George Snyder on Nick Carter, Operation Hang Ten and his other novels and crime series
I became serious about writing when discharged from the Navy. Soon, I had a wife and two small babies so most of my life I worked at jobs in the aircraft industries.
Without a degree, I worked up from machinist to planner to tech writer until I retired at 55 as Senior Editor Technical Publications, Boeing. All the time I worked, I wrote. Since I knew I had a small talent, I aimed at the Men’s magazine market at first.
Starting in the sixties, I wrote a story a week, sent it to the smaller Men’s magazines, a week later it came back. I sent one every week for a year before I made my first sale. After that I was selling about half of what I produced to Male, Men’s Digest, Best for Men, Adam.
All the crime masters, mostly Hammett, Raymond Chandler, even Don Pendleton, then later, John D. MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, Ed McBain, Richard S. Prather, Donald Hamilton. I mostly followed those who wrote crime novels, the paperback stuff.
The biggest influence on me was Richard Stark and his Parker series, and Lawrence Block. Later writers who mildly interested me were James Lee Burke and Harlan Coben, though they don’t have the style or punch of the earlier guys.
Lee Childs had me with his first two books, but lost me after that. But I didn’t stick strictly with crime, I read a lot of westerns, mostly those of Elmore Leonard, Louis L’Amour of course, and Max Brand and others.
I even dabbled in literature, with Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Pasos, John Steinbeck, even back to Mark Twain and Dickens and Victor Hugo, but I knew I couldn’t elevate my ability to write like those guys. The popular writers of today, Patterson, Grisham, I read occasionally but they mostly bore me.
No, but what a fluke. I’d already had dozens of stories published in the Men’s magazine and thought I might take a shot at class. What a surprise. I was never able to hit them again, and I tried. The surprise was they didn’t pay any more than the Men’s rags, which were easier to write.
I’d been hitting The Men’s Digest regular, selling about 75% of what I sent. The editor wrote they had an in with a Las Vegas paperback publisher called Playtime Books, and suggested I take a crack at a full-length novel.
I’d thought about a novel but never felt I could stick it out, all them damned pages. I told him I’d give it a shot. Pages are pages, I just extended what might have been a short story and cranked out my usual daily page count and before I knew it I had a novel that they published. I got a $500 advance and not one penny more.
All my short stories were crime, entwined with suggestions of sex.
The novel was for the drug store racks, which had sexy covers so they figured it needed a sexy title. I had no say in either.
No. It was because of “Surfside Sex” that I connected with Nick Carter.
After the surfer book came out, I wrote a long entwined science-fiction novel that went nowhere at first but was eventually published by Extasy Books as a futuristic romance novel. Yuk.
But during the time I read most of the writer’s magazines, and I saw a half-page ad in Writer’s Digest by a guy who called himself Lyle Kenyon Engel. He said he had acquired the rights to the old Smith and Street publication private eye character, Nick Carter. He had an interested publisher and he needed twelve writers to crank out the books.
They were paying a thousand-dollar advance, half on approval of the first three chapters and outline, half on approval of the sixty thousand word novel, which had to be written in six weeks. Where Lyle eliminated 99% of wannabe writers is, they had to have had a novel already published.
I shrugged, figured what-the-hell, and sent off a copy of “Surfside Sex” to him. About two weeks later I got a phone call from New York from Lyle himself asking just one question, when did I want to get started? That’s how I began with Nick Carter.
For a couple years I had been bugging Lyle that I wanted my own series under my own name. I thought I’d ease up on Nick Carter, maybe write one or two a year.
I was divorced now and living the swinging singles life in Newport Beach, and I was getting along in years and wanted something with my name on it.
He kept telling me it would happen, I just had to get a few more books under my belt. At that time, I was also cranking out Hang Ten books.
Zauberspiegel: In 1969 you wrote with "Hang Dead Hawaiian Style" your first Operaton Hang Ten novel. Who created this spy novel series?
George Snyder: At that time, Lyle had shown my surfer novel to Mcfadden-Bartel publishers and suggested a spy series based on the surfer book. Lyle came up with the idea of the guy being rich and the Operation Hang Ten logo. And Bill Cartwright which I balked at because it sounded like a beach Bonanza.
The publisher went for it. I thought, at last something in my own name. I was informed the writer would be called Patrick Morgan. The advance went up to fifteen hundred but outline approval and final approval and writing the books in six weeks remained.
Besides being what he called a “producer” Lyle had a bunch of Auto Racing magazines he put out and record albums, mostly children stories. I worked as a stringer and covered the first Ontario 500 and the Indy 500 and the Championship Midget Auto Race in the Astrodome. Because he thought I was busy, he brought in others to also write Nick Carter books. Always under the Nick Carter name.
Not my choice. The publishing world was changing. Most editors were now women and wanted the girls in the books to be empowered and give Cartwright a run for his money, in other words be equal in thinking and deed. I fought long and hard to keep the guy as he was but though I won a few battles, I was losing the war.
Also, like Nick Carter, Lyle had others coming in to write Hang Ten books. I had no rights over the books, I signed a contract to that rule. In fact, I am surprised we writers were even mentioned as writing the books. Lyle controlled everything through the publishers. They were both house names and we wrote them strictly for the money.
Nick Carter was supposed to be an American James Bond. We writers were not Ian Fleming so he came off as something less. But he was sophisticated and dressed well. He has built up quite a cult today for collectors. I’m glad to have written some of the books.
Bill Cartwright was an exact copy of my hero in “Surfside Sex” with the beach attitude toward life. He liked the girls and parties and was rich enough to pull it off. He operated in a triangle between California, Australia and Mexico, flying his sophisticated 30’ trailer wherever he went.
Not for anyone else. I was done with that. Everything I have written since has been mine, my character, my title, me as author. Some things a writer still has little control over unless he or she goes independent, like the cover mostly. I’m finding that out with my westerns.
Two years of swinging single living, plus battles with Lyle and publishing editors, and I still wasn’t writing what I wanted to write. I didn’t think the stuff I churned out was any good. I was weary of the schedule and it showed in the writing. I was a chain smoker, a drunk, and overweight.
The women in my life had blank faces, I couldn’t tell them apart. My kids had a new dad they liked better than me. It was time for changes. I quit writing books and wrote a few articles about boats. I thought about building a boat myself.
After kicking around the country, getting contract work as a tech writer, I lived in Houston, Albuquerque, various places in Arizona where I discovered gold prospecting, and spent a year tech writing for Case Tractors in Racine, Wisconsin. I solo sailed a small sloop through Mexico for a year writing screenplays that went nowhere.
The voyage produced a book of short stories that some think is my best work. ”Baja Sailor Tales.” I ended up in Seattle for nine years. I built a boat that I sailed to Alaska and back. I dug out the science fiction novel which eventually was accepted by Extasy Books.
I couldn’t interest a publisher in any of my writing, though I got some nice feedback. I continued to write boating articles. I now lived on my boat, and have never gone back to dirt since.
I had thought about a series character, but I already decided I’d have to bring it out myself, mainly for control. This was early in the days of independent publishing and everything carried a stigma of the amateur. Early books did not sell well.
I started kicking around ideas about a series character, and came up with Baylor (Bay) Rumble, Baylor because as an infant, he was found in a dumpster with a Baylor Bean can stuck in his forehead. Rumble because in the orphanage he seldom cried, just made a rumbling sound.
At first, I thought to again make him like my surf book character, then I created him as his own man, writing a fifty-page biography. He is not a private eye, just a guy living on his boat getting into trouble. I wrote them and published them myself until Solstice Publishing picked up two of them. And then I connected with Books for a Buck Publishing.
I wanted to move away from series books, not completely but I had ideas for stand-alone crime and heist novels. They were a great break, and I could pour whatever literary bent I thought I might have into them. I knew I’d never be a literary writer, I’m a junkyard writer who writes junkyard books.
I can only hope they are a good read. I found Books for a Buck on the net by chance. I was living in Long Beach at the time, and it turned out they were also located there. I sent them “Satin Shorts” and we were off and running. Good people, but I didn’t like their covers and I had little say about them.
Still, today, “The Farewell Heist” is probably my most favorite, along with “Satin Shorts” and the first Logan Sand, “The Calcutta Dragon.”
I was sad I received no notice of the award or when it was going to be presented. I would like to have been there. But, I was almost tearful. All those years when I thought all I churned out was junk, and nobody argued the point, and I get this award in the mail, with a check even.
I wrote and thanked them, they are out of business now. But it could no longer be argued. I was now an award-winning writer. Nobody could take that away from me. Yes, it was heady stuff.
The one writer that has had the most influence on me has been Richard Stark and his Parker series. It is the pen name for the late Donald Westlake. I wanted a character with many of the traits of Parker but not a clone, a guy no-nonsense, mean, can and will kill, not above larceny, thievery, only my guy would be a private eye and operate out of Bellingham, Washington.
His best buddy is an out-and-out gangster. I wanted a mean dude, and after four books, I think I have one. For Makayla “Mac” Tuff, I grew weary of those who said a man cannot possibly write about women with any kind of truth.
Mac Tuff is built, brainy, and tough as her last name. She operates just north of Lake Havasu, Arizona and she is all woman. She rings true because women reviewers tell me so. She has become a favorite of many. I just published her fifth novel, and I may be done for awhile.
They are very different. Bay is not a formal detective, he sails from place to place and keeps getting into trouble. He is hired by those who want or need his brand of talent. Bay never kills anyone. He may mangle and mutilate but he doesn’t kill. I just this week finished the fifth in his series, “Deadly Doubloons” which takes place in the Everglades of Florida, pre-hurricane.
Mac Tuff is my feminine counter to the tough PI, although she is no drippy violet. Her man is much older, owns a bar, is a retired cop who has backpacked around the world. They make a good team but he always gives her her head and he is her backup in each case.
Logan Sand is my leading favorite of the three, though Mac is a close second. Logan defines mean. He is not as mean as Parker but close. He can be a drunk but usually isn’t. He meets people who need somebody mean to brace them. Logan Sand runs amok and nobody is going to stop him. I have his fifth novel outlined, “Hard Trouble” and will start it next year.
I might say it’s a toss between Mac Tuff and Logan Sand. Mac is more work because she is female to the bone marrow.
It’s easier to stomp and hit in my imagination with my bad-ass guy. I’m looking forward to his next caper, it might be his last for awhile.
Really not that difficult when I see the very real differences between how these characters think and act. I like to end chapters with cliff-hangers, and build to each one. Only my reviewers and readers can say if I do it right.
Everywhere, moving through life. I read a lot, and I may come to an idea and think, “That’s pretty good, but what if…” and I’m off again. I have a tall stack of scraps of paper filled with novel plots and ideas I draw from.
Some won’t make the cut. Many will. I’m always jotting down ideas for novels. I’d like to write a novelized biography of Sir Francis Drake, and even have notes on that. And pirates. Not to mention, westerns.
The world of readers is fickle, likely more so today than ever before. They are bombarded by writers both traditional and Independent, plus they have all those electronic distractions.
Crime has gotten away from traditional, now there has to be a gimmick, vampire detectives, modern Sherlocks, alien PIs with zombie side-kicks, crime in outer space, monster robot cops, ray guns and finger-held rocket launchers, all under the handle of crime novel.
We have dogs and cats and deer, and comic book heroes detecting. The guy alone, following somebody in the rain with his gun loaded, doesn’t appear much anymore. I don’t know where it’s going, and I find myself reading less crime now.
This year, I began writing western novels. I’ve written three and just outlined my fourth. The first three will be published early next year at The Crowhood Press by their Black Horse Western division. In January comes, “The Gunfighter and the Angel,” after that will be “Dry Gulch Outlaws,” then the first of my Hawkstone series, “Shadow Shooters.”
The title I’m working on now, Hawkstone #2, is, “Open Range Fury.” These will be my main concentration because they are such fun to write. I may write one or two crime novels a year, but I hope to do four westerns.