In Los Angeles, I had a chance to adapt an acquaintance’s novel into a screenplay, so I grabbed it. His novel had been brought to the publishing arena by the agent who discovered Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, so he had some cred going for him. Published by William Morrow, the novel Gray Eagles by Duane Unkefer got an astonishing six-figure first book advance. And the whole thing unravels from there.
A few points of interest. Unkefer wrote the thing in longhand on yellow lined tablets. He’d previously been the ad manager of Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee, and I had moved to Milwaukee mainly because the company I’d joined was the advertising agency for Harley. A bike freak, I wanted to work on the brand but it was star-crossed. It was a year or so before I was designated art director on the account and, during that time, AMF bought Harley. Within weeks of my promotion, AMF yanked the account, took it to their own agency. My reason for being there no longer valid, I fled to other agencies, other cities, and did okay.
Years melted. Fast forward those clouds scooting by, desk calendar pages zipping away in a maelstrom. Divorces. Successes. Reverses. I ended up in L.A. I was going to write a novel but common sense, fear and a desire to eat prevailed; I wrote Toyota commercials instead at Saatch & Saatchi. I also wrote the screenplay for Gray Eagles. The agent liked it. The agent died.
In the middle of an earthquake one morning on the seventh floor at Saatchi, I watched sprinklers fall out of the ceiling, file drawers open lazily as the building yawed, and decided to go back to my roots.
While in L.A. I’d written some other treatments and screenplays, met with fat cats in plush conference rooms, heard things like “trust me” and “here’s an idea that’ll write itself.” I tried the last one. Left the typewriter on with paper in it, came back hours later and nothing, not a word. Guy lied. But, all in all, L.A. was good to me.
One more star-crossed Harley thing, and I’ll get to the point. I got a call out of the blue from the daughter of the Milwaukee agency’s CEO. She said she was working for Harley which had bought back its name and was making quality motorcycles again. I’d been recommended as a writer. They wanted a book on Harley’s turnaround. Bated breath. Waiting. I wanted this. Harley’s prez wanted a business writer. It went to one, not me. The book’s title: Well Made in America. So I headed back to KC, Denny’s by Denny’s, Grand Slam to Grand Slam, detoured on old 66, marveled at teepee shaped buildings and lurid sunsets the color of Randolph Scott westerns. And I thought about “my novel.” I had steaks all along old 66. Good choice. The closer to KC, the better.
My point, and I’m on shaky ground here, because I may not have had one to begin with, unless it’s the vicissitudes and vagaries that bombard anyone unbalanced enough to embark on their dream. When I left for California, my dad asked why. I said, “I don’t know, write a novel maybe.” He said, “But that’s just a dream.” Actual protest in his voice.
Point, please. Any old time. Okay. I so admired Duane Unkefer for writing that novel back then, acquiring a super-agent, that record advance. But there was little publicity for the book for some reason, political maneuvering, odd circumstances. Can’t remember what all happened, but that’s not the point. The point is, he quit and holed up and wrote. And wrote.
And the book is really good. It’s a thriller with epic scope. It should be a movie; I discovered that when I wrote the adaptation, the screenplay. It’s cinematic as hell. I can hear it. See it. A short description: German Luftwaffe pilots gather in the southwest to wreak havoc at air shows with restored WWII fighter planes. It takes place in the 60’s or so, and the story has depth. Any moviemakers out there should look it up. The author lives in Santa Barbara.
Oh, and they might consider my new book, Ruined Days, as well. I know a guy who writes screenplays.
Guinotte Wise has been a creative director in advertising most of his working life. In his youth he put forth effort as a bullrider, ironworker, laborer, funeral home pickup person, bartender, truckdriver, postal worker, ice house worker, paving field engineer. A staid museum director called him raffish, which he enthusiastically embraced. (the observation, not the director) His collection of short stories, Night Train, Cold Beer, won the T. Palmer Hall award and publication. Ruined Days was published in Dec. 2015, and a second book of short stories, Resume Speed, is coming in 2016. His work has been allowed into numerous literary reviews and anthologies Including Atticus, Thrice Fiction, The MacGuffin and Best New Writing Anthology 2015.
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