Sunday, August 28, 2016

Eleni N. Gage's "The Ladies of Managua"

Eleni N. Gage's books include the travel memoir North of Ithaka, which describes her experience living in Lia, the small Greek village where her father was born, the novel Other Waters, about an Indian-American psychiatrist who thinks that her family has been cursed, and most recently, the novel The Ladies of Managua.

Here Gage dreamcasts an adaptation of The Ladies of Managua:
I didn’t see the three main characters of The Ladies of Managua as I wrote the book; instead I heard them speaking. But once I’d finished the first draft and read it, I thought, “These are three great roles for Latina actresses!”

The book is told in the voices of three generations of Nicaraguan women—a grandmother, a mother and a daughter. I wrote the novel in 2012 and 13 while we were living in Granada, Nicaragua, and it wasn’t until we’d moved back to New York that Jane the Virgin premiered on TV. For those who haven’t seen the show (and if that’s you, you really should start DVRing right away) it’s also about three generations of Latina women, only they’re of Venezuelan origin. (It’s a satire of telenovelas, and my book is not, but at heart, both are about the relationships between three complicated women.) The grandmother, mom, and daughter in the TV show—who share a love as powerful and conflicts as profound as the women in my book—are played by three amazing actresses—Ivonne Coll, Andrea Navedo, Gina Rodriguez. So, of course, the easiest way to cast The Ladies of Managua would be to have this ready-made family play the characters. However, I think it would be difficult for the viewer (me included) to see them depict a different family. To solve that problem, I’ve come up with an alternate dream cast.

For me, the entire story begins with the character of the grandmother Isabela, the society lady whose bourgeois demeanor hides a surprising past. I would love to see her played by Rita Moreno (who, not incidentally, plays a bourgeois older lady on Jane the Virgin). We’d also need a younger actress to play Isabela at 19, someone with a 1940-50s sweetness to her face but who can also portray the sorrow of love gone wrong. Obvi, that’s Selena Gomez, although I’m open to suggestions.

Ninexin, the revolutionary-turned-politician mom, is a woman of great power with passion simmering under the surface. Salma Hayek. Claro que si! (Fun fact: As a girl, Salma Hayek was kicked out of boarding school at Sacred Heart in New Orleans, the same school the teenaged Isabela attends in the novel.) Penelope Cruz would be great too. I think either of them could play Ninexin in middle age as well as her younger version in flashbacks, but I leave that to the producer. (Did I mention that in my dream world the producer is Sofia Vergara? Who can also play any character she wants. And she’s co-producing with her pal, Reese Witherspoon, because they’re all about strong roles for women of all age ranges.)

Mariana, the daughter who was mainly raised in the US, is a difficult character. She has to be likable while still expressing bitterness and jealousy. It’s a pivotal role and, again, it comes back to Jane the Virgin for me. I would cast Diane Guerrero, who plays Jane’s friend Lina. Guerrero has written a book about her life—she came home from school in Boston one day to find her family had been deported back to Colombia—and I think would bring a powerful well of emotion to the role.

When The Ladies of Managua was published, the Kirkus Reviews write-up said the novel “fairly begs to be filmed.” I could go on forever casting the minor characters, but I’ll stop now. It’s been so fun to imagine the story coming to life—thanks for asking me to do so!
Visit Eleni N. Gage's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 26, 2016

Erik Storey's "Nothing Short of Dying"

Erik Storey is a former ranch hand, wilderness guide, dogsled musher, and hunter. He spent his childhood summers on his great-grandfather’s homestead or in a remote cabin in Colorado’s Flat Tops wilderness.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of Nothing Short of Dying, his first novel:
If I were ever lucky enough to have a movie made of the book, the actor chosen for Clyde would depend greatly on the casting director’s mental image of him. I left his physical descriptions rather vague in order to let the readers become more involved. But, if I were to choose, I would go with Anson Mount, of Hell on Wheels fame, first. Next would either be Jason Momoa or Joe Manganiello.

My first pick for Allie would be Mila Kunis, especially after watching her performance in The Book of Eli. Next would either be Michelle Monaghan, Evangeline Lilly, or Gemma Arterton.

The vilest character in the book would have to be played by either Garret Dillahunt, Kim Coates, or Dolph Lundgren.

I don’t follow the work of most directors out there, but if I chose one it would probably be Ed Harris, Joe Carnahan, Iñárritu, or Tommy Lee Jones.
Visit Erik Storey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

David Haven Blake's "Liking Ike"

David Blake has written extensively on the history of fame. He is the author of Walt Whitman and the Culture of Celebrity (Yale, 2006) and the co-editor of Walt Whitman, Where the Future Becomes Present (Iowa, 2008).

Here Blake dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Liking Ike: Eisenhower, Advertising, and the Rise of Celebrity Politics:
Liking Ike centers on the personalities who helped promote Dwight Eisenhower’s campaigns for the presidency and his own ambivalence about the new worlds of television, advertising, and celebrity. The story lies in the remarkable set of characters, which makes casting especially fun:

Dwight Eisenhower – A general so conflicted about politics that he wants to be drafted to the Republican nomination rather than enter the race himself. Wary of the publicity machine and celebrities who campaign on his behalf, he nonetheless adjusts to the expectations of his Madison Avenue advisers. Intoxicated by the magical power of television, they boast that they want to “merchandise” Ike’s warm smile and personality. Ed Harris

Helen Hayes – “The first lady of American theater,” a former Democrat who became an ardent Eisenhower supporter and GOP activist. Dramatic and glamorous, she regularly politicizes American motherhood on the campaign trail and in her films. Meryl Streep

Jimmy Stewart – Reedy and self-effacing, a man who rarely talks about the combat missions he flew in World War II. A devout Republican who remains popular with Democratic presidents: Truman said that if he had a son, he’d want him to be just like Jimmy Stewart. Tom Hanks

Bruce Barton – Head of the advertising agency BBDO; the son of a minister, a former Republican congressman, and the author of a book on Jesus’s use of advertising techniques (yup!). By 1952, his best professional days had passed him by; conservative and clubby, he thinks he is closer to Eisenhower than he is. Kevin Spacey

Sigurd Larmon – Head of the advertising agency Young & Rubicam; a man revered by his employees. A frequent guest at Ike’s “stag” weekends of fishing, golf, and bridge, he is reluctant to become identified with a single political party. Eisenhower asks him to head up the U.S. Information Service, and he declines. Mark Rylance

Preston Wood – A younger man with a consuming interest in radio and television technology. At Young & Rubicam, he figures out how to use stars in Ike’s campaign. The agency puts him backstage during Hayes’ TV appearances for Ike. Wood will eventually write for such TV gems as The Addams Family and Quincy. A savvy director could tell the story from Wood’s point of view. Jonah Hill

The subplot to Liking Ike revolves around the Democrats’ own form of celebrity politics and the oddly erotic attachment that movie stars had for their presidential nominee, Adlai Stevenson.

Adlai Stevenson –eloquent, intellectual, known for the hole in the sole of his shoe, the Illinois governor loathed Madison Avenue and did not own a TV. He thought campaigns should be moving seminars that educated the American people, but the divorced Stevenson inspired unusual passion among the actresses who supported him. Adrien Brody

Lauren Bacall – the glamorous Bacall was deeply attracted to Stevenson and convinced her husband, Humphrey Bogart, to switch his allegiance from Ike. Stevenson “completely shook me up,” Bacall recalled, and after Bogart’s death, gossip columnists wondered if they were a couple. Jessica Chastain

Mercedes McCambridge – an Oscar-winning actress who counted herself among Stevenson’s “seraglio” (or, harem) of women. Her psychological dependence on Stevenson carried her through alcoholism, depression, and a declining career. She and Bacall barely acknowledged each other. Morena Baccaria

Reggie Schuebel –a single woman in her mid-50s, dedicated to her pioneering work in the male-dominated world of broadcast advertising; known for her stylish shoes, mentorship of women, and trademark sign-off on all professional correspondence – “Love and Kisses, Reggie.” Janeane Garofalo
Visit David Haven Blake's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 22, 2016

Jeff Somers's "The Stringer"

Jeff Somers is the author of the Avery Cates series, The Ustari Cycle, Lifers, and Chum (among many other books) and numerous short stories. Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of The Stringer, the latest story in The Ustari Cycle:
I don’t think about my books as films while writing; in fact it never occurs to me until someone approaches me at a reading or a convention or something, and then I have to scramble mentally to come up with a decent answer, or, sometimes, run drunkenly away, because running away is my go-to response to any stressful situation, which explains why I am always sweaty when you see me.

The Stringer is about magicians who use blood—fresh and spurting from a wound—to fuel magic spells. The more blood you shed, the more powerful your spell can be, but the use of language matters as well—skilled wordsmiths can fashion spells that use less blood for the same effect because of the efficiency of their writing. There’s action and desperation, but you also need actors who can believably convey a sort of low-rent literacy while mumbling a made-up string of words. So, here’s who I think should play the characters in The Stringer.

Lem Vonnegan: Karl Urban. Lem is a grifter at heart—a grifter with magical spells, but a grubby con man nonetheless, and Urban has the physicality for the role.

Pitr Mags: If we could genetically combine Dalip Singh and Sunkrish Bala into one enormous and enormously charismatic Indian man, that would be Pitr Mags.
Hiram Bosch: Richard Dreyfuss would own this role.

Evelyn Fallon: Strangely, I’m drawn to James Spader for this role, even though he’s not at all the right physical type or ethnicity. I can just see him biting into Fallon’s rather acerbic dialog with relish. On the other hand, Max Von Sydow is the right physical type. If I had access to the same The Fly-esque technology we used on Pitr Mags, I’d squash these two actors together and deal with the lawsuits later. And the lawsuits would be glorious.

Lurida Moret: The batty old ustari who tries to destroy civilization so magicians can terrorize everyone and be worshiped as gods, as she imagines the past was? I would offer up internal organs for Meryl Streep to play her.
Learn more about the book and author at Jeff Somers's website.

My Book, The Movie: Chum.

The Page 69 Test: Chum.

The Page 69 Test: We Are Not Good People.

My Book, The Movie: We Are Not Good People.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Barry Hankins's "Woodrow Wilson"

Barry Hankins is Professor of History at Baylor University, as well as a Resident Scholar with the Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR). His publications include Baptists in America: A History and Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: A Documentary Reader. Hankins's biography Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America: Fundamentalist Warrior, Evangelical Prophet was awarded the 2009 John Pollock Award for Christian Biography.

Here Hankins dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Woodrow Wilson: Ruling Elder, Spiritual President:
Woodrow Wilson: Gregory Peck the way he played Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird—serious, driven, strong sense of justice (except on race; contra Finch), not given to humor or frivolity, but very affectionate and loving with his children.

Ellen Wilson (Wilson’s first wife): Geraldine Chaplin the way she played Tonya in Dr. Zhivago —smart, devoted to her husband, good mother, but couldn’t stand up to Wilson, willing to promote his career while tolerating and even supporting his affair.

Mary Hulbert Peck (Wilson’s long-running emotional mistress): Goldie Hawn—flirt, collects men (especially if they’re famous) needy, and emotionally dependent, becomes a tragic figure.

Edith (Wilson’s second wife): Meryl Streep—strong, makes Wilson realize how wrong his affair with Hulbert-Peck (Goldie Hawn) was, both promotes and protects her husband’s career, the first co-presidency (the Clintons made the second), practically runs the presidency after Wilson’s stroke.

Colonel Edward M. House (Wilson’s closest advisor; rival to Edith (Meryl Streep)): Tommy Lee Jones (best supporting actor, like House a Texan)—completely devoted to Wilson (Peck) but strong enough (and smart enough) to plant ideas in Wilson’s mind, convince the president the ideas were his own, and thus shape presidential policy while also promoting it.

William Monroe Trotter (African-American editor of the Boston Guardian newspaper): Morgan Freeman—After Wilson allowed his administration offices to be segregated, Freeman, as Trotter, squares off with Wilson in a raucous Oval Office debate. “Now, Mr. President,” he said, “it is true in almost every case that we who suffer know as even you can’t know. There would be things that come to us that couldn’t possibly come to any other class of citizen.” Trotter (Freeman) says the only way for people to understand racial discrimination is to “wear a face that is black or brown, as we do. And then they would see this democracy in a way which they have never seen it.” Wilson (Peck) replies tersely, “I assure you that it will be worked out.”
Learn more about Woodrow Wilson: Ruling Elder, Spiritual President at the Oxford University Press website.

Writers Read: Barry Hankins.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Kodi Scheer's "Midair"

Kodi Scheer teaches writing at the University of Michigan, where she earned her MFA. She was awarded the Dzanc Prize for Excellence in Literary Fiction and Community Service. As a fellow of the Sozopol Fiction Seminars, she traveled to Bulgaria to engage with an international community of writers, translators, and readers. Her stories have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The Iowa Review, The Florida Review, Quarterly West, and Bellevue Literary Review.

Here Scheer dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Midair:
The main plot of Midair follows four girls on their renegade French Club trip to Paris. A game of Truth or Dare spirals out of control and becomes life-or-death.

The protagonist, Nessa, is a brooding teenager in 1999, when most of the action takes place. There are also a number of brief flash-forward scenes, so the actress who portrays her must play a guilt-ridden 35-year-old woman as well as a vengeful 18-year-old girl. I think Kristen Stewart showed her acting chops in Clouds of Sils Maria and Still Alice--she'd be a good choice for the role. And I love that Stewart refuses to smile and be "likable." I'm fascinated by female characters with interesting motivations who don't feel the need to please everyone. Novelist Claire Messud said, "If you're reading to find friends, you're in trouble." I don't read books (or watch movies, for that matter) to make friends.

Nessa's frenemy, Kat, is blunt, beautiful, cunning, and hypersexual. I think Emma Roberts would be a good fit for this role--she's such a great villain in American Horror Story and Scream Queens.

Kiran is the sweet ingénue of the group. She's also athletic and upbeat. Sadly, there aren't many teen actresses of South Asian descent in Hollywood (or more likely they're just not being cast in major roles). I imagine Parminder Nagra in her Bend It Like Beckham years playing Kiran.

The last major character, Whitney, is worldly in some ways but quite naïve in others. She's a blonde, all-American type of girl (whatever All-American means or used to mean). I think Chloe Grace Moretz would be ideal for the role.

In the right hands, Midair could make for an interesting film. The novel features a lot of action and dialogue, not to mention a shocking twist at the end. In my dreams, Reese Witherspoon would read the book and produce the film version. I'd love for her to be my fairy godmother!
Visit Kodi Scheer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tom Bullough's "Addlands"

Tom Bullough grew up on a hill farm in Wales, where he still lives. He has worked as a sawmiller, a music promotor in Zimbabwe, a tractor driver, and a contributor to various titles in the Rough Guides series. At present he is a Visiting Fellow at the University of South Wales.

Here Bullough shares some insights about casting an adaptation of Addlands, his fourth novel, and the first to be published in the United States:
One of the things I love about fiction is that the physical appearance of characters does not have to be completely settled – or characters can appear differently, depending on who's seeing them. I find myself thinking about Russian folk tales, and the terrible witch Baba Yaga:
It was Baba Yaga with the iron legs, and her chin touched the ceiling...
There are loads of descriptions of Baba Yaga which are clearly not meant to be taken literally. And yet you know exactly what is meant: she is twisted and appalling, more corrupt than anything you've ever encountered. You feel her more acutely than you could if the image made physical sense.

I was asked this same question – who would play Oliver in a film? – at a festival last weekend, and I prevaricated then too. 'Well, how tall is Oliver?' I was asked. 'Six foot two, six foot four?' Well, the answer is that Oliver is taller than everyone else. He is up there. He's as big as you, the reader, picture him to be. The thing about Oliver is that he is both a regular human being and someone who belongs to (local) legend. He has performed acts of strength and violence that no-one else locally can approach. He is darker-skinned too than others in his village and, since no-one but his mother knows who his father was, there is speculation that he was a gypsy, or a Jew, or Mediterranean, or some kind of Celtic throwback, or African-American. For many of the seventy years that Addlands charts he is seen as Other to his community, and the nature of that Otherness changes over time.

So, my evasive answer is this. If Addlands were to be filmed, I would prefer it to be a television series, to retain the structure, and in any case I would like contrasting-looking actors to play Oliver at different stages of his life. Physically, in middle age, Anthony Quayle or Marlon Brando would have been pretty close. Tom Hardy would nail his mix of insecurity and physical threat.

As for Naomi: Emily Blunt from My Summer of Love. No question.
Visit Tom Bullough's website.

Writers Read: Tom Bullough.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Danny Johnson's "The Last Road Home"

Danny Johnson's writing follows the tradition of Southern authors whose characters most often represent the disenfranchised in society, examining their struggles to overcome in a world that does not acknowledge them to be of value nor recognize their humanity.

Here Johnson dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, The Last Road Home:
If I were fortunate enough to have The Last Road Home made into a movie, the two lead characters I would like to see are: Willow Smith to play the role of Fancy, she has the look and the attitude I would identify with the character Fancy.

As for the male lead, I’m thinking Jimmy ‘Jax’ Pinchak, because he has the look I could identify with my character, Junebug.

They are both about the right age and I have seen them both in some roles I like.

And as for a director, it’s an easy choice: Ron Howard. I have followed his career since he played Opie, and he has proven to be an outstanding director…
Visit Danny Johnson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 12, 2016

Yoav Alon's "The Shaykh of Shaykhs"

Yoav Alon is Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern History at Tel Aviv University. He is the author of The Making of Jordan: Tribes, Colonialism, and the Modern States (2009).

Here Alon dreamcasts an adaptation of  his new book, The Shaykh of Shaykhs: Mithqal al-Fayiz and Tribal Leadership in Modern Jordan:
Shaykh Mithqal al-Fayiz, the protagonist in this book, led such a fascinating life that it would make a spellbinding movie. Not only was he one of the greatest Arabian shaykhs of the twentieth century, he also was a founding father of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Mithqal was also able to pass on his power to his descendants, who wield great influence in Jordan today. Unlike many modern-day politicians who win a term in office, a shaykh like Mithqal did not only need to win power but also keep it, by proving to his constituency daily that he was the most able man to lead the tribe. Mithqal’s story has all the ingredients of an epic drama—a charismatic hero, battles and wars, political intrigue, constant twists and turns in the plot, sex and romance, and the exotic and rough life of the deserts of Arabia. This all takes place against a tapestry of rich historical significance, since the Shaykh did not only live through, but also played an active part in, many historic events that shaped the Middle East for almost one hundred years. I hope that a film director decides to bring The Shaykh of Shaykhs to life in a movie!

When I think about the character of Shaykh Mithqal al-Fayiz, I see the legendary Anthony Quinn, who sixty years ago played Shaykh Awda Abu Taya in the Hollywood classic, Lawrence of Arabia. Awda and Mithqal were contemporaries and both led powerful nomadic tribal confederacies in the area that became Jordan in 1921. Although Quinn's portrayal of Awda was at times not accurate, his physique resembled that of Mithqal's.

How about a film in which Mithqal is the new Lawrence of Arabia, now an Arab hero, rather than a Western hero? We would relive the dramatic events in the Middle East during the waning Ottoman Empire through World War I, the colonial period and the establishment of the new states such as Jordan, the Palestine question, World War II and the era of decolonization. Presented from the perspective of a local, rather than a British, leader and be based on historical facts more fascinating than myth, it would clarify some misrepresentations in the original film, which still shape the way Westerners view the region.

In the original Lawrence, Omar Sharif played alongside Quinn, as an Arab figure. Sharif’s grandson, Omar Sharif Jr., might fit the role of Mithqal at the prime of his life. The young and handsome Sharif could play the shaykh as he rose to fame and prominence as a courageous and able warrior who led his men in tribal wars and raids and was admired and adored by the women of the tribe. Another possible actor for that role is Antonio Banderas. His Latin touch and passionate acting would allow him to rise to the challenge of personifying a larger-than-life figure such as Shaykh Mithqal.

Mithqal lived a long life—he was nearly 90 when he died in 1967—so we need an older actor for the latter part of his life, which was the prime of his political legacy. He only came to the position of shaykh of shaykhs in his late thirties, just several weeks after the creation of Jordan. During the next thirty years, Jordan was ruled by the Hashemite Prince Abdullah bin Hussain, under the control of the British mandatory government in Palestine. During the mandate days Mithqal gradually stopped leading his tribes in battle and became deeply involved in high politics and machinations. This elderly Mithqal could perhaps be Ben Kingsley, whose brilliant portrayal of Mahatma Gandhi is unforgettable.
Learn more about The Shaykh of Shaykhs at the Stanford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Shaykh of Shaykhs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Ellen Wittlinger's "Local Girl Swept Away"

Ellen Wittlinger is the author of over a dozen YA and middle-grade novels. Her novel Hard Love won both a Printz Honor Award and a Lambda Literary Award.

Here Wittlinger dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest novel, Local Girl Swept Away:
I suppose, since Local Girl Swept Away is a book whose four main characters are 17-years-old, I would not be able to cast Benedict Cumberbatch in any of the roles. This is really a shame as I know many people who would pay good money to watch B.C. do nothing more than stare at his shoes for two hours. Maybe I could write in a part for him.

It's harder to cast (even fantasy-cast) teenagers because the actors you like age out so quickly, but I'll do my best. For the lead role, my narrator, Jackie Silva, I choose Kiernan Shipka who played Don Draper's daughter in Mad Men. The blonde hair would have to go as Jackie is a Portuguese fisherman's daughter and not one to bother to lighten her hair. I thought Shipka was one of the bright lights of Mad Men and I'm surprised she hasn't been used more in films for teens. Come on, people, she's going to outgrow teen movies soon!

The second lead, Lorna, is a wild child, impulsive and mysterious. My choice of actor here is, in fact, a woman probably already too old for the part, but nonetheless I choose Evan Rachel Wood. She has a quiet, unknowable quality that I love.

The two male parts are harder to cast. There are probably a lot of young actors who'd do just fine as Finn, the golden boy, destroyed by the loss of his girlfriend. I'll say Ansel Elgort because I liked him in The Fault in Our Stars, but some handsome, soulful newcomer could do the job too. (If only Benedict Cumberbatch were 17!) And Elgort's second in that movie, Nat Wolff, would be fine as Lucas, the last of the four friends. Or Josh Hutcherson would be good too. But they'll all be too old soon, if they aren't already. So let's get this movie made!
Learn more about the book and author at Ellen Wittlinger's website.

The Page 69 Test: Local Girl Swept Away.

--Marshal Zeringue