Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Katherine Hill's "The Violet Hour"

Katherine Hill is the author of The Violet Hour, a novel first published by Scribner in July 2013.

Her short fiction has been published by AGNI, Colorado Review, The Common, n+1, Philadelphia Stories, and Word Riot, and has been honored with the Nelligan Prize, the Marguerite McGlinn Prize, and fellowships at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including The Believer, Bookforum, The Paris Review Daily, Philadelphia City Paper, Poets & Writers, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Currently an assistant editor at Barrelhouse, she is a former speechwriter at the University of Pennsylvania, and has taught writing at Philadelphia University, Mighty Writers in South Philadelphia, and the PEN Prison Writing Program in New England. She holds a BA from Yale and an MFA from Bennington College.

Here Hill dreamcasts an adaptation of The Violet Hour:
My husband and I recently spent the better part of a drive home from the airport dreaming up a new movie adaptation of As You Like It. We got as far as Channing Tatum for Charles the Wrestler and stopped—because it was too perfect a choice and no other decision could top it. I have a similar problem with my novel. I watch a lot of movies and I like to think about their approaches to storytelling, so I can certainly see parts of The Violet Hour cinematically—Cassandra and Abe’s explosive fight on their sailboat, for instance, or Cassandra’s first corpse, or Elizabeth’s adventure at an outdoor movie. But other aspects of my American family in disarray are perhaps too interior, more rooted in the words and thought of fiction than in the sights and sounds of the screen.

Which is not to say I’m opposed to The Violet Hour movie. Not at all. Not in the slightest. Do not get me wrong. I’d love to talk with you further. Because let’s be honest: having your book made into a movie is right up there with the double rainbow as one of the all-time coolest things that can happen to a person.

The common complaint is that movie adaptations ruin books by getting them wrong or changing too much (for instance, Martin Scorsese’s casting of blonde Michelle Pfeiffer as Madame Olenska and brunette Winona Ryder as May Welland in the otherwise masterful The Age of Innocence, when it should’ve been the other way around). I’m of the opposite school: I’d actually love to see a director riff on the book a little, create something new that only cinema can make. Forget literal adaptations. After all, most of my favorite recent movies, from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s L’Enfant to Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, rely on the unique tools of cinema—faces, spaces, and sound—to tell stories very differently from me.

All right then, so who would I pick? Directors come to mind first. I really admire what Derek Cianfrance did with Cindy and Dean’s marriage in Blue Valentine, cutting back and forth between courtship and breakup; he’d be a top contender. So would Sofia Coppola, who is exceptional at framing the angst of privilege, making it look at once abhorrent and achingly fun.

Actors are harder for me to envision, because I’ve lived with these characters so long I can no longer see their faces. With two exceptions: Julianne Moore for Cassandra, and Russell Brand for Vince.
Learn more about the book and author at Katherine Hill's website and blog.

Writers Read: Katherine Hill.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Jincy Willett's "Winner of the National Book Award"

Jincy Willett is the author of Jenny and the Jaws of Life, Winner of the National Book Award, The Writing Class, and Amy Falls Down. Her stories have been published in Cosmopolitan, McSweeney's Quarterly and other magazines.

Here Willett shares some insight into casting an adaptation of Winner of the National Book Award:
I'd love to see Winner of the National Book Award as a movie.

Abigail and Dorcas Mather are fraternal twins living in Rhode Island. Dorcas is virginal, slender, acerbic; she's the head librarian at Squanto. Her sister is plump, sexually voracious, amoral; she kills her husband and becomes a feminist icon. Dorcas narrates the novel as she waits for an imminent hurricane and reads a bestseller her sister has written, a largely false memoir about her travails as an abused wife.
I know Abigail better than anyone else in the world, and if I were asked to explain this or that particular thing, I could probably give a fairly accurate account of her motivations. I can report that duty has never played an even minor part in her decisions; that she is moved solely by the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain; that she derives pleasure from an astonishing variety of sources, and pain from astonishingly few; and so on. I can even predict her behavior, with a respectable success rate.

"But I don't understand her at all. To understand you have to do more than predict and explain. You must feel some degree of empathy. I have a greater understanding of cats and internal combustion engines and Iranians than I do of my twin sister Abigail.
Abigail would ideally be played by Cynthia Ettinger, who can definitely play bawds. She was particularly wonderful in Carnivàle.
Learn more about the book and author at Jincy Willett's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 29, 2013

Andrea Lochen's "The Repeat Year"

Andrea Lochen earned her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. While there, she won a Hopwood Novel Award for a draft of The Repeat Year, her first novel. She currently lives in suburban Milwaukee with her husband and teaches Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha.

Here Lochen dreamcasts an adaptation of The Repeat Year:
Casting actors for The Repeat Year is actually a lot more challenging than I thought it would be, but what a fun challenge and a great excuse to pore over the Internet Movie Database for a few hours!

My protagonist, Olive Watson, the young ICU nurse who finds herself reliving the previous year, was the hardest one for me to cast because she’s so dear to me, and I feel like I would need to entrust her to someone really beautiful and talented. I think she’d be in good hands portrayed by the lovely Kate Mara because of the depth, intelligence, and sensitivity she brings to every role she plays.

Her best friend, Kerrigan Morland, would have to be played by Kirsten Dunst because they share fun, party-girl personalities with a slight edge to them and blond good looks—“Her face was strikingly pretty, pretty in the way of prom queens and girls in skin cleanser commercials, but her dressed-down appearance tempered the effect” (39).

Olive’s love interest, Phil Russell, is “that rare and refreshing combination of a person who is both drop-dead gorgeous and completely unaware of it” (76). I think Jake Gyllenhaal or Zac Efron would both be good picks, although they have blue eyes, while Phil is supposed to have eyes that are a “brilliant shade of green…with a kaleidoscope pattern of amber overlaying his irises” (76). Colored contacts, perhaps?

Lastly, Kathy Bates would make a phenomenal Sherry Witan (an experienced “repeater” who becomes Olive’s mentor) with her frank, bold attitude and fierce sense of humor. Every character Bates portrays is larger than life and legendary from Fried Green Tomatoes to Titanic, and Sherry Witan is definitely one of those characters.
Learn more about the book and author at Andrea Lochen's website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Andrea Lochen.

The Page 69 Test: The Repeat Year.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Aric Davis's "The Fort"

Born in Ithaca, New York, Aric Davis has lived most his life in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is the author of A Good and Useful Hurt and the acclaimed YA novel Nickel Plated, called by Gillian Flynn a “dark but humane, chilling and sometimes heart-breaking work of noir” and given a “Top 10” Booklist designation in 2011. A punk-music and tattoo aficionado, Davis has been a professional body piercer for sixteen years.

Here Davis dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, The Fort:
I have to admit, though I frequently have fantasies of one of my novels being made into a movie, rarely do I go through with actually casting my imaginary production. That said, making this list might just have turned this task into a new hobby. My new novel, The Fort, with its youthful heroes and absolutely deplorable antagonist, seems to me like it would work as a feature film. As fun as writing about this stuff is, imagining actors fleshing out these roles is a freaking riot. Now then, onto the casting call.

Matt Hooper: Who best to play the damaged and insane Vietnam Veteran? As The Fort is set firmly in the year 1987, someone younger than you might immediately think is in order. To me, Michael Fassbender seems a good fit. I think he could do crazy well, and his growing resume in films like Prometheus and Inglourious Basterds more than speaks for itself.

Detective Dick Van Endel: This is a toughie, mostly because I normally picture the grizzled, older version of Van Endel that has graced some of my books set in a more modern setting. Casting The Fort, I need someone who looks like they could grow up to be grizzled, but also has the sort of wet-behind-the-ears jerkiness that helps to define this younger detective. I think Ben Affleck would be a perfect fit for this role, and as he would also be one of my first picks when it comes to choosing directors, he seems to be an ideal choice.

Scott, Tim, and Luke: These are the make it or break it characters, the lynchpin that holds the whole thing together. After all, we’re talking about casting 3 twelve year old boys here, and as anyone who has seen both The Phantom Menace and The Sixth Sense can tell you, casting the wrong kid can define the way an audience reacts to the film. For these three twelve year olds my pick would be to avoid the waiting stable of manufactured Disney Channel fluff, and go with three unknown would be actors.

Andrea Martinez: Dick Van Endel’s butt kicking partner for the mission, judo loving child psyche Andrea Martinez needs to be cast in a way that makes her more than just a shell of a person. Andrea carries weight in The Fort, and I want her to on film as well. I think her shoes would be well filled by Gina Carano.

Molly Peterson: Molly, the unfortunate kidnapping victim of Matt Hooper needs to be strong in a performance that will likely see her suffering for art. I think Demi Lovato might be a good fit for Molly. The X-Factor judge has yet to break out as an adult actress, and I think this could be the role that would do it.

The rest of the casting would have a lot to do with finding people that matched the appearances of the three boys cast as the 12 year old antagonists, but otherwise, I think we have a good group. I’ll probably find some role for me as well, man in bar, homeless person, or guy getting arrested. It’s good to have options!
Learn more about the book and author at the official Aric Davis website.

The Page 69 Test: The Fort.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 26, 2013

Clare Mulley's "The Spy Who Loved"

Clare Mulley is the award-winning author of two biographies. The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville (2013) is 'scrumptuously researched and expertly rendered... outstanding', according to The Daily Beast, ‘assiduously researched, passionately written and highly atmospheric’ says The Economist, and ‘compulsively readable… thrilling’ in the words of Britain's Telegraph.

Mulley's other biography, The Woman Who Saved the Children is about Eglantyne Jebb (2009), the founder of Save the Children who did not care for individual children, won the British Daily Mail Biographers’ Club prize. All royalties from this book are donated to the charity.

Mulley also contributed to The Arvon Book of Life Writing (2010). She is a regular radio contributor, speaks at leading international literary and history events, and writes and reviews for various papers and journals including The Spectator and History Today. She lives in Essex, England, with her husband and three daughters.

Here Mulley dreamcasts an adaptation of The Spy Who Loved:
The eponymous Spy Who Loved was Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville, Britain’s first female special agent of WWII. This Polish, part-Jewish, Countess and pre-war beauty queen would become one of the most successful and highly decorated agents of the war. The book title is not only an oblique reference to James Bond – Christine was an inspiration for Bond’s creator Ian Fleming – but also a reference to Christine’s huge appetite for life, which she loved in its widest sense. She loved danger, adventure and adrenalin. She loved men – she had two husbands and numerous lovers. But most of all she loved freedom; freedom for her country, Poland, and the Allies, and freedom for herself. Who on earth could play such a woman and bring to life not only her magnetism, but her great patriotism, courage, determination, occasional cruelty and deep generosity?

The tempting answer is Rachel Weisz, not just a dark-haired beauty and action actress, but in real life Mrs James Bond, in that she is married to Daniel Craig. Or what about the stunning Eva Green who played Vesper Lynd, the Bond beauty reputedly inspired by Christine, in the 2006 film of Casino Royale? I would have to resist both, great actresses though both may be. The link to Bond is just too close for comfort. Christine’s life and achievements, even her looks, may have inspired Fleming, but she herself was much more Bond that Bond-girl. She demands an actress who will keep her centre stage.

Whether there will be a film of Krystyna’s remarkable life is yet to be seen, but it seems that casting her is already a popular game. In the 1950s a screenplay was written by Bill Stanley Moss, author of Ill Met By Moonlight (about his and Paddy Leigh Fermor’s WWII work as special agents in Crete). Moss knew Krystyna well, and also wrote a series of articles about her for Picture Post, but the film project was finally shelved. Had it not have been, we might have enjoyed watching Sarah Churchill, the actress daughter of British war-time leader Sir Winston Churchill, in the role that she was apparently keen to play. More recently Agnieszka Holland was rumoured to be interested in a biopic of Krystyna, and leading ladies mooted included Kate Winslet and Tilda Swinton. And only this week considered the same thing, with Franka Potente, Noomi Rapace, Anna Chancellor and Sharleen Spiteri all being flagged up.

Personally I would plump for the excellent Agnieszka Grochowska, a charismatic actress who could bring Polish insight as well as the acting skill and great beauty required to really give depth to this extraordinary and complex woman. But whether any actress could capture Krystyna completely I doubt, and perhaps that is how she would have preferred things; to be known, admired, emulated even, but ultimately - still free.
Learn more about the book and author at Clare Mulley's website, and view a short video of the author talking about the book.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Em Garner's "Contaminated"

Em Garner has been writing stories since she learned to spell and watching movies for longer than that. Her favorite stories and films are the ones that feature things that go bump in the night. Ghosts, vampires, monsters of all sorts and of course, zombies.

Garner’s dream cast for the movie adaptation of her new novel, Contaminated:
Contaminated isn’t about zombies. Not really. Connies aren’t the risen undead, but rather our neighbors, teachers, friends and family who had the bad luck to drink contaminated protein water that’s now left them incapable of controlling their violent impulses. Connies don’t feel pain or feel like uncontaminated people, but they’re still human. So, Contaminated is really about how we take care of the people we love, even when they’ve become different from how we knew them.

Velvet Ellis at seventeen is in charge of taking care of her younger sister Opal, and also her mother Malinda, who’s been contaminated but is now released into her daughter’s care. Fitted with a shocking collar that keeps her from becoming violent, Malinda is not supposed to be able to take care of herself in many ways, but she proves otherwise.

For Velvet, I’d love to see Emma Watson. I think she’s got the perfect combination of vulnerability and strength that Velvet has.

Opal’s a little tougher to cast. Willow Shields was so excellent as Prim in The Hunger Games, I think she’d be a great Opal! Smart, sassy and strong.

And, though it might not seem like an obvious choice, Angelina Jolie would be my dream Malinda. Beautiful but with the capability of looking frail and strong at the same time. Jolie’s also an actress who’s not afraid to look ugly. She’d be a great Malinda.

Dillon, the nice boy who befriends Velvet and her family, should be played by One Direction’s Harry Styles. Why? Because my daughter loves him!

Going one step further, I’d like Ed Sheeran to write the movie’s theme song.
Learn more about the book and author at Em Garner's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Contaminated.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

J. M. Sidorova's "The Age of Ice"

J.M. Sidorova was born in Moscow when it was the capital of the USSR, to the family of an official of the Ministry of Foreign Trade. She attended Moscow State University and the graduate school of the Russian Academy of Sciences. She moved to Seattle, Washington, in 1990 and works as a research professor at the University of Washington, where she studies cellular biology of aging and carcinogenesis.

Here Sidorova dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Age of Ice:
This exercise of imagination could be called an author’s guilty pleasure. What fancy… Heck, why not let it soar? The imaginary, eight hour-long movie The Age of Ice that sometimes plays in my head, is probably directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, whose work had made an indelible impression on me as a teenager, and who would have to come back from the dead to make this one. In this imaginary movie, the main character, Prince Alexander Velitzyn, is occasionally played by Alexander Skarsgård and other times by Benedict Cumberbatch. And Alexander’s brother Andrei —

Here I realize that the task of assigning actors to my characters is more difficult than I thought. I’ve now spent hours poking around IMDB, googling Russian-American actors, and the casts of True Blood and Game of Thrones (because their headshots are lined up so conveniently and there are so many to choose from), and still I’ve made virtually no progress. All I know is that Martin Sawyer is definitely Richard Hammond of the BBC show Top Gear; and other than that, Dr. Merck looks somewhat like the last Russian Emperor Nikolai Romanov, only younger and without a beard; and Anna Velitzyn is close to Princess de Broglie as painted by Ingres. This makes it possible, I guess, for her to be played by Carice van Hoyten who could also play Anna von Welleren, if she’d like. And Elizabeth Goretsky? Hmm, maybe Ellen Page. Or Rachel Weisz. Like I said, it’s not easy.
Learn more about the book and author at J.M. Sidorova's website, blog and the Scribner website.

The Page 69 Test: The Age of Ice.

Writers Read: J. M. Sidorova.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Scott Britz-Cunningham's "Code White"

Scott Britz-Cunningham was born and raised in the Chicago area. An MD and a PhD, he works as a staff radiologist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and is an assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his debut thriller, Code White:
For me, this is an easy question to answer, since at an early stage I adopted Rachel Weisz as a model for my protagonist, Ali O’Day.

Ali is a young neurosurgeon (as young as one can be after four years of college, four years of medical school, six years of neurosurgery residency and a couple years of research fellowship). She’s struggling to establish herself in one of the last bastions of male chauvinism in medicine, but her heaviest challenges come from within. Born in Egypt (her maiden name is Aliyah Sabra Al-Sharawi), she suffered a profound trauma as a young girl, which has left her with a condition called thymophobia — an extreme, at times physically disabling, aversion to any expression of strong emotion. She tries to escape into the almost monastically calm world of the operating room and laboratory, and uses yoga to keep her thoughts in check. But it’s all in vain. Underneath her surgeon’s mask she hides a volcano of feeling, all the stronger for having been repressed.

During the eleven hours in which the book takes place, a bomb threat to Ali’s hospital progressively strips away all of her emotional defenses. In the end, she discovers that the bomb plot in question is no random event. She herself is its true target, and her emotional disability is precisely what caused it. She can only save her hospital and patients if she is willing to confront the horror that lurks in her past.

It would take a special actress to play this role. First of all, she has to project intelligence and iron determination. She cuts into people’s brains for a living. She makes half a dozen life-or-death decisions before breakfast. She’s a key player in a revolutionary experiment that could restore eyesight to a blind boy.

Because of her thymophobia, Ali is outwardly very tightly controlled. So, an actress playing her is limited in the gestures and voice inflections she can use. And yet, she has to show that there are chinks in this emotional armor. Flashes of deep, even violent feeling must break through. And then, in the final scenes, with all her inhibitions gone, something of the reverse must occur. Amid her raging emotions, Ali is sustained by a core of inner strength and determination that keeps her from losing her grip on reality. As a writer, I have the advantage of tapping into Ali’s inner monologues to convey all this. But for an actress, with nothing but face, voice and body language at her disposal, it would be quite a task. Unusual emotional range is needed, along with exquisite subtlety, and, at times, restraint. She has to project both hardness and vulnerability — sometimes together.

Forget The Mummy and The Bourne Legacy. Anyone who has seen Rachel Weisz in Agora or The Constant Gardener or The Shape of Things knows that she has the chops to do this. Physically, too, she would be right to play a woman of middle eastern descent, who for years has passed as typically American. Because I deliberately patterned Ali after her, the descriptions of Ali’s appearance in the book are a perfect match.

Bottom line: none but Rachel Weisz for me.

As for the other characters, I could see someone like Tom Wilkinson as Ali’s cerebral Chief of Neurosurgery and Ms. Weisz’ real-life husband Daniel Craig as Security Chief Harry Lewton. Although he runs against the physical description in the book, I would love to see Adrien Brody as Ali’s estranged-and-deranged genius husband. It’s a part that needs to evoke sympathy as well as chilling fear.
View the graphic trailer for Code White, and learn more about the book and author at Scott Britz-Cunningham's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Stephanie Hepburn & Rita Simon's "Human Trafficking Around the World"

Stephanie Hepburn was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Scottish and Colombian immigrants, and grew up in Columbia, Maryland. She is an independent journalist whose work has been published in Americas Quarterly, USA Today U-Wire, and Gender Issues. She is a weekly and monthly contributing writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Her book with Rita J. Simon, Women’s Roles and Statuses the World Over, was named an Outstanding Academic Title by Choice.

Rita J. Simon is University Professor at American University in Washington, DC. Her research interests and primary areas of concentration in academic work are law and society; the jury system; immigration policies and public opinion; trans-racial adoption; women and the criminal justice system; women's issues; and Israeli society. She has published over sixty books in these fields.

Here Hepburn shares some ideas for adapting their new book, Human Trafficking Around the World: Hidden in Plain Sight, for the cinema:
Human Trafficking Around the World: Hidden in Plain Sight is non-fiction, but in addition to critical statistics that are necessary for giving as close to an accurate image as possible of the extent of human trafficking in the world, the book is packed full of stories, which to me are the glue and heart of the book. It isn’t just one person’s story that is told. There are many and so I view the book -- in part -- as a compilation of stories of the human trafficking experience all over the world.

Below is a true story that I believe is compelling, heart wrenching and illustrates the strength of the human spirit:

Mani was born a slave in Niger. Traditional slavery (a form of human trafficking) is not uncommon in Niger among minority ethnic groups such as the Toureg, Maure and Peule. At the age of 12 Mani’s master sold her to Naroua as a fifth wife (sadaka), which meant that she was acquired to work as both servant and concubine. She was raped and beaten any time Naroua found her disobedient. Mani, with the help of local attorneys and human rights organizations, exhausted her options in Niger. In fact, one Nigerien judge ruled, improperly, that a freed slave girl is the de facto wife of her master. This illustrates the strength of customary practices, which often prevails over law. Instead of backing down Mani brought a case against the Nigerien government before the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice for failure to implement laws against slavery.

The verdict was groundbreaking. The court held that Niger had the opportunity and obligation to protect Mani when she came before them and awarded her $22,626.94 in restitution. Although discrimination against women and traditional slavery continue in Niger, the Mani case opened up a much-needed national dialogue on the practice of slavery. After the decision Mani said:
It was very difficult to challenge my former master and to speak out when people see you as nothing more than a slave. But I knew that this was the only way to protect my child from suffering the same fate as myself. Nobody deserves to be enslaved. We are all equal and deserve to be treated the same. I hope that everybody in slavery today can find their freedom. No woman should suffer the way I did. With the compensation I will be able to build a house, raise animals, and farmland to support my family. I will also be able to send my children to school so they can have the education I was never allowed as a slave.
The decision is enormously significant, but what is striking is the will and endurance of a person who has been told from her first breath that she is not equal and that she has no rights. She withstood rape, mental and physical abuse and improper arrest and still maintained the willpower to push forward with cases against the person who enslaved her and also the government that failed her.

Thandie Newton would be a good fit for Mani. To me the character needs to show vulnerability and an internal strength of spirit that will endure and stand up to an entire nation that ignores her plight.

For Narou – the man who enslaved Mani – I think of Don Cheadle. The viewer needs to be able to see his struggle with understanding the concept of freedom, and his struggle to let go of his ownership and possession of Mani. His character will be understandably disliked, but he needs to be presented in a complex – not flat – fashion.

Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund (City of God/Cidade de Deus) would be excellent choices for directors.
Visit Stephanie Hepburn's website, and learn more about Human Trafficking Around the World at the Columbia University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Human Trafficking Around the World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Jessica Brockmole's "Letters from Skye"

Jessica Brockmole's new novel is Letters from Skye. When she's not writing, Brockmole can be found reviewing historical fiction as part of the Historical Novels Review's editorial team.

Here she shares some ideas about how to adapt the novel for the big screen:
I always find this a difficult question. “Who would play your characters in the movie version of your book?” I know many authors who write with actors already cast, soundtracks already orchestrated, directors already hidden between the pages, calling for close-ups. I’ve never been able to do that. While writing Letters from Skye, David and Elspeth, my American college student and my Scottish poet, appeared with faces and mannerisms and personalities all their own.

To me, a more interesting question to ponder is the how rather than the who. Letters from Skye is an epistolary novel. Apart from the odd poem or fairy tale or newspaper clipping, the whole story is told through letters. How might that be presented on the screen?

It would be easy to use letters to segue between scenes. Elspeth standing in front of her cottage, the panorama of Skye behind her, reading a letter as her chores go undone. David—who volunteers as an ambulance driver in the midst of WWI—folded into the driver’s seat of an ambulance, scribbling a response against the steering wheel as the shells of the trenches whine in the background. Reading and writing as a transition into the landscapes of Skye and of war. Excerpts could be read in voiceovers, or the envelopes could remain props.

Words are vital to the novel, as each character weighs them before picking up their pens to write a reply, but place also plays a big role. And the casting for that role is easy. Nothing less than the breath-held beauty of the Isle of Skye would do for filming. Built sets could fill in for Illinois and the trenches of the Western Front, but in this movie, Skye would play herself.

Letters from Skye is a story told in reminisces and frustrations and crossed-fingered wishes. It’s a story that, to me at least, begins with a hopefully penned “Dear Madame” rather than with a director’s cry of “action”. But against such a backdrop, both of history and of place, with characters determined and yearning to see what lies beyond the shore, any film would shine.
Learn more about the book and author at Jessica Brockmole's website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Letters from Skye.

Writers Read: Jessica Brockmole.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Brenda Janowitz's "Recipe for a Happy Life"

Brenda Janowitz attended Cornell University and Hofstra Law School, where she was a member of the Law Review and won the Law Review Writing Competition. Janowitz has worked as a lawyer, and as a career counselor at two New York City law schools. Her books include Jack with a Twist and Scot on the Rocks.

Her new novel, Recipe for a Happy Life, is about three generations of women with a culture all their own. When Hannah finds herself spending the summer with her glamorous grandmother, a widow six times over, at her sprawling beach-front Hamptons estate, she learns that there’s more than one recipe for happiness.

A story of mothers and daughters, grandmothers and grandchildren, Recipe for a Happy Life is a quirky story about correcting the mistakes from your past and trying to create a future for yourself.

Here Janowitz dreamcasts an adaptation of Recipe for a Happy Life:
Oooh, this one’s tough, because one of the main characters in the book is a 76 year old grandmother, and there aren’t exactly a ton of 76 year-old grandmothers running around. Or, if there are, we don’t get to see them that often. Hollywood likes ‘em young, I think.

I think Joan Collins would be perfect to play the part of Hannah’s grandmother, Vivienne, the glamorous widow six times over, but my editor likes Shirley MacLaine. (Joan, Shirley, call me!)

The granddaughter, Hannah, is at a place in her life where she’s really lost. We’d need an actress who could really express that—the sense of loss, the sense of not knowing who she is or where she’s going.

There are so many talented actresses I love: Natalie Portman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Garner, Drew Barrymore. Each would bring something really special to the story.
Learn more about the book and author at Brenda Janowitz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 15, 2013

Michael Innis-Jiménez's "Steel Barrio"

Michael Innis-Jiménez is an assistant professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of American Studies at the University of Alabama. He has also served as a scholar for The Latino New South Project, a public history project sponsored by a three museum consortium consisting of the Levine Museum of the New South (Charlotte, NC), The Atlanta History Museum, and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Steel Barrio: The Great Mexican Migration to South Chicago, 1915-1940:
As a work of non-fiction I wasn’t sure if I could come up with a dream cast for the movie version of Steel Barrio. In the end, I had fun and I think I came up with a great cast of primarily Latino/a actors that would help bring to life early Mexican South Chicago.

I would start by getting Gregory Nava, Edward James Olmos, or John Sayles to direct. They each have experience directing socially relevant movies with Latino working-class themes. Edward James Olmos could also serve as the narrator and as Jesse Escalante, the person who collected many of the oral histories. Two men critical to the gathering and maintaining of the interviews, data, and primary sources important to Steel Barrio are Manuel Gamio and Paul S. Taylor. Oliver Platt could star as Gamio and Jeff Bridges as Taylor.

Three of the major figures in the book whom we watch develop as leaders throughout Steel Barrio are Tejana social worker Mercedes Rios-Radica, business owner and athletic club organizer Eduardo Peralta, and track worker turned newspaperman and boarding house owner Francisco Huerta. America Ferrera would be perfect as the smart, tenacious, and socially conscious Rios-Radica. George Lopez could be Huerta and Hector Elizondo would bring Peralta back to life.

The other main characters would be the Mexican immigrants who enter South Chicago in the 1920s as teenagers or adolescents but progress into their 40s by the end of the book. Jimmy Smits would play Justino Cordero, Michael DeLorenzo would be Serafín García, Benicio del Toro would be Benigno Castillo, and the rest of the immigrant men we watch grow up include Esai Morales, Benjamin Bratt, Bobby Cannavale, Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen and Michael Peña. Andy Garcia would play Alfredo de Avila, part of the group of immigrants above who becomes a union organizer. Justino Cordero eventually marries Polish-American Carolyn Kon, who would be played by Cameron Diaz. Sidney Levin, the non-Mexican pal of the boys/men listed above, would be played by David Arquette.

An important scene in the movie would be the courtroom confrontation between a young anti-Mexican municipal judge and the acting Mexican consul. These parts would be played by Matthew McConaughey and Martin Sheen respectively. The consul’s wife, Salma Hayek as Mila Dominguez, is a famous Mexican singer and active in aid organization. Other consuls during this period would be played by Gael García Bernal and Danny Pino. Alfred Molina would play Jose Vasconcelos, prominent Mexican politician and author of La Raza Cosmica.

Two Catholic priests who were instrumental in the Mexican Church in Chicago include Spaniards James Tort and Domingo Zaldivares. Javier Bardem could star as Tort and Lou Diamond Phillips as Zaldivares. Liam Neeson would be Lacy Simms, protestant missionary in the neighborhood.

Mark Harmon, Dennis Franz, and Ed O’Neill would play steel-mill managers and Edie Falco could be Mrs. Kemball, head of a social service agency.

The Svalina family, South Chicago shop owners and friends of the Mexican immigrant community, would be played by Lily Tomlin as the matriarch, Adam Arkin as her husband, and Zac Efron as their son Sam.
Learn more about the book and author at Michael Innis-Jiménez's website and the Steel Barrio Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: Steel Barrio.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Zygmunt J. B. Plater's "The Snail Darter and the Dam"

Zygmunt J. B. Plater is professor of law and director of the Land & Environmental Law Program at Boston College Law School. He chaired the State of Alaska Oil Spill Commission’s Legal Research Task Force, is lead author of an environmental law casebook, and has participated in numerous citizen environmental initiatives. He lives in Newton Highlands, MA.

Here Plater dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, The Snail Darter and the Dam: How Pork-Barrel Politics Endangered a Little Fish and Killed a River:
I had asked Jonathan Harr (A Civil Action; The Lost Caravaggio) to write the book about this dramatic fight between a little fish and a dam, between local citizens and national pork-barrel politics. But Harr said “No, you need to write it, because you were there,”… and, he said, “write it like a movie!

So I did. If they make my book into a film, here’s who I’d like to play the lead roles—

Albert Davis [Tom Hanks] — a shy but powerful Tennessee farmer, a reluctant leader whose family farm is being condemned almost entirely for a corporate developer’s resale profits, not for the dammed lake; hesitant to talk, but when he describes what is being lost, even reporters cry.

Jean Ritchey [Sally Field] — a small, feisty Tennessee famer whose family holds out for more than a dozen years, fighting hard; she testifies repeatedly in Congress, helps build the economic case against the dam, and sets up one of the federal agency’s most embarrassing moments.

Dr. David Etnier [J.K. Simmons] — a feisty, laconic, expert ichthyologist, raconteur, and beer drinker; knows every perch species on planet Earth; bent over one day in the dam-threatened river and caught in his hands the tiny never-before-seen endangered fish, the “snail darter,” that ultimately swims all the way to the Supreme Court, and wins.

Anne Wickham [Kristen Wiig] — a brilliant citizen environmental advocate in Washington, advising and organizing political contacts in Congress for the Tennesseeans; links the author to the nascent Old Girls Network in Washington and plays Yoda to my stumbling Luke Skywalker; a bit flakey, blond, blue-eyed, paralyzed by polio, she does it all from a wheelchair; has to stop midnight vigilante cement-pouring expeditions (making impromptu ramps for non-accessible sidewalk curbs) when appointed to the State Department.

Hank Hill [Jack Black, a dead ringer] — a chunky, explosive, GPA-challenged law student; from his beer-drinking fish biologist student buddies he heard about the fish and decided to write a term paper on how the federal dam might violate the federal endangered species law; his term paper starts the whole crusade.

Representative Albert Gore [Darrell Hammond] — the young, insecure politician trying to earn his eminent senator father’s respect; he makes sound environmental policy his core issue but—faced with corrupt home state politics and the congressional pork barrel—double-crosses the citizens and undercuts the proven merits of their case; anguished, he excludes his home-state’s darter, the decade’s biggest environmental case, from mention in his book Earth in the Balance, subsequently trying to build a more principled environmental career.

Senator Howard Baker [Jason Alexander] — the powerful presidential hopeful Tennessee politician who pretends to be open-minded about the conflict but works deviously behind the scenes to hide the truth about the dam’s destructive economics (much as he had tried to hide the Nixon Watergate facts in his Senate oversight hearings role); he ultimately engineers a backhanded override of the Supreme Court verdict.

Aubrey "Red" Wagner [Dick Cheney] -- the all-powerful Chairman of the TVA, obsessed with building his last of 68 dams, who behind the scenes engineered an array of hypothetical benefit claim justifications for it, and with his pork allies in Congress trampled a farming community, rational economics, and the law in order to push it to completion.

President Jimmy Carter [Dan Ackroyd] — earnest, anguished, honest guy bamboozled by Washington politics and undercut by his civic and Christian principles, thinking that Washington politicians share his concern about the public interest merits of issues, and that if he turns the other cheek his enemies will regard him as worthy rather than weak; his misconceptions lead to a series of defeats and capitulations, including his decision not to veto the Baker override that dooms the snail darter in its river.

The Author, Zygmunt J. B. Plater [Benedict Cumberbatch] — the young, idealistic, insecure Tennessee environmental law teacher from Up North who realizes that the little fish case requires fulltime crusaders; through a trick gets the fish officially listed in Washington, carries the case up through the courts, getting fired for being “immoderate”; he camps out and lobbies in the capital as a volunteer for two years, winning in the Supreme Court, ultimately losing to Senator Baker’s congressional strategem and President Carter’s anguished capitulation; (he tries and fails to re-block the dam using a Cherokee Indian constitutional claim); has been described by Rush Limbaugh as a “homo-socialist” and by Sean Hannity as “fringe lunatic.”
Learn more about The Snail Darter and the Dam at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Snail Darter and the Dam.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mary Simses's "The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe"

Mary Simses grew up in Connecticut and spent much of her life in the Northeast, where she attended college and law school. As a child she loved to write stories, design covers for them, and staple them into books. Later, careers in journalism and law took priority and creative writing slipped away, until she enrolled in an evening fiction writing class at a local university and was hooked again. Her short stories have appeared in a number of literary journals. Simses now lives in South Florida with her husband/law partner and their daughter.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe:
When I first started to think about this, I assumed it would be simple. I would go through my list of characters and certain actors would pop into my mind for the parts. Hadn’t I wondered about that, even a little, while I was writing the book? Of course I had. It’s hard not to toy with the idea, just as a diversion, so when it came time to actually sit down and do the real “casting,” I was surprised that it was so difficult.

Maybe it’s because these characters are my creations and, therefore, don’t resemble anyone working in film today, or anyone at all for that matter (any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental!). Or maybe I just get nervous when I imagine what real actors would do with my characters. Perhaps the man who played Roy, for example, wouldn’t have exactly the right mixture of quiet competence and country charm or the woman who played Ellen would make her seem too brittle and not understand her vulnerabilities.

Putting all of that aside, however, I did manage to come up with a list – or an almost list – of actors for the main characters. Here it is:

Ellen – When I created Ellen I think I was channeling the young Katharine Hepburn. I loved it when Hepburn played a character who acted completely confident about everything, even when “on the inside” she was in total chaos. That’s Ellen. So if we could just get Hepburn back....

Ruth, Ellen’s grandmother – I actually thought about casting her a while ago and, without a second’s hesitation, decided on Vanessa Redgrave. Redgrave has that elegance and grace that I see in Ruth. She would just need to brush up her American accent. Another possibility would be Meryl Streep, who, as we know from The Iron Lady, is clearly capable of playing someone older than she is.

Hayden – A younger (and blond, and American) Colin Firth would probably be the ideal Hayden. But as we can’t change his age, nationality, and hair color (well, maybe the hair color) it’s best to look at an alternative, and I have an excellent one: Bradley Cooper. Hayden is a buttoned-down lawyer with political aspirations and he comes from a wealthy political family. I could see Cooper stepping nicely into that role, although he would have to lose his Hangover persona and don a more conservative one.

Roy – Roy is tough because the actor I always think of, for his part, is George Clooney. Unfortunately, he’s about ten or fifteen years too old, but Josh Brolin might be a possibility. Roy is the kind of guy you could see chopping wood in his back yard or reciting poetry under a sky full of stars. If anyone has any suggestions....

Chet – I think Harrison Ford would make a great Chet, although he’s about a decade too young. (Make-up, please!)

Cynthia, Ellen’s Mother –Kristin Scott Thomas is my pick for this role. (Again, I’m casting a Brit! Should we move the story to an English seaside village?) Scott Thomas has a knack for playing no-nonsense, take-charge women and that’s Cynthia.

Paula Victory – I think Catherine O’Hara would be great as Paula. O’Hara has done a number of Christopher Guest films and is known for comedy but it’s sophisticated comedy. Paula is a tough, nosey New Englander who knows everything that’s going on around her. But she also has a warm under-belly. O’Hara could pull that off nicely.

Song to open while credits are rolling by: “It Could Happen to You,” performed by Diana Krall.

The Director – Steven Spielberg. Well, if I’m dreaming, why not?
Learn more about the book and author at Mary Simses's website and follow her on Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Elizabeth L. Silver's "The Execution of Noa P. Singleton"

Elizabeth L. Silver grew up in New Orleans and Dallas and currently lives in Los Angeles. She holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia in England, and a JD from Temple University Beasley School of Law. She has taught ESL in Costa Rica, writing and literature at several universities in Philadelphia, and worked as a research attorney for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Here Silver shares some thoughts on dreamcasting an adaptation of The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, her first novel:
I love this idea and I’d be lying if I haven’t played around with dream casting in my head a million times, but I’m tentative to list any actors, as I often feel as though the minute a reader knows who may or may not play a role on film or who the author has in mind, then it taints the reading experience. Suddenly a famous face and voice starts to creep into the reader’s head as he or she is reading a passage, and I’d much prefer the reader to experience the novel on its own before envisioning someone specific. That said, there is a particularly famous actress who most people uniformly chose for Marlene Dixon. I won’t say who, but I suspect she’ll become clear to all who read the book fairly quickly.
Learn more about the book and author at Elizabeth L. Silver's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 8, 2013

Gerry FitzGerald's "Redemption Mountain"

Gerry FitzGerald has been in advertising for nearly thirty years and owns an advertising agency in Springfield, Massachusetts. He holds a master’s in journalism from the Medill School at Northwestern University and is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He lives in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts with his wife, Robin.

Here FitzGerald dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, Redemption Mountain:
Redemption Mountain was first published in 2009 as a POD book entitled The Pie Man. Word of mouth recommendations led to a bookstore owner, then to a rep from St. Martin’s Press, and then to the current publisher Henry Holt and Company. Literally everyone who read the book couldn’t resist casting the movie. I still get sporadic emails of praise from far flung places, (even though The Pie Man was taken off the market in October 2011), many containing some expression similar to “Can’t wait for the movie!”, along with a casting recommendation.

The story of Redemption Mountain takes place in the year 2000, in southern West Virginia, in the heart of the coal mining region of Appalachia. Charlie Burden is a handsome, rugged, 48-year old partner in a New York City engineering firm, who goes to McDowell County, WV to take over the construction of a huge coal-fired power plant. In West Virginia, he meets Natty Oakes, a simple woman of the mountains – the wife of an abusive husband and the mother of a precocious 12-year-old boy with Down Syndrome called The Pie Man. The plot revolves around the slowly burgeoning relationship between Charlie and Natty, and the conflict that develops as Charlie’s utility/coal company client pushes ahead with a plan to do a mountaintop removal coal mine on Redemption Mountain, where Natty grew up and her grandparents and mother still live.

For the role of Charlie Burden, readers nearly unanimously voted for George Clooney, and I can’t disagree. He’s the right age and Clooney is also from Kentucky, where mountaintop removal coal mining has left its horrible mark as badly as in West Virginia. Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise came in a distant second and third. Either could play the role beautifully. Russell Crowe has also received some support – surprisingly to me. He could certainly play the role, but he’d probably beat up the director the first day of production. Hugh Jackman is probably a little young, but would make a great Charlie Burden.

Natty Oakes seems to be a much more difficult role to cast. Natty is a petite, 30-year old with dirty blonde hair, whose exquisite beauty is hidden for most of the book behind a façade of no-makeup or jewelry, and a wardrobe of ill-fitting, mostly men’s clothing. With his discerning eye, Charlie sees Natty in a different way from the local men, including her husband, but not until later in the book, when she travels to New York on a church bus trip and visits a Park Avenue salon, is her incredible beauty revealed.

Maybe it’s because the audience for Redemption Mountain is over 40, but the vast majority of reader “votes” were for actresses probably too old for the part. Julia Roberts, Jennifer Garner (who is from West Virginia), and Sandra Bullock (much support coming right after the release of her fabulous performance in The Blind Side, where she did play a blond), were the overwhelming favorites. Although also over 30, Reese Witherspoon (from Alabama) would be great, as would Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman, two Aussies who can play any role, any age. While there are literally dozens of fine actresses in their early 30’s who could fit the role, my own choices would be either, Ellen Page (only in her late 20’s but so good in Juno), Natalie Portman (perfect!), or Emily Blunt who I just recently watched in Looper in which she was terrific.

For director, give me Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese to ensure a huge budget, and John Williams or Rachel Portman for a beautiful score.
Learn more about the book and author at Gerry FitzGerald's website.

Writers Read: Gerry FitzGerald.

The Page 69 Test: Redemption Mountain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Stephen Kiernan's "The Curiosity"

Stephen Kiernan's new novel is The Curiosity.

Here the author dreamcasts a big-screen adaptation of the book:
I have spent months casting The Curiosity in my imagination, ever since 20th Century Fox purchased the film rights to the novel.

Do I have any say in who is cast? No. Do I know anything about how a movie is made? No. Do either of these facts prevent me from picking the actors I want? Of course not.

Erastus Carthage is a brilliant cell scientist, ambitious and narcissistic, with major unresolved father issues. Who else but Ben Kingsley? Not the Gandhi version of him, but the character in Searching for Bobby Fisher – smart and merciless.

Kate Philo is a scientist with a conscience, which gets her into trouble but also makes her the novel’s moral centerpiece. She is clueless about her attractiveness, is fascinated by facts, and risks everything to protect a man she loves. Did you ever see Rachel McAdams’ audition tape for The Notebook? Huge talent, even when she’s just listening.

David Gerber is a former NASA operations guru, math savant and Deadhead. His intelligence appears effortless, but in fact he pulls frequent all-nighters. Give me Elijah Wood, with long hair.

Graham Billings is a soft-spoken lab rat who helps solve the book’s biggest scientific problem. The role simply must go to Clark Gregg, who was memorable as the mild Agent Coulson in the Iron Man and Avengers movies.

As for Jeremiah Rice, the judge from 1906 revived in today’s chaotic world? The reserved but charismatic leading man?

I simply don’t know. Who would you suggest?
Learn more about the book and author at Stephen Kiernan's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 5, 2013

Courtney Angela Brkic's "The First Rule of Swimming"

Courtney Angela Brkic is the author of the new novel The First Rule of Swimming, Stillness: and Other Stories and The Stone Fields. Her work has also appeared in Zoetrope, The New York Times, The Washington Post Magazine, Harpers & Queen, the Utne Reader, TriQuarterly Review, The Alaska Review and National Geographic, among others. Brkic has been the recipient of a Fulbright scholarship, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Whiting Writer’s Award. Stillness was named a Barnes and Noble Discover pick, a 2003 Chicago Tribune "Best Book" and a 2003 New York Times "Notable Book". The Stone Fields was shortlisted for a Freedom of Expression Award by the Index on Censorship. She lives outside of Washington, DC, with her husband and son, and teaches in the MFA program at George Mason University.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of The First Rule of Swimming:
This was tremendously fun to think about, though I doubt that The First Rule of Swimming would be easy to adapt (the plot is a bit too twisty and the book cuts back and forth through so many different time periods). That said, my characters are like children I’ve single-handedly created, and I’m more than a bit possessive. I have definite ideas about the “types” of actors I see in the roles.

By way of background, the novel is about three generations of siblings in a single Croatian family. Luka and Vinka fight in the Second World War, Marin and Ana must contend with Communism, and Magdalena and Jadranka come of age during the 1991-1995 war. They’re from Rosmarina, a small, remote island in the southern Adriatic Sea.

Most of the plot unfolds in the present, around Magdalena, a Rosmarina schoolteacher who can’t bear the idea of leaving the island, and her younger sister, Jadranka, an artist who can’t wait to leave. I’d love to see someone like Franka Potente play Magdalena (i.e, someone with a lot of character and a certain amount of edge). For Jadranka, Lauren Ambrose (whom I loved in Six Feet Under). And maybe Branka Katic (from Big Love) in the role of Katarina, their cousin. Magdalena’s love interest is Damir, a journalist, and I think Goran Visnjic (naturally! He’s Dalmatian!) would be great in that role.

Moving up a generation, the sisters’ uncle, Marin, was sentenced as a young man to hard labor on Goli Otok, a gulag in Communist Yugoslavia. I could see Andrew Garfield in this role, with Robert De Niro playing an older, wiser Marin, after his immigration to New York City (with the lovely Isabella Rosselini as Luz, his wife). Marin’s sister, Ana, is a pivotal character in the book. She’s a complex person who has lived a difficult life, and in a parallel universe I could see Elizabeth Taylor playing her at different stages of her life. Coming back to reality, I like the idea of Mila Kunis and Stockard Channing playing Ana The Younger and Ana The Older.

And as far as Luka, the patriarch of the Moric family, I could see someone like Adam Scott (whom I first saw in Tell Me You Love Me) playing him as a young man, but am drawing a blank for the elderly Luka. Probably because he is the character closest to my heart.

Finally, the island of Rosmarina is very much a character in the book, as well. It’s fictional, a composite of a few different Croatian islands I’ve been lucky enough to visit over the years. I’d want to shoot the film on location (naturally…and, see how I’ve already decided to direct the film, in addition to my role as casting agent?) in a few of those places: Lastovo, Vis, Hvar and Korcula.
Visit Courtney Angela Brkic's website and learn more about The First Rule of Swimming.

Writers Read: Courtney Angela Brkic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Ben Downing's "Queen Bee of Tuscany"

Ben Downing specializes in 19th- and 20th-century British social life and literature, with a particular emphasis on travel writing. He has written essays, articles, and reviews on figures such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Duff Cooper, Robert Byron, Anthony Powell, Peter Fleming, Wilfred Thesiger, and Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Downing also writes poetry. His collection The Calligraphy Shop appeared in 2003, and he continues to publish poems in The Atlantic, The New Criterion, The Yale Review, and elsewhere.

Since 1993 he has worked at Parnassus: Poetry in Review, of which he is now the co-editor. He has taught literary seminars and workshops at Columbia, Bryn Mawr, and the 92nd St. Y, and he currently teaches a small private class, known as The English Salon, for advanced non-native speakers of English. He lives in New York City.

Here Downing dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Queen Bee of Tuscany: The Redoubtable Janet Ross:
Queen Bee of Tuscany: The Redoubtable Janet Ross is a biography of a remarkable Englishwoman who grew up among the likes of Dickens and Thackeray and went on to spend most of her life in Tuscany, where she farmed, wrote, entertained, and became the acknowledged doyenne of what was then known as the Anglo-Florentine colony.

Given that it's a cradle-to-grave bio, and that Janet Ross lived to the ripe age of eighty-five, I've had a tough time envisioning a particular actress in the role. But one that I can see embodying her in her prime is the marvelous Rebecca Hall, whose recent performance in Tom Stoppard's adaptation of Parade's End really knocked my socks off. Like Sylvia Tietjens, Janet had a very sharp tongue, and I think Hall would nicely capture her at her most withering. But Janet was also smart, funny, erudite, witty, and intermittently kind and soulful, and these qualities too would be caught by Hall—or so I imagine.

My book also has a huge supporting cast. While I haven't allowed myself to daydream about many of them, I must say that I'd dearly love to see the role of Lotteringo della Stufa, a Florentine marchese who was one of Janet's closest friends, played by the peerless Marcello Mastroianni. Magari fosse vero, as the Italians say—if only it were true!
Learn more about the book and author at Ben Downing's website.

The Page 99 Test: Queen Bee of Tuscany.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Andrew C. Isenberg's "Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life"

Andrew C. Isenberg is the author of Mining California: An Ecological History and The Destruction of the Bison: An Environmental History, 1750–1920 and the editor of The Nature of Cities: Culture, Landscape, and Urban Space. He is a historian at Temple University and lives in Penn Valley, PA.

Here Isenberg dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life:
In almost all Wyatt Earp films, Earp is portrayed as a tight-lipped, duty-bound lawman. Both Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner played him that way in the early 1990s. Their portrayals recall the ways Henry Fonda and Burt Lancaster played the role in the 1940s and 1950s.

This is exactly how Earp wanted himself portrayed. In the last decades of his life, he frequented Hollywood studios, where he befriended early silent-film Western stars. Earp very much wanted one of those actors, his friend William S. Hart, to play him on screen. Hart, the biggest Western film star of the 1910s and early 1920s, specialized in taciturn characters who were always on the side of justice.

In Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life, I offer a very different interpretation of Earp. He was often on the run and always reinventing himself. He spent most of his life not as a lawman but as a gambler and a con man. He sold rocks painted yellow as gold bricks to unsuspecting buyers. He was involved in fixing a heavyweight championship prizefight in 1896. As late as 1911, at age 63, he was arrested by the Los Angeles Police bunco squad for running a crooked card game. Toward the end of his life, frustrated by the negative publicity his career as a gambler had earned him, he went to Hollywood. He began dictating his memoirs, reinventing himself again by editing out his missteps and modeling himself on the prototypical Hart character. The fact that we remember Earp as a lawman and not as a con man was his most successful and enduring confidence game.

He was, in a lot of ways, a type of Don Draper character, which is why Jon Hamm could step into the role, and play him as a complex figure for whom the role of forthright lawman was a facade. Matt Damon, who played a con man in The Talented Mr. Ripley, could also play the role well. (Like Hamm, Damon has the physical presence to play the role--the actor who plays Earp has to be believable as both a gunfighter and a gambler.) Leonardo DiCaprio has likewise played a con man (Catch Me If You Can) and a man who has reinvented himself (The Great Gatsby).

DiCaprio is also well suited to what is usually the plum role in a Wyatt Earp film: the part of Earp’s friend Doc Holliday. Val Kilmer set the standard for the part in 1993’s Tombstone, capturing the character’s androgynous combination of violence and frailty, world-weariness and loyalty to Earp. Walton Goggins from Django Unchained, would be ideal. Ben Foster  played a Doc Holliday type convincingly in 3:10 to Yuma.

Gene Hackman played Earp’s father, Nicholas, in 1994’s Wyatt Earp, as a stern patriarch. That film, with Costner as Wyatt Earp, overlaid Shakespeare’s Henry IV on Earp: he was a wayward youth, a disappointment to his father, but he righted himself to become a responsible adult. But the real Earp never righted himself, and his father was not a humorless, law-abiding patriarch but rather a blustery teller of tall tales: John Goodman.
Learn more about Wyatt Earp at the Hill and Wang website.

The Page 99 Test: Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life.

--Marshal Zeringue