Jess’s Interview with Ben H. Winters; Author of Bedbugs

I recently had the opportunity to read Bedbugs, author Ben H. Winters newest novel about, yes, you guessed it: bedbugs.  Ben was kind enough to allow me to interview him about his newest book and the inspiration behind it.

Ben thank you so much for sparing me your time and for answering all my questions!

How did you decide to become a writer?

I can’t remember a time I wasn’t interested in doing some sort of creative expression. In fifth grade I wrote and circulated a series of picaresque short stories titled Piggy Wiggy, detailing the adventures of the titular pig, who would die spectacularly at the end of each installment. In high school I wrote lyrics for my punk-rock band. In college I wrote a humor column for the paper. After college I wrote for a newspaper, and then wrote plays and musicals, and now I’m largely a novelist. If I live long enough I expect to try my hand at villanelles. 

Do you like writing books with an original plot better than modifying classics?

Writing those “mash-up” novels (Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Android Karenina) was fun, but in a very particular way.  Sometimes it provided the satisfaction of true artistic expression, but sometimes it was the satisfaction of solving a puzzle: How can I cleverly overlay my ongoing genre-element plotting onto the original story? What kind of zany new device will work best married to the author’s original idea? So, fun, but very strange. Writing Bedbugs provided the pure pleasure of original expression from top to bottom, of creating and populating a small and intense little world. Plus I got to research a lot of extremely disgusting and fascinating things about bedbugs. Don’t ask, because you don’t want to know.

Which book has been your most enjoyable to write? Why?

Well, it’s cliché to say that choosing among one’s work is like picking one’s favorite child, but it’s cliché because it’s true. And Bedbugs is actually my fifth novel – besides these books for Quirk, I’ve written a pair of novels for young readers (The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman and The Mystery of the Missing Everything, both for HarperCollins). I love them all. Please, don’t make me pick. Here, I’ll pick a novel I didn’t write. My most enjoyable novel to read, ever, was Clockers, by Richard Price. My favorite movie is Johnny Dangerously. My favorite 1990s D.C.-area punk-rock band is Jawbox. There? Are you satisfied?

Some authors have said that they write novels as an extension of his or her own imagination. Would you mind discussing your personal influences and motivation behind creating a story which taps in to most people’s greatest fears?

If you’re trying to ask whether I have ever had bedbugs, the answer is no. Thank God. I have, however, lived in large cities for a long time, and experienced a lot of the unsettling realities of living close to other people: the loudness, the dirtiness, the clutter, the hidden weirdness of the guy or girl next door. All those kinds of anxieties crop up in one way or another in this book.

What kind of research did you undertake when writing Bedbugs?

I spent a lot of time online, reading forums for people plagued by the beasts in question. I interviewed a fair number of entomologists and exterminators. I also re-read some of my favorite tales of house-bound psychological terror, from The Yellow Wallpaper to Rosemary’s Baby to The Shining.

What other books do you have planned for the future?

I am working on a mystery novel set in the great state of New Hampshire, and it’s imagined as the first in a trilogy. But we shall see.

Make sure you check back in tomorrow for my review of Bedbugs.  If you’d like to know more about Ben’s novel or about Ben himself you can check out his website here, or follow him on twitter here.