Today, you’ll find me over on Sandra Crowley’s blog http://www.driven2danger.blogspot.com/ talking about my battle with breast cancer and my morgue experience.
And I have Mary Campisi here with me talking about dog tales and backstory. So, sit back, grap a cup of coffee, and let Mary entertain you.
As we made our usual trek, I thought about topics and possibilities and then it hit me; I would write about backstory, but not in an instructional way. I would write about it using Cooper and his history as the model. He’s got quite a story, some known, some guessed at, some revealed in dribbles, but all heartbreaking and inspirational.
After we lost our black lab, Molly, one short week after her twelfth birthday, I mourned her for months. Her story is for another time – this one is about Cooper. After seven months, I was ready to open my heart to another dog, a rescue this time. Enter Cooper. I passed him over the first time I saw him on the lab rescue website. He didn’t look like much of a lab, his nose was too long, his tail looked chopped, and he was a boy. (I thought I wanted a girl.) After days of scouring the site, I called the head of the lab rescue association for direction and she suggested Cooper. She had done the intake on him when he first arrived in their facility and said he was intelligent and eager to please. Probably two or so years old. What they knew about him, (backstory) was that he’d been found wandering along the state route highway and the town drunk picked him up and took him to the lab rescue center. Most likely, he’d been dumped.
My husband and I decided to visit the foster home and take a look at Cooper. Talk about skinny. I mean ‘count your ribs’ skinny. He had fly bites behind his ears, and long, spindly legs and one silly little barbell squeaky toy with the paint half chipped off. (We pictured him wandering the roads, scrapping for food and shelter. The fly bites behind the ears made us wonder if he’d been left outside for long periods of time. Tied up?) When we saw him in person, we spotted the lab in him but there was something else too – pointer? He was such a pathetic little bugger, so uncertain and timid, nothing like Queen Molly had been. That’s when I truly realized Molly would never be replaced but there was room in our hearts to love another dog and that dog was Cooper.
So, here’s some interesting backstory we guessed at once Cooper moved in:
This dog can smell! – How else would he have sniffed out two dead mice in our basement…behind a stack of lumber? Yes, gross! Or run along the lawn in a zig zag pattern, nose to the ground, sniffing like a pig searching out truffles but most likely tracking voles?
This dog can jump! He stole 24 half frozen meatballs from a glass Pyrex on the countertop and didn’t move the Pyrex or leave a trace. A few months later, he stole a half a ham from the same Pyrex which was on top of the dryer in the laundry room, (put there as safekeeping for the next day graduation party, but I forgot to close the door.) Cooper got the ham and the Pyrex from the dryer and dragged them across the long kitchen floor, upending the Pyrex but not breaking it. Fortunately, we must have interrupted his shenanigans before he ate much of it. And no, we did not serve the remainder of the ham to guests
This dog can’t run a straight line. Cooper is fast, I mean really fast, especially when he’s retrieving a tennis ball. But when he’s running back to us, he’s almost sidestepping as he moves. My husband thinks he was once on a chain and learned how to run this way. I try not to think about it.
This dog has manners. Despite his sad background, Cooper’s foster mother taught him a few tricks that have served him well. He sits and waits for the hand command before eating, he can back up, roll over, creep, and if something lands on the floor, he will wait until I tell him it’s okay to eat. (I wish he would do this on his walks!)
This dog doesn’t like Birthdays. One month after we adopted Cooper, we celebrated my mother’s 80th birthday. When the candles came out and we sang Happy Birthday, Cooper ran in the other room and hid under the computer desk. We’ve had several birthdays since then and we’ve learned he doesn’t like the song Happy Birthday or candles/fire of any kind. I don’t light any scented candles in the house because it scares him and he runs off. No outside fire pits either. I would love to know what happened that frightened him so much. He also doesn’t like ‘Soft Little Kitty’ from The Big Bang Theory. He perked up one night and watched the TV, mesmerized by the sound. Other songs are okay, trust me, I’ve tried them out on him I think this one has to do with the fact that it sounds like a child singing and children also bother him. Crying children, loud voices, all worrisome to him.
This dog does not like engines. As much as Molly loved the UPS man, Cooper does not. It’s not the man or the vehicle that sends him in a tailspin; it’s the sound of the engine. Buses, UPS, Fed Ex, garbage trucks . . . Did he try to steal food from the garbage truck and get chased away?
This dog is still…a dog. I’ve had Cooper micro chipped like Jason Bourne. He has an orthopedic bed and a snuggle bed. He has an L.L. Bean monogrammed leash and collar. He eats sensitive stomach dog food and bite size apple turnover dog treats. And guess what? The other day we were on our walk and I noticed he had something in his mouth. I thought it was a pine cone. Uh,no, it was a partial head of a rabbit. I was not happy. Worse, too many times I’ve caught him in the wooded part of our backyard chomping away. I know he’s probably eating rabbit droppings! As my vet once asked me, “If Cooper were in the wild, would he choose organ meats or lean?”
This dog watches over us. When Cooper first arrived, he woke in the middle of the night and walked to my side of the bed and then my husband’s, just making sure we were there. He doesn’t do it as much anymore, but still, at least once a week, I hear him. I wonder what he’s thinking . . .
So what does this all mean? Cooper’s backstory was revealed to us a bit at a time. Rarely did anyone step up and tell us about him, because no one knows which leads to supposition on our part after evaluating and observing his responses and behavior in certain circumstances. Revealing backstory in writing is no different. Dump it all in the first chapter and the pace slows, the reader loses interest, and the intrigue slips away. But dole it out a bit at a time, through action or reaction and you’ve got a very interesting tale. Or in Cooper’s case, a dog tail…I mean tale.
Mary’s Regency romance, A Taste of Seduction is now available. http://thewildrosepress.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=176_138&products_id=4421
A Taste of Seduction:
A young woman of noble blood, raised as a peasant girl
An orphaned stable boy, now grown and the surrogate son of a powerful earl – the same earl who just so happens to be the young woman’s father . . .
Meriel and Anthony have nothing in common – she runs barefoot and talks to animals, he won’t loosen his cravat unless the bedroom door is firmly closed. Meriel believes in love, hope, and happily ever after. Anthony believes in keeping a safe distance from anything resembling an emotion. They have nothing in common but an undeniable, burning desire for one another they can’t ignore or understand, and an ailing ‘father’ who will do anything to see them together. Unfortunately, there are others, who will stop at nothing, willing even to kill, to keep them apart.
Kind? He wondered if she would still think him kind if he told her that right now all he could think about was tasting her lips, touching her breasts, feeling her bare skin. Kind? Hardly.
He cleared his throat and met her gaze. He had to set her straight before she started imagining all sorts of other crazy things about him. “Kind? That’s not a term that’s usually associated with me.”
She laughed, a tinkling sound that ran through his body like fire. “That’s because you want everyone to think you are some sort of cruel beast. You even had me fooled for a while.” Her voice dipped to a low purr. “But you aren’t a beast, Anthony, not at all. No beast would eat my bread just so he wouldn’t hurt my feelings.”
He frowned, hoping his scar stuck out white and ugly. “You should be afraid of me.” Men twice her size couldn’t look him in the eye.
“How can I be afraid of you when you’ve got butter on the side of your mouth?” She reached out to brush it away with her forefinger. “And all over your lips,” she murmured, tracing her finger over first his upper and then his lower lip.
Anthony caught her hand. She was playing a dangerous game and she didn’t even know it. He opened his mouth and flicked his tongue along the tip of her finger. He heard the small catch in her throat. His tongue traced another finger, and then another. Sweet Jesus, but he wanted her.
“Come to me, Meriel,” he whispered, planting a kiss on the inside of her palm. “Let me taste you.”