A Story About a Girl and a Book

Once upon a time, there was a girl who worked in a public library. She loved her job, and with every book she put back on the shelves, she felt as though she had been briefly introduced to a new person. Occasionally, a book would catch her eye, and she would greet it every time she passed it, until she finally got around to reading it. One such book was The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff.

The Monsters of Templeton was so sophisticated, polite, and reliable that the girl always ended up reading more demanding books first—those that threatened absence, obscurity, or even that the girl might forget about them if she didn’t read them immediately. But The Monsters of Templeton was always there, quietly waiting in the exact same spot on the shelves.

One sad day, the girl moved away from her favorite library. She missed all those wonderful books—there were so many she had meant to read—but she knew the unlikelihood of running into any of her old favorites when she saw the public library in her new city. It was tiny, with only one short aisle for fiction. Just one? She had to check many times to make sure she wasn’t seeing things. But as she sorrowfully assessed her inadequate new browsing grounds, she ran into an old friend: The Monsters of Templeton. Oh small, wonderful, itty-bitty world! She checked the book out along with two others and took them home to read.

First, she tried a science fiction story that was interesting but ultimately felt like a video game. Next, she tried a period piece that reminded her why doctors once suspected her of having ADD. Then, finally, she picked up the book with the charming black and white cover.

The Monsters of Templeton seemed, at first, very straightforward. It was every bit as polite and smooth-talking as she suspected it would be. It was so smooth, in fact, that strangely gruesome descriptions and uncouth jokes would slip by without the girl having really noticed them. She would just chuckle or blush and keep turning the pages as she sipped her Jamaican hot chocolate.

Then the book began to spin other tales with other voices in other periods of time, and the girl would lean in, rapt, though these tales had only the barest connection to each other. The book was slow-moving but so full of mystery that, even though this was not the kind of story the girl would usually read, she just couldn’t stop.

When the book finally revealed its mystery in a predictable but satisfying way, it leaned back and puffed on its pipe, which the girl was sure it was smoking.

“Thanks so much for that story,” said the girl.

“But wait,” said the book, before the girl could close it. “There’s one more thing.”

So the girl settled back in her rocking chair, as the book told her one last story in one last voice. And that last story will haunt nightmares inside the girl’s nightmares until the day she dies. Because it was that… freaking… weird. It was adorable kittens disemboweling baby mice. It was teddy-bear suicide. It was fields of pretty daisies murdering bunny rabbits with poisonous aphids. It was beautiful, saccharine horror.

And the girl said, “Holy shit,” as the book took another puff off its pipe and grinned like a madman in a musical.

In Defense of Unlovable Creatures

I have this memory I keep in the secret pocket of my childhood coat. I recall sitting in front of a rock wall, watching an egg sac hatch. They were spiders—little zebra-striped jumping spiders, I think. Even as a child, I saw that they were young and fragile, and I saw how they wobbled around on brand new legs and fearlessly explored their brand new world. They were, in a word, adorable.

When I got older, I learned to be afraid of spiders, but it was never an innate fear. It was taught. So, after I became an adult, I decided to overcome it. The best way to overcome any fear is through education, so I started learning all I could about the different kinds of spiders, until I could identify the ones I found around my own home. Then I started giving them names (Amelia, Copernicus, and Incitatus) and treating them like visitors. They were the cats of the arachnid world—perfect, agile hunters—and they earned their keep the same way cats do: by preventing a potential infestation of other, invasive insects.

Some people wonder how I can love an unlovable creature. But honestly, they’re only unlovable because we’ve been programed to hate them. We’ve seen Arachnophobia and learned that spiders are viscous, horrible creatures that will suck the life out of you until you are a mere husk of a person as soon as look at you. But that’s just not true. The vast majority of them are completely harmless, even beneficial creatures.

This is what most of them are:

Start with the jumpers, if you really want to learn to love spiders. They’re curious and super cute. You won’t regret befriending them, as long as you show them the proper respect. Even now, there is a spider living near the window just over my desk, and it’s taken down every bothersome fly that’s gotten into the house so far. Plus it’s interesting to watch.

And if you liked the above video you should check out the creator’s youtube channel. It’s surprisingly chill and fun with a myriad of jumpers to see. Also, have a look at the What’s That Bug website and learn a little more about which creatures are harmful and which are actually beneficial. You may be surprised at what you find. I know I was.

The Importance of Atmosphere or: Why Carnivàle Should Get a Feature Length Ending

I recently watched the final episode of Carnivàle, and when it was over, I felt like an old friend had just been banished to a country I would never be allowed to visit. I adored that show. It isn’t that I didn’t think I would. It isn’t even that I didn’t know why I would love it. I just had no idea how it would hook its talons into my skull and never let go. But I know now, and I’m going to ramble about it for a second.

Atmosphere.

I’ve always understood the importance of atmosphere in storytelling. What I didn’t understand was that, like narrative voice and character development, atmosphere can drive a story all on its own. Carnivàle schooled me. There were times I found myself tangled in the plot and confused about character motivations. I was even disappointed with the good vs. evil dichotomy, after the story spent so much time hinting at the Kabbalistic left vs. right hand of God. (I mean come on! It had the tree and everything. And that would have been so cool! A multi-personality god battles itself for the fate of California.) Despite all that, I would still give it the highest rating I was allowed because of the atmosphere. The Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, a traveling carnival, Samson, Lila, Brother Justin. I want more.

There are some tales that are so rich with atmosphere, the story almost becomes a vehicle for the mood. After seeing Carnivàle, I tried to think of books I felt represented that same idea in print. I didn’t have to think long.

A couple years ago I read a book I’d been eyeing at my local library. It was called Picture the Dead and was written by Adele Griffin and illustrated by Lisa Brown. The book was moody, mysterious, and creepy. But if you asked me what it was about, I’d be hard-pressed to give you a detailed rundown. I don’t think the story was terribly complex (I usually prefer complexity), but it didn’t need to be. The woven mood was enough to carry me all the way through, and keep me thinking about the story long after I’d put the book back on the shelves.

So atmosphere is an incredible tool in any story. I try to inject it into all of mine—although I’m not certain how successful I am—and I do hope it shows.

If you’ve read any books or seen any films where atmosphere was the most memorable part of the tale, please do let me know. I am always looking for more. Greedy me.

Fear of Falling

There is no such thing as a fear of heights. Anyone suffering from it can tell you it doesn’t exist. The fear is real, absolutely, but it isn’t a fear of high places; it’s a fear of falling from them.

Last summer I stood at the highest point of a most likely unimpressive cliff and stared down at the little pool of water I was meant to aim for. No way was I going to hit that bullseye the way everyone else seemed to. Not me. I would be the one person who tripped on a rock while leaping and fell headlong into the cliff face. I fully expected to get beaten to a bloody pulp by rocks and shrubs on the way down. I stood there far too long convincing myself of the inevitability of it.

I felt the same way over the last several weeks or so, standing at the edge of another cliff: publishing. The fear of falling is just so intense. I often feel like a complete coward. (Jas had to get it from somewhere, right?)

I didn’t jump off that literal cliff last summer. I backed away and gave up. I slid off the waterfall instead, which was awesome, by the way. But the new cliff—the one that has terrified me for years—I just hurled myself over the edge.

I finally listed Titan Magic for sale at Amazon, and I’m working on getting it up at Barns & Noble, too. You can read the first chapter here, and decide whether you want to find out what happens next.

I hope you do.

Also, The Other Lamm wants me to assure you that the waterfall pictured above is only a tiny fraction of the one I actually slid from. I was shaking too much to get a picture of the big one. Just so you know.