Where The Ideas Come From

January 29, 2008

Like most—no, make that all—writers, I’m often asked where I get my ideas. The answer isn’t always as easy and straight forward as you might expect. For Heart of Diamonds, the concept came from somewhere deep in my subconscious, sparked by an image that filled my over-active brain as I finished reading about Michael Fay’s fascinating 15-month, 2,000-kilometer megatransect of the Congo basin for National Geographic. What a great achievement that was! And how he showed us what the darkest rain forests are really like.

When I finished the final article in Fay’s series, an image of a man and a boy in a beaten-up jeep stopped with the jungle at their backs while they looked over a wide, deserted beach on the Atlantic Ocean came to my mind. Then a backstory formed, apparently of its own volition: The man and boy had just raced through the jungle chased by some unseen monster. When they came to the end of the forest, they topped a small rise and there before them, sparkling the sun, is the Atlantic. They are safe.

That image had nothing whatsoever to do with Fay’s journey, of course, and very little to do with Heart of Diamonds. Fay’s journey was mostly through Gabon and Republic of Congo, not the Democratic Republic of Congo, which are two very distinct countries. Most of the action in Heart of Diamonds doesn’t even take place in the rain forest, either, but rather in the highlands near the border with Angola. The terrain is entirely different. The image never even found its way into anything other than the opening scene of a very, very rough first draft of Heart of Diamonds.

The actual image may not have lived very long, but the feelings it evoked stayed with me throughout the research and writing of the book. What stuck was the pounding chase itself, the sweat-popping fear that comes in a nightmare when you’re pursued through a dream by pure evil. No matter how fast you go, no matter how hard you try to out-distance the horror behind you, you can’t run any faster. What’s worse, you know you are dreaming, but you can’t wake up. And if you don’t, you are going to die.

If I captured even a modicum of that desperation in Heart of Diamonds, I’ll be a very satisfied author.

–Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

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The Darkest Thing About Africa

January 27, 2008
Chongwe River

“The darkest thing about Africa has always been our ignorance of it.” –George Kimble

The events and characters in Heart of Diamonds are all fictional, but unfortunately, they are not entirely figments of my overwrought imagination. Ruthless, evil murderers still haunt the Congo and many other countries in Africa. They may wear a cloak of patriotism, tribal self-realization, religious fervor or some other propaganda, but they are actually driven by one thing—unadulterated greed. While the rhetoric rolls on, so does the genocide. The only thing that doesn’t change is the total indifference of the so-called developed nations of the world.

In the 1960’s, millions died across the African continent as the lashes of colonialism were replaced by the automatic weapon fire of dictatorial self-government. In the 70’s and 80’s, civil wars claimed millions more while creatures like Idi Amin, Milton Obote, Hissene Habre, Mengistu Haile Mariam, and Mobutu Sese Seko murdered their own countrymen and pillaged their country’s treasuries. In 1994, the world was horrified by 900,000 hacked bodies in Rwanda.

As of this writing, five million people have been killed in the Congo since 1998, according to the International Rescue Committee. There is no end in sight. Today, Robert Mugabe starves the people of Zimbabwe and the body count builds in Darfur while the world pauses briefly to wring its hands and sniffle before turning back to its TV dinners.

Some of the death and destruction in the latter half of the 20th century was the direct result of rebellion against the affront to humanity that was apartheid as well as other vestiges of the colonial era. Today’s killers, though, are after what men have always lusted after in Africa—gold, copper, timber, ivory, cobalt—and the new riches, coltan, uranium, and oil. And diamonds, always diamonds.

–Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds