John KestnerCity Lights Press is excited to welcome John Kestner to the team! While working at a nuclear power plant, Kestner wrote over 35 feature film screenplays, nearly three-quarters of them winning or placing in int’l and national screenwriting competitions. John Kestner’s first novel, Vegas Working Girl, will be published in December 2017. His second novel, Yesterday Rules, a teen memoir that reveals he may not have been very smart to begin with, will follow in the winter of 2018.
City Lights Press: You’re known more for screenwriting, how did that turn into writing novels?John Kestner: As a lifelong movie fan, I see storytelling in two different forms: literarily and cinematically. I have stories that are conceived and developed as films, but I have a few that are very personal and need more space and depth than the rigid format of a feature screenplay. Screenwriting is the paint-by-numbers version of art, which doesn’t make it less of an artistic pursuit; it just requires a different type of creativity to make great art. And both require a great story.
CLP: How does writing novels and writing screenplays differ for you?JK: Screenwriting is projecting your idea through characters onto a screen. Just what they say and do. With the right director, the right actors, and the right budget, the characters as you envision them can come to life. In novel-writing, you’re the producer, the director, the actors, everyone on the film; you’re the show. It’s so much more pressure because you can’t blame anyone else if the story doesn’t work.
CLP: Did you always know you wanted to write?JK: In a freezing junior high school room during one of the record-setting winters in 1970s Ohio, I was given a stack of “career cards” so I could start thinking about my future. One of the cards said WRITER. The photo was a beautiful Caribbean beach. The card described the jet-setting super successful life of an established writer. I thought, “THIS IS FOR ME!” Someday I will find the person responsible for that card…and I will exact my revenge.
CLP: Vegas Working Girl takes place in Las Vegas during the 80’s, did you spend a lot of time in Vegas during that time?JK: I’d like to avoid saying what actually happened and what was made-up for this novel. I will say that I was young and went to Las Vegas looking for a story. And I found one.
CLP: What is your favorite genre to read? What are you currently reading?JK: I love anything that’s well-written. I love nonfiction that reads as intense and compelling as fiction, and I love fiction that hits you with the authenticity of personal experience. You read it and you know someone didn’t just make this up. As far as what I’m reading, I just finished an old college friend’s book about creationism (while reconciling what an insane party animal he was in school), a biography of National Lampoon/Saturday Night Live writer Michael O’Donoghue, and a new book about the lasting legacy of the classic film, Casablanca.
CLP: What does your writing space look like?JK: I think it looks like a nest. Papers, books, unopened mail, discs, etc. I can swivel in my chair and reach everything I’m working on.
CLP: Do you have anyone in your life that you run your ideas past before you begin writing?JK: Not really. I have a script consultant named Donie Nelson, a best-selling novelist named Mollie Gregory, and some other good friends who give me invaluable feedback but it’s generally after I’ve written a story. The novels come from a much deeper and personal place than the screenplays, so the decision to write them over and over for decades couldn’t be swayed by anyone’s opinion—and everyone’s been very encouraging all along the way!
CLP: What types of things do you enjoy doing in your free time?JK: I love to travel. I still love reading and going to the movies. Keeping up with friends and meeting new people. I know this all sounds vague and cliché, but I like to keep moving and listening and participating in real life, in the moment, connecting and finding new characters and stories. Writing is such a solitary devotion but what gives the stories life are the characters and places from my own life.
CLP: Are you currently working on anything?JK: Absolutely! I always have a half-dozen screenplays in their second or tenth or twentieth drafts. My novels Vegas Working Girl and Yesterday Rules will be published in the coming months, so I’m returning to another project I started thirty years ago. Back when I dropped out of college and moved out west, I wanted to find a job that allowed me to write but might also make good source material, so I ended up working security at a desert nuclear power plant. And I ended up staying there for thirty years. So I’m putting together a novel of what really happened inside a nuke plant in its wild early days. Live a story long enough and it will write itself!
Learn more about John Kestner here!