DICKINSON, N.D. - Tony Bender, a former Juneau disc jockey, is the publisher of two small-town North Dakota newspapers, meaning he sells ads, write stories, edits copy, designs pages, supervises printing, and hauls the weekly editions to the post office.
He writes books in his spare time, most of which went unnoticed. Then he decided to lighten up.
Bender's comedic novel, "If Every Month Were June," has earned him deals with a publishing house and a movie production company. He sold an option for a feature film before the book was released into bookstores.
"That's pretty rare when that happens," said Connie West, Bender's agent. West, of Santa Fe, N.M., is a North Dakota native who began working with Bender six years ago when he asked for help on his first book.
"June" follows the adventures of an auto-parts worker in his cross-country search to find the woman in the green bikini who's pictured in the shop's calendar. Publisher Sam Scinta said he bought the book because it made him laugh a lot.
"It's funnier than 'Wedding Crashers,"' West said, referring to the comedy starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn.
The movie producers, Doug Metzger and Bill Kunkel of Two Horns Entertainment Group, are shooting for a budget of $25 million, Bender said. The 2007 hit "Juno" had an initial budget of $6.5 million.
"For an independent, $25 million is a lot," Bender said.
West said the book has "movie" written all over it.
"It's very visual," she said. "You can just see it as if you are sitting in the theater."
Bender said he had Owen Wilson in his mind as the lead character when he wrote the book. The reality, he said, is that producers will be looking for a younger actor like Seann William Scott, who played Steven Stifler in the "American Pie" movies.
The producers have mentioned Bon Jovi or Meatloaf for roles in the film.
"You know, 'Pinch me, this is just too weird,"' Bender said.
It took Bender six months to write the book. It took four years to get on the shelves. Colorado-based Fulcrum Publishing, known for nonfiction books, took on its first novel in 2005. Bender's book is No. 6 for the company.
"He's writing the sort of book that, frankly, people aren't seeing anymore," Scinta said. "It's written by someone in small town America for small town America."
Bender, 49, and his wife, Julie, 39, produce newspapers for Ashley, a town of about 850 people, and Wishek, which has about 1,100 people. They live on five acres of rural land with their two children, four cats and a pond full of fish, frogs and turtles.
"It's kind of like Mayberry, in a way," West said.
Bender, who grew up in nearby Frederick, S.D., spent 15 years as a disc jockey in places like Colorado, Alaska and South Carolina, spending a few years in the late 1980s at KTKU-FM in Juneau. He returned to his home area in 1991 to get into newspapers and books.
Bender wrote two other books before "June," both of which have yet to land deals. Calling them "serious and heavy," he decided a change was needed for his third project.
"The whole point was that it was going to be fast and funny," Bender said. "I wasn't going to worry about it being edgy and I wasn't going to worry if it had any sense of morality, although I think it does. I think it has some lessons."
The idea for the title and story came to Bender when he came across a Sports Illustrated calendar while browsing for books.
"I think that Miss June was just incredibly spectacular," Bender said. "I thought, 'What's the point, they should have used her for all the pictures.' It just grew from there."
Parts of the story are rooted in real-world experiences. Bender's first summer job was as a self-proclaimed "grease monkey" at the Frederick Cenex station.
The book's lead character, Hooter Pridley, hails from Sterling, Colo., a town that Bender passed many times while working a disc jockey in Denver. Bender is hoping to sign books at the library in Sterling.
"I always thought it was the prettiest name for a town, but yet, it was really a nondescript, prairie town," Bender said. "I thought it would be a cool launching point. The rest of it was just pure imagination."
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