We asked some of the authors that we have published to reflect on research in their nonfiction work. Donna Steiner wrote the essay “Studying the Trees” published in our second issue. What follows are some of her thoughts on the research that she conducted for her essay.
Some of the things I researched for “Studying the Trees” include the facts and figures about “visible light;” the names of our local birds; and a few words I already knew the meanings of. I do the latter in the interest of precision. I have a deep desire to be as accurate and specific as possible, and that often means a relatively pleasurable hunt for the right words and the right sounds.
In the case of the birds listed on page 74, for example, I think the names matter for several reasons. One, the words are wonderful in themselves. Martins, loons, curlews, grackles, vireos – how could I resist the sonic qualities alone? But also, precision enhances imagery. I don’t need to show every bird, because the names themselves each evoke a distinct image. The reader can therefore visualize a scarlet tanager or a mourning dove or a cedar waxwing. Precision becomes a kind of shorthand. And I believe that shorthand can be lushly evocative in terms of what the reader hears and sees and, hopefully, in terms of what they feel.