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When Research Changes Your Life


Conventions are all the rave lately. For example, there’s the infamous Comic con, which hits all the major cities. But conventions or “cons” as they’re called, don’t stop with the comic book world. There are cons for anime series and video games and even television shows. And if I was more hip and more into the world at large, I would probably be able to list a dozen more sub categories of cons. But I’m not. I know they’re a big deal and that people spend lots of money, time, and resources to go to them, but I’ve never taken part.

Until now.

At the beginning of April, me, my husband, and our daughter Meadow went down to Denver (that’s a two hour drive!) to go to Repticon. That’s right – a convention for reptiles.   

I spent most of last year working on my third novel And Then Came A Spider. It’s slated to release later this year, but the point about that novel that matters to this blog post is that last year while I was still hashing that book out, I decided that it needed a spider (this was before it was titled And Then Came A Spider – tarantulas weren’t in the original plan). Now, at first the tarantula was going to play a minor role. But, having never owned a tarantula or even seen one in person, I was at a loss of how to write about it. I wanted it to be realistic – its movements, its habits, the enclosure it was going to be kept in – everything. So, like any good writer, I decided to do research.

I looked online at first, but in the end I bought a book. According to everything I read and or watched about tarantulas and how to care for them, The Tarantula Keeper’s Guide is the Bible of the hobby. It turned out to be interesting, and informative and before I even got halfway through, my curiosity over these things that I’ve always been afraid of, started to grow. Soon, I was no longer just reading so I could make my fictional spider come off as real in my latest book. No, at some point I realized that I was reading because I wanted a tarantula of my own.


And so for my birthday last year, my husband bought me my first tarantula. We named him Giles, after the British food critic Giles Coren. Having Giles has been a learning experience from day one. Tarantulas aren’t like any other pet. Their list of oddities could span the ocean, which is beyond fascinating to me. And that’s probably why on Valentine’s Day this year, I got my second tarantula – a little curly hairball we named Wednesday. 

Now we’re up to present day. Or almost present day via a few weekends ago. Having never been to Repticon (or anything like it) before I wasn’t sure what to expect. I figured there would be lots of snakes and lizards there, which wouldn’t be all bad. Before we had kids, my husband and I kept snakes. Secretly, I think my husband misses having one of those slithering darlings around. But for tarantulas, I wasn’t sure how many would be there, if any.

To my great delight, there were more eight-legged bundles of joy than I figured. There were also baby pigs, hedgehogs, sugar gliders, turtles, and there was even a rescue organization that brought in owls, pigeons, and hawks. The owl was the cutest.

Back to the tarantulas, I had my heart set on finding my first arboreal species. My two tarantulas at home are terrestrials, and for the week before the show, my husband had been working on making me a custom-made enclosure for our hopeful new addition. I had a list in my head of which tarantulas I’d be looking for. I won’t go into them, but let’s say that I found two out of the five on my hit list.

The first one I found was way too small. The little guy was maybe half an inch (diagonal leg span is how tarantulas are measured) or smaller and that’s too small for me. I’m not ready for that kind of responsibility, and so I moved to the next table. And the next and the next. We saw dozens of tarantulas, but none of them were what I was looking for. There was the “Skeleton tarantula” on one table, which I’ve always wanted. Ever since I started into the hobby, the Skeleton (aka Ephebopus murinus) immediately caught my attention, but since it’s not recommended for beginners, I hadn’t yet gotten one. But on this day, my first thought was that it’s not arboreal, so I passed it by. That’s when I saw one that was on my list. But it wasn’t the one I was really searching for. I knew my husband would not appreciate me buying two tarantulas at once, so I wanted to be careful which one I chose, and so I decided to keep looking before buying.

After not finding anything else, I decided to go back for the one I saw earlier, but by the time I got there (it was crowded!) someone else had already taken it. I tell you, I was heartbroken. I cursed myself for hesitating and in desperation I took Meadow with me and we started circling the tables to see if maybe we missed something. We walked around a good three times before we gave up and went to sit with my husband.

His words to me were, “So you’re going to go home without one?”

It took me all of three seconds after that to turn and look at Meadow and say, “Let’s go buy a spider.” And so we did. We went straight to the table where the Skeleton tarantula had been. There was actually two of them, but the one was full grown and was kind of intimidating looking, since they have the reputation of being a little on the pissy side. The other one – the one we bought – was little, maybe an inch and a half or so, which is smaller than both Wednesday and Giles. But it was big enough that I felt confident in my ability to care for him.

And so we paid for the little spider that looked like it was wearing a skeleton suit. He’s not an arboreal species, so the custom cage my husband made is still sitting empty. But overall, I think the trip went well. Our new little guy (who’s not only a burrower but is also classified as a swamp dweller…so lots of breaking new ground for us in terms of husbandry) is doing well so far. He’s already eating like a pig and making webs in his new home, which is a good sign. And, for the record, he wasn’t pissy with me at all when I moved him from the deli cup I bought him in to the enclosure that is now his. 

We named him Sebastian. 

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And Then Came A Spider isn’t all about tarantulas, but my reading about this incredible species had a huge affect on the story. Look for its release this summer. Until then, check out the book trailers for my other two novels: The Flames of Guilt and Horns & Halos: Against The Giant.

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