Thursday, December 11, 2014

Water from the Tiber River and Mediterranean leeched through tuff rock, creating a bone-cracking stillness in a passageway of the Catacombs of Priscilla beneath Rome.
I wrapped my sweater around me, staring at an image I had studied in seminary a decade ago: the first known depiction of the Virgin Mary. Shifting to encourage circulation and hoping to prevent lead-footed clumsiness during the hours of exploring that lay ahead, I considered the cozy allure of writing romance—while uncomfortably researching international suspense.

I chuckled when I remembered heavy artillery fire in Syria, machine gun fire in Lebanon, and the tarantula in the skiff on the Amazon River in Peru. As I shook my head at those memories, a crypt fresco combining Greek geometric designs with early Christian symbols caught my eye. 
I engaged the young graduate from the Pontifical School of Archaeology in a vigorous discussion of syncretism (the blending of religions), which led to a long and uplifting chat about martyrdom.

In this ancient space just off the Appian Way, we ignored cultural, denominational, and generational barriers to unite in the love of Christ.

As she disappeared in the rabbit’s warren of shafts and tunnels, I rushed to follow her fading beam. I reminded myself that catacombs were not good places to get lost, especially if you are not keeper of the flashlight. I learned that lesson the hard way—in a war zone—in 2007.

As I tumbled along, I smiled: I love my life.

While Google Earth and the Internet make detailed research easier and more convenient, they cannot convey sensory elements that I believe draw readers into my stories, satisfying my loyal tribe with authenticity. Subtle, factual differences distinguish settings; develop characters in the Parched series; and relate one book to the next in ways that enrich my readers’ participation and allow them to embrace my characters closely. (Two ruthless editors note when I “geek out” with detail. Thank you again, ladies.)

Did you know the wet dust and rock, plus mold, in the Roman catacombs emit a sweet, slightly acidic
smell? But catacombs in the much-drier Middle East almost lack scent? Camels can be sweet-tempered, with a smoother gait than a racehorse. They also can be demonically mean, so get a bead on their personality before stepping too close. (Warning: both ends can be dangerous.)

Sunset on the Western Wall in Jerusalem bathes everything in a golden glow—except the blue tiles on the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, which glitter like sapphires. A peculiar lilac haze often precedes dusk in this region. Fresh pomegranate juice in the Old City of Jerusalem is sweeter than fresh pomegranate juice in the Greek Isles.

If you are an intelligent, middle-aged female protagonist determined to save your family despite your
better judgment, your responses to these sensory influences convey your stress, fear, excitement, or frustration. If you are a middle-aged female author, writing these scenes believably requires that you embrace the “been there, done that” approach to crafting a manuscript.

I am committed to write only about places I have traveled and know well. Except for murder, I share my protagonist’s struggles so that I can tantalize readers with my sense of participating in her adventures.

Archaeologist Grace Madison’s time in the Catacombs of Pricilla was tense and fearful as she and her adult children searched for clues to the location of a treasure from King Solomon’s time. Her husband was wounded, dear friends were near death, and everyone she loved was heading to the climactic scene (but was it?) at Carnevale in Venice.

As I climbed the claustrophobia-inducing spiral staircase to exit the catacombs on a cold October day, I reminded myself that I shoot better than I salsa. Camels are more natural to me than carriages. And cargo pants are vastly more comfortable and mobile than a corset.

The life of an international suspense writer is good. Especially if she is in charge of the flashlight.

A member of the venerable Explorers Club, NLB Horton returned to writing fiction after
an award-winning career in marketing and a graduate degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. She has surveyed archaeological digs under Syrian and Lebanese heavy artillery fire in Israel and Jordan, explored the Amazon River and Machu Picchu after training with an Incan shaman, and consumed tea on five continents—and while crossing the North Atlantic.

Visit the author on her website, "Like" her Facebook page, and tweet with her on Twitter

1 comment :

  1. Yvonne:

    Thank you for sharing with your readers the more personal side of my adventure in writing! It's a great joy, and intellectually stimulating, to write international suspense revolving around archaeologist Grace Madison, and some research borders on the crazy.

    I very much appreciate your help here to spread the word about The Brothers' Keepers and wish you a Merry Christmas.



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