Thursday, December 14, 2017

Mandy Mikulencak's "The Last Suppers"

Mandy Mikulencak is the author of The Last Suppers, which recently received a starred review from Library Journal and was named to Barnes & Nobles’ list of Best New Fiction of December 2017. Set in 1950s Louisiana, the novel follows a young, female prison cook who feels compelled to prepare meaningful last meals for death row inmates. When she uncovers troubling truths about her father’s murder and the man executed for the crime, her ideas on what constitutes truth, justice and mercy are irrevocably changed. Mikulencak also authored the young adult novel, Burn Girl, which received a 2016 Westchester Fiction Award.

Here Mikulencak dreamcasts an adaptation of The Last Suppers:
When I start to envision the characters in my books, it can feel like a subconscious rather than conscious exercise. Our brains house so much information on popular culture – TV, movies, books, magazines. I think authors instinctively draw from that virtual storehouse of attributes to form a picture in their minds of what their own characters look or talk like, and what mannerisms they possess. Sometimes it’s a perfect fit. For my current novel, The Last Suppers, I believe that Josh Brolin would be ideal for the role of Roscoe Simms, the warden. A secondary character – Dot, who works in the kitchen with the main character, Ginny – is absolutely Octavia Spencer (although my husband insists that Oprah Winfrey would make a perfect Dot). Ginny’s father, Joe – whose character is only told in flashback – is tougher to describe. Actors Ben Mendelsohn or Chris Cooper come very close, but they’d have to be 22 years old and much taller.

I have had an extremely difficult time casting the main female characters in both The Last Suppers and Burn Girl. It’s a peculiar phenomenon. I visualize certain attributes very clearly. In The Last Suppers, Ginny describes herself as having the body of a 13-year-old boy. The warden, her lover, describes her this way: Roscoe couldn’t get over how much she looked like her father had at twenty-one. Hair like a squirrel’s nest, a strong chin, eyes a little too large for her face. She didn’t get Joe’s height, though, or Miriam’s curves for that matter.

I’ve wasted far too much time searching IMDB trying to find the perfect young actress (about 29 or 30 years old). Yet, I can’t form a full picture of Ginny. It’s almost like she’s in soft focus and I’m struggling to make out her facial features. I’m very curious how readers envision her.

As for the director of The Last Suppers? Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men), Taylor Sheridan (Wind River) or David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water).
Visit Mandy Mikulencak's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 11, 2017

Steven Cooper's "Desert Remains"

Steven Cooper is a former investigative reporter. His work has earned him multiple Emmy Awards and nominations, as well as a national Edward R. Murrow award, and numerous honors from the Associated Press. He taught for five years in the English department at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Cooper has lived a bit like a nomad, working TV gigs in New England, Arizona and Florida, and following stories around the globe.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of Desert Remains, his fourth novel:
I never cast my characters while writing a book. They come to me organically, appearing as strangers I’ve never seen before. They’re not unlike the new, unfamiliar faces that pop up in dreams. After a while, once the book is out, once I’m not so close to these people, I might then see an actor or actress who appears very close to the characters I imagined. Recently I watched a series on Hulu called Casual and it occurred to me that the male lead, Tommy Dewey, would make a convincing Gus Parker. The role must be authentic surfer dude, not a spoof or a caricature. When Gus makes me laugh, I laugh with him not at him. I think Dewey could bring just the right nuance to the role. I might send him the book.

As for Alex Mills, I can see Colin Farrell, Liev Schreiber, Aaron Eckhart, or Terry Crews (though Crews and Schreiber might be too tall) playing that character. Those actors represent quite a range, but I think I would leave it up to the expertise of a casting director to make the right call.

Megan Mullally, Kathy Bates or Carol Kane would make a lovely Beatrice Vossenheimer.
Visit Steven Cooper's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 8, 2017

Catherine Reef's "Victoria: Portrait of a Queen"

Catherine Reef is the author of more than 40 nonfiction books, including Noah Webster: Man of Many Words, Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life, Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse, and other highly acclaimed biographies for young people. She lives in College Park, Maryland.

Here Reef dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest young adult biography, Victoria: Portrait of a Queen:
It is autumn 1861, and Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, is a student at Cambridge. Away from his parents and palace life, the future king, then called Bertie, is happy. He has been enjoying love—or at least sex—with an actress named Nellie Clifden. Suddenly he is confronted by his father, Prince Albert. It seems word of Bertie’s romance has reached Buckingham Palace, and the prince consort has come to admonish. The two take a long walk in the rain, and Albert informs Bertie that the affair must end, and that he must marry a suitable woman. This is Albert’s decision as well as the queen’s. So the film begins.

Bertie resists, and Prince Albert—well, Albert gets sick. As happened often in nineteenth-century literature and lore, exposure to wet weather has given him a cold. Albert, however, was already ill with an unknown ailment, and on December 13, Bertie is summoned to his father’s bedside. Prince Albert, father of nine and beloved of the queen, dies the next day.

Now viewers encounter Queen Victoria in her imposing, unreasonable majesty. Needing someone to blame for Albert’s untimely death at forty-two, she singles out the heir to the throne. She rejects Bertie’s offers of comfort, asserting that if he had not caused his father distress by pursuing a loose woman, Prince Albert would still be alive. Such cruel, unfair blame is a heavy burden for a grieving youth to bear.

Unlike my book, which tells Queen Victoria’s life story from beginning to end, my movie is in the tradition of Mrs. Brown and Victoria & Abdul, and focuses on the queen’s relationship with one person, in this instance her oldest son. From his childhood she had resented Bertie’s averageness and tried to mold him into the brilliant, morally stellar young man she wished he could be. There are flashbacks to his early years, when Bertie is forced to study six days a week and forbidden to see other children. Subsequent scenes delve into the difficult relationship of mother and son after Albert’s death: the audience sees, for example, Victoria sending Bertie on an extended trip to the Middle East so she can avoid sight of him; her insistence, upon his engagement, that his future mother-in-law be told about Nellie Clifden; her clear preference for Arthur, her seventh child.

Then comes the dramatic climax of the film, the revealing scene in which viewers see a different side of Queen Victoria. In November 1871, Bertie falls ill with typhoid fever. As the Prince of Wales lies near death, blame and faultfinding are forgotten as the queen rushes to his side. She becomes a loving mother wanting only for her son to get well (which he does). Realizing she has been wrong but unwilling to admit it, Victoria will say only that Bertie has changed, that illness has left him gentler and kinder—and she stumbles toward acceptance.

Who have I cast in the leading roles? Kate Winslet plays Queen Victoria. She lacks the real queen’s short stature, but she brings a forceful personality to the part. Paul Dano, who did such a fine job portraying the young Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy, is my choice for the youthful Bertie, whom he resembles. For the older Bertie, who else but Leonardo DiCaprio?  With a beard he could look the part, and he and Winslet have acted well and famously together.

DiCaprio gets the final scene—and perhaps the final word. The film ends in 1901, with the new king, Edward VII, purging Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace of his late mother’s personal effects. He savors a cigar, because she had forbidden him to smoke in her presence. He is asserting his power in a small way, just as Victoria did in 1837, when as the new queen she dined alone, without her own mother, the Duchess of Kent.

There were those who said Victoria resented her son because she saw too much of herself in him, and possibly they were right. People are complicated, and so are their emotions.
Visit Catherine Reef's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Catherine Reef & Nandi.

The Page 69 Test: Frida & Diego.

My Book, The Movie: Noah Webster.

The Page 99 Test: Florence Nightingale.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

David Clary's "Gangsters to Governors"

David Clary is a news editor at The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Gangsters to Governors: The New Bosses of Gambling in America:
My nonfiction book, Gangsters to Governors: The New Bosses of Gambling in America, explores how and why states have encouraged and promoted the expansion of legalized gambling in America. The book, published by Rutgers University Press, touches on the evolution and expansion of lotteries, tribal gaming, commercial casinos, sports gambling, daily fantasy, racetrack betting, and much more.

My six years of research and writing led me to a rogue’s gallery of colorful characters, from John “Old Smoke” Morrissey, the Irish-born gangster who built Saratoga into a gambling haven in the nineteenth century, to Bugsy Siegel, the gangster who completed the Flamingo hotel-casino in Las Vegas only to be assassinated months later. Daniel Day-Lewis would be outstanding as Morrissey because he portrayed his arch-rival Bill the Butcher Poole in the film Gangs of New York. For Siegel, Tom Hiddleston would be able pull off the lean athleticism and charm leavened with the necessary streak of menace.

Other key roles and the actors who would fill them:

Howard Hughes: Leonardo DiCaprio, who captured his paranoia in The Aviator

Benny Binion: Woody Harrelson, who would convey the Texan's good-ole-boy roughness

Steve Wynn: Michael Douglas, who has that appealing bad-boy charisma

Donald Trump: Well, who else but Alec Baldwin?
Visit David Clary's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 4, 2017

Dennis Glover's "The Last Man in Europe"

Dennis Glover is an Australian writer and novelist. The son of factory workers, Glover grew up in the working class Melbourne suburb of Doveton before studying at Monash University and King’s College Cambridge where he was awarded a PhD in history. He has worked for two decades as an academic, newspaper columnist, policy adviser and speechwriter to Australia’s most senior political, business and community leaders. An often outspoken political commentator, his books include An Economy is not a Society, The Art of Great Speeches and Orwell’s Australia.

Here Glover dreamcasts an adaptation of his debut novel, The Last Man in Europe, which tells the dramatic story of how George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four:
While writing The Last Man in Europe, I knew exactly who I wanted to play George Orwell as he struggled to give the world Nineteen Eighty-Four: Benedict Cumberbatch. In The Imitation Game, which is about Alan Turing, inventor of the modern computer, Cumberbatch showed his ability to play socially awkward and intellectually complex characters from the period. Turing and Orwell were near contemporaries, and Cumberbatch and Orwell even look alike: tall, gaunt, dark featured.

For the role of Eileen O’Shaughnessy – Orwell’s brave, witty and tragic wife – who else but Claire Foy, Britain’s greatest living period actress? To me, Claire Foy is the 1940s – the most stylish as well as dramatic decade of them all.
Visit Dennis Glover's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 1, 2017

Jessica Brockmole's "Woman Enters Left"

Jessica Brockmole is the author of At the Edge of Summer, the internationally bestselling Letters from Skye, which was named one of the best books of 2013 by Publishers Weekly, and Something Worth Landing For, a novella featured in Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War.

Here Brockmole dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest novel, Woman Enters Left:
Woman Enters Left takes place in the 1920s and the 1950s over two cross-country road trips—one with an aspiring screenwriter driving a Model T towards hopeful fame in Hollywood, the other with a jaded actress driving across Route 66 to escape that same Hollywood. In each storyline, I tried to evoke films from that era—1950s Louise narrates a story in widescreen Technicolor and, in the 1920s, Ethel and Florrie tell theirs like a silent movie, through written words (in their case, diaries instead of intertitles) and close-ups of expressive faces. As I wrote the book, I watched a lot of movies from both eras and called it “research,” so when asked to mentally cast the film version of Woman Enters Left, I can’t help but do it with actors from those eras. So if you will indulge me….

Florrie, the screenwriter with the Model T and a big secret, is all quiet emotion. On the screen, she’d be the one with big, expressive eyes, emoting for all she’s worth to the close-up shots. With delicate features and what her best friend Ethel describes as hair “like Botticelli’s Venus,” I see her as played by an actress like Maud Fealy or Bessie Love.

I picture Ethel, petite and dark-haired, as played by someone like Clara Bow or Madge Bellamy, someone expressive, lively, and who, as, Florrie put it, “lights up the street like a Roman candle.” My character doesn’t quite match the reputed wildness of those actresses, but Ethel reclaims this vitality on the drive across the United States.

Louise, on a solitary road trip in 1952, is also looking to reclaim the fierceness she brought to Hollywood fifteen years ago. She narrates her journey wryly, showing flashes of stubbornness and humor during her adventure. It’s perhaps too easy to give this role to a heavyweight like Lauren Bacall, but I really can’t picture anyone else poised with such silky grace behind the wheel of her convertible or speaking her lines with such exquisite dryness. As you read Woman Enters Left, I dare you to not picture Bacall on the pages.
Learn more about the book and author at Jessica Brockmole's website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Letters from Skye.

My Book, The Movie: Letters from Skye.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Jacqueline Jones's "Goddess of Anarchy"

Jacqueline Jones holds the Ellen C. Temple Chair in Women’s History and the Mastin Gentry White Professorship in Southern History at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of several books, including A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America (2013). That book and Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work and the Family from Slavery to the Present (25th Anniversary Edition, 2010) were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize; Labor of Love won the Bancroft Prize for 1986.

Here Jones dreamcasts an adaptation of her new book, Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical:
If I were the casting director for Goddess of Anarchy: The Movie, my first priority would be to find an especially resilient, resourceful actress to play the leading role.  Lucy Parsons lived a long, turbulent life (1851 to 1942) spanning the end of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, the Progressive Era, World War I and the Red Scare, the 1920s, and the Great Depression. So the lead would have to age convincingly, Miss-Jane-Pittman style, over the course of the story.  During her career as an anarchist—as a public speaker, writer, and editor— Parsons became a celebrity; covered obsessively by radical and mainstream newspapers, she inspired fear in her critics and adoration in her supporters.  The lead would have to project Parsons’s haughty contempt for capitalists, her thrill at speechifying in front of large crowds, her love of fine clothes, and her vanity about her own good looks.

Lucy Parsons was born to an enslaved woman and a white man (possibly her owner or an overseer) on a Virginia plantation in 1851.  Nevertheless, she claimed that she was the daughter of Native American and Hispanic parents—presumably because she feared that her ideas would not receive a fair hearing if it were known that she was of African descent.  So I am thinking along the lines of Ruth Negga, Halle Berry, or Zoe Soldana to play Lucy.

When Lucy was growing up in Waco, Texas, as a teenager she became involved with an older black man, Oliver Benton, who bought her nice clothes and paid her tuition at the local school.  He claimed that a baby Lucy gave birth to (around 1868) was his, and that Lucy was his wife. (The exact nature of their relationship is unknown.)  He felt humiliated when a white man named Albert Parsons began an affair with Lucy. Jamie Foxx perhaps?

Lucy’s mother endured a great deal.  She was probably raped by Lucy’s father.  She watched over her daughter Lucy and her two young sons as the family was forcibly relocated from Virginia to Texas during the Civil War.  Immediately after the war, fearful for their safety on the violent Texas countryside, she moved her family to the town of Waco.  Oprah Winfrey or Octavia Spencer would be good in this role.

Albert and Lucy married in 1872.  He was a veteran of the Confederate army. Small, wiry and dapper, he had tremendous staying power as an orator promoting anarchism.  Eventually he paid the ultimate price for his provocative rhetoric and writings.  At a workers’ rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square in 1886, someone tossed a bomb into the ranks of a group of police officers, killing seven of them.  Although the identity of the bomb-thrower remains unknown to this day, Albert was convicted of murder and conspiracy and hanged in 1887.  The male lead should be charming, intense—perhaps Colin Farrell.

Other characters in Lucy’s life include the famous socialist Eugene Debs (a fierce John Lithgow?) and anarchist Emma Goldman (Meryl Streep could handle the Russian accent!). Particularly intriguing are August Spies, a German immigrant also hanged for his supposed role in the Haymarket bombing, and Nina Van Zandt, the wealthy young college-educated woman who fell in love with him after his arrest.  The dashing blond-haired Spies had a reputation as a “ladies man”; I’m channeling Matthew McConaughey here.  Van Zandt was a traitor to her class, intelligent if somewhat naïve.  After a proxy wedding with a stand-in for Spies, she believed the two were actually married, though observers at the time suggested that he considered the “marriage” a farce and a sham. Julia Stiles might be able to pull this off.
Learn more about Goddess of Anarchy at the Basic Books website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 27, 2017

Irene Radford's "A Spoonful of Magic"

Irene Radford, author of the Dragon Nimbus (The Glass Dragon, The Perfect Princess, The Loneliest Magician, The Wizard's Treasure) and the Dragon Nimbus History (The Dragon's Touchstone, The Last Battlemage, The Renegade Dragon) series, often appears at conventions in the Oregon-California area. She is the author of the Stargods and Merlin's Descendants series as well, and is also one of the founders of the Book View Cafe.

Here Radford shares some casting ideas for an adaptation of her new novel, A Spoonful of Magic:
How would I cast A Spoonful of Magic? Hands down Danica McKellar from Boy Meets World and lately a lot of Hallmark movies has that quirky little smile that will charm the socks off her audience fits the part of Daffy, Daphne Rose Wallace Deschants. In the book Daffy is a blonde, so my first thought went to Sarah Michelle Geller or Kristen Bell, but they don’t have that special smile that shouts innocence while hiding a cool cunning.

The part of G, Gabrielle Sebastian Deschants, was modeled on a younger Pierce Brosnan, but I’m not up on a lot of the current Hollywood gorgeous males. He’s tall, 6’2”, and broad shouldered with dark hair starting to gray, and vivid blue eyes that can strip your senses away while he hypnotizes you. He’s not a nice guy, but is redeemable.

Ted Tyler, the other male protagonist, is a younger Mark Harmon, handsome enough but neutral. Your eyes can slide past him, or be riveted by him, depending on what he’s doing.

Villains are hard to cast. I think Sarah Michelle Gellar would excel in the part of blind D’Accore. But John Mooney is elusive. He needs to be both a charming hippie shaman in tie-dye caftans and a hard-edged real estate mogul in $1000 suits. Who would you suggest?
Visit Irene Radford's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Broken Dragon.

The Page 69 Test: The Broken Dragon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 24, 2017

Tara Goedjen's "The Breathless"

Tara Goedjen adores fairytales, mysteries, and ghost stories.

She wrote her first story at age eleven about children who disappeared at midnight, and she’s been writing ever since. Mostly raised in Alabama, she played college tennis in Iowa and then moved to Alaska and Australia before heading back to the continental US.

While completing grad school, Goedjen worked as a tennis coach, a yoga instructor, a university writing teacher, and as an editor for a publishing house. These days, when she’s not making up stories, she's probably going for a hike, staring at a to-do list, reading a novel, or eating all of California’s seasonal fruit.

Here Goedjen dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Breathless:
The two leads would be easy. If I could have my dream cast, I’d want sixteen-year-old Mae Cole to be played by Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things. Besides being a fan of the show, I love how Millie plays Eleven, who starts off the series as a quiet, mysterious, gifted, and troubled girl: all qualities that embody Mae in The Breathless.

I’d also want Cage Shaw, my other main character, to be played by Nick Robinson, who I adored in the movie adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s Everything Everything (he also appeared in The Kings of Summer and Jurassic World, a movie I had to see out of nostalgia for Jurassic Park). In Everything Everything, Nick plays a character who’s in love with the girl next door, and completely devoted to her, but who’s also trying to protect his family, in the same way that Cage Shaw is in love with Mae’s sister, Roxanne Cole, and trying to do the best he can by both her and his family—especially after things go terribly wrong.
Visit Tara Goedjen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A. J. Cross's "Something Evil Comes"

A.J. Cross, like her heroine Kate Hanson, is a Forensic Psychologist with over twenty years' experience in the field. She lives in Birmingham with her jazz-musician husband.

Here Cross dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest novel, Something Evil Comes:
If only.

I’ll get straight to it: I would choose a younger Jeff Bridges for the role of the American police officer, Lieutenant Joseph Corrigan, a man of few but always relevant words, a recurrent character in my books and a member of the Unsolved Crime Unit. Why? You’ve seen Jeff Bridges and you needs to ask? As I bash my keyboard I’m looking at one of my husband’s guitar catalogues, this one for Eastman. Here is Jeff on the cover, gazing direct to camera in black boots, denim and leather coat, a hand resting on an Eastman guitar, his hair long and worn back from his face. A good, strong head. Not a man to waste words. Oh, yes.

Another recurrent character is DI Bernard Watts, Birmingham UK born and bred, now at an age and stage of career when he feels outflanked by the much younger, mostly graduate intake of officers. Inside my head as I developed the Watts character around seven years ago was the sadly now deceased British actor Warren Clarke, who early in his career played the character Dim in the film, A Clockwork Orange. However, the role which made him my choice for Watts was one for television. He played an engineering firm’s manager in the fictional town of Rummidge opposite a feminist university teacher in David Lodge’s novel Nice Work. I’ve only just realised how influential both those roles were in shaping Watts and his professional relationship with the forensic psychologist who assists the Unsolved Crime Unit and is my main character. Let’s get to her, shall we?

Dr Kate Hanson, more recently a professor at the University of Birmingham, arrived inside my head fully formed at the start of my writing career.  She was partly inspired by a young colleague of mine at the time who had the unnerving ability to recall on demand the titles, authors and dates of forensic psychology research papers. I just know how to track them down.  I’ve never had anyone in mind to play Hanson but I can tell you exactly what she’s like: four books in, she’s thirty-six, divorced, a mother of one. Five feet three inches tall with thick, dark red hair. Somebody to be reckoned with. I haven’t given her mental health problems. You know: drink, communication disorder and so forth. She’s smart and she’s also everywoman. Which doesn’t mean that she’s uncomplicated. Far from it. She has a history of key failed relationships, commonplace enough but which underpins her refusal to commit to one man. So far.
Learn more about Something Evil Comes.

--Marshal Zeringue