Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Gwen Florio's "Best Be Prepared"

Gwen Florio grew up in a farmhouse filled with books and a ban on television. After studying English at the University of Delaware, she began a decades-long career in journalism that has taken her around the country and to more than a dozen other countries, including several conflict zones. Her first novel in the Lola Wicks mystery series, Montana, won the Pinckley Prize for Crime Fiction and the High Plains Book Award, and was a finalist for the Shamus Award, an International Thriller Award and a Silver Falchion Award. She has since released four other books in the Lola Wicks series and three standalone novels.

Here Florio dreamcasts the lead in an adaptation of her new novel, Best Be Prepared, the fourth book in the Nora Best series:
I didn’t have to think twice when asked who might play the lead in Best Be Prepared, the fourth in my series featuring protagonist Nora Best.

Hands down, it’s Reese Witherspoon.

First – and this is no small thing – she's age-appropriate. (OK, almost. Witherspoon is 47; Nora Best is 50. Close enough.)

When starting this series, I deliberately chose an older woman as a way to highlight the unexpected freedom many women find in middle age. Nora herself is childless, but many women in that age range are empty nesters, relieved of the most time-consuming aspects of parenting. One of the things I enjoy about writing this series is watching Nora discover that freedom and the new agency that comes with it.

Witherspoon also manages the nifty trick of projecting both strength and vulnerability. Again, this works well for Nora, who constantly questions her own reactions and decisions, especially under pressure from others.

Nora’s instincts – in Best Be Prepared, her suspicions that the death of a local environmentalist is far from accidental – are sound. But she’s the only one in their Northwest Pacific coastal community who seems to think so. Some of the strongest pressure for her to drop her inquiries comes from her new boyfriend, who’d prefer she focus on their relationship.

Nora’s torn: her previous marriage was a disaster, and she treasures this seemingly healthy new involvement. But … but …

At this point, I can see Witherspoon’s brow wrinkle.

What’s her next move? Will she bestow a radiant – if a little forced – smile upon the boyfriend?

Or will she square her shoulders and trust herself?

That’s the dilemma driving Best Be Prepared, both for Nora and the larger community as it grapples with the issue of development versus tsunami safety measures.

A final argument for Witherspoon, one seemingly unrelated to the book. But it’s why she’d shoot to the top of my list even if she weren’t so perfect for this part: her championship of books and reading.

Her choices for her book club are whip-smart – an assessment probably based on the fact that her wide-ranging and diverse selections are routinely among my favorites.

So, Reese Witherspoon. Because a writer can dream.
Visit Gwen Florio's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Gwen Florio & Nell.

Q&A with Gwen Florio.

The Page 69 Test: Best Be Prepared.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

William Dameron's "The Way Life Should Be"

William Dameron is an award winning blogger, memoirist, essayist and the author of The LIE, A Memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing & Coming Out. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Salon, The Huffington Post, and in the book, Fashionably Late: Gay, Bi and Trans Men Who Came Out Later in Life. He is an IT Director for a global economic consulting firm, where he educates users on the perils of social engineering in cybersecurity. Dameron, his husband, and blended family of five children split their time between Boston and the coast of southern Maine.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, The Way Life Should Be:
As Down East Magazine put it, my novel The Way Life Should Be "is a sprawling, occasionally ribald, often moving meditation on how people who love each other can overcome uncertainty and shame — and on how the consistency of the places we love, like funky Maine beach towns, can set the stage for healing." The ensemble cast includes three generations of a family perched on the coast of Maine for one summer, attempting to make a place for everyone and heal old wounds. These are nuanced characters who balance humor with poignancy, and to explore each character's growth fully, I envision it as a limited series. Not only do I imagine it as a limited series, I am writing it as one, and this is where the fun begins.

A writer's job is to utilize the medium they are working in to its fullest potential. In a novel, the writer can explore "interiority," the characters' unspoken thoughts, but dialogue and action must carry the story in a screenplay. As I write my script and study others (This is Us, Euphoria, Little Miss Sunshine), my characters' voices are becoming fine-tuned, and I am learning to hone mine.

So, who gets top billing? I turn to other ensemble series and actors that I admire. Murray Bartlett from The White Lotus and The Last of Us displays vulnerability in a way that would bring doubting Thomas to life. Jennifer Aniston is a shoo-in to play Annie, the sister searching for the type of love her brother Matt and Thomas found with each other later in life. In a very Meta way, Jennifer Aniston is Annie's alter ego in the novel. Think of John Malkovich playing John Malkovich. I would love to see Maggie Smith tackle the darkly comedic and complicated Grammy. Sweet, wonderful, Matt? That's the toughest one. How do I cast an actor in a role that I can only see my husband performing? (He would never go for it). I ask my readers for help, but perhaps in another Meta twist, Matt Bomer?

The third generation in the novel presents opportunities for young actors like Jenny Ortega from Wednesday as Bex, who rescues everyone but herself. Jacob Elordi from Euphoria is the handsome lifeguard Conor, who plays a dangerous game of Kiss or Slap. Sydney Sweeney from The White Lotus is coolly popular Abbie, refusing to call her father Dad in order to protect her heart. In a twist, Timothée Chalamet is neurodivergent Brian, who sees everything the others do not.

I have been told that it is nearly impossible to break into Hollywood, but I have been told my entire life who I was unable to be and what I was unable to do, and yet at 43, I came out, married my husband at 47, published my memoir at 55 and my first novel at 60. For me, this is when the fun begins. This is—finally, the way life should be.
Visit William Dameron's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 18, 2023

Jamie Lee Sogn's "Salthouse Place"

Jamie Lee Sogn is a Filipina American author of adult thriller novels. She grew up in Olympia, Washington, studied Anthropology and Psychology at the University of Washington and received her Juris Doctor from the University of Oregon School of Law.

She is a "recovering attorney" who writes contracts by day and (much more exciting) fiction by night. While she has lived in Los Angeles, New York City, and even Eugene, Oregon, she now lives in Seattle with her husband, son, and Boston Terrier.

Here Sogn dreamcasts an adaptation of her debut novel, Salthouse Place:
In my novel, Salthouse Place, Delia and her friends, Zee and Cara are two carefree teenagers. One summer day, the three best friends go to the lake…but only two come home.

Ten years later, Delia is still tormented by the mystery of what happened to fifteen-year-old Zee on the lake that day. When she receives an email from Cara, the remaining friend in the trio, she can’t resist the pull of the “life-changing” news in the message. Delia, hopeful for answers, travels home to see her old friend. But Cara is gone by the time she gets there, setting off another mystery. When Delia hears about the women’s empowerment group that Cara joined, she sets out for the group’s retreat property on the Oregon coast to find her and meets the enigmatic and mysterious Sage, the leader of the company, Artemis Wellness.

As I wrote the book, the only character I had already “cast” in my head was Sage and it was Rosamund Pike. I think she can have an intense look about her, but at the same time have an ability to be both warm and trusting. With a blunt blond bob and some yoga leggings and prayer beads, she is Sage come to life.

For Delia, I would love a biracial Filipina to play her, so I instantly think of Olivia Rodrigo. She might be a little young, but I think she could portray the sarcasm and distrust that Delia often exudes. Also, I just love her!

While we are “dreamcasting”, I might as well dream big and cast Zendaya as Zee, who’s disappearance kicks off the entire mystery. She’s an amazing actress and would do one of my favorite characters in the book more than justice.

For Cara, who is the third friend in the trio, I would cast Lili Reinhart. She is very much a girl-next-door type who could be both fragile and vulnerable, but biting and believable as a “frenemy” as well.

The main love interest for Delia is Tom, Cara’s brother. While writing him, I didn’t have an actor in mind, but I did have a photo of a random male model who I thought was a great image for what I thought Tom would look like. Now I think Jeremy Allen White would be a perfect choice-- he’s brooding and charismatic all at once.

Finally, Sage’s brother and co-founder of Artemis Wellness is Everett. He never actually appears in the novel, but in a movie, I think there would be some flashbacks and backstory with him and Sage. For Everett, I would cast Jeremy Strong. For no other reason than I am still getting over the Succession ending.
Visit Jamie Lee Sogn's website.

Q&A with Jamie Lee Sogn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Brian Carso's "Gideon's Revolution"

Brian Carso, a lawyer and historian, has studied the American Revolution and the life of Benedict Arnold for more than two decades.

Here Carso dreamcasts an adaptation of Gideon's Revolution, his first novel:
Gideon’s Revolution is based on true events, an actual secret mission launched by George Washington to capture Benedict Arnold following his treason at West Point in 1780. It would make a great movie, so here are my thoughts about actors to play the two central characters.

To play Gideon Wheatley, the story’s central character and narrator, I looked at the long list of actors who have played Hamlet on stage, because Wheatley has a problem not unlike the Prince of Denmark’s. Wheatley’s intelligence, courage, and empathy make him highly capable in life and in battle, but, when he sets out to capture Arnold—which would surely result in the traitor’s execution—these same virtues muddy the clarity he needs to accomplish his mission.

The first time Wheatley sees Arnold, the general is on horseback, courageously leading soldiers into battle at Saratoga. When both Wheatley and Arnold are wounded, Wheatley discovers the secrets of Arnold’s personal history that reveal the general’s vulnerability. Over several months, Wheatley becomes Arnold’s close confidante and friend.

It's because of this familiarity with Arnold that, three years later, Wheatley is chosen for the spy mission to capture the treasonous general. Indeed, Arnold will readily trust Wheatley and not recognize his ulterior motive. Gideon Wheatley despises Arnold the traitor, but he has known Arnold the hero, and the bond he once had with the general complicates his task.

With this in mind, having considered the actors who have played Hamlet, I’ve made my choice. I’ll cast a different Benedict—Cumberbatch, to be precise—to play Gideon Wheatley.

Who should be cast as Benedict Arnold? By no account did Arnold have movie-star looks; he has been described as “stoutly made, with a ruddy complexion.” I could envision Paul Giamatti in the role (who, incidentally, I once saw play Hamlet at the Yale Repertory Theatre), but I’m not entirely convinced. On the one hand, Arnold should look physically ordinary, but also have the ability to switch on a mad passion as he charges on horseback across a battlefield, and a smoldering anger at feeling cheated, such that he would abandon all principle to stick it to his detractors. Additionally, he must show an occasional vulnerability, for the moments we see into the tragedies of his early teenage years that most likely caused the defects of his character.

My pick? Despite his 2021 selection as People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive,” (which doesn’t work at all for Arnold) I’m ready to contact Paul Rudd’s agent. I’m casting against type, but I see something we can work with in his current portrayal of Ben Glenroy in the TV show, Only Murders in the Building. Makeup can handle the “ruddy complexion,” and padding in the costume can be “stoutly made.” Ant-Man as Arnold, anyone?

Postscript: my wife isn’t buying it. She says Leonardo DiCaprio should be cast as Arnold. Maybe she has a point. In any event, Liam Neeson as George Washington, all the way. And Daisy Ridley (Rey in the Star Wars sequels) as the young English woman, Louisa Baxter.
Visit Brian Carso's website.

Q&A with Brian Carso.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Deborah J Ledford's "Redemption"

Deborah J Ledford is the award-winning author of the Native American Eva “Lightning Dance” Duran Series, and the Smoky Mountain Inquest Series. Part Eastern Band Cherokee, she is an Agatha Award winner, The Hillerman Sky Award Finalist, and two-time Anthony Award Finalist for Best Audiobooks Crescendo and Causing Chaos. Ledford lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and an awesome Ausky.

Here Ledford dreamcasts an adaptation of Redemption, Book 1 of the Eva “Lightning Dance” Duran Native American series:
Native American themes are hot right now and there is a wealth of captivating talent who are finding exposure in film and other platforms they have long deserved.

Eva “Lightning Dance” Duran - Lily Gladstone. The movie I’m most looking forward to is Killers of the Flower Moon, also starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese. Ms. Gladstone’s other performances prove the prowess to convey the vulnerability and yet capability of the only Native female deputy for the Taos County sheriff’s department.

Kai “Single Star” Arrio - Jerry Wolf. Also appearing in Killers of the Flower Moon, this up and coming actor is one I look forward to watching his star rise.

Paloma “White Dove” Arrio - Julia Jones, best known for Wind River, Westworld, The Mandalorian and The Twilight Saga.

Cruz “Hawk Soars” Miraba - David Midthunder. As Eva’s love interest and tribal officer Midthunder holds the essence of the calm and qualified, necessary skills in maintaining harmony on the Taos Pueblo reservation.

More books are slated to continue the series, therefore a limited series would be ideal as well.
Visit Deborah J Ledford's website.

Q&A with Deborah J Ledford.

The Page 69 Test: Redemption.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Kathleen Rooney's "From Dust to Stardust"

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches in the English Department at DePaul University, and her recent books include the national best-seller Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (2017) and the novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey (2020). Where Are the Snows, her latest poetry collection, was chosen by Kazim Ali for the X.J. Kennedy Prize and published by Texas Review Press in Fall 2022.

Here Rooney dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, From Dust to Stardust:
What’s funny is that the real-life person (Colleen Moore) that the heroine (Doreen O’Dare) of my novel From Dust to Stardust is based on is herself the real-life inspiration of the oft remade Hollywood classic A Star Is Born.

During the silent era, Colleen was good friends with Hearst reporter and screenwriter Adela Rogers St. Johns who wrote the script for the 1932 pre-Code drama What Price Hollywood? directed by George Cukor and starring Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman. St. Johns based the story loosely on Colleen’s marriage to the alcoholic producer John McCormick who helped her become the star she always wanted to be but also made her life miserable through his addiction and erratic behavior.

St. Johns’ script inspired the original 1937 A Star Is Born starring Janet Gaynor, which has gone on to be remade three times, including in 1954 with Judy Garland, in 1976 with Barbra Streisand, and most recently in 2018 with Lady Gaga.

If From Dust to Stardust gets adapted into a movie, I’d cast Saoirse Ronan as Doreen O’Dare for her skill in period dramas and for her ability to convey so much intelligence in addition to whatever other emotions she’s communicating. And I’d cast Nicholas Hoult as Jack Flanagan for his combination of energy and charm mixed with a slight air of instability. My dream director would be Greta Gerwig.
Visit Kathleen Rooney's website.

The Page 99 Test: Live Nude Girl.

The Page 99 Test: For You, for You I Am Trilling These Songs.

My Book, The Movie: For You, for You I Am Trilling These Songs.

My Book, The Movie: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.

The Page 69 Test: Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

My Book, The Movie: Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

The Page 69 Test: Where Are the Snows.

The Page 69 Test: From Dust to Stardust.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Sung J. Woo's "Deep Roots"

Sung J. Woo’s short stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, PEN/Guernica, and Vox. He has written four novels, Deep Roots (2023), Skin Deep (2020), Love Love (2015), and Everything Asian (2009), which won the 2010 Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Literature Award. In 2022, his Modern Love essay from The New York Times was adapted by Amazon Studios for episodic television. A graduate of Cornell University with an MFA from New York University, he lives in Washington, New Jersey.

Here Woo dreamcasts an adaptation of Deep Roots:
Deep Roots is the second in the Siobhan O'Brien mysteries, and back in 2020, I wrote up My Book, The Movie for the first volume, Skin Deep. Since it would be very gauche to recast the lead, I once again implore Awkwafina to take on Siobhan. Since 2020, Nora Lum (her real name) has starred in seven full-length features and a TV show, Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens, which has already had three seasons, so there's no question my imaginary casting has had a very positive effect on her career. No need to thank me, Nora! The only other returning character I've previously fake cast is Seth Rogan for Craig, and even though his role is diminished in this outing, I'd love to continue to hear his instantly recognizable laughter.

Now there is another returning character, but because it was a small role, I hadn't bothered to hold a make-believe audition: Beaker. Here's a snippet of Beaker from Deep Roots, where he makes his initial entrance:
Except as soon as my phone touched the desk, somebody knocked on my door. Jesus Christ, it was going to be one of those days, wasn’t it?

“Come in,” I said.

After staring at the five-inch screen of my phone for more than an hour, if a little person had walked in, they would’ve seemed like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But the man that now stood in front of me was actually tall enough to be an NBA center, so it felt like I was craning my neck up at a skyscraper.
Now Beaker, Siobhan's soon-to-be-intern, is supposed to be a sophomore in college, but since we are in fantasy land, let's jump in a time machine and go back, say, fifteen years to when Nicholas Braun, none other than Cousin Greg from Succession, was a strapping twenty-year-old. I imagine he was already 6'7" then, so he'd be a perfect fit. His goofy energy absolutely channels Beaker.

Since this novel takes place in a mansion not unlike Downton Abbey's, I hope the owners of Highclere Castle would allow the cast and crew to come in and...okay, well, even my own pretending has its limits. I'm sure we can find a financially strapped castle somewhere who'd love to have us, since then after the movie they can give tours and such.

There are so many people in this novel that a genealogy/flowchart is included, but the main ones to address are:

Phillip Ahn, patriarch - Russell Wong is still too young and entirely too handsome, but he's now 60 and makeup can do its magic.

Ruth Ahn, first wife - Michelle Yeoh, of course. In Crazy Rich Asians, she played one hell of a hardass; in this one, she'd have to be an even harder ass, but there's nothing Michelle can't do.

Cassandra Ahn, second wife - one of the few non-Asian roles. Of Greek origin, let's get Tina Fey -- today I learned that she's Greek from her mom's side.

Lola Ahn, third wife - she's a terrible actress, so someone who's a great actress could only play her -- step right up, Ali Wong.

Eve Ahn, first daughter from Ahn's first marriage - Greta Lee's got the acerbic chops.

Lady Mary, second daughter from Ahn's first marriage - elegant and beautiful with a touch of haughty: Elodie Yung.

Duke, the son and heir from third marriage - Bowen Yang was born to play him.

Cameron, butler - I envisioned Mr. Carson from Downton, so why not have Jim Carter himself?

Thomas and William, footmen - I literally used the same names as the two footmen from Downton, so again, let's bring them in: Rob James-Collier and Thomas Howes.

Evie, granddaughter - as sharp, smart, and cutting as her grandfather: Lana Condor would kill, no question.

That's quite a cast. Hopefully they'll all be willing to work for scale...
Visit Sung J. Woo's website.

The Page 69 Test: Everything Asian.

My Book, The Movie: Skin Deep.

Q&A with Sung J. Woo.

The Page 69 Test: Skin Deep.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Ali Bryan's "The Crow Valley Karaoke Championships"

Ali Bryan is a writer based in Calgary, Alberta. Her first novel, Roost, won a Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction and was an official selection of One Book Nova Scotia. Her second novel, The Figgs, was released in 2018 and was a finalist for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. She won the 2020 Howard O’Hagan Award for Short Story. She is a Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Awards Emerging Artist recipient. Her debut YA novel, The Hill, was long-listed for the 2021 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize.

Here Bryan dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Crow Valley Karaoke Championships:
I'm a big fan of movies with ensemble casts, tight thematic cores and storylines that intersect, surprise and appease. Think Moonstruck, Little Miss Sunshine, The Royal Tenenbaums, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Barbie. Think The Crow Valley Karaoke Championships. The story takes place over the course of a single night, the hottest of the year, and the most important. The town is hosting a high stakes karaoke competition to commemorate the one year 'deathversary' of Crow Valley's local hero, Dale Jepson, who died after wildfires devastated the town. The prize? Big money and a chance to represent Crow Valley at the National Championships. But as the competition for vocal supremacy heats up, a prisoner (an arsonist and murderer no less) escapes from the local correctional facility and all of Crow Valley is thrown into chaos.

The story is told from five alternating POVs, each of whom share a connection to Dale. There's Roxanne, honorary karaoke judge, mid-life and Dale's widow. She works for the town and after a year, is still knee deep in grief. She carries his ashes around in a Thermos, talks to him through an empty Tic Tac container and wears a headlamp (the equivalent of leaving a porch light on) in case he comes back. She's unhinged, sarcastic and common. She's Melissa McCarthy.

There's Brett, Dale's best friend. They played ball together and volunteered for the local search & rescue. Brett was always second best and even with Dale gone, he still can't fill his late friend's shoes. Not even one of them. All he wants is to win karaoke. He's a self-deprecating, underachiever with a big-heart. Also, a cheater. Major Will Ferrell vibes, but he's actually Zach Galifianakis or Seth Rogen. Or Owen Wilson.

Next is Val. A prison guard (and former coworker of Dale). She's also Brett's wife. She's at work when the prisoner escapes and spends a good portion of the night trying to maintain her sobriety, which becomes increasingly difficult. Especially when she runs into the escaped convict on the outside. She's crude, tough but vulnerable with a big sense of humour and a broken heart. She's Rebel Wilson or Olivia Colman.

All Molly wants is to be seen as someone--anything--other than "someone's mom" which is a hard task given she's the mother of four boys and runs the town's daycare. Suffering long-term postpartum depression, she really needs a win. She also believes she's the reason Dale died. But boy, can she sing. Empathetic, sad, complex. She could be anyone: Hilary Swank, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, a diminutive Lady Gaga, an up-and-comer with chops making her debut.

Last is Marcel. A young prisoner with daddy issues and big dreams. Gen Z. Handsome, hard, complicated. Everyone I imagine him as, is too old. (Adrien Brody, Adam Driver). I'd love a wildcard here: Barry Keoghan, Pete Davidson or Justin Bieber.

Supporting: Colin Farrell as Gary (Molly's husband), Dan Levy as Silas (Judge #2), Ahmed Magdy as Kabir (karaoke singer) and Gil Birmingham as Norman Blanchard (prison guard).

As for directing, someone with a track record for quirky dark comedy, so it’s a Gen-X toss-up between Jason Reitman, Wes Anderson or Mike White. I’m a huge fan of Mike White. Mike White, are you there?
Visit Ali Bryan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Corinne Demas's "The Road Towards Home"

Corinne Demas is the author of 38 books including two collections of short stories, six novels, a memoir, a collection of poetry, two plays, and numerous books for children. She is a professor emeritus of English at Mount Holyoke College and a fiction editor of the Massachusetts Review.

She grew up in New York City, in Stuyvesant Town, the subject of her memoir, Eleven Stories High, Growing Up in Stuyvesant Town, 1948-1968. She attended Hunter College High School, graduated from Tufts University, and completed a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She lived in Pittsburgh for a number of years, teaching at the University of Pittsburgh and at Chatham College.

Here Demas dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Road Towards Home:
The Road Towards Home is a love story (of sorts) between a most unlikely pair of retirees. Noah and Cassandra rediscover each other at Clarion Court, a senior living community (they knew each other fifty years before in college) and end up sharing a rough cottage on Cape Cod and trying to figure out if they have a future together. There are really three main characters here—the third is the setting, and I would hope any director who turns my novel into a movie is someone who’d love the Outer Cape and understand how important sea, sand, and sky (not to mention oysters and American Woodcocks) are to the story.

My novel was published June 1, and since then I’ve been hearing from many readers who say they’re eagerly awaiting the film version and send on their suggestions for actors. Several have pointed out that because the novel relies heavily on dialogue writing a screenplay would be a piece of cake.

When Brilliance Publishing was selecting two actors for the audiobook of The Road Towards Home they asked if I wanted to have input in the casting. Of course I did! The actors in the audition tapes they first sent me didn’t quite capture my characters, so I listened to samples of audio books in search of two voices who sounded like my Noah and my Cassandra, and whose voices worked well together. I realized how hard it is to have an entire character created by voice alone. Cassandra is seventy two, but she’s youthful and lively, as well as sharp and funny. Noah is a bit pedantic, but he’s witty and wry, and actually much kinder than he would like you to think he is. Voice actors David De Vries for Noah and Erin Bennett for Cassandra proved to be the perfect pairing!

Casting an actor when it’s not their voice alone is a different matter. Noah and Cassandra are turned on by each other physically (imagine waiting half a century for a first kiss!) as well as intellectually, and the film version of The Road Towards Home requires actors who can do septuagenarian sexy. They can be younger, in reality, of course, since in film as well as in life (alas) it's easier to age someone than rejuvenate them.

I would love to cast Colin Firth for Noah. I’ve long been enamored by his Mr. Darcy in the film version of Pride and Prejudice, and I’ve admired his range since then, especially in The King’s Speech. He’s known for his British accent, but he can certainly pull off an American accent to portray an erudite retired English professor like Noah.

Helen Hunt was quirky, ironic Jamie Buchman in the television series Mad About You where she was great at the fast, humorous dialogue with co-star Paul Reiser. She’s demonstrated a broad range of other characters since then. I think she’d be just right for conveying Cassandra’s spontaneity.

My first choice for director would be Eric Rohmer, who so beautifully explored the complexities of desire, but, sadly, he’s no longer available. Three great, living directors I’d choose: Greta Gerwig (she might need a reprieve from Barbie), Sarah Polley (who was a terrific Ramona when she was young), and Kelly Fremon Craig, who not only did a admirable job being true to the book Are You There God It’s Me, Margaret? but also gave author Judy Blume a walk-on part. I’d hope for that!
Visit Corinne Demas's website.

Q&A with Corinne Demas.

The Page 69 Test: The Road Towards Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 18, 2023

Sara Flannery Murphy's "The Wonder State"

Sara Flannery Murphy is the author of the novels The Possessions and Girl One. She grew up in Arkansas, studied library science in British Columbia, and received her MFA in creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis. She lives in Utah with her husband and their two sons.

Here Murphy dreamcasts an adaptation of her newest novel, The Wonder State:
I’m biased, but I think The Wonder State could make a riveting movie. The story is familiar – friends drawn back to a hometown they swore they’d leave behind. And setting a movie in the Arkansas Ozarks seems like an overlooked opportunity. The natural landscape there is dramatic and gorgeous, a character in and of itself.

If I could choose my dream director and screenwriter, I’d go with Brit Marling and Zat Batmanglij, the brains behind The OA. The OA has a dreamlike quality that I absolutely love, and Batmanglij and Marling would capture the nostalgic, magical feeling of The Wonder State while also weaving in its strangeness and darkness. The second season of The OA even features a mysterious house with a complex backstory, so I know they could handle The Wonder State’s many houses.

Casting actors to play my characters is tricky since I picture them so distinctly inside my head. It almost feels like casting a movie based on people I actually know, like finding an actor who best represents my mother or my close friend … something’s always lost in translation. The Wonder State presents an additional challenge because it’s a dual timeline story, requiring both teen and adult actors. I’m a massive Yellowjackets fan, so I know how well this can work when it’s done right, but I struggled to find actors who:

1. Captured the spirit of the characters as both teens and adults

2. Looked reasonably alike

I came away with a renewed respect for the casting director of Yellowjackets. The friends’ group in my novel has six people, but I focused on the two who form the core of the story. Jay, the protagonist, and Brandi, her best friend who’s left behind in their hometown (and then calls Jay and the others back home).

I decided that a young Jay could be played by Maude Apatow, who’s good at portraying a reflective, quieter teen who finds herself on the fringes of things, but who can also step into the spotlight. And when Jay returns home after years away, I can see Rachel Brosnahan playing the more cynical, uncertain version. I’m used to Brosnahan in a more comedic role, but I know she could give Jay the gravity and bittersweetness that defines her as an adult grappling with her past. (In reality, there are only eight years between Apatow and Brosnahan, but hopefully I can take some artistic license.)

A young Brandi could be played by Sophia Lillis, who has a gentleness and sense of wonder that could work perfectly for Brandi. As a teen, Brandi has trouble asserting herself, and tends to be dismissed, but she’s a lot more perceptive than the other characters give her credit for. Although the older Brandi isn’t onscreen as much, she needs to shine. That’s why I think an older Brandi could be played by Elizabeth Olsen. I first saw Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene, and she brings a depth and complexity to traumatized characters.
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