I used to be afraid of spiders.
This is not to say that I’m blasé about them now. They still make me nervous. But considering that for most of my life, even talking about spiders was a recipe for disaster (a former stepfather reduced me to hysterical tears once by describing tarantulas), the fact that I can now simply track a spider’s location and continue my work is a sign of my increasing maturity and badassitude.
I don’t kill spiders anymore, either. I’ve become one of those people who accepts that spiders largely ignore humans but get rid of much more annoying bugs and are therefore pretty awesome to have around. I can even look at a big macro close-up of a spider without fainting. How else could I have made I See the Web‘s original cover?
How did I accomplish this? How did I overcome this fear?
It started my freshman year of college with one incident that I remember very clearly. I was driving up the highway in my red Pontiac Grand Prix, windows down because I didn’t have air conditioning, when I noticed a small black spider clinging for dear life to the top of my side mirror.
Hell is being stuck in a car with a bee or spider while driving by yourself with no one available to kill the demon-spawn.
I rolled up my window tout suite to keep it from flying in on me and watched it during my whole twenty-minute drive. I kept hoping it would fly off and die already, I even drove faster to try and dislodge it. But the little bugger wouldn’t let go. About halfway through this ordeal, when I realized the spider wasn’t going to fly off and die, I started cheering for it. I hoped it would make it all the way up to the college with me. And it did.
I recreated this scene in the first pages of I See the Web, when Erin watches a tiny black spider from across the room for an hour, coaxing it to leave and feeling kind of sad when a bat flies in and possibly kills her little “frenemy.” Writing I See the Web really solidified my not-fear of spiders; I learned not to be afraid of them right along with Erin.
I think it’s important to remember the fact that writing, especially writing beyond our comfort zone, helps us grow as storytellers and as people. Reading beyond our comfort zone does the same thing. That is why we need diverse books. That’s why we as white authors, we as cis authors, have to step beyond writing characters that resemble us and stories that match ours.
My “journey” to overcoming my fear of spiders with I See the Web is a laughably small one, but learning about Deaf culture and experience in order to write a new character, Miranda, is not. Learning about Vietnamese culture and the lives of Vietnamese and other Asian Americans to inform my writing of Judy and Julian Vo is not. Learning about the experiences of genderqueer and gender non-conforming people to flesh out my understanding of my character Blythe is not. Learning to empathize with and write these characters from a place of respect and love, and to connect that to real people like them, is not a small journey.
Writing from my own “diverse” labels is not small, either. Writing queer characters, like Erin and Dawn, makes sense to me. (Shameless promo sidebar: I See the Web is now available on Amazon!) Writing atheist characters makes sense to me.
And maybe, hopefully, readers of all stripes and spots will see themselves in these characters, to any small or large degree, and we’ll be one step closer to dismantling the cultural ignorance that allows bigotry to flourish.