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Thursday, January 28, 2016


Nancy Raven Smith is an award-winning screenwriting who novelized one of her scripts. To her surprise, she discovered a passion for writing mysteries. Learn more about her and her writing at her website. 

Hi, Anastasia. Thank you for inviting me to Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers on Travel Day. I’m delighted to talk about Sumatra, but I should start with an admission. I’ve never had the pleasure of going there.

What I have done is research it with serious interest. I think one of the truly fun aspects of writing is studying an area thoroughly enough so that you can actually feel the location. Of course an actual visit would be even better.

My interest in Sumatra started when I wrote a screenplay about identity theft several years ago. At that time Thailand, Indonesia, and Myanmar were known as the Golden Triangle and were famous as an early area for credit card counterfeiting. Since then, there’s been an explosion of credit card counterfeiters found anywhere in the world. But my fascination with Indonesia never stopped, and I used it as the location for Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra.

Sumatra is the third largest of the 13,677 islands that make up Indonesia and the sixth largest in the world. It’s similar in size, shape, and population to California and full of wild beauty. The capital, Medan, is found on the northeastern side of the island.

The length of the western side of the island is lined from one end to the other with ninety-three volcanoes, which drop steeply into the Indian Ocean. The Sumatran name for this area is Burkit Barisan, which means Parade of Mountains. According to one source, fifteen of the volcanoes are active.

You may have heard of the latest eruptions of Sumatra’s 8,070-foot Mount Sinabung. It’s a stratovolcano, as was Krakatoa and Mount Saint Helens, and has been spewing gas and ash clouds as well as lava for the last two years with no sign of stopping. It’s located approximately twenty-five miles North of Lake Toba, which is a super volcano like Yellowstone.

When you include all the islands of Indonesia, there are on average ten major volcano eruptions per year. The infamous Krakatoa is located off the southern tip of Sumatra on a separate island. Sumatra and its surrounding smaller islands are the western most point of the “Ring of Fire,” the area which surrounds the Pacific Ocean in an upside-down horseshoe shape and is known for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The entire western United States coastline is included in the “Ring of Fire.”

The Eastern side of Sumatra parallels the Strait of Malacca, which separates it from Malaysia and Singapore. Rainforests, marsh and shallow rivers cover a third of the entire island and dominate the topography on this side. 

As arresting as the topography is, I think it’s the flora and fauna that intrigue me the most. There are over 35,000 known plant species in Indonesia. It’s home of the infamous corpse plant which smells like putrefaction, and Rafflesia which produces the world’s largest bloom. Hibiscus, jasmine, bougainvillea, lotus, and frangipani are common. Sumatra’s rainforest trees grow over sixty meters tall.
"Leuser-orangs 09N8683" by Nomo michael hoefner / http://www.zwo5.de - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leuser-orangs_09N8683.jpg#/media/File:Leuser-orangs_09N8683.jpg
And there are unique animals – 176 different mammals, including Sumatran tigers,rhinoceros, and elephants, both smaller physically than their cousins elsewhere, but just as fierce. Other animals include sun bears, clouded leopards, large tapirs, and goat antelope.

One of the special animals that interest me is the orangutan. They exist only in Sumatra and neighboring Borneo. Sadly there are only about a thousand left in the Sumatran jungle. As the Orangutan’s habitat decreases, so do their numbers. In an effort to protect them, the Sumatran government has established a rehabilitation center in the Northern part of the island near Burkit Lawang. There they are studied and tourists visit to see them in the wild.

Orangutans are peaceful animals. The mother raises her young until they reach about thirteen years old. The lessons she carefully teaches them include how to make sturdy nests high in the trees and how to use ‘tools’ made from sticks and other natural materials. The name orangutan means man of the forest. That’s very appropriate since they have 98% of the same DNA as humans. So even the use of tools is not surprising. 

Reptiles, insects, and aquatic life are just as varied as the mammals. Luckily the fierce Komodo dragons live a fair distance away on a different island. The rare and colorful bird species number 523 including Birds of Paradise, Black Ibis, Sunbirds, pheasants, owls, nightjars, parrots, hornbills, cuckoos, hawks. The bird population alone fills volumes of books.

The people of the island are as diversified as everything else. Although there are a large number of ethnicities, more than eighty-six percent of the population is Muslim. Christians are the next largest group at a distant second, followed by Buddhists and Hindus. 

I couldn’t resist setting a story in such an exotic place. Going on a photo-shooting safari in Sumatra would be fabulous. But as of now Sumatra is a bit off the beaten tourist path, unlike its northern neighbor Thailand. Tours are only beginning to be offered. Bird watching is one of the major attractions.
Another interesting thing I learned is about the boogey man. It’s a name used everywhere to scare small children. The expression came from Indonesia where, in the past, Buganese gypsy pirates traveled in ships with black sails on the monsoon winds every year. They pillaged and plundered the inhabitants living on other islands and were greatly feared. Buganese was shortened to Bugi, hence the bugi men. Some historians debate this origin of ‘boogey men,’ but no one has any other historical context to offer. 

Unfortunately, like many other emerging countries, Sumatra has a large low-income population. There is a war going on between the need for its people to support themselves and the need to save the unique environment. Major export items such as palm oil, oil, rubber, coffee, gas, tea, mining, and tobacco all contribute daily to the loss of rainforest. There are over a hundred-fifty state wildlife reserves, but poachers, farmers, and foreign exploitation continue to destroy with impunity the very things that would attract the tourist dollar in the future to this wonderful location.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our mini tour and I’ve piqued your interest in Sumatra.

Land Sharks – A Swindle in Sumatra
A fall from grace costs Lexi a position at a top New York financial institution. She ends up in a job at a small private bank in Beverly Hills. But that’s okay, she still gets to work in her favorite field – catching white collar crooks. At least that’s what she tells herself.

But when Karista, the daughter of one of the bank's principal investors, runs into danger while traveling in Indonesia, Lexi's job comes to depend on her ability to save her. Even worse, Lexi will have to babysit Steve, her boss' well-meaning but spoiled son, while going undercover to reach the heiress.

Lexi’s cushy tropical assignment soon spirals into chaos as she has to outrun fashion-forward Batak natives, outwit an arrogant FBI agent, help Steve find his stolen Air Yeezy sneakers, and figure out why her ardent former lover and debonair gentleman thief, Andre, is staying at the same resort.

Lexi will have to be very good or very lucky to survive it all.

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Angela Adams said...

Amazing! Thanks for the post!!

Nancy Raven Smith said...

You're most welcome. It's a fascinating place. Mt Sinabung is a definite threat at the moment. The volcano eruptions were so bad a couple weeks ago, that the immediate area was evacuated. Currently people are returning as it's quieted a bit. Let's hope it stays that way.

Kathy McIntosh said...

Another dream destination for my bucket list. Sounds fabulous. And the book sounds very funny. I'll put that on another list!
Thanks for the post.

Nancy Raven Smith said...

I think Sumatra would be a great destination for a bucket list. It's on mine, too!

Ellen Byron said...

Sound beautiful. I'm intrigued by both Sumatra and your book!

Nancy Raven Smith said...

Thank you, Ellen. If you'd like to learn more and can watch a VHS tape, there's a 2007 set of 4 tapes on Indonesia as a whole from two brothers, Lawrence and Lorne Blair who traveled from island to island across Indonesia. It's older but truly interesting. It's called Ring of Fire, An Indonesian Odyssey. I believe there's a book too. More recently Nature did a TV segment as did several other adventure travel shows and they're on DVD. Amazon also has several good books on the subject. If you do read Land Sharks - A Swindle in Sumatra I hope you enjoy it.