Monday, June 18, 2018

Rebecca Makkai's "The Great Believers"

Rebecca Makkai is the Chicago-based author of the short story collection Music for Wartime, which appeared in 2015, and of the novels The Hundred-Year House, winner of the Chicago Writers Association award, and The Borrower, a Booklist Top Ten Debut which has been translated into eight languages. Her short fiction won a 2017 Pushcart Prize, and was chosen for The Best American Short Stories for four consecutive years (2008-2011). The recipient of a 2014 NEA fellowship, Makkai is on the MFA faculty at Sierra Nevada college and has taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop, Tin House, and Northwestern University.

Here Makkai dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Great Believers:
If I get to indulge in this lovely daydream, I’m going to start by changing the parameters: I think The Great Believers would work better as a limited TV series than as a movie. Ten episodes. Great thing about TV shows, you can have an intro montage each time. I’d want photos of actual groups of friends from Chicago at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Friends dancing, friends posing, people in wheelchairs at the Pride parade, people at candlelight vigils, people at protests, people sick, friends lounging on the Belmont Rocks. While my novel is fiction, it’s about an experience that many very real people lived through—or lived only partway through—and I want those people there.

I’ve made myself a promise—one I’m intentionally putting in writing here—that if I’m lucky enough to have film or TV interest in this book, I would sell the rights only with the stipulation that the story stay in Chicago. Everything out there already is about San Francisco or New York. The story of AIDS in Chicago is different, and important, and fascinating. I could hand them a big long list of consultants, people who’ll kick their butts on 1980s Boystown details as much as they kicked mine. And we’re filming in Chicago, not in frickin’ Vancouver.

Some casting:

For Yale Tishman, my central guy, the one whose life simultaneously falls apart and takes on greater meaning over the course of the book, I want a young, gay cross between Paul Reiser and David Eigenberg. But no New York accent, please.

For Fiona, the woman we know as a flighty but loyal friend in the 1980s, and as a mother full of regret in 2015 Paris, I want both Kate Hudson and Goldie Hawn, but fifteen years ago.

For Charlie, Yale’s British partner, I want Russell Tovey. He looks nothing like Charlie as I imagined him, but he’s British, and he was fantastic in the late, great Looking—a perfect mix of charming and exasperating, which is just what we need.

Speaking of Looking, I want Jonathan Groff for Teddy, Yale’s cattiest friend. It’s more of an appearance thing, because I’ve mostly seen Jonathan Groff acting sweet, but I bet he could do bitchy if needed.

For Richard, Yale’s older friend who chronicles the epidemic through his photography, I want Victor Garber, a fantastic character actor. (If you don’t think you know who he is, Google him; you totally do.)

For Julian… Hmm, I just spent a very pleasant five minutes Googling images of young, gay, beautiful actors. End result: We’re going with a young Matt Bomer.

For Asher Glass, Yale’s great crush, I want a younger Mark Ruffalo. I’m cheating a bit here, because Ruffalo played the Larry Kramer character in the movie of The Normal Heart, and Asher is, in small part, a Larry Kramer character, but this is fantasy world so I don’t care.

For Nora, Fiona’s great aunt, who’d been an artist’s model in 1920s Paris, I want Ellen Burstyn. Or better yet, for the sake of theme: I want someone who was famous in her 20s, but who no one born after 1975 has ever heard of. One of those women who, you’re watching something with your mom, and your mom is like “Oh my goodness, that’s Doris Nightly!” and you’re like, “Who on earth is Doris Nightly?” Anyway, let's get Doris Nightly, who I just made up.

We’re left with a problem here, which is that for personal fandom reasons, I really want Neil Patrick Harris involved in this, and we have no part for him. So maybe he can just produce it. Call me, Neil.
Learn more about the author and her work at Rebecca Makkai's website, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Borrower.

My Book, The Movie: The Hundred-Year House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Stephanie Butland's "The Lost For Words Bookshop"

Stephanie Butland lives with her family near the sea in the North East of England. She writes in a studio at the bottom of her garden, and when she's not writing, she trains people to think more creatively. For fun, she reads, knits, sews, bakes, and spins. She is an occasional performance poet.

Here Butland dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Lost for Words Bookshop:
The first time I visited my UK publisher's offices there was quite a debate going about who would play the main characters in the movie of The Lost for Words Bookshop!

Archie was a toss-up between Simon Callow and Jim Broadbent. (I'd go with Jim Broadbent — no-one does avuncular quite like him.) Or maybe Kiefer Sutherland?

Nathan has, I think, the quality of a young Jonny Lee Miller, but a young James McAvoy was also in the frame from the editorial team. (I'd have cast McAvoy as Rob.) I'd also love to see the poet/rapper Akala in the role.

It all hangs on Loveday, though, doesn't it?! I think Carey Mulligan's ability to convey everything she's feeling in the flick of an eyelid or the tilt of a chin would serve Loveday well. Or maybe Florence Pugh, an up-and-coming British actor, could fill her shoes. Faye Marsay would be someone else who would do a great job. I'd ask Jane Campion to direct I love the way her work gets every detail right, and makes the viewer feel as though they are there.
Follow Stephanie Butland on Twitter and Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Jeff Wheeler's "Storm Glass"

Jeff Wheeler took an early retirement from his career at Intel in 2014 to write full-time and is now a Wall Street Journal bestselling author.

Here he dreamcasts one major role in an adaptation of his new novel, Storm Glass (The Harbinger Series, Book 1):
I admit that I’m a bit of a nut for period dramas. I’ve seen nearly every Jane Austen and Charles Dickens adaptations, along with a healthy dose of Elizabeth Gaskill and Victor Hugo. When I decided to write the Harbinger series, I wanted to tap into that era but create something new in a fantasy world. I’ve always visualized my books inside my mind as I write then, so imagining it on the big screen is a big part of my process.

In the first book of the Harbinger series, Storm Glass, one of the main characters that both protagonists admire is Vice-Admiral Brant Fitzroy. This is a man, a father, who has made it through tragedy, a difficult relationship with his own father, and still held to his principles. Although he loves the “Mysteries” around the blossoming scientific age of his world and their sky ships and floating manors, he has fought in wars and dabbled in music. He’s a good leader, an understanding father, someone who has a reputation for integrity that must be upheld despite the penchant for corruption in his world. I pictured the actor-singer Dallin Vail Bayles as Fitzroy. Not only can he belt out tunes from Les Miz (he was Enjolras in a national production), but his CDs are in my car and I listen to them constantly. He’s a voice a compassion and understanding. The perfect Lord Fitzroy.
Visit Jeff Wheeler's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Queen's Poisoner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

John M. Coggeshall's "Liberia, South Carolina"

John M. Coggeshall is professor of anthropology at Clemson University.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Liberia, South Carolina: An African American Appalachian Community:
With her basket full of blackberries, the girl paused on the soapstone boulders, gazing on the corn fields in the valley below her, until her owner’s voice shattered her thoughts. “Katie,” the older white woman shouted, “bring those berries over here now! I need them for my party tonight, so I’ll whup you if you eat any!” Smiling slyly, the enslaved girl reluctantly complied, carefully wiping the juice from her mouth and whispering to herself the irreverent nickname her parents secretly called their owner. “Yes, ma’am,” she dutifully replied aloud, and wondered what it must feel like to obey only her own parents and to pick her own berries. “What must it feel like to be free?” Katie thought.

If my book, Liberia, South Carolina: an African-American Appalachian Community, were a movie, this scene might open the story. The book tells the oral history of “Liberia,” a freedom colony established by freed slaves in the Blue Ridge foothills of South Carolina in 1865; the story then chronicles the community’s struggles through decades of Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights movement. The book follows five generations of an extended family (and their neighbors and friends) in that community, a story told primarily (but not exclusively) through the perspectives of strong female characters. Despite the fact that their fortunes wax and wane with varied historical situations, the extended family persists into the present. Fictionalizing this story would be both easy and dramatic. I see the movie as a mash-up of The Waltons meets Roots.

The first documented family generation begins with a woman named “Aunt” Katie Owens, born a slave sometime around 1840. She had several children, some rumored to have been by a white father, and her son Will married Rosa Glenn (daughter of a former enslaved woman). Rosa had multiple children, some said to have been fathered by white men, and her oldest son Chris Owens married Lula McJunkin (granddaughter of a freed slave). The couple had eight children, including youngest daughter Mable Owens Clarke, who currently lives on family land and who (with her niece) manages a monthly fish fry to preserve the community and Soapstone Baptist Church.

While white-authored local histories describe a peaceful and harmonious relationship between the secluded Liberia Community and their surrounding white neighbors, black oral histories tell a more complex tale. Family stories of life under slavery describe strategies of resistance, from reluctant compliance to murder of oppressors. During Reconstruction, blacks established churches (like Soapstone Baptist) and schools, males held public office, and communities (such as Liberia) were established as black refuges from white control. Later, under the shadow of Jim Crow, blacks preserved their private thoughts and actions within the safety of Liberia, while publicly interacting with dominant whites under a carefully crafted mask of deference. After the decades following World War II, black public deference slowly dissolved, met with white resistance (e.g., violently attacking Mable’s childhood home) and the burning (by arsonists) of Soapstone Baptist Church in 1967. Rebuilt with both black and white labor and capital, the church and community survive today, supported by monthly fish fries and widespread public support.

I see Ava DuVernay directing, Oprah Winfrey producing, and Aja Naomi King (Aunt Katie as teen), Kerry Washington (Aunt Katie as adult), Octavia Spencer (Rosa Glenn Owens), Viola Davis (Lula McJunkin Owens), and Ruth Negga (Mable Owens Clarke).
Learn more about Liberia, South Carolina at The University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Stephen Brumwell's "Turncoat"

Stephen Brumwell is a writer and independent historian specializing in British-American military affairs of the eighteenth century. He received the George Washington Book Prize 2013 for his book, George Washington: Gentleman Warrior. He lives in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Here Brumwell dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Turncoat: Benedict Arnold and the Crisis of American Liberty:
In September 1780, the young United States of America came perilously close to losing its bitter war for independence from Great Britain. A plan to betray the Hudson River fortress of West Point into British hands, and with it, the Patriot’s revered leader, General George Washington, was only foiled at the eleventh hour by a truly extraordinary chain of events.

Most shocking of all, the plot was masterminded by one of Washington’s most trusted commanders, Major-General Benedict Arnold. When his treason was revealed on the very brink of activation, Arnold escaped to the British in New York - but only by the skin of his teeth.

This dramatic denouement marked the culmination of secret negotiations going back seventeen months. Despite the best efforts of Washington’s spies, Arnold, who’d been crippled fighting for American liberty, was never suspected of treachery. After his scheming was finally uncovered, Arnold’s horrified contemporaries blamed his greed. Since then, historians have argued that hunger for cash was bolstered by other gripes, particularly a conviction that he’d been ill-used by an ungrateful Congress.

But as I discovered while researching Turncoat, the reality was, if possible, even more remarkable. Above all, Arnold was driven by an unswerving self-belief, and an obsessive concern for his personal reputation. That posed an intriguing question: why would a man who cared so much about honor commit an act of betrayal that would be deemed utterly dishonorable? Answering that puzzle became central to my book. Scouring archives in the US and UK, I unearthed evidence that led to a startling conclusion: Arnold acted from what he sincerely believed to be the very best of reasons – to save his misguided countrymen from a corrupt and ineffective government, and from a long, bloody and stalemated civil war. But of course, his plot backfired, Britain lost America, and Arnold remains reviled as his country’s worst traitor.

The extraordinary facts of Arnold’s life and treason, as reconstructed in Turncoat, need no exaggeration on screen. A tight narrative and a varied cast of characters already provide rich raw material for a compelling movie adaption. In his blog, the experienced and versatile actor Andrew Sellon, who narrated the audiobook of Turncoat, observes that it ‘reads like a top-drawer Hollywood screenplay; it’s a true cinematic nail-biter.’

With its dramatis personae of colorful historical figures, Turncoat offers many challenging roles. Besides Arnold and Washington, there’s the defector’s doomed collaborator, the gallant young British officer Major John André. Washington’s resourceful aide (and man of the moment) Colonel Alexander Hamilton is another key player, while Arnold’s young bride, the beautiful Peggy Shippen (who was heavily involved in the conspiracy), adds a strong female character.

But who should play the enigmatic Arnold, the brave, handsome, headstrong, charismatic but conflicted veteran, constantly simmering with resentment against his detractors? The role could provide an Oscar-worthy opportunity for many actors, but one comes to mind: fans of The Revenant, Peaky Blinders and Legend will appreciate Tom Hardy’s ability to deliver powerful and convincing performances. He’d make a perfect Arnold.

Arnold’s treason would be a gift to any director, but I’d love to see the Australian-born Bruce Beresford take this on. His acclaimed Boer War drama Breaker Morant (1980) was beautifully paced, with a wonderfully convincing sense of time and place. A decade later, the same unflinching authenticity characterised Black Robe, about the Jesuit missionaries among the warring First Nations of New France. More recently, his TV mini-series Bonnie and Clyde (2013), was no less atmospheric. I’ve no doubt that Mr Beresford would transform Turncoat into a memorable movie. And if he needs a historical consultant, I might just be available….
Visit Stephen Brumwell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 8, 2018

Jenna Blum's "The Lost Family"

Jenna Blum is the New York Times and number one international bestselling author of the novels Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers. She was also voted one of the favorite contemporary women writers by Oprah.com readers.

Here Blum dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Lost Family:
When I’m writing a novel, I often play “the casting game,” choosing the actors who will play them in the movie version. Psychologists would call this “positive ideation”—what writer doesn’t want her book made into a movie?—and it’s a great way to get through writer’s block.

For my first novel, Those Who Save Us, which is about a German woman who becomes the mistress of an SS officer to save herself and her little daughter during the war, I was so adamant that the Nazi be played by Alec Baldwin that I developed a little bit of an Alec….obsession. Friends called me while I was writing to say, Hunt For Red October is on TV!” I had photos of Alec in my writing notebook. I even stalked, ahem, went to meet him when he had a signing at Borders in downtown Boston for a book he’d just put out about dads’ right during divorce. The result of this meeting got written up in the Boston Globe.

For my third novel, The Lost Family, I played a similar game. The hero, Peter, is a movie-star handsome fellow who’s emotionally locked down by trauma, so I thought Jon Hamm (with a blond dye job) would be a good fit. June, Peter’s supermodel wife, could be Charlize Theron. And their daughter, Elsbeth, whose starring role in the novel takes place in the 80s, when she’s 15….who would play Elsbeth?

This is the most fun part of the casting game: when readers join in. If you’ve read The Lost Family, who would be your pick for Elsbeth? Julian? (I want to put James Franco in a time machine and de-age him 20 years for Julian.) Please write in and let me know! And thanks for reading.
Visit Jenna Blum's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Emily Devenport's "Medusa Uploaded"

Emily Devenport has written several novels under various pseudonyms including one which was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick award. She currently studies Geology and works as a volunteer at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

Here Devenport dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Medusa Uploaded:
I love movies. I'm not one of those writers who worries that a movie will ruin her story. I often think about actors and actresses (sometimes also politicians and other public figures) when I'm writing. And if you've read Medusa Uploaded you will have noticed that I also tend to think about film scores.

I had a few different actresses in mind when I imagined Oichi, but the gal who showed up the most in my head was Ruth Negga. You may recall her from Agents of Shield and Preacher. For Lady Sheba, I always pictured Vanessa Williams. I adore Nichelle Nichols, and I'd love to see her playing a juicy villainess, so I think she'd be fabulous as Lady Gloria. For Oichi's mother, I'd like to see Michele Yeoh.

For Gennady Mironenko, I always picture Neal McDonough from Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. I love that guy. And he would be the only “white guy” in the entire cast. Though I have to admit, when I was writing Baylor and Ryan Charmayne, I had a couple of white politicians in mind. I don't want to say who they are, but feel free to fill in the rascals of your choice. In their defense, they started out as straight-forward jerks in the beginning, but they develop layers as the story unfolds. Anyone casting them should bear that in mind.

Mehcad Brooks (from Supergirl) is a good template for Nuruddin. Captain Nemo should be Sendhil Ramamurthy (Heroes). And now that Sam Weber has depicted Medusa so beautifully on the cover, I can't see her any other way. She would take a lot of CGI, but I hope that her face would belong to a real actress, someone to lend a spark of life to the AI – maybe Chiaki Kuriyama (who played Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill).

As long as this is a wish list, I may as well go for broke and say I'd rather have Medusa Uploaded be a TV series. That way, everyone gets more screen time, the plot has a chance to unfold slowly, and all sorts of side plots I never imagined can grow naturally.

Plus there's more time to include more music...
Visit Emily Devenport's blog.

The Page 69 Test: Medusa Uploaded.

Writers Read: Emily Devenport.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 4, 2018

Lucinda Riley's "The Pearl Sister"

Lucinda Riley is the New York Times bestselling author of over a dozen novels, and her books have sold more than thirteen million copies in over thirty languages globally. She was born in Ireland and divides her time between England and West Cork with her husband and four children.

Here Riley dreamcasts an adaptation of The Pearl Sister, the fourth installment in The Seven Sisters series:
I never write my characters with certain film stars in mind – the characters appear in my head fully formed. But dream-casting my books afterwards is something I really enjoy doing, especially because since the Seven Sisters series has been optioned to be turned into a multi-series television show by a Hollywood production company, it doesn’t feel like so much of a ‘dream’ anymore.

The main character in The Pearl Sister is CeCe, a painter who has lost her passion and her way, who is sent on a journey to Australia to discover her past. The Australian Aboriginal actress and singer Jessica Mauboy would be a perfect fit, because not only does she look just like how I imagine CeCe, she represents the wonderful melting pot of Australian culture in her mixed heritage.

The mysterious Ace, who CeCe meets on a beach in Thailand, would be played by the Thai actor Ananda Everingham, who captures Ace’s wolfish charm.

In the historical sections of the book, set in the Adelaide Hills and in the pearling town of Broome in Australia, the young Kitty McBride would be played by Eleanor Tomlinson, who was so stunning in the BBC adaptation of Poldark, whilst Nicole Kidman could play the elder Kitty McBride. The captivating twins Drummond and Andrew Mercer would both be played by Chris Hemsworth (if he’s not too busy being Thor!), and Kitty’s son Charlie, could be played by his younger brother Liam Hemsworth.

At the end of The Pearl Sister, the reader is allowed a glimpse into Tiggy’s story, CeCe’s younger sister. While CeCe has been travelling through Australia, Tiggy has been working on a remote Highland estate in Scotland. And I always pictured Tiggy to be played by Lily Collins. Tiggy’s story, The Moon Sister, will be available in the US in early 2019.
Visit Lucinda Riley's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Storm Sister.

My Book, The Movie: The Shadow Sister.

Writers Read: Lucinda Riley.

The Page 69 Test: The Pearl Sister.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Danielle Teller's "All the Ever Afters"

Danielle Teller (formerly Morse, nee Dyck) grew up in Canada, where she and her two brothers were raised by the best parents in the world. As a child, she was a bookworm who dreamed of being a writer, but she chickened out and went to medical school instead. In 1994, she moved temporarily to America, and she has been living temporarily in America ever since. Teller attended Queen's University during her undergraduate years, and she received her medical training at McGill University, Brown University and Yale University. She has held faculty positions at the University of Pittsburgh and Harvard University, where she investigated the origins of chronic lung disease and taught in the medical intensive care unit. In 2013, Teller quit her job to pursue her childhood dream of being a writer. She lives with her husband, Astro Teller, and their four children in Palo Alto, California.

Here Teller dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother:
All the Ever Afters is a reimagining of Cinderella from the stepmother’s perspective. The characters inhabit a realistic medieval setting; elements of the fairy tale are rendered as real life events. In the movie version of my book, I imagine Kate Winslet as the “evil” stepmother, who is strong in both body and spirit and possesses the sort of innate intelligence that shines through in Ms. Winslet’s performances. While not a classic unreliable narrator, the stepmother filters events through her own perceptions, emotional needs and preconceived notions (as do we all!). It would be important for the actor who plays her character to convey what is unspoken, and Kate Winslet has an incredible gift for communicating complex emotions through facial expressions and body language.

The character I had the most trouble visualizing was Elfilda, or Cinderella. What does it mean to be ineffably beautiful? Then I saw Emilia Clarke playing Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones and thought, “That’s it!” Not only is she breathtakingly gorgeous, but Emilia Clarke is small and fine boned (as the owner of the tiniest shoes in the kingdom must be), and her face can light up with pure, childlike delight, just as I imagined Elfilda.

If I could pick a director for my-book-the-movie, it would be Sarah Polley, and not just because she’s a fellow Canadian and a woman. Ms. Polley’s subtle and poignant movies are hymns to ordinary human relationships, and my novel centers on a mother’s feelings for her daughters and stepdaughter. The novel also uses light and dark as a leitmotif, and Ms. Polly understands how to use lighting not only to convey mood but meaning, as in her movie Away From Her, where strong winter sunlight both set the tone and provided a metaphor for the harsh realities that the characters needed to face.
Visit Danielle Teller's website.

Writers Read: Danielle Teller.

The Page 69 Test: All the Ever Afters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 1, 2018

Will Walton's "I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain"

Will Walton is an indie bookseller in Athens, Georgia.

Anything Could Happen was his first novel.

Here Walton dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain:
My dream would be for Troye Sivan to play Avery and Reese Witherspoon to play Krissanne.

And if I could have my pick of directors, easy: Xavier Dolan, hands down.
Follow Will Walton on Facebook.

Writers Read: Will Walton.

The Page 69 Test: I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Mary Stockwell's "Unlikely General"

Mary Stockwell is the former chair of the history department at Lourdes University in Ohio and the author of The Other Trail of Tears: The Removal of the Ohio Indians and other books.

Here Stockwell dreamcasts an adaptation of her new book, Unlikely General: "Mad" Anthony Wayne and the Battle for America:
Every writer who tackles the story of Anthony Wayne faces the problem of bringing to life a man known primarily as “Mad Anthony.” When I was researching Wayne, leading up to the publication of my book Unlikely General: “Mad” Anthony Wayne and the Battle for America, I noticed that most people – from professors and librarians to amateur historians and history buffs – dismissed Wayne as a reckless fool who fought like a madman in every battle.

The Wayne I had discovered bore no resemblance to this fiend. He was instead a brilliant writer who thought deeply about the politics of his age. At the start of the Revolution, he was on fire for war and its glory, seeing every battle from Brandywine to Yorktown as his hero Julius Caesar might have fought it. But by its end, he came to view war as a “horrid trade of blood.” After peace was declared, he could hardly put his life back together again. His marriage had fallen apart through his countless affairs. He had nearly bankrupted his family with bad loans. He won a seat in Congress only to be removed for voter fraud. On many mornings, he was so swollen that he had to wrap his arms and legs in flannel. He battled a crippling depression eased only by brandy and Madeira. A desperate President George Washington, who had already seen two armies massacred by Indians, had to overlook all of this in 1792 when he appointed Wayne as the commander of a third American army that must wrest the Ohio Country from the tribes.

How was I to tell the story of a once valiant hero who had fallen from grace only to be called into one last battle to rescue his nation? I decided the only way to bring Wayne to life was to construct his biography like a modern novel where the narrative moves back and forth between the present and past. One timeline would follow Wayne from his appointment as the army’s commander to his victory at Fallen Timbers and finally to his death. The other would flash back to his past, showing how he had come to this present moment, while at the same time telling the story of the many people Wayne had encountered along the way.

As I wrote Wayne’s story, I often found myself saying, “This would make a great movie.” I could see only one person playing the role of this unlikely general. It had to be Russell Crowe. It wouldn’t take much to alter his costume in Master and Commander to make him look like Wayne did in 1792. But even more important, what better actor to play a “mad” man with hidden depths than Russell Crowe whose acting style perfectly revealed the inner workings of the characters he portrayed? Who better to play a general who had left a record of his thoughts in thousands of letters that lay forgotten in libraries across the nation he fought so hard to create than the thinking actor Russell Crowe? Finally, who better to play a general who viewed the world in terms of all that had befallen Julius Caesar than Maximus Decimus Meridius himself?

As the deadline for Unlikely General grew closer, flashes of “Wayne the Movie Starring Russell Crowe” kept me going. After all the reviewers’ comments were addressed, every last verb was tweaked to keep the narrative flowing, and all the footnotes were checked and rechecked, the last comment from the last editor to work on the book made it all worthwhile: “This book would make a great movie.”
Visit Mary Stockwell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 28, 2018

Lexie Elliott's "The French Girl"

Lexie Elliott grew up in Scotland, at the foot of the Highlands. She graduated from Oxford University, where she obtained a doctorate in theoretical physics. A keen sportswoman, she works in fund management in London, where she lives with her husband and two sons. The rest of her time is spent writing, or thinking about writing, and juggling family life and sport.

Here Elliott dreamcasts an adaptation of her debut novel, The French Girl:
As The French Girl was actually optioned by a production company which has the intention of adapting it into a TV series, you might think I’ve spent many happy hours day-dreaming about who might play the pivotal roles. That’s not the case at all. For one thing, the optioning of a book is no guarantee that there will ever be a finished product on screen. For another, I don’t have a lot of time in which to day-dream! But the last, and most important reason, is that I know who my characters are: they’re exactly the people living in my head. It’s astonishingly difficult for me to imagine real actors playing them. But for you, dear readers, I will try…

For a tale about discovering what caused the demise of Severine (the French girl of the title) a decade previously, it’s unexpectedly important to cast the corpse correctly — because Severine refuses to be reduced to a heap of bones. Given the restrictions that Severine is operating under (namely, being dead) the role requires a professional who can emote wordlessly. A dear friend suggested Marine Vacth would be a good candidate and I can’t say that I’ve thought of anyone better so far.

I can imagine that Ellie Kendrick, whom many of you will know as Meera from Game of Thrones, would do a remarkably good job of inhabiting Kate, the main protagonist; she has the ability to display vulnerability alongside steel, which is crucial. Ellie hails from London, which is another point in her favour, as I think it’s important that Kate, who comes from the North of England, is played by a British actress; there are many subtle references to class divide that might not be understood quite so well by a non-British actress.

The role of the French detective, Alain Modan, is the easiest one for me: Adrien Brody. No question. I can’t say that I was thinking of him when I was writing the book, but I should have been. For the purposes of writing this, I’ve been casting around for a Caro, and I’ve alighted on Dakota Fanning — with all the layers that she brings to each and every performance, she could really make something of that role. Beyond that, though, I’m struggling. Nobody quite seems to be a perfect fit for Seb or Lara, and I can’t cast Tom at all. If you’ve read the book, you will know that the latter’s most prominent feature is his marvellous nose, and there’s not a lot of large-nosed young actors cropping up on my television (the Hollywood machine doesn’t seem to be prizing that feature at present). I really haven’t seen a Tom anywhere in the real world so far. But that’s okay, because Tom, along with everyone else from The French Girl, is living inside my head. I’m mightily intrigued to see whether, if The French Girl ever does make it to the screen, the actors and actresses that take those roles can manage to oust the versions in my head.
Visit Lexie Elliott's website.

The Page 69 Test: The French Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Kathleen George's "The Blues Walked In"

Kathleen George is the author of The Johnstown Girls, a novel about the famous Johnstown flood. She has also written seven mysteries set in Pittsburgh: A Measure of Blood, Simple, The Odds, which was nominated for the Edgar® Award from the Mystery Writers of America, Hideout, Afterimage, Fallen, and Taken. George is also the author of the short story collection The Man in the Buick and editor of another collection, Pittsburgh Noir. She is a professor of theater arts and creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh.

Here George dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Blues Walked In:
Lena Horne was not only gorgeous but spirited and positive and smart. One thing that got her ahead was that her skin was light. At first people weren’t sure she was African American or “Negro.” Her looks got her ahead. They also acted as a barrier, too. Hollywood, for instance, didn’t know what to do with her. She could sing. They let her sing in a few movies. The first person I thought of to play her was Hallie Berry. And she’s still on my list. But there are so many gorgeous black women out there, I’m sure there are others. Singing would have to be a big part of the casting process, of course. Of course all of us writers think of big names because big names sell scripts, so for I while I wondered if Meghan Markle might be lured back to her acting career. But alas, she’s said she wants to be a princess. Ah, well.

To play my other main character, Marie David, I would like someone of Arabic background. How about Nadine Labaki? She looks great, just right, and she’s smart and multi-talented. I don’t know any one else of Lebanese background who is acting although I’m sure there are thousands of other talented women out there, too.

I will take suggestions for Josiah Conner and for George Elias. I would love to hear some names!
Learn more about the book and author at Kathleen George's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Blues Walked In.

Writers Read: Kathleen George.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Glenn Cooper's "Sign of the Cross"

Glenn Cooper is an internationally known bestselling thriller writer who has sold over seven million books in thirty translations. His first novel, Library of the Dead, sold over two million copies. Of his thirteen published novels, many have become #1 fiction bestsellers in various European markets. He graduated from Harvard University with a degree in archaeology and got his medical degree from Tufts University School of Medicine before becoming an infectious diseases specialist. He later went onto medical research and biotechnology and became the Chairman and CEO of a large, publicly-traded biotech company in Massachusetts. During his free time he wrote screenplays and then tried his hand at novels, culminating in Library of the Dead, which is now in development as a TV series. His current series of religious conspiracy thrillers, beginning with Sign of the Cross, features Cal Donovan, professor of history of religion and archaeology at the Harvard Divinity School. Cooper lives and writes full-time in Sarasota, Florida.

Here Cooper shares some ideas about casting an adaptation of Sign of the Cross:
Actually I’ve been thinking about this topic lately, not for Sign of the Cross, but for my earlier Library of the Dead trilogy, which is in development as a TV series. Without getting into the thinking on that project, I’ve come to the same conclusion as many, many casting directors of late, that British and Commonwealth actors are lights-out great playing Americans. Think Damien Lewis in Homeland and Billions, Dominic West and Ruth Wilson in The Affair, Ben Mendelsohn in Bloodline, Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln and There Will Be Blood, Andrew Lincoln and Lennie James in Walking Dead, Idris Elba in The Wire, and Matthew Rhys, ironically enough, in The Americans. The hero of my new book, the first in a new series, is Cal Donovan, a professor of history of religion and biblical archaeology at the Harvard Divinity School. He’s late forties, wicked smart (of course), handsome (of course), and athletic enough to get himself out of a scrape or two. So, going with my American conversion proposition, I’d pick Dominic West as my bestie, with Ben Mendelsohn as a close second.
Visit Glenn Cooper's website.

The Page 69 Test: Sign of the Cross.

Writers Read: Glenn Cooper.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Humphrey Hawksley's "Man on Ice"

Humphrey Hawksley is the author on Man on Ice, a political thriller set on the US-Russia border that Booklist described as ‘knuckle-whitening suspense’. He is a long-serving, award-winning foreign correspondent and author of several books, both fiction and non-fiction, about the world’s trouble spots. With real tension rising between the America and Russia, Man on Ice is the first thriller located at the very spot where the territories of the two super-powers meet.

Here Hawksley shares his thoughts on who might play the lead roles in a Man on Ice movie:
The lead protagonists are Rake Ozenna, a captain in the Alaskan National Guard’s Eskimo Scouts unit and his fiancee, Carrie Walker a trauma surgeon. Both are familiar with difficult, hostile environments but from vastly different cultural backgrounds. Carrie is from Brooklyn and Rake is an Eskimo from Little Diomede island on the Russian border. The action begins when Rake brings Carrie to see his home village. Ideal for Rake would be Rudi Youngblood (Apocalypto, Crossing Point), tough, quick-thinking, ruthless in a good way, and Carey Mulligan (The Great Gatsby, Mudbound) would be an ideal Carrie, stubborn, smart. They are helped by Rake’s adoptive father, Henry Ahkvaluk, stoic, thoughtful, who would be perfectly played by Jackie Chan (Demolition Man, The Foreigner). The villain across the ice is Admiral Alexander Vitruk and I would love to see Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies, Wolf Hall) in this part. The crease of his brow can freeze the screen.
Visit Humphrey Hawksley's website.

My Book, The Movie: Security Breach.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 21, 2018

Sarah Haywood's "The Cactus"

Sarah Haywood was born in Birmingham. She studied Law at Kent University and Chester College of Law, then worked as a trainee solicitor in London.

After qualification, she moved to Liverpool, working first as a solicitor, then as an advice worker with Citizens Advice. She subsequently joined the Office of the Legal Services Ombudsman, where she investigated complaints about lawyers.

Haywood completed an Open University Creative Writing Course, followed by an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She lives in Liverpool with her husband and two sons.

Here Haywood dreamcasts two versions of an adaptation of her debut novel, The Cactus:
I’ve been weighing up what would work best: a big-budget Hollywood adaptation of The Cactus, or a lower-budget British one. The book is set in the UK - in London and Birmingham - but it’s a universal story that could be transplanted almost anywhere. For this blog, I’ve plumped for a British adaptation, simply because it’s closer to my original vision, but I have my US cast lined up too, should Hollywood come knocking at my door.

The Cactus is a wryly humorous, character-driven story about recognisably flawed, quirky people in a familiar domestic setting. It concerns family relationships and secrets, and the things we do to protect ourselves. Mike Leigh, whose films blend humour and pathos, would have been perfect to direct, if it weren’t for the fact that his plots and characters are crafted through improvisation. Equally perfect would be Andrea Arnold, who has a wonderful talent for making ordinary lives seem extraordinary.

My novel is narrated in the first person through the eyes of Susan Green, a strong, feisty forty-five-year-old woman who believes she’s created the ideal life for herself. She never lets anyone get close to her, so she can never be hurt. The challenge for the actor who plays Susan will be to appear cool and detached whilst hinting at the character’s dry sense of humour and the messy emotions bubbling under the surface. I’d love to see what Maxine Peake, a brilliant British actor who’s equally at home with drama and comedy, would do with the role.

Susan’s younger brother, Edward, with whom she’s battling over their mother’s will, refuses to grow up. He’s never had a ‘proper’ job and dreams of being in a band. We don’t know whether he tricked their mother into favouring him in the will, and it’s unclear whether he’s quite as useless as Susan tells us. James McAvoy would do a great job of portraying this ambiguous character. Rob is Edward’s best friend. Susan thinks he’s a waste of space, just like her brother. Although Rob was rebellious when he was younger, and has his own skeletons in the cupboard, he’s now sorted out his life. Susan feels an inexplicable attraction to him but isn’t about to admit that, even to herself. She certainly doesn’t trust him. Tom Hiddleston is my choice to embody Rob’s long-limbed, easy-going and winning nature.

Aunt Sylvia is an eccentric woman who doesn’t see any bad in anyone (especially not in herself) and is endlessly upbeat and optimistic. She’s a little silly and self-obsessed, but her heart is in the right place; she loves her family and is fiercely loyal to them. Miranda Richardson is someone who can play comical characters whilst signalling their underlying vulnerability and neediness.

The father of Susan’s baby is Richard, a man with whom she had a relationship of convenience, and who is coolly charming and impeccably turned-out. Jude Law would make a great job of personifying him. Kate lives in the flat above Susan’s. At first, Kate is painfully shy, hiding behind her baby when forced to interact with adults. As she and Susan become closer, she begins to open up and engage with people as an equal. Carey Mulligan would be perfect to play someone initially full of self-doubt who, like Susan, blossoms. In fact, I like her so much in the role that I’ve cast her in the Hollywood adaptation of The Cactus too. And here it is:

Director: Greta Gerwig
Susan: Amy Adams
Edward: Jared Leto
Rob: Ethan Hawke
Richard: John Hamm
Aunt Sylvia: Jessica Lange
Kate: Carey Mulligan
Visit Sarah Haywood's website.

Writers Read: Sarah Haywood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Jack Campbell's "Ascendant"

Jack Campbell” is the pen name of John G. Hemry, a retired naval officer who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis before serving with the surface fleet and in a variety of other assignments. He is the New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Fleet series and The Lost Stars series, as well as the Stark’s War, Paul Sinclair, and Pillars of Reality series. He lives with his indomitable wife and three children in Maryland.

Here Campbell dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, Ascendant:
Who would I like to play the lead roles if Ascendant was turned into a movie?

That's a tough one. In part because some of the best actors for a certain role are ones I've already committed to roles if the later Lost Fleet series becomes movies. For example, Katee Sackhoff would be great as Mele Darcy the Marine, but I want Katee for the role of battle cruiser commander Tanya Desjani in the later books. Elena Anaya or Rosario Dawson could play Carmen Ochoa. Lochan Nakamura could be played by Jackie Chan. That's a bit against type, but I think Chan (in addition to being perhaps the greatest stunt actor of all time) is very good at playing the world-weary man who isn't quite ready to give up yet, and still wants to make a difference. Jackie Chan has the strength to play someone who doesn't think he's strong, but has more going for him that he himself believes. Tadanobu Asano also has the acting chops to play Lochan well. The most difficult one to cast would be Rob Geary, an everyman who has to face extraordinary challenges. A young James Stewart could have done him, or a young Tom Hanks or Morgan Freeman. Nowadays? Josh Hutcherson, maybe. Someone not too cocky or heroic seeming, but able to show how an "average" person can be rise to remarkable demands.
Visit Jack Campbell's website.

Writers Read: Jack Campbell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Nick Oldham's "Bad Cops"

Nick Oldham was born in April 1956 in a house in the tiny village of Belthorn on the moors high above Blackburn, Lancashire.

After leaving college and spending a depressing year in a bank, he joined Lancashire Constabulary at the age of nineteen in 1975 and served in many operational postings around the county. Most of his service was spent in uniform, but the final ten years were spent as a trainer and a manager in police training. He retired in 2005 at the rank of inspector.

He lives with his partner, Belinda, on the outskirts of Preston.

Here Oldham shares a suggestion about who might play the lead in an adaptation of his new novel, Bad Cops:
With my first Henry Christie novel having been published some twenty-one years ago, the actors who I'd imagined in that role are probably a little bit long in the tooth now, so my ideas on that score have changed somewhat. That said, as a little anecdote, I did sell the TV rights (for about eight years) to a well-known production company in the 2000s for my novel Nightmare City. Needless to say, it was never made – however, I was privy to some of the names being suggested for the Christie role back then during production meetings, one of which was an emerging actor who went on to great fame and fortune playing James Bond (you'll just have to guess who that was!). However, the TV rights lapsed and it never happened, so I'm still in dreamland – and my current favourite for the Henry Christie role is Ioan Grufford, who's just about the right age and has impressed recently in a TV role and I know he'd be great in my lead role.
Follow Nick Oldham on Facebook and Twitter.

Writers Read: Nick Oldham.

The Page 69 Test: Bad Cops.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Daniel Czitrom's "New York Exposed"

Daniel Czitrom is Ford Foundation Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College, and the author of Media and the American Mind: From Morse to McLuhan. He was the history advisor on BBC America's production of Coppers.

Here Czitrom shares a scenario and dreamcast for a TV series adaptation of his new book, New York Exposed: The Gilded Age Police Scandal that Launched the Progressive Era:
New York Exposed tells the story of how one man’s determination to uncover and end police corruption in 1890s New York upends the city and shocks the nation. Rev. Charles H. Parkhurst’s moral crusade to clean up New York reveals in unprecedented, headline grabbing detail, the tight links between police, politicians and the underworld. The city’s vice economy—including prostitution, the saloon trade, gambling, counterfeiting and more—thrives on servicing and conning thousands of New Yorkers and out of town visitors. All of this is managed by the New York Police Department, whose captains rule their precincts like personal fiefdoms.

Parkhurst’s fiery sermon of February 14, 1892 triggers widespread criticism and infuriates the District Attorney, who brings the minister before a Grand Jury. Can he offer any specific evidence about crimes back up his corruption charges? He could not, and is roundly denounced as a fraud, a “sensationalist” preacher making wild accusations based on rumors.

Dr. Parkhurst, isolated and under withering attack, faces a moment of truth. Refusing to back down from his claims that police and city officials routinely colluded with criminals, he must figure out a way to gather empirical proof for his charges. He resolves to get it by making a personal tour of the city’s underworld. He is accompanied by 26 year old Charles Gardner, a seedy private detective with a checkered past, and a young wealthy parishioner. Disguised as an out-of-town rube, Parkhurst and his friends spend four nights visiting cheap whorehouses downtown, expensive brothels uptown, after hours saloons, and a homosexual bar. On March 13 he preached another sermon, drawing an overflow crowd at his Madison Square Presbyterian church. In place of the usual prayer books on his lectern he had two thick piles of neatly typed affidavits. He announces creation of the City Vigilance League and prepares to challenge both the police department and the power of Tammany Hall, the nation’s strongest political machine.

Parkhurst’s crusade and the ensuing investigation by the NY State Senate’s Lexow Committee bares the full panorama of New York on the verge of modernity. Witnesses from all walks of New York life—brothel keepers, prostitutes, businessmen, police officials, counterfeiters—reveal with shocking and unprecedented detail how the police managed Gotham’s lucrative vice economy. As a result, Tammany Hall, whose control of the city seems impregnable, goes down to defeat in 1894. Parkhurst’s campaign kickstarts the Progressive movement around the nation and Theodore Roosevelt becomes president of the NY Board of Police.

The city in the 1890s is America’s first metropolis, its financial hub, its media center, and the political stronghold of Tammany Hall Democrats; all this makes the story a national one. New York is also riven by deep class divisions made rawer by the disastrous economic depression of 1893, the worst in American history to that time. Moral crusades offer simplicity and clarity of purpose. But to many working class and immigrant New Yorkers “reform” smells of repressive moralism, furtive surveillance, and the policing of personal behavior. Achieving real and lasting reform in 1890s New York proves as difficult then as it is today. Several themes in this story resonate strongly now: police violence; vote fraud and vote suppression; women as a new political force; the immigrant struggle; the muckraking power of journalism; corruption in politics; evangelical religion in American politics.

I imagine Gary Oldman as playing Parkhurst. Not the scenery chewing, eternally yelling Winston Churchill, but the Oldman who played Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale in the 1995 movie of The Scarlet Letter. There he inhabited a minister torn between his public life and private passion. Parkhurst’s drama is a different one of course, but Oldman’s would no doubt find it and bring it to life. For Charles Gardner we’d need a younger actor with a cynical edge, such as Ben Foster or Miles Teller. There are very juicy roles as well in the two police brass, Thomas Byrnes (Tom Selleck), and the physically imposing Alexander “Clubber” Williams (Bradley Cooper), and Emma Goldman (Lena Dunham).
Learn more about New York Exposed at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 14, 2018

Stacey Filak's "The Queen Underneath"

Stacey Filak was born in a small town in Michigan, where she dreamed of hero's quests, epic battles, and publishing a book. At least a couple of things have come true. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with her husband and four children, and a menagerie of pop-culture named pets. She manages a veterinary clinic as her day job and aspires to someday write something that means as much to someone else as her childhood favorites mean to her.

Here Filak dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Queen Underneath:
The Queen Underneath takes place in the city-state of Yigris, the smallest of four nations on an island called The Four Winds. The population of Yigris is varied and diverse, and so would be the cast of a movie version of it.

To play Gemma, the fierce but feminine leader of Under, the home of thieves, assassins, pirates, and sex-workers, I would cast Frankie Adams. Ever since I first saw Ms. Adams on The Expanse T.V. show, she has been my ideal for this leading character. Her confidence, charisma, and presence – both physical and personality-wise – make her a perfect fit.

In the role of Tollan, the naïve and untested King of Above, I would love to see John Boyega. This young actor has already shown his ability to be both strong and funny, and I think he has the emotional range to really bring Tollan to life.

Playing Elam, a sex priest of Under and Gemma’s best friend, I would cast Dev Patel. Physically, he fits the description of Elam, and I’ve admired his acting chops for years. I also think that he would bring the maturity and emotional grounding to the cast that Elam brings to the book. While Gemma is at the center of the action, Elam is the heart of the book, and he is the link between the two worlds.

In the role of Devery, Gemma’s lover and a master assassin, I’d cast Jaime Bell. Not only does he have the right look – slender, wiry, and the perfect cold expression of distaste – he also has proven himself to be capable of filming some pretty graceful fight scenes, and has a biting wit, all of which any actor to play Devery would need.

While those are the four main characters, I couldn’t help but cast my three favorite supporting characters as well. In the role of Wince, Tollan’s wise-cracking best friend and constant companion, I would cast Jorge Lendeborg, Jr. Hot off his appearances in Spiderman: Homecoming and Love, Simon, this young actor has shown his range through both serious and hilarious scenes, and I really love the sense of kinship that he projected with his friends in both films.

As Lian, a maid from Under, I would cast Ruth Negga. The beautiful Negga would need to be aged with makeup, but I think she would bring a depth to the character, a hard-edge to a seemingly soft character that perfectly fits my vision of Lian.

And finally, in the role of Fin the Fish, I would cast Dave Bautista. A Balklander, Fin is a man that is said to be descended from sharks. Smooth-skinned, sharp-toothed, and huge, I’d love to see Bautista bring Fin to life. While he appears to be a vicious character, Fin has a softness to him that he only shows to those closest to him, and after seeing what Bautista has done with Drax the Destroyer, I think he would be a tremendous addition to the movie.

So while I doubt that I’ll ever have the opportunity, I’ve got the perfect cast all lined up in my mind. I’m just waiting for Hollywood to hand them the script.
Visit Stacey Filak's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Queen Underneath.

Writers Read: Stacey Filak.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Stephen McCauley's "My Ex-Life"

Stephen McCauley is the author of The Object of My Affection, True Enough, and Alternatives to Sex. Many of his books have been national bestsellers, and three have been made into feature films. The New York Times Book Review dubbed McCauley “the secret love child of Edith Wharton and Woody Allen”, and he was named a Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture. His fiction, reviews, and articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Harper’s, Vogue, and many other publications. He currently serves as Co-Director of Creative Writing at Brandeis University.

Here McCauley shares some insight into casting the leads for an adaptation of his new novel, My Ex-Life:
I’ve had the very good fortune to have three of my seven novels made into movies. One here in the US—The Object of My Affection with Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd—and two others in France. In every case, the actors bore so little resemblance to the characters as I described them, it was hard for me to connect what was going on on screen with what I’d written. Not that I objected, just to say it confused me. Perhaps as a result of those experiences, I’m a little resistant to thinking of my characters in terms of actors. In the case of The Object of My Affection, the option was bought as soon as the book came out, and then it took eleven years to get it made. In that time, the producers kept changing who they wanted for the leads, depending on who had a hit movie or had won an award, not who resembled the characters I’d written. So using that logic, I’d say Frances McDormand for the female protagonist--she just won an Oscar and actually would be perfect--and Gary Oldman for the male lead. He just won an Oscar, too, and, come to think of it, also would be perfect. So maybe the producers knew what they were doing!
Visit Stephen McCauley's website.

Writers Read: Stephen McCauley.

The Page 69 Test: My Ex-Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Emily Ogden's "Credulity: A Cultural History of US Mesmerism"

Emily Ogden is assistant professor of English at the University of Virginia.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of her new book, Credulity: A Cultural History of US Mesmerism:
Like Americans in the present, Americans in the nineteenth century worried about fake news: they were surrounded with financial scheming, quackery, and shady politics. When I describe mesmerism, you’ll probably think it was part of the problem. Mesmerists claimed they could entrance people, control minds, and gift their subjects with clairvoyant powers. More quackery, right? But they took the US by storm: everyone wanted to mesmerize or be mesmerized. Why?

I think it’s because, even as mesmerists were accused of duping people, they tried to explain how duping worked. They said that the mesmeric trance was, essentially, a state of belief: their experiments could explain how and why people come to be credulous, or gullible. Their explanation wasn’t simple—nor was credulity itself.

My book, the movie has four lead actors: two male-female pairs whose relationships illustrate the strange turns belief can take. Both male characters become mesmerized by the women they thought they could wrap around their little fingers. Both women conquer terrible adversity—and maybe the laws of physics—by charisma alone. These roles require men who can transform themselves from self-assured peacocks into enthralled fans: Jim Broadbent, of Moulin Rouge!, and Andrew Scott, who plays Moriarty on Sherlock. And they require women with a spare but irresistible magnetism: Sally Hawkins, from The Shape of Water, and Frances McDormand, from Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Scott and McDormand’s pair founded mesmerism in the US. The mesmerist (Scott) was also a slaveholder; his clairvoyant stage partner (McDormand) worked in a textile factory. The slaveholder-mesmerist thought he could manipulate the worker. But instead he came to depend on her as his equal, his co-conspirator, and his private physician.

Hawkins and Broadbent’s pair made mesmerism nationally famous. A blind clairvoyant (Hawkins) claimed she could travel in spirit to New York. A pompous newspaper editor (Broadbent) was certain she was lying. But then they met. She won him over so completely that he published a book in her defense. Broadbent and Hawkins have worked with director Mike Leigh before, and in a dream world, he would take on the project. This movie crosses his period pieces with his dramas of the magic in ordinary relationships (like the unforgettable Happy Go Lucky).

In both of the two stories my book tells, the man starts out with the upper hand, then loses it, then forgets why he wanted it in the first place. How did Gleason and Brackett cast their spells? That's the question Credulity answers.
Learn more about Credulity at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Sam Peters's "From Darkest Skies"

Sam Peters is a mathematician, part-time gentle-person adventurer and occasional screenwriter who has seen faces glaze over at the words ‘science fiction’ once too often. His inspirations include Dennis Potter, Mary Doria Russell, Lynda La Plante, Neal Stephenson, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. He has more hopes than regrets, more cats than children, watches a lot of violent contact sport and is an unrepentant closet goth.

Here Peters dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, From Darkest Skies:
From Darkest Skies was optioned by a London-based production company almost two years ago with a view to making it as a TV series. Now it’s true that this happens to a lot more books than actually make it all the way to the screen. I don’t know what the hit rate is – probably less than ten percent – and even for those that make it, the time between being optioned and hitting the screen can be many, many years (fifteen, I think, for Altered Carbon, which undoubtedly shares some DNA with From Darkest Skies). The point being for both authors and readers: don’t hold your breath! But the point also being that in this case, I’ve given quite a lot of thought to who I think would be great to play each of the major characters.

From Darkest Skies is a futuristic thriller centred around intelligence agent Keon Rause, native of a colony world whose original settlers were predominantly Pacific Islanders so I’d really like Keon to be played by someone who looks like they have some of that DNA in them. A strong noir element permeates the atmosphere, too. World-weary and grieving, I’m going for Matrix-era Keanu Reeves for this.

Although notionally trying to unravel the death of a minor celebrity from an apparent drug overdose, Keon’s real goal is to discover the truth about the death, five years ago, of his wife Alysha. To help him with this, Keon has recreated his wife as a simulation embedded in Artificial Intelligence, whom he calls Liss, and this is where the heart of the story lies, in the complex and difficult relationship between Keon and Liss as they discover both separately and together that Alysha wasn’t quite who everyone thought. Although Alysha doesn’t appear in the narrative, I imagine her appearing in flashback sequences in a TV adaptation and so I’m looking for someone who can play two versions of the same character, one a construct, one the real deal. Although I originally had Alysha down as being of Persian descent, I’m going to go with Zoie Palmer because of the superb job she does of playing a very similar dual role in SyFy’s Dark Matter.

When he’s not moonlighting looking for his wife’s killer, Keon routinely works with three other agents who complete the core ensemble. Laura is taciturn, clever, possibly a little unstable and utterly at home in the shadow-world of conspiracy into which Keon descends and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather see play her than Archie Panjabi, reprising a version of The Good Wife’s Kalinda Sharma. Esh was inspired by Agent Shaw from Person of Interest so Sarah Shahi, please. Bix Rangesh has the job of bringing some levity to the show so I’m going for Danny Pudi, who played Abed in Community.
Visit Sam Peters's website.

The Page 69 Test: From Darkest Skies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Daniel Bessner's "Democracy in Exile"

Daniel Bessner is the Anne H.H. and Kenneth B. Pyle Assistant Professor in American Foreign Policy in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington.

Here Bessner dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Democracy in Exile: Hans Speier and the Rise of the Defense Intellectual:
Since Democracy in Exile was published, I’ve been thinking about what a filmed version of it would look like. After giving it some consideration, I’ve decided that, if my book were produced for the silver screen, I would prefer if each half were filmed in a different style. The book traces the career trajectory of Hans Speier, a German exile from National Socialism who in the United States became the founding chief of the RAND Corporation’s Social Science Division. The first part of Speier’s life covered in the book was characterized by movement: from Berlin to New York City; from New York to Washington, D.C.; and from Washington to Germany, and back again. The second half, in contrast, was defined by stability. A filmed version of Democracy in Exile would, I believe, have to take account of this difference, in the hopes that doing so would accurately portray the unexpected twists and turns of a life lived largely in exile.

Thus, the first chapter, which focuses on Speier’s disillusionment with Marxist theory and politics in the extreme conditions of the Weimar Republic, would have the feel of a 1920s expressionist film. The second and third chapters, which take place in 1930s New York and analyze Speier’s attempts to solve the riddle of Nazism, would look like a noir. The fourth chapter, which examines Speier’s time as a U.S. government propagandist during World War II, would feel like a war movie.

Filmed versions of the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth chapters, which elucidate Speier’s work for the RAND Corporation, U.S. government, and Ford Foundation, would differ from the book’s first half in that they would share a coherent filming style that would reflect Speier’s emergence as an influential figure in the Cold War-era national security state. In my opinion, these chapters would be filmed like other Cold War films, particularly The Shape of Water and A Beautiful Mind, the latter of which portrays an intellectual who did significant research at RAND.

Because the film would ideally amalgamate several different styles, a director like Michelle MacLaren, whose diverse work for Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and other shows has displayed a wide-ranging talent, would be perfectly suited to the project.

Casting would center on finding someone capable of playing Speier. I think the best actor would be a German fluent in English able to convey a quiet intensity and determination. Christoph Waltz, of Inglourious Basterds fame, would be a good choice, as would Andreas Pietschmann, who was recently on the Netflix series Dark.

Regardless, what is certain is that a filmed version of Democracy in Exile would be an international hit that would no doubt sweep all the Oscar categories in which it was nominated, bringing its heretofore unheralded author into the much-deserved-spotlight.

Or not.
Visit Daniel Bessner's website.

The Page 99 Test: Democracy in Exile.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Joanne Rocklin's "Love, Penelope"

Joanne Rocklin's children’s books have garnered starred reviews, as well as awards, including The SCBWI Golden Kite, Parents’ Choice Gold Medal, Sydney Taylor Notable, ALA Notable, California Library Association Beatty Award, and others. They are also on many state lists.

Here Rocklin shares some insights about an adaptation of her new middle grade novel, Love, Penelope:
Love, Penelope is told in letters to an unborn sibling by a young girl who lives in Oakland with her two mamas.

It was inspired by the proximity in time of two major celebrations: the June 19, 2015 parade in Oakland (where I live) for the Golden State Warriors’ 2015 National Basketball Association championship; and the joy following the June 26, 2015 Supreme Court decision making same-sex marriage legal across the U.S.

Those two events are especially meaningful to my main character, who loves both the Warriors and her city. She also wishes her parents would marry. She has always felt angry when people call San Francisco The City, as if Oakland was not as important. So too, the “domestic partnership” of her mothers doesn’t carry the weight and honor of a marriage, in her mind.

I see these two events as the highpoint of any movie of my book, as they would emphasize Penny’s growth and acceptance and joy in her own identity.

I have no idea who could play Penny, or who would direct. However, the voice of Penny as read by the actress, Maia Kolosky, in my book trailer, is absolutely perfect.
Watch the Love Penelope video trailer, and visit Joanne Rocklin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Fleabrain Loves Franny.

Coffee with a Canine: Joanne Rocklin & Zoe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Michael Ramirez's "Destined for Greatness"

Michael Ramirez is an associate professor of sociology at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Destined for Greatness: Passions, Dreams, and Aspirations in a College Music Town:
Destined for Greatness: Passions, Dreams, and Aspirations in a College Music Town is a sociological study of the life course pathways that lead some men and women to careers in rock music as they venture into adulthood. I interviewed nearly fifty musicians in the iconic college music town of Athens, Georgia for the book. While the musicians were a diverse population, they were all – every last one of them – consistent in the passion they had for music.

Their pathways to music were varied. Some knew from an early age that music was "in their blood” and that music was their life calling. Others were “late bloomers” who didn't get the music bug until later in life. Destined for Greatness traces the ways musicians navigate music and creatively embed it in their lives, despite the trials of adulthood. The book is about more than music. It is about how the dreams we craft are shaped by larger social forces of gender, age, and culture.

I could easily see my book adapted for the big screen. I am torn between two film versions of Destined for Greatness. Treatment one is the drama - almost a coming of age film in the vein of Thirteen or Boyhood. I imagine Richard Linklater would nail it (as he did with Dazed and Confused and Boyhood). He has a knack for painting the subtleties of adolescence and the larger experience of aging. Plus, he would ensure the best soundtrack for the film, as music is a core theme of much of Linklater’s work.

The second – and far more different – design I have of the film adaptation is more of a comedic treatment. I know there’s a comedy buried in this sociological book somewhere. It would just take the genius of someone like Amy Heckerling to dig it out. Her films, especially the classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless, are aligned with the larger themes of aging and explorations of identity that the musicians in my book illustrate. Plus, it has been far too long since the world has been graced with Heckerling's work. Destined for Greatness would be a fantastic re-introduction of her vision to the world.

Now to the important business of casting the film. Among the men’s roles, I’d certainly need to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the film adaptation. He could easily convince the audience of his authenticity as a would-be rock star. Gael García Bernal is underused in Hollywood, and I would recruit him to join the cast. His work in The Motorcycle Diaries and Mozart in the Jungle was superb. Finally, I would love to see Matthew McConaughey as one of the musicians’ older brothers in the film.

There are so many women would I’d love to see in the film. At the top of my audition wish list would have to be Zooey Deschanel. This one is a no-brainer. She can pull off serious and comedic roles with ease. She could channel her musical experience from her band She & Him into the role. Ever since 2009’s (500) Days of Summer, fans have pined for the reunion of Deschanel and the aforementioned Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This film would satisfy that itch. Evan Rachel Wood is among my favorite actresses of all time. I have every confidence she could make the film superb with her presence. America Ferrera is my final pick for a lead role. She has played the quirky, nerdy type, but I would love this film to be her foray into something new. Finally, someone along the lines of Tina Fey would be excellent as the mentor figures many of the women in the book spoke of in terms of shaping their careers in Chapter 5.

And while I’m at it, why not consider a cameo by a famous Athens musician or two? I’d love to see the entirety of REM make an appearance, maybe as townies or the musicians’ parents. I imagine Patterson Hood of The Drive-By Truckers makes a great Old Fashioned cocktail, so let’s give him a role as a bartender at a scene at the iconic 40 Watt Club. Cheers!
Learn more about Destined for Greatness at the Rutgers University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Destined for Greatness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Patrice Sarath's "The Sisters Mederos"

Patrice Sarath is an author and editor living in Austin, Texas. Her novels include the fantasy books The Sisters Mederos (Book I of the Tales of Port Saint Frey), the series Books of the Gordath (Gordath Wood, Red Gold Bridge, and The Crow God’s Girl) and the romance The Unexpected Miss Bennet.

Her numerous short stories have appeared in several magazines and anthologies, including Weird Tales, Black Gate, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Realms of Fantasy, and many others. Her short story “A Prayer for Captain La Hire” was included in Year’s Best Fantasy of 2003 compiled by David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer. Her story “Pigs and Feaches,” originally published in Apex Digest, was reprinted in 2013 in Best Tales of the Apocalypse.

Here Sarath dreamcasts an adaptation of The Sisters Mederos:
It’s natural for me to think of the movie that could be adapted from The Sisters Mederos, because in an earlier version of the story, I did write a screenplay with these characters, exploring their relationship and their adventures.

I would love for Daisy Ridley to play Yvienne Mederos. Yvienne is very much like Rey in the Star Wars universe. She is self-sufficient, smart, and courageous. She loves her family, and wants to save it. She tries to protect everyone around her, and she uses her wits as a weapon.

Hailee Steinfeld is my choice for Tesara. I’ve seen her play tough, and I have seen her play vulnerable, and throughout the book Tesara goes from timid and unsure to grimly confident in herself and her powers. Tesara has to come to terms with her strange abilities so she can make good use of them to save her family from its enemies.

Both these talented actors would absolutely rock at bringing The Sisters Mederos to the screen.

As for who should direct? No question: Emma Thompson. She’s amazing. She’d do such a fabulous job. Thompson wrote the screenplay adaptation of Sense & Sensibility, one of my favorite adaptations ever, and so if she took on the job of writing and directing (and why not? playing Alinesse Mederos, the formidable matriarch of House Mederos), my heart would be full.

Besides Alinesse Mederos, the supporting characters include Brevart Mederos (Ty Burrell from Modern Family), Uncle Samwell (Eric Allen Stonestreet, also from Modern Family, because they would bring an excellent chemistry to the production), Jone Saint Frey (Nicholas Hoult, from Harry Potter and Mad Max, natch), and Mirandine Depressis (Evan Rachel Wood, because she would bring the over-the-top glamour the role requires).

So you can see, I’ve thought about this a lot. If you decide to pick up The Sisters Mederos, let me know who you see in these roles.
Learn more about the book and author at Patrice Sarath's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Unexpected Miss Bennet.

Writers Read: Patrice Sarath.

--Marshal Zeringue