Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Story I Didn't Write

With a new book coming out next week, I sometimes think of a story I haven't told. Back in the late nineties I became obsessed with the true story of Clayton Lonetree, a Navajo marine accused of espionage in the Moscow embassy because of his romance with a Russian woman working for the KGB. Done right, doesn't that just have Sundance written all over it?

In some ways, in light of the recent embassy scandals, and our ever changing relationship with Russia, the story would be more timely than ever. The story was both a social commentary--examining the role of a Native American in a conservative institution like the Marines, as well as a Romeo and Juliet type romance. Clayton was caught in a web by a mysterious femme fatale, and then after he went to prison, she confessed that even though it started as a set-up, she really loved him after all.

In real life, it was unknown whether they got together. In my mind, I would like to think that love conquered all.

That summer, I bought Russian guidebooks to learn about the subways that Clayton rode alone before the woman started to join him. I read every account about the case, and learned about Navajo rituals that I intended to integrate into the story. My three act outline was rock solid.

And then it was Fall and time for my screenwriting class. I pitched the story as my project for the semester...The pitch was greeted with silence and then derision.

"He's a traitor!" one classmate said.

I grew defensive, as if I was poor Clayton's lawyer. "No, he's not! He was blinded by love at first, and then he was acting to take the bad guys down."

"No one wants to read a story about a Navajo," another person said.

"Yes, they do!" I yelled. "It's fresh."

Well, it wasn't fresh enough, the teacher suggested I write some generic spy thriller-- not a Mission Impossible, but a Mission Much Easier. I think I wrote something else instead, and then something else.

I have no idea whether Clayton Lonetree is still alive or whether he found true romance with the Russian femme fatale. I've written eight novels since then, and countless screenplays. I will always wonder if I could have done his story justice.

Maybe one of you can write the story.

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