Faraway Places

Both faraway places and strange sounding names are relative, aren’t they? My exotic is possibly your common place and visa versa.

So let me begin by saying I’ve always been fascinated by locations far from me or hard for me to get to. I’ve always loved the names of places that sounded so different from those I’m familiar with.

It’s not an uncommon affliction.

Mine took an unusual direction, however, when I wrote six speculative fiction books, and located each in, well, a faraway place. At least from my point of view.

What follows is a little information on those locations. Nigeria. Kiribati. Belize. Bhutan. Greenland. Antarctica. And a few others as well. They are presented in the order they appear in the 46. Ascending Series, and they are, of course, color coded by book.

Why in the world would you write a book about Nigeria?

maps for x0 600 by 800

Recently I’ve gotten some feedback on my book from folks who did not particularly enjoy it.  That’s part of the process of writing, of course, and I accept these comments with all the good cheer I can manage.  After all, we all enjoy different things and I appreciate an honest review. But I’ve heard a few times now that writing about Nigeria was part of the problem. It has been suggested to me that it just isn’t a place that particularly interests many readers from the United States. So I’ve had to consider, after the fact, why in the world I picked such a “difficult” location for my first book. I mean, wouldn’t Paris or London have been better?

Much of One of One probably takes place in Nigeria simply because I began to write a tale of two very different women helping each other about the same time that I started a new job exploring for oil in the Niger Delta. Mind you, I do my exploring at a computer in Houston, twisting and turning 3-D images on a screen just like Lola does in the story. The fair-sized oil company that I work for bears little resemblance to Lola’s tiny focused employer, and as I began writing I promised myself that I would steadfastly resist the temptation to let any thing about my actual place of employment creep into the fictional world I was creating. Certainly I owed my employer that discretion.

In the end though, I made one exception. One day I asked my office mate, a Nigerian geologist, to describe to me how his tribe, the Igbo, were unique. He responded by telling me a legend about Igbo slaves coming to America. It startled me at first that he would even speak of such a thing, but in the end I was touched by both the moving story he told, and by the powerful way in that he told it.  I tried to capture each of those when I retold this scene in my book.

Nana Asma’u
Click here to visit the website for Wise Muslim Women.org to learn more

Nigeria, it turns out, has a plethora of rich stories to tell, and as an outsider I am poorly equipped to speak of even the few that I know. Yet as I kept writing I filled myself with all the history, culture and geography I could find on the internet. Somewhere along the way I became a fan of Nana Asma’u, a proponent of education for her fellow Muslim women and a poet and scholar herself.  She lived in northern Nigeria in the early 1800’s.

Why Nigeria?  Why anywhere. Every spot on this earth is teeming with tales of heroes and feats that will never make it to our ears. Why listen to these tales? Why tell them again? When young Pakistani Malala Yousufzai was shot by the Taliban a few weeks ago for advocating education for girls, I thought of Malala’s noble predecessor of 200 years ago, and I had a perspective that I would once have totally lacked.

Why Nigeria?  Because when I started writing this book, there probably wasn’t a place on earth that I knew less about. That’s not true anymore. I get that the fascinating details of a far off land don’t appeal to everyone, but they do to me. I had to look hard to find a location for my second book that was even less known to me. I found it. And I hope that some of you will also enjoy reading about the remote Pacific Island nation of Kiribati.

Would You Like to Know More About Nigeria?

The Igbo of Southeast Nigeria by Victor C. Uchendu from Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology published by Harcourt Brace Jonanovich College Publishers, 1965

Half of a Yellow Sun  A Novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie published by Anchor Books, 2006 (author’s note: this work of fiction by an Igbo author provided general background on Igbo history and culture, but is also highly recommended for those just wishing to read a fine book, and particularly for those wishing to read truly authentic fiction about Nigeria)

http://www.igboguide.org/

http://www.everyculture.com/Ma-Ni/Nigeria.html

http://www.globalpost.com/photo/5653257/lagos-traffic-taxi-2011-6-23 for information on traffic in Lagos

Nigerian Weddings, Foods and Customs

http://www.foodbycountry.com/Kazakhstan-to-South-Africa/Nigeria.html and http://www.motherlandnigeria.com/food.html for more about Nigerian food

http://nollywoodonline.info/?p=5 and http://travel.mapsofworld.com/wedding/wedding-traditions-around-the-world/nigerian-wedding-traditions.html for wedding customs

Nigerian Heroes

https://php.radford.edu/~wkovarik/drupal/?q=node/57 for Bill Kovarik’s blog on Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa

http://africanmusic.org/artists/felakuti.html, http://www.thetalkingdrum.com/fela.html, and http://www.starpulse.com/Music/Kuti,_Fela/Biography/ for information on the life and music of Fela

http://www.whenweruled.com/articles.php?lng=en&pg=28 for information on the life and achievements of Dan Fodio of Sokoto (Founder of the Sokoto Caliphate in northern Nigeria) and on other African rulers as well

http://www.wisemuslimwomen.org/muslimwomen/bio/nana_asmau/ for information on scholar and poet Nana Asma’u

The Nigerian National Youth Service Corps

http://www.nysc.gov.ng/serviceyear.php

News on the Oil Industry in Nigeria

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11467394 for “Who are Nigeria’s Mend oil militants?” By Caroline Duffield BBC News, Lagos BBC News Africa Mobil Edition October 4 2010

http://www.geoexpro.com/country_profile/nigeria/ for Oil in Nigeria – Curse or Blessing? by Jane Whaley, Associate Editor GeoExPro Dec. 15, 2008

Pacific Islands

Some of the action in Shape of Secrets takes place on various islands of the Pacific. I had a fascinating time researching these locations and as I wrote I fell in love with them all. I was lucky enough to have a beta reader who had sailed the Pacific and another who was raised in American Samoa. Both were kind enough to help me with accuracy and a feel for these places. I was also able to make use of books and the internet to fill in other gaps in my knowledge.

Below are  links to nine of the sources that I enjoyed the most. Enjoy!

Kiribati greets the year 2000 http://www.janeresture.com/kirimwaie/index.htm

Apia Samoa http://aggiegreys.com/hotel/our-samoa

Samoan Fire Knife Dancer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73OGSGD9_Co

Kiribati http://www.janeresture.com/kirihome/

Earthquake in Samoa http://www.riskmanagementmonitor.com/tsunami-strikes-samoan-islands/

Flaming Sword of Samoa http://www.amazon.com/Flaming-Sword-Samoa-Story-Knife/dp/0974267260

Phoenix Islands http://www.southtravels.com/pacific/kiribati/traveltips/phoenixislands.html

Views of Christmas (Kiritimata) Island http://www.widescenes.com/Kiribati-Kiritimati-1.html

video on Kiribati http://yachtpals.com/node/1178

Here is my favorite post on the subject.

Where in the world is Kiribati?

Occupying the center of the Pacific Ocean, Kiribati is the only nation with land in all four hemispheres.  It is made up of  three island groups and a lot of water, and covers about half as much of the surface of the earth as the continental United States.  And yes, it really did contain the first land mass outside of Antarctica to see the new millennium, just like the book y1 says.

An old friend asked me recently why in the world I decided to write a book about Kiribati. The first answer is that it is exactly on the other side of the globe from Nigeria.  My first book x0 is about the ways we are all alike and it partially takes place in Nigeria. So when I started to write y1, a book meant to celebrate all the ways we are different, I thought that it would be cool to have it take place on the other side of  the world.  That’s Kiribati.

Dancers from Jane’s Kiribati Homepage

But as I began to weave my love of travel and sailing and tropical sunsets into the story I realized that Kiribati (pronounced Ki ri bas) was a wonderful setting for a book about finding the joy in ones life.  As I researched, I became a big fan of a website called Jane’s Kiribati Home page.  If you share my love of far-away beautiful places please visit her lovely website.

In addition, in the course of my research I found Yacht  Pals, a helpful website designed for the online boating community.  Besides providing a wealth of information on sailing the Pacific, they have a delightful short video of photos of Kiribati put to music. Pour yourself a tropical drink, put your feet up and enjoy a 4 minute vacation.

While not a common tourist destination, a fair number of bird watchers, sport fishermen, and scuba divers visit these islands each year. GT Popping, a site dedicated to catch and release fishing, is looking into fishing packages here. Travel eGuides offers this link with useful information. Will I get to Kiribati someday? Sigh…… I certainly hope so.

Guatemala and Belize

Some of the action in z2 takes place in Guatemala and Belize. I had a fascinating time researching these locations and as I wrote I fell in love with these two countries.. I am lucky enough to have spent a little time in Belize studying the reefs, and to have had a wonderful beta reader with roots in Guatemala who was kind enough to help me. I was also able to make use of books and the internet to fill in other gaps in my knowledge.

Below are the links in the book that show more about these exciting places.

authenticmaya.com/tayasal.htm

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Usumacinta.jpg

stanncreek.com/attract_dangriga.html

belizemagazine.com/edition03/english/e03_16newrichmond.htm

Here is my favorite post about Twists of Time and Faraway Places.

Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away Place

I remember visiting Yellowstone as a teenager and being upset that I was not allowed to take even one tiny little insignificant rock home as a souvenir.  Up to that time, I always brought a rock home from places I enjoyed. What difference could my little memento make?

Then I looked around. Thousands of people were here with me, and if I was the only one who ever took a pretty stone, there would be no problem. But what if half of them wanted rocks, too?

It was something of an epiphany to realize that while a never-before-seen insect or two on ones front porch is interesting, ten thousand such insects on the porch is frightening. Maybe even a plague. It was more of an epiphany to understand that it works pretty much the same for humans as for bugs. Take one or two of us out of our home environment and put us somewhere else, and we’re interesting. But if thousands of us suddenly plop up somewhere new, we become a problem. Maybe even a plague.

Today, I am an adult who loves to travel, and my books and my blogs reflect my belief that peace and compassion are byproducts of visiting places far from our own. However, in a world where many now have the means and desire to explore far away places (which is good), we risk harming every place to which we swarm (which is bad).

Back when I wrote z2, main characters Alex and Lola had to visit Guatemala and Belize as part of the plot. As I researched their vacation, I came upon the concept of ecotourism and immediately wanted my characters to embrace this idea. This was the result.

As the van from their lodge left the lowlands the next morning and entered the mountainous area of western Belize, Alex thought that the vacation portion of this trip had pretty much ended. So he was surprised by the breathtaking beauty.

The lodge itself was nestled in between two small waterfalls and surrounded by tropical forest. Even just standing in the parking lot Alex could see wild orchids growing and brightly colored parrots flitting about. It was a fantasy set in a version of paradise.

“Why don’t you tell the world that this place is so gorgeous?” Lola was exclaiming.

“Many tourists are a mixed blessing,” the driver smiled back at her. Of course, Alex thought. We bring money, something the region sorely needs. But we also bring us.

The lodge that Lola had selected advertised its allegiance to sustainable ecotourism. In the past Alex had honestly paid very little attention to that concept. But now, looking at the array of spectacular plant life in front of him, and remembering the clear struggle for life he had seen while diving around reefs only a few days ago, he was proud and happy that Lola had persuaded him to spend the extra to be staying at a facility that at least gave some conscious thought to the problem.

A few days ago I got introduced to a documentary being made by relatives of a friend of mine. He is from Easter Island, and they are working to finish a film about the challenges caused by having a massive number of humans decide to put a visit to Easter Island on their bucket list.

It looks like it will be a thought-provoking look into how our common yen to visit far away places has consequences, and how we would be well-served to keep them in mind.

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see As Far Away Places Edge Closer, Caring About Far Away Places, The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places, and Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door.)

India, Bhutan and Thailand

Most of the action in c3 takes place in Darjeeling India, in the little known nation of Bhutan, in Bangkok Thailand and along Thailand’s famous beaches. I had a fascinating time researching each of these locations and as I wrote I fell in love with all them. I was lucky enough to have four wonderful beta readers from India who were kind enough to help me with accuracy and local color, and I was also able to make use of books, the internet and well-traveled friends to fill in other gaps in my knowledge. You see,  I’ve haven’t made it to any of these locations yet, but I will, and hopefully soon.

Below are the ten links in the book that show more about these exciting places, and a short excerpt from c3 showing how the first location plays a role in the story.

Bagdogra AirportChapter 5.
This is what Teddie and Michelle see as they arrive at the Bagdogra airport
darjeeling-tourism.com/darj_0000a6.htm

Teddie had been to Ireland, to France and to Hawaii, so she had some idea of how miserable a long flight was on a full plane. Still. Two crying babies, one on each side? Come on. There ought to be a law.

Michelle, who clearly was far more excited than Teddie was about this adventure, as everyone else kept insisting on calling it, had slept through three out of the four major bouts of wailing. Now, she was wide awake and eager to explore the Frankfurt airport for a few hours before the girls boarded the second plane on to Delhi and then yet a third on to some town Teddie couldn’t even begin to pronounce. And then that would be followed by a three-hour car ride. Teddie, for her part, just wanted to sleep in a bed, preferably her own soft and cozy bed, but at this point any real bed would do.

The flight to Delhi was full too, of course, and Teddie had already been warned, many times, that from this point forward she should expect large crowds of people crammed into less space than she was used to or would like. India, only about one-third the size of the United States, had over three times as many people. It was going to be part of the cultural adjustment that was going to make “this adventure” so enriching.

Chapter 6.
See the views of Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling that Teddie raves about during her first meal at the school at magic-photographer.com/2012/10/25/scenic-kangchenjunga-mountain-seen-from-darjeeling-west-bengal-india-photo-gallery/

Chapter 8.
See photographs of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway from the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society Website at dhrs.org/page21.html

Chapter 9
See Gangtok through Usha’s eyes as she arrives at abhitalks.wordpress.com/2009/05/28/hello-gangtok/

Chapter 11.
See the Tiger’s Nest, the most famous cliff dwelling monastery in Bhutan, and similar in concept to the much smaller convent where Usha is hiding
blog.instagram.com/post/33005493762/off-the-beaten-path-tigers-nest-monastery

Chapter 13.
See why Teddie findsthe mountains too beautiful to leave by visiting this post on a travel blog
calabrus.blogspot.com/2012/06/himalaya-sometimes-dream-comes-true-and.html

Chapter 15.
Visit the Peace Pagoda in Darjeeling, where Lhatu snaps a photo of the Zeitman family
trekearth.com/gallery/Asia/India/East/West_Bengal/Darjeeling/photo1091059.htm
Check out the other photos of Darjeeling while you are there.

Chapter 25
See beautiful Lachen in Sikkim India on this blog of world photos:
knowledgepicture.com/lachung-and-lachen-sikkim-india/

Chapter 27
See photos from Patong Beach at patong-beach.com

Chapter 29
Once she leaves the convent, Usha considers making Bhutan her permanent home. Learn more about Bhutan at kingdomofbhutan.com

Iceland and Greenland

Much of the action in d4 takes place in these two little known Northern regions and I had a fascinating time researching them. A couple of Scandinavian beta readers were kind enough to help me with accuracy and local color, one going as far as to share her personal vacation photos with me. No, I’ve haven’t made it to either location yet, but I will, and hopefully soon.

Below are the six links in the book that show more about these two beautiful locales.

Chapter 4.
See a slow sunrise in Reykjavik at panoramio.com/photo/61495573.

Photo by Clavius_Rork

Baldur Hákonarson was the first of the clients to make time to meet Ariel, his new personal support engineer from Ullow. At least Ariel assumed that he had made time, because his executive assistant had sent Eoin a calendar invite for Ariel to present an update to his board of directors a week after she started. Eoin accepted and cc’d Ariel. So that was how this was going to work.

The company bought her a ticket to Reykjavik, and Eoin showed her where to find the last presentation that had been given, and suggested she start editing it immediately. He needed time to review and approve it before she left. Ariel poked around the specs in the contract and made a few cursory visits to the tech people before she began to carefully craft her message of progress. It was lucky that delivering technical content in an understandable format was something she did well.

A week later she arrived in Reykjavik at 10 a.m. to a night sky adorned with a faint glimmer of dull grey light in the south. She was met by a limo driver, and by 11 a.m. she was setting up her presentation in front of three very well dressed older businessmen and one older woman in a suit that showed her to be of equal stature. The small boardroom was on the top floor of an extremely modern office building, and a beautiful, slow, low-angle sunrise was now erupting through the glass windows off to the south.

Chapter 6.
Learn more about Greenland at greenland.com/en/about-greenland and even plan a fantasy or real vacation from this website.

See beautiful photos of the northern lights here

See beautiful photos of the northern lights here

“So you want me to drop this idea of taking out our clients most influential direct reports?”

“Not at all,” Eoin chuckled. “Up to now I’ve been content to let my client’s private business stay private, but I have to admit that your curiosity is starting to rub off. I want you to plan a vacation to Nuuk. It’s a town of sixteen-thousand, for heaven’s sake, so you ought to be able to find out where in Nuuk Mikkel keeps his people. Don’t be too obvious. Go see the northern lights and ride a dog sled before winter ends. You need to get more acquainted with the north anyway.”

Then, as she looked at him puzzled, he added. “You’ve got a nice direct way about you. You’re not threatening. Go meet the lady that runs the answering service. I bet you can come back from Nuuk knowing more about Mikkel Nygaard than anyone here does now, and I promise that I won’t ask questions about your expense account next month.”

As Eoin turned and left, Ronan gave a little whistle. “Wow. No questions about your expense account for a whole month?”

Fergus added. “I’ve always wanted to go to Greenland.”

“It’s February,” Ariel muttered back. “I bet you wanted to go in July.”

Chapter 7.
See a photo of Iceland’s giant Vatnajökull glacier at icelandsuperjeeps.com, an exciting site offering tours of the glacier. 

glacierThe work portion of the trip would all be at the end, so Ariel tried to enjoy the beginning of her little vacation. She packed a few good books and her warmest clothes, and delighted in a window seat as she watched the late afternoon sun set on her way into Iceland. She found a favorite song on her mp3 player and listened to the pretty shimmer of Ellie Goulding’s voice singing “Lights” as the giant Vatnajökull glacier gleamed beneath her when the plane dipped below the clouds. Ariel thought that perhaps she had never seen anything so beautiful as the various shades of blues that glistened off of the ice in the light of a sun moving low in the winter sky while the song played softly in her mind.

She joined her group at the Reykjavik airport for the evening flight on to Nuuk. The small band of mostly Icelandic travelers was quiet, but friendly, and she felt thankful to live in both a time and place where a woman could easily travel alone. Nuuk was just a quick stopover, and the next morning they boarded the pint-sized plane for Ilulissat, the main tourist destination in Greenland.

Ariel stepped off the plane to her first view of the barren rocks mottled with bright colored lichens that make up the tundra. She had never set foot inside of the Arctic Circle before. Tiny flickers and flashes erupted as her boot touched the ground.

My premonitions are stronger here, she noticed with surprise. The cold dry air? The earth’s magnetic field? There had to be a reason. She added it to her list of things to try to figure out later.

Chapter 16.
Spend a little virtual time at the Blue Lagoon Spa by visiting www.bluelagoon.com. You can even find the current menu for the beautiful LAVA restaurant.

Blue LagoonAriel passed on the mussels appetizer and opted instead for the butternut squash soup, seeing as it looked like there was going to be a lot of seafood coming her way in the main course. She sat alone at the end of the table, quietly enjoying the hot puree and marveling at how soup was always soothing, no matter how humble or fancy its name or its ingredients.

The rest of the guests were mingling as they nibbled. She’d been keeping to herself since she arrived at the beautiful restaurant on the cliff, and she’d silently watched as Baldur made his rounds greeting everyone else effusively with apologies for having been detained in Reykjavik. She suspected that he would greet her last and put on his most extreme show, daring her to counter him in any way. It would be a victory lap of sorts for him to make her play along, and she was trying to figure out what she could possibly do to avoid giving him the satisfaction.

Chapter 23.
Learn more about and see the northern lights at period8magnets.wikispaces.com/how+does+the+aurora+borealis+form%3F

auroraThe Siarnaq who met her plane seemed older. He gave her a long hug through his parka and hers, with all the insulation between them sufficient to buffer any exchange they might have had on a summer day. She had learned that his home was in Ilulissat, but he had relatives in Nuuk and normally stayed with them when he was in town. Not this time though, and he preferred not to go to the hotel. A friend of a friend had offered them his small apartment on the edge of town for the night, and that would have to do.

As they drove away from the town’s lights, the aurora borealis began to put on a show. Often an undulating green curtain, tonight the northern lights reached high into the sky with the greens fading into blues, purples, pinks and reds and the curtain movements slowly giving way to what looked like multicolored feathered wings filling the sky. Siarnaq smiled as Ariel stared out the car window with her mouth open, and he reached across the front seat and put his gloved hand over hers.

Chapter 28.
seydisfjordurMake a virtual visit to the pretty Icelandic town of Seyðisfjörður by visiting visitseydisfjordur.com.

Ariel thought that the beautiful small Icelandic town of Seyðisfjörður would now always be one of her favorite places on Earth. As Toby’s rented speedboat made its way to the barren, snow covered docks in the deepening afternoon twilight, the many wooden buildings stood out in the remaining light, beaconing with the offer of comfort.

And here is one of my favorite posts in the subject.

I’ve always wanted to go to Greenland.

I‘ve always wanted to go to Greenland. Maybe it is because of how I enjoyed my short time in Canada’s Arctic years ago. Maybe it’s because of Greenland’s renowned rock formations, or the fact that giant islands fascinate me. Or maybe it is because I am intrigued by map projections and no place in the world is more distorted on a flat map. It could be something that simple, I think.

Whatever the reason, there was no doubt that one of my books would involve Greenland. Luckily I live in a time where I can watch endless video clips and pursue countless photos online while reading accounts of those lucky enough to there go in person. It’s not the same, of course, but you take what you can get. I spent a good bit of time at greenland.com/en/about-greenland planning imaginary vacations to the far north, so when it came time to choose links for the novel, I was happy to give my readers this nudge to visit Greenland’s tourist website.

“So you want me to drop this idea of taking out our clients most influential direct reports?”

“Not at all,” Eoin chuckled. “Up to now I’ve been content to let my client’s private business stay private, but I have to admit that your curiosity is starting to rub off. I want you to plan a vacation to Nuuk. It’s a town of sixteen-thousand, for heaven’s sake, so you ought to be able to find out where in Nuuk Mikkel keeps his people. Don’t be too obvious. Go see the northern lights and ride a dog sled before winter ends. You need to get more acquainted with the north anyway.”

Then, as she looked at him puzzled, he added. “You’ve got a nice direct way about you. You’re not threatening. Go meet the lady that runs the answering service. I bet you can come back from Nuuk knowing more about Mikkel Nygaard than anyone here does now, and I promise that I won’t ask questions about your expense account next month.”

As Eoin turned and left, Ronan gave a little whistle. “Wow. No questions about your expense account for a whole month?”

Fergus added. “I’ve always wanted to go to Greenland.”

“It’s February,” Ariel muttered back. “I bet you wanted to go in July.”

Antarctica and Tierra Del Fuego

I never got a post written about the fascinating locations in my sixth and final book in the series, but maybe someday I’ll get to add it here.

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