Friday, November 16, 2018

Catherine Reef's "Mary Shelley"

Catherine Reef is the author of more than 40 nonfiction books, including Noah Webster: Man of Many Words, Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life, Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse, Victoria: Portrait of a Queen, and other highly acclaimed biographies for young people. She lives in College Park, Maryland.

Here Reef shares a scenario for adapting her latest young adult biography, Mary Shelley: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein's Creator, for the big screen:
My Dinner with Frankenstein

On an unspecified date in the eighteenth century, on an Alpine summit overlooking a sea of ice, Victor Frankenstein encountered the intelligent creature he had built and endowed with life. This is a pivotal scene in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as the creature informs his creator (and the reader) about all that has happened to him since he ventured alone into the world.

Imagine a film built around this section of the novel but set more than two hundred years later, in 2018. A luxury resort has been built at that mountain site, complete with a four-star restaurant and vast windows that offer a stunning view of sunset on the glacier. Victor and the creature meet there for dinner.

For Victor, the encounter is a surprise. He has climbed to this mountain retreat to be alone with his feelings after the murder of his young brother William. Having anticipated his arrival, the creature has reserved a table and is waiting for Victor at the bar. Fearful of causing a potentially violent scene, Victor accepts the creature’s invitation to dine.

A host leads them to their table. We observe that Victor is dark-haired and slight and looks to be in his early thirties. The lumbering creature towers over him and everyone else in the room. Diners gaze down at their plates, having been made uncomfortable by his watery yellow eyes and shriveled skin. Once seated, the pair orders wine, and we listen as the creature tells his story.

He explains how he learned to speak and read by observing humans. He admits to bestowing kindness, secretly, on a country family, only to suffer hurt and rejection upon stepping forward to offer friendship. “I was benevolent and good; misery has made me a fiend,” he says. Victor urges hope and insists that love and charity dwell in the human heart, but the creature counters that humans’ eyes have been clouded by prejudice: “Where they ought to see a feeling and kind friend, they behold only a detestable monster.”

A waiter unobtrusively serves dinner. Victor has ordered papet vaudois, a heavy meal of sausages, potatoes, and leeks. The creature, accustomed to foraging for acorns, has chosen a salad. Yet as they eat and the creature continues his story, it is he who displays a hearty appetite. Victor plays with his food, and when the creature declares “everlasting war” against humanity and especially “him who had formed me,” Victor’s face takes on the pallor of indigestion. His companion then confesses that in his rage he strangled William.

Victor sits sick and bewildered as coffee is brought to the table. Filmgoers hear his voiced-over thoughts, how he wishes he were at home with Elizabeth, his intended bride, curling up to read a good book and forgetting every care; how he believes that he bears responsibility for William’s death. The creature then spells out what is to happen next. Victor must return to his laboratory and fashion another being, a female companion for his first creation. Initially Victor refuses, but the creature leans close and taps a thick finger on the table as he whispers a threat, mafia-style: Comply, or “I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you curse the hour of your birth.”

The meal finished, a benumbed Victor separates from his dining companion, who has promised to be watching him. He wanders the grounds of the lodge, until sitting beside a fountain he gives way to miserable tears.

The movie now cuts to another setting for a final, brief scene, because we must remember that my book is about Mary Shelley, Frankenstein’s author. We see Mary, a twenty-first-century teen, type the words “miserable tears” on her laptop and click “save,” before she answers a call on her iPhone. “Hey, Percy,” she says. “What’s up?”
The Page 99 Test: Mary Shelley.

Writers Read: Catherine Reef.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Norman S. Poser's "The Birth of Modern Theatre"

Norman S. Poser is professor emeritus at Brooklyn Law School.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, The Birth of Modern Theatre: Rivalry, Riots, and Romance in the Age of Garrick:
A film based on The Birth of Modern Theatre? Why not? The book has plenty of action, taking place both on and off the stage, as well as fascinating characters: love affairs and romances; bitter backstage rivalries and close friendships; audiences that consider themselves essential participants in the theatrical experience and riot when they don’t care for a play or a performer; a criminal trial over a claimed sexual assault; a zany restaurant and lecture center run by an eccentric actor; an out-of-control bigamous duchess; and much more.

So who should play the leading roles in the film? I have a few suggestions.

The most important character in the book is David Garrick, actor, playwright, and theatre manager, a man of short stature (only 5 foot 4) but with boundless energy and talent to match. He was as compelling in comedies and farces as in Shakespeare’s tragic roles. His management of the Drury Lane theatre for thirty years made it the envy of Europe. He charmed everyone: dukes and earls sought him out; his circle of friends included artists, politicians, and judges. His marriage to a Viennese dancer was a lifelong romance. My choice to play David Garrick is the versatile Dustin Hoffman.

Peg Woffington was the leading actress of her day. She was slightly taller than average, with a graceful figure, luminous eyes, and soft, full lips. The word “witchcraft” was often used to explain the hold she had on audiences, whom she thrilled as Shakespearean heroines, aristocratic ladies, and even as a young man about town. Before Garrick’s marriage, she had a steamy affair with him, which ended only when he refused to marry her. While she had a reputation for sexual promiscuity, she was devoid of hypocrisy. I would choose Scarlett Johansson to play Peg Woffington.

Samuel Foote was known for his skills as a social critic. In the plays he wrote (and starred in), he mercilessly lampooned corrupt politicians, hypocritical preachers, war profiteers, quack doctors, dishonest lawyers, social climbers, and other questionable or shady members of contemporary society. He was the leading wit and humorist of his day. But when he dared to satirize a member of the nobility, he found himself in deep trouble. Eddie Murphy should play the role of Samuel Foote.

Kitty Clive was the London stage’s queen of comedy. She delighted audiences as a giggling, plotting chambermaid, but also as the quick-witted Portia in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Off the stage, her direct manner and kind heart made her a den mother to her colleagues. She was generous to those who pleased her but ready to unleash her fury on those who crossed her. Melissa McCarthy would be a natural as Kitty Clive.

Charles Macklin was rough and blunt in his speech and manner, irascible and didactic, with a temper that sometimes led to violence; he once killed a man in a backstage brawl and narrowly escaped hanging. But he was an innovative actor, who introduced natural, psychologically based acting to English audiences. His signature role was Shylock in The Merchant of Venice; for over forty years, his appearance in that role would guarantee a full house. He remained devoted to the theatre throughout his life, which spanned nearly a century. I would choose Al Pacino to play Charles Macklin.
Learn more about The Birth of Modern Theatre: Rivalry, Riots, and Romance in the Age of Garrick.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 12, 2018

David S. Heidler & Jeanne T. Heidler's "The Rise of Andrew Jackson"

David S. Heidler is an author and retired professor. Jeanne T. Heidler is professor emerita of history at the United States Air Force Academy. They have collaborated on numerous books, including the critically acclaimed Henry Clay: The Essential American and the award-winning Washington’s Circle: The Creation of the President.

Here the Heidlers dreamcast an adaptation of their latest book, The Rise of Andrew Jackson: Myth, Manipulation, and the Making of Modern Politics:
The Rise of Andrew Jackson is about Jackson’s quest for the presidency after the War of 1812 It features a large cast of characters, many of them major figures in the twelve-year political campaign that ultimately won the White House. Our preferences then are not necessarily contemporary but are guided by the aim of matching the physical characteristics of the original as closely as possible. Consequently, we’ve drawn our cast from people living and dead to include:

Andrew Jackson - Dennis Quaid
Young Rachel Jackson - a young Winona Ryder
Mature Rachel Jackson - a mature Olivia De Havilland
John Overton - Henry Fonda
Sam Houston - a young Howard Duff
John Henry Eaton - a young Jeff Daniels
Margaret O’Neale Timberlake - a young Ava Gardner
John Coffee - Billy Bob Thornton
John Quincy Adams - Paul Giamatti
Henry Clay - F. Murray Abraham
John Randolph - David Wenham
Martin Van Buren - a young David McCallum
John C Calhoun - William Atherton
Learn more about the book and author at David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler's website.

My Book, The Movie: Washington’s Circle.

The Page 99 Test: Washington’s Circle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 9, 2018

P. J. Vernon's "When You Find Me"

P. J. Vernon was born in South Carolina. He holds a PhD in immunology and published science before turning his hand to publishing fiction.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, When You Find Me:
While in grad school at Pitt Med, I was an extra in The Dark Night Rises’ stadium scene. I usually (and inappropriately) lead with this in all social settings… except the one it was almost-nearly-but-not-really-tangentially-relevant: my first call with United Talent Agency when my book-to-film agent was offering rep. Since I bungled pitching myself for All The Roles, here are my ideas for When You Find Me: The Movie.

My lit agent had rightfully prepped me for the UTA call with explicit instructions not to add my own Secret Diary castings for When You Find Me, so I was thrilled when my film agent asked! I obliged as follows…

Gray Godfrey has always been Rose Byrne in my mind (think less Bridesmaids and more Damages). My lit agent loved the idea of Jessica Chastain, which I also agree with. Angela Bassett would knock Detective Nina Palmer outta the park! As for Annie, I never really settled on who would be the best fit, but Charlotte Gainsbourg is a dead ringer for Charlotte Barfield.

And Joanna King? Patricia Clarkson has my vote. Her interpretation of Adora in Sharp Objects was chilling, and Adora and Joanna have quite a bit in common. But oh-my-gawd, I’d die to see Joan Crawford take on Joanna! Ditto Grace Kelly as Gray.

And a huge shout out to the narrators who brought the audio production of When You Find Me to life: Amy McFadden as Gray and Bahni Turpin as Nina. If I’m not mistaken, both do Film/TV. After listening to their amazing voice talent on Audible, I’d love to see them in any screen adaptation!

I believe that’s a When You Find Me casting call wrap!
Visit P. J. Vernon's website.

The Page 69 Test: When You Find Me.

Writers Read: P. J. Vernon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Montgomery McFate's "Military Anthropology"

Montgomery McFate is a cultural anthropologist who works on defense and national security issues. Currently, she is a professor in the Strategic and Operational Research Department at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

Here McFate dreamcasts a film (or two) that might be adapted from her latest book, Military Anthropology: Soldiers, Scholars and Subjects at the Margins of Empire:
Military Anthropology has 9 chapters, each of which tells the story of an anthropologist in uniform who did something amazing, from the era of British colonialism in Africa all the way to the Vietnam War.

One of the chapters concerns Tom Harrisson, a British OSS officer who “went native” with a group of headhunting Kelabit tribe in Borneo during WWII. Harrisson was an iconoclastic military genius: he was ordered to build an intelligence network in Borneo, but instead built an army of barefoot warriors, armed with guns, spears, and blowpipes who eventually killed or captured over 1,500 Japanese with only eleven casualties. This was arguably one of the most successful unconventional warfare operations in history, yet it is almost entirely forgotten by both the military and anthropologists.

Harrisson was successful because he adopted the Kelabit mode of jungle stealth for hunting Japanese. He forced his men to go barefoot in Borneo so that their foot prints could not be identified by the Japanese. He forced his unit to eat the same food as the Kelabit, and live in their compounds. Harrisson also took one of the last surrenders of WWII. After the Armistice, a Japanese unit of 350 men was still marching through the Borneo jungle, unaware that the war had ended. Harrisson assembled a makeshift force, and set off into the jungle. After a two day battle, on the last day of October 1945, the Japanese commander handed Harrisson his sword.

Harrisson’s experiences in Borneo were the basis for Farewell to the King (1989), a terrible film. This time around, instead of a bare-chested Nick Nolte, the star should be Matt Damon or Hugh Jackman or Christian Bale. The leading man needs to be arrogant, charismatic and brilliant.

Another chapter from my book would also make a great movie. In 1937, a young British debutante named Ursula Graham Bower travelled to India. Her mother hoped that Ursula would meet a nice husband. But instead she hiked into the hills and encountered the Naga, a group of tribal headhunters. The Naga accepted her into their community and some even worshipped her as a goddess, believing that she was the reincarnation of the prophetess.

In 1942, it was clear that the Japanese were going to plow through Naga territory on their way to India. Ursula Graham Bower recruited, trained and organized the Naga to fight against the Japanese. She was the only woman to have a de facto combat command in the British Army during World War II. Bower’s Naga warriors were so effective that the Japanese – ironically – offered a bounty to the Naga of 100 rupees to bring in Bower’s head. American pilots nicknamed her the Jungle Queen and a comic was devoted to her exploits. Two BBC Radio 4 plays, The Naga Queen by John Horsley Denton and The Butterfly Hunt by Mathew Solon were based on her life, and that of her husband Tim Betts. In recognition of her bravery, although she never had an official military title or rank, she was honored as a Member of the Order of the British Empire and awarded the Lawrence of Arabia medal.

Ursula Graham Bower was fearless, independent, beautiful, brilliant and only 34 when she led the Naga in combat. Actresses with the grit and beauty to play her would be Charlize Theron, Jennifer Lawrence, or Kate Winslet.
Visit Montgomery McFate's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 5, 2018

Jennie Liu's "Girls on the Line"

Jennie Liu is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Having been brought up with an ear to two cultures, she has been fascinated by the attitudes, social policies, and changes in China each time she visits. She lives in Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons.

Here Liu dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Girls on the Line:
If you’re Asian, and maybe if you’re not, you’ll know about the release of the movie Crazy Rich Asians and Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I Loved Before (Netflix) in which Han held out for Asian lead.

That being said, I would love to see Katherine Hepburn (The Good Earth) play a part in Girls on the Line.

Just kidding. (Ms. Hepburn passed in 2003).

I’m a fan of the long shot or the little guy, so I like the idea of unknown Chinese or Chinese-American actors taking the leads, the two girls who age out of the orphanage, in Girls on the Line. Pulling in unknowns would help expand the presence of even more Asians in Hollywood, which is much needed. But I’d love to see some established actors in supporting roles, for they could guide the new actors and hopefully give the film some traction and good press. How about Simu Liu (Kim’s Convenience) playing Yong, the boyfriend of ill-repute; Ming-Na (Joy Luck Club) in the role of Ma; and Constance Wu as Dali who helps in a birthing scene?
Visit Jennie Liu's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 2, 2018

Fernando Santos-Granero's "Slavery and Utopia"

Fernando Santos-Granero is a senior staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City, Panama, and a specialist on the Yanesha of Peruvian Amazonia. His books include Vital Enemies: Slavery, Predation, and the Amerindian Political Economy of Life.

Here Santos-Granero dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Slavery and Utopia: The Wars and Dreams of an Amazonian World Transformer:
While writing this book, it never occurred to me that it could be turned into a movie. Coming to think about it, I now believe that the story of the charismatic Amazonian shaman-chief Tasorentsi would make a captivating film, full of action, magic and drama. Since the life of its protagonist extended from 1875 to 1958, at least three actors would have to play his character. In the absence of professional Ashaninka actors, I would choose Native American actors Martin Sensmeier (acted in The Magnificent Seven, 2016), Adam Beach (acted in Suicide Squad, 2016), and the extraordinary Wes Studi (acted in Hostiles, 2017) to play the young, middle age, and mature Tasorentsi.

Javier Bardem would undoubtedly be great as Tasorentsi’s archenemy, Peruvian rubber extractor and slaver Francisco Vargas, who ordered the shaman-chief’s imprisonment and torture.

For the roles of the fanatical Franciscan friar Gabriel Sala, I would select Joaquin Phoenix; whereas for Ferdinand Stahl, the stern but compelling German-American Adventist pastor that inspired Tasorentsi to conceive the mixed shamanic-Christian creed that so much appealed to his people, I would go for John Ratzenberger.

Latino actors Richard Cabral and Benjamin Bratt would be perfect in the antagonistic roles of Samuel Figueroa, the scheming Rural Police Constable that relentlessly pursued Tasorentsi for subversive activities, and Carlos Gensollen, the incorruptible Army officer, who regarded with sympathy the plight of Ashaninka people.

Finally, I can see Native American actors Tina Keeper and Althea Sam playing the roles of Santana, Tasorentsi’s bright first wife and fellow preacher, and Lucrecia Pérez, his much younger second wife.

Because of the empathy, sensitivity and respect for indigenous lifeways that he displayed in Dance with Wolves, Kevin Costner would be my first choice for directing this film. If there is someone who could transform a scholarly non-fiction work like Slavery and Utopia into a work of art that would certainly be him.
Learn more about Slavery and Utopia at the University of Texas Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Michael Braddick's "The Common Freedom of the People"

Michael Braddick is Professor of History at the University of Sheffield, and has held academic positions and visiting Fellowships in the USA, France, and Germany. He has published widely on the social, political, and economic history of British and American society in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His books include The Oxford Handbook of the English Revolution and God's Fury, England's Fire.

Here Braddick dreamcasts the lead for an adaptation of his new book, The Common Freedom of the People: John Lilburne and the English Revolution:
This story is the perfect vehicle for James McAvoy.

Lilburne fought his political battles as a martyr rather than a soldier—his tribulations gave testimony of the righteousness of his cause. His sufferings were very real, including a savage public beating through the streets of London in 1638, sometimes appalling conditions of imprisonment and a lonely exile at the end of his life. In all he spent more than half of his adult life in prison or exile and survived three trials for his life (one under each of the governments under which he lived). He also fought at two of the major battles of the English civil war, was shot through the arm and nearly lost an eye during military drill.

He was not a big man—following the 1500 strokes with knotted cords he received in 1638 he referred to himself as a ‘stripling’—but he withstood all this, providing a standing indictment of the tyranny of all the regimes under which he lived.

His enemies blamed him for his tribulations. Consistently in trouble for what he published rather than any action he took, it was said that if he could just have kept his mouth shut he would have been fine. It is true that one reason he couldn’t keep his mouth shut was because he was almost monstrously self-involved—his treatment of his wife and family now make difficult reading. But he believed in many important things, and although the importance of John Lilburne was prominent among them, he championed freedoms we should all cherish.

The film will have to capture this suffering martyr, but also a trickster hero. Having been sent into exile 1651 on pain of death he nonetheless returned two years later. In order to kill him (which they pretty clearly wanted to do) the government needed merely to prove he was in the country—easy enough since he was in court and had sworn that he was John Lilburne. But he spent a morning challenging them to prove that he was the same man as the Lieutenant Colonel John Lilburne named in the indictment. For the only time in his career he had dropped his hard won and usually proudly-worn military title, publishing instead as plain Mr John Lilburne.

So, James McAvoy: slender, a smile constantly playing at the corner of his mouth, but able to portray the inner strength (or recklessness) necessary to speak truth to power.
Learn more about The Common Freedom of the People at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 26, 2018

Scott J. Holliday's "Machine City"

Scott J. Holliday was born and raised in Detroit. In addition to a lifelong love of books and reading, he has pursued a range of curiosities and interests, including glassblowing, boxing, and much more. He is the author of Punishment, the first book in his series featuring Detective John Barnes; Stonefly; and Normal, which earned him recognition in INKUBATE.com’s Literary Blockbuster Challenge.

Here Holliday dreamcasts an adaptation of Machine City, his second novel featuring Detective Barnes:
Someone said to me last night, "Tom Hardy should play Barnes." I think they were right. I don't tend to think of a real human being as my protagonist or antagonist, but the image of Hardy as John Barnes just fits perfectly well.

Also, Morgan Freeman should play Barnes's partner, William Franklin.

If I were directing I would take cues from Se7en, not just in casting Mr. Freeman. Machine City has a dark, rainy city vibe that is often associated with Detroit. I would move the viewer through the seedy underground and be relenting about the dreary, painful mood of it all. There's light at the end of the tunnel, after all, and like all the great movies there has to be a lot of hardship and pain before we get to see the light. Machine City has been labeled a technothriller, but it's hardly that. The technology is just a tool used by present day, gritty detectives, and that's where I'd keep it.
Visit Scott J. Holliday's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

James Tucker's "The Holdouts"

James Tucker is the author of the acclaimed Buddy Lock thrillers Next of Kin and The Holdouts. He holds a law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School and has worked as an attorney at an international law firm.

Currently he manages real estate strategy at a Fortune 50 company, where his work includes frequent travel throughout the United States. Fascinated by crimes of those in power, he draws on these cases for his novels.

One of four fiction writers awarded a position at a past Mentor Series at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Tucker has attended the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley and the Tin House Writers’ Workshop in Portland, where he was mentored by author Walter Kirn. He lives near Minneapolis with his wife, the painter Megan Rye, and their family.

Here Tucker dreamcasts an adaptation of The Holdouts:
Tough choice. Buddy Lock is about 6’1”, with short black hair. He carries an extra 20 pounds. Ben Affleck would be a good fit, but he might still be in rehab. Another choice: Keanu Reeves. Or we could go younger, say one of the Hemsworths. The role requires a tough guy exterior with a heart of gold who can be a new father figure for a ten-year-old boy.

Mei, Buddy’s fiancée who is a beautiful Asian woman who can fight off enemies and care for the boy, could be played by Constance Wu or Christine Ko.

Ward Mills should be Leo all day long.
Visit James Tucker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue