April Fools!
Written by
Summer Wood
March 2012
Written by
Summer Wood
March 2012

Early this year, my partner Kathy Namba and I made a trip to New Orleans to visit friends. It was terrific, of course--coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde, music in the French Quarter, a bottle of wine down on the bayou, more gumbo and jambalaya than should be legal in the course of a week--but we missed out on one crucial thing.

We saw no alligators.

To remedy this lack, I purchased a synthetic version of the real thing at the airport gift shop. It was meant to be a gift for our nieces, who are 4 and 5, but Kathy insisted it was too realistic and gruesome to inflict on the kids. (I ask you, what kid minds gruesome?--but that's another story.) I think Kathy just likes the thing too much to part with it. And, to tell the truth, so do I.

What I really like about the alligator is the knack it has for showing up in unlikely places. In the medicine cabinet. In my lunch sack. On the seat of my truck. Inside the cereal box.

To be fair, it has found its way to the inside of Kathy's work briefcase, on top of the rolls of toilet paper in the bathroom closet, in her sock drawer, and between the couch cushions where she snuggles to watch TV, too.

Here's the thing: no matter how many times I encounter that rubbery, gap-toothed beast, I am never prepared for the shock it gives me. I always jump. I squeal like—well, like a girl encountering an alligator where she least expects it.

And I love it. What is life without surprise? 

Dull, right? Which is why I welcome surprises in my writing, too. The good kind. The kind that show up when you've been writing hard all day and feel like you have nothing worthwhile to show for it--and then that perfect grace note of a paragraph appears and cracks open the whole enterprise. Or when you think you’re writing a story about one thing and it takes a turn into something much deeper, real-er, scarier, and way more beautiful than you thought possible. When you're working along, ho hum, and out of the blue an idea comes to you that you just know carries the seeds of your next novel, or poem, or other happy obsession.

These surprises read to me like missives from the unknown, the vast world of richness and possibility. They are what keep me going when the work seems too tough, the odds too stacked. The surprises remind me that the world—and my imagination—are full of endlessly interesting combinations, of side alleys yet to explore and characters I’m crazy to get to know. 

So here’s hoping, this month of April Fools, that we all remember the joys of making fools of ourselves. May we be open to the best surprises. May the pleasures of the unexpected tickle us out of the ordinary and into the sublime—even if just for one short burst of delight. 

I’ll be posting all week about surprises, and I’ve asked some friends to join me in this effort. You’ll be hearing from folks at A Room of Her Own Foundation and others. Please jump into the conversation. I’d love to hear what surprises you.


SUMMER WOOD is the author of two novels, Wrecker and Arroyo, and teaches for the University of New Mexico Taos Summer Writers’ Conference. Her second novel will be released this September by Bloomsbury with a new title, Raising Wrecker. For more info, visit her website at www.summerwoodwrites.com.

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  • Jayne Martin

    Best surprises for me are when I go to bed thinking I have nothing to write about and wake up in the morning with an idea "out of nowhere."   When I was writing for television, I was heavy into outlines -- as detailed as possible -- but once the writing actually started, the characters would suddenly start having ideas of "their own" and that always tickles me.  I think the best surprises for a reader are the ones that surprised the writer.   

  • Summer Wood

    You all are so great. Thanks for writing. Tania, your tarantula reminds me of the fall, when all those big hairy black (and harmless, truly) beauties cross the highway to head to the gorge for hijinks. They're our New Mexican version of Louisiana's alligators! Julie, you're sweet to say so -- I'm tickled! 

  • Tania Pryputniewicz

    Summer, I can see our family desperately needs our own version of the alligator. We had a large black gummy tarantula for awhile but I think the husky finally did it in...but it was good for a good dose off adrenaline, especially if hucked at the hairline. Definitely, bless you for the reminder about good old fashioned fun. Off to check out your interview with Tracey.

  • Julie Golden

    I developed a girl-crush on Summer Wood this morning. Summer, you are such a dedicated and creative writer. You jumped through so many high hoops to win the AROHO prize. I'm impressed, and intrigued about Wrecker – heading out this afternoon to get a copy. Thanks for all of your hard work, and setting a great example for other women writers.  

  • Summer Wood

    I know exactly what you mean, Karen. Sometimes for me the surprise comes when I've worked hard all day, powering away at the writing until I'm all wrung out, but decide to sit and just play with language for another half an hour. Seems like then, when my "trying" brain has exhausted itself, fresh new ideas will arise. But the key is the work...


  • Karen Lynne Klink

    One of my favorite surprises happens when I don't feel like writing a particular chapter or scene and force myself to sit there and write.  Often as not, something wonderful happens--I discover a new connection, clever dialogue, a meaningful scene.  Proves again that writing isn't done only when you are in the mood.  It's work.  Work that pays off if you keep at it.

    P.S.:  Wrecker sounds wonderful.  Must check it out.