Saturday, January 31, 2009

Justin Gustainis' "Quincey Morris" series

Justin Gustainis is a Professor of Communication at Plattsburgh State University, where he earned the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2002. His academic publications include the book American Rhetoric and the Vietnam War, published in 1993. The Hades Project, his first novel, was released to rave reviews in 2003.

Here he shares some ideas for the principal cast in film adaptations of his “Quincey Morris Supernatural Investigations” novels:
There are two books in my urban fantasy series about occult investigator Quincey Morris and his partner, “white” witch Libby Chastain. Black Magic Woman was released in January 2008, and Evil Ways came out December 30th. The third one, Sympathy for the Devil, is due in late 2009.

My first choice to play Quincey, the tall Texan with a degree from Princeton, would have been Tommy Lee Jones, about twenty years ago. But Mr. Jones is too old now, and, besides, the role might be too reminiscent of his work in the Men in Black movies. Among those available now, I’d pick Russell Crowe. He showed in 3:10 to Yuma that he can do the accent, and he combines the attributes of an action hero with real acting ability.

Libby Chastain should be played by an actress whose name might not be immediately recognizable: Catherine Keener. You might have seen her in Capote or The 40 Year Old Virgin. Catherine is more of a character actress, who combines the intensity, intelligence and courage that are the essence of Libby Chastain.

Another character appearing in both books is Walter Grobius, the slightly demented zillionaire who uses his money to dabble in black magic. I’d want someone who can capture his madness without chewing the scenery, and for that John Malkovich would be perfect.

A couple of cops play important roles in Black Magic Woman: an African-American FBI agent named Fenton, and a white South African, from that country’s Occult Crimes Unit, who’s been brought over to lend his expertise to a very nasty case involving murders with occult overtones. Don Cheadle would be great as Fenton, and for Van Dreenan I’d go with Ralph Fiennes. He has a world-weariness about him that would work well in portraying this South African cop who is haunted by too many memories.

Black Magic Woman features several villains. Christine Abernathy is a “black” witch whose roots go back to the Salem witch trials. She is just plain evil. For her, I’d cast against type and pick Scarlett Johansson. Scarlett’s age would fit the character well, and the malevolent Christine Abernathy would be a nice stretch for her.

There’s another evil woman in the story: Cecelia Mbwato, an African witch whose magic is as bad as it gets. The spell she wants to cast requires bodily organs from five children – removed while they are still alive. Cecelia has a bodyguard/chauffeur, the appropriately named Snake Perkins. A psychopathic redneck, Snake will commit any atrocity asked of him, without hesitation. To play Cecelia, I’d choose C.C.H. Pounder, a character actress whose most recent work has been in TV’s The Shield. To get inside Snake’s skin, I would send Jake Gyllenhaal, and ask him to turn his Brokeback Mountain character on its head.

Quincey and Libby are back in Evil Ways, as are Agent Fenton and Walter Grobius. But there are two new parts that need casting. One is Pardee, the ruthless wizard in Grobius’s employ who is behind the plan to stage the ultimate black magic ceremony on Walpurgis Night. I like Edward Norton for the role. He can keep the goatee he wore in The Illusionist, but shave his head for a more sinister look.

The other important character is occult bounty hunter Hannah Widmark, known in some circles as “Widowmaker.” The role of this deadly, obsessed, ice-cold beauty would have been perfect for a younger Sigourney Weaver. As it is, I’d probably go with Linda Fiorentino.
Learn more the books and author at Justin Gustainis' website and MySpace page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Barbara Levenson's "Fatal February"

Barbara Levenson, former prosecutor and judge, is the author of Fatal February, available on February 1st.

Here she lays out some ideas for cast and director of a film adaptation of the novel:
Fatal February is one part romance, one part mystery with a large spoonful of humor. After I wrote the book, I received several suggestions that it really was the blue print for a TV series, because it is the first in a series of mysteries with continuing characters. But who hasn’t dreamt of selling their brainchild as a movie?

The protagonist, Mary Magruder Katz, is a quirky criminal defense attorney in Miami, Florida. She is half Jewish and half Southern Baptist which explains her name. She has a hot Latin lover who is half Cuban and half Argentine. In Miami, the melting pot often begins in the wedding chapel.

I didn’t write with an eye to a particular look or actor in mind. Now that the characters are full blown, I do visualize who would fill the parts. Drew Barrymore has the right mix of comic timing and intelligent demeanor to be Mary. If I were casting a lesser known actor, Joelle Carter has the look. She has done television and movies but not as the lead, so this could be beneficial to her and to the film.

Carlos Martin, the Latin hotty, exudes head-turning sex appeal. Javier Bardem has the look, but an open casting call in Miami would probably net 500 great newcomers.

It’s really all about the directing. Tony Sears is a bright new director who has made great documentaries as well as directing musical comedies and plays in regional theatres. He’s got the insight to pull out on-target performances from lesser known actors, since he runs his own actor’s school. Another choice to direct is Darryl Hickman if he could be lured out of retirement.

Mary’s client, Lillian Yarmouth, is accused of stabbing her philandering husband to death. Glenn Close is just right. She can exude venom while still appearing to be fragile and feminine. Maddy Rodriquez, the “other woman” would be an easy role for Jennifer Lopez.

This movie is sure to be a hit in Miami. I can even imagine the preview. Maybe I better go buy a gown – just in case.
Learn more about the book and author at Barbara Levenson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 23, 2009

Jill Sorenson's "Crash Into Me"

Crash Into Me, Jill Sorenson's new romantic thriller--"featuring one too-tough female agent, one too-hot male suspect, and a head-on erotic collision"--hits bookstores on Tuesday, January 27th.

Here she shares some preferences for the main cast of a cinematic adaptation of the novel:
Crash Into Me is set in San Diego, a real place, but none of my characters are based on real people. I guess I start with a blank face, adding details as I go. It was a lot of fun to surf the net, searching for actors who resemble the pictures in my head.

With his brown hair and dark, bedroom eyes, Eric Bana is a good match for Ben Fortune, my surfer hero. Ben is a struggling single father and a successful pro athlete, a former ladies’ man and current murder suspect. Since his wife’s death, he’s been in virtual seclusion, shunning fans and avoiding the media. Bana seems like a reluctant heartthrob, and a strong, sensitive type, which makes him a perfect choice for Ben.

My heroine, Special Agent Sonora “Sonny” Vasquez, is more difficult to cast. Physically, she’s kind of fierce, like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2. She’s also part Latina, with light eyes and dark skin. The only actress I can think of who even vaguely resembles her is Estelle Skornik, a sultry-looking Frenchwoman. If I had to pick an American actress, I’d go with Cameron Diaz. In a bikini! She’s the ultimate California babe, and Crash Into Me is all about suspense (and sex) on the beach.

High School Musical vixen Vanessa Hudgens could play the role of Carly, Ben’s troubled teenaged daughter. This spoiled rich girl with a disturbing secret falls for James, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. No squeaky clean Zac Efron will do here. I’d choose a younger, edgier James Franco from Freaks and Geeks.
Read an excerpt from Crash Into Me and learn more about the author and her work at Jill Sorenson's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 19, 2009

Laurel Corona's "The Four Seasons"

Laurel Corona is a professor of English and Humanities at San Diego City College and the author of more than a dozen middle school books and Until Our Last Breath: A Holocaust Story of Love and Partisan Resistance.

Her latest novel, The Four Seasons, is set in "glittering 18th-century Venice, [where] music and love are prized above all else—and for two sisters coming of age, the city’s passions blend in intoxicating ways."

Here she shares some ideas for the principal cast in a film adaptation of the novel:
Writing The Four Seasons, I quickly realized how much of a challenge it was going to bring to life the sensual extravaganza that was Venice in the early eighteenth century. I think every writer comes up against the sobering fact that in our culture we shortchange our sensory experiences, so that we really can’t, for example, describe with any great degree of specificity the way a rose smells or butter tastes. I am old enough to remember American Bandstand, where cute teenagers, when asked whether they liked a new record, would almost inevitably say they did, with no more explanation than “it has a good beat and I can dance to it.” Novels based on paintings, such as those by Tracy Chevalier and Susan Vreeland, get a visual boost from their covers, but alas, there’s no such help for the poor soul writing a novel about music.

I often joked with my friends about how I was writing “Amadeus Meets Girl with the Pearl Earring,” realizing early on that for The Four Seasons to come to full life it needed to be experienced with Vivaldi’s music backing it up. I won’t be bashful about saying that I really, truly hope it will become a movie. In addition to the two main characters that can’t be cast—Venice and Vivaldi’s music--here are some ideas for first-rate actors who could bring The Four Seasons to life on screen.

For Vivaldi, Elijah Wood and Tobey Maguire bear a pretty good resemblance, but I have it on good authority (my son Ivan) that Daniel Bruhl is perfect, and after a peek at some photos on IMDb, I concur!

Chiaretta, the younger of the two sisters, is the epitome of fair beauty, inner strength, and grace, and these qualities are abundant in Kristen Stewart and Sienna Miller.

Maddalena, the older sister, is an auburn haired woman of quiet charisma, arising out of the passion with which she plays the violin. Her face becomes beautiful by knowing the person. Rose Byrne, Emmy Rossum, and Alexa Davalos are all prettier than I envision Maddalena, but right on target for how I hope she will be cast.

As for the men in Chiaretta’s life, I picture Claudio as looking something like Joaquin Phoenix. (Someone tell him not to retire—there’s another great role for him here!) A bit of world-weary intensity is essential for Andrea, and Christian Bale, Ethan Hawke, and Paul Bettany fit the look quite nicely.

And because The Four Seasons is about capable women, I would love to see a woman producer—perhaps someone who could take a smaller role, such as the Priora or one of the soloists in the choir. Madonna—are you interested?
Read an excerpt from The Four Seasons, and learn more about the book and author at Laurel Corona's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Four Seasons.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Erika Mailman's "The Witch’s Trinity"

Erika Mailman is the author of Woman of Ill Fame and The Witch's Trinity, the story of a medieval German woman accused of witchcraft when her village undergoes famine.

Here she lays out some casting ideas for a film adaptation of The Witch’s Trinity:
It’s a heady thing to imagine a movie made of one’s novel. Most novels never get optioned for film, let alone have the rights bought outright—and then to be filmed and distributed, well, let’s just say it’s a guilty pleasure to visualize. Much like my daydreams of getting an Olympic gold medal (in some vague, undefined sport) or saving someone’s life.

My book is The Witch’s Trinity, set in medieval Germany. The main character Gude is elderly, as is her friend Kunne who is pivotal in the beginning. I’m happy my book would offer leading roles for older women if it were made. I’ve heard much talk of how females in Hollywood never get good roles after they turn 30-something… this would be a film where older women could sink their teeth into meaningful roles. Although the character Irmeltrud is comparatively young, the severity of her life (diet, strenuous work, short life expectancy in the Middle Ages) has rendered her looking fairly old.

My choice for the main character Gude would most emphatically be Dame Judi Dench. Though she often plays firm, no-nonsense characters, her vulnerability and mental bewilderment in the film Iris make it clear how amazing she is when portraying less powerful characters. She also looks moderately German. I always think it is disappointing when a character of a particular ethnicity is played by someone clearly not of that background. I have loved her as an actor for a long time, and respected the variety of roles she has undertaken.

Gude’s friend Kunne could be played by Elaine Stritch, who currently plays Jack Donaghy’s mom Colleen on 30 Rock. She’s a wonderful actress, and I can see the tilt of her lips—which currently make her look brash and unhappy—altering a little so she appears strong, worldly-wise and accepting of her fate.

For Irmeltrud: Meryl Streep. Why not aim high? We know she’s incredible and does accents like nobody’s business. I love the idea of her in Irmeltrud’s braids. When I think of Irmeltrud, I always picture the scene at the fireplace where her eyes roll over to look at Gude, and Gude knows she is plotting something. Streep’s sharp eyes would do this perfectly.

For Jost: Viggo Mortensen. He has the sort of obsessed look that a man in Jost’s position would have, trying to feed his family in an environment where that simply isn’t possible.

For Fronika: Jennifer Connelly. Her stunning performance in House of Sand and Fog demonstrated her ability to make her beauty play second fiddle to a complex, endangered, confused character.

For the Friar: Well, one name that springs to mind is Philip Seymour Hoffman. I am a big fan! It may seem strange, though, since he is already playing a priest in a movie with Meryl Streep (Doubt). But the friar is relatively young, well-fed, handsome but also with a cold viciousness that I know Hoffman could so easily carry off. Plus, his last name suggests he is German already.

Another great choice would be Clive Owen. What a shame to tonsure that beautiful hair, though! Or even… gulp… Daniel Craig. Holy cow. I wouldn’t want to sully the place in my daydreams where he resides (this one isn’t about the Olympics!) by casting him as this shiver-worthy character, though.

For the rest of the important characters (Frau Zweig, the Priest, Ramwold, Alke and Matern), I’d pitch for unknowns. It is so much easier to fall into a story and suspend disbelief when you’re not trying to figure out what the last movie was you saw that particular actor in. I have a particularly hard time with this and can’t focus on a movie if I’m mentally cataloging where I last saw them.

P.S. My husband just poked his head over my shoulder. He suggests Angela Kinsey, the woman who plays Angela on The Office for Frau Zweig, except that she has too much of a comedic reputation now. We sat there stewing until he said with a clenched fist, “How’d you like to be typecast as the Hollywood actress who just embodies infertility?!”

He also suggests Frau Zweig be an animated character like Teacher Susie in Sid the Science Kid.
Read an excerpt from The Witch's Trinity and learn more about the book and author at Erika Mailman's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Witch's Trinity.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Michael Wiley’s "The Last Striptease"

Michael Wiley’s The Last Striptease (St. Martin’s Press) received the Best First Novel award from the Private Eye Writers of American and St. Martin’s in 2007 as was nominated for a Shamus in the same category in 2008. His Bad Kitty Lounge is forthcoming.

Here he shares some casting ideas for a screen adaptation of The Last Striptease:
I wrote The Last Striptease with the big screen in mind but didn’t think about real actors until I’d finished.

My private detective, Joe Kozmarski, is a six-foot-tall Polish-American in his mid-forties. He looks sort of like Rod Blagojevich but with abs and a haircut. One of the other characters, who’s trying to flirt with him, sees in him “a little of Robert De Niro and a lot of Bill Murray.” But De Niro and Murray have too much sheen – and Blagojevich is probably going to jail – so, given the chance, I would cast Russell Crowe as Joe. Joe is a lifelong Chicagoan and he’s constantly making and sometimes overcoming mistakes. Crowe grew up in New Zealand and Australia, but he got arrested in New York for throwing a telephone at a man – which is something that Joe might do (in fact, he more or less does do in Bad Kitty Lounge).

For Joe’s ex-wife Corrine, I don’t know ... why not Sandra Bullock? Penélope Cruz, with a nine-millimeter pistol in her shoulder holster, would do well as Joe’s friend and would-be lover Lucinda Juarez. Or Salma Hayek – Joe’s not picky. Val Kilmer would make a fine Lieutenant Bill Gubman, if he’s willing to shave his head. For Bob Piedras, the lead suspect, we’ve got to get Rob Lowe, or else I’m walking out on the production.
Read an excerpt from The Last Striptease, and learn more about the book and author at Michael Wiley's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Striptease.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Jeffrey Hantover’s “The Jewel Trader of Pegu”

Jeffrey Hantover, who has written on social issues, art, and culture for publications in the United States, Europe, and Asia, is the author of The Jewel Trader of Pegu, now available in paperback.

Here he lays out some ideas for cast and director of a film adaptation of the novel:
As a writer in these dark economic days with royalties far south of John Grisham’s, I follow a prudent investment strategy – I buy weekly lottery tickets and daydream who will star in the movie of my book. An East-West love story set in 16th century Venice and a Burmese city turned to ashes will not come cheap, but I keep dreaming and have a neighborhood tailor on call ready to let out my tux for Oscar night.

When writing The Jewel Trader of Pegu, Adrien Brody was always Abraham, the tall, melancholy Venetian Jew who reluctantly travels to Pegu to buy stones for his uncle. In his Academy Award winning performance in The Pianist and the recent Cadillac Records, we sense beneath Brody’s angular face a churning inner world. He could with a simple expression or glance convey Abraham’s doubts and ethical turmoil.

For Mya, the Peguan peasant woman whose love redeems Abraham, I struggled to get beyond a generic vision of a young Asian woman, attractive but not so strikingly and immediately beautiful that she would make Abraham’s slowly growing affection unbelievable. Forgoing a world-wide search to rival David O. Selznick’s for Scarlett O’Hara, I have found my Mya in Tillotama Shome, the Indian actress who as the housemaid Alice steals Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding. I stare at the first headshot on her website and her quiet beauty silences the world outside my window. She will, as she did in Monsoon Wedding, play against her natural beauty but with only the tilt of her head and a faint smile reveal how strikingly lovely she is. She will in the penultimate scene of the film stand on the river bank, the smoke of her lover’s body swirling about her and she will break our hearts.

My first choice, Saeed Jaffrey the Indian actor who played Michael Caine and Sean Connery’s guide in John Huston’s The Man Who Would be King, is now too old to play Win, the native jewel broker, but Eric Tsang, a popular Hong Kong actor, short, plump and with a clown’s plastic face has the range to be both comic and sympathetic.

With every rewrite, the role of Antonio, the Portuguese mercenary, grew in importance as did my affection for his integrity and loyalty. Gabriel Byrne has the weary, sad-eyed look of a man who has seen the worst of human nature and lives with no illusions. If the director wants a younger Antonio, Clive Owen is ready in the wings. Liev Schreiber would be a thoughtful yet lively Joseph, Abraham’s cousin and the extroverted, sensualist to Abraham’s dour observer of life. Though older than the character is written, Jeremy Irons would make in a cameo appearance a deliciously villainous Jesuit. An even more central cameo would be Abraham’s uncle. Sir Michael Gambon, best known as Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films, or Sir Ian Holm, Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings, have the lined and expressive faces that in a wordless scene at the film’s end could express with look and gesture the uncle’s mix of faith and sadness as he awaits Abraham’s return.

My director of choice would be either Ang Lee or Mira Nair, both of whom have captured the sensuous visual world of Asia and the inner worlds of characters from East and West. If their schedules won’t allow it, then there is Tom Tywker, the German director of Heaven, one of my favorite films and a beautiful meditation on the redemptive power of love.
Read an excerpt from The Jewel Trader of Pegu, and learn more about the author and his work at Jeffrey Hantover's website.

Browse inside the paperback with its P.S. section of insights, interviews and more.

The Page 69 Test: The Jewel Trader of Pegu.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 3, 2009

J.M. Hayes' Mad Dog & Englishman series

J.M. Hayes is also the author of The Grey Pilgrim (2000), Mad Dog & Englishman (2000), Prairie Gothic (2003), Plains Crazy (2004), Broken Heartland (2007) and, coming in May 2009, Server Down.

Here he shares some casting ideas for a film adaptation of his Mad Dog & Englishman novels:
A rural Kansas sheriff, his oddball-born-again Cheyenne brother, and their efforts to solve the rare crimes of a small community are the essence of the Mad Dog & Englishman series. But when those crimes hit, it's with a Murphy's Law kind of fury—everything that can go wrong will. I'm delighted to make casting suggestions for the series, especially since I have nothing better to do while I wait by the phone for the Coen Brothers to call.

There aren't many actors who do bald leading men or who are willing to shave their heads the way Mad Dog does since his hair is just too curly for braids. So Bruce Willis gets the nod. Mad Dog was a local football hero. That makes Willis' muscular frame appropriate. And Willis is about the right age for the beginning of the series. Let's just hope he doesn't mind donning a pair of Speedos and slathering himself with body paint for the vision quest scenes.

Englishman, aka Benteen County's Sheriff English, is harder to cast. If we could bring back a middle-aged Jimmy Stewart, audiences would immediately understand the kind of person the sheriff is—a nice guy who'll do his best even when he's in way over his head. Stewart was all wrong for looks, though. Mad Dog & Englishman are both part Cheyenne, but Mad Dog, much to his disappointment, looks pure Anglo. It's the sheriff who got the high cheek bones and dark complexion. Pure blue eyes, though. Jimmy Smits, maybe, with startling blue contact lenses.

The sheriff's wife, Judy, is a drop-dead, knockout, red-head. Nicole Kidman is a little too young and a bit too stunning, but Englishman and I are willing to make do.

The English girls are a cautionary tale for writers who may not plan to do sequels. When Mad Dog & Englishman was going to be a stand alone, the idea of two look-alikes named Heather didn't seem to be a problem. Then they ended up as sisters, one natural, one adopted, and both neck-deep in the action. They've got to be cast as well. They're pretty, upright, honest girls with just a smidge of wild streak. In the first book, they start out as twelve and thirteen, then age into a pair of attractive young women in later episodes. Lindsay Lohan handled roles like this beginning with The Parent Trap. She would have been perfect while audiences still thought her mostly innocent. Now, maybe Miley Cyrus can grow into the roles.

Who else? We don't need many—hey, Buffalo Springs is a really small town. But we've got to have the Sheriff's office manager, Mrs. Kraus. She's a woman of a certain age whose voice has gone beyond whiskey and cigarettes to something more like barbed wire scraped on a blackboard. She carries a Glock, acts tough as nails, and was hot stuff in her day. The role will take a really special actress, someone willing to look less than glamorous in order to own her character. I only have to remember Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to decide Elizabeth Taylor must return to the screen.

Hailey the Wonder Wolf will require top notch special effects. That, or she'll have to play herself.

Perhaps my characters in Buffalo Springs, Kansas can spiff up the Strand Theatre in time for the world premier? I suspect they'll have plenty of time.
Learn more about the books and author at The Words & Worlds of J.M. Hayes website.

The Page 69 Test: Broken Heartland.

--Marshal Zeringue