Extraordinary Locations Inspire My Books: The Zambezi River

The Zambezi River is the 4th longest river in Africa, flowing from Zambia through eastern Angola, eastern border of Namibia, northern border of Botswana, then between the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe to Mozambique where it leads to the Indian Ocean, but not before cresting over the legendary Victoria Falls.

After three weeks of producing a live record and filming a documentary, I found myself leaving the cities of Lusaka and Ndola for an unexpected adventure. I had no clue what was in store for me as I climbed into a 4-seat Cessna headed into the bush toward the Zambezi River. Little did I know the next three days, secluded from the rest of the world, would be a crossroads in my life.Growing up in Hong Kong, then living in LA, I’m a city boy at heart. But when we landed on a small dirt road in the middle of nowhere a sense of adventure was very much alive. My buddy asked if I wanted to share a tent, but pride got in the way as I laughed, “I’ll take my own tent, thanks.” At three o’clock in the morning, when the world was pitch black with the sounds of wildlife nearby, I held my lantern and looked over toward my friend’s tent and thought, “I’m an idiot!”The next morning we headed out into the bush with camera in hand, and a guide who was going to take us out to film footage for our documentary. An hour into the trek we came across an elephant who stood about fifty feet away. The guide suggested we get closer, and I responded that there was no need because my camera had a zoom.

As the Land Rover inched forward there was a split second when I realized we were too close. Suddenly, the elephant’s ears flared, his head lowered with tusks pointed directly at us, and a trumpeting sound echoed to the heavens. Now the Land Rover was flying backwards as the elephant gained on us. I kept filming, well, because I thought if this was it then everyone would know how it ended. The guide slammed on the brakes, stood in the driver seat and waved his hands at the elephant. One of the craziest sights I’ve ever seen. But…the elephant stopped. With a dust wall between us, we froze for the next few minutes, until the elephant backed away behind a tree. I still have footage of the encounter as proof. It serves as a reminder of my three days on the Zambezi.My elephant encounter brought an instance of clarity. After months of working around the clock to produce another project, I found that I was burned out on years of pushing hard. I realized that evening, as I watched the sunset on the Zambezi, everything I’d done over the years was going to change. And there was a sense that my journey as a storyteller was only just beginning.

You see, it was here that a spark of a story lodged itself in my soul — a story I was too afraid to write. When I returned to LA, I tried to set the story aside, and for a few years it remained dormant in my soul. But it never left. It played like a movie in my imagination as clear as the elephant attack I’d captured on film.

I’d never written a novel before, yet I found myself in front of my laptop typing away for the next year or more. I didn’t tell a soul. When I finished the manuscript, there was a sense that I’d experienced what I was called to do as a storyteller. I never would’ve guessed that it would lead me down the journey of writing mystery, suspense, and international thrillers. All from a spark of a story I discovered along the Zambezi River. That spark of a story was the inspiration for my debut novel, The Disillusioned.


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