Friday, April 1, 2011

Saundra Mitchell's "The Vespertine"

A screenwriter and author, Saundra Mitchell penned the screenplays for the Fresh Films and Girls in the Director’s Chair short film series. Now an executive producer and head writer for the programs, she mentors young screenwriters from first page to production.

Her short story “Ready to Wear” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her first feature film, Revenge Ends, debuted on the festival circuit in 2008. Her debut novel, Shadowed Summer, won The Society of Midland Authors Book Award for Children’s Fiction, was a 2010 Edgar® Award Nominee, a VOYA Summer Reading selection, a Junior Library Guild selection, and an ALAN Pick in 2009.

Here she shares some thoughts on the cast for a big-screen adaptation of her new novel, The Vespertine:
Even though I'm a screenwriter, when I write books, I rarely have a real-life cast in mind. The characters are themselves in my mind. They do what they want, they look how they look, and fantasy casting is an act of "Well, she's close enough, I think!"

This wasn't the case with my latest novel, The Vespertine.

Though I had the idea (a girl who can see the future only at sunset) for a while, it was just a concept. One line; there was no story or setting, or even actual characters to be had.

While watching a recent adaptation of Wuthering Heights, I found myself fascinated by Burn Gorman's performance as Hindley. People don't tend to remember Hindley- after all, it's Wuthering Heights. It's all about Catherine and Heathcliff, and their conjoined disaster of a relationship.

But Burn Gorman's Hindley, drunken, dissolute and still angry, really excited me. It was a trembling, furious performance and during one scene (I think, just after he loses the family manse to Heathcliff,) I thought, "Man, that's a guy who would lock his sister in the attic and leave her there to die."

Which is exactly how The Vespertine begins- August van den Broek locking his seemingly mad sister in the attic. So plainly, in my head, August is played by Burn Gorman.

His sister, the protagonist, sprang up fully-formed as played by Malese Jow, late of The Vampire Diaries. I loved how Ms. Jow could alternately play innocent and worldly, how I really believed her when she was both proud and insecure.

She comes across as a performer as incredibly genuine. That's what I wanted when I wrote Amelia van den Broek: a character not quite comfortable with what she wants, but still willing to take a leap toward it anyway.

Since I'd started with actors, I've since cast much of the rest of the book, just for novelty's sake. Ed Westwick would be my ideal Nathaniel Witherspoon. He has a wry, questionable charm that's perfect for the character, and a sensual kind of charisma that Amelia could find both charming and a little frightening.

When I imagine Amelia's best friend Zora, I see Kristen Stewart, and her sweetheart Thomas, Zac Efron. I imagine Katerina Graham as Sarah, and Milo Ventimiglia as Caleb, but interestingly enough, I can't come up with a good casting for Mattie, one of the antagonists.

I see her very clearly in my head, but I can't think of a single actor that immediately conjures the kind of disingenuous nasty-sweetness that Mattie has. Sometimes bad is better left to the imagination, I guess!
Visit the official website for The Vespertine, and learn more about the book and author at Saundra Mitchell's website and blog.

Writers Read: Saundra Mitchell.

--Marshal Zeringue