AMA About Cowboy Noir For The Cartel Era

Jim Nesbitt
Nov 14, 2017

I'm Jim and I write hard-boiled crime fiction set in Texas and northern Mexico that feature a battered, but dogged Dallas PI named Ed Earl Burch. Ask me anything about writing crime fiction, creating vivid characters and snappy dialogue and invoking a keen sense of time and place. I'm also a battle-scarred veteran of the self-publishing game and can offer tips on producing and marketing your book -- and, just as important, yourself.


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Do you have a website, please do share for full insigt to your AMA?

Nov 15, 2:56PM EST0

As it happens, I just had my website completely overhauled. Go to https://jimnesbittbooks.com

You can also check out my Amazon author page at amazon.com/author/jimnesbitt

Nov 15, 10:44PM EST0

This is a damn fine interview, Jim! Kindly share/link it again, or excerpt the best questions/answers, to our FB group, MYSTERY WRITERS CAFE.

Nov 15, 10:51AM EST0

I put the link up and let folks click and look at their leisure.

Nov 15, 10:45PM EST0

Tell us a bit about the best newpaper story you ever wrote, and the worst. And why you'd rate them as such. Has either found its way into your fiction?

Nov 14, 1:01PM EST0

After four decades in journalism, it's hard to pick just one story, but the one that leaps to mind is one of the last stories I did as a senior writer at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. I was doing a package of stories on the potential impact of pandemic flu on North Carolina -- both the potential death toll if the flu bug was a monster like the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-20 or 21 and the potential impact on hospitals, doctors, nurses and other medical professionals. As part of that package, I wanted to find people who had lived through the Spanish Flu pandemic but was skating right along the edge of mortality in terms of finding anybody still alive. I did find a 101 year old man in a nursing home who could tell me about friends and neighbors who died, including a young woman slightly older than him, Mabel Allen. In a last-ditch effort before deadline, I lucked out and found the daughter of the soldier who had married Mabel and brought the killer flu bug with him from a World War I training camp -- it nearly killed him, it did kill her. And the daughter told me how they snuck the wagon carrying her body past his bedroom window so he wouldn't know she was dead and die from grief. The daughter took me to Mabel's grave -- an overgrown family plot at the edge of a farmer's field.

As for my reporting experience finding its way into my fiction -- both my books as well as the one I'm writing now are heavily influenced by my experience knocking around the Texas-Mexico border in the late 80s and early 90s as a journalist. When Ed Earl Burch and Carla Sue Cantrell enter the world's sixth-largest bat cave near Mason, Texas, the scene described is based on my standing calf-deep in bat guano in that very cave.

Nov 14, 9:20PM EST0
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How long have you been writing ? 

Nov 14, 12:14PM EST0

All of my life -- and professionally, for more than four decades.

Nov 14, 9:20PM EST0

What will be your advice to those aspiring authors?

Nov 14, 11:48AM EST0

Read great writers and learn from them -- but be prepared to weep from frustration because some reach heights you never will. Then get a nice, soft cushion and sit yourself down in a hard chair and write. As I say below, writing is damn hard work and you're always going to be frustrated by not being able to quite get what you hear in your head down on paper. And there will be days you write like a homesick angel and other days when your words clunk and clang like a city garbage truck rattling down a pot-holed alley.

Nov 14, 9:24PM EST0

What inspires you to write crime fiction?

Nov 14, 8:46AM EST0

Reading really great crime fiction -- usually of the hard-boiled kind. I answer this in more detail below, but I truly think hard-boiled crime fiction is a particularly American art form. I also get inspired by talking to other crime writers at conferences, book festivals and the like.

Nov 14, 9:36PM EST0

Who is the most famous person you have ever met?

Nov 13, 9:59AM EST0

As a journalist, I met a lot of famous and infamous people -- from David Duke and Diane Lane to Bill Clinton, Al Gore, George W. Bush and George Wallace. Part of the job to rub elbows with folks like that, but preferred talking to ranchers, loggers, nurses, doctors and just plain folk.

Nov 13, 10:03PM EST0

Do you prefer pen or type writer or computer?

Nov 13, 9:37AM EST0

I've sold out and gone whole hog with the MacBook Air.  But my favorite writing device of all time is the old IBM Selectric typewriter. Man, I used to love to make those things smoke.

Nov 13, 10:05PM EST0

What is your advice to Indie Authors on writing and publishin?

Nov 13, 9:06AM EST0

Spend the money and take the time to find the best folks in the various disciplines you need to produce as professional looking a book as you possibly can. That means hiring an editor, a formatter, a graphic designer and a proofreader. Don't skimp and don't be sloppy if you want your work to be taken seriously. Learn as much as you can about smart use of social media and other platforms to market your books and yourself and realize this will be a long slog of constant hustle. There's no magic bullet and there are a lot of folks out there who want to take your money and promise magic that they can't deliver.

Nov 13, 10:10PM EST0

What would your advise be to new writers or/and people who want to become writers?

Nov 13, 8:30AM EST0

Read great writers, particularly in the genre and type of writing you want to do. Then sit your butt in a chair, open a vein to your soul and bleed into your laptop. I'm both poaching and tweaking Hemingway's line here. Realize a lot of what you write is utter crap but if you stick to it and hone your skills, you'll get better at it -- if you've got some talent to begin with. A lot of folks are in love with the idea of being a writer, but really don't want to put in the time and sweat to become one.

Nov 13, 10:15PM EST0

What book that you have read has most influenced your life and writing?

Nov 13, 7:28AM EST0

I'm an omnivore when it comes to reading, so it's impossible for me to pick a single book as being the One That Changed My Life Forever. I've got favorite authors, from John O'Hara and Flannery O'Connor to Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson, James Lee Burke and James Ellroy. If you held a gun to my head and made me choose just one, I'd have to say the late, great James Crumley, a vastly underappreciated author of gritty crime novels laced with sex, drugs, violence and alcohol.

Nov 13, 10:19PM EST0

tell me your experience as a cowboy?

Nov 13, 7:27AM EST0

Although I've owned and ridden horses Western-style and love the American West, I've never been a literal cowboy, punching cattle. And the reference to cowboy noir in the headline for this gig comes from a reviewer of my first book, THE LAST SECOND CHANCE, who described it as cowboy noir for the cartel era. Which is a pretty apt description. Another reviewer has said that although my books have all the trappings of the hard-boiled genre -- booze, femme fatales, guns, bad guys, tarnished heroes -- at heart, they're really Westerns. I guess I've had a cowboy attitude all my life and have earned the hat and boots from more than a few years in the saddle. The unkind would say I'm all hat, no cattle, but I don't pay much attention to them.

Nov 13, 7:47AM EST0

Do you do book tours?

Nov 13, 5:38AM EST0

Not in the traditional sense, but I've done blog tours and love the back and forth of Q&As. I also enjoy going to conferences, book festivals and signings because it gives me the opportunity to schmooze with readers and fellow writers. I think it's important for a writer to climb out of his or her shell and be among like-minded people who love books. It's also important for any artist to be an active participant in the community of fellow creatives and fans.

Nov 13, 7:50AM EST0

Who is your favorite author?

Nov 13, 5:28AM EST0

Hard to pick just one. I write hard-boiled crime fiction, so I love the old masters of the genre -- Hammett, Chandler and Cain. If I had to pick just one, I'd say the late, great James Crumley, author of really gritty crime novels laced with sex, drugs, alcohol and violence.

Nov 13, 10:22PM EST0

What is your background? Crime is a very specific topic and to write about it in detail you must have some expertise right?

Nov 13, 5:25AM EST0

I spent four decades as a journalist knocking around the country chasing stories. Along the way, I got to know some cops and some outlaws and developed a pretty good feel for the motivations of the human animal both good and bad. The cliche advice given to new writers is to write what you know -- that's just the starting point. To really give authenticity and authority to your writing, you have to stretch what you already know with research, from reading to walking the ground and talking to experts who know far more than you do. I learned the hard way that facts are a writer's friend, even when you're writing fiction, and form a firm foundation that makes your writing very powerful.

Nov 13, 10:28PM EST0

What has been the best compliment for your writing?

Nov 13, 4:15AM EST0

When someone tells me they could feel, see, taste and hear the places and people in my books. That's when I know I told the story as good as I possibly could.

Nov 13, 10:30PM EST0

What is your favorite part of the book?

Nov 13, 1:36AM EST0

The end. Because I can get out of that chair, grab a whiskey and a good cigar and be among people again. The other favorite part of writing a book is when a character rises up and takes over and drags the story someplace you didn't anticipate. I had that happen with both my books. In THE LAST SECOND CHANCE, a character named Carla Sue Cantrell just muscled her way into a major role I didn't plan. The same thing happened in THE RIGHT WRONG NUMBER with Louis, the New Orleans hitman -- a nasty piece of work.

Nov 13, 10:37PM EST0

What has your experience been like as an new Indie Author?

Nov 12, 7:55PM EST0

I'm no longer a newbie, but it's been a very steep learning curve on both the production/publishing end and the marketing side of the equation. I think I've mastered the former and have a cadre of experts who help me put out as professional looking a book as possible. As an ex-journalist, that's important to me -- I'm an old pro and I want my books to be professional grade. So, I spend the money on editing, formatting, cover design, etc. to meet my own expectations. I've been successful there -- I think. I've been less successful marketing my work and selling both my books and myself as a brand. I've learned a lot and know that marketing is important -- always has been, even for traditionally published authors. I'll continue to self-publish because I want to get my books out there and really don't want to spend the time hustling up an agent, having him or her convince a publisher to run my book, lose editorial control and get in the conga line and wait 18 months or two years for my book to appear.  I'm older, so this approach suits my purposes.

Nov 12, 10:41PM EST0

What made you want to become a writer?

Nov 12, 5:22PM EST0

I've got very little choice in the matter. I come from a long line of hillbilly story-tellers and writing has always been in my blood. And I've been a fairly successful professional writer for a lot of years -- both as a journalist and a public relations guy. It's who I am -- a writer.

Nov 12, 10:44PM EST0

Why did you pick crime fiction as a genre?

Nov 12, 5:18PM EST0

I've always thought hard-boiled crime fiction a particularly American art form. At its finest, as written by masters like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, James Lee Burke or James Crumley, the stories are far more than whodunits or crime thrillers. They're also commentaries on contemporary American life, ranging from politics to music to the relationship between men and women. They also have a strong sense of time and place and are peopled with evocative characters and snappy dialogue. That's the kind of story I wanted to write. Still do.

Nov 12, 10:50PM EST0

Are you working on another book?

Nov 12, 2:26PM EST0

Yes. Just finished Chapter Twelve of the third Ed Earl Burch crime thriller. Working title: THE BEST LOUSY CHOICE.

Nov 12, 10:52PM EST0

What gives you inspiration for your book(s)?

Nov 12, 2:02PM EST0

Good writing by great authors and all those voices in my head.

Nov 12, 2:13PM EST0

What is the toughest criticism given to you as an author?

Nov 12, 1:04PM EST0

I try to read all reviews and comments, even the bad ones, because you never know when you might find a nugget that will make you a better writer. Readers get to say whatever they like -- most paid their nickel for my work and the wise author pays attention to what they say, even if it's a slam from a troll. Book bloggers, reviewers and contest judges fall into a different category. They're in the game, so to speak. The best of them give you a thoughtful critique that explains why they liked or didn't like your book or what parts they liked and what they didn't like -- and why. The worst are the cheap shot artists and what I call Checklist Charlies. The former are little better than trolls. The latter are the self-appointed genre gatekeepers who ding you for not hitting every one of Raymond Chandler's points in his great essay on the essential elements of hard-boiled detective fiction, The Simple Art of Murder, which is his counter to the Brit cozy mystery/amateur sleuth style that dominated the 20s and 30s market he was trying to crack. Even Chandler broke his own rules in The Long Goodbye, which is what a good writer does -- master the template and turn it on its ear to tell a good story. Not that I'm anywhere close to Chandler. Long digression to get to a short answer -- had an anonymous judge in a contest say something like: "It's clear he's a good writer -- I just wish he'd written a story worth telling." Nice line that told me absolutely nothing because he/she didn't bother to support it with specifics.

Nov 12, 2:13PM EST0
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