Monday, December 18, 2023

Edward M. Lerner's "Life and Death on Mars"

Edward M. Lerner worked in high tech and aerospace for thirty years, as everything from engineer to senior vice president, for much of that time writing science fiction as his hobby. Since 2004, he has written full-time.

His novels range from near-future techno-thrillers, like Small Miracles and Energized, to traditional SF, like Déjà Doomed and his InterstellarNet series, to (collaborating with Larry Niven) the space-opera epic Fleet of Worlds series. Lerner’s 2015 novel, InterstellarNet: Enigma, won the inaugural Canopus Award “honoring excellence in interstellar writing.” His fiction has also been nominated for Locus, Prometheus, and Hugo awards.

Lerner’s short fiction has appeared in anthologies, collections, and many of the usual SF magazines and websites. He also writes about science and technology, notably including Tropeing the Light Fantastic: The Science Behind the Fiction.

Here, Lerner dreamcasts a screen adaptation of his latest novel, Life and Death on Mars:
Let’s start with the novel itself: near-future adventure set mainly—no surprise, given its title—on and near Mars. The action kicks off with a Space Race to make the Sixties competition with the Soviets seem lackadaisical. Making matters more exciting, beyond American and Chinese expeditions is another, bankrolled by a mysterious cabal of Earth’s billionaires.

And then we have …
The face scarcely seemed human. Scarcely seemed a face.

Bloated, purple-mottled flesh, the swollen lips almost black. Oozing pustules. Tissues peeling and flaking, even to scattered glimpses of muscle and bone. The nose little more than naked, pitted cartilage. Eyes, except for anime-sized black pupils, all blood-red. Had it not been for the snaky, sweat-soaked tresses, languidly adrift like some somnolent Medusa, even to speculate at a gender would have been impossible.

Yet there could be no question who, or where, this was.
Those are only the novel’s opening paragraphs! How can this book not become a movie? Think The Martian meets For All Mankind … with a deadly plague added.

Okay, on to casting.

First comes Alexander (Xander) Hopkins, the NASA engineer dragooned into the crew of the NASA-led mission. He’s something of a smart aleck—and he’d best learn to tamp that down. Just as he’d best figure out why people are dying. Or maybe he’ll join them. Or maybe everyone on Earth will. For Xander, I’d suggest Alan Tudyk (Resident Alien, Dollhouse, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Santa Clarita Diet … okay, what hasn’t he been in?). I’m mainly picturing Tudyk’s cocky pilot character in Firefly and Serenity.

Second is Wang Kai, crewman in the CMSA-led mission. Kai is deflecting from the painful memory of his wife’s recent tragic death as much as he’s blazing a trail to Mars. He’s technically military, because there’s no other way to become a taikonaut. He never expected military training to matter—until his commander is killed and it may have been sabotage. I see Garrett Wang (aka, Ensign Harry Kim of Star Trek Voyager) as Kai.

Maria Theresa (Teri) Rodriquez heads the Mars mission for a plutocratic cabal. Teri is tough as nails and yet vulnerable. That her bosses are seldom candid about their endgame has rendered her life complicated—even before a fatal accident to her team. As Teri I’d cast Michelle Rodriquez (Lost, Resident Evil, Avatar).

Next is Dale Bennigan, presidential science adviser and onetime research microbiologist. Can people set boot on Mars without contaminating possible native life there? Can robots? Can samples be brought to Earth without endangering humanity? Those questions become pressing when ancient traces of life are found. Those questions become personal when the secretive Planetary Protection League takes matters into its own hands. For Dale, I’d cast Amanda Tapping (Stargate SG-1, Sanctuary, Travelers).

I’ll end with a minor (but important and recurring) role: the president herself. For the cynical, calculating Carla DeMille—Cruella to Washington insiders—I see Amy Acker (Angel, Alias, Dollhouse), mainly picturing her star turn as Root in Person of Interest).

Hollywood, are you listening?
Learn more about the author and his work at his website.

The Page 99 Test: Small Miracles.

The Page 69 Test: Fools’ Experiments.

The Page 69 Test: InterstellarNet: Origins.

My Book, The Movie: InterstellarNet: Origins.

My Book, The Movie: Déjà Doomed.

The Page 69 Test: Déjà Doomed.

Q&A with Edward M. Lerner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 4, 2023

Chris McKinney's "Sunset, Water City"

Chris McKinney was born and raised in Hawaiʻi, on the island of Oahu. He has written nine novels, including The Tattoo and The Queen of Tears, a coauthored memoir, and the screenplays for two feature films and two short films. He is the winner of the Elliott Cades Award and seven Kapalapala Poʻokela Awards and has been appointed Visiting Distinguished Writer at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

Here McKinney shares some thoughts on an adaptation of his new novel, Sunset, Water City, Book 3 of the Water City Trilogy:
Cartoons! Well, more specifically anime. I’d love for this post-apocalyptic world and its characters, who all have special abilities, to be animated in the style of Monster or Ghost in the Shell, the “seinsen” genre of anime. There are numerous action scenes in this book, from gunfights, to the hunting of genetically engineered mythical creatures, to death defying nosedives from the mesosphere. Anime would match the energy of the book perfectly.

For voice actors, my list of impossible to get talent would include Denzel Washington as the world-weary father, Florence Pugh as the cynical yet idealistic daughter, and Gemma Chan as Ascalon Lee—the woman who controls Water City. Rila Fukushima would be great as Akira Kimura, the scientist responsible for this post-apocalyptic world. Please let Netflix know.

I recently binge-watched Blue Eye Samurai, which is fantastic. I found it interesting that the series was made by a French production company. It would be a dream come true if my book and this series fell into the hands of a company like that.
Visit Chris McKinney's website.

The Page 69 Test: Sunset, Water City.

Q&A with Chris McKinney.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 30, 2023

M. M. DeLuca's "The Night Side"

M. M. (Marjorie) DeLuca spent her childhood in the beautiful cathedral city of Durham in North-Eastern England. She attended the University of London, Goldsmiths College, studied psychology, then became a teacher. She immigrated to Canada and lives in Winnipeg with her husband and two children. There she also studied writing under her mentor, Pulitzer Prize winning author, Carol Shields.

She loves writing for all ages and in many genres—suspense, historical, sci-fi for teens. She's also a screenwriter with several pilot projects in progress.

DeLuca enjoys teaching workshops in Creative Writing and the writing process.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Night Side:
Since I’m also a keen screenwriter, I always need to visualize my main characters as if I’m compiling a cast list. Sometimes I’ll even pin pictures of them to a board in my office so I can glance up at them every now and again to remind me of how they look.

My book The Night Side, is focused on a toxic relationship between a mother and daughter, so these two characters would be the leads in a movie adaptation of the book, which is a story about Ruby Carlson, who at eighteen ran away from her home in Stoneybrook, Montana, and vowed she'd never return. Never return to life under the control of her manipulative mother, Ida, a self-styled medium and psychic scammer who made a career out of ruining people's lives. Never return to the small town where enemies lurk at every turn.

But twenty years later, Ruby, now a successful archaeologist, is back. Her mother is missing, presumed dead, and Ruby reluctantly returns to a home filled with chilling memories to settle Ida's affairs. Did she really commit suicide by drowning, or is this another dark scheme? Ruby thought she knew everything about her mother, but finds herself unraveling a web of lies and secrets to reveal a story more twisted than anyone could have imagined.

My dream actress for the character of Ruby would be Ana de Armas. Since I watched her breathtaking portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in the movie, Blonde, I was awestruck by her ability to bring vulnerability and a whole range of emotions to the role. She also has an enigmatic quality to her, which is absolutely necessary to portray Ruby who is traumatized and haunted by her past and the secrets she is forced to hide. Ana de Armas can project that aura of mystery and intrigue.

The character of Ida needs a strong, vivacious actress capable of expressing an entire range of emotions, but also able to project the heartlessness and cunning needed to manipulate her own child as well as her victims. Cate Blanchett would be the perfect person to play the role. Her chilling performance in Nightmare Alley in which she plays Lilith Ritter, a wealthy and ruthless psychiatrist who cold-bloodedly beats up and coming psychic Stanton Carlisle at his own game, is one of her strongest roles. Ida is a chameleon, able to change her persona whenever the mood suits her and whenever it is personally beneficial to her. Cate Blanchett is the best actress for the role.
Visit M.M. DeLuca's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Constance Sayers's "The Star and the Strange Moon"

Constance Sayers is the author of the best-selling novels A Witch in Time and The Ladies of the Secret Circus, the latter receiving both a Publishers Weekly and Library Journal starred reviews. Her work has been translated into six languages. In her spare time, she is the Chief Revenue Officer for a media and information company. She splits her time between Alexandria, Virginia and West Palm Beach, Florida.

Here Sayers dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Star and the Strange Moon:
For me, books are very cinematic and incredibly visual so I “need” to cast my characters. I mean there would be no Luke Varner in A Witch in Time without the actor Callum Keith Rennie (Californication and Battlestar Galactica). I need to cast the characters to write for them.

For The Star and the Strange Moon, the idea was the mystery of film. The old superstitions about could a film steal your soul. While I was excited about this book, I had only the idea of a main character, a down-on-her-luck actress named Gemma Turner. While I was in Paris doing research, I came across a photo of a striking redhaired actress named Françoise Dorléac. I wrote her name down with a plan to come back to her later, but found I was haunted by her photo. She has a rather tragic story: The older sister of Catherine Deneuve, Dorléac was killed in a car accident in 1967 as she rushed to get to the airport in Nice. She was only twenty-five and there is certainly a feeling that had she lived she would have been a major star. On screen the actress is mesmerizing. The muse of François Truffaut, her performance as a flight attendant who gets caught up in an affair with a married man in The Soft Skin elevates the entire film. She also pairs up with her sister (and Gene Kelly) in Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort, which is a film a bit thin on plot, but so visually striking it’s like Technicolor eye candy. When I began to think of my main character, I always pictured Françoise Dorléac’s face as though I’d cast her in the role of Gemma Turner. Her relationship with Truffaut was an inspiration for the initial relationship between Gemma and Thierry Valdon.

For Thierry Valdon, there is only one actor that comes to mind, and it is the magnificent actor, Assaad Bouab from Call my Agent and The Pursuit of Love. When he’s onscreen you cannot take your eyes off him. He has the complexity to pull off a complicated character like Thierry Valdon.
Visit Constance Sayers's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Witch in Time.

The Page 69 Test: A Witch in Time.

Q&A with Constance Sayers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Jacquelyn Mitchard's "A Very Inconvenient Scandal"

Jacquelyn Mitchard is the New York Times bestselling author of 23 novels for adults and teenagers, and the recipient of Great Britain’s Talkabout prize, The Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson awards, and named to the short list for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of her newest novel, A Very Inconvenient Scandal:
A Very Inconvenient Scandal is the story of powerful people in a powerful seaside family who clash when 60-year-old Mack Attleboro, a famed marine biologist widowed for one year, announces his marriage to his daughter Frankie’s lifelong best friend, Ariel: they’re expecting a baby and Mack couldn’t be happier. But his news fractures the family. Frankie, an acclaimed young underwater photographer, feels undermined not only because she, too, is getting married and expecting a baby, but because no one, not even Frankie’s brother Penn, confided in her. It was easy for the home crowd to keep the secret because Frankie is usually in some far-flung destination required by her work. Grieving for her mother, Beatrice, and feeling alone in the world except for her fiancé, Gil, Frankie is further unsettled when Ariel’s reprobate mother, Carlotta, returns after a ten-year absence, claiming to have turned over a new leaf – a claim everyone except Frankie seems to believe. Things only get worse when Mack and Ariel’s baby is born, the labor deliberately induced on Frankie’s wedding day. Although Frankie and her new husband planned to live near her family on Cape Cod (another surprise that went flat) they instead be estranged from her all of them forever.

If there were a movie version of this novel, I would love for Greta Gerwig (who directed the latest and best version of Little Women in 2019) to direct it. I think Greta Gerwig should direct every movie because she is so intelligent and sensitive to personalities and nuance and doesn’t fear real drama. She would be just the right person for this story about tangled family relationships.

If I could cast the roles, I would choose Saoirse Ronan as Frankie. Frankie … she’s so wonderful and has such natural charm and passion. She was nominated for an Academy Award for the wonderful film Brooklyn and also (no coincidence) played Jo March in Gerwig’s Little Women.

The others might be:

Timothée Chalamet as Frankie’s brother, Penn (clearly I’m obsessed with Gerwig’s Little Women, in which Chalamet played “Laurie” Lawrence)

Amy Madigan (in flashback) as Frankie’s late mother, Beatrice. She’s so stunning and reassuring, a consistently great performer.

Kevin Costner as Mack Attleboro. (You think he’s busy?)

Louisa Jacobson (whose mother is Meryl Streep) and who starred in The Gilded Age, would be Ariel.

Jamie Lee Curtis as Ariel’s mother, Carlotta. It would be so against type, but Carlotta, a woman denied, needs an actor with plenty of fire!

Hugh Dancy as Frankie’s journalist husband, Gil.

Javier Bardem as “Sailor” Madeira, Beatrice’s best friend and the sort of benign godfather of the beach, who has secrets of his own.

I know all these actors are just waiting for the call!
Visit Jacquelyn Mitchard's website.

My Book, the Movie: Two If by Sea.

The Page 69 Test: Two If by Sea.

The Page 69 Test: The Good Son.

Q&A with Jacquelyn Mitchard.

My Book, The Movie: The Good Son.

Writers Read: Jacquelyn Mitchard.

The Page 69 Test: A Very Inconvenient Scandal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Kathleen M. Willett's "Anything for a Friend"

Kathleen Willett has a B.A. in English from Holy Cross and a M.A. in English Education from Columbia University. An English teacher who grew up in New Jersey and London, Kathleen lives in Manhattan with her husband, two daughters, and a cat named Mr. Sparkles.

Here Willett dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Anything for a Friend:
Anything For A Friend features Carrie, a woman who has just moved with her family from New York City to Montauk, hoping for a change of pace and a fresh start. She's shocked when her former college roommate calls her and tells her she's passing through the area-- they haven't seen each other in nearly twenty years. Maya and her teenage daughter are in a difficult position, and Carrie offers to help by having them stay for a few days. But Carrie soon regrets her impulsive offer. There are reasons she and Maya are estranged, and having her in such close proximity is dredging up unsettling memories. Plus, strange things are happening in the house: Carrie's manuscript is deleted, her herb garden is destroyed, and she starts to fear that a piece of the past she'd hoped was buried may soon resurface and throw her world off course.

It would be a dream to see this story play out on screen! It's brimming with quiet, mounting tension and nonverbal communication and I think that would translate really well visually. I think the flashback scenes when Maya and Carrie are in college would also be a great aspect of a screen adaptation!

When I write, I tend to imagine actors as characters, to try to make describing them with detail easier and more consistent. For Carrie, I imagined Naomi Watts. She was in The Watcher, which, while different from Anything For A Friend, does share the trait of being about a situation where strange things are happening inside a house. Naomi Watts has a lot of depth and crevices as an actor and so does Carrie-- she's a fundamentally good person, but with lots of flaws and secrets. I think Naomi Watts also plays "stressed out" very well!

For Maya, I imagined Rachel Bilson. Maya is described as bird-like and quiet, but with a unique, intimidating imperviousness to others' opinions. I think Rachel really captures that kind of quiet confidence as an actor. Also, thinking all the way back to The OC (I loved that show, by the way!) where you couldn't really tell if her character Summer was nice or mean-- with Maya, (my hope is that) the reader can't tell if she's totally innocent or up to something, and I think Rachel Bilson could walk that line perfectly. I could imagine her in the scene after Maya reorganizes Carrie's kitchen (to Carrie's horror), saying ever-so-innocently, "I thought you'd love it."

For Pete, I pictured Aidan from Sex and the City. I'm just realizing maybe that's why I named the main character Carrie-- whoops! Pete is that classic "good guy," and yet, there may be something about him that rubs the reader the wrong way at times. Aidan was always that way to me-- clearly a great guy, in nearly all ways, but sometimes a bit condescending in the way he joked around with his Carrie, in a way that was just a bit grating.

As for Kelsey and Lola, the teenaged girls, I don't know many actors that age, but I will say that Lola's age is described to be a bit shifty-- sometimes she seems younger than she is, sometimes older-- so an actor like Sydney Sweeney (Euphoria), who could play sixteen or thirty, and who could seem at times off-puttingly mature for her age, would be a good choice.
Visit Kathleen M. Willett's website.

Q&A with Kathleen M. Willett.

The Page 69 Test: Mother of All Secrets.

My Book, The Movie: Mother of All Secrets.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Diane Barnes's "All We Could Still Have"

Diane Barnes is the author of More Than, Waiting for Ethan, and Mixed Signals. She is also a marketing and corporate communication writer in the health-care industry. When she’s not writing, she’s at the gym, running, or playing tennis, trying to burn off the ridiculous amounts of chocolate and ice cream she eats. She and her husband, Steven, live in New England with Oakley, their handsome golden retriever.

Here Barnes dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, All We Could Still Have:
So many early readers have told me All We Could Still Have would make a must-see Netflix/Apple series because of the characters, twists and turns of the plot, and the setting in a small, mountain town. So Reese, if you’re reading this, please make my dream come true. I’ll even help out by making casting suggestions.

Nikki Sebastian, the protagonist, is a woman having trouble trying to conceive. She believes everyone is judging/talking about her because she has no kids. I’ve seen lots of headlines suggesting your Morning Show co-star Jennifer Aniston could really relate to Nikki. So, I think Jennifer would do her justice. Based on physical appearance, Rose Byrne or Natalie Portman would also make great Nikkis.

Nikki’s husband Kyle is a handsome, hard-working New England guy, just like Massachusetts’ own Chris Evans. Chris would make an outstanding Kyle.

Dana DeMarco is Nikki’s younger sister. She’s a free spirit and maybe a little irresponsible from time to time. Kate Hudson would do a wonderful job with her.

Aunt Izzie is a hearty New Englander living by herself in the mountains of New Hampshire. She’s tough but down deep soft-hearted. Allison Janney would make a fabulous Aunt Izzie.

Uncle Hank is a former tough guy NHL hockey star now handsome restauranterer. Nikki doesn’t like him because she thinks he broke his promise to keep her parents’ restaurant running and he also put her job in jeopardy. I can definitely see Christopher Meloni killing it as Hank.

There’s a golden retriever in the story, and I always pictured my dog, Oakley (AKA Golden Boy), in those scenes.

Sharon is Nikki’s best friend. She’s a mom of two young boys who dreams of opening her own bakery. Reese, that’s your part. Let’s get it done.
Visit Diane Barnes's website.

Q&A with Diane Barnes.

The Page 69 Test: All We Could Still Have.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Elizabeth Topp's "City People"

Elizabeth Topp’s debut novel, Perfectly Impossible, was a number one Amazon bestseller in literary fiction. Topp penned her first short story as a second grader at the Dalton School and continued studying creative writing at Harvard College and Columbia’s School of the Arts, where she earned a master of fine arts in nonfiction writing. Topp coauthored her first book, Vaginas: An Owner’s Manual, with her gynecologist mother while she worked as a private assistant, a job she still holds. Topp lives in the same Manhattan apartment where she grew up with her partner, Matthew; daughter, Anna; and their cat, Stripes.

Here Topp dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, City People:
I always cast the television show or film of my novel as I’m writing it, which is especially helpful when I am inspired by my lived experience but the book itself is completely fictitious. It’s also great to have a cast of three-dimensional actual humans for reference when you’re working, as I was, in multiple points of view. City People brings us inside the lives of six Manhattan Moms grappling with the unexpected loss of one of their own in the midst of private school admissions season.

In my fantasy network television adaptation, the central character, Vic, would be played by Alicia Silverstone: well-meaning but a little bit ditsy, pretty without trying, alternating between sincere empathy and self-involvement. Mindy Kaling would bring a lighter energy and depth to Bhavna, the intense, ambitious, social climber. Sandra Oh was my pick for Amy, the singularly focused Chinese private equity tycoon, who moved thousands of miles from her country of origin to conceal her own deeply held secret. Chandice, the corporate lawyer turned stay-at-home mom who trains her skeptical eye on the woke posturing of the uber prestigious Kent School while battling cancer, would be played by the regal Rutina Wesley. Anne Hathaway would naturally fit the role of Penelope, a generationally wealthy New York native who can’t seem to escape the society box assigned to her, no matter how hard she tries. And finally, Maggie Gyllenhaal would bring the mild crazy-eye necessary for Kara, the outsider posturing and pretending to fit into the posh Kent crowd, hiding just how much the stress of it all--plus Susan’s untimely, violent death--is unraveling her. The otherwise enviable Susan, who is already dead by suicide at the novel’s open would be played by Kate Upton, reinforcing the idea that the outside of a person tells us nothing about what’s going on inside.
Visit Elizabeth Topp's website.

The Page 69 Test: City People.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Kim DeRose's "For Girls Who Walk through Fire"

Kim DeRose writes dark, magical stories about strong, magical girls.

She grew up in Santa Barbara, California, where she spent childhood summers reading books and writing stories (which she was convinced her local bookstore would publish). She now lives in New York City, where she spends all seasons reading books and writing stories.

DeRose earned her MFA in film directing from UCLA, and currently works in digital media.

When she’s not reading or writing she can be found listening to podcasts on long walks, drinking endless cups of coffee, and spending time with her family.

Here DeRose dreamcasts an adaptation of For Girls Who Walk Through Fire, her debut novel:
My YA novel, For Girls Who Walk Through Fire, was pitched as The Craft meets Promising Young Woman and has been called “a searing examination of sexual assault centering teen witches who fight back” by Kirkus Reviews and described as a “bold and compassionate debut” by Booklist.

Now, you might think that because two films were used as comparative titles, and because I earned an MFA in film directing, I thought about this book as a movie all along. But while, when writing, I did often visualize the book’s scenes almost as if they were film scenes, I rarely considered how I’d approach the book as an actual film.

Until now! And I have opinions!

First off is our pink-haired, fearless coven leader and protagonist, Elliott. And this one is easy. Hands down, my dreamcasting would be Jenna Ortega. I love her in Wednesday and loved her in The Fallout. And while Elliott is white in the book, I’d love the movie’s casting to be more expansive by making her Latina or bi-racial. Jenna Ortega would absolutely nail this part.

Elliott’s dad is also easy. My dreamcasting? Pedro Pascal. We’ve seen him play the dad figure in The Last of Us and Mandalorian, but I want to see him play an actual dad. Right? Right?!?

For straightlaced Catholic schoolgirl, Madeline, Kiernan Shipka from Sabrina the Teenage Witch would be fantastic. She could really capture Madeline’s outer type-A, prima ballerina persona, as well as her internal fire and fierce strength.

For private-school socialite Chloe, I’d love to see what Ella Jay Bosco from Birds of Prey would do with the part. I really like her comedic instincts. And because she’s such a talented musician, it would be great if that was somehow leveraged in the movie – let’s make Chloe a songwriter!

For quiet Oboe player and track-star, Bea, Storm Reid of A Wrinkle in Time, The Last of Us, and Euphoria would do such a superb job. She brings such nuance and strength to her roles and could really capture Bea’s thoughtfulness as well as the many layers that exist under Bea’s seemingly quiet demeanor.

I think Keiko Agena from Gilmore Girls would be wonderful as Mary, the support group leader. I would definitely buy her as a positive, supportive force in teens’ lives.

And for Prudence, Elliott’s grandma, I would die of joy if she was played by either Kathy Bates or Dianne Wiest.

As far as directors go, I would obviously want a female director. There are four who would be absolute dream directors: Emerald Fennell, who directed Promising Young Woman, Greta Gerwig, who directed Barbie, Sarah Polley, who directed Women Talking, and Oliva Wilde, who directed Don’t Worry, Darling.

Lastly, music is a huge part of the book so I would really want a great soundtrack that makes use of all the 90’s songs Elliott listens to. But there’s one catch: I want all the songs to be performed by women. That obviously means including songs by Tori Amos, Bjork, Fiona Apple, PJ Harvey, and Alanis Morrisette. But I’d love to hear someone like Karen O do a cover of “Give it Away” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Sharon Van Etten do a cover of “Come as You Are” by Nirvana. And while this song isn’t mentioned in the book, I really want a gender-flipped female performed version of “Used to Love Her” by Guns N’ Roses. (Also, now that I’ve said that I dare you to get that fictional version of the song out of your head.)
Visit Kim DeRose's website.

Q&A with Kim DeRose.

The Page 69 Test: For Girls Who Walk through Fire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Paula Munier's "Home at Night"

Paula Munier is a literary agent and the USA TODAY bestselling author of the Mercy Carr mysteries. A Borrowing of Bones, the first in the series, was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and named the Dogwise Book of the Year. The sequel Blind Search, inspired by the real-life rescue of a little boy with autism who got lost in the woods, was followed by The Hiding Place in 2021 and The Wedding Plot in 2022.

Here Munier dreamcasts an adaptation of her new Mercy Carr mystery, Home at Night:
In my Mercy Carr series, former MP Mercy and her bomb-sniffing dog Elvis team up with game warden Troy Warner and his search-and-rescue dog Susie Bear to solve mysteries in the Vermont wilderness. My heroine Mercy is a smart, fierce redhead; Rose Leslie, who played Ygritte on Game of Thrones, would be perfect. My hero Troy Warner is the stand-up guy you can count on in every emergency, the boy next door who’s more at home in the woods than in town, protector of forest and family alike. Luke Grimes (Yellowstone, American Sniper) has the right look; he’d wear the uniform of a game warden well.

In Home at Night, it’s Halloween and Mercy needs a bigger place to accommodate her growing menagerie of two- and four-legged friends before winter comes. Grackle Tree Farm seems perfect, with its thirty acres of woods and wetlands and a Victorian manor to die for—even when they tell her it’s haunted and Elvis finds a dead body in the library. Setting a book at Halloween allowed me to introduce a lively supporting cast of characters, including lost poets and missing children and Druids and ghost witches. I’d cast as Sir Patrick Stewart as the head Druid, a wise if eccentric leader. The ethereal Anya Taylor-Joy would make the perfect ghost witch, who's an apparition…or is she more?

Lee Child once described my writing as “a compelling mix of hard edges and easy charm” and if that’s true—and I’d like to think that it is—then I think the perfect director for Home at Night would be Patty Jenkins, who’s directed such amazing female-driven films as Wonder Woman and Monster, not to mention the pilot for one of my favorite shows of all time The Killing. She would understand Mercy Carr and make the most of the Ghost Witch of Grackle Tree.
Visit Paula Munier's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Paula Munier & Bear.

My Book, The Movie: A Borrowing of Bones.

The Page 69 Test: A Borrowing of Bones.

My Book, The Movie: Blind Search.

The Page 69 Test: Blind Search.

My Book, The Movie: The Hiding Place.

The Page 69 Test: The Hiding Place.

Q&A with Paula Munier.

My Book, The Movie: The Wedding Plot.

The Page 69 Test: The Wedding Plot.

Writers Read: Paula Munier.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Allison Epstein's "Let the Dead Bury the Dead"

Allison Epstein earned her MFA in fiction from Northwestern University and a BA in creative writing from the University of Michigan. A Michigan native, she now lives in Chicago, where she works as an editor. When not writing, she enjoys good theater, bad puns, and fancy jackets. She is the author of historical novels including A Tip for the Hangman, Let the Dead Bury the Dead, and the forthcoming Our Rotten Hearts.

Here Epstein dreamcasts an adaptation of Let the Dead Bury the Dead:
My book Let the Dead Bury the Dead follows four central characters through the streets, palaces, and battles of 19th-century Saint Petersburg. It's an alternate-history, fantasy-adjacent story of unlikely allies drawn together by a popular revolution bubbling against the tsar—and by Sofia, the mysterious woman at the center of it all.

Sofia is the only character I pictured as an actor while writing: Anya Taylor-Joy. She has the perfect mix of ethereal beauty and spooky otherworldliness. Is she an ancient spirit with shape-shifting capabilities? Who's to say. She's gorgeous and I'm afraid of her, which is exactly Sofia's vibe. (I hope Anya Taylor-Joy takes this as the sincere compliment I mean it to be.) I didn't mentally cast my other three central characters, but I'm always game to try!

First, there's Felix, the dissolute grand duke who unexpectedly joins up with a popular revolution. The perfect person to play Felix is Michael Sheen circa 1998, which is an annoying answer but a true one. Felix starts the book as a playboy who thrives on attention, and one of my prime delights in life is watching Michael Sheen chew the scenery in roles like this. But the actor would have to convey the pain of keeping up a bright, sociable facade while everything you care about in life crashes around your ears. Michael could do this gorgeously.

Then, there's Marya, the headstrong co-leader of the revolutionary collective. For her, I'm seeing Stephanie Hsu, who by the way needs to be cast in everything as soon as the actor's strike is over. Marya walks a razor's edge between kind, supportive friend and ruthless, determined warrior, and Stephanie Hsu has this quiet, self-possessed cool that I think would really convey that. Plus Marya and Stephanie both feel approachable in a way that I think would play super interestingly against Anya's forest-spirit vibe.

Finally, there's Sasha, the soldier who has to weigh his devotion to his country against his love for Felix. I'm saying Dev Patel for one of the silliest possible reasons: they have the same face. This wasn't intentional on my part, but I can't unsee it. Besides, Sasha's character is all about the flashes of emotion that dart through the walls he puts up between himself and the world, and I can picture Dev playing with those subtleties to build a character that's both attractive and deeply frustrating. Also I want more period dramas where Dev Patel wears cool coats and broods.
Visit Allison Epstein's website.

My Book, The Movie: A Tip for the Hangman.

The Page 69 Test: A Tip for the Hangman.

Q&A with Allison Epstein.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 9, 2023

Paul Vidich's "Beirut Station: Two Lives of a Spy"

Paul Vidich's new novel is Beirut Station: Two Lives of a Spy. His previous novel, The Mercenary, was selected by CrimeReads as one of the top 10 espionage novels of 2021. His debut novel, An Honorable Man, was selected by Publishers Weekly as a Top 10 Mystery and Thriller in 2016. It was followed by The Good Assassin. His third novel, The Coldest Warrior, was widely praised in England and America, earning strong reviews from The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times. It was shortlisted for the UK’s Staunch Prize and chosen as a Notable Selection of 2020 by CrimeReads.

Here Vidich dreamcasts an adaptation of Beirut Station:
Beirut Station is set in Lebanon and evokes the crossroads of that Lebanon has always been – first as a Roman outpost, part of the Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I, and then French until it earned its independence. It has always had a mix of Europe and the Middle East and its characters, in any film, need to reflect that.

Analise Assad, the non-official cover CIA case officer, should be played by Zineb Triki, the French Moroccan actress from The Bureau, who played the part of Nadia El Mansour.

Corbin, the journalist in the novel, is a handsome man with an honest face and a duplicitous mind, and I would cast Damian Lewis, who played Kim Philby’s good friend in the TV show, A Spy Among Friends.

Gal, the elderly Mossad agent, should be played by Lee Strasberg, if he were alive, or Eli Wallach.

Bauman, the avenging Mossad agent, should be played by the wonderful Israeli actor, Lior Raz, who always seems wound with anger in his roles.
Visit Paul Vidich's website.

Q&A with Paul Vidich.

My Book, The Movie: The Mercenary.

The Page 69 Test: The Mercenary.

The Page 69 Test: The Matchmaker: A Spy in Berlin.

Writers Read: Paul Vidich.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Gwen Florio's "Best Be Prepared"

Gwen Florio grew up in a farmhouse filled with books and a ban on television. After studying English at the University of Delaware, she began a decades-long career in journalism that has taken her around the country and to more than a dozen other countries, including several conflict zones. Her first novel in the Lola Wicks mystery series, Montana, won the Pinckley Prize for Crime Fiction and the High Plains Book Award, and was a finalist for the Shamus Award, an International Thriller Award and a Silver Falchion Award. She has since released four other books in the Lola Wicks series and three standalone novels.

Here Florio dreamcasts the lead in an adaptation of her new novel, Best Be Prepared, the fourth book in the Nora Best series:
I didn’t have to think twice when asked who might play the lead in Best Be Prepared, the fourth in my series featuring protagonist Nora Best.

Hands down, it’s Reese Witherspoon.

First – and this is no small thing – she's age-appropriate. (OK, almost. Witherspoon is 47; Nora Best is 50. Close enough.)

When starting this series, I deliberately chose an older woman as a way to highlight the unexpected freedom many women find in middle age. Nora herself is childless, but many women in that age range are empty nesters, relieved of the most time-consuming aspects of parenting. One of the things I enjoy about writing this series is watching Nora discover that freedom and the new agency that comes with it.

Witherspoon also manages the nifty trick of projecting both strength and vulnerability. Again, this works well for Nora, who constantly questions her own reactions and decisions, especially under pressure from others.

Nora’s instincts – in Best Be Prepared, her suspicions that the death of a local environmentalist is far from accidental – are sound. But she’s the only one in their Northwest Pacific coastal community who seems to think so. Some of the strongest pressure for her to drop her inquiries comes from her new boyfriend, who’d prefer she focus on their relationship.

Nora’s torn: her previous marriage was a disaster, and she treasures this seemingly healthy new involvement. But … but …

At this point, I can see Witherspoon’s brow wrinkle.

What’s her next move? Will she bestow a radiant – if a little forced – smile upon the boyfriend?

Or will she square her shoulders and trust herself?

That’s the dilemma driving Best Be Prepared, both for Nora and the larger community as it grapples with the issue of development versus tsunami safety measures.

A final argument for Witherspoon, one seemingly unrelated to the book. But it’s why she’d shoot to the top of my list even if she weren’t so perfect for this part: her championship of books and reading.

Her choices for her book club are whip-smart – an assessment probably based on the fact that her wide-ranging and diverse selections are routinely among my favorites.

So, Reese Witherspoon. Because a writer can dream.
Visit Gwen Florio's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Gwen Florio & Nell.

Q&A with Gwen Florio.

The Page 69 Test: Best Be Prepared.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

William Dameron's "The Way Life Should Be"

William Dameron is an award winning blogger, memoirist, essayist and the author of The LIE, A Memoir of Two Marriages, Catfishing & Coming Out. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Salon, The Huffington Post, and in the book, Fashionably Late: Gay, Bi and Trans Men Who Came Out Later in Life. He is an IT Director for a global economic consulting firm, where he educates users on the perils of social engineering in cybersecurity. Dameron, his husband, and blended family of five children split their time between Boston and the coast of southern Maine.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, The Way Life Should Be:
As Down East Magazine put it, my novel The Way Life Should Be "is a sprawling, occasionally ribald, often moving meditation on how people who love each other can overcome uncertainty and shame — and on how the consistency of the places we love, like funky Maine beach towns, can set the stage for healing." The ensemble cast includes three generations of a family perched on the coast of Maine for one summer, attempting to make a place for everyone and heal old wounds. These are nuanced characters who balance humor with poignancy, and to explore each character's growth fully, I envision it as a limited series. Not only do I imagine it as a limited series, I am writing it as one, and this is where the fun begins.

A writer's job is to utilize the medium they are working in to its fullest potential. In a novel, the writer can explore "interiority," the characters' unspoken thoughts, but dialogue and action must carry the story in a screenplay. As I write my script and study others (This is Us, Euphoria, Little Miss Sunshine), my characters' voices are becoming fine-tuned, and I am learning to hone mine.

So, who gets top billing? I turn to other ensemble series and actors that I admire. Murray Bartlett from The White Lotus and The Last of Us displays vulnerability in a way that would bring doubting Thomas to life. Jennifer Aniston is a shoo-in to play Annie, the sister searching for the type of love her brother Matt and Thomas found with each other later in life. In a very Meta way, Jennifer Aniston is Annie's alter ego in the novel. Think of John Malkovich playing John Malkovich. I would love to see Maggie Smith tackle the darkly comedic and complicated Grammy. Sweet, wonderful, Matt? That's the toughest one. How do I cast an actor in a role that I can only see my husband performing? (He would never go for it). I ask my readers for help, but perhaps in another Meta twist, Matt Bomer?

The third generation in the novel presents opportunities for young actors like Jenny Ortega from Wednesday as Bex, who rescues everyone but herself. Jacob Elordi from Euphoria is the handsome lifeguard Conor, who plays a dangerous game of Kiss or Slap. Sydney Sweeney from The White Lotus is coolly popular Abbie, refusing to call her father Dad in order to protect her heart. In a twist, Timothée Chalamet is neurodivergent Brian, who sees everything the others do not.

I have been told that it is nearly impossible to break into Hollywood, but I have been told my entire life who I was unable to be and what I was unable to do, and yet at 43, I came out, married my husband at 47, published my memoir at 55 and my first novel at 60. For me, this is when the fun begins. This is—finally, the way life should be.
Visit William Dameron's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 18, 2023

Jamie Lee Sogn's "Salthouse Place"

Jamie Lee Sogn is a Filipina American author of adult thriller novels. She grew up in Olympia, Washington, studied Anthropology and Psychology at the University of Washington and received her Juris Doctor from the University of Oregon School of Law.

She is a "recovering attorney" who writes contracts by day and (much more exciting) fiction by night. While she has lived in Los Angeles, New York City, and even Eugene, Oregon, she now lives in Seattle with her husband, son, and Boston Terrier.

Here Sogn dreamcasts an adaptation of her debut novel, Salthouse Place:
In my novel, Salthouse Place, Delia and her friends, Zee and Cara are two carefree teenagers. One summer day, the three best friends go to the lake…but only two come home.

Ten years later, Delia is still tormented by the mystery of what happened to fifteen-year-old Zee on the lake that day. When she receives an email from Cara, the remaining friend in the trio, she can’t resist the pull of the “life-changing” news in the message. Delia, hopeful for answers, travels home to see her old friend. But Cara is gone by the time she gets there, setting off another mystery. When Delia hears about the women’s empowerment group that Cara joined, she sets out for the group’s retreat property on the Oregon coast to find her and meets the enigmatic and mysterious Sage, the leader of the company, Artemis Wellness.

As I wrote the book, the only character I had already “cast” in my head was Sage and it was Rosamund Pike. I think she can have an intense look about her, but at the same time have an ability to be both warm and trusting. With a blunt blond bob and some yoga leggings and prayer beads, she is Sage come to life.

For Delia, I would love a biracial Filipina to play her, so I instantly think of Olivia Rodrigo. She might be a little young, but I think she could portray the sarcasm and distrust that Delia often exudes. Also, I just love her!

While we are “dreamcasting”, I might as well dream big and cast Zendaya as Zee, who’s disappearance kicks off the entire mystery. She’s an amazing actress and would do one of my favorite characters in the book more than justice.

For Cara, who is the third friend in the trio, I would cast Lili Reinhart. She is very much a girl-next-door type who could be both fragile and vulnerable, but biting and believable as a “frenemy” as well.

The main love interest for Delia is Tom, Cara’s brother. While writing him, I didn’t have an actor in mind, but I did have a photo of a random male model who I thought was a great image for what I thought Tom would look like. Now I think Jeremy Allen White would be a perfect choice-- he’s brooding and charismatic all at once.

Finally, Sage’s brother and co-founder of Artemis Wellness is Everett. He never actually appears in the novel, but in a movie, I think there would be some flashbacks and backstory with him and Sage. For Everett, I would cast Jeremy Strong. For no other reason than I am still getting over the Succession ending.
Visit Jamie Lee Sogn's website.

Q&A with Jamie Lee Sogn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Brian Carso's "Gideon's Revolution"

Brian Carso, a lawyer and historian, has studied the American Revolution and the life of Benedict Arnold for more than two decades.

Here Carso dreamcasts an adaptation of Gideon's Revolution, his first novel:
Gideon’s Revolution is based on true events, an actual secret mission launched by George Washington to capture Benedict Arnold following his treason at West Point in 1780. It would make a great movie, so here are my thoughts about actors to play the two central characters.

To play Gideon Wheatley, the story’s central character and narrator, I looked at the long list of actors who have played Hamlet on stage, because Wheatley has a problem not unlike the Prince of Denmark’s. Wheatley’s intelligence, courage, and empathy make him highly capable in life and in battle, but, when he sets out to capture Arnold—which would surely result in the traitor’s execution—these same virtues muddy the clarity he needs to accomplish his mission.

The first time Wheatley sees Arnold, the general is on horseback, courageously leading soldiers into battle at Saratoga. When both Wheatley and Arnold are wounded, Wheatley discovers the secrets of Arnold’s personal history that reveal the general’s vulnerability. Over several months, Wheatley becomes Arnold’s close confidante and friend.

It's because of this familiarity with Arnold that, three years later, Wheatley is chosen for the spy mission to capture the treasonous general. Indeed, Arnold will readily trust Wheatley and not recognize his ulterior motive. Gideon Wheatley despises Arnold the traitor, but he has known Arnold the hero, and the bond he once had with the general complicates his task.

With this in mind, having considered the actors who have played Hamlet, I’ve made my choice. I’ll cast a different Benedict—Cumberbatch, to be precise—to play Gideon Wheatley.

Who should be cast as Benedict Arnold? By no account did Arnold have movie-star looks; he has been described as “stoutly made, with a ruddy complexion.” I could envision Paul Giamatti in the role (who, incidentally, I once saw play Hamlet at the Yale Repertory Theatre), but I’m not entirely convinced. On the one hand, Arnold should look physically ordinary, but also have the ability to switch on a mad passion as he charges on horseback across a battlefield, and a smoldering anger at feeling cheated, such that he would abandon all principle to stick it to his detractors. Additionally, he must show an occasional vulnerability, for the moments we see into the tragedies of his early teenage years that most likely caused the defects of his character.

My pick? Despite his 2021 selection as People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive,” (which doesn’t work at all for Arnold) I’m ready to contact Paul Rudd’s agent. I’m casting against type, but I see something we can work with in his current portrayal of Ben Glenroy in the TV show, Only Murders in the Building. Makeup can handle the “ruddy complexion,” and padding in the costume can be “stoutly made.” Ant-Man as Arnold, anyone?

Postscript: my wife isn’t buying it. She says Leonardo DiCaprio should be cast as Arnold. Maybe she has a point. In any event, Liam Neeson as George Washington, all the way. And Daisy Ridley (Rey in the Star Wars sequels) as the young English woman, Louisa Baxter.
Visit Brian Carso's website.

Q&A with Brian Carso.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Deborah J Ledford's "Redemption"

Deborah J Ledford is the award-winning author of the Native American Eva “Lightning Dance” Duran Series, and the Smoky Mountain Inquest Series. Part Eastern Band Cherokee, she is an Agatha Award winner, The Hillerman Sky Award Finalist, and two-time Anthony Award Finalist for Best Audiobooks Crescendo and Causing Chaos. Ledford lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and an awesome Ausky.

Here Ledford dreamcasts an adaptation of Redemption, Book 1 of the Eva “Lightning Dance” Duran Native American series:
Native American themes are hot right now and there is a wealth of captivating talent who are finding exposure in film and other platforms they have long deserved.

Eva “Lightning Dance” Duran - Lily Gladstone. The movie I’m most looking forward to is Killers of the Flower Moon, also starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese. Ms. Gladstone’s other performances prove the prowess to convey the vulnerability and yet capability of the only Native female deputy for the Taos County sheriff’s department.

Kai “Single Star” Arrio - Jerry Wolf. Also appearing in Killers of the Flower Moon, this up and coming actor is one I look forward to watching his star rise.

Paloma “White Dove” Arrio - Julia Jones, best known for Wind River, Westworld, The Mandalorian and The Twilight Saga.

Cruz “Hawk Soars” Miraba - David Midthunder. As Eva’s love interest and tribal officer Midthunder holds the essence of the calm and qualified, necessary skills in maintaining harmony on the Taos Pueblo reservation.

More books are slated to continue the series, therefore a limited series would be ideal as well.
Visit Deborah J Ledford's website.

Q&A with Deborah J Ledford.

The Page 69 Test: Redemption.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Kathleen Rooney's "From Dust to Stardust"

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches in the English Department at DePaul University, and her recent books include the national best-seller Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (2017) and the novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey (2020). Where Are the Snows, her latest poetry collection, was chosen by Kazim Ali for the X.J. Kennedy Prize and published by Texas Review Press in Fall 2022.

Here Rooney dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, From Dust to Stardust:
What’s funny is that the real-life person (Colleen Moore) that the heroine (Doreen O’Dare) of my novel From Dust to Stardust is based on is herself the real-life inspiration of the oft remade Hollywood classic A Star Is Born.

During the silent era, Colleen was good friends with Hearst reporter and screenwriter Adela Rogers St. Johns who wrote the script for the 1932 pre-Code drama What Price Hollywood? directed by George Cukor and starring Constance Bennett and Lowell Sherman. St. Johns based the story loosely on Colleen’s marriage to the alcoholic producer John McCormick who helped her become the star she always wanted to be but also made her life miserable through his addiction and erratic behavior.

St. Johns’ script inspired the original 1937 A Star Is Born starring Janet Gaynor, which has gone on to be remade three times, including in 1954 with Judy Garland, in 1976 with Barbra Streisand, and most recently in 2018 with Lady Gaga.

If From Dust to Stardust gets adapted into a movie, I’d cast Saoirse Ronan as Doreen O’Dare for her skill in period dramas and for her ability to convey so much intelligence in addition to whatever other emotions she’s communicating. And I’d cast Nicholas Hoult as Jack Flanagan for his combination of energy and charm mixed with a slight air of instability. My dream director would be Greta Gerwig.
Visit Kathleen Rooney's website.

The Page 99 Test: Live Nude Girl.

The Page 99 Test: For You, for You I Am Trilling These Songs.

My Book, The Movie: For You, for You I Am Trilling These Songs.

My Book, The Movie: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.

The Page 69 Test: Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

My Book, The Movie: Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey.

The Page 69 Test: Where Are the Snows.

The Page 69 Test: From Dust to Stardust.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Sung J. Woo's "Deep Roots"

Sung J. Woo’s short stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, PEN/Guernica, and Vox. He has written four novels, Deep Roots (2023), Skin Deep (2020), Love Love (2015), and Everything Asian (2009), which won the 2010 Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Literature Award. In 2022, his Modern Love essay from The New York Times was adapted by Amazon Studios for episodic television. A graduate of Cornell University with an MFA from New York University, he lives in Washington, New Jersey.

Here Woo dreamcasts an adaptation of Deep Roots:
Deep Roots is the second in the Siobhan O'Brien mysteries, and back in 2020, I wrote up My Book, The Movie for the first volume, Skin Deep. Since it would be very gauche to recast the lead, I once again implore Awkwafina to take on Siobhan. Since 2020, Nora Lum (her real name) has starred in seven full-length features and a TV show, Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens, which has already had three seasons, so there's no question my imaginary casting has had a very positive effect on her career. No need to thank me, Nora! The only other returning character I've previously fake cast is Seth Rogan for Craig, and even though his role is diminished in this outing, I'd love to continue to hear his instantly recognizable laughter.

Now there is another returning character, but because it was a small role, I hadn't bothered to hold a make-believe audition: Beaker. Here's a snippet of Beaker from Deep Roots, where he makes his initial entrance:
Except as soon as my phone touched the desk, somebody knocked on my door. Jesus Christ, it was going to be one of those days, wasn’t it?

“Come in,” I said.

After staring at the five-inch screen of my phone for more than an hour, if a little person had walked in, they would’ve seemed like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But the man that now stood in front of me was actually tall enough to be an NBA center, so it felt like I was craning my neck up at a skyscraper.
Now Beaker, Siobhan's soon-to-be-intern, is supposed to be a sophomore in college, but since we are in fantasy land, let's jump in a time machine and go back, say, fifteen years to when Nicholas Braun, none other than Cousin Greg from Succession, was a strapping twenty-year-old. I imagine he was already 6'7" then, so he'd be a perfect fit. His goofy energy absolutely channels Beaker.

Since this novel takes place in a mansion not unlike Downton Abbey's, I hope the owners of Highclere Castle would allow the cast and crew to come in and...okay, well, even my own pretending has its limits. I'm sure we can find a financially strapped castle somewhere who'd love to have us, since then after the movie they can give tours and such.

There are so many people in this novel that a genealogy/flowchart is included, but the main ones to address are:

Phillip Ahn, patriarch - Russell Wong is still too young and entirely too handsome, but he's now 60 and makeup can do its magic.

Ruth Ahn, first wife - Michelle Yeoh, of course. In Crazy Rich Asians, she played one hell of a hardass; in this one, she'd have to be an even harder ass, but there's nothing Michelle can't do.

Cassandra Ahn, second wife - one of the few non-Asian roles. Of Greek origin, let's get Tina Fey -- today I learned that she's Greek from her mom's side.

Lola Ahn, third wife - she's a terrible actress, so someone who's a great actress could only play her -- step right up, Ali Wong.

Eve Ahn, first daughter from Ahn's first marriage - Greta Lee's got the acerbic chops.

Lady Mary, second daughter from Ahn's first marriage - elegant and beautiful with a touch of haughty: Elodie Yung.

Duke, the son and heir from third marriage - Bowen Yang was born to play him.

Cameron, butler - I envisioned Mr. Carson from Downton, so why not have Jim Carter himself?

Thomas and William, footmen - I literally used the same names as the two footmen from Downton, so again, let's bring them in: Rob James-Collier and Thomas Howes.

Evie, granddaughter - as sharp, smart, and cutting as her grandfather: Lana Condor would kill, no question.

That's quite a cast. Hopefully they'll all be willing to work for scale...
Visit Sung J. Woo's website.

The Page 69 Test: Everything Asian.

My Book, The Movie: Skin Deep.

Q&A with Sung J. Woo.

The Page 69 Test: Skin Deep.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Ali Bryan's "The Crow Valley Karaoke Championships"

Ali Bryan is a writer based in Calgary, Alberta. Her first novel, Roost, won a Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction and was an official selection of One Book Nova Scotia. Her second novel, The Figgs, was released in 2018 and was a finalist for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. She won the 2020 Howard O’Hagan Award for Short Story. She is a Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Awards Emerging Artist recipient. Her debut YA novel, The Hill, was long-listed for the 2021 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize.

Here Bryan dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Crow Valley Karaoke Championships:
I'm a big fan of movies with ensemble casts, tight thematic cores and storylines that intersect, surprise and appease. Think Moonstruck, Little Miss Sunshine, The Royal Tenenbaums, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Barbie. Think The Crow Valley Karaoke Championships. The story takes place over the course of a single night, the hottest of the year, and the most important. The town is hosting a high stakes karaoke competition to commemorate the one year 'deathversary' of Crow Valley's local hero, Dale Jepson, who died after wildfires devastated the town. The prize? Big money and a chance to represent Crow Valley at the National Championships. But as the competition for vocal supremacy heats up, a prisoner (an arsonist and murderer no less) escapes from the local correctional facility and all of Crow Valley is thrown into chaos.

The story is told from five alternating POVs, each of whom share a connection to Dale. There's Roxanne, honorary karaoke judge, mid-life and Dale's widow. She works for the town and after a year, is still knee deep in grief. She carries his ashes around in a Thermos, talks to him through an empty Tic Tac container and wears a headlamp (the equivalent of leaving a porch light on) in case he comes back. She's unhinged, sarcastic and common. She's Melissa McCarthy.

There's Brett, Dale's best friend. They played ball together and volunteered for the local search & rescue. Brett was always second best and even with Dale gone, he still can't fill his late friend's shoes. Not even one of them. All he wants is to win karaoke. He's a self-deprecating, underachiever with a big-heart. Also, a cheater. Major Will Ferrell vibes, but he's actually Zach Galifianakis or Seth Rogen. Or Owen Wilson.

Next is Val. A prison guard (and former coworker of Dale). She's also Brett's wife. She's at work when the prisoner escapes and spends a good portion of the night trying to maintain her sobriety, which becomes increasingly difficult. Especially when she runs into the escaped convict on the outside. She's crude, tough but vulnerable with a big sense of humour and a broken heart. She's Rebel Wilson or Olivia Colman.

All Molly wants is to be seen as someone--anything--other than "someone's mom" which is a hard task given she's the mother of four boys and runs the town's daycare. Suffering long-term postpartum depression, she really needs a win. She also believes she's the reason Dale died. But boy, can she sing. Empathetic, sad, complex. She could be anyone: Hilary Swank, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, a diminutive Lady Gaga, an up-and-comer with chops making her debut.

Last is Marcel. A young prisoner with daddy issues and big dreams. Gen Z. Handsome, hard, complicated. Everyone I imagine him as, is too old. (Adrien Brody, Adam Driver). I'd love a wildcard here: Barry Keoghan, Pete Davidson or Justin Bieber.

Supporting: Colin Farrell as Gary (Molly's husband), Dan Levy as Silas (Judge #2), Ahmed Magdy as Kabir (karaoke singer) and Gil Birmingham as Norman Blanchard (prison guard).

As for directing, someone with a track record for quirky dark comedy, so it’s a Gen-X toss-up between Jason Reitman, Wes Anderson or Mike White. I’m a huge fan of Mike White. Mike White, are you there?
Visit Ali Bryan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Corinne Demas's "The Road Towards Home"

Corinne Demas is the author of 38 books including two collections of short stories, six novels, a memoir, a collection of poetry, two plays, and numerous books for children. She is a professor emeritus of English at Mount Holyoke College and a fiction editor of the Massachusetts Review.

She grew up in New York City, in Stuyvesant Town, the subject of her memoir, Eleven Stories High, Growing Up in Stuyvesant Town, 1948-1968. She attended Hunter College High School, graduated from Tufts University, and completed a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She lived in Pittsburgh for a number of years, teaching at the University of Pittsburgh and at Chatham College.

Here Demas dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Road Towards Home:
The Road Towards Home is a love story (of sorts) between a most unlikely pair of retirees. Noah and Cassandra rediscover each other at Clarion Court, a senior living community (they knew each other fifty years before in college) and end up sharing a rough cottage on Cape Cod and trying to figure out if they have a future together. There are really three main characters here—the third is the setting, and I would hope any director who turns my novel into a movie is someone who’d love the Outer Cape and understand how important sea, sand, and sky (not to mention oysters and American Woodcocks) are to the story.

My novel was published June 1, and since then I’ve been hearing from many readers who say they’re eagerly awaiting the film version and send on their suggestions for actors. Several have pointed out that because the novel relies heavily on dialogue writing a screenplay would be a piece of cake.

When Brilliance Publishing was selecting two actors for the audiobook of The Road Towards Home they asked if I wanted to have input in the casting. Of course I did! The actors in the audition tapes they first sent me didn’t quite capture my characters, so I listened to samples of audio books in search of two voices who sounded like my Noah and my Cassandra, and whose voices worked well together. I realized how hard it is to have an entire character created by voice alone. Cassandra is seventy two, but she’s youthful and lively, as well as sharp and funny. Noah is a bit pedantic, but he’s witty and wry, and actually much kinder than he would like you to think he is. Voice actors David De Vries for Noah and Erin Bennett for Cassandra proved to be the perfect pairing!

Casting an actor when it’s not their voice alone is a different matter. Noah and Cassandra are turned on by each other physically (imagine waiting half a century for a first kiss!) as well as intellectually, and the film version of The Road Towards Home requires actors who can do septuagenarian sexy. They can be younger, in reality, of course, since in film as well as in life (alas) it's easier to age someone than rejuvenate them.

I would love to cast Colin Firth for Noah. I’ve long been enamored by his Mr. Darcy in the film version of Pride and Prejudice, and I’ve admired his range since then, especially in The King’s Speech. He’s known for his British accent, but he can certainly pull off an American accent to portray an erudite retired English professor like Noah.

Helen Hunt was quirky, ironic Jamie Buchman in the television series Mad About You where she was great at the fast, humorous dialogue with co-star Paul Reiser. She’s demonstrated a broad range of other characters since then. I think she’d be just right for conveying Cassandra’s spontaneity.

My first choice for director would be Eric Rohmer, who so beautifully explored the complexities of desire, but, sadly, he’s no longer available. Three great, living directors I’d choose: Greta Gerwig (she might need a reprieve from Barbie), Sarah Polley (who was a terrific Ramona when she was young), and Kelly Fremon Craig, who not only did a admirable job being true to the book Are You There God It’s Me, Margaret? but also gave author Judy Blume a walk-on part. I’d hope for that!
Visit Corinne Demas's website.

Q&A with Corinne Demas.

The Page 69 Test: The Road Towards Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 18, 2023

Sara Flannery Murphy's "The Wonder State"

Sara Flannery Murphy is the author of the novels The Possessions and Girl One. She grew up in Arkansas, studied library science in British Columbia, and received her MFA in creative writing at Washington University in St. Louis. She lives in Utah with her husband and their two sons.

Here Murphy dreamcasts an adaptation of her newest novel, The Wonder State:
I’m biased, but I think The Wonder State could make a riveting movie. The story is familiar – friends drawn back to a hometown they swore they’d leave behind. And setting a movie in the Arkansas Ozarks seems like an overlooked opportunity. The natural landscape there is dramatic and gorgeous, a character in and of itself.

If I could choose my dream director and screenwriter, I’d go with Brit Marling and Zat Batmanglij, the brains behind The OA. The OA has a dreamlike quality that I absolutely love, and Batmanglij and Marling would capture the nostalgic, magical feeling of The Wonder State while also weaving in its strangeness and darkness. The second season of The OA even features a mysterious house with a complex backstory, so I know they could handle The Wonder State’s many houses.

Casting actors to play my characters is tricky since I picture them so distinctly inside my head. It almost feels like casting a movie based on people I actually know, like finding an actor who best represents my mother or my close friend … something’s always lost in translation. The Wonder State presents an additional challenge because it’s a dual timeline story, requiring both teen and adult actors. I’m a massive Yellowjackets fan, so I know how well this can work when it’s done right, but I struggled to find actors who:

1. Captured the spirit of the characters as both teens and adults

2. Looked reasonably alike

I came away with a renewed respect for the casting director of Yellowjackets. The friends’ group in my novel has six people, but I focused on the two who form the core of the story. Jay, the protagonist, and Brandi, her best friend who’s left behind in their hometown (and then calls Jay and the others back home).

I decided that a young Jay could be played by Maude Apatow, who’s good at portraying a reflective, quieter teen who finds herself on the fringes of things, but who can also step into the spotlight. And when Jay returns home after years away, I can see Rachel Brosnahan playing the more cynical, uncertain version. I’m used to Brosnahan in a more comedic role, but I know she could give Jay the gravity and bittersweetness that defines her as an adult grappling with her past. (In reality, there are only eight years between Apatow and Brosnahan, but hopefully I can take some artistic license.)

A young Brandi could be played by Sophia Lillis, who has a gentleness and sense of wonder that could work perfectly for Brandi. As a teen, Brandi has trouble asserting herself, and tends to be dismissed, but she’s a lot more perceptive than the other characters give her credit for. Although the older Brandi isn’t onscreen as much, she needs to shine. That’s why I think an older Brandi could be played by Elizabeth Olsen. I first saw Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene, and she brings a depth and complexity to traumatized characters.
Visit Sara Flannery Murphy's website.