MARCH 29, 2012
Do you write long and cut, or short and backfill?
I try to be very workmanlike about writing for a general audience (as opposed to the more technical scientific writing I do for journals), and once I’ve assembled my sources I make myself write 1,000 words a day, more or less. The scary thing is that although of course sometimes I feel inspired and sometimes it is just gut-wrenching to wring out those 1,000 words, usually when I go back and read what I wrote, I can’t tell the difference. But I have attempted to wean myself from that “I am so precious I can only write when the moon is full and I have sixteen hours of uninterrupted time and I have exactly the right caffeine level” attitude.
Have you ever been defeated by a genre?
Many of them, in fact all of them except nonfiction. I often think I would be good at fiction if only I could come up with a plot. I’m actually reasonable at dialogue, but I can’t imagine how all those novelists manage to get their characters to do things that keep a reader’s attention.
Are you okay with blood?
As a biologist, I’m more than okay with it, though it does not often feature in my writing. Well, I take that back: I talked quite a bit about it in my second book, which is about disease and evolution. I take pride in being what a blogger for the New York Times calls “the person I contact when I want to know about something icky.” This includes more than blood, of course. I am also, for reasons unclear to me, something of the go-to person for information on gay penguins.
What are you so afraid of?
Death, terrible reviews, being ignored — isn’t everyone?
What’s the question or questions we should have asked, had we known?
Who do you want to be like when you grow up?
Long ago, I said that I wanted to grow up to exemplify the best of Charles Darwin and Joan Jett, a combination that most people find, inexplicably to me at least, jarring.