More MS news articles for Sep 2001

Blake dances with wolves again on 'The Holy Road'

6th September, 2001
By Bob Minzesheimer

Writer Michael Blake's last job -- the kind with a boss and hourly wages -- was washing dishes at a Chinese restaurant in Bisbee, Ariz.

''I was in professional exile,'' he says. He had failed as a Hollywood screenwriter, his first novel was ''dead in the water,'' and he was tired of ''mooching off my friends.''

That's when he was fired in a dispute over paying for rubber gloves out of his $3.35-an-hour salary. Two days later, Kevin Costner called.

Blake and Costner had become friends in 1983 working on a forgettable low-budget movie, Stacy's Knights. It was Costner's first leading role, Blake's first screenplay.

Five years later, Costner was calling to say he wanted to make a movie out of Blake's novel and wanted Blake to do the screenplay. An hour later, Blake recalls, he was driving to Los Angeles, off to work on Dances With Wolves.

The 1991 movie, which won seven Oscars, including one for Blake's screenplay, gave the book a second life. It was first published as a romance paperback that, he says, ''was dumped in airports and convenience stores'' and sold 30,000 copies. Now, more than 2 million copies are in print.

Its sequel, The Holy Road (Villard, $24.95), out next week, resumes the story 11 years after Lt. John Dunbar (Costner's character) left the white man's world to start a new life and family (he's married to Stands With A Fist) as the Comanche warrior Dances With Wolves. (The Holy Road refers to the developing railroad.)

''I wrote it because I had to,'' Blake says. ''The story wasn't over.''

Neither is his, an improbable drama about second chances, professional and personal.

At 56, Blake attributes part of the sequel's delay to his health problems, which include Hodgkin's disease and multiple sclerosis. ''My wife says the most inspiring thing about me is that I'm still alive,'' or as he puts it, ''Life is bittersweet. There's never a free lunch.''

The sequel, he says, ''has a harder edge to it. The stakes are higher -- for me and the people who inhabit my mind as characters.''

He worries that ''book people consider me a Hollywood guy, but in Hollywood I'm a book guy. And I don't know how much the public will embrace this book.''

Most of the early reviews are good. Publishers Weekly favorably compares it with Dances With Wolves as ''a more powerful historical novel.''

Blake says his goal is similar: to portray the Comanche (changed to Lakota Sioux in the movie) as ''real people . . . thoughtful, sensitive people who knew what was happening to them but were ultimately powerless to stop it.''

He has finished the screenplay for the sequel and says ''nothing would please me more than if Kevin Costner came back and reprised his role.''

He also has plans to complete the saga as a trilogy. But, he adds, ''there's no telling what will happen.'' Blake never expected to become a father at 51, or, five years later, have three kids and be living on an 80-acre ranch near Tucson. ''My golden years are booked.''

© Copyright 2001 USA TODAY