Goats in the trees
When I visited Morocco I was struck by the constant juxtaposition of old and new; men in djellabas talking on cell phones, satellite dishes atop centuries-old buildings, loudspeakers in the minarets of historic mosques. I wanted to get that contrast into a story, and wrote "The Seal of Sulaymaan", which sold to Fantasy Magazine.
The ifriit was traveling through places I'd seen, but that didn't mean I knew them well enough for the story I wanted to tell. Time for a stack of books and a .docx file full of URLs! Which styles of carpets come from which parts of Morocco? In the folktales, King Solomon (Sulaymaan in Arabic) trapped djinn in bottles – but what kind of bottles did they have in the historical Solomon's time? (Turns out glass bottles weren't around yet.)
And as you search for answers, you also learn about things it didn't occur to you to look for — like the story of the Queen of Sheba and the first bathhouse (hammam), or that bathhouses are traditional haunts for the djinn.
Which isn't to say everything in the story can be traced back to a photo or a reference book. Like the story about the djinni who tried to teach a sheep the alphabet — which, if my mail is indication, readers especially enjoyed — and which I just plain made up. Urban fantasy isn't ultimately about research; it's about hiding the seams between two worlds: the readers' real one and the author's magical one.
1. In Arabic, djinni is the singular; djinn is the plural. (back to article)