Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Jacinda Townsend's "Mother Country"

Jacinda Townsend is the author of Saint Monkey, which won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize and the James Fenimore Cooper Prize. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and teaches in the MFA program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Here Townsend dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Mother Country:
The hardest question, for me, is casting. When I think of my protagonist Shannon Cavanagh, whose muted sauciness informs so much of the plot, I think of Kerry Washington. My co-protagonist, Souria Maouloud, does not speak the same language as her captors and neighbors for so much of the novel: Thandiwe Newton is an actress whose range would allow her to commit all the on-screen physicality that Souria's role would require. Shannon's husband, Vladimir Grenfell, is such an unmitigated dork, and in some way nonetheless to blame for everything that goes wrong in this novel. LaKeith Stanfield would be a perfect Vlad.

My favorite films are the Star Wars episodes, and when I finally traveled to North Africa, I deeply understood why it had been the real-world backdrop for so much of the Star Wars universe. After having been there one can see, in Obi-Wan Kenobi's costume, an echo of the robes that men wear in the Sahara; the swoop bikes that make for such prevalent Star Wars transportation very much recall the mopeds that clot the medinas of North Africa. To watch even ten minutes of Tunisian-set Star Wars is to sense the magnitude and force of rock formations in the Sahara: it's an ancient, powerful place that's impervious to change even as it is ever-evolving.

I'd love, then, for the North African half of Mother Country to be filmed on location--as much as the cities of Marrakech and Essaouira are a backdrop for much of the plot, the Sahara Desert is what truly shapes each of these characters, even the American ones. Souria, of course, has an iron that's been forged in the Sahara's hot, hot cultural fire. But Shannon and Vlad don't understand how they are butting up against a desert-shaped culture that leaves a child wholly free at the same time she is utterly, lovingly attended to, and this is their great failing in the novel.

I'm also someone who's incredibly picky about music--not only did I assemble a six-piece ensemble to play at my wedding, but I arranged all the world music. The soundtrack of Mother Country would ideally be played by Tinariwen, a well-known band from the Saharan region of northern Mali. Besides being deeply involved in the region's politics, some of which are front and center of Mother Country, Tinariwen are expert at creating the mood I can describe only as "heightened trance." To see them in concert is a magical experience, but to hear them in-studio is to salve the soul. Having the texture of their work behind these characters would be a dream.
Visit Jacinda Townsend's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Brian Klingborg's "Wild Prey"

Brian Klingborg has both a B.A. (University of California, Davis) and an M.A. (Harvard) in East Asian Studies and spent years living and working in Asia. He currently works in early childhood educational publishing and lives in New York City. Klingborg is the author of two non-fiction books on Shaolin kung fu; Kill Devil Falls; and the Lu Fei China mystery series (Thief of Souls and Wild Prey.)

Here Klingborg dreamcasts the lead for an adaptation of Wild Prey:
This one might seem hard – but actually, it’s easy. I have in mind the perfect actor to play Inspector Lu Fei.

First, a bit of background. Lu Fei lives in northern China, just outside the city of Harbin. His native language is Mandarin, of course, although he has spent some time in the US and speaks passable English. He has an extensive background in the martial arts. He is handsome but not too handsome. He has a slightly caustic sense of humor. His tough exterior masks a kind heart. And while the plot of Wild Prey has him going undercover to infiltrate the hidden compound of a Burmese warlord, he is very much an anti-James Bond: faithful to the woman he loves, has no license to kill, and he prefers cold beer and small-town life to martinis and jet-set travel.

Assuming we are casting for an American-made film intended for a Western audience, we’ll need an actor who is Chinese, but speaks English fluently (and it would be great if he spoke Chinese as well); who can make an audience laugh, but also play a bad-ass; and, if we’re being completely honest and practical, is bankable.

There is one such guy who embodies all these qualities – and wouldn’t you know it, he’s actually from Harbin! I’m talking about the star of the recent blockbuster Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Simu Liu.

So, Simu, if you’re reading this, hit a brother up!
Visit Brian Klingborg's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 16, 2022

Natalie Jenner's "Bloomsbury Girls"

Natalie Jenner is the author of the instant international bestseller The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls. A Goodreads Choice Award runner-up for historical fiction and finalist for best debut novel, The Jane Austen Society was a USA Today and #1 national bestseller, and has been sold for translation in twenty countries.

Here Jenner dreamcasts an adaptation of Bloomsbury Girls:
Ironically, it was an early pandemic rewatch of the 1987 movie 84 Charing Cross Road, based on the wonderful book by Helene Hanff, that lit the creative spark for my new novel Bloomsbury Girls, which is about a trio of women working in a 1950s London bookshop who are engaged in a battle of the sexes with their male department heads and decide to stage a coup. Although the movie focuses on the epistolary relationship between Hanff and the manager of a 1950s bookshop at—you guessed it—84 Charing Cross Road, its wonderful set design for the shop brought to humming life all manner of staff. As I watched, I thought to myself, there’s a whole other book in here, and immediately half a dozen characters came to mind. Here’s how I would cast the main ones:

Lord Baskin, the elegant, sympathetic earl who owns the one-hundred-year-old bookshop at the heart of Bloomsbury Girls, has to be played by Richard Armitage, who narrated the audiobook for my debut novel The Jane Austen Society, the actual writing of which he also inspired. What can I say—I’m a huge fan.

Evie Stone, the former servant girl turned literary sleuth and Cambridge graduate, is also connected to my first book, and for years now I have envisioned a shorter Saoirse Ronan in this role, given the serious, fiercely ambitious Jo March vibes from her performance in Little Women.

For Vivien, the insolent ringleader of the discontented female staff, I can only see Charlotte Spencer, the amazing actress currently playing Lady Esther Babbington in Masterpiece Theatre’s Sanditon. She has all of Vivien’s sass, impatience and ultra-cool demeanour.

Alec McDonough, the lean, blond, handsome head of fiction and competitive foil (and maybe something more) to Vivien, would ideally be played by Tom Hiddleston. As I wrote, I could actually picture Hiddleston sliding along on the rolling bookshop ladder, blond angelic head and all.

And finally, Elizabeth McGovern played Ellen Doubleday once already, in the BBC2 television drama Daphne, and I have always pictured her as the late publishing magnate’s wife and friend to Daphne du Maurier (who, with all her grand historic mystique, could only be played by herself).
Visit Natalie Jenner's website.

Q&A with Natalie Jenner.

My Book, The Movie: The Jane Austen Society.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Bonnar Spring's "Disappeared"

Bonnar Spring writes eclectic and stylish mystery-suspense novels with an international flavor. A nomad at heart, she hitchhiked across Europe at sixteen and joined the Peace Corps after college. Bonnar taught ESL—English as a Second Language—at a community college for many years. She currently divides her time between tiny houses on a New Hampshire salt marsh and by the Sea of Abaco.

Here Spring dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Disappeared:
If I have any say in the matter, when Disappeared becomes a film, the #1 thing I’d insist on is filming in Morocco. The novel begins in Ouarzazate, a small city which happens to be just down the road from Atlas Studios, one of the world’s largest film studios. If you’ve seen Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven, Babel, The Mummy (1999 version), Star Wars, Martin Scorsese’s Kundun, or Ridley Scott’s epic Gladiator, you’ve seen the area.

Also near the studio is Ait Benhaddou, a United Nations World Heritage site where the first scene in Disappeared takes place. This part of Morocco is on an arid plain at the edge of the Sahara Desert, where the sisters really begin to get into trouble. Throughout the novel, the setting—stony desert, blowing sand dunes, Roman ruins, ancient petroglyphs—is integral to the action, and all of those locations are within a day’s drive of Atlas Studios.

Sisters Fay Ohana and Julie Welch are the two main characters.

Julie, the older sister, is short with wispy dark hair. Her only concession to femininity is wearing bright red lipstick. She has the angular features of a young Audrey Hepburn. These days, either Lily Collins or Rooney Mara would be excellent in the role.

Where Julie is a boyish brunette, Fay is blond and voluptuous—a dead ringer for Katherine Heigl in her Grey’s Anatomy days.

I always imagined Yasmin, Fay’s mother-in-law, as having the angular cheekbones—and elegant stoicism—of Vanessa Redgrave.

Yasmin’s daughter, Nadia, is the character who has the greatest physical change during the course of the book. If a production company could persuade Salma Hayek to look unkempt and gaunt for the first half of the film, she would be my first choice.

And her gutsy son, Hamid, should be played by Pierce Gagnon—when he was five, playing Cid in Looper.

It’s not just hair and body type, though. As Lady Gaga will tell you, repeatedly, in different and ever-more theatrical ways, acting is “not an imitation, it’s a becoming.” All these actors (again, with the caveat that a director could get Salma to look emaciated) have the personality and talent to become my characters.
Visit Bonnar Spring's website.

Q&A with Bonnar Spring.

The Page 69 Test: Disappeared.

--Marshal Zeringue