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The History of Best Friends

I’m quite hopeful you, as you read this, have a best friend.

If you don’t, however, you can pick up a best friend from a shelter not too far away: you can get a dog.

Dogs, called “man’s best friend” in a cliché and somewhat sexist statement, hold that special status in our hearts for a reason. Whereas horses can understand and work with humans, and while cats can see us as food and attention sources, dogs are starved for love and want to dole it out in equal – well, let’s admit it, greater – measure. But how did we get to this point? And why the heck are there so many breeds?

Let’s find out by delving into a pre-history that, with modern technology, is only now being discovered.*


This peer-reviewed gene analysis paper shows how researchers analyzed dog genomes of many breeds to determine that the well-beloved race all descended from gray wolves. Yes, that’s right, your beloved Butter Butt is 100%, genuine wolf.

“I know and accept this worthless fluff-bucket owns my house.” — Dr. Gorman

In fact, the genetic clades (clades represent similarities in genomes, and the closer the clade the more similar the genes) show how closely related dogs and wolves really are. In one of the article’s images, the one that describes the haplotypes (or genetic groups) of dogs and wolves, several groups of dogs and wolves are about equally related to one another. Dogs and wolves are also capable of interbreeding.

This interbreeding seems to have been important during the domestication of the dog, as analysis of the mitochondrial DNA indicates multiple back-breeding events (i.e., when domesticated dogs interbred with wolves) added genetic diversity. It may also indicate multiple domestication events. Multiple events makes it really hard to pin down when dogs were domesticated, and even where! The paper I linked above seems to indicate the primary event happening in east Asia, but others (as summarized in this The Atlantic article) claim with what seems to be equal validity, that the event occurred in any number of places. There is a lot of evidence, however, favoring east Asia over other places.

While genetics has shown us what changed to cause the wolf ancestor to split into wolves and dogs, scientists still argue as to how or why those changes were implemented.

What does it take for domestication occur? This review article from Cell (trust me, it’s a high-level scientific journal) says there’s nothing certain about what makes an animal domesticated, and studied traits vary by species, breed, and situation. The sheer number of dog breeds with highly varying traits also leave us wondering what were the things ancient humans did that changed a wolf into a dog.

There’s only one thing we can be sure of: we absolutely needed friends. Humans gave dogs protection, food, and comfort in a harsh and ancient world even before the first agricultural revolution.

And, as you dog owners know, they gave all of that back ten-fold.

Dog Breeds

Though dog domestication happened something on the order of 15,000 to 30,000 years ago, the divisions of dogs into breeds happened much later.

And it’s the biggest genetic experiment to have ever happened.

From Mastiffs to Chihuahuas, from Shiba Inu to Australian Shepherds, they’re all dogs. Most breeds also didn’t exist until about 150 years ago, when it became a popular hobby in England to breed the perfect pup.

In fact, look at this map where the landmasses are adjusted for size based on the number of breeds from the area:

CRAZY FRIKKIN’ ENGLAND IS BIGGER THAN AFRICA, AUSTRALIA, and ASIA COMBINED. Also, sorry the map’s not zoomed in to see things well, but I couldn’t find a better image (I saw it for the first time at my dog trainer’s place).

In the late 19th century, the English – and, later, much of Europe – got into the whole idea that dogs were pets and could be bred. Now, I don’t want to be too presumptive, but Darwin published his Origin of Species in 1859, otherwise known as “pretty much at the beginning of the dog-breeding craze.” Was this scientific work influential in dog breeding? Did it inspire the middle-class hobbyists to begin creating dogs that had specific traits other than what were needed to do their jobs? There’s no proof, and it’s literally just something I’ve had in my head for a while, but I think it’s fairly coincidental that all of this happened at once.

But, as selective pressures brought about the differentiation between dog and wolf, human-enforced breeding measures brought about the breeds. We can see this still ongoing today as breed regulations change and new traits come into favor. For instance, when you look at the below picture of two chihuahuas, which one do you think is the correct by breed standard?

The answer is both are ok. Both the deer-headed (B) and apple-headed (A) Chihuahua are up to code, but the apple-headed dogs are more popular and more “desirable” (especially if you want more health problems). I take issue with this specific consumer choice due to those associated health issues, but whatever.

As dog breeding continues, issues associated with inbreeding have cropped up. If you choose to get a purebred dog, do your homework. Look up the lineages of the dog you’re considering, and maybe don’t get one descended from the top showdog (for AKC Pomeranians, it’s hard to get away from Prince Charming in your lineage, but I tried to keep greater diversity when I got my dog).

And, every time you pet your friend, remember that someone, thousands of years ago, was brave enough to pet a wolf.

About the Author: H.R.R. Gorman is a PhD chemical engineer with expertise in biotechnology and making drugs. Following science, Dr. G’s greatest passions are writing and history. Dr. G has a vicious attack Pomeranian named Hector, who is a spoiled and dearly loved dog. If you want to know more about this white-trash-turned-excessively-bourgeois maniac, you can go to

*If you believe in the young earth theories or disbelieve evolution, I hope this article was interesting to you without being offensive. With or without evolution, it’s clear: dogs were designed to be our friends. 🙂

Big Brown Dog

big-brown-dogBrown eyes. Brown coat. Brown spots. When a big brown dog comes to mind, it’s like a worn memory of a childhood teddy bear for some. For others, the idea is pure fiction.

Writers took to the form of flash fiction this week to honor the memory of a big brown dog named Grenny. Many had memorials and memories of their own to add — photos and stories. Be sure to click on any highlighted title links to read the blog posts some of our writers include with their flash.

The following is based on the October 5, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a Big Brown Dog.


Dog Show by Geoff Le Pard

Punchenello Tillingdown – Punch – a pedigree boxer who had to be shown. He was Magnificent. Mum took him to the local dog show. All went well until the vet inspection. Worried faces. Mum wanted to disappear as the vets fondled near his exhaust. ‘Sorry Mrs Le Pard. Has to be disqualified. He’s a mono-orchid.’

Mortified, Mum drags him home, humiliated. At a cathartic coffee morning, she tells our neighbour, Olive Haylor, about the missing testicle. Later that evening Olive regales her husband with Mum’s doom. ‘It was dreadful. Poor dog. He’s a mono… He only has one tulip.’

Constant Companion by Kerry E. B. Black

Latte rested her head on Sally’s lap, and the girl wrapped her arms around Latte’s neck, sobbing until the dog’s fur turned slick. “I thought Jen was my friend.” Latte licked the tears, blinking acceptance and love as her girl hiccuped. “They laughed at my crutches, called me stupid.” Sally’s grip tightened, and Latte gulped. Sally’s Cerebral Palsy made muscle control difficult. “It isn’t fair.” Latte wiggled which loosened the grip a bit, then placed a paw on the girl’s lap. “I don’t hate them. I hate myself.”

Latte wished for human language. Sally sniffed, understanding. “I love you, too.”


Toledo by Bill Engelson

With The Banker downwind, Dobbs sucked in a lungful of hot noon air. The town was tense; word had spread.

Their element of surprise was quickly sizzling away.

At one point, Merle Taylor, accompanied by the family mutt, a big brown dog with the unlikely name of Toledo, which was Merle’s home town, brought some soda bread, pemmican and three jugs of freshly drawn water.

He watched Henry kiss his wife and wave her away.

Heading back to safety, Merle and Toledo halted before Dobbs. Touching his arm, Merle said, “We need him, Mr. Dobbs.”

“Yes Ma’am. I know.”


Brown by Ann Edall Robson

She was the only one in the litter that was brown. It made her theeee one! We called her Brown.

By the time she was six months old, we were getting questioned about her name. That loveable ball of brown fluff was changing. Her baby hair was taking on a different hue. Flecks of gold shimmering through.

Big brown eyes watch our every move. She is still the Brown that we brought home so many years ago. Slower now, but fetch is still her favourite game.

We still get questioned about her name. She will always be our Brown.


Big Brown Dog of Rock Creek by Charli Mills

“Da! Come quick. Lizzie says there’s a big brown dog at the creek.” Monroe stood at the barn door, panting.

Cobb glanced at his son, setting aside the chisel he was using. Without grabbing his shirt, he followed Monroe to the edge of Rock Creek. “Is it mean?”

“Well, it sounds big. But I didn’t see it.”

Lizzie sat with her other two brothers gleefully clapping, “Big brown dog!” Her brothers looked as worried as Monroe, who was eldest.

“So, where’s the dog?” Cobb scanned the thicket below. He heard a rustle. And out walked a big brown bear.


Flash Fiction by Gordon Le Pard

“It’s beautiful.” She looked down on the ancient house, nestled in a fold of the moorland.

“It’s your home now.” He swung his bride round and kissed her, she shuddered.

“What is it?” he asked, concerned.

“Nothing,” she replied, “I just thought I saw a big brown dog, it startled me.”

Smiling she took his arm as they returned to the carriage.

“I think we will be very happy here.”

Laughing he lifted her in his arms.

“Despite the hound?” He asked as he carried her over the threshold.

She kissed him. “Of course.”

“Then welcome to Baskerville Hall!”


Big Brown Dog by Pensitivity 101

Barney was brown, black and white, fluffy, soft and loveable.
A border collie, we brought him home with his brother Rubble on August 5th 1995.

Rubble grew distressed every time we closed the door (we only had one into the property) so we had to take him back to the farm.

Barney however stayed, but was afraid of thunder and fireworks, so he’d hide in the bath.

When we revamped the bathroom and replaced said bath with a shower cubicle, he was confused for a while, then just sat on the little step where the bath used to be instead.


Therapy Dog by Anne Goodwin

A two-year wait for an assessment? She could be dead by then.

“You can have a therapy dog in the meantime.”

She imagined a big brown dog barking at the juicy bits. Why not? If dogs could sniff out landmines and prophesy an epileptic fit.

Bruno was bright, but not that bright. Even so, his exuberance hauled her from her bed. The rhythms of walking soothed her. His antics dragged laughter from her belly. His wagging tail drew her into conversation with strangers.

Two years flew by. She still wanted therapy. But only if she could keep the dog.


The Big Brown Dog (Jane Doe Flash Fiction, Also Being a Tribute to Troubles) by Deborah Lee

Jane rounds the corner of the shabby house, hoping her break-in has gone unnoticed, and stops cold at a sound, a sound that isn’t traffic or birds or whispering trees. A whimper, a whine. There, on the porch.

“Hey, beautiful dog,” Jane whispers. “Did they leave you, too?”

The dog, a German Shepherd, thumps his tail. He’s panting lightly in the heat, ribs like slats under a dull coat.

“Looks like you need a friend, big guy. I need one too.”

Jane fumbles in her backpack, small movements, and tears open the package of jerky.

“Wanna share my dinner?”


Home With Bixby by Diana Nagai

Jo opened the door to her childhood home and breathed in the familiar scents.

“Hello,” she called, receiving no reply. Years ago, before leaving for college, she would have been greeted with exuberance, Bixby’s front legs reaching for a human hug. Slobber would have splashed her as the massive dog nuzzled, necessitating the use of a “Bixby Rag”.

Jo crossed the kitchen and crouched beside the dog. Bixby awoke slowly, taking a moment to focus. Recognizing Jo, Bixby rolled to his feet and gave her the wet kiss she was expecting.

“Good to see you, too, old boy.”


Ruskea by Roger Shipp

Ruskea lay sprawled out in front of the sofa. Her two pups wriggled and twisted under her belly.

With a yelp and one push of a paw, play was over. Ruskea had had enough. It was time to sleep.

Katja and I had hoped for three pups. Ruskea was so gentle and kind with our own two small ones, everyone who visited wanted a pup.

This benevolent protector of our twin boys was now the financial advisor of their future college fund.

Ruskea must have felt our compassion and appreciation. With a wink and a nod, she was asleep.

Important Note: Ruskea is Finnish for brown.


Big Brown Dog by Irene Waters

“His food looks better than mine. Besides which, I’ve eaten all mine.” The big brown dog moved his head tentatively towards his siblings bowl, pulling it back as he saw bared teeth accompanied by an angry growl.

“I want his.” The big brown dog let out a ‘someone’s at the door’ bark and raced to the front door. His sibling followed, not knowing what he was barking at but definitely not going to let the side down. The big brown dog passed him as he returned to the food bowls, quickly wolfing down his brother’s meal before being seen.


The Big Brown Dog by Ruchira Khanna

“Cappie Go. Go!” I would shout at him as he would come near me.

The fear factor of a four-legged animal creeping onto me was still going strong although that episode happened as a toddler.

The howl, the shriek still fresh in my mind thus, making me very conscious if a dog would come near me.

Today Cappie, the big brown dog, was one of them.

I unknowingly was sitting on his blanket thus making him wag his tail around me, and I was on the yelling end.

Until his owner came and swooped the blanket beneath me.


In Memory by Jules Paige

Brown, white, tan – longhair mix, with one blue eye and one
brown eye…The shelter dog we had for nine years… She
helped to balance the household…and she was my protector.
She demanded the run of the house, she did not like to be
kept in a cage, or even in a small room.

When the boys were younger she’d let them dress her up
like a doll…I’ve got a photo of her in a set of shades looking
so cool.

Alas she is gone. We have been pet-less for a long time…
and may remain so.


“Yo, Adrian” by Sascha Darlington

I’m outside on this brilliant autumn day, bluest of skies, leaves dappled burnished hues, but feeling melancholy.


A brown dog stares at me with its head cocked. “Adrian?” His muzzle moves as I hear the name.

Finally losing it, Sascha. You think this little brown dog is calling you Adrian.

“Yes, I’m talking to you.” The dog places its chin on my knee and stares up at me with liquid brown eyes. “Kasey sent me.”

“Kasey died.”

The dog nods. “That’s why I’m here.”

“I’m not Adrian,” I say.

The dog says: “And I’m not Rocky. We’re even.”


Carl by Drew Sheldon

People often ask what breed Carl is, and I always give the same answer, “big brown dog”. I got him from a shelter when he was just a tiny puppy. I think they rescued him from a hoarder. I named him after a friend I had just lost. It turned out to be a great idea as their personalities were so similar, sweet and playful but with no patience for fools. They both got me through some hard times. Now we’re both getting to the end of our time the way we all should, old and tired and content.


Name Game by Larry LaForge

Ed looked back and forth between Edna and the huge brown Pointer she brought home from the shelter.

“What’s his name?” Ed asked, still trying to figure out why Edna can’t leave well enough alone.

“Help me name him,” she replied.

Ed scratched his head as Edna spouted off some distinct possibilities. “Brownie, Expresso, Mud, Hershey, Nut Meg, Fudge . . . “

Ed covered his ears in protest, clearly having heard enough. Edna frowned as she stopped in mid sentence.

“The name is obvious,” Ed declared while raising his finger to make sure he had Edna’s full attention.


“Big Brown Dog.”


Grenny in 99 Words by Charli Mills

From puppy teeth to an old dog’s grizzled muzzle, you knew to roll over on your back and grin. You slurped toilet water when available, and once you went sewer tasting, as if it were the ultimate baby-diaper notes of California Chardonay. Lap dog, big dog, confronter of moose and bear. If an ambulance passed, you sang two-part harmony with your sister. Known as Wingus & Dingus to the two-legged pups in your pack, you were my source of stories and photos. You always comforted your sister, licking her face, warning us of coming seizures. Now she whimpers alone.

Grendel “Grenny” Big Brown Dog 2005-2016 R.I.P.


October 5: Flash Fiction Challenge

october-5Gone. Grenny is gone.

He was my Big Brown Dog, a lovable, oversized lunk from the day he was born into Todd’s hands. He was bigger than all his litter mates, including the feisty runt we named Bodetta Bosaphine, Bobo. Todd wanted a male, a legacy dog to continue the line of German Short-haired Pointers. We all fell in love with Bobo, too and kept them both. When we started the litter on solid kibble, Grenny taught us that food allergies among dogs were real. He broke out in bumps from snout to toes. Until we eliminated all grains, I had to bathe him in oatmeal daily. He loved his baths, especially when I sang to him “Rub a dub dub, Grenny in a tub.” He was born the day after Christmas, 2005.

And today, October 5, 2016 heaven gained an exuberant four-paw angel. Big Brown Dog got his wings.

Grenny was a frolicker. He was so toned in muscles in his prime that the kids called him the German Underwear Model. He never walked; he loped. Everywhere and after everything. He and Bobo learned to hunt mice together. She flushed and he nabbed. They graduated to rabbits and my yard was rabbit-free, unlike the rest of the neighborhood. One year, he caught a large grey squirrel while Todd was out of town. Being a squeamish buckaroo, I couldn’t dispose of it and every time he went in the back yard he’d pack it around like one of those un-stuffed dog toys.

In 2007, Grenny suffered a chihuahua attack. It sounds like nothing to be concerned with given his attacker was 14 pounds and he was 80. But two days later the aggressive little dog turned up dead in our cul-de-sac and Grenny was blamed. It led to a scary year of court trials, wading through a fabricated story and arriving at the truth — the chihuahua was hit by a car. Grenny was finally exonerated in court. This is a premise I used in Miracle of Ducks, though I spice it up with fictional characters.

Big Brown Dog thought he could take on nature, though. One wedding anniversary, Todd and I came home, let the dogs in from the back yard and he shook blood all over the floor and walls. It was his. Todd went outside and found a dead muskrat. It put up a fight and ripped Grenny’s ear and bit through his face. The vet was amazed he tangled with a muskrat. Grenny was not through challenging nature. He barked at a moose and got bit. He growled at a bear and got bit and ripped. It taught us, too that if Grenny fights something he decides is bad news, he can escape. Mostly, he liked to chase scents, zigzag across creeks and dig up gopher holes. He was peaceful despite his tangles with nature.

And so loving! Always, my lap dog. Last night he felt so low he couldn’t even lay his head on my lap. After a sleepless night of taking him out every hour, we called the vet. He was normal yesterday morning, then he threw up twice and by morning was peeing blood. We were concerned about something he might have gotten into, but we couldn’t think of what. He was on leash, in the car or in the trailer. And always with us. The vet delivered bad news — he could feel a softball-sized tumor that had escaped detection until now. It obstructed his bowels and was causing bloody urine. He was dying. And we didn’t even know it. It happened so fast. We said our goodbyes in the office and sat, sobbing with our dog that had brought us so many stories and so much love.

I didn’t think I could write this and it certainly wasn’t the post I intended, but I’m glad I did. I just needed to get out Grenny stories. Most who met him, loved him. He recently got to meet family in Mesa and he made a splash when he fell into their swimming pool. The look of surprise on his face was priceless!

We will miss him. I’m still so shocked he’s gone. It’s another notch in feeling homeless, rootless and alienated. I almost feel like giving up the fight except I know there are those who are still walking beside me, still believing in Carrot Ranch, in Miracle of Ducks and Rock Creek, in supporting writers from around the world with flash fiction and compassion, in Todd and I getting stable housing. With the help of a friend, we are possibly going to finance a rig that will make us true RVers and not homeless campers. I’m in the process of filing paperwork to make Carrot Ranch a non-profit and working to get the first of many anthologies published.

I won’t give up now. I’m devastated, but will honor my dog by being the person he believed me to be.

October 5, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a Big Brown Dog. I just want to read Big Brown Dog stories this week. I know dogs arn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but you can write about that, too. Keep it happy, write something funny, surprising or tender. Thank you.

Respond by October 11, 2016 to be included in the compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Big Brown Dog of Rock Creek by Charli Mills

“Da! Come quick. Lizzie says there’s a big brown dog at the creek.” Monroe stood at the barn door, panting.

Cobb glanced at his son, setting aside the chisel he was using. Without grabbing his shirt, he followed Monroe to the edge of Rock Creek. “Is it mean?”

“Well, it sounds big. But I didn’t see it.”

Lizzie sat with her other two brothers gleefully clapping, “Big brown dog!” Her brothers looked as worried as Monroe, who was eldest.

“So, where’s the dog?” Cobb scanned the thicket below. He heard a rustle. And out walked a big brown bear.


Note: This is an actual excerpt from Miracle of Ducks. G-Dog is based on Grenny. It’s not part of the flash this week, just something I wanted to share.

Feeding the Brown Dog Trio by Charli Mills

Week two and Danni was ready to kill the dogs.

If she had asked Ike to flag a likely spot for locating an old French Fort, he would have been more successful than she was at feeding what she now called the Hounds from Hell.

Ike coached her over the phone that first night he was away. “Make them sit, fill their bowls and don’t let them eat until you pat each one on the head.” Sit? Was he kidding? Biddy walked around like a dazed and deaf old woman. Two weeks of this and Danni didn’t believe Ike’s dogs would ever listen to her.

“Biddy! Sit! Biddy come here! Sit! Now G-Dog—Biddy get back here!”

Ike advised Danni to call each dog by name: Rosabel, Garon and Dagmar, but Biddy, G-Dog and Sis rolled off her tongue. If they were in her care, she’d call them what fit.

“G-Dog. Sit! Sit! Good boy! Biddy, get away from the chukar! Sit, Sis, sit!”

As soon as Danni reached for the dog food in the plastic box, Sis dashed over and stuffed her entire head under the flat blue lid, scarfing kibble like liquid.

“Sis, no!” Danni grabbed the muscular little dog by the collar. The entire time, G-Dog sat motionless with threads of drool oozing from both sides of his floppy jowls. Sis reared back on her hind legs as Danni tried to get her away from the food. G-Dog looked moist and faint, and Biddy…. Where did Biddy go?

“Biddy get out of there!” Step by plodding step, Biddy walked as if her muscles had frozen. “Come here!” Danni yelled, which made the old dog walk slower. Danni dumped food into G-Dog’s bowl, and warm drool dripped across her hand. Sis plowed into her bowl, failing to sit and had her kibble devoured before Biddy reached hers. As soon as Danni poured kibble for Biddy, Sis stuck her head right into it and ate heartily. Biddy looked up at Danni with round, droopy eyes. Danni kicked a pile of empty beer boxes, sat down at in Ike’s worn barstool and hollered his name loud enough to be heard in Iraq. Feeding the trio was impossible.


You made my life richer, Big Brown Dog. Rest in Peace.

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Response From A Humble Tiny House Dweller

0713162018In response to DEAR PEOPLE WHO LIVE IN FANCY TINY HOUSES by Lauren Modery, published on

Dear Lauren Modery,

Worst smells exist in tiny houses than Mexican food farts. You wondered if I love living in a fancy tiny house. If I wake up thinking, I’ve made a terrible mistake. Well, I hope you don’t mind an answer from a plain tiny house dweller.

Wow, 250-square feet is fancy indeed! My house is 161-square feet, and yes, that odd one-square foot makes a difference — it’s my toilet. If you are going to have a home in the US, you need a toilet. Spend a week homeless and you’ll discover you have to pay to poop. Those public toilets are for paying customers only.

However, conscientious of space, my squared-foot plastic throne of human dignity resides in my newly remodeled shower. Because my husband and I are not youthful sleek millennials, neither of our Gen X buffalo butts fit in the original shower. Why let two-square feet of space go to waste?

The water closet is exactly that — a closet. A cheap tension rod sprung across its expanse allows me to hang turquoise-colored velvet hangers (hey, I saved money on the rod and only own 12 tops so I could splurge). The former shower now holds fabric-covered cardbord box-shelves for an illusion of fancy. Press-on plastic hooks (same idea as press-on finger nails for those of us who can’t afford manicures), allow me to show off my hair bandana collection. Silly me! I think I own more bandanas than tops!

The central piece of art in the water closet is a copper-looking shower-caddy that hangs next to the built-in mirrored cabinet. It holds several bottles of herbs, monster finger-puppets (don’t ask, that’s a different response), a pottery jar of cotton balls and all my earrings hanging from the rungs. It’s all spectacular space until my husband steps into the closet to pee. Aim has never been more important.

Ah, so you ask about smells. Let me explain our simple contained septic system. Wash your hands and the flow goes to the “gray-water” box; poop or pee and the flow drops into the “black-water” box. When contained (yes, curious writer, we can travel with our tiny house!) we use an enzyme that masks odors. When parked, we pull out a slinky-like blue hose, open both boxes and secure the hose into a sewer pipe with a piece of firewood to secure the connect.

Due to gravity, most spillage sits in the hose. This used to require lifting the slinky for a manual dump. Fortunately, we discovered a slunky. This is an accordion apparatus of flat plastic slats with a semi-circle cutout upon which the sewer hose resides at graduated heights. It’s tallest at the point of entry from water boxes and lowest by the time it reaches the pipe. Who knew sewage required such thought? If no heed is given, oh, Baby — it stinks and gives you heed!

Recently, a kind neighbor in a fancy little house (this mo-fo has 450-square-feet with chrome, slide-outs, cable-satellite dish and a flat-screen t.v. so big we can watch it best from our place) complained about our stinking hole. He even pointed out that a congregation of black flies had gathered in glee around the place where our hose dumped. He said, “Get a doughnut.” Before I could ask why such a diet change mattered, he showed me his hole (we are quite intimate, we communities of tiny house dwellers).

Turns out a doughnut is a soft piece of black rubber that fits onto the sewage hose and can be pressed like clay into the sewage pipe, thus blocking odors and breaking up fly parties. As of yet, no such doughnut exists to block Mexican food farts. Too bad, because, as you correctly surmised, the expansion rate of a bad fart exceeds that of the space of a tiny home. It’s a mathematical problem only alleviated by going outside, where the kitchen is.

It was either an office or kitchen indoors, but with 161-square feet of space it couldn’t be both. I work from home, so it’s an office at the end of our tiny home. I have a desk stacked on top of storage files, a laptop, killer speakers, a wi-fi system smarter than me, a printer, telephone (an antiquated system called a “landline”) and a coffee pot. Truly a coffee pot is more an office item than it is part of a kitchen. Behind my office/folding chair is a twin-bed platform. Our children (lucky them!) are grown with living space of their own, so the platform is a glorified dog bed with exceptions. I’ll return to that idea momentarily.

Step outside and our kitchen is massive! We have a barbecue pit surrounded by patio chairs; a propane smoker barbecue; a tabletop briquet barbecue; a picnic table/food prep/dining table; a crock-pot with extension cord; and all the milky-way as night lights overhead. Ah, curious writer, this is the benefit of tiny house dwelling. It desperately makes you want to escape your condensed space before you knife each other or kick a dog that you develop a greater appreciation of the outdoors.

We also eat out a lot. Unfortunately, we love southwestern cooking, Mexican food’s kin with similar fart DNA.

Cramped space? Yes, but you learn what is necessary in life. Stinky? Oh, yeah, but you cope and mask. Sexy-time? Ah, well, did I mention we are not youthful sleek millennials? It’s not the farts that create havoc with the four inches above our faces in our sleeping den; it’s claustrophobia and the physicality of not fitting sexy-time into the sleeping space. So what to do? That’s when the two dogs (German Short-haired Pointers, by the way so no toy-dogs here) get an unexpected invite to sleep in the bed platform too high for them to reach without our help. The dog bed suffices. It’s also a good place to watch t.v. through our neighbor’s window.

Zombies? Oh, come now, don’t be ridiculous. We don’t fear the zombie apocalypse because technically, our tiny house is a can and we can’t be easily shaken out of it with windows molded in place and access points that fit only easily-squashed mini-zombies. In fact, more than one zombie through the narrow door is impossible, allowing us to easily pick them off until frustrated, they’ll sneak into easier to access big houses. Besides, we can hook up our tiny house and get the heck out of Dodge when the zombies come. Can you do that with your big house?

Finally, let me explain the worst smell possible. It’s not farts but breath. Before we learned the doughnut trick, our two dogs escaped our tiny house (probably in desperation for space to roam). Being pointers, they followed their noses and discovered where we had been hiding the toilet water they once loved when we had dwelled in a big house. Without opposing thumbs, they managed to pull out the sewer hose and lap up what liquid spilled forth.

Believe me when I say, dog-breath enhanced by sewage is way worse than a Mexican fart in 161-square feet of space. May you never lose a big house to find out for yourself.

Happy Trails,

Charli Mills, Humble Little House Dweller

A Boy and His Dog

A Boy & His DogAs one writer wrote, what exists between a boy and his dog is a bond of love and trust. This week writers explored rescue dogs, service dogs and dogs in general in relationship with their human companions.

There’s a reason for this week’s challenge prompt: to honor a real-life boy and his real-life service dog. “Four Paws for Noah” is a fundraiser for Noah Ainslie, a nine-year-old boy with Autism who is in the process of receiving a service dog.

These stories are a show of support for Noah and his dog partner, Appa. They are also stories to remind us that animals do hold a special bond with us. The following are based on the January 20, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a boy and his dog, showing the value or benefit of such a relationship.


A Special Bond of Love and Trust by Kate Spencer

Jimmy plopped himself beside the dog cage where the little golden mutt sat with her head hanging down.

“Daddy says you won’t come out to play ‘cause you hurt inside,” he said quietly. “I hurt too.”

He took a deep breath. “Y’see… I lost my Mommy. Did you lose your Mommy?” he asked, as tears streamed down his chubby cheeks.

Daddy stood spellbound at the doorway, listening to his son pour out his heart to his new found friend. He gasped when the bundle of fur crawled out of the crate. She nuzzled beside Jimmy and licked his face.


His Buddy by Ann Edall-Robson

His folks were away for the day.

He was allowed to use the old truck. His reward for good grades. He and his buddy were going fishing. Leave the truck at the campground and hike into the lake.

Stars twinkled without a moon. Night noises surrounded them.

Unable to walk, the leg pain reminded him of how stupid he had been trying to climb the wet rocks.

It was going to be a long, cold night.

They were found at morning light. The two of them asleep; the teenage boy with his dog across his chest keeping him warm.


Sometimes a Dog’s the Best Listener by Geoff Le Pard

‘How old was grandpa’s dog when he died.’

‘Milton? 77 in dog years.’

‘Same as Grandpa.’


‘And Peter’s my age in dog years.’

Mary looked at her daughter’s worried face. ‘And you’re both young and healthy.’

‘That’s a coincidence isn’t it?’

‘Nothing more.’

‘I don’t want him to die.’

Mary watched Penny draw another circle. She wondered what had brought this on. Finally Penny stood and sat in the dog’s basket.

‘Listen Pete. If you die then I’ll be sad but we have to try and be happy.’ She looked at her mother. ‘That’s right, mum, isn’t it?’


Oliver and Trip by Luccia Gray

An Undertaker’s Cellar. London, 1837.

The undertaker’s wife pushed me down the stairs into the coal-cellar, where I almost tripped over a shaggy dog.

‘Oliver, you can ‘ave what Trip’s left on his plate. Probably found himself a big fat rat last night, so ‘e ain’t hungry this morning.’

She kicked the animal viciously. ‘Don’t be greedy and let the little beggar eat some o’ them bits o’ meat!’

Trip backed away and growled, but I was so hungry I decided to risk it and put my fingers on his food.

‘We’ll get out of here together,’ I whispered as he licked my hand.


Partners by Carol Campbell

He kept trying to inhale. It was like his lungs were going to burst. Lionel had asthma. Although used to this, it never got easier. “Mom, where is Franklin?”, he whispered laboriously. The Dalmation came bounding into his bedroom but upon seeing the boy, he stopped. He gently approached his suffering friend and laid his head on that well-known lap. The youngster gazed into those canine brown eyes. The dog had been there for every asthma attack and knew that calm loving was what was needed. Franklin was the perfect dog to give him that medicine. Dog spelled backwards.


Flash Fiction by Anne Goodwin

Collecting them from the waiting room, it’s clear his biggest problem is his mother. Anxious, overindulgent; but here, I make the rules.

Once he sees the needle, he screams. Red-faced, the mother does her best. I try the talking puppet, the Donald Duck voice. His wailing ricochets off the walls. The whole department’s quaking now.

Okay, I say. Bring her in! The mutt trails muddy pawprints across the floor. I hate to think where those feet have been.

The kid goes quiet, even smiles. Not a murmur as I draw the blood. Maybe I’ll get an assistance dog myself.


The Firmament #4 by Sach Black

Twenty huskies laid down. Paws out, jaws resting on their legs. A final salute to their comrade.

I swallowed hard. Hot tears already painted on my cheeks.

Luke’s sobs filled the ice shaft. Each one tearing through my ribcage like a surgeons knife.

I reached out and gripped his shoulder, “There’s no greater honour, Luke. He saved your life.”

He shook beneath my hand. I knew. I knew because if it was Axle lying dead instead of Grey, I couldn’t have carried on.

I dug my hands into Axle’s fur. He nudged my thigh and whined.

“I know, boy.”


Flash Fiction by Norah Colvin

The two young males sat on the step. They couldn’t see over the hedge to the park across the road but, from squeals and barks, they knew the neighbourhood children and their pets were at play. Each, with visions of their own participation, smiled as if the reality had come to be. Another life perhaps, but not this one, not now anyway. To an outsider both appeared damaged, confined more by mobility than garden walls. On the inside their hearts were filled with love, acceptance and compassion, happy with who they were, and with each other. Boy, dog; friends.


She Was the Stuff of Legend by Anthony Amore

Dennis said, “The boy needs a dog.”

I was almost two. My parents had their hands full and were not so convinced. Being ex-Navy, strong willed and forceful my uncle insisted, “A boy needs a dog.”

She was a Shepard-Collie mix and I named her Tinker. We were inseparable.

Our yard was fenced and I was not to leave. One day I jimmied the gate and escaped. Inside my mom heard frantic barking. Outside at driveway’s edge, several feet from the road, she found me pinned beneath Tinker, apprehended. Dennis was right — seems I needed that dog after all.


A Boy and His Dog by Deborah Lee

Jane watches Troubles run around the dog park. A soft voice speaks. She hadn’t felt anyone sit down on her bench.

“I like your dog. I had a dog but he ran away.”

She glances at the boy beside her. “I like him too.”

“Where’d you get him?”

She doesn’t want to say she found him, abandoned along with the house she broke into and squats in. She inspects the boy surreptitiously: healthy, expensive clothes, could afford to feed Troubles better than she can. Sadness limns his face.

This boy needs this dog as much as she does. Almost.


Conscent by Pete Fanning

Manny crouched low to the kitchen floor, a growl in his throat, his mismatched eyes pinging from Jack to his mother.

“Jack, what happened?”

“It was just a nibble, Mom. The guy’s a tool.”

“Leo is not a….tool,” Mom said. Then to the dog. “Not acceptable, Manny!”

They peeked out, finding Leo with his back to the living room mirror,
wrenched around feeling for holes in his skinny jeans.

“Stupid mutt,” he muttered, turning to fine tune his hair.

Jack looked up with a whisper.

“Seriously Mom.”

Manny slid up beside them. Jack’s mother scratched his head.

“Good boy, Manny.”


The Boy by Ula Humienik

Until I met him, my life was filled with humiliation and loneliness. Imagine: Begging for scraps on the streets. Capture. Imprisonment. Oh, the noise, the chaos, the whimpering at night. A sad lonely affair.

Of course, things hadn’t always been so dire. At the beginning, life looked promising: the freedom and rollicking of childhood, the warmth of mother and snuggling up with my siblings.

How was I to know things would turn so badly?

The day I will remember as the best day of my life will always be the day the boy took me home from the pound.


Those Left Behind by Charli Mills

Sarah coaxed the terrier out of his hiding place beneath the barn. Sarah felt numb, disbelieving Cobb was gone. Ever the backbone of the McCanles family, Cobb’s loss was crippling.

The terrier poked his head out, recognized Sarah and snuggled into her arms, darting his tongue at her face. Despite her despair, she smiled. She lifted the dog and walked toward where Mary sat erect in the wagon, stone-faced. Her children were disheveled, an unusual oversight. Monroe ignored Sarah as she approached.

“Monroe, he’s yours now. Take care of him.” And silently, she meant the last for the dog.


Sheltered Companion by Jules Paige

The boys were ready for a new pet. And the shelter was a good place to find one. The Collie-Shepherd mix was much bigger than the teacup poodle that died. Dad had to travel for business and Mom thought it was good to have a some help with the boys. They were all lucky to have her love and trust around for about nine years. Favorite photos of the pooch where when the boys dressed her up. Both docile and protective, better than any electric alarm. She was both a member of the family and a lesson in responsibility.


Marvin by Larry LaForge

Ed sat on the front porch sipping the decaffeinated ice tea Edna made for him.

“Here comes Marvin!” he called out. Edna hurried to Ed’s side to watch the daily afternoon ritual.

The lovable Boxer rambled up the street, tail wagging with anticipation. “How does he know what time it is?” Ed asked. Edna shook her head in wonderment.

Marvin rose on his strong hind legs, sensing arrival of the large yellow vehicle. He barked with excitement when young Jeremy Watkins exited the school bus.

Ed smiled at the sheer joy on Jeremy’s face as the youngster spotted Marvin.


Desperate Love by Christina Rose

Eight years old and perpetually suspended, physical altercations a daily occurrence. The loss of his mother manifesting into something darker, threatening to overtake his young life.

He came home to the small black and white bundle curled up on his bed, dark brown eyes pleading for the love they both yearned for. Charlie took the puppy in his arms, his rage melting with every desperate lick.

“Love each other,” his father said sadly from the doorway.

And they did.

The small box of dust sat on his bedside table. Sixteen years of childhood memories forever close to his heart.


Inspired by these stories? Write one for our fundraiser! We are helping Noah and Appa with their costly yet vital service training. The Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Contest is between 100-500 words (not including title), open to everyone and has a $250 first place prize and new second and third place prizes. Top three entries will be published in the RoundUp. $15 fee goes to support Noah and Appa. You can enter as many stories as you are inspired to write!

CR extended deadline

January 20: Flash Fiction Challenge

January 20It was Christmas Eve, and I was baking sugar cookies and cooking a pot of wild rice soup for dinner. Longboarder was by the fire texting friends. The dogs needed the outdoor snow bank to make yellow snow. Longboarder offered the escort.

Grenny ran off, loping past the barn, the pond and disappeared in the forest behind our place. When Longboarder reported the escape, I wasn’t concerned. Our neighbor told us they were going to Utah for the holidays, and I saw the other two neighbors leave earlier. With no neighborhood dogs to harass and snow falling lightly, Grenny would return.

I heard the first gun shot when I pulled the last sheet of cookies from the warm oven.

Hustling outside, wiping my hands on my holiday apron I froze on the porch. The fear that compelled me outside to find my dog now had an old familiar grip on me. One of my struggles with PTSD is dissociation. The emotional fear trips a danger switch and my emotions numb. Unfortunately, so does my body. I have not experienced a full-body freeze in decades. In fact, I thought I would never do this again after years of therapy, learning to recognize triggers, understand responses and find alternatives.

Stepping outside only to hear the second gun shot split my connection and I could  not move.

Longboarder, unaware of my state, stepped outside and asked if Grenny came back. I didn’t answer and she shrugged and went back inside. How could she know my struggle? I envied the ease of her ability to walk in and out the door. I hated being frozen, feeling the accusation of an old mental enemy that what happens is my fault — normal people scream, move, do something. I felt a wash of shame.

After a third shot and much coaxing from my mind that continued to process what was happening, Grenny came running down the snow clogged dirt road from behind our place. My knees buckled and the spell broke. He was alive and I could move. He ran to me, all wiggles and we walked inside. Longboarder was happy to see him and apologized for letting him run off. I assured her it wasn’t her fault, but told her about the gun shots. She shook her head and asked why would anyone shoot at him?

Why, indeed.

Often the very neighbors behind us let their dogs run free. And they visit, barking at our dogs, chasing the barn cat and lifting a leg on my snapdragons. We’ve even had dogs from across the train tracks and highway visit. Fearing for their own safety, we’ve secured the dogs and called neighbors until we found the owners. After all, that’s what neighbors do. But shoot a trespassing dog?

Evidently this is a serious problem in our area. After the Hub confronted our neighbors over the incident, taking my response to it seriously, we were left puzzled. As I had thought, all three neighbors were gone that day. None saw — or shot at — Grenny. So who was in the forest with a high powered rifle (I recognized the retort) and shooting at dogs when he or she was the trespasser? We didn’t think much more about it until I read a disturbing article in our local newspaper.

North of us, a grisly dumping site was found — dogs, all shot with a high powered rifle. And these dogs include ones that have gone missing from where we live. Someone is killing dogs. For a writer, such stories can make for curious and dark explorations for fiction. Personally, it unnerves me. My dogs are such a vital part of my feeling connected to my body.

This brings me not to horror, but to redemption.

I may not understand autism, but I understand what it is to have something that cuts me off from myself and others. I understand the impact it has on loved ones. I understand the saving grace of a dog. Dogs have a way of cutting through terrific binding barriers. In fact, notice that it was upon seeing my dog that the dissociation state broke. My dog, though the source of my initial shock, was also my comfort. Grenny may not be a trained service dog, but this link between humans and canines is why dogs are used in service.

Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction ContestWhich is why we have an important contest happening at Carrot Ranch — 4 Paws for Noah. Blogger, writer and friend, Shawna Ayoub Ainslie, supports writers through her #LinkYourLife blog share, workshops and posts at The Honeyed Quill. And she supports her family with love and compassion, including her nine-year old son, a boy with autism. And a boy with a dog. Noah’s dog is a service-trained dog, linking Noah to the world. Training is costly but worthwhile. The contest is a fundraiser to help offset those costs. It’s only $15 to submit a flash fiction (100 to 500 words) and the first place prize is a generous $250. Second and third place (along with first) will all be featured in the newly launched e-newsletter, Roundup.

Read the rules here and submit through Submittable. All Rough Writers and Friends (except our illustrious judges) who write here are eligible to enter due to the blind process.

Not only can you make a real difference in a boy’s life through his connection to his service dog, you can write about it this week. Maybe your story will inspire others. Perhaps it will encourage understanding the value dogs can bring to our lives. And hopefully, it can be a balm to my community shocked by the atrocities against dogs.

January 20, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a boy and his dog, showing the value or benefit of such a relationship. Be creative, uplifting and demonstrate that such a relationship has merit. If the prompt takes you somewhere darker, know that writing into the dark often retrieves the light. Let it have a purpose.

Respond by January 26, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!


Those Left Behind by Charli Mills

Sarah coaxed the terrier out of his hiding place beneath the barn. Sarah felt numb, disbelieving Cobb was gone. Ever the backbone of the McCanles family, Cobb’s loss was crippling.

The terrier poked his head out, recognized Sarah and snuggled into her arms, darting his tongue at her face. Despite her despair, she smiled. She lifted the dog and walked toward where Mary sat erect in the wagon, stone-faced. Her children were disheveled, an unusual oversight. Monroe ignored Sarah as she approached.

“Monroe, he’s yours now. Take care of him.” And silently, she meant the last for the dog.


NOTE: My internet connectivity problems are linked to failed satellite equipment. I’ll continue to be intermittent, but I will be here!

June 10: Flash Fiction Challenge

June 10It’s almost unfair that I sit in comfortable air conditioning, sipping a London Fog from a ceramic cup and savoring a lunch of pasta tossed in fresh olive oil, garlic, basil and pine nut pesto. My best friend can hardly hold her eyes open and dines intravenously. But my daughter chastised me to take care of myself. That I wasn’t going to be any good to her, or her daughter and grandchildren. So I’ve come to my Helena sanctuary, Lattes & Sundaes.

Ironically, their tagline reads, “where friends gather.”

This would certainly be a place where Kate and I would hang out. McLeod’s was our go-to tea shop back in the day. When I left Helena in 1998, I bought an English tea pot from there. It’s now closed and this place has opened in its stead. I miss my friend and hunger for her open eyes and clear mind.

Chemo is the devil’s booze. Once it takes hold, her white blood cell counts plummet and her fever spikes. She begged me, “Don’t let them lord the rings of me.” My God, what was I to do?  I feel like Samwise Gamgee when Frodo was near collapse from his heroic journey. I want to lash out at Gollum, and she’s resting her hand on my arm, whispering, “Peace.”

I want to rescue her and I can’t. I’m a failed white knight; a first-responder arrived too late to the scene of the accident. But Kate doesn’t fret over my inability or the ineffectiveness of modern medicine. Her last coherent thought was about the rescue of dogs. She told me with that grin and chuckle I love so well, “Just who rescues whom?”

My Grenny dog needs rescuing. As I type, he’s in surgery. It took four days to find a vet to help us. I’m in Helena, Montana and my wee family of the Hub, barn cat and two dogs is faltering in northern Idaho. Veterinarians have no compassion, I’m convinced. Who would deny a seriously injured dog care due to the owners’ lack of financial resources? Well, Sandpoint veterinarians, that’s who. One finally accepted a “credit care” card we have for medical emergencies. Bastards, is all I want to say, but I know it’s crass and unlike me to swear in my writing.

I know I’m emotionally off kilter. I go to my keyboard tapping for resolution, for clarity.

What happened to Grenny is among my worst nightmares. I wrote a humorous post almost two years ago about my fears. The Hub likes to call me the “Cowardly Cowgirl.” I’m afraid of mice. I startle easy and squeal if a flying insect darts in my face. I worry over what might lurk in the woods, as from this excerpt of The Big Bad Bears of Trout Creek:

Okay, this is fun, my mind decides until it then says, hey what’s that?

“Todd, is that bear hair?” I ask, standing up as if it might still be attached. Todd comes over to the clump of hair matted among the huckleberry plants and affirms my find.

Now my eyes are like super-sonic scanners as I scope every tree, fern and boulder for the bear missing a clump of fur. Is he full or did he leave these berries for a snack, or worse yet, a snare? Torn between fleeing the scene and not being able to move, I then hear a horrible cry.

The Irish believe that a banshee wails moments before death, and it sounds as if death is rampaging down the mountain slope. Bursting out of ferns and brush, Grendel, our male GSP, is galloping and baying like a banshee. He runs past us and I cringe, waiting to hear the crash-boom-bang of an angry grizzly.”

All I can say now, two years after this incident, is how grateful I am that I was not there when Grenny did find a bear.

The Hub took the dogs fishing up the Pack River on Saturday. Grenny galloped off and Bobo stayed at the river as the Hub tied a fly on his line. He didn’t hear a banshee wail, but he did hear Grenny growl and bark followed by distress cries and yelps. He needed rescuing.

The Hub transformed into Sgt. Mills and charged the forested hillside like a soldier charging Normandy Beach. He bellowed and scared off the bear, not able to discern if it was a grizzly, but the Pack River is marked with warning signs. It’s grizzly country. He reached Grenny to find him wounded but thankfully alive and intact. The bear swiped his back from shoulder to tail, but not too deeply. Then, the bear bit off his flank, the webbing between hind leg and stomach. It’s an awful wound that no veterinarian would touch without payment in full. I’ll say it again, bastards.

It takes a special person to feel compassion for a dog. It takes a resilient person to rescue one.

I’m proud of my daughters who both worked jointly to rescue a dog deemed unadoptable. The Radio Geek and her hub, the Geologist now have a family of two rescue dogs (the two goofs in my car trunk in the photo). Back when I was still drafting Miracle of Ducks, I started my first ever blog (I had no idea what I was doing!) and wrote, Felting Ilya. It’s a story of dog rescue.

And that is what Kate offered us for the prompt this week. She has the biggest heart for animals and even worked with rescued grizzlies. As she hallucinates, she tells me that animals are walking through her room. It seems appropriate. She expects to be greeted by her departed loved ones and the animals she rescued and said she’d be waiting for me beneath a big oak tree in heaven, reading Tolkien. It better be a massive tree. She has rescued many.

June 10, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an animal rescue. It can be a typical dog or cat rescue from the pound, or helping a critter less fortunate. Go where the prompt leads you.

Respond by June 16, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

Doc to the Rescue by Charli Mills

Ramona irrigated the dog’s wounds with hydrogen peroxide. He huddled on the bathroom floor, his brown eyes woeful. She’d called every vet in the phonebook and the answer was the same, “No. Payment due in full.” Only one man offered to come. She found the strange dog wounded in her barn. Those darn twins left the doors wide open, again. Never mind. She’d deal with those two truants later when they returned. A knock at the door, and Ramona rose to answer it.

“Thank you for coming,” she said to her new MD. At least he cared about animals.


The Twins Find a Dog by Charli Mills

The twins played among pines, leaping from one bough to another.

“Shh,” said one twin to the other.

A soft whimper rose from the base of a Ponderosa pine.

“A dog! Mama would love a dog!”

Gently, the twins prodded the dog to stand. He quivered, his nose detecting nothing, but feeling compelled, he walked until he came to a barn. Slowly, doors opened and he entered to find a blanket draped over hay. He collapsed in a heap.

The twins hung out in the lilac bush outside Mama’s window and sang her awake. “The barn, Mama, the barn.”


As Simple as One, Two, Three

Tips for WritersWith both front paws, Bobo hits the metal door of room 206 at the Howard Johnson Motel; 60 pounds of snarling female dog. It’s been left cracked open for the barking canines inside, and for a moment, dog silence follows.

The door swings shut behind her.

Cars on the distant Idaho freeway drone; a truck door slams behind the neighboring warehouse; the room’s air conditioner mounted below the drape-drawn window hums and throws heat at my knees.

Looking down at the empty leash and collar in my hand, I think the lack of dog smack-talk means that the ones inside room 206 must be as surprised as me. I look at the other leash and collar still attached to Grendel, my second dog, who stands in a perfect heal. Bobo’s heal resulted in the perfect angle from which to withdraw her head.

Silence shatters.

No low growls; no positioning; no warning. It’s an all out dog fight and my dog is in a room with two strangers. And evidently no humans. Waiting mere seconds to hear shouts from inside, I start yelling from the outside. Speaking in tongues of fear, “Knock it off! Back off! Bobo, come here!” I push open the door, greeted by a dog not my own.

A white snout, perked ears and bared teeth stare back at me. “Bobo!” My shout pushes the other dog back, but inside my dog is at the foot of the bed, snarling at the bigger dog gnashing teeth at her from the wrinkles of a bronze coverlet. “Bobo!” The other two dogs stop barking. I yell “Come here!” over and over.

She does, slinking past the white dog still standing in the open doorway which I slam shut. My legs wobble, Bobo barks at the door again, triggering response from inside. We retreat to room 210 where I key the lock and shove  her 60 pounds of tough-dog inside.

Grendel is still in a perfect heel as I collapse to my knees, safe behind a closed door at the Boise HoJo.


While the dog incident put me on edge, it gave me a ready example to use for the purpose of this post: constructing a Three Act Arc. Each act forms the legs of the W in a storyboard. It’s the foundation of a story, as simple as one, two, three. It’s the most basic story arc that exists, and arguably, the oldest. Before you finesse your details, make sure your scenes are built on a solid foundation.

Act I: The Beginning

The beginning isn’t always the beginning. There are many launching points I can use to make a story about the dogs. I can give you back story–why I’m in Boise, how another guest let his dogs roam for three days, what my dog did to get her head free. I can start at the end. I can use a different perspective–the motel maid hearing the ruckus, or a different point of view–maybe Bobo as a “stolen head” (because a dog can’t really be the narrator).

In the Three Act Arc, the beginning does indeed start the story. But when building that beginning scene by scene you want conflict. In fact, according to Mary Carroll Moore’s workshop on developing a book, the first two legs of the the W storyboard are scenes that show conflict.

Act II: The Middle

Conflict leads to crisis. It’s easy to get lost in the second act, so keep it simple–the middle connects the beginning to the end. What happens in this short leg is the result of the earlier conflict. If you are writing a hero’s journey, this is what occurs between a character entering the cave and transforming.

The motel room I had to enter in order to retrieve my escaped, intruding dog was my cave. Finding enough voice to retrieve my dog was transformative. The crisis ended with the retrieval although it wasn’t necessarily the end.

Act III: The End

The end is the last act and the final leg of the W. It’s the resolution. My ending to the dog story is simple–safe back in my own room. A longer story might show at greater length the change in your character. If the second act is a transformation, then what is the result of that transformation. Conflict can still occur, but it becomes a device to show how the character changed.

In the hero’s journey, the ending shows the character returning to his or her ordinary world with the gift of that transformation.


Keep it as simple as one, two, three. Think of the Three Acts as the bare bones of the storyboard. Place the details of your scenes to flesh out the storyboard, following conflict, building to crisis and leading to resolution.

The storyboard and the Three Act Arc also gives you an opportunity to go deeper, beyond scenes. Not only can you map the action–the outer story, but you can also map the character development–the inner story. How detailed you want to get with the inner story is up to you.

As you can see in the board below, an early draft of my novel listed the outer story/inner story to help me map the direction of my project. In my revision this key anchor scene is more developed. But that’s the beauty of the storyboard–shaping possibility with existing material and then revising in a way that follows an established arc. I don’t have to guess. I have a clear picture.

12-First Leg of the W Copy

Next week we return to the writing process and how to use NaNoWriMo as a tool, just as the storyboard is a tool.