As a kid, I dug grass away from our water meter to see what might be hidden underneath the rusty metal lid. Last week it was our plumber’s turn. He cut off the water to fix a leak in the kitchen and a minute later came in the front door and said, “You have a black widow spider.”

Instantly I was 8-years-old and followed him and his flashlight outside to the dark cavern of the water meter to scoop the spider out with a stick before it got away (and perhaps closer to the house). Its legs curled up as it tried to play dead on the grass, revealing two red markings on its belly including a perfect red hourglass—like artwork made with a tiny paintbrush.

As the plumber and I knelt there like two elementary school kids, the teenager next door pulled up in front of the house. An invitation to come see the spider got a quick, “Um, no thanks.” Maybe at some point we gravitate back to the wonders of our childhood. During the teen years…apparently not.

I found a glass bottle and cut a slice in the metal lid before wondering just how narrow a slit that spider could crawl through. I slid our 8-legged guest into the container and shut it while the spider was still playing possum. It could hang out in the front yard until I knew what to do with the cool but seriously creepy creature.

A web search (the electronic kind) of black widows said we had a female, poisonous to children and the elderly (not that she was all that great for adults) yet non-aggressive. But if you accidentally brush against one…well, you’ll know it later.

I read my Animal Medicine book and saw a spider’s message is: CREATE. Whoa. Tomorrow we would do just that at a 3-day writing workshop on revision.Flyer

One of the many mantras of revising is: “Kill your darlings.” Who does that more than a female black widow who devours her companions at the end of a date? With about 25 writers at the retreat, there would be lots of creating (and carnage of our manuscripts).

When my husband got home, I led him to the glass bottle. I’ll leave out his response since I write for middle-graders. He is a gentle soul so I asked his advice on what to do and got an immediate, “she’s not staying here” like the spider is some obnoxious old friend breezing through town.

Next I thought about emailing a friend visiting Bhutan that week. Those enlightened souls are the epitome of “do not harm.” Then I decided she might have better things to do there than interrogate monks about arthropods.

An hour later, I drove down the road with a spider in the cup holder. A dead end about a half a mile away from any houses would be her new home. Once there, I opened the lid and swung my arm out toward the field to set her free. This would have been an inspirational moment had I not leapt around as if on fire, wondering if the breeze had blown her onto my clothes. Maybe wearing a black shirt and sweatpants to fling a poisonous spider into the wind isn’t a good idea.

Back home, I asked my husband to see if I had anything on me. “You mean, like a spider!” he asked. I shrugged. “I’m sure she’s in the field…it’s just for my peace of mind.” (And the fact that I’d used his car.)

Ready to "kill our darlings"

Ready to “kill our darlings”

As I got ready for the writing workshop, I decided the spider’s message for the retreat may not just be the mantra, “kill your darlings” but also to devour that which no longer serves us so we can give birth to new life. I’m referring to your manuscripts here, not your dates. We’ll leave that to the black widow.

P.S. Oh, and let me know if you need a good plumber 🙂

(Photos courtesy of Courtney Stevens Potter and the SCBWI Midsouth website).

Do you want to get to know a fictional character better? Pick one or two people (or creatures) from your favorite book. Now dig in and get a real feel for who they are and why they make certain decisions. What would you do in their situation? Characters can reveal your innermost thoughts and beliefs (and of course, show you a good time).

After a spot-on critique with an agent, and attending an energetic conference (thank you SCBWI Midsouth!), I’m challenged with diving in deeper to get to know my main character (Josh). He has this magical creature best friend who dominates my everyday life, so I decide to carve out some quality time with just Josh and me…no boggarts allowed.

Here is what I have so far for the get to-know-your-character adventure:

Sunday—In the car:
I let Josh scan radio stations. As he does, I wonder if he will sing with no shame on being off-key? Maybe he’ll just nod here and there to the beat of the music. Eventually, I know Josh will stare out the window and ask questions I can’t answer. Thank goodness for Google.

Characters don’t do laundry

Monday—Clothes shopping:
I already know how Josh dresses, but while returning a blender to a department store, I take a few minutes to browse the boys section. His cargo pants hang on rack. I get a vision of the dirty clothes, tossed on the beanbag in his bedroom. When I touch the thick material, I see Josh in the woods, stuffing rocks in the over-sized pockets. Some t-shirts make him snarl (metallic iron-on…no way), while others get a nod of acceptance (big black birds with wide-spread wings–cool).

No mild salsa allowed


Tuesday—Grocery store:
Josh leads the way. He drops hot peppers in the cart. He wants onions on everything; I want garlic. He wants the hot salsa. I want mild. He talks me into the medium. 12-yr-olds can be convincing.


Wednesday—Plan for a walk:
What will he talk about, away from the distractions of TV, music, video games or friends? Will he ramble on about outer space, or will funny stories of what happened at school come up? Maybe he will point out things I wouldn’t normally notice, like how the bark on a tree forms a sort of face, if I look at it just right. I’ll bring a camera to photograph nature from his perspective. He might have problems to discuss or an embarrassing moment to confess. I haven’t heard him…I’ve been too busy plotting his life for the next year, to get a feel for how the possible series would develop. Now that it has come full circle and I see how it ends, I’ll let Josh make me laugh or cry as I see life unfold in his everyday world.

Written on September 18th, 2012 , Uncategorized Tags: ,
Debbie Emory

Making Magic Out of Everyday Moments