Research Notes · 10/20/2017

Our Dreams Might Align

Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their process for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Dana Diehl writes about Our Dreams Might Align from Jellyfish Highway Press.

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The Magic of Fact

When I was a child, my family car rides were punctuated by my parents’ stories of the land: the glacier that carved this valley, the journey these quartz pebbles took from mountaintop to creek bottom. They are geologists. Their stories unfolded the world for me in a way that felt similar to the storybooks we read at home before bed. To me, the science my parents used to explain the land and animals was similar to mythmaking.

An author I admire, Anthony Doerr, once said in an interview that you can read here, “I’d argue we write to learn what we don’t know; we write toward the mysteries, the things we can’t articulate but believe are there, feel are there. Maybe we start with what we know, but then we work in the opposite direction, away from the things that are comfortable, familiar known. Otherwise we’re not learning, and if we’re not learning, why bother?” I try to extend this thinking to the research I do for my writing. I look for those details that take me away from the familiar. I look for the details that make me ask, “What if?” and “Why?” I look for the facts that feel as magical as myths.

Below is a collage of details I collected through research for my collection, Our Dreams Might Align. These are details that wormed their way under my skin. Details that felt mysterious and full of possibility when I came across them. I’ve also included photographs, pictures I’ve taken of places and objects that give me the feeling that something is there that I can’t articulate, not yet.

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Humpback whales’ songs are constantly evolving. It’s believed that whales have shifted up the octave of their calls over past 50 years in order to hear each other over the sound pollution created by humans.

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Naturalized peach-faced lovebirds flock in the palms and under the shade of Saguaros in Tempe and Phoenix, Arizona. Originating in southern Africa, it’s believed that a group of these lovebirds were either released or escaped from a local aviary, and instead of perishing in the desert city, found an environment akin to their ancestral home, a place where they could thrive.

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Between 1725 and 1765, it is said that a Russian peasant named Feodor Vassilyev and his first wife had 69 children together. Sixteen pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets. In the articles written about Mr. Vassilyev, his wife is never named.

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In captivity, Komodo dragons have been known to become tame within a short period of time and are even capable of recognizing their handlers and playing with objects. However, they can be unpredictably aggressive and may attack unfamiliar humans who enter their territory.

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The female bagworm is wingless and will emerge from her case only long enough to breed. In some cases, she stays in her case while the male bagworm mates with her by inserting its abdomen into her torn cocoon. After laying her eggs, the female bagworm will die. Sometimes she dies before laying, and the larval bagworms will burst from her body. The cycle begins again.

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During hibernation, a female bat can delay implantation of a fertilized egg until the spring so that her baby will grow and be born during a time when it has the highest chance of survival.

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A body does not immediately die in space. First, oxygen is removed from the bloodstream. After 9 to 12 seconds, the deoxygenated blood reaches the brain, resulting in unconsciousness. Death follows two minutes later, but for those first few seconds, nothing separates the human from the vacuum.

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Ticks wait for their potential hosts with their third and fouth pair of legs clinging to leaves or branches, their front pair of legs outstretched and ready. This position is known as questing. A tick will locate a host by the smell of their breath, their fur, the heat and small vibrations every body emits without even trying.

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Dana Diehl is the author of Our Dreams Might Align (Jellyfish Highway Press, 2016). She earned her MFA in Fiction at Arizona State University. This past summer, she was an artist in residence at Signal Fire: Wide Open Studios Klamath. Her work has appeared in North American Review, Passages North, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere.