Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Holly Menino's "A Distance to Death"

Holly Menino grew up in a small Ohio college town, where her passionate interest in animals showed itself by age three, about ten years before she heard the call to be a writer. A graduate of Smith College, she has worked in both scholarly and popular publishing and is the author of Murder, She Rode.

Here Menino dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, A Distance to Death:
A movie? Based on my book? How fun is that?

But really a movie is not such a far-fetched idea. A Distance to Death is about a horse race over pretty scary terrain. A hundred miles of it—when, remember, the horse playing Seabiscuit, was supposed to run only a mile and three-sixteenths. So, plenty of time and room for action and two murders.

The plot's a done deal. The images come naturally. But casting the film is going to be trickier. The characters in my mysteries come to me as infusions from people I know, all blended together. Sometimes it takes four or five friends to create a character, and none of my friends are movie stars or any other kind of public figure. They're real. I hope that's what gives life to my characters, but I know it's also what makes it difficult for me to imagine a celebrity "doing" one of my characters. That mental block aside, I suppose any actor worth his or her salt should be able to play Tink or Charlie or any of the characters who are essential to the plot. I also suppose that physical resemblance should be a consideration.

So let's start with Tink, who's in the race only to prove she can finish it, that is, until the race gets really dirty. I would find Helen Mirren, in her blonde no-makeup phase, pretty believable. She's got the height, the legs, the right number of years. And she's played women with plenty of grit.

Now, what about Charlie, her third husband after four marriages—you'll need to read Distance to Death for an explanation—an astute businessman and card sharp who is kidnapped because of this talent. The actor for Charlie's role should be able to make a quiet, unprepossessing person come alive with subtleties, make it clear that still waters run deep. That requirement calls for an actor like Paul Giamatti. Again, the right build and age, and Giamatti can definitely carry off what Tink thinks of as Charlie's most attractive asset, his gaze.

Tink's close friend Frankie Golden, who ends up a close second to a man on a mule, will be played by Christina Hendricks, whose day job is playing Joan Holloway on Mad Men. She'll need a Minimizer, though, and not just for the bra. For professional reserve. Frankie will blow that all to hell. With similar downsizing advice to Christopher Walken, I nominate him for the role of the reluctantly wealthy scientist James Grant-Worthington.

The Isabel Rakow role? For her propriety and obsession with Darwin and success I need a combination of Shirley Temple and Donna Tartt. Please forward your recommendations.

My imagination is beginning to grind down. So for the next actor I'll turn to my list of real friends. Here I find the perfect actor to play Farrell, the ear-to-the-ground proprietor of the guest ranch. It's the guy who shoes my horse, Kurt Fisk. He is the right amount of gregarious, has the right amount of smarts mixed with a particular bumbling form of tact, and, like Farrell, is possessed by a dog.

But all this still leaves me with a casting problem. Gary Stevens, the most beautiful rider I've ever seen. He's the jockey-actor who portrayed George Wolff in Seabiscuit and would have had a major role in Luck if the series hadn't crashed before it opened. But I can't seem to find a spot for him. Maybe I need to take Tink out to the track in the next one....
Visit Holly Menino's website.

Writers Read: Holly Menino.

The Page 69 Test: A Distance to Death.

--Marshal Zeringue