I've come to Trinidad to forage ideas for my next book, TRINIDADDY-O. So far, that's all I've got. The title. Only about 80,000 words to go ...
That's the same way it worked for my first three books. I came up with the names—BAHAMARAMA, JAMAICA ME DEAD, BERMUDA SCHWARTZ—then traveled to the place to see what revealed itself. From what I understand, this is backwards from the way most authors do it. But it's hard for me to work without a title, something to hang the whole project on. And I've met too many authors who have finished their books, then agonized over the titles (or worse, had their titles rejected by the publisher.)
Titles are way important. They are the billboards for my books. And they need to serve two purposes: 1) Let prospective readers know where the story will take place, and 2) Let readers know from the outset that the book in their hands is not some deep, dark psychological drama. If they laugh at the title, then all the better. The hero of these books, Zack Chasteen, is nothing if not a smart ass. So, with luck, the titles let the readers know exactly what they're in for.
The key to writing a good book is creating conflict from the get-go. And in my books, conflict is created when character meets place. Zack isn't exactly a fish--out-of-water in the Caribbean. He knows his way around. Still, wherever he goes he's an outsider. And that is automatic conflict.
What will happen to Zack Chasteen in Trinidad? I don't have a clue. I'm still in the early foraging stages of TRINIDADDY-O. I'll take in as much as possible, let it percolate and then hope for a rich brew. I visited Trinidad a few years ago and marched with the mas (masquerade) band, Barbarossa, during Carnival. Didn't sleep for three days. Wonderful, wild experience. And I'm still trying to decide whether TRINIDADDY-O will take place during Carnival.
Beyond that, I'm just waiting to see what reveals itself. So far, I have:
* Visited the Angostura bitters/rum factory. Its secret recipe is known by only five people and, when the company gathers for its annual dinner, these five cannot sit together or eat the same food out of fear that, if misfortune befalls them, the recipe will be in jeopardy.
* Listened to a folk tale about an evil female ghost who roams the backcountry and sucks the souls of men who try to seduce her.
* Heard a man talking about how he fights with his wife all the time, but he can't bear to leave her because "she's got such a sweet hand. " (Caribbean lingo for "she's a great cook.)
And in the days ahead, I will:
* Stay a couple of nights at Pax Guest House, the oldest guest house in the English-speaking Caribbean, founded by Benedictine monks. Once there were 40 monks at the monastery. But it's an aging order and only eight, most in their 70s, are left.
* Visit a steel-pan yard one night to listen to musicians practice the songs they will play at the next Carnival. There are only two seasons in Trinidad: Carnival. And Getting Ready for Carnival.
* Roam around the Asa Wright Preserve, home to something like 474 species of birds.
Rich, rich stuff. So many possible venues for mystery. Now, all I have to do is figure it out...
P.S. The photograph up top was taken from a lookout point in the mountains along the north coast, looking down on Maracas Bay, the most popular beach in Trinidad.