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