Friday, September 4, 2009

The Writing Life: Musing with Authors

I just finished reading The Outermost House by Henry Beston. I would never have heard of this book, which was popular from 1928 through 1988, if nature writer Jim Capossela had not told me about it.

Capossela, the Rachel Ray of the streams and woods, is witty and clever. So far, I’ve read Camp and Trail Cooking Techniques and dipped into Good Fishing Close to New York City.

With the advent of the Internet, e-books and the Kindle reader, it appears that we tend to ignore valuable existing books in our pursuit of the next new thing. There’s something special about nature and field guides, but there’s not a wide audience for these books. The information in the classic field guides remains accurate, which makes naturalist writers something of an oddity. Even the most chatty field guides do not read like a good novel. Writing a field guide takes the mind of a scientist and the soul of an artist.

When it comes to hanging out with respected nature writers, I’m twice blessed. Gary Lincoff, author of the Amazon Field Guide to Mushrooms, is that rare combination of scientific mind and compelling storyteller. I’d rather hang out with Gary than any rock star I can name. You don’t even realize you’re learning when you attend a lecture or workshop. When Gary arrived dressed as Charles Darwin, I was so captivated by his presentation, I didn’t realize I had taken notes, until I looked in my notebook several days later.

Writing in a narrow field for a niche market can be isolating at times. There’s nothing better to motivate me than to hang out with respected, published naturalists. This may not be the most financially lucrative field in writing, but getting to know the rock stars of the field guide world is worth much more to me.

JJ Murphy is a freelance nature writer, photographer, blogging hiker, forager, locavore, and tree-hugger with more than 50 years of eco-centric living experience. Visit if you need relevant content that captures your personal style and tone.
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