Author: John D. Nesbitt (Page 1 of 8)

Dangerous Trails Commentary

Dangerous Trails, published by Prairie Rose Publications in June 2020, is a collection of twelve western short stories that (with one small exception) I wrote since my last collection (Blue Horse Mesa) came out in 2013.  This is my third collection of western short stories and my eleventh collection of short fiction. It includes “Return to Laurel,” which was a Western Writers of America Spur Award finalist and a Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award finalist, both in 2020.

The stories in this collection range in length from short, with “Dutch and the Hired Man” at a little over 2000 words, to “Return to Laurel,” at a little over 10,000. (The typical length of a commercial short story is often described as 5000 words, and stories that run past 10,000 approach the novella range, at least by some people’s measurement.) Overall, the twelve stories here have a total of 67,500 words, which is a length similar to that of many western novels. As I have written in other commentaries, I like writing works of varying length and not being confined by what some people call cookie-cutter patterns.

In tone, these stories are not pastoral rhapsodies or ranch romances. Most of them have people going places and facing trouble (hence the title). This is not to say that the stories are without humor (but then again, who am I to say what is funny?). The opening story, “Monroy’s Daughters,” is narrated by Jimmy Clevis, who elsewhere narrates three novels (Red Wind Crossing, Rancho Alegre, and Raven Springs) and a short story (“Rose of Durango,” in Blue Horse Mesa). Jimmy is a good-natured fellow, but he lives in a world of scoundrels and malefactors. Perhaps the most ironic story is “Dutch and the Hired Man,” which I hope readers do not find mirthless, and there may be a bit of humor and irony in some of the other stories.

In addition to “Monroy’s Daughters,” two additional stories have characters from my novels. The somewhat somber “Borrower of the Night” is narrated by the same young person, Grey Wharton, who narrates my first Dunbar novel, Dark Prairie. Dunbar himself appears in “Darlings of the Dust,” in which he brings a perpetrator to justice.

A short story collection is like an album, in which one strives for variety as well as continuity. Even though I have brought out several collections of short and middle-length fiction, I have several published stories that have not made their way into a collection, which is a way of saying that I am selective each time for content, tone, and overall quality. I hope that a reader of any collection of mine will like most if not all of the stories, and I sure hope that is the case with Dangerous Trails.

Dangerous Trails is available at Amazon.

Understanding and Writing the Monologue Story

The monologue story is a unique form of fiction, interesting for students of fiction to study and for writers to practice. This article will explain the features of the monologue story, it will cite and discuss well-known examples as well as provide additional illustrations, and it will offer some suggestions for writers who would like to meet the challenge of writing this kind of story.

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Doña Luz

In the fall of 1962, I went with my father on a trip to Mexico. He was meeting a woman he had corresponded with. We arrived in Chihuahua on November 1, just in time to go with the woman’s family to the cemetery for El Día de los Muertos on November 2. In the next six weeks, we would go on a tour to Saltillo, San Luis Potosí, Mexico City, Morelia, Guadalajara, Aguascalientes, Zacatecas, Durango, and back to Chihuahua. We saw a canyon full of Monarch butterflies, peasants carrying huge loads of firewood on donkeys, farmers plowing with oxen, boys bathing naked in a small waterfall and waving to the travelers, indigenous people in native dress, rural buses with goats tied on top, barbecued cow heads, paintings of President Kennedy on black velvet, the Basílica de Guadalupe, and a million other sights. On our return to Chihuahua, we visited the small museum maintained by Luz Corral, the widow of Pancho Villa.

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Doing the Right Thing

Time and again I remember an innocent moment, over thirty years ago, when I was sitting in the college cafeteria at lunchtime. As was the custom at the time at our small college, the instructors sat with classified staff and students, all of us like a family. On this day, one of the students came out of the kitchen, stopped, and dropped his tray of food. Utensils crashed, glass broke, food scattered, and people laughed.

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How Our Paths Cross

When I enrolled in classes at Orland High School in October of 1962, shortly after the beginning of my freshman year, I met Miss Gurrola, the Spanish teacher. She was very polite, and she welcomed me into her class. I had great interest in learning Spanish, and before long I felt comfortable in her class. The other students were already used to her, although she had just come to Orland at the beginning of that school year.

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Fifth Wheels

Sometimes I recall an incident in which my father and another man were talking about a fifth wheel. This was many years ago, when I was in my late teens and when fifth wheels were not common features of recreational vehicles. They were used almost exclusively with large equipment such as trucks and farm tractors. I asked what a fifth wheel was, and instead of just explaining, my father took the occasion to criticize me for not knowing. “It’s a fifth wheel.  That’s what it is. Don’t you know what a fifth wheel is?”

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What the Western Has to Offer

During the summer between my fifth- and sixth-grade years, I had to go to the hospital to have my appendix taken out. While I was there, I read my first traditional western. I was ten going on eleven, and as I recall, the pediatric ward was full, so I was put in another ward to share a room with an old man (old to me, probably no older than I am now) who had stomach ulcers. Not having much in common with my roommate, and being a proficient reader, I turned my attention to the reading fare on hand. It was a novel called West of Abilene. For years after that, I had lingering memories of a few of its salient features.

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Crossing Over

One of the best pieces of advice I received when I was trying to find a home for my first novel came from an agent. She suggested that I not be afraid to try writing a genre western. As I had been writing short stories, articles, reviews, and poems for several years and was taking a big step toward book-length fiction, I was hesitant to try a second novel if my first one wasn’t going anywhere. But with her encouragement, I went to work on an idea for a traditional western. It took me a couple of years, in and around the shorter things I was writing, in addition to my full-time teaching position, but I ended up with a western novel.

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May I Continue to Remember

It is a truth, perhaps not universally acknowledged, that a large percentage of college instructors come from middle-and lower-middle-class families of industrial workers, construction workers, hard-scrabble farmers, farm workers, and other blue-collar employees. I am one of them. Like a great many people I have met in my line of work, I chose a profession that offered a moderate but secure income and a modicum of status—two things that I did not grow up with; like many of my colleagues, I followed the ideal of humanistic education rather than the lure of material success.

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Small Expectations

I remember my eighth birthday with some clarity. It was in December of 1956, a short while after I learned that my mother had died. It was during the cold, clammy part of the year, and the two events overlap somewhat in my memory. I know that on one morning shortly after Thanksgiving, my father called me and my two brothers into the kitchen and told us that our mother (who had been living far away) had died. He told us we should tell our teachers, who needed to know that sort of thing.

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