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My Conversation with Ben H. Winters
Ben H. Winters, the author of Bedbugs and The Last Policeman, agreed to answer some questions for me. He gave some fantastic answers to my questions. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.
Out of curiosity, are you scared of bugs, specifically bedbugs?
Not really, no. Not in particular. I’m scared of heights, and I’m scared of running out of ideas.
What gave you the idea for this book? Did you have an encounter with bedbugs?
Never. Thank God. When I was a kid, I had lice. That’s as close as I’ve gotten. The idea for this book came from a desire to merge two classic kinds of horror/suspense stories: The “is it real or isn’t it?” psychological tale, and the “perfect couple move into perfect house...or is it?” story. Bedbugs seemed a perfect manifestation of evil with which to marry those gorgeous sub-genres for our urban, paranoid era.
How much research did you have to do for this book?
I did a lot of research about bedbugs, of course. Did you know, for example, that they’ve plaguing humanity as long as we’ve been around? You can find references to bedbugs throughout the history of literature: Aristophanes, Shakespeare, George Orwell—and of course, the Rolling Stones in “Shattered.” When Susan finds the revelatory, terrifying book about bedbugs, deep in the archives of the Brooklyn Public Library, a lot of that stuff is informed by research. I think
The Last Policeman
You said that Rusty Schweickart, a former NASA astronaut and asteroid expert, urged you not to write this book. Why did he not think you should write the book?
Because the threat I conjure in The Last Policeman is extremely remote: at this point, based on what we know, the odds of a global-catastrophe-plus asteroid strike areextremely low. Schweickart and his colleagues at the B612 Foundation want to raise public awareness about the slightly less terrifying but much more likely scenario of a big (but not Earth-destroying) strike. I explained to him the narrative imperatives of a world on the brink, but he was unmoved. I promised him that, since I couldn’t change my premise, I would tell everyone about the foundation. So do visit www.B612Foundation.org to see how we can better defend our planet.
Your main character is a police detective. If you were a detective and faced with the same situation as he was encountered, what would you do? Would you insist on solving the supposed crime?
Like many authors of heroic characters, I am keenly aware of the distance between my protagonist’s character and my own. So, sure, I could tell you that I would insist on sticking to my post, as Palace does, and stubbornly stand up for justice in the face of doom, as he does. But, honestly? I would probably be eating a lot of donuts and reading all those books I’ve never gotten around to.
What made you decide on an asteroid as the reason life on Earth was turned upside down? How did you decide on the asteroid's name?
One of the book’s epigraphs is from the Bob Dylan song, “Slow Train Coming,” (which was originally the title of this, by the way). The asteroid worked because I didn’t want a book about the end, per se, I wanted a book about the long, painful buildup to the end—disaster is on the way, but it’s a slow train coming. So a sudden catastrophe, like a nuclear war, wouldn’t fit the bill.
This is supposed the be the first book in a trilogy. What will the second and third books be about? Do you have any parts of them written yet? When should they be released?
I fear that to tell you about books two and three might give away too much about book one. But in each, life continues to unravel as we get closer to the end, and in each, Palace has a new case to solve. Yes, I’ve started writing them, and they should arrive about this time next year, and about this time the year after that! So stay tuned.
How much research did you have to do to write this book?
A lot. I interviewed astronomers, astrophysicists, economists, police detectives, beat cops, insurance salesmen, doctors, and one extremely brilliant forensic pathologist who happens to be a friend of a friend. Hearing this woman dissect (sorry) the job of performing autopsies was incredibly inspiring.
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