Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Cass Morris's "Give Way to Night"

Cass Morris works as an educator in central Virginia and as a bookseller on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She holds a Master of Letters from Mary Baldwin University and a BA in English with a minor in history from the College of William and Mary. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart.

Here Morris dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Give Way to Night:
Give Way to Night is the second book of the Aven Cycle, an epic fantasy series set in an alternate ancient Rome where magic has shaped the course of nations every bit as much as law and warfare. Aven is on the brink, attempting to re-establish its ideals after a dictatorship. As if determining the philosophical soul of the nation weren’t enough, they’re also dealing with violent incursions in a province and the resurgence of a banished cult at home!

The Aven Cycle has a large cast of characters. I have strong ideas for actors I’d love to see play some of them and little-to-no idea for others. My biggest overall concern if someone were to cast the series, though, would be diversity. The ancient world was multicultural, and Rome thrived with populations from many nations and of many skin tones. I would want the cast to reflect that above all else.

My two chief protagonists are Latona of the Vitelliae and Sempronius Tarren. Sempronius is an ambitious senator with a divinely-inspired vision: he wants to see Aven the center of a coalition of nations that spans the known world, the beating heart of a vibrant federation. He’ll do whatever necessary to reach that goal -- including breaking the laws of the nation he loves so much. Sempronius is a mage, granted elemental power by the gods, and Aven’s laws bar such men from high office. He thinks the gods know better than the men who write laws, though, and so he keeps his gift a secret while he reaches for the power to shape the world of his dreams.

Latona is also a mage, and her powers have brought her a lot of trouble in life, to the point where she began suppressing them and denying her true strength. In Give Way to Night, however, she’s tired of making herself small for others’ comfort; she’s decided instead to use her gifts to protect and defend Aven. That determination puts her in conflict with a mysterious opponent using dark magic to foment chaos and terror in the already-fragile city.

An actor I’ve long had in my head for Latona is Sarah Gadon. I first saw her in Amma Asante’s Belle, but it was her performance in Alias Grace that convinced me she would be perfect for Latona’s haunted intensity, able to shift between carefully-constructed poise and explosively fierce emotions. She also has the angular beauty I think of when I picture Latona: graceful and even a little vulnerable, but with fire behind the eyes.

Sempronius is harder. He must be absolutely charismatic, but I’d actually prefer an actor who isn’t too good-looking! I describe him in the books as being average-looking; not unattractive, but not swoon-worthy. His personal magnetism is much more important: his way of talking to people, his way with words, his vigor. I concede that a film or tv series would likely lean into the “tall, dark, and handsome” trope, however, so someone like Henry Cavill, Diego Luna, or Emun Elliott, but a bit younger. Sempronius should be early 30s.

Overall, I’d want a film or series to have an immersive feel, making both the world and the magic feel viscerally real. I took a lot of inspiration from HBO’s Rome, so I imagine that kind of art direction and attention to detail.
Visit Cass Morris's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 18, 2020

Layne Fargo's "They Never Learn"

Layne Fargo is the author of the thrillers Temper and They Never Learn. She’s a Pitch Wars mentor, Vice President of the Chicagoland chapter of Sisters in Crime, and the cocreator of the podcast Unlikeable Female Characters. Fargo lives in Chicago with her partner and their pets.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of They Never Learn:
I always “cast” every character in my novels before I start writing them, and I have secret Pinterest boards full of pictures of all my inspirations (like, so many pictures it’s creepy).

Here are some of the main actors I pictured while writing my latest novel, the feminist serial killer thriller They Never Learn:

Christina Hendricks as English professor/murderer of bad men Scarlett Clark. Scarlett is a bombshell redhead who will ruin your life, and Christina basically invented that archetype as Joan Holloway on Mad Men.

Morena Baccarin as Scarlett’s love interest, psychology professor Dr. Mina Pierce. I originally pictured a different actress as Mina, but the character didn’t quite come together in my mind until I thought of Morena.

Bill Skarsgård as Scarlett’s creepy-hot graduate assistant Jasper Prior. Bill has inspired characters in several other projects of mine too; you do not want to know how many pictures of him I have saved…

Ewan McGregor as Dr. Alexander Kinnear, Scarlett’s smarmy boss she can’t wait to kill (although a lot of people tell me they pictured Greg Kinnear instead, because of the last name, and that works too).

Amandla Stenberg as Scarlett’s favorite student Mikayla Atwell.

Joel de la Fuente as Scarlett’s friend and fellow English professor Drew Torres.

They Never Learn is currently being developed for television, and I’m so interested to see whether the actual cast will match my mental images!
Visit Layne Fargo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 14, 2020

Tessa Wegert's "The Dead Season"

Tessa Wegert is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, The Huffington Post, Adweek, and The Economist. She grew up in Quebec near the border of Vermont and now lives with her husband and children in a hundred- year-old house in Coastal Connecticut. Wegert writes mysteries set in Upstate New York while studying martial arts and dance, and is the author of the Shana Merchant series, beginning with Death in the Family.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Dead Season:
I don’t typically pin photos of actors on my wall or picture celebrities while writing, but with The Dead Season, the sequel to Death in the Family, I did have a few in mind.

In The Dead Season, Thousand Islands-based Senior Investigator Shana Merchant returns to her hometown in Vermont upon learning that her estranged uncle has been murdered. Shana’s immediate and extended family both play a major role in her informal investigation of a homicide that hits close to home. When she receives word that a child has been abducted back in Upstate New York, her partner Tim Wellington and local Sheriff Maureen McIntyre factor in as well. Of course there’s also Blake Bram, the serial killer from Shana’s hometown whom she’s been hunting, and who she believes could be involved in both crimes.

That said, here’s the casting scenario that plays out in my mind.

Shana Merchant: Emma Stone. I know she’d portray Shana as the shrewd and plucky investigator that she is.

Tim Wellington: Adam Driver. Driver may be an unconventional choice to play small-town Tim, but I love the unexpectedness of having him depict an Everyman type.

Maureen “Mac” McIntyre: Jane Lynch. As Shana’s friend and mentor, Mac is equal parts cerebral and feisty, and Jane Lynch fits the part.

Blake Bram: Jeremy Renner. I can’t explain it, but he’s been my Bram from the start.

Della Merchant (Shana’s mother): Jodie Foster. What a dream that would be!

Wally Merchant (Shana’s father): John Slattery, if he’d be willing to adopt a British accent.

Doug Merchant (Shana’s brother): Seth Rogen. Something about Seth Rogen as Shana’s older brother just makes me smile.

Brett Skilton (Shana’s uncle): Breckin Meyer, with platinum blond hair.

Felicia “Aunt Fee” Skilton: Helen Hunt. I’ve always thought she and Jodie Foster look like they could be sisters.

Crissy Skilton (Shana’s cousin): Scarlett Johansson. I’d get a kick out of seeing her play a character that’s unkempt and a bit uncouth.

Suzuka “Suze” Weppler (Shana’s childhood friend): Vanessa Hudgens would be great here.

Robbie Copely (Suze’s husband): Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s all about the eyes with Robbie.

Cheryl Copely (Robbie’s mother): Kristin Chenoweth. I’m a huge fan of hers, and her spirit and diminutive stature would make her ideal for this role.
Visit Tessa Wegert's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Karen Brooks's "The Lady Brewer of London"

Australian-born Karen Brooks is the author of numerous novels, an academic, a newspaper columnist and social commentator, and has appeared regularly on national TV and radio. Before turning to academia, she was an army officer, and dabbled in acting. She lives in Hobart, Tasmania.

Here Brooks dreamcasts an adaptation of her novel, The Lady Brewer of London:
If The Lady Brewer of London was made into a movie, I know exactly who I’d like to play Anneke Sheldrake. When I first started writing, I imagined a young Ann Margaret. She looks so right for the part with her gorgeous red hair, the shape of her eyes and height. Anneke is eighteen when the book opens, and is immediately put in a situation where she has to shoulder incredible responsibilities for someone so young. Basically, make a living in order to support her younger siblings and family servants and not be evicted from their home. Undaunted (except to those who really know her), she makes what some in that time would have considered an indecent proposal to her landlord to help her family not only survive, but thrive. She pays the price for her chutzpah, but at the same time refuses to be beaten. I could see Ann Margaret filling the role beautifully.

But then I saw Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza in the BBC adaptation of Poldark and knew this was the actor I wanted. Like Anneke, Eleanor/Demelza is tall, and her character is feisty, strong, but also able to project a vulnerability on screen which I believe is needed. You root for her so hard, which is what I want people to do for Anneke.

It would be easy then to cast Demelza’s onscreen husband from Poldark, Aidan Turner as Leander, the male lead in the story and certainly, he ticks many boxes. But, right from the beginning, I saw Goran Visnjic (a Croatian-American actor) as Leander. Dark, brooding, very tall (essential) but with a kind face too, he manages to be both mischievous and mysterious – a wonderful combination and which Leander also exudes.

As for directors, it would be hard to go past either Scott Frank (Queen’s Gambit) or Amy Sherman-Palladino (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). Both these directors not only get their aesthetic perfect, but they have fantastic shades of light and dark in their story-telling and allow the camera to draw out the characters as well, not just dialogue or costuming and setting (though they’re important too). They also tell women’s stories so powerfully but without sacrificing men to the female narrative, but making them an intrinsic part of it while still allowing the women to shine. Anneke shines so bright, she’s dazzling. At least, I hope so.
Visit Karen Brooks's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 7, 2020

Linda Keir's "The Three Mrs. Wrights"

Linda Keir is the pen name for the writing team of Linda Joffe Hull and Keir Graff.

Here the authors of Drowning with Others and The Swing of Things dreamcast an adaptation of their new novel, The Three Mrs. Wrights:
As coauthors writing under the pen name Linda Keir, our entire process—from idea generation to outlining to drafting—is collaborative. When it comes to characters, we divide and conquer, with each one of us tackling different points of view. Whoever is writing a character decides what he or she looks like and then describes them well enough that we can both visualize age, appearance, and identifying characteristics. So far, we’ve operated on the perhaps mistaken belief that our conversations and descriptive abilities leave us picturing our characters in exactly the same way.

With a few notable exceptions (such as Andi Bloom in Drowning with Others, for whom we jointly chose a photo of a representative brunette) we’ve rarely discussed celebrity counterparts for our characters. Because of this, we thought it would be fun to compare our dream casts for our latest novel, The Three Mrs. Wrights, which is the story of three smart, successful women who discover they’ve been taken in by the very same successful entrepreneur and serial womanizer.

Lark Robinson

Biracial Lark is beautiful, bright, and unconventional. In her mid-twenties and every bit the Millennial, she’s determined to succeed with the board game she has designed for budding girl scientists.

Linda: Definitely Zoe Kravitz or Gugu Mbatha-Raw. They are both exceptionally striking and sexy in the same way I picture Lark to be.

Keir: I never had anybody in mind, but I have to say that Vanessa Hudgens comes closest to the person I imagined.

Jessica Meyers

Jessica is a newly minted pediatric oncologist in her early thirties. She is slim and attractive with long brown hair. She defines herself much more by her intelligence than looks.

Linda: From the very start, I pictured her as looking like Emmy Rossum, known for her roles in the TV show Shameless and the film version of Phantom of the Opera.

Keir: I’m picturing Alison Brie, who I think could perfectly portray the necessary blend of wholesome, down-to-earth, spunky, smart, and just a little bit offbeat.

Holly Wright

In her mid-forties, Holly is patrician, blond, classically attractive, and the mother of three children from grade school through high school. She is a pediatrician by profession with a passion for horses and philanthropy.

Linda: I picture Naomi Watts or Michelle Williams.

Keir: Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner—I think Michelle Williams in the present stage of her career would be absolutely perfect!

Jonathan Wright AKA Jack Wright AKA Trip Mitchell

Jonathan Mitchell Wright, MD, physician turned wildly successful med-tech millionaire, is handsome, sexy, and eminently charming. Healthy and fit, with a full head of graying dark hair, he, like his (first) wife, Holly, is in his mid-forties.

Linda: George Clooney is an obvious choice, but I could see Chris Evans or even Patrick Dempsey as Jon.

Keir: Hollywood has any number of handsome, silvering foxes who could play our smooth-talking, sociopathic bad guy, but I’m feeling Ryan Reynolds for this one. That face—charming but potentially hiding secrets . . .

The Verdict

Even though we may have visualized our characters differently, both of us would be more than happy with any of them. We’ll just bookmark this page until the inevitable feature-film sale of The Three Mrs. Wrights. (Well ... fingers crossed!)
Visit the websites of Linda Joffe Hull and Keir Graff.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Kristy Dallas Alley's "The Ballad of Ami Miles"

Kristy Dallas Alley is a high school librarian in Memphis, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, four kids, three cats, and an indeterminate number of fish. She studied creative writing at Rhodes College in another lifetime and holds a Master of Science in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership from the University of Memphis. In an ideal world, she would do nothing but sit on a beach and read every single day of her life, but in reality she's pretty happy reading on her front porch, neglecting the gardens she enthusiastically plants each spring, and cooking huge meals regardless of the number of people around to eat them.

Here Alley dreamcasts an adaptation of The Ballad of Ami Miles, her debut novel:
I have imagined the opening sequence of The Ballad of Ami Miles so often that it plays in my mind like the memory of a movie I've watched again and again. I can see the POV shot of trees and forest floor as Ami tromps confidently toward home, not knowing her world is about to be turned upside down. I see the stiff forms of her grandparents and the strange man standing in the yard where she isn't expecting to find anything out of the ordinary, surrounded by the desolation of Heavenly Shepard, her family's trailer dealership-turned survival compound where they live in isolation after viral infertility has wiped out the world as we know it. She runs away to a communal settlement that is built in a real place, Lake Point state park near Eufaula, Alabama, and I picture it both as its real self and as the older, shabbier version in my mental movie of this book. But the casting keeps changing, as young actors quickly grow up and new talents constantly appear.

For this "dream casting," I wanted to pick actors who could fit the roles right now.

The main characters:

Ami: Sadie Sink who played Max in Stranger Things fits the physical description of Ami pretty perfectly, and I think she's a good fit overall.

Jessie: There's a young independent film actress named Stella Cole who I think would make a perfect Jessie. For a big-name choice, I can see Auli'i Cravalho fitting the part beautifully.

The family:

Elisabeth Miles, Ami's mom: Reese Witherspoon would be perfect in this role, with the huge benefit of having an authentic southern accent.

Marcus: Luke Forbes gives me real Marcus vibes.

Penny: Storm Reid is perfect to play Penny, and the fact that she played Meg in A Wrinkle in Time seals the deal for me.

Ruth Miles, Ami's grandmother: Lisa Emery, the actress who plays Darlene Snell in Ozark, would give Ruth the flint she needs.

Amber, Ami's aunt: Stealing another Ozark actor, I would love to see Julia Garner play Amber. She's absolutely perfect.

The Lake Point teens ensemble:

Will: Logan Shroyer, who plays the teen version of Kevin in This Is Us really looks like Will and is such a talented young actor.

Melissa: Kyla Matthews who played Ruby Gillis in Anne With an E feels just right for this part.

Hannah: I love the idea of Amber Midthunder as Hannah so if she could freeze herself in time, that would be great.

Ben: Booboo Stewart looks and feels perfect to play Ben

Teenie: Danielle Macdonald, who played Willowdean in Dumplin' just became Teenie in my mind at some point.

Random other role:

Evelyn the librarian: She's a minor character in the book, but this was the only one I really always pictured as a specific actor in my mind, and that was Catherine Keener. Out of all the roles I've listed, this is the one that would really make it feel like the book in my head moved straight to the screen.
Follow Kristy Dallas Alley on Facebook and Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue