Murderous elephants, gulls vandalizing the Vatican, and macaques that will mug you given the chance: Mary Roach’s new book, “Fuzz,” covers the strange, messy, and sometimes dangerous world of human-wildlife conflict. We connected with Roach, author of six best-sellers, including “Stiff,” ahead of her virtual Harvard Science Book Talk on Tuesday. The interview was edited for clarity and length.
GAZETTE: You get asked a lot about how you get your ideas. I’m curious: How do you know when it’s the right one?
ROACH: Oh, boy. I’m often halfway through the book before I feel confident it’s the right one. I usually go through a period of kind of trying things on for size and often I’ll try on two or three kind of related things and they’re not quite right. The main thing when I’m looking for a new topic is that it it has to let me explore multiple things in person. It’s almost like a documentary filmmaker scouting out places to go and film. I’m really looking to make sure there’s going to be enough variety to keep things interesting. Sometimes I just hit dead ends. I think that I might be heading in one direction but I’m not finding the right variety. Eventually I’ll land on something that seems to tick all the boxes.
GAZETTE: You cover a lot of cases in the new book: man-eating leopards, marauding macaques, run-ins with bears. What surprised you most about the animal-human encounters you researched?
ROACH: I was very surprised to learn that elephants kill 500 people a year in India. I don’t think of elephants as animals that kill anyone. I think of Babar and Dumbo and National Geographic, so the depth of the problem in India came as a complete surprise. That was the biggest surprise I encountered in reporting the book. But it was all new to me, so all of it was, kind of, a surprise.
GAZETTE: For “Fuzz,” you did a lot of traveling. What are some of the experiences that stick out?