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Monday, March 3, 2014

On giant spiders and storytelling

Please welcome Frances Pauli to the Far Edge of Normal. She's been a guest several times, mostly because she writes such awesome stories, but she also comes up with some of the most interesting ideas for her plots. She also has a thing for spiders. I'm not going to adopt those pets from her like I did the zombie frogs that WILL NOT DIE. (Yes, they're still alive and doing better than ever. They thrive on neglect and random feedings.)

Here's her take on writing about spiders:

I have a secret love for bad horror movies. Not the slasher flick, killer in the house, scary phone call kind, though. Those terrify me to death! No, I like the genetically mutated, alien, toxic spill poisoned giant animal sort. I like the rampaging ants and killer rabbits the size of houses. Basically, monster movies. 
I'm not ashamed to admit it. I can get on board with sharks coming out of volcanoes.
The phony stuff doesn't scare me, you see. I can sleep just fine after two hours of giant ants. Anaconda doesn't frighten me. Eight Legged Freaks makes me giggle, and Night of the Lepus...bring it on! But add some heavy-breathing psycho with a facemask and I'm out of fast as possible. I'll also probably have nightmares. Campy, cheesy, and full of gargantuan animals, however, is a recipe for great fun. 
Unfortunately, I love spiders way too much to make them the villains in my own story. 
Well, once upon a time I was the world's largest arachnophobe. I ran screaming from the tiniest eight-legged beastie, usually with a resounding echo of "kill it, kill it, kill it!" Shameful of me, I know, but they gave me the bona fide "willies." 
I had to be held down to watch Arachnophobia. I could teleport across large rooms when necessary, and once, I think I actually passed through a door to escape a wicked wee spider. 
So how is it that I ended up writing a web serial featuring giant spiders as protagonists? The good guys? Somewhere along the line I fell in love with spiders. It had a lot to do with working in the pet trade...and even more to do with this guy
You might be thinking that he must have been really cute, and you'd be right. But as cute as he was...the Pinktoe spiderlings he was hawking were way cuter. No lie. The Pinktoe tarantula is by far the sweetest member of the arachnid world. They have big pink toes, like ballet slippers, and there is just something completely cocker-spaniel-esque about them. 
I still resisted. When all the other pet store employees purchased little plastic boxes of Pinktoes, I cringed and stuck my nose in the air. When their baby spiders spun amazing, complex tube webs and platforms, I peeked, sniffed, and went back to organizing the dog food. When they all got together each morning to feed their babies, cooing and fussing, I grabbed the Windex and cleaned the front doors. 
I was doomed. 
I lasted less than three days. You see, I don't like being left out of anything fun...and they were having a ball. Caring for a baby whatever you're afraid of is a fantastic strategy to overcome a phobia. At least for a Cancer it is. Some overdeveloped maternal instinct took over and I was cooing and fussing over my very own baby spider in no time. 
A year later I had forty-five tarantulas. It's possible I also have an addictive personality. 
The ugly truth is, spiders are fascinating! They do have a creepy factor, yes. Many, many of those scary/corny movies attest to that. But alongside the horror, spiders do a lot of really epic stuff. Spider silk is stronger than steel. They do more than just make webs with it, too. Tarantulas have all kinds of funky structures they manufacture, and their spinerets make different kinds of chemical mixes for each silk use. Some is sticky, some is tough, some is stretchy, etc. 
They also dance, groom themselves like a cat (but with eight legs!) and molt on a regular basis. The first time I caught my pink toe brushing its hair I was in love. When it molted, I almost swooned. A molting tarantula is very fragile. Even a tiny cricket can kill it during the process, when the poor spider is upside down, trying to twist out of a hard exoskeleton one leg at a time, and its new body is completely soft and unprotected. 
Tarantulas are also good mothers. They carry their egg sac with them, turn it, massage it, and in some cases even care for the young after they've hatched. 
The more I learned about them, the more the creepy monster became a character. 
Being an author of fiction, there's nothing  I love more than a good character...except maybe a good villain. Guess what? Spiders come with one of those as well. Ever hear of a tarantula hawk? Nasty bad wasps that sting and paralyze a tarantula and then lay an egg inside so that the larvae can hatch and nibble on the defenseless, still-living spider. 
Epic evil. 

So now, way too many years later, I have a cast of tarantulas, tribal humans who both fear and love them, and a rising cult of devil bees. (really nasty ones!) I get my monster story after all, but you can bet the spiders are on the good side. 

Make sure you check out the serial fiction story and blog, then check out the rest of Frances Pauli's writing. It's always an adventure.