Writing Inspiration Destination: Salisbury, England

(This is part 9 of the series describing places that have influenced my writing.)

If you’ve been following my blog for a while. I can guess what you are already thinking: she co-authors fantasy novels and she loves archaeology. Guess what her writing inspiration from the area around Salisbury, England must have been?

Sorry to disappoint you, but no, it wasn’t Stonehenge.

Don’t get me wrong – Stonehenge is great, and my beloved co-author and I visited there during one of our trips to England. (I’ve actually been to Stonehenge multiple times, including twice back in the 1970’s, when they still let you walk among the stones.)

Sheep grazing beside one of the stones of Avebury Circle.

I also enjoyed visiting nearby Avebury circle. While it is not as compact or as iconic as Stonehenge, it has the advantage of being much less crowded. Standing stones have a far more mystical quality when there aren’t a bunch of other tourists around you.

I’m sure that all those mysterious and marvelous menhirs have helped to spark my imagination in subtle ways. Some of my favorite authors have used them in their novels. There is no question that they can be inspiring. They are, however, not the inspiration I am specifically writing about today.

The tops of archways within the Salisbury Cathedral complex.

My inspiration from Salisbury was not the cathedral, although it was lovely and well worth the visit.

By the way, you may be wondering why this blog post did not open with a pretty picture of Salisbury Cathedral.

Well, a funny thing used to happen when you took pictures back in the mid-1990’s. You did not have digital cameras to let you know instantly how your picture came out. Instead, you had to wait until you developed the film after you got home to realize that the sun was in exactly the wrong place and sent a terrible glare across your cathedral photos. Sadly, even color restoration cannot cure that problem. So, I’ve included a far-less-pretty picture of the top of some of the cathedral’s archways instead.

All three of those sights — Stonehenge, Avebury Circle, and Salisbury Cathedral — as well as the city of Salisbury itself, are worthy of inspiring any novelist, particularly one who writes fantasy. I’m sure they have and will continue to inspire me in subtle ways.

But the most immediate inspiration came from the delightful, little boutique hotel where John and I stayed when we visited the city. I think the building was actually very old, though it may have been a modern building made to look old. (After more than 25 years, I can’t remember.) It had a four-posted bed and windows with leaded glass.

If you’ve read Prophecy’s Malignant Son, you may remember the scene in Chapter 2 where Daraline looks out the window of her second story room at the inn and sees Fabren approaching through the rain. When I wrote that scene, the boutique hotel room in Salisbury was definitely one of the images I had in my mind.

Do I have a photo of that room? Well yes, but the picture has things like luggage and soda cans in it, so it is definitely not worthy of a blog post. I invite you to use your imagination to picture the room instead. After all, that’s what readers and authors are best at.

Talk to you next Friday!

-Susan 10/22/2021

Writing Inspiration Destination: Hawaii’s Big Island

(This is part 8 of the series describing places that have influenced my writing.)

A storm approaches the beautiful Pu’uhonua o Honaunau (Place of Refuge) National Historical Park.

Where does an author of medieval-ish (emphasis on the “ish”) high fantasy novels find inspiration in a tropical paradise like Hawaii? Not necessarily where you would expect.

Yes, Hawaii is everything it promises in all those travel brochures. It has amazing beaches, beautiful scenery, great food, gorgeous flowers, and wonderful Aloha friendliness. Beyond all those good reasons to visit, the Big Island (Hawai’i) also has one more special attraction for me: volcanoes!

A pathway winding through Lava Tree State Monument.

When I was a child, volcanoes terrified me. Once, when I was little, our family’s camper-van broke down near Lassen Volcanic National Park in California. We had to wait several days for the parts to arrive so the local mechanic could fix the engine. During those days, I was constantly worried that the volcano would suddenly erupt. (Obviously, the concept of “active” volcano was not entirely clear to me at the time.)

A walkway near the Thurston Lava Tube.

As I grew older, fear turned to fascination. Over the years, I’ve visited other volcanic sites during my travels, including Santorini in Greece, Pompeii in Italy, and Mt. St. Helens in Washington. I even went back to Mt. Lassen a few years ago with my beloved co-author.

When John and I visited the island in 1998, there was a place where the road ended abruptly at a hardened lava flow.

Our visit to the Big Island (Hawai’i) in the late 1990’s, in addition to making me fall in love with the place, offered one unique experience that was unavailable at the other locations we visited – a helicopter flyover of an active lava flow.

Looking down at the flowing lava from the air.

I remember being surprised at the time, because the lava looked a lot different from the air than I had expected. For one thing, it was daytime, so there were no spectacular colors to light up the night sky. Instead of rivers of fire, the flow looked more like mercury. Only a few spots showed the characteristic fiery red-orange that you always see in the media.

Apparently, this flat field was an active lava lake at the time Mark Twain was on the island in the 1800’s. I’ve read that there is currently a lava lake on the island, but it was not present when we visited in 1998.

This is the part of the blog where I usually explain how a visit to a particular location influenced my writing. As you know, all those volcanoes in 60th Hour and Prophecy’s Malignant Son… oh, wait…there are none. There are also no volcanoes in our short stories in the Emerald Cove anthologies. So, you might ask, where is the influence?

The beach at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach Park.

The most direct influence occurred in one of our earlier, unpublished novels. The story opens in a lava field near a volcano.

Will that book ever see publication? I’m not sure. It would need a ton of work to make it readable. It is far too long and much of it probably needs to be rewritten from the ground up. Ever since John and I started self-publishing, I have debated whether to go back and rewrite the old books or concentrate on new ones instead. So far, the new ones are winning, but who knows in the future?

Even without that unpublished book, I still suspect that the raw power of volcanoes and the colossal forces they exhibit, have influenced my writing in more subtle ways. Like earthquakes, they are forces of nature we cannot control. They remind us that, no matter how technologically advanced we may become, there are things out there far bigger and more dangerous than we are. That’s always a good reminder for a fantasy author.

Talk to you next Friday!

-Susan

p.s. According to some sources on the internet, the punctuation mark (okina?) is used in the spelling of the Big Island (Hawai’i), but not the name of the state (Hawaii). I hope I have used them correctly here. If not, feel free to chastise me in the comments.

Writing Inspiration Destination: Rhodes, Greece

(This is part 7 of the series describing places that have influenced my writing.)

Few places in the world shout, “fantasy novel setting” more than the Island of Rhodes. The crenelated barbicans and towers rise over the buildings around them in a classic, story-book-castle style. The shoreline boasts magnificent sea walls built of brick and/or stone, and many of the streets are cobbled. Sadly, you cannot see the Colossus of Rhodes there today (except in the the gift shops), but you can still go to the harbor where, according to legend, the statue stood.

Old cannonballs are still visible in parts of the island.

My beloved co-author and I visited the island twice. The first time, we toured the museums and historic sights. On the second trip, I spent much of the day wandering the streets and fortifications, taking dozens of pictures with my brand new digital camera and enjoying the scenery. (Digital cameras, with their capacity to store hundreds of pictures, were an amazing invention for me — on our first trip to Greece in the 1990’s, I came back with 16 rolls of film. On our second trip, I may have taken that many digital pictures in Rhodes alone.)

As an aside, I had an ulterior motive in taking all those pictures during our second visit. At the time, I was planning to run a table-top role-playing game for some friends. The game was roughly based on those 1930’s action-adventure movies about an archaeologist who was named after a U.S. state. (Yeah, I know that the movies said he was named after the family dog.) The characters in the game would travel to Rhodes as part of the story.

But this blog is supposed to be about writing inspirations, not rpgs, so let me get back to the main topic.

While the Island of Rhodes does not specifically appear in any of John and my books, I am pretty sure that the fortifications and castle towers were in the back of my mind when I wrote the various castle scenes in our novels. For example, Rhodes was undoubtedly one of the places from which we drew inspiration for the royal palace and the city walls of Cravanse in our latest novel Prophecy’s Malignant Son.

This is a color-restoration of a scanned photograph from the photo album of our1992 trip to Rhodes. I still am not sure how much I like the color restoration, but the photo definitely looks better than the faded version from the album.

If you are a fantasy novelist, I highly recommend a trip to Rhodes (once the pandemic is over). You will find sights to inspire your writing almost every time you turn a corner or stroll down an alley. Frankly, no matter what genre you write, it is still a great destination. I hope all my readers who like to travel get a chance to visit the island some day.

Talk to you next Friday!

-Susan 9/24/2021

Writing Inspiration Destination: Venice, Italy

(This is part 6 of the series describing places that have influenced my writing.)

In June, I wrote a blog post entitled “Five Places to Inspire Writing.” In that post, I briefly mentioned Venice as an inspirational city. After I gave the matter more thought, I decided that Venice really deserves it’s own post. It is one of my favorite places to visit, and its unique sights are wonderful for a writer seeking inspiration.

When I first visited Venice as a teenager, my biggest surprise was that there was no surprise — Venice was exactly as I had always imagined it. It had canals and gondolas, spacious plazas and narrow alleys, historic statues, and restaurants next to the water. When my parents paid for a gondola ride, the gondolier even sang to us. Other places in the world might be disappointing when actually visited, but not Venice. It was every bit as amazing as it advertised.

Everything in Venice is interesting,
even the upper parts of the buildings.

One of my most vivid memories of that first trip to Venice involves the hunt for the statue of Colleoni. On our last day in Venice, my dad and I went wandering through the city, trying to find the famous equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni. I think my dad had a guidebook, but not a map, so we made a lot of wrong turns before we finally found it. I remember searching narrow streets, sometimes going down an alley that ended abruptly at a canal. We crossed tiny bridges and seemed to travel through a maze of buildings on our quest to find it. To my teenage mind, it was a grand adventure.

Andre del Verrocchio’s statue of Colleoni.

Many years later, I returned to Venice, this time with my beloved co-author. To my delight, I found that wandering through the city still sparked my sense of adventure, just as it had in my teen years. There is something positively magical about a place full of canals and Renaissance architecture. A few things had changed — as an adult with a map, I found it much easier to locate the Colleoni statue again, and I enjoyed the restaurants far more than I did in my youth. But, despite my age, the city still kept its charm and captured my imagination once more.

While I can’t point to an exact passage in any of our books that was based on Venice, I’m sure my time in the city has provided more subtle inspiration. There’s probably a little bit of Venice in the seaside city portrayed in Lord Larrin’s Trophy (the short story in Emerald Cove’s Stolen! anthology). In addition, the hunt for the Colleoni statue has no doubt helped to inspire scenes in my writing where a character is lost in an unfamiliar, maze-like city.

Talk to you next Friday!

-Susan 9/17/2021

Writing Inspiration Destination: Granada, Spain

(Note: as mentioned in an earlier blog post, one of my friends suggested that I write about some travel destinations that had a direct influence on my writing. This is part 5 of the series.)

Have you ever wanted to visit a place because of a song? Recuerdos de la Alhambra is one of my favorite pieces of classical music. While I admit that we did not travel to Spain solely because of music, I was delighted when our tour of Spain included the city of Granada and the magnificent Alhambra palace.

Granada is a charming city, with its mix of Spanish and Moorish architecture. The artwork inside the Royal Chapel (Capilla Real de Granada) is particularly beautiful.

Statuary near the tomb of Ferdinand and Isabella within the Royal Chapel.

The Alhambra palace is the crowning jewel of any visit to Granada. While the ornate columns and delicate latticework of the buildings could certainly inspire an author, the gardens really captured my imagination. I wandered in wonder amidst fountains, reflecting pools, and archways.

A lovely reflecting pool in the Alhambra gardens.
The archways formed of greenery were both fascinating and beautiful.

Those delightful gardens have not specifically appeared in any of the fantasy novels John and I have written, but they certainly helped inspire some of the outdoor scenes in 60th Hour, particularly the canopied trellises on the walkway leading up to the temple.

Those of you familiar with Granada, may be wondering why I did not include a photo of the iconic lion fountain in this post. To be honest, the pictures I took did not come out very well. I was using 35 mm film back in those days, so I could not check the photo quality until I returned home from the trip. (Digital photography makes everything so much easier!)

And, by the way, while I may not have visited Granada just because of a song, John and I have traveled to two other cities for that reason — Benson and Winslow, Arizona. Anyone around my age is probably familiar with the song reference for Winslow, but I wonder how many of you remember the song about Benson?

Talk to you next Friday!

Susan 9/3/2021

Writing Inspiration Destination: Balboa Park

Balboa Park’s Botanical Building and surroundings. (Apologies for the photo quality — it was scanned from a photo taken in the mid-1990’s.)

Sometimes, you don’t need to go any farther than your own hometown for writing inspiration. This becomes much easier, of course, when your hometown happens to be a major tourist destination with beaches, parks, culture, museums, and other fascinating places to visit.

Balboa Park’s iconic California Tower.
The Organ Pavilion, a beautiful location for outdoor concerts.

I grew up in San Diego County, and it is still one of my favorite places in the world. Balboa Park, in particular, has inspired my writing in the past, and continues to do so. Given its beautiful Spanish-style architecture, paths winding beneath the eucalyptus trees, lovely gardens, and wonderful museums, the park’s ability to inspire the written word is not surprising.

What did surprise me is how few pictures I have taken of the park. When I sat down to write this blog post this morning, I thought my task of finding park photos would be easy. Instead, I discovered that, despite hundreds of park visits over the years, I have taken fewer pictures of Balboa Park than I have of Disneyworld in Florida.

Walking near the House of Pacific Relations International Cottages. The last time I visited the park, it appeared that they were expanding this area to add more cottages.

Balboa Park is especially relevant to my writing at the moment, because of Emerald Cove’s upcoming shared-world anthology. Until we have an official publication date, I don’t want to say too much about the book, but Balboa Park definitely makes an appearance. The writer’s group is meeting tonight, so I should know more very soon.

In the meantime, I leave you with this silhouette of the park, taken on a December evening many years ago. I will never forget that night, with its clear skies and beautiful weather, because I flew out to visit relatives a few days later, and ended up in a snowstorm. (It was quite a contrast for a Southern California girl.)

Talk to you next Friday!

Susan 8/20/2021

Writing Inspiration Destination: Santorini, Greece

(Note: as mentioned in an earlier blog post, one of my friends suggested that I write about some travel destinations that had a direct influence on my writing. This is part 3 of the series.)

A writer of any genre could find inspiration on the Island of Santorini, with its beautiful villages scattered above the cliff sides. The whitewashed buildings, the stone walkways, and the magnificent ocean views all give Santorini a special charm. The island even has its own black sand beach.

As a fantasy author, I found my greatest source of inspiration while visiting the archaeological site at Akrotiri. At some point in antiquity, a volcanic eruption buried the region. Some scholars have speculated that a distant echo of the event might be the source of Plato’s Atlantis dialogue.

The remnants of the volcano rise within the midst of the watery caldera.

While I am not a historian and certainly not qualified to speak about any possible ties to the Atlantis legend, there is no doubt that Akrotiri is a fascinating and almost mythical place. Unlike the stark brightness of other ancient sites, Akrotiri sits in a warm twilight beneath the modern, roof-like coverings that protect it from the elements.

The ruins are amazingly well preserved. Pottery and colorful wall murals survived the volcanic cataclysm (and can be viewed in the nation’s museums). As you walk through the site, you can easily visualize the people who lived there in the past.

My imagination can run wild at times. (I guess that’s why I like to read and write fantasy.) The first time I saw this broken staircase, I was both fascinated and a little frightened by it. What titanic forces cracked those stones in two? If people were present to witness the event, what terror must they have felt?

That broken staircase appeared in one of the early drafts of 60th Hour, in a scene describing how Len Cranford found the book that Aubrey stole. The scene was cut out of later drafts, because it didn’t really add to the narrative and worked better as “backstory.”

Even if the cracked staircase itself did not end up in the novel, there is no question that Akrotiri was one of the inspirations for the chapter where Len makes his discoveries at the dig site in Renilee. The scene in the novel was a fantasy version of an archaeological dig, of course, with only the faintest reflection of genuine archaeological work. However, the mural in the story and some of the items the characters found were definitely influenced by what John and I saw during our visit to Santorini.

This photo was scanned using the “color restoration” setting on the scanner, which is why it does not have the orange tinge of the other photos. (I was shooting with high-speed film and available lighting on our fist visit to the island, back in the early 1990’s.)

Talk to you next Friday!

-Susan 8/13/2021

Writing Inspiration Destination: Heidelberg, Germany

(Note: as mentioned in an earlier blog post, one of my friends suggested that I write about some travel destinations that had a direct influence on my writing. This is part 2 of the series.)

The old section of Heidelberg, Germany is a fantasy author’s dream destination. Fairytale sights abound: a ruined castle, narrow streets, beautiful churches, orange-tiled roofs, and an idyllic riverfront complete with a stone bridge.

Photo taken inside the ruins of the castle. Do you ever get the uneasy feeling of being watched?
Doors within doors inside the ruins of the castle.

Heidelberg Castle is particularly intriguing, with its broken towers and grass-encroached grounds. I am sure that the memory of exploring that castle has influenced my fantasy writing over the years.

However, another building that John and I visited provided a far more direct influence on my writing.

The stone staircase leading up to the church tower.

On our first day in the city we crossed the plaza from our hotel (the Hotel Zum Ritter, which is itself a historic wonder) and explored an old stone church. I believe it was probably the Church of the Holy Spirit, but after 30 years, I no longer remember for certain.

Even though I can’t recall the church’s name, I will never forget the old, spiral staircase that led up to the church tower. The climb up that musty passage, so narrow that you could touch both the central pillar and the block wall as you ascended, has stayed in my memory and my imagination ever since that day. It became the “Platonic ideal” of a fantasy staircase for me — the image upon which so many staircases in my writing are based.

In the early drafts of 60th Hour, a spiral staircase led down from the Chamber of the Hours to the ancient vault beneath the mountain. Unfortunately, the spiral shape had to change in the later drafts of the novel, because it would not let Loria see the light vanishing in the final chapter. So, it was replaced with a straight staircase. (If you’ve read the book, but don’t remember the scene, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email. I don’t want print any spoilers for the novel here.)

Looking out over rooftops in the old city.

Another feature of the city actually survived into the published version of 60th Hour. Remember those tiled rooftops that Loria sees as she peers down at the darkening city of Lavay? Although that description was a composite of numerous cities that John and I visited over years of travel, the old section of Heidelberg was unquestionably one of the places that influenced the scene.

My beloved co-author with the castle in the background. (Yes, we were both much younger then. Hard to believe it has been 30 years!)

Talk to you next Friday!

-Susan 7/30/21

When Travel Influences Fantasy Literature

The iconic Merlion statue in Singapore.

A friend (who also loves to travel) suggested that it might be fun for me to blog about how I draw inspiration for my fantasy stories from the real-world places that I visit and photograph. It was a great suggestion, and really got me thinking about the ways in which visiting new places inspires my writing. Overall, I’ve found that travel, and particularly foreign travel, excites my imagination with a sense of “other-worldliness.” Stepping off the plane in a different country can feel like entering a whole new universe with amazing and unexpected sights.

A street in Singapore. I wish I could say more about it, but I didn’t caption the photograph.
Note to self: Always caption your photos!!

In my experience as both a reader and author of fantasy novels, the art of writing fantasy involves a balance between the familiar and the unique. My favorite fantasy novels to read have been those that create original landscapes and cultures, very different from our mundane world. At the same time, the characters in the fantasy story must be familiar enough to allow the reader to empathize with them and care about their world. Travel can inspire fictional works that meet both of those elements.

A pathway in the Bukat Timah nature reserve.

In addition to the general concept of how travel influences writing, there is the more specific topic of which real-world places have influenced my fantasy writing and why.

When I first considered this question, Singapore came to mind immediately. A city with a merlion for its mascot has to be a great influence for a fantasy novelist. It was not that mythical beast, however, that truly caught my imagination during the week that John and I spent visiting the city.

Likewise, the beautiful Bukat Timah Nature Reserve (where I was warned to beware of monkeys accosting tourists to steal food) was not the place that inspired me the most. Both of those sights were very nice and certainly caught my imagination.

The greatest inspiration for me as a fantasy novelist came during a walking tour of the city. The guide took us to see the “wet” market, a collection of vendors selling fish, produce, and spices. As I walked among the stalls looking at the exotic wares, I was amazed. Not only had I never seen many of the food items for sale, I could not even put a name to them.

I am far from a culinary expert, but I have done some cooking and generally know my way around the grocery store produce section. The vegetables and fruit for sale in the Singapore wet market were so far beyond my experience that I might as well have been shopping in Narnia or Chalion.

The memory of wandering among the food stalls, staring in wonder at the strange items has stayed with me over the years. That experience provided part of the inspiration for the food scene in the short story Hospitality, which is scheduled to appear in Emerald Cove’s upcoming shared world anthology.

Apparently, I was so astonished by what I saw, that I never even took a photograph of the market. (Hard to believe, considering I usually take photographs of everything, including the interior of our hotel rooms.) Because I only use my own photos in this blog, I cannot include a picture of that wet market. So I will close this blog with a picture of the not-quite-so-exotic-food-establishment that John and I also visited during the trip. While I cannot say that the food there inspired any fantasy stories, the “Fish McDippers” were tasty and I wish they had them in the U.S.

There is a reason that John and I always eat at least one meal at McDonalds in every country we visit, but that is a story for another day.

-Susan 7/16/2021

p.s. Sue is still working on the cover art for the shared world anthology mentioned above, and it looks great so far!

Fortifications, Walls, and Battlements

A portion of the Great Wall of China.

After I wrote the blog post about castles a few weeks ago, I started considering other types of structures that can be important in fantasy literature. One of the easiest to overlook (no pun intended) is the stone wall. Ranging from hastily constructed piles of rocks to elaborate edifices seen for miles, fortifications can provide both defense for the characters of a story and interesting background landscape.

A portion of Hadrian’s Wall in England.

Even in the real world, old stone fortifications often carry a mythic quality. At one time, it was said that the Great Wall of China was the only man-made structure visible from space. Hadrian’s Wall in England has been included in works of fiction. The “long walls” that connected Athens with its port city of Piraeus are the stuff of legends.

Fortifications around the city of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Fortified cities are common in fantasy literature. Who can forget the seven levels of Minas Tirith in the Lord of the Rings? I often think of the scene of Pippin and Beregond eating lunch beside the battlements, when I visit fortified cities during my travels.

One of the old towers on the Island of Rhodes.
Battlements on the Island of Rhodes.
A portion of Themistocles’ Wall in Athens. (My scanning software “restored” the color of the old photograph, but I am not photo-editing savvy enough to remove the glare from the display glass. Sorry!)

Fortifications can sometimes be found in unlikely places. When my beloved co-author and I traveled to Athens many years ago, the first archaeological site we visited was not the Acropolis. Instead, it was the portion of Themistocles’ wall on display behind glass in the basement of our hotel.

Talk to you next Friday!

-Susan 7/9/2021

p.s. People seem to be enjoying these photo-blogs so far. Would you like me to continue with them or would you prefer that I return to the more nuts-and-bolts discussions about writing? Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts. Are there any other fantasy-related topics you would like to see in a photo-blog?