I recently did a web interview made up entirely of questions submitted by my readers. (If you’re interested, by the way, you can listen to that interview at http://bit.ly/i4hQz). I received some unusual questions, but there was one question I seem to get in every interview I do…
“How did you get so interested in bugs?”
I’m not interested in bugs. I’m interested in people.
Stories are always about people—good stories, anyway. It’s a simple fact of human nature that people are interested in people: what they think, how they feel, and the sometimes incomprehensible reasons they do the things they do. To be honest, we’re probably not as interested in other people as we are in ourselves, because stories about others give us insight into the workings of our own mysterious minds and hearts.
I would argue that it’s almost impossible to tell a story that isn’t about people. “Twilight” isn’t about vampires; it’s about feelings of alienation and the ecstasy of unfulfilled longing with a heaping helping of teenage angst piled on top. The “Harry Potter” stories aren’t about wizards and magic; they’re about friendship and loyalty and the desperate desire to believe that you are more than just an ordinary muggle. Even “March of the Penguins” isn’t about penguins; it’s about courtship and endurance and sacrificial dedication to our children.
The protagonist in five of my novels, Dr. Nick Polchak, is a forensic entomologist. Nick’s job involves the study of insects—the blowflies and flesh flies and carrion beetles that consume human bodies as they decompose. But my Bug Man stories are not about the bugs—they’re about a man who thinks he’s a bug. Why does he think that? Why would he want to? What’s wrong with him? What was it in his past that made him that way? Will he ever change? Can he? And is there a woman anywhere who could love a man like that? Anyone who has read one of my novels will tell you that that’s what my stories are really about. The bugs—well, they’re just bugs.
I imagine a lot of potential readers are turned off to my Bug Man stories before they ever read one. “I’m just not into bugs,” they probably say.
That’s okay. Neither am I.