Truth is More Twisted Than Fiction by Velda Brotherton

Believe me, I can attest to that. Spending nine years working as a feature writer and city editor for a rural weekly newspaper has shown me some pretty twisted things. Stuff, if you put it in fiction, folks would snicker and say it was too twisted to happen.  All those stories and marvelous characters I met during that time are filed away. Frankly I never thought I’d use them. Writing Western Historical romances didn’t call for most of these modern day happenings here in our Ozarks.

But then one day, it occurred to me that I wanted to write something else as well. Since I like reading mysteries, the sexy, dark, and gritty kind, I navigated in that direction. Why not write about a reporter working for a rural weekly newspaper? Inspired, wasn’t I? And as for the sexy part, we needed a tall, dark and handsome hero. One with secrets and special talents. So Jesse West, my reporter and Dallas Starr, my Cherokee ex-narc who visits with those killed violently were born.

As for stories, I never covered a murder, but if my stories were to be dark and gritty we needed murder most foul. Considering suspects naturally drew me to the true story of “Caveman Jake,” not his real name. He lived in a cave above the river of the small town where our paper was located.

He came to the local store occasionally to cash his SSI check and buy food. His long black beard and tangled mop of hair hid all sorts of critters, everyone was sure, and so they steered clear of him.  As far as I could find out, he never spoke to anyone, just bought cans of potted meat, tuna and Spam, which he would often open in the store and dig his dirty fingers in to scoop up bites as he waited in line.

Caveman became a suspect in my first mystery, The Purloined Skull, #1 in A Twist of Poe series.

On the outskirts of our small town also lived The Snake Man. He spent the winter with his wife in a lovely cabin set deep in the bluffs above the highway and river. In the summer he took his entourage – reticulated pythons, cobras, rattle snakes, and a great mixture of smaller varieties of snakes – to Florida where he made his living from tourists wanting to see his offerings.

As a reporter, I decided one day I wanted to interview him. My boss was all for it, said no one else would go near the place. I figured, what could happen? I’d just sit in his cabin and talk to him, ask to take pictures of a few snakes in their cages, and leave. Yeah. When I arrived, parked and walked past a trailer advertising all varieties of reptiles, I shuddered. Inside the house, he introduced me to his wife, who was carrying a shoebox.

“Want to see some of our babies?” he asked. Without waiting for my reply, he nodded and she lifted the lid, reached in and took out a small white snake that coiled around her fingers and I swear, stared me right in the eyes. What appeared to be hundreds of others of several colors writhed about each other in the box. They were absolutely beautiful.

“This is an albino reticulated python,” he said. “It will grow up to thirty feet in length. I have some of those, as well.” He tilted his head toward the bluffs. “Want to go in the snake house?”

His expression challenged me, told me if I didn’t this, it might be the end of the interview. I took a deep breath and said something I immediately wanted to take back. “I’d love to.” My voice quivered, but this man wasn’t going to feed me to his snakes.

Surely, they’d be in cages and I could get my pictures.

Uh huh. Camera in hand, I followed him up the sloping yard to what looked like a rather large storm cellar butted into the bluff. At the door, he unlocked a padlock and opened the door. Stepped through. I had visions of many things in that moment, but wasn’t about to back down.

One step inside and I heard them breathing. I smelled a feral but not unpleasant odor, not as strong as barnyards, nor as foul as chickens cooped up, just an aroma that said wild. It was so dark inside it took a while for my eyes to adjust, when they did I stood in the center between two huge shelves hanging on the walls and enveloped with huge coils of snakes.

They were not in cages.

“Would you like to touch them? They really like to be touched.”

I prayed to every God I’d ever heard mentioned in this world, and gently lay one hand on a coil that rippled a bit under my touch. It was cool, smooth, and absolutely stunning. I swear for a moment I was transformed to the deepest jungles, surrounded by wildness.

I got my story, I held one of the huge pythons, I walked among snakes loose in the tour trailer, and I returned one day in reply to a phone call that a box of python eggs were hatching and I might want to take pictures. I did and they ran in the paper.

I expect The Snake Man and his wife will one day be characters in my Twist of Poe Series, as will their menagerie about which I have several tales, including rattlesnakes that escaped in his house while my grandson was with me.

Writing about the wonderful people I’ve met and some of the far out experiences I’ve had is like living them over again. And to this day it’s difficult for me to believe I got paid for this job.

In the second Twist of Poe, there is murder and a diamond heist and an abandoned  radioactive plant where the heroine is …. Well, you’ll need to read A Tell-Tale Stone to find out what happens. These are not your mother’s cozy mysteries.

Twitter: @veldabrotherton

A Tell-Tale Stone blurb: Follow Dal Starr, the sexy Cherokee criminal investigator who touches spirits of those involved in violence and Jessica West, a reporter who touches Dal Starr every chance she gets. These two can fight like badgers over a kill and make love like wild bunnies. They solve some pretty tough crimes, too.

Teaser from A Tell-Tale Stone: “There's a lot goes on over at that dreadful place. Folks hadn't ought to be messing about over there, but they are. Liable to make all their hair fall out. Since you wrote that blamed story, some nights there's flashlights all over the place.  A long while back pickups came and went at night. In and out, in and out. Stopped a few years ago. Now we've got ghosts wandering around."



Jacqueline Vick said…
Wow! What a cool story. I don't see how you can keep Snake Man and his wife and their little family off of your pages. How fun! Thank you for sharing!
Anonymous said…
Jacqueline, thanks for taking the time to read my post here on Marilyn's super blog. And I especially appreciate your comment. Hope you give A Twist of Poe mysteries a read and if you do, please be kind enough to leave a review on Amazon. I'd certainly appreciate it.
Marja said…
Fascinating story, Velda! You've met people who would make great characters and who'd probably send chills up and down the reader's back. Thank you for sharing your story!
Marja McGraw
M.M. Gornell said…
Fascinating characters--I mean people!(smile) Loved your post. Much success, Velda, your adventures are such great inspiration...really like Snake Man.
Cait London said…
What a great story, Velda. I knew about a Snake Man too. Rattlesnakes, big ones. He milked them for venom, and played with them, sometimes put on a show with them crawling thru his beard. Somehow I want to forget that sight.

Linda Thorne said…
I agree with you a 100%. I've gone to critique groups with short stories prompted by something that happened to me only to be told that the story wasn't "credible."
But it happened, I'd say. Their response was truth is often stranger than fiction, but when you put something based on truth in a piece of fiction, you have to take care that it sounds logical or credible to the reader.

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