We asked U.N.C.L.E. favorite Bill Koenig about his start in fandom, his
writing techniques, and what's up next for him.
What was the first UNCLE you ever wrote?
The Fleming Affair. I wrote it in late November/early December 1996.
It was done on a lark. I participated in an AOL chatroom about UNCLE.
We talked about zines and crossovers. I mentioned an idea. One of them said, "You ought to write that!" I
said "Who me?" But I hadn't written a fictional story since 1976 -- the year I graduated high school.
Fleming Affair was in Affairs to Remember, right? You felt up to the task 20 years later?
I felt a bit nervous. I had written newspaper articles for many years, but not fiction.
I finished the story. I e-mailed a few editors. One, Kathy Agel, agreed to publish. At that point, I had another idea. I decided to write it up (The Phoenix Affair) before I read anyone else's fanzine stories.
Why before you read any others? any particular reason?
I recalled that someone advised Ian Fleming to write his second novel before his first was published. The idea was to establish your own style and to not be affected by reviews. So I decided to get a story or two under my belt and then read other zines. I ended up writing nine stories before I read a
zine. Looking back on the early stories of mine, they seem a bit clunky. I was still trying to get POV straight, how much detail to present. Originally, I just wrote, no outline. After getting tips at MW '97, I started to outline first, then write.
Did you get immediate positive feedback? Or did it just feel good to write the thing?
It felt good to write the story. At this point, I had only a sketchy knowledge of
zines. I saw a few at SpyCon in suburban Chicago in the fall of 1996. That was the first time I had attended any kind of organized UNCLE-related fan event. I knew about
zines. I knew there were gen and slash (though not under those names.) I flipped through what must have been the used zine box. I saw one with a cover of Solo and Illya in the shower. "What the heck is this?" I thought....
That's when I remembered there were two kinds of zines. <g>
Do you have some favorite UNCLE authors now?
Cindy Walker for one. Another whose name escapes me (sorry) but she wrote a story in KF
(Kuryakin Files) from the POV of a Thrush operative who falls for Solo. That was a very original approach. Patti Ellis, too.
What about being one of the only guys in the fanfict world?
It doesn't really bother me. I never sampled zines until 1997. I think some guys, who tend to be more Solo fans, didn't like the zines of the '80s where (I hear) Illya was built up and Solo de-emphasized. And I've been told there was some kind of defection of male fans from organized UNCLE fandom. Don't know all the details, but I don't have all that baggage, so it's not that big a deal to me. It would be interesting if there were more male writers.
First generation fan?
Yes. I began watching around the middle of first season. I was 6. For a long time, the memories were very fuzzy. I could remember Deadly Decoy with the acid on the street...Double with Namana getting killed...Dabree falling down the elevator shaft...Illya scuba diving in Fiddlesticks. It wasn't until I saw CBN in 1986 that I saw the context for those bits of memory. The memories were
always kind of there. They'd come back when I saw one of the movies. In college, I watched Spy With My Face on the CBS Late Movie. Another time I saw To Trap A Spy on a local Indianapolis station.
Were the other 6 year olds around you fans too? That seems so young to me.
To a degree, 6 and 7 year old kids were fans. I remember getting one of the toy UNCLE guns for Christmas. I remember being disappointed the show came on so late in the 2nd season. My parents let me stay up late to watch the season opening show. For years, I knew -- don't ask me how -- one of the act titles in part II was "Coffee, Tea or Milk?"
Being that young, though, I was a bit fickle. I also got on a Batman jag. To some degree, Batman displaced UNCLE. I could watch it easier (7:30 on Wednesdays and Thursdays vs. 10 p.m. on Fridays for
MFU). I was young enough to take the cliffhangers relatively seriously. I mean I knew they were actors and it was make believe (my parents stressed that). But I still had to see how Batman and Robin escaped.
Were you immediately a Solo fan?
I was actually a fan of both. I remember getting a turtleneck sweater because Illya wore one. But I liked Solo, too.
Do you have a method when you write? How do you get started?
I jot down ideas, then try to get back and outline. Usually, something occurs to me while reading (fiction or non-fiction).
Harder or easier to write one character over another?
I gravitate toward writing Solo, but I try not to shortchange Illya.
An example of why I think Solo is sentimental and Illya pragmatic. Sam Rolfe wrote a revival script in the 1970s. In the climatic sequence, our heroes and the innocent are escaping a doomed complex, where a bacteria or virus is spreading. They're momentarily safe but have to seal off the complex. After that, a dying scientist will activate an acid spray that will destroy the interior of the complex. Anyway, Solo hesitates and Illya goes past him and seals the complex. The scientist then activates the spray. Anyway, the innocent is upset, Solo comforts her and Illya says, "I suppose we can go home now." That scene rings pretty true to me. And I've tried to keep that in mind in writing the characters.
Got any stories in the pipeline, so to speak? what's next?
Some stuff in the pipeline: The Balkan Affair. My longest story, 50 or so single-spaced pages. Shows what happened in the vignette in TS3 called "Paper Trail." It was difficult in that the memos of "Paper Trail" meant Solo pulled off quite a feat. "How the hell did he do that?" But I think it turned out well. Also, another story features a very disagreeable old college classmate of Solo's. And, at some point, I'd like to do a third Hawaii Five-O crossover. This time get McGarrett off the island.
See Bill's award-winning website at: http://members.aol.com/Wmkoenig/unclepg.htm
To buy Affairs to Remember contact Kathy Agel at: http://www.thewateringhole.com/criterion.html
To buy Time Shift 1-3, contact Nan Mack
Read an interview with British UNCLE author Liza Jones.