My First Novel, or How I Became Nick Carter (for a very short time), by Bill Crider
When I was living in Brownwood, Texas, and teaching at Howard Payne University, one of the other English teachers, Elva Dobson, started a small writing group. One of the other members of the group was Gwen Davis, who taught English and French. Her husband, Jack Davis, came to the meetings but wasn’t writing anything.
One evening after the meeting was over, Jack came up to me and asked if I’d read any books in the Nick Carter series. Jack was the manager of the Allied Van Lines office in Brownwood, and he said all the truck drivers were reading those books. “They’re like James Bond for truck drivers. I think you and I could write one.”
I wasn’t so sure, but Jack said, “You’ve read so many of those things that you should be able to write one.” He was right about the reading, but I wasn’t convinced about the writing. I did know, however, that Jack had a writer in his family, so maybe he had the writing gene, too. He was the brother of Jada Davis, the author of the classic One for Hell, one of the great noir novels of the 1950s.
After I’d thought about it for a few seconds, I asked Jack what his idea was. It was this: he’d plot the book and sketch out some of the chapters, and I’d do most of the writing. Being an English teacher, I could spell and punctuate. Jack was sure I could take his ideas and work them into publishable chapters.
That sounded okay to me, so Jack called an editor at Ace/Charter, then the publishers of the series, and told him our idea. I’d never have had the nerve to do this, but Jack had plenty of gumption. The editor said the idea sounded good and that he’d send Jack the series guidelines. I wish I’d saved the sheet of guidelines, but I didn’t. Maybe Jack did, but he died long ago. At any rate, I remember a little about them. Nick Carter was agent N3, a Kill-master, in a super-secret U.S. government spy agency known as AXE, and all agents had a tiny axe tattooed on their right arms. Carter had three weapons: a Luger that he called Wilhelmina, a poison gas bomb that he called Pierre, and a stiletto that he called Hugo. Each one had to be used in the novel or at least mentioned. There needed to be a certain amount of violence and sex in the books. I told Jack that he could research the violence, and I’d research the sex.
After we had the guidelines and had talked them over, Jack told me his idea for the book. This was in 1979, but the idea would work just as well today. Nick Carter would be fighting terrorism, specifically Middle Eastern terrorists slipping into the U. S. across the Texas/Mexico border. The title would be The Coyote Connection. This sounded fine to me, and we determined from our reading of Writers Digest that what we needed to do was write three chapters and an outline to convince the publisher that we were just the guys to write a Nick Carter novel. Jack wrote out the outline and his ideas for the first three chapters on a yellow legal pad, and I fleshed everything out on an old Underwood manual typewriter. Then my wife, Judy, retyped the results on an IBM electric typewriter that we’d bought in 1970 for typing my dissertation. When she was finished, we mailed the chapters and outline to Ace/Charter and waited.
And waited. I’m not sure how long it was, but Jack was impatient. As I mentioned, Jack had gumption. He called Ace/Charter, and it turned out that the editor who’d liked our idea had moved on. Jack somehow got the editor’s phone number from Ace and called the editor at his new job. He asked him why the heck he hadn’t bought our book. The editor might’ve been a little taken aback, but this is what Jack reported that he said: “Look, you and your co-author are just two guys from some little town in Texas. You’ve never written a book, and nobody at Ace knows that you can write one. The three chapters you sent are good, and the outline is okay, but if you want to have a real chance at this, you need to write the whole book and send that.”
So we did.
And it was published. There was a Nick Carter book every month, and I’ve always suspected that someone failed to turn in a book one month. There was consternation in the editorial offices until someone said, “Hey, wait. We have that manuscript from those two guys in Texas. We can use that one.” “What if it sucks?” “Who cares? It’s here and it’s complete.” “All right, go with it.”
By that time Ace had become Charter Books, but we didn’t care. We were just happy to see the book in print. It had a great cover, with Nick and his great ‘70s sideburns, cradling a beautiful woman in one arm and holding Hugo in the other hand. It didn’t have our names on it, but we knew who wrote it.
Now that we were published authors, we figured that old three-chapters-and-an-outline deal would work just fine. We immediately sat down and worked out a couple of outlines. I wrote three chapters for one of them, and we sent them in.
The editor loved them, and we were thrilled. We were going to be part of the Nick Carter stable. We were set for life.
Except that we weren’t. That editor left, just like the first one had done. The new editor sent back our outlines and said he’d decided not to use us. He had other writers in mind (one of these was almost certainly Bob Randisi). So as quickly as it had started, our career as Nick Carter authors was over.