Friday, July 3, 2015

Victoria Shorr's "Backlands"

Victoria Shorr is a writer and political activist who lived in Brazil for ten years. Currently she lives in Los Angeles, where she cofounded the Archer School for Girls, and is now working to found a college-prep school for girls on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Shorr's new novel is Backlands.

Here the author shares some ideas for adapting her novel for the big screen:
The characters in Backlands were real people, Brazilian outlaws, brave and tough and smart, and having traveled in the region and talked to so many people like them, people who knew them, it's harder for me to make that leap into casting than it would be for someone who only knew their story. The dream would be to cast the movie the way they cast Tom Jones, which absolutely caught the book by the tail. But who could do that? Maybe a Brazilian, like Walter Salles or Fernando Mireilles. Maybe a great dreamer, like Jane Campion.
Visit Victoria Shorr's website.

The Page 69 Test: Backlands.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Andrew Roe's "The Miracle Girl"

Andrew Roe is the author of The Miracle Girl (Algonquin Books). His fiction has been published in Tin House, One Story, The Sun, Glimmer Train, Slice, The Cincinnati Review, and other publications, as well as the anthologies 24 Bar Blues (Press 53) and Where Love Is Found (Washington Square Press). His nonfiction has been published in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle,, and elsewhere.

Here Roe dreamcasts an adaptation of The Miracle Girl:
My wife is my first reader, and when she read The Miracle Girl for the first time, one of the first things she told me was that it would make a good movie. I hadn’t thought of that while writing it, plus it always seemed like turning the book into a movie would be a challenge due to the large cast of characters and multiple points of view, as well as the significant amount of time/pages spent on interior stuff. All that said, however, I’d love it if my novel was adapted into a film. Who wouldn’t?

Jennifer Connelly was my wife’s choice to play the title character’s mother, Karen, who’s overwhelmed by caring for her daughter (eight-year-old Anabelle is in a coma-like state after a car accident) and also must deal with the growing number of visitors to her house who believe the girl can perform miracles. And I liked that choice, too, but over time (I worked on the book for several years) we both agreed that, since the character in the book is in her late 20s, Jennifer Connelly had probably aged out of the appropriate demographic. So another Jennifer might work better: Jennifer Lawrence.

A second key casting choice would be for John, Karen’s estranged husband. Jason Segel comes to mind. I’m thinking he can pull off a sort of schleppy, squirrely quality to the character (someone who, at 29, still hasn’t fully transitioned into adult life). And, based on what I’ve seen and heard about his portrayal of David Foster Wallace in the upcoming movie The End of the Tour, it seems like he can handle the heavier dramatic scenes, too.

As I said, dozens of characters populate the book, so casting all of them would take a while. But here’s one more thought/wish/recommendation: I can clearly picture Richard Jenkins as Donald, an elderly man who’s drawn to the title character because of his dying wife. I was just thinking about Jenkins’ amazing performance in The Visitor the other day. He’d make a great Donald.
Learn more about the book and author at Andrew Roe's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Catherine A. Winn's "Beyond Suspicion"

Catherine A. Winn, a former art and elementary school teacher, lives and writes in Texas. An avid reader of all types of mysteries from cozies to thrillers, she’s found writing them to be equally thrilling.

Here Winn dreamcasts an adaptation of her new YA mystery/thriller, Beyond Suspicion:
Beyond Suspicion made into a movie, “Woo-hoo!” Where do I sign?

If I could pick the lead? Willow Shields from The Hunger Games would be the only actress on my list.

Shelby Palmer, my main character, changes from a sweet, naïve, aggravated-by-parents fifteen-year-old sophomore from suburbia to a courageous young woman who draws on inner strength in a life and death struggle to save her little brother and herself from murderous kidnappers.

As I watched the talented actress, Willow Shields, portray Primrose Everdeen, I became totally convinced she could bring Shelby Palmer to life on the big screen and make her a household word. Not only does she resemble her physically, but she could evoke so much of Shelby’s emotions and thoughts just from facial expressions alone.

If I could pick the director? John McTiernan, famous for the Die Hard movies. The crucial action scenes would be unbelievably unforgettable under his direction. I can already hear the screams and gasps he would wrench from a knuckle-biting audience.

As to the rest of the cast? I would insist on signing the amazing casting director, Laray Mayfield, (Gone Girl, 2014) and leave the roster to her. What a blockbuster list that would be!

Now, the only thing left to do is wait for the phone to ring and choose the designer for my Oscar gown.
Visit Catherine A. Winn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sara Solovitch's "Playing Scared"

Sara Solovitch is a journalist, a mother, a gardener, a voracious reader, a hiker, and a really good cook. She's also a classical pianist, which is what led her to write Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright. The memoir chronicles her yearlong journey to understand and overcome a lifetime of performance anxiety, beginning with a childhood full of disastrous performances and ending with an hour-long concert the day before her 60th birthday.

Here Solovitch dreamcasts the lead for an adaptation of Playing Scared:
A lot of my friends have asked me who would play me in the movie version of my book. What woman of a certain age – brash yet vulnerable, willing to face her demons – is up to the role? I initially thought of Susan Sarandon, the bad girl in Bull Durham. But after discovering that Blythe Danner has some audience issues (she’s been known to buoy her spirits before a play by standing behind the stage curtain and screaming "Go out and maim them”), I think she’d be the perfect person.
Visit Sara Solovitch's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 29, 2015

Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski's "The Strange Case of Ermine de Reims"

Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski is Professor of French at the University of Pittsburgh and a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America. She is the author of several books, including Poets, Saints, and Visionaries of the Great Schism (1378-1417).

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest book, The Strange Case of Ermine de Reims: A Medieval Woman Between Demons and Saints:
Unlike my previous scholarly books this one actually has a plot and a riveting one at that. A simple woman named Ermine, widowed and penniless in late medieval Reims, moves into a room near her confessor, an Augustinian friar, whose ambition is to make her a saint. For the last ten months of her life she has horrible visions of demons in human and animal shape that invade her room and even take her on an aerial journey on a demonic flying horse. She’s middle-aged and apparently still attractive to some men since at one point she receives a marriage proposal. Her confessor is accused of having a sexual interest in her and demons accost her in the street calling her a whore. After her death of the plague in 1396 her confessor gets in touch with Jean Gerson, the powerful chancellor of the University of Paris -- who’s a kind of arbiter of the supernatural -- and sends him the text of the visions that he transcribed from Ermine’s testimony. He wants Gerson’s opinion on whether Ermine was indeed saintly. Gerson is ultracautious (he says neither yes, nor no) but twenty years later condemns her as an impostor.

So there are some juicy roles in this drama. First of all Ermine: she’s illiterate but seems to have some charisma. My first choice would be the Belgian actress and director Yolande Moreau whose fantastic 2008 performance as the early 20th-century painter Séraphine makes her perfect for the role of a simple-minded woman, gifted in certain areas, confused and frightened by visions, and starting to live in her own world of hallucinations.

For the role of the confessor who takes her under his wing the German actor Ulrich Tukur who played the famous art critic and dealer Wilhelm Uhde in Séraphine (directed by Martin Provost) would be ideal: a calm, caring, and encouraging presence who nevertheless cannot suppress his ambitions for the simple woman he supports.

Lest it seem that I cannibalize only Séraphine I would cast F. Murray Abraham as Gerson, the famous theologian and consummate politician, a conflicted personality, eventually hounded from his home after the post-Agincourt (1415) English invasion of France. The film could be framed as a retrospective with Gerson looking back to about 1400 when he first heard about Ermine. The huge cast of demons would probably come from special effects. And I would want Yolande Moreau to direct the film or else Margarethe von Trotta who brought the 12th-century visionary and scholar Hildegard von Bingen to life in her wonderful 2009 film Vision with Barbara Sukowa as Hildegard.
Writers Read: Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Beth Cato's "The Clockwork Crown"

Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair outside of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

Here she shares some ideas about adapting her latest novels for a cinematic audience:
When I think of my books The Clockwork Dagger and The Clockwork Crown as movies, I don't think of a Hollywood movie. I can only see it as an anime, especially one done by Studio Ghibli. They are famous for their movies like My Neighbor Totoro and Howl's Moving Castle--the latter in particular shows how well they handle steampunk fantasy with fantastic visuals. My books span forested wilderness to sky-scraping cities teeming with factories to scenes of pure, ancient magic. When I think of what they could do with that, I get goosebumps!

Since I'm daydreaming about anime, my focus is on English voice actors:

Octavia Leander: Emma Watson
Alonzo Garret: Benedict Cumberbatch
Viola Stout: (the late and great) Mollie Sugden
Mr. Drury: Daniel Radcliffe
Miss Percival: Nichelle Nichols
Balthazar Cody: James Earl Jones
Grand Potentate Taney: George Takei

I could hope that the studio's famed director Hayao Miyazaki might come out of retirement to work on the project, but in any case, Studio Ghibli would do a gorgeous job.
Learn more about The Clockwork Dagger and The Clockwork Crown at Beth Cato's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Clockwork Dagger.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Patricia Abbott's "Concrete Angel"

Patricia Abbott is the author of more than 125 stories that have appeared online, in print journals and in various anthologies. She is the author of Monkey Justice and Home Invasion and co-editor of Discount Noir. She won a Derringer award for her story "My Hero."

Here Abbott dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Concrete Angel:
Concrete Angel flips the plot of Mildred Pierce by being the story of a craven mother and her self-sacrificing daughter. So from the beginning, I couldn't help but picture actors from the sixties and seventies being in its cast.

Lana Turner would have been perfect for Eve, the book's pitch-dark protagonist. Especially since Turner experienced an incident like the initial event in the book. When I think of her in films like By Love Possessed, Portrait in Black, and Imitation of Life she would have made a riveting Eve Moran. She was adept at playing the kind of woman you couldn't look away from despite her bad deeds.

If I am going to cast it using actors from that era, the part of Christine might be played by Hayley Mills who was adept at combining innocence and intelligence. If you look at her performances in movies like The Chalk Garden, The Moon-Spinners and Whistle Down the Wind, you can see the intellect lurking behind the baby face.

Dare I cast John Cassavetes as Hank Moran? Actors of this era with any real acting chops tend to be too old for the part. The younger actors were light-weight, overly mannered or from the Adler school of acting--too naturalistic for a traditional melodrama. But I can see Cassavetes managing to make something of a rather opaque character. We don't really see much of Hank Moran outside of the task of handling his wife. I think Cassavetes could convey the secret life Hank had to invent for himself.

The more minor parts I will leave to the casting offices in Hollywood of 1965.

Were I to cast it using today's actors, I can picture: Claire Danes, Kiernan Shipka and Tom Hardy. That would work pretty well too.
Visit Patricia Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Concrete Angel. 

Writers Read: Patricia Abbott.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Jessica Alcott's "Even When You Lie to Me"

Jessica Alcott lives with her husband and their two cats. She graduated from Bennington College and has worked at a children’s publisher in the UK.

Here Alcott dreamcasts an adaptation of Even When You Lie to Me, her first novel:
This is a tough one because I deliberately didn't describe what my protagonist, Charlie, looks like – I wanted to leave that up to the reader's imagination. She's depicted only in terms of how she feels about her looks and how other people react to her. Casting her would pin this down – any viewer would be able to make a judgment about whether whoever played her was or wasn't attractive. I'd also worry that the actress would be "Hollywood ugly"; i.e., incredibly attractive but with a slightly unusual nose.

As for a director, though, I'd be spoiled for choice. There are a number of amazingly gifted female directors I'd love to film the book (and figure out a lead actress because I'm apparently precious about it): Nicole Holofcener, Andrea Arnold (who's already tackled a similar story with the brilliant Fish Tank), Gina Prince-Bythewood, Sanaa Hamri, Lisa Cholodenko...any of them could make an incredible movie out of it.
Visit Jessica Alcott's website.

Writers Read: Jessica Alcott.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Lynne Jonell's "The Sign of the Cat"

Lynne Jonell is the author of the novels Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat, Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls, and The Secret of Zoom, as well as several critically acclaimed picture books. Her books have been named Junior Library Guild Selections and a Smithsonian Notable Book, among numerous other honors. Born in Little Falls, Minnesota, Jonell grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis. She now teaches writing at the Loft Literary Center and lives with her husband and two sons in Plymouth, Minnesota, in a house on a hill.

Here Jonell dreamcasts an adaptation of her new book, The Sign of the Cat:
I suspect the movie would have to be animated—there are just too many talking cats. So I’d want Pixar to do the animation, and Pete Docter to direct. There’s a bit of local interest there—he grew up in Bloomington, Minnesota, and I grew up in Richfield, its next-door neighbor! But the real reason I’d like Pete Docter is that his montage of Carl and Ellie aging, in the movie Up, is one of the best things I’ve ever seen done.

I’d have Pixar use performance capture so the animated human actors would not only sound, but also look and move like themselves. So with that in mind, here goes:

Choosing a child actor to play Duncan, the central character, is tough. Movies take a long time to make, and child actors just keep growing up. But since I write fantasy, I don’t consider that I have to be realistic about this; I’d choose Tom Holland, back when he was twelve. I loved his work in The Impossible and he’s even got the look I imagined for Duncan, a kid who longs for success but whose mother warns him to never, never do his best. I already know Tom can do adventure with lots of drama, and deliver an understated yearning; the big question is, does he like cats? And how does he feel about a tiger as supporting actor?

To play Sylvia McKay, Duncan’s mother: Meryl Streep, because she can do anything and I’ve loved every movie she’s ever done. She’d be marvelous as a woman hiding who she really was, fearful yet incredibly brave, and I bet she could pull off the violin scenes and really make us believe in her musical genius. To be the mother of an eleven year old boy I’d make her 35 or 40, though.

To play the Earl of Merrick: Ryan Gosling. He’s got that great “trust me” face with the little sly smile that makes you wonder what’s going on underneath. I loved him in Lars and the Real Girl, but I think he’s got it in him to be a fabulous villain, too. He’d have to first be credible as the hero the whole nation adores, and then let that little smile give us a faint wisp of doubt as to his true intentions. He’s too young, though; I’d age him about ten years.

For the princess: Keisha Castle-Hughes, at age fourteen. She was wonderful in Whale Rider, passionate and intense, and with her hair long and in a braid she’d look exactly like the princess of my mind. She has a natural athleticism, too, which I see in the princess who runs and climbs all over Traitor Island.

And the voices of Fia, the kitten, and Brigadier, the tiger? I think I’ll leave those up to the director. I can hardly wait to see what Pete comes up with!
Visit Lynne Jonell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 22, 2015

Roland Clark's "Holy Legionary Youth"

Roland Clark is Assistant Professor of Modern European History at Eastern Connecticut State University. He is the translator of The Holy Trinity: In the Beginning there was Love by Dumitru Stăniloae.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Holy Legionary Youth: Fascist Activism in Interwar Romania:
Corneliu Zelea Codreanu would have loved the idea of having a movie made about him. As the leader of a fascist movement named the Legion of the Archangel Michael, he filmed his own wedding in 1925 and arranged to have it broadcast in Bucharest before the censors confiscated it and destroyed the film. Incredibly proud, Codreanu was so tall and good looking that people referred to him as the “Hollywood Hitler.” He would have liked someone like Hugh Jackman or Scott Caan to portray him confronting crowds of angry workers, plotting to assassinate a series of public figures, or shooting a police chief on the steps of the courthouse. His followers talked about him in messianic terms and he even convinced them to build a holiday resort on the Black Sea entirely with donated goods and volunteer labor. Playing Codreanu wouldn’t be difficult, because he never said much and in all of his pictures he always had the same stoic expression on his face. Anyone with a bit of height, a strong chin, and big muscles would make a good Codreanu.

Unfortunately for Codreanu, this book isn’t really about him. Fascist movements didn’t just need charismatic leaders, they also had to have committed followers to do the work. Holy Legionary Youth is about the extraordinary collection of colorful characters who made up the Legion, dedicating their time, money, and often their lives to transforming their country into a fascist state. Ion Moţa, the belligerent son of a priest who was always getting into trouble and went to fight in Spain so that he could die as a martyr should be played by someone with a bit of attitude, like Jack O’Connell. Give Russell Crowe a bushy beard and he would do well as General Cantacuzino, the cantankerous old war hero who hung around with the young hooligans and tried to teach them table-manners. Emma Watson could give some spirit to the character of Codreanu’s wife, while the gentle Maria Iordache needs someone like Victoria Justice to follow her through the summer work camps and into a convent. George Clooney would make a good playboy king who persecuted the legionaries, and Matt Damon could do any of the awkward young intellectuals who hung around the Legion pretending to be tough.

The challenge with turning a book like this into a movie is choosing which of its many subplots should go front and center and which need to fade into the background. With a multitude of characters, each joining the Legion for his or her own reasons and being transformed by the movement in different ways, it would be difficult to keep up with them all on screen the way you can in a book. This is a tale of epic proportions, in which ordinary people are swept up into events that are larger than life. Ultimately it probably doesn’t matter who plays the main characters as long as the music captures the drama of long marches, damp prisons, and sudden street battles, and the set design conveys the romance and passion of interwar Romania in its darkest hours.
Learn more about Holy Legionary Youth at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue