No Ordinary Field Guide



















So what's this book about, you ask. A friend summed it up as "birds and botched relationships." It's snappy and accurate. I like it. The text is somewhat anecdotal, at times embellished, but always truthful--for someone out there, if not for me. It revolves around some relationships of mine that failed, were imagined, and ended before they began. There's empirical data about love and loss coupled with a parallel narrative about bird behavior. The result is a kind of field guide.


The book is comprised of layers of imagery, a way of reflecting the layers in memory. Most of the people who are referenced in these memories, I'll probably never encounter again. Some of them I will. I'd be lying if I said that didn't make me a little nervous. But I suppose all writers struggle with this: the eternal question of "what if they think this story was about them?" And what happens when the story really is about them? I'd like to cover my hide here and say, "Any relationship between these characters and real people is purely coincidental," but that wouldn't be entirely true. But what of those folks who say there's no such thing as coincidence? Where does that leave this little book--my blend of the real and the imagined?


This already came up once when a story of mine was published in Family Circle a few years ago. At least five family members thought the story was about them. Only that time, I could honestly say it was not--the idea came when I overheard a student of mine say that her sister had planned a fake wedding. That was too good of an image to pass up--so I composed a story around it. I made the story about the two sisters. When it came out in the magazine, people who knew me (but not well) said, "I didn't know you had a sister." I wanted to make a t-shirt to wear every day that proclaimed, "It's fiction!"






















Maybe with an edition of 45, this won't be an issue. If say, Knopf picks it up, then I'll worry. In the meantime, I'm avoiding thinking about this issue by carving lots of birds into polymer blocks. They look like woodcuts, but are a little easier to print. With six weeks until my defense date, which from this point onward will be called "D-Day," I'll take 'easier' whenever I can get it.