A swing at success for Tom Coyne

Author: Tom Coyne '97, '99MFA


Dear Notre Dame Magazine:

My name is Tom Coyne and several years ago I sent you a profile I had written. Wisely and mercifully, you guys rejected my story, a loquacious, wandering and rather uninteresting piece of writing. I was a senior then and taking Walt Collins’s “writing for publication” class. It was a wonderful class, and I am grateful to Professor Collins for steering me toward a writing competition in Indianapolis that fall. I was fortunate that something else I’d written won the Keating Writing Challenge and appeared in the Indianapolis Star. It was the first time I considered writing as a vocation instead of a pastime.

Following my senior year, I attended Notre Dame’s Creative Writing Program, earning my MFA in fiction under Valerie Sayers and William O’Rourke. As my final assignment in graduate school, I wrote my thesis about a young golf prodigy coming to terms with his talent and his family. I then returned home with my novel, titled A Gentleman’s Game, and a few phone numbers of denizens of the publishing world. That summer would change my life in very rapid and very dramatic ways.

In July I received a phone call from an agent at Sanford Greenburger Associates who had picked my novel out of the slush pile and fallen in love with it. Six weeks later he had sold the book to Grove/Atlantic Monthly Press. I was beyond ecstatic about the sale of the book. All my expectations had already been exceeded, yet things were about to get far more surreal.

On September 23, my 25th birthday, the phone rang as I was on my way out the door to my birthday dinner. It was the agent, Dan Mandel, and he told me that a producer in Hollywood had gotten my manuscript through film scouts and that he couldn’t stop raving about it. As my family went off to dinner without me, I waited for the producer from Warner Brothers to call. All I knew was that he had an interesting name — Mills Goodloe — and that he had made movies like Lethal Weapon 3 and 4, Conspiracy Theory, Maverick and Assassins. I could not fathom what he wanted with my little book.

My conversation with Mills was brief and direct. He asked me what I was doing tomorrow. “Nothing,” I said, “Why, what are you doing?” He told me he was flying to Philadelphia that night and that tomorrow he was taking me out to dinner to tell me how he was going to make my novel into a movie. Needless to say, there was a pretty cheerful birthday party that evening.

Mills came to town and promised me a lot of things — that he would make the movie over the upcoming summer, that he would leave his job at Warner Brothers to direct it, that I would write the screenplay, that I would produce the movie along with him, that I would be involved in every step of the process. And to his credit, he delivered on every single promise.

In just a few months, there I was in New York and L.A. at casting sessions, meeting some of my favorite actors, who were sitting in front of me, reading my lines. I was a novice who had never even been to L.A. before and I was working with Academy Award-caliber actors like Philip Baker Hall, Dylan Baker, Mason Gamble and Gary Sinise.

The circumstances became even more surreal when we decided to shoot the movie in Philadelphia at my golf club and in my house (yes, I still live at home; I’m the only writer whose mother answers the phone when Gary Sinise calls). For two months our lives were transformed as a crew of 80 overtook the Philadelphia suburbs. I slept in the basement as my own room was turned into the protagonist’s bedroom.

Art was crashing into life as we filmed the movie in the actual locations that had inspired scenes in the novel. There are more stories from the production than I could possibly tell here, but suffice to say that producing a screenplay I wrote based upon my own novel was not part of the five-year plan. I still have a very hard time wrapping my mind around all the developments of the past year.

I know that writing you like this is grossly immodest but, with the novels appearing in May and with the movie due out in September, I find this is no time to be bashful about self-promotion. Notre Dame was my home for six years, and whatever talents I’ve honed as a writer are truly the product of my ND liberal education where I had the chance to work with my thesis director, Valerie Sayers, and my friend and mentor, James Robinson. My one sadness about the novel is that Professor Robinson is not here to see it. But this story is also a credit to ND’s creative writing program, a small, young program. But of the 10 fiction writers in my first-year workshop, three of us (myself along with James Thomas and Mark Behr) have already published novels.

I know that you all are very busy and I apologize for running on at this length. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Tom Coyne ’97, ’99MFA
Media, PA

A Gentleman’s Game
Creative writing program at ND