Interview With Author John D. Nesbitt

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

My name is John D. Nesbitt, and I write fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, most of it set in the American West. I am best known for my traditional western novels and short stories, but I also have work in modern and contemporary settings as well. For nonfiction, I have written about other writers, and I have also written a few books about writing, mostly for the college courses I teach. In the area of poetry, I have written a collection of western poetry and a CD of song lyrics. To see titles and covers and to get an idea of content, please see my website at

What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

The real-life stories behind my work are composite and varied. I have not done any book-length works based on single experiences or single episodes. One kind of story that I write is what I call retro, based on my experiences in field work and small-town life in California in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In any of these stories, which up until now are fictional, I draw freely upon my own experiences for the subject matter (for example, picking peaches), but I will shape that material for whatever artistic purposes I have in the story. In my more recent work in this area, which I call retro/noir, I combine retro material with crime fiction. I did not ever find any bodies in the peach fields or even be close to any homicides in the fields or labor camps or small towns. But those possibilities are always there, so they fit in with the milieu. For another kind of story, I will mention my traditional western fiction. In those stories, I write about everyday working people, usually farm and ranch people. I did not live in that time, and I have not done full-time, sustained work as a cowboy, but I have done farm and ranch work all my life, and I have always lived in the American West and observed that heritage, so I feel that I come by my material honestly. For some people, westerns are all about outlaws, lawmen, gunfights, bank robberies, train holdups, chase and pursuit, battles and war, and the like. I don’t write about those things because I do not have enough real-life connection to them. One other aspect I will cite is that many of my stories have a love interest. Many of those story threads entail love that is not pristine and attractions that do not turn out well. Much of that material is based on what I have seen in life, although I have not lived all of those stories at first hand.

What inspires/inspired your creativity?

What inspires my creativity is the feeling that I have something (knowledge, experience, feeling), that could be of interest to someone else, and I would like to share it in an interesting way.

How do you deal with creative block?

If one part of a story is blocking me, I work on a different aspect. If a whole story line is holding me up because I can’t decide on exactly the right angle, I put it in a safe place and go to work on another idea. Some of my ideas germinate over a period of years.

What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

The biggest mistakes I can make in a book are to write something because I think someone else wants to see it that way (like ethical or moral choices), to write about something I don’t know anything about (like rich people or political intrigues), and to write something in a way that I hope will make money (like following trends).

Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

It is good to keep the title short so that it does not take up too much of the cover. I prefer a cover with one complete and single image (no collage, no incomplete images of people or animals). Another tip is that if the publisher doesn’t give the author any say in the cover, it is not worth fighting about, even if the cover does not represent the author’s vision. There are other publishers for future work, and there may be other publishers to reprint one’s work with more agreeable covers.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

Most of the bad stuff comes through reader reviews, and if one of them irritates me, I tell myself that that is what I get for reading online or reader reviews. I did have one story, one time, that a publisher wanted to put up as a free e-book, in accordance with a theory people have had about free e-books making money. I did not want to do it, but the publisher said it was a good strategy. As it turned out, about half the reviews were flippant, sarcastic, impertinent, and condescending. Worse, these reviews (as on Amazon) stick around forever, unlike a review by a professional reviewer in a magazine or journal. The happy ending to this story is that the publisher went out of business, and as this story appeared only as an e-book, it was taken down, and it disappeared. With others, one simply has to endure them.

How has your creation process improved over time?

I have grown out of pet ideas and pet phrases, which in a larger sense means to let go of things that one is fond of. Also, I have accepted the truth that I always have ways in which I can learn more and improve. One specific way in which my work has improved is that I have learned to write scenes with more discipline, and I think I have gotten better at maintaining an interesting story line.

What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

The best thing I encountered was being able to follow through with a story plan and see a coherent result. The worst thing I encountered was having incompetent editors who wanted to make corrections and were committing errors. The most surprising thing I encountered in writing or completing book projects was that I have always felt I could have done better. I thought that at some point or another I would feel that I did something perfect, but it has not happened.

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

I try to balance the two. I want to write things that have value for readers, but I want to feel that I have written something that comes from my own thoughts, convictions, and feelings and that does not compromise just because I think readers want to see things that way. I am fortunate (and glad) that I did not ever have to make my living just by writing, because I would not have been good at writing what I thought (or what someone told me) would sell.

What role do emotions play in creativity?

They are big contributors. If a person draws upon emotion, the reader can feel it. The writer should trust her own feelings and listen to them. If a little voice says do it this way or don’t do it this way, it is good to listen to that voice.

Do you have any creativity tricks?

I don’t know if this is a trick, but I am willing to spend quite a bit of time in pre-writing, just talking to myself by writing notes, as I find a way that I think will work for a story. I am not afraid to write down various exploratory ideas that will end up being crossed out and shredded.

What are your plans for future books?

I would like to write more contemporary, retro, and traditional fiction. I would like to write one or two more books about writing. And I would like to write at least one work of autobiographical nonfiction.

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

I am a pretty plain guy. Maybe one thing that is quirky is that when I am by myself (or with a dog), I say things out loud that do not have to make sense. Sometimes I repeat absurd things I heard in the past, sometimes I say things that combine words or phrases from different languages I am familiar with, and sometimes I sing fragments of songs I will never complete. I think it is good to give voice to these things.


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