Finding Inspiration and Suspense in Nature

By Kim McMahill

Kim McMahillAuthors garner inspiration for their stories from a plethora of sources. Some observe, watching life unfold around them, absorbing the possibilities and twisting reality into dramatic fiction; some feed off emotions; others rely solely on active imaginations; and many embrace adventure through the endless bounty of nature. I accept inspiration whenever and wherever it presents itself, but the natural world is my greatest muse. I often find the sensational backdrops for my novels in nature, along with those forces humans try to manipulate, but generally fail to control, which add an additional layer of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, heightening suspense.

Those who follow my work may have noticed that I’ve set multiple stories in Mexico. Though I haven’t been to Mexico in a few years, I have explored its Mayan ruins, enjoyed its beaches, and I’ve done some volunteer work in the rural interior. While listening to a guide discuss the practice of human sacrifice at the Sacred Well at the edge of Chichén Itzá, my eyes darted around the perimeter, searching for any hint of danger, and my imagination ran amok (Marked in Mexico). I found it impossible to wander Cobá on a morning devoid of visitors, cautiously peering behind a mysterious ruin abutting dense jungle and listening to the insects, without needing to take the adventure much further (Deadly Ruins). And, Big Bend National Park—anyone who has been there has surely stood on the banks of the Rio Grande, looking across its muddy waters into Mexico, wondering about life on the other side, and if anything could make an American risk everything to swim for another life south of the border (Deadly Exodus-Desperate Dreams).

McMahill_bighornBut, you don’t have to travel to a foreign country to find inspiration in nature. Big Horn Storm is set in the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming. It encompasses over one million acres of remote country, and its abundant wildlife, evergreen forests, mountain meadows, rugged peaks, deep canyons, and cascading waterfalls make the area breathtakingly beautiful, and the perfect setting for an action packed adventure. Whether experiencing the area in the winter on snowmobile or in the summer on horseback, it is a place to be respected. The weather is unpredictable, with snow possible every month of the year; predators live in the shadows, avoiding humans when possible, reacting when cornered; and help can be hours or even days away. So, where better to set a contemporary western adventure combining a too-close-to-home military crisis, harrowing horseback escapes, and an attempt to reconcile past releationships?

Nearly all writers admit to being avid people-watchers, which is essential for realistic character development, but don’t forget about nature and the experiences we encounter within its broad embrace. Not only can we find inspiration in its varied landscapes and the creatures which inhabit its diverse and unique environments, but we can also visualize additional challenges for our characters to overcome, and discover that extra element of danger to heighten a story’s level of suspense.


Kim McMahill grew up in Wyoming, which is where she developed her sense of adventure and love of the outdoors. Since leaving Wyoming she has enjoyed many opportunities to see the world and has lived amid some of America’s most stunning landscapes. Kim started out writing non-fiction, but her passion for world travel, outrageous adventures, stories of survival, and happy endings soon drew her into a world of adventure and romantic suspense. Learn more at her website, or follow Kim at her blog, Embrace Adventure. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Patricia Stoltey
Blog Editor
Patricia grew up on a farm in central Illinois so naturally had to use the old farm in her first mystery. The second Sylvia and Willie tale takes place near and in the little touristy gold mining town of Oatman, Arizona. Patricia's third novel, a standalone suspense called Dead Wrong, was released November 2014. Dead Wrong was a finalist in the thriller category for the Colorado Book Awards. Visit her blog at

2 thoughts on “Finding Inspiration and Suspense in Nature

  1. I find great inspiration taking the beagles for a walk every day on the same trails. It’s such a great way to take a few deep breaths and clear the mind. They can sniff at the same spot for what feels like forever, mapping out the history of all the visitors to the area. They’ve taught me that the bush may look the same, but the story is always different if only you take the time to see it.

  2. Nature can be a fierce opponent for a novel’s protagonist. Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon mystery series is the best example I can think of. There’s so much beauty out there….and so much danger. Thanks for the post, Kim. It’s a good reminder that there’s lots more to writerly observation than people-watching.

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