Saturday, March 31, 2007

Andrew Blechman's "Pigeons"

The movies use pigeons all the time, yet never in a starring role.

Andrew D. Blechman recently published a well-received book about the birds, Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird.

Here's what he reported when I asked for his input should Hollywood decide to make a movie out of his book:
My book delves into humankind's obsession with a gentle little bird that only wants to be our friend. These birds somehow act as a magnified human foil, bringing out the very best in us, and the very worst. What better vehicle for a movie than a bird that elicits tremendous adoration and hatred and attracts bizarre individuals and subcultures to it like bees to honey.

I picture the movie being split into several interlaced stories connecting these colorful figures in amusing ways. Here are a sampling: an obsessive pigeon racer whose birds live above his bed and who runs around his yard with a whistle training his birds like a soccer coach; a Walter Mitty-like "secret agent" who patrols New York City's street in search of pigeon poachers and other pigeon abusers; a rural loner who sleeps wrapped tinfoil because he can't afford heat and who dedicates his meager resources to breeding pigeons for national beauty contests (yup!); Mike Tyson (need I say more); the Queen of England ('nuff said as well); and angry white men who take great pleasure in slaughter thousands of pigeons in a morning for target practice. Oh, did I mention the Don Quixote of humane pigeon control who lives in downtown Phoenix with dozens of uncaged pigeons inside his house?

Tying all these partially unhinged characters together is a bird with an unparalleled history and Olympic athletic abilities. But for the movie, I think I'd magnify the human characters and downplay the pigeon -- unless of course Benjy is an adapt "character" actor (I suspect playing a non-canine role might be a bit of a stretch, and Flipper, I'm told, frowns upon avian roles). Which human actors would play the other roles? Why the very best, of course. But the real magic would be in the directing. My choices are P.T. Anderson or Quentin Tarantino, because tying together multiple stories with a curious and edgy thread comes naturally to them. Such a movie would be a fascinating study of human nature, as well as unusually entertaining and heck, even informative.
Visit Andrew Blechman's website and read an excerpt from Pigeons.

The Page 69 Test: Pigeons.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Jason Sokol's "There Goes My Everything"

Jason Sokol's first book, There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, was released by Alfred A. Knopf in August 2006.

He and the playwright-performer Nina Louise Morrison teamed up to develop some casting ideas for a feature film adaptation of his book:
A work of history and scholarship, There Goes My Everything contains within it manifold tales – stories of families, cities, and individuals who experienced massive upheaval in their daily lives. The movie version focuses on one of the many dramatic narratives that the book reveals.

We set our movie in New Orleans, and revolve around the lives of those families impacted by school desegregation. In November, 1960, the Big Easy became the first locale in the Deep South to integrate its schools. This saga unfolded in the now-infamous Ninth Ward.

As thousands of white families boycotted the newly integrated schools, a few parents continued to send their children to William Frantz Elementary and McDonogh School No. 19. One such mother was Margaret Conner. While Susan Sarandon seems a popular choice, we think the role of Margaret Conner would be an ideal fit for her. Initially, Conner marched her young children to Frantz School simply because she thought it was more convenient than keeping them at home. But when the segregationist mobs caught wind of Conner’s actions, their reprisals were severe.

These mobs of jeering mothers became known as the Cheerleaders, and Rosie O’Donnell (with a southern accent) would lead the screen version of this group. In time, Conner became so disgusted by their tactics that she grew even more determined to take her children to school. In the beginning, Conner harbored racial prejudices that could only be seen as traditional for white southerners. But through the New Orleans School Crisis, those prejudices began to recede.

Time transformed Conner’s initial reflex of convenience into a profound statement about civil rights. With a courageous stand, Conner had her say about that world in which she would raise her children. She looked at a world of milling mobs, vicious epithets, harsh conformity, and abandoned schools – and thought it wrong. In ways both dramatic and subtle, the New Orleans school crisis changed Margaret Conner; in turn, Conner helped to reshape New Orleans. One mother who opposed desegregation could – with the everyday act of continuing to bring her children to school – become integration’s most visible proponent. Unforeseeable at first, the change was in the end undeniable.

This story features quite a few other major players: the young moderate mayor, Chep Morrison (played by Tim Robbins), who was torn by the school crisis; Ruby Bridges, the African-American girl who bravely integrated Frantz School, and whose father, Abon Bridges (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), lost his job because of it; fiery segregationists like Leander Perez (John Goodman); national civil rights leaders who fought for school integration (Morgan Freeman); and other white parents who brought their children to school, with less success than the Conners -- people like Rev. Lloyd Foreman (Sean Penn) and Daisy Gabrielle (Mary Louise-Parker).

In the end, this movie would also show how the Ninth Ward came to be the ravaged neighborhood that the world now knows. After school integration, whites quickly fled the Lower Ninth Ward for more exclusive urban enclaves and suburban shelters. This process left the neighborhood disproportionately poor and black, and the fierce waters of Hurricane Katrina completed the transformation.
Jason Sokol is Visiting Assistant Professor of History and Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University.

Nina Louise Morrison is a playwright, performer, and teacher. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University’s School of the Arts.

Visit Sokol's website and read an excerpt from There Goes My Everything.

The Page 69 Test: There Goes My Everything.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 26, 2007

Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "The Retrieval Artist"

Kristine Kathryn Rusch is an award-winning mystery, romance, science fiction, and fantasy writer. She is the only person in the history of the science fiction field to have won a Hugo award for editing and a Hugo award for fiction.

Here she develops some casting ideas for a television series adaptation of her "The Retrieval Artist" series of novels:
I have written a lot of novels, most of which I can see as movies. But only one can I see as a television show.

I’m writing a series of novels called “The Retrieval Artist.” They’re science fiction and mystery. In each book, I try to use a different mystery format — some are police procedurals, some are hard-boiled, some are thrillers. They originated in a short story called, “The Retrieval Artist,” which was nominated for a Hugo. There are five, currently, with the six, The Recovery Man, appearing in September.

I’d love to see this on the SciFi Channel, like the Dresden Files or Battlestar Galactica. Miles Flint is a fallen angel. He’s very pretty, but he has had a hard life and it shows in the planes of his face. Since I’m told I can cast any actor from any time period, let me indulge:

For Miles Flint, I’d like someone like Robert Redford from the Electric Horseman period. Or Brad Pitt from Babel — a beautiful blond guy who has lived enough to taint that beauty.

Noelle DiRicci, his sometimes partner, is a lot more difficult to cast. She’s not pretty, but she’s smart and tough. She’s disillusioned, but she’s starting to realize that she can have power. We need a powerful woman here, but one a little older and a lot more jaded. I’m thinking Marsha Gay Harden.

Then there are the minor characters. Paloma, who has her moments of importance, seems like a wise woman early on. Cicely Tyson would be great.

And Halle Berry is Ki Bowles, the reporter no one likes and yet plays such an important part in the books.

Yes, I know — these are not Sci Fi actors. But let’s talk like a casting director: Let’s cast folks who suggest those actors. A SciFi series ... weekly ... ah, the stuff of dreams.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch has written many novels under various names, including Kristine Grayson for romance, and Kris Nelscott for mystery. Her novels have made the bestseller lists and have been published in 14 countries and 13 different languages.

Her awards range from the Ellery Queen Readers Choice Award to the John W. Campbell Award. She is the only person in the history of the science fiction field to have won a Hugo award for editing and a Hugo award for fiction. Her short work has been reprinted in six Year's Best collections.

In 2001, her story, "Millennium Babies," won the coveted Hugo Award. That year, she also received the Herodotus Award for Best Historical Mystery Novel (for her Kris Nelscott Series) and the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award for Best Paranormal Romance (for her novel Utterly Charming, written as Kristine Grayson). In 1999, her story, "Echea," (available at Fictionwise) was nominated for the Locus, Nebula, Hugo, and Sturgeon awards. It won the Homer Award and the Asimov's Reader's Choice Award. In 1999, she also won the Ellery Queen Reader's Choice Award and the Science Fiction Age Reader's Choice Award, making her the first writer to win three different reader's choice awards for three different stories in two different genres in the same year.

Visit Kristine Kathryn Rusch's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ed Lynskey's "The Blue Cheer"

Ed Lynskey is a crime fiction writer and poet living near Washington, D.C. Here he shares his ideas about casting the main roles in a hypothetical film adaptation of his new novel, The Blue Cheer: A PI Frank Johnson Mystery:
If Tinsel Town ever has the impeccable taste (ha!) to make my latest novel, The Blue Cheer, into a film, I could see Mark Wahlberg playing the lead role of Private Investigator Frank Johnson. Mr. Wahlberg, born in 1971 and now 36, falls in about the same age range. They both have the same wiry build. Plus Mr. Wahlberg snaring the Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 2006's The Departed (enjoyed seeing at the theater) can't hurt.

Since my PI books are written in first-person, I haven't devoted a lot of thought or included too much written description on Frank's physical appearance. Given all the jams he winds up in, and the rigors needed to extract himself, I'd say he's fairly young and athletic. If not, perhaps the director would hire a stunt double to film the action sequences.

On the other hand, Frank is something of a pulp novel buff. If using that as a guideline and dipping back in time, I'd tap Ralph Meeker (Kiss Me Deadly) or even further back, Dana Andrews (Laura). The only trouble is these three actors would need to speak with a Southern accent, but then that's why they're actors (and I'm not).

Frank's pal and sometimes employer, billionaire-lawyer Robert Gatlin is depicted as a husky man who relishes being in the public eye. Gatlin's brusque mannerisms and quick wits might translate well to a younger Fred Thompson (Law & Order). Besides an actor, Mr. Thompson is also a lawyer. His pivotal question from the Watergate hearings -- “Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the President?" -- rings like a Gatlin courtroom line. However, Mr. Thompson's latest political aspirations might tie him up for four years (or maybe more).

Frank's other friend, bail-bond enforcer (i.e., bounty hunter) Gerald Peyton, is a tougher call to make. Gerald, an African-American, is large, brawny, and a little rough around the edges. Perhaps Michael Clarke Duncan (The Green Mile), another Oscar best supporting actor nominee and an ex-bouncer/bodyguard, would be casted for the role. If we could stretch this casting across time, I'd argue for football running back/actor Jim Brown (circa 1967's The Dirty Dozen) to play the Gerald character.

Of course no PI movie can be complete without a romance interest for our detective-hero. I'd think the casting director would search for an intelligent, attractive, and tough-minded actress. Kelly McGillis (Witness, The Accused) comes to mind.

Putting together these disparate parts to make an ensemble cast is a like playing Fantasy Football. You'd want them to mix just so and develop the beautiful chemistry to deliver a classic performance. You know, a cult flick that sticks in the mind of viewers, luring them back to watch repeatedly. That, to me, is the best sort of movie to make of my PI book, The Blue Cheer.
Ed Lynskey first mystery featuring his PI Frank Johnson, The Dirt-Brown Derby, was released last year. The Blue Cheer will be followed by two sequels, Pelham Fell Here (Mundania Press, 2007) and Troglodytes (Mundania Press, 2008). His work has been anthologized by St. Martin's Press and University of Virginia Press. His short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and his poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly. His reviews have appeared in the New York Times Book Review and the Washington Post.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Chris Grabenstein's "Slay Ride"

Chris Grabenstein has written screenplays, made-for-TV movies, and Muppet scripts. He is the author of the "John Ceepak" mystery series, and the "Christopher Miller" Holiday Thrillers, which started with Slay Ride.

Here he shares his ideas about casting the main roles in film adaptations of some his novels, beginning with Slay Ride:
So, who would play Christopher Miller, the intrepid, stalwart FBI agent everybody calls Saint Chris?


Laurence Fishburne.

While writing the novel, I had a photo of Fishburne pinned to the wall over my computer. I think he’s the right age, look, and feel for the part. My character Miller is a 50-ish African American and part of the “theme” of Slay Ride (if fast-paced page-flippers are allowed to have those) is about middle age and the common assumption that ones best days are behind when you hit 50.

Well, Christopher Miller doesn’t get a chance to call it quits, relax on the sidelines and let others save the day. The day still needs him and he has a lot to offer.

Laurence Fishburne can handle the action stuff (All the Matrix movies, Mission Impossible III, Assault on Precinct 13, etc.) but it’s his work in movies such as Akeelah and the Bee, Mystic River, What’s Love Got To Do With It, and Boyz In The Hood that show off his incredibly deep acting chops. He would make an incredible, unforgettable Saint Chris.

So who would play his nemesis, the mad Russian limo driver Nicolai Kyznetsoff? Robert De Niro in a whole new take on his taxi driver role.

As a writer, the harder question for me comes when people at book signings ask me “Who do you see playing John Ceepak,” the lead character in my Anthony Award-winning murder mystery series set down the Jersey Shore (Tilt A Whirl, Mad Mouse, Whack A Mole). Ceepak is a 6’2” tower of power who will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do. He also has a dark past that still haunts him. There is a hint of sadness behind his eyes.

So, not just any hunk will do!

I never had a picture pinned to the wall when writing Ceepak. I just imagined the physical characteristics of my nephew, the ex-Marine and the integrity of some MPs and FDNY guys I’ve met.

So, when asked about Ceepak and the movies, I always answer “a young Harrison Ford.” But then I realize – there are no young Harrison Fords in the movies these days. That quiet, strong man, a stock character stretching back all the way to Gary Cooper, seems to be missing from the multiplex these days.

Gary Cooper! Yes, he could play Ceepak. He’d just have to hit the gym and bulk up a little.

There is a song titled “The Americans” on the new John Mellencamp album Freedom’s Road that sums up Ceepak best: “I like my heroes to be honest and strong.”

So who plays THAT in the movies?
Visit Chris Grabenstein's official website to learn more about his books and the forthcoming releases, Whack A Mole and the second Christopher Miller thriller.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 19, 2007

Brian Freeman's "Stripped"

Brian Freeman is the author of psychological suspense novels featuring detectives Jonathan Stride and Serena Dial. His debut thriller, Immoral, won the Macavity Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the Edgar, Dagger, Anthony, and Barry Awards. The widely-praised Stripped followed in October 2006.

Here he shares his (and his readers') ideas about casting the main roles in film adaptations of his novels:
I hear from readers every week who wonder when they’ll be able to see the movies of Immoral and Stripped. I tell them my agent is still working on it – but they don’t call Los Angeles “la la land” for nothing!

Who should play the lead role of Jonathan Stride? Not many readers have dared to offer suggestions on that one. I didn’t have anyone specific in mind when I wrote the book, but I think that Russell Crowe could pull it off (minus the Australian accent). He’s got the right blend of toughness and sympathy. You know he’s a guy’s guy, but there’s also a lot of emotion bubbling beneath the surface. That’s Stride, too.

The more interesting question is, who should play Stride’s love interest, Serena? Many readers (most of them male) have chimed in with suggestions there. Catherine Zeta-Jones comes up a lot. (No complaints from me.) Same with Sara Ramirez from Grey’s Anatomy. (I don’t really see it.) My wife meanwhile leans toward Angie Harmon, formerly of Law & Order. (Again, no complaints.)

If you’ve got suggestions, go ahead and send them to me via my web site at

Readers also ask if I’m concerned that a movie version will “destroy” the book – a common complaint from those who have barely recognized some of their favorite books when they finally made it to the screen.

That doesn’t really bother me, though. My feeling is: The book and the movie are two different works of art in different media. My book may have been the original inspiration, but by the time the movie is finished, a lot of other creative people have had their hands on the product. You shouldn’t expect the two to be the same.

Me, I’m just interested in seeing how it comes out. And buying popcorn.
Visit Brian Freeman's official website and his blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 16, 2007

Kenneth Gross's "Shylock is Shakespeare"

Kenneth Gross, Professor of English at the University of Rochester, is the author of, most recently, Shylock Is Shakespeare.

Here he imagines who would best capture the central role in The Merchant of Venice:
Who would play Shylock?

The actors I’ve seen playing Shylock -- variously stoic, angry, seductive, sorrowful, playful, self-righteous, wearied, fearful -- wanted to keep audiences in view of a human Shylock. They showed us a Shylock who even in his rage or blind love of money is vulnerable, and who in turn makes us vulnerable. (David Suchet’s and Laurence Olivier’s were the best among these). One aim was to avoid either over-sentimentalizing Shylock as pathetic victim or producing something bluntly antisemitic. It’s understandable, but there was something guarded about all of the performances. None attempted a Shylock either as scary or as wild as the play suggests is possible -- especially in the trial scene, where Shylock embraces his own reduction, makes a dangerous mask of his own monstrosity in the eyes of the Christians, and uses this to stun them, question them, to turn their prejudiced visions back against them. Here’s what I said about this in my book:

“I have never seen an actor capable of bearing fully the bitter humor of the part, ready to show himself at once wounded and elated by Shylock’s rage, lifted up by his grotesque histrionics. For myself, I think that the greatest Shylock of the twentieth century would have been Zero Mostel. In part I am recalling Mostel’s performance in the 1974 film version of Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, when he changes from a boisterous, officious, aggressively courtly friend of the hero into a snorting, raging animal, taken over by an impulse that seems at once uncontrollable and curiously pleasurable, like a sneeze, something caught from the invisible infection of other human rhinoceroses popping up in the world of the play. But mostly I’m imagining a Shylock who would be a more ferocious version of Mostel’s Max Bialystock in Mel Brooks’s 1968 film The Producers, huge, louche, abject, mocking, contemptuous, restless, insinuating, shameless, and seductive. Bialystock is a man who swindles poor old ladies out of their life savings in order to fund an antisemitic farce that he knows will be a crashing failure, but that will thereby gain him an incalculable profit. He is a clown who succeeds ruinously, against his very will to fail, when the musical he produces, ‘Springtime for Hitler,’ turns out to be a huge comic success — driven as it is, we come to see, by a generous anger against Nazi violence that the greedy, servile producer can barely acknowledge even to himself. Mostel would have invented for us a Shylock who ate his own and others’ rage for breakfast. What you want, if only for a moment, is Shylock the maddened clown, one who gapes back at the gaping pig, who listens to that shrieking bagpipe and finds himself standing, shamelessly, with relish and knowledge, in his piss-soaked pantaloons and gabardine.” (Shylock is Shakespeare, 81-82.)

That’s extreme, but Merchant is a play that demands extremity as well as subtlety. That would go for directors as well. I think that Peter Brook (who has refused to direct the play) or the great Italian theater director Giorgio Strehler would have discovered amazing things. Among film directors, consider Orson Welles (who made a handful of great Shakespeare films) or Ingmar Bergman (who is himself Shakespearean in scope). The main thing is to find artists who approach the play with more wonder and less fear.
Gross offers more reflections on Shylock's character in passages he wrote about the Page 69 Test applied to Shylock Is Shakespeare.

Read an excerpt from Shylock is Shakespeare.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Jeremy Blachman's "Anonymous Lawyer"

Jeremy Blachman is the author of Anonymous Lawyer, a novel which he has described as:
about a partner at a top-notch corporate law firm, from the outside living the perfect life, but on the inside a frustrated soul. He's fighting for the chairman's job (up against colleagues like The Jerk, The Tax Guy, and The Woman Who Missed Her Kid's Funeral) but in reality he's feeling trapped in a life he's not sure he ever wanted to lead, and taking it out on the people around him ... and all the while writing a secret weblog to vent his frustrations ... which becomes less and less of a secret as the people he's writing about start to discover it.
Here he shares his (and his associates') ideas about casting his protagonist in a film version of the novel:
A whole bunch of people have told me they see Anonymous Lawyer as Ari Gold, the Jeremy Piven character in Entourage. Alternatively, Alec Baldwin as network president Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock. And, more than a few people have mentioned Steven Weber as the network executive in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. They're all pretty much the same type. Bosses. Screamers. They throw things. And Anonymous Lawyer does too. And they're probably all fair comparisons, and of course I'd be thrilled if any of them were to play Anonymous Lawyer in a hypothetical movie version. But there's a part of me -- and maybe it's just an author's natural sympathy for his characters -- that thinks Anonymous Lawyer is a little underestimated when people make these comparisons. I'd like to think he's more tortured than these guys. With more of a conscience, even if he doesn't always act on it. Rob Lowe has sometimes been the image in my head, although he's probably a little too handsome for the part. But he has a way of radiating an intelligence that I'm not sure I necessarily see in Ari Gold. Jeremy Piven, Alec Baldwin, Steven Weber -- perhaps they're The Jerk, Anonymous Lawyer's rival in the book, a guy who'll stop at anything. Anonymous Lawyer will probably stop at anything too. But at least he'll feel a little bit guilty about it.
Read "Anonymous Lawyer: From Blog To Book" and visit Anonymous Lawyer.

Where else would the Anonymous Lawyer work but at the Anonymous Law Firm LLP?

Visit Jeremy Blachman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 12, 2007

Paul Di Filippo's "Spondulix"

Paul Di Filippo is the author of hundreds of short stories as well as a number of novellas and novels, including Ciphers, Joe's Liver, Fuzzy Dice, A Mouthful of Tongues, and Spondulix.

He has been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, BSFA, Philip K. Dick, Wired Magazine, and World Fantasy awards.

Here he shares his ideas about the cast of a film version of one of the novels:
Some years ago, I wrote a novella titled "Spondulix." Not hardcore SF, it nonetheless belonged in that genre, I felt, as a kind of "economic science fiction." It concerned a group of slackers in contemporary times who, by inventing an alternate currency, took over their regional economy. The novella appeared in a SF magazine, and was later shortlisted for a Nebula Award from the SF Writers of America. Inspired by its reception, I expanded it into a full-length novel.

The main character is one Rory Honeyman, a middle-aged ex-Olympian diving champ, and I've always had Jeff Bridges in mind to play him, somewhat in full Big Lebowski mode, although Rory is more stable and cautious.

Rory's antagonist is Earl Erlkonig, an albino African-American. Hmmm, I guess we'll let makeup deal with the albinoism and cast for the wise-talking shifty nature of the character: can I get Spike Lee in front of the camera again, in Mars Blackmon style?

Earl's girlfriend is a mysterious Asian woman: why not Sandra Oh?

And Rory's girlfriend is supposed to be sweet and somewhat naive, although she proves to be a government agent working undercover. I'm thinking Susan Sarandon.

Let the filming begin!
Visit Paul Di Filippo's official website and his blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Jeff Biggers' "The United States of Appalachia"

Jeff Biggers is the author of In the Sierra Madre, The United States of Appalachia, and other works including stories and radio programs.

Here he shares his ideas for casting the movie version of The United States of Appalachia, just released in paperback:
We're talking a sweeping epic here, spanning 250 years. A lot of popcorn. But, we're talking a local production; the movie for my book, The United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture and Enlightenment, would feature some great Appalachian actors, some of the most dramatic moments in American history, and enough scenery to make you wonder why you live elsewhere:

Imagine Johnny Depp, that great American original from eastern Kentucky, rousing a community of backwoods folks that had already defied the British since 1772 and elected their own independent judges and council -- he leads the charge at the Battle of Kings Mountain on the South/North Carolina border in 1780, where the Overmountain Men turned the tide of the American Revolution and stopped the British advance. A generation later, Depp would re-emerge as Elihu Embree, the fiery Appalachian abolitionist who published the first abolitionist newspaper in the United States, decades before William Lloyd Garrison's liberator; a century later, he would play the role of a labor organizer in the coal mines at the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest armed insurrection since the Civil War.

West Virginian Jennifer Garner would play Anne Royall, the "virago errant" from the mountains that took Washington DC by storm in the 1830s as the first female muckraker and editor/publisher of a newspaper that took on the religious fanatics and corrupt officials. She would emerge thirty years later as the young Rebecca Harding Davis, courted by the Bostonian elite in the 1860s for her groundbreaking social realism fiction on Appalachia that gave birth to literary naturalism in America.

Appalachians Andie MacDowell and Ashley Judd would join together as cotton mill girls in eastern Tennessee in 1929, leading a jazz-age walkout and strike by fashionable and sophisticated mountain girls, speeding down the back roads in their Model T to spread the news -- this takes place long before Daisy hops in that rig in the Great Gatsby. These actresses would emerge years later as authors Pearl S. Buck and Willa Cather, chatting about their Appalachian origins and influences, and those of Cormac McCarthy, Edward Abbey, Dorothy Allison, Thomas Wolfe, James Agee and Nikki Giovanni.

But we'd have to call on recent Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson, of course, to play two key roles of Appalachian singers who made jazz and blues part of the American experience: Bessie Smith and Nina Simone.

And the role of Sequoyah, the great Cherokee inventor, goes to Wes Studi; Dwight Yoakam would have to play himself, as well as A.P. Carter of the Carter Family; Denzel Washington would play Martin Delany, the 19th century abolitionist and writer. Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton would make an appearance, as would a thousand other musicians. The rest of the roles: auto leader Walter Reuther, Black History Month founder Carter Woodson, blues father WC Handy, civil rights godfather Myles Horton, abolitionist John Rankin, and legendary New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs ... well, Kevin Kline would be fine as Ochs, walking down 42nd Street, reminding viewers that "All the News That's Fit to Print" comes from the Southern Mountains -- that the first Times Building is in Chattanooga.

West Virginian Morgan Spurlock would direct.
Jeff Biggers has worked as a writer, educator, radio correspondent, and community organizer across the United States, Europe, India and Mexico. His award-winning stories have appeared on NPR, PRI, and in scores of travel, literary and music magazines, and national and foreign newspapers. He has been a commentator on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and for Pacific News Service national syndication. Visit his official website to learn more about Biggers and his work.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Kage Baker's "The Anvil of the World"

Kage Baker is the author of many science fiction and fantasy novels and stories.

Here she develops some casting ideas for the film version of her 2003 fantasy novel, The Anvil of the World:
I wrote The Anvil of the World as a reaction against the heavy-handed serious fantasy of imitators of Tolkien. I thought it might be interesting to feature a principal hero who is a middle-aged nobody rather than an adolescent prince-disguised-as-farmboy or an adolescent girl-who-wants-to-be-a-warrior. The book is something of a triptych, following a varied cast of characters through three adventures: on a caravan across a sparsely-settled continent, in a hotel in a great city where a murder takes place at festival time, and up a river to rescue a damsel in distress as the country hovers on the brink of war.

Smith, the fairly heroic middle-aged nobody who turns out to be pretty good at killing people, I always saw as Robbie Coltrane; though if the director (Terry Gilliam, please) were going for a less comedic angle, Russell Crowe would be a good choice. John Goodman would also work.

Lord Ermenwyr, the decadent half-demon princeling, could be played perfectly by Jason Isaacs in the makeup he wore to play Captain Hook, though he'd need to shed twenty years somehow. But he has the eyes for the character, and the ability to play a comedic role. His demoness Nursie? Angelica Huston, I think, with a deadly elegance and wit. His sorceress sister, The Ruby Incomparable, the damsel in distress in question?.... Catherine Zeta-Jones, no question. Beautiful, and statuesque enough with some CGI assistance.

We'd have to reach back in time to cast the cook Mrs. Smith: either Marie Dressler or Jennifer Patterson (of Two Fat Ladies fame). Both possessed a gravitas and wit that would work. Possibly an older Elsa Lanchester too.... All of them had that quality of a lady-with-an-unexpectedly-interesting-past.

A very young Elsa Lanchester could also have played the brainless ingenue, little Burnbright, and of modern actresses ... Emma Thompson, at age 13. Both actresses could handle the character's transition from street urchin to desperately romantic adolescent, and made it funny. The young doctor Willowspear, the object of her affections, might be played by Orlando Bloom, who is surprisingly good when being comedic and moreover has the earnestness necessary.

Lord Ermenwyr's mother, the Saint of the World, could be played by any older actress with breathtaking beauty but a certain steely quality. Cate Blanchett, years from now? Glenn Close or Sian Phillips, equally. And for her demon-lord husband, the Master of the Mountain, AKA Mr. Silverpoint, AKA Daddy ... nobody but Sean Connery.

In a world where a demon-lord can order cocktails and a live sheep delivered to his hotel room, or make an impulse purchase of a steam-powered "slaveless galley", or fight a wizardly battle in the equivalent of a tuxedo ... it seems like a good idea to work with actors who can do more than swing a sword.
Read more about Kage Baker's work, including "The Empress of Mars" (novella, 2003), which won a Sturgeon Award and was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Barbara J. King's "Evolving God"

Barbara J. King, Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary, shares some ideas about the casting for a possible movie version of her most recent book, Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion:
Were I feeling starstruck, Kanzi [now living at the Great Ape Trust in Iowa] would be the obvious choice for the ape chapter’s lead actor. Here’s a bonobo with class, style, and linguistic skills. In his life with other apes and with humans, Kanzi has shown empathy and imagination in specific ways documented by scientists. These are key behaviors related to belongingness, the emotional mattering to others at the heart of my book Evolving God. Belongingness has deep evolutionary roots — and helps to explain, I believe, the origins of religious behavior in humans.

I think I’d cast, right alongside Kanzi the celebrity, a more “typical” ape or ape family. A theme of the book is that chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas express belongingness in fascinating ways under many conditions (both in captivity and the wild). What camera wouldn’t love the gorillas my students and I have studied for six years at the National Zoo in Washington DC, or the chimpanzees of a community studied by primatologists in Tanzania or the Ivory Coast?

For the human-evolution chapters, the same principle would be at work. Our australopithecine ancestors and our cousins the Neandertals would be portrayed not just as dramatic bipedal striders (in the former case) or spear-wielding cave-bear hunters (in the latter), but also as proto-people who felt deep attachments to their family members and social partners. Over time, as in a dynamic feedback relationship their child-rearing, nurturing tendencies became more complex and their brains expanded and changed, these prehistoric hominids began to wonder about life’s mysteries (and death’s mysteries too). The circle of belongingness gradually expanded. In Neandertals and early Homo sapiens, it almost certainly included the otherworldly and the sacred, expressed through incipient spiritual practices such as burial rituals and (in our species) art ceremonies.

Photogenic, empathetic apes … artistic prehistoric cavedwellers … take note, PBS documentary-makers, ‘Evolving God the Movie’ could become a reality after all!
Kanzi "is regarded as the first ape to demonstrate real comprehension of spoken speech." Learn more about him and his interests, and judge for yourself if he has a lead actor's looks and bearing.

Read more about Barbara J. King's Evolving God at the Page 69 Test site.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Bill Crider's "Murder Among the OWLS"

Bill Crider is the author of fourteen Sheriff Dan Rhodes novels -- Murder Among the OWLS is the most recent -- and that's only a slice of his literary output.

Here he shares his thoughts about who would be great for the role of Dan in the film version of the novels:
When the first Sheriff Dan Rhodes novel, Too Late to Die, was published in 1986, I was sure it would be snapped up for the movies any day. Which shows how little I knew about Hollywood and options and my chance of ever having a movie made of one of my books. At any rate, almost as soon as the book was accepted, I decided that I wanted James Garner to play Rhodes. I thought he’d be perfect, with his laid-back ways and his ironic grin.

As the years passed and Hollywood remained oblivious to the charms of the Rhodes books, I clung to the idea that someday Garner would play the role. Someone would hand him the book, and he’d a few pages and say, “Hey, this Rhodes guy is tailor-made for me. Somebody call Bill Crider’s agent right now!”

As more years passed, I finally realized that it wasn’t going to happen. And that Garner was getting a little too old for the part. Rhodes, unlike some characters in modern mysteries, doesn’t age much. Even if he did, Garner might still be too old, and he’s too banged up from playing Jim Rockford to do much running around. So that little dream is ended.

While I was waiting for some major studio to come to its senses and option the books, James Drury, who lives in the Houston area, expressed an interest in playing Rhodes. That was fine with me. The Virginian was just the kind of guy Rhodes would have been if he’d lived in the 19th century, or so I liked to think. I met with Drury a couple of times, which was fun, but the movie deal we hoped for never materialized.

Now more than twenty years have gone by since Sheriff Rhodes first appeared in print, and Murder Among the OWLS is the fourteenth book in the series. Still nobody has had the good sense to option the novels for film. My current fantasy is that Tom Selleck will happen upon a copy of one of the books, maybe even this latest one, and decide that he just has to play Dan Rhodes. He’ll think, “These Jesse Stone movies I’m doing for CBS are making the big bucks, but they’re a little dark. It’s time I lightened up, showed a little of that Magnum side of me again.”

And it’s not like there are fourteen Jesse Stone books out there. Selleck needs to be looking for a new vehicle, and Sheriff Rhodes could carry him for seven more years if he did two a year. By that time Rhodes would have been in four or five more books if St. Martin’s continues to publish them. Plenty for another few movies.

So for right now, Tom Selleck is the guy. But he’d better hurry up and option the books. If he doesn’t, he’s going to be too old for the part.
Read more about Murder Among the OWLS, and check out the Page 69 Test results for it and its most recent predecessor, A Mammoth Murder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 2, 2007

Andrew Pyper's "The Wildfire Season"

The Wildfire Season is Andrew Pyper's third novel.

Here he explains who would be great for the lead role in the film version of the novel:
In casting the male lead in the movie version of my novel, The Wildfire Season, I would look for the kind of actor who is a rare commodity in today's Hollywood: a manly man. So many of the stars who top the multiplex posters of late are, to my mind, either pretty boys or old hams. And when I'm talking manliness, I'm not talking about how ripped a fellow's chest is when he takes off his t-shirt (anyone with eight hours a day to spend with a personal trainer can sculpt a washboard gut, but this is only fussy vanity, not toughness). For Miles McEwan, the protagonist of The Wildfire Season, what's required is old-fashioned masculinity, a man for whom actions speak louder than his words. Because of this, I'd be looking at a short shortlist. Clive Owen. Russell Crowe. But both of them may be a few years too grizzled for the part. That leaves Matt Damon. I feel that, over the Bourne movies and, most recently, The Departed, Mr. Damon has been growing from college boy to man who withholds so much more than he shows or tells. This is the flawed trait of being a manly man. He'd do a great job.
Read more about The Wildfire Season, and check out what Miles is up to on Page 69 of the novel.

--Marshal Zeringue