Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2019  Vol. 18 No. 1
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Documenting Landscapes

After college, I earned jobs in the editorial departments of several lifestyle and travel magazines. Most of the articles I wrote or edited were frivolous in nature—profiles of celebrity decorators, vacation itineraries for places like the Maldives and Cap Ferrat, and, once, an ode to heirloom tomatoes—but I took them (and myself) very seriously. I obsessed over my “journalistic responsibility” to factual and precise descriptions, which meant that I frequently found myself studying photographs and maps and Google Street View to verify whether or not one could truly glimpse X body of water from the terrace of Y restaurant, or to determine which varieties of pine and palm trees grew on a particular island.

This is to say that I am not surprised that, when I began to write fiction, my work emerged in a realist vein. I remain preoccupied by landscapes and devoted to rendering them exactly. The trail the granddaughter follows in “Summit” is located on Grandfather Mountain, in North Carolina, and I’ve hiked it myself. Even so, when I was revising the first draft of the story, I fact-checked my memory by examining trail maps and a calendar of wildflower blooms prepared by the park rangers. In the end, I allowed myself few liberties in my descriptions of the mountain. I’m still too new to fiction to have wasted much time wishing I was a different kind of writer. I find a lot of joy and creative momentum by setting my stories in real and often naturally beautiful places; and, given the environmental threat to many of the Earth’s ecosystems, I like to believe that stories like “Summit” are my own small acts of preservation.  

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