Monday, December 22, 2008

The Story of Inspiration: Malta

About half way through The Amnesia Door, I got stuck. It's not surprising. I'm not an outliner, and I tried to make a problem in my story (how to escape the Amnesia Door) so difficult that even I couldn't solve it...and I couldn't. The door was too good, and my characters couldn't figure out how to break it...but neither could I. (btw, the post about when I originally got stuck is here, seems like a long time ago, now)

When I first thought of the Amnesia Door, I pictured a bright electric blue door, something that totally stood out in the uniformity of a school. But as I was brainstorming the problem, I remember where the original idea for the door came from: Malta.

The brightly painted doors of Malta fascinated me!

I went to Malta my sophomore year of college, as part of a short exchange program through my university's education program. Ostentatiously, I and my fellow travelers were supposed to be evaluating Maltese education systems. But there were just three school visits, and the rest of our days were spent sight-seeing.

Click on the map for a larger image. Find the boot of Italy, then the island of Sicily. Malta is the speck below that.

Many of the doors in Malta were brightly painted, in every shade of the rainbow, and they all stood out in stark contrast to the uniform limestone walls. I loved it--I saw the doors as a mark of individuality for each home. So, naturally, when I started writing a story about doors, my memories of the Maltese doors came up. And then, when my story came to a screeching halt, I remembered the original inspiration for the door--Malta--and decided to send my characters there.

I always had the image of the forest of wands that I describe in the manuscript, but decided to put that forest of wands in Malta as a sort of homage to the painted door inspiration, and also just to get the characters moving. Where should I had a forest of wands? Well, I remembered on my tours that around the coast of Malta are large towers that were originally used as look-outs and warning posts. So, I incorporated the towers into the story, citing them as the secret entryway to the forest of wands.

Torri Hamrija, the Lookout Tower near the Hagar Qim archaeology digs.
In my story, the forest of wands is under the tower.

From my novel:
In the distance, nearly on the edge of the cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, stood a low, squat limestone tower of the same dusty yellow that the ruins seemed to be made of.

"That's Torri ─Žamrijja," Mr. Mallory said. "One of thirteen towers made in the 1500s as a safe portal to the lignum vitae forests."

When I thought of the towers, I was immediately reminded of the archeology digs at Hagar Qim, one of my most favorite locations in Malta. There were links to my story here, too. I remembered vividly the carvings on the altars at the prehistoric temple--carvings of trees, just like the "wand forest" I had in my book.

A tree grows in Malta.

From my novel:
"Come over here," Mr. Mallory said, drawing Robert, Esperanza, and Belle away from the group that had swarmed around them and through a narrow porthole door carved into the stone. The room was small, and if it weren't for the fact that there was no roof, Belle would have felt trapped and closed in. The only thing of interest in the stark room was a pedestal-style table with a long, box-shape base that had a many-limbed tree carved into each of the four sides.
Not only were there carvings of trees, but the other prominent carving was of a spiral design that archaeologists think represented eternal life. This design became the same as my characters' alchemist mark, the magic symbol that marked them as alchemists.


From my novel:
He pointed to some relief carvings that popped out from the lower edge of a half-broken wall. They were spirals that made intertwining circles, like connected curlicues. "Recognize this?" Mr. Mallory asked.

They all shook their heads.

"Oh, come on," Mr. Mallory said, grinning at them. He held up his hand, which glowed under the sunlight.

"The alchemist mark?" Belle asked, looking from the symbol embedded deep within his palm to the carvings on the ancient wall.

When I thought of Hagar Qim, I couldn't help but think of the overall design. The pre-historics were clever. They worshipped a "Venus" character, a fat woman that represented fertility. The design of the building was shaped like the goddess they worshipped.

Artist rendition of the Hagar Qim temple design.

A sculpture of the Maltese Venus

This, of course, became the basis of the minor
character Fat Venus in my story. Here she is:
She was fat, grotesquely fat, but she seemed graceful nonetheless. Still, Belle couldn't help staring at the way the fat rolled over the woman's knees and elbows, at how there were three distinct rolls of fat underneath the woman's Grecian-style dress. Her breasts hung low wobbled as she walked.

There were other images from Malta that stood out in my memory. The streets of Mdina, the silent city, evoked powerful feelings of peace and goodness in the first good alchemist introduced, Saul, comes from there.
Even in the most crowded parts of the city, it was quiet and peaceful.
You could absolutely lose yourself here.

From the novel:
They had yet to see any other people; Belle could hardly even hear any other people. All the streets were lovely and peaceful—but they were also deserted and labyrinthine, and the walls surrounding them rose several stories high, so high, in fact, that it was sometimes hard to see the sky.
And the capital city, Valleta, was beautiful and powerful. It was a strong city, as evidenced by the fort-turned-park that has an interesting tower:

Click for a closer look--ears and eyes are carved in the tower,
to symbolize a city that hears and see everything.

From the novel:
"Look," Esperanza whispered loudly, pointing to the tower in which the man stood. On each of the six sides of the tower—or at least, on each of the sides they could see (two sides hung over the wall, out of their site), a different object was carved. Over the man's head was carved a long-necked bird leaning over, its beak nearly at its feet. But to the left of him, there was a giant ear, and to the right, a giant eye. The giant eye blinked. Its stone pupil moved around, gazing at each member of the crowd in turn. The ear twitched nervously.

So, this is the story of how Malta influenced my story. What started as just a blue door developed into characters, setting, fantasy, and, ultimately, a whole new plot.
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