Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Fixing Ant Holes

This is the week I need to fix a whole bunch of ant holes.

Not holes made by ants. No need to call pest control to mitigate damage caused by hole-gnawing varieties of ants.

I need to fix holes about ants. I need to write all the gaping sections of my book-in-progress about Nora and her ant farm. I've written a full draft now, filled with many hilarious and touching scenes about everything else in the rest of Nora's life. What I've left blank is all the scenes about her ants. Alas, these are fairly crucial scenes in a book entitled The Trouble with Ants. My trouble with ants is that I really don't know as much about them as I should. There is no easy way for me to learn more. And down deep I don't really want to learn more.

Already I've learned quite a bit. I've been reading a brilliant and utterly engrossing book about ants called Journey to the Ants by legendary ant scientists Bert Holldobler and Edward O. Wilson. I've interviewed an ant specialist at Colorado State University. I've posted plaintive inquiries on Facebook (indeed, it was those calls for help that led one friend to suggest that I read Journey to the Ants - thank you, Alice!). But no book or interview can tell me what I really need to know, which is exactly what would happen if a certain nine-year-old girl of my own creation conducted certain experiments on her own ant farm.

The only way to know that, alas, would be actually to get an ant farm and do those same experiments myself. Well, I did get an ant farm. All of the ants died. And also - oh, this is the terrible thing to confess - I hated my ants and dreaded the very sight of them. Nora, my protagonist, has inexhaustible fascination with ants. I don't. The sad truth is that I'm more like the other girls in Nora's class at school. I'm a cat person. I'm becoming sort of a reluctant dog person. But I'm not, and show no signs of ever becoming, an ant person.

So I'm searching the internet for ant experiments done by kids and how they turned out. I have one I think I'm going to use, though this means trusting that the details given in that post were roughly correct. I'm reminding myself that after all, I'm not writing a nonfiction book about ants. I'm writing a novel about a girl who loves ants. I think - I hope - my readers will be okay if I'm fairly light on ant details and more generous with details about Nora's reactions to the high tea her frenemy Emma hosts for her adored cat, Precious Cupcake.

When I'm all done with the book, I'll try to find an ant expert to read it to make sure I don't have anything too hideously wrong. That should help.The other two books in the series are going to focus on other aspects of Nora's life. Ants will still be present, but they'll recede into the background, which is just fine with me.

But for now, I have some ant holes to fix. So I'm not dreaming of a white Christmas, where the tree tops glisten and children listen for sleigh bells in the snow.

I'm dreaming of ants.


  1. Given how hard you've worked to uncover truths about ants, and how lacking the information seems to be, I think it's safe to bet that your readers will be considerably less knowledgeable than you on the subject of ants. And, as to ants receding to the background, that's just how they like it. Underground, in fact. :)

    1. Ha! Yes, this is all most comforting. Of course my terror is that some brilliant ant expert will have a child who reads my book, and then the brilliant ant expert will light up the internet with scorn for me and my book. But admittedly, that's unlikely.

  2. Not research, but I hope you read (or reread) the ant section in T.H. White's The Once and Future King (the first one: Sword in the Stone?) where Wart is turned into an ant. Brilliant, political, and funny as anything! Sally

  3. I haven't, Sally. Sounds like it should move to the top of my reading list! Wishing you the merriest of Christmas and a happy writing new year.