How does an insurance salesman and father of three become the author of a screenplay?

According to Lakewood resident of 40 years, Mike Looney: “The story was hatched unplanned. I just saw two news stories back to back.”

The first one was about Pete Rose’s trouble with gambling. In the second story, a hardware salesman was coaching the Little League World Series. Looney was suddenly struck with the irony that an amateur with a day job could be a much better role model than a seasoned professional.

“It was about me questioning the morality of professional sports,” he says.

The idea might have dawned in an instant, but the road to success has been a long and bumpy one. It was 14 years ago that he first took a seed of the story to local moviemaker Daryl Kuntz.

Initially, Looney had no plans to write the screenplay himself, telling Kuntz: “I could never write it. I barely know how to read.” At that point, he says he hadn’t read many novels, and he had no formal instruction in writing. Kuntz’ response — “You have to write it; you are the only one with the passion to write this” — convinced him otherwise.

Based in Dallas and set at a high school, the basic story is that of a professional baseball player who returns to his old high school and disguises himself to join the team and continue playing. Looney set the story in Dallas because, he says, “I decided to take a very optimistic approach that it would be made. And I wanted to watch it being filmed in Dallas.”

Looney shopped the script around with some Hollywood contacts. It generated some interest, including with Emmy-award-winning producer/director Steve Binder, who told Looney he wanted to direct the piece but couldn’t raise the necessary funds. Faced with the hard reality of the situation, Looney eventually decided to adapt the screenplay into a novel.

He quickly discovered, however, that the world of novels is an entirely different ballgame. He enrolled in classes at SMU in what he calls the “pretty painful process” of re-learning grammar rules and finding inspiration for his prose style.

He named the book “Heroes are Hard to Find,” and decided to keep it in his hometown, even changing the school’s name to his own alma mater, Woodrow Wilson, and also including the now-gone but legendary Harrell’s Drugs to preserve “local flavor,” he says.

Looney enlisted two friends to help with the book’s art. Fellow Woodrow alum Blake Miles provided inside illustrations for the book. And ex-Dallas Cowboy and -NFL coach Charlie Waters produced the cover art. Waters, an aspiring artist, says he tried to depict the darker side of the tale.

“I tried to make it as subtle as I could, instead of just a circle. The on-deck circle looks to me like a tunnel heading down to hell,” Waters says. “And the sky, I wanted the sky to be threatening. That too pretty much sums up this story — that there is always a temptation of evil brewing on the horizon.”

Although insisting his art isn’t a career change, Waters admits he has always loved to draw.

“It is my way of release. Even when I was drawing up game plans, I always made them a little more artistic than most, with color-coding and other touches.”

As for his cover work for Looney’s novel, he says: “I just wanted to do a great piece of work for Mike, because he’s a great friend.”

Though Looney hopes the book will sell well, he hasn’t given up on his screenplay. Two major Hollywood producers are interested, Looney says, and one said he will make the movie after returning from filming another project abroad.

In the meantime, Looney is simply grateful for the support he has received from our neighborhood.

“Everyone’s been great. There’s so much going on. This is really just starting.”

“Heroes Are Hard to Find” is available on For copies signed by Looney, Waters and Miles, visit

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