Hibernation was a unique writing experience, for me, because from the initial idea through to the final scene I was figuring the story out page by page. Some writers just call that writing, but I usually work ahead. I have ideas for where I’m going and even have future portions sketched if not written. All I knew with Hibernation was that I had a Bad Guy, a looter my heroine and her dog would have some run in with, but my instinct was to hint at it and create a slow build of tension.
Then I recalled a night when my writing group met while we were critiquing each other’s novels. In Flowers on Concrete, tensions were rising between Trey and Sean, but I admittedly wasn’t hurrying to bring that tension to a head. And someone in the group pointed out that he was feeling impatient as a reader. I argued that our stories felt deceptively slow because we were reading short excerpts a week apart. The next week I turned in my next passage that contained the plot point I’d been building to, and he wrote something like—I still have the notes somewhere—“now I see the thinking that built to this.” But his was a valuable impression I kept in mind.
Cut to close to ten years later, writing Hibernation I had Lisa sledding in her yard with her for-now dog, Shaggy, intending to introduce her to the bad guy of the story. My instinct was to start with her finding his footprints, but I recognized that as the slow build approach. What if she finds his footprints and then he’s there?
So I had them meet. Here the excerpt picks up after their first talk. Lisa and Shaggy get caught following after him.
Shaggy sometimes left the path to sniff at unfamiliar bushes and trees. When he barked, Lisa came over and spoke to him in a soothing voice and patted him and soon he stopped barking. As if he picked up from Lisa that they were on a secret mission. The man appeared between the trees in the distance periodically, but Lisa focused on the shoe prints. She was lulled into plodding after them, her two steps for every one of his, and then they ended. They turned and vanished behind a shed in the back of someone’s yard. Lisa stopped and put a hand in Shaggy’s furry neck to hold him still. He was panting heavily, and Lisa’s heart was beating fast. Past the shed, the snow was a smooth blanket of white. The tracks didn’t go any farther.
The man swung out from behind the shed like a door opening, or like one closing, and faced them. “Taking your dog for a walk? Your dog who might bite but might not?”
Lisa had come almost to the edge of the shed, and the way the man swung out he was standing close enough that she could reach out and grab him. Well, she wasn’t planning that! But if she was close enough to grab him then he was close enough to grab her. “He especially might bite,” Lisa said. “He’s protective of me.”
Lisa didn’t expect this to scare the man. Shaggy’s friendly face and wagging tail weren’t very scary, but then Lisa felt the muscles under his fur where she had her hand tense and ripple and a low rumbling sound came from him. Lisa glanced down and saw something she had never seen: Shaggy’s teeth. His lips curled up over them and they looked scary.
The man didn’t move back, but he had tensed up, too. Shaggy definitely had his attention. Lisa squeezed Shaggy’s fur tight. The man took a step back. “You’re with your dad then? When you choose a side, you choose against a side. Remember to tell him what I told you.” The man backed away, keeping his eyes on Shaggy for a few more steps. Then he turned around but kept looking back as he walked on. Shaggy’s low growl continued to pulse. Lisa didn’t move until the man was a full yard away and then she pet her hand all the way through Shaggy’s fur, from his neck to above his tail, where he loved to be scratched. She scratched him there with her gloved fingers. Shaggy turned toward her, his mouth covering his teeth. The mysterious growl gone. His cute face looked up at her and he panted playfully. He didn’t even seem to remember he’d just saved Lisa.
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