Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Topher Story

Today, I thought we’d do something a little different. Instead of a writing post, I am going to tell you the story of my mongrel crossbreed, Topher and why I tell people he’s a horrible animal and that he makes my life a living hell. This article started life as an email sent to the pound I got Topher from—though my friends liked it so much, I thought I would share it here:

Topher was one of nine pups, brought to YAPS from Yarrabah in early 2011. Their mother looked something like a brindle German Sheppard—though it was hard to tell, as she was half bald with mange. The pups were five weeks old when I first saw Topher, and she had already abandoned them. The nine of them lived in a pen, outside, in some plastic kennels because YAPS, like so many no kill shelters, is desperately underfunded and has too many dogs.

I chose Topher because he was the quietest and when I picked him up, he sighed and rested his head on my chest, listening to my heartbeat. I fell in love. That ended a week later, when I finally went to pick him up and I heard him scream for the first time.

Yarrabah is a remote aboriginal community. So saying Topher’s mother was ‘part German Sheppard’ is really a joke. There are feral dogs everywhere, most of them descendant from herding dogs or pig dogs. However there hasn’t been a purebred in Yarrabah.... ever. It’s probably 30 generations since there was a ‘breed’ in his lineage. However it’s likely his father had a decent amount of dingo in him, because the sound coming from that 6 week out puppy was nothing like a dog could make.

It wasn’t a whine. It wasn’t even a howl (though he can howl and dingo howls make dog howls sound like goddamn sneezes). It was an extended shriek. A hysterical, unending scream, like a car-crash and a fire alarm had a baby and the baby hated you.

Topher was the most disastrous, nightmarish puppy I have ever known. But what triggered all this screaming? A lack of physical contact. Yes, if I wasn’t physically touching him at all times, he would become an air-raid siren. However he would enthusiastically bite anyone who picked him up. I spent several months living on the floor to keep him quiet. We bled constantly, he bit anything that passed by his face.

Despite having raised three other dogs to be perfectly behaved, well adjusted animals in the past—including Pheonix, who had been badly abused and came to me extremely aggressive and depressed—nothing I did with Topher seemed to work. Determined not to be defeated by a creature that occasionally ate lint, I persevered.

He hated going outside and after several months of him lying prone, letting me physically drag him around the block like he was dead, I gave up on walkies. The neighbours were becoming suspicious.

He ate well, but remained as skinny as an anorexic greyhound but despite several vet visits where he metamorphasized into a hysterical octopus on crack, I was assured he was a healthy, if utterly psychotic, puppy. He was desexed on the earliest possible day the vet was willing to do the procedure in the hope it would calm him down. It didn’t.

He loved banana more than life itself and while he refused to eat bread, pasta or rice leftovers, no one could eat fruit without giving him some. He continued to be slightly thinner than a skeleton and I began to get paranoid someone would call the RSPCA. He also had mange from his mother—dermodectic, not sarcoptic—and a severe allergy to mosquito bites, so his fur was patchy and he looked badly abused. Eukanuba puppy food and every mange cure known to man did nothing to help.

Despite refusing to leave the house, Topher found he quite liked the treadmill and began running a few kilometres a day while I watched TV. He loved trips in the car too, until anyone attempted to leave it, or get him out of it, when he would become a hysterical screaming crack octopus again. It was just as well, as he looked awful.

Every week we brought home piles of new toys to keep him entertained and happy, until the house resembled a very messy day care centre. Whenever Topher destroyed a toy, the little toy pieces would become ‘new toys’ and he would become distraught at any attempts to throw them out.

We moved to Brisbane in October of 2011 and after the mange finally cleared up, Topher began limping. After another hysterical octopus vet visit where the attending vet called him ‘deranged and psychotic’, we found out that both his knees dislocate and the vet suggested surgery. $7000 surgery.

I was told, by many people, that a bullet only costs a dollar.

Why would I spend $7000 on an animal? A feral mongrel, no less. A new dog would be cheaper. Even a pedigree from a breeder would be cheaper. There were plenty of people willing to tell me they would never spend that much on a pet.

It never even crossed my mind. After numerous expensive vet visits where I pointlessly assured vets he was ‘not always this mental’ we found a medication that keeps him pain free and walking comfortably without invasive surgery. There may still be surgery later, but it’s been a long time since he limped at all now.

And, as I had always hoped, on his first birthday, he mellowed out completely. He still has oodles of toys, he’s still as thin as a greyhound and he still hates going outside, but he walks on a lead like a normal dog now. I work from home, so he’s always with me, but these days he’s equally happy to sleep in another room while I work—rather than glued to my leg, shrieking hysterically when I go to the bathroom.

I can’t even imagine how he would have survived in Yarrabah. I suspect it would be physically impossible for him to exist without a couch to sleep on and a kong toy to occasionally drop between my legs into the toilet.

I’d give up my house and live in my car before I gave up Topher. These days people say he’s beautiful and ask what breed he is. I say he’s a ‘some kind of horrible mongrel’ and they look horrified. Topher knows exactly what sort of dog he is. He’s my dog, and he’s never going to be any other kind.

Oh, and for the record? He still rests his head on my chest, listened to my heart, and sighs.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Always Back Up Twice.


- Always back up twice.

We’ve all heard the horror stories about novels being lost. The file gets corrupted, the hard drive fails, or a bitter sibling or ex-lover deletes the files out of spite. These things happen. Not only to they happen, but they happen with alarming regularity.

Computers can be lost in fires or floods, computers can be stolen, and computers can need a complete wipe after a viral attack.

With any of these unfortunate events, your stories can be lost. All the beautiful, fragile, heartfelt words that you breathed life into can be lost and swept away forever. Please don’t think I am exaggerating that I say at least 50%, if not more, of my writing friends have lost words due to an error or accident. Usually they don’t lose ALL their words; sometimes they don’t even lose an entire novel. However words are lost.

I always recommend having two backup systems, though which two you choose is up to you. Here are some more popular ways to protect and back up your creations:

- An external hard drive
PROS: Can be stored in a fire proof safe. Can hold large files.
CONS: Hard drives can get viruses and fail, just like computers. You might lose everything on them if you drop them.

- Burnt onto a CD
PROS: Old CDs can be disposed or stored. I carry my CD with me, so if I lose the house, I have my writing. CDs are cheap and easy to write on.
CONS: CDs can be lost, scratched or broken. Not the most environmentally friendly choice.

- Emailed to yourself
PROS: Nothing physical to be lost or broken. Most addresses can be accessed from anywhere. Most emails allow you to create and name folders, so your files can be labelled and stored.
CONS: If you’re hacked, files can be deleted or stolen. A server glitch could still wipe them out. Small file allowances mean you’ll have to send lots of emails. Unless well organised, finding what you want could be a nightmare.

- Drop box
PROS: Drop box will sync across all your computers and devices.
CONS: You have to pay if you want more than 2 gig of storage. You could be hacked, or a server glitch could delete all your files.

- Posted to yourself
PROS: Mostly done in the days before digital storage as a form of copyright protection. Can be stored in crates in the attic.
CONS: Wastes paper, takes up space and no protection from natural disasters.

- USB sticks
PROS: Can be carried with you everywhere. Files can be accessed at any computer.
CONS: USB sticks can die and are easy to lose.

- Hosted on a server
PROS: Can hold large files. Usually very secure.
CONS: May cost money. Servers can crash and be hacked.

The most important thing to remember is, whatever backup method you use, PICK TWO and back up OFTEN. At least once a month. Make the first of every month backup day—write it in your calendar and be sure not to fall behind. Do an extra backup whenever you finish a draft—particularly a first draft.

Perhaps, together, we can make sure no prose is ever lost again.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

How to do 10k a Day

Big Goals:

Is it possible to get 10k in a single day? I did and I am a tragically slow writer. I know writers who have achieved much higher word counts in a single day. One of them was 12. One of them managed to finish her entire nanowrimo novel in just over twenty four hours. A small part of me hates them both (while also loving them and being incredibly proud I have such awesome friends).

The important thing is that it’s possible for anyone to do 10k in a day, but it does require some planning. This is how I do it.

When to Aim High:

While achieving an obscenely high word count is possible, it's not always the right thing to do. The quality will suffer--though perhaps not as much as you think--so time saved writing may then be wasted on editing. However proving that you CAN do it is one of the most empowering things an author can do, and I highly recommend it.

Don't let your fear of the quality hold you back. However don't try and rush a high word count because you have a major deadline in the near future either.

Before you begin:

Pick a day in advance. It's very difficult to wake up one morning and decide 'Today I'm going to write 10k'. You chances of failing are very high. You may need a week or more to plan, or maybe you can get everything together the day before. However for really high word counts you should plan to pace yourself and aim to do 1k an hour. If you want 10k, that's 10 hours of writing. If you're not ready start writing until 11am, you won't be finished until 9pm--and you'll be exhausted from getting everything ready in such a rush.

What to prepare:

Food. You will need three or four healthy meals, prepared and ready to go, in a nearby fridge. You will also probably need some healthy snacks, so get them ready in little Tupperware containers. Aim for foods with a low GI. You will need carbs and vegetables/salad and if you can get some omega three in there in the form of a cold tuna salad or nuts, do so.

Most of you will probably want plenty of coffee (I don't drink caffeine) and if you smoke, make sure you have enough that you won't need to go down the shop. Incidentals like toilet paper, milk, etc, all need to be ready too.

You will need your favourite, most comfortable clothes to be washed and laid out ready to put on. After six hours or so, you start to notice every little annoyance and tight/uncomfortable clothing will suddenly become a distraction worthy of giving up completely.

I highly recommend you completely outline the material you want to write over the 10k. Make sure you have plenty of bullet points--preferably about twice what you think you will need. I know many of you like to just 'write as you go'. However that rarely works for marathon sessions such as these. Much of your time will be spent trying to work out what happens next and your tired, addled brain will come up with some terrible ideas. Plan. You will appreciate it later.

First thing:

Shower. Dress in your comfortable clothes. Turn off your modem and unplug it from the wall. Do the same with your phone. Set up your computer and open your word files. Close the door so you are alone in the room.

Begin writing.

Those steps are very important and should be done in that order. Showering first wakes you up and doesn't give you the 'I stink, I should shower' excuse later on. Turning off your modem is even more important. You must deny yourself all internet access.

If you reach a stage in the manuscript that you realise you need to research, stick in some asterisks, highlight them in a neon colour and get back to that part later. No internet. No checking emails. Today it is just you and the words.

During the day:

You will probably be hungrier than usual. On a normal day I often don't eat until after 1pm, however during these writing marathons I am starving. Genuinely, overwhelmingly hungry. Which is why you have those prepared meals. Whip them out, choke them down, keep writing.

If you run out of food, it's getting late and you're still hungry, you have my permission to order pizza. However it will make you sluggish, so you really should try and have enough healthy food on standby.

You may not, however, go out and pick the pizza up yourself. No distractions. No excuses.

It’s brutal, but you have to stick with it until you reach your goals. If you start to get a headache, take painkillers right away, before it can get too bad to focus. You will make a great many excuses to stop. If you can't be alone at home, do all this at a library (I have) or even tolerant cafe.

Hotel rooms with shitty cable are awesome, because there is nothing else to do.

If I can do it, you can do it, because I am nothing special.

Faith, determination and positivity will get you over the line.

Happy writing!

Copyright 2012. Talitha Kalago.