I was going to expound on one of my Facebook discussion threads about book chucking, a more physical way to critique books, but I just bought a Kindle, so my book chucking days are nearly over. Though, when I do chance upon a paperback nowadays, I find myself testing its weight in my hand and imagining its possible trajectories across my library/study/bedroom/living room/kitchen studio apartment. It’s rough, you know; I now have little reason to throw a book across my room, especially when I really like the book, and—Lawdbabyjeebus!—I would never throw my Kindle, even in a room filled with goose down and sprinkled with anti-grav powder.
• As a side note: My Kindle has been less than awesome lately. Apparently if you waver too far off the canon or any best sellers lists, the book isn’t available. I couldn’t get A. B. Guthrie’s western trilogy (there’s a fourth one, too, but suppose-ably it ain’t awesome*), and for a guy who used to wake up at four in the morning to watch black and white “cowboy shows,” which is what I called them as an eight year old, this development in the Kindle biz is pretty devastating. Used to love it. Now I like it. However, I did find out that you can put text files on the thing. So, when I’m really depressed after receiving another ten rejections or so, I turn my story into a text document and put it on the ol’ Kindle. Then I’m able to browse my library file where I find Mark Rapacz right under William Trevor.
But this is not what I want to write about! As a featured guest blogger on blogagaard, I wanted to write about something far more serious than my petty problems with e-self-publishing as an attempt to belly rub my ego.
It comes down to a trope: an animal trope that I’ve been noticing everywhere in fiction. Everywhere! Maybe it’s not happening all that often. But it’s happening enough to irritate the [S H word] out of me.
If you were to take literary fiction as factual information, as opposed to literary truth, you would assume that there must be a plague of locusts making its way across the greater U.S.A. Well, not locusts per se, but cicadas. Ci-freaking-cadas, which are often incorrectly assumed to be locusts.**
Still, like the locusts of Biblical fictions, cicadas are everywhere in real fiction—buzzing, flitting, taking alien breaths of the many. It’s as if we writers forgot how to write in silence. Instead, we’ve inserted this insect into the spaces where silence once settled, calm, quiet, … ahem … silently. Aye! But now we’ve got the buzzing of the cicadas!
I ran into it again in a work of striking brilliance by a contemporary writer, but the moment I got to the “buzz saw whine of the cicadas” I very nearly critiqued the book in the only way I knew how: *see above.
Now, I love animals. I love insects. And I love cicadas. But I don’t like reading about cicadas—in fiction. There are 900,000 different species of known insects on the planet. Of these 900,000 species, 2,500 are cicadas. Why are we denying 897,500*** species of insects to perpetuate a cliché in writing? Just once, I want a writer to talk about a summer evening and reference the unison hissing of a colony of Madagascar hissing cockroach—which, you know, is impossible outside a zoo, pet store, or Madagascar, but for the most part the buzzing of cicadas is being used improperly as well.
For a cicada to sing, to play its tymbals, it has to be hot. It has to be in the mid-80s (29 C) for them to really get going. I’ve read stories where cicadas are playing in early spring, late fall, early mornings, etc., at times and during seasons when cicadas just would not sing. The time has to be right. And in Minnesota, where I and Davey Blogagaard hail, this is a very slim window. The average temperature for an entire summer is only 70 degrees in Minnesota (yes, it’s true), and there are really only 2 months out of the year, July and August, when the temperature will hit those mid-80s averages necessary for the cicada songs. Even then, you’ll only be hearing them during the hottest times of the day, which would be between the hours of 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
So, Minnesota writers, if you want to put the cicada song in your next story, you’ll have to make sure that your characters are doing something outside on a late afternoon in either July or August for it even to be plausible. I guess that means during a lot of barbecues. Of course, you do have an out; you could always say you took artistic license because it further emphasized a greater truth within your narrative. But that’s sort of, well, the weenie way to go about it.
It is true that there is a great deal of regional and cultural symbolism to the song of the cicada, and maybe this is why it’s so prevalent. But, really, I think we’ve read enough of them for the next 200 or so years. Heck, with climate change and everything, the cicada’s song may truly become as ubiquitous as its representation in modern fiction.
If you can’t stop yourself from writing about cicadas in the same way I can’t stop myself from writing about mega-piranhas or Grolar bears****, I suggest the following pointers:
1. You can use Brood X because it sounds way cool. They are a subspecies of cicada that emerge every 17 years by the billions, and their sound is described as a roar. They popped in 2004 and won’t reemerge until 2021, so, you know, make sure you set your story at this time otherwise you’ll be breaking the rules … or whatever.
2. They can be used in food, as in they are the food that one of your characters eats. Or better yet, you can eat them yourself. They are high-protein, low-fat, and no carbs. You can deep fry them, cover them in chocolate, or—as we do so well in ‘Sota—deep fry them and cover them in chocolate and skewer them on a stick. They’re also part of the same phylum as lobsters, crayfish, crab, and shrimp, so when you grab one of them off the limb of a tree in your backyard, you can pretend you’re eating at some fancy schmancy joint like Red Lobster or Bubba Gump Shrimp.
3. They can be used as accessories, like jewelry my grandma would wear. Basically, many-limbed pins and brooches.
4. A character can keep one as a pet. Or, you could have one has a pet, but they don’t live very long; again, I recommend Madagascar hissing cockroaches, which are known to be docile, sometimes even friendly, and they live up to three years.
5. Finally, if you’re a hipster who enjoys irony and snark in your writing, you can pull the whole “I’m cooler than thou” card and create a writer character who overuses cicadas in his or her own work to highlight your own superiority to such things.
6. Actually … I think that’s about it.
* Would you call that a quadrology?
** Locusts are a form of short-horned grasshoppers.
*** I’m no mathologist, so is that even correct?
**** Grolar bears are a hybrid species of Grizzlies and Polar bears. They cannot bear offspring.
Mark Robert Rapacz was born in Minnesota in 1981. He is the author of many short stories, many of which have appeared in online and print journals. His story “The Stone the Builder's Refused,” which originally appeared in the Water~Stone Review, was nominated for the 2011 Pushcart Prize and received their Special Mention distinction. Recently, “The Rivermutts of Pig’s Eye,” which was first published in the Southern Humanities Review was nominated for New Stories from the Midwest. Another of his works is under consideration for the Best of the Web series by Dzanc Books. Rapacz currently lives and works as an editor in Seoul, South Korea, but makes his home in Minneapolis, Minnesota.