As some of you may know, I write some of my stories in a setting that’s an alternate version of our world inhabited by hybrid characters–visually humans with animal bits tacked on as opposed to full anthromorphs. What you might not know is how much I agonize over how it will be received once I complete something. You might think then that I’m putting the cart before the horse a bit, after all I’ve got nothing to show for the setting aside from a couple story drafts. Well, I’ve had those two stories workshopped and the question that always comes up is: what does Tess being a spider mean?
Of course, to me, Tess being a spider doesn’t mean anything, its just who she is. Yet I get the nagging feeling that’s not how people will see it. While I’m pretty sure I’ve not wandered into dangerous territory of actively being terrible, like this author, I’m still worried that people’s perceptions of what animals represent will cause people to see implied or even overt racism. For instance, suppose a character has lion heritage. Would it be racist if he wore his mane in dreadlocks and was rastafarian? I’m not sure, though it’s pretty stereotypical it’s also something I came up with actively, drawing on both logical and emotional connections (I’m sure all those Bob Marley posters with Lions super imposed over him don’t help). What about something I didn’t even make with an aweness of it, how far off the deep end could it be taken?
I guess in that regard I can’t worry about it. Do my best to avoid I need to get my foot stuck in my throat before I know and that means getting back to writing, which I’ll go do know. Catch ya’ll next week.
Synopsis/Background – Jump to Story
One of my goals for my first semester was to write a short story. Not a novel chapter, not a novella that I’d crammed into a tiny space, but a standalone narrative with a beginning, middle and end. That said, this Tess mystery is still part of something larger—think of it as something like the Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple short stories—but I feel it accomplishes that goal of having a narrative singularity.
As a note, the setting is a bit Sci-Fi/Alternate Reality, with primates not being the sole recipients of the “sapience gene.” Though I’ve not quite hammered down all the details, the history does stay pretty close to our own as most of the exceptions are pre-history and end up ironed out by the natural course of events. Yes, I realize that beast people would have greatly altered the course of history, but I’m fairly confident that the major high points would have still happened thanks to the nature of sapience. There would still be leaders, empires, and wars. Conflicts over religion, race, and everything else would still persist. In essence, the names might be different, but the moves and their effects are fairly inevitable.
Anyway, sticking with the Sherlock context, this is after Tess’ Sign of Four and Study In Scarlet cases and is about halfway through Adventures. The principles have already been established and the groundwork for the their relationships laid. The two mains, Kao and Tess, are roommates in Gilligan Hall at River City University.
Tess is at RCU because it is the premiere university for undergraduate creative writing. She has spider in her ancestry which is shown most prominently by her pointed ears and six extra eyes, two in the center of her forehead, one on either temple, and one on either cheekbone; the irises are red and the sclera is black. She is slender, pensive, and styles her hair to hide most of her eyes. She likes playing MMOs.
Kao on the other hand, is going to RCU on a Track and Field scholarship and is a psychology major. Her parents are from Australia and she carries the accent with pride. Kao has ‘roo in her ancestry and as such has their characteristic feet and ears, along with a tail that comes down to the back of her knees. Kao dresses casually, preferring printed t-shirts and loose pants. She is a hardcore PC gamer and does Maui Thai.
The story starts in February, six months into freshman year. People know that Tess solves mysteries about ghosts and the occult, her blog about the cases gets around a thousand hits a day. Their last case was stopping a cult from stealing the silver plates used by President Jefferson for communion. We open as the pair of them walk through historic Citadel Hill towards one of the city’s recent hauntings.
Story – Jump to Top
Tangora Del’Tessa—just Tess, please—and Kao Folsmith stood on the corner opposite of a mansion whose grounds occupied the entire block of 29th and Q in Citadel Hill. The sky was cloudless and the winter evening was tinged with a subtle chill.
“And you’re sure that place isn’t haunted?” Kao asked in a wavering tone. She was bundled up in a heavy black zipper hoodie that bore the letters RCU and came down to her hips. Her long speckled ears were down and back against her scarf. “I saw the news last night. A woman got attacked by the ghost while walking near here.” Her blue eyes darted around the abandoned intersection, looking for any sign of the specter they had come to disprove.
Tess blew her bangs out of her face and shifted in her patch-covered canvas coat. She stared across the street, taking in the huge house for a moment before responding. “Yeah, that place is totally haunted.”
Kao glanced at her roommate, eyebrow quirked and eyes widening. It was so hard to tell when the spider-girl was being serious with her deadpan tone; even now, after six months of living together.
Tess grinned at the expression, “If bad taste could be counted as a haunting, that is. My room is more haunted than this place.”