Lesson one on writing a spider story: Never write a spider story.
Don’t do it. It’s been done. Since mythological times. Spider women. Tangled webs we weave. Innate fears and phobias. The built-in burdens alone will wrap poor writer you in literary silk. See what happens with spider stories? The metaphors have started already.
Lesson two: If you’re going to write a spider story anyway, have a plan.
A better one than I did, when in 2013 I started on something called “Orb Weaving in Wonderland.” There was this professor guy Nick, and he was using a field trip in the French Camargue to romance the fetching young Rachel. The story, soon retitled “Nephila Rachelis,” had it all, if all means an uncentered blech of sci-fi, Western, morality play, and mixed message.
Lesson three: If you’ve started a spider story, know when to de-tangle and walk away.
I have written Communist go-go dancers. Not in a comedy, either. Technically, they were recruits among honors-level university students, but they broke into go-go dancing as the Party’s party night deepened and the drinks mounted. The setting was early ’70s Budapest, and the Happiest Barracks in the Iron Curtain reveled in its post-crackdown decay.
Our POV Helena takes it from here:
For the next hour I danced with every man who asked and every man who cut in, a parade of faceless political officers with tobacco and vodka on their breaths. Some were bolder than others, but none too bold. When the folk music stopped and the newer records began, we changed to whatever fast dance went with the song. I twisted, I ponied, I did the loco-motion, I thrilled at the heat of it all, and when the men tired the other girls and I go-go danced for them.
It was after the go-go dancing that Typhon approached. He brought with him two coupes of sparkling wine.
“You must be thirsty,” he said over The Byrds. He reached out the wine as if completely certain of my accepting, kissed my offered hand, and said, “The Socialist Workers’ Party appreciates your contributions to dance.”
First, a numbness. A chill that says you shouldn’t have gone and bit in, that something wicked this way comes. The heat does not flood in, yet. It builds. The nose starts to run, and your voice catches. Your body knows only to sweat. Because it’s too late to run. With Nashville hot chicken, the flames pause just that moment before they consume.
Lately, hot chicken has gone from cult food to kind of a thing. Even KFC is in on it–not authentically, mind you. Lest you think I’m the latest bandwagoneer, my 2015 “Let It Burn” submission to Alfred Hitchcock beat KFC to the punch by some months. The publishing world is itself a sweet, slow burn.
I’m incredibly proud that last year’s “The Cumberland Package” (AHMM, May 2016) has been named a finalist for the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Derringer Awards. I mean, like busting-at-seams proud.
Of being named, because the crime space these days is terrific in its voice and depth. The stuff that leaves me vibrating explores in stark terms human nature at core. Not much more human than the crimes we choose to commit–or choose not to.
And there’s the bust-at-seams honor. Any story of mine is thought even near the best of that buzz level?