Thursday, February 14, 2013

The story behind the story: where do you get your ideas? ZURI

The question readers ask writers most often is: Where do you get your ideas?

 Last week, Anne R. Allen wrote about how her struggles with weight and diets led to her novel Food of Love. This week I'll answer the same question and tell you how I got the idea for Zuri—basically, it was born via a series of accidental collisions.

Kindle   Nook
Out Of Africa, set in Kenya and based on the famous book, stars Meryl Streep as the Danish writer Isak Dinesen and the young, golden Robert Redford as her lover. It's one of my favorite movies—grand romance, gorgeous African settings, beautiful clothes, brilliant recreation of a vanished way of life and drama on an epic scale. What's not to like?

I watch Out of Africa every now and then and had just seen it when, flipping thru TV channels one evening, I happened to see a clip of a baby rhino running around and exploring his (or was it "her"?) surroundings. Rhinos had never been on my radar but I was blown away by the little rhino’s appeal and grace.

A rhino? Adorable? Absolutely.

I was also aware via newspaper and magazine articles—like my Dad, I'm a news junkie—that poaching was decimating the rhino (and elephant) populations of Africa. In addition, I had seen a TV story—I believe it was on Sixty Minutes—about the healing work being done by African animal orphanages. These four separate elements came together in my mind and the idea for the story took shape.

The need for research was obvious. The writer's best friend, Google, led me to the newest studies of animal intelligence and communication, pointed the way to articles about the lethal techniques of poachers, details of rhino husbandry and veterinary, and the dangers of wildlife rescue. I also read up on Swahili, Kenyan wedding rituals and cuisine—and that was just the beginning.

The research was fascinating. Did you know that the illicit trade in wild animals is third only to the illegal trades in drugs and weapons? Or that rhino horn—it’s actually keratin, the same material found in feathers and nails—is considered a miracle medicine in Asia, and is, in fact, of zero medical value? The price of rhino horn, driven by booming Asian economies, is now more expensive than gold. 

Even then, I still wasn't finished. Where was the love story?

Therefore: Renny Kudrow, the "wildlife whisperer" and sexy director of the Kihali Animal Orphanage, and Starlite Higgins, the talented vet with a horrifying secret. Their relationship gets off to a rocky start when Starlite almost causes Zuri's rescue to fail and the two must work their way through a very rough beginning to a happily-ever-after ending.

Zuri—the word means "beautiful" in Swahili—is the name of the lovable and courageous baby rhino who is the book's heroine and she, too, enjoys a happily-ever-after ending.

So, readers, have I answered your question? Do you have a favorite movie based on a book? Do you have a favorite book you wish would be made into a movie? Have you ever been enchanted by something (or someone) you had never paid attention to before? Do comment and share your views. I would love to hear from you!


  1. This is such a fascinating subject, Ruth! I didn't know this book was about protecting wildlife as well as a love story. (And I love the name Starlite Higgins!) This was already on my list, but I'll move it up. Sounds fascinating.

  2. Anne—Thanks but wait until you meet Starlite's mom! ;-)

  3. I've read Out of Africa twice and read the book ages ago. I remember thinking how brave Karen Blixen was to go it alone in Africa. Looking back now, I realize it was much safer then than it is now. The movie was well-cast. :)

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  5. Jen—Wasn't OOA, the movie, the MOST romantic ever? That golden light, the physical glory of Africa not to mention RR! And Meryl S never looked better. Not to forget, they were portrayed as three-dimensional characters just like real, actual people!

  6. This post made me want to rent Out of Africa. I saw it so many years ago and didn't realize at the time that it was based on Isak Dinesen's life. I need to rewatch it! And your book sounds fantastic. It must have been so much fun to research and write. Thanks so much for sharing the story behind it.

  7. Meghan—Thanks for your kind words. It *was* fun to research & write. Even better, it was extremely interesting. I loved writing about a female veterinarian dealing with starting her life over in new, exciting, challenging circumstances. Made me kind of wonder why I never thought of being a vet!

    Glad I inspired you to re-watch OOA. It is the most physically gorgeous movie—with clothes to die for. On Redford, On Meryl. On safari. Swoooon...