Culture: Readers Write
A two-day writing binge was medicine for one finalist in The Bark’s fiction contest
A flinty old woman searching for a dog at a shelter and finding something more is the central arc of Katerina Lorenzatos Makris’ story “Small Change” (Nov/Dec 2010), which was a finalist in The Bark’s 1st Annual Short Story/Fiction Contest. Any of us who have worked, volunteered or adopted at a shelter know this is a setting for life-changing experiences. We recently asked Makris—who is the author of 17 novels, hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles and Your Adopted Dog with Shelley Frost—what was behind her short story and the role of dogs in her life and her fiction.TheBark.com: What inspired this story? Katerina Lorenzatos Makris: In the U.S. and around the world billions of dogs, cats, farmed animals and wild ones suffer in horrifying and unnecessary ways at our hands. It’s overwhelming, and I long for a magic wand to stop it. There’s no such thing. But there are small changes. Groups and individuals in almost every country struggle to help. While we all search for bigger, better answers, my hat’s off to anyone who makes even a bit of effort. On a more personal level, elder care might be another thing behind this story. I’ve done my share, for both human and canine family members, and know how it is to feel worn out and bereaved. I also know how it is to feel embittered, and to have a dog cajole you out of it. Or to be nearly numbed by life’s knocks, and be brought back to your senses by a dog. They excel at restoration. Their little flames burn away fog. They might have evolved for it. An inert human isn’t going to do them much good. It’s in their interests to pep you up—even when you’re doing your best to avoid it—and get you to explore, play, love, and, of course, eat as often as possible. Do you have a dog or dogs? My gallant husband and his canine-compulsive wife have rescued over 120 dogs and a few kitties. Some have found other families; some have stayed. We’re at our limit now (hear that, honey? I promise) but I wish we could care for more. So many dogs, so little time! Have dogs shown up in your novels? You bet. For example, The Five Cat Club (Avon Books) is all about cat and dog rescue. In Crosstown (Avon), a German Shepherd helps see the heroine through. But one of these days, I’d like to do some books with dogs in the lead. How did you get the idea for “Small Change”? Largely The Bark is to blame. Back in the summer I’d read about the contest but didn’t have time to give it much thought. In December, while my husband was away visiting his folks for the holidays, I was home alone with too many dogs—three of them active (euphemism) teenagers—feeling tired and a little blue. Maybe the story came along as a bit of self-medication. The Bark had issued a challenge. I’m daunted by short fiction, but giving it a try just two days before the deadline (in between collecting the remains of a dismembered sofa, mopping puddles and interrupting dominance displays) felt daring—my version of a hang-glide. The phrase “small change” kept rolling around in my head. I just let it. At the last minute my writer pals Shelley Frost, Meera Lester, A. Bronwyn Llewellyn, Brad Schreiber, my husband, and my parents-in-law took the time to read a draft and make invaluable suggestions. I think I sent it in about 11 minutes before the deadline on New Year’s Eve, flipped on the TV for the ball drop, then ran around the living room kissing all the dogs at midnight. Do you have a favorite dog character in a novel, story, movie or painting? Argos in Homer’s The Odyssey. Who is your favorite writer? Oh, impossible! Sorry this answer is so long, but gosh… Homer, Lao Tse, Euripides, Socrates, Cicero, St. John the Theologian, Edward Gibbon, G.W.F. Hegel, Thomas Hardy, Abraham Lincoln, Andreas Laskaratos, Anna Sewell, C.P. Cavafy, William Faulkner, Octavio Paz, Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Walker, Tanith Lee, Ursula K. LeGuin, Harriet Doerr, Diana Wynne Jones, Louis de Bernieres, Alan Paton, Alexander McCall Smith, Dana Facaros, Laura Esquivel, Mary Pipher, Sylvia Earle, Karen Dawn, Jonathan Safran Foer... That’s leaving out countless more favorites, such as all my writer friends. So many books, so little time! Would you mind telling us your age? Seven, in dog years.
Culture: Readers Write
Unpublished writer sees ink as a finalist in Bark’s 1st Fiction Contest
“Street Dog,” about a homeless man and a stray dog, is Shawn Kobb’s first published story (Bark, Sep/Oct 2010). Kobb, 33, was one of three finalists in our first fiction contest earlier this year. In his non-writing hours, Kobb is a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, currently living in The Bahamas with his wife and their adopted Doberman puppy, which they adopted during a two-year stint in Ukraine. Kobb recently shared with TheBark.com a little about the real man and dogs who inspired his story.TheBark.com: What inspired your story? Shawn Kobb: The story was inspired in part by a homeless man that lived in the neighborhood in Washington, DC that I stayed at last summer while training for my current assignment. I used to see this man almost daily, always sitting in the same spot on the same street as tourists and locals walked by him. He never asked for money, just watched people walk by. At the same time, we have just finished living for two years in Ukraine and stray dogs were a constant problem there. I decided to join up two groups that seemed like they could use each other. This is my first published piece of fiction and I’ve never entered any other contests. I’ve always been interested in writing and have written several pieces, but I’ve never published any of them before. Do you have a favorite dog character in a novel, story, movie or painting? I would say one of my favorite dogs in literature is Laika from the graphic novel of the same name. It is the true story of a homeless dog taken from the streets of the former Soviet Union who later became the first dog in space. To be honest, I’ve only ever skimmed the piece, because although it is beautifully illustrated and written, it is too sad for me to make it through. My wife and I adopted a female Doberman puppy while living in Ukraine and she is named Laika in honor of this dog. Who is your favorite writer? Like many people, I have many favorite writers. Right now, I would go with Dan Simmons. He’s a terrific writer that refuses to stick to one genre. He has great books that are science fiction, historical fiction, horror, suspense, and even non-fiction. His historical fiction The Terror is one of my favorites.
Margaret Cho, a dear friend of Bark’s, has just released her first comedy music album, Cho Dependent. She has offered our readers an exclusive free download for one of the album’s songs, “Hey Big Dog.” Margaret tells us that the inspiration for this song came from her wish “that humans and dogs could actually speak to each other and then sing together… the song is about people problems versus dog problems, and the idea that maybe we could solve these problems together.” For this song, go to margaretcho.com/chodependent and enter “Ralph” in the “your code” box. Enjoy!
Here’s a little more about Margaret’s foray into music, a natural progression for one who has continuously tested the boundaries of humor, politics and identity. A self-confessed music geek and longtime admirer of the parodist Weird Al Yankovic, Cho collaborated with a who’s who of musical friends including Grant Lee Phillips, Ani DiFranco and Ben Lee to create her 14 track album.
Cho Dependent shines with high musical production, catchy melodies, and Margaret’s characteristic wit—“to me, it’s still about jokes,” she assures. The songs range from “I’m Sorry,” a countrified “murder ballad” to “Calling in Stoned” featuring Tommy Chong (half of the famed Cheech & Chong comedy duo). The origin of “Hey Big Dog” began with a writing partnership with Patty Griffin, the acclaimed singer-songwriter, country music stalwart and fellow dog lover. The subject of the song is Cho’s dog Ralph. “As I wrote the lyrics to this song, I sat with my big boy Ralph and imagined what he would say to me if he could speak, what he would sing to me if he could sing. I stared in his root beer eyes, as he cocked his butterscotch blonde eyebrows one then the other and tried to decipher his thoughts,” Cho recalls. The song evolved, moving from guitar accompaniment to banjo, a more mournful interpretation that coincided with Ralph’s illness and eventual death. When fellow dog lover, Fiona Apple, heard the song performed live, an instant connection was born and a new duet partner. Add Ben Lee’s pitch perfect production, and the result is what Cho refers to as “Nashville meets Animal Planet.”
The song remains a tribute to Ralph, as well as an anthem to animal lovers everywhere. Margaret Cho’s album Cho Dependent is available online and at music stores, and you can catch her live as she performs around the country through the end of the year.
Want more Margaret? You can watch a 2008 interview Bark did with Margaret here.
Dog's Life: Humane
Soon after Andrea Horikawa adopted Vinny from a high-kill shelter in southern Calif., she had doubts. The Corgi mix challenged every dog he met. She considered returning him, but realizing what that would mean, she redoubled her commitment. As a result of three years of diligent, consistent and positive training, Vinny is a well-mannered pup with an arsenal of tricks, including a handstand that would make a yogi jealous.
Angel, Joe Panz, Batso, Big Ant, Eric, Johnny O, Des, G—big guys with big hearts, the men of Rescue Ink use their street skills to protect metro NYC’s furred, feathered and scaled.We learn about each man—what motivates them to volunteer for this type of work, how they approach it, why they’ve become so invested in saving the city’s most helpless residents. It’s clear that these large tattooed men, who share a passion for animals as well as hot rods and motorcycles, are a force to be reckoned with.
Dogs are, it is said, man’s best friend. Alas for the author, Como, a small and strong-willed white Terrier mix he and his family adopted from a local shelter, didn’t get the memo. Oh, sure, Como loved daughter Phoebe and wife Sally— but Winn? Como would have nothing to do with him. In the Winn household, the dog was exclusively woman’s best friend. This well-told tale of pursuit and rejection and ordeals endured is oddly inspiring and surprisingly smile-inducing. The author doesn’t flinch from revealing his own inept moments, nor does he pretend his heart wasn’t involved in the chase for Como’s affection. The book is a good reminder of the many ways dogs occupy our hearts and lives.
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