Kissing moths, not frogs
Folklore fascinates me, and its younger sibling, the urban myth comes a close second. Once you start looking at them both, you realise there is a hoard of inspiration for writing but also they’re something that thread through much of modern consciousness. When it comes to superstitions, most people claim to be above it all, but there are things that seem to undermine that.
The tear-drinking moth is one of those things.
I thought it was a myth and I casually asked my brother to confirm this. His area of expertise is lepidoptera, and I grew up with bugs of all sorts so I’m deeply grateful that he stuck largely to butterflies and moths as his primary interest. He’s had a room full of tarantulas since I left home, and would like to breed scorpions too. When I mentioned the moth that drinks tears he surprised me. It exists, and he sent me links to some photos of it. It looks harmless enough until you realise that this moth does not merely wait patiently for tears to spill from sleeping eyes, but rather it provokes them. It uses its sharp proboscis to poke the eye and make it water, causing serious irritation and spreads various disgusting diseases. Creepier still is the evolution of a moth that drinks not tears but blood: http://news.nationalgeographic.co.uk/news/2008/10/081027-vampire-moth-evolution-halloween-missions.html
I’d be lying if I said I set out to write a story about the tear-drinking moth. I didn’t. I’d got to a part in a novel I was writing where I needed to step back and look at the narrative from the outside. The novel in question is the third in a series, the first of which is The Bet http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Bet-ebook/dp/B009ISHLYI/ref=la_B00766135C_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1368440880&sr=1-5 , and I was trying to create a penetrating sense of menace, of that creeping sense of being watched. So I stepped outside and in a number of pieces, I became the observer, watching and waiting and plotting. Most of it is liable to sit on my hard-drive, unseen but the short story I named The Moth’s Kiss for its reference to the tear-drinking moth http://www.cracked.com/article_19073_the-8-most-terrifying-diets-in-animal-kingdom.html was obviously capable of standing alone as a story in its own right.
I enjoy writing short stories; it’s a very different discipline to that of writing a novel. As a result I write a few in bursts and often do nothing more with them. I’ve published one collection of shorts, with a theme of ancient deities interacting with the modern world, and I wondered if among the many stories stuffed onto my computer I had sufficient to produce another collection with a theme.
That’s when I had the idea of The Moth’s Kiss as first tale in a sequence of stories with related themes. Initially I thought of it as scary stories, but on reflection I realised that each of the selected tales dips into some well-embedded folklore and urban legends. A Devil’s Pet visits the abiding belief that cats are uncanny and evil. Black Hole is entwined with some quite new beliefs, made widespread by such books as The Secret, that we can draw to ourselves what we need or deserve by merely focusing our thoughts on our goals with sufficient confidence; I took this so-called Law of Attraction and had a little fun with it. Both Green Willow and Bitter Withy incorporate both ancient folklore of the willow tree being the champion of the discarded lover and other more recent legends, such as the oracle of iPods on shuffle.
Each of the ten stories links to some abiding belief whether ancient or modern or a combination of the two. I have heard that Einstein is said to have recommended that for intelligent children you should read them fairy-tales and for more intelligent children, read them MORE fairy-tales. I’m not convinced about the intelligence bit but fairy-tales, folklore, urban legends all emerge from various strata of the collective unconscious and point not just to our primal needs but also our collective primal fears. This is why we can be transported back millennia by a good story well told; it takes us back to a time when that prickling feeling of being watched was worth heeding for it may have meant that Smilodon or other ambush predator was lurking in the long grass licking its lips. Such a tale reminds us of our fragility even in our technological bubble and there’s really nothing like being shocked by a brush with death (even fictional) to make us feel vibrantly alive again.