OK. And he went hunting with them regularly. This one time, though, he didn't come back and weeks passed until finally, the townsfolk sent a search party out and they found his corpse in the shallow end of a river; he was on his back like "Jesus on the cross," my grandmother said. And one dog was lying at his feet, two others, one at each of his hands, and one wrapped around his head, all of them dead.
This was the very first story I remember my grandmother telling me, I was around six, or seven. The second time I heard her tell this story, it had been to my mother, and that time she didn't mention the Jesus/dog parts; she just talked about how they found him dead from a heart attack while he was fishing, and how his greedy little kids were battling over an inheritance.
I remember thinking, What about the dog part? which, to me, was the most exciting part of the story. But my mom was completely engrossed, wondering if the kids were going to jump into a court or into a fistfight.
I've thought about this a lot over the years. Whether or not what grandmother told me about the dogs was even true, if it had all been make-believe just because I had asked for a nighttime story. But, now, I can kind of see it doesn't really matter: The story is true, regardless if it is about dead dogs or rude kids.
Sometimes it physically hurts to write. I truly cannot do it; it's overwhelming, too many ideas in too many directions. Did you know that the character of your story—right now—they could get shot? They could slip and fall and break a hip? Or they could just sit at a table and worry about paying their bills. It could happen. All you would have to do is write it. It is actually very easy.
But, so when this happens to me, writer's block, essentially, I think of my grandmother and her story: The man in El Salvador who owned four dogs and
and what happens next was based on her audience. And I think it helps to do that, to consider an audience. My grandma's is an extreme example, but it helps to remember that a story exists to connect one person to another, for however briefly. My mother wanted high drama, I wanted spookiness. Considering an audience—a reader, in my case—doesn't mean that they are going to be coddled, either, not like in my grandma's example; considering a reader, to me, simply means realizing the power and weight and authority of words. Their bodies, their limbs and guts and souls. It means, I know I can confuse you, I know I can clear things up for you, I know I can make you think of childhood, of your mother or your father, or maybe the absence of one or the other—it means recognizing that stories can only conjure, suggest. They are only words. But if they do a good job, they can grab the smallest bit of dust in the corner of a room, or climb the largest peak of a mountain on a planet 20,000 lightyears away, or create things smaller and bigger than either, and we—readers—will believe it. That is the reason I don't ask my grandmother about that story anymore, about what "actually" happened; I don't care because I believe what she told me and how she told me. My grandmother doesn't write, but the way she tells a story, I hope, is not different from my own. We are not trying to convince a reader. We can only ever try to get them to believe.