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Tell Me - Michael Pogach

(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)


Spiders, Gods, and Monsters

“What’s your book called?” I’ve been asked a couple dozen times since I announced its upcoming release.

The Spider in the Laurel.”

“Oh. Is there a real spider in it?” is the inevitable next question.

This is where I get stuck. I want to say, “Yes, there is a real spider in it, insomuch as the gods and monsters we write about in sci-fi and fantasy are real.”

But I see the look. Spiders are creepy. Scary. I’m not buying a novel with a spider in the title, and on the cover, and in the damn book.

So I say, “No, the spider is a metaphor. A part of a fairy tale actually.”

“I like fairytales. Which one?”

Now I’m stuck again. If I say that it’s a brand new fairy tale that I made up, I get a new look. I’ll believe you wrote a hundred thousand word novel. But a brand new fairy tale. Come on, author-man. I’m not buying it.

I take the easy way out. I change the subject. I start talking about the novel’s title. It spent more than half its life being called Genesis Lied. I liked the title. It came out of a spit-balling session with my writers group at California Pizza Kitchen. I like it, but I didn’t love it. I stayed on the lookout for something better.

That something better arrived in the form of a 120 year old Herman Melville poem I found while searching for epigraphs for the book. The line, sort of the poem’s volta, just sang. I snatched it like a six year old pocketing a three pound gummy bear in a candy store – no thought for result or consequence.

The new title vanquished the old. But a new trouble arose. My novel had nothing to do with spiders, laurels, or Herman Melville. I had to take a step back. Re-see and reevaluate.

I’d already built an entire new mythos for the book by reinterpreting Mesopotamian and Minoan mythology, weaving this through Biblical tradition, and tying it to a little-known (at least, little-known outside of Europe) Dark Age relic called the Vase of Soissons.

But the thing about mythology is that it’s macro, by definition. It’s all about explaining origins and defining archetypes. That sense of scale, that aloofness, had pervaded the entire story. It had turned my characters into types, not people. I needed to re-humanize them.

The solution came to me while I was shopping in a bookstore with my wife, choosing which fairytale collections we wanted for our soon-to-be-born (at the time) daughter.

I set to, right away, thumb-typing into my phone’s ‘memo’ app. Fairytales, you see, are the next step in any mythology. They break from explaining the universal, and focus instead on teaching the individual. What better way is there for a parent to teach a child not to judge a book by its cover, or to beware strangers, or perhaps – as Simon teaches his daughter MacKenzie in my novel – to trust her heart most when the danger of betrayal is at its highest.

“Long ago, when it was still good to wish for a thing,” I wrote, “there was a red-haired princess in a kingdom by the sea.”

I wrote the whole fairytale in a day. I gave it to MacKenzie for safe keeping. And yes, there is a spider in it. But it’s only as real as gods and monsters. And when have they ever prevented a good night’s sleep or a happily ever after?

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Michael Pogach is the author of the sci-fi thriller The Spider in the Laurel. He began writing stories in grade school. He doesn’t remember these early masterpieces, but his parents tell him everyone in them died. He’s gained some humanity since then, and has been known to allow characters to survive his tales these days. You can find his stories in journals such as New Plains Review, Third Wednesday, and Workers Write, as well as the chapbook Zero to Sixty. He is hard at work on two more novels, countless more stories, and keeping his infant daughter from eating everything she can reach. Michael's website is: www.michaelpogach.com.

Release date for The Spider in the Laurel is Sept 21.