Chestnut Hill author Doug Wechsler's 24th book, “The Cicadas Are Coming,” will be released in May in time for the big emergence of the 17-year periodical cicada.
Chestnut Hill author Doug Wechsler has authored an astonishing 24 books, but his 24th, “The Cicadas Are Coming,” which will be released in May in time for the big emergence of the 17-year periodical cicada, is the first of all two dozen that is self-published and not produced by a traditional publisher. And there is an interesting reason for the new book's unicorn status.
“Going with a traditional publisher,” Doug, who has lived in Chestnut Hill for 26 years (his age is “classified information”), explained last week, “takes years to get a book published. In fact, it often takes years to get it accepted and then more than two years to get it published. By the time I was ready to write this book, I only had months before the big emergence of periodical cicadas, the subject of the book, in May of this year, so it was self-publish or wait another 17 years!”
Periodical cicadas spend most of their lives underground, emerging only after 17 years. The unusual duration and timing of their emergence may reduce the number of cicadas lost to predation, both by making them a less reliably available prey (so that any predator that evolved to depend on cicadas for sustenance would starve waiting for their emergence) and by emerging in such huge numbers that they will satiate any remaining predators before losing enough of their number to threaten their survival as a species.
“I have been interested in periodical cicadas,” said Wechsler last week, “since I went on a mini-expedition with my ecology professor just after I graduated from college. I have been photographing them whenever I am close enough to an emergence. So with the photos in hand, it seemed like a good topic for me to write about and share with kids.”
Wechsler has a Kickstarter campaign going for the book which he says is so far 75% funded. To promote the book himself, Wechsler will be contacting booksellers, gift shops at parks, using social media, finding reviewers, visiting book fairs and showing the book to other cicada watchers when they (and the insects) emerge.
In terms of his writing career, Wechsler said that self-publishing has been the hardest thing ever. “There are endless details, many new to me, that I must attend to. I had to learn publishing software, find a professional editor, lay out the book and prepare to market it, to mention a few things. Oh, and I had to write the book and take the photographs as well.”
What is it about insects (he has written about others) that fascinates Wechsler since many people are repulsed by insects? “Their beauty, complexity, fascinating life cycles, bizarre adaptations and the incredible diversity. The intricate details of their appearance are amazing when viewed up close. Why would anyone be repulsed by them? They are beautiful!”
What is the most fascinating place Wechsler has ever visited in the research for any of his books? “Ecuador. The country has such an amazing variety of habitats and life zones. Dry forest, wet forest, cloud forest, hot tropical forest and cold mountain grasslands, each with its own set of animals and plants. I have been very lucky to have spent time in all of these places.”
Wechsler, who has worked for the past 32 years for the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences (now of Drexel University), grew up in Oyster Bay, Long Island, and graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in biology. One of Doug’s professors, Edwin O. Willis, had a profound influence on him. “I was already interested in the idea of visiting tropical forests,” Doug said, “but he was the one actually responsible for getting me there. He introduced me to tropical forests, and I learned a great deal about their natural history and ecology from him. Though I had watched birds since I was 5, it was from him that I learned the importance of using your ears to find and identify birds. The work with professor Willis for a month in Panama and six months in Brazil opened doors to my future work in tropical forests.”
The pandemic has kept Doug and his wife, Debbie, close to home. “I had a hard time getting motivated for a while, but the cicada project reawakened my zeal. I feel fortunate to have avoided the virus and not to have lost anyone close to me.”
Signed copies of 'Cicadas' are available at Big Blue Marble Books at 551 Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy. For more information about any of Doug’s books, visit dougwechsler.com. Signed copies of his books are available from the author (firstname.lastname@example.org). Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com