MSUM alum writes best-seller about mountain man
MOORHEAD - While some stories are inevitably crafted from vivid imagination, others are based on real experiences written through the eyes of those who lived them.Danielle Nadler, 34, a 2005 Minnesota State University Moorhead alum with a degree ...
MOORHEAD - While some stories are inevitably crafted from vivid imagination, others are based on real experiences written through the eyes of those who lived them. Danielle Nadler, 34, a 2005 Minnesota State University Moorhead alum with a degree in mass communications and journalism, published one of those unbelievably true stories in December. The book, called "Without a Trace: The Life of Sierra Phantom," ranked No. 1 as a best-selling new release on Amazon and No. 3 in the travelers and explorers category in the first month of its release. Home-grown Having grown up in Watertown, S.D., Nadler was first inspired to pursue a writing career by a high school teacher who saw something in her. "I never thought I would go into writing," Nadler says. "But when someone tells you, 'Hey, you're pretty good at this,' all of a sudden you're encouraged to pursue it more." Though she never planned to write a book, Nadler says her journalism background was invaluable. Working at MSUM's student newspaper The Advocate challenged her to think differently about storytelling. "A lot of what I learned from my best editors - to paint the picture and make the readers feel like they're there - I was able to apply to the book," she says. After graduation, Nadler went on to work for daily newspapers in the San Francisco Bay area, the Las Vegas Review Journal and eventually moved to the northern Virginia area where she now resides with her husband. There, she is the managing editor for Loudoun Now, a startup community newspaper. An unexpected opportunity Late one night on her commute home from the newsroom in 2010, Nadler received an unexpected call from a friend. He told her he had just met an amazing man while hiking. "You've got to write a book on this guy," he told her. But she politely declined, explaining journalism and book writing were much different styles. But after much convincing, Nadler agreed to give the man a call. Their first conversation lasted 40 minutes. "He had everything you need in a good source. He remembered details that I could go back and fact check. He was on board with what it would take in terms of amount of time talking together," she says. "Suddenly I was thrown into this project that I never intended. It wasn't like I wanted to write a book and sought out material. Good material fell in my lap, and I almost felt like I had to pursue it." The man called himself Sierra Phantom. He lived in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California from his mid-20s until his mid-70s when he was forced to find housing due to recurring frostbite and hypothermia. He was in his mid-80s when Nadler began speaking with him. Their weekly phone calls became routine as Nadler got to know him more deeply. "I would jot down (notes) not knowing what I would do with this incredible story," Nadler says. "I just knew I needed to get him on a line to hear more." The more she heard was intriguing, to say the least. "He had a really tough childhood. He saw his time going out into the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada mountains as an escape and a way to find himself," Nadler says. "He really wanted to leave society behind - he was angry. He was also in World War II so he was bitter at some of the things he saw." But the wilderness changed, morphed and made Sierra Phantom the man he was.
"Sierra Phantom considered himself a survivor. He survived orphanages and forced labor as a kid, the front lines of World War II and then 50 years in the Sierra Nevada mountains. But it wasn't until he finally allowed himself to connect with people, and build a community, that he found he could do more than survive. He could live," Nadler says. "I think it's that way for a lot of people. We have these grand ambitions we hope to one day reach, but, really, it's the relationships we build in our day to day that leaves their mark on our lives. They are our sustenance. I learned that through my unlikely friendship with an old mountaineer." Having spent almost two years talking to Sierra Phantom, Nadler admits she misses the mornings she dedicated to writing her book for four years. And though she never planned to be an author the first time around, Nadler has already been approached with a few more story ideas since her book release. "I think if the right subject came along, I would write again," she says. "The response has been 100 times what I thought it would be."