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Meet the WritersImage of Mary Roach
Mary Roach
Good to Know
In our interview, Roach shared some fun facts about herself:

"My first job was as a writer for the San Francisco Zoological Society members magazine; I worked in a trailer next to Gorilla World."

"I've been to Antarctica three times, posing as a science writer."

"My dad was 65 when I was born."

"I like to unwind by going out birdwatching by myself; though the hours don't agree with me."

"I love red papaya, seaweed, a beer after a long hike, polar skies, and I'm a sucker for TV ads with monkeys in them. Dislikes: corporate greed, fluorescent lighting, extreme self-indulgence, weak coffee."

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Interview
In the fall of 2003, Mary Roach took some time out to talk with us about her favorite books, authors, and interests.

What was the book that most influenced your life or career as a writer -- and why?
The books of Bill Bryson were an inspiration to me, as they incorporate humor and fact so beautifully and effectively. In a Sunburned Country, in particular, made me reach higher as a writer of humorous nonfiction.

What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?

  • Mary Karr's The Liars' Club, for its honesty and for the poetry in nearly every line.

  • Annie Proulx's The Shipping News and That Old Ace in the Hole, for the incredible research, the originality and brilliance of the writing, and the wonderfully imagined and rendered characters.

  • Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, for general excellence.

  • Yann Martel's Life of Pi for the originality of its vision.

  • Bill Buford's Among the Thugs, for his wondrous undercover reporting job.

  • The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex by Owen Chase -- about the whaling trip that Moby-Dick is based on -- is my current favorite nonfiction title.

  • And one of my all time favorite novels is Fisher's Hornpipe by Todd McEwen -- possibly out of print but worth tracking down. Funny, genius writing.

    What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable?
    Recent titles: Y Tu Mama Tambien, Monsoon Wedding, Talk to Her, All About My Mother, Being John Malkovich, Best in Show (for its being improvised!).

    Less recent titles: Aguirre (Herzog), Blow Up (Antonioni), Stranger than Paradise (Jarmusch), Satyricon (Fellini), In the White City (Volker-Schlondorf), Los Olvidados (Buñuel).

    What kinds of music do you like? Is there any kind you like to listen to while writing?
    I rarely listen to music while writing. I wish I could, but it distracts me. My tastes are all over the map: Beck, early Dolly Parton, R.E.M., Johnny Cash, foreign fusion, Arabic pop, opera (the overture to Boris Godunov totally sends me), Counting Crows, Moby, Les Negresses Vertes....

    If you had a book club, what would it be reading, and why?
    Yann Martel's Life of Pi, because I loved it but am not sure I understand it.

    What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
    I'm always imposing my taste in books on others. I hope that people enjoy being surprised by a book they might not otherwise read -- I enjoy the surprise myself when others do this to me. Well, usually....

    Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
    I sometimes wear earplugs, even though there's not much noise at my office. It's a habit from my old office, which had open cubicles. Somehow having them in kind of focuses my attention. Though I need to bring in a new pair. They're disgusting....

    I have on my desk a rock from a sacred (among Buddhists) mountain in Nepal, Mt. Kailash, which a friend brought me. When I'm fretting over something or thinking unproductive negative thoughts, I pick it up to make myself cut it out.

    What are you working on now?
    My column, another book proposal, and a couple of magazine pieces.

    Many writers in the Discover program are hardly overnight success stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
    I've been writing full-time since about 1984 -- mostly magazine features and columns. This is my first book. Part of what got me to sit down and do the proposal was a fortune cookie fortune that said, "Try something new." It's taped on my wall to this day.

    What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered? Follow your instincts. Do the kind of writing you love to do and do best. Stiff was an oddball book -- I mean, a funny book about cadavers? -- and I worried that it would be too unconventional. In the end, that's what has made it a success, I think.



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  • About the Writer
    *Mary Roach Home
    * Good to Know
    * Interview
    Chronology
    *Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, 2003
    *Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, 2005
    Photo by John Madere