Thursday, March 12, 2020

Susann Cokal's "Mermaid Moon"

Susann Cokal is a moody historical novelist, a pop-culture essayist, book critic, magazine editor, and sometime professor of creative writing and modern literature. She lives in a creepy old farmhouse in Richmond, Virginia, with seven cats, a big dog, a spouse, and some peacocks that supposedly belong to a neighbor.

Cokal's first young adult novel, The Kingdom of Little Wounds, received several national awards, including a silver medal from the American Library Association's Michael L. Printz Award series. Her books for adults, Mirabilis and Breath and Bones, received some nice notice too.

Here Cokal dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Mermaid Moon:
Believe it or not, I never think about this when I’m writing. Maybe because I see all the characters as some aspect of myself, and so the truest production would be a Tyler Perry - type picture in which I’m basically everyone, and present onscreen in a directorial capacity too. Which I suppose would make me Thyrla or Sjældent or both, the two mature witches who live to manipulate people, magically and otherwise.

However, there are actors far more cinegenic than I am, so here goes:

Sanna is the heroine, and she’s strong and thick-waisted and blond, plus a good singer. And mermaids are taller than land-dwellers. But looks are only a small part of playing a role, so if I’m allowed to cast somewhat against physical type, I’d vote for Odeya Rush. She played the sweet and funny best friend in Dumplin’ and the shallow frenemy in Lady Bird, and I think it’s time she got a starring vehicle. As far as looks go, Dove Cameron comes closest; she is petite but could be made to look bigger with camera angles. She has a nice ethereality and a bit of sly wit to her, perhaps more than Sanna has. If she has limited availability, I’d ask her to play Frill, the ditziest but biggest-hearted of the mermaids.

Baroness Thyrla is the villain, pint-sized but vicious, with a penchant for sucking the life out of available bodies, including her own babies. Cate Blanchett has been queen of my heart for twenty years, and I’d love to see her in the ossuary chamber, speaking to the chattering skulls of her victims. Failing that, Blake Lively as we saw her in A Simple Favor—so witty, so casually cruel. She’d be the sort of James Bond of Thyrla.

Sjældent, the toothless,crafty, nearly dead sea-witch with the crabs and worms living among her scales and under her breasts: This is obviously the role over which Hollywood is going to be fighting. Judi Dench has proven she’s game for just about anything, so why not this? And if Cate Blanchett passes on Thyrla and Helen Mirren doesn’t snap that one up, I’d like to see if Dame Helen is ready at last to play ugly.

Young Baron Peder, the wastrel and wooer, could be played by almost any young man with a chin. Let’s give that to some up-and-comer who needs a job.

Tomas, the slightly neurotic nice boy tormented by his forbidden love for Sanna, isn’t supposed to be handsome but is, of course. I’d see him as Bex Taylor-Klaus, or maybe a young Rico Rodriguez from Modern Family or Fred Savage from The Wonder Years, though all of them would have to de-cute it a bit.

I’d cast Kett, the well-meaning maid, with Beanie Feldman … Addra, the beautiful meangirl mermaid, with Yara Shahidi in a red wig (or the obvious, Bella Thorne) … a slightly younger Stellan Skarsgård as Bjarl, Sanna’s merman father … and for Pippa the Strong, the no-nonsense mermaid about Sanna’s age, I’m thinking it’s time for someone like Olympian Katie Ledecky to climb out of the pool and into the ocean, or maybe Simone Biles should test her range off the balance beam (a strong girl doesn’t have to be tall).

I realize that with some of these choices I’m leaning toward comedic actors. I see humor in the story—and creepy things are always creepier with a bit of comic edge too.

For director, I would beg Greta Gerwig please, please, please to take an interest. And to let me help with the screenplay.
Visit Susann Cokal's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mermaid Moon.

--Marshal Zeringue