Silk and Venom Interview

Why do you think so many people fear spiders?

Did creating Silk & Venom change your opinion or feeling about spiders?

I think the reason so many of us fear spiders is that they are just so downright odd. With their eight legs, and six to eight eyes they are very different from any other creature on earth. I mean I am the original scaredy cat. I really fear sharks and snakes but at least sharks have two eyes in the expected place and those big mouths full of teeth. You know what’s staring you in the face (heaven forbid you should ever have such an encounter outside an aquarium) and it is plenty scary.

So then you have to ask why would spiders inspire so much fear in people? Well you don’t exactly know what’s facing you. Literally! It took me the longest time to figure out which end of the spider was the business end—the one with the fangs in other words. I was always getting their heads mixed up with their rear ends because although they have multiple eyes they don’t even look like eyes—more like little bumps. So basically it’s very disorienting to even look at a spider for the arrangement of its body parts is so different. Face it, we as human beings fear the unknown and to us spiders represent the ultimate unknown.

You accompanied biology professor and arachnologist Greta Binford on a trek to the Caribbean in search of Loxosceles spiders. What was the most memorable part of the trip for each of you?

For me the most memorable parts of the trip had nothing to do with spiders. The first thing was the scary traffic in the Dominican Republic, especially driving at night. They don’t have many laws or rules of the road. So lots of people are driving cars with no headlights on poorly lighted roads. The other memorable part of that trip was the cockroaches in the dump of the so called hotel where we had to stay. The cockroaches seemed to congregate in the shower. So every day when I went to take a shower I thought am I going to feel cleaner staying out of the shower or stepping into it? On the other hand the poverty level in the Domincan Republic was so shocking. We saw many homeless children, and children who had homes but inadequate food and clothing and I thought it’s better that we stay in this dump of a hotel than in one of the luxury beach hotels. I would have felt terrible staying some place fancy knowing that less than a mile a way there were such impoverished children.

(Chris says) For me the most memorable part of the trip was when Greta actually found what she was searching for, the first brown recluse spider she collected in the Dominican Republic. I was right beside her as she dug into a dry dirt bank and spotted the web, then found the inhabitant. Her excitement was so genuine. Of course if she hadn’t found any, our trip would have been a bit of a dud, so it was a relief for me, too.

How much did you know about spiders before creating Silk & Venom? Can you tell us a bit about the research you did?  What was the most surprising information you learned? 

I didn’t really know that much about spiders except that I was afraid of them. But then I was listening to National Public radio one day as I was driving around town and heard Greta Binford being interviewed. What she said was so fascinating that when I got back home I sat in the driveway to finish listening to the program. I immediately went inside and googled her and read about the research she was doing and called her up at Lewis and Clark college out in Portland, Oregon where she worked. The next thing I knew Chris and I were on our way to Portland to see her lab and watch her at work. This was my basic introduction to arachnology and the world of spiders that has intrigued Greta for over twenty years. The more I understood about spiders the less fearful I became.

Previously you collaborated on Interrupted Journey: Saving Endangered Sea Turtles and the Newbery Honor book Sugaring Time. Do you anticipate working together again in the future?

I’m sure we will, but Chris and I are very picky about our subject matter. There are two things I can assure you that I shall never write about no matter how well I understand them—sharks and snakes.

Chris says: It is fun working together, so I’m sure we’ll do more in the future. This was our 18th joint book. A lot of our earlier ones featured our own kids, who are now too adult for the job, but we have a beautiful granddaughter who is now 2 ½, so maybe she’ll be in one someday

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