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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