On a February night in 2008, I was
vacationing with my family in [city name
hidden to protect the guilty], a remote town that sits high in the San Juan
Mountains of Colorado. Enclosed by towering cliffs, the town is nestled in a valley
dotted with pines and Victorian houses. Its Main Street defines charming. There’s
a toy store, a general store, an opera house, a candy shop. Like Plato’s ideal
of a town, it feels as if it should exist only on a postcard.
The first night of our stay, I drove
from the hotel to a restaurant several blocks away to pick up a takeout order. Pulling
into the parking space, I killed the engine and stepped out. Snow poured down. Main
Street stood breathtakingly quiet, not a sound but the snowflakes collecting on
Halfway across the sidewalk, the growl
of another engine stopped me in my tracks. I turned to see an SUV pull in beside
my Jeep. The truck boasted a light bar and a sheriff’s star emblazoned on the driver-side
The sheriff got out and moved toward me
in a big black parka and a cowboy hat.
I smiled, said hello officer.
He asked what the hell I thought I was
I said, “I’m sorry?”
With his boot, he knocked some snow off
the curb in front of my Jeep. It was painted red.
“You’re in a no-parking zone, partner,”
“I didn’t see it. It was covered in
“I’m gonna need you to move your Jeep.”
“Of course, I’m just running in to pick
up some food—”
“Right. Now.” Something in his tone, his
eyes, suggested he almost wanted me
I looked up and down Main Street. Our
two vehicles were the only cars in sight. I got back in my Jeep, cranked the
engine, and moved over exactly one parking space as the sheriff watched me from
Afterward, I stood in the snow, lamenting
all the clever things I might have said, but which had eluded me in the
intimidation of the moment.
The incident hung like a black cloud
over the rest of my vacation. For some reason, I couldn’t shake it.
Two nights later, as I was walking through
a quiet neighborhood, it dawned on me that the encounter with the sheriff
wasn’t lingering with me as a person anymore. It was lingering with me as a
writer. Because it was possibly the beginning of an idea. A quiet voice, the one
that often ignites my books, started asking questions…
if someone was pulling the sheriff’s strings, someone who owned the entire
if you tried to leave, but there was no road out, and every time, that sheriff found
you and dragged you back?
if someone forced you to live in this town forever?
The answers to those questions became my
novel, Pines, its sequel, Wayward, and a forthcoming FOX
television adaptation called Wayward
Pines, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and starring Matt Dillon, Carla
Gugino, Melissa Leo, Juliette Lewis, and Terrence Howard (who plays the terrifying
I find myself wondering, if that sheriff
hadn’t had a little fun with me one winter night five years ago, would I have
ever imagined a town called Wayward Pines? Since my career as a writer is built
upon the things that inspire my ideas, I guess in the end, I don’t really want
to know the answer to that question. Frightening how the smallest of encounters
can alter the direction of our lives.
Oh, and to that sheriff who harassed me
in the middle of a snowstorm, just because he could…