Life in Missoula, Montana.
In Writing the book Strange Hunting, I did a lot of research. In fact, more than one reviewer has mentioned the amount of research that went into my book. In doing that research I relied on many sources.
The second chapter, I Rabas, starts off in a remote village in Mali, West Africa. The main character, Berk Willis, and his father are later hired to protect a camel caravan that goes into the Sahara Desert, meeting bands of nomads, Tuareg tribesmen, and desert bandits along the way. Setting the story in Mali had a few advantages, first I knew a few people who had visited there and a few who were born and raised there. I was able to pick people's brians, study their photos, and watch their videos. Second, I had always wanted to go there and had studied some of its cultural traditions of drum and dance and related rituals. I had collected a fair amount of information on Mali in hopes I would visit one day. Lastly, Mali was the perfect setting for the story I wanted to tell. The place had to be remote, difficult, and it helped that it was populated with a diversity of people each with their own traditions, stories, and myths.
Here are some images I found that helped me create the second chapter of Strange Hunting.
This first photo is of a person from the Fulani, or Fula, tribe in Mali. They are known for their unique conical hats, their jewelry and other accessories, and the dark dyes often used to make their mouths black. Yellow face paint is commonly used by the Fulani for certain occassions.
The Tuareg are known by some as "The Blue Men of the Desert". Some say this is because the indigo dye they use stains their skin blue. I don't know if this is true, but they do favor outfits in beautiful shades of blue.
In some Tuareg groups, men wear veils and women don't, a habit which perplexes the story's main character. They do it to ward off evil, a concept which Berk embraces as the story goes on.
The chapter begins in a traditional village where many buildings are made from sun-baked bricks with sand and earth mortar. The buildings are then covered with a type of plaster to give them their smooth appearance.
In the story, Berk Willis has never seen such buildings, or such a diversity of people. It's an eye opener for him.
Even today, camel caravans travel the Sahara trading salt, food items, and other goods. In Strange Hunting, the traders were also carrying a big secret.
The caravan meets a group of Berber men who carry their traditional long, curved swords. Berk wishes afterwards that he had traded for one.
I'm often asked if all the creatures in Strange Hunting are from folklore/legends/mythology or if some are made up. Well guess what, the title character of this chapter, the I Rabas, is entirely made up. You see there is this Malian drum rhythm called Sabari. One time I played it with the drums backwards. In other words, the drums were arranged lowest to highest instead of the other way around. The resulting rhythm conjured, in my head, thoughts of an ancient wind demon, a fearsome elemental called, naturally, I Rabas. I imagined the I Rabas living deep in a remote desert and that a lost tribal people would summon the demon by playing the rhythm. That was long before I started writing the story, just a fragment that i kept stored in my head. While I was writing the first chapter of Strange Hunting, the legend of the I Rabas popped into my head. It was a great continuation of the story and something I could build the second chapter around.