I'm delighted to welcome Nancy Raven Smith to my Travels today and visit...Sumatra! I don't believe I've ever read a book set there. Read on to see how she delved into some fascinating research.
Writing About an
So you want to set your new writing project in a foreign
location you’ve never visited?
Not an unusual occurrence for a writer, and one that
happened to me with my debut novel, Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra
The area around Sumatra was important to my story for it’s
history of identity theft and counterfeit identity via forged passports and
identity papers. A recent example of this was when two passengers (not involved
with its loss) on the Malaysia Airline that disappeared tragically a few years
ago, were discovered to be traveling under fake passports bought in adjacent
Thailand. Since my new series is all about scams, cons, and frauds, Sumatra was
a perfect place to locate my first book.
Then there was the actual island itself. Sumatra is the
third largest of the 13,677 islands that make up Indonesia and is the sixth
largest island in the world. Physically, it is about the same size, shape, and
population as California and full of wild beauty. It’s a rich environment,
filled with possibilities that fill the imagination.
What more can a fiction writer want than an island whose
western side is lined with ninety-three volcanoes - fifteen of them active.
Imagine California with fifteen active volcanoes. On a tiny island just off the
southern tip of Sumatra is Krakatoa, one of the most infamous volcanoes in the
world. You may have heard of the latest eruptions of Sumatra’s Mount Sinabung.
It’s in the northern third of the island and a stratovolcano, as is Krakatoa
and Mount Saint Helens in the US. Mount Sinabung has been spewing gas and ash
clouds as well as lava for the last two plus years with no sign of stopping.
It’s located to the North of Lake Toba, which is a super volcano like
Rainforests, marsh, and shallow rivers cover a
third of the entire island and dominate the topography on the eastern
The flora is as fascinating as the topography. There are
over 35,000 known plant species in Indonesia. It’s the home of the infamous
corpse plant, which smells like purification, and Rafflesia which produces the
world’s largest bloom. Hibiscus, jasmine, bougainvillea, lotus, and frangipani
are common. Sumatra’s rainforest trees grow over sixty meters tall.
The animals are unique too – 176 different mammals,
including orangutans, Sumatran tigers, rhinoceros, elephants, sun bears,
clouded leopards, and tapirs as large as ponies. The orangutan exists only in
Sumatra and neighboring Borneo.
Reptiles, insects, and aquatic life are just as varied as the
mammals. Luckily the fierce Komodo dragons live a fair distance away on a
different island. The rare and colorful bird species number 523 including Birds
of Paradise, Black Ibis, Sunbirds, pheasants, owls, nightjars, parrots,
hornbills, cuckoos, and hawks. The bird population alone fills volumes of
The people of the island are as
diversified as everything else. Although there are a large number of
ethnicities, more than eighty-six percent of the population is Muslim.
Christians are the next largest group at a distant second. They are followed by
Buddhists and Hindus. Local tribes still exist such as the Batak people in the
But sadly, I’ve never been
there. So I researched. Researching is definitely a wonderful part of writing.
Here’s how I went about it. First, I bought several current travel books on
Sumatra. In the front of travel books is always a section on the abbreviated
history on an area, a section on flora and fauna, and a section on the people,
culture, government, and food as well as descriptions about travel and money. I
read these carefully and took notes. Then I bought a large wall map. From it, I
got a sense of topography and distances. I picked where I thought the story
might take place and zeroed on that specific location. The location changed as
I learned more, and I repeated this process several times before finalizing my
choice. At the same time, I was still taking notes, searching on the internet,
and following things about Sumatra in the news.
Then I went to Amazon and Ebay
to see what was available about Sumatra. I ordered and read several first hand
accounts of living on the island. I also ordered videos of the area. These
actually give you a true visual of the area, especially if you look at the
background and not just at what the video focuses on. You also can see how the
people sound and look. One video I’ll mention that was absorbing for me was
called The Ring of Fire: An Indonesian Odyssey
filmed by the Blair
brothers as they journeyed through the islands of Indonesia for ten years. It’s
old and on VHS (1991) as a 4 tape set, but they also kept a diary and published
it. Another program I watched was a much more recent Globe Trekker
episode, a Nova episode, and several programs on orangutans. (All on DVD).
Another thing I’d recommend if you have the opportunity is to interview someone
who has been to the location.
Thank you Kaye for letting me share how I research a
location with your readers.
Nancy Raven Smith grew up in Virginia
where she ran horse sport events.
Later in California
she worked in film and studied screenwriting at UCLA. Her scripts have won
numerous awards, but she decided to write one idea as a novel. To her surprise,
she discovered a passion for writing mysteries. Raven Smith realized that she
found her true creative home in writing mysteries/romantic suspense. Land
– A Swindle in Sumatra
is her first mystery/romantic suspense
novel. She hopes people will enjoy reading it as much as she did writing it.
She was thrilled when it was chosen as an Amazon/Kindle Scout Program Winner.
In Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra
, a bank fraud
investigator goes undercover in Sumatra to find a young heiress who may or may
not have been kidnapped. Her job might be easier if she didn't have to deal
with her boss's untrained son who has a crush on her and the unexpected
appearance of an ex-boyfriend who’s a conman with his own secret agenda. – Mystery/Romantic Suspense
The ebook for Land Sharks
is on sale for the month of
August, 2016 for $1.99 on Amazon.
The Reluctant Farmer of Whimsey Hill
Amazon Link -