Who Needs a Spark When You Can Have a Bite?

People sometimes ask me if nature inspires my work. Sometimes it does. Sometimes not in the way you'd think. I'm gearing up to go to a miniature book conference in August, and I'm pretty excited about it--mainly because this is way out of my comfort zone. I don't make tiny books (officially, to qualify as a "miniature," a book must be smaller than 3 inches in any dimension). For my non-dainty fingers, this can be a nightmare. But I was intrigued by the conference, and figured I should take some books to sell. It occurred to me that they should probably be miniature.

I've been in that place where work (read: jobs) has eaten up virtually all of my time, so I haven't done any printing since (gasp) February. So I thought if I gave myself a deadline in conjunction with this conference, that would be the kick in the pants that I needed to make some books.

I had that idea back in April. How many books have I made? Zero. How many ideas did I have to fit this miniature bill? Zero. I've taught writing classes for years that were focused on generating ideas and getting past writer's block--in fact, I'm teaching one right now. But still, I found myself completely devoid of any ideas that seemed book-worthy. I was stumped and couldn't follow my own advice. And it felt a lot like that time I quit going to the gym for a few months and then went back and realized I'd forgotten how the training circuit worked.

If I'm lucky, I get one day off every week, and try hard to spend part of it outside. Lately, that meant reading "50 Shades" and working on my tan. (The lack of trees in Iowa is good for that). This became a pattern for the last few Sundays--a ritual of me spreading out a quilt (my bug barrier), lying down with a book, and hoping the corn farmers didn't come to check on the crop in the adjacent field while I was working on…er…erasing my tan lines.

I was horrified at some point during each of these sessions, when some unidentified green insect chomped down on me. The first two times, I smacked it so hard that there was no hope of naming the species. On the third day, I took the mangled body inside for my roommate to identify with her pocket guide to carnivorous North American insects. She'd thought I was making this up, I think--a green biting insect in the yard? Surely not...

look at those gigantic teeth!
For those of you keeping score, it turned out to be a katydid nymph. Ravenous little bastards that they are, they apparently bite down on anything that sits still. Anyone who's talked to me lately will recognize that this is part of an ongoing battle being waged right here in the heart of Iowa--it seems that all of the biting, stinging insects of the midwest have declared me quite tasty, and therefore I've been fighting them off and complaining about it for months. So yeah, I've had insects on the brain.

But the point of all this is that on the fourth Sunday, when the fourth critter bit me right in the armpit, I thought of other things that had come back to bite me over the years, and the writer section of my brain lit up--carnivorous insect as metaphor! there's a failed love story in there somewhere!--and there was the spark that led to the idea that is now my current work in progress, to be completed in miniature form. A series of four collapsible books, an entomologist's tale of woe.

So yes, nature sometimes inspires me. Sometimes it bites me right in the ass. Sometimes that's exactly what we creative types need.