Thursday, October 14, 2010

Writer Vs. The Wild . . . (The Wild Wins)

Two things have distracted me over the last week. A wicked cold--yuck, enough said-- and a more wicked, four-foot-long gopher snake--ah, this might require some explaining. Remember my spiders-in-the-shirt gardening experience? So, so much scarier.

Last Sunday, I took a walk with my family through the foothills of my tiny town. You ever have an outdoor experience that leaves you feeling like you're Les Stroud from Survivorman? Or Bear Grylls from Man Vs. Wild? This walk turned into just that type of thing. And, quite frankly, the Wild kicked my butt. As Jeffrey Archer would say, hereby hangs the tale . . .

It was a beautiful, autumn day. Nothing ominous, no premonition about the ordeal ahead. We piled everyone, and the dog, in the back of our truck, found an isolated spot, parked, and began walking. We had a great time until my 12-year-old son complained about the heat. My husband cheered this kid up by chasing him around a field of sagebrush. Although we were all laughing and oblivious, this is where the downward spiral began. We continued our journey on the dusty trail until we realized that we had taken a wrong turn. Tired and hot, we had two choices: retrace the route we had just traveled or take an off-road shortcut. You know what we did, don't you? We took option B--the shortcut.

After crossing a vast expanse of open, desert plain, we finally arrived back at the truck. Our keys, however, did not. Somehow, they fell out of my husband's pocket. Of course, the spare set of keys were in my handbag. The one that was in the truck. So there we were, four miles from the outskirts of our subdivision with no keys and no cell phone.

The kids climbed into the truck bed and drank some water, and leaving our oldest teenager in charge, hubby, dog, and I headed out on a key-retrieval mission. It's hard, though, to search miles of desert at twilight. So we went to the place where my husband and son chased each other. Stooped, eyes scanning in all directions, we searched for about twenty minutes. I then heard a noise that I really didn't want to hear. Hissing. Really, really loud, close, hissing. I looked to my right, and it was as if the brush had come alive. Camouflaged in shades of black, grey, and brown, this coiled-up creature was amazing. Huge and terrifying, but beautiful at the same time. It was also seriously ticked off. Although the hissing continued in fortissimo, and the snake was vibrating with wrath, it made no move toward me. I backed away slowly, and then, I ran.

My husband said that I left a trail of dust hanging in the air behind me. I might have set a new speed walking record. (At the time, I thought it was a rattler. Only after researching and Googling did I learn it was a gopher snake.)

Looking a bit like the Joads from Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, we eventually made it home. We now have three, count them three, new copies of our car keys, and we'll definitely take a cell with us next time. Live and learn, right?

Here is my question to all you writers out there. Think of the surprise encounter with the snake. How do you make your plot twists jump out and surprise your readers? I hope there's no hissing involved . . .


  1. Obviously not well enuff this story had me on the edge of my seat. did you eventually have to break a window to get in the car? and what state do you live in? I am terrified of snakes.

  2. OH no!!!!!!!!! Oh you poor thing!!! So glad you ran like the wind!!! :-)

    Glad you are all ok and now have many sets of keys!! Never lose them again! LOL!!

    Surprise twists?? I like to think that I do mine slowly - no foreshadowing just a gentle meander that becomes a slow trickle that becomes a quick gush that then becomes a big rush and then a waterfall! Yeah, right Old Kitty - as IF! LOL! But the theory is there!

    take care

  3. This has my dealing with a bear in my yard off and on for over a week beat! The only kind of snakes out here on Vancouver Island are small grass snakes...kind of cute really...and several live in our yard. Their bigger cousins, whether dangerous or not, are something I would prefer not to encounter! Glad you made it home safely and now have extra keys.

  4. I'm glad it wasn't a rattler! I would've been screaming while I ran.

    As far as plot twists, I like to give my readers a sense that everything's calm for the moment and going good when--BAM!

    Making Life a Work of Art!

  5. Joanna- I am terrified of snakes, too! We live in Utah, and luckily, a nice police man opened the truck door for us. (After we walked home, of course.)

    Old Kitty- You have an excellent method of springing the surprise twist on your readers. I liked the water analogy very much!

    Karen- A bear? In your yard? I would so take a snake over a bear any day. You are one tough lady!

    Catherine- I'm so glad you dropped by! Good to hear from you. I actually think that I was screaming, "Snake! Snake!" as I ran away. Great surprise twist sound effect-- BAM! Love that.

  6. Oh Karen! A snake in the bushes - you could go all biblical with that one!

    I hope you're starting to feel better from that cold.

    The thing about plot twists is there have to be some clues so it doesn't feel unnatural but the reader also has to be surprised. Throwing out some red herrings is always a good idea so the reader thinks they're going in one direction and end up stunned in another.


  7. Was sitting on a large rock by a stream in Central Africa and a large snake that had been close to the stone slithered from under my skirt. I couldn't move, just watched as it continued its travels into the water....
    My surprise twists just come to me. Characters in my children's books suddenly turn out to be otherwise, much to my own surprise... :0)

  8. Dear Lucky Lady: Need a surprise ending? I have taken wilderness trips my entire life, and the recognition of snakes was a big part of my survival. You, my dear, did not encounter a gopher snake. Pay particular attention to the shape of the head. Look again. I don't know if that picture is the actual snake you "enjoyed," but if it is, your camera is very fortunate!!!

  9. Ay yi yi! That's so crazy and thank goodness you made it back home okay...and learned a few lessons.

    Plot twists are difficult because they can't come totally out of the blue to be believable, you know? I try to weave in a few subtle clues earlier in the story, something that won't tip readers off, but that they'll remember when the twist comes and be like "Oh, yeah..."

  10. Ick! This summer I was taking a walk with my two little girls and a rattlesnake - a full sized one - slithered right across the path. We froze and back up, waiting for it to move on, before we ran. I was pushing a stroller and I still ran fast! It was a good experience to use for a story, though :)