I became fascinated with Africa when I was three. The boy across the street knew that dinosaurs lived in the sky in "Acica." We knew that you could walk across lakes of lava on ladders, but sometimes the ladder would break, and you’d fall into the dinosaur's mouth. They lived in the sky, and inexplicably also in the lava. Dinosaurs knew more than we did, because they were very old, and lived in Africa.
A little bit later, I had a dream about Africa. In the dream, I was a black man on a white pristine beach, and my brother ran out of the jungle yelling, "The Mountain is exploding!" I saw a snowy flat-topped mountain, and heard a word whispered loudly into my ear: "Kwale." I knew how to spell it. When I awoke, I tore ass down to my mother's atlas, and discovered that Kwale is a small village on the coast of Kenya. About two hundred miles from Mount Kilimanjaro, a snowy flat-topped mountain that is also an extinct volcano.
When I turned 21, I went to Africa on a one-way ticket. I walked and hitch-hiked across Central Africa. I saw Rwanda before the genocide, mountain gorillas before they were decimated, the Mountains of the Moon that Ptolemy mentioned. The places that inspired the greatest explorer of all time, Sir Richard Burton. I went back a couple more times, went up the Nile in a dhow, down the Congo in a steamer. Africa is so heart-breakingly poetic and tragic, yet inexplicably jubilant and fun. There must be something in the lava over there.
I've been writing books since I was three. I recently turned in to my publisher a pirate book set in Madagascar in 1827. To pay homage to that little boy who knew the dinosaurs, I made him a gunner on a pirate ship. I believe in going with the flow, and allowing a lot of strange influences into your writing. You never know where it's going to come from. You need a lot of guys when you write a pirate novel, so I wound up utilizing all of my high school friends. That Scott Smith, he always was so into those bean sprouts, let's shoot him, just for liking bean sprouts. Need a dead body to fall from a mast? That ex-boyfriend will do the job just fine. Falling from a mast, that sounds like something he'd lamely do.
There was definitely something in the lava back in high school.
I'm curious; do any other writers utilize "characters" in this way? My brother and my cousin fought once over who "got" to be the pervert in my second book, The Four Quarters of the World. Another friend is currently flattered he gets to be the whore-mongering murder suspect in my WIP. My husband has a friend who is so competitive, he needs to get everything my H gets. It annoyed my H so much that once he told Bullet Bob to get some inferior hunting jacket, which of course Bullet Bob immediately did. Now I know who the real killer is in my next book--Bullet Bob, the copycat killer.
Along the theme of allowing strange influences into your writing, I need to quote the #1 best TV show ever... "Police Squad!"
WOMAN: Who are you and how did you get in here?
BURGLAR: I'm a locksmith. And, I'm a locksmith.