John will send an inscribed, autographed copy of Poacher's Moon to a lucky commentor to this blog post. A drawing will be held on July 22. Here are the rules:
1) You must have a US or Canadian mailing address.
2) You must make a comment other than "Me me me!"
3) You must comment before July 22.
4) You must contact me by Tuesday, July 29 with your mailing address when your name is announced. Otherwise, a new winner will be drawn.
Welcome, John! How long have you been writing? What made you start?
I have been writing since I was in grade school. I had a little bit of recognition for writing poetry when I was in the eighth grade. In high school I had a few of my essays and stories selected for the bulletin board, and I wrote poetry on my own. When I was an undergraduate, I kept a journal and wrote poetry, much of it in the style of the poems I was studying in British literature courses. In the second year of graduate school I took my first creative writing course, focusing mostly on fiction. Four years after that I had my first short story published in a magazine called Far West, which published work by established western writers and which paid good money for the time. I wrote and published short stories, literary articles, reviews, poems, and magazine articles for several years, and then I had my first novel published in 1994. Since then I have continued trying to stay diverse, but a greater proportion of my time has been spent on writing novels.What made me start? I don’t remember, except that I wanted to see my ideas expressed in literary form. It might be easier to say that I just couldn’t quit.
When did you sell your first book?
I sold my first book to Walker and Company, a hardcover publisher in New York that did traditional westerns at the time. My first published book was entitled One-Eyed Cowboy Wild. As mentioned above, it came out in 1994. Walker did two more of mine until they quit publishing westerns.
What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?
I am something of a planner, and I have become more of one as time goes on. For a novel, I usually work with an outline, a set of characters, and a set of additional notes and comments to myself, and for a short story I often do something similar but on a smaller scale. I have written a lot of stories by feel, as I call it, but those have often been shorter than 5000 words.
How do you choose your characters' names?
I have a few techniques I employ. I try not to have too many names with the same letters (i.e., avoid Jim and John and Jeff and Jack in the same story, and avoid similar last names like Wilson and Williams). I try to vary the length of characters’ names as well, and I also try to avoid repetition in stress patterns. For example, many of our Anglo-American names have a stressed first syllable and an unstressed second syllable, as in Linda Wilson. I try to have characters with one syllable in the first name, two in the second; two in the first, one in the second; two and three, three and one, and so on.
Also, I try to give my characters basic names (Clay is pretty earthy) or historically accurate names (Pearl or Nance for a man, for example) or names that have some kind of allusion. Maybe I have too much fun here (Dryden in one story, Shadwell in another), but I also try for names that resonate with some kind of additional meaning. In Poacher’s Moon, for example, the missing person is named Heather Lea, and she corresponds to the parallel theme in the novel about use and abuse of nature.
What is your daily schedule like?
When I am working full-time on a manuscript, as I am doing now (I have a full-time teaching job, but I am on summer break), I try to be writing by 8:00 a.m. I write until 12:00 or 1:00, and then I either type up what I’ve written or I go to town and do errands.
How do you handle life interruptions?
It depends on what kind of interruption it is. Divorce has not been kind, nor have similar disappointments. It’s certainly not a good idea to try to write about a miserable mess when you’re in the middle of it, and sometimes it is difficult to write about anything else. As for other interruptions, such as day-to-day obligations and emergencies (come quickly; the cow is in the garden), I try to keep them at their level, solve the problem, and get back into my work.
Do you write with music playing? If so, is the music likely to be songs with lyrics or only instrumentals?
I don’t write or read with music playing. Music is good when I am ironing shirts, and I have known myself to have my favorite music for mopping floors as well.
What food or snack keeps the words flowing?
I don’t have any special attachments here.
What one thing do you like most about writing? Least?
The thing I like most about writing is the satisfaction of expressing an idea or feeling and then seeing it shaped into a pleasing form. The thing I like least is fighting the system and having to worry about whether I am still going to have my work published after the current contracted work is finished.
Tell us about your new book, Poacher's Moon.
Poacher’s Moon is a contemporary western novel with a strong element of mystery. In it, I explore an idea that I think is important in the modern-day west, and that is whether people look at natural resources (especially wildlife, in this context) as a commodity or as something that transcends its financial value. I locate this problem in my main character, Wilf Kasmire, who at the opening of the novel wants to try to make a living as a guide and outfitter so he can enjoy the outdoor life he loves. He becomes somewhat disillusioned, however, when he takes out hunters who pay and then think, in sometimes casual and sometimes crass terms, that they should get their money’s worth. At the same time he is going about this work, he is nagged by the disappearance of a young woman he used to spend time with, and no one seems to be trying very hard to find her. In pursuing ethical problems that come up in his work as a hunting guide, Wilf also finds himself pursuing the question of what happened to Heather Lea.
This novel was a major work for me, both in what I was hoping to achieve and in what I thought I achieved. I realize, of course, that not everybody is going to like everything, but I do have hopes that this novel will be appreciated.
What is your next project?
Right now I am working on a traditional western novel. It is already under contract, but until something is closer to publication, I usually don’t say much more than that.
What is your advice for other writers?
Don’t give up. Don’t write what you think someone else wants. Take advice to improve what you want to write. Read good literature and use a dictionary.
What other work of yours has been published?
Traditional Western Novels
One-Eyed Cowboy Wild (NY: Walker and Co., 1994). Large print reprint (Thorndike, Maine: G.K. Hall/Thorndike, 1994); paperback reprint (NY: Leisure Books, 1997).
Twin Rivers (NY: Walker and Co., 1995). Large print reprint (Thorndike, 1996); paperback reprint (NY: Harper Collins, 1997).
Wild Rose of Ruby Canyon (NY: Walker and Co., 1997). Large print reprint (Thorndike, 1999); paperback reprint (Leisure Books, 1999).
Black Diamond Rendezvous (NY: Leisure Books, 1998). Large print reprint (Thorndike, 2000).
Coyote Trail (NY: Leisure Books, 2000). Large print reprint (Thorndike, 2002).
North of Cheyenne (NY: Leisure Books, 2000). Large print reprint (Thorndike, 2002).
Man from Wolf River (NY: Leisure Books, 2001). Large print reprint (Thorndike, 2002).
For the Norden Boys (NY: Leisure Books, 2002). Large print reprint (Wheeler, 2004).
Black Hat Butte (NY:Leisure Books, 2003). Large print reprint (Thorndike, 2004).
Red Wind Crossing (NY:Leisure Books, 2003). Large print reprint (Thorndike, 2004).
West of Rock River (NY:Leisure Books, 2004). Large print reprint (Thorndike, 2005).
Rancho Alegre (NY:Leisure Books, 2005). Large print reprint (Thorndike, 2006).
Lonesome Range (NY: Leisure Books, 2006).
Raven Springs (NY: Leisure Books, 2007). Large print forthcoming.
Death at Dark Water (NY: Leisure Books, 2008)
Trouble at the Redstone (forthcoming, NY: Leisure Books)
Keep the Wind in Your Face (Casper: Endeavor Books, 1998).
A Good Man to Have in Camp (Casper: Endeavor Books, 1999).
Poacher’s Moon (Greybull: Pronghorn Press, 2008).
Short Story Collections
One Foot in the Stirrup: Western Stories (1995). Large print reprint (Thorndike, Maine: Thorndike Press, 1997).
Adventures of the Ramrod Rider: Gripping Tales, Augmented and Revised by the Author (Casper: Endeavor Books, 1999). Six stories.
Shadows on the Plain (Casper: Endeavor Books, 2005). Fifteen stories; ten previously published.
Short Story Collections (under my own imprint)
One Foot in the Stirrup: Western Stories (1995). Nine stories; six previously published.
I’ll Tell You What: Fiction With Voice (1996). Fourteen stories; eight previously published.
Antelope Sky: Stories of the Modern West (1997). Twelve stories; nine previously published.
Seasons in the Fields: Stories of a Golden West (1998). Thirteen stories; nine previously published.
Textbooks and Course Manuals
Blue Book of Basic Writing, course manual/textbook for basic writing (Casper: Endeavor Books, 1996, 1999, 2004).
Writing for Real, course manual/textbook for college composition (Casper: Endeavor Books, 2000, 2007).
Understanding Fiction, course manual/textbook for studies in fiction.
Done by Friday, activities manual to accompany Blue Book of Basic Writing.
Thank you for the Interview, John.
Thank you again for the opportunity to have this exposure. I appreciate it.
Visit John's blog at: http://www.johndnesbitt.blogspot.com/