barroom, Dialogue

Barroom Banter in My Books

I am not a barfly, but I’ve spent enough time in bars and taprooms to get a sense of what people talk about while consuming an alcoholic beverage. And I have used that experience to create what I hope are entertaining and accurate conversations in my books.

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a bar in all of the adult books I’ve written, sometimes more than one. In my Isabel Long Mystery Series, the chief bar is the Rooster, where Isabel works on Friday nights. Jack, her love interest, owns the bar, the only one in that dinky hilltown. Isabel also spends a lot of time at Baxter’s meeting people of interest and just plain snooping. That biker bar, located on a lake, had a pivotal scene in no 5. Working the Beat. No. 4, Killing the Story had a seedy little joint, Red’s Corner Lounge.

Then, there is my latest, The Sacred Dog, which is not part of my mystery series. Actually, The Sacred Dog is the name of the bar owned by the protagonist, Frank Hooker. He renamed the bar after his pet, Louise. It used to be named for his ex-wife, but the dog was more loyal than her. A great deal of the book happens within its walls.

My books tend to be heavy with dialogue. I believe I’m inspired by the many, many years I was a reporter then an editor interviewing people and listening to what was said at meetings and other gatherings. Although I have left the biz, I find myself still interviewing people wherever I go. I joke that often the person doesn’t know anything about myself but I know a whole lot about them, sometimes even secrets. Yes, I missed my calling as a spy although I couldn’t manage the danger.

Now, there is a difference between my mystery series and those that stand alone, which includes Northern Comfort, a book I self-published earlier. In my mystery series, we get everything from Isabel’s point of view since it is written in first-person, present tense. What you read is what she and others talk about. Of course, Isabel is a bit of a wise ass so the conversation tends to be entertaining.

The Sacred Dog, however, was written in third person, past tense. In that situation, I create whole conversations. The Dog, as the locals call it, has its regulars. Among them are: Early Stevens, Frank’s best friend; Monk Stevens, Early’s nephew who runs the town dump among other jobs; Jerry Smith, who’s always hiding out from his wife and family; Big Mary, Frank’s cousin; Lloyd and Royal Dixon, bachelor brothers who always smell like fresh manure since they run a dairy farm.

The regulars will make jokes about each other, and banter about the news in town, who’s doing what or not doing what. They are all natives to the small town of Mercy, so they’ve known each other all of their lives. They also are aware of Frank’s disdain for Al Kitchen, who he blames, rather unfairly, for his brother’s death in a car accident. Al does come into the Rooster but only because his grandmother pleaded his case. He gets two beers and that’s it. I warn you nothing good’s gonna come from that feud.

I enjoyed immersing myself in The Sacred Dog and what was being said. I will give you a hefty sampling. Here’s a scene from the chapter called, No Kin.

A few hours later, Big Mary’s laughter carried across The Sacred Dog. She nearly lost her balance on the stool after Jerry Smith told her about the kid who got sick last year on the bus ride home. Everybody in the place was having a good time at the expense of the kid, a third grader who threw up several helpings of American chop suey from the school cafeteria.

Frank chuckled because Jerry gave his story such a big, slow windup, he could be lobbing softballs. “The kid missed the seats, thank god, but made a mess on the floor,” he said. “The route only started, Jesus, and the bus was starting to stink because of the heat. I figured it was a matter of time before the other kids got sick from the smell and started puking, too. So, I parked the bus near Wicker Brook and filled the bucket I keep up front for the lost and found.”

Jerry started laughing so hard at his story he had to set his full bottle of beer on the bar top, so it wouldn’t spill. He slapped the edge of the bar several times.

Early patted Jerry on his back. “Take it easy, boy. I hate to see a good beer go to waste.”

Beside him, Monk bent forward over the bar. “Come on, Jerry, for Christ’s sake, tell the story, won’t you?”

“Okay, okay. Hold your horses.” Jerry took a breath. “Well, I yelled to the kids to pick up their feet as I threw water over the big pile of puke.” He grinned because he was the center of attention. “Hell if I knew if it was the right thing to do, but I had feeder vans to meet.”

“You didn’t clean it up?” Monk asked.

Jerry started to laugh but caught himself. “Nah, but you should’ve seen it. Every hill the bus traveled, the puke water sloshed to the front or back of the bus. The kids squealed their heads off and raised their feet whenever it flowed their way.” He lifted the bottle near his lips. “Some of the kids were suckin’ air through the open windows. The smell was that bad. I could barely stand it myself.”

Monk chuckled. “I bet that Patty Monroe had a fit when she saw the mess,” Monk said.

Jerry raised himself off the stool. He placed his hands on his hips, gave them a little wiggle, and mimicked Patty’s voice. “I hope you don’t think for one minute, Jerry Smith, I’m gonna clean this up for you.”

Frank’s laugh barked.

Jerry was doing a decent imitation of his ex-wife’s sister. “Yeah, I can hear her sayin’ those exact words,” he said.

The Dog got lively early with the pleasant din of clinking glass, voices, and music from the juke, typical for a Friday night. Every so often, Frank checked when the front door opened to see if Verona was going to take him up on his invitation, but he was let down each time it was somebody else. He looked across the room at a friendly contest under way at the Lucky Strike pinball machine between the Dixon brothers and some other local boys. The big blonde was here without her jealous boyfriend, and Frank felt a little wary when he saw her drinking with a group of his pals at a back table. She could be trouble. Monk played King of the Road twice and led most of the crowd who was willing in a sing-along. He stood on a chair as he held an empty bottle of Bud in one hand as if it was a conductor’s wand and he clicked his fingers along with Roger Miller with the other. 

Early shook his head in disbelief. “He ain’t no kin of mine.”

It was after nine when Al Kitchen stumbled into The Dog’s front door. Frank fixed a tray of mixed drinks. His arms made little swinging motions as he filled the glasses with ice. He grabbed the bottles of hard stuff from the shelves behind him and poured without measuring. Winsome placed the drinks on a tray, and over her shoulder, Frank noticed Al falling into the seat next to the big blonde. He wrapped an arm around the back of her chair and leaned in toward the woman, talking and laughing at whatever he said. She was giggling so hard, her large breasts moved beneath her blouse as if little springs attached them to her chest.

Frank got distracted when Monk said he wanted to buy a round for his friends at the bar.

Monk gave a whistle. “Hey, there, Frankie boy, I’m lookin’ to spend some money,” he said. “You still in business or what?”

“Yeah, yeah, big mouth. I heard you loud and clear,” Frank answered.

He reached into the beer cooler, but his eyes stayed on Al and the blonde. Al lit her cigarette.

Early twisted around to see what Frank was watching, and when he turned back to face him, his tongue played along the inside of his mouth. “Looks like a problem’s brewin’ back there, I’m afraid. Hope her fella doesn’t make an appearance tonight.”

Frank waved his hand. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ve got it all under control.”

“If you say so,” Early said.

Frank was busy filling another order when he heard Monk’s high-pitched voice. “What kid did you say that was?”

When Jerry said the boy’s name, everyone sitting at the bar agreed the only one who could have handled such a public display of humiliation was this brat of a kid who was usually Jerry’s primary suspect when there was trouble on the bus. His old man was the same way when he was a boy.

“Gee, I haven’t seen that cuss in a while,” Jerry said. “Used to be a regular here.”

“Heard he’s on the wagon,” Monk said. “I bet that’s a lot easier on his wife. Liquor sure put him in a black mood.”

Big Mary tossed her head toward Al. “I’ve seen worse. Al Kitchen’s Daddy was a real piece of work. beating the crap out of that pretty girl from Wilmot that he married. He just wore her down ’til she got sick and died.”

Early shook his head.

“Eh, he was nothin’ compared to his old man,” he said. “You should’ve seen the bastard in action. I once saw him win a big hand at poker, and when one of the players accused him of cheatin’, he punched the man so hard to the head, the guy almost lost an eye.”

Frank passed the full tray to Winsome. He blew air through his closed lips. “Shit, can’t you all think of anythin’ else to talk about besides the Kitchens?” he said. “You’re givin’ me a headache.”

Early, Monk, and Big Mary gave each other small looks. 

Jerry broke into a sly grin. “I know. Mary can tell us all about her new boyfriend.” 

Mary’s face went red. “Oh, yeah, Jerry, and the next time your wife calls, I’m gonna grab the phone and tell her you’re here,” she said, so sharply, it set them all laughing, even Frank. 

LINKS TO MY BOOKS: You can find all of my books here And thank you do.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: A glass of Cyborg Joan (yes there is a story behind that name) at my son Zack’s Floodwater Brewing in our village of Shelburne Falls, MA.


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