Why I'm Writing About Spiders, Anyway

As a kid reader, I was obsessed with two series, Goosebumps and Redwall. I read plenty of other books besides, but those two series I read to completion; I even made little note cards to track the patterns from one book to the next, and I wrote Redwall fanfiction that is, mercifully, no longer online.

By the time I got to high school, I had moved on to Edgar Allan Poe and the Lord of the Rings, but the facts remained: I loved high fantasy, and I loved horror. In both genres, there was something about what magic and monsters had to say about the real world that deeply resonated with me. These stories challenged and reaffirmed my feelings of powerlessness as an offbeat kid in small-town Georgia. They met me where I was and helped take me somewhere else. They made me feel a little less strange.

All these years later, I got to combine my favorite elements of fantasy and my favorite elements of horror to write a novel for kid me, The Spider Ring. In it, twelve-year-old Maria inherits a magical ring, but it’s not clear whether it will make her a hero or the kind of revenge-seeking anti-hero you’d find in Poe. That’s because—and maybe I should have mentioned this first—Maria's ring gives her the power to control something very anti-heroic: spiders.

The thing about spiders in fantasy is, they're often inter-generational villains. In the Lord of the Rings, Shelob has been around even longer than Sauron has, biding her time in Cirith Ungol. In Harry Potter, Aragog was raised by Hagrid back when Voldemort was still Tom Riddle. So when Frodo and Sam encounter Shelob, and when Harry and Ron encounter Aragog, you get this sense that the spiders are connecting the web between past evils and present ones. And while our heroes escape these villains alive, both Shelob and Aragog survive as well, ready to play the villain in a new generation’s story, almost as if the story were being passed down—a recurring obstacle, a dark inheritance.

In writing The Spider Ring, I was thinking a lot about how stories are passed down in this way. Stories aren’t just passed down by villains, of course; they are also passed down by communities, by families. Just this Christmas, I was given a letter written by former President Jimmy Carter to my late uncle—an uncle, I’ve always been told, who was a lot like me. And how many of us have had a parent say, “You got that habit from me?” Such traditions are important, and sometimes even good, but what about the family stories we’d rather not inherit? What about the family stories that start to make us feel trapped?  

In The Spider Ring, Maria, feels alienated in her family. She thinks the only relative who truly understands her is her grandma Esme, who is strange in the ways Maria herself feels strange. So when Grandma Esme dies and leaves Maria with her spider ring—a ring that, like Shelob or Aragog, comes with a dangerous past, a recurring obstacle—Maria is torn between wanting to keep her grandma's memory close and wanting to escape to a new story altogether.

In the end, whether Maria’s experience with the ring is a hero’s quest or a horror story is a question you’ll have to unravel for yourself when you read the book. Stories are tangled webs, after all.