Bestselling military novelist goes Hollywood

Dale Brown has new orders. Learn to write for Hollywood. This is no small about-face for a novelist with 10 New York Times bestsellers to his credit, as well as a career in the Air Force. Not content to be what fellow bestselling author Clive Cussler calls "the best military adventure writer in the country," the former navigator-bombardier wants to bring his love and command of military lore to the big screen.

After a few misfires with agents and producers attempting to adapt one of his bestsellers, Brown believes his best tactic is to write an original screenplay, without the baggage of a previous incarnation. His self-designed boot camp begins at the beginning - he's in town for a three-day screenwriting course at the University of California in Los Angeles. He has no problem being just another plebe.

"I'm probably going to have to get my head beat in a few times," he says.

The first civilian to fly the B-2 bomber has already figured out a strategy. "My books have been very hardware-driven," says the Nevada resident. "Hollywood likes character-driven stories, not just people between airplanes and weapons."

The vehicle for his new campaign, "Target Valhalla," stars a 21st-century female fighter pilot who battles Norse gods at the dawn of time for the future of the world. While not abandoning militarism, this story will focus more on character. Brown calls it a cross between J.R.R. Tolkien and Tom Clancy.

Brown says his heroine's mythic quest is familiar. "You put a normal person in a completely alien environment," he says. "And you allow her to face it on her own terms."

While it is easy to get the impression that Hollywood likes military thrillers - after all, high-tech weapons are the darling of many filmmakers - Brown says the two cultures couldn't be more different. He believes Hollywood doesn't much like the military. He says the entertainment industry co-opts images of the military to fit a story line and rarely depicts what Brown sees as the true nature of today's soldiers. "Hollywood views them all as either robots or rogues, loose cannons capable of anything."

The Air Force Association life member says correcting that misperception is his life mission. "I want to show the military as they really are."

Far from ignorant grunts, Brown says today's soldiers are more informed of world events than ever. "When I went on bases even a couple of decades ago, the TVs were all tuned to soap operas," he says. Now "they're all tuned to CNN."

Ironically, over the same time frame, he and his publishers say the general public no longer has a basic understanding of world events or geography. "We now have to put maps in my novels," he says. "We didn't have to do that before."

Despite the lessons he's gleaned from his victories in other arenas, Brown says a track record of success can be a liability. He wonders aloud if his desire to pen the adaptations of his novels scared off potential backers.

"Maybe they didn't want some writer in there trying to control everything they did," he says. He confesses, even if he sells his current work, it will be hard to watch someone else bring his characters to life, particularly if the characters are changed. "How can I sit there with my buddies and hold my head up?" he says. But he's a good soldier and he's toughened up his attitude and says, "I wouldn't mind being pushed around a bit, because I'd love to see one made."

Brown already may have passed a key Hollywood test. Local lore has it that dealmaker Michael Ovitz once considered Sun Tzu's classic manual on military strategy, "The Art of War," mandatory reading and gave it to all his subordinates. An important passage in that warfare bible runs, "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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