Wednesday, May 26, 2010

R. Ann Siracusa’s Travelblog: Morocco

By R. Ann Siracusa (Guest Blogger)

Novel Ideas Come From Everywhere

One of the favorite interview questions for authors is, “Where do you get the ideas for your novels?” My answer: Everywhere. Everyone has a story. I keep my eyes and ears open and always ask, “What if ?”

But in particular, I get many ideas from traveling. Initially, being an architect, my main interest in travel focused on ancient cultures and the ways in which those cultures manifested themselves in structures, buildings systems, and design. I never guessed that interest would eventually blossom into a major source of inspiration for writing novels. But it has.

Now, when I travel, I look for the unique features of the country or for pieces of information about the culture that spark a story idea. Sometimes just a word, a phrase, a street scene, an historical event, etc. can spark a full storyline, other times they provide incidents to enrich a novel.

My current humorous romantic suspense series features a young tour director, Harriet Ruby, and a handsome Europol spy, Will Talbot, with a dark and troubled past. And what do you know? Every adventure takes them to a different part of the world where I have traveled. What a coincidence!

Why Morocco?

So, why Morocco? My second international trip [other than many trips to Italy and Sicily because my husband is Italian] was made to Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. That trip gave birth to the idea for my first novel in my current humorous romantic suspense series [Harriet Ruby: Tour Director Extraordinaire] and sparked my use of travel in my fiction writing.

But first, let’s talk about the Kingdom of Morocco [al-Mamlakah al-Maġribiyya]. Sounds incredibly exotic, and it is! Morocco, an Islamic country in North Africa, has a population of approximately 32 million and a land area of approximately 274,000 square miles. It is separated from the southern coast of Spain by the Strait of Gibraltar. Moroccan history goes back at least twelve centuries. In spite of a long and colorful history, it became an independent country only fifty years ago, March 2, 1956, when the French relinquished their rule.

Like many other countries, it has been conquered and inhabited by numerous cultures. The original Neolithic inhabitants, dating back to 8,000 B.C., were ethnically Amazighs/Berbers. As early as the sixth century B.C. the Phoenicians established settlements and eventually the area became part of the Roman Empire until around the fifth century A.D. when it was conquered by the Vandal, Visigoths, and then the Byzantine Greeks [in rapid succession]. The first Islamic conquest in North Africa in 670 A.D. brought Islamic expansion into this region. In modern history, France showed an interest in Morocco as early as 1830 and, after a series of crises, the Treaty of Fez made Morocco a French Protectorate.

Traveling in Morocco Today

Tourism a big part of the nation’s economy and Moroccans work hard at catering to visitors. It’s generally a safe place to travel [the crime rate is low, and the government is stable], but you have to expect to be hassled to buy things. The vendors can be very “in your face.” Everyone should respect the customs of the country/culture in which they travel, but in Morocco, in particular, women should be attentive to what they wear.

An increasing number of urban Moroccan women no longer completely cover themselves after marriage; you even see women dressed Western style in the cities. But you won’t see bare midriffs, low cut sweaters or shorts. Outside the major cities, it is rare to see a woman who is not wearing traditional clothing. In rural areas and small town medinas it is rare to see an unveiled woman.

Generally, female tourists traveling in Morocco are safe and are treated with courtesy, but sometimes are regarded as fair game by some Moroccan men. This is partly because of the way they dress and partly a result of widespread westernised pornography, which gives a distorted view of western women’s availability.

Getting lost in the Medina and the idea for “All For A Dead Man’s Leg”

The original idea for “All For A Dead Man’s Leg,” the first book in my humorous romantic suspense series, predates the writing by nearly ten years. On my trip to Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, and Morocco in 1994, I asked our guide, Carl―I don’t remember his last name―about his worst experience as a tour director. His answer: when he first started working as a tour director, one of his tourists died in Morocco and they had to smuggle the body back to Spain to avoid delaying the tour.

What a great idea for a novel! Over the years, I tried several approaches, but none of them worked. In 2003, my tour director on a trip to Central Europe suggested I use it as the plot for a dramatic WWII novel set in Germany. That same tour director―Paul Fletcher―also told me his worst experience was when a tourist slipped crossing a ramp, caught his foot between the sides of two boats, and lost his prosthetic leg in the river.

Yes, that really did happen! As soon as Paul told me that―Boom―the tourist dying in Morocco came together with the tourist losing his prosthetic leg, and I was off and running. As soon as I got home, I started writing the novel.

Not only did the story idea for the first book come from the Morocco/Spain trip, but also the opening scene. There I drew from personal experience. In Tangier, with my tour group, we went to the Medina [the old walled city] which is a souk or outdoor street market. The streets [if you can call them that] were narrow and winding, it was crowded and hot. I stopped to buy post cards, and when I turned around, my group had disappeared. Instead of staying put, I set out to search for them and became hopelessly lost in the twists and turns of the market. Of course, I couldn’t speak Arabic and couldn’t find my way out. That’s when I realized I didn’t know the name of our hotel and couldn’t have pronounced it in a million years, even if I’d known. Since then, I always carry with me a business card from the hotel. You can show that to a taxi driver, even if you can’t say the name or the street. Live and learn.

Needless to say, my panic grew. Finally, I found and followed another English-speaking group, thinking that it would end up at the plaza where the tour buses parked. Wrong! It was a group from a cruise ship which, I found out later, was headed for an entirely different location. When the tour stopped at a carpet factory showroom for a sales pitch, I spoke to the guide and the showroom manager. He summoned an employee who dealt with, and knew, most of the tour directors. I described my guide. The man took me back into the Medina to look for Carl. When he found my group, I was so relieved and flustered, I gave him a fifty dollar tip.

I know now, the tour director would not have left me there, although I would have spent a couple of hours wandering around on my own and getting into who-knows-what kind of trouble. Assuming they didn’t miss me sooner, when the tour got back to the bus and Carl did his head-count, they would have sent someone back to find me. But what did I know? Not much, apparently, in spite of having traveled in Italy rather frequently. I saw this quote the other day, although I don’t know who said it. “Bad Choices make good novels."

About the Author

R. Ann Siracusa is involved in many activities, but her two favorite are traveling the world and writing fiction. This talented author combines those loves into novels which transport readers to exotic settings, immerse them in romance, intrigue and foreign cultures, and make them laugh. Her current humorous romantic suspense series, published by Sapphire Blue Publishing, features a young tour director, Harriet Ruby, and a Europol spy, Will Talbot, with a dark and troubled past. Each book takes the reader with them on an adventure in a different foreign country.

Travel to exotic lands for romance and intrigue with a novel by R. Ann Siracusa
The “Harriet Ruby: Tour Director Extraordinaire” Series
All For A Dead Man’s Leg
First Date
First Christmas Follies
All For A Fist Full Of Ashes
Coming this fall --Destruction of the Great Wall


Lisabet Sarai said...

Hello, Ann,

Welcome to Beyond Romance! I enjoyed your post and your photos.

I visited Morocco in the mid-seventies. It was, alas, on my first trip abroad, which also included four weeks traveling in Spain. I didn't fully appreciate how exotic the country was, because at that point, given my limited travel experience, everything was exotic.

I was traveling with one of my closest girlfriends, who had significantly more international destinations to her credit than I did. We signed up for a very reasonably priced week-long tour that promised we'd visit many areas of the country: Fez, Rabat, Tangiers, Casablanca, Marrakesh. What we didn't know is that we'd spend most of the time on the bus, and the rest of the time being ferried to carpet and antique shops!

Actually, I'm exaggerating. I have many vivid memories of the trip, including wandering the souks in Marrakesh. I still have the kaftan I bought there. Possibly my most treasured recollection is of Fez. We were staying in a lovely, very modern hotel. We woke in the morning and discovered that there was no electricity (probably a common occurrence since there were candles in the room). So we went down to the river in back of the hotel to wash. All the local women were there, also bathing in the chill water. I had never seen anything like it.

Thanks again for being my guest.


Margaret West said...

What an interesting blog. i went to Tunisia when I was 19 (man moons ago lol) and like Ann said, the men swarmed around my friend and I like flys. It was quite scary at times the way they grabbed you. I didn't like the food or the country, I lost a stone in those two weeks because I lived on chocolate and coke lol Good luck with your book Ann.

Unknown said...

A very informative article. Thanks for posting.
The novels and Ruby sounds like fun. I love to read about exotic places, never having traveled out of the country myself.

s7anna said...

I loved reading about your experience in Morocco...I've always wanted to go there b/c it just looks so freakin' exotic. I have a ton of questions for you but I'll narrow it down to the basics...
*Did they have internet where you were?
*How was the food? Did you eat anything unusual you want to share with us?


Jannine said...

Ann, that was a fascinating blog. I really knew nothing about that part of the world.

I was surprised that non-native women didn't have to cover-up. I always thought they had to.

R. Ann Siracusa said...

Thanks for the comment. I wasn't 19 when I went to Morocco, so I didn't have too much of a problem with males, but the Moroccans are really "in your face" trying to sell to tourists.

One of my goals as a writer is to make my readers feel as though they've been able to travel to some of these places.

When I went to Morocco, no one had internet, but it's my understanding they do now. All of the good hotels have modern facilities like anywhere else in the world. Botswana is the only place I've been recently that was "iffy" about technology. Where I traveled, we could access the internet but not cell phone service. Go figure!
As far as the Moroccan food went, I don't remember anything unpleasant about it. We were advised not to eat fresh fruits and vegetables and always drink bottled water. That's still the safe practice in Morocco (except in the good hotels). I remember having a lot of rice dishes and exotic foods, and liking them, but I was with a tour. I've learned they don't expose tourists to anything too off-putting.

Tourism is important in Morocco and they don't "impose" standards of dress, but as I wrote in the blog, a woman is better off not exposing too much skin and respecting the local standards. It's always more western in the cities. Rural is something else.

Thank you all for leaving comments. If you have questions, don't hesitate to contact me through my website.
Ann Siracusa

Lisabet Sarai said...

About the food--lots of lamb and vegetables, couscous, lovely spicing. Not hot, but savory.

On our tour, we ate in the hotels every night. Good but not great. The last night (in Tangiers) my girlfriend and I decided to go to a local restaurant instead. It was incredibly delicious. I remember having "pigeon pie", succulent meat in a flaky pastry dusted with confectionary sugar.

Unfortunately, it didn't agree with me (see Ann's cautions above) though my friend B. had no trouble. She went out dancing. I stayed home with a bellyache.

Oh well...!

Cate Masters said...

Loved this post. Thanks for sharing your travel pics and experiences. Morocco always intrigued me because of its ornate architecture. Loved the story about smuggling the dead tourist home!

Post a Comment