Above: The cover of one of the genuine ‘Miss Spider’ books. This is the (surely) beloved Miss Spider. David Kirk has a dozen-plus books out. The rhyme is charming, and the art blows me away. The images are gorgeously composed.
Any sort of writing is a challenge, but to write verse is double the struggle.
I want my verse to rhyme exactly, not almost. My prose storytelling is written in a conversational voice. My verse is as well. I want my language to be natural, though flavorful, and my story progression to make total sense, while hitting my rhyme-sounds without undue manipulation of sentence structure. (Except for breaking lines apart to cue pauses.)
The snippet I show below was trying. The rest of the six-hundred words came fairly easily. I’ve worked on these few lines for the better part of two days. I’ve had many versions of the ‘Bettie Page’ area, tried to convince myself they were good enough, and failed.
Miss Spider has been on a dinner date with Woodie. They’ve seen Peggy Flea’s show at the Cobweb Club. He’s looking forward to a night of romance. So is she, but she plans fun of a nastier character.
This piece is close to finished, in two days. I have other things I’ve worked on for two decades. When I can’t solve a problem, I put it aside, and hope to come back to it with a new approach to the area in question. I generally throw out the problematic lines so I can’t refer back to them and have my thoughts heading down the same dead-end path. I still have rhymes that I wince over in many of my pieces. I regard them as place-holders, until a better combo pops into my head.
I write narrative verse, telling a true story, with a plot. I want my rhymes to be perfect sound repetitions, and I want them to be surprising, not low-hanging fruit. To achieve this goal, I do resort to structural gymnastics. Some of my rhymes land on the one word of a two-part phrase. In the direst circumstances (not here) I have my crucial syllable skulking in the midst of a multi-syllable word, requiring the line to be treated as prose, the match making itself known in the reading.
Where necessary, I pad my meter with interjections: Ha. Whoa. Hey. Lord, Lord. As I do in my fiction, I inject myself into the proceedings. This gives me additional ways to lay my hands on a solution, and adds a bit more fun.
Sometimes I can’t find the words to say exactly what I’d like (or need, even worse) to say, and I resort to make-do second-best. That never works. I can’t kid myself. In the end I rip down the structure I’ve labored over and start anew.
My idea here is to mimic the look and feel of the popular ‘Miss Spider’ series for children: smiley-face cartoon bugs (I’d have a hard time identifying Miss Spider as a spider, expect for all the legs), a landscape format, high-gloss cardboard stock with rounded corners. The art is rendered in bright primary colors. As far as mimicking the look perfectly goes, I’ve already shot myself in the foot. (I love the idea of Miss Spider ending up in Bettie-Page-style peek-a-boo underwear, catching unsuspecting parents by surprise. The series is aimed at very young children, who would need to be read to.)
The original has no footnotes. No sidebars. And certainly no Miss Spider in corselette, garter belt, and mesh stockings. Nor does the genuine Miss Spider have a brass bed furnished with hand cuffs, awaiting her fling of the night. (Spider females eat the male after mating. This is her strategy for seeing to it that the process goes smoothly.)
Scene: Miss Spider and her date, having enjoyed Miss Peggy Flea’s show, are returned to her apartment. This is the text for a two-page spread (of a projected twenty-four page book).
This is my most difficult section for intricacy of phrasing. I think I’ve solved my problems with flow. If I haven’t, I would appreciate it if you would let me know, and I’ll continue to fiddle with it.
They’re ensconced on her couch.
She croons, “Cuddlebug, you into games, babe?
Sit tight. I’ll be back in a few.
“Close your eyes, hon,” she calls from the next room,
“until I give out with the cue.” There’s a pause.
Then a shrill, gleeful, drawn-out “taa-daaaaaa!“
(So am I.)
Mae’s a sight to behold, in . . .
let’s see now . . . in thigh-high boots . . .
French corselette . . . crotchless panties.
The boy’s dumbfounded, people, wigged out.
He is floored.
Bettie Page,* eat your heart out.
Miss Spider, petite as she is, gotta say it.
This chick has you beat.
She’s got eight shapely legs.
In mesh hose hooked to a garter belt.
Hey! I wore one of those.
Curious, ain’t cha?
You’re dying to know more on that, I should think.
Here ya go. See below.**
* Bettie Page was an American model who gained notoriety in the 1950s for being photographed in naughty underwear.
** Pantyhose wasn’t always a thing. Dancer Ann Miller invented it in the nineteen-fifties to facilitate quick changes. In fifties Florida, we wore garter belt and stockings to church, and on any fancy occasion. A garter belt was uncomfortable at any time, twice as bad in the Florida heat. The pre-pantyhose years were also the pre-AC years, at least for folks of modest income.
I have a scene in The Rogue Decamps in which my archbishop (who writes verse) tells the King of Haute-Navarre: “if you see me with my head bowed, I’m generally running rhymes through my head, looking for a match that works for me.” This is what I do. I know that behavior well.
I cannibalize my life. There’s a bunch of me in every one of my characters.
I have Celestine, I have Gaudy Night, I have five or six short picture books in progress, giving glimpses of Sly’s childhood. All these are verse, and they all have plenty of those ‘placeholder’ words that nag at me, that still need work. I’m frequently running possibilities through my cranium, looking for that Aha! solution.
I live with my cast of whackos 24/7. I’ve lived with them for decades. And they still fascinate me. Bear that in mind when give you another post on my critters. It’s a compulsion.
That’s my best, and only, defense.
I will be submitting Miss Spider’s Dinner Date to Rabbit Hole V. The theme of the next issue is Just Plain Weird. I figure this qualifies. Whether or not Rabbit agrees with me, I’ve got the start of another series.
And another paper doll.