Name: Doug Stanton
Hometown: Traverse City, MI
Work: In Harm’s Way, Horse Soldiers
Next to Jim Harrison, Doug Stanton is arguably one of the most prolific Midwestern writers whose work blossomed from the shores of Grand Traverse Bay in the quaint town of Traverse City, MI. As the New York Times bestselling author of In Harm’s Way and Horse Soldiers, Stanton’s personal narrative is as equally as exciting as his storytelling. Far from the rolling hills of the Cherry Capital of the world, Doug’s work has brought him to the corners of the earth. From his extensive coverage of the Middle East for “Horse Soldiers”, to trekking the Patagonia mountains with famed businessman and environmentalist Yvon Chouinard, he has captured stories from around the world. These stories evoke emotion and pull you into a world not your own.
This past spring I happened to walk by him at a coffee shop in his hometown of Traverse City, MI. Doug was dancing around in thought as pages of writing scattered his table. His coffee mug stained from multiple refills. He quickly smiled and offered his hand out to shake. It was that moment, I realized that Midwestern culture is the basis for these simple, casual interactions. Regardless of stature, awards or a number on the New York Best Sellers list, here I am being casually greeted by a literary hero who is willing to exchange words and simply enjoy a little company. No egos, just coffee and conversation.
This week, we extended that conversation and had the chance to talk to Doug again, more formally, as he gives us a look into his world…
Doug Stanton is an author, yes, but ask him and you won’t get such a simple answer – “I write. And I listen. I try to inhabit other people’s worlds.” Doug’s most successful writings have peered into the world of men in dire situations. From the men of the USS Indianapolis in World War II, who survived 4 days in the South Pacific ocean after a Japanese torpedo sunk the mighty vessel, to a group of US Special Forces who rode into Afghanistan on horseback, fighting off Taliban forces – these type of tales are at the core of Doug as a storyteller. It is a story of triumph that influenced Doug enough to pick up the pen, when asked when he first thought of himself as a writer, he responds, “when I was 14, and attended Interlochen Center For The Arts and met Galrway Kinnell, the poet, who read the poem “The Bear.”
There is a certain romanticism about being a “writer” and in conjures up many different pictures of the lifestyle. Some may picture the Hemingway’s of the world, traveling, drinking themselves silly in the pursuit of intellectual fortitude and freedom, where even a life of tragedy has beauty to it. Or to some, the tame surroundings of a local coffee shop, a macbook and caffeine as the drug of choice. While the latter may be the routine for Doug today, in his time there has been no shortage of adventure and relentless dedication to the craft. Whether it is driving Jim Harrison’s car down to Arizona for a little money, surviving mugging attempts of jungle revolutionaries or nearly drowning in Cape Horn, there are stories to be told and experiences to draw from. From war zones to near drownings, these experiences have taught Doug a thing or two about fear. When asked about the drowning incident, Doug replied.
“That moment was really about realizing my own ability to be stupid. We were in a storm, in high seas, in a Zodiac raft. No radio, lights, or brief with others where we were. Tony Demin, my brother in law and magazine photographer, would have lasted 10 minutes in the cold water. I thought, all for a story about fishing for brown trout in Tierra Del Fuego. Really? I didn’t feel in imminent danger in Afghanistan, mostly because in places like that you have situational awareness and can assess minute by minute the threat. The things that kill you often need to see you, too. It’s harder for the people left at home. It’s harder to be left behind than to go out in the world.”
While Doug has lived and worked all around the world, it are his Midwestern roots that have been the strongest as he now resides in Northern Michigan. To us, we wondered if staking a claim in the Midwest makes it any more difficult to be a successful writer than say living and working in NYC or the West Coast. Doug notes,
“I live in the town I grew up in. I know every street corner, and most of the people on them. Everybody. I know everything here, and I know nothing. Should I start writing about Traverse City as a fictional place? I don’t know. There’s so much that happens in town; it’s its own opera, often funny. And it’s a place that sustains me. My parents and other relatives are here. Sometime when you look down the street it seems like you can see for years. It’s a funny feeling to have so much memory packed into one place…”
These memories continue and it is the Norther Michigan landscape that allows Doug to take a brake from the pen and enjoy his passions and time with his family. “I used to fly fish; my friend the poet and author Mike Delp is always asking me to come and fish more and I’m grateful. And I bird hunt. Bob Butz, the Lake Ann-based writer, and I used to hunt a lot when we lived in the country outside Traverse City; every day. We’d throw a party for friends from around the country every fall. Venison, morels, red wine, woodcock, grouse. I like to cook; Anne Stanton and I cook together, and our son, Will, 12, likes it too. I like swimming, it’s private. I used to snorkel all over the Grand Traverse Bay as a kid. I’ve written about swimming in Grand Traverse West Bay for the New York Times and it didn’t ruin the swimming. It remains a private practice.”
Photo courtesy John Russell – National Writers Series
The Midwest is Doug’s home, both past and present and he has taken an active roll in the community. He is the founder of the National Writers Series whose Front Street Writers program “is designed specifically for 11th and 12th grade students interested in studying writing as a craft and pursing writing as a potential profession.” Programs like these are more important than ever and lay a solid foundation for a future generation of writers who may continue on the adventures and the storytelling beyond “shares and likes” but too become composers of the pen.
We want to thank Doug Stanton for taking the time to answer our questions and give us more insight into his world. Be on the look out for his next book surrounding Vietnam to which he notes “My next book will be a musical comedy. It will end well.” To hear and read his stories is truly inspirational, but it is his definition of a “Midwestern Gentleman” that we will leave you with.
Say yes, say please, say thank you. No prisoners. – Doug Stanton