I have been gone for the past two weeks, gallivanting across Eastern Europe, from Hungary, to Austria, to Slovakia, to the Czech Republic, and to Poland. And then spending another week playing work catch-up, editing, and getting over some serious jet lag. These places are so steeped in medieval lore and the perfect breeding ground for inspiration. Travel enriches the person, but it also can enrich the writing experience. Here are some revelations I had while abroad.
I haven’t been in a city in my entire life where I could feel the love in the air, and I’m not talking about couples. There was something so old, so nostalgic about this town. Maybe it was all the medieval architecture. Maybe it was just the over-saturation of castles. The thing that always draws me to Eastern Europe is all the mythos and all the crazy legends in each town.
Prague has ghouls, ghosts, golems, and other supernatural-sounding words starting with g. Unfortunately, I did not encounter any and maybe that was my own fault for taking two of the three nights we were there easy. So many of these stories can easily be adapted into new fantasy lore. Every town and culture seems to have a story about lovers who had some miscommunication, leading to their untimely demise. That’s an idea that really stuck with me, where one of them is constantly searching for the other. I think devotion speaks to most people on some level, since, with the advent of instant communication and instant connection, depth can get lost in the mire.
Aside from excellent story-telling, I challenged myself to articulate how the city made me feel. And I felt content, like I was meant to be there. And who knows, maybe one day I will.
So much traveling happens in my novel. The entire continent is connected by trains and I’m used to subways. Subways are great and all, but the longest I’ve been on in recent memory is just under an hour (Brooklyn is far, man). Admittedly, I haven’t been on a railway that went further than Westchester in a while, so the only real experience I can draw on that deals with a person traveling for hours is on a bus or in a car. Nothing makes you used to awful travel conditions like being on a bus for 19 hours. At least on trains, you can take a walk and sometimes snacks are provided.
I also forgot just how terrible sitting unexpectedly long on a bus could be. Between the gross bathroom, the self-provided snacks, and the inability to find a comfortable sleeping position, land travel can truly be terrible.
What it comes down to is the companions. I made some of my closest trip friendships during the interim travel time. Between using each other as pillows and getting delirious, some of the banter was truly amazing. Inside jokes were the only way to survive the times when our ride would take several hours longer than intended. As my travel mates can attest, there was much banter to be had. Being in a giant rewrite project to go from third person to first person helps develop some great line, including an improved understanding of who everyone is, which is good for everyone.
Not many of us have the opportunity to go underground, unless some of my readers are huge fans of spelunking or miners. In Poland, there is a wondrous place called Wieliczka where exists a salt mine that would take three months to get through its entirety. The stairs down were relatively quick, but the way the cave system is built in my world, it appears several miles below the surface, large enough to support a sky in the Underground. I’m sure an elevator would be a fine mode of transport, but for later on, getting lost in the elder caves was something that becomes a reality for my characters.
As delightful as Wieliczka was, there was something ominous about the corners where the line of sight broke off. Granted, it was off-limits so that people wouldn’t get lost. I totally understood the aesthetic that matched Moria so well. The mines were well-lit, however, with the brightness of the white salt bouncing expertly off the lamps. I just know I have to incorporate the freshness of the air, the sense of wonder, and that aching sense of dread as you went deeper and deeper into the mine.
What made the whimsy of the place was the cathedral carved out of salt at the end of the trail. Something out of a fairy tail. Miners slaved over those works in the wall and even made a life-size replica of Saint Pope John Paul II out of salt. That craftsmanship is definitely missing from work nowadays and again, things I need to keep in mind when giving places a sense of age and history.