Here is a picture of Thac Ban Gioc, on the Vietnam-China border in the Vietnamese province of Cao Bang.
What does this waterfall have to do with my new novel? Until yesterday, nothing. But the mind seeks ways to justify actions and plot-lines, and I often find that the way I do that is going back to my experiences. It’s there; I just have to flesh it out. Spend a little time thinking, and suddenly, all is obvious.
OK, let me be more specific.
I’m down to the final 10,000 or so words of my untitled third novel. For the longest time, I thought the father and son in the story would be leaving Vietnam on a plane to Bangkok. From Bangkok, the son was going to decide that he had unfinished business and I was going to figure out a way for him to jump the border somewhere and get back into Vietnam to finish things. However, as I finally reached the point where Bangkok fit into the plot, I realized that Bangkok didn’t fit into the plot.
Should they not leave Vietnam?
Should they go somewhere else?
Is there another secret way into Vietnam?
And then the waterfall came to my mind. I traveled there on a long 6 hour motorbike trip a good dozen years ago. It was an amazing trip and breathtakingly beautiful. The waterfall, when we saw it, was during low season and not completely filled out as it can be. But wonderful nonetheless.
I remember chatting to a guard there and he told me not to put my foot in the water or he would have to arrest me because the water is the international border between the two countries. I promised that I wouldn’t. I didn’t want to find out what a Cao Bang jail was like.
But in contrast, the Chinese from across the border, treated the ‘sacred’ water as a play-land. They got on little boats, crossed unabashedly to the Vietnamese side and splashed joyously in the water.
My first thought was, ‘no fair’. I want to do that! But I didn’t, mindful of the young guard who was polite enough to warn me about his handcuffs.
And so my travelling party enjoyed the majestic scene by sight only.
But now, as I tried to think of a way to get a person across the Chinese border, my mind immediately came back to the happy Chinese crossing at will on their little tourist rafts.
I got it!
And so the plane which was heading to Bangkok was diverted to Hong Kong. One short flight to Nanning, a tourist package to the falls, and my protagonist is set to illegally cross the border to finish what he started.
I love it when little ideas and memories provide the template for everything you need.
Now, to write it!
(Photo Credit: Me! I took it. The background on the other side of the water is China. The foreground is Vietnam.)