Family stories shaped my life in hand-me-down stories of my French and Native American ancestry. DNA proves the French but disagrees on the other. That doesn’t erase the historical moment my mother blurted two full sentences in Cherokee, part of a conversation she remembered from her young years in Indian Territory, later Oklahoma. I can identify the colors and material of clothes my twin and I wore in aging black and white photos. Cloudy memories say I excelled in high school, but math transcripts disagree. I played shortstop a few times in physical education. I like to think I was good, but the truth is I was the last choice for the position. True or false, these are part of my backstory.
My critique group often tells me to cut the backstory in my crime fiction novel. “But you need to know my character’s history,” I insist. “How else will you know why she reacts like she does.”
The most common statements my physicians repeat are backstory. “At your age . . .” and “With your history . . .” followed by how genetics and medical history affect a specific ailment now. Despite my poor athletic abilities, I jump like a pro reaching for a fly ball. I catch words preceded by high—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high heart rate. Imagine my surprise when a specialist lobbed me a slow grounder.
“Your sodium level is too low.”
My mind raced to backstory ten years ago when physicians, nurses, and dieticians counseled me to lower my salt levels. No more pizza. Go light on the bread. Ditch the cheese. It was difficult after a lifetime of enjoying salt, but I followed the advice. I switched to organics, bought no-salt-added canned vegetables or rinsed regular ones to remove the excess sodium. I substituted Trader Joe’s Rainbow Peppercorns for my spice-of-the-day. No more salt on watermelon or fresh sliced tomatoes. My taste buds refused to cooperate at first but eventually acclimated to the new taste.
“But lowering my salt intake was the goal,” I countered, back in the present where my new endocrinologist didn’t know my history.
She turned the computer screen my direction and pointed to the < sign before the sodium level.
“Dangerously low,” she said. “Increase the salt in your diet.”
That reversal echoed advice from my critique group when I revealed the antagonist in the last chapters. “You need to flesh out this guy,” they said. “Give us some backstory.”
At home, I made a sandwich with cheese. I sprinkled the sliced tomatoes with salt and ate a handful of potato chips—rare foods in my kitchen.
Backstory and salt. How do I balance the levels to avoid too much of a good thing?