Following the Muse


Wild and wacky of small town Florida politics explode in Tortoise Stew.
Wild and wacky of small town Florida politics explode in Tortoise Stew.

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Sometimes the muse leads us where we need to go. In early 2002, I was working on a novel set on the Suwanee River. I was also a reporter for  a 5,000 circulation weekly newspaper in north Florida. I covered one of the more contentious city commissions as WalMart began doing what WalMart does best – push their way into small towns with little regard for community.

One Tuesday morning in February, I made my rounds of the local city police departments to pick up the police reports for the past week before heading to the newspaper’s office. When I turned the corner, police tape encircled the building, and I saw my coworkers wandering around outside.

“Don’t worry – no one was hurt,” the publisher said as he rushed toward me when I got out of my car. “They were able to detonate the bomb before anything happened.”

the bomb after detonation

He thought I already knew someone dropped a bomb off in the paper’s drop box. When it was discovered, the local police called the county bomb squad. The bomb, filled with little bits of glass and nails, shot 70 yards outside the building when set off by the experts.

bomb experts investigate

We were barely six months past 9/11, and the world reeled around us. The national media started calling, but the FBI said it would be months before a full-scale investigation could begin. Around the same time, mailboxes were being blown up in the Midwest and our little bomb scare with no deaths amounted to nothing after the first twenty-four hours. It amounted to nothing for everyone, except those of us closest to the action such as me. I went away to the Keys a few days later for a planned and now much needed vacation.

As the breezes blew through the curtains of the beach house, I woke with a line in my head.

“The bomb sat on Kelly Sands desk for an hour before she noticed it.” I went in a trance to my laptop on the kitchen table and typed in the line.

Four years later, when Tortoise Stew was published that line opened the novel. I forgot about the other novel and wrote through my fear of another bomb finding its way to the drop box or under the hood of my car as I sat at yet another commission meeting with shouting matches and arrests as a matter of course for the small town. My muse wrote Tortoise Stew.

Today, Friday, September 21, if you’d like to read that first line, it’s free on Kindle at

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