PW: As a veteran SF/fantasy writer, you haven't published for decades. Now Arkham House is issuing your story collection, The Far Side of Nowhere. How did that come about?
NB: A couple of years ago, Peter Ruber [Arkham House's editor] wrote and asked me if I had enough uncollected stories for a big collection. A contract was signed, the table of contents was decided. The rest is history.
PW: You're a Virginian, yet your stories are often set in New York. Where did you grow up?
NB: I was made in Canada and my mother wanted me to be born in the United States, so she moved to Scranton, Pa., where I was born. My family moved to Philadelphia after World War I. I went to public schools there and to Marshall College in West Virginia, where I met and married my dear wife.
PW: How did you get into writing?
NB: I started out writing sports stories, but then wrote "Mr. Mergenthwerker's Lobblies," which was bought by Scribner's magazine. "Mr. Mergenthwerker" was also bought by radio, and someone wrote the serial for 13 weeks. I thought, hell, he's getting all the script money, I can write it myself. I later sold about 200 radio scripts. When radio shifted over to television, so did I, and I adapted "Mr. Mergenthwerker's Lobblies" for NBC in 1946. It was the first full-length television play ever performed, live, on network TV, which then consisted of Washington, New York and Boston. Then I wrote the adaptation of Animal Farm, still running in two versions, one musical, by Peter Hall, of which I have a piece.
PW: Didn't you also sell to magazines like Esquire and Blue Book?
NB: I wrote more for Blue Book than I did for the penny-a-word pulps. It paid so much more and was such a prestigious magazine, it became my number one market.
PW: Was Donald Kennicott of Blue Book your favorite editor?
NB: Donald became not only my favorite editor but one of my closest friends. Donald never presumed to edit a writer's stories. He would call me up and say, "Nelson, I think you should consider page 13," and more often than not it required revision. He scorned paying by the word—he said, "I'm paying for your name on the cover." He started me out at $350 a story and gradually raised that to $500 and $750. Back in the 1940s that was pretty good money.
PW: Did you ever write for Hollywood?
NB: I had a very disappointing experience in Hollywood. Several people, including Rod Serling, urged me to come out there. I got promises, promises, nothing ever happened. So after I'd been out there about four months and spent all my money, I came home with my tail between my legs. My only screenplay was for the Department of Forestry.
PW: Were you influenced by other writers?
NB: Not consciously, but subconsciously. I must have admired Damon Runyon. In the envoi to The Far Side of Nowhere, I said that stories come spontaneously. Writing is not an option. It's a compulsion. I never started writing a story until I knew the last sentence. That way I knew where I was going and could not wait to get there. Once the opening and final sentences were the same: "I wonder what it feels like to be dead."
PW: Have you influenced other writers?
NB: At the first World Science Fiction Convention in 1939, a little skinny guy, as skinny as I am, came running up to me and said, "Mr. Bond, I just sold my first story." "Congratulations," I said. "I suppose you have a drawer full. Forget them. The second story must be better, and then they'll know you can repeat." Years later, Isaac Asimov wrote to me and said, "Thank you for the best advice I ever had."