Saturday, March 23, 2013
By Mark Alpert
By the time you read this, I’ll be in South Africa. The Alpert family is going on safari. Our main destination is the Okavango Delta in Botswana, but we’ll also visit Victoria Falls in Zambia. And we’ll make a stop at Soweto so we can give the kids a little history lesson about Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement.
As a side benefit, I’m sure I’ll find some thriller material. I’m already terrified of the killer hippos that supposedly inhabit the Okavango wetlands. They can move surprisingly fast through the swamp and have been known to chase boats that come too close. Sounds like a fun scene, right?
I’ve gotten some good stuff from previous international trips. In 2008 I toured the Central Asian country of Turkmenistan, which I described in my second book, The Omega Theory. A year later I went to China for two weeks, visiting the places that would become settings for Extinction, my latest thriller. And last year I went on a river cruise in the Peruvian Amazon, an experience I’m reliving now as I race to complete my fourth novel, which will come out in 2014. I’m only a couple of chapters from the end. I’m hoping to finish the book on the 15-hour flight to Johannesburg.
Because there’s often a long lag between when I take the trip and when I write about it, I’ve developed some techniques for helping me remember the places I visit. I take lots of photos, of course. More important, I give myself instructions: LOOK. LISTEN. Pay attention to EVERYTHING. I’ve discovered that simply telling myself to pay attention really helps me remember things later on.
This technique, by the way, is also helpful in lots of everyday situations, like when I’m trying to remember what my wife told me to buy at the supermarket. It’s good all-purpose advice: life is short, so pay close attention.