Saturday, January 19, 2019

James Cambias's "Arkad's World"

James Cambias has been nominated for the James Tiptree Jr. Award and the 2001 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He lives in Western Massachusetts.

Here Cambias dreamcasts an adaptation of his newest novel, Arkad's World:
Arkad's World would make a pretty kick-ass movie. It's got action, comedy, intrigue, and a dash of romance. It wouldn't be cheap, though. The book chronicles a journey across an alien planet, with at least four distinct unearthly landscapes and a host of alien beings. You'd pretty much have to shoot the entire thing on a soundstage in front of a green screen, and animate the rest of the world. The artwork of Thom Tenerey and Simon Stalenhag would be a good guide for what the setting looks like.

The four main characters are humans, and so could be played by real actors. Here's my dream-casting of the leads:

Arkad: His name originates in Turkish, but Arkad himself has diverse ancestry. He's fourteen (sort of) and should be small for his age, wiry, and indomitable. One sees very few boys depicted that way recently, but Finn Wolfhard, who plays the character "Mike" on the TV series Stranger Things is a good fit.

Jacob Sato: I more or less envisioned Idris Elba when I described him, so let's just go with that. Idris Elba playing Indiana Jones in space. Can you get a cooler character description than that?

Ree Bright: Ree is genetically engineered by aliens, so she should have a slightly inhuman "uncanny valley" air about her. In many ways she's the hardest to cast, if only because most actresses get their jobs precisely because they can project warmth and empathy. I think the actress Rooney Mara (from the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo film) could pull it off, as she can manage a very off-beat look and a chilly affect.

Baichi: Baichi is a superhuman blend of human and alien nanotechnology. Think of her as Superman in the body of a girl who looks about fourteen, who must tightly regulate her emotions because of what might happen if she loses control. The part requires an actress who can be both a "creepy inhuman cyborg" and the vulnerable real girl inside the mask. I think Mackenzie Foy (who was in Interstellar) with a layer of dead-white makeup could play her.

Arkad's World has a lot of alien characters, none of which are even remotely human-shaped. There will be no "rubber forehead" actors or stuntmen in costumes. All the aliens would have to be puppets, animations, or a mix of the two.

The Itooti are somewhat bird-like, so they should have voices reminiscent of birds — not melodic songbirds, though. They should sound like a cross between crows and East End London football hooligans.

Pfifu have fairly simple speech apparatus, so give them plain voices with a bit of a Daffy Duck lisp. Much of their communication is visual, using tentacle gestures. An absolute master of dance and puppetry might be able to convey those meanings to a human viewer by movement alone, but it's more likely we'd have to rely on subtitles.

The Vziim have deep, throaty voices, and keep their own languages secret from outsiders, so they would simply speak in a heavily-accented version of the pidgin common to all species on the planet. Their society is clannish, mercenary, and paranoid; perhaps they should have the cultivated but vaguely-foreign sound of Bond movie villains.

Finally, the dreaded Psthao-Psthao speak only in whispers.

I would absolutely adore seeing Arkad on the screen. I visualized everything in the story, which does mean that no film version would look precisely like what I saw inside my head as I wrote the book. But it would be fun to see how others might envision it.
Visit James L. Cambias's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Darkling Sea.

Writers Read: James L. Cambias.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Victoria L. Harrison's "Fight Like a Tiger"

Victoria L. Harrison is an instructor in the department of historical studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She has published essays in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society and Ohio Valley History.

Here Harrison dreamcasts an adaptation of her new book, Fight Like a Tiger: Conway Barbour and the Challenges of the Black Middle Class in Nineteenth-Century America:
This is a fun exercise! First, the basics. Fight Like a Tiger follows the life of an ambitious former slave, Conway Barbour, and his adventures in search of upward mobility in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. The book argues that the idea of a black middle class traced its origins to the free black population of mid-century and developed alongside the idea of a white middle class. Barbour’s story, across four decades and several states, epitomizes that development.

He was something of a rascal, often willing to color outside the lines to reach his goals. As the story takes place across decades, (and cost is not an issue here) we might need younger and older versions of some of the main players. Donald Glover would be terrific as Barbour’s younger self; I have always envisioned Denzel Washington as an older Barbour. Charming and rather untrustworthy fills the bill.

Lupita Nyong'o would be perfect as Barbour’s first wife, Cornelia, a former slave herself. Alfre Woodard would be her older self. Frances, Barbour’s second wife, (Did I mention he was a bigamist?) was younger than Cornelia and born free. I am thinking Zoe Soldana (young) and Viola Davis (older). In an ahistorical but dramaturgically cool twist in the movie, Cornelia gets her revenge on Barbour in Chicot County, Arkansas, at the end of the film. Between the two women, Barbour fathered fifteen children, so there is ample room for cameos of the next generation of African American actors.

Like most successful free blacks in the nineteenth century, Barbour attached himself to white benefactors like Henry Basse, who financed Barbour’s businesses in Alton, Ill., (Tom Hanks) and Arkansas Governor Powell Clayton (Matthew McConaughey), who helped put Barbour in the state legislature.

Barbour’s nemesis in the legislature was a black conservative, Ed Fulton (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) His rival for political dominance in Chicot County, Arkansas, was James W. Mason (Shemar Moore). In fact, it was Mason – the son of Arkansas’s largest antebellum slaveholder – who was most responsible for frustrating Barbour’s ambitions.

I would put Ridley Scott at the helm. So, what do you think? Any takers?
Learn more about Fight Like a Tiger at the Southern Illinois University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Molly MacRae's "Crewel and Unusual"

Molly MacRae spent twenty years in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Upper East Tennessee, where she managed The Book Place, an independent  bookstore; may it rest in peace. Before the lure of books hooked her, she was curator of the history museum in Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town.

MacRae lives with her family in Champaign, Illinois, where she connects children with books at the public library.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest novel, Crewel and Unusual (Haunted Yarn Shop Series #6):
A few years ago, I cast the recurring characters in the Haunted Yarn Shop mysteries (see My Book, The Movie – Knot the Usual Suspects, October 21, 2015). Those choices still stand, so here’s my dream cast for the characters new to the series who appear in Crewel and Unusual. (Side note: I chose this cast two weeks before the Golden Globes and I can’t believe how prescient I was considering Patricia Arquette’s win and the stir created by Jamie Lee Curtis’ stunning appearance).

For Belinda Moyer – Patricia Arquette. Belinda is bright, but not terribly well-educated. She knows a good deal when she sees one, but isn’t the savviest businesswoman. She’s suspicious and secretive. Arquette will be able to balance these contradictions sympathetically. Of course, now that Arquette has won the Golden Globe, she might be too busy.

For Martha the enamelist – Jamie Lee Curtis. Martha is confident, matter-of-fact, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She wears her gray hair in a long braid, so Curtis will have to wear a wig, but I bet she’ll do it and look like a goddess.

For Sierra Estep – Emma Roberts. Sierra is a young woman tackling her first professional job after graduate school and faced with some unusual and trying situations. Roberts will bring the right notes of high-strung energy and comedy to the role.

For Simon Grace – Drew Carey. Simon is a man who loves to play roles. He’s a college administrator, part time bookseller, and a not terribly successful amateur actor. Carey will understand the complications of Simon’s life.

For Russell Moyer – Kevin Bacon. Russell is a quiet, retired civil servant who doesn’t quite understand what’s going on. Bacon will give him with the right laconic touch.

For Nervie Bales – Parker Posey. Minerva “Nervie” Bales scurries and worries. Posey will give her the right nervous energy.

For Al Rogalla and Inspector Bruce of Scotland Yard – the real deals. Inspector Bruce can only be played by the real Bruce, a Scottie who lives with my friends Val and Mike Rogalla. Mike “Al” Rogalla can play himself, too.
Visit Molly MacRae's website.

The Page 69 Test: Crewel and Unusual.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Jess Montgomery's "The Widows"

Jess Montgomery is the author of the Kinship Historical Mysteries. Under her given name, she wears several other literary hats: she is a newspaper columnist, focusing on the literary life, authors and events of her native Dayton, Ohio for the Dayton Daily News; Executive Director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop at University of Dayton; and is an adjunct mentor in the Seton Hill University Low-Residency Writing Popular Fiction M.F.A. program.

Here Montogomery shares some ideas for a big-screen adaptation of her new novel, The Widows:
As I wrote The Widows, I listened—repeatedly—to the soundtrack from the movie, Batman Begins. There are no bats in The Widows. The novel is set in 1920s Appalachia, as two women investigate murder and fight for their community.

But I’ve come to love writing to acoustic music. It helps me focus. And the sweeping, rhythmic score of Batman Begins was empowering to me, giving me courage to write some of the tougher scenes that at first I wanted to shirk from. (But that, of course, would not be fair to readers—or to me as a writer.)

Music also plays a role in the novel, particularly ballads and gospel. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the first thing I think about with “My Book, The Movie” for The Widows is who I’d like to write a theme song. And that is… Roseanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash, and singer-songwriter in her own right. I think she’d love and understand the two narrators of The Widows--Lily Ross (inspired by Ohio’s true first female sheriff in 1925) who becomes sheriff after her husband Daniel is killed in the line of duty, and Marvena Whitcomb, widow of a coal miner, a union organizer, and moonshiner. I believe Ms. Cash would find plenty to inspire her in their gritty, challenging yet ultimately hopeful story.

Though Daniel dies early in the novel, he lives in the memories of Lily and Marvena, and in people in the community. He is an important presence, and would need to be portrayed in flashback scenes. I’d love to see the actor Jared Padalecki play Daniel, especially if The Widows became the basis of a limited television series. Of course, Mr. Padalecki plays Sam Winchester on the long-running television show Supernatural, so I’m not sure when he’d find time to fit this project into his schedule! Still, Supernatural is my not-so-guilty television-watching pleasure, and I’ve come to admire Mr. Padalecki’s range in portraying emotions in a subtle way. He also looks similarly to how I see Daniel—tall, a bit larger-than-life, dark-haired.

I’d love to have a woman direct The Widows movie/series. This is, after all, a novel that stars two tough yet tender women. So, why not have Reese Witherspoon direct? Or Geena Davis? I’d certainly be thrilled.

Of course, this leaves the main characters—Lily and Marvena. But the truth is, I’m stumped as to who should play these roles. They’d have to be played by actresses who could carry strong roles, yet not overshadow one another. I’m sure either Ms. Witherspoon or Ms. Davis will find the right actresses!
Visit Jess Montgomery's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Mark Alpert's "The Coming Storm"

Mark Alpert is an internationally bestselling author of science thrillers. His first novel, Final Theory (2008), was published in 24 languages and optioned for film. He says his latest thriller, The Coming Storm, is a cautionary tale that President Trump will probably savage on Twitter.

Here Alpert dreamcasts an adaptation of the new novel:
My latest science thriller, The Coming Storm, is set in a dystopian near-future in which global warming has swamped New York City and a brutal White House has forced immigrants and the poor into the flooded detention zones. The novel’s heroine, Jenna Khan, is a brilliant geneticist who quits her laboratory after the government uses her genetic-engineering research for its ruthless campaign of repression.

Jenna is a Muslim woman in her thirties, a daughter of Pakistani immigrants. A good actress to portray her would Sofia Boutella, who appeared in Atomic Blonde and Star Trek Beyond. Boutella has done plenty of physically demanding roles, and that talent would definitely come in handy for playing Jenna, who has to race across Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens to stay ahead of the militarized federal police.

Jenna’s companion at the start of the novel is Derek Powell, a former soldier victimized by the government’s experiments. He’s an ambiguous character, part hero and part villain, so my choice for this role would be Michael B. Jordan, the hero of Creed and the villain of Black Panther.

A more purely villainous character in the book is Lieutenant Rick Frazier, who is a queasy combination of badass and psychopath. I see someone like Chris Hemsworth in the role, assuming the Thor actor is willing to venture into darker places.

Last but not least is the character of the U.S. president, who roughly resembles the current occupant of the office but is even farther gone. (Which is hard to imagine, right?) It would be wonderful if the director of The Coming Storm movie could find a real politician to play the role. Maybe it could be arranged as part of a community-service sentence, a plea deal negotiated between the Special Counsel and the indicted co-conspirators? We shall wait and see.
Learn more about the book and author at Mark Alpert's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Omega Theory.

My Book, The Movie: Extinction.

My Book, The Movie: The Furies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 7, 2019

Eyal Kless's "The Lost Puzzler"

Eyal Kless is a classical violinist who enjoys an international career both as a performer and a teacher. Born in Israel, he has travelled the world extensively, living several years in Dublin, London, Manchester, and Vienna, before returning to Tel Aviv. Kless's first novel, Rocca's Violin, was published in Hebrew in 2008 by Korim Publishers. He currently teaches violin in the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University, and performs with the Israel Haydn String Quartet, which he founded.

Here Kless dreamcasts an adaptation of the first of his sci fi/fantasy novel series, The Lost Puzzler:
One constant remark I receive from readers of The Lost Puzzler, is that it is “definitely a movie, or a TV series…no definitely a movie.”

I am pretty happy about this because frankly, I saw this book playing in front of my eyes so many times, I had to keep reminding myself that it hadn’t happened (yet!)

There are four main characters in The Lost Puzzler (and several more minor characters with very memorable roles,) but I will concentrate on the ones that I feel closest to.

Vincha is by far the strongest female character and the main driving force behind the storyline. We meet her when she is in her 40s. A tough ex-mercenary called a Salvationist, who used to raid a mysterious alien city in search for technology and loot. She is not a dainty woman, I do imagine her being able to floor a man with a well-aimed punch, and she can take a lot of damage too. Vincha is also an ex-addict, and she lies, cheats, steals and fights with no hesitation. A few tough female actresses come to mind. My first thought would be the young Sigourney Weaver, but I bet even Sigourney would think twice before facing ex-Xena princess warrior Lucy Lawless (now that’s a great name). Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie is another warrior I would rather not face under any circumstances. Hilary Swank, star of Million Dollar Baby could stand her ground against anyone.

If the role of Vincha had me torn between several actresses, only one name springs to mind when I think about Galinak. Like Vincha, is a retired Salvationist who works as a tour-guide/bodyguard in the city’s most notorious district, The Pit. Galinak’s age has not diminished his sense of adventure or juvenile attitude. While Vincha fights as a survivalist, Galinak sees it as an art form, and his carefree, no bullshit attitude leaves me with only one name in mind to play him: the great Woody Harrelson.

As a stark contrast to both mercenaries stands the novel’s narrator, known only as Twinkle Eyes. He is no muscly, chiseled super-hero, on the contrary. He is just a lowly secondary scribe in the Guild of Historians thrust on a mission beyond his expertise. But Twinkle Eyes is a fast learner and a quick thinker and his learning curve may be steep, painful, or even downright wrong, but he rises to the occasion every time. So when I think of the ordinary hero of The Lost Puzzler, Twinkle Eyes, the actor I think would be right for the role would be either Forest Whitaker or Martin Freeman.
Visit Eyal Kless's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Lost Puzzler.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Karin Vélez's "The Miraculous Flying House of Loreto"

Karin Vélez is associate professor of history at Macalester College.

Here she dreamcasts a movie based on her new book, The Miraculous Flying House of Loreto: Spreading Catholicism in the Early Modern World:
While Hollywood movies feature a surprising number of houses these days, few of the houses of the silver screen have the chops to play the miraculous Holy House of Loreto. Two candidates immediately spring to mind because they have already demonstrated that they can fly: Dorothy’s house in the original 1939 Wizard of Oz and the house in the 2009 animated feature Up. Dorothy’s house has more star power, but unlike Loreto’s Holy House, it is best known for falling on and killing the Witch of the East—a darker claim to fame than the Holy House, which is known for being the original house of the Virgin Mary, mysteriously flown from the Holy Land to Italy in the thirteenth century without squashing anyone upon landing. The house in Up better embodies the situation and the varied historical movements of the Holy House of Loreto. It was also an old, cherished home in need of rescue. Likewise in Up, the house’s means of propulsion were varied and prosaic to the point of amusement: it was shifted by a bunch of balloons, a large bird, an old man and a boy. As discussed in my book, the Holy House of Loreto was transported, dispersed and replicated in hard copy by a similarly unexpected and unsolicited cast of Jesuits, Slavic migrants, and Huron, Moxos and Monquí Indians. It leapt the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas and the Atlantic Ocean at the hands of these self-appointed assistants.

Another necessary casting call for The Miraculous Flying House of Loreto would be for Mary, the Christian icon and renowned Holy Mother of Jesus. I would start by casting Hollywood leading ladies Maria Bello, Mary Steenburgen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Mary Alfred Thoma, Maria Valverde, and Mary Stuart Masterson in no particular order. In Chapter 6 of my book, I argue that Huron, French, Spanish and English women of the 1600s and 1700s who coincidentally shared the name Mary ended up inadvertently influencing artistic depictions of the Virgin Mary. A great way to illustrate this on the movie screen would be to cast a different actress called Mary to play Jesus’ mother every time she makes a new entrance. The most famous Mary of all could thus be literally rendered as a composite creation of many diverse, often unrelated women who share her name.
Learn more about The Miraculous Flying House of Loreto at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Leslie Archer's "The Girl at the Border"

Leslie Archer is the nom de plume of a New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty-five novels.

His new novel, The Girl at the Border, features renowned archaeologist Richard Mathis, who is half a world away on the island of Crete when he learns his daughter, Bella, has gone missing. Within twenty minutes, he’s on his way back to the States. Two days later, he’s dead. Richard’s young assistant, Angela Chase, is devastated by the loss of the man who had become both mentor and friend, and she’s determined to find the missing girl, who seems to have made dangerous connections—and whose lonely childhood so resembles Angela’s own.

Here Archer dreamcasts the leads in an adaptation of the novel:
Ha! This is a good one; always a great thought experiment.

Okay, let’s go for it: for Angela: Natalie Portman.

For Richard: Tom Hardy.

For Bella: Saoirse Ronan.

For Jimmy Self: Forest Whitaker.

My, what a handsome bunch you are! Perfect too.
Visit Leslie Archer's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Girl at the Border.

Writers Read: Leslie Archer.

--Marshal Zeringue