Friday, December 4, 2009

Partners in Crime: Bill Crider

I asked Bill Crider to be my Guest Blogger today on Mystery Fanfare's Partner in Crime series: Writers who write with a partner (s).

Bill Crider is a real writer's writer. He writes several mystery series including the Sheriff Dan Rhodes series, the Carl Burn series and the Sally Good series. He also writes the Truman Smith P.I. series. In addition he writes non-series mysteries, Westerns and children's books. I know a forgot a few others, but you can read more about the books and about Bill Crider here. You should also read his books! Bill is also a big mystery fan and has contributed to mystery fandom in many ways.

Writing with a Partner by Bill Crider

If I hadn’t had a writing partner, I’d never have published a novel.

That might sound strange, coming from someone who’s now published well over fifty books under various names, but it’s true. In a way, I owe my whole career to a man named Jack Davis.

When I was living in Brownwood, Texas, I was in a small writing group. One of the members was Gwen Davis, who was working on a romance novel. Her husband was Jack. He drove her to the meetings and stuck around to listen to the rest of us talk and read what we’d written. I was writing sensitive poetry at the time, but I was reading a lot of crime fiction, and so was Jack. After a while he decided that he and I should write a Nick Carter novel.

Jack was the manager of the local branch of a national moving company, and he said that the guys who worked for him read a lot of the Nick Carter novels. He’d picked up a few that they’d left lying around his office. “It’s like James Bond for truck drivers,” he told me. This was in 1978 or 1979. I’d been reading the novels off and on since 1965. I knew what he meant, but I wasn’t so sure we could write one of the books.

Jack was sure. He sent off for the writing guidelines, and when he got them, he made a deal with me. He’d plot the book and rough out the chapters. I’d do the actual writing and the final draft. If the book sold, we’d split the money 50-50. I didn’t have anything to lose but time, so I told him it was a deal.

We eventually did three chapters and an outline. Jack would give me his pages scrawled on yellow paper from a legal pad, and I’d translate them into what I hoped was readable prose on an old Underwood manual typewriter. Then my wife, Judy, retyped everything on an IBM electric.

Jack and I never had any discussions, much less any arguments or disagreements. Neither of us knew enough about what we were doing for that. We were entirely clueless. So clueless, in fact, that Jack believed we’d get a call from the publisher within weeks of our sending off our chapters.

It didn’t happen. Jack couldn’t believe it, and you won’t believe what he did next, either. He called the publisher to find out why. That’s right. I told you we didn’t know what we were doing.

What Jack found out was that the editor we’d sent the manuscript to had left and gone to work for another house. You really won’t believe what Jack did then. He tracked the guy down and called him. Here’s what the guy told him: “Your chapters aren’t bad, but the new editor already has some writers she knows and trusts. You and your writing partner are just two guys from Brownwood, Texas, wherever that is. Nobody ever heard of you. You can write three chapters, but nobody knows if you can write a whole book or if it would be any good if you did. Go ahead and finish the book and send it in. That’s your best chance.”

So we finished the book. Jack gave me the chapters, ranging from one to five handwritten pages. I fleshed them out and turned them into what I thought was classic literature on a par with Hemingway. Judy retyped them. After a long time, we had something resembling a book. We sent it to New York. They bought it. Believe me, nobody was more surprised than I was.

The book was published in January 1981. Jack and I planned to make a long career of being Nick Carter, and now that we were famous, we figured we could sell on sample chapters and an outline. We quickly did chapters for two more books and sent them in. The editor loved them and said we were going to be part of the Nick Carter stable. Within weeks, she was gone. The new editor wasn’t impressed at all and said he wouldn’t be needing us. We were crushed, and that was the end of our collaboration.

A few years later I went out on my own and published my first solo novel. I’ve done a lot of collaborating since, both officially and unofficially, but that first experience was the best. Jack Davis for persuaded me it could be done, came up with the idea, and persisted in the face of what seemed like failure. Thanks to him I’ve had a fairly long and interesting career in the writing game.

9 comments:

Bill Crider said...

Wow, Janet, you work fast!

Charlotte Elkins said...

Bill,
Reading your blog post was a trip down memory lane. Aaron and I started writing in 1979-80, as well, with no clue to how publishing worked. If we'd known, we might not have even tried. Glad we didn't know. It's been a great ride! Long and interesting...what more could we want. Charlotte Elkins

Ed Gorman said...

Bill and I collaborated once, too. Four years ago my oncologist said that I needed to go into the hospital post haste. The problem I had was that I was about halfway through a novel (disguised as a western) about a federal agent who was looking into an infamous horse racing scandal (horse racing was so crooked the government tried to ban it). I called Bill and told him my dilemma. I also told him about the deadline. True friend and great writer that he is, he wrote the second half of the novel and did a fantastic job. As I knew he would. The book's called Fast Track in case you ever want to try and tell where I stopped and Bill took over. Thank you, Bill.

Janet Rudolph said...

Ed,what a wonderful story and with a happy ending in so many ways. Love to have you guest blog on Mystery Fanfare.

Ed Gorman said...

Be happy to, Janet. Thanks, Ed

James Reasoner said...

Bill, I remember almost like it was yesterday getting the letter from you in which you told me the Nick Carter book sold. A lot's happened since then, hasn't it?

Bill and I wrote four Western novels together under the house-name Matthew S. Hart, and every one of them was a pleasure.

kts said...

I enjoyed reading this and am curious; are you still in touch with Jack? Best, Kirsten

Bill Crider said...

I'm glad to see those comments from some fine collaborators. It was indeed a pleasure to work with both James and Ed. Also nice to see the comment from Charlotte Elkins. I haven't see her and Aaron in too long a time.

Msmstry said...

Thank goodness for Jack Davis!

I used to buy full grocery bags of used books when I was just out of college (there wasn't a new bookstore within walking distance of where I worked). Paid a quarter apiece for them. Many were Nick Carters. I may well have been a second-hand reader of your first publication. I'll tell folks that anyway!

Enjoyed the post!

Janet, what a great idea. I'll check back.