By Jeff Wheeler (author of the Legends of Muirwood Trilogy)
In July 2012, I had a lot of time on my hands. My company offers a two-month sabbatical after every seven years of employment and we decided to drive half-way across the United States and back. The time on my hands was literally behind a steering wheel in a van crossing the Sierra Nevada mountains into the Rockies through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and ending up in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. As a writer, so many of my ideas for world building have come through trips that I’ve made where the location inspired me.
During those long hours behind the steering while, I was working on plotting Book 2 of my new Whispers from Mirrowen trilogy, Dryad-Born (coming Feb 2014). The long and lonely highway seemed to go on forever, which gave me some time to think, plot, and plan. Then we reached the Black Hills region and the surroundings took on an entirely different look. There were rugged hills with craggy granite boulders, thick forests of bur oak trees and bristlecone pine (I know this because one of the Ranger signs described the habitat). It felt like my family had entered a magical world when we reached Custer State Park, the town of Keystone, and eventually Mt Rushmore. There were tunnels carved into the enormous boulders and vistas that were breathtaking. My brain absorbed the location, nibbling on the little details. Out of this experience came the land of Stonehollow where my protagonist in Dryad-Born grew up and where the opening action starts.
I’m not sure if it’s life that imitates art, or art that imitates life. To me, there is a seamless blending of the two. My surroundings tend to influence my current projects as I borrow those little details from life to flesh out a scene or describe a place for a reader to imagine. As I’ve re-read chapters written month before, I would remember that the rain pattering on the window in my office ended up in the chapter I was writing that day. But more importantly, it is many walks through the woods or visiting different places that fire up my imagination and leave a mark in my writing.
Let me share another example. As I was preparing to write a crucial scene in Blight of Muirwood (from the Muirwood Trilogy) that would advance the relationship between the main characters, I happened to be visiting Big Trees state park in California. The park is not well-named. It should be called Ginormous Trees state park. As we walked through these truly towering redwoods, we came on one that had fallen over years before and the root system had been burned in a fire, creating a cave in the depths of this huge sentinel of the woods. Crouching in that cave, staring at the woods around me, the setting for that crucial scene bloomed in my mind and the creation of the kingdom of Pry-Ree literally took root there in the ashes.
Experiences like this happen to me all the time, especially when traveling. An apple orchard. A light house off the coast. A perfect sunset on a nature walk. Boulders in the midst of a grove of oaks. Maybe it’s just the way an author’s mind works, snatching at the little details around us and weaving them into our stories.
How I see the world ends up in the worlds that I create.
Jeff Wheeler (@muirwoodwheeler) is a writer from 7-10PM on Wednesday nights. The rest of the time, he works for Intel Corporation, is a husband and the father of five kids, and a leader in his local church. He lives in Rocklin, California. When he isn’t listening to books during his commute, he is dreaming up new stories to write.
Learn more about Jeff and his books at: http://www.jeff-wheeler.com