I must admit that I have had a hard time keeping this news under wraps, but now that the paperwork is complete I can officially announce that I will be authoring the Princeton Field Guide to Spiders (official title to be decided later). This will represent my first true solo effort, and with that comes a great deal of responsibility.
It is not lost on me that this may appear to be a redundant work in light of recent popular works on North American spiders. I intend for a fundamentally different publication, though. This will be a true field guide, one that is more portable than either a “manual” or other reference book. Emphasis will be on what can be observed in the field without killing a specimen (though confining one to a vial would allow for closer observation). The appearance of webs, burrows, retreats, and egg sacs, as well as the arachnid itself, will be included. Habitat, geographic range, and behaviors will also be highlighted.
My intuition and experience suggest that what a general audience most wants to know is whether any given spider poses a dangerously venomous threat to themselves, their family, pets, or co-workers. Few references of recent vintage have understood this, and so the resulting books have been overwhelming and of little relevance to what is mostly an urban and suburban audience. These books have also been pricey. Princeton understands that a product of this nature needs to be reasonably affordable.
The other side of the ledger means, naturally, that budgets for the author, and compensation for image usage, is a little less than perfect. Ideally, I would like to come in under budget, and before the April 1, 2016 deadline for delivery of the manuscript and graphics. Some of you will hear from me during this process, as I value your knowledge of arachnids, and/or admire your digital photographic skills.
There is no question that many, if not most, spiders can be reliably identified to species (sometimes even genus) only by examination of minute physical characters, including male and female genitalia. This book will freely admit as much, but the overall intent is for a novice to be able to at least tell what family a given specimen belongs to. We will include a “similar spiders” paragraph for each entry to help users compare to other potential candidates.
I can guarantee that my number one priority is accuracy. I have the utmost respect for arachnologists, especially those who have made an effort to share their expertise with the public; and involving citizen scientists in an effort to broaden our overall knowledge of spider diversity and distribution.
At the core, however, is the fact that I am a professional writer, and that is why the people at Princeton University Press selected me for this project. I appreciate an understanding of my role as a communicator, and forgiveness for whatever I may lack in academic and scientific credentials. The “acknowledgements” page is blank. I look forward to adding your name. Thank you.