North of Cheyenne is my sixth traditional western novel.  It was published in October 2000 by Leisure Books (Dorchester Publishing).  This work, like many of my other traditional westerns, places an emphasis on character and landscape, and it is a continuation of my earlier attempts at breaking out of the predictable patterns of the paperback western. North of Cheyenne is available on Amazon.

Monte Casteel, the main character in North of Cheyenne, is different from the typical western hero in that he is not the type to jump in and settle things with his fists and guns.  However, he lives in a world of men who do intimidate others, slap them around, kill them furtively, and kill them outright, so he can’t be a gentle milliner or haberdasher.  He is a working cowboy who lives on the range, and when someone tries to tell him to move on, he resists. When injustices are committed, he works to set them right. He just doesn’t do it by jumping in, beating up some adversaries, and killing others.

At the point in my career when I wrote this novel, I was interested in writing a new kind of western, or at least something that I saw as original in its rebirth.  I had read (and studied) so many formula westerns, as they are called, that I didn’t see much originality in the pattern of the hard-hitting, fast-shooting hero who solves all conflicts (and wins the girl) in a climax of massive violence.  So I tried designing plots in which the protagonist gets into conflicts by his own actions, develops a love interest, and resolves conflicts without using violence as the main means. I wrote five traditional westerns this way, and when I lucked into an appreciative reviewer, I received recognition and sometimes praise for what I was trying.  If I had a reputation at that point, it was for writing character-driven fiction, which means, among other things, fiction that does not depend heavily on twists and turns in the action but on more subtle points such as motivation.

I tried designing plots in which the protagonist gets into conflicts by his own actions, develops a love interest, and resolves conflicts without using violence as the main means.

John D. Nesbitt

I did not stay wedded to this plan, however.  For one thing, as far as plotting was concerned, I sensed that I was substituting one formula for another, and I saw myself faced with a future in which I was going to have to resort to ingenious tricks to keep the protagonist from engaging in direct action.  For another, I wanted to try working with different kinds of characters, some more assertive than others, and some of them not hesitant to give the bad guys what they deserve. And for another, I became more of a believer in the more definite conclusion. After all, in spite of the surface illusions of reality, westerns depend on patterned action, and if a person is going to write a traditional western, she cannot stray too far from that idea.  So after this novel I tried more variation in the kind of ending I was working towards, and I embraced the idea that having an assertive or dynamic character who solves things with definite measures does not require that I follow stereotypes, nor does it require that I give up writing character-driven fiction.

Meanwhile, as I wrote North of Cheyenne, I tried my best to execute the idea that I had at the time, and I thought I measured up to the task all right.  I devised characters and problems that I was interested in and that I could write about with conviction, and I turned a good phrase or two.  As part of my preparation for writing this novel, I went out on a short field trip in the area around Wheatland and Glendo and on up to the foothills of the Laramie Mountains, and I formed some good impressions of the places where my characters would interact.

The year after this book came out, it received the fiction award from the Wyoming Historical Society.  I have also received a few nice letters and personal comments from readers who have liked it. For people in this part of Wyoming, at least, the title has resonance, as does the first line of the novel: A cold wind blew from the north.

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