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.