It’s that necessary time away from the screen, or from any forms of reading material, that gives me inspiration for new books. I am referring to what some know as the “plot bunnies.” They hop around, irascible and unpredictable, and they tend to breed with abandon. Plot bunnies do not appear while people-watching at the coffee shop or in a store, and they seldom come when I need them the most.
The critters are fuzzy when I first see them, their outline softened by fur. The plot bunny’s shape is difficult to discern at first, and time must be spent to feel its contours with a gentle hand through all that hazy fluff. When handled roughly, plot bunnies run away, so beware: don’t try to shape the plot into something it is not. They appear in the shower, while pulling weeds in the garden, and while exercising. Last time, I was assaulted by a horde of them in the forest.
My dear husband and I were hiking up the hill, making our way through young briar and dodging ticks in pursuit of the elusive and delicious morel mushroom. The season wasn’t great this year, and we started seeing other edible mushrooms. The dryad saddle, a poor consolation prize with a weird aftertaste. The almost tasteless but edible faun mushroom. A few early oysters, growing on deadwood. Inky-caps. Only a few morels, though – just enough for a batch of cream sauce to go over chicken.
I was zig-zagging down a steep hill, working hard not to slip on the rustling oak leaves, when my eye was drawn to a sunny patch of dead bark and verdant moss. Mushrooms! Eager to have a closer look, I bent over. Thin stalks, conical caps in an ombre shade of sepia and purplish inks with black gills underneath. As I eyed the cluster of inky-caps, old words of the mushroom club mycologist tickled my memory: “Oh they are edible,” he had said, “if you cook them real fast so they don’t turn into slime on you. Just remember not to have any alcohol for three days before or after, or else you’ll puke your guts out.”
The infamous inky cap was, apparently, one of the first weapons in the arsenal of doctors who helped recovering alcoholics stay dry. Which is why my words cut through the sound of our footfalls and rustling leaves and broken twigs. “Hey hon, if somebody served an inky cap along with alcohol to an unsuspecting guest out of malice, would that be considered simple assault?”
“Assault and battery,” my attorney husband clarified.
See, I am fascinated by our family forays into field mycology. We hunt mushrooms and eat the edible kinds, in the process of which we learn all poisonous look-alikes. I have been loath to actually kill a character the Borgia way, though, since I have absolutely no sympathy for poisoners. Somebody who is being malicious enough to cause crippling nausea, though – I think I could bear to write a character like that.
Every time I walk through the woods and collect odd fungi into their little specimen bags for further identification, those fuzzy plot bunnies jump out and dance on the outskirts of my mind, amorphous yet enticing, waiting for my full attention so that I can learn their true shape.