Saturday, November 10, 2012

Mary Stewart Atwell's "Wild Girls"

In Mary Stewart Atwell's Wild Girls, Kate Riordan fears two things as she grows up in the small Appalachian town of Swan River: that she’ll be a frustrated townie forever or that she’ll turn into one of the mysterious and terrifying wild girls, killers who start fires and menace the community. Struggling to better her chances of escaping, Kate attends the posh Swan River Academy and finds herself divided between her hometown—and its dark history—and the realm of privilege and achievement at the Academy. Explosive friendships with Mason, a boy from the wrong side of town, and Willow, a wealthy and popular queen bee from school, are slowly pulling her apart. Kate must decide who she is and where she belongs before she wakes up with cinders at her fingertips.

Here the author dreamcasts a big-screen adaptation of Wild Girls:
I feel really nervous about hearing someone else read my work out loud. There is an audiobook of Wild Girls, by Brilliance Audio, and my plan is to get someone I know to listen to it and then tell me, in detail, how it sounds. I know the reader is a professional and I’m sure that her interpretation is excellent, but the fact remains that the sentences have, to my ear, a certain intonation, a certain rhythm to them. I feel attached to the version I heard in my head as I wrote, and I don’t want to lose it.

Obviously, this would present certain problems were Wild Girls to ever become a film. For a screenwriter, seeing your words interpreted part of the process, and if the process is successful, the actors add something that makes the words different, better, than they are on the page. My husband is a filmmaker, and when he directed his first feature, I saw this happen at close range. Incarnated in the actors, some of the characters were totally different from how he imagined them, and that was a good thing; they gave the dialogue a depth and a texture that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. I like the thought that if I were lucky enough to ever see Wild Girls on the screen, I’d come around to the idea that performance adds something to your work, rather than taking something away from it. Still, my weird anxiety might be the reason why I’ve come up with a chronologically impossible cast here.

I’m going against type here, but I’d like to see the main character, Kate, played by Elle Fanning. Kate is brainy and a little bit awkward, and as far as I know Ms. Fanning has never played that kind of part, but it might be good for her to stretch herself. Though she’s prettier than Kate should be, she looks sensitive and thoughtful, like there’s more going on in her head than she lets on. If she were willing to dye her hair brown and could put on just a tiny bit of an Appalachian accent, she’d be perfect.

I think that Willow, Kate’s friend slash rival slash nemesis, would be best depicted by Claire Danes circa 1993. This may be an obvious choice; Willow is a redhead, and everyone who was watching TV in 1993 will remember Angela Chase’s beautiful red hair in My So-Called Life. Unlike the vulnerable Angela, Willow is a bit of a mean girl, and I think it would be interesting to see the teenage Danes play a character with less angst and more fierceness.

Mason, the object of Kate and Willow’s rivalry, should be played by Taylor Kitsch circa 2006. Mason is a bit smarter than Tim Riggins, but he has the same kind of hickish charm. The self-satisfied sideways smile that he puts on when he’s trying to pick up a girl would be perfect for Mason. I’m actually glad that I didn’t watch Friday Night Lights until after I finished Wild Girls, or I probably would have been tempted to make the character even more Riggins-ish.
Watch the trailer for Wild Girls, read more about Wild Girls, and visit Mary Stewart Atwell's Facebook page and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Wild Girls.

--Marshal Zeringue