Today I’d like to welcome Dylan Taylor-Lehman to the BookEnds family! Dylan writes nonfiction on a variety of topics from rogue radio DJs to the history of the Spanish tortilla, from Bigfoot conventions to the popularity of crime podcasts. If there’s something strange or offbeat you’re interested in learning about, Dylan’s probably already investigating the story.
Welcome to BookEnds, Dylan!
Tell us a bit about your writing process. Where do you write, and how often?
Well, the projects I am working on are always on my mind, which is why I’ve been carrying a little notebook in my back pocket since I was in high school. If some really cool thought or sentence or idea to include crosses my mind, all I have to do is grab my notebook and start writing.
But for more heavy-duty work, I have a desk and a desktop computer in front of a window, and I find that that basic set-up is usually pretty conducive to getting stuff done. Simply having my notebook and files of papers spread out next to me always puts me in a productive headspace. And fortunately I live in a city with 300 days of sun, so the perpetually pleasant weather and blue skies make for a very inspiring situation as well!
I tend to write for a couple of hours per day, and this often means that I won’t even start cooking dinner until midnight. But I’m a night owl so I don’t mind this schedule.
Do you have any writing rituals? (e.g. burning a candle if you’re having trouble getting started at the computer or writing longhand first if you’re feeling uninspired.)
You might think I was making a meal instead of sitting down to write based on the amount of snacks I get ready before I get down to work. Sometimes a plain mug of coffee will do (indispensable to 99.9 percent of writers, I imagine), but if you’re going to have coffee, you might as well have some fruit to go with it, and some nuts, maybe a small pastry, another kind of fruit…
I often find that transcribing the stuff I wrote in my notebook into the piece I’m working on gets me going as well. I love being immersed in research and turning the fascinating things I’ve dug up into an engaging story, so at the risk of sounding a little full of myself, the momentum of the project itself is enough to put me in the zone for hours. Of course I’ll go for a few days and not feel quite as compelled to write, but most of the time I’m constantly thinking about whatever it is I’m working on and very much looking forward to the next time I can sit down again and get to work!
What do you love about writing nonfiction?
I write almost exclusively nonfiction, and in general I love that this allows me into someone else’s reality, no matter what it is I’m working on. I’m constantly in awe of how funny/strange/gross/compelling/moving/incomprehensible the real world is, and my work as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer allows me to explore really interesting topics almost constantly. I’ve written about everything from the history of the Spanish tortilla to people who salvage and eat deer hit by cars, and I truly appreciate being let into these little worlds and subcultures.
Why did you choose the genre you’ve chosen?
I like interacting with people and seeing and experiencing new things, and this genre opens these doors all the time. The fact that people sit down with me and talk for hours about their obscure job or the crimes they’ve committed, for example, is always an immense pleasure. Among other places, I’ve gotten to visit landfills, bean sprout growing operations, and a snowplow convention for pieces I’m working on; for someone whose curiosity is boundless (and who is easily impressed by minor details), this is the right genre to be in. In fact, I’m touring a medical waste disposal site next week and cannot wait!
I’m also a sucker for research and I love poring through archives or obscure books, which again makes this the right genre to be in.
What is the hardest part about writing nonfiction?
Oh, when people don’t follow through with interviews, or when a location changes their mind about letting me in to check it out. I was supposed to ride around with people who transport corpses, for example, and I was pretty disappointed when that fell through.
Plus in nonfiction you are always working with facts, so making sure everything is accurate and true is definitely something that’s always on the forefront of my mind. I want to make sure I do justice to the person/place/experience I’m writing about while being as objective as possible, and it’s disappointing if someone feels like I didn’t do this as well as I could have.
Do you get inspiration from any TV shows or movies? If so, which ones?
Not particularly, as I don’t watch a lot of either. Though I will say that watching movies like “Spotlight” or “Zodiac” are pretty inspiring because writers and their triumphs are the focus of the story!
If money were no object, what would be your dream writing location?
I used to live in a camper out in the country, and the sound of rain pattering on the roof and being surrounded by lush fields and trees was pretty close to paradise. Being able to take a camper anywhere in the world and write would be ideal, though I’d also settle for a cabin near a big body of water or an apartment in Valencia, Spain. I don’t think that’s too extravagant or unrealistic! Of course, being sent on assignments all over the world wouldn’t be too bad either, so editors feel free to dispatch me to wherever, whenever, and I’ll happily write from the field or a dingy hotel room!