John D. Nesbitt lives in the plains country of Wyoming, where he teaches English and Spanish at Eastern Wyoming College. He writes traditional western novels and short stories, contemporary fiction, mystery fiction, and retro/noir fiction. His articles, reviews, fiction, and poetry have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. He has had about thirty books published, including short story collections and novels as well as textbooks for his courses. John has won many awards for his work, including two awards from the Wyoming State Historical Society (for fiction), two awards from Wyoming Writers for encouragement of other writers and service to the organization, two Wyoming Arts Council literary fellowships (one for fiction, one for non- fiction), a Spur finalist award for mass-market paperback original novel for his western novel Raven Springs, and the Spur award itself for his noir short story “At the End of the Orchard” and for his western novels Trouble at the Redstone and Stranger in Thunder Basin.
Tell us about your new novel
My new novel, entitled Gather My Horses, is scheduled for release with Dorchester Publishing in June 2011. This novel is about a man who brings danger upon himself when he helps some small ranchers resist being pushed around by the big stockmen. Tom Fielding is a packer who works for a couple of big outfits delivering goods to their camps, and so he endangers his livelihood when he sticks up for the small operators. As the story proceeds and the protagonist’s friends leave him to fend for himself, his life becomes in danger as well.
How is this novel different than your previous novels?
As this novel is about a packer, it has a great deal of detail about working with pack horses. I have done a little of this on my own, so it is a topic I have some feeling for, and then I was able to do some background work to help me give a realistic depiction of running a pack string. I felt that I worked up the material pretty well, and I was able to integrate it into a story about people who cheat, people who play fair, and people who just look out for their own asses. I also managed to create a heroine who has a bit of courage. I was pleased with the way the story turned out, and my editor told me he had a feeling that this book rose to a good level.
You write in multiple genres, do you feel like you have to defend yourself for writing "genre fiction"?
I don’t feel that I have to defend myself for doing any of the things that give me professional and artistic satisfaction. If there are people out there who want to dismiss or criticize genre fiction, I can’t worry too much about them. After all, there are plenty of people who do like genre fiction—notably readers and publishers—and they are the ones who matter. I write genre fiction because it is one way in which to frame ideas and to present subjects I have a feeling about. Writing genre fiction and getting it published makes a great statement (to me) about being successful at an artistic endeavor. If someone else thinks it is facile, that is his right, but I think it’s just a matter of prejudice getting mixed up with a lack of inside knowledge. No matter what a person does in the world of literature and writing, there will be someone who wants to knock it. I have done a bit of fiction that leans toward being literary, and of course there are people who criticize that kind of writing. They stereotype it, and while their stereotype may not describe my writing very closely, the narrow-minded criticism is still there. But that’s not going to keep me from writing a story that seems to call for what I think of as a literary treatment. Also in the area of professional endeavor, I have been a college instructor for many years, during which time I have written book reviews and literary articles. And, of course, I have heard and read plenty of resentment toward academics, reviewers, and the like. But I know how valuable it has been to me to live an educated, literate life, and I’m not going to apologize to or argue with someone who doesn’t know things from the inside but would just like to throw stones.
Why do you write westerns?
It’s been in my blood all my life. My father was a cattleman before he went broke, but he kept his black Stetson, and I wore it at an early age. I grew up with a sense of western heritage, and I knew I wanted to write westerns if I could. When I did my doctoral dissertation on the western novel, I was doing my academic work at the same time I was doing aesthetic analysis for my own sense of form and technique.
When did you know you were a writer?
By the time I was in the eighth grade, I could see that I had a natural inclination to write, and I could see that others liked what I wrote. By the time I was in tenth grade, I had gotten encouragement in writing poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Even though I thought I would go into some other field (my first major in college was in mathematics), I assumed I would try to write for publication.
What’s a work day like for you?
When classes are in session, I write in the evenings, on weekends, and during days off. When I have a stretch of time away from school, such as during summer break, I have a normal writer’s day. I try to be writing by 8:00 a.m., and I stick to it until early afternoon with a lunch break in there. From about 2:00 to 4:00 I go to town, check mail and messages at my office and P.O. box, and come home. I live on an acreage in the country, so I work outside for a couple of hours, usually wielding a shovel, a hoe, an ax, or something like that. In the evening I may write a little more or work on the story line for scenes that are coming up. By the way, I write out fiction by hand, then revise and edit as I type it up. After that it will go through one or more additional drafts before I send it off.
What’s a day off like for you?
I have to be a long ways away in order to have a day off. One place is the Snowy Range, out west of Laramie, where I go in summer to listen to the creek flow by and where I go in the fall to hunt elk. Another place is in northern Mexico, up on the plateau west of Chihuahua, where we have a little house in a village. On a day off there, I sit on the east side of the house in the morning to drink coffee, and I sit on the west side in the late afternoon to drink Carta Blanca. In the middle of the day I might go on a walk to see the ruins of the old hacienda, or I might go next door to my wife’s family’s place and visit a little.
If you could be anything other than writer, what would it be?
As I mentioned above, I have been a college instructor for many years. That has been my livelihood and also my career. It is inseparable from being a writer. But if I had to give up being a writer (odd idea), I would still teach for as long as I was able. As the question is phrased, it asks what I would be if I could be anything else, and it seems to assume that there is something more desirable. I don’t know what it would be. I wish I was a better horseman, but I could be that (or should have been by now) without giving up my chosen profession. I have a yearning to own a ranch, but I don’t know if it’s because I want to be a rancher or because I want to recover what my father lost when he went broke.
How do you define success?
Success is being able to achieve what I set as an objective for myself. When I was an undergraduate, I wanted to be a college instructor with my own office and a writing career, and I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to do that. Within writing, success comes from getting my work published and recognized. Recognition comes in various forms, such as distribution, reviews, awards. Top achievements for me in this area have been two literary fellowships with the Wyoming Arts Council and placing as finalist and winner a few times in the Western Writers of America Spur awards. These awards mean a great deal more to me than royalty checks. I still believe in writing short stories and poems and getting them published without getting any payment in return. I am content with realizing the idea and form of the work and with seeing the work available to readers. I also write textbook and course manual materials for my college courses, and I have always been proud of not making a nickel from my students. My sense of success there comes from having a textbook that works for me and that can help students learn. On the hierarchy of writing, though, the greatest success comes when my work is accepted and published and sent out to the book racks of America and then wins an award. Although I do not count my success in terms of money, getting paid contributes to my sense of how successful I have been, and even if a check is for less than the current price of a forty-ounce bottle of Budweiser, I do not scoff at it.
What’s next for you?
I hope to continue to find an outlet for western novels. I have had a temporary derailment with the changes at Dorchester, and I hope to see my western work in circulation again. I also hope to write more in mystery and noir, both contemporary and retro. Other than that, I am waiting for my foot to get a little better so that I can ride the palomino I got in trade for the nice sorrel that bucked me off and broke my ankle last fall. And last but not least, I look forward to packing with my donkey Pierre. I’ve written one story about him, and I’ve got the feeling that there’s another one out there somewhere.
For more information about John's novels, visit www.johndnesbitt.com