Johnson County — By page three, the hero of “The Lenora Assignment” has received the Congressional Medal of Honor, accepted a secret mission from the U.S. attorney general and rescued a ship full of child prostitutes.
One page later, Maj. Jack Abbott has not only killed two men, blown a rapist “off the top of his intended victim” and sunk the ship but also dropped the children off for foster placement.
It’s all in a day’s work for Abbott, the creation of Cleburne novelist Burt Northcutt, aka Grey Stone.
“I write Texas style — simple English, not a lot of dressed-up language,” said Northcutt, who has published three novels under the Grey Stone pseudonym. “None of my books use God’s name in vain. I don’t like to use the f-word.”
But while his characters’ dialogue and vocabularies befit the creator’s grandfatherly demeanor, Northcutt is determined to get a deal in the land where anything goes: Hollywood.
“I have mixed emotions about Hollywood, even though that’s what I want,” he said. “I write purposely for motion pictures, television or DVDs.
“That’s the reason my books carry so much dialogue. If I can get two or three movies out of my work, that’s my goal.”
The San Angelo native came to writing after a banking and half a dozen other things. Northcutt, for instance, was the creator of the Cold Puppy, a made-in-Cleburne ice cream sandwich.
“I was out to make the world realize it would be a sin to have a hot dog without a Cold Puppy,” the affable entrepreneur said. “It was introduced the day of the New York bombings. How’s that for timing?
“We sold a lot of those things, but we were doing it all by hand. We didn’t have enough money to mechanize it in mass production.
“I think we’ve still got some of the buns in the deep freeze. It’s a very viable product.”
Those Cold Puppy buns aren’t the only product Northcutt has in cold storage.
At an age when many of his contemporaries are focused on relaxing, Northcutt is planning to revise novels he’s not yet published and writing sequels to others.
Said Northcutt, “I’m a little different.”
Creating the Lenora
A tall, white-haired figure who uses a black walking stick, Northcutt graduated from high school in Wichita Falls, attended college in Abilene and Oklahoma and joined the Marines in time to see combat during the Korean conflict.
“I joined the corps in 1950,” Northcutt said over a cup of coffee during a recent interview. “I was exceptionally good at night vision. We did a lot of ambush work.
“Our job was to go out and take prisoners if we could. So I’ve had some combat experience,” he said, but, “I was not a hero. I knew better than that.”
He left the corps after three years to work in finance for Chrysler, advertising and finally banking, as well as number of other projects — he worked for Avis and created a baggage-handling system that cut the time passengers need to get out of airports — but it’s clear that a character like Maj. Jack Abbott has his roots in Northcutt’s own military experience.
“He’s a guy ... I believe I worded it: ‘He would stand down for no man,’” Northcutt said. “A man’s man that covered the ground he stood on. He has the ingredients of people I have known and put it in one person.”
Abbott’s assignment is to take down the international cartel based on a super-luxury yacht, even if it means violating international law himself.
“The ship Lenora, I created that out of my own weird mind. The Lenora is a beautiful yacht,” Northcutt said. “She travels the world meeting with cartel leadership, dividing the world into territories.
“If I were in the drug industry I certainly would not want to become land bound. That’s why I designed the ship.”
The book has been about two years in the making. The ship, by the way, ends up at the bottom of the ocean by the end of the novel.
But along the way there’s action, intrigue and a little romance.
“I interweave some romance,” Northcutt said. “The ladies, if they read it, you need to appease ’em in some way. They’re not too much on fisticuffs.”
Future films and books
Northcutt’s self-published books appear under the Author House imprint.
Although he’d like to think the third time is a charm, the hoopla surrounding the new novel is pretty modest — donating copies of “The Lenora Assignment” and his two previous books to the Cleburne Public Library, for example.
Library Manager Tina Dunham accepted the novels and promised to put them on the shelves for Cleburne readers.
But at least a couple of folks who live in Hollywood say they could find a wider audience, even though commercial publishers have consigned Northcutt to selling his wares online for now.
David Sheldon and his wife, Joan McCall, of Hollywood Writers Studio produced a slick promotional video on Northcutt’s second novel, “Straight Arrow,” to help market the screenplay based on the book.
“Straight Arrow” focuses on a Catholic bishop who, disgusted with the child abuse revelations that have wracked his church, sets out to clean house. His weapon of choice: a cross bow.
“There is no question in my mind that ‘Straight Arrow’ will be produced and appear in theaters soon,” Sheldon wrote in an email. “There is serious interest in it. We have our own production companies and may even produce it ourselves.
“Joan McCall and I adapted the book into a screenplay and have been marketing it,” wrote Sheldon, whom Northcutt paid to write the screenplay. “We were attracted to the theme of Burt’s novel and its timeliness.
“We thought it was well-written. The bishop who is the serial killer is a great character. We changed the structure of the story a bit, building the younger detective as the central character.”
Meanwhile, Northcutt is writing a sequel to his first novel, “Timberlake.” It’s set in the Depression. The protagonist is in trouble with some thugs from Chicago who think he has $126,000 his old man won in a poker game.
He decided to revisit the characters when his wife, Myra, a Cleburne native and retired teacher, told him to get to cracking on a sequel.
Northcutt, who has lived in southwest Cleburne since the late 1970s, plans to publish it by the first quarter of next year, barring a second heart attack or stroke.
As for the possibility “The Lenora Assignment” will bring film producers and mainstream publishers around, the lanky, bearded author and self-described “extrovert by birth” won’t speculate.
“I want to reflect the world we live in,” Northcutt said. “In doing so, I hope they enjoy the read.”