By Kelsey Durham
Eddie Upnick never envisioned becoming an author until one evening in 1995, when the Bayside resident was vacationing with his wife in Antigua and sparked up a conversation with the gentleman seated across from him at dinner.
The man’s name was Sydney Dowse, a British war veteran whose escape from the German prison camp Sagan during World War II was portrayed in the 1963 film “The Great Escape.” When Upnick learned the man’s identity, he began talking to him in hopes of hearing Dowse’s stories from his time spent as a Royal Air Force pilot and as a British intelligence officer before the war and he began to think the information would make a great book series.
“He talked a lot about the camp and nothing else,” Upnick said. “He didn’t open up about anything else. He was reluctant to talk about it.”
After days of unsuccessful persuasion, Upnick was prepared to settle on the idea that he would never hear about Dowse’s experiences as a member of British intelligence. But on the last night of his trip, while the two men sat at a bar, Dowse finally agreed to give up his secrets. He told Upnick that he would tell him everything he had seen under two conditions: Upnick had to agree to write the series as novels rather than non-fiction, and he must wait until after Dowse’s death to release any of it.
“He told me, ‘The things that I know are quite shocking and I don’t know if the world is ready for them,’” Upnick said. “I didn’t really like that novel provision, but I agreed anyway.”
Dowse’s stories began to pour out as he told Upnick things he learned while working for the government that many people had never heard. One story stood out to Upnick and it became clear to him that this was where his books would start.
He told Upnick a story that was told to him after the war had ended about 19 men who were discovered to be German spies working for British intelligence. According to Dowse’s story, the men were outed and killed in July 1939.
“That’s really the story that triggered the books,” Upnick said.
Upnick kept his promise to Dowse, who died in 2008, and published his first novel, “Time Will Tell,” in 2009 based entirely on his stories. The book takes place in the year 2133 and Nazis now control the world, and four scientists are directed to go back in time to 1938 and rewrite history.
His second book, “Future Tense,” followed in 2011 as the sequel and tells of a man who learns the CIA secrets of his father’s past. Upnick finished his trilogy in 2012 with his third book, “2052,” that continues to follow the family through the series as they fight global threats such as aliens and natural disasters.
He credits his first book to Dowse’s recollections, but Upnick said the remainder of the series is a mixture of Dowse’s stories and of his own thoughts that were sparked by them. Upnick refers to his writing as “reality-based science-fiction,” with many of the ideas being based on facts that Dowse told him to be true, even if no one else knew it.
Upnick said he has faced criticism from people who do not believe the elderly man’s stories were ever true, But he said even before he started writing books based that he never once doubted they were real.
“It’s the fact that he wouldn’t talk to me for four days,” he said. “I was like Johnny Carson with a bad interview. That’s what made me believe everything he told me.”
Upnick’s most recent endeavour has been to try and get the books onto screen, whether in the form of feature-length films or as a television show. He has started working with a company that has presented him with several options, such as breaking the three books up into five movies or creating a mini-series on HBO or Showtime. He has also considered turning each chapter into an episode of an ongoing TV series.
“My fans all think they would make great movies,” said Upnick. “Nobody’s bored with these books. They take you on a ride and you just don’t want to get off.”
Upnick studied anthropology at SUNY New Paltz and said he never imagined he would be a novelist, even after spending the early part of his career working as a joke writer for comedians like Rodney Dangerfield and writing TV scripts for sitcoms like “All in the Family.”He even dabbled as an inventor when he created a game called “Super Chess,” which went on to be named one of Games Magazine’s Games of the Year in 1987.
“I’ve always been an imaginative person, but I never had any intentions to write books,” he said. “Now I’m just trying to keep it alive until the right person reads it.”
Until a deal is reached to turn his series into film, Upnick is continuing to focus on his books, which can be found on amazon.com and in stores. He has planned a book signing from 4 to 6 p.m. Jan. 30 at Mama Lina’s restaurant on Springfield Boulevard in Little Neck.
As for continuing the series, Upnick said he is constantly thinking of ways to keep his characters alive and already has an idea for a fourth book. Even if he runs out of material from Dowse’s life experiences, he said he will always find a way to keep writing.
“I’ll never run out of ideas,” he said.
Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at email@example.com.