The signs actually say, “Warning: Alligators may be present.” The signs below those, smaller, say, “Watch out for snakes!”

It’s astonishing how threatening I find them. Really, they don’t say, “Alligators, sure thing, your dogs are going to get EATEN! And by the way, the snakes are poisonous and deadly.” But I seem to read them that way. As a result, despite being camped right next to a lovely river, I haven’t done any kayaking and my walks through the nature trails tend to be hasty and paranoid.

Florida does have a lot of snakes, but they really aren’t interested in eating people. The most deadly was going to feature in A Gift of Grace, a coral snake. Mostly because we stopped making coral snake antivenin a few years back, because it was too expensive, and that seemed like such a statement about modern society. Bit by a coral snake? Tough luck. We could have saved you ten years ago, when we cared more about people than money, but those years are gone. Not that doctors won’t try, but the antivenin they have available is both expired and so scarce that they try to save it until they’re sure you’re dying, not just paralyzed and struggling to breathe.

Also, coral snakes are a very pretty snake. I saw one in my backyard a couple of years ago — several inches away from my bare foot — and stood frozen, watching it slither away, while my brain said, “red on yellow, red on yellow, red on yellow, pretty sure that’s bad, bad, bad. But there can’t possibly be a deadly snake in my backyard. Can there?” Once it was gone, I went inside and looked it up and yep, red on yellow = deadly. That’s how I found out about the antivenin. The experience would have made for a fun touch of realism in the book — I’m pretty sure I was holding my breath the entire time I watched that pretty little snake and I know my heart was pounding so loudly I could hear it in my ears, that sort of throbbing you can get in your head when your heart is working too hard.

But I finally gave up on the coral snake. For whatever reason, it never worked quite right. Maybe some future book.

Meanwhile, in this book, everything I’ve written for the past several days has turned out nihilistic and bleak. Grace would turn into a tragedy if I let it. So I’m going to delete everything from last week and try, try again. Someday I really will finish this book. It won’t, however, be this week. Drat.