A MOMENT WHEN THE WORLD WAS PERFECT

A MOMENT WHEN THE WORLD WAS PERFECT

Upon awakening, a pearly October fog had enshrouded the contours and structures of some pleasant rural countryside in a beautiful American place. Quaint and quiet. Shapes were muffled, edges dulled and softened as though fingers had smeared them, blurring them mysteriously. Sounds were hidden, their acoustic vestiges frayed and blunted in the pale soupy murk. The fog had a faint hissing quality, barely audible, and one could feel its innumerable fingers touching in a slight ghostly way upon the face and hands; they were still hands, limp hands that were shocked into stillness at the enchantment of dawn in early October.

The fog was beginning to glow yellow-white, an ill-defined blush of faded orange and soft rose accompanying the burgeoning brilliance, and the colors were at their brightest, their most luminous, in the east. And then the sun broke over the cold dry branches of the trees. They were holding legions of leathery yellow leaves aloft in their parched amber manes. The very air seemed ignited by Paradise, by cataclysm. Seen from within, the fog appeared set aflame as one stood facing eastward into the radiant face of the rising sun that spilled over the tops of the cold wraiths of the trees.

That was how she stood.

Catherine held a steaming mug of coffee in her hands as she observed the sunrise through the icy cold shroud of the autumn fog. She cradled the mug gently, like a poem. It was a treasure that was delicate, and she realized that the whole wide world was just then cradling her in that exact same attentive way. In the fog, Catherine felt at the center of her own existence, at the center of it all. The universe was pregnant with her, and she was filled with its primal luster, its beauty. It wasn’t at all far-fetched that everything that ever was revolved around her.

Catherine was bespelled, enraptured by the October fog and the divine glory of the sunrise. God, she knew, wasn’t often found in a church or temple or mosque. He didn’t orate from the altar at Mass, draining his blood and shedding his body to be devoured by his followers. God was in that very morning, and Catherine could see plainly that the sunrise was his face. The woman was humbled as she stood there, but she was also significant. Her soul was glittering, her heart a mass of jewels.

She breathed in the light. Warm hues of illumination. Her spirit was warmed in the way that Dickinson warmed her. But her body was chilled in the thick damp bank of opaque cloud that had settled itself down upon the environment during some cold lightless night time hour. In the ample embrace of her heavy woolen sweater, thick-collared and navy blue and draped below her wide hips, she was outfitted for a cool fall morning. Her autumnal ensemble was further perfected with the addition of a black knitted scarf that was looped several times around her neck and shoulders and by the black leggings and brown boots that she wore. Her dark brown hair was cut very short, like a boy’s hair. She liked that “pixie” cut and Adam liked it as well; he liked to run his run his fingers through her short hair when they kissed, his fingertips tickling the sensitive skin of her scalp and the base of her skull. The soft paleness of the back of her neck was exposed to the chill.

Catherine’s face was fresh and pleasant, cheeks and nose tinted in rose. Her features were alive and glittering in the way that faces are only when they’re cold. Only her hands that cradled the hot mug of coffee were truly warm. She brought the thick rim of the mug to her soft lips and she took a drink. The moisturizing lip gloss that Catherine wore caused her lips to stick slightly to the coffee mug when she removed it. A sigh escaped her afterwards, a satisfied sigh. The new warmth hidden in her Rubenesque belly was akin to that fiery warmth in her soul.

Yellowed leaves, and some that were orange and a desiccated brown, were strewn across the faded brittle green of the grass. The grass was bleached by the sun that had shown fiercely in late summer and early autumn, but the dry green was fresh with beads of cool dew. The droplets glittered purely on the withered blades so that they looked like innumerable chips of glass in the dawn light. The hush was magic.

The leaves were also scattered across the gravel driveway, one end leading to Catherine’s house and the other to an unpaved country road. Most of the driveway, however, was concealed from view in the shifting pale glow of the fog; the house nor the road could be seen through the murk. If her familiar environs weren’t her own, Catherine doubted that she could have been able to say with any surety in which direction the road lay and in which her home lay.

Silence. But within the muting fog faint sounds were strictly separated, partitioned off from one another. Sounds echoed dimly as though they were no more than dreams, no more than leaves falling or mermaids singing in the deep gloom. There was a charge in the air like a sharpened point that pressed against ice cold frosted glass. There was a threat, the promise of release. It was an energy that an observant could sometimes discern in the fall. Energies of different sorts were frequently borne upon autumn’s crisp back, too short-lived and artfully burnished in tones of bronze, gold, and scarlet.

Days such as the one Catherine was inhabiting conjured breathless smiles and ruddy cheeks, lungfuls of delicate crisp air that chimed inside of a person like crystal. Shards of autumnal firmament were swallowed down like spice. These were the days. These were times for sweaters and scarves, for old industrious literature and hot drinks, for full flasks in the hands of dry-faced and sparkly-eyed gentleman with chapped lips and companionable smiles. Aromas of smoke, crushed leaves, leather, and cinnamon. These were times for long walks, alone but for the company of bourbon-colored leaves that filled the trees and fluttered with enthusiasm to the cold hard earth. These were days of cool fog at dawn and dusk, ample skies shrouded in overcast grey.

As the rising sun burnt through the October fog along the very close tree-edged horizon, Catherine’s face tilted skyward, and she beheld through the thinning blanket of fog overhead a bluish tint. There would be no grey overcast sky on that autumn day. It would be a vast sapphire sky. Unseen as of yet, Catherine knew that it would be a cloudless day that would contrast brilliantly with the brown land.

He was then walking towards her through the brightening fog, each of his muffled footsteps piercingly pulled apart from one another in his easy ambling gait. He was coming from the direction that the road lay, and Catherine could hear the faint crunch of small gravel beneath his steps. Adam’s footfalls were softened in the way that the colors were also softened, as were the forms of the dreamlike undersea world that Catherine was immersed in, the timeless enchanted world that was slowed and stilled in the obfuscating shroud of fog. His murky steps within the concealed heart of that realm were like the fine subtle tick of a clock’s slender hands.

Adam had only been walking the dog for an hour or so on that particular morning. He enjoyed taking the dog out just before sunrise, in that bruised pink blush that unerringly heralded the dawn, especially in the antiqued paints that comprised the vibrant palette of autumn. As Adam’s grey form was conjured out of the fog, Catherine could discern the hurried steps of the dog in loyal accompaniment.

He was then removed from the fog entirely, ambling easily in Catherine’s direction, and their Brittany Spaniel trotted excitedly next to Adam, a swaying leash tethering the loyal canine to its master. Adam was wearing a burgundy sweater and a scarf of green and black plaid, and he also wore brown corduroy trousers, and black athletic shoes that were suitable for walking. Through his well-groomed sandy blonde beard, Adam smiled handsomely at Catherine as he came at her through the fog, up the gnarled drive.

“Hey, good-lookin. Good morning. I could smell your coffee.”

“Good morning, handsome,” she answered warmly, smiling attractively. When Catherine spoke the spaniel became excited at her voice and pulled Adam more fervently towards the woman. “How was the walk?”

“Perfect. What a beautiful morning.”

The dog reached Catherine first and licked her hands, nudging them roughly in the process. Some of Catherine’s coffee was jostled up over the brim up over the sticky brim of her mug. “Damn it,” she quietly hissed, wincing slightly as some of the hot coffee spilled onto the pale soft skin of one of her hands. Dark watery drops splattered onto the fine smoke-colored gravel of the driveway.

She caressed the top of the spaniel’s head to calm it as she brought the mug to her lips to hurriedly lower its contents to a more manageable level. Adam reached Catherine and kissed her mouth. The spilled coffee was forgotten. She tasted like coffee and the unbrushed morning, and, to Adam, it was not at all unpleasant. Adam tasted like cigar smoke, and the woodsy aroma was freshly-baked into his beard. He sometimes smoked a small flavored cigar when he went on his morning walks.

When their kiss ended, lips parting soundlessly in the crisp October morning, they both followed their dog down the gravel driveway in the direction of their home. It was still hidden amongst the sea of fog that lay heavy over everything. The dog knew the way home unerringly. It was threaded into the fabric of its being.

“Is there more coffee, honey? That tastes delicious,” Adam asked, smirking as he did so because he referred then to the taste of the warm brew that was hinted at upon Catherine’s generous lips.

“There sure is, babe,” Catherine replied. “I’ve only had this one cup from the pot so far. I slept in a little bit.”

With their next ambling steps, the familiar comfort of their home revealed itself through the damp tide of the fog. Catherine and Adam felt warmed at the sight; it bloomed in their hearts gracefully. They were emboldened and wistful.

It was a quiet autumnal Saturday. They day was gleefully empty.

It was a moment when the world was perfect.

THE SCARLET KING AT YULETIDE

The Scarlet King at Yuletide

By Nicholas Trandahl

Spilled across the gleaming crust,

Lambent in the hyperborean night,

Are smears of color; lights aglow

In red and orange, blue and green.

The township, enchanted and frosted

In weeks’ worth of snow and rime,

Radiates bright Yuletide ambiance

In a whisper of garish-colored light.

A contrast to that wintry land

Is another realm, another scene.

A crystalline void, clear and black,

Is stretched monstrously overhead,

As taut as inky canvas; perilous.

The achromatic gulf, sullen and fell,

Is all aglitter with starry ornaments.

A cardinal, vermeil and brilliant-

Even in this incapacitated night,

Falls out of the delicate glassy sky.

Avian friend, where have you been?

Mysterious bird, an orgulous lord,

Why do you flutter in the ebony night

Instead of roosting in dark warmth?

Have you been harvesting seeds

And crimson berries; spherical and glossy?

Descending out of the Stygian ether,

This red sovereign dances over snows-

Over diamond-encrusted lawns-

Over homes, slumbering and rimy.

Its puissant and feathered frame

Is a fleeting wraith across the hues;

The nostalgic glow of holiday light.

Fly home, cardinal, the scarlet king,

Your belly full of berries and seeds.

Fly home upon the niveous hush,

And into the candy-colored night.

 

I hope all of you had a fantastic Christmas. Here’s a poem I’ve recently written inspired by the holiday season. It was published in last week’s issue of my area’s local newspaper, the Weston County Gazette.

Have a marvelous 2016. I know I will!

Artwork by Janene Grende.

Sundays

An incandescent elixir is Sunday’s rich glow.

A bloom of its soft qualities begins to grow.

My soul drinks of it, swallowing deeply,

Using it quietly, wielding it discreetly.

-Excerpt from “Sunday Morning Rhymes”

by Nicholas Trandahl

Autumn leaves. Fog. Being outdoors. Shorelines. Woods. Morning sunlight. The sound of geese high in the air. The Atlantic.

Taking advantage of a mild November Sunday, reading and writing outdoors.

Taking advantage of a mild November Sunday, reading and writing outdoors.

Sunsets. Really good literature. Cocktails. Intimacy. Ambient music. Pinterest. Reading about trout fishing (while not actually fishing myself).

I, like all writers, am filled with creative inspiration by certain particular things. However, for me, few things inject creative energy into me like Sundays. There’s something so special about that day of the week, the quietest of days. Regardless what time of year, or what weather features a particular Sunday is offering up, I typically have a fervent desire to write or paint. The earlier the hour the better.

Today was a mild Sunday here in Wyoming. It was crisp, somewhat breezy, sunny and cloudless. It was still undoubtedly November, but it was a generous day for late autumn. It was a day for putting on a pea coat, lighting up an old pipe full of good pipe tobacco, and sitting outside in the meek warmth of the sun, poetry journal and book of Alice Munro short stories in hand. I was expecting to create something that glistens quietly; some elegant piece of prose that is subtle and well-written. I write a poetry every couple of days or so, and I figured today would bring a decent little poem.

I did write a poem, sitting out in the Sunday afternoon air.

And then I wrote five more!

Now, let me be honest here. I have never written six complete poems in one day. And I didn’t really do that today either. The five that I wrote after the initial poem were largely already created, verses jotted down quickly in haphazard chunks in a note app on my iPhone. I just cleaned up, added to, and improved on the rough drafts of poetry that were in my phone and put the final drafts of each into my leather poetry journal. Nonetheless, … SIX NEW POEMS!

My goal for 2016 is to have a chapbook of my poetry published, but at this rate I may have enough work for two! Or maybe enough for another collection of poetry! Stay tuned!

In the meantime, I’ll continue to take advantage of all the wonderful things in our world that inspire me. I’ll continue to use these quiet Sundays to their fullest. And, noble readers and writers, I encourage you to do the same.

A Luminous Niche

The waves have now a redder glow —

The hours are breathing faint and low —

And when, amid no earthly moans,

Down, down that town shall settle hence.

Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,

Shall do it reverence.

-Excerpt from “The City in the Sea”,

Edgar Allan Poe

Nicholas Trandahl

Nicholas Trandahl

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been making stories. And everyone that knew me growing up knew of my penchant for fiction. When I was 11 or so, my uncle gave me a massive hardcover tome, Complete Tales & Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe’s short stories were intriguing and I remember reading a few of them; I still remember several. But what truly drew me in, enchanted me at that young impressionable age, was Poe’s collected poetry. In his flawless lines I was taken to shadowed vales in realms of dreams, to lonely treacherous shores, to gilded rooms where romance bloomed, to Gothic dreary places swollen with sorrow and death.

I never recovered from that initial magic of poetry. Throughout my younger years I tried my hand at poetry, probably embarrassing works and better off disintegrated into the earth as they likely are, but my own literary aspirations remained on fiction. That all changed when I joined the U.S. Army and was deployed to the Middle East. I won’t go into the details here of the ordeals that I went through, but what I will say that the writing of poetry was my entire salvation. I self-medicated with words, prescribed myself (as I proclaim in my first published poetry collection) “Poetry for Pills!” Poems flowed from me, emotional and neurotic works of depression, hopelessness and helplessness, and sometimes questions of hope. I was eventually overcome by darkness while deployed, but poetry kept the darkness at bay longer than I could have with pills and alcohol.

Lost Yellow, Nicholas Trandahl's early collection of poetry published by Swyers Publishing.

Lost Yellow, Nicholas Trandahl’s early collection of poetry published by Swyers Publishing.

Later, when I was safe back home, a civilian again, a veteran, I had amassed quite the collection of dark poetry that I brought home with me from the Army. Also, I continued to write poetry in addition to fiction. My first published works were a handful of poems in a poetry anthology published by Swyers Publishing. It was called Making Waves and is available here. These poems began my relationship with Swyers Publishing who have continued publishing my novels, short stories, and even my debut poetry collection of those dark poems that I wrote during times of turmoil in the Army. That poetry collection, Lost Yellow, is available here.

But since I was first published in 2011, most of my writing endeavors have been geared towards my literary fiction novels and short stories. There were times when poetry would pour suddenly and briefly from me, when I was camping for instance and when I have been a little depressed. Poets, which I suppose I am, can write poetry all day every day. But I think that poets can only write really good poetry when they’re at their lowest and highest. In times of both depression and joy, the greatest poetry is birthed.

Despite my literary fiction endeavors, including my recently-released short story collection Cocktails & Other Stories, poetry has been knocking steadily and increasingly at the door of my creative mind. I’ve been reading and discovering new poets at the highest rate of my life. I’ve been filled with poetic inspiration. Also, my marriage and honeymoon last month have sure gone a long way towards unlocking really good poetry from my fingertips. I guess I’m becoming more of a romantic like early Yeats. Ten all new poems have mine were published recently in another Swyers Publishing poetry anthology called Crashing Waves (found here).

I’ve been attempting to write a little bit of short fiction on my typewriter, but my hand instead migrates to the drawer of my writing desk. Opening it, my hand withdraws my leather poetry journal that I picked up when I was in Martha’s Vineyard this October. I’ve been writing pieces in that journal, and also sketching and coloring quiet little drawings to accompany my poems. These recent poems that I’ve written in the last couple of months are easily the best poems that I’ve written; maybe the best items I’ve ever written.

Or maybe I’m just waxing poetic.

Nonetheless, I’m feeling more and more that the next book I’m going to try and get published is a collection of poetry. I suppose that’s my goal for 2016, to get a new poetry collection published. I’m sure I could make more sales and garner more of a royalty check if I put out another novel. But poetry has claimed me! I know poetry’s a niche area of literature, but it sure is a luminous niche. Isn’t it?

And I like spending time there.

To NaNoWriMo, or not to NaNoWriMo?

The colorful boughs of crisp October have given way to the barren limbs and cold grey skies of November. Do you know what that means? Not the quickly encroaching holiday season! It means that NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is upon us! And, according to what’s trending on social media, over 300,000 authors and aspiring authors are participating in the challenge to write a new novel this November! That’s quite the influx of new books, should even a fraction of these participants be successful in this literary endeavor and get it published.

Over the years, I’ve seen the NaNoWriMo crowd of writers get wildly jazzed about November, and I must say that the excitement has been contagious. I’ve often toyed with the idea of participating in NaNoWriMo, but then I get realistic with myself. I say, “Nick, you know that if we’re talking about a deadline and daily word goals, you’re going to do everything in your power to procrastinate, put it off, and eventually justify why you gave up.”

Clark's Turning Leaf by Nicholas Trandahl (published by Swyers Publishing in January 2014)

Clark’s Turning Leaf by Nicholas Trandahl (published by Swyers Publishing in January 2014)

Don’t get me wrong! I write … a lot. It’s a VERY achievable goal, writing a novel in a month with even a couple thousands words a day! The first draft of my most successful novel, a literary fiction book of contemporary drama called Clark’s Turning Leaf, was written completely in only three weeks! I’m not saying that writing a novel in less than month is easy. You’ve got to be wildly inspired to do it, almost possessed by the need to write. I was! And with 100% 5-star reviews on Amazon and the novel selling regularly each month, I think I turned out a decent literary product in a very short space of time. Check Clark’s Turning Leaf out for yourself here.

But the NaNoWriMo dilemma for me personally is that I would have that deadline that I’d have to reach or I’d consider myself a failure. I write very strictly on my own terms. And I usually write only when I’m inspired. In fact, I avoid writing uninspired pretty much all the time. I can tell when an author has written uninspired, and I can certainly tell when my own prose in uninspired. And I doubt that the entire month of November, I’d be inspired enough to write the way I need to write to be satisfied with myself.

Well, this October was no different. I saw writers on Twitter and Facebook getting all prepped for NaNoWriMo, getting their literary ducks in a row, and I again toyed with the idea of joining their enthusiastic ranks. I’ve recently returned from a honeymoon in Martha’s Vineyard in October, and have a journal loaded with details of the trip that I thought worthy of using as inspiration for a novel. In fact, during the honeymoon throughout the middle of October I was dead set on writing a contemporary fiction novel set in the Vineyard in the autumn. I was ready for NaNoWriMo.

Or so I thought. I blame poets for the dashing of that brief aspiration.

During the honeymoon, I purchased a hardcover copy of Mary Oliver’s most recent poetry collection, Felicity. Within two days I had bought and read a total of three of her poetry collections. I began my writing career as a poet in an anthology and have held a deep appreciation and fondness for poetry since I was a child. I published my debut collection of poetry in 2013, Lost Yellow, a collection I wrote when I was a soldier in the U.S. Army to help deal with my own stress and depression. But after Clark’s Turning Leaf and An Uncomfortable Life, literary fiction novels that were both published in 2014, my attentions strayed from poetry to writing fiction. My short story collection Cocktails & Other Stories followed this year.

But then very recently, ten new poems of mine were included in a poetry anthology that releases later this month. And then with my discovery of Mary Oliver and the contemporary romantic poetry of Jessica Kristie (visit her website), the poetry bug had very firmly reattached itself to my heart. I also just finished the final draft of a new short story.

So that brings us to the present, to the beginning of NaNoWriMo. And I’ve pretty much lost my aspiration to write a novel in the near future. I’ve got too much poetry to write and too many short stories that need telling. So this November, I’ll just sit back at my desk and watch all you NaNoWriMo participants engaged in that frenzied game of writing your novels in a single month. I’ll root for you, favorite your tweets, and retweet several of them. But that’s as far as I’ll presently dip my toe into the jovial literary chaos that is National Novel Writing Month.

Best of luck to all of you with your writings!

P.S., Those Martha’s Vineyard experiences of mine from this October are still going to be used. They may just reveal themselves in poems and short stories. Maybe a novella. We shall see. Stay tuned!

Cocktails & Other Stories

The moon was full and white, like a breast. Leaves still rattled in the hard cold limbs of the trees, and the leaves were made dry and vibrant by the year’s last great season. The pale lights of the night had usurped the chromatic radiances of the day. Light always begets light. Eternity carries a torch.

From the short story “Bestow” by Nicholas Trandahl

Short stories were intimidating to me. They always had been. They were more intimidating than writing novels, more intimidating than poetry. Brief, concise, no room to meander before it was over. With my two prior novels, Clark’s Turning Leaf and An Uncomfortable Life, I tended to wander a bit. My literary fiction tends to place the focus of the story on the characters and setting as opposed to a plot. I have always liked writing about life, my fiction being an extension of my poetry.

My literary idols (Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Truman Capote, John Cheever) were all flawless short story writers, masters and practitioners of that delicate art form. But the dilemma remained; how to convert my quiet and delicate fiction to a brief piece of short fiction? How was it possible? But then I discovered James Salter. The late Salter, also a master of the short story in addition to his peerless novels, wrote prose that was domestic but tense, sexual, melancholic, and beautiful. He wrote about the lives we struggle to conceal or gloss up to onlookers.

James Salter’s work showed me suddenly that there were countless stories in all of our lives, in our pasts and present. They could be brief and subtle, erotic, easy to miss or forget, too easy to take for granted. But an expert writer like Salter could notice these ethereal stories. He could isolate them, snatch them out of our lives and put them to paper. He could expand and condense them to the forms of novels or short stories. So my task was revealed to me. I needed to pay more attention to life, to people, and I needed to locate those quieter stories and write them … quickly, before them were lost.

And so I did. Feverishly.

Story after story plunged from my fingers and onto the paper being fed through my typewriter. Contemporary tales of lives, uncertain existences but also solid lives of contentment, continued to pile up at my desk. Stories about lust, sadness, resentment, frustration, happiness, sex, nature, writing, books, food and drinks … many many drinks.

In the process of writing all these stories (some of which were a bit to risque for my publisher) I remained fueled on a heavy dose of all my favorite writers, mainly Salter. I paid more attention to my life and the people and places around me. I saw beauty in EVERYTHING. I saw a story everywhere I looked. There were no longer limits. During the process of writing these short stories, my best writing would come in the evening, when I was alone at my writing desk with a freshly-made cocktail or two at hand, the events of the day still raw and vibrant in my mind.

In a matter of months I had a fat stack of short stories that I was eager to share with my publisher. My editor, Pamela Swyers, loved them all, though some of them couldn’t be published by them because of their nature. The stand-out tale for her was “Cocktails”, and so we chose that for the ending story of the collection and we used that as the title story of the book. It’s a fitting name for the book because cocktail drinks feature heavily in several of the stories, most but not all. Cocktails are a common thread appearing through much of the collection of short stories.

And so where are we now? Where is my writing? The collection came out in late August, and I’ve been writing a little bit of poetry, a handful more short stories, but I’m having some difficulty falling back into my more familiar role of novelist. What does that mean? Have I lost something? Gained something?

Does it need analyzed?

I like to imagine that maybe, decades from now, I’ll be a writer known for his poetry and short stories. I’ll have a couple short novels under my literary belt, but they won’t be what I’m known for. Maybe I’ll be like Cheever, daresay like Capote. Maybe, if the universe is very kind, my prose will be remembered like James Salter’s.

Cheers!

Pick up your own copy of Cocktails & Other Stories in paperback or ebook from:

Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0988846675?keywords=cocktails%20and%20other%20stories&qid=1446142160&ref_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1)

or Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/cocktails-other-stories-nicholas-trandahl/1122558493?ean=9780988846678).