News & Perspectives

What’s Worth Doing Next?

What’s Worth Doing Next?

Science author Mary Roach on choosing her next subject.
Perspective// Posted by: Mary Roach / 7 Apr 2015

Selecting my next book subject begins with a process of elimination. There’s just so many things that are interesting, but won’t work for me. Anything purely historical? Not going to do that. I want to be able to report stuff in the present, because I love the research: going into different worlds. And it can’t be completely abstract. I want it to be able to have sounds and sights to render for the reader. So much of science today is microscopic— theoretical physics, protein receptors and genetics. I’m really a “bodies on the slab” kind of person.

Packing for Mars was a case where I had an abiding interest in the space program, and three things came together. I was doing a Vogue story for osteoporosis;

I called up an astronaut because bone loss is an issue in space. He also told me about the video camera in the toilet that helps astronauts position themselves for a zero gravity shit. And I remember thinking, Somehow I will write about this. Also, I had run into a guy I knew from Antarctica who was studying the effects of microgravity. So it was sort of working ass-backwards. I had three things I really wanted to write about, and I looked for an “umbrella”  topic that would cover the specifics.

The same thing happened with Gulp: I had two or three things I’d come across that I hadn’t been able to put anywhere. They all happened to be along the alimentary canal. I thought, Duh! That’s such a Mary Roach topic!

The bottom line is, it this going to be exciting and fun for me to spend two years doing? Otherwise it’s not worth it. Because if it’s not fun and satisfying for me, it’s not fun and satisfying for the reader.

Mary Roach (weightless, above) is the New York Times best-selling author of six non-fiction science books including Stiff, Packing for Mars and Gulp. Her books have been translated into more than 25 languages. Beloved for her exhaustive research into the most obscure corners of science, her notorious 2009 TED talk discussed “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Orgasm.”