Saturday, April 30, 2016

Jaime Clarke's "Garden Lakes"

Jaime Clarke is a graduate of the University of Arizona and holds an MFA from Bennington College. He is a founding editor of the literary magazine Post Road, now published at Boston College, and co-owner, with his wife, of Newtonville Books, an independent bookstore in Boston.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his Charlie Martens trilogy, now complete with the release of Garden Lakes, a novel that the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Harding called "Complicated and feral ... thrilling, literary, and smart as hell":
The last novel in my Charlie Martens trilogy, Garden Lakes, is an homage to Lord of the Flies and so Hollywood could potentially fill the cast with the latest, up-to-the minute stars, of which I’m oblivious, sadly. I’ve reached that midpoint in life where I no longer recognize the faces on supermarket magazine covers and the names of hot young movie stars don’t register. But I’d happily sit in the front row and watch a film adaptation of Garden Lakes, especially if it captured the menace of life in the Arizona desert, a place where I spent my formative years.

The Martens trilogy begins with Vernon Downs and my wife and I once spit-balled a film version that I still think about from time to time. The title character in the novel is based on the novelist Bret Easton Ellis, and Charlie’s girlfriend is a fan. But when she dumps him and disappears back to her native England, Charlie concocts a plan to go to New York City and get close to Vernon Downs to impress and win back his ex. He becomes obsessed with Downs and insinuates himself into Downs’s life, ultimately impersonating Downs when Downs goes on a writing retreat and asks Charlie to apartment sit for him and organize his archives.

In our idea for the film adaptation, my wife and I kept the premise but radically changed the narrative. In our film, which we dreamed would be called Ensemble, a washed out wannabe actor would be obsessed with Academy Award-winning actor Chris Cooper, who I think all moviegoers can agree is always the best part of any film, and often the glue in big ensemble movies. And here’s the hook: Chris Cooper would play both parts, the wannabe and himself. The plot would revolve around a biopic being made of a famous but reclusive author, who resembles Chris Cooper. (Cooper actually portrayed J.D. Salinger in a small indie film, so the idea was inspired by that real life fact.) Our man the Fake Chris Cooper cons his way into the Real Chris Cooper’s New York apartment while the Real CC is away on location and intercepts a phone call from the reclusive author about a meeting to talk about the author lending his support to the biopic. So Fake Chris Cooper meets the reclusive author (again played by Chris Cooper) and is pulled into a Body Double sort of plot involving the reclusive author’s stalker, whom the reclusive author sets up to be murdered (the stalker claims the reclusive writer stole his idea for the book that made the reclusive author famous), with the unwitting help of Fake Chris Cooper, whom he initially believes is the Real Chris Cooper. Wild, right? If you’re a Hollywood producer reading this, the answer is Yes. You’ll just have to convince Chris Cooper.
Visit Jaime Clarke's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Laura Williams McCaffrey's "Marked"

Laura Williams McCaffrey is author of Marked, Water Shaper, and Alia Waking. She is on faculty at Solstice, an MFA in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College, and lives in Vermont with her family. Here the author dreamcasts an adaptation of Marked:
I actually have been asked the question of casting the story before, and I have trouble answering. I suspect this is partially because many movies made from books for children and teens aren't all that good. The ones I like best tend to be odd. A favorite of mine actually is Coraline, which I think has a very cool aesthetic, but I can see how others find it strange. Another of my recent favorite fantasy movies is Mirrormask, which is an odd little Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean project. I guess this is what comes of growing up on The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and Edward Scissorhands.

Maybe what I’m saying is I’d love something outside-the-box?

When pushed to do a little casting, I find myself looking for actors, in the case of the teens, who have emotional range as well as the ability to perform in the action adventure genre. Marked has action, but its heart is the emotional relationships. With these considerations, I think Amandla Stenberg would make a great Lyla, as would Daisy Ridley, but Ridley would also make a great Hope. For Gill, my picks would be someone like Avan Jogia or Dylan Minnette. Logan Lerman or Tyler Posey could do well as Riverton. When I've considered Ma and Da, I've more than once found myself settling on Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd, who played such a wonderful and authentic-seeming couple in Friends with Kids.

To return to strangeness, I think the graphic novel storyline could be live action, with actors playing Pirate Jackman and Lady Captain, but it might be much cooler as animation in the style of something like Mirrormask, Coraline, or “The Tale of Three Brothers” sequence in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Visit Laura Williams McCaffrey's website.

The Page 69 Test: Marked.

Writers Read: Laura Williams McCaffrey.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Brendan Jones's "The Alaskan Laundry"

Raised in Philadelphia, Brendan Jones took the Greyhound west at the age of 19, ending up in Sitka, Alaska. He graduated from Oxford University, where he boxed for the Blues team, then returned to Alaska to commercial fish. He was a general contractor for seven years in Philadelphia, before heading back to Sitka, where he now lives, commercial fishing and renovating a WWII tugboat.

Here Jones dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, The Alaskan Laundry:
When Winter’s Bone came out in 2010 I was prepared to be disappointed, as so often happens with books you love. But then there was Jennifer Lawrence, red-nosed beneath her blue-knit skull cap, oily blond hair framing her face. A far cry from my dark curly-haired Italian-American protagonist Tara Marconi in The Alaskan Laundry—but still, there was a quiet, frustrated grittiness and pluck in Lawrence’s performance I loved. Watching, I knew she’d be great as Tara, and imagined Lawrence getting hold of the screenplay, saying Yes, yes, of course. I could see her standing up to Fritz, stalking away from the Coast Guard, laughing it up alongside crazy Newton Scarpe on the breakwater. But also being alone, hiking along the flume into the woods, cooking a fish over the fire, scooping out guts from a king salmon.

Plus I think Lawrence wouldn’t be afraid on the set. I’ll digress for a moment and say Sean Penn grossly miscast Christopher McCandless in his film Into the Wild. Emile Hirsch does nothing to capture the ecstasy of McCandless, his humor and jubilation—plus he’s a wimp, it’s not difficult to see. No surprise he needed Sean Penn to canoe the rapids before he’d jump in. It wouldn’t be so with Lawrence. She’d fly out to Alaska for the shooting (or British Columbia, as the case may be) and soak in every minute, insisting on doing her own stunts. I just know it, you can see it in her eyes.

In the years since Winter’s Bone has come out, of course, Lawrence has turned into a great superstar. But I don’t think her acting ability has been diluted. She still has that ability to pivot from seriousness to goofy on a dime. And, after seeing her in American Hustle, it’s clear she can do the Philly/Jersey thang just fine. Put it together with that Appalachian mettle, and boom. Tara Marconi in Alaska. Jennifer Lawrence, starring in The Alaskan Laundry.
Visit Brendan Jones's website.

Writers Read: Brendan Jones.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Hilary Green's "Educational Reconstruction"

Hilary N. Green is Assistant Professor of History in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at The University of Alabama. Born in Boston, she earned her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010. She is a specialist in nineteenth-century American history, with emphasis on the African American experience, Civil War Era and Atlantic World.

Here Green dreamcasts an adaptation of her new book, Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890:
I would be extremely honored if Ken Burns incorporated my work into a possible multi-episode documentary on Reconstruction. Morgan Freeman, Laurence Fishburne, Kerry Washington, and even Oprah would be perfect for dramatic readings of several individuals whose biographies carry throughout the work.

But, if Hollywood ever adapted Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890, there are some actors and actresses who might play the lead and supporting roles:

Maria Waterbury – A white northern missionary in Mobile who passionately argued for the continuation of African American public schools when competing school boards vied for control while simultaneous could prevent her young students from a mini-rebellion during Confederate Memorial Day celebrations. Amy Poehler could bring the necessary feistiness to light.

Rev. A. E. Owens – From his convincing roles as Ray Charles and Django, Jamie Foxx would be brilliant as the young minister who opened his church’s door amid arsonists’ attempts to shut down Emerson Institute and Normal.

Rev. E. D. Taylor – With his strong presence, Morgan Freeman would be a natural fit to play the elder minister who regularly spearheaded petitions for the improvement of the schools, spoke at school events, and appeared before the school board on several occasions.

Daniel Webster Davis – As a young poet, educator, and minister, Daniel Webster Davis was always called upon for delivering an inspiring speech to students, parents, and community leaders as well as an insightful poem for any gathering of Richmond Colored Normal graduates. Therefore, Common would be an excellent choice.

Rosa Dixon Bowser – As an early educator, wife of James Herndon Johnson and later widow who fought for the rights of early public school teachers and civil rights more broadly, Jurnee Smollett-Bell would be perfect for the younger Miss Dixon and Kerry Washington for the elder Mrs. Bowser.

Ralza Morse Manly – Nicholas Hoult would be perfect as the Freedmen’s Bureau Superintendent of Education of Virginia, early Richmond school board member and early principal of Richmond Colored Normal and High School.

For the director, I would be extremely happy to have Ava Marie DuVernay. Her ability to capture the nuances of historical figures and bring African American history alive would make her a nature choice.
Learn more about Educational Reconstruction at the Fordham University Press website.

Writers Read: Hilary Green.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 22, 2016

Brenda Janowitz's "The Dinner Party"

Brenda Janowitz is the author of five novels, including The Dinner Party. Her work has also appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Salon, the New York Post, Publishers Weekly, and elsewhere. Janowitz attended Cornell University and Hofstra Law School, where she was a member of the Law Review. Upon graduation from Hofstra, Janowitz worked for the law firm Kaye Scholer, LLP, and did a federal clerkship with the Honorable Marilyn Dolan Go, United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of New York.

Here Janowitz dreamcasts an adaptation of The Dinner Party:
One of the best parts of writing a book is “casting” the movie in your mind. For The Dinner Party, I had many parts to fill. It’s the story of three very different families, two generations, who gather for a Passover Seder they won’t soon forget.

Since the Passover Seder takes place at the Gold family home, I thought I’d give casting the Gold family a try.

For my hostess with the mostess, Sylvia, it’s got to be Meryl Streep. Meryl can do anything, and I’d love to see how she handles hosting a Passover Seder while tensions simmer beneath the surface. (Also, Meryl Streep was pictured next to my book when US Weekly featured it this week, so I’ve got Meryl on my mind….)

For Sylvia’s darling husband Alan, Tom Hanks would be perfect. Alan is sweet and lovable and holds everything together. He’s also a pediatric cardiologist, a man who fixes children’s hearts. That sounds like a job for Tom Hanks.

For Sylvia’s daughters, I’d love to see Anna Kendrick as Sarah and Shailene Woodley as Becca. The central relationship of the book is Sylvia and her daughter Sarah, so we need a powerhouse actress who can handle anything. She butts heads with her mother, and I think that Anna could hold her own against Meryl Streep. For beautiful, winsome, and very lost Becca, I think Shailene could give the right amount of sweetness and strength.

For Sylvia’s prodigal son, the eldest child working in Sri Lanka for Doctors Without Borders, I’d love to cast Henry Cavill. Gideon is scruffy and sexy and undeniable to women. Enough said.

So, when do we start filming?!
Learn more about the book and author at Brenda Janowitz's website.

My Book, The Movie: Recipe for a Happy Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Leila Meacham's "Titans"

Leila Meacham is a writer and former teacher who lives in San Antonio, Texas. She is the author of the bestselling novels Roses and Tumbleweeds.

Here Meacham shares some thoughts about adapting her new novel, Titans, for the big screen:
I’m afraid my answer will disappoint your curious readers if not outright make them laugh. The fact is that I rarely attend movies except for the Oscar contenders now and then and so have little if any knowledge of who is who in the movie business. I no longer recognize anybody on the cover of People magazine or the faces on supermarket tabloids, let alone know who the headlines are exposing. I’m from the era of Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, and (sigh) Robert Redford. Now if I had those warm bodies in their heyday or their likes to choose from, I’d know exactly who to cast for Titans. One of the most sobering moments for me—one that reflected my age—was the question put to me by an interviewer when Roses was published. “Who would you like to see play Percy and Mary in the movie?” I was stumped for an answer. Elizabeth Taylor was dead and Robert Redford too old. Even Brad Pitt was beyond the age of the novel’s young Percy Warwick. Perhaps . . . when Percy had aged? I thought. In 2010 when Roses was released, I recognized the names and faces of only a few of the movie stars making headlines, and none of them seemed right for the roles of the characters. But I can tell you who I’d like to see direct Titans. He would be none other than Robert Redford. That boy is a tried and true man of the land! He’d film the ranch of Las Tres Lomas de la Trinidad as it was described in Titans and stay faithful to the characters that lived upon it.
Visit Leila Meacham's website.

The Page 69 Test: Roses.

The Page 69 Test: Titans.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 18, 2016

Stephanie Kate Strohm's "The Taming of the Drew"

Stephanie Kate Strohm is the author of Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink and the Confederates Don't Wear Couture.

Here Strohm dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Taming of the Drew:
There is only one sassy redhead for me, and that sassy redhead is Emma Stone. I love her voice and her brilliant comic timing. I think she would make a perfect Cass. Plus, she seems like she was totally a drama dork. She probably crushed the role of Beatrice in her high school production of Much Ado About Nothing. Emma Stone is a banter queen, and this book is nothing but banter. I bet she’d also come up with some awesome improv. (See Emma? I’m open to collaboration!) Personally, I find her very likeable, and I think she’d do a great job of making sure the audience is rooting for Cass, despite Cass’s prickly nature.

As for Drew…Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield may have split up in real life, but I think they’d be great reunited on screen as Cass and Drew. I think Andrew could capture both Drew’s arrogance and his secret sweet side well. I’ve also seen a picture of him with a crazy beard, so I know he can grow that essential lumberjack beard – and then be cute as a button once the beard is shaved off. (Not that he’s not cute with the beard, but you know what I mean.) This picture could basically be a promotional shot for the movie! Interested, Emma and Andrew? Let me know!
Visit Stephanie Kate Strohm's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Taming of the Drew.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Howard Blum's "The Last Goodnight"

Howard Blum is the author of New York Times bestsellers including Dark Invasion, the Edgar Award–winner American Lightning, as well as Wanted!, The Gold Exodus, Gangland, and The Floor of Heaven. Blum is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. While at the New York Times, he was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.

Here Blum dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, The Last Goodnight: A World War II Story of Espionage, Adventure, and Betrayal:
Way back when I was still writing my book, I had the good fortune to sell The Last Goodnight to the movies. Columbia Tri-Star stepped up with interest, enthusiasm, and some money when the book – a true story - was just a proposal. Part of what attracted them, or so I was told, was the opportunity to cast Betty Pack, the real-life heroine in my book. And so I’ve had a bit of time to think about whom I’d like to see in that role.

Betty Pack was a spy. She had all sorts of derring-do exploits during World War II that did nothing less than help the Allies win the war. She was American, came from a Social Register family, and she was, to use Hollywood shorthand, glamorous. When she died, Time’s obituary described her as a “blonde Bond…using the boudoir as Ian Fleming’s hero used the Beretta.”

That’s the shorthand casting description of Betty.

But in the book, which in its way is as much a psychological detective story as a suspenseful non-fiction spy thriller, I try to dig a bit deeper into Betty’s character. I try to reveal what made her such a perfect spy. And these are all elements that I hope would be essential for any actress playing the role of Betty Pack. The reality is a lot more complicated than the shorthand, and it would be nice – and effective cinema, to boot – if this were reflected on the screen.

Consider, then, Betty’s beauty. Sure, she was a looker, but it was a careful, controlled sort of beauty. A fellow spy wrote that when he had first met Betty he had, after hearing all the stories about her, a small pang of disappointment. A quick look suggested, he said, nothing more than an “attractive, wholesome All-American girl.”

But once Betty started talking, her voice soft as a whisper yet authoritative, her laugh uninhibited, even naughty, her eyes fixed on him like a marksman’s, all his oversimplifications, all his stereotypes, were quickly undone. “She had a force, or magnetism to a terrifying degree,” he realized. “What,” he wondered, “is this pacing tiger doing in this conventional disguise?”

Try bringing that to the screen.

Then there is Betty temperament. She didn’t have romances, she had adventures. Life for her was a roller-coaster of emotions, rising to great joyful highs and then tumbling down towards seemingly bottomless lows. And she was always mercurial. She possessed what is perhaps the spy’s greatest gift: the ability to pledge love one moment, and then betray her lover in the next. The trick, as every spy learns, is to mean what you say only in the moment when you say it. Betty had only one enduring loyalty: to the country and spymasters she served.

There is a bit of advice the CIA offers its new recruits: “The last person to whom you say goodnight is the most dangerous.” Betty personified this warning.

And so any actress who plays Betty on the screen must be able to convey all these complicated and often conflicting qualities. There needs to be an aura of refinement as well as incipient danger whenever she appears on the screen.

Every spy is an actor, playing one public role while concealing another hidden agenda. And the actress who plays Betty Pack in The Last Goodnight must bring this coiled tension and ambiguity to the screen.

So, who do I see in the role?

Well, I’m not the producer, just the author of the book upon which the movie will be based. But given all the qualities I have just offered up, I think that Jennifer Lawrence would play the role quite nicely. Quite nicely indeed.
Visit Howard Blum's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Howard Means's "67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence"

Howard Means is the author or coauthor of many books, including Johnny Appleseed: The Man, the Myth, the American Story, the first biography of Colin Powell and Louis Freeh’s bestselling memoir My FBI.

Here Means dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence:
The great challenge here is focal points — the Kent State shootings involved a cast of thousands. Choices have to be made.

Of the four dead, I think I would linger longest on Sandy Scheuer, the most random of all the fatalities. She was funny, sweet, the classic girl-next-door, and she was doing nothing more threatening than walking between classes when a .30-06 projectile entered her neck and severed her jugular vein. Had the movie been made in the early ‘60s, Annette Funicello might have played her.

Glenn Frank, the hero of the post-shooting confrontation on the Commons, bears a strong physical likeness to Drew Carey, who enrolled in Kent State in 1975 and was twice expelled for poor grades before dropping out altogether in 1978. A serious role for Carey? Why not.

Robert Canterbury, the mission commander for the National Guard, comes across as cocksure, imperious, and grimly unimaginative. George C. Scott’s Patton might be the model here. Could Robert Downey, Jr., march his troops into a cul de sac, watch them kill four students on the way back up the hill, nearly repeat the horror at a far greater magnitude back on the Commons, and then write: “Lessons Learned: None” in his after-action report? If so, he’s the man.

For a representative student, I’ll take Ellis Berns. He was with Sandy Scheuer when she bled out. Later, he threw the jacket he was wearing, now covered with Sandy’s dried blood, at an armed Guardsman. Again going back in time, I would have him played by Leonardo DiCaprio – not the current version, but the edgy, explosive late-teenage DiCaprio of This Boy’s Life and The Basketball Diaries.

And for a closing scene, I would borrow shamelessly from Schindler’s List: all the survivors of that day I could find — now in their sixties — cresting Blanket Hill, where the killings took place, led by Dean Kahler in his wheelchair.
Learn more about the book and author at Howard Means's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Christopher Morgan Jones's "The Searcher"

Chris Morgan Jones worked for eleven years at the world’s largest business intelligence agency, and has advised Middle Eastern governments, Russian oligarchs, New York banks, London hedge funds, and African mining companies. The author of The Silent Oligarch and The Jackal’s Share, he lives in London.

Here Jones dreamcasts an adaptation of his latest novel, The Searcher:
The hero of The Searcher is Isaac Hammer: in his late fifties, an American living in London, once a journalist and now the proprietor of a successful private investigations firm that he founded twenty years ago. He’s never married, and he’s a serious but not wholly observant Jew. He has a beautiful house near the park and runs a lot, too much, if anything, but what he really lives for is his work, and he’s immensely good at it. He can talk, but he’s a deceptively good listener, too - and a watcher...

The actor who plays him needn’t be big. Hammer is slight and birdlike, in the book, but we could compromise on that a little as long as he didn’t end up being some towering specimen. And he’d need a sense of humour, because Hammer uses his a fair amount. He’s no comedian, but he likes the occasional wisecrack.

Ed Harris would do a great job, I think. He has the right combination of reserve and control - and it would be easy to imagine that he was at once hugely clever and, in the situation he finds himself in, out of his depth and scrambling to get back to the surface. The book opens with Hammer in the Republic of Georgia, a country he doesn’t know and seems likely never to understand. He gets caught up in a riot, and in short order loses all his luggage, his passport, and a deal of self-respect. After that he’s reliant on his wits, and Harris would have no problem conveying that.

For the other characters: Vera Farmiga for Natela, the blunt, chain-smoking, sceptical widow who Hammer inadvertently pulls into the conspiracy he’s investigating. Clive Owen for Hammer’s former colleague and former friend Ben Webster, who’s gone missing in Georgia. Cate Blanchett in the role of the precise, cool, duplicitous spy Elene Vekua. And an actor with no vanity for the role of Otar Iosava, a local oligarch whose face has been disfigured by poison, in proper former Soviet Union style. He needs real menace, and a terrifying voice. A great English actor, Ralph Ineson, would be perfect.
Visit Chris Morgan Jones's website.

--Marshal Zeringue