Thursday, October 21, 2010

Joan Frances Turner's "Dust"

Joan Frances Turner was born in Rhode Island and grew up in the Calumet Region of northwest Indiana. A graduate of Brown University and Harvard Law School, she lives near the Indiana Dunes with her family and a garden full of spring onions and tiger lilies, weather permitting.

Dust, her first novel, is a story of the undead from their own point of view, as they battle time, decay, the loved ones they left behind, encroaching humanity and each other. Or, think Watership Down with zombies instead of rabbits.

Here she explains who ought to do the makeup on a cinematic adaptation of well as her choices for actors in the main roles:
Whenever anyone asks me--as they occasionally do--who my dream cast for Dust might include, my answer is always an immediate, "I honestly have no idea but please, please, please let Rick Baker do the makeup." Having the man responsible for An American Werewolf in London, The Ring, Videodrome, Star Wars, The Howling and dozens of other films--not to mention, of course, the dancing zombies in Michael Jackson's "Thriller"--as my makeup and special effects impresario would be a genuine honor, and at that point they can honestly do whatever they like with the script. (Not that anyone ever consults the writer about such things, anyway.)

That said, imaginary-casting Dust is still great fun, for the simple reason that Hollywood thrives on prettiness and most of our players would have to be willing to get down in the dirt and spectacularly ugly. Assuming, since this is all fantasy, that I can cast without regard to time, place or real-world age, here's a few suggestions:

--Jessie: Our POV protagonist, Jessie is an "everywoman" zombie, an angry teenage girl turned angry young woman trapped in a slowly decaying body and searching, with little success, for a surrogate family like she never had alive. Busy Philipps, who played the tough, needy Kim Kelly on Freaks and Geeks, springs to mind right away, or possibly Kristen Stewart.

--Joe: Jessie's…not quite boyfriend, since zombies don't have libidos or romantic attachments as humans imagine them, but the closest to such a thing as she'll get while undead. A few folks have spoken of the book having an Outsiders vibe, and a friend called Joe "Ponyboy with maggots"--so who better than C. Thomas Howell, who played Ponyboy in the Francis Ford Coppola Outsiders adaptation. If he's willing to let himself be covered head to toe with seething artificial grubs, he's a shoo-in.

--Renee: A friend of Jessie's, Renee is not just freshly dead but also "conventionally" blonde, girlish and pretty, so really any Hollywood ingénue who wants to mix it up in a big fight scene--and let her scalp get torn off in the process--could fit the bill.

--Florian: The zombie gang paterfamilias, a walking skeleton who's lost most of his earthly appetites. The character actors Peter Weller and Peter Greene both have the right vaguely cadaverous vibe for the part, though they'd have to be aged up. Actually, since this is fantasy casting an elderly Henry Fonda would be ideal.

--Billy: A big, bloated shambles of a corpse, the gang comic with a vicious, ravenous edge: a perfect part for a character actor or comedian who can go funny or frightening as the situation demands. "Big and bloated" he isn't, but with some judicious padding and makeup Steve Buscemi would be a great choice.

--Linc: The "thinker" of the gang, quiet and meditative and far stronger than he appears. Either a teenaged Marlon Taylor (who played the younger Mike Hanlon, future town librarian, in Stephen King's It) or, based on his work in the 1993 indie film Suture, a similarly aged-down Dennis Haysbert.

Of the above, my "dream" choices no matter who they played would be Steve Buscemi, Peter Weller and Peter Greene. But as noted, if Rick Baker raised a hand to participate, they could cast Lady Gaga as Florian and I'd still be good with it.
Read an excerpt from Dust, and learn more about the book and author at Joan Frances Turner's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Dust.

--Marshal Zeringue