What Gets Me Going

By Brett Battles

One of the things that has always drawn me to a story, right from when I first started reading as a kid, is when I’m taken to someplace new, someplace I’ve never been. Now, when I was a teenager, more often than not, this meant to space or other worlds guided there by the capable hands of Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and James White to name a few. Occasionally I would dip into the world of fantasy, visiting Tolkien’s Middle Earth or journeying along with Thomas Covenant in Stephan Donaldson’s original Unbeliever series or even to Shannara in the first Terry Brooks’ book THE SWORD OF SHANNARA.

These books were perfect for me because I was always dreaming about places that lay beyond the forever-tan landscape outside my bedroom window in the Mojave Desert where I grew up. I mean, who wouldn’t, right? Dirt, dirt everywhere, seeded only by sage brush and tumbleweeds.

I guess that’s why, in between those trips to space I took in my head, I was also pulled into the works of Alistair MacLean. ICE STATION ZEBRA, THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, WHERE EAGLES DARE, BEAR ISLAND…holy crap, I could just go on and on. Don’t think I read everything by Mr. MacLean, but I tried.

He served not only as another means of escape for me, but he was also my introduction to the international thriller. Later I would move on to Robert Ludlum and get lost in his European landscapes where an innocent man – usually – got sucked into an far from innocent plot. And, of course, there was Bourne. What a great character. An amnesiac assassin who found he could do things that even surprised him, and who was desperately searching for clues to his past, but then found a life that this new Bourne didn’t believe in. Brilliant.

Not only did these novels instill a love of thrillers, they also fueled my growing need to travel and see the world. In high school I was twice given the opportunity to go on a trip to Europe…I accepted both times. And in the three years after high school but before college, I spent a total of at least seven months out of the country…more Europe but also a lengthy stay in Mexico traveling deep into pre-rebellious Chiapas.

My love of thrillers and love of travel never died. Over the years there have been several more trips to Europe and three to Asia. And I’m not through. There is much of the world I am still hoping to see. Most of it, in fact.

And I guess, because of these two loves, it was only natural that I would want to write international thrillers. To be able to travel to interesting places and write about them? What could be better than that? Because, you see, I don’t like to write about places I haven’t been. It does happen. There are a few locations in my first two books and in my new one coming out next summer that I haven’t been to. But for the most part, I have walked the streets of the cities I write about. I have eaten the native food. I have breathed the air, and listened to the language, and observed how the locals interacted.

Not all authors need to do this. But for me it is a necessity. It gives me the confidence I need. Because I like to think that the locations my stories are minor characters themselves.

This is all a long, round about way of saying that as you read this (if you’re reading on the day I posted or the several before and after) I’m in London researching locations for my next Quinn novel, the one that will come out in 2010. I’m sure I’m have a blast. I’m positive I’m taking TONS of pictures and shooting gigabytes of footage. And notes are no doubt being scribbled in my little moleskine notebook. And the smile on my face will be genuine and unmovable because I will know how blessed I am to be able to be doing what I’m doing.

You see, that’s the point. Those writers out there still trying to find your voice or your “hook” or your whatever you want to call it, my advice is to use something you enjoy in your writing…whether it be travel, or a hobby, or a love of history, or a knowledge of music, or…

You get the picture.

Bottom line: You don’t have to write what you know, but you should write what you love.

So, what is it you love? (And since I’m traveling I’m unsure if I will be able to respond, but know that I will definitely read everyone’s comments!)


Song of the Day: LONDON CALLING by The Clash

11 thoughts on “What Gets Me Going

  1. Wilfred Bereswill

    Brett that seals it. I’ve been noodling over a suspense partially set in China. I’ve done a lot of travel there, made some good friends, understand some of the culture and find it fascinating.

    I even have a Chinese name on my Chinese business cards.

    Have fun in England and ignore the sign not to videotape the Crown Jewels at the Tower. The guards won’t really arrest you.

  2. Jake Nantz

    What do I love…

    Teaching, but I’m not a cozy writer so I don’t see writing an amatuer sleuth who’s a teacher.

    Of course, Indiana Jones was a teacher.

    No nuclear blasts though….

  3. Jake Nantz

    What do I love…

    Teaching, but I’m not a cozy writer so I don’t see writing an amatuer sleuth who’s a teacher.

    Of course, Indiana Jones was a teacher.

    No nuclear blasts though….

  4. Naomi

    London–how fabulous! And yes, we want to see those photos.

    (BTW, saw the Clash at the Cow Palace in San Francisco way back when. Actually I was there more for the opening act, the English Beat–I was more of a ska girl. Don’t know why, but I fell asleep during the Clash–probably the only person in the universe who can say that.)

  5. Jake Nantz

    Incidentally, would love to know your answers to the question I posted over on my blog. Mr. Battles, I saw the online interview you did about THE CLEANER and that sorta answered it, but I wonder if there was something specific that led you to the particular plot you conceived?

  6. Louise Ure

    Write what you love. Write what you fear. Write what you most miss.

    With the bundle of self-doubts that most writers have, that’s a whole lot of stuff to write about.

    Have a good time in London, Brett!

  7. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Interesting question, Brett. Travel gets me going, too, for sure… but what really drives my reading and writing is the idea that reality is perhaps not as solid as we like to think – that there are mysterious and mystical currents and connections – dark and light.

  8. Zoë Sharp


    What do I love about writing? Exploring that explosive sliver between the ‘what if’ and the ‘when’

    Oh, and be sure to ride the London Eye if you have the time. I love the view from up there – best in the city.

  9. Allison Brennan

    I totally agree, write what you love. If you do, you’ll find readers because you’re passionate about it.

    I haven’t traveled much outside the U.S., but I’d love to. Maybe because I had kids relatively young and international travel with kids does NOT sound like fun . . . but I’m hoping to go to Ireland for a month in the near future (like within five years.) I’d like to go before my oldest leaves for college (which is less than four years!), take the family and rent a cottage in a small village in an area where we can pretty much travel most everywhere we want to go within a day.

    What do I love about writing itself? Exploring the very best and very worst in human nature. Creating characters so real to me that I’d recognize them on the street. Now, that might be called schizophrenia, but I’ll stick with imagination 🙂


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