Why do you write?
I am not trained to do anything else.
You are known as a writer who addresses distasteful things. What is the most distasteful thing you own?
I have a small collection of anatomical coin purses. One is stamped Genuine Kangaroo Scrotum. Another is made from the hide of a cane toad (with arms, but minus the legs, and with a zipper across the mouth). The Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh has in its collection a wallet made from the skin of the executed 19th-century bodysnatcher William Burke, so I feel I’m in respectable company. I see on the side of my Gmail page just now that one can purchase Leather Biker Wallets. Presumably made FOR not OF…
You usually write about the human body. Space seems like a departure, no?
Nope. Packing for Mars is about the human body in space. Strange, very surreal things happen to you without gravity. Name a body part: bladder, brain, stomach, veins, head, penis, muscles, bones, legs, boobs…They’re all affected in ways you cannot imagine. Small example: Without gravity, you can’t burp – or not the way you want to. Air bubbles don’t rise to the top of the stomach, they just hover in the center and expand. Space burps are, to quote one expert, “often accompanied by a liquid spray.” That’s why astronauts don’t drink carbonated beverages.
Which book of yours — Stiff, Spook, Bonk or Packing for Mars — is your favorite?
This question fascinates me, or rather the answer does. I wonder if other authors feel as I do: That to express a preference for one book over another feels as strange and wrong as a parent stating that she/he prefers one child over another. One of the many (okay, two) parallels between writing a book and having a child. The other is that you invariably forget how painful the delivery was and remember it as joyful and fulfilling, and you eagerly sign on for another one. (Or so I’ve heard. I have stepkids, which are not delivered vaginally.)
Why is your new title more than one word?
I couldn’t come up with a good, sassy one-syllable title. Orbit was under consideration, but sounded like a book about chewing gum. I liked The Wrong Stuff, but that seemed to invite comparison with The Right Stuff, and that seemed ill-advised.
What is your favorite blog about books?
This one, bien sur! Running a close second is LibraryThing, and I’ll tell you one reason why. A woman, or maybe it was a man, posted the following comment: “Read and reviewed The Aeneid. I wasn’t very impressed. Next up will be Spook by Mary Roach. Definitely excited to get started!” I did not check back to see how I’d fared.
What is your most embarrassing trait?
I’m cheap. Not stingy, just cheap. I use one end of a Qtip to remove my eye liner and then set it aside until the next day, when I use the other end. I do not, however, rinse dental floss for reuse and hang it over the showerhead to dry. That is some other author.