Sunday, January 27, 2008

Saddlebums Interview: John D. Nesbitt


John D. Nesbitt has published fourteen novels, six short-story collections, and an impressive number of literary articles, book reviews, and poetry. He lives in Wyoming where he teaches both English and Spanish at Eastern Wyoming College, and he not only writes about the West, but he lives it and seemingly loves it.

His work is known for its strong sense of place, complex and believable characterization, and a prose that Roundup Magazine calls “elegantly spare.” His latest novel, Death at Dark Water, is scheduled for release in February 2008 from Leisure.

First, I want to thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions John.
Thank you for the opportunity.

I want to talk a little about your publishing history, what was the first novel you published? Was it a long time coming, or did you hit print pretty quickly once you decided to write it?

My first novel was One-Eyed Cowboy Wild, in 1994 with Walker and Company, one of the last New York publishers to do hardcover westerns. I had written short stories for quite a while and had been getting them published for over fifteen years, but it took me quite a while to get it together to do a book-length piece of fiction. The first novel I wrote was something different; this one was the second. I had a good inspiration for the story idea, and I wrote the first draft without a great deal of angst and struggle. Once I had it ready to go, I went through quite a few dead ends (more than a year) until the editor at Walker gave me the break I needed. Her name is Jackie Johnson, a wonderful person and a great old-style editor, and she will always have a special place in my heart.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I wrote creative stuff all the way through school, but it was probably in my first or second year of college that I became conscious of wanting to do it as something more than a hobby. By the time I was in my third or fourth year of college, I knew I wanted to write and be published.

I am proud of all my work, but there are a few books that I think of as being high points for me, in that I felt I carried things off about as well as I could hope to do.

Is there a book, or a few books, that you have written and are particularly proud of?

I am proud of all my work, but there are a few books that I think of as being high points for me, in that I felt I carried things off about as well as I could hope to do. My first western, One-Eyed Cowboy Wild, was good for a debut novel. After that, the ones I think of as high points are Coyote Trail, For the Norden Boys, Black Hat Butte, and Lonesome Range. Another book I am proud of, though it’s not a western novel, is my basic writing textbook, Blue Book of Basic Writing. It’s now in its sixth edition, and although it doesn’t have much public, it has been an ongoing work of great value to me and a source of pride.

Most writers are voracious readers, and I’m wondering what you read for pleasure?

For pleasure, I read westerns, mysteries, and standard British and American authors. I also read books by friends who are authors.

My father was a cattleman and farmer who went broke when I was very young. He had a black Stetson that fit me when I was ten or twelve, and between my family background and my schooling, I grew up with the sense that I was a western person

Now I want to turn to the western genre specifically. What first led you to the genre?

My father was a cattleman and farmer who went broke when I was very young. He had a black Stetson that fit me when I was ten or twelve, and between my family background and my schooling, I grew up with the sense that I was a western person. It was my heritage. I read westerns when I was young, and then when I was in college I started taking them seriously at the same time, and I ended up writing my doctoral dissertation on the classic western. All the time I was doing the work for the project, I knew I was studying technique. My first published story was a western, published in an ephemeral commercial magazine called Far West. My second story was a contemporary rural story intertwined with a western story, and it won a literary prize. And on and on, until I got it together to write book-length fiction.

I enjoy reading not only traditional westerns, but also stories based in the contemporary west. You write both. Do you have a preference for the type of western story you write?

I like both. I feel that I have greater freedom of subject matter and form in contemporary fiction, and I have a great fund of personal knowledge and experience to draw upon there as well, but writing traditional westerns is part of my writer’s identity, and I’m always happy to be working on a western. As for the type of story I write, I usually write what is called character-driven fiction, which has more emphasis on character interaction and motivation than on incident and surprise. Landscape or place usually has a significant role in my work, also. Reviewers usually cite character, detail, and prose style as my strong points.

What are a few of the western writers who have most influenced your work?

I would say Owen Wister, for his example that the western can be serious; A.B. Guthrie, Jr., for a sense of clear prose style and liberated form; and Ernest Haycox, for a sense of trying to blend thoughtful work with traditional structure.

If you could bring back the work of one western writer who would it be? Is there a specific title?

This is sort of a personal interest, but I would like to see the novels of Caroline Lockhart, an early twentieth-century novelist from Wyoming , reprinted. One novel has been reprinted in recent years, and I would like to see "Me—Smith” enjoy a bit of a renaissance. It is dated, as novels from 1910-1920 are, but it gives us an idea of what a woman western writer could get away with writing in 1911.

I think the genre is better off with more writers now than, say, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, when the bookracks were almost entirely taken up by Louis L’Amour and the adult westerns.

What do you think about the western genre today, and what do you think the future holds for the western story?

As for the quality of the western genre today, I think there is still a great deal of mediocre writing (I’m thinking mainly in terms of prose style, language use, and narrative craft), just as there was in the 1940’s and 1950’s, and there is quite a bit of gratuitous bloodshed, rape, and general mayhem. On the other hand, I think the genre is better off with more writers now than, say, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, when the bookracks were almost entirely taken up by Louis L’Amour and the adult westerns. It is clear that the western genre is not as strong as it once was (through the 1960’s or so), and I believe, as do many writers, that it is not likely to regain its earlier status. On the other hand, I do not believe that the readership is a shrinking group of people who are getting older and dying. My feeling is that the western is not going to vanish but that it will maintain a low level of popularity. It is a conservative genre, in that it doesn’t change much, so I don’t expect it to change greatly in its level of literary quality.

I understand you teach English and Spanish at a college in Wyoming. Since you spend a good deal of your time with young people, I was wondering if you have a perspective on how we—both the western genre and literature as a whole—can be more appealing to the younger generation?

In the students I have had in the last ten years or so, I have seen very few people who read for pleasure, and I have seen quite a few who won’t even read good literature when it is assigned. However, in the students who are coming up through grade school and high school right now, it seems as if there is a resurgence in interest in reading, thanks to many of the highly successful authors who write for young readers. Right now, the biggest rage seems to be for fantasy, and I don’t see that evolving into an interest in westerns, which aren’t nearly as glitzy. I don’t know how literature can be more appealing to the younger generation, except that it has to be clear, dramatic, and colorful.

Okay, now let’s get down to your current work. What is your latest novel?
My latest release is Raven Springs, the third in a mini-series of crossover western-mysteries with a genial narrator named Jimmy Clevis. The next one scheduled for release is Death at Dark Water, which takes place in territorial New Mexico and has all Hispanic characters except for the Anglo protagonist. It should be out in February.

Can you tell us about the novel—or any other projects—you are working on now?

I just finished and mailed off yet another western, written along fairly traditional lines. Until I get a publication date and a cover, I usually don’t say much more than that. This one is under contract, though, so I don’t think I’ll jinx it by saying as much as I did.

I have one last question, and I must warn it is a little vague. If you could chose any project to work on, what would it be?

I’m the kind of writer who straddles the lines—in my case, between literary and traditional (one reviewer characterized me as someone who writes literary traditional westerns, and I think that is accurate) and between historical and contemporary. I want to keep trying to write individual novels of quality, in both the genre western and the contemporary western novel. So if I had to choose one, I’d say, yeah, both.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

John D. Nesbitt is a real asset to the western field, and I wish him great success. If anyone can transform an ossified genre, he can.

Richard Wheeler

Leah said...

A doctoral dissertation? Mighty impressive! I wonder if we should be putting Dr. John D. Nesbitt on his covers.

Anonymous said...

I just re-read "I'll Tell You What," and it's great stuff. I wish Mr. Nesbitt would spend more time in the contemporary vein. I find it infinitely more interesting than the traditional Western stuff, although I doubt it's as profitable for him. "Seasons In The Fields" is great, too. I 'm surprised he didn't mention either of those books.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it's gauche to respond on this site, but I thought I would try, as I very much appreciated the comment about my short story collections and thought it might be appropriate if I responded. As for contemporary work, I try to keep my hand in it. My most recent short story collection is "Shadows on the Plain," but it looks as if the Amazon listing doesn't show it as a short story collection or as contemporary fiction (my web site does). As for the "traditional Western stuff" being more profitable, that's close but not quite the whole story. Westerns don't pay very much, but they do give a measure of sucess, as they get the author's work and name out to a much larger public than a short story collection can do (I think of myself as being more interested in this kind of success than in the money). Also, it is more possible for a mid-range author to get published in book form if he or she writes in a genre. The short stories in "I'll Tell You What" (which were a great deal of fun to write) and in "Seasons in the Fields" mostly appeared in little magazines here and there, and I brought out the collections myself, along with two others, "One Foot in the Stirrup" (which subsequently got printed by a commercial publisher) and "Antelope Sky," just so that those stories would have a little more viability in reaching an audience. I'm happy they have done so. I didn't mention them in the interview because I was focusing mostly on the western material, although I did mention my writing textbook, which has no public at all beyond my own courses. Anyway, I continue to write contemporary fiction. I have one such story, "Frost on Thin Ice," in the Amazon Shorts program; another one there, entitled "Dutch and the Hired Man," could drop in, spurs and all, into "I'll Tell You What." In the vein of rural stories such as those in "Seasons in the Fields," I have a story forthcoming in a magazine called "Hardboiled"; it's a longer story entitled "At the End of the Orchard" and one I was very pleased with when I got it accepted. I've also done a couple of contemporary novels ("Keep the Wind in Your Face" and "A Good Man to Have in Camp"), which I think have some of the better touches of my contemporary fiction, and I also have a contemporary novel under consideration with a publisher right now. It's just hard to get anyone interested in publishing a book of such material because it is commercially more risky than the traditional Western genre material. John D. Nesbitt

Stephanie Barko said...

Saddlebums-Hi!

There's another Dorchester author you might want to interview.

Give me a shout if you want to know more.

And please include who runs this site. Thanks.

Stephanie Barko, Literary Publicist
"Texas authors & authors touring Texas"
steffercat@austin.rr.com

LN- Nickers and Ink said...

What a lovely blog! I enjoyed poking around here.

Love the Western genre reviews and interviews! Keep 'em coming!

Have you read Sigmund Brouwer yet?

Blessings,
Linda N - Nickers and Ink
http://themanepoint.blogspot.com

Peter said...

I've just finished reading my first ever "western novel", El Tigre by John Manhold and I have to say it has changed my opinion of the genre dramatically. What an exciting time it was in the wild west.

Thanks for this post, I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for more western fiction from now on.

Anonymous said...

I am currently reading Rancho Alegre and am enjoying it very much because I know the country of which he writes.. and I happen to live on Siloam Road in western Pueblo county just 21 miles west of Pueblo, Colorado.. the old timers that live around here have told us that there was a small little town called Siloam, Colorado. Today it is two trees on the corner of Siloam Road and Highway 96. Nothing is left of any town but it is home because we live close by.. Thank John D. Nesbitt.. you have described the country well.

John D. Nesbitt said...

Thank you for the comment on Rancho Alegre. I don't know if you are familiar with my blog, but I have a bit of commentary on this novel and how I went about writing it. My blog is johndnesbitt.blogspot.com
Thanks again for your interest, and I am glad to know I have done some justice to your part of the country. I enjoyed it when I went there.

Rod in Cheyenne said...

Coyote Trail is a wonderful story that reflects the life of a cowpoke, including the concept of "riding for the brand" and the cowboy's desire to trust their working partner. I can tell that Nesbitt is very knowledgable about the cowboy life, especially as it was in Wyoming years ago. I expect to continue reading his realistic Westerns.

Cowgirl Up Jeans said...

John D. Nesbitt is a great westerner and has written some fantastic books. Check him out.

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Westernj Style Mag said...

Nesbitt is one of my all time favorites, when I pick up one of his novels it becomes very difficult to put down. I would love to interview him sometime for my blog.

Western Style Mag said...

Nesbitt is one of my all time favorites, when I pick up one of his novels it becomes very difficult to put down. I would love to interview him sometime for my blog.

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