Saturday, November 27, 2021

Joy Castro’s "Flight Risk"

Joy Castro is the award-winning author of the post-Katrina New Orleans literary thrillers Hell or High Water, which received the Nebraska Book Award, and Nearer Home, and the story collection How Winter Began, as well as the memoir The Truth Book and the essay collection Island of Bones, which received the International Latino Book Award. She is also editor of the anthology Family Trouble and served as the guest judge of CRAFT‘s first Creative Nonfiction Award. Her work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Senses of Cinema, Salon, Ploughshares, Gulf Coast, Brevity, Afro-Hispanic Review, and elsewhere. A former Writer-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University, she is currently the Willa Cather Professor of English and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Here Castro dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Flight Risk:
I love imagining who could direct and star in a film version of Flight Risk, because I write film criticism, too, and I love watching films and imagining how various books could be brought to the screen. Flight Risk is the story of Isabel Morales, a sculptor in her late 30s who's married to a wealthy doctor and living a picture-perfect life in Chicago. But all is not as it seems, and when her mother dies in prison back in West Virginia (where I'm from), she returns home to reckon with her past.

If he were available and interested, Todd Haynes, the director of Far from Heaven and Carol, would do an impeccable job with Flight Risk. He has a gift for lush melodramas that never feel melodramatic--they feels subtle and keenly observant--and he captures the delicacy of individual women so well onscreen--their internal struggles, dreams, and despair--so I think he would do a luminous job of rendering Isabel sympathetically. He knows how to illuminate the dynamics of families and couples, which are very much at play in Flight Risk, and he understands how difficult it is to traverse the divides of class, culture, race, and sexuality.

Another director whose take on Flight Risk I'd love to see would be Kelly Reichardt. She's excellent at exploring women's loneliness, yearning, moral struggles, and endurance, as in Wendy and Lucy and Certain Women, and she renders women's sudden turning points so brilliantly: those moments of ethical challenge when they suddenly grip and wield their strength, as in Meek's Cutoff. Reichardt also just finished a film, Showing Up, about a woman who's a professional artist, as Isabel is. Reichardt's style is very different from Haynes's: she emphasizes a certain ruggedness, an uncompromising stubbornness in the face of a brutal world, and those are elements of Isabel's character, too, in addition to her delicacy. A Reichardt Flight Risk would be very different from a Haynes production, but just as interesting, or perhaps even more so.

In terms of casting, Isabel’s character was sparked when I watched Morena Baccarin in the first season of Homeland. Baccarin plays the wife of Brody, the soldier who returns home unexpectedly after being presumed dead, and she's so trapped, so beautiful and haunted, torn between her desire and her responsibilities. It's easy to imagine Baccarin playing Isabel, who has so many secrets and vulnerabilities and is struggling to do her best. Regarding Jon Turner, Isabel's old-money Chicago husband, a book club that recently read Flight Risk insisted that Eric Bana would be perfect. They were quite enthusiastic about it. He's very handsome and certainly fits the description in the book: chestnut curls and so on.

Amanda Seyfried would be outstanding as Anna, the legal secretary, because she can seem deceptively ditzy, which is exactly what Anna is. My dream to play the artist Sondra would be Lupita Nyong'o, due to her quiet intensity and moral rigor. Margo Martindale could wipe the floor with the character of Aunt Della, but she might be almost too perfectly typecast; I think of her in the TV series Justified, for example: pure evil. I'd love to see a ragged, strung-out Brad Pitt play Billy, but he'd need to have bloodshot eyes and a bit of a hangdog stoop, because Billy's a wreck of his former self--but his former self was quite something, and an actor would need to convey that. As for Nic Folio--well, I'm not sure the perfect blend of temptation and danger has yet been sufficiently incarnated in human form, but that's what the role deserves.
Visit Joy Castro’s website and Twitter perch.

Q&A with Joy Castro.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Lisa Gray's "Lonely Hearts"

Lisa Gray is an Amazon #1, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author. She previously worked as the Chief Scottish Football Writer at the Press Association and books columnist at the Daily Record Saturday Magazine. Her novels include: Thin Air, a Washington Post and Wall Street Journal bestseller and’s third-bestselling Kindle eBook of 2019; Bad Memory, a Wall Street Journal bestseller and longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize; and Dark Highway.

Here Gray dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Lonely Hearts:
I often receive emails from readers—or see reviews on Amazon—saying they think the Jessica Shaw series would be perfect for the big screen or as a TV series. And, when Bad Memory was longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize, one of the judges described it as the one most likely to be adapted by Netflix. I couldn’t agree more!

Jessica Shaw is a private investigator who specializes in finding missing people. In Lonely Hearts, she’s hired by Christine Ryan to find her one-time best friend, Veronica Lowe. Veronica was a member of the Lonely Hearts Club, a pen pal service for women who want to write to men in prison. She vanished years earlier after having a child with Death Row inmate and notorious serial killer, Travis Dean Ford. Ford’s widow, Jordana—who was also a member of the Lonely Hearts Club—has been found murdered in the same way as his victims. Christine fears Veronica and her daughter could be next, leading to a race against time for Jessica to find them before the killer does.

Jessica Shaw: I've always had one actress in mind who I think would be perfect as my private eye main character—Kristen Stewart. I don’t mean the brunette high school student of the Twilight movies; I mean Kristen as she is now. With her short, peroxide blonde hair and cool, punky style, she’s exactly how I imagine Jessica would look. I think Kristen would capture Jessica’s personality pretty well too. Her performances in the likes of Twilight and Spencer show that she’s great at portraying that mixture of toughness and vulnerability that would be required for the role of Jessica.

Jason Pryce: Pryce is a veteran LAPD detective, friend of Jessica’s, and series regular. In Lonely Hearts, he heads up the investigation into Jordana Ford’s murder. He’s a devoted family man and a dedicated cop. He looks after himself and he likes his designer labels. So…someone who’d be convincing as a detective and who also has bags of style? Two words: Jamie Foxx.

Matt Connor: Another recurring series character, Connor is Jessica’s boss at the private detective agency and they also have a will-they-won’t-they, on-off thing going on. A bit like the ‘80s TV show Moonlighting. Connor is in his forties, attractive, charming and a big hit with the ladies. Bradley Cooper has the looks and charisma to make a great Matt Connor.

Veronica Lowe: Veronica attracted the attention of Travis Dean Ford because she was exactly like his victims—a slim, pretty redhead. Her flashback chapters show her as a young woman in her twenties who’s just beginning a relationship with her prison pen pal. What/If actress Jane Levy has the right look for sure, and she could also pull off Veronica’s girl next door persona.
Visit Lisa Gray's website.

The Page 69 Test: Lonely Hearts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Cat Rambo's "You Sexy Thing"

Cat Rambo (they/them) is an American fantasy and science fiction writer whose work has appeared in, among others, Asimov's, Weird Tales, Chiaroscuro, Talebones, and Strange Horizons. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, where they studied with John Barth and Steve Dixon, they also attended the Clarion West Writers' Workshop. Their most recent works include And The Last Trump Shall Sound (co-written with James Morrow and Harry Turtledove), the fantasy novel Exiles of Tabat, and the space opera You Sexy Thing. They live, write, and teach somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. “Cat Rambo” is their real name.

Here Rambo dreamcasts an adaptation of You Sexy Thing:
If they were making a movie of my book the most important casting wouldn’t be a face, but a voice.

That’s because the title character, You Sexy Thing, is an intelligent bio-ship. It’s just learning about self-awareness, and these weird things called emotions, and all sorts of things. That’s a result of its interactions with the crew of mercenaries-turned-restaurateurs that have stolen it, and that’s something else that the ship feels the need to sort out, because it’s not really sure it wants to be stolen.

So I want a voice full of charm and unwarranted bravado, the cocky kid who knows it all -- but will cheerfully admit it when they don’t. To me, that’s Ryan Reynolds, though maybe a little higher pitched to show how comparatively young the ship is.

It’s an ensemble cast, so plenty of other actors will be needed. Most of the other characters are aliens so again faces may not be as important as the voices. Dabry needs a deep solemnity about himself that also doesn’t take things too seriously. Maybe Andre Braugher for him, if he’s up to the challenge of playing a purple-skinned, four-armed sergeant-turned-chef.

Skidoo is a Tlellan, a composite alien made of brightly colored tentacles and a strong libido. For her, I’d like Nicola Mary Coughlan from Derry Girls and Bridgerton, who I think could tackle the charm and enthusiasm that marks that character.

Donald Glover for both Thorn and Talon, because I loved him so much in Community, and he could absolutely pull off being a pair of twin were-lions.

Lassite is a Sessile, a snake-like alien, and I had to spend a good bit of time thinking about him. I’d actually like Benedict Cumberbatch because who wouldn’t want Benedict Cumberbatch in their movie?

Kaniehtiio Horn, who I most recently saw in the series Reservation Dogs, for Milly, a white-feathered pastry chef who happens to be very good with knives. She makes a great pragmatic smart-ass, and that’s Milly.

Gio doesn’t talk but signs. For him, I’d go with Roddy McDowell, because who better to play a sous-chef chimpanzee?

Captain Niko is human, and Aisha Tyler would totally be my pick there for both look and voice. Our other human, Atlanta, would be Auli'i Crovalho, who played Moana and again has both the right look plus the right voice.

As you see - quite a crew! And I do think they’d make an awesome movie.
Visit Cat Rambo's website.

Q&A with Cat Rambo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 12, 2021

Aaron Philip Clark's "Under Color of Law"

Aaron Philip Clark is a native of Los Angeles. He is a novelist and screenwriter. A self-described "son of the city," Clark takes pleasure in exploring the many facets of Los Angeles and enjoys hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains.

His most recent novel, Under Color of Law, is inspired by his experiences in the LAPD.

Here Clark dreamcasts an adaptation of the new novel:
Under Color of Law centers on rookie LAPD detective Trevor “Finn” Finnegan, who’s tasked to investigate the murder of Black LAPD recruit Brandon Soledad. As pressure mounts to solve the crime and avoid a PR nightmare, Finn scours the underbelly of a volatile city where power, violence, and race intersect. But it’s Finn’s past as a beat cop that may hold the key to solving Brandon’s murder. The price? The end of Finn’s career…or his life.

As the 2021 Book Pipeline Adaptation contest winner, I’ve given more thought to casting over the last few days. In addition to a cash prize, I’ll be working with a production company to develop Under Color of Law for the big or small screen. Here’s my ideal casting and director for the soon-to-be adaptation.

Trevor “Finn” Finnegan: Kendrick Sampson (Insecure, 2016-2021). Trevor is analytical and highly reflective. The first-person POV allows access to Trevor’s interior in the novel; however, that wouldn’t translate well for a film or TV series. Therefore, the actor would need to convey intelligence, strength, and vulnerability while also being menacing when necessary. Sampson not only embodies these traits but exudes command presence which is necessary when playing a believable cop.

Sarada Rao: Taylour Paige (Zola, 2021). Sarada is Trevor’s long-time friend, who he cares very deeply for. They are forever bonded by a traumatic event in their young lives which drives Trevor to become a police officer. After watching Zola, Paige struck me as an actress with the ability to convey sophistication, class, and even rage, all in a single glance. Like Sarada, Paige is an LA native, which brings another level of authenticity to the story.

Shaun “Pop” Finnegan: Roger Guenveur Smith (He Got Game, 1998 and Dope, 2015). Pop is Trevor’s father. He’s a retired LAPD sergeant who feels guilty for his actions while wearing the badge for over twenty years. Much to Trevor’s chagrin, Pop has dedicated his time to protesting police abuses and demanding reform. Smith has always had a powerful on-screen presence and would bring an endearment to Pop, matched with the inner turmoil that drives Pop to drink and lash out at Trevor.

Joey Garcia: Michael Trevino (Vampire Diaries, 2009-2017). Joey is Trevor’s former training officer who’s moved to the police academy’s Physical Training division after many citizen complaints. Not only does Trevino exemplify the physicality of Joey Garcia, but the toxic masculinity he exhibited as Tyler Lockwood in Vampire Diaries would be well suited in the role of Joey.

Amanda “Boston” Walsh: Laura Linney (Ozark, 2017-2022 and The Big C, 2010-2013). Amanda Walsh is a detective sergeant in the Scientific Investigation Division. However, her checkered past is bound to catch up with her, and like Trevor, her dark secrets may destroy her career. Walsh is an antagonist, but Linney could humanize her while keeping her propensity for violence just below the surface.

Captain Mitch Beckett: William H. Macy (Shameless, 2011-2021). Captain Beckett is Trevor’s commanding officer while he’s on loan to Pacific Division. As Trevor states, “they’re friendly but not friends.” What makes Macy perfect for the character of Captain Beckett is his ability to capture Beckett’s duality. While Macy’s performance in Edmond (2005) deviated from his previous roles, it showed his range in channeling villainy with charisma, and it’s this duality that endangers Trevor’s life and the Brandon Soledad investigation.

Antoine Fuqua, Director: Fuqua’s work is gritty, character-driven, and fearless. While his Equalizer films (2014 and 2018) are wildly entertaining, he doesn’t allow the plot to overtake character development. As seen in his neo-noir film, Training Day (2001), Fuqua infuses the action-driven narrative with poignant and heartfelt moments that reveal truths about the characters. Fuqua could not only bring Trevor’s story to life, but capture the Los Angeles he inhabits in all its beauty and squalor.
Visit Aaron Philip Clark's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Tessa Harris's "Beneath A Starless Sky"

Tessa Harris is the award-winning author of the Dr. Thomas Silkstone series and the Constance Piper Mystery series.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Beneath a Starless Sky:
With an original title like The Woman Who Danced with Fred Astaire of course I always hoped – and still do - that my novel will make it to the big screen.

It’s a sweeping tale, that blends fact with fiction, and which stretches from Germany in 1930 to Portugal in 1940, taking in America, France and England in between. Chapters are set in Hollywood, on the Cote d’Azur, London and in English country houses, so, it’s certainly got lots of scope for glamorous locations.

The story centers around Lilli Sternberg, a Jewish dancer, who wants to escape her increasingly oppressive life in Munich and become a Hollywood film star. When her romance with a dashing young Army officer, Marco Zeiller, is brought to an abrupt end, she leaves her family and heads to America to seek fame and fortune. Achieving her dream of dancing with Fred Astaire, she is introduced to high society and befriends Prince Edward and his mistress, Wallis Simpson. But a cruel twist of fate puts an end to Lilli’s career and the prince and Mrs Simpson, both Nazi sympathisers, have other plans for her. The book was inspired by true events and culminates in a real plot to kidnap the former king of England and make him Germany’s puppet ruler.

In writing the book I owe a debt of gratitude to a real-life Hollywood legend, Leslie Caron. I’d already started to write the story when, as a journalist, I was fortunate enough to interview Ms Caron when she came to England on a book tour. She actually partnered Fred Astaire in the classic films Daddy Long Legs and Something’s Gotta Give. Her own story – a poor ballet student in Paris who becomes a Hollywood star - contained uncanny echoes of the one I was already writing. It gave me fresh impetus.

As for my cast list, Lilli Sternberg would be played by Lily Collins. She’s a dark and exotic beauty who has the delicate physique of a dancer. In the book, Lilli dyes her dark hair blonde to hide her Jewishness after she leaves Germany, but Lily would look equally alluring whatever shade her hair. I saw her play Tolkien’s wife in the bio-pic and thought she brought great pathos to the role.

The character of Army officer Marco Zeiller is half Italian, with dark brown hair and brown eyes. He’s a true romantic and I think Lorenzo Richelmy, who became famous with the Netflix TV series Marco Polo, would be a good choice.

I’d give the role of the real villain of the piece, Captain von Stockmar, to Alexander Ludwig, who won awards for his part in the blockbuster, The Hunger Games (2012).

As for Fred Astaire, my first choice would have to be Ryan Gosling who amazed everyone with his fancy footwork in La La Land. Astaire was a real Anglophile and, in my novel, introduced Lilli into high society, including British royalty.

I thought Lia Williams made a good Wallis Simpson on the Netflix drama The Crown, while Alex Jennings was an excellent Duke of Windsor, although I can imagine Bond actor Daniel Craig would also be interesting in the part.

Finally, I’d cast Freddie Fox, recently seen in the BBC’s The Pursuit of Love, as the English aristocrat James Marchington. He wins Lilli’s heart, but there are dire consequences for them both. There are also cameo roles for several real-life characters, including the writer Somerset Maughan, the British Fascist leader Oswald Mosley, and Goebbels and Hitler – so plenty of meaty parts for seasoned character actors to get their teeth into!
Visit Tessa Harris's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Devil's Breath.

My Book, The Movie: The Sixth Victim.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 1, 2021

Steph Mullin & Nicole Mabry's "The Family Tree"

Steph Mullin is a creative director and Nicole Mabry works in the photography department for a television network. They met as co-workers in New York City in 2012, discovering a shared passion for writing and true crime. After Mullin relocated to Charlotte, NC in 2018, they continued to collaborate. Separated by five states, they spend hours scheming via FaceTime and editing in real time on Google Docs. The Family Tree is the duo’s first crime novel.

Here the authors dreamcast an adaptation of the new novel:
The Family Tree centers around Liz Catalano who finds out from a 23andMe kit that she’s adopted. But during her journey to find her biological family, the FBI get a familial hit on her DNA to the notorious Tri-State Killer, who’s been abducting and murdering pairs of women for over 40 years. When the FBI show up on Liz’s doorstep and inform her she’s related to a serial killer, she must now decide if it’s safe to continue getting to know the few biological relatives she’s already tracked down or if she’s walking into the den of a killer. Nicole works in television and both Steph and Nicole come from visual backgrounds, so when we were writing The Family Tree, we both saw it as a movie in our heads. The idea of casting our novel was exciting for us. Because of how complex the story is, we have several lead characters beyond Liz. Andie, who is Liz’s cousin and roommate, Cris and Rosie, who are Liz’s biological great Aunt and Uncle who she was able to track down, and Mickey, the bartender at the bar next to Liz and Andie’s apartment in Greenpoint Brooklyn, who becomes Liz’s sounding board during her struggles in re-discovering her self-identity. For these characters, here is who we’d see playing the roles.

Liz Catalano: Selena Gomez. Liz finds out from her test that she’s not Italian, like the rest of her adoptive family, but is actually mostly Mexican. Selena would play a fantastic Liz, hunting down the serial killer lurking in her family tree and trying to find out who she really is.

Andie Catalano: Leighton Meister. For some reason, Nicole had Leighton playing Andie in her head the entire time she wrote. Andie is quick-witted, full of energy with a sarcastic, fun personality which plays off nicely with Liz’s more reserved demeanor. And Leighton would be excellent at providing the much-needed levity she gives in the book.

Cristian Domino: Joe Mantegna. Nicole was bingeing Criminal Minds while writing The Family Tree, so David Rossi really inspired parts of Cris’ personality and looks. Cris is a very quiet man, deliberate with his words, but also has an awkwardness about him. Joe Mantegna could give some great depth to Cris on the screen.

Rosie Dominio: Rita Moreno. Rosie is such a nurturing, comforting mother figure in the novel. She shows her love through making delicious meals for her husband and Liz. Rita would not only give an authentic Latina performance but would also undoubtedly capture Rosie’s personality perfectly.

Mickey: Nico Tortorella. While writing we could not put our finger on who would play Mickey. He’s a sexy, tattooed bartender who bonds with Liz over devastating family secrets they both had to endure. But after bingeing the last season of Younger, it was clear that Nico was a great choice. Not only do his looks perfectly capture Mickey, but we feel confident he could really bring out the sensitive and understanding nature Mickey offers to Liz.
Visit the authors' website.

The Page 69 Test: The Family Tree.

--Marshal Zeringue