Friday, May 29, 2009

Joshilyn Jackson's "The Girl Who Stopped Swimming"

Joshilyn Jackson's bestselling debut novel, gods in Alabama won SIBA's 2005 Novel of the year Award and was a #1 BookSense pick. Her second book, Between, Georgia, was also a #1 BookSense pick.

Here she shares some casting ideas for a film adaptation of her latest novel, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, which is now available in paperback:
Writers love to sit around and drink too much cheap wine and cast their favorite actors in the blockbuster movie version of their books. I’ve spent more than one night getting tiddly on Shiraz and casting and recasting everything I’ve ever written, even though in real life, we writers have very little control over it.

That’s probably a good thing, because I’ve never actually seen a book become a movie. Instead, I’ve seen screenwriters and directors and actors take a book as a springboard and make something all their own out of it. Movies can be directly or distantly related to their book-of-origin, but either way, they are absolutely separate works in a different medium by artists other than the author.

In The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, the main character is Laurel Hawthorne, a thirty-something wife, mother, and art quilter whose placid life explodes into chaos on the night she is visited by the ghost of her 14-year old neighbor, Molly Dufresne. The ghost leads Laurel to the real Molly floating lifelessly in the Hawthorne's backyard pool. No one in Laurel’s whitewashed neighborhood is up to solving the unseemly mystery of Molly’s death. Only her wayward, unpredictable sister, Thalia (who has a few ghosts of her own) is right for the task. But calling in a favor from Thalia is like walking straight into a frying pan protected only by Crisco…

I’ve always said that if Michael Caine wanted to make a movie out of The Girl Who Stopped Swimming and play Laurel as a 60 year old drag queen with a heroin addiction, I would say, “That sounds like a really FRESH direction, Mr. Caine. Write me a check!”

But if they did by chance ask me? I’d cast Cate Blanchett as Thalia in a heartbeat. Her off-beat beauty, intensity and range are perfect. With Blanchett, there are a lot of Laurels that would work well, I think: Chloë Sevigny would be great, and it’s not the kind of role she usually gets.

I also think it would be interesting to have Charlize Theron play Laurel and Angelina Jolie play Thalia. They both have incredible range, are great listeners, and the interplay between the estranged sisters is, I think, the heart of the book. Also they look right: Theron is an Everywoman kind of beautiful, and Jolie has that exotic bone structure that can be gorgeous one second and downright frightening the next.

Laurel’s husband David is the lead male role---he and Thalia are in a war over who they want Laurel to be. I’d LIKE to cast Brendan Frasier. Because he is delicious. Also, anyone whose seen Gods and Monsters knows he is being HUGELY underused in the family friendly popcorn flicks he’s famous for…but he’s physically a little too broad shouldered and…did I already say delicious? David should be more gangly and ascetic, but in a sexy way. Maybe even slightly physically awkward. OH, I know! Adrien Brody. CUT! PRINT!
Read excerpts from The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, and learn more about the author and her books at Joshilyn Jackson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Girl Who Stopped Swimming.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hillary Jordan's "Mudbound"

Hillary Jordan spent fifteen years working as an advertising copywriter before starting to write fiction. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals, including StoryQuarterly and The Carolina Quarterly.

Here she shares some ideas about cast and director for a film adaptation of her prize-winning debut novel, Mudbound:
The casting session for Mudbound, The Movie took place in September of 2007, six months before the book came out in hardback, on the front porch of the Blue Mountain Center, an artists colony in the Adirondacks. I was sitting with my friend Tanya Selvaratnam (actress, producer and playwright), taking in the glorious view of the lake and mountains over a glass of red wine. Tanya had just finished reading the galley of the book. She thought it would make a great movie, and that actors would want to do it because there were so many juicy roles. Who, she asked, did I have in mind for the seven main characters?

I hadn’t really thought it through, except for Laura, whom I’d always, from the very early days, imagined played by Laura Linney. She’s the right age for the role, and she’s a chameleon who can look plain as well as pretty. Her intelligence, dignity, and the appearance of vulnerability underlain by inner steel all make her perfect for the role of Laura McAllan. (Now, having seen her as Abigail Adams, I’m even more convinced she should get the part.)

We tossed around a number of candidates for my stolid, landsick Henry and ended up settling on two: Chris Cooper and David Strathairn. Both are consummate actors, but personally, I lean toward the former. He’s closer physically to how I imagined Henry; David Strathairn’s a little too lean and handsome. And I adored Cooper’s nuanced performance in Adaptation.

For Jamie I was thinking of Josh Lucas of Sweet Home Alabama — he has the killer smile and the cocky charm. Tanya also suggested an actor I wasn’t familiar with, Ryan Gosling. When I got home I rented Half Nelson and was blown away by his talent and his ability to play a layered and contradictory character, a great teacher who is also a pathetic drug addict. Who better for Jamie, my dashing, alcoholic war hero? (Though it must be said that if Paul Newman were alive and thirty, there’d be no contest.)

Tanya and I were in total agreement on Pappy: no one could play a racist Southern SOB better than Robert Duvall or Clint Eastwood (who could also direct).

For Florence we were thinking Queen Latifah or Regina King (whom I loved in Ray and Jerry Maguire). Both have the strong physical and emotional presence necessary to do justice to Florence.

Hap, we never quite nailed, in my opinion. Delroy Lindo would be terrific if he weren’t 57 (Hap’s in his early 40s). I’m open to suggestion here. Have to leave the director something to do, right?

Finally, Ronsel, who is 18-20 during the World War II scenes and 21 when he returns home. To me, he needs to be played by a young actor no one’s ever heard of (but who, after his Oscar-winning performance in Mudbound, The Movie, will have a brilliant career ahead of him).

My fantasy director is Ang Lee. His versatility excites me. He has ranged from the American West to China, from Edwardian England to suburban Connecticut. But he’s never done the Jim Crow South, and I’d love to see what he’d make of it. Clint Eastwood would be another outstanding choice (provided he agrees with Tanya’s and my casting ideas). And I wouldn’t say no to Gus Van Sant.

Now, for Mudbound, The Opera...
Read an excerpt from Mudbound, and learn more about the author and her work at Hillary Jordan's website and blog.

Watch the trailer for Mudbound (The Book).

The Page 69 Test: Mudbound.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Vonda N. McIntyre's "Dreamsnake"

Vonda N. McIntyre's publications include The Moon and the Sun, The Starfarers Series, several Star Trek novels, and numerous other novels and short stories.

Here she shares some ideas for the cast of an adaptation of her Nebula and Hugo award winning novel Dreamsnake, which is based on the Nebula-winning story “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand:”
Though I’ve imagined Dreamsnake as a movie, and I wrote a script for it, until recently no actor jumped off the screen to tell me she could play Snake, the healer, the protagonist of the book.

A number of the book’s characters are a challenge to cast.

Arevin, who falls in love with Snake, has to be played by someone with both strength and sensitivity. Critics of Dreamsnake have accused the men in it of being weak, but it seems to me that those critics can’t tell the difference between a weak character and a secondary one. Especially when the book was first published, and especially in science fiction, critics weren’t used to a man as secondary to a woman protagonist.

Arevin is an incredibly strong character: he leaves everything and everyone he knows, venturing into a post-apocalyptic world, in order to correct a wrong.

Matthew Gray Gubler (Dr. Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds) has that strength, and the emotional chops to make Arevin believable. He can also express a hint of naivety about his physical attractiveness, which he will need considering almost everybody Arevin meets on his journey tries to jump his bones (politely, to be sure, but still), and he doesn’t realize it.

Sean Connery always struck me as perfect for the Mayor, but people tell me he’s retired. What a shame, if so! Whoever plays the character needs enormous charm to get away with the character’s streak of arrogance and cruelty.

When I asked folks on the Book View Café blog to comment on “Casting Dreamsnake,” a friend suggested Edward James Olmos for the Mayor, and I thought — What a brilliant idea!

Jesse, the artist, should be played a grown-up, a woman with maturity and wisdom. Regina Taylor (you might have seen her on the wonderful I’ll Fly Away; if you didn’t, seek it out on DVD) could soar with the essentially tragic role.

Three characters in the book present three different and particularly difficult challenges: North, Melissa, and Merideth.

North might have to be played partly by CGI, like Gollum. I can’t think of anyone who would fit the part of an albino giant, even with a lot of makeup.

Melissa, the scarred little girl Snake adopts, got any number of suggestions at “Casting Dreamsnake.” Every one of the talented young actors mentioned is charming and cuter than a LOLcat. But Melissa needs some real grit. She’s holding her own in a tough situation. She also has to be played by someone who’s willing to give up the extreme cuteness that’s so important to so many child actors.

The actor who comes to mind is Abigail Breslin (Olive in Little Miss Sunshine). She actually is a very beautiful girl, but Little Miss Sunshine proved she could give up some of that beauty and still steal the show from experienced and high-powered colleagues. [Note: Breslin was on The Tonight Show the other day and OMG she’s so grown up — I may have to call in a time machine for her to be in my movie. But I’m allowed; I’m an SF writer.]

Merideth is the toughest call. Merideth is a character whose sex, in the book, the reader is never told. Readers come away from the book believing they’ve been told, and with strong opinions on the subject. But Merideth’s sex is never specified.

So the actor who plays Merideth has to be believably androgynous. Would it be possible to create the character on film? I don’t know, but I think it would be interesting to try.

That isn’t the only quality the actor needs. Merideth also should be able to ride, and I mean riding of the quality of Viggo Mortensen, who has the best seat of any actor I’ve ever seen on film, but cannot be imagined in an androgynous role.

Yeah, I guess you can use stunt doubles, but that always seems like cheating to me. What you can’t do is fake it, because it always and ever looks faked.

Actors suggested for Merideth: Jaye Davidson (The Crying Game), Keanu Reaves, Orlando Bloom, Tilda Swinton, Jackson Rathbone, Katherine Moennig, Joanne Woodward, and Angela Bassett.

The problem with actors who have done androgyny or cross-dressing before, like Davidson and Swinton, is that just by casting them you give away what’s happening. Reaves or Bloom are so well-known, as soon as they appear on screen, nobody would even think to consider if the character were a woman.

Moennig and Bassett are intriguing suggestions. Woodward is a wonderful actor. Why couldn’t Merideth be 80?

But I have my heart set on Parminder Nagra.

You doubt me! She’s a beautiful woman! you say, and you are absolutely right. When she’s glammed up, she’s intensely feminine.

But take a look at this picture at the Internet Movie Database. Now can you see her as Merideth?

We know she can play soccer. I wonder if she can ride?

But what about Snake? I’ve been looking for the right actor for a long time, without success.

Until Emily Rios.

Rios has a wonderful face, a great smile, and looks as if she’s athletic enough to play a part that includes wrestling a cobra, riding a horse at a flat run across the desert, and climbing out of a crevasse. Though she’s very young (this essay will be posted within shouting distance of her 20th birthday), she gives the impression of possessing the character to stand up against a bully twice her age and twice her size, to treat a sick child with gentleness and honesty, and to look death in the face.
Vonda N. McIntyre adds: Dreamsnake was caught in several SF publishing line meltdowns and has been difficult to find (the quaint publishing term is “Out of stock indefinitely,” which means “We don’t want to publish enough copies to sell, but we don’t want to revert the rights to you, either”) for a number of years. Now I have it back. It is available at the authors’ co-op Book View Café, serialized one chapter per week for free or for sale as a downloadable ebook with a new Afterword.

Learn more about the book and author at Vonda N. McIntyre's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Curtiss Ann Matlock's "Chin Up, Honey"

Curtiss Ann Matlock is the author of nearly forty books and short stories, including The Valentine Series.

Here she shares some ideas about the above-the-line talent for a film adaptation of her latest Valentine novel, Chin Up, Honey:
Actors for the lead roles in a movie version of my novel? This question requires slipping fully into fantasy. I watch so few contemporary movies. The more convoluted the world gets, the more I retreat into TCM. Part of the idea for Chin Up, Honey came from a nostalgic look back to the sixties. Writing the flashbacks for Emma and John Cole gave me a great deal of fun. There’s a movie scene in the book, where Emma is watching Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.

That said, I have from the beginning seen Robert Duvall in the role of the elder Winston Valentine. Winston is a secondary character who became prominent and appears in each of the Valentine series of novels. Readers, and myself, have fallen in love with him. In a movie version of the book, I see him as the town narrator.

For the lead role of emotional Emma Berry-- Reba McEntire, or as Oklahomans call her, simply, Reba. For John Cole Berry-- Mark Harmon, absolutely. Both actors are expert at being funny and tender. If this was a TCM movie, it would be Irene Dunn and Cary Grant. Mark Harmon does Cary Grant's grin.

Delta Burke would be delightful as Belinda Blaine. Ellen Burstyn just came to mind as grand for Vella Blaine, with Jonathan Taylor Thomas in the role of Johnny Berry, Emma’s son. Both actors were great in Clyde Edgerton’s Walking Across Egypt. For Gracie Kinney, I’m at a loss. Maybe one of your readers could suggest someone. (Now that I’m looking at this, I’m rather anxious about casting.)

For director no suggestions, but I would like to put forth Robert J. Avrech as producer/screenwriter. Avrech has done some wonderful work, and he’s been interested in my stories for sometime.

Okay, fantasy time has ended.
Learn more about the book and author at Curtiss Ann Matlock's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Anna Katherine's "Salt and Silver"

Anna Katherine's new book is Salt and Silver.

Here she explains how she creates an action scene by thinking about what the movie would look like:
One of my favorite things to come across while I'm reading is a really fantastic action scene. When the author's somehow managed to tell me where everybody is, what they're doing, how they're feeling, what the action means, and what the consequences are -- that's a real talent, and a gem to come across in print.

While I'm not saying that I'm anywhere near that fabulous when it comes to action scenes, I definitely try to pay attention to what I'm doing. In Salt and Silver, there are two kinds of action scenes: ones involving sex, and ones involving violence. I'm going to stick the violence examples, but honestly, this stuff applies either way.

There are three concerns I have when writing an action scene:

1. As with anything in a story, I've got to get from one end of it to the other -- beginning, rising tension, climax, denouement. Those are the very basic building blocks of creating a scene, a chapter, a book... and if I skip any of them, there's going to be a frustrated reader somewhere.

2. But while I'm doing that, I'm also thinking to myself, "What exactly is the story getting out of this?" If I'm just having an angsty vampire battle to fill time, why should the reader bother reading it? Heck, why should the characters bother going through with it? Even sex scenes fall under this one -- if I'm going to have my characters get it on, then it's got to mean something (emotionally, metaphorically, prophetically...).

3. But most of all: If I'm gonna have action, it's gotta look good.

When writing an action scene, I try to see it as a movie in my head -- or, more importantly, I try to find the most striking image of the scene. Think about movie action scenes you've known and loved. Maybe the subway showdown between Neo and Agent Smith in The Matrix, or Inigo Montoya's swordfight with the man who killed his father. These are action scenes that stand out for me personally because there's an image that just sticks: powerful, beautiful, meaningful, anything that gets in my dreams and colors my vision.

My favorite action scene in Salt and Silver is part of the big battle at the end of the book -- the main character, Allie, is standing back, knowing that she can't do much fighting-wise since she's not any kind of demon hunter (when the book starts, she's just a girl who runs a diner). She knows she has a place in the upcoming fray; she's just not sure where. As I was writing this, I knew she needed to get from one end of the battle to the other without getting killed or maimed -- or distracted by her love interest getting killed or maimed. I also knew, from earlier in the book, that she had the ability to call a kind of monster to her -- could it protect her as she went? Could this foreshadow what was to come? And could I make it clear that while she's no demon hunter, this chick is someone to watch out for?

That's how I came upon the image: An aerial shot, getting the whole of the battle -- and Allie, riding astride this gigantic monster as it plows its way through the mess and into the final location. Sun shining, demons fighting, blood on the ground, and a diner manager with a pair of sunglasses and a kerchief riding bareback on a monster to her destiny.

Movie-wise, that's an awesome image. Book-wise... well, we'll see if it worked for readers as much as it worked for me.
Anna Katherine is the pseudonym for two women who have both worked in the publishing industry for most of their lives.

Learn more about the book and authors at Anna Katherine's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 8, 2009

Kate Kingsbury's Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries

Kate Kingsbury's many books include the Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries.

Here she shares her casting ideas for the two main characters should the series be adapted for the big screen:
I dream about seeing my books made into movies. I’ve rehearsed my Academy Awards speech so many times I know it off by heart. You’d think out of fifty-some books at least one would make it to the screen, right? So it’s not surprising that I know exactly who I’d pick to star as the main characters in the stupendous, the outstanding, the extraordinary Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries movie.

For instance, take Cecily Sinclair. She’s the middle-aged manager of a country club. Feisty, independent to a fault, a little reckless at times, outspoken when needs be, especially when her role as a woman is challenged. Intelligent enough to solve murders, yet constantly drawn into dire peril because of her blind loyalty to her family, friends and staff, as well as the eclectic and often eccentric guests who pass through the doors of the renowned and infamous Pennyfoot Hotel.

Nothing really remarkable there, unless you take into account that this is the turn-of-the-century England, when working women were regarded as something less than respectable. Imagine the horror of a woman who chases all over the countryside tracking down murderers, while her husband appears helpless to restrain the reprobate.

Trapped in an era of aggressive suffragettes, rebellious hotel staff and philandering aristocratic guests, the long suffering Baxter is often forced to turn a blind eye toward his wife’s escapades. Even when he is compelled to voice his displeasure, he is usually sweetly yet firmly disarmed by his determined spouse. In spite of their disagreements, however, they care deeply about each other, and can always be counted upon to be there for each other when needed.

Emma Thompson is the epitome of Cecily Sinclair. I can imagine her striding around the halls of the Pennyfoot, deftly dealing with the whims and worries of her guests, while mentally working out clues that will lead her to the latest dastardly killer lurking in the shadows. The faithful, if sometimes intolerant Baxter, would be admirably played by Victor Garber, who always looks as if he’s harboring a simmering resentment behind that genteel smile.

Then there’s the staff of the Pennyfoot - the belligerent, foul-mouthed maid, the phony French chef, the bossy housekeeper - as well as the addle-brained colonel and his prissy wife. Now who should play them? Decisions, decisions...ah, what fun are dreams.
Visit Kate Kingsbury's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 4, 2009

Alex Bledsoe's "Blood Groove"

Alex Bledsoe grew up in West Tennessee, an hour north of Graceland and twenty minutes from Nutbush. He now lives in Wisconsin.

Here he shares some thoughts on the cast of a cinematic adaptation of Blood Grove, his new novel:
This was an interesting exercise because, with the exception of the main character, I hadn’t really pondered actors for the characters in this book. I did have input on casting the heroine for the book trailer, but that’s not the same as imagining someone going through all the character’s emotions. As Jess Riley said in her post, I assumed that if a movie is ever made, I’d leave casting to the people who know about such things.

Blood Groove is a horror novel set in 1975 Memphis, so it’s a period piece. The protagonist, Eastern European vampire Rudolfo Vladimir Zginski (a.k.a."Rudy") was originally based on Mike Raven's look from the 1970 Hammer film Lust for a Vampire. Zginski is smooth, intelligent, and absolutely heartless, although there is an element of George Hamilton’s Love at First Bite ironic Dracula in there as well. Robert Carlyle, with a look similar to the one he had in 1999's Ravenous (the non-scruffy part), would be perfect.

The heroine, Fauvette, is a Kentucky hillbilly made a vampire at fourteen half a century earlier. She's very sad, bitter and weary, although she's also the only vampire with a real conscience. Valentina de Angelis, who played the younger Bo in 2005’s Off the Map, has the right demeanor, as does Stephanie Leonidas, heroine of MirrorMask. The trick is finding someone who can do a Southern accent that doesn’t sound like a community theatre Blanche Dubois. Too bad sad-eyed Amber Benson, who hails from Alabama, is too old. I wonder if Lina Leandersson from Let the Right One In can act in English?

The two African-American vampires, Leonardo and Olive, both appear to be teens as well. Olive is curvy and heavy-set, more Beyoncé than Whitney Houston. Despite being close to eighty years old Leonardo tries to appear as a typical 1975 teen, like Kevin Hooks of the seventies TV series The White Shadow and the 1975 film Aaron Loves Angela. Redneck vampire Toddy, who was turned at age seventeen in the sixties (and in the South that meant crew cuts and racism, not peace and love), would be a Southern Eminem/Michael Rapaport type.

The main antagonist, assistant coroner Danielle Roseberry, also has to look young enough to pass for a teenager. I envisioned Nicole de Boer circa the last season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, or Jennifer Blaire of The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. The other antagonist, Sir Francis Colby, is a typical Victorian gentleman who’s also an expert on the occult. Brian Blessed would be my first choice, although Ian Holm or Bob Hoskins would also work.
Learn more about the book and author at Alex Bledsoe's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue