Saturday, June 27, 2009

Paul Martin Midden's "Toxin"

Paul Martin Midden is a psychologist who currently serves as Clinical Director of a nationally-recognized treatment center. Absolution, his debut novel, was released in 2007.

Toxin, his new novel, explores the growing tension between right-wing fundamentalists and secular American culture. Here he shares some ideas for casting a film adaptation of the novel:
Toxin is a book about a senator who gets involved in a plot to alter the United States. Because so many people have been so paranoid about this kind of thing in recent years, it seems like a prime time to make a movie about it.

There are problems, of course: for the most part, senators are boring middle-aged, rich white guys, so it is not often that they figure in novels. Jake Telemark, the protagonist of Toxin, is an unrich, unpedigreed middle-aged guy who just happens to be a senator. He is also an assassin, which makes him interesting.

Who to play Jake? He is a thoughtful guy, capable of reflection, but he is also willing to take action and put plans in motion. A rumpled guy like Phillip Seymour Hoffman or Sean Penn would do well because both of them have the range and complexity to pull this off. If Harrison Ford were fifteen years younger, he would have been ideal.

Now Isadore Hathaway, the love interest and fellow conspirator, needs to be tall, beautiful, bright, and ruthless. Nicole Kidman comes almost immediately to mind, especially in light of her performance in The Interpreter, where she was all of the above. But other talented women, such as Gwyneth Paltrow or Renée Zellweger, could also do a competent job.

There is a very serious FBI agent who plays a pivotal role, and I confess that I had Anthony LaPaglia in mind when I wrote the book. Mr. LaPaglia knows how to play an FBI agent (Without a Trace), and he’s naturally serious. It would be shameless pandering to cast Denzel Washington as the President of the United States; but, then again, we’re talking Hollywood here.

Another great reason for Toxin to be filmed is because of its subject matter. There are actually people out there who think—as the plotters in the novel do—that a theocratic government would be a good thing for the US and who would be willing to use unscrupulous means to bring that about. Witness the recent murder of a physician who did perfectly legal abortions or the hatemonger who shot up the Holocaust Museum. But these people are regarded as so fringe that few people take them seriously, and many people dismiss them as crackpots. This lack of attention, of course, enables them to gather power, much as the Nazis did in Germany between the wars. A movie highlighting these fanatics would nudge them out of the shadows a bit and contribute to the national discourse.
Read more about Toxin at New Books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 22, 2009

Henry Perez's "Killing Red"

Henry Perez has worked as a newspaper reporter for more than a decade. Born in Cuba, he immigrated to the U.S. at a young age, and lives in the Chicago area with his wife and children.

Here he shares his thoughts on the principal cast of the movie should Killing Red, his first novel, be adapted for the big screen:
Like a lot of people I know, I developed an obsession for movies at an early age. I studied film, both production and theory, in college, and tend to think of my stories in a visual, cinematic way as I’m writing them.

In writing Killing Red, my debut mystery, I approached the plotting and pacing much like I would a screenplay. I got the action on the page in my first draft, making sure there was nothing there that was unnecessary or that might slow things down. I colored in many of the details in subsequent revisions.

So discussing what it might be like to see my first book turned into a film seems quite natural in a way. Killing Red is the story of Alex Chapa, a Chicago-area newspaper reporter who made a name for himself fifteen years ago when he broke the story of the capture of Kenny Lee Grubb, after a young girl named Annie Sykes escaped and led police to the mass murderer’s home. Now, less than a week before Grubb is to be executed, Chapa is summoned to the prison for one last interview. But instead of the usual death row confessional or final declarations of innocence, Grubb boasts that a copycat has been retracing his steps, and that Annie Sykes, now in her twenties, will be the final victim. Chapa has just a few days to find Annie before someone else does.

The first question authors are usually asked on the subject of their book being turned into a film concerns casting, and I’ve heard some speak candidly about having this actor or that actress in mind when they were creating a character. I never did that while writing Killing Red. Though I had a clear image in my mind of what each character looked and sounded like, I did not picture any actual people, famous or otherwise, in those roles.

The protagonist seems like a logical place to start, and Alex Chapa is not an easy character to cast. Though he’s resourceful, and ultimately heroic, Chapa is an everyman who’s got some mileage on him, and it shows. He is Cuban-American, but I’m not a hard-liner when it comes to casting an actor whose heritage matches the character’s. Still, it would be nice. Andy Garcia comes to mind right away, since he’s been the most prominent Cuban-American actor for some time. But I also like Danny Pino (Cold Case). If it were up to me I’d cast Benjamin Bratt.

Grubb, and the threat he represents to everyone in the book, haunts every page of Killing Red. That sense of impending violence can be reproduced on screen, but it takes a great performance to do it. I don’t want to give away too much, but Grubb has a couple of scenes in the book that I would imagine some actors would love to play. Josh Brolin or Mickey Rourke would knock one out of the park in that role. A reader suggested Willem Dafoe.

Author J.D. Smith recently suggested that Ellen Page would make a great Annie Sykes. That would be a bit of dream casting. And yes, she would be perfect in the role.

It’s a fact that very few crime novels are ever sold to Hollywood, and only a small percentage of those actually get made into films. Only a handful of authors are fortunate enough to see their work on screen, and just about none of the ones who do have any say over scripting or production, let alone casting.

But it’s always fun to imagine what it might be like…
Preview Killing Red, and learn more about the book and author at Henry Perez's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 18, 2009

R.A. Riekki's "U.P."

Ron Riekki is the author of the novel U.P..

At the end of May 2009 he shared his thinking about the director, cast, and soundtrack for a big screen adaptation of U.P.:
Tonight I walked my first red carpet. I was supposed to go with a gangsta rapper whose sister won Last Comic Standing, but he cancelled last minute, so I found myself alone at an awards show at Universal being introduced by a handler as “author Ron Riekki. He’s awesome.” I laughed each time a photo was taken. There was some guy with a cane who was supposedly heir to a billion dollar oil fortune and Dean Cain, a.k.a. Superman, talking humbly about his son and then me.

I moved to L.A. because I do have dreams of U.P. being a film. Two reasons why I’ve been confident it could happen are that the book has been Ghost Road Press’s fiction bestseller for fourteen weeks and because a friend whose opinion I respect—Rafael Alvarez (writer for HBO’s The Wire)—put the idea in my head of it being a film. Well, being here helps take things a step closer. Now it’s destiny. I figure Barfly would never have been made if Bukowski lived his life in Opelika, Alabama, so here I am ... afterwards eating free gourmet macaroni and cheese, nursing a recommended Merlot, and chatting with a producer who wanted to hear about the novel. I pitched it was full of strong roles for young actors, where they’d get to play the type of roles they tend to desire, the sort of vibrant character roles you find in Snatch or Pulp Fiction. He took my card. We’ll see.

On the drive home, I thought about this article, the recent red carpet memories showing that things can happen if you make yourself available for them to happen.

The novel’s written in four distinctive voices, four high schoolers trying to survive a brutal Michigan winter and a violent act by a local bully. For Cräig, a metalhead who insists everyone put an umlaut in his name, I imagine Emile Hirsch if he wants to pull a Christian Bale in American Psycho and hit the gym like crazy. For Hollow, a basketball player who’s the primary narrator, I imagine Jamie Bell or Joel Gelman.

Other dream credits:

antony x—Jorma Taccone (playing a white rapper)

J—Shia LaBeouf (playing a punk with cerebral palsy)

Bobbie—Kristen Stewart, Kerli, or Allison Shoemaker

Craig’s father—Larry Joe Campbell

Hollow’s father—Steven Wiig or Chris Smith

J’s father—Michael T. Weiss

director—Spike Jonze, Harmony Korine, Rob Zombie, or Vincent Gallo

soundtrack—Pantera, Papa Wheelie, Dokken, Subhumans, Ice Cube

This was fun, but when I’ve had my plays cast before, I never say a word. A producer tonight was talking about a difficult screenwriter he was working with, someone who refused to compromise over anything. My role is to write. Casting agents have their role. I’d love to let them do their job.

And U.P. as a film?—well, it’s one crazy novel. Laura Dave, author of London is the Best City in America, wrote, "People throw around the word 'original' to mean a lot of things, but U.P.--R.A. Riekki's fighting new novel--is original in the best sense. It constantly surprised me, and made me want to keep reading, and made me more sure of it. This novel is a winner.” Dave sold London to Reese Witherspoon. Let’s see if I have that level of luck. In the meantime, I love talking with producers, going to awards shows, and being stood up by gangsta rappers. Maybe I’m easily pleased. But I think basically I’m just happy I’m not dead. Breathing is good. Long as you’re breathing, hopes can actualize.
Visit Ron Riekki's website.

Writers Read: Ron Riekki.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Jenny Gardiner's "Sleeping with Ward Cleaver"

Jenny Gardiner is the author of the award-winning novel Sleeping with Ward Cleaver. Her work has been found in Ladies Home Journal, the Washington Post and on NPR’s Day to Day. She likes to say she honed her fiction writing skills while working as a publicist for a US Senator.

Here she recommends a few actors to portray her characters in a cinematic adaptation of her novel, and identifies the ideal production team to take Sleeping with Ward Cleaver to the big screen:
All authors harbor a sick secret need to have their books made into films. We may not all own up to that, but it's all part of the masochism that is writing--we love to set crazy-high bars that are nigh-impossible to scale. I mean hey, SOMEONE'S books are being turned into films--why not mine? Yet all one needs to do is be in the company of a screenwriter for about ten minutes and all hopes of ever having that movie made into a film are not only dashed, but they're crushed by a steam roller, peeled off the pavement, folded in half and then again, then fed into a wood chipper for good measure. Yes, being hit by lightning is much more likely than having your book made into a movie. And some authors who have gone through the process might even argue it's more pleasurable.

But me? I hold out hope. After all, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver would make an excellent film. And it would be a cheap one to make--no expensive war scenes, no huge chase scenes. Nothing being blown up. No rental of expensive venues. No closing down the streets of a major city. Hell, you could probably film it in my backyard if you want to!

So without further adieu, here are my mindless musings on Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, the movie:

Drew Barrymore, director. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to have Flower Films (co-owned by Drew Barrymore and Nancy Juvonen) produce Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, the movie. It would be such a coup and they make such kick-ass movies and they know how to make a movie that would draw in women while also appealing to men.

I've flip-flopped a bit on the leads for this, but the more I think about it the more I think Greg Kinnear would be excellent as Jack--he can play it straight but also make the audience like him even while they want to throttle him (because in the first half of this book, Jack is a bit insufferable from Claire's point of view). But Greg might be getting a little too old...

Hmmm...Stephen Colbert might be able to pull off Jack. Josh Lucas could be good as well. Oh, how about Paul Rudd?

I'm thinking I could make a drinking game out of choose-your-preferred-star-for-your-novel game!

No wait, I've got it. In my dream casting, Matt Damon would be ideal , because he has the look--sort of "square," stuffy and buttoned down, but also handsome, and you can tell that somewhere beneath the expensive suit there's some sexy lurking in there.

Casting Claire is tricky because Hollywood is populated by emaciated actresses and Claire isn't exactly known for her svelte physique... Before Kate Winslet had such an amazing year as an actress I thought she might be able to pull off Claire, but now she's the creme de la creme in Hollywood so she's probably unobtainable.

I think in the back of my mind I was thinking someone mom-like, like Bonnie Hunt, but it needs to be a younger version of Bonnie. Diane Lane could probably work well, though I'm not sure if she's got the comedic chops to do it, because Claire is a bit of a smart-ass.

Tina Fey, maybe? She's funny yet vulnerable, which Claire is. She'd have to go blonde, though. How about Patricia Heaton? Emma Thompson could also do it as long as she doesn't appear too old on film.

Claire is at that transitional age but has young enough kids that the mom must still have the vulnerability of youth, while being on the cusp of middle age.

Oh, wait, Jennifer Garner! She's about to transition out of the ingenue casting, so is perfectly ripe for middle-aged housewife woes!

Okay, this was a perfect exercise for me. Twenty minutes of noodling this around in my head and now I've got the whole thing planned: Flower Films producing, Drew Barrymore directing, Jennifer Garner starring as Claire, and Matt Damon as Jack.

Oh, and Nancy Juvonen? I'll be waiting patiently by my phone for that call...
Learn more about the book and author at Jenny Gardiner's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Sleeping With Ward Cleaver.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Lori Handeland's "Any Given Doomsday"

Lori Handeland is a Waldenbooks, Bookscan, and USA Today bestselling author as well as a two-time recipient of the Romance Writers of America’s RITA award. She has written over forty novels, novellas and short stories in several genres--historical, contemporary, series and paranormal romance, as well as urban fantasy.

Here she shares her thinking about the cast and director of a cinematic adaptation of Any Given Doomsday:
If my book--Any Given Doomsday--could be made into a movie--or the series--The Phoenix Chronicles--into a series!--I'd love to see Halle Berry in the role of Elizabeth Phoenix.

Liz is described as exotically beautiful, mutli-racial with a great body. (Yeah, makes you want to hate her until you get to know her, then she's just one of the girls.) Halle was fantastic in Monster's Ball and her acting chops would be needed to portray the emotional journey of Liz, which begins with a pretty bad childhood.

I'd choose Christian Bale for Jimmy Sanducci. He'd bring the necessary intensity to the role of Liz's half-vampire childhood friend and sometime lover. Liz and Jimmy have a complicated, conflicted past and present that would require someone of Bale's caliber.

For the tattooed, Navajo skinwalking sorcer Sawyer, Johnny Depp would be perfect. Sawyer is a mystery--is he with them or is he against them? No one knows. Depp has always been fantastic at portraying borderline characters.

I'd like this fantastic cast to be directed by Catherine Hardwicke, who did such a terrific job with the movie Twilight. The adaption from book to film was dazzling.
Read an excerpt from Any Given Doomsday, and learn more about the author and her work at Lori Handeland's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Margaret Fenton's "Little Lamb Lost"

Margaret Fenton is the planning coordinator of Murder in the Magic City, a one-day, one-track annual mystery fan conference in Homewood, Alabama. She is President of the Birmingham Chapter of Sisters in Crime and a member of the Mystery Writers of America.

she shares some casting ideas for a film adaptation of her new novel, Little Lamb Lost:
I love the challenge of figuring out who would play my characters! But I have a little confession to make: I’m not a movie fan.

I know, it’s a shame, right? I can’t even remember the last movie I saw. Maybe one of the earlier Harry Potters. I’m not sure why I don’t get into them. I prefer my stories on paper, I guess. So I hope the theater-buffs out there will forgive me.

Okay, having said that, who would play the characters in Little Lamb Lost? Good question. Not being a big movie fan, I’m not terribly familiar with all the actors out there, but here goes.

Claire Conover is my main character. She’s 29, and she’s a child-welfare social worker at the Department of Human Services. Claire has seen a lot of misery in her five years there, but somehow has managed to hold on to her optimistic belief that the world is a decent place. That belief may become a casualty when one of her clients is killed. I’m picturing Scarlett Johannson as Claire. She’s a great actress, for one, and she resembles Claire physically, I think, when she has blonde hair, and blue eyes. She possesses the ability to emote innocence and optimism, which fits Claire.

Grant Summerville is Claire’s current romantic interest. Claire’s best friend refers to him as the “Geek God”. He’s really good with computers and owns a computer store. He’s tall, six five or so, thin, and has gorgeous green eyes and glasses. Jon Hamm would be perfect to play Grant. His eyes…oh, I could swim in them. Grant’s hair is a little curlier than Jon’s, but I bet I could overlook it!

Kirk Mahoney is the next major character. He’s a newspaper reporter who’s hassling Claire about her case. I am totally stumped as to who should play him. No idea. He’s about six feet tall, around thirty years old, with spiky black hair and bright blue eyes. He’s got a real cocky attitude, too, that drives Claire nuts. I cannot come up with a single actor who looks like him. Thoughts, anyone?

And finally, there’s Claire’s dad, Dr. Christopher Conover. He’s an activist, and has been since the sixties. He’s got long blond hair, going gray, and a scar on his cheek from his experiences as a Freedom Rider in the Civil Rights Era. He’s based on my own dad, in a lot of ways, and the book is dedicated to him. Just for fun, I called my father and asked who should play Claire’s dad. He votes for Dustin Hoffman or Robert Redford. Interesting. Both really different actors. My vote is for Michael Douglas. I love his movies. Or at least I did when I watched movies in the eighties and nineties. My father said he’d never heard of him. At least I’m not the only one out of the loop.
Read more about Little Lamb Lost and its author at Margaret Fenton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Jennifer Cody Epstein's "The Painter from Shanghai"

Jennifer Cody Epstein's acclaimed novel The Painter from Shanghai is a re-imagining of the actual life of Pan Yuliang and her transformation from prostitute to post-Impressionist painter.

Here Epstein shares her thinking on the cast and director of a big screen adaptation of her novel:
I’m told that my novel could be a great movie, and I must say I agree. Its settings (1920’s Shanghai and Paris) characters (cruel madams, tortured artists, dashing revolutionaries) and Pan’s own, lush artwork would, if properly handled, make for a visual feast. Possibly a musical one too; or so the Taiwan Philharmonic seemed to think when it inquired about obtaining the opera rights.... Renée Fleming as Chinese prostitute-turned-post-Impressionist, anyone?

But that’s for another blog. This one’s about movies; the rights of which (to date) remain free in Painter’s case. Which isn’t so surprising: as Memoirs of a Geisha demonstrated “exotic” period films are both pricey and risky. Rob Marshall’s glittering bellyflop also neatly illustrated the pitfalls of poor casting and vision (Chinese actresses, playing Japanese geisha, speaking-- English?) Though it did mark progress from 1937’s The Good Earth, in which Paul Muni (in yellowface) plays a Chinese farmer, and Luise Rainer his heavily-made-up wife. To his credit, Irving Thalberg did want Chinese actors in these roles. But the era’s race biases (and in particular the Hays Code, which banned depictions of interethnic marriage) led MGM to refuse.

Happily, a filmic Painter wouldn’t face such hurdles, and could learn from Memoirs’ mistakes. Lesson #1: that there’s no shortage of talented Chinese actors. Lesson #2: they shouldn’t speak their lines in English--particularly if they don’t speak it in the first place. Lesson #3: Gong Li should not be cast, since she already appears in almost every Asian film ever screened for a Western audience, barring (of course) The Good Earth. In any event, she’s played Pan Yuliang already in the little-known 1992 film Hua hun.

I’d want to check with my director (ideally, Ang Lee) but I’d be inclined to cast Hao Lei. Though a lesser-known actress, she has both the sex-appeal and the broodiness to play Yuliang, as she demonstrated in Lou Ye’s (sexy, broody) Summer Palace. For Yuliang’s husband, I go straight to drop-dead hunk Chow Yun Fat (Hard Boiled, Curse of the Golden Flower), though Andy Lau (House of Flying Daggers) may be more the long-suffering-husband type. Still, I’d rather watch Chow Yun Fat for two hours. (Or, say, forever.)

I’ve written Xing Xudon—the young Communist who tempts Yuliang in Paris--as tall, artsy and heartbreakingly idealistic. My first thought was hoops star Yao Ming; but at 7’6 he might just be too tall, and probably lacks the necessary dramatic range. I’d go with Guo Xiaodong instead; he played Hao’s bad-boy lover in Summer Palace. Aaron Kwok—who played a complex and deeply-flawed gambler in After This Our Exile--would be pitch-perfect as Yuliang’s opium-addicted, treasonous uncle. And Jingling, the effervescent, doomed courtesan who mentors Yuliang in the brothel, could be played by martial-arts-and-beauty-queen Michelle Yeoh. (Who knows; after suffering through Memoirs she might even appreciate the opportunity. )

Oddly enough, the role for which I have the most trouble casting is Lucien Simon, Yuliang’s French painting mentor in Paris. Gérard Depardieu? Nicolas Sarkozy? But—wait. Maybe we could bring Andy Lau back--and make him French! No, really; if they did it for Muni in 1937, they certainly can do it backwards now. It’d be oddly appropriate, actually. A kind of ironic payback for the Hays Code’s past injustices…

…which just leaves Godmother, the murderous madam from Yuliang’s teenaged days in the brothel. That actress should be older, slightly matronly in figure. Capable of playing courtesans and concubines alike. Plus, she should look good in heavy makeup. And in red….Oh, all right. I give up: Gong Li.

Sigh….Some cinematic laws will just have to be left for the next generation to break.
Learn more about The Painter from Shanghai and its author at Jennifer Cody Epstein's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Painter from Shanghai.

--Marshal Zeringue