There are over one million species of insects and arachnids on planet earth. That means there are more than ten quintillion creepy crawlers moving around right now, outnumbering humans two million to one. Most of these bugs are harmless, buzzing around us or darting under cover while we walk by on a daily basis. Some of these bugs help us survive.
But Amy Stewart hasn’t written a book about the good bugs. In her book, Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects, she explores the fear-inducing side of the little creatures — the disease-spreading, venom-shooting, building-destroying bugs.
We were able to catch Amy Stewart on the phone to ask her some questions about her book, and how to kill your main character with a bug.
INLANDER: You walk a fine line between fact and entertainment in Wicked Bugs. Were there times when you thought you were being overly factual, or not factual enough? Or were the bugs just interesting enough that you didn’t have to really worry about it?
AMY STEWART: I did not set out to write a reference book or a field guide. What interested me was the stories and looking for people that had been harmed by these bugs. Or interesting moments in our history — human history — that had involved some frightful horrible encounter with a bug. Even though most of them can’t harm us at all, I was able to round up a hundred or so that are probably worthy of our fears.
Have you noticed your Wicked books bringing out a different crowd than would normally attend readings?
Yes, definitely. Anytime you can get out of just writing about plants or bugs it draws a different crowd. For instance, I taught a workshop to murder-mystery writers about how to use bugs and plants to kill your characters at a book festival in Tucson. There’s also this kind of goth, steam-punk crowd that are into the books. It’s nice to get a different crowd. It’s about history, literature, culture, science, medicine and all these other things that are sort of connected to bugs, but don’t actually have to be about bugs.
Have you had anyone come up to you after a reading and ask you to analyze a bug bite?
Oh yes, it happens all the time because every bug has got a story. That’s kind of the nice thing because I pick up more stories as I go. And already it’s been a couple months and I’ve added stories to my talks because of what someone has told me, and that’s great.
Have you heard any stories that you wish you could go back and add into this book?
No one has told me a story that’s so juicy that I would swap one out for theirs. But it’s nonetheless interesting. I talk about Christopher Columbus and the Chigoe Flea [in the book] — I have met a woman now who had a Chigoe Flea burrow under her toenails on a recent vacation to the Caribbean.
What are some of the wicked bugs that reside in the Pacific Northwest?
There are definitely black widow spiders where you are. Some of them are universal, ubiquitous bugs that we might wish were not so universal, like cockroaches, bed bugs and fleas. A lot of them are bugs that we just live with all the time.
Amy Stewart talks about Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects • Thursday, June 23 at 7 pm • Free • Auntie’s Bookstore • 402 W. Main • auntiesbooks.com • 838-0206