Every writer can name specific things they’ve seen, or read, that eventually appeared in one of their stories, either as a central plot-point or just atmosphere. For me, the one place that held the most kernels of inspiration was the Doge’s Palace in Venice Italy.
I first visited it during my Honeymoon in 2006. My wife and I were to take an all-day walking tour of the city. It started extremely early one cold February morning, and we were on time in getting to the starting point. Then, half-way there, we realized we’d left the tickets back at our hotel. In a frenzy, we rushed back, grabbed the tickets, then ran across town to where the tour was (not an easy task, since there are no direct paths anywhere in Venice). We missed the tour by five minutes.
Since we were up, we decided to make the most of it, and wandered into the Doge’s Palace. We figured it would be two, maybe three hours, then we’d explore somewhere else.
We spent nearly the whole day there.
Later, many of the things I saw ended up in my fantasy stories. Most I hadn’t taken pictures of at the time, but when we returned again in 2012, I made sure to snag some shots of the things that directly inspired me.
Mouth of Truth: Once upon a time, Venetians could denounce criminals by writing the lawbreaker’s name and crime on a note, then slipping it through the open mouth of this carved face. Think of it as the original ‘Police Tip Line’. I used a similar device in my story, ‘The Porvov Switch‘. In it, I referred to the Mouth of Truth by a much less romantic name: The Rat Hole.
Trapped Box: This nasty little box appears like any other casket for money or treasure. However, the treasure this box holds is DEATH. When opened, it fires 4 bullets simultaneously, two out the front, one out of the left and right sides. I used a similar device in my story, ‘Race of the Night Ruby‘.
Trapped Key: The picture really doesn’t capture the mechanism involved, but the idea is quite devious. The key is a trap. When used, a button at the tip fires a spring-loaded spike out through the shaft and into the user’s hand. Not enough to kill anyone, but definitely enough to ruin someone’s day and to identify who stole your key ring. I used a similar device in ‘The Ferrymaster’s Toll‘.
Prison Window: There is a prison linked to the Doge’s Palace (which is a lot like having Gitmo being a wing of the White House), and while touring it, I saw these windows along the halls that peered into the different cells. Normally, in TV and movies, cell windows are either set into the door, or look outside (where our hero inevitably befriends a bird or stares up at the moon). These windows allow guards to easily observe what was going on inside the cells (useful for determining if the prisoner is hiding beside the door with a shank, waiting for you to open it). In ‘The Raven’s Cage‘ I used a cell window like these as a central point.
Prison Graffiti: With nothing much to do , prisoners would carve very elaborate graffiti in their cell walls. Some of it is actually quite impressive. Like most graffiti today, there are quite a lot of penises. I made mention of the abundant graffiti in ‘The Raven’s Cage‘ as a way to add atmosphere.
There were of course many other things that caught my interest at the palace, several of which will appear in future stories. But as of now, a single missed tour led me to a place that I can identify four different stories that benefited from our forgetfulness.