Tag Archives: backstory

Impressions: A Grizzly Dog Tale

It was the damned dogs that caused all the trouble.

If they hadn’t barked all the time, we wouldn’t have gotten evicted, which the wife said was the last straw. Well, it was the camping out to avoid being served with the formal eviction notice that got to her, to be specific. Things had already been tense, even before we had to move out of the house, what with the electric and water being shut off just because the checks kept getting lost in the mail.

As long as we weren’t served, we could leave everything at the house until we got a new place, including the dogs. She wanted to put all our stuff in her parents’ garage, but they wouldn’t have anything to do with the animals, so what was the point?

The dogs never bothered me.

Dogs are supposed to bark. I always knew when someone was walking down the street, as long as the dogs were in the backyard where they belonged. But the kids would let them in the house sometimes, as if they didn’t make enough noise by themselves. Those brats bickered and fussed and screamed at each other every waking moment if they were within two rooms of each other.

So the wife had a point about the tent being too small.

We took the dogs with us the first night, when we thought it would only be a few days, but the campground host was a prick and came by first thing in the morning to tell us the dogs had to go. He wouldn’t make an exception to his no-pets rule, just because the collie mix barked from dusk until dawn. He should have been glad. She probably kept someone from getting eaten by a grizzly bear or something. But he didn’t see it that way, so I snuck them back to the house and put them in the backyard. The fence would keep people out, and I could slip in after dark to feed and water them.

The dogs were well cared for, got food and water every day. If they spilled the bowl, that wasn’t my fault. It was a pain to have to go over there almost every night with a jug of water, except it gave me a chance for some peace and quiet.

The wife always whined that I took too long, that she only had a half hour between jobs. She thought I should be there every minute she was gone, babysitting those brats. She said they were all mine, but I never made that kind of racket.

Well, I was enjoying the peace and quiet at the house when the wife shows up with all the kids. She left them in the car and came in screaming that she was going to be late to work because I was using the damn dogs as an excuse to sit and do nothing. Then she started in about me not having a job, as if it was my fault I was stuck watching those damn kids all day, as if I could go back and get a job last spring or winter, when I was checking the paper every week or so.

Anyway, when she went off on me like that and told me not to come back to the tent, I lost it. We hadn’t had any real fights in a long time, probably because she was too busy working to start them, but this one made up for it. I finally punched her in the stomach to knock the wind out of her and shut her up.

She hit me back!

There wasn’t any thinking about it. The man of the house deserves more respect than that. I smacked her good. If she’d had decent reactions, she’d have had her hand out to break the fall, but she didn’t, and her head slammed into the corner of the concrete step between the kitchen and the garage. She made a mess with that blood gushing all over, but it stopped pretty fast, I guess when the pump stopped.

I had to get the kids into the garage one at a time then, so I told the younger ones to take the water bottle out back and put some into the dogs’ dish, and the oldest followed me to the garage to tell me which of his stuff could be tossed.

He was whining the whole way. I swung that baseball bat like a kid at T-ball. Crack—a home run and instant quiet. One by one I took care of them. The littlest one was harder to trick. She noticed it was too quiet. But she was little, after all, and she looked so much like her mother.

It took three days of starving before the dogs began to eat. I brought our stuff back from the campground and told the guy we were moving out of town. Then I hid in the house, figuring I’d have to get rid of the bones. When the owner came snooping around, I stayed in the garage. I knew he’d never open it with the dogs barking.

It was the smell that made him call the Humane Society, who called the cops. If the dogs hadn’t been so picky, you’d never have heard this story.

Damn dogs.

Impressions is a series of character studies – short sketches to wet your appetite. Think he’d make a good villain in a longer tale? Leave a comment.

Thanks.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Impressions: Benny’s Last Dollar

Benny swallowed the end of his drink and looked at his last chip, a dollar.

It was all set up to favor the house. Benny knew that. He’d known it from the first time he went to a casino, but still, he couldn’t stop until his pocket was empty. There was a slot machine near the exit just waiting for this chip.

Even the time he hit the big jackpot, big enough to buy a new truck, maybe even one of those new little houses on the edge of town that his girl always talked about, he’d kept on playing until his stake was completely gone. That’s what he called it—his stake. That made him feel like one of the pros, the serious poker players in the big money games held privately in the back room. But Benny never took more than one day’s pay. However much he was earning, that was his limit.

Of course, he’d made that rule when he had a good full time job. This week, he’d only worked two days, helping an old lady fix a bunch of stuff on her house so she could sell it. He and George had really dragged their heels to make the job last. She was only paying them minimum. They used to make four, five times that with overtime.

Not anymore.

One day’s pay had gone for new socks, thrift store shoes and shirts, and groceries they never had at the food bank. He’d come to the casino with the rest, and he’d managed to make it last a good while – building it up, then losing some, building it up again. Until he ended up with nothing but this dollar chip. Since then he’d been watching other people play while he finished his drink.

Back in the day, he could say the free drinks paid for anything he lost. But he didn’t drink much anymore. He wasn’t AA or born-again; he hadn’t even tried to quit. It had come on him gradually, until one night last July he’d headed home and realized he’d nursed one whiskey the whole evening. Even when the company folded and his girl dumped him, all in one week, he didn’t crawl into a bottle like some of his buddies.

Benny scanned the casino, all the people absorbed by machines or tensed over tables. The drink girl came up and offered him a refill.

“No,” he said. He paused and stared at her as if she were an alien life form. “No, I’m done. Thank you.”

She moved on to the next customer.

Benny cashed in his chip and tucked his dollar into his pocket.

He straightened his shoulders, smiled a half smile to himself, and gave the pocket with his dollar in it a pat. Satisfied, he took one last look around before leaving.

He wouldn’t be back.

Impressions is a series of character studies – short sketches to wet your appetite. If you’d like reading more about Benny, leave a comment.

Thanks.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signature

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Impressions: The Novice Traveler

Carolyn lumbered through the airport, a backpack slung over her left shoulder, her right arm stretched by the weight of her carry-on.

Big Brother’s voice reminded her, “Unattended bags will be confiscated.”

She stopped to catch her breath, put the suitcase on the floor close to her feet, and moved the backpack to her right shoulder. The pack had been the agent’s idea, so she could make sure everything made the plane change with her. It held more and had better pockets than a traditional purse, but she felt silly carrying it.

She picked up the suitcase and trudged onward. It had taken her forever to get to the departure gate and then they announced a change. Why did it have to be at the opposite end of the airport?

The aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls filled her as she instinctively inhaled deeply. That would have to do. The bakery line was long, her new gate was still a good hike away, and the flight would be boarding soon.

She looked longingly at all the people effortlessly pulling bags on wheels. Why hadn’t the agent suggested that? If her father’s old bag hadn’t been the right size for carry-on she would have shopped for one. Maybe they all had wheels now.

Finally she got to the new right gate.

Carolyn lifted her eyes skyward. “Please don’t let them change it again.”

“You got that right,” said a Gothic person of indeterminate sex.

Carolyn started. She hadn’t meant to talk out loud.

Big Brother repeated his warnings. The Gothic person sniffed, drawing Carolyn’s attention to a nose ring. There was one through the left eyebrow, too. Why would someone do that? It had to hurt.

“You going to Maui, too?” the Goth person asked.

Carolyn paused, but saw no way to keep her destination a secret. She nodded and turned away. There were only two seats left open. The Goth person plopped down next to her.

“I love the islands… you been before?” it said.

Carolyn shook her head and pulled out the novel she’d brought for the plane. She opened it and put her head down, but that didn’t work.

“Kauai’s the best, but Maui’s nice if you stay away from the tourist traps.”

Carolyn stared at the first page.

“I’m Becca.” The girl shoved her ring-laden hand over Carolyn’s book.

Carolyn raised her head and made cautious contact with her fingertips.

The girl’s black lips couldn’t hide her dimples or the openness of her smile. It was just all the black leather and spiky hair and dramatic, ghoulish make-up that made her seem threatening. Well, that and the piercings. Carolyn returned the smile tentatively.

“You’ve been to Hawaii before?” she asked.

“Oh yeah. I love it there. Costa Rica’s nice, too, but Hawaii’s my favorite.”

“Really?” Carolyn thought of all the vacations she’d spent caring for her parents and working on their house – her house now. “You travel a lot?”

“Yup. I’ll stay until my money runs out, then go crash with my folks, get a job, and save up for the next trip. They cut me a deal on rent, to get me to come home sometimes, but eventually I’m going to work my way around the world.”

“How long did it take you to save up for this trip?”

“Three months. Maui’s really cheap if you know how to do it.”

“You’re kidding.”

“About fifty dollars a day. And the plane ticket.” The girl pulled a small electronic device from her pack and stuck pieces of black foam into her ears.

“Fifty dollars a day?” Carolyn sighed. Her hotel alone was three times that.

The girl didn’t hear. She was nodding to a dissonant sound audible despite the ear buds. So Carolyn didn’t talk about the Jeep the agent had insisted she add to the reservation, so she wouldn’t get stuck off-trail or on a beach. Carolyn was too timid to ever leave the road, and too timid to argue with the man. At least he hadn’t made reservations at restaurants for her, though he’d given her a list of places that served delicious fresh sea food – probably all expensive.

Carolyn touched Becca tentatively on the forearm. “Where do you eat?”

The girl emptied the ear closest to Carolyn, but still nodded to the music as she answered. “Mostly from grocery stores, then fix it in the kitchen or barbeque out back at the hostel. Groceries are expensive, but it’s cheaper than eating out.”

“They let you use the kitchen?”

“It’s a hostel. Like a hotel, but with community bathrooms and kitchen.”

“You share the bathroom with strangers?”

“And I’ll be sharing a room with three other people. You can get a private room, but it costs more. I’ve only done that when my gram came along.”

“Your grandmother?”

“Yep. She travels the same way. Hey, let me give you her email.”

As the girl handed Carolyn the slip of paper, a disembodied voice called for the first passengers to board. Carolyn stood up. The agent had said a first class ticket was essential for such a long flight. She knew Becca would be flying tourist.

“Are you sure your grandmother won’t mind you giving this to a stranger?”

“That’s the beauty of being a traveler,” Becca smiled. “There’s no such thing as a stranger.”

Impressions is a series of character studies – short sketches to wet your appetite. If you’d like reading more about Carolyn’s journey – or Becca’s – leave a comment.

Thanks.

Sheri McGuinn Photo Signaturewww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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When You’re Not a Writer – Yet

I believe all writing is good practice for a writer.

While my kids were growing up, I put aside “being a writer” for day jobs. However, many of those day jobs involved writing. For example, I’ve written stacks of court reports. Did that build any skills for my fiction writing? Absolutely.

  • I had to interview people and present their position accurately – to do that I listened carefully and checked for understanding. Even the few villains I encountered had what they believed were good reasons for their actions. So I avoid cardboard characters in my fiction. I know each of my characters from the inside out. Each has a distinct voice.
  • I had to pay attention to details. Small details, buried amidst non-essential information, often clarified an issue or sequence of events. The same holds true in fiction – the details often decide the course of events.
  • I had to take the facts I’d gathered and present them in a logical order that helped the judge make sense of the situation – which was often quite complicated. The same skill is necessary in fiction. If you confuse the reader by putting a conclusion before the facts that lead to it, you will probably lose them altogether.
  • I couldn’t include every single piece of information I collected. I had to decide which facts were necessary and which were superfluous. When writing fiction, I always know more backstory than my readers – they’d be bored if I included all of it. I have to choose what they need to know when. It’s the same skill, repurposed.
  • I also had to decide when to quote an interviewed person directly and when to paraphrase. When writing fiction, I need to decide where to describe interactions and where to use dialogue. The elements that make each effective are remarkably similar whether a court report or a novel.

What about jobs that don’t involve much writing? It’s all experience. Most writers have had a series of jobs before they start making a living (or at least part of one) writing.

If you find a complete job history of an author and then read all of that author’s work, you will probably find characters and settings that use non-writing jobs.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

Press release:

Sheri McGuinn at Gold Country Writers Six-Author Event! Official release.

Event date: Sunday, March 25, 2018 – 1:00pm to 4:00pm Event address: FACE IN A BOOK, 4359 Town Center Blvd #113, El Dorado Hills, CA 95762

http://www.getyourfaceinabook.com/event/gold-country-writers-six-author-event

 

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Levels of Edit

The world goes on while we write: The term “buckets of rain” became real to me in 1972, when Tropical Storm Agnes stalled over Pennsylvania for days. So I checked – total rainfall that caused massive flooding back then was less than Houston got in the first twenty-four hours. Cousins – glad you’re safe.

On to levels of edit. I’m going to repeat one piece up here:

Don’t submit rough drafts for critique or editing!

If you’re working with a critique group, it’s rude. If you’re paying for an editor, it’s a waste of money. Always read, revise, and correct to the best of your ability first.

At least use your word processor’s spelling and grammar checks. These are flawed – you need to look at each suggestion before accepting corrections – but there’s no excuse for asking people to read something that looks like you threw letters and words into a blender, then poured them onto the page. Grammarly has a free app that gives feedback on grammar and Natural Readers has a free download that will read your documents aloud. It’s mechanical and makes pronunciation errors, but if you have a problem with commas, you’ll hear if you’re missing pauses or have too many.

Sheri McGuinn
I write.
http://www.sherimcguinn.com
http://www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

20170831LevelsofEdit

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