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When I first began writing, I wrote only short stories because I foolishly thought they were easier to write! But I soon learned that writing a good short story is much harder to do. With less space and more economy, a writer must develop characters and plot and theme and successfully bring all of these elements to a believable and resonant conclusion.

The stories in my collection were published over a dozen years. After the first one, "Total Cave Darkness," came out in The Paris Review, I decided to pull together the best stories I'd published so far. The title story, "An Ornithologist's Guide to Life," which appeared in Glimmer Train, served as my thematic guide in the selection. While I was writing that story about a young girl who slowly discovers her mother is having an affair with their neighbor, I stumbled upon a collection of Little Golden Books. Here was one about weather, another about flowers, and yet another about birds. As I read the ornithology one, I was struck by how much bird watching sounded like writing. The rules were similar: be a good observer, take notes, write down details...I made Alice, my young protagonist, an amateur bird watcher, and chose stories for the collection in which observation is the turning point or crux of the story.

I love to read short story collections. I love to dip in and out of them, to read just one before bed or while I'm waiting in the car for my son to emerge from school. These eleven stories have been published in very different places-Good Housekeeping, Story, Five Points-but at the heart of each of them, the characters are observing each other, the changes in their worlds, and beginning to glimpse a different future.