Saturday, March 23, 2013


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.


  1. That sounds like a lot of fun Mark. Always wanted to check out SA. And it does indeed lend itself to thriller research intentional or otherwise.
    I'm writing this from the closest thing to a safari I will be getting this year. Camping with my boy scouts, sleeping on the snowy ground in a lean too as the white stuff slowly tumbles about us...threatening to turn to rain.
    As it happens my next book has scenes much like this in it, so in addition to quality time with my boys, I can chalk this trip up too research
    If not for my sons I'm not sure I'd be doing this research live like this.

    ****!!!!***oh boy...snow & rising temps equals...yup...rain. family fun researvh just got realer...****!!!!****

  2. Sounds like a wonderful trip, Mark. South Africa is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen, especially the area around Kwa Maritane. We stayed at the resort there where the people were fenced in and the animals roamed free. Keep an eye out for the "Big 5" and have fun.

  3. Enjoy your trip, Mark. I would be more worried about spiders than hippos.

  4. Make sure to take lots of pictures, and write lots of notes about your observations! I find that I tend to forget important details if I don't write them down.

    And now all I can hear is, "I bless the rains down in Africa ..."

  5. I'm jealous...first of your trip and second that you can write on a plane.

    I, too, take a lot of "location" photos for books. There's something about having them on hand that jogs the memory and the imagination.

    Have fun!

  6. Hi Mark,
    Nice to hear you're taking a trip down here to South Africa. Next time add Cape Town to the mix. You won't be disappointed!