Writing amid calamity



Redwoods in the Muir Woods, Marin County, California.

California is a land of extreme beauty and extreme horrors. From the contrived glamour of Hollywood and Los Angeles to the awe-inspiring majesty of the redwood forests. From the unique personality of San Francisco to the wind-blasted isolation of the northern coast.

It’s also home to disastrous extremes. For the past three days, I’ve been at the Lei Crime World Authors Retreat in Monte Rio, a hamlet between the devastated Santa Rosa and the rocky coast of Bodega Bay. From day to day, the skies can be high and blue or a low, gray-brown haze as wildfires tear through the Napa Valley and leap over mountains into Sonoma. As I write this, more than 25,000 people have had to abandon their homes and flee the fires, thousands of homes and businesses have been destroyed, more than 200 people are missing and 31 people killed.

For the past three days, I have been participating in the first Lei Crime World authors’ retreat in Monte Rio, a hamlet halfway between the devastated city of Santa Rosa and the coast at Bodega Bay. It’s safe, for the moment, anyway, although the first thing we all do when we get up in the morning is look to see whether the sky is blue or hazy, and sniff for the odour of smoke. From time to time, ash drizzles down, coating surfaces with gray. As another participant, Erin Finigan said, “That could have been someone’s home falling on us.”

A terrible juxtaposition

It’s not guilt that I feel, but there is relief mixed with helplessness. We gather in the the hotel bar to watch the news on the big TV. In night scenes, the fires dance bright orange among the trees. Day scenes show destroyed towns and weeping, shell-shocked residents. Stories people who left everything to the flames, grateful for having their family alive. Others crying because they cannot find a mother, child or sibling.

The situation, only a half-hour’s drive away, comes even closer when an evacuated family arrives at the hotel: wife, husband, daughter, son, dog and cat. They had minutes to gather family, photos and pets ahead of the fire when the power went out. In the dark, they found the cat, jumped into their car and fled before the fire consumed their home. They had to leave their computer behind, which held more precious family photos and memories, because it was in another structure which housed their family business, and which was already burning. They arrived at the hotel, shaken, pale, their faces drawn, their eyes wide but dull.

We writers, nine of us, pool what cash we can to help console them. It’s a moving moment, and one that underlines how small each of us is in the face of an elemental force like fire.

We are safe. For now. But we keep our suitcases packed, ready to go.

The most compelling stories

Today, I look out over my hotel balcony. The leaves on the trees that I cannot identify are turning red. Above, orange-tinted gray clouds accent the blue sky. Is that smoke? Or just a cloud? The news reports that the situation has become worse. The fires continue to grow. Long-time residents recall fires in 2007 and 2008 that were extensive, but not as bad nor as deadly.

We prepare to leave, to head south to Santa Cruz and Monterey. We will escape the fire zone easily, and in a few more days, will fly home to Ottawa. We may face other dangers there, but from everything I can gather, no existential threats.

We are all writers here at the Russian River town of Monte Rio. We tell stories for a living. We strive to make our books engaging and immersive, entertaining and evocative. We have come to reinforce our ability to write new stories.

But there is nothing that we could write to rival what evacuees are living now, whether they’re from Napa and Sonoma, or Puerto Rico, Afghanistan, the Congo, Libya, Syria and many many more are living now.

They have lost everything. The rest of us are unscathed purely through luck, or the grace of whatever god you believe in.

Let’s remember that.

Sample Sunday: A simple assignment



From The Wife Line

A Sydney Rye Kindle World mystery

Provence, France, May 2010

Mulberry had promised Sydney a simple assignment. But now, with the sweet scent of lavender filling her nostrils, the deep darkness of Provence pressing in from all sides, it did not seem all that simple. There was another aroma beside, or maybe underneath the scent of flowers. Musky, deep, dark. It was making her edgy, excited — horny?

Sydney Rye looked down at her dog, Blue. He looked back up with an expression that seemed to say “If you can’t identify scents this easy, I can’t help you.” She couldn’t see that one of his eyes was brown, the other blue, but her mind filled in those details.

Blue was the size of a Great Dane with the long, thick fur of a wolf, the markings of a Husky and the elegant muzzle of a collie. A thin whine escaped his mouth and his bushy tail went from brushing Sydney’s leg to shaking the fronds beside him.

Sydney and Blue both looked up when they heard a rustle in the branches above.  Sydney thought she could see something moving along the vines above her, but the dark made it impossible to be certain. Blue whined again, his tail accelerating to beat a tattoo against Sydney’s leg.

Sydney raised her gun, sliding the safety off with a click. Her mouth felt dry. Her pulse throbbed in her neck. Sweat loosened her grip on her weapon. That scent again, under the floral odor. Why was she thinking about sex at a time like this?

Blue growled so softly that only Sydney, standing in the shadows right beside him, could hear it. Above, the shadows no longer moved.

Probably just a squirrel, or whatever animal moves around the trees at night get in southern France. If it was a threat, Blue would have warned me, not wagged his tail.

“Stay here, boy,” she told Blue. She put the safety back on and tucked the weapon firmly into its holster, then reached up and jumped. She pulled herself into the tree and climbed high enough to look over the old stone wall in front of her.

A shadow rustled ahead, seeming to recede through the branches toward the country mansion behind the stone wall.

The mansion seemed to Sydney the epitome of France: originally constructed of light grey stone probably hundreds of years ago, it had new, modern windows that showed polished wood floors, bright lamps and modern furniture inside. The light spilling out the windows added to that from modern fixtures that lit up the manicured gardens inside the wall.

While she couldn’t see them from her vantage point in the tree, Sydney was certain there was also state-of-the-art security and surveillance technology that kept a better eye on the grounds than she had.

Sydney glanced down to the ground. She couldn’t see Blue in the shadows below her, but she could feel him there. Blue — her rock. Always there for her. He had saved Sydney’s life more than once, even took a bullet meant for her. He was better to her than she was to him, Sydney knew, but she also knew she could always rely on him.

Movement in the front yard caught her eye. A shadow slid down the wall. A tall man, or a very tall and athletic woman with broad shoulders, dressed all in black, crouch-walked to the limousine, keeping it between him- or her-self and the front door.

The slim figure vanished into the limousine’s shadow, then re-emerged a few seconds later. It took a run at the wall, sprang up, gripped the top and swung over, vanishing into the night.

Sydney jumped off the branch, landing ten feet below beside Blue. “Hunt,” she said, pointing along the wall toward the front of the estate. Blue sprang ahead, disappearing into the darkness under the trees. Sydney ran as fast as she could behind him, but of course could not keep up with the big dog.

She rounded the corner of the wall, arriving in a small clearing surrounded by bushes, still invisible to anyone in the manor. She had expected to find Blue pinning the shadowy figure to the ground, standing on his chest and growling into his face.

Instead, the wan light that filtered through the leaves from the manor showed Blue in classic play posture: butt high in the air, tail wagging, front paws and head low to the ground, head tilted to one side.

In front of him was a man in the same posture, or as close as a human being could get to doggie pose: on his hands and knees, butt high, head low. He and Blue looked at each other, sprang up simultaneously, collided, fell together on the ground, rolled over and over. Blue jumped away, giving a little, happy bark, turning to look back at the man lying on the ground. Blue’s tail was a blur in the dark.

“Are you kidding me?” Sydney stepped close, getting down on one knee to touch the barrel of her gun to his head and said “Freeze.”

The man did not freeze. Instead, he rolled over onto his back and smiled up at her. He had large, light-colored eyes under heavy eyebrows, high cheekbones, a perfectly straight nose, a full mouth and a slight dimple in his chin. The woolen cap on his head hid his hair.

Sydney leaned over to keep the gun in his face, and turned to Blue. “What is the matter with you?”

Blue’s ears drooped, his tail stopped and fell. He whined softly.

Sydney turned to the man in black. “Who the hell are you and what have you done to my dog?”

“Dogs like me,” he replied with an American accent. His deep voice stirred something inside Sydney’s chest. She swallowed. She could feel sweat on her upper lip.

He smiled broadly, his teeth shining in the wan light. That smell again, she thought. What is it? It was so faint, she wondered whether she was imagining it. Soft but irresistible. Her mouth suddenly felt too full of saliva. She swallowed again.

“Who are you and what are you doing here?” Sydney demanded.

“My name is Van, and I’m probably doing the same thing you are.”

What’s The Wife Line about?

Human traffickers are selling young women from eastern Europe as sex slaves and killing them when they become inconvenient. Sydney Rye’s job is only to protect her client, until a mysterious, aggravating and irresistible young crusader pulls her and Blue on a far more dangerous path: taking down the whole slaving ring.

If you like Emily Kimelman’s Sydney Rye series featuring a strong female character, her canine best friend, Blue, tons of action and a dash of sex, you won’t be able to put The Wife Line down.

Start following Sydney, Blue and Van across the seamiest part of Europe right now.

Get it on Amazon.

 

 

All people are equal: My manifesto



“Alt-right,” which these cowards call themselves in a vain attempt to deflect identification as nazis, expressing their fear of everyone who’s not white in Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: courtesy CBC.

I have been unfriended on Facebook by Robert Bidinotto, a writer with a decidedly conservative bent, who commands quite a following. As far as I can tell, very few in his group disagree with him, and the overall tone of the discussions is like a tea-party, where everyone basically agrees.

My sin was apparently disagreeing with the tribal wisdom, or maybe the hegemony of Robert Bidinotto. He and his followers are entitled to their opinions, of course, but I think the point of divergence of opinions between them and me are some basic, underlying tenets.

It’s useless to try to logically argue against ideology at times like this. When you start arguing against people’s deepest beliefs, they respond emotionally, not rationally. So I won’t do that. But I have been accused of various things, so I want to set the record straight about my beliefs.

Don’t let yourself be manipulated

The recent history of Western culture has many examples of politics being emotionally manipulated. Just look at how so many mainstream commentators demonize the terms “liberal” and “leftist,” let alone the irrational, visceral response Americans have to the words “socialist” and “communist.”

This same kind of emotional, irrational demonization has been successfully used against labour unions, environmental organizations, hunters, meat producers and consumers, and community groups of many different stripes. It’s used against the Black Lives Matter movement, too, albeit with less success so far.
It’s hard not have an emotional response to issues that affect our lives, but the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend show very plainly where that can take us. The protesters against the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee were irrational, chanting “You won’t replace us! Jews won’t replace us!”
They’re acting out of fear. Deep, knee-shaking and wholly unjustified fear. Fear given life through manipulation.

And the counter-protesters reacted out of anger. Justifiable anger, but the violence was unjustified and counter-productive, only adding to the racists’ narrative that they’re under threat.

Coverage and media reaction has also been emotional too, even by the professional news media.
Here’s where I had the falling out with the conservative tribe.

Blame the messenger

Robert Bidinotto’s pet peeve is the “leftist narrative” of the “mainstream media,” which he calls the MSM. He’s not the only one to make this assertion, and while I could easily refute the existence of a leftist bias held by a media that is mostly owned by multinational megacorporations, I won’t. Bidinotto kept posting photographs that cast the counter-protesters in unfavourable, red-tinged light, captioning them “pictures you won’t see in the MSM.”

Well, here are a couple.

Antifa protesters in Charlottesville exercising their Second Amendment rights. Source: New York Times — the Grey Lady of the mainstream media. I’m just happy that the ink doesn’t come off on your fingers as much anymore.

The counter-protesters, with a suspiciously red flag, raised fist, and “solidarity” slogans, in Charlottesville. These dastards dared to support equality. Photo source: NYT.

Where I crossed the line, apparently, was in objecting to comments that said “the lefties were just as bad as the protesters.” My favourite was the one guy who said he’d “defend his home if leftists were throwing rocks at his windows.”

When did that happen?

It’s depressing to read all the posts that blame the “leftists” as much as the racists for Charlottesville and other violence.

It’s also aggravating to read how the “MSM” favours one side over the other. I don’t know about you, but I understand those who forgive opponents of racism.

So anyway, I wrote a few replies on this Facebook group, calling out those who drew this false equivalency between the racists and the counter-protesters. Yes, both were wrong to commit violence. I agree with that, fully, because violence did not solve anything or even advance the argument.

But the groups are not the same, not even the “antifa,” or anti-fascists. Here’s why: the racists promote oppression, the abrogation of other people’s rights.

The counter-protesters were a wide assortment of groups from churches, community organizations and, yes, some organized leftist organizations. But as I said, “leftist” is not necessarily bad. Racism is. The counter-protesters came to support equal rights.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

To get to the root of the issue, here are my underlying tenets. I guess this is a little manifesto.

  1. All people are equal. Without exception. While some people face disabilities and other exceptional challenges, they may have abilities that the rest of us cannot guess at.
  2. In corollary, we’re all fallible. We’re all often wrong. Even me. This whole essay could be way off. And whether you agree with me or not, you could equally be wrong. There is just a lot more that we don’t know about the universe and ourselves than we do know.
  3. Degrading the natural environment is a slow form of suicide and genocide.
  4. No human mind can comprehend infinity or divinity. We are limited (see #2, above). Therefore, all religions are at best useful metaphors for the way the universe and people work.
  5. Protecting free speech, even by Nazis and racists, is vital to preserving liberty. Hate speech is abhorrent. Chanting “Jews will not replace us” is chilling.But repressing racism, or any other ideology, does not destroy it, nor does it make the problem go away. That’s been proven through history. Nazism has not gone away. Repressing socialism in the U.S. has not eradicated it. Repressing Judaism or Christianity has only made them stronger.The racist jerks in Charlottesville have exposed their hatred, and it’s far better that all of us see it than it be allowed to grow unseen.
  6. It’s better to object than to be offended. Who cares if you’re offended? If you are, then object to it in a thoughtful, constructive way. Suggest solutions.
  7. Capitalism is not necessarily the best way to organize an economy. It’s a relatively recent invention, and there have been many other models over the millennia of civilization.Success of an economic model depends on what your goals are. If the goals of the current North American economic model are to concentrate as much wealth as possible in as few hands as possible, hollow out the middle class and drive household debt as high as possible, while making education so expensive that it’s impossible for most people to ever escape the debt-poverty cycle, then modern capitalism has been very successful, indeed.
  8. Unions are not evil. While I remain skeptical of the unionists’ claims that they’re solely responsible for the two-day weekend, vacation pay, etc., they can certainly take a lot of credit for those advances.
  9. Government is not evil. In republics and democracies, government is the instrument of community will. Yes, often it’s clumsy. There are many examples where its actions are the manipulations of a particular group—usually a small group of very wealthy people. But it’s not inherently evil. And in fact, government action in the West has demonstrably led to many improvements in human life.Likewise, regulation is not evil. Regulations keep poisons out of our water. Regulations ensure packagers don’t sell us food that has spoiled. Regulations have reduced air pollution in our cities.And government spending is not evil. Governments organizing health care and education is not evil.These are investments that return more to the taxpayers than they cost. It’s not about “entitlement.” It’s about where we, all of us, in society, who vote, decide to put our resources in order to build the kind of community and life that we want.
  10. “Left” and “right” are useless terms to describe our political debate and violence today. The divisions between the “alt-right” and the “liberals” encompass so much more than how each side feels the economy should be regulated. And don’t think that adding a second authoritarian-libertarian axis helps much, as the libertarians describe. The situation is far more complex than that.“Left” and “right” are terms used by those in power who seek to divide and thereby control the rest of us. Grouping Nazis and racists with economic conservatives is extremely insulting to conservatives, with whom I often (but not always) disagree. But the ones I know personally are not racists. Okay, some are. But I object to their opinions (see #6, above).
  11. Science is the best way to make decisions and move forward, because the scientific method by definition seeks what really works, and what’s verifiable. Climate change? Look to the science.
  12. The globe is warming. There’s no credible debate about that. Climate change deniers are like the people 20 years ago who argued there was no scientific link between smoking and lung disease.
  13. We can get past this. Without denying our emotions, our humanity, we can respect each other. Start by acknowledging our equality, and our equal ability to be wrong. Leave religion aside for the moment. Look at the facts, and our own goals. As long as our goals are not oppression, abrogation of human rights, we can negotiate solutions.

So there. My manifesto. I am open to debate. Like I said, I could be wrong. I was wrong once before.

Fire, fury and quiet



The Furies

Carl Rahl’s Orestes Pursued by the Furies (1852). Wikimedia

This has been an extreme week when it comes to North Korea—extreme political tension, extreme possible consequences and extreme differences in communications strategy, tone and messages.

Furious rhetoric

There’s no shortage of reaction to and analysis of the continuing verbal exchange between the Trump White House and the leadership in Pyongyang. I’ll let others debate the merits of two national leaders threaten each other with nuclear annihilation. What I will say is that the rhetoric itself is extreme, and shows an extremity of intention.

On the other hand, two days ago the world learned that Hyeon Soo Lim, Pastor of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga, Ontario, was released from prison in North Korea. Pastor Lim had been sentenced to hard labour for life for sedition—in the words of the North Korean state, for attempting to destroy North Korea through religion.

Canada sent a delegation, including the senior national security advisor, to North Korea earlier this week to negotiate the pastor’s release. Apparently, the Swedish embassy was involved, too, providing consular support to Pastor Lim over these past two years because Canada does not have an embassy in North Korea.

This came as a huge surprise to the public. Apparently, there have been communications behind the scenes among Canada, North Korea and Sweden for some time. The opposite in tone and volume from Donald Trump’s style of shouting threats of “fury, fire and power.”

How to choose your approach

Kim Jong-un does not back down to threats of nukes.

Image source: SkyNews

There are many who have supported Trump’s messaging. “It’s the language that Kim Jong-Un understands.” One author described it as “mad dog complex”: because nuclear war would destroy all sides in a conflict, each has to make the other believe they’re willing to use nukes, to make the opposition back down.

On the other hand, the Canadian and Swedish governments’ approach to communication, while not at all dramatic, was effective. They wanted to have Pastor Lim released from jail, and that’s what happened.

This is an excellent example of strategic communications in action. Whether your communications is effective always comes down to knowing your audience and knowing what you’re trying to achieve.

With the Canadians and Swedes, the audience was the North Korean government and judiciary. The goals was the release of the pastor. And it was effective.

When it comes to Trump and his communications, the strategy is completely different—if there is a strategy at all.

A guess at the strategy

I don’t have any insight into Trump’s mind or the communications team he has working for him, but I will assume that they do attempt to develop a communications strategy, with goals, hoped-for outcomes, audience analysis, key message development and so on. All the elements of a communications strategy.

So I will attempt to guess what the strategy was by looking at it from the receiving end.

Donald Trump threatens

Image source: The Independent

Threats of “fire and fury” have not worked—they’ve only escalated the rhetoric and the tension. Yet they continue.

Threats have an inherent problem: if you don’t follow through with them, you lose credibility not only with your enemy, who will no longer be afraid of you, but also with your friends. Unfortunately, following through with the threat of nuclear war, as I said, will only lead to losers, with no winners.

What is the goal, then? Before answering that, let’s look at the audience.

Trump’s audience is not Kim Jong-un. His messaging, whether spoken or tweeted, are not directed to Kim, but to other Americans. To the media, political aides, and the voters.

Trump is not trying to achieve peace—he’s bolstering the United States’ reputation as the greatest military power in the world, and his own as a strong man.

Trump’s “brinksmanship” is not a strategy to solving the North Korean problem. It’s a tactic in a long-term strategy to get re-elected, because he perceives that his supporters, his “base,” react well to his bullying and showing off.

What it will achieve in terms of international diplomacy—even international war or peace and the lives of billions—is not part of the calculations.

 

My predictions: What will happen in the final season of Games of Thrones



The seventh and final season of Game of Thrones begins tonight. It’s one of the least predictable plots in television history, but as the show starts, I’d like to try to predict what’s going to happen.

This kind of prediction would not be possible were the final season based on a book by George RR Martin, but television series obey calculations aimed at pleasing audiences.

Other writers have pointed out a pattern that has emerged over the past six seasons. A major character dies in the first episode. There is the big battle in the second-last episode.

At least, there won’t be a cliffhanger to bring us back to the next season. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be foreshadowing, or some elements that point to possible futures for the characters that survive.

So this is what I think will happen.

The first major character to die will be, I believe, Brienne. Jorah Mormont will die—that’s a safe bet, because he has that creeping skin disease from two seasons ago. But he’ll die fighting for his beloved Daenerys.

Cersei will die, and the television audience around the world will cheer. Jamie Lannister will die, as well.

Bron will survive, because he is a survivor.

Tyron will survive—because he’s the most popular character in the show.

I have a bad feeling that Podric Payne will die horribly.

Sandor Clegane, the Hound, will kill his brother, the Mountain, in a final confrontation that’s been building up since the first season.

The big battle

The coming battle is no secret: the Night King and his White Walkers and army of dead will sweep down from the north, opposed by Jon Snow and Sansa Stark’s armies. Meanwhile, Daenerys Targaryen will invade with her armies of Unsullied, Second Sons, Dothraki and, of course, dragons.

So the final war will be between the dragon fire and the ice of the Night King—the “Song of Ice and Fire” that is the actual title George Martin gave his series.

The three dragons will die, somehow killed by the Night King, but they’ll kill him, too. Jon Snow, whom we now know is not Ned Stark’s son, will be killed in the final battle, but his efforts will ensure that his cousin Sansa becomes independent Queen in the North, and that the living are victorious. Daenerys will win the Iron Throne.

And at the end will be a scene with another clutch of dragon eggs, to say “there is still room for more stories in this world.”

Agee? Disagree? What’s your prediction?

Dark clouds in Bohemia



The wind ruffles the surface of the Tepla River in southern Bohemia, Czech Republic, just before the dark clouds roll in—very similar to my 2011 short story, Dark Clouds: The Mandrake Ruse.

Elmore Leonard said “never open with the weather.” But he never said anything about opening with his admonition against opening with the weather.

Another writer’s rule is to avoid clichés like the plague. I guess I’m going to break that rule, too.

Opening with the weather

Last month, my wife and I travelled to the Czech Republic. On our last night there, we had supper on a patio overlooking the Tepla River in southern Bohemia. Darkness came early, presaging a summer storm.

We had thankfully finished our dinner and were enjoying the last of our wine when I looked up and across the river. Dark clouds had covered most of the sky, but under them, a lighter-coloured cloud was moving fast, like a carpet unrolling—straight toward us.

The ragged edges of the cloud reached for us, some like ragged fringes, others like grasping tendrils of an undersea predator.

The sight unnerved everyone on the patio that night—not just my wife and me, but also the group from Poland at the table next to us. I could see gusts ruffling the river’s surface into flotillas of tiny ripples that dashed from one strand to the other.

Life imitates art

The second work of fiction I published was called “Dark Clouds: The Mandrake Ruse.” There’s a scene where the heroes see a dark cloud moving fast toward them, across the sky. When the cloud reaches the protagonists, the son and daughter-in-law of the Witch Queen, it throws up a storm of dust and pebbles, blinding and stinging the couple.

In Bohemia that night in June, the strange dark cloud continued to unravel over our heads—but if it had been unrolling, the rolling motion was counter to the movement of the overall cloud, itself.

When it hit us, the wind whipped a napkin off my lap and a glass bottle off the table. My wife stood up to move indoors, and her chair flew off the patio, landing three metres away, then sliding down three stone steps.

The wait staff reacted immediately, picking up napkins and cutlery and small items, sweeping up broken glass before the wind scattered the pieces. We guests retreated indoors and watched the clouds come lower and closer.

Then the rain hit like surf crashing on a beach. When the lightning began, it illuminated the forested tops of the rides and hills surrounding the hotel. It continued flashing for hours, light filling the dark hotel room, providing entertainment unmatched by any summer blockbusters.

Living what I write

It was a memorable moment, a memorable night. Even my wife said “It’s like your story, ‘Dark Clouds.'”

It’s always been important to me that my writing is as realistic, as believable as possible. That’s why I do so much research about the settings of my stories and the history behind them. It’s why I describe little details about the places, the furniture, the light and, yes, the weather. It helps put the reader into the story, helps them understand and, ultimately, experience the story.

Because that’s why readers enjoy books: they take the audience out of their everyday reality, and allows them, in a small way at least, to experience the exotic, the fantastic or the downright impossible.

So when something happens to me that echoes so closely what I described six years ago, I have to admit—it’s gratifying.

When has your life reflected art?

Tell me about something that happened to you that seemed to echo something you read or saw in a book, film, song or picture. Leave your description in the Comments.

Travel, beauty and writing



Tyn Church in Prague

The Gothic-era Tyn Church in Prague’s Old Square, fronted by newer buildings that now make up its entrance.

People often say travel broadens you. It opens your mind and your heart to new ideas, exposes you to different cultures and people, and tends to make you more accepting of differences.

For me, travel is also inspiring—literally. When I travel, I often get new ideas for stories and novels. These can be sparked by people I see and meet, buildings, streets, forests, coastlines—just about anything.

I recently returned from a visit to Prague and the Czech Republic. If you have been, you’ll know how beautiful that capital city is. If you haven’t been, you should put it on your list of places to visit.

The Astronomical Clock in Prague’s Old Square, built in 1410.

Prague itself is an arrangement of architecture that, for at least 700 years, has intended to embrace the current styles, yet fit in with the established buildings. As one of the travel guides points out, you can stand in the Old Square and see architecture of the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Art Deco periods. And you don’t have to walk far to find later examples — the Cubist house of the Black Madonna is just steps from the square.

At least in the centre of the city, it’s hard to find a building that’s strictly functional—almost all are beautiful in some way.

The Municipal Hall is too prosaic a name for this Art Nouveau building on the National Square, home of two concert halls, including Smetana Hall.

Inspiration

Walking through a city that’s new to me gets my imagination going. It’s easy to think of the beginnings of stories, more like dramatic situations. But in Prague, I came up with more of a feeling or a theme than a plotline. The juxtaposition of buildings from every era of the past 700 years points to a Prague characteristic: its continual embracing of the modern while honouring, and making full use of tradition.

It brought to mind a kind of story of two people in a relationship, who are both trying to solve the same problem: one from a 21st-century approach, based in science and technology; and the other taking an older, more traditional perspective informed by psychology and religion.

This building is the home of the Hotel Paris in central Prague.

Prague has always been known as a music-loving city. Mozart loved Prague, and Prague loved him back. Today, you can find street performers at almost any time, any place—and theyre really good. These guys called themselves the De Facto String Quartet, and played a version of Stairway to Heaven that sounded terrific.

I don’t know what the problem will be, yet, nor what the plot points are. But I have the characters worked out. And it will definitely be set in Prague.

As if the architecture, art and music arent inspiring enough, Prague has immortalized its favourite native-born author, Franz Kafka, with this metallic scupture of his head. The sections rotate independently, according to some program that occasionally lines them up to reveal the writer’s likeness.

Prague really likes Kafka! This statue is in the Josefov area, the old Jewish Quarter. Maybe the head was taken for the sculpture in the previous picture.

I’ll keep you informed.

In the meantime, why not leave a comment sharing places that inspire you, and why?