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May Story Chat: “As Far as a Former Prisoner Can Go” by Charli Mills

If you love to read short stories, you will enjoy Story Chat. For links to all of the stories bookmark the Story Chat Y2 Page. Comments are closed after 30 days because of scammers. If you have comments on other stories, you can make them on this current post.

Something to Think About

In “As Far as a Former Prisoner Can Go”, a freed prisoner is at a loss about what his next steps are going to be. Maybe you’ve never been in prison, but have you ever felt alone and hopeless?

  • Why did the prisoner envy the sleeping passengers?
  • What have you done when you felt alone, helpless, and hopeless?
  • What famous story or character does “As Far as a Former Prisoner Can Go” remind you of?
  • What questions did you ask yourself as you read “As Far as a Former Prisoner Can Go”?

“As Far as a Former Prisoner Can Go”

by Charli Mills

James found out how far gate money would get him from state prison in Sacramento. When the bus pulled into a convenience store after midnight, he thought its name funny – Kum & Go. It wasn’t until the bus driver yelled, “Paulina!” that James realized he’d reached the destination on his ticket. He slid out of his seat, grabbed his paper bag, and walked to the front, envying the sleeping passengers.

“Where’s the town?” James asked.

“This is Paulina, Iowa.” The driver made notations into an electronic device.  

“It’s a gas station in the middle of tall grass.” 

The driver snorted. “If you haven’t ever seen corn before, you’ll get an eyeful here.”

James left the bus and faced the gloom at the edge of fluorescent lights. The bus door sealed and the engine spewed diesel fumes. Silence. Darkness. The despair of solitary confinement settled over him like the smell of rot. 

How long he stood there, James couldn’t say. His thoughts lingered on coffee, but he’d spent all the $200 they gave him for leaving prison. He hadn’t counted on an isolated destination. 

Tires crunched gravel scattered across the pavement and James shuddered, staying small in the shadows. A black Ford truck with shiny rims swung into the gas station, pulling up to the pumps. The driver stepped out and spotted James like a seasoned warden. He dropped his eyes in deference to the authority of the stranger but not before catching a glimpse of blonde hair from within the cab. James snapped his head back up, eyes wide, mouth slack.

“You gonna rob the place?” the man asked.

James stammered, searching for words. 

“Or maybe you think you can rob me, the dude with no legs.”

James realized the man stood on two prosthetics beneath his khaki cargo shorts. The man’s t-shirt stretched across a broad chest and proclaimed, “NO ONE DIED.” US ARMY and American flag decals decorated the back window. It all made sense. For the first time in two years, James felt a flutter of hope. He dropped to his knees and cried out, “Buttercup!”

A yellow lab leaped from the front seat, wiggled from wet nose to feathery tail, and encircled James. He laughed and cried as the dog’s tongue slopped across his face. A sharp whistle, and the dog loped back to the man at the truck. The gas pump ticked like a clock while the man finished filling his tank. 

James met the stranger’s gaze. “You served in Iraq.” It wasn’t a question.

The man nodded. “How do you know my dog?”

“I trained her. In prison. Two years ago, she was placed with a wounded soldier.”

The man walked over and offered James a hand up. “Two years ago, that dog gave me a new life.”

James felt his throat thicken. He nodded. “I’ve missed her.”

“When did you get out?”

“Three days ago. This was as far as I could get with a bus ticket.”

“What the hell kind of badass prisoner names a dog ‘Buttercup’?”

James grinned and tipped back his head. “She was the sweetest puppy any of us had ever seen. Kind eyes. Soft hair. The color of meadow flowers. Something better than concrete, gangs, and drugs. We whispered ‘Buttercup’ like a prayer.”

The man grunted. “Well, Buttercup and I are on our way to help build tiny houses for homeless vets in Kansas City. At least three other vets involved with the project have dogs from the prison program. We’ve been talking about starting one of our own.”

“A service dog program?”

“Yeah. You trained a good dog. Could you train more?”

Once again, Buttercup gave James the chance to be human. 


Charli hosts a Flash Fiction Challenge each week. This week she has invited you to rewrite her story, “As Far As a Former Prisoner Can Go,” in 99 words – no more no less. Click on the link to contribute your story.

About Charli Mills

Charli’s Amazon Profile

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, is the award-winning goat-tying champion of a forgotten 1970s rodeo. Now she wrangles words.

Married to a former US Army Ranger, Charli Mills is “true grit” but no John Wayne. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and gives voice to women and others marginalized in history, especially on frontiers.

In 2014 she founded an imaginary place called Carrot Ranch where real literary artists could gather. As lead buckaroo, she’s crafted and compiled enough flash fiction to understand its value. Charli Mills developed the Congress of the Rough Writers to collaborate with flash fiction writers from Carrot Ranch.

Charli hosts a literary community at Carrot Ranch with weekly Flash Fiction Challenges open to all writers. 99 words, no more, no less. Her mission as a literary artist is to make literary art more accessible one flash fiction at a time.

Charli’s Amazing Interview on Always Write

Contact Information

Please take some time to check out Charli’s links. Her website is one of the best-organized and collaborative blogs on the internet. Beyond her amazing educational achievements, her Curricula Vitae lists her numerous published articles and presentations.

209 replies »

  1. Well, this is my wrecked version of Charli’s story (and it is really different than hers), but here goes nothing.

    Escape from a Prison

    The invasion began with bombs and gunfire. Oksana and her husband Andriy were hiding out. Andriy was obligated to serve, but he insisted she must go.

    Escaping the prison of a bomb shelter, Oksana made the last train out of Kyiv, knowing she was leaving behind Andriy to fight, perhaps die.

    The train only went so far; she would need to walk miles toward a new world. Along the way, Oksana found a young child crying and clinging to his dead parents.

    Oksana picked up the boy, calling him Matviy, making him her own as they continued toward safety.

    ~Nancy Brady, 2022

    Now, to go back and read all the other stories and comments..

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ve been running like a chicken with my head chopped off, Marsha. I followed the links and I’m blown away at the stunning make over on your blog. Even better, I love the idea of comments and feedback on our writing. I would love to do something similar with poetry. Charli’s story had me in tears. I loved the synchronicity of new beginnings in her story. When I read a short piece of fiction, I don’t want any lose ends. I love that life seemed to come full circle for this prisoner and vet. I’ll have a go at the story to see what flows forth from the muse… ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • And here we are, Colleen, two chickens running around, crossing paths, lol. Yes, I could see you doing something similar to Story Chat but with poetry. I’m grateful Marsha does this for fiction! And I’m pleased you found the story coming full circle.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for the kind words, my friend. Story Chat has grown so much over the last year and a half. I love the way the chatters interact. I am so excited about Charli opening her story up as a challenge.

      Are you thinking about something like a Poetry Chat? That would be exciting.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love just about anything that illustrates the coincidences we have all around us in life (if we notice them) so I very much liked that James got off of the bus in the town that Buttercup ended up in. How do you explain something like that? You can’t and that’s the beauty of things like that.

    The question I had with the story is how/why did James end up in Paulina and where did he get the $200? Did he know someone, or have a history there, or maybe it was the furthest he could get from Sacramento on his $200?

    I very much liked that the stranger didn’t feel intimidated by James and that he was able to recognize another troubled soul and how he gave James a hand up both physically, and at the end, spiritually. I also appreciated that he didn’t have a name, but was just the “stranger” and then later the “man”. He could be any of us.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Michael, you reinforced my belief in coincidences. Not everything needs explaining. Good question and one others have raised, too. I was trying to be clever and use a phrase I heard my former prison guard friend use — “gate money.” But in the story, there’s no context to explain it. Good point about “the stranger” evolving into “the man.” That caught me by surprise and I wrote it!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Life is kind of just a lot of coincidences. And as for explaining, I think in fiction too many people want to know every exact detail. I notice it a lot in certain types of books. I’m not sure if that’s just a style or a trend or a belief that readers aren’t able to use their imaginations? Explaining some things = good. Explaining everything = maybe not so good?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh my gosh! I realise I am very late to the party (found it through your pay it forward post, Marsha) but wanted to stop by to say I really enjoyed this story – superb.

    I love a happy ending. This not only provided a really satisfying ending but allowed the reader to imagine what was to come after the chance meeting.

    The two main characters are great, both have troubles, strength and determination and I like that it was the love of the dog and the life she gave them, that brought them together.

    KL ❤

    Liked by 2 people

      • It was an excellent story, Charli. It would probably make a lovely longer tale, going on to find others who need help, will they trust him when they find out his background, maybe flashbacks to his life in prison, or the crime that led him to prison, etc etc. But really, very good. Thank you for sharing with us. KL ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Perhaps I should not have read this week’s 99-word flash fiction prompt before reading Charli’s story, so I knew straight away that the vet had a dog in the car with him, so it came as no surprise to me.

    I’m not a lover of ‘happy ending’, probably because I write more dark fiction than anything else, but I was engrossed in Charli’s story right from the first sentence. Her style of writing kept me hooked right to the last words. Now, that is something that does not happen very much to me. As somebody who is dyslexic, it’s rare that I come across an author who writes in a style that keeps me engrossed and makes me forget that I have difficulty reading.

    Although this was a simple story for me to read and understand, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. I liked that Charli included lots of the five senses -sight, hearing, smell, feel and taste, so I didn’t think about any plot holes. I was satisfied with the outcome and so glad that Marsha mentioned ‘Coincidence’ in one of her comments because, like fate, I believe in both. Coincidence worked for James in this story, and he’s given a second chance to get his life on the right track again.

    A nice ending that I liked a lot because of the coincidence in this short story, Charli, even though I don’t like happy endings.

    Liked by 3 people

    • See Hugh, we all expand our genre thinking through Story Chat. I didn’t like dark fiction or horror stories before I met you and Story Chat came about. So my repertoire has expanded and now you are experiencing what I did nearly two years ago when I fell in love with People Under the Stairs. I’ll never forget that experience and journey into mental health issues. Then having a little girl murderer. That the epitome of wrong to a life-long teacher, but we explored it together and horror took on a new dimension. This challenge or whatever we want to call it has changed me literally and literarily. Here’s my response to Charli’s challenge.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hugh, thank you for siding with fate and coincidences! Now, even if you hadn’t read the post and prompt first, I’m not sure I could have tricked the master of plot twists. And yes, often your twists go darker, but not always. I’m glad I could keep you in the story!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Sorry to be so late to the party, especially when the guest of honour is Charli, who has been a true writing friend and mentor for the last couple of years. Previous comments cover most of the issues the story raised for me, especially regarding coincidences and whether an ex-prisoner would really exile themselves to nowhere when they’ve had plenty of time to make plans before being released. However the more important issue for me is that this seems more like an educational piece about prisoner rehabilitation and support services for veterans than a character-driven piece of fiction. As you know, Charli, I love dogs but you are way too talented to be settling for Chicken Soup sentimentality. There is a great longer story in here and I look forward to reading it. Sometimes micro and flash fiction just don’t cut it for a truly multi-layered story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooooh do go for the gold. She’s put this out as a challenge for this week. I’ve read two stories so far. They are pretty good in spite of a tragedy in one.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Although I enjoyed the happy ending in Charli’s story, I’m still not convinced that I will like ‘Happy Endings’, Marsha. It’s probably the dark side of my writing, but I get a lot more out of stories with dark or unexpected endings that are not what I call ‘all chocolatey.’

      I’m glad I led you into the world of horror with my two stories and that you enjoyed them. That’s lovely feedback, thank you.

      Thanks for your link to the 99-word flash fiction challenge. I don’t read any of the responses until I’ve written and published my own, but I will get around to reading it.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. This is a great story. It is going to be hard to rewrite it! I want to check out the group you are in. One of my biggest hurdles is not having anyone to read my writing. I know people read what I post on my blog but I have stories started and I always think that if I had some feedback I could work on them and maybe finish them some day! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I don’t like dogs or happy endings but really enjoyed this story of redemption. I take the points made by other readers about some of the details and coincidence but was too wrapped up in the emotion to notice. I laughed when Buttercup turned out to be a dog – I wasn’t expecting that.
    I could totally believe him spending all his money on the bus ticket – for me it demonstrates his lack of preparation for the outside world and you can’t help worrying how he’ll manage. Plus it reminded me of Jane Eyre: when she flees Thornfield after the aborted wedding, she leaves herself destitute by splurging all her cash on a coach ride as far away as she can.Sometimes people make bad decisions.

    Liked by 3 people

    • How true that some people make bad decisions. It kind of makes me nervous when they make bad decisions over and over again. I want to shake some sense into them. I love how you tied the two stories together. Great observations, Anne.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, Anne, I appreciate the Jane Eyre reference. Desperation often clouds decision-making and a bad decision doesn’t register until that moment of hunger meets the reality of spent funds. I’m pleased you bought the emotional journey of the story as that was my aim. Thank you for sharing!

      Liked by 3 people

      • Anne, I’m puzzled how you could not love a happy ending once in a while, at least – and dogs, well they just won’t stand for you not to adore them. My husband hated dogs and when I brought Puppy Girl home from a walk one day, named by a Holocaust Survivor who also hated dogs – with a vengence. (She was on the phone with me when I found her and named her Kalev – my spelling – meaning “dog.”) Kalev put her paw on Vince’s hand and drew it to her little chest for him to rub. She won him over for life. She’s his treasure now.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi again everyone
    Wanted to let Charli know I enjoyed her opening commment to Marsha
    And thought it showed such openness and of course you offered some nice teaching points

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Hi Charli. I enjoyed your story (I’m a sucker for happy endings 🙂 ) despite the questions it raised for me as a reader. Even more than the story, though, I appreciated the thorough and thought-provoking responses you gave to the feedback you received. I am new to fiction writing and so I especially value your “MFA-style approach to processing feedback in a productive.” Although I’ve shared a few short stories on my blog, I love how Marsha’s Story Chat generates more in-depth feedback than just “great story!” Even accomplished writers can benefit from thoughtful critique.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Happy endings have a loyal fan base, Janis! I think that’s why we need to consider who we are writing for when publishing. I don’t yet know if this is a story with a purpose beyond this opportunity, but I believe anything we write is a seed for potential transplanting if the right garden is ready for it. It’s easier to revise when we have a target in mind and the feedback helps guide us, doesn’t it? Marsha’s Story Chat is a great way to get deeper responses to see how the story is growing. Thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 3 people

      • The fan base is a good point. I don’t put many limitations on Story Chat except for no erotica. There are some genres that are not my thing, but I learn from all of the authors and have developed appreciation for a number of genres that I didn’t want at first. I am influenced as much by how I feel about the author as I am about the story. I’ve developed a love for all my authors and their stories and by the end of the month, I feel like I know them both well.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Hear, hear, Janis. ‘Great story’ doesn’t offer any feedback for a writer who has put lots of hard work and time into writing any story, regardless of whether it’s a piece of flash fiction or a short story of 10,000 words. I shudder when I see comments like ‘Great story’ or ‘I enjoyed this, thanks.’ What help are those comments?
      As writers, we all crave engagement, but some engagement is much better received and helpful than engagement that leads to a dead-end. I’m glad you mentioned what I call the ‘lazy comment’ syndrome.

      Liked by 4 people

      • You are right, of course, Hugh. I am guilt of that more with pictures than with stories, but taking and processing pictures takes a lot of time, too. When people like Sarah of Travel With Me or Dan Antion with “Doors” write histories with their posts, they are even more valuable. Challenges are great ways to get to know each other, but can also be a trap for writing glib comments. Especially when there are so many responses you could or have to respond to. When we respond to a challenge, sometimes we have just spent hours composing our own response, and we just want to post our link, and relax. I like to start the conversation even before I write the post and then get back to my post at my leisure encorporating the challenge into my post. I think Terri Webster Schrandt and Natalie the Explorer are great at doing that too. They don’t post too often, but they link to many challenges as they fit. It’s great that there are so many commenters like you and Janis that actually spend time to visit.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Yes, ‘great photo’ is just as bad as ‘great story’, Marsha. It doesn’t offer any feedback at all. And how can anybody respond to a comment like that other than with ‘Thank you.’ Whenever I read a story or see a photo I like, I ask myself what it was that makes the story or photo great and then feed it back to the blogger who published the story or a photo.

          I recently published a post that included conversations about lazy comments. Some people leave these types of comments because they don’t have time to add anything else, yet they have time to read other posts and leave the same lazy comments. If only they used some of that time to leave an occasional engaging comment rather than lots of dead-end comments. Some also mentioned that they felt guilty if they did not leave a comment regardless of what it was. It was an interesting look into the world of comments.

          On the other hand, Story Chat seems to offer the types of comments that the author of the story is looking for, which I think is one of the best parts of the feature. Yes, I’ve seen the occasional ‘Great story’ comment and shake my head at it, but I like how you always try and get the commenter to expand on why they liked the story. Well done for encouraging engagement.

          Liked by 3 people

          • Hi, Hugh. You and I have traversed this issue before, following a grumpy rant I posted some time ago called ‘This is not a knitting circle’. As a writer, I’m not interested in like-a-thons and I always prefer a ‘this-is-rubbish-writing-because …’ comment over ‘great story’, because I can learn from the former, even when I disagree.
            My other pet peeve is regular contributors to writing sharing sites whose idea of writing seems to consist of personal diary entries written with all the depth and originality of a Hallmark greeting card and who just happen to mention the affliction they are living with and the worthy work they are doing to help others. I have been taken to task for this attitude and told that said sites are meant to be nurseries for beginning writers and they should be all warm and cuddly encouragement. I beg to differ. I think that attitude stunts writers, rather than developing them.
            I’ve also tried a number of sites that purport to be places where you can post your stories and get constructive and fearless feedback, on condition that you return the favour. What I found was a plethora of not very talented writers dispensing breathtakingly useful feedback like ‘we don’t have that chain store here’ and ‘I’ve never heard of that place/word/expression’ or ‘you didn’t give me a trigger warning about something nasty I saw in the woodshed when I was a child’. And most feedback I provided that didn’t consist of ‘you’re the next Hemingway/Eyre’ usually provoked a very snippy response.
            I applaud what Marsha is doing with Story Chat and long may she reign (not rain) over us. I just wish commenters would take a pledge (cross your heart and hope to die) to only comment when they have something constructively critical (in the true sense of the word) to say and that Marsha would remove the Like button altogether. 🙂
            Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go back to putting next door’s uncollected dog poo from my front garden into their letterbox, so that I can write about the experience in a meaningful and literary manner. 😉

            Liked by 3 people

          • Doug, I agree with everything you say in your comment. I do remember us talking about this subject before. Story Chat is the perfect place to give authors and writers the feedback they are craving instead of a simple ‘Nice story!’ They deserve much more than a dead-end comment. However, I won’t go into it much here, as I do not want to take the limelight away from Charli’s story. But thank you for adding your thoughts on the lazy comments syndrome I mentioned.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Hi Hugh, I think Charli enjoys the chatting as much as I do. When I do the summary, I do limit the chatter so that it focuses on the author’s story, so chat away. Have a cup of whatever you like and say as much as you like. Your wisdom is always appreciated, my friend. Speaking of wisdom. A topic came up about WP and hackers stealing unpublished photos. Ally Bean had that happen to her. No one seems to know how it could happen. Published photos, yes, but not unpublished. Any ideas?

            Liked by 2 people

          • I can only think that her account was hacked, but given the security WordPress has in place, I’d be surprised if that happened. I don’t know about you, but I have enabled the two-step verification that WotdPress offers users. It’s another level of security that helps prevent anyone hacking your account. It’s one to be reported to WordPress and to see if they can find out how it happened. Also, her computer may have been infected with a virus that hacks passwords, so I’d recommend running a full virus check on the device she was using. Often, these virus go unnoticed until something strange happens.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Those are some very good points. I don’t have two step verification, but I do have good virus protection, and that is something I hadn’t thought of in her case. I keep a running contract with computer geeks to make sure I keep my computer in working order. I will pass on your information to Ally Bean. Do you know her? If not, I think you would like her immensely. Yvette Prior introduced us.

            Liked by 1 person

          • I only know of her beacuse she has left some comments on some of my posts over the years.
            I’d recommend two-step verification to access your WordPress account, even though you have virus software on your computer. It adds another layer of security. Always better to be super safe.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Hi Doug, thanks for the compliment of what happens with Story Chat. I love what Charli has done with it this month, turning it into a Flash Fiction Challenge. I think that is something that all the authors might consider doing on their own blogs during the month their story is published. It adds a layer of engagement for both the author and the Story Chatter. It wouldn’t necessarily be 99 words if the author didn’t want to follow that format, but it ties into an already established pattern that most of the Story Chatters know and love.

            Charli’s Flash Fiction Challenge on Carrot Ranch has added a new dimension of “put your money where your mouth is.” You wonder how or why the guy went to Iowa? Write a 99-word story to answer it. Here’s mine.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Story Chat and I have both blossomed since we started that first one. The comments have gotten much more engaging, and chatters are talking to each other. Doug wants me to take out the like button, but, first I don’t know how to, and secondly, that is the way we nod our heads in agreement. When two chatters are going at it and having a great conversation, I don’t need to always comment, though I often do. Sometimes, I just need to like it and move on. I don’t need to agree or disagree, but I do need to acknowledge. Not everyone else needs to do that unless they feel led to do so. But the host/hostess, needs to acknowledge that he/she read each comment, and that’s how I do it. Other chatters may do the same. I know Yvette doesn’t like it when strangers like her comments. Again, I differ with that. I don’t necessarily acknowledge a mere like, but that’s how I say, “I read your comment. I’m glad to see you here on this site, and I like what you have to say.” It’s not an occasion to develop an in depth conversation. Good listeners and conversationalists do both. As a cognitive teaching coach, much of what I did as a coach was non-verbal, nodding, leaning forward, and the occasional uh huh with probing questions thrown in. I think I am doing much of that in Story Chat as well. BTW, sorry for such a long comment, my friend. You are a great conversationalist, and I love chatting with you.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Hi, Marsha. You’ll be pleased to know that I have responded to Charli’s challenge and it will appear in her usual round-up soon. I’ve had more than my 2c worth but I really like you’re concept of a ‘nodding like’ and, (in confidence 🙂 I’ve been known to use it myself one or two hundred times when I have nothing useful to add to what’s gone before. I think the ‘lazy like’ issue will live forever in the same realm as the split between people who don’t like pineapple on their pizza and those that do. 😉

            Liked by 2 people

          • I think you are right, Doug. I don’t tend to be a lazy like type, as you know I have plenty of words and I know how to use them. LOL. But they are a communication tool. Sometimes less is better, LOL. I’ll look forward to reading you take on the prisoner story.

            Liked by 2 people

      • Hugh, I agree that when we offer feedback, it needs to be productive. Where are the missing layers/ideas/ timeline? What motivates the character? How is the story told, could it be tightened or rearranged differently? What words work, and which phrases fall flat? However, I also believe in creating safe space for writers, too. Mentoring, as I was taught in my MFA program, is cheerleading. I agree that “great story” is not encouraging because it leaves unanswered, why is it a great story. I appreciate your thoughts on comments in general!

        Liked by 2 people

        • When I taught fourth grade, my kids would imitate me, “Good job!” constantly. I had no idea I said that so much. As I learned more about teaching, I became more explicit about what it was exactly that I liked. It’s a skill that is not necessarily easy to learn. It takes a bit of study to realize what is good and what you like. We all make snap judgements in split seconds as to whether or not we like something. Spitting those split second judgements will get us through reading lots of blogs faster, but it won’t make us any friends or be helpful to other bloggers. Neither does a ton of criticism help. I like your point about being cheerleaders.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I like to use the word ‘critique’ as a word that typically refers to a careful judgment in which someone gives an opinion about something. I have benefited enormously from true critiques, even when I’ve disagreed with them, especially when they are accompanied by some cheerleading to sweeten the pill. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • I have to work hard not to be too critical. I agree about critiques. They are usually more helpful than praise. That being said, both criticism and praise needs to be specific. Have you ever read a critique and maybe you agreed with it, but you had no idea how make the changes they suggested?


          • To be retrieved … or not! We all remember the bad things people say. I hope the kids remembered that I encouraged them.


  11. Marsha,

    Thank you for hosting this space for Story Chat. Readers have offered good questions, critique, and engagement with my story, which is a highly unusual one for me — I write women’s fiction. I appreciate the space you offer because I’ve had this story popping around my head for a while and it felt like it needed male voices. Your opportunity was a way to exit my genre momentarily.

    I’d like to address what readers are offering as feedback so we can all have a learning opportunity and I can share an MFA-style approach to processing feedback in a productive way. Creative writing is all about layers. Each time we are in the driver’s seat as an author, we blend those layers into a single story and our proximity makes it harder to see which layers are missing. Through critique, we get to see the layers that worked and the layers that didn’t. It is helpful to pick apart the story like peeling back overlays when we revise.

    First, I’m pleased that the imagery and emotion came through. Yet, despite the ability of readers to experience the sensory story, most did not experience the characters. And you are all spot on — there’s zero character development and a small emotional arc from despair to hope. I can’t tell you who these characters are, let alone what their motivations might be. I did not sit with them and drink coffee. And the story reveals this missing layer. Readers have questions. But that’s exactly why writers engage in critique. Your questions become my search for answers, and my answers round out who these characters are. Would someone blow all their release money on travel matters less than why would someone blow all their release money on travel? Critique found motivations for me to explore with James, the stranger, and Buttercup.

    Another layer questioned is that of verisimilitude, the lynchpin of contemporary fiction. It’s what readers question as credibility. The minute someone questions the reality of a story, verisimilitude cracks. Too many cracks and the story shatters. Readers are willing to suspend belief, but only if they feel connected. Emotion is one way to engage readers, but again, I see a split (among dog-lovers, I believe) as to the actual effectiveness (or not) of the emotion. Readers revealed where the cracks are, which can be fixed with clarity and a better sense of James’ motivations at this moment in his life. Often, writers are tempted to give an info dump (bad choice, by the way) and explain the character or the story. Such explanations need to be woven between the layers of story, verisimilitude, and character arc. But knowing what needs explaining is productive feedback.

    As for story, I see this as one of emotion. My aim was to uplift but my too-tidy ending cheapens the conclusion. The story layer needs addressing and is lacking because of my short-sighted character layer. I might consider swapping POVs or giving it to Buttercup as an omniscient narrator. In case you didn’t notice, there is no narrator. It’s a storytelling technique more akin to snapping photos and recording conversations. I could apply a different style called a close (or deep) POV and let James have more expression and inner dialog. Or, I could make him an unreliable narrator of his own story and create a completely different tone or genre. I could use emotional hooks to take the reader on a darker journey.

    This brings me to revision. Reader feedback is great for revision! Thanks to all of you, I have layers to expand or at least explore. However, every author must approach revision with why. One answer is reader engagement to shore up the chinks in the story’s mortar. Another answer depends on who the ultimate reader is. For example, the neat happy ending fits the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” type of short story. I could give it more character depth and fix the verisimilitude. Or, I could swap POVs and explore the soldier’s journey and submit the story to a military anthology. I could make a list of literary journals and think through how to align the story to criteria and revise accordingly.

    I learned to love revision in my MFA program. It’s also why I host a weekly 99-word story challenge because it is a great exercise to write the same story in ten different ways. And that is an exercise in revision. You explore layers, weave them together, decide what to make subtle, and what to focus on as a theme, point, or conclusion. Creativity is endless. Each of us gathered here could take this same story — a newly released prisoner meets the soldier who adopted his prison-trained service dog — and we’d all have original tales. In fact, it might be fun to make this story a 99-word prompt. I want writers to embrace feedback and be adventurous with revision. That’s where you will truly hone your craft — with thoughtful response to thoughtful feedback.

    Thank you, again for the space and for the time readers took to comment!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Wow, Charli. I feel like I have learned more about writing than I have in reading nearly 25 books about writing. The main reason is that we, the reader/writer have the entire story in front of us. We have all the comments, and now we have an objective instructor’s interpretation to the readers’ comments. The amount of analysis that goes into this effort is amazing. Anne and I discussed having a zoom meeting over her Story Chat and I simply did not have time to do it. It would be interesting to do this as a 99 word story challenge first and then have a zoom meeting. We might do that with other Story Chats as well for authors that would not mind that kind of engagement. Wow! This is an exciting idea that you have had. I can’t wait to explore it further.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Marsha, you’ve created great space for analysis through Story Chat. I’ve been mulling it over all week and decided to use this story as a prompt and as a way to get writers at Carrot Ranch to see the productivity of feedback to revision and realize how differently we can each tell the same story. I’m excited to do this. If you want to follow up with a Zoom chat over this, summer is the best time to catch me! I think discussing Story Chat, the extended 99-word challenge, and revision, in general, would make a great zoom meeting. Again, thank you for the space you provide us to grow and learn as writers!

        Liked by 2 people

        • You have brought a lot of good teaching to the table. I wanted to do a zoom with Anne, and I still do, so it could be that we could bring several into the conversation. Her story had quite a bit of teaching in the comments, too. I might even consider making that a part of Story Chat in the future – with your permission and the permission of the author as well. As you know, I already use the 99 word format for the summary. It really is helpful as a quick review.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. Too many questions for me.
    Two years in prison is a light sentence reserved for nonviolent offenders, so why solitary? How long was he in solitary, a day? A week a month? Can you train dogs in solitary? The vet had his dog for two years and yet the prisoner was only in for two years and just got out, maybe he was in for four years? James got out three days ago, did he eat, sleep, go to the bathroom was he on that bus the whole time? Why did the truck driver confront James?
    I’m not very good at interpreting things, I need them spelled out for me.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Wow Scott – I didn’t think of any of those items.

      There is always a place in fiction for suspension of disbelief and questions left unanswered because the answer is not germane to the story. Finding the balance between expecting all important questions to be answered for most readers and leaving things as a healthy thought-provoking mystery is part of the puzzle we try to solve. And of course there are always going to be those readers who are simply not a good match for what I write. Hopefully, I don’t to that to too many readers. . .

      I’ve had many stories plan-out in my mind to x- number of words only to find that adding the details needed to make my plot and action be seamless and plausible almost doubling that word count. This is fine when word count is not an issue, but often it is an issue and we need to also find that balance of detailing and keeping word length down to hard limits.

      Frankly, doing Charli’s 99-word story challenges each week since the beginning of the year has been a huge help in controlling my own verbosity.

      Great questions though – I’ll step back and let Charli answer as she sees fit.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Ah, yes, Gary, we have to navigate that space between revealing all and revealing enough in a story. Scott has given me plenty of questions to ponder where, why, and how the answers would fit in a revision.

        Liked by 3 people

    • You’re right, Scott — there are lots of questions for me to explore and decide how to develop. But I can tell you that I got the inspiration from multiple places: one, I know someone who used to work as the counselor for Puppies Behind Bars (prisoner-trained service dogs); two, I coached a writer who was a former prisoner and learned that solitary confinement is also used to protect less violent (thus weaker) inmates; three, I am immersed in the veteran community and understand what it’s like to live on the fringes of what others call a normal life. Your questions reveal what can be further developed to honor the inspiration behind this story, including the lack of clarity regarding how long James was in prison.

      Liked by 3 people

    • You do have a lot of questions, Scott. and some very good ones. If you were to interpret these questions, what answers would you have for a reader. I’d love to see what you would do with this story.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Charlie used her story as the inspiration for this weeks 99er. I tried to use her three characters but not leave much room for questions and interpretation. Like I said before, I sometimes need things spelled out for me! LOL! Here’s the story from this weeks Carrot Ranch Challenge:

        Dog Days
        Scott Bailey

        Skinny, inked, mid-forties and incarcerated, Ramon introduced me to Buster. For the next three days at the prison the two year old Yellow Lab listened intently as Ramon taught me the commands he’d spent two years teaching Buster in the Puppies and Prisoners program.

        So impressed was I with Ramon, I told him to write me next year when he gets out, I can help him with a job.

        Six months later the warden calls me, says Ramon died. Prison gang payback for something or other.
        I didn’t tell Buster about Ramon dying, but I think he knew.

        Liked by 2 people

          • Yeah, it’s a bit different and I had to alter the prompt some to make it believable (to me!). The service dog program brings the recipient (vet, 1st responder, cop…) to the prison for a three day training class. The dogs have learned forty or so specific commands (turn on lights….) that the recipient needs to be trained to use with that dog. So in my way of seeing it, the prisoner simply HAD to know the Vet before getting released.

            Liked by 2 people

        • Right away your opening three words paint a character (ha — literally inked in my brain). They the twist of a different plot point. It grabs my heart because of the burden it leaves with the narrator to not tell Buster, but yet the dog already has the insight, as many people believe animals do.

          Liked by 1 person

  13. I enjoyed reading Charli’s story along with everyone’s comments. Some coincidences in life are perfectly timed and I’m happy to accept Buttercup as one of those. Some coincidences are imperfectly timed and I’m willing to accept that perhaps his incarceration was one of those. He’s obviously a good man at heart to have trained Buttercup so well and to have received such a warm greeting. Knowing that his is heart is good is enough for the Vet to trust and give someone else a second chance as he had been given with his prosthetics. Sometimes I just read to enjoy and am able to suspend disbelief and feel the joy, which Charli’s story gave me. There’s nothing to match a pay it forward story.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. I enjoyed reading this story Marsha and Charli and could see it all playing out in front of me due to Charli’s descriptions. As I used to work in a prison where dogs were trained for this sort of purpose (although in Australia not US) I can relate to the story and emotion of the released prisoner when he sees Buttercup. I would have thought he would have had some money left from his release and here in Aus, the state pays the bus or train ticket for the inmate so they have some money for their first weeks. It was a great story!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Excellent extra details Debbie. The notion of a prisoner blowing his whole wad on the ticket was an item for me too. The story works well as told, but for readers like me, it would have felt more realistic if the character had not zero’ed out his cash, but still ran into the same story points and ultimate conclusion.

      Liked by 4 people

      • The prisoner seems rather impetuous, which is a characteristic of prisoners. They do not seem to have the same frontal lobe control over their actions that a person who has not been imprisoned. Making good choices are clearly not his forte.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Debbie, I was inspired by such a program in the US (Puppies Behind Bars) and a friend who once worked at a maximum-security prison. She said some of the hardest men rekindled their humanity through these puppies they trained. I wanted to play with the idea of a prisoner who still had two years left in his sentence after the impact of training such a beautiful creature to help others. I need to get to know James (and release allotments) better.

      Liked by 3 people

    • You bring up a good point, too, Deb. Customs are different from continent to continent and country to country. This poor guy should have been in Australia.

      Liked by 3 people

  15. Hi Charli – I was thrilled to see you on Marsha’s agenda so let’s get to it.
    This was a fun, very visual and intriguing read.

    It made a certain sense that James would blow his whole wad on a bus ticket to get as far away as possible. It seems almost like a Johnny Cash kind of thing to do, but I struggle to buy it.

    I’ve not been in prison but would have thought that the one thing they would learn is to avoid ever coming back and making yourself dead broke is one way to set yourself up for a rapid second failure. If I were the author (and Marsh wasn’t watching my word count) I’d be tempted to add just a few words to build up the credibility of this part of the story. If he saved just enough to get a few meals and maybe a cheap room for a few nights in the middle of some distant state that otherwise fit the story, but, opps — SURPRISE was insufficient to help him get anything or anywhere from this isolated gas station – that would have been both more credible and added additional color to James and his situation.

    I loved the way you spiced every scene with sensory details that really built each segment in the reader’s mind. This is our ultimate stage of course and we really do own everything about the experience including mental props like single paper bags, diesel smells, the gloom at the edge of fluorescent lights and grumpy drivers making notes on a non-descript electronic device.

    I too thought the “blond” reference was a clear indicator that a woman was about to make an appearance, so, a guy fresh out of prison, now out of his element with a new female face to deal with – this could go all over the place but which will Charli choose? Okay — everything I imagined – everything was completely wrong and that it was a dog almost made me laugh because you got me so easily with the bait and switch.

    The guy with no legs – clearly a guy used to dealing with rough encounters did seem to sense that this guy could be trouble and was determined to get in front of it before anything could happen. I was expected a gun, but was anxious to let you just unfold the story as you wanted.

    Then, “Buttercup?” Say what? This was a delightful resolution to the scene. Strained credibility some – but – strained credibilities are what turn real life situations into stories worth telling. Up to this point the story was just a visual and fun read – but, Buttercup changed everything. Now it was notable with the additional glaze of the good old, “what are the chances?” thread of thought.

    That it led to his possible ride to somewhere safe, which he badly needed, possibly a meal among peer vets, and was likely to lead to his new job out from behind bars was a brilliant way to wrap things up.

    Did anything stag me?

    I don’t think I can buy that anywhere along normal bus lines would have a convenience store named “Kum & Go”. I would have called the store just about anything else and used that line as graffiti on the side wall between the vandalized and over-painted bathroom doors. It really helped set the scene, so I’d keep the quip somehow.

    His thoughts lingering on coffee would have been even stronger had he left a few bucks in his pocket, but the store was closed and thus – no chance of coffee. I would have been tempted to leave the coffee machine viable from where he stood just to annoy him further. It would have promoted his thought to a frustrated desire.

    I was surprised when the truck driver saw James so easily. I had to glance back and, yes, you had him shrinking into the shadows. The driver would have been in the light of the gas pump area so his eyes would not likely be so dilated as to see into the shadows. Maybe James should have not been in a shadow to shrink deeper into, but wanted one.

    You know, I was never sure where James was standing as the scene at the gas station unfolded.
    There are not normally shadows out in the pump area but later he seems to be close enough to have the conversation around, “You served in Iraq,” while the truck driver stood near the pump.
    Because I really do like to “see” each scene, I lost some time trying to sort this out, but only a bit. The conversation was pretty engaging by this time and thus this is a smaller issue.

    Final question that I – umm – on second thought, only occurred to me because this is Story Chat and lacking that I never would have caught it. Are freshly released prisoners allowed to leave the state like James did? I thought they all had new responsibilities to a same-state parole officer. I lack the hard experience to know for sure and this level of detail is too hard a press for a story this short – forget it.

    This was a great read.
    Bravo Charli!

    Liked by 4 people

    • I was thrilled to see Charli on Story Chat, too, Gary. As usual, my friend, you’ve really gotten into Story Chat. I loved Charli’s sensory details, too. I even had to ammend my WQW post to include one of her descriptions about smell. Good question about being able to leave the state. Maybe he had a new trial and was found innocent? I don’t know the law either.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Are we really writers if we don’t take on those that send us off to research our details? Sometimes they bother me so much that I chose to limit my story to avoid the need to find a few hours to do exactly this.

        Liked by 3 people

        • Research is so important to contemporary fiction, Gary, yet relatively easy. I’ve become less shy about calling up everyday experts. I once questioned a county sheriff who then became suspicious of me — “honest, I write fiction, Sir!”

          Liked by 2 people

        • Your own stories or reading stories other people have written? I don’t mind a little research in our Story Chat stories because these are all stories that we take time to pour over. I wouldn’t take that much time in a normal short story. I would read it quickly and like it or not like it. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t bother to finish it and I wouldn’t care about it. I care about these stories. Charli talks about the layers of stories. Each of you unpeels these stories for me and for each other. We really get to know the story with all its glory and its faults. To me this is invigorating and I don’t mind the research. If it was a magazine story, I probably wouldn’t have the emotional buy-in to bother researching.

          Liked by 2 people

          • I think the amount of research depends on the outlet, Marsha. A vital part of contemporary fiction is verisimilitude and commercial novels or certain literary journals require more research. I recently interviewed a NYT best-selling author, Mary Doria Russell, and she had great articulation regarding the depth of research required in historical fiction and yet also advocated for using fiction to fill in the gaps or portray the people behind the events. Some audience members were uptight about her decisions to portray the protagonist in a certain way they felt was not historically accurate, but she offered plausible explanations and reiterated that her book (under discussion as Michigan’s Great Read) was fiction. We have so many decisions to make as authors!

            Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Gary,

      Wow, thanks for all your feedback!

      I see the cracks in verisimilitude which are definitely ones I want to seal. Your questioning leads me to find answers that will deepen the story, too. I’d like to expand that idea of blowing his funds and explore the failings of readjustment to society that both prisoners and soldiers share. Both groups do make poor life choices. You are right about desperation leading one back into a criminal life. That’s another interesting aspect to explore. Because I didn’t take time to get to know my characters, I too, wonder why James spent it all on a bus ticket other than his author wanted to establish a dire situation.

      Good point about the shadows. I wanted James to feel reluctant to be seen and that it was just his “luck” to have a sharp-eyed stranger see him hiding. I also wonder (now) if my stranger was bluffing because he really did feel vulnerable late at night as a paraplegic. I know plenty of veterans who bluff and terrify people when they themselves are scared. I can certainly do more to flesh out character motivations and responses.

      Huh. You got me. I am now going to lurk around a gas station late at night. I don’t want to lose that chain of visual shots, so thanks for pointing out where it dimmed in your reading.

      Good questions about parolees. My knowledge is zip, but my friend who led the Puppies Behind Bars program once mentioned “gate money” and I was intrigued by the idea of how far that would get a paroled inmate. Glad we both lack the hard experience, but I hoped to bring humanity to it nonetheless.

      Heh, heh, heh…Kum & Go gas stations are real. Welcome to Iowa. James needs an opinion or to be startled by prison graffiti making its way into the neon lights of a convenience store.

      Thanks for sharing the elements that engaged you, too!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Some authors keep a spreadsheet of What the Author Knows, What the Protagonist Knows, What the Readers Know, and What Facts Need Checking. Yes, easy to get facts and lines crossed.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think I would like to learn how to write a story without pantsing it. I did a lot of character development and some plot work as I got the story going. What all needs to be done BEFORE you start writing?


  16. Oh stop it Charli, I’m welling up.
    Throughout the knowledge that here as well as the US and no doubt many countries our Vets often end up institutionalised in the wrong ways hits home hard. I think the early exchange between James and the bus driver was masterfully described and set the scene nicely. Oddly the strangeness of buying a ticket to pretty much nowhere just to get away made a kind of sense to me.
    The weakness, as Cathy explores, is in the early interaction between the Vet and James. The unexplained threat, the coincidence of the dog being trained, esp if he was $200 worth of a bus ride away from the prison. But these things do happen – I went to a wedding in Northern Ireland this weekend and sat next to a neighbour having no idea of their connection to the happy couple nor they of of ours!
    The lovely thing about this story is the descriptive skills used ‘The bus door sealed and the engine spewed diesel fumes’ ‘The despair of solitary confinement settled over him like the smell of rot.’
    Perhaps the ending is a little too neat for we of a cynical bent but then Vets look out for their own as has often been shown. And I love a happy ending. Good one, Charli!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Well said, Geoff. I wish I’d seen that quote for my WQW post about the sense of smell today. I’m revising AGAIN. It’s too perfect not to use it. ‘The despair of solitary confinement settled over him like the smell of rot.’

      Liked by 3 people

      • Hi Charli and Marsha

        Of course, Charli was succinct with her words and you could tell that sentences were crafted with care.
        I like how prison terms were used as references while the prisoner was in the outside world (solitary confinement, warden) and Charli gave us a feel for how a newly released prisoner might be making connections and viewing the world.
        The words Charli used let me hear the door shut – let me feel the sleeping passengers – and even feel the humming of the fluorescent lights.

        However – I am not sure I liked the phrase (about the smell of rot) that has been referenced by a few folks -//
        This section here didn’t sit right (and I’ll explain why)

        “James left the bus and faced the gloom at the edge of fluorescent lights. The bus door sealed and the engine spewed diesel fumes. Silence. Darkness. The despair of solitary confinement settled over him like the smell of rot.”

        First, the smell of rot is the last thing that comes to mind when we imagine Idaho cornfields, a store at night, and diesel fumes? It felt forced in there for effect but decay and rot didn’t seem to fit for me.
        Also, I am not familiar with prisoner release, but don’t most folks have at least one friend or family member to connect with? Even if it is a short-term connection? And isn’t there some regulation that prisoners upon release have a plan for their life – one that is part of parole or probation? And it didn’t seem realistic that a newly released prisoner would use all of the money they had to just go anywhere – It is more plausible that they would use it all if it was a place they really wanted to go or needed to be – but I think that most folks would not be so fast to be broke and without even five dollars –
        Maybe he would have spent 100 on a ticket to anywhere and had some dollars to eat and get a room?
        Then the other thing that didn’t sit right is the way solitary confinement came when he reached the destination.
        This prisoner is now free and maybe the dread and displaced feeling will
        Show up in a few days (like in Shawshank redemption) but upon release – doesn’t the whole
        World scream freedom – doesn’t everything feel better to be out of the prison walls?

        I expected our character to get off the bus and not think of solitary confinement – but to look up at the stars and quietly smile to be out of jail – esp upon release.

        The other thing is that I know prisoners do many types of jobs but had no idea that they trained dogs now!
        Enjoyed learning about that – and thought it was sweet the way Buttercup was there and they made that reconnection?
        I like how we could feel the truck pulling up – such a rich setting and a ton felt – ((and did think the blonde was a lady at first))
        But did the prisoner really look so bad to where the truck driver assumed James would be robbing him or the store and would his dialogue unfold
        Like that? I know when I saw someone sketchy who put us on alert – my guard was up and my mind raced – but I never came right out and asked “are you up to no good here?”

        I could imagine the Vet referencing his legs tho – and it felt so realistic that a wounded vet would mention their disability.

        I think Charli knows I am a fan of her work and when I read this – I also started with knowing the author has a writing degree and also teaches writing – so I expected the juicy details and carefully crafted sentences.
        And even though a few things didn’t line up for me (as mentioned) it was a great read and leaves the reader thinking about Vets, support dogs, dog training By inmates, prison release experience, and chance encounters.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Hi Yvette,

          Wow – I loved your analysis of the settling rot.

          When I read this my mind went immediately to how we can often experience surprising feelings that are inconsistent with our actual environment thanks to some kinds of stress, like a dry sweat when you’re actually physically cold, but realize that you left the stove on at home with no one there to prevent your kitchen from bursting into flames.

          Charli is a master of creating such images in our minds, rich smells that shouldn’t be there and such.
          Great points!

          Liked by 3 people

          • Thanks Gary!
            And I like what you wrote here and in your comment –
            Reminding me as to how much fun study chat can be.
            And yup- Charli was masterful with image and with providing twists that woke me up!
            Some of the things that didn’t line up (for me) were perhaps part of the fresh approach she delivered with her twists and unexpected combos.
            The story has been with me since I read it last night and mother and I chatted about it with our tea this morning.
            She LOVED when buttercup came on the scene (as many readers did – 🐾🐾) and so Charli did us a favor with her positive ending – feels good to read a happy ending

            Liked by 3 people

          • I absolutely love that you and your mother discussed Charli’s story and that you shared that fact with us. That makes me feel great not just for Charli, but that all of you have created the community I dreamed of having – a real STORY CHAT. Thank you for making my dream come true.

            Liked by 3 people

        • Good analysis of “rot,” and the underpinnings of the story where verisimilitude cracks. As I mentioned elsewhere (and thanks for reading my response to feedback, too) I know I can spend more time on the character arc and reality of a newly released prisoner. I need to buy James a cup of coffee and get to know his backstory better without dumping it into the main story. A well-placed detail goes a long way or becomes a quick trip to believability. I also felt rot was cliche but it served a purpose. Iowa has distinct smells I could further explore (exploit?). Thanks for sharing!

          Liked by 2 people

          • LOL If you’ve ever driven through Albany, OR, you know the smell of agriculture can smell like rot – or the soy bean factory in Indianapolis. Phew!

            Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks for the reply (big smile and wink)
            And later in the week I realized your story had another strength

            It was like you took a chance with minimalism; there was a simple flow to the story that felt like unpretentious. I liked so many of the comments here and your replies – and while maybe a revision would include a few things – there was something delightful in the minimal as opposed to someone who bogs us down with so many complex ideas or tries too hard or gets carried away with heavy words, etc.


            Liked by 2 people

          • Yevette,

            Thank you for noting the minimalism. I’d like to think that 99-word story writing helps with hitting the mark between enough and too many details. I will keep that in mind as I consider revisions.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Geoff, you are a soft-hearted doggie do-gooder! That was a definite Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul kind of tale. I love the idea that James could also be an incarcerated veteran. It is so problematic here in the US that the VA devised something called Veterans Court where first-time offenders can be reviewed for lack of services to readjustment, PTSD or TBI and perhaps get their sentences lightened if they get treatment. I can certainly shore up the weaker spots noted with more character motivation and interaction. Often, weird coincidences do happen, and it was the idea of what if…what if a prisoner trained a dog and their paths crossed. Yeah, the neat ending can be reworked. I agree! Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I’m balancing my wince at the jaw-dropping coincidence with my automatic ‘Awww’ at anything to do with dogs.
    And it is a heart-warming story.
    It’s difficult to understand the logic behind anyone using all their money on a bus fare, but then I’ve never been in that situation of wanting to get as far away as possible from somewhere more than I wanted anything else (including food? – maybe that’s just me again).
    We don’t know why James was imprisoned, but the reference to solitary confinement hints that he didn’t take easily to imprisonment. We feel the despair of his isolation now. (On the other hand, a gas station hints of the possibility of a lift out of there, so not a total disaster, although he has yet to recognise that.)
    Why does the driver expect to be robbed by the stranger? Is it something James is wearing? (Surely not prison garb? I don’t know how these things work in the US if you’ve no-one to bring you clothes.) Is it his demeanour that hints of incarceration? (I did note the dropping of his eyes so as not to seem confrontational. There is information beautifully conveyes in the occasional throwaway comment.)
    The blonde hair I first took to be a woman passenger, but a dog was much better. The coincidence if it being THE dog, however, was a little hard to take. However, once taken, the lifting of James’ despair and his restoration in the mind of the reader – and the driver – are enough to earn him a lift and some support.
    But a job as well…? Wow!
    Worth suspending a little disbelief and overcoming my scepticism for a warm fuzzy feeling to start my day.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I agree with your suspending of disbelief comment. What are the odds that Buttercup would turn up there UNLESS the prisoner knew where he had ended up? But then was he intending to steal her? I don’t think so. Again, why would he go to the middle of nowhere unless he knew someone? However, like you, I felt a huge AWWWWW by the end of the story! Thanks for another thoughtful commentary, Cathy.

      Liked by 3 people

        • He might rob the dog’s heart. Now that we are talking about it, this story reminds me a tiny bit of a movie I saw recently in which the canine cop who got a rescue dog and trained it. The cop had been turned dow in getting a regular trained dog and turned down for the job. So he got this pup who would have been put to sleep because he had been returned so many times. The dog and the man unwittingly and unknowingly saving the life of the rescue employee’s son. I won’t tell you the whole story because you would love watching it in your SPARE time. LOL

          Liked by 1 person

    • Any story with a dog like Buttercup loving on a guy who may be struggling to love himself is going to swamp us with affection for the dog. You are correct Cathy.

      As the story unfolded to reveal that the blond woman was actually a dog, I thought, “Oh – he really did just catch a glimpse and then bowed his head automatically and missed the chance to see the truth of what kind of body was beneath that mop of blond hair. Thus it helped me understand his state of mind.

      This scene was easy for me for that reason. Perhaps in my mind I also had the limited lighting and perhaps odd shadows in mind.

      Great catch Cathy.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for suspending belief, Cathy, but you also draw my attention to the points that made it difficult to do so. I can work on more character development for revision.

      Liked by 2 people




Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, a retired educator and wife of a retired realtor. My all-consuming hobby is blogging and it has changed my life. My friends live all over the world. In November 2020, we sold everything and retired to the mile-high desert of Prescott, AZ. We live less than five miles from the Granite Dells, four lakes, and hundreds of trails with our dog, Kalev, and two cats, Moji and Nutter Butter. Vince's sister came with us and lives close by. Every day is a new adventure.

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© Marsha Ingrao (aka Always Write) and  All content of this website is the sole property of Marsha Ingrao. Please contact the owner for use of any image or text from this website.

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This is Another Story

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Refugees welcome - Flüchtlinge willkommen I am teaching German to refugees. Ich unterrichte geflüchtete Menschen in der deutschen Sprache. I am writing this blog in English and German because my friends speak English and German. Ich schreibe auf Deutsch und Englisch, weil meine Freunde Deutsch und Englisch sprechen.

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