May 7, 2011

Inspired by a Snake, Dirty Laundry and a Dentist Appointment

Nick performs reenactment of snake episode.
I have no idea what it's like to have Writer's Block. In fact I suffer from Overplotters Disease, but hey--that's better than staring at a blank page.

For me, the key to writing a story is imagery. And...hyperbole. Exaggeration. Taking a simple incident and expanding with humor and vibrant prose.

I have a scrapbook of news clippings filled with reports of human nature, Mother Nature, man against nature and the assorted odd-balls and weirdos to assure I'll never be at a loss for characters.

I keep a blank book filled with verbal bits, creative wording, quirky characteristics and Rayisms among the listings. The last is the stuff my husband says. He has a flair for imagery and a sharp-edged humor that has kept me laughing for over 25 years.

My life has given me enough incidents to keep me writing well into the next century. I wish I'd kept better journals through the years. I've done things that make for great character development in my stories. Instead I have to rely on memory.

One memory ended up in my romantic comedy, Southern Exposure.

Ray and I were living in Jacksonville, Florida. I had just waved Ray off to work, turned and there was a snake in my kitchen. It was not small either. I didn't whip out my ruler to measure. Instead I yelped. At first I thought it was fake. A Ray prank. Then it moved.

This is the so "me" part: I had a dentist appointment and feared I would be late. So I tried to broom it out the door. Instead it slithered under my cupboards. This was a cheap patio home and there was an opening under the dishwasher and cupboards. So I decided to stuff dirty laundry in the cracks and then deal with the snake when I got home.

Then the snake peeked from between the clothes (and I swear winked). I had to deal with him right then. Again, I swept him toward the door. It was spring and kinda chilly, so he battled to stay indoors warm and snuggy among my laundry. This went on for a long time. Felt like hours, more like minutes I'm sure.

Eventually, with my broom wailing, I sent the snake flying into the morning dew. A few months later we were scheduled to move from the state. The moving man removed my stereo from the armoir and asked if I wanted to keep the snake skin. He held up a skin about sixteen inches in length. I understood then why that snake fought me so hard. He lived with me! And what is so incredible...I had three cats in this tiny house and not once did they alert me to the snake warming himself behind my stereo. I'm still shuddering when I think about this and its been twelve years.

So. How did I use that experience in Southern Exposure? Here's the scene:
Kat awoke before dawn to wonder why her hair moved when she lay perfectly still. She had gone to bed with her head wrapped in a towel because Dean did not own a blow dryer. She would sneak aboard her yacht later to stock up on female essentials, but in the meantime, why was her hair moving?

With a quick hand she threaded her nails through her unbound locks, and brushed something the size of a pink school eraser. The eraser felt warm, fuzzy and squishy... with ears.

Unable to stifle a blood-curdling scream, Kat bound to her feet and danced around the room, shaking her head. The faint moonlight seeping into the room through the loft window did nothing to reveal the whereabouts of her assailant.

“Kat?” Dean stumbled up the stairs, looking dazed. “What’s wrong?”

Kat managed to turn on the lamp. “You have rats, Dean.” The lamp illuminated his horrified expression. “There is a rat in here. It’s huge. Loaf of bread huge.

Dean grabbed the lamp, turning wildly in search of the monster. “Get downstairs.”

Already halfway down them, Kat fled into the kitchen where Dixie’s boys were crowded together.

“Look, Aunt Kat.” Hootie pointed at something in the corner. “Mickey’s hungry.”

Kat saw something small and black move between the boys’ feet. “Get out.” She flung each boy by the arm through the door onto the side porch. There she saw the broom she had used to sweep suds. Her heart slamming against her ribs, she ran back inside to face her enemy.

The black rodent sat on its haunches, gazing up at her. His white whiskers moved with the constant twitching of his nose. He had one white ear and a white spot on his tummy. Kat raised her broom and with the force of an avenging angel, brought it down--only to stop a fraction from its head. She had never killed anything in her life. Not a spider, not a fly. She loved animals, more than humans. But this rodent had been in her hair. She did a little impromptu dance at the ickyness of the thought.

Whimpering, Kat used the broom to push the mouse toward the door. It scurried under the table, and ran along the baseboard. She followed close behind, determined to rid Dean’s house of the pestilence. The mouse darted into the open and she pinned it to the floor with the brush end. “Ray-Bob, hold the door open.”

“But, Aunt Kat...”

Do it.” As the boy obeyed, Kat position the mouse in front of the door. She saw Hootie and Bobby-Ray in the way. “Stand back.”

Once the porch looked clear, Kat lifted her broom. The mouse streaked for the kitchen closet; she wildly swept it back toward the door, and with a final thrust, sent it flying through the air into the early morning dew. Exhausted, she sunk to the floor. “You boys okay?” When they nodded, she asked, “It didn’t bite you, did it?” She scanned their hands for signs of festering wounds.

Hootie knelt next to her. “No, Aunt Kat. Mickey doesn’t bite.”

She ruffled his hair. “This isn’t Disney, honey. That mouse could have bit you. It could be sick with rabies.”

“Uncle Dean wouldn’t let Stevie have a mouse with rabies,” Ray-Bob said from the door.

The boy’s words took a moment to seep past the hysteria ebbing through her mind. “That was Stevie’s mouse? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You didn’t ask.”

Where’s Mickey?” Stevie’s scream ricocheted through the house. She bolted into the kitchen, her eyes wildly seeking evidence of her pet.

Kat rose to her feet, using the broom to keep her knees from buckling. “Stevie, I...”

“You killed him,” Stevie accused, her eyes blazing. “You killed Mickey.”

“I didn’t,” Kat defended. “I just put him outside.”

Stevie bolted through the door, her hysterical cries rising along with the morning sun. Dean entered the kitchen, his expression confirming he had heard everything. Kat buried her face in her hands. “I’ll replace him.”

Dean nodded. “Good luck.” What else could he say?

Putting yourself into a scene ensures it will spring to life. Even now, rereading how Kat battled Mickey, I again found myself in my kitchen battling that snake. So if you're struggling to bring a scene to life, look at your own life first. Unless you live in a cupboard under someone's stairs...I'll bet you have an experience worth writing about.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, the scenes I could write, but won't dare. (too many people have to die first;) I loved that scene in the book and can so identify. The snake, however, would have left me hanging from the ceiling fan.

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