Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Tammy Greenwood's "The Still Point"

Tammy Greenwood is the acclaimed author of fifteen novels and a four-time winner of the San Diego Book Award. Six of her novels have been Indie Next Picks, including her most recent, The Still Point, an “intimate journey into the exclusive world of ballet” (Mary Kubica) inspired by her own experiences as the mother of a professional dancer. Revolving around the cutthroat hothouse of a California dance school, it is both a love letter to the world of ballet and a challenge to its toxic hierarchies, intense competition, and dark drive towards perfection that pushes girls – and their families – to their physical and emotional extremes. Greenwood and her family split their time between Vermont and San Diego, where she teaches creative writing for The Writer's Center and San Diego Writers, Ink.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of The Still Point:
The Still Point, of all my novels, feels the best-suited to a TV series. It follows the lives of three pre-professional ballet dancers and their ambitious mothers over the course of a Nutcracker season, when a visiting instructor, a ballet bad-boy from Paris, comes to direct the production and select one student to return to Paris with him for a scholarship to his company’s academy.

Ever: Carey Mulligan

Mulligan is a little young to play Ever, who is in her forties, but after watching her performance in Maestro, I absolutely believe she could rise to the challenge. Ever is a California native who was raised by hippie parents and now lives in an inherited run-down bungalow on the beach. She is a writer and a grieving mother whose daughter, Bea, is in desperate need of the scholarship.

Lindsay: Amy Adams

I adore Amy Adams, and I love envisioning her tackling the role of Lindsay. Besides having the requisite red hair, I feel like her bubbliness and sense of humor would bring Lindsay to life. Lindsay is a woman whose marriage is crumbling, whose dreams for her daughter are slipping away, and who is on the precipice of both the next decade of her life and major changes. But she’s aso funny and a fiercely loyal friend to Ever. Of course, if Amy Adams is tied up, I think that Melanie Lynskey would also be wonderful.

Josie: Margot Robbie

From everyone’s favorite, Barbie, to a vicious, ambitious, backstabbing stage mom! I think Robbie would delight as Josie, a woman who unapologetically uses men to get what she wants while remaining fiercely independent. Mother to Savvy, she will not stop at anything to get what she believes she and her daughter deserve.

Etienne: Paul Mescal

This is a hard one, but I love Paul Mescal and feel like he’s a brilliant enough actor to tackle the role of the mis-behaving French ballet master who toys with both the girls and their mothers. If he’s too busy, let’s try Jeremy Allen White?

Vivienne: Kristin Scott Thomas

I think Thomas would be perfect to play the matriarch of the ballet conservatory’s family - elegant with an edge.

The Dancers:

There are three main dancers in this story: Bea, Olive, and Savvy. And while there are actresses who could certainly play these girls, I love the idea of using actual dancers to play these parts. There is no shortage of gifted dancers who can also act.
Visit T. Greenwood's website.

My Book, The Movie: Rust and Stardust.

The Page 69 Test: Rust and Stardust.

The Page 69 Test: Keeping Lucy.

My Book, The Movie: Keeping Lucy.

Q&A with T. Greenwood.

The Page 69 Test: Such a Pretty Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 26, 2024

Valerie Martin's "Mrs. Gulliver"

Valerie Martin is the author of twelve novels, including Trespass, Mary Reilly, Italian Fever, and Property, four collections of short fiction, and a biography of St. Francis of Assisi. She has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Her novel Mary Reilly was awarded the Kafka prize, shortlisted for the Prix Femina (France), and made into a motion picture directed by Stephen Frears and starring Julia Roberts and John Malkovitch. Property won Britain's Orange Prize (now called the Women's Prize) in 2003.

Here Martin dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, Mrs. Gulliver:
My novel, Mrs. Gulliver takes place largely in a brothel on a tropical island. The characters are lively, and the plot is a bit wacky. It’s a reworking of Romeo and Juliet, with Juliet as a beautiful, blind prostitute. Unlike the original, it has a happy ending.

For the director of the major motion picture, I’d want someone who would be a bit playful with my novel. I’ve long been a fan of Todd Haynes (I’m gratified that everyone is crazy about him this year). My novel takes place in the 50’s, and I know he has a strong sense of this period. He would explore the irony of my heroine’s plight and pay attention to the dark undertones of the tropical island’s un-paradisical political arrangements, such as the thriving drug trade, murders, and routine exploitation of women. The world of his film would be morally complex and a little sad.

But when I imagine a film that has the goofy wit and fast paced, occasionally nonsensical plot of my novel, it’s Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice that comes to mind. He would play Mrs. Gulliver for laughs, cool and relentless. No judgements required.

As I write this, I realize how different these two directors are, and how the films they made based on my novel would hardly resemble each other. So, I conclude, the best thing would be for each to make a film at the same time and release them as a package. Mrs. Gulliver and Mrs. Gulliver. Simultaneous screenings coming soon to a theater near you.
Visit Valerie Martin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mrs. Gulliver.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Suzanne Berne's "The Blue Window"

Suzanne Berne is the author of the novels The Dogs of Littlefield, The Ghost at the Table, A Perfect Arrangement, and A Crime in the Neighborhood, winner of Great Britain’s Orange Prize.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest novel, The Blue Window:
What’s most cinematic in The Blue Window is the physical setting: the contrast between a small shadowy cabin, inhabited by a reclusive, emotionally inaccessible old woman, and the wide open, shining expanse of Lake Champlain right outside her windows. So much darkness inside, all that marvelous possibility outside. How to get from one to the other? In many ways, that view tells the whole story.

Judi Dench would be my choice to play Marika, the elderly woman. She’s an actress who knows how to give an impassive stare (Queen Victoria!), and at the same time communicate turbulence behind that stare. Very closed people can seem intimidating, and Dench is wonderful at portraying “toughness,” while hinting at great loneliness.

I’d love to see Laura Linney play Marika’s daughter, Lorna, the therapist who comes to visit for a few days. Linney is remarkably good at conveying awkwardness and insecurity, but a determination to try to behave well, even when behaving well seems next to impossible. For much of the novel, Lorna tries every way she can think of to reach her implacable mother and her unhappy son, who join forces against her, and mostly she’s thwarted. It’s crushing. What kind of therapist can’t get her own mother and son to tell her what’s wrong with them? But Lorna’s frustration and growing resentment is balanced by her dogged sense of sympathy with these two difficult people, who happen to be all the family she has in the world.

As for Adam, the 19-year-old, who has decided to quit using the first person to erase himself after something he did at college, I’d want Dominic Sessa. He was terrific in The Holdovers as a character who is outrageously stricken, angry, and full of self-loathing, but who maintains a funny kind of nobility. That’s how I see Adam. He’s his own worst enemy, but he’s also very smart, and sensitive; he sees other people with surprising clarity. And in his own problematic way, he’s trying to be honorable. He disgraced himself and he wants to atone for it. Unfortunately, he winds up making everyone else atone along with him.

Those are the novel’s main characters, but there’s one more I’d love to cast: Marika’s shy, ungainly, survivalist neighbor, Dennis, who comes over to her cabin for what may be the world’s worst dinner party. Chris Cooper would be the perfect actor to portray Dennis’s painful discomfort with himself and just about everyone else, and yet also his kindness.
Visit Suzanne Berne's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Blue Window.

Q&A with Suzanne Berne.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 19, 2024

Lisa Black's "The Deepest Kill"

Lisa Black is the New York Times bestselling author of the Gardiner and Renner Novels and the Locard Institute Thrillers featuring Dr. Ellie Carr and Dr. Rachael Davies. As a forensic scientist at the Cuyahoga County Coroner's Office, she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she is a latent print examiner and certified crime analyst for the Cape Coral Police Department in Florida, working mostly with fingerprints and crime scenes. She is a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the International Association for Identification, and the International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts, and has testified in court as an expert witness over 65 times. Her books have been translated into six languages and she was named finalist for the prestigious Sue Grafton Memorial Award for Perish.

Here Black dreamcasts the latest Locard Institute thriller, The Deepest Kill:
This story is, basically, the Laci Petersen murder if Laci Petersen’s dad was Bill Gates. Software pioneer Martin Post, the third richest man in America, has summoned expert forensic analysts Ellie Carr and Rachael Davies of the renowned Locard Institute. He believes his daughter's recent death was no accident. Was it a kidnapping gone wrong? Could their new defense initiative for the US military have played a part in her death? Martin believes his charmer son-in-law Greg is behind the murder, drawing Ellie and Rachael into the Posts’ increasingly dangerous family dynamic.

My casting of the main characters has not changed since the previous What Harms You.

Former pathologist Dr. Rachael Davies is thirty-eight, divorced, and raising her late sister’s toddler son. She’s given ten years of her life to build the Locard into what it is loves what it has become. My choice for her part would be Gabrielle Union—older than the role but looks too young for it, and way more beautiful than one would expect a scientist to be. But I think she’d be perfect for the intriguing and brilliant Rachael.

Ellie Carr, also a doctor (of forensics), left the FBI to follow her passion for CSI work. This is her first ‘private client’ case with the Locard and she wants to make good—plus, they’re in Naples, Florida where she lived for a while. Casting her is a tough choice…smart and beautiful, but emotionally a bit clueless, lighthearted without being fluffy. I would love Tatiana Maslany.

As for my FBI agents, Michael Tyler would ideally be filled by the man I’ve pictured every time I’ve turned him into a character for the past thirty years: Michael Ironside. We’d have to turn the clock back thirty years to make him right for the role, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. And as long as I’m reaching for the stars, I’d love John Leguizamo for agent Luis Alvarez. He has the right combination of strength and humor needed to balance Michael’s seriousness.

Martin Post is a bit nerdy, a bit strange, and a bit scary. Maybe Michael Imperioli, now that he’s gray. But Michael Shannon would fit the bill. He’s always a little intense and scary.

His quiet but stunning wife Dani needs a cool blond along the lines of Rosamund Pike, but Rosamund Pike would never bother with such a small role. Ditto Christina Applegate.

Greg could be played by any terribly handsome young man, but I picture someone like Ian Somerhalder, with that impish face…his smile could be cute and mischievous or callous and terrifying, and you’d never be quite sure which.

In The Deepest Kill, the over-the-top wealth of the Post family would combine with the setting on the banks of the Gulf of Mexico and make one non-stop thrill ride of tension.
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa Black's website.

My Book, The Movie: Unpunished.

My Book, The Movie: Perish.

My Book, The Movie: What Harms You.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 12, 2024

Eric Schlich's "Eli Harpo's Adventure to the Afterlife"

Eric Schlich is the author of the story collection Quantum Convention, winner of the 2018 Katherine Anne Porter Prize and the 2020 GLCA New Writers Award.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of Eli Harpo's Adventure to the Afterlife, his debut novel:
For Young Eli, I’d cast Jack Gore, who played Timmy Cleary in the ABC sitcom The Kids Are Alright, about an Irish Catholic family with eight sons. Eli’s a freckly redhead, so Gore fits the part. He’d have to play Eli a bit more subdued though. Timmy’s a more mischievous character than the shy, introspective Eli. Gore might also be slightly too old to play Eli, who is 13 going on 14 for most of the book (Gore is 18 or older now). A time machine might have to be involved.

For College Eli, I’d cast Lucas Hedges (age 27). I like the way this would connect the movie to the film adaptation of Garrard Conley’s memoir, Boy Erased, about surviving gay conversion therapy. Hedges played a fictionalized version of Conley. Kit Connor, who plays Nick Nelson in Netflix’s Heartstopper, would also be a good choice, if he can do a Southern American accent.

For Middle-Aged Eli, I’d cast Jesse Tyler Ferguson (age 48), best known for his role as Mitchell Pritchett on Modern Family. Ferguson might also be a bit too old, but we could age up the middle-aged Eli from mid-thirties to early forties.

I will throw out the caveat that Eli has weight issues in the book (especially as a teenager), so these actors might all be too skinny and have to put on a few pounds.

For Simon Harpo, Eli’s father, I’d be tempted to cast Greg Kinnear. Almost as a joke. Because I love him as the father in Little Miss Sunshine, my favorite family road trip movie of all time. But also because he plays the father in the adaptation of Heaven is for Real, the most famous example of a Heaven tourism book—the Christian genre the novel mocks. Then again, at 60, Kinnear is also likely too old to play Simon, who’s in his 40s.

For Debbie Harpo, Eli’s mother, it’d be fun to cast Christina Hendricks (48), of Mad Men fame, who is about the right age, body type, and hair color, but she’d definitely have to be glammed down. She’d also have to shave her head, since Debbie has cancer for most of the book and is bald from chemo.

For Jake, Eli’s younger brother, I’d cast Iain Armitage, the star of Young Sheldon. Jake is only 6 and Iain is 15, but we’d make it work.

For Abe, Eli’s older brother, I’d cast Montana Jordan (20), the older brother Georgie Cooper on Young Sheldon.

I’m obsessed with the Fellow Travelers miniseries right now, so for the last two main roles I’ll cast Matt Bomer as Charlie Gideon, the famous televangelist who recruits the Harpo family into a scheme to open a Heaven attraction at his Biblical theme park, and Jonathan Bailey as Eli’s future husband, Will. I think Bomer would get a kick out of playing the homophobic televangelist cowboy villain, but he’d have to nail the Texan accent.

Then again, these are all famous to semi-famous actors, so maybe it’d be better to cast a bunch of nobodies or rising stars, so they can really inhabit the characters without the baggage of their past roles.
Visit Eric Schlich's website.

The Page 69 Test: Eli Harpo's Adventure to the Afterlife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 8, 2024

M. A. McLaughlin's "The Lost Dresses of Italy"

M.A. McLaughlin is the award-winning author of a historical mystery trilogy: Claire's Last Secret, A Shadowed Fate, and Forever Past, all set around the Byron/Shelley circle in nineteenth-century Italy. Her novels have been published by Severn House (U.K. and U.S.) and Thomas Schluck (Germany), earning starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, as well as a gold medal for historical fiction in the Florida Writers Association's Literary Palm Award. Her work has been featured internationally in blogs, journals, and websites.

Here McLaughlin dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Lost Dresses of Italy:
The theme of my novel, The Lost Dresses of Italy, is the “hidden woman,” which I think would translate well to a contemporary film; however, there are dual narrators, which can be challenging for a screen adaptation. The two women who harbor secrets are separated by a century, each one with her own compelling story: grieving widow, Marianne Baxter, who has traveled to post-WWII Verona, Italy, to assist with an exhibit of long-lost dresses; and Victorian poet, Christina Rossetti, who owned the garments and left them behind in a sealed-up trunk after an ill-fated love affair. Two women. Two losses. But how to portray them both on the big screen?

Begin with Verona.

The “Painted City” of Romeo and Juliet combines both beauty and tragedy, light and shadow, hope and despair. It is the setting of both narratives, but framing the film with Marianne’s story in 1947, as Italy is recovering from the devastation of war sets the tone and mood of the central mystery of my novel. The re-building is moving forward, but lingering effects of families being torn apart by their wartime allegiances are just under the surface—in the manner of a Visconti film, the great Italian director who created sweeping cinematic portraits around Italy’s complex role in WWII. Marianne’s quest to find out what happened to Rossetti will create the main plotline and, as she examines each of the three dresses, a flashback will occur, exploring exactly what happened to Rossetti when she wore that particular garment on her trip to Italy. Each garment contains a clue that draws Marianne deeper and deeper into a century-old conspiracy, triggering a string of violent events. Eventually, both narratives will come together at a cliffside sanctuary, resolving the murder and betrayal from the past in a satisfying, though bittersweet ending.

Since Marianne would be the protagonist in the film, this character requires an actor with the kind of depth and power that Natalie Portman has displayed in her many films, especially The Black Swan and Jackie. Most notably, in the latter film, she portrays an actual historical figure, Jackie Kennedy, at a pivotal point in her life, days after her husband, President John Kennedy, was assassinated. Sad, grieving, and fearful of the future. Portman conveys all of these emotions in every gesture and facial expression, often with only internal dialogue. Similarly, Marianne is a widow who still misses her husband and is doubtful that she will ever be able to love again. Portman is delicate in appearance, but possesses an inner strength and resilience—both qualities that would make her a perfect choice Marianne.

To complement Portman’s Marianne, I projected Italian actor, Luca Argentero, for Alessandro, her love interest. Handsome yet slightly weathered, Argentero took on the role of Andrea Fanti in a very popular television series in Italy, Doc - Nelle tue mani, which aired during the country’s traumatic Covid lockdown. His character in the program embodies the spirit of sacrifice and compassion, a man who is both strong and empathetic—just like Alessandro who is the moral center of my novel. Still emotionally wounded from the war, Alessandro often appears abrupt outwardly but, inwardly, he is fiercely loyal to his younger brother. Like Fanti’s character of Doc, he is businesslike in his professional life but warm and caring in his personal devotion to those he loves, including Marianne. Argentero embodies this dichotomy in his many acting roles.

Lastly, I wanted to propose another Italian actor, Matilda De Angelis, to portray the poet, Christina Rossetti who, though born in England, was the daughter of an Italian revolutionary. De Angelis has a nineteenth-century sort of look with long, wavy hair and a heart-shaped face; in addition, her performance in Robbing Mussolini, shows the kind of range to inhabit this role. She depicts a woman who is passionate and artistic (she is a singer) but also caught up in larger historical events beyond her control, much like Rossetti. De Angelis would make Rossetti come alive in the flashback scenes.

With such amazing actors, my movie version of The Lost Dresses of Italy would be a sure hit!
Visit M. A. McLaughlin - Marty Ambrose's website.

My Book, The Movie: Forever Past.

The Page 69 Test: Forever Past.

Q&A with Marty Ambrose.

Writers Read: M. A. McLaughlin.

The Page 69 Test: The Lost Dresses of Italy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Chris Cander's "The Young of Other Animals"

Chris Cander is the USA Today bestselling author of A Gracious Neighbor, The Weight of a Piano, which was named an Indie Next Great Read in both hardcover and paperback and which the New York Times called, “immense, intense and imaginative,” Whisper Hollow, also named an Indie Next Great Read, and 11 Stories, named by Kirkus as one of the best books of 2013 and winner of the Independent Publisher Book Awards for fiction. She also wrote the children’s picture book The Word Burglar, and the Audible Originals “Eddies” and “Grieving Conversations.” Cander’s fiction has been published in twelve languages. She lives in her native Houston with her husband and two children.

Here Cander dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Young of Other Animals:
Writing The Young of Other Animals was a visceral experience, beyond just recreating the memory of a physical attack; it was as though I was sitting at Mayree’s kitchen table, observing her and the other characters from a ghostly vantage. I could smell her unfiltered Camel cigarettes and hear the low cheer of The Price Is Right audience coming from the TV in the other room. If I’d stood up, I might’ve slipped on the King Ranch casserole she smashed on her tile floor or seen Paula sneaking in through the back door.

There are plenty of directors who could bring this story to life, but as a fan of Todd Haynes’s movies, I think he’d be my top choice. First, he does period pieces well. I’m thinking of the dual eras (1927 and 1977) in Wonderstruck and the 1950s setting in Carol. He tackles domestic disharmony (Safe) and restrictive societal norms (Far from Heaven) with both flair and understated elegance. I’d love to see his take on Mayree, and whether he’d agree with me that the actress Evangeline Lilly could embody Mayree’s tough-as-Texas forbearance and Sadie Sink, a Lone Star native, could portray Paula.
Visit Chris Cander's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Weight of a Piano.

The Page 69 Test: The Young of Other Animals.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 4, 2024

David Menconi's "Oh, Didn't They Ramble"

A recovering newspaper writer, David Menconi spent more than three decades covering the music industry. His first book was a novel, 2000’s Off The Record, a lurid roman a clef about a fictional one-hit wonder undone by wickedness, greed and drugs. But his most recent book tells a gentler tale from the record-business trenches, Oh, Didn’t They Ramble: Rounder Records and the Transformation of American Roots Music, tracing the history of the venerable folk/bluegrass label.

Here Menconi dreamcasts an adaptation of the new book:
You might not think the history of an independent folk and bluegrass label is the stuff of compelling big-screen drama. But the Rounder Records story in Oh, Didn’t They Ramble, is the rare exception.

Rounder founders Ken Irwin, Marian Leighton Levy and Bill Nowlin met in college in the 1960s, when they’d march in anti-war protests, hop freight trains and hitchhike to folk festivals. Their adventurous idealism carried over to the label they started in 1970 as an “anti-profit collective” dedicated to preserving American folk music.

That sense of mission served Rounder well as it grew into an operation distributing hundreds of other like-minded labels while releasing literally thousands of albums on the Rounder imprint. But it also created tension after the unexpected commercial success of George Thorogood, which inspired the employees to unionize -- a move the founders contested despite their philosophical leanings.

Rounder has had other improbable successes, most notably Alison Krauss’ multi-platinum superstardom. And yet the label’s bread, butter, heart and soul remains smaller-scale Rounder records by journeyman folk singers or banjo players whose albums might sell a few thousand or even a few hundred copies, primarily at festival merch tables.

While Rounder has always been about the music, its story’s main cast is the three founders, who turned out to have perfectly complementary skills for running a record company in the late 20th century. That, plus good ears and some lucky breaks, is why Rounder has prospered for so long.

So, who to cast?

Marian Leighton Levy – Sophisticated and well-read despite an impoverished upbringing in rural Maine, she had the title of “president” at Rounder because there weren’t any female record-company presidents in the 1970s. During the founders’ 40-year era, before Rounder's sale to Concord Music Group, Leighton Levy was the label’s spokesperson and public face – “the conscience of Rounder,” in Irwin’s estimation.

One could picture Emma Stone conveying her passionate enthusiasm for learning. But I would go with Florence Pugh, whose star shines brightly in a filmography including Oppenheimer and A Good Person. Among young actresses, her ability to disappear into a role is unmatched.

Ken Irwin – Irwin was Rounder’s industrious worker bee, the founder who put the most time and energy into A&R (“Artists & Repertoire,” basically talent-scouting). He was the one who noticed the needle of Alison Krauss’ voice in a haystack of cassette demo tapes, signing her at age 14 and launching an odyssey that includes 27 Grammy Awards in addition to millions of records sold. Amazingly, a decade after selling Rounder to Concord, the original founders launched a new label, Down The Road Records. At age 80, Irwin is the driving force in making it go.

A younger Paul Giamatti would be perfect for evoking his obsessive questing. But a better choice might be Barry Keoghan, an Irish actor whose 2022 roles ranged from the villainous Joker in The Batman to the doomed romantic sidekick Dominic in The Banshees of Inisherin.

Bill Nowlin – As detailed in his 2021 memoir Vinyl Ventures, much of Nowlin’s work came behind the scenes. With his knack for facts, figures and business, Nowlin was the one who made the trains run on time and got the bills paid, even while traveling the globe and visiting more than 100 countries. Nowlin’s travels led to discoveries of various types of world music, and it was inevitable that Rounder would broaden into international styles through imprints like Heartbeat Records.

Nowlin is also a lifelong baseball fanatic. In his later years, he published more than 100 baseball books, and you’ll usually find him at Fenway Park when the Boston Red Sox are playing. I can imagine Ryan Gosling, who swings both serious and silly in everything from Barbie to Blade Runner 2049, capturing Nowlin’s soft-spoken, droll manner.
Visit the author’s blog.

My Book, The Movie: Ryan Adams: Losering.

The Page 99 Test: Oh, Didn't They Ramble.

--Marshal Zeringue