Thursday, December 14, 2017

Mandy Mikulencak's "The Last Suppers"

Mandy Mikulencak is the author of The Last Suppers, which recently received a starred review from Library Journal and was named to Barnes & Nobles’ list of Best New Fiction of December 2017. Set in 1950s Louisiana, the novel follows a young, female prison cook who feels compelled to prepare meaningful last meals for death row inmates. When she uncovers troubling truths about her father’s murder and the man executed for the crime, her ideas on what constitutes truth, justice and mercy are irrevocably changed. Mikulencak also authored the young adult novel, Burn Girl, which received a 2016 Westchester Fiction Award.

Here Mikulencak dreamcasts an adaptation of The Last Suppers:
When I start to envision the characters in my books, it can feel like a subconscious rather than conscious exercise. Our brains house so much information on popular culture – TV, movies, books, magazines. I think authors instinctively draw from that virtual storehouse of attributes to form a picture in their minds of what their own characters look or talk like, and what mannerisms they possess. Sometimes it’s a perfect fit. For my current novel, The Last Suppers, I believe that James Brolin would be ideal for the role of Roscoe Simms, the warden. A secondary character – Dot, who works in the kitchen with the main character, Ginny – is absolutely Octavia Spencer (although my husband insists that Oprah Winfrey would make a perfect Dot). Ginny’s father, Joe – whose character is only told in flashback – is tougher to describe. Actors Ben Mendelsohn or Chris Cooper come very close, but they’d have to be 22 years old and much taller.

I have had an extremely difficult time casting the main female characters in both The Last Suppers and Burn Girl. It’s a peculiar phenomenon. I visualize certain attributes very clearly. In The Last Suppers, Ginny describes herself as having the body of a 13-year-old boy. The warden, her lover, describes her this way: Roscoe couldn’t get over how much she looked like her father had at twenty-one. Hair like a squirrel’s nest, a strong chin, eyes a little too large for her face. She didn’t get Joe’s height, though, or Miriam’s curves for that matter.

I’ve wasted far too much time searching IMDB trying to find the perfect young actress (about 29 or 30 years old). Yet, I can’t form a full picture of Ginny. It’s almost like she’s in soft focus and I’m struggling to make out her facial features. I’m very curious how readers envision her.

As for the director of The Last Suppers? Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men), Taylor Sheridan (Wind River) or David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water).
Visit Mandy Mikulencak's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 11, 2017

Steven Cooper's "Desert Remains"

Steven Cooper is a former investigative reporter. His work has earned him multiple Emmy Awards and nominations, as well as a national Edward R. Murrow award, and numerous honors from the Associated Press. He taught for five years in the English department at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Cooper has lived a bit like a nomad, working TV gigs in New England, Arizona and Florida, and following stories around the globe.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of Desert Remains, his fourth novel:
I never cast my characters while writing a book. They come to me organically, appearing as strangers I’ve never seen before. They’re not unlike the new, unfamiliar faces that pop up in dreams. After a while, once the book is out, once I’m not so close to these people, I might then see an actor or actress who appears very close to the characters I imagined. Recently I watched a series on Hulu called Casual and it occurred to me that the male lead, Tommy Dewey, would make a convincing Gus Parker. The role must be authentic surfer dude, not a spoof or a caricature. When Gus makes me laugh, I laugh with him not at him. I think Dewey could bring just the right nuance to the role. I might send him the book.

As for Alex Mills, I can see Colin Farrell, Liev Schreiber, Aaron Eckhart, or Terry Crews (though Crews and Schreiber might be too tall) playing that character. Those actors represent quite a range, but I think I would leave it up to the expertise of a casting director to make the right call.

Megan Mullally, Kathy Bates or Carol Kane would make a lovely Beatrice Vossenheimer.
Visit Steven Cooper's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 8, 2017

Catherine Reef's "Victoria: Portrait of a Queen"

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, and other highly acclaimed biographies for young people. She lives in College Park, Maryland.

Here Reef dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest young adult biography, Victoria: Portrait of a Queen:
It is autumn 1861, and Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, is a student at Cambridge. Away from his parents and palace life, the future king, then called Bertie, is happy. He has been enjoying love—or at least sex—with an actress named Nellie Clifden. Suddenly he is confronted by his father, Prince Albert. It seems word of Bertie’s romance has reached Buckingham Palace, and the prince consort has come to admonish. The two take a long walk in the rain, and Albert informs Bertie that the affair must end, and that he must marry a suitable woman. This is Albert’s decision as well as the queen’s. So the film begins.

Bertie resists, and Prince Albert—well, Albert gets sick. As happened often in nineteenth-century literature and lore, exposure to wet weather has given him a cold. Albert, however, was already ill with an unknown ailment, and on December 13, Bertie is summoned to his father’s bedside. Prince Albert, father of nine and beloved of the queen, dies the next day.

Now viewers encounter Queen Victoria in her imposing, unreasonable majesty. Needing someone to blame for Albert’s untimely death at forty-two, she singles out the heir to the throne. She rejects Bertie’s offers of comfort, asserting that if he had not caused his father distress by pursuing a loose woman, Prince Albert would still be alive. Such cruel, unfair blame is a heavy burden for a grieving youth to bear.

Unlike my book, which tells Queen Victoria’s life story from beginning to end, my movie is in the tradition of Mrs. Brown and Victoria & Abdul, and focuses on the queen’s relationship with one person, in this instance her oldest son. From his childhood she had resented Bertie’s averageness and tried to mold him into the brilliant, morally stellar young man she wished he could be. There are flashbacks to his early years, when Bertie is forced to study six days a week and forbidden to see other children. Subsequent scenes delve into the difficult relationship of mother and son after Albert’s death: the audience sees, for example, Victoria sending Bertie on an extended trip to the Middle East so she can avoid sight of him; her insistence, upon his engagement, that his future mother-in-law be told about Nellie Clifden; her clear preference for Arthur, her seventh child.

Then comes the dramatic climax of the film, the revealing scene in which viewers see a different side of Queen Victoria. In November 1871, Bertie falls ill with typhoid fever. As the Prince of Wales lies near death, blame and faultfinding are forgotten as the queen rushes to his side. She becomes a loving mother wanting only for her son to get well (which he does). Realizing she has been wrong but unwilling to admit it, Victoria will say only that Bertie has changed, that illness has left him gentler and kinder—and she stumbles toward acceptance.

Who have I cast in the leading roles? Kate Winslet plays Queen Victoria. She lacks the real queen’s short stature, but she brings a forceful personality to the part. Paul Dano, who did such a fine job portraying the young Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy, is my choice for the youthful Bertie, whom he resembles. For the older Bertie, who else but Leonardo DiCaprio?  With a beard he could look the part, and he and Winslet have acted well and famously together.

DiCaprio gets the final scene—and perhaps the final word. The film ends in 1901, with the new king, Edward VII, purging Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace of his late mother’s personal effects. He savors a cigar, because she had forbidden him to smoke in her presence. He is asserting his power in a small way, just as Victoria did in 1837, when as the new queen she dined alone, without her own mother, the Duchess of Kent.

There were those who said Victoria resented her son because she saw too much of herself in him, and possibly they were right. People are complicated, and so are their emotions.
Visit Catherine Reef's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Catherine Reef & Nandi.

The Page 69 Test: Frida & Diego.

My Book, The Movie: Noah Webster.

The Page 99 Test: Florence Nightingale.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

David Clary's "Gangsters to Governors"

David Clary is a news editor at The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Gangsters to Governors: The New Bosses of Gambling in America:
My nonfiction book, Gangsters to Governors: The New Bosses of Gambling in America, explores how and why states have encouraged and promoted the expansion of legalized gambling in America. The book, published by Rutgers University Press, touches on the evolution and expansion of lotteries, tribal gaming, commercial casinos, sports gambling, daily fantasy, racetrack betting, and much more.

My six years of research and writing led me to a rogue’s gallery of colorful characters, from John “Old Smoke” Morrissey, the Irish-born gangster who built Saratoga into a gambling haven in the nineteenth century, to Bugsy Siegel, the gangster who completed the Flamingo hotel-casino in Las Vegas only to be assassinated months later. Daniel Day-Lewis would be outstanding as Morrissey because he portrayed his arch-rival Bill the Butcher Poole in the film Gangs of New York. For Siegel, Tom Hiddleston would be able pull off the lean athleticism and charm leavened with the necessary streak of menace.

Other key roles and the actors who would fill them:

Howard Hughes: Leonardo DiCaprio, who captured his paranoia in The Aviator

Benny Binion: Woody Harrelson, who would convey the Texan's good-ole-boy roughness

Steve Wynn: Michael Douglas, who has that appealing bad-boy charisma

Donald Trump: Well, who else but Alec Baldwin?
Visit David Clary's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 4, 2017

Dennis Glover's "The Last Man in Europe"

Dennis Glover is an Australian writer and novelist. The son of factory workers, Glover grew up in the working class Melbourne suburb of Doveton before studying at Monash University and King’s College Cambridge where he was awarded a PhD in history. He has worked for two decades as an academic, newspaper columnist, policy adviser and speechwriter to Australia’s most senior political, business and community leaders. An often outspoken political commentator, his books include An Economy is not a Society, The Art of Great Speeches and Orwell’s Australia.

Here Glover dreamcasts an adaptation of his debut novel, The Last Man in Europe, which tells the dramatic story of how George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four:
While writing The Last Man in Europe, I knew exactly who I wanted to play George Orwell as he struggled to give the world Nineteen Eighty-Four: Benedict Cumberbatch. In The Imitation Game, which is about Alan Turing, inventor of the modern computer, Cumberbatch showed his ability to play socially awkward and intellectually complex characters from the period. Turing and Orwell were near contemporaries, and Cumberbatch and Orwell even look alike: tall, gaunt, dark featured.

For the role of Eileen O’Shaughnessy – Orwell’s brave, witty and tragic wife – who else but Claire Foy, Britain’s greatest living period actress? To me, Claire Foy is the 1940s – the most stylish as well as dramatic decade of them all.
Visit Dennis Glover's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 1, 2017

Jessica Brockmole's "Woman Enters Left"

Jessica Brockmole is the author of At the Edge of Summer, the internationally bestselling Letters from Skye, which was named one of the best books of 2013 by Publishers Weekly, and Something Worth Landing For, a novella featured in Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War.

Here Brockmole dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest novel, Woman Enters Left:
Woman Enters Left takes place in the 1920s and the 1950s over two cross-country road trips—one with an aspiring screenwriter driving a Model T towards hopeful fame in Hollywood, the other with a jaded actress driving across Route 66 to escape that same Hollywood. In each storyline, I tried to evoke films from that era—1950s Louise narrates a story in widescreen Technicolor and, in the 1920s, Ethel and Florrie tell theirs like a silent movie, through written words (in their case, diaries instead of intertitles) and close-ups of expressive faces. As I wrote the book, I watched a lot of movies from both eras and called it “research,” so when asked to mentally cast the film version of Woman Enters Left, I can’t help but do it with actors from those eras. So if you will indulge me….

Florrie, the screenwriter with the Model T and a big secret, is all quiet emotion. On the screen, she’d be the one with big, expressive eyes, emoting for all she’s worth to the close-up shots. With delicate features and what her best friend Ethel describes as hair “like Botticelli’s Venus,” I see her as played by an actress like Maud Fealy or Bessie Love.

I picture Ethel, petite and dark-haired, as played by someone like Clara Bow or Madge Bellamy, someone expressive, lively, and who, as, Florrie put it, “lights up the street like a Roman candle.” My character doesn’t quite match the reputed wildness of those actresses, but Ethel reclaims this vitality on the drive across the United States.

Louise, on a solitary road trip in 1952, is also looking to reclaim the fierceness she brought to Hollywood fifteen years ago. She narrates her journey wryly, showing flashes of stubbornness and humor during her adventure. It’s perhaps too easy to give this role to a heavyweight like Lauren Bacall, but I really can’t picture anyone else poised with such silky grace behind the wheel of her convertible or speaking her lines with such exquisite dryness. As you read Woman Enters Left, I dare you to not picture Bacall on the pages.
Learn more about the book and author at Jessica Brockmole's website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Letters from Skye.

My Book, The Movie: Letters from Skye.

--Marshal Zeringue