Welcome to the
Frederick Nolan website
(a sort of autobiography in the making)
And neither am I, Doc!
In fact I’m happy to report that I'm continuing to enjoy a small renaissance, with nearly all of my earlier books (see above for the more recent ones) reprinted in new or large print editions, plus two completely new ones which, even if I say so myself, is not bad for someone who's been in the writing game for five decades.
Last yea r, I signed a contract with Piccadilly Publishing (a story there I'll tell some other time) for the publication of digital versions of all my early Westerns -- five of the "Sudden" series, wearing the mantle of Oliver Strange but writing as Frederick H. Christian -- and the somewhat tougher nine-title series featuring Frank Angel, special investigator of the Department of Justice (a little inside joke, if you've read any of my books on Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County Follies).
Here are the first three of the Angel series, ready when you are:
just go to www.amazon.com and type in 'Frederick H. Christian':
and here are the two "Sudden" stories --
the first of which, mirabile dictu (wonderful to relate),
went straight to Number One on publication
in Amazon's 'Top 100 Westerns' Bestseller List!!!
And they keep on saying the 'western' is dead.
Well, all I can say is it looks pretty healthy to me !!
In the field of Western non-fiction, my most recent contribution to the genre was to edit and annotate the memoirs of “Frank Clifford,” who not only rode alongside Clay Allison during the Colfax County War, but was also one of the Panhandle cowboys who got themselves involved in Pat Garrett's hunt for and capture of Billy the Kid in 1880. His "autobiography" Deep Trails in the Old West -- written in 1940 but amazingly, never published --is a fascinating eyewitness account of those final years of the western frontier, and is (in my opinion) as good, in its own free-and-easy-cowboying way, as anything Charlie Siringo ever wrote.
Here are a couple of reviews:
"First written in 1940, Deep Trails in the Old West is the recollections of Frank Clifford, an adventurous man in frontier America. He roamed America's most lawless lands in the 1870s and 1880s especially, often changing his name (perhaps to keep one step ahead of the law) and even encountering such prominent and dangerous figures as Clay Allison and Billy the Kid. Clifford's story also vividly illustrates the day-to-day demands on the lives of ranchers and ordinary people in America's wilder lands and days. Frederick Nolan has provided a wealth of helpful annotations to Clifford's own worlds, enhancing Deep Trails in the Old West as an invaluable primary testimony of what everyday frontier life was like over a hundred years ago.
~ James A. Cox, Midwest Book Review.
Fresh eyewitness accounts from Billy the Kid's day are hard to come by, but Deep Trails in the Old West is one of them. [Frank] Clifford's transcribed memoirs, edited and scrupulously annotated by Frederick Nolan, are the most entertaining Western yarns I've read since Mark Twain's Roughing It. I highly recommend Deep Trails in the Old West to any reader who enjoys stories well told and wants to learn what the Wild West was really like from someone who lived there
~ Jo Ann Butler, Historical Novels Review.
Clifford’s life story, written in 1940 and not published until now, is a genuine eyewitness account of a romanticized era. Born John Menham Wightman in Wales, Clifford immigrated to New Mexico and reinvented himself as a cowboy. He rode with outlaw Clay Allison, crossed paths with Billy the Kid, and survived encounters with Apaches.
The manuscript, edited by Old West authority Frederick Nolan, would have already been optioned by Hollywood in a more western-friendly time.
~ David Hofstede, Cowboys & Indians.
And, as if all that were not enough,
Frank Clifford's modest memoir
was named winner in the 'Biographies' section
of the 2012 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.
You can get your copy direct from the University of Oklahoma Press www.oupress.com,
from any good bookshop, or (of course) from www.Amazon.com.
and the deluxe edition of DEEP TRAILS IN THE OLD WEST
-- conceived and designed by Robert G. McCubbin
and limited to twenty signed copies only --
SOLD OUT before publication!
Now let's get back to the autobiography
(did I hear somebody groan back there?).
Tiptoe-ing warily around the old saying (if you want to make the Gods laugh, make plans),
I decided my next project was going to be a collaboration, something I'd sworn I'd never ever do again, and sure enough, the Gods laughed and now I'm coming around to the (perhaps inevitable) conclusion, which is I might try my hand at fiction again, something I haven’t done for a couple of decades.
So far I haven't made much progress in that direction -- the publishing world I knew has been turned upside down and inside out, so you’ll understand my uncertainty, but anyway ...
here’s the sad story of why I gave up on fiction in general
... and collaboration in particular!
It began, as it always did back then, with a phone call from Artie Pine. He had taken on as a client Christine McGuire, a Californian assistant district attorney who had co-written a book about a sensational case she had tried, involving the 1977 kidnap, imprisonment, sexual abuse and eventual escape from her astonishing ordeal of a young woman named Colleen Stan, who became known as "The Girl in the Box."
The book--Perfect Victim– had been a bestseller, but McGuire had fallen out with her co-author (you'd think that would have been enough of a warning) and was looking for another. She had what she felt was an ideal follow-up true life thriller, this time about a serial rapist who had terrorised her small town for several years before he was tracked down and sent to prison. The proposition– and especially the fact that the criminal had been known as "the Pleasant Point rapist" –intrigued me, and McGuire and I agreed to meet. Although it was a long way from love at first sight, we wound up agreeing to work together and that the books would be published in her name, so she could publicise them in person, with me getting a fulsome thank you in the prelims. Smart move on my part, huh?
The proposition was that McGuire would provide all the legal know-how and documentation and I'd write the book. Simple enough, eh? Don't believe it for a second. From its inception (in December '89) the project--which en route turned from non-fiction into fiction when McGuire's boss refused her permission to use the real-life case--did not finally become a finished novel until September, 1991. In the process, real-life assistant DA McGuire was subsumed into her alter ego, Kathryn Mackay. As in real life, our "fictional" ADA had a school-age daughter, to which I added a sometimes-good, sometimes-not-so-good relationship with her investigator, Dave Granz, to add to her travails as she pursued a serial rapist with an M.O. not all that different from the real life one we'd originally planned to write about. I have to tell you, I was not at all sad to go with the fictional rather than the factual variety and within a week we were off to the races.
This was BEM, remember--Before E-Mail--and so a lot of Fed-Exing, faxing and phoning were involved.. I would write, she would cross out, add, elide, emend, we would argue. I would rewrite, she would cross out, add, elide, emend, we would argue. Not very good for the blood pressure (especially the crossing-out); not very good for the writing, either. And that is why, children, Until Proven Guilty took almost two years to write. But when it finally appeared, the story of the hunt for a serial killer who calls himself the Gingerbread Man got pretty good reviews, selling to the UK, Holland, Germany, Poland and Japan, with a book club sale on both sides of the Atlantic. So we all agreed to do another.
The follow-up had an even longer gestation. According to my worksheets, in 1992, I did four completely different outlines before our editor at Pocket Books even liked the storyline and work could commence. Once again the long-distance collaboration was difficult, and as a result—I won't bore you with an account of the vicissitudes, but I readily confess I found it pretty damned hard to sit still while someone who clearly knew little or nothing about plotting, timing, or character development jumped on whatever I wrote and proceeded to tear it to shreds—it was another two years before Until Justice is Done was completed.
So protracted and so frustrating was the process that while the ball was in McGuire's court, as it were, I happily returned to other projects, first completing Bad Blood: The Life and Times of the Horrell Brothers and then rewriting Lorenz Hart, A Poet on Broadway (a sad tale told elsewhere in this compendium). Finally, the finished manuscript was delivered to Pocket Books, and when they--eventually--made up their minds that they liked it, I again flew out to California--by now it was March, '95--to work on a third Kathryn Mackay thriller, Until Death Do Us Part. This one, miraculously, only took until the end of January, 1996 to finish. Despite all the sturm und drang, the series did pretty well--upwards of 250,000 copies each, not too shabby for a couple of paperback originals with next to no publicity or promotion going for them!
Then it was back to California to hack out a title and an outline for "Until #4"
(I wanted to call it Until The Fat Lady Sings, an idea which for some strange reason horrified editor Julie Rubenstein).
We settled for Until the Bough Breaks and the outline went to Pocket Books before the end of May.
While they were meditating, I buried myself in writing The West of Billy the Kid
(a distinct pleasure by comparison!).
Finally, Julie gave us the go-ahead on the new book and by mid-October I'd completed about a third of the story and thought it was pretty good. When she got it, however, McGuire said she didn't like it at all (I found out later it was actually her husband who didn't like it) so we scrapped what I'd done and started over. By which time, of course, we knew we were going to be way off on our delivery date, and nothing bugged my collaborator more—after all, she was a lawyer—than failing to fulfil the terms of a contract. No matter how many times I told her that publishers understood these things and were very flexible about it, she got more and unhappy, then angry (how dare I work on anything else when I was supposed to be working on her—note the absence of the word ‘our’—book?). Her husband—an accountant with lots of opinions and a secret yen to be a writer instead of an accountant—still didn't like anything I'd done, she said, and I sensed the inference was they felt they could do a whole lot better by themselves, without all this transatlantic hassle with a bloody-minded Englishman.
So I bit the bullet and with true Christmas spirit, told her I was terminating the collaboration.
She told me I couldn't do that.
I told her I just had.
Whereupon (to quote John Milton again) all hell broke loose.
It took some time for us to get unhitched—try to imagine how many bits of paper I had to sign relinquishing my rights in this and that (there'd been a tickle of TV-movie interest) and anything else a hostile lawyer in league with an money-hungry accountant could think up—before the partition was complete, but finally it got done.
All in all it was a pretty inglorious episode and I was glad to be off the hook.
In retrospect, however, I'm grateful for one particularly interesting experience that came out of the debacle:
early on in the collaboration, one midnight in the county morgue,
I actually participated in an autopsy, not as a spectator, but hands-on, with the real-life medical examiner
to whom, in the books, I had given the name of my dear friend Morgan Nelson
(McGuire never knew I'd given many of the characters the names of personal friends).
For the record, she (and, I assume, her husband) did write several more “Until” books, but I guess either they ran out of steam
or the books didn't sell too well, because Pocket dropped the series and that was the end of that.
Every now and then I replay the whole miserable experience in my head, if only to remind myself that
the dictionary not only defines a collaborator as a co-worker, but also as a traitor...
Ah, the joys of the literary life, tra-la!
Nevertheless, in spite of all the booby traps, pratfalls, and downright betrayals,
don't ever let anyone ever tell you the writing game is all grief--because it ain't!
If you get lucky, wonderful things happen -- you meet people you've admired all your life,
talk to household-name movie and stage actors about their dazzling careers,
see places and things you would never otherwise have ever seen --
which is why I never stop thanking my lucky stars
that somehow I got to do all of them.
For instance ...
Recently, I was involved in a hugely interesting and--by its very nature--heart-wringing task,
compiling a detailed inventory of the letters, diaries and other memorabilia of John Henry Tunstall,
the young Englishman whose murder on February 18, 1878
tripped off the Lincoln County War.
It was a large task.
Tunstall was dedicated to keeping his family in London fully apprised of his hopes, plans, and activities,
and they not only gave him constant love,
encouragement and counsel in return,
but lovingly preserved nearly every page he wrote --
an astonishing historical treasure that still reads like a thriller.
They weren't new to me, of course -- I 've been familiar with them for many years --
indeed, they formed the basis of the first book I ever wrote
(and which to my permanent astonishment is still in print).
Even so, reading them again was a revelation.
I wish I could adequately describe what a strange--almost eerie--experience it is
to hold in your hands the actual letters written not only by young Tunstall,
but also the ones written after his death by his friends and allies --
a very special privilege
which I have found both enlightening and sobering in about equal measures.
As well as the letters, there were also original family photographs,
and I am taking the liberty of posting one of young John Henry
as he looked before he departed for Victoria BC in 1872 --
as recounted in my book The Life and Death of John Henry Tunstall.
Isn't that a great picture?
And ... while we're on the subject of pictures,
you might care to catch me on-screen ...
appearing in an hour-long PBS "American Experience"docu-movie
re-examining Billy the Kid's life and
(to a much lesser degree)
his involvement in the Lincoln County War,
directed by John Maggio for Ark Media of New York.
You can find it at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/billy/player/
(forgive me, PBS!)
you might do a lot better buying this ...
Yes, the DVD's available online...
just go to
and place your order.
Then let me know what you think!
Part Two is on the launching pad for completion this year (2013) so please drop in again for further updates.
And as you leave, remember ...
"We are such stuff as dreams are made on"