Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, while her short stories appear regularly in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She takes a turn in the multi-author sweet cozy mystery series Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library with Ink or Swim. With a day job as an environmental regulatory technician, Catherine’s stories often have environmental or factory-based themes. Others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains. The two worlds collide in Survive Or Die, when a manufacturing company holds a team building exercise in the wilderness. You can learn more about Catherine’s fiction at http://www.catherinedilts.com/
“Where do you get your ideas” is a question novelists sometimes dread. The answer can be so complicated, the author hesitates to answer. Although the process from idea to finished book is difficult to explain, I can tell you exactly how Survive Or Die was born.
Three story ideas – a team building exercise gone awry, a survivalist training camp, and a cannibal museum – slowly twined together.
Years ago, the executives in a company where I was employed went on a team building exercise. Word raced around the factory that the execs had been inspired by the Billy Crystal movie “City Slickers”, and planned a cattle drive at a luxury dude ranch.
At the time, I was a low-level employee, trapped in a job a trained monkey could perform. Of course, the monkey would have misbehaved out of sheer boredom, resulting in termination of employment. Thank goodness, or I might have faced stiff competition in my career. I seethed with jealousy at the thought of high paid executives having fun on a dude ranch.
Until I remembered the movie. Things did not go well. The germ of a story idea was born, as I imagined soft Carpet Walkers, as we blue collar workers referred to them, roughing it in the Colorado mountains. The executive who got drunk at a company holiday party and fell off his chair might especially be prone to an unfortunate accident on the trail.
They all survived intact, but I could not let go of the idea. I let it simmer for a while.
Next, I became obsessed with survivalist television programs. From Dual Survival, to Man, Woman, Wild, and Dude You’re Screwed, I loved them all. The pinnacle was Man Vs. Wild, hosted by Bear Grylls.
These programs were not without controversy. Occasionally, a host was accused of beefing up his credentials with false claims about military service, or worse, of receiving assistance when he was supposed to have been alone.
The final key to Survive Or Die happened when my husband and I toured a museum in Lake City, Colorado. One display featured artifacts from the infamous self-admitted cannibal, Alferd Packer. We were nearly ejected from the building by a docent who did not appreciate our cannibal jokes. I’ll admit, they were in poor taste. However, her reaction seemed out of proportion.
The three ideas collided. A dysfunctional company holds a team building exercise at the former set for a discredited survivalist reality television show. Survive Or Die has been called The Office meets Bear Grylls. Where does Alferd Packer enter the story? Well, he doesn’t. Not specifically. But can you imagine the awkward situation if someone discovered you were related to a cannibal?
If you’ve ever worked in the dog-eat-dog corporate world, you will enjoy reading my humorous tale about employees who look forward to playing survival games, only to end up fighting for their lives.
An Excerpt from Survive Or Die
Aubrey shot a withering look Grant’s way that was completely wasted. He was too busy closing the door on a gray Camry someone had carelessly left open. That was Grant, Pinon Pine troop leader. Always helping people in need. People other than his wife.
“Grant didn’t explain to me we’d be camping.”
“I know,” Madison said. “He made me keep it a secret. How romantic is that? I hope we can be on the same team.”
“Team?” Aubrey asked.
“Yes. We’ll be competing to win treasure chest keys, just like on the old show.”
Sotheara Sok stepped into their circle before Aubrey could explode. The short Cambodian woman was almost unrecognizable without her powersuit and heels. She clutched the straps of a pink backpack that draped over her shoulders. Dressed in summer clothes, her bare feet dusty, Sotheara didn’t look much older than Aubrey’s teenage daughter.
“Hi, everyone. Which way is camp?”
“I’d guess that way.” Madison pointed.
Aubrey turned to see Frank Hardy march under the Survive or Die banner. Grant ran to him and pumped his hand like he was attempting to draw water from a well.
“Glad you finally made it.” Frank could have modeled for an outfitter’s catalog with his close-cropped salt and pepper hair, tanned and craggy face, and woodsy camouflage vest covered with bulging pockets. “Any other stragglers?” He scanned the parking lot. “We’re ready to start.”
“Start what?” Grant asked.
“Strategizing. Ted jumped the gun on us. He’s already formed a team of all the runners in the company.”
“Hang on a second.” Grant loped back to Aubrey. “How about it, honey?” He kept his voice low. “Are we leaving?”
Madison clutched Aubrey’s arm. “You’ve got to stay,” she whispered. “I need an ally. These people will eat me alive.”
“They’re never bringing Survive or Die back to television,” Sotheara said. “This is our only chance to play.”
So it wasn’t the comfy marriage retreat Aubrey had hoped for. Still, a week away from the kids had been a bear to arrange. Surely they could hit the romantic reset button on their fragile marriage as easily at a rugged camp as at their honeymoon B&B.
And then there was Madison, over a decade younger than Aubrey. She couldn’t imagine how the computer geek city-girl had been convinced to go camping, but Madison was right. She needed an ally.
Aubrey sighed with more drama than necessary, letting her shoulders slump. “Okay. I’ll stay. But if it’s as terrible as I think—”
They didn’t wait for her to finish. Frank grimaced as they unloaded luggage.
“I hope you packed the right gear. This isn’t a leisurely weekend at the country club.”
“Had I known,” Aubrey said, “I would have packed differently.” Speaking just loud enough for Grant to hear, she added, “I would have left the silk lingerie at home.”
“Time’s wasting.” Frank studied his elaborate wristwatch, no doubt waterproof, shock proof, and bear proof. “We’re on a schedule here.”
“Hold on.” Grant dropped a suitcase in the dirt. “There’s something on Mr. Bender’s windshield.” He stretched to snatch a scrap of paper from under the Humvee’s windshield wiper.
“What is it?” Frank asked.
“A flier.” Grant studied the paper. “This entire week is Going Batty Days in Lodgepole.”
“How fitting,” Aubrey muttered.
“It’s a fundraiser for bat habitats,” he continued. “Sounds fun.”
Sotheara clapped her hands together. “Bats!” A delighted smile lit up her face.
“Ew.” Madison grimaced as she scanned the afternoon sky, clutching the goofy orange sunbonnet tight over her curly brown hair.
“There’s no flier on my truck,” Frank said. “Edna and I arrived before Bender.”
“There’s something on the back,” Madison said.
Grant flipped the paper over. His green eyes opened wide. Aubrey looked over his arm at the hand-written note.
“Somebody’s not happy.” He handed the note to Frank.
“Bender,” Frank read aloud, “you think you’re gonna Survive, but you’re gonna Die. Die. Die.”
Birdsong and the sigh of the breeze through the pines punctuated the silence as the group huddled around Frank, staring at the scribbled threat. Frank handed it back to Grant.
“Let the games begin,” he muttered.
Madison smiled. “I knew this was going to be fun.”
You think you’re gonna Survive, but you’re gonna Die. Die. Die.
The owner of a dysfunctional company arranges a mandatory team-building exercise at the Survive or Die survivalist camp, once the setting for a defunct reality TV show. When he receives a death threat, what surprises employees is not that someone wants their lecherous, hard-drinking boss dead. The surprise is that he’s not the first casualty.
The unexpected demise of a coworker’s husband barely causes a ripple. The annoying photographer’s death is attributed to natural causes. The excitement comes when the boss announces the winner of the week-long game will receive a raise, and the loser will be fired. Most employees dig in with grim determination. A few have other agendas.
Timid junior accountant and dedicated eco-warrior Sotheara Sok searches for evidence that toxic waste is being dumped illegally on the ranch. Aubrey Sommers plans to rekindle romance with her husband, despite her resentment at being stuck in the shabby camp. Factory laborer Jeremiah Jones stalks his coworkers in search of a woman with wide child-bearing hips to share his mountain man dream.
Their plans become derailed when unlikely accidents plague the camp. Tours of Going Batty Days and the Cannibal of Carver Pass Museum in nearby Lodgepole provide pieces to a disturbing puzzle. The three join forces with an old lady version of Chuck Norris, and a city-girl computer geek, as the week deteriorates from mock survival games to a fight for survival in the Colorado wilderness.