[Return to The Runner Who'll Never Die: An Interview With William F. Nolan, part one]
William F. Nolan is so prolific that to try to list all his books, short stories, pieces of art, public appearances, and TV or radio interviews would be a book in itself. One recent work that allows us to enjoy all facets of this immensely talented writer and accomplished artist is Ill Met by Moonlight, which includes Nolan’s prose, poetry and artwork.
A two-time winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Special Award, Nolan’s very first collection of short stories, Impact 20, originally released in 1963, was re-released in 2002. Among his novels, in addition to the Logan quartet (Logan’s Run in 1967; Logan’s World in 1977; Logan’s Search in 1980 and Logan’s Return in 2001) are ten others, including Helltracks (1991) and The Winchester Horror (1998).
Reflection’s Edge: Ray Bradbury wrote in Impact 20 (published by Gauntlet Press in 2003):
“Here is where I take a very small, insignificant bow. After all, I only made the suggestion: Bill followed up with the work. I suggested that he write fifty-two short stories or articles a year, one a week, to put himself in training to do good work.”
How long did you keep that writing regimen up?
Nolan: My first full year as a writer was 1956. Well, not full, and I started full time in April, so subtract 3 months. I wrote 37 items in those 9 months (articles and short stories) which is almost one a week. In 1957: 44 pieces of writing; 28 in 1958; 33 in 1959. And so on. My “training” paid off! These days, I average about 24 items (including books) each year, or something new every two weeks. To date, I have written about two thousand pieces.
RE: I think “He Kilt It With A Stick” (from Dark Universe) is one of the best titles for a short story. How did you come up with that title?
Nolan: The answer is in the story, when the main character Baxter was seven years old uses this phrase to describe what he did to a cat.
RE: You once said in Giants of the Genre (by Michael McCarty, Wildside Press, 2003) that you liked “The Halloween Man,” “The Ceremony,” and “The Partnership,” amongst the stories in the short story collection Dark Universe. What do those three stories share that make them better than some others, in your opinion?
Nolan: They were all written on “deeper” levels than many of my other stories. Thus, they share a depth of character that I find I’m proud of.
RE: You got to use your considerable expertise in illustration in the book Ill Met By Moonlight, which featured prose, poetry and your artwork. You attended the Kansas City Art Institute, worked for Hallmark and you were as a writer and cartoonist for Disney comic magazines. Do you have any projects in the works that focus more on your art than on your writing?
Nolan: I have drawn/designed the cover for a dozen of my books, and done I have interior illustrations for three or four of these. My writing always comes first, so I have no present plants for artwork. It will happen, but I don’t know when or on what project.
RE: How many years did it take you to sell your first short story?
Nolan: I sold “The Joy of Living” to IF: World of SF in February of 1954, when I was still 25. I wrote my first story in 1938, when I was 10, but I never sent anything out before the early ’50s. My first story submission didn’t sell, but “Joy” did. Since then I’ve written more than 160 others, and have sold 160 others. I have been fortunate enough to sell every new story I written.
RE: You wrote the book How to Write Horror Fiction, which is a how-to book for writers. What advice would you give to new writers in the 21st Century?
Nolan: Well, I give current advice in my new “how-to” book out this fall: Let’s Get Creative: How to Write Fiction That Sells. It’s based on the creative writing course I’ve been teaching here at the community college in Bend, Oregon. Buy it. Read it. And then you’ll know what I’m telling young writers (available via Quill Drivers Press, Steve Mette Pub. 1254 Commerce Avenue, Sanger, California, 93657.)
RE: What can you tell us about the Logan’s Run prequel that is in the works. Is this something that you will be writing with George Clayton Johnson or by yourself?
Nolan: No, Johnson will not be doing any Logan works that I know of. My three prequel novels will take the reader up to the time of Logan’s Run. They are all laid out in long-outline format, but won’t be written ’til I have a publisher’s contract in hand.
RE: Originally, Logan’s Run was going to be called “A Wild Run For Morgan 3.” In 1963, you wrote this, the beginning of the seeds to the Logan series:
“Killer man, killer man, leave my door” * fragment of a child’s verse, circa 2063, when the earth is over-populated. K-man comes to kill you on your 40th birthday. Life does not begin at 40. It ends there.”
How many drafts did Logan’s Run go through? The original age was 40, but was changed to 21 for the book. Was this was when young people officially became adults with voting & drinking privileges, etc.? Or were there other reasons?
Nolan: Logan had its origin in a lecture I gave at UCLA in 1963. I used the cliché “life begins at 40″ in order to demonstrate the difference between social fiction and science fiction. In social fiction, I told the class, a man turns 40 and runs off to Las Vegas with a stripper. In science fiction, the man might live in an over-populated society that demands his death at 40. This was the seed bed for Logan. I brought the idea to Johnson, who suggested we do a screenplay based on it, but I said, “no, a novel first, then we’ll have control.”
So we sat down and wrote the novel in three weeks at a motel in Malibu. I then touched the rough manuscript up in San Francisco, and re-shaped it, cutting and adding, etc.
We cut the death age to 21 for the novel for greater shock value, but when MGM made the movie they upped it to 30 for casting purposes. Death at 21 is far more shocking to young people than death at 30. We wanted to shock, and the book was (and is) far more shocking than the MGM version.
RE: You lived and wrote for the most part of the 20th century. And now we are in the 21st century. What do you think are humanity’s prospects in the 21st century? Where do you think the world is heading from here?
Nolan: Given the present situation (July 2006) in the Mideast, plus our being “stuck” with Iran on the verge of a developing the atomic bomb, plus the Greenhouse Effect… Well, the prospects look pretty grim. So much so that I’m glad I’m too old (at 78) to have to worry all that much about my future. The future of the world is something else again.
RE: What is the most perfect William F. Nolan book?
Nolan: The Marble Orchard, second in my now out-of-print series of detective novels for St. Martin’s Press is the most perfect William F. Nolan book. In this novel, I assume the narrative voice and persona of Raymond Chandler, and I think it all worked out to near-perfection (all ego aside). Many readers agree with me, including the iconic mystery novelist Robert B. Parker, who gave the book high praise.
RE: You’ve written in an astounding variety of genres, yet you are renowned for your science fiction and horror. What is it that science fiction and horror does that mainstream literature can’t do?
Nolan: There, too, genre often “marks” for some heavy social commentary that would seem heavy-handed and out of place in mainstream fiction. Rod Serling knew that when he did The Twilight Zone, and said the same thing. Thus, science fiction and horror offer much wider latitude for the writer.
RE: Are you a fan of Dean Koontz?
Nolan: There’s a very good reason for the vast success of Dean Koontz: He’s a true original. His expert mix of horror, science fiction, suspense, and mainstream fiction is unique in the genre. Actually, Dean is his own genre. His characters are totally real, fully-fleshed; they breathe in his pages. He compels us to believe in them, fear for them, and rejoice in their final triumph. Yes, in a depressing era of downbeat fiction, Dean thankfully provides us with happy endings. And bless him for that! His terror ends. His people survive. The joy of life (and love) is maintained.
Just how good is Koontz? I don’t need to tell you. Each new book he writes is a wizard’s demonstration of sheer storytelling genius. He grabs you in the first paragraph and never lets go. Who else can get 60 pages out of a car sliding downhill into an icy river and maintain nail-biting suspense every inch of the way (Dark Rivers Of The Heart)?
Dean is much more than a fellow-writer; I’m proud to count him as a friend. And a role model. Each book of his inspires me to try harder on my next.
Go, Dean! And take millions of readers with you.
RE: Last words?
Nolan: Yeah. If you want to be a pro writer you must do two things:
1. Read, read and read.
2. Write every day.
Nothing less will suffice.