Nicholas Trandahl is an Army veteran, poet, outdoorsman, journalist, and traveler. A member of WyoPoets and the Bearlodge Writers, he finds inspiration in new adventures, nature, good books, and the understated beauty of everyday life. Trandahl lives in Wyoming with his wife and daughters.
Trandahl’s poetry is published by Winter Goose Publishing and has appeared in various journals, anthologies, and compilations.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first published book, a fantasy novel published by Swyers Publishing, changed my life in that it gave me the confidence to pursue writing seriously. My published books following that first one are vastly different. These days I'm primarily a poet and write some literary fiction occasionally, and I would say my writing is unrecognizable from those early days. You know, beginning authors have a tendency to over-write and over describe ever minute detail. Over the years I've learned that writing simply and clearly is a much better way to write.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Well, I started writing poetry when I deployed as a soldier in the Middle East to try to control the degrading state of my mental health. I wrote for self-preservation essentially. So poetry's roots were strong from the beginning. I quickly got several works of fiction published afterward, but poetry has always pulled me back because I see it as the purest and most honest form of writing.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
As for the start of a writing project, with poetry its instantaneous. Once I submit a poetry manuscript to my publisher, I have most likely already started writing a few poems for whatever my next poetry collection will be. I'm always writing. Poetry is how I see the world and express myself so there's really no stopping it. Every experience is worthy of poetry (though not necessarily published poetry). The writing of poetry begins for me in scribbled disordered notes in my old beat-up journal; that journal is with me wherever I go. The poems that are in my final draft I send to my publisher are oftentimes nearly unrecognizable from those initial hectic handwritten rough drafts. As for fiction, I do a lot of research, background development, and character development before I actually start the rough draft, but once I start, I write it fairly quickly.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I wouldn't say that I'm necessarily working on a "book" from the very beginning, but my poems are organized into a single document that does end up becoming the first draft of a poetry collection. I write poems nearly every day and the vast majority of them get typed up on my typewriter and filed away in stacks in the drawers of my writing desk. Maybe 5-10% of my poems are deemed worthy enough by me to be typed into the manuscript of my next poetry book.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Poetry readings were anathema to me. The very idea of them made my social anxiety bristle. However, I won third place in a national poetry contest and was asked to read my poem at a conference. It was an enlightening experience, and now I do poetry readings as often as possible, at as many different venues as possible. There's nothing quite like communicating your life and soul to an audience and seeing them really taking it in, listening to the gasps and murmurs after that final poignant line of a poem. So, I would say I've definitely come to embrace poetry readings and look forward to them as an essential part of my life as a writer.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
My poetry isn't incredibly emotional, introspective, or philosophical. I tend to write clear honest poetry which has been reviewed as "accessible" and "authentic". My inspirations have always been Hemingway, Jim Harrison, Raymond Carver, etc., writers that wrote with earthy simple language. My poetry is an attempt to answer the confusion and disorder of our civilization. I want to show readers that our lives are comprised of innumerable moments of beauty and poetry. Every day a person walks unknowingly through a sea of poetry and inspiration. I want to open peoples' eyes to that wonder of everyday life all around them. I want to inform and educate. Every tree, every sunset, every walk, each person you meet and each story they tell are all the opportunity for a poem.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
The role of a writer in this culture is and should be to provide a snapshot of these times to the wider world, to hold up a mirror and shout "Here you are! This is you! This is all of us! Here is your world!" All writing, and in particular poetry, serves in the exact same capacity as artwork, photography, and music. They're creative crystallizations of the times we live in and the culture we're a part of.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I find working with an outside editor important and quite easy actually. My editor, James Koukis with Winter Goose Publishing, has become a friend of mine over the years and is as much a fan of my poetry as anyone. We work together wonderfully and blaze through the final draft quite quickly. The eyes and insight of an outside editor are essential, and I think it's evident when a writer moves ahead with a book without utilizing a good editor.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Most of Hemingway's quotes concerning writing are essential advice for any writer. Those quotes have changed my writing immeasurably. "Good writing is true writing..." "Write hard and clear about what hurts" There are countless ones to choose from. The small book Ernest Hemingway on Writing should be essential reading for every writer.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don't necessarily have a writing routine. I'm not an advocate of forcing writing. For me personally, my writing suffers when I'm not inspired. So, I write when I feel the need. That's why it's essential to have my writing journal with me or at least my phone with a note app. Inspiration can happen anywhere. A writer needs to be ready for it. My day consists of work and domesticity as a husband and father, but I certainly find that much of writing, editing, revising, and reading is done at night with a good drink and some good music playing (softly so the kids don't wake up).
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
When my writing stalls, it's paramount that I stop writing and don't force it. At that point it's time to turn to reading a good novel or biography or book of poetry. That usually can get the fires of creativity roaring again. Even a good film or a some excellent music can have the same outcome. The ultimate source of inspiration for me, however, is travel and adventure. Booking a flight to somewhere I haven't been, going on a roadtrip, camping in a tent in the back country to hike trails and fish for trout. Those things are immediate and plentiful sources of inspiration for me.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of pine and stone will always remind me of northeast Wyoming, where I live. As for my home in particular, my family and I have deduced that our belongings (when we travel) smell like maple syrup and apple juice. It's kind of odd, but it makes me happy when I open my luggage in a hotel.
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Well, books are definitely the prime source of books most definitely, but my writing is certainly also built from nature (hiking, camping, fishing, exploring), travel (vacations, pilgrimages, and road trips), history (all of it!), food (cooking and eating), music (particularly Vivaldi and Ravel), and artwork (my favorites being Ivan Shiskin, van Gogh, and Monet).
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy, Raymond Carver, Jim Harrison, Ivan Turgenev, Ted Kooser, Mary Oliver, Henry David Thoreau, and Gary Snyder are the writers that are most important to me and my work. The most important books in my life are Hemingway's The Garden of Eden and Ernest Hemingway on Writing, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Raymond Carver's All of Us, Turgenev's A Sportsman's Notebook and Fathers and Sons, and Thoreau's Walden and Wild Apples.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
As for my writing, I'd like to eventually become much more well-known in the book world. I'm working on it. As for goals not related to writing, I'd like my to travel to Basque Country, India, Mexico, and Ukraine. I'd also like to see a Mark Rothko painting in person.
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Aside from writing, I would've loved to have been a painter. I dabble in art and am very intrigued by art history. It would be an interesting life I'd imagine. My day job is a journalist, and I assume I'd be working in the newspaper business even if I wasn't an author.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
My time as a soldier and my experiences in the Middle East were instrumental in making me a writer. I had to write to survive and self-medicate. Without those dark experiences, I'm unsure if I would've pursued writing with the fervor that I did.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I'm currently reading Boris Pasternak's masterpiece Doctor Zhivago and I can already tell about midway through that this is a brilliant novel. The last great book I've finished was Wilderness Essays by John Muir; my good buddy and I went on a roadtrip/pilgrimage to Ketchum, Idaho in October to pay our respects at Hemingway's grave and visit his memorial, and I picked up that hardcover book of Muir's essays at a little shop in that mountain town. Muir writes about nature with more love and care than any writer has ever written about anything. The last great film I watched was Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited; it's my favorite film and I watch it every couple months.
19 - What are you currently working on?
At the beginning of 2019, I submitted the final draft of my third collection with Winter Goose Publishing, Bravery. That collection hits shelves in April. So, I'm currently still writing poems here and there, and I've placed a few keepers into a document which may eventually become a poetry manuscript in the future. I'm also revising/editing a couple short stories I'm trying to get published. However, the major project I'm currently undertaking is a novel set in San Sebastian during the political unrest and violence there in the 1970s. I'm currently just in the planning and outline stages, focused on background research and character development. I'm hoping to have a rough draft nearly completed by 2020.
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