Friday, July 17, 2009

Karen Harrington's "Janeology"

Karen Harrington is a former speechwriter, turned stay-home-mom. Her psychological suspense novel, Janeology, debuted last year.

Here she shares a few thoughts about the potential challenge of adapting her uniquely structured novel and offers a few ideas about casting the lead roles:
When I was invited to participate in My Book, The Movie, I had the same thought as Daniel Wallace, author of Big Fish when he said something like “If you asked me if my novel could be made into a movie, I would have said it had just as likely a chance as being made into a car.”


Like Wallace’s work (which has been a big influence on my writing), I like reading and writing linked stories and novels that are short, but feature a large cast of loosely connected characters or ideas. Janeology is a such a composite novel so I’d be surprised if it could be adapted into a film. (Although you good-looking producer reading this, please don’t let that stop you from trying. In fact, I’m throwing down the challenge. Ha!) After all, I used a genealogy pedigree chart to keep track of eight of Jane’s eclectic ancestors as I was writing the novel. However, the novel has one narrator: Jane’s husband, Tom. From his point of view, the story reveals not only Tom’s own guilt about not really knowing his wife, but also shows the character of Jane through the lives of her ancestors, going back four generations, in hopes of teasing out that dark gene she may have inherited that predisposed her to violence.

Now, that’s a lot of casting. There’s her mother. Her mother’s mother. Her father. Her father’s mother. And so on.

But fear not! After I slept on it, I realized the screenplay might focus on Jane’s maternal family tree. It would be interesting to use the same actress who portrays Jane in the roles of her ancestors spanning different eras. I think Ashley Judd would be a fine fit for this role. And it would be fun to see the gene pool go back in time vis-a-vis the same actress, wouldn’t it? Perhaps in black and white sequences?

Who to play her besotted, grieving professor husband, Tom? How about Mark Ruffalo? Like Ms. Judd, he has quite a range of performance from comedic to dramatic. What I like best about him is his ability to show skepticism or heartbreak just with a look – a key trait for the character of Tom Nelson. And then there’s the great hair, too. Hair counts for a lot when the actor is grieving as in, “He ran a hand through his hair, then held his head with two hands, unable to look at the beautiful face he once loved.” (I’m just riffing here, folks, but you get the idea.)

Now, you’re probably asking yourself – what is the literary device Ms. Harrington used to great effect giving readers a glimpse into Jane’s family tree? Answer: A clairvoyant named Mariah who uses objects once owned by Jane’s relatives to discover something about their lives. Mariah’s talents are central to the connections weaving throughout the novel. You don’t have to believe in retrocognition for the story to work, but the reader/viewer does have to suspend belief in order to dive into, say, an old black and white photograph and get it to tell a story. I suspect that if there was ever an Oscar contending role within Janeology: The Movie, Mariah’s character would be it. This actress would have to make you BEE-LIEVE. (Think Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost.) So, I should probably leave this character to the casting wizards. Of course, if you’ve read the book, wouldn’t I LOVE to know your opinion on Mariah and the potential future actress who might play her? Oh, yes. Yes, I would.
Read an excerpt of Janeology and learn more about the book and author at Karen Harrington's website.

The Page 69 Test: Janeology.

--Marshal Zeringue