Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Henriette Lazaridis's "Last Days in Plaka"

Henriette Lazaridis is the author of The Clover House (a Boston Globe bestseller), Terra Nova (which the New York Times called "ingenious"), and Last Days in Plaka (2024). She earned degrees in English literature from Middlebury College, Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar, and the University of Pennsylvania. Having taught English at Harvard, she now teaches at GrubStreet in Boston. She was the founding editor of The Drum Literary Magazine and runs the Krouna Writing Workshop in northern Greece. An avid athlete, Lazaridis trains on the Charles River as a competitive rower, and skis, trail runs, or cycles whenever she can. She writes about athletic and creative challenges at The Entropy Hotel on Substack.

Here Lazaridis dreamcasts an adaptation of Last Days in Plaka:
My new novel Last Days in Plaka takes place in contemporary Athens, and follows the unlikely friendship between Irini, an elderly Greek widow and Anna, a young Greek-American. Irini is a Proust-reading, once-well-to-do woman now living on the charity of her local priest who has given her an apartment in Plaka, the ancient (and touristy) heart of Athens. Anna has come to her parents’ native Greece from Astoria, NY, where she grew up, and works in an art gallery while she attempts to make art of her own. Each woman is searching for meaning in her life–Irini, to reconcile what’s past, and Anna, to deepen what’s to come. When their priest introduces them, they connect–despite Irini’s initial resistance. They are soon spending time together, attending a French film series and chatting in cafes as Irini regales Anna with tales of her long-ago elegant life. As Anna drifts away from her peers and further into fascination with Irini, the entanglement of the two women’s lives comes at a larger and larger cost.

Of course the woman I have in mind to play Irini is the late Olympia Dukakis. She would have been perfect in this role. Being Greek-American, she would have had a sense for the posture, the gestures, the facial expressions, that form a huge part of Irini’s character. Irini stands up straight at 82, she still wears heels, she doesn’t tolerate silliness, and she has a quiet elegance despite her diminished financial circumstances. Anna could be played by Zoe Kazan, another actor of Greek descent. Though Kazan is 40 to Anna’s 26, she has a look of wide-eyed innocence that can convey Anna’s naivete. At the same time, Kazan has a set to her jaw that she often uses to express determination, which is one of Anna’s traits as she makes plans for an art project or drives her motorbike through Athens traffic.

Other important characters are Father Emmanouil and Oumer and Tamrat, two Ethiopian transplants who are part of the church’s tiny congregation. Father Emmanouil is a “hip” priest who plays pick-up soccer and stays in shape. I see him as a slightly less handsome Jamie Dornan. In fact, let’s go with Dornan, and, to the thick beard he sports in The Tourist, we’ll add a priest’s center-parted long hair in a bun, which he can wear in a pony-tail when he’s playing soccer. He’s skilled at conveying a sort of quiet worry–which is a large element in Father Emmanouil’s character.

Oumer is a parkour free-runner who works at a cafe, with plans to open a cafe serving Ethiopian coffee in Ethiopian style. He is generally friendly and tolerant of Anna’s enthusiasms and her eagerness to show him she is liberal. Because of the ready smile and good nature he portrayed as Sam Obisanya on Ted Lasso, I’d pick Toheeb Jimoh (who is not Ethiopian), for Oumer. Tamrat is Oumer’s more cynical compatriot. A journalist who has left Ethiopia for political reasons and who works in Athens as a freelancer, Tamrat is reserved and guarded, more circumspect about people’s behavior, and far less optimistic than Oumer. Chiwetel Ejiofor (also not Ethiopian) would be perfect to convey Tamrat’s wisdom and seriousness of purpose.

The Athens of the novel is a city of tumble-down buildings covered with graffiti, a rooftop cinema with a view of the Parthenon, design-forward restaurants, neo-classical apartment buildings, and the incense-dim interior of a small church. The music is new, international, the pop of the moment, and the strains of Miles Davis and Mozart and the ballads of Charles Aznavour. All of it should come together to create the feel of a small group of people striving to make meaningful lives in the chaos of a shifting city.
Visit Henriette Lazaridis's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Henriette Lazaridis Power & Finn.

The Page 69 Test: The Clover House.

Q&A with Henriette Lazaridis.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Mark Cecil's "Bunyan and Henry; Or, the Beautiful Destiny"

Mark Cecil is an author, journalist and host of The Thoughtful Bro show, for which he conducts author interviews with an eclectic roster of award winning and bestselling writers. He has written for LitHub, Writer’s Digest, Cognoscenti, The Millions, Reuters, and Embark Literary Journal, among other publications. He is Head of Strategy for A Mighty Blaze and he has taught writing at Grub Street and The Writers Loft.

Here Cecil dreamcasts an adaptation of his debut novel, Bunyan and Henry; Or, the Beautiful Destiny:
The two lead roles in my book are the white lumberjack Paul Bunyan and the Black steel drivin’ man John Henry. In my book they are friends upon a grand quest through a mythic America of yore. Both of these figures have been represented a great deal in our literature, song, arts, political drawings, and even Disney cartoons, but not so often in film with real actors.

To play my Paul Bunyan, I’d cast Adam Driver. So first, I’m not sure if Adam can grow a beard, so that may be a deal breaker. But if he can, we’re good. The thing about Adam is that he has this particular mix which is necessary for my portrayal of Paul Bunyan—he can be (1) assertively masculine, (2) earnest, vulnerable and passionate (3) over the top funny. Bunyan has the earnestness of Kevin Costner on the spiritual quest of Field Of Dreams. Yet he also has the goofiness of Chris Hemsworth in Thor. I think Adam Driver’s one of the few actors who has both the physical and emotional range to play the part.

My John Henry has a different set of qualities. He’s also a big man, but he’s wary, he’s cautious, he’s on the run from the law. He has a quiet force, a sly intelligence, and an iron will. To me, that’s perfect for Mahershala Ali. Whenever I watch Mahershala, I can always see the range of feelings moving behind his eyes. It’s like he has a world of feeling within him, but he’s always shrewdly choosing just which feelings he can reveal.

That’s the John Henry I’ve written, to a tee.

And best of all? Mahershala and Adam are, according to the internet, both 6’ 2”! So they’d be perfect together—big guys, who are friends and equals.

As for the director, I would love to combine two directors. The book is grand, beautiful and scenic. It’s a fantasy about a mythic America. I’ve never seen the American landscape filmed so beautifully as it was in The Revenant by Alejandro G. Iñárritu. So that’s one. But my film is also a satire of capitalism run amok—the main antagonist is a Yankee swindler named El Boffo—and for that I’d love to get the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan. I think any of them could make a brilliant film, but a combination of their sensibilities would deliver the pathos, the grandeur and the humor.
Visit Mark Cecil's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 1, 2024

Elizabeth Byrne's "Book, Beast, and Crow"

Elizabeth Byrne grew up in New Jersey and holds an MFA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is the author of two novels for young adults, The Grave Keepers, and Book, Beast and Crow. She has tasted a glacier in Iceland, worked on the seventeenth floor of the Flatiron Building, and hiked among sheep in the Faroe Islands, but her favorite thing to do is grow flowers in her backyard. Byrne lives with her husband and son in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of Book, Beast and Crow:
My YA novel, Book, Beast, and Crow, is an adventure story along the lines of The Goonies or Stranger Things, but set in suburban New Jersey on the faultline of a mysterious Otherworld. There is a large cast of characters, both human and not, but the main figures of the story are a group of high school seniors who've grown up together, including a brother and sister. The action involves the group members' interaction as much as their encounters with mythical creatures, so the group chemistry needs to be there!

The narrator, Anna, starts out the quiet observer, but when her best friend Olivia disappears into the Great Swamp, home to a legendary beast that's plagued the town for centuries, Anna taps into hidden reserves of steel to go in after her. I think Bella Ramsey would be ideal--small in stature, but able to project intellect and bravery far beyond their years.

Olivia is the more outgoing one--a risk-taker in almost every way, from her style to her weekend plans. She has an easy confidence that Momona Tamada shares and I'd love to see her in the role.

Dallas Liu is perfect for Olivia's twin brother, Alex. He's brooding and salty, but only because it hides the biggest, softest, marshmallow center of almost all the kids in the book.

Alex's best friend, Lou, is really the heart of the group. Ian O'Reilly would bring the right amount of sincerity and self-deprecating humor to the mix.
Visit Elizabeth Byrne's website.

--Marshal Zeringue