ELLENTON — Wendell Whitney Thorne has been writing since high school and although a successful businessman as the owner of His Place Barber and Grooming Shop in Ellenton, he is passionate about his writing.
Having written and published several nonfiction books and a collection of short stories, Thorne is embarking on a new journey with the writing of a screenplay.
“I’ve looked at some of my other stories and saw them as screenplays,” he said recently in an interview in his traditional, yet unique, barbershop at 3711 U.S. 301 N., but was never compelled to write them in that format.
That changed when a friend who acted in an independent film read Thorne’s book, The Hot Dog King and Other Short Stories.
Thorne is now working on adapting one of those short stories, Riding on the Rim, into a screenplay.
“A friend in acting read the book and told his screenwriter friend, Doug Klozzner, who is now working with me to develop it into a screenplay,” Thorne said. “I don’t know how this will work out, but it’s been a lot of fun.”
This change in writing genres reflects the many changes in careers Thorne has made throughout his life.
He has been into creative writing since high school and wrote songs, poetry and short stories.
Born outside Boston, and later moving to Maine as a young teenager, he found writing helped in coping with the loneliness of the sparsely populated state.
“Through writing you could create another world,” Thorne said, “and it could be anything you want.
“It was a desolate place and at that age — 13, 14, 15 — you have a lot of emotions and I just figured I’d put word to them, I guess,” he said.
Having always been into music, Thorne served in the U.S. Coast Guard Band after high school and traveled with a seven-piece band playing pop and top 40 hits.
He eventually started working for an electric company in Virginia and North Carolina when he decided he needed to get his college degree.
“I realized there wouldn’t be any promotions unless I had a degree,” Thorne said. “It didn’t matter what the degree was in, just as long as you had a degree.
“So I went to UNC-Asheville [University of North Carolina] and graduated (at the age of 30) with a degree in creative writing,” he said.
Thorne has played music all his life and wrote his own lyrics. He plays the guitar, trombone, flute and piano, but never took music lessons.
“It never was a career,” he said, “it was always in addition to another job.”
One of those jobs was in law and it was his writing that got him to consider law as a career.
While in college, Thorne wrote a column on current affairs for The Asheville Citizen-Times for about three years, which was sometimes controversial. He honed his skills in forming an opinion with the column.
“One reader said, ‘You should be a lawyer,’ so I thought about it and decided to go back to school,” he said.
Thorne obtained a law degree in 1992. He worked in the Knoxville, Tenn., and Asheville public defenders’ offices for about two to three years.
He went into private practice and eventually moved to Florida, but didn’t like how all the traveling kept him from sometimes being at home at night to put his children to bed.
“I decided to make a change,” Thorne said, “and be a good father.”
It was while he was getting his haircut that his barber said Thorne would make a good barber because he got along with people and enjoyed talking. So he went to barber school.
Not only did he miss his kids, Thorne missed creative writing during the eight years he practiced law.
“I got back into it in 2000,” he said. “I was just about to finish barber school.”
Banking on the common adage to write what you know Thorne published his first book, An Elephant in the Living Room: Is It Too Late to Kill All the Lawyers.
“If you hate lawyers, you’ll love this book,” Thorne said.
It is a criticism of how law has seeped into everyone’s lives.
“This book is dedicated to lawyer jokes and if they weren’t true they would be funny.”
The book sold more than 2,000 copies so far.
Within two years of getting his barber license, Thorne bought a barbershop, which led him to write his second book, Don’t Worry, It’ll Grow Back.
It came out in 2010 and sold about 1,200 copies.
“It’s essays and stories inspired by my life as a barber,” he said. “It’s about the importance of the old-fashion barber shop as a marketplace of ideas.”
Thorne’s philosophy is that once someone is sitting in the barber chair and has the cape on, it doesn’t matter if they are wealthy or poor.
“Everyone has something to add to the dialogue,” he said.
The book had a resurgence in sales on Kindle recently, selling 130 copies in one weekend.
Thorne has published several books so far.
Besides Don’t Worry, It’ll Grow Back and An Elephant in the Living Room, Thorne wrote The Hot Dog King and Other Stories, and ghost-wrote Dancing in the Stratosphere: Memoir of American Bomber Pilot, by Major Frank D. Szachta, USAF (retired).
Hot Dog King is Thorne’s most recent fiction work, consisting of four short stories.
One of the short stories, “Green Tequila Beach,” is about how a popular American singer/songwriter achieved fame.
“I guess I heard ‘Margaretville’ one too many times,” Thorne said.
He is filling this story out and will probably publish it as a full-length novel this summer.
Thorne recently submitted another one of his books, On the Dead Run, to Kindle Scout, a reader-driven campaign for unpublished works.
The readers read posted stories, and then vote for their favorite.
If Thorne’s is selected Kindle Press will publish the book.
The book is a coming-of-age novel with the U.S. Coast Guard set as the backdrop.
Readers can access and vote for the book at www.kindlescout.amazon.com/p/3RS2DCA3NFMCA.
Thorne’s barbershop is located in a 102-year-old building. It was originally the Ellenton State Bank, and has been several other businesses through the years before Thorne moved his business into it in the early 2000s.
He still manages to play music, even with running a business and being a prolific writer.
When he is asked to play at various venues around town, Thorne loves to oblige. He also has had open-mike jams at his barbershop with local musician friends, inviting the community to come and listen.
Joe Bonfiglio is a professional musician and plays the guitar. He has known Thorne for six years, traveling in the same circle of musicians.
“We met through music,” Bonfiglio said. “He’s a talented musician and songwriter — and he also cuts my hair.”
Bonfiglio, who once lived in Palmetto, said he now drives down from Madeira Beach just to have Thorne cut his hair.
He also noticed Thorne’s dedication to his children.
“I love how Wendell interacts with his kids,” he said. “He’s a hardworking dad and tries to feed their passion.”
Bonfiglio also is familiar with Thorne as an author.
“He writes very clever and funny fiction,” he said. “Wendell is a very interesting person and really good at everything he does.
“But I won’t hold it against him that he’s a Red Sox fan,” Bonfiglio said.