through them. These grand castles and palaces, where people once lived, breathed and died, have always inspired me. 

“To Travel is to Live”

Hans Christian Andersen

In my second story, Once Upon A [Stolen] Time,  which is set in both contemporary and medieval England, I have introduced a fictional Hue Castle, which is a character on its own, inspired by many different castles and palaces and the darker elements from the Beauty and the Beast. There are certain parts in the castle that I took from real European castles: some chambers, the dining hall, the Great Hall, the library and the chapel. I feel very close to my character Myra, who, like me, has wanderlust, loves visiting historical places, admires art and poetry from the past centuries and who has always wanted to live in those palaces. This same interest as my character helps me write about the things I have seen and make her experience in the same way as I did. 

Windsor Castle, England

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” —

Henry Miller

In my upcoming novel Unveiled, I have introduced the city of York, U.K. in England, which I visited during the Holiday season of 2016. I fell in love with the city and decided to add it to my next story. I didn’t have a story in my mind at the time, but I knew that whenever I’d write, I’d make my character live in York. When I travelled to Istanbul last year, in April 2018, I had a trip to Princess Island with my friends via ferry. When we headed back to Istanbul, I saw the golden hour through the ferry and wrote the ending of the novel in my mind by gazing at the sun setting down. I never knew a moment of sunset in such a crowded city of Istanbul would give me inspiration. 

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Though I write fiction, the travel experience in my books belongs to my real travel diaries. I know I can’t write science fiction in a place that doesn’t exist at all, or that is impossible to exist, such as landing on Jupiter, or some unknown planet, meeting aliens, because they can never be a part of my travel expedition. I love visiting new places, encountering different cultures, tasting different foods and walking through the passage of time.

I love to give my readers a sense of longing for a certain place, the same way I have felt after leaving those beautiful destinations.

Some travel photos

About Samreen Ahsan

History, art and literature are my passions. I love digging out information about prophecies, divine miracles and paranormal events that are mentioned in history and holy books, that don’t sound possible in today’s modern world.

Since childhood, I have been into reading and writing—and yes, it can’t happen without imagination, which luckily has no boundaries. Dance and music are also pastimes I enjoy, as well as reading romance fiction. I love to travel and explore historical cities.

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Writing inspired by travel

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This week, we begin a series of posts by bestselling authors answering about being inspired by travel.

By Scott Bury

The Falls of Makahiku, sometimes called the Necktie Falls, above the Pools of ‘O’he’o, west of Hana, Maui

Wherever I go, I find inspiration for stories, or at least settings. But inspiration is not enough to create a book. From time to time, I travel to the places where I set my stories to make sure I get the details right.

Camping is a good example. Camping with my younger son inspired a mystery/thriller where his skills and personality would drive the story from the ignition point to the resolution. I wrestled with a plot, but somehow it just never made sense with the setting in the boreal forest.

Author Toby Neal (left) met with me in Maui and discussed the first draft of Torn Roots.

Then, bestselling author Toby Neal invited to join an Amazon initiative, where authors would write novellas based on the universe of her Paradise Crime novels. Suddenly, when I set the story in Hawai‘i, it just flowed easily.

Story roadblock solved

Because my main character was based on a real person, he was a geologist. Which meant he was doing geological work on Maui. And that was the first roadblock:

I knew nothing about Maui’s geology.

Research at the library and online didn’t give me the firsthand details I needed for a good novel set in such an evocative location as Maui. I had to go there.

I got lucky again. My wife and I were planning a vacation, but hadn’t settled on a destination. We were thinking about Prague. I did some quick checking, and found that flights from Montreal (closest airport that would serve both Europe and Hawai’i) to Kahalui, Maui were about the same price as flights to Prague!

So we decided on two weeks in Maui, and put off Prague for a couple of years.

Of course, accommodations in Hawai’i are much more expensive than in the Czech Republic, as are food, drink and just about everything else.

But I found wonderful details that added so much richness to the story.

A huge flower on beside a shop in Makawao, Maui.

Things like bamboo forests rising over our heads, to the majesty of the pools at O’he’o, to just how dense and lush is the rainforest on the southeast side of the island. High waterfalls and warm water. The delicacy of the plants.

The terror of the driving on the twisting, narrow Highway to Hana. The way it rains almost every day.

The unbelievable beauty of the Pacific Ocean.

The mouth of the Pools at ‘Ohe’o, which I incorporated into a scene in Torn Roots.

These are little details that I worked into the story that eventually became Torn Roots: A Hawaiian Storm.

The trip, the expense and the time were well worth the effort. They allowed me write a story that is much more real to readers.

A blaze of inspiration

Another trip that literally inspired a book again involved Toby Neal. She invite me, among others, to attend her first writers’ retreat in Russian River, California. My wife, Roxanne and I made it into another vacation.

We started with a few days in San Francisco, and then headed north. We planned to take a tour or two in Sonoma County, wine country.

It happened in September 2017. The car rental I chose had a TV in their office showing wildfires that were sweeping across Sonoma and Napa Counties, and describing how state police had closed a number of highways.

We drove toward Russian River, on the west side of Sonoma and in no immediate danger of fire. As we listened to the news on the car radio, we realized that we would not be touring any vineyards or wineries on this trip.

But as we drove, Roxanne said, “You should write a book about this. About someone here in Sonoma during the wildfires. And it should be about a woman, for a change.”

So I did. Yes, world, a man listened to his wife at least once in history. The result is my first Wine Country Mystery, Wildfire. It’s about a young single mom who moves to California, and finds a temporary job just before the wildfires force mass evacuations. When she gets back to her home, she’s pulled into a mystery.

As we drove through Sonoma County, the smoke in the air kept getting thicker. This was taken at around 5:00 p.m.

Again, it was the personal experience on the ground that helped me describe the setting, the feeling of being there, the continuous smell of smoke in the air, the ash that fell like snow, the reactions of the people around me.

Sunset from the summit of Haleakala, the south/eastern volcano of Maui. This is not in Hana, nor mentioned in Torn Roots, but I love this picture.

Inspiration looking for a story

Eventually, Roxanne and I did go to Prague. It’s a beautiful and inspiring place (and remarkably affordable, too!). I would love to write a story that deserves this wonderful, friendly, historic and mystical space. I just haven’t figured it out, yet.

Porto, Portugal is another inspiring place we visited. Its Livraria Lello, or Lello Bookstore, inspired J.K. Rowling to imagine the staircases at Hogwarts. Today, it’s far too crowded with people who just want to see it to be inspiring on the spot, but there are many other places in Portugal that spark the imagination.

The narrow pedestrian-only streets of Prague seem to ooze stories.
The Church of Mother of God before Týn in Old Town Prague.

Porto, Portugal is another inspiring place we visited. Its Livraria Lello, or Lello Bookstore, inspired J.K. Rowling to imagine the staircases at Hogwarts. Today, it’s far too crowded with people who just want to see it to be inspiring on the spot, but there are many other places in Portugal that spark the imagination.

The staircase at Livraria Lello, Porto, Portugal.
Me on the staircase (which didn’t move). The book is in Portuguese, on the history of Portuguese discoveries.

Everywhere I go inspires story ideas for me. I just wish I had time to write them all.

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Monday musings: The inspiration of memory

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By David C. Cassidy

Do memories inspire my writing?

Human Chess at the World Bodypainting Festival in Pörtschach am Wörthersee, Carinthia, Austria.
Photo by JIP – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41470182

In a word, yes. I have always had a vivid imagination, one that’s immensely visual, and that shines through in all of my stories. But at another level, recollections of past events—whether they happened to me or to others—have always inspired my writing in one way or another.

In Fosgate’s Game, a creepy tale of greed, dark magic, and murder, I pit two well-to-do Englishmen in a battle of wits over something as innocuous as a game of chess. It’s not that simple, of course, as they’re playing with dark forces that neither truly comprehends. The story was actually inspired by a memory of me playing chess as a young boy against one of my brothers. During a rather lengthy turn where he was taking his sweet time to make a move, my mind began to drift, and I began to wonder what might happen if the chessmen were somehow alive.

The Dark is an atmospheric supernatural thriller where a young child has lost his father in a dreadful accident, and in his desperation, is seduced by an ever-present evil that draws him into another realm—a wondrous place that includes his father. In my younger days, I used to enjoy tobogganing down this rather treacherous sledding hill in a park, and on one particularly fast run, I nearly spilled into an ice-cold creek at the bottom. I was this close to disaster, barely stopping myself in time. It was getting rather dark, and when I picked up my sled and turned to head back up the hill to go home, I suddenly froze, staring up at this towering—and rather ominous—oak tree. It just startled me, and to this day, I don’t know why. It was just one of those eerie moments when one gets a case of the chills for no obvious reason. Little did I know then that that hill and that very tree would be the basis for an award-winning novel.

A short story of mine, Never Too Late, was inspired by a deeply painful personal event. The story is a cautionary tale about regret—how we all, at one time or another, figure we have all the time in the world—only to learn the agonizing truth when the unexpected happens. Years ago, my mother passed away quite suddenly, and I was devastated. I never spent nearly enough time with my parents, always figuring there was plenty of time for that. You know, I’ll seem them soon. I’ll make time later. Well, I was wrong. It was the hardest lesson I ever learned.

Velvet Rain, a supernatural thriller with elements of time-travel and alternate realities, was not so much inspired by memories or personal events. And yet, a lot of the characters in the book, including the main character, Kain Richards, possess those human frailties and personal characteristics of people I’ve known—including family. One character, Al Hembruff, a no-nonsense farmer in 1960s Iowa, at one point refers to his daughter, Lynn, as “honey-child”. My father, God rest his soul, used to call his own daughters the very same. I hadn’t heard him say it in years, but as I was writing Velvet Rain, the memory came back, and it just seemed to work in the moment.

In all honesty, I don’t consciously write out of memory—I write out of inspiration and imagination—but I certainly don’t discount the subconscious when it strikes. If the shoe fits, I wear it.

David C. Cassidy

The award-winning author David C. Cassidy is the twisted mind behind several chilling books of horror and suspense. An author, photographer, and graphic designer—and a half-decent juggler—he spends his writing life creating tales of terror where Bad Things Happen To Good People. Raised by wolves, he grew up with a love of nature, music, science, and history, with thrillers and horror novels feeding the dark side of his seriously disturbed imagination. He talks to his characters, talks often, and most times they listen. But the real fun starts when they tell him to take a hike, and they Open That Door anyway. Idiots.

David lives and plays in Ontario, Canada. From Mozart to Vivaldi, classic jazz to classic rock, he feels naked without his iPod. Suffering from MAD—Multiple Activity Disorder—he divides his time between writing and workouts, photography and Photoshop, reading and rollerblading. An avid amateur astronomer, he loves the night sky, chasing the stars with his telescope. Sometimes he eats.

Get to know David at his:

And follow him on Twitter @DavidCCassidy.

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Monday musing: Inspiration from nature

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Many artists found inspiration in the natural world: Beethoven, Tom Thomson, Bedrich Smetana, Jean Sibelius, the list goes on. And writers do, to.

I am one, and I thought I’d share some pictures with you from a whitewater canoe trip down the Dumoine River I took a couple of years ago, along with my younger son, Super Nicolas.

The Dumoine runs more or less directly south from western Quebec into the Ottawa River, and was part of the fur-trading route that opened up North America for Europeans. It has a number of rapids, which required portaging — until the invention of memory-polymer canoes that could flex and spring back into shape, which made it possible, and fun, to run the rapids.

It’s an inspiring landscape, evoking thoughts not only of the early days of European exploration of North America and the founding of Canada, but also of far older civilizations (Algonquin, Ojibwa, etc.), and of the deep power of the Earth itself. 

This trip gave me an idea for a short story called Teri and the River, which I plan—one day, probably far in the future—to incorporate into novel called Dark Clouds.

Running the rapids, then eddying out into a calm spot, helped me solidify the concept of each river having a personality, which also nicely fits into the cosmology of my first novel, The Bones of the Earth.

A typical “Canadian sunset” picture.
I find these pictures spark ideas for stories and essays. What about you? Can you attach a story, or at least the beginning of a story to any of these pictures? Share in the Comments section if you can.
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Monday Musings: Creating Visual Inspiration

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by Kathleen Valentine

halcyonOne of the most wonderful things about the internet is all the resources it offers for writers. The amount of research writers can do without leaving our desks is mind-blowing. Google Books offers millions of fully indexed books that you can search in seconds. I can remember the days of driving around to half a dozen libraries when a book I wanted wasn’t available through inter-library loan. No more. If you are working on a story and need a name that was popular in a certain period, the Social Security Administration lists most popular baby names by decade for over 100 years. One of my favorite things that I ever found on the internet is a Name Generator for your belly dance troupe. Yes, I used it and the Sirens of the Undulating Dream will be in my next Halcyon Beach story.

One of the best and most useful helpers that I have found is using a site like Pinterest (Instagram, Flickr, and other image storage sites can work, too) to create galleries for projects I am working on. Back in 2010 when I started work on my Halcyon Beach Chronicles series I knew that I wanted it to be set in a rather seedy, run-down beach town that was a vacation playland in the summer but a virtual ghost town the rest of the year. As I tried to envision the location I thought of many resort towns that I had driven through in the past. I made several trips—from October through January—up the coast from Newburyport to Kittery, stopping to shoot pictures whenever I saw a business or a building that I thought might fit in my story.

Back home I sorted through my photos and decided to make a gallery of the best images on Pinterest. This proved to be an excellent tool and I wound up just leaving it open on my desktop as I worked so I could refer to it often.

A couple years later I started work on my fourth Beacon Hill Chronicles story, The Crazy Old Lady’s Secret. Because I love weaving obscure historical details, legends, and unusual locations into my writing, I again made a Pinterest gallery. Only this time instead of taking pictures, I made a gallery of stories and images that I collected from the internet that all related to my story. Elements that I wanted to weave into my story included the existence of an abandoned music hall buried four stories under the Common in downtown Boston, and a legend about four angels that had been stolen by an eighteenth century privateer that are on display in the Old North Church. This proved to be so interesting that I wound up making an image gallery that I included at the end of the book so readers could find out more about the legends and locations contained within.

Another useful tool that writers have suggested to me is keeping a gallery of interesting-looking people for when they are creating characters. I’ve started doing this on my hard drive. Maybe some day I’ll put them in an online gallery.

I believe that the more visual we can make our writing, the more we can keep our readers engaged. Thanks to the internet we now have more resources than ever to help. It is fun and it certainly fires up the creativity.

Thanks for reading.

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Monday Musings: Anyone Can Write, Writers Can’t Not Write

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by Kathleen Valentine

content_writerIt happens every now and then. I am talking to someone and, when they find out I am a writer with over two dozen titles available, they say, “I’ve been thinking about writing a book.” Usually this conversation is not headed in a positive direction. I tell them whatever seems appropriate at the time. “Where do you get your ideas?” they ask. Like Ray Bradbury, my problem is not getting ideas, my problem is not tripping over them when I get out of bed in the morning. Then they ask the question that makes me a little crazy, “But how do you know what people will buy? How can you be sure your story will be successful?” The truth is you don’t and that’s fine.

I’ve been a writer all my life. As a little kid, I wrote plays for the other kids in the neighborhood to act out in our garage, to a very patient group of parents sitting in lawn chairs in the driveway. In high school I wrote for the school newspaper and I also got a lot of compliments from teachers on various papers I wrote. In college I was the editor of my campus literary magazine, and over the years I wrote reams and reams of very bad poetry. After a brief infatuation with Samuel Beckett, I wrote an absolutely awful existential play that even the kindest writing teacher I ever knew told me to burn.

I wrote letters, I wrote journals, after a workshop with Julia Cameron I wrote three years worth of “morning papers” (I still have some—they’re embarrassing) and then, when I was in my forties I started writing short stories. I did this for a friend who was going through a rough spot in her life. I made my stories very romantic and atmospheric just as a special little gift for her. She loved some of them, some she said needed work, but eventually I edited and edited and edited until I culled them down to the stories In My Last Romance and other passions.

It wasn’t until a couple years later that I decided to write a novel. As a kid spending summer vacations in a Great Lakes seaport town with my godparents, I had developed a romantic fascination with the working waterfront. Later, I went to college in that town and my fascination around that rough part of town (rough back in the Sixties) grew. The locus of my fascination was a bar called the Mermaid Tavern. I was too young to go into bars then and too scared even if I wasn’t too young. But I vowed someday I would.

Years went by and I lived several states away when I had occasion to return to my old stomping grounds. By then I had plenty of experience going into bars and I was determined to at last fulfill my fantasy. But, alas, it was not to be. It was now the mid-Eighties and urban renewal had sanitized my old neighborhood. I went back home heartbroken and disillusioned. But the Mermaid Tavern had imprinted itself on my writer’s soul and I could not let it go. I started writing and I could not stop.

It took ten years for The Old Mermaid’s Tale: A Novel of the Great Lakes to become a reality, but, see, that’s the thing. I couldn’t NOT write it. The story owned me. It had chosen me to write it and I couldn’t turn away until it was done.

This is what I believe: we are all called to do certain things in life and we have to do them. We can push ourselves to do other things, of course, but the thing we were meant to do won’t let us alone until we do it. Maybe you were meant to paint, or dance, or cook, or raise chickens. You can do other things, but it is the thing that you cannot NOT do that is crucial. You can think about writing but, if you are a writer, you’ll write regardless of anything else.

Thanks for reading.

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