Saturday, April 30, 2016

Jaime Clarke's "Garden Lakes"

Jaime Clarke is a graduate of the University of Arizona and holds an MFA from Bennington College. He is a founding editor of the literary magazine Post Road, now published at Boston College, and co-owner, with his wife, of Newtonville Books, an independent bookstore in Boston.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his Charlie Martens trilogy, now complete with the release of Garden Lakes, a novel that the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Harding called "Complicated and feral ... thrilling, literary, and smart as hell":
The last novel in my Charlie Martens trilogy, Garden Lakes, is an homage to Lord of the Flies and so Hollywood could potentially fill the cast with the latest, up-to-the minute stars, of which I’m oblivious, sadly. I’ve reached that midpoint in life where I no longer recognize the faces on supermarket magazine covers and the names of hot young movie stars don’t register. But I’d happily sit in the front row and watch a film adaptation of Garden Lakes, especially if it captured the menace of life in the Arizona desert, a place where I spent my formative years.

The Martens trilogy begins with Vernon Downs and my wife and I once spit-balled a film version that I still think about from time to time. The title character in the novel is based on the novelist Bret Easton Ellis, and Charlie’s girlfriend is a fan. But when she dumps him and disappears back to her native England, Charlie concocts a plan to go to New York City and get close to Vernon Downs to impress and win back his ex. He becomes obsessed with Downs and insinuates himself into Downs’s life, ultimately impersonating Downs when Downs goes on a writing retreat and asks Charlie to apartment sit for him and organize his archives.

In our idea for the film adaptation, my wife and I kept the premise but radically changed the narrative. In our film, which we dreamed would be called Ensemble, a washed out wannabe actor would be obsessed with Academy Award-winning actor Chris Cooper, who I think all moviegoers can agree is always the best part of any film, and often the glue in big ensemble movies. And here’s the hook: Chris Cooper would play both parts, the wannabe and himself. The plot would revolve around a biopic being made of a famous but reclusive author, who resembles Chris Cooper. (Cooper actually portrayed J.D. Salinger in a small indie film, so the idea was inspired by that real life fact.) Our man the Fake Chris Cooper cons his way into the Real Chris Cooper’s New York apartment while the Real CC is away on location and intercepts a phone call from the reclusive author about a meeting to talk about the author lending his support to the biopic. So Fake Chris Cooper meets the reclusive author (again played by Chris Cooper) and is pulled into a Body Double sort of plot involving the reclusive author’s stalker, whom the reclusive author sets up to be murdered (the stalker claims the reclusive writer stole his idea for the book that made the reclusive author famous), with the unwitting help of Fake Chris Cooper, whom he initially believes is the Real Chris Cooper. Wild, right? If you’re a Hollywood producer reading this, the answer is Yes. You’ll just have to convince Chris Cooper.
Visit Jaime Clarke's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Laura Williams McCaffrey's "Marked"

Laura Williams McCaffrey is author of Marked, Water Shaper, and Alia Waking. She is on faculty at Solstice, an MFA in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College, and lives in Vermont with her family. Here the author dreamcasts an adaptation of Marked:
I actually have been asked the question of casting the story before, and I have trouble answering. I suspect this is partially because many movies made from books for children and teens aren't all that good. The ones I like best tend to be odd. A favorite of mine actually is Coraline, which I think has a very cool aesthetic, but I can see how others find it strange. Another of my recent favorite fantasy movies is Mirrormask, which is an odd little Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean project. I guess this is what comes of growing up on The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and Edward Scissorhands.

Maybe what I’m saying is I’d love something outside-the-box?

When pushed to do a little casting, I find myself looking for actors, in the case of the teens, who have emotional range as well as the ability to perform in the action adventure genre. Marked has action, but its heart is the emotional relationships. With these considerations, I think Amandla Stenberg would make a great Lyla, as would Daisy Ridley, but Ridley would also make a great Hope. For Gill, my picks would be someone like Avan Jogia or Dylan Minnette. Logan Lerman or Tyler Posey could do well as Riverton. When I've considered Ma and Da, I've more than once found myself settling on Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd, who played such a wonderful and authentic-seeming couple in Friends with Kids.

To return to strangeness, I think the graphic novel storyline could be live action, with actors playing Pirate Jackman and Lady Captain, but it might be much cooler as animation in the style of something like Mirrormask, Coraline, or “The Tale of Three Brothers” sequence in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Visit Laura Williams McCaffrey's website.

The Page 69 Test: Marked.

Writers Read: Laura Williams McCaffrey.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Brendan Jones's "The Alaskan Laundry"

Raised in Philadelphia, Brendan Jones took the Greyhound west at the age of 19, ending up in Sitka, Alaska. He graduated from Oxford University, where he boxed for the Blues team, then returned to Alaska to commercial fish. He was a general contractor for seven years in Philadelphia, before heading back to Sitka, where he now lives, commercial fishing and renovating a WWII tugboat.

Here Jones dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, The Alaskan Laundry:
When Winter’s Bone came out in 2010 I was prepared to be disappointed, as so often happens with books you love. But then there was Jennifer Lawrence, red-nosed beneath her blue-knit skull cap, oily blond hair framing her face. A far cry from my dark curly-haired Italian-American protagonist Tara Marconi in The Alaskan Laundry—but still, there was a quiet, frustrated grittiness and pluck in Lawrence’s performance I loved. Watching, I knew she’d be great as Tara, and imagined Lawrence getting hold of the screenplay, saying Yes, yes, of course. I could see her standing up to Fritz, stalking away from the Coast Guard, laughing it up alongside crazy Newton Scarpe on the breakwater. But also being alone, hiking along the flume into the woods, cooking a fish over the fire, scooping out guts from a king salmon.

Plus I think Lawrence wouldn’t be afraid on the set. I’ll digress for a moment and say Sean Penn grossly miscast Christopher McCandless in his film Into the Wild. Emile Hirsch does nothing to capture the ecstasy of McCandless, his humor and jubilation—plus he’s a wimp, it’s not difficult to see. No surprise he needed Sean Penn to canoe the rapids before he’d jump in. It wouldn’t be so with Lawrence. She’d fly out to Alaska for the shooting (or British Columbia, as the case may be) and soak in every minute, insisting on doing her own stunts. I just know it, you can see it in her eyes.

In the years since Winter’s Bone has come out, of course, Lawrence has turned into a great superstar. But I don’t think her acting ability has been diluted. She still has that ability to pivot from seriousness to goofy on a dime. And, after seeing her in American Hustle, it’s clear she can do the Philly/Jersey thang just fine. Put it together with that Appalachian mettle, and boom. Tara Marconi in Alaska. Jennifer Lawrence, starring in The Alaskan Laundry.
Visit Brendan Jones's website.

Writers Read: Brendan Jones.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Hilary Green's "Educational Reconstruction"

Hilary N. Green is Assistant Professor of History in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at The University of Alabama. Born in Boston, she earned her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010. She is a specialist in nineteenth-century American history, with emphasis on the African American experience, Civil War Era and Atlantic World.

Here Green dreamcasts an adaptation of her new book, Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890:
I would be extremely honored if Ken Burns incorporated my work into a possible multi-episode documentary on Reconstruction. Morgan Freeman, Laurence Fishburne, Kerry Washington, and even Oprah would be perfect for dramatic readings of several individuals whose biographies carry throughout the work.

But, if Hollywood ever adapted Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890, there are some actors and actresses who might play the lead and supporting roles:

Maria Waterbury – A white northern missionary in Mobile who passionately argued for the continuation of African American public schools when competing school boards vied for control while simultaneous could prevent her young students from a mini-rebellion during Confederate Memorial Day celebrations. Amy Poehler could bring the necessary feistiness to light.

Rev. A. E. Owens – From his convincing roles as Ray Charles and Django, Jamie Foxx would be brilliant as the young minister who opened his church’s door amid arsonists’ attempts to shut down Emerson Institute and Normal.

Rev. E. D. Taylor – With his strong presence, Morgan Freeman would be a natural fit to play the elder minister who regularly spearheaded petitions for the improvement of the schools, spoke at school events, and appeared before the school board on several occasions.

Daniel Webster Davis – As a young poet, educator, and minister, Daniel Webster Davis was always called upon for delivering an inspiring speech to students, parents, and community leaders as well as an insightful poem for any gathering of Richmond Colored Normal graduates. Therefore, Common would be an excellent choice.

Rosa Dixon Bowser – As an early educator, wife of James Herndon Johnson and later widow who fought for the rights of early public school teachers and civil rights more broadly, Jurnee Smollett-Bell would be perfect for the younger Miss Dixon and Kerry Washington for the elder Mrs. Bowser.

Ralza Morse Manly – Nicholas Hoult would be perfect as the Freedmen’s Bureau Superintendent of Education of Virginia, early Richmond school board member and early principal of Richmond Colored Normal and High School.

For the director, I would be extremely happy to have Ava Marie DuVernay. Her ability to capture the nuances of historical figures and bring African American history alive would make her a nature choice.
Learn more about Educational Reconstruction at the Fordham University Press website.

Writers Read: Hilary Green.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 22, 2016

Brenda Janowitz's "The Dinner Party"

Brenda Janowitz is the author of five novels, including The Dinner Party. Her work has also appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Salon, the New York Post, Publishers Weekly, and elsewhere. Janowitz attended Cornell University and Hofstra Law School, where she was a member of the Law Review. Upon graduation from Hofstra, Janowitz worked for the law firm Kaye Scholer, LLP, and did a federal clerkship with the Honorable Marilyn Dolan Go, United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of New York.

Here Janowitz dreamcasts an adaptation of The Dinner Party:
One of the best parts of writing a book is “casting” the movie in your mind. For The Dinner Party, I had many parts to fill. It’s the story of three very different families, two generations, who gather for a Passover Seder they won’t soon forget.

Since the Passover Seder takes place at the Gold family home, I thought I’d give casting the Gold family a try.

For my hostess with the mostess, Sylvia, it’s got to be Meryl Streep. Meryl can do anything, and I’d love to see how she handles hosting a Passover Seder while tensions simmer beneath the surface. (Also, Meryl Streep was pictured next to my book when US Weekly featured it this week, so I’ve got Meryl on my mind….)

For Sylvia’s darling husband Alan, Tom Hanks would be perfect. Alan is sweet and lovable and holds everything together. He’s also a pediatric cardiologist, a man who fixes children’s hearts. That sounds like a job for Tom Hanks.

For Sylvia’s daughters, I’d love to see Anna Kendrick as Sarah and Shailene Woodley as Becca. The central relationship of the book is Sylvia and her daughter Sarah, so we need a powerhouse actress who can handle anything. She butts heads with her mother, and I think that Anna could hold her own against Meryl Streep. For beautiful, winsome, and very lost Becca, I think Shailene could give the right amount of sweetness and strength.

For Sylvia’s prodigal son, the eldest child working in Sri Lanka for Doctors Without Borders, I’d love to cast Henry Cavill. Gideon is scruffy and sexy and undeniable to women. Enough said.

So, when do we start filming?!
Learn more about the book and author at Brenda Janowitz's website.

My Book, The Movie: Recipe for a Happy Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Leila Meacham's "Titans"

Leila Meacham is a writer and former teacher who lives in San Antonio, Texas. She is the author of the bestselling novels Roses and Tumbleweeds.

Here Meacham shares some thoughts about adapting her new novel, Titans, for the big screen:
I’m afraid my answer will disappoint your curious readers if not outright make them laugh. The fact is that I rarely attend movies except for the Oscar contenders now and then and so have little if any knowledge of who is who in the movie business. I no longer recognize anybody on the cover of People magazine or the faces on supermarket tabloids, let alone know who the headlines are exposing. I’m from the era of Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, and (sigh) Robert Redford. Now if I had those warm bodies in their heyday or their likes to choose from, I’d know exactly who to cast for Titans. One of the most sobering moments for me—one that reflected my age—was the question put to me by an interviewer when Roses was published. “Who would you like to see play Percy and Mary in the movie?” I was stumped for an answer. Elizabeth Taylor was dead and Robert Redford too old. Even Brad Pitt was beyond the age of the novel’s young Percy Warwick. Perhaps . . . when Percy had aged? I thought. In 2010 when Roses was released, I recognized the names and faces of only a few of the movie stars making headlines, and none of them seemed right for the roles of the characters. But I can tell you who I’d like to see direct Titans. He would be none other than Robert Redford. That boy is a tried and true man of the land! He’d film the ranch of Las Tres Lomas de la Trinidad as it was described in Titans and stay faithful to the characters that lived upon it.
Visit Leila Meacham's website.

The Page 69 Test: Roses.

The Page 69 Test: Titans.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 18, 2016

Stephanie Kate Strohm's "The Taming of the Drew"

Stephanie Kate Strohm is the author of Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink and the Confederates Don't Wear Couture.

Here Strohm dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Taming of the Drew:
There is only one sassy redhead for me, and that sassy redhead is Emma Stone. I love her voice and her brilliant comic timing. I think she would make a perfect Cass. Plus, she seems like she was totally a drama dork. She probably crushed the role of Beatrice in her high school production of Much Ado About Nothing. Emma Stone is a banter queen, and this book is nothing but banter. I bet she’d also come up with some awesome improv. (See Emma? I’m open to collaboration!) Personally, I find her very likeable, and I think she’d do a great job of making sure the audience is rooting for Cass, despite Cass’s prickly nature.

As for Drew…Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield may have split up in real life, but I think they’d be great reunited on screen as Cass and Drew. I think Andrew could capture both Drew’s arrogance and his secret sweet side well. I’ve also seen a picture of him with a crazy beard, so I know he can grow that essential lumberjack beard – and then be cute as a button once the beard is shaved off. (Not that he’s not cute with the beard, but you know what I mean.) This picture could basically be a promotional shot for the movie! Interested, Emma and Andrew? Let me know!
Visit Stephanie Kate Strohm's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Taming of the Drew.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Howard Blum's "The Last Goodnight"

Howard Blum is the author of New York Times bestsellers including Dark Invasion, the Edgar Award–winner American Lightning, as well as Wanted!, The Gold Exodus, Gangland, and The Floor of Heaven. Blum is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. While at the New York Times, he was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.

Here Blum dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, The Last Goodnight: A World War II Story of Espionage, Adventure, and Betrayal:
Way back when I was still writing my book, I had the good fortune to sell The Last Goodnight to the movies. Columbia Tri-Star stepped up with interest, enthusiasm, and some money when the book – a true story - was just a proposal. Part of what attracted them, or so I was told, was the opportunity to cast Betty Pack, the real-life heroine in my book. And so I’ve had a bit of time to think about whom I’d like to see in that role.

Betty Pack was a spy. She had all sorts of derring-do exploits during World War II that did nothing less than help the Allies win the war. She was American, came from a Social Register family, and she was, to use Hollywood shorthand, glamorous. When she died, Time’s obituary described her as a “blonde Bond…using the boudoir as Ian Fleming’s hero used the Beretta.”

That’s the shorthand casting description of Betty.

But in the book, which in its way is as much a psychological detective story as a suspenseful non-fiction spy thriller, I try to dig a bit deeper into Betty’s character. I try to reveal what made her such a perfect spy. And these are all elements that I hope would be essential for any actress playing the role of Betty Pack. The reality is a lot more complicated than the shorthand, and it would be nice – and effective cinema, to boot – if this were reflected on the screen.

Consider, then, Betty’s beauty. Sure, she was a looker, but it was a careful, controlled sort of beauty. A fellow spy wrote that when he had first met Betty he had, after hearing all the stories about her, a small pang of disappointment. A quick look suggested, he said, nothing more than an “attractive, wholesome All-American girl.”

But once Betty started talking, her voice soft as a whisper yet authoritative, her laugh uninhibited, even naughty, her eyes fixed on him like a marksman’s, all his oversimplifications, all his stereotypes, were quickly undone. “She had a force, or magnetism to a terrifying degree,” he realized. “What,” he wondered, “is this pacing tiger doing in this conventional disguise?”

Try bringing that to the screen.

Then there is Betty temperament. She didn’t have romances, she had adventures. Life for her was a roller-coaster of emotions, rising to great joyful highs and then tumbling down towards seemingly bottomless lows. And she was always mercurial. She possessed what is perhaps the spy’s greatest gift: the ability to pledge love one moment, and then betray her lover in the next. The trick, as every spy learns, is to mean what you say only in the moment when you say it. Betty had only one enduring loyalty: to the country and spymasters she served.

There is a bit of advice the CIA offers its new recruits: “The last person to whom you say goodnight is the most dangerous.” Betty personified this warning.

And so any actress who plays Betty on the screen must be able to convey all these complicated and often conflicting qualities. There needs to be an aura of refinement as well as incipient danger whenever she appears on the screen.

Every spy is an actor, playing one public role while concealing another hidden agenda. And the actress who plays Betty Pack in The Last Goodnight must bring this coiled tension and ambiguity to the screen.

So, who do I see in the role?

Well, I’m not the producer, just the author of the book upon which the movie will be based. But given all the qualities I have just offered up, I think that Jennifer Lawrence would play the role quite nicely. Quite nicely indeed.
Visit Howard Blum's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Howard Means's "67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence"

Howard Means is the author or coauthor of many books, including Johnny Appleseed: The Man, the Myth, the American Story, the first biography of Colin Powell and Louis Freeh’s bestselling memoir My FBI.

Here Means dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence:
The great challenge here is focal points — the Kent State shootings involved a cast of thousands. Choices have to be made.

Of the four dead, I think I would linger longest on Sandy Scheuer, the most random of all the fatalities. She was funny, sweet, the classic girl-next-door, and she was doing nothing more threatening than walking between classes when a .30-06 projectile entered her neck and severed her jugular vein. Had the movie been made in the early ‘60s, Annette Funicello might have played her.

Glenn Frank, the hero of the post-shooting confrontation on the Commons, bears a strong physical likeness to Drew Carey, who enrolled in Kent State in 1975 and was twice expelled for poor grades before dropping out altogether in 1978. A serious role for Carey? Why not.

Robert Canterbury, the mission commander for the National Guard, comes across as cocksure, imperious, and grimly unimaginative. George C. Scott’s Patton might be the model here. Could Robert Downey, Jr., march his troops into a cul de sac, watch them kill four students on the way back up the hill, nearly repeat the horror at a far greater magnitude back on the Commons, and then write: “Lessons Learned: None” in his after-action report? If so, he’s the man.

For a representative student, I’ll take Ellis Berns. He was with Sandy Scheuer when she bled out. Later, he threw the jacket he was wearing, now covered with Sandy’s dried blood, at an armed Guardsman. Again going back in time, I would have him played by Leonardo DiCaprio – not the current version, but the edgy, explosive late-teenage DiCaprio of This Boy’s Life and The Basketball Diaries.

And for a closing scene, I would borrow shamelessly from Schindler’s List: all the survivors of that day I could find — now in their sixties — cresting Blanket Hill, where the killings took place, led by Dean Kahler in his wheelchair.
Learn more about the book and author at Howard Means's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Christopher Morgan Jones's "The Searcher"

Chris Morgan Jones worked for eleven years at the world’s largest business intelligence agency, and has advised Middle Eastern governments, Russian oligarchs, New York banks, London hedge funds, and African mining companies. The author of The Silent Oligarch and The Jackal’s Share, he lives in London.

Here Jones dreamcasts an adaptation of his latest novel, The Searcher:
The hero of The Searcher is Isaac Hammer: in his late fifties, an American living in London, once a journalist and now the proprietor of a successful private investigations firm that he founded twenty years ago. He’s never married, and he’s a serious but not wholly observant Jew. He has a beautiful house near the park and runs a lot, too much, if anything, but what he really lives for is his work, and he’s immensely good at it. He can talk, but he’s a deceptively good listener, too - and a watcher...

The actor who plays him needn’t be big. Hammer is slight and birdlike, in the book, but we could compromise on that a little as long as he didn’t end up being some towering specimen. And he’d need a sense of humour, because Hammer uses his a fair amount. He’s no comedian, but he likes the occasional wisecrack.

Ed Harris would do a great job, I think. He has the right combination of reserve and control - and it would be easy to imagine that he was at once hugely clever and, in the situation he finds himself in, out of his depth and scrambling to get back to the surface. The book opens with Hammer in the Republic of Georgia, a country he doesn’t know and seems likely never to understand. He gets caught up in a riot, and in short order loses all his luggage, his passport, and a deal of self-respect. After that he’s reliant on his wits, and Harris would have no problem conveying that.

For the other characters: Vera Farmiga for Natela, the blunt, chain-smoking, sceptical widow who Hammer inadvertently pulls into the conspiracy he’s investigating. Clive Owen for Hammer’s former colleague and former friend Ben Webster, who’s gone missing in Georgia. Cate Blanchett in the role of the precise, cool, duplicitous spy Elene Vekua. And an actor with no vanity for the role of Otar Iosava, a local oligarch whose face has been disfigured by poison, in proper former Soviet Union style. He needs real menace, and a terrifying voice. A great English actor, Ralph Ineson, would be perfect.
Visit Chris Morgan Jones's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Karen Odden's "A Lady in the Smoke"

Karen Odden received her PhD in English literature from New York University. She has contributed essays and chapters to books and journals, including Studies in the Novel, Journal of Victorian Culture, and Victorian Crime, Madness, and Sensation; and has written introductions for books by Dickens and Trollope. She has worked as an editorial assistant at McGraw-Hill, as a media buyer for Christie’s Auction House, and as a bartender at the airport in Rochester, where she learned how to mix a mean martini. She currently serves as an assistant editor for the academic journal Victorian Literature and Culture and resides in Arizona with her husband, two children, and a ridiculously cute beagle named Rosy.

Here Odden dreamcasts an adaptation of A Lady in the Smoke, her first novel:
There were times when I was so lost in writing A Lady in the Smoke that I felt as though I were watching a movie and merely writing down what was happening on screen. For example, the day I was writing the first confrontation between Lady Elizabeth and Tom Flynn—when he thinks she’s an earl’s daughter, flirting with Mr. Wilcox out of narcissistic boredom, and she assumes he’s an unethical newspaperman intent on digging up dirt to sell papers—I could see her hands tugging on her shawl and watch the changing shape of his mouth; I could hear their words and the tones in their voices. They did everything; I just wrote it down. So although it sounds like a complete fantasy to have this book turn into a movie, I guess it’s been in previews for a while, in my head.

There are so many talented British actresses who might play my heroine Lady Elizabeth Fraser—but I think I’d pick Emma Watson. Lady Elizabeth is sensitive, an avid reader, fiercely loyal to her friends, and courageous when it’s needed; she has also buried the pain from observing her parents’ warped marriage for years. To me, Emma Watson seems a bit of an “old soul,” and there’s a vulnerability, wry humor, and intelligence to her that I love. I’m thinking of her in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

For Paul Wilcox, railway surgeon and love interest, there’s never really been a question: Ben Barnes, who played the lead in Prince Caspian. I think Barnes was in my mind from the first because my kids were on a Narnia binge, and we watched Prince Caspian several nights running. Again and again, I was struck by how Barnes registered emotions such as uncertainty, humility, responsibility, and affection on his face.

For Tom Flynn, my clever, straight-talking, impassioned, and slightly pugnacious newspaperman for the London Falcon—and Paul’s deeply loyal friend—I might pick Johnny Galecki, from The Big Bang Theory. I think he has the timing, the humor, and the heart for the part.

For Lady Margaret Fraser, Elizabeth’s laudanum-addicted, embittered mother, I had no idea, so I asked my friend Andrew Fish. He has been connected with Hollywood, interviewing people in the film industry and writing about production for years. I told him about Lady Margaret’s character, and he suggested Melissa Leo, from The Fighter. That felt just right.
Visit Karen Odden's website.

Writers Read: Karen Odden.

The Page 69 Test: A Lady in the Smoke.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 8, 2016

Alex Gordon's "Jericho"

Kristine Smith is the author of the Jani Kilian series and other science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories under her own name. As Alex Gordon, she has written the supernatural thrillers Gideon and Jericho.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of the books as a miniseries: 
Jericho is a supernatural thriller with a horror chaser. It continues the story of Lauren Reardon, who was first introduced in Gideon (2015). Over the course of the books, Lauren is coming to grips with the fact that she is the latest in a long line of witches and that the world is a very different place than what she has grown up believing it to be.

Ideally, the books would be filmed together, as a single season miniseries. I have no clue who should direct, but they would need to prefer a low-key approach to horror and prize character over kabooms! I am guessing that anyone who has directed episodes of The Walking Dead, The Expanse, or a number of other cable series would do well.

In keeping with the supernatural flavor, the actors chosen can be living or dead, and if necessary will be age-adjusted to suit.

Lauren Reardon—a 30-something Sandra Bullock. Lauren is an outdoorsy woman who enjoys kayaking, backwoods camping, rock climbing. Girl-next-door attractive, and very down-to-earth. Bullock appeals to me in those respects. She’s always struck me as someone you could run into at the local drugstore or mini-mart and have a friendly, funny no-drama conversation with. But there’s a toughness there, and a sense that something happened to her that she simply does not discuss with anyone.

A couple of characters who make their first entrances in Gideon:

Virginia Waycross—quiet, no-nonsense, spine of steel and work-roughened hands. A 60ish Billie Whitelaw. Maybe her turn as Mrs. Blaylock in The Omen stuck with me, or maybe it’s just her sharp-boned face, but she’s who I see in straight-legged jeans and a man’s shirt, talking to her horses over the fence as she casts her wards.

Leaf Cateman was always, always John Huston. His Noah Cross in Chinatown made an indelible impression—the powerful patriarch who convinces himself that everything he does is justified.

Moving on to characters who make their first appearances in Jericho:

Gene Kaster—my initial vision was of a 40ish Willem Dafoe, and though I’ve cycled through Lee Pace and Eric Roberts, I keep going back to Dafoe. No matter who else is on screen with him, he draws the camera, the eye. There’s charm there that can flick over to menace in a blink of an eye, and a hint of the strange in that angular face.

Andrew Carmody is a mogul in the guise of a surfer dude. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau does rich rumpled very well.

Peter Augustin—Orlando Jones, who I first saw as Captain Frank Irving in Sleepy Hollow. He can project a world-weary decency that reminds me of a younger Morgan Freeman or Harry Morgan.
Visit Alex Gordon's website and Kristine Smith's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kristine Smith & Gaby.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Billie Livingston's "The Crooked Heart of Mercy"

Billie Livingston is the award-winning author of four novels, a collection of short stories, and a poetry collection. Her novel One Good Hustle, a Globe and Mail Best Book selection, was nominated for the Giller Prize and for the Canadian Library Association’s Young Adult Book Award. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Here Livingston shares some thought about the above-the-line talent to adapt her latest novel, The Crooked Heart of Mercy, for the big screen:
Directed by: Jodie Foster

Casting suggestions:

Francis, male, 34 years old : Robert Downey Jr., Philip Seymour Hoffman
Maggie, female, 32 years old: Brittany Murphy, Toni Collette, Marisa Tomei
Ben, male, 35 years old: Young Jeff Bridges, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Liotta

To cast The Crooked Heart of Mercy, you’d need three actors who could really pull of strong working class people. Jodie Foster has played dozens of these kinds of characters and to have her take the helm, as director, would be really interesting. I bet she could direct the hell out of a story like this.

Francis, though a supporting character is something of a linchpin to the story. A gay, promiscuous, alcoholic priest, Francis is playful, confused, funny and ultimately gifted with a grace that helps people forward with their own secret burdens. A 30-something Robert Downey Jr. would be fantastic. You’d need that kind of temperament—great sensitivity and a sharp sense of humor. Philip Seymour Hoffman would have made a great Francis too.

Francis’s sister Maggie: Like Francis, Maggie is a smartass with a smart mouth, both fierce and fragile, and enormously sensitive. She’s on the other side of a huge loss, and her husband is in the psych ward with a hole in his head. A 30-something Toni Collette could nail it. Brittany Murphy, had she lived the life she should have, would also have made a great Maggie. When I think of the job Marisa Tomei did with In the Bedroom, I bet she too would really brought Maggie home.

And finally Maggie’s husband Ben. Ben has just woken up in the psych ward with a hole in his head he can’t explain. A working class guy, Ben is a limo driver, gentle, with a keen mind and great sense of the absurd —before he retreats into a bit of madness. Mark Wahlberg could pull off Ben. Actually The Crooked Heart of Mercy is story with a Catholic underpinning and from what I understand Wahlberg is a pretty serious Catholic. He would probably bring an intriguing undercurrent to the character. A young Jeff Bridges would have been good. A young Ray Liotta would have made a great Ben too – but you’d need a strong actress to balance Liotta out or he might come off as pure maniac!
Read more about the author and her books at the official Billie Livingston website.

My Book, The Movie: Cease to Blush.

The Page 69 Test: The Crooked Heart of Mercy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 4, 2016

Lucinda Riley's "The Storm Sister"

Lucinda Riley is the New York Times bestselling author of The Orchid House, The Girl on the Cliff, The Lavender Garden, The Midnight Rose, and The Seven Sisters. Her books have sold more than five million copies in thirty languages She lives in London and the English countryside with her husband and four children.

Here Riley dreamcasts an adaptation of The Storm Sister, the second installment in the seven book series, The Seven Sisters:
As a former actress, there is nothing more satisfying than the game of casting my own characters. I remember sweating before auditions in London, and then wondering what was going through the casting director’s mind as I read for a part. While my acting days are long over, I do so admire the young British actors of today. So for my main character Ally in The Storm Sister, I would have to choose Eleanor Tomlinson, who was so brilliant in the BBC adaptation of Poldark. With her vibrant red hair and feisty personality, she would really do Ally justice. Ally’s half-American lover and fellow sailor Theo would be played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

For all my sisters in this series, I imagine that their historical ancestor will be played by the same actress, as they are physically similar. So Ally’s great-great-grandmother Anna would also be played by Tomlinson, but perhaps with the voice of Birgit Nilsson, the wonderful Swedish soprano, as we hear Anna sing Grieg’s enchanting music in the first production of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt in 1878. A younger Alexander Skarsgård could lend that certain charm and edge to the musician Jens Halvorsen who Anna falls in love with.

Of course we catch glimpses of Ally’s five sisters in The Storm Sister as well. Maia, the eldest, finds her heritage in the heat of Rio de Janeiro, as told in the first book in the series, The Seven Sisters. Anne Hathaway is a perfect fit, with her large dark eyes, and her ability to express such intense emotion, as she did in Les Miserables.

I’ve given the reader a little look into Star’s perspective at the end of The Storm Sister. Her own story, The Shadow Sister, will be available in the US in Spring 2017, and I have imagined her to look rather like Léa Seydoux (who was most recently in Spectre). I think she would portray Star’s shy intelligence wonderfully.

For the other sisters: CeCe would be played by the talented Australian Aboriginal actress Jessica Mauboy, Tiggy by the beautiful Lily Collins, and Elektra by the British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

As for the elusive seventh sister … well, I can’t reveal anything until the very last book in the series….
Visit Lucinda Riley's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Storm Sister.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Tessa Arlen's "Death Sits Down to Dinner"

Tessa Arlen, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. She lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Here Arlen dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Death Sits Down to Dinner:
This is the tale of a murder at a fashionable English dinner party to celebrate the birthday of Winston Churchill a year before WW1. It touches on the anxiety and paranoia of a country on the edge of war, the differences in class, in race and social dependence that is in the financial dependence of women.

For Winston Churchill the English actor Robert Hardy immediately springs to mind, as he was in The Wilderness Years. He did a splendid job of portraying Churchill in the 1920s which is just a little later than the book which is set in 1913. Hardy looks like Churchill, he sounds like him and he played the part with all the wit, charm and the stupendous ego that are such hallmarks of Churchill’s rather overwhelming personality and complex nature.

Edith Jackson, our amateur sleuth Lady Montfort’s ‘Watson’, should be played by Emily Watson the way she played Elsie the housemaid in Gosford Park. Emily Watson displays the same sang froid that I imagine Edith Jackson has. Both characters are intelligent and aware of what is going on around them, and are self-contained and not given to showing their emotions. There is a big exception in Watson’s role in Gosford when she completely throws in the towel and is of course fired because of her emotional outburst. Mrs. Jackson would never have behaved this way: she prides herself on her self-discipline!

Julia Ormond as she was in Smilla’s Sense of Snow for Clementine Talbot the Countess of Montfort, our amateur sleuth. I imagine that Clementine has the beautiful skin, dark hair and large expressive eyes as Ormond. Though Clementine is a little more charming and playful than Ormond’s Smilla -- behind Clementine’s beautiful serene face there is a brain ticking away ... and nothing escapes her notice.

Hermione Kingsley absolutely must be played Phyllida Law as she was in The Winter Guest. Phyllida Law (who is by the way Emma Thompson’s mother) plays strong, quirky, elderly characters and can be extremely amusing especially when she is being imperious and commanding.
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

The Page 69 Test: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman.

My Book, The Movie: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman.

The Page 69 Test: Death Sits Down to Dinner.

--Marshal Zeringue