I am very excited to welcome John Shors to Diary of an Eccentric today. John is the author of several novels, including The Wishing Trees, Dragon House, and his latest, Cross Currents. I must admit that I haven’t yet read any of his novels, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about them. In fact, Serena insisted that I had to borrow her copy of Cross Currents and read it right away, so it’s waiting patiently on my nightstand for me to have time to give it the attention it deserves. In the meantime, I am happy to have John here to talk about traveling to research novels and where he writes them. Please give a warm welcome to John Shors:
Most novelists identify a particular niche market or audience to keep in mind as books are planned, written, and edited. Early on in my literary career (in fact, even before my career began) I decided that I wanted to write novels set in exotic locations around the world. I had just returned from Asia, where I had spent several years teaching English in Japan, and then used my savings to backpack around the continent. My experiences were wonderful and profound, taxing and dangerous. Traveling by bus, train, and motorcycle, I visited popular tourist destinations as well as places that weren’t on maps.
My travels shaped me as a young man, broadening my horizons and creating a sense of appreciation for cultures different from my own. I discovered that the world was both a large and a small place, simultaneously impossibly complex and yet full of people who I felt were more alike than different.
In 1999, I traveled to India for inspiration, trying to uncover what would become my first novel. Fortunately, I visited the Taj Mahal, and was so inspired by the majesty and magic of the Taj that I decided to write a novel based on the love story behind its creation. For five years I worked on Beneath a Marble Sky, a novel that since its publication has been translated into more than twenty languages and is adored by people all around the globe.
Throughout the following years, I continued to bring exotic locations to life within my books. My latest novel, Cross Currents, is set on a beautiful island in Thailand and has to do with the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004. I had visited this island several times before the tsunami and felt that it was one of the loveliest places on Earth. I had always wanted to bring it to life on the page, but wasn’t inspired until I returned to Thailand after the tsunami and saw how people had risen up, after the wave, and reclaimed their lives and land.
To reincarnate such exotic destinations on the page has been an enjoyable yet formidable challenge for me. Of course, the single most important thing I do to ensure accuracy is to visit the environs that I write about. To walk the streets of a foreign city, to interact with its people, is the best means to vividly recreate such streets and people within my stories.
However, at least up to this point, I have never written a novel while abroad. I have always returned to my home in Boulder, Colorado and, looking out at the mountains and the open space, I’ve been forced to visualize distant rainforests, islands, and cities, a process that leads to tedious days at the keyboard.
To circumvent this problem, long ago I decided to take hundreds of photos of each place I planned to write about, and then tape these photos to my office walls. For instance, when I returned from the small island in Thailand, I adorned my office with hundreds of photos of fishermen, cooks, shopkeepers, children, monks, pets, flowers, beaches, markets, hotels, restaurants, insects, festivals, soccer games, shrines, and sunsets. Having instant access to such images provided me with a safety blanket of sorts—whenever I was having a hard time recollecting how someone might dress or something might look, I simply glanced over and found the appropriate image on my wall.
I wrote Cross Currents so that when a reader finished the novel, it would feel as if she or he had just returned from a trip to Thailand. The smell of incense, the taste of lemongrass, and the feel of the ocean would linger long after the last page had been turned. I also wanted readers to feel like they had stood on a tropical beach and looked over turquoise waters toward distant cliffs. I longed to share the beauty of Thailand with readers, to allow a remote and wondrous location to blossom within their minds.
I believe that I succeeded in this goal. Yet I would have failed to do so were it not for my office. Everything about this space, from the lights to the art to the maps is designed to pull me away from Colorado and back to Asia. The hundreds of photos are particularly powerful reminders about places that I’ve been lucky enough to visit, and that I want to share with the many readers who support me.
At some point in the future, I would love to write a novel while based overseas, but for now, it’s best to simply lean back in my chair, find the image I am seeking to recreate and, drawing inspiration from a photo, let my memories unfurl.
Thanks, John! How wonderful that you have been able to do so much traveling to make your novels come to life. I’m looking forward to reading Cross Currents in the near future, and I wish you much success!
About Cross Currents:
Thailand’s pristine and remote Ko Phi Phi island attracts tourists from around the world, offering a haven to people from all walks of life. Yet even paradise has its perils. Struggling to make ends meet, resort owners Lek and Sarai are happy to give an American named Patch room and board in exchange for his help. But trouble looms when Patch’s brother, Ryan, arrives, accompanied by his beautiful girlfriend, Brooke. Lek learns that Patch is running from the law, and his mere presence puts Lek’s family at risk. Meanwhile, Brooke begins to doubt her love for Ryan, while her feelings for Patch blossom. The two brothers, once inseparable, clash over a choice that could alter their lives.
In a glorious landscape of sea and sky, where nature’s bounty seems endless, these two families are caught in the cross currents of conflict and change – and swept up in an approaching cataclysm that will require all their strength of heart and soul to survive.
© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.