Sunday, December 8, 2013

Nelson C. Nye, Part III

Although Nelson Nye's energies were already scattered in the dry Arizona winds, he helped Tommy Thompson organize Western Writers of America in 1952, enlisting the help of Harry Sinclair Drago, Norman Fox, Dwight B. Newton and Wayne D. Overholser. Nye was elected the organization's first president, and WWA followed the path blazed by Mystery Writers of America, founded eight years earlier. WWA held its first convention in Denver's Shirley-Savoy Hotel that year with editors, publishers and literary agents from both coasts in attendance. Nye was later awarded the coveted Saddleman as well as a Spur, and he served as bull whacker of the outfit for years to come (whenever he felt the team had strayed from the designated trail.)

He remembers that in 1952 "crime fiction was selling during the early fifties and the Western was not." Tommy Thompson pointed that out. And Nye said, "We'll start an organization for our category. And we did. It got its biggest initial boost from Ray Bond who auctioned off our first anthology. Charley Hecklemann bought it for Popular Library for an unheard of sum. It was this which kept the organization solvent, and we never got as much  money for another one."

WWA has changed a great deal over the years, he said. "Successive executive boards have thrown out almost everything we put into it."

Nye's writing schedule always allowed time for his other pursuits. His wife called him for breakfast around seven, and he would take their dogs for a walk. By 7:40 he began playing country music tapes for half an hour to get himself in the mood to write. Working until mail call about ten o'clock, he sorted through the day's arrivals and went back to his typewriter until 11:15, which was lunch time. It wasn't long before he was  out the door to begin prospecting--without a burro--or whatever else was on the agenda.

He read several days' work each morning before he began writing one draft, which was final copy. He rarely revised anything. "I never got contaminated with word processors or electric typewriters," he said. "What was the point? I was always a one-fingered typist, which was fast enough for the thinking I did at the typewriter. I learned to do final copy when I was writing for the pulps. There was no profit, I decided, in writing the same script three or four times. Once was more than plenty."

Nye said he never suffered from writer's block. "Success in writing anything comes with persistence, sweat and inspiration. You write every day whether you feel like it or not. If it's junk, you throw it away and put a clean sheet in the machine and keep on pounding. One thousand words of finished copy per day gets you a complete novel every two months. I've done 'em much faster and I've spent six months on a couple of them that sold, but were damn poor jobs."

Research was no problem., After years of prospecting the area around Tucson, Nye had the terrain and vegetation committed to memory as well as spoken Western jargon. He needed no further research to make his stories authentic, since most of  his novels were set in his own territory.

Writing to please himself before conglomerate publishing corporations laid down formulas to follow, Nye said, "if my books were good enough, someone would lease them. You don't sell them outright unless you're a plain damn fool. Almost every right--and there's a pile of them--can be leased and leased again ad infinitum."

Nye usually spent a week or two thinking up a good title before starting work on a new novel. After he figured out an opening that he hoped would catch a reader's interest, he worked on the primary situation. Out of this "comes everything else, from cause to effect." The beginnings and endings were always the most difficult, and getting rid of polysyllabic words.

"Ray Bond, when president of Dodd, Mead, wrote me half a dozen times over the five years I was with them, enclosing lists of scintillating words, and explained that 'the man in the subway won't know what you're talking about.' He was absolutely right. No matter what market you're writing for--unless it's an arty one--it adds little to your work to use high-falloutin' words. Each time the reader comes across something he cannot understand, or skips over it, your work suffers by that much. Enough of such distractions will find your book laid down permanently."

Admitting that he rarely enjoyed writing because there are so many other things he would have rather been doing--prospecting, turquoise cutting, or horse racing--Nye took on the additional job of reviewing other writers' work. He reviewed books for forty years for various metropolitan dailies as well as minuscule publications such as the Tombstone Epitaph.

"Nelson Nye will never stop writing," his wife once told friends. "But I did. And I'm glad of it. I had to sue one company to get three years' worth of royalties they wouldn't pay, and had to threaten other companies. There's not much profit in writing under such circumstances." But if he'd had his life to live over, he said he would probably do it exactly the same. After thinking about it for a moment, he added, "unless I knew as much to start as I did at the finish."

Not long after Nye's interview, he signed a contract with an independent motion picture producer to film thirteen of his Western novels. The company began shooting the first in Benson, Arizona, one version in English and the other in Spanish with Mexican actors. Nye also started pounding out new  Westerns at a furious pace, assured that his novels were still in demand.


(Excerpted from Maverick Writers, Caxon Publisher.)


  1. Thank you for sharing this informative interview. Enjoyed both.

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