Monday, December 5, 2016

Wendy Lee's "The Art of Confidence"

Wendy Lee is the author of the novels The Art of Confidence, Across a Green Ocean, and Happy Family. Happy Family was named one of the top ten debut novels of 2008 by Booklist and awarded an honorable mention from the Association of Asian American Studies.

A graduate of Stanford University and New York University’s Creative Writing Program, Lee has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Corporation of Yaddo. She spent more than a decade in the publishing industry as an editor at HarperCollins Publishers and Lantern Books in Brooklyn, where she co-edited the anthology Defiant Daughters: 21 Women on Art, Activism, Animals, and the Sexual Politics of Meat. She has also worked as an English teacher in China, taught writing at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and served as a mentor with Girls Write Now.

Here Lee dreamcasts an adaptation of The Art of Confidence:
The Art of Confidence is told from five different points of view involving a forged painting: the forger, the gallery owner, her assistant, the buyer, and the original artist.

The forger, Liu Qingwu, is a Chinese immigrant in his fifties who’s lived in America for thirty years as an unsuccessful artist. Outwardly, he’s nearly invisible—another character describes him as looking like a deliveryman. Inside, though, he possesses a keen and pessimistic wit. John Lone (from The Last Emperor and M. Butterfly) would be great at depicting those two sides.

Caroline Lowry, the gallery owner who commissions the forgery, is described by Liu as “well-preserved in the way city women over a certain age are.” She also has her vulnerable and quirky moments, so I feel like Diane Keaton would be a good fit.

Caroline’s assistant, Molly, is a 22-year-old college dropout and aspiring artist who suspects that is something is off about her boss’s new art acquisition. She’s a bit like Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham’s character on Girls), although hopefully less annoying.

The buyer of the forged painting is Harold Yu, a Taiwanese businessman whose entire life has been mapped out by his father and wife. The painting becomes the only thing that is truly his. Tony Leung Chiu-wai (from In the Mood for Love) has that perfect, unassuming exterior with hidden melancholic depths.

The final character is the original artist, Andrew Cantrell, whose painting is being forged. He’s based in part on Jackson Pollock, so in my mind as I was writing I pictured Ed Harris, who played Pollock in the 2000 movie of the same title. A 16-years-younger Ed Harris would be just right for the role.
Visit Wendy Lee's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Across a Green Ocean.

The Page 69 Test: Across a Green Ocean.

Writers Read: Wendy Lee.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 2, 2016

Beatrice Colin's "To Capture What We Cannot Keep"

Beatrice Colin was born in London and lives in Glasgow, Scotland. A former arts and features journalist, she also writes novels for adults, children, short stories, radio plays for the BBC. She has spoken at numerous book festivals, taught at Arvon and was a judge and mentor for the Scottish Boom Trust's New Writers Award.

Colin was also once a singer in the band, April Showers, whose single, "Abandon Ship," reached the number 144 in the charts.

Here the author dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest novel, To Capture What We Cannot Keep:
Some writers have a vivid picture of who they would cast in the movie of their book as they write it. I can picture my characters but they aren’t Hollywood actors. And so when my agent asked me at first I drew a blank. And yet if I could have anyone from any period, it would be much easier. For my main character, Cait Wallace, who is a young Scottish widow, I would cast a young Faye Dunaway or a young Jeanne Moreau. Both are beautiful, intelligent and effortlessly stylish. For Emile Nougieur, one of the engineers who designed the Eiffel Tower, the Irish actor, Cillian Murphy, because he is both handsome and a wonderful actor. And for Gabrielle, who is a highly sought after artist’s model I would cast Marion Cotillard – one of the best actors in France. The Eiffel Tower would play itself. Although it might be hard to find a time to film when there’s no one there.

As for a director, maybe Ang Lee as he’s a real craftsman who made Brokeback Mountain and The Ice Storm. If he’s not available, then Wes Anderson, because he would make the whole thing fun. And I think he might use Eiffel Tower models to show its construction, rather than CGI.
Visit Beatrice Colin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Larrie D. Ferreiro's "Brothers at Arms"

Larrie D. Ferreiro received his PhD in the History of Science and Technology from Imperial College London. He teaches history and engineering at George Mason University in Virginia and the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. He has served for over thirty-five years in the US Navy, US Coast Guard and Department of Defense, and was an exchange engineer in the French Navy. He is the author of Measure of the Earth: The Enlightenment Expedition That Reshaped Our World and Ships and Science: The Birth of Naval Architecture in the Scientific Revolution, 1600-1800.

Here Ferreiro dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It:
Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It tells the stories of the French and Spanish merchants, ministers, soldiers and sailors who all came to the assistance of the fledgling United States during the Revolutionary War, even before the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, and were crucial to carrying the American Cause through to victory.

So vast a canvas is hard to portray on screen and still keep the audience riveted, so it needs a central character whose story arc allows the audience to follow the events, while still retaining a singular focus. This character should be based on a real-life model, just as in The Patriot, Mel Gibson’s Benjamin Martin was based on the real-life “Swamp Fox” Francis Marion.

Fortunately, such a character appears throughout Brothers at Arms and should be the inspiration for the movie’s main character, a person who saw many different battles throughout the war. Antoine Félix Wuibert was among the very first French volunteers to the American cause when he came to Philadelphia in 1776, and was commissioned by John Hancock as an American officer even before the Declaration of Independence was signed. He fought under George Washington when the British overran New York City, where he was captured and imprisoned back in England.

After Wuibert was paroled, he signed on to serve with John Paul Jones aboard the frigate Bonhomme Richard, and during the famous battle with Serapis he led the marines who ultimately defeated and captured the much larger British ship. Even though he was seriously wounded in the battle, he begged to return to America to rejoin the fight. On his way back he was again captured, imprisoned and released before returning to the serve again as an officer under George Washington. After the war he became an American citizen and a staunch abolitionist.

So if Wuibert was the Forrest Gump of the American Revolution, who should play him? Of course, Tom Hanks! He would play the older version of Wuibert, in his later life as an abolitionist – looking back over his exploits in the Revolutionary War, and narrating some of the events. His son Colin Hanks would be the younger Wuibert, his story somewhat embellished by having him present at the creation when the Declaration of Independence was signed, fighting in the crucial battles of Long Island and New York before being captured, serving as a marine under John Paul Jones, and finishing the war at the Battle of Yorktown, in which the French provided the navy, most of the firepower and most of the troops who led the siege. Throughout the movie, we would see Wuibert’s French countrymen – and a few Spanish ones as well, which is also based on actual events – fight for the American cause that they made their own.

Another real-life foreign volunteer, Thaddeus Kosciusko, had a free African-American orderly named Agrippa Hull, and after the war, Kosciusko tried to get Thomas Jefferson to free the slaves. This could serve as another inspiration for the character and the plot, having our younger (Colin Hanks) Wuibert being accompanied through the war by his African orderly (Leslie Odom Jr. from Hamilton). Towards the end of the movie, our older (Tom Hanks*) Wuibert is a leader in the fight, trying to extend liberty to the enslaved Africans who had fought side-by-side with him in the war, the very same liberties as the Americans had gained due to the help we received from France and Spain.
(*Note: Tom Hanks played a French filmmaker, and spoke French, in the TV miniseries From Earth to Moon.)
Learn more about Brothers at Arms at the Knopf website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 28, 2016

Andrew Harding's "The Mayor of Mogadishu"

Andrew Harding is a British journalist and author. He has been living and working abroad as a foreign correspondent for the past 25 years. Since 1994 he has been working for BBC News.

Harding has been visiting Somalia since 2000, and was in Mogadishu during the height of the battle against the Islamist militants of Al Shabab and during the famine of 2011. He is one of the very few foreign journalists to have travelled into territory controlled by Al Shabab and met their commanders, or to have visited (twice) the pirate town of Eyl.

Here Harding dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, The Mayor of Mogadishu: A Story of Chaos and Redemption in the Ruins of Somalia:
When I first asked the Mayor of Mogadishu, Mohamud “Tarzan” Nur, if he would allow me to write a book about him – a book, I stressed, that would not be an “authorized” biography and would contain plenty of criticism about him – he hardly gave it a thought. The answer was yes. “Write what you like,” he said with a shrug. But almost immediately, he started talking about Hollywood. A film of his life - now that was what he really wanted.

And you could see his point. Mogadishu – the city of Black Hawk Down, in the country of Captain Phillips. And the Mayor himself - often profiled by the international media as “the man with the world’s most dangerous job.” Which was true enough. I’d seen it up close, driving round the rubble of Mogadishu with Tarzan, pistol tucked in his trousers, two dozen armed guards in pickup trucks to guard him, and a succession of unsuccessful assassination attempts in his wake.

How could Hollywood resist?

Well, we shall see.

But in the meantime I can’t deny having given it some thought during the six years that I’ve got to know Tarzan and his family. With his white, aristocratic beard, and his scarred, brawlers face, I’ve imagined Omar Sharif – back from the grave – to play the lead. And perhaps Sophia Lauren to play his elegant young wife, Shamis. After all, she used to stroll along Mogadishu’s Italianate beach front in her mini-skirt in the 1970s.

But I can feel myself getting in trouble. Surely African actors should play these roles. Absolutely. But which Africans? Somalis are a particularly homogenous, distinct group. Black Hawk Down suffered – and was often mocked - from its casting of non-Somalis, who seemed, to those in the know, as suitable as blonde Scandinavians playing Syrians. Somalis are, understandably, wary of others appropriating their history.

Perhaps Barkhad Abdi, the remarkable “pirate” from Captain Phillips could capture something of Tarzan’s thuggish confidence. As for Shamis – as Somalia struggles to end decades of isolation and instability, perhaps the casting director should come to Mogadishu for screen tests.
Visit Andrew Harding's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 25, 2016

Philippe Girard's "Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life"

Philippe Girard is a professor of history at McNeese State in Louisiana and the author of four books on Haitian history. A native of the Caribbean, he studied in France and the United States. In 2014, he was a research fellow at the DuBois Institute at Harvard University.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life:
Every historian is convinced that their book would make a great Hollywood spectacular. Meet a historian at a conference, and after a couple drinks he or she will inevitably tell you that their 700-page Ph.D. dissertation on 13th century Serbian church steeples could be a blockbuster if only Michael Bay would pick up the script (That is the true “drunk history”).

I am no exception! I am convinced that my biography of Toussaint Louverture, the man who led the only successful slave revolt in world history, would make for an incredible biopic. The Haitian Revolution featured plenty of sex, violence, intriguing characters, stirring speeches, battles, and betrayals. Take all the historical importance of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and liven it up with the blood and gore of Game of Thrones and the layered character studies of Master and Commander. Add some pirates, a Caribbean locale, a Voodoo ceremony, and voilà: the Haitian Revolution.

Casting the actor to play Toussaint Louverture would be no easy task: he was a man of incredible depth and complexity, so humanizing him while remaining faithful to his true self would be quite a challenge. I’ve spent over ten years studying him, and even I can’t say that I truly know who the “real” Toussaint Louverture is.

To portray the many facets of his personality, a director could make the radical choice of employing different actors for the different periods of his life. Mahershala Ali, the crafty and ruthless Remy Danton of House of Cards, would be a great early Louverture, when he made his way from lowly slave to rebel leader.

The tortured Denzel Washington of Flight, at once competent, flawed, and insecure, would make a great middle Louverture, when he tried to reconcile his responsibilities as Haitit’s governor with his record as an emancipator.

Morgan Freeman has played a Supreme Court justice (Madam Secretary), a US president (Deep Impact), a speaker of the House (Olympus has Fallen), a senator (Momentum), a general (Outbreak), a civil rights hero (Invictus), and God Himself (Bruce Almighty). I’m sure that there is a law somewhere requiring that he play a role in any movie about Toussaint Louverture! Freeman’s gravitas would work perfectly for the last months of Toussaint Louverture’s life, when the aging revolutionary was overthrown by Napoleon and dispatched to a prison cell in eastern France.

And... cut.
Learn more about Toussaint Louverture at the Basic Books website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

J. Michelle Coghlan's "Sensational Internationalism"

J. Michelle Coghlan is Lecturer in American literature and culture at the University of Manchester, UK. Her work has appeared in Arizona Quarterly, the Henry James Review, and Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of her new book, Sensational Internationalism: The Paris Commune and the Remapping of American Memory in the Long Nineteenth Century:
Victoria Woodhull, the freewheeling, free-love socialist publisher who became, in 1872, the first woman to run for the U.S. presidency, was an ardent champion of the Paris Commune. She showed her support for the 1871 uprising by running Marx’s famous dissection of the events in Paris, The Civil War in France, in her weekly newspaper, Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly, in the summer following the Commune’s suppression, and also by helping to organize a cross-racial, cross-class march in December 1871 in memory of the martyrs of “the Universal Republic” at a moment when the Commune had been otherwise denounced in every major U.S. newspaper and in sermons across the country. If my book became a movie, Jessica Chastain would rock this part.

Lucy Gonzalez Parsons, who Chicago police described as “more dangerous than a thousand rioters” and historian D.G. Kelley has identified as “the most prominent African American woman radical of the nineteenth century,” was born a slave in Texas in 1852 and married future Chicago anarchist and Haymarket martyr Albert Parsons in 1871. For nearly seven decades, Lucy worked tirelessly as a labor organizer, orator, and publisher, championing the cause of working people, anarchism, and later Communism in the face of Haymarket hysteria, ongoing police repression, and a succession of Red scares in the United States. She suggested in her speeches that the Commune had been the spark which first ignited her interest in social questions, and every March until her death she participated in—and often spoke at—celebrations held to honor the start of the ostensibly failed Parisian uprising. In one particularly fiery speech, she told the three thousand people assembled in New York’s Clarendon Hall, “I will carry the red flag of the Commune and plant it everywhere in New England.” Rosario Dawson would be perfect for the part, and her passion for activism would no doubt have made Lucy proud.
Learn more about Sensational Internationalism at the Edinburgh University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Ian Worthington's "Ptolemy I"

Ian Worthington is Curators’ Distinguished Professor of History and Adjunct Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Missouri. His books include Alexander the Great: Man and God, Philip II of Macedonia, Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece, and By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire.

Here Worthington dreamcasts an adaptation of his latest book, Ptolemy I: King and Pharaoh of Egypt:
We’ve all heard of Cleopatra, ruler of Egypt from 55 to 30 BCE. Her affairs with two of the most powerful men in the dying years of the Roman Republic – Julius Caesar and Mark Antony – and starring role in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra have cast her as one of history’s greatest seductresses. In reality she was far from a femme fatale; what she did was simply to preserve her dynasty (the Ptolemaic) and protect Egypt from the relentless sweep of Roman imperialism. Ultimately she was unsuccessful, and Octavian, the future emperor Augustus, folded Egypt into the Roman Empire in 30.

Egypt was one of the most powerful kingdoms of the Hellenistic period, that era from Alexander the Great’s death in 323 to the Roman annexation of Egypt, and with it, all of the eastern Mediterranean and Near East. Egypt’s capital, Alexandria, was home to the great Library and Museum, the epicenter of cultural, scientific, and intellectual life, and the Ptolemaic dynasty was the longest-lived of all them. But who founded that dynasty and who transformed Egypt from a country ruled by Persia and Alexander in the Classical era into a Hellenistic powerhouse?

The answer is Ptolemy of Macedonia, the subject of my book, the first full-length treatment of this powerful and ambitious yet often marginalized figure. Ptolemy was one of Alexander’s boyhood friends, fighting with him in the epic battles and sieges to topple the Persian Empire, and becoming one of the king’s hand picked bodyguards. When Alexander died at Babylon, his ambitious senior staff, the Successors, carved up his empire among themselves, with Ptolemy laying claim to Egypt. For years he faced invasion and threats from the other Successors as they increased their slices of empire, but he always came out on top. He was Egypt’s king and Pharaoh, made Alexandria the capital, founded the Library and Museum, started building the lighthouse on Pharos (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), and proved himself to be a shrewd and efficient administrator, ruthless when needed, and ambitious, wanting to be a second Alexander. His remarkable life story and successes against the odds, I argue, make him the greatest of Alexander’s Successors.

So if there were going to be a movie about Ptolemy’s life and exploits, whom would we cast? I’ve already suggested actors for the movie version of my previous book By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire (Oxford, 2014 – now in paperback, so please go buy it), and I said that one reason why previous Alexander movies flopped was because the actors didn’t believably play the historical figures – we don’t need actors who are Adonis-like with perfect teeth and hair, but who look like they suffered a few hard knocks from growing up in the tough Macedonian society, where boys were taught to ride, hunt, and fight almost before they could talk, and men could not recline at drinking parties until they had killed their first deadly, wild boar with only a spear.

The Ptolemy movie should focus on his adult life, from Alexander’s death in 323 to Ptolemy’s in 283, with flashbacks to Ptolemy’s youth and campaigns with Alexander. So we need someone to play him credibly, from about his early 30s to 82ish, his age when he died. It’s crucial to get the right person as he will drive the entire movie, and for me the very gifted Jonathan Rhys Meyers would bring Ptolemy realistically alive.

There's a host of characters too numerous to mention in Ptolemy’s life, which began in Macedonia, took him as far east as India, ended in Egypt, and spanned decades of bloody history. Some of his rivals lived into their seventies and eighties, others only into their thirties to forties. Men such as the ambitious and powerful Perdiccas, who invaded Egypt in 320 to oust Ptolemy, but was killed in the process: I think Luke Grimes would fit the bill here. Then there is the equally ambitious Antigonus Monophthalmus (the one-eyed), a big man with an enormous laugh, scheming, ferocious, and tough as nails – oh yes, step up Sid Haig. Antigonus was ably accompanied by his son, Demetrius Poliorcetes (the Besieger), one of the more colorful characters, who even became king of Macedonia before falling from grace and drinking himself to death at the court of Seleucus of Syria: how about Chris Pratt for him?

Let’s turn to Seleucus. Like Ptolemy, he started off as a royal bodyguard, playing his cards close to his chest to outfox his rivals, but by the time he died in his early eighties he ruled an empire as big as Alexander’s with the exception of Egypt and a few other places. He founded the Seleucid dynasty, the second longest of the Hellenistic period. I think Tom Hardy would be a terrific Seleucus. Another Successor who powered himself from the ranks to rule an enormous territory was the cunning Lysimachus. He too lived into his early eighties, and to play him I tap Peter Capaldi (yes Dr Who himself). Finally, let’s not forget Cassander, king of Macedonia from 317 until tuberculosis finished him off in 297, at times Ptolemy’s ally, at others his opponent: Jesse Eisenberg for Cassander.

I suggested flashbacks to Ptolemy in Alexander’s invasion of Asia, which means casting that king and his various generals. I previously suggested Sam Worthington or Max Beesley for Alexander, but they’re a bit long in the tooth now (no offense) to portray someone who died just shy of his 33rd birthday. Now, I think Jack O’Connell has the sort of edge that would make him a convincing Alexander. As for Alexander’s generals, many of whom he inherited from his father Philip II and who were older men, I had proposed Ron Perlman for Parmenion, Muse Watson for Cleitus, but we should not overlook Brendan Gleeson or even Stacy Keach.

Ptolemy was married four times. The Macedonians were polygamous, and while he may have divorced his second wife he was certainly married to the other three at the same time. But now the problems begin. When Eurydice (his third) wife) gave birth to a son, Ptolemy Ceraunus, it seemed the succession was assured. But Ptolemy’s fourth wife (and former lover) Berenice decided her son (also named Ptolemy, just to add to the confusion), born some years later, should be the next Egyptian ruler, and worked on her husband to set Ptolemy Ceraunus aside. These two women hardly got along, and the scheming Berenice had a hold over her husband as he did make the younger Ptolemy his heir. (Interestingly, Berenice’s and Ptolemy’s daughter Arsinoe also wore the pants in her marriage, which was to her brother Ptolemy II, thus kicking off the Ptolemaic tradition of brother-sister marriages.) So who to play these two queens? For Eurydice, I think Margot Robbie, and for Berenice, I like the idea of Tina Fey.

So that is my dream cast. Of course, this is an age of diversity, quite right too, so maybe I should be asking where John Cho is?
My Book, The Movie: Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece.

My Book, The Movie: By the Spear.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 18, 2016

Zana Fraillon's "The Bone Sparrow"

Zana Fraillon was born in Melbourne Australia, but spent her early childhood in San Francisco. She has written two picture books for young children, a series for middle readers, and a fictitious book for older readers based on research and recounts of survivors of the Forgotten Generation. She lives in Melbourne, with her three sons, husband and two dogs.

Here Fraillon dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Bone Sparrow:
Ooooh! How exciting. My book as a movie! My only problem tackling this question is of course that having three young(ish) kids, the last movies I saw are probably a few decades old now and I have absolutely no idea of current actors. However! I did recently see a wonderful film directed by Benh Zeitlin called Beasts of the Southern Wild, and it reminded me of The Bone Sparrow. I love the way he used previously undiscovered talent instead of known actors, (similar to the way that Stephen Daldry did with Trash), and Zeitlin’s use of magical realism is superb.

So, if The Bone Sparrow was made into a film, firstly I would like Benh Zeitlin to direct it, and then I would like to follow that and cast non-actors in the roles of Subhi and Jimmie. Subhi, born into an immigration detention centre, is full of a kind of raw innocence that I think a non trained-actor could more convincingly convey. Likewise with Jimmie, a local girl struggling with her own issues and who discovers a way into the centre, I think her character would suit the ‘roughness around the edges’ that a non-trained actor could bring. (Or perhaps the characters are so firmly their own people in my head that I can’t bare to put a face to them…?)

While I’m using all the ideas from Beasts of The Southern Wild, I’ll cast Quvenzhané Wallis as Queeny – she did such a wonderful job playing Hushpuppy who is such a strong and spirited character, and reminded me a lot of Queeny. Queeny is angry and impassioned and furious at the injustice of the world, but she is also a vulnerable kid desperately searching for a way out. I think Wallis would be able to capture that balance brilliantly.

And now moving away from the only film I have watched in years, I thought Kim Bodnia who plays Martin in The Bridge would be an excellent Harvey, sweet and well meaning…and if I am going to stick with TV series actors, I would have to go to The Wire (one of my all time favourite series) and cast Tristan Wilds as Eli. I am desperately trying to think of a role for Michael K. Williams (Omar from The Wire), but I can’t think of who he could be…I might have to save him for my next ‘book to movie’…

And finally, I think Robert Patrick from Terminator 2 and multiple other films would make a fantastic Beaver. Patrick still gives me nightmares, as does Beaver.

I wonder if I will ever be able to see the characters in my head now as they were, or if they will forever be ‘played’ by these actors as I read. At least I can now convincingly imagine that I have watched The Bone Sparrow – The Movie. Excuse me while I put the popcorn on…
Follow Zana Fraillon on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Heather Dalton's "Merchants and Explorers"

Heather Dalton is an ARC Early Career Research Fellow in the School of Historical & Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne and a member of The Cabot Project at the University of Bristol. The focus of her current project is transnational relationships and family ties in trading networks in the 15th and 16th century Atlantic. As a historian born in England and living in Australia, she is also interested in early contacts between Australasia and Europe.

Here Dalton dreamcasts an adaptation of her new book, Merchants and Explorers: Roger Barlow, Sebastian Cabot, and Networks of Atlantic Exchange 1500-1560:
Although my book is the result of an academically driven research project - it was driven by my fascination with what can only be described as a rollickingly good adventure story. The story of Roger Barlow and Sebastian Cabot encompasses: mystery; trade with Spain and its Atlantic possessions; months at sea leading to encounters with New Worlds; slavery; smuggling and piracy; rampant opportunism; fortunes and reputations made and lost; loyalty and betrayal; love and hate; and, oh yes ..... an attempt to colonise the Welsh.

The real star of a cinematic rendition of my book would be the scenery as seen through the eyes of the lead character, Roger Barlow: masts appearing through the mists of the Essex marshes; the sugar plantations of Madeira; the Portuguese fort at Agadir; the Moorish architecture of Seville; the Azores; a first glimpse of the Southern Cross over the Atlantic; the vast waterways of the River Plate and the Parana; the bustling quays of Bristol and narrow streets of London; and 'deeply embosomed in oak and beech' - Slebech in Pembrokeshire.

Roger Barlow was the first Englishman to set foot in present day Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil, and the first to write a detailed eyewitness account of America, including a description of a cannibalistic 'feast'. Because Barlow led a life that verged on the swashbuckling, I am tempted to assign Johnny Depp to the role. However, Barlow relied to his ability to operate 'under the radar' and to his linguistic, accounting and navigational skills to survive. Indeed, if Barlow was anything like his clerical brother John - described as being of ‘small stature, with red hair, sober in eating and drinking, speaking little and ignorant of music or games’ - then good looks and charm were perhaps not his strong points. Bearing that in mind, I think that Damian Lewis, star of the TV series The Forsyte Saga and Homeland, would be a better bet to play the dogged Barlow.

The brilliant yet quixotic character of Sebastian Cabot is harder to cast. While I think that Daniel Day-Lewis would be perfect as the middle aged captain leading his four galleons up the River Plate, Richard Harris would have been splendid as the elderly white-bearded Cabot ensconced in Whitehall.

One of the most enigmatic characters in the book is Cabot's beloved second wife, Catalina de Medrano. Medrano's first husband was Amerigo Vespucci's nephew - a conquistador who died fighting in Mexico with Cortes. I can see Penélope Cruz, Kristin Scott Thomas, and/or Eleanor Bron playing this clever and resourceful woman at the various stages of her life.
Learn more about Merchants and Explorers at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 14, 2016

David Welky's "A Wretched and Precarious Situation"

David Welky is the author of The Thousand-Year Flood: The Ohio-Mississippi Disaster of 1937, The Moguls and the Dictators: Hollywood and the Coming of World War II, and other books. He is a professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas.

Here Welky dreamcasts an adaptation of his latest book, A Wretched and Precarious Situation: In Search of the Last Arctic Frontier:
A Wretched and Precarious Situation is a nonfiction narrative about a remarkable Arctic expedition to explore a mysterious landmass that famous explorer Robert E. Peary spotted in the Arctic Ocean in 1906. Peary named his find “Crocker Land” in honor of a generous donor named George Crocker. Scientists dubbed Crocker Land “the last great geographical problem left to the world for solution,” and concluded that it encompassed around 500,000 square miles, which would make it the second largest island in the world.

In 1913 one of Peary’s acolytes, Donald MacMillan, assembled a party to follow Peary’s footsteps and explore Crocker Land. As is usually the case with these things, the expedition went horribly wrong (no one wants to read a book about the Arctic where everything goes swimmingly). The seven Americans who comprise the team endure shipwrecks, starvation, bitter cold, biting winds, brutal icepacks, and even murder during a four-year exile in the extreme north. They eventually unlock the riddle of Crocker Land only to reveal another, deeper mystery that hints at a dark secret that MacMillan could never have anticipated.

I actually wrote A Wretched and Precarious Situation with an actor in mind. In an ideal world, the part of Donald MacMillan would be played by Ed Harris. Harris, with his thinning hair, piercing gaze, and weathered look, is a dead ringer for MacMillan. His performance as astronaut John Glenn in The Right Stuff proves that he can play a sensitive leader of men, and his work in Westworld shows that he can stand tall against an Arctic blizzard.

Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world. Harris is sixty-six years old, whereas MacMillan was only thirty nine when he went chasing after Crocker Land. Harris is a gifted actor, but he can’t shed three decades for a film.

A younger actor is needed, so I would cast Chris Pine, best known for playing Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek series. Pine is about the right age (36), has a suitably steely expression, and can grow a nice beard—essential for an Arctic explorer. He also tough without being bulky, commanding without being domineering, and exhibits a rebellious streak that would come in handy when playing a man who loved climbing cliffs and church steeples.

Robert Peary was a world-famous figure, but he plays a relatively small part in A Wretched and Precarious Situation. Sam Elliott gets the nod for this supporting role. Contact lenses will turn his green-brown eyes into Peary’s steel gray ones, and a face tanned and beaten by countless outdoor shoots for Westerns will look perfect when wrapped in a (fake) fur hood set against a field of ice.

Teddy Roosevelt also makes a brief appearance, giving a bombastic speech in which he proclaims that “it would be a fine thing for America if the discovery of Crocker Land could be placed to our credit as a nation.” My sense is that TR would insist on playing himself. That’s not going to happen, of course, so I’m bringing in Jack Black for a cameo. His histrionics suit the part and, hidden behind thick, pince-nez glasses, most viewers won’t even realize it’s him before he hustles off screen with an enthusiastic “bully!”
The Page 99 Test: The Thousand-Year Flood.

--Marshal Zeringue