Many actors talk about "getting into character" when it comes time to play a role, and often authors use some of the same methods to create memorable and intriguing characters. A fascinating character is often the catalyst for a novelist’s spark of inspiration.
Not for me.
I don't "get into" character. I get into setting.
Nothing inspires me more than a fascinating location, steeped in ancient mystery, with a thousand stories to tell within its crumbling columns, inscribed on tablets and scrolls, whispered through ancient catacombs and temples or hidden in cracked amphorae.
Settings have been the inspiration for so many of my stories. I’ve told tales from Pompeii in its last days before being buried by Vesuvius, stories of sunny Greek islands with dark political intrigue, and of the lost stone-carved city of Petra. I’ve tried to bring to life the bustling harbor streets of Ephesus, the magnificent kingdom of Babylon, the lofty pyramids of Egypt. And for nearly all of them, I've taken a trip to immerse myself in the setting that would give birth to the story.
In Acts 17 we get that wonderful story of Paul speaking to the men of Athens near the altar they constructed “to the unknown God.” Paul points to the altar and says “The one that you’ve been worshipping in ignorance, I now declare to you.”
Paul was telling them that all of the yearnings of the world before Christ – expressed in myth and in story – all of these yearnings were now made complete in the person of Jesus. It’s this pagan world on the brink of extinction, grappling with one man who claimed to be God, and whose followers were upending paganism, that fascinates me.
As I make my way overseas again this week, it will be to revisit some of these sites, filming video clips of the scenes of the books, collecting souvenirs for readers, but more importantly, immersing myself in the cultures of Italy, Greece and Turkey to breathe in inspiration for the stories yet to come.
I anticipate a few more adventures on this trip, for one can’t help falling into adventures when exploring the unknown. There was the time I was deep within an ancient maze of catacombs under the city of Alexandria, Egypt when the lights went out! And the afternoon spent overcoming my lifelong struggle with claustrophobia to squeeze up the two hundred meter shaft inside the Great Pyramid. Or getting tossed from a public bus in Turkey because I didn’t have the correct change in Turkish Lira, only Euros – left on the street with nothing but open fields in sight.
I also expect to be awed. Sitting in the amphitheater where the riot of Acts 19 took place, imagining the shouts of “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” echoing from its basin of stone seats. Looking up at Mt. Vesuvius, still an active volcano, long overdue for an eruption and threatening the modern metropolis of Naples as it once did Pompeii.
But more than seeing the sights, it’s my hope that in reading my stories you’ll feel as if you’ve walked the desert stands, explored the ruins, felt the white sand blue sea under your feet, and most of all, met with the redeeming God who is sovereign over the entire drama of human history.
Isle of Shadows, releasing in November.