On the Road
Featured on Just One More Chapter
A question I’m often asked about writing Sign of the Throne is: “What inspired the setting?” When I worked as a social science researcher, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel, sharing my research findings at conferences throughout the United States and internationally. I’ve also had the chance to travel in my free time, and I’ve lived in some amazing places. A number of my experiences have inspired the settings for both Cai Terenmare and Newcastle Beach.
I currently live in the Pacific Northwest, surrounded by old-growth forests with trees encased in moss. One of my favorite places to visit is Oswald West State Park. To get to the beach, you must journey down a twisting path bordered by ferns and ancient trees with gnarled roots. It’s the kind of forest that could easily be found in the pages of a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to run into a hobbit or some other Tolkien character, but thus far, I’ve only met surfers. The small beach is nestled within a rocky crescent covered in lush vegetation. Waterfalls course down the craggy face of the surrounding cliffs, spilling onto algae encrusted rocks and tide pools populated by sea stars. It’s a stunning beach, and the perfect location to inspire the cliffs near Caislucis, the castle of the Solas Beir.
Not far from there, I encountered a tree stump carved with the face of a bearded man, and crowned in shelf fungus. His origins are a mystery to me, but he inspired the Emerald Guardian, a figure that will make an appearance in The Rabbit and the Raven, the sequel to Sign of the Throne. Caislucis was inspired by the castles and cathedrals I saw in my travels to Europe. The Solas Beir’s home is ivory-colored because in Cai Terenmare, white signifies royalty. The castle has leaded glass oriel windows, gothic arches, and soaring ceilings with ribbed vaults. I’ve not yet been to Morocco or India, but I imagined that Caislucis boasted architectural features similar to buildings you’d find in these locations as well, giving the castle an eclectic look that would feel both familiar and exotic to visitors from our world.
The Spanish Colonial architecture of the Newcastle Beach Inn and the ruined mansion was inspired by the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara, California, as well as my old neighborhood near the Arizona Inn in Tucson, Arizona. Across from the Arizona Inn was a mysterious, seemingly abandoned house masked by a tall fence and trees. I heard rumors from neighbors that the large house was built around the same time as the inn and may have been a boarding school, but I never was able to learn more about its history. I longed to explore it, but resisted because I didn’t want to get arrested for trespassing. The conservatory and grounds of the Newcastle Beach mansion were inspired by my visit to Casa Loma in Toronto, although the dome in the ruined mansion is not nearly as elaborate as the one in Casa Loma’s conservatory.
When I traveled to Puerto Rico, I had a few nighttime excursions. I kayaked into a blue lagoon filled with bioluminescent algae that sparkled like stars. This was the inspiration for the second portal in Caislucis. My explorations of Old San Juan and El Morro (a 16th century fortress overlooking the sea) inspired the idea of the Kruorumbrae masquerading as cats. There were a number of cats roaming the narrow streets of the city, and while visiting El Morro, I turned to see the glowing feline eyes and black silhouette of a cat, as it stared at me from atop a stone wall of the fortress.
Finally, my travels to Australia were an inspiration to me. Cai Terenmare is much like Australia, but turned upside down with the tropics to the south. Because of the vast desert in its center, the people of Cai Terenmare live near the coasts and outer regions. While visiting Cairns, I got to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef, and so, of course, David had to experience this as well in his travels. I have not, however, gotten to cage dive with great white sharks, so I’m jealous of his adventures. I’m a bit envious of his 1961 Harley too.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2012