Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Joanne Serling's "Good Neighbors"

Joanne Serling worked in women’s magazines, high tech public relations and later, as a director of public affairs for American Express before leaving the corporate world for life as a writer. While raising two young children, she attended The Writers Studio in New York City and published two short stories while part of the Master Class there.

Here Serling dreamcasts an adaptation of Good Neighbors, her debut novel:
Good Neighbors explores the world of four suburban families who consider themselves “like family,” yet know very little about one another. When one of the couples, Paige and Gene Edwards, adopts a four-year-old girl from Russia, the group’s morality and loyalty are soon called into question. Are the Edwards unkind to their new daughter? Or is she a difficult child with hidden destructive tendencies?

The story is told in the first person by neighbor Nicole Westerhof, an insightful observer who is nonetheless insecure and highly anxious. She continually waffles about whether the Edwards deserve her friendship, or her suspicion. I have always considered Amanda Peet the perfect actor to play Nicole; she has incredible emotional range and can appear both likeable and emotionally unsteady, two essential qualities for this role. I’d love to see Peter Sarsgaard play Nicole’s husband, Jay Westerhof, a slightly aloof and reserved man who is nonetheless decent and loving underneath.

To make this movie a success, you’d need the perfect Paige and I’m certain after seeing I, Tonya, that Margot Robbie could nail this part, portraying Paige as cold, slightly unstable and highly manipulative. Leonardo DiCaprio is the ideal Gene Edwards, a man Nicole describes as too good looking to take seriously as someone’s middle aged husband and father--and whose weakness ultimately sinks the family.

Two other couples complete this neighborhood tableau. Lorraine Weinberger, a good-natured gossip who stops by Nicole’s house nearly every day after work to trade stories about Paige’s strange behavior. Drew Barrymore could pull off this part with aplomb: she’s adorable, and ready for a more serious role as an adult struggling with her own superficiality. Lorraine’s boyfriend, Jeffrey, is easy going, passive, and occasionally sticks his foot in his mouth. Better Call Saul actor Bob Odenkirk would make a memorable Jeffrey. The fourth couple of this neighborhood group is Nela and Drew Guzman-Veniero. Nela has serious misgivings about being associated with Nicole, Lorraine and Paige, insisting that where she come from, in Puerto Rico, “you don’t get involved with your neighbors.” Tiffany Haddish, though neither Puerto Rican, nor as serious as Nela, would make this role her own, spicing up Nela’s brand of feisty resistance. Her husband Drew who is more easygoing but not exactly conventional could be played by Joaquin Phoenix.

Of course, no movie is complete without a sensitive and astute director: my dream director is Tamara Jenkins of Slums of Beverly Hills and Savages fame. She goes where few other directors dare to go, into the marrow of human relationships.
Visit Joanne Serling's website.

Writers Read: Joanne Serling.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Elizabeth Crook's "The Which Way Tree"

Elizabeth Crook novels include The Night Journal, which received the Spur Award from Western Writers of America, and Monday, Monday, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2014 and winner of the Jesse H. Jones Award from the Texas Institute of Letters.

Here Crook shares some insights about the journey of her new novel, The Which Way Tree, to the big screen:
A very early draft of The Which Way Tree found its way to Robert Duvall and I was flabbergasted when he offered to buy the option. I was so nervous the first time I talked to him on the phone I had to take beta blockers to get through it. We conferred about who should write the script, and I suggested my good friend Stephen Harrigan, who already knew the story since he had previously helped me brainstorm through the plot. He’s an award-winning screenwriter as well as journalist and novelist, so I knew he’d be the best at this.

But as it turned out, Steve was busy and said he could only take part if I would co-write the script with him. I didn’t have any experience with scripts, having never written one, and in fact having never read one, so I had a steep learning curve in front of me. But it was fun. Bob Duvall is terrific. We finished each draft, sent it to him and his partners, and within two or three days they had read it and called us back on a conference call to go over their notes. Writing novels is a lonely process by comparison. It might be more gratifying in the long run because the finished book is your very own achievement. But the experience is less dynamic; there’s something innately energizing about collaboration.

At this point we have a draft we’re all happy with, and now we’ll see what happens from here. Movies are a far more complicated business than I understood. Bob Duvall will of course play a role when we get things up and running. Along with his co-producers and the director and casting director he’ll go about filling the other roles. They’ve kindly kept me in the loop as part of the team, but I know better than to think I would have any decent casting suggestions that they aren’t already considering.
Visit Elizabeth Crook's website.

The Page 69 Test: Monday, Monday.

The Page 69 Test: The Which Way Tree.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 19, 2018

Melita M. Garza's "They Came to Toil"

Melita M. Garza spent more than 20 years reporting for U.S. news organizations, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and Bloomberg News. While earning her doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she became a media historian, committed to telling the untold stories about journalism’s role in furthering social justice and defining Americanhood.

Although scholarly non-fiction is rarely adapted for film, here Garza dreamcasts an imagined screen adaptation of her first book, They Came to Toil: Newspaper Representations of Mexicans and Immigrants in the Great Depression:
Since the key dramatic tension revolves around how three competing U.S. news organizations with distinctive editorial voices covered Mexican immigration in the early 1930s, the casting of the three editors and publishers is most critical.

I would cast Mexican actor Adan Canto (Designated Survivor’s Aaron Shore) as Ignacio Lozano, publisher of La Prensa, then the most important Spanish-language publication in the United States. Canto would bring the enterprising immigrant’s sensibility to the part. I’d cast Gary Oldman as William Randolph Hearst, who during the early Great Depression owned the biggest newspaper chain in the United States, and who wrote numerous anti-immigrant editorials that were published in many of his newspapers, including the San Antonio Light. Hugh Jackman would appear as the Light’s dashing, charismatic, and raconteurish editor, William M. McIntosh. Michael Peña (Cesar Chavez, Crash, Million Dollar Baby) or Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line) would play San Antonio Express publisher Frank G. Huntress, whose mother was Mexican-born.

The movie would be shot on location in San Antonio, Texas, so Spanish architecture, including San Fernando Cathedral and the five Spanish-built missions would have a starring role. For director, I’d choose either the brilliant San Antonio-born director, Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, Spike Kids) or the brilliant Mexican-born actor/director/producer Eugenio Derbez (Instructions Not Included). The screenplay would be built around the major immigration news stories that occurred between 1929 and 1934, which marked the deepest recessionary period of the Great Depression. These leave many opportunities for cameo appearances. For instance, Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) and Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives) might be cast as the women leading the pivotal jobless protest through the streets of downtown San Antonio in 1930.

I’d select the multi-talented innovative composer Carlos Garza (Nosferatu, Metropolis, Salomé) to score the film.
Learn more about They Came to Toil at the University of Texas Press website.

The Page 99 Test: They Came to Toil.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 16, 2018

R. E. Stearns's "Barbary Station"

R. E. Stearns wrote her first story on an Apple IIe computer and still kind of misses green text on a black screen. She went on to annoy all of her teachers by reading books while they lectured. Eventually she read and wrote enough to earn a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Central Florida. She is hoping for an honorary doctorate. When not writing or working, R. E. Stearns reads, plays PC games, and references internet memes in meatspace. She recently moved to Denver, CO with her husband/computer engineer and a cat.

Here Stearns dreamcasts an adaptation of her debut novel, Barbary Station:
People keep talking about how cinematic Barbary Station is, but I never thought about it that way while I was writing it. When I'm thinking of how characters look I reference images of non-celebrities, like pictures I stumble across on Instagram while I'm looking for something else, or hair models for cosmetology students. It reminds me that I'm writing about people who have neither the time nor the money for professional physical training.

Of course, one point-of-view character would rather be running than walking in any given situation (that's Iridian,) so somebody like Dominique Tipper, Florence Faivre, or Freema Agyeman could play her easily. It helps that we already know from Sense8 that Ms. Agyeman doesn't mind kissing women on screen.

Casting Iridian's girlfriend Adda would be harder. She's curvy in a different way than Hollywood prefers. Assuming they could be convinced to put on weight: Jennifer Lawrence (I know, everybody's tired of her, but she's the right size), Ashley Benson, or Lena Dunham. This probably shows that I know nothing about casting! But it's fun to imagine our heroines wearing much more makeup than they usually do.
Visit R. E. Stearns's website and Twitter perch.

Writers Read: R. E. Stearns.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Laura Madeleine's "Where the Wild Cherries Grow"

After a childhood spent acting professionally and training at a theatre school, Laura Madeleine changed her mind and went to study English Literature at Newnham College, Cambridge. The author of The Confectioner's Tale, she now writes fiction, as well as recipes, and was formerly the resident cake baker for Domestic Sluttery. She lives in Bristol, but can often be found visiting her family in Devon, eating cheese, and getting up to mischief with her sister, fantasy author Lucy Hounsom.

Here Madeleine dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest book to reach the US, Where the Wild Cherries Grow: A Novel of the South of France:
Oh, I always find these things really tricky. I never have a particular actor in mind while writing, or an image, other than a photograph or portrait. In Emeline’s case (one of the lead characters in Where the Wild Cherries Grow) the closest I ever came looks-wise was the Italian photographer, actor and activist Tina Mondotti.

But I’ll give a casting list a go. It’s made easier by the fact there are some brilliant young actors out there…

Emeline Vane: I think Rooney Mara is a captivating actor, and that she could capture some of Emeline’s inner life, and the emotional changes she undergoes. Or perhaps Florence Pugh? I saw her recently in Lady Macbeth and was impressed.

Bill Perch: Bill is a character very much inspired by my father. He’s a working class lad, who’s earnest, frustrated and feels things deeply. Maybe Josh O’Conner or Billy Howle.

Aaro Fournier: César Domboy. Or Rami Malek? I’m open to suggestions!

Clemence “Maman” Fournier: Julianne Moore. She’s been one of my favourite actors since Far From Heaven.

Director: Hettie McDonald directed an adaptation of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End recently, which I really enjoyed. Or Todd Haynes! He could capture the lustrous colour and light of the south of France.
Visit Laura Madeleine's website.

The Page 69 Test: Where the Wild Cherries Grow.

Writers Read: Laura Madeleine.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 12, 2018

Mira T. Lee's "Everything Here Is Beautiful"

Mira T. Lee's debut novel, Everything Here is Beautiful, was named a Top Winter/2018 Pick by more than 30 news outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, O Magazine, Poets & Writers, New York Magazine, Chicago Review of Books, Seattle Times, Buzzfeed, Marie Claire, Real Simple, and Electric Lit, among others. It was also selected as an Indies Introduce title (Top 10 Debut) and Indie Next pick by the American Booksellers Association.

Here Lee dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel:
Everything Here Is Beautiful is a messy cross-cultural family drama starring two Chinese-American sisters, a one-armed Israeli, a Swiss urologist, and a young Ecuadorian immigrant. Sometimes it still amazes me that the story was published in written form, never mind dreams of having it made into a movie (a long shot, given the cast, says my film agent. But… I have a film agent, how ridiculous is that?!).

There are still relatively few prominent Asian/Asian-American actresses today, and even fewer leading roles for them, though it’s hard to say which is supposed to come first. Miranda, the older, more strait-laced sister, possesses an ingrained sense of responsibility that bumps up against her desires for freedom and self-fulfillment. The inimitable Sandra Oh, or Fresh Off the Boat’s Constance Wu, or Downsizing’s luminous newcomer, Hong Chau, might fit the bill. Lucia, the younger sister, struggles with a serious mental illness, making hers the more challenging role. She’s quirky, free-spirited, bursting with life — until her illness takes hold, and then she’s sheathed in darkness, paranoid, irrational, often irascible. Heavily medicated, she takes on another dimension: dulled. We haven’t seen an Asian-American actress in this kind of dramatic role, which would demand a virtuosic range, but I’d try out Kelly Marie Tran (who lights up Star Wars: The Last Jedi), Hawaii Five-O’s Grace Park, who might shine portraying Lucia’s softness along with fierceness, Mission Impossible III’s Maggie Q, or comedian Ali Wong.

For the men in the sisters’ lives, we have plenty more options. Stefan, the Swiss doctor, has the “essence” of an elk, calling for a Colin Firth or Viggo Mortensen type, albeit younger - Tom Hiddleston, most recently of The Avengers, or Matt Smith, of The Crown. Yonah, the Israeli, is ceaselessly charismatic, even as he wavers in and out of midlife crisis. Brash and warm, he’s Mandy Patinkin twenty years ago - possibly Big Bang Theory’s John Galecki, or Sacha Baron Cohen, though going in another direction entirely there’s also Jay Duplass (of Transparent fame). Manny, the Ecuadorian, is younger, solid, steadfast, though as an undocumented immigrant with a baby daughter, he’s also anxious and skittish. Diego Luna of Rogue One fame could play up his sensitive side, though Anthony Ramos is the more fitting age. Then there’s Oscar Isaac, who has the perfect look (does he have a younger brother?), and whose versatility also makes him an excellent candidate for Yonah - because who doesn’t want an actor like Oscar Isaac somewhere in their movie?

A lot of great roles for a diverse cast, that’s for sure. Ang Lee to direct. (Though a mini-series for Netflix, or Oprah’s network, or produced by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine would be just fine, too).

Now, wouldn’t it be amazing if a movie like this could actually get made in today’s Hollywood? Sigh. One can dream.
Visit Mira T. Lee's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Nina Sadowsky's "The Burial Society"

Ballantine published filmmaker Nina Sadowsky’s debut thriller, Just Fall, in March 2016. She is developing a TV series based on the book. Sadowsky has written numerous screenplays and produced many films including perennial favorite The Wedding Planner. She also teaches script development and producing at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.

Here Sadowsky shares some thoughts on adapting her second novel, The Burial Society, for the big screen:
It’s not fair to ask me to play this game. I became a writer after a 25-year career as a film and television producer. In my prior incarnation, one of my customary tasks was to create lists of potential cast for every project on my slate. I rarely even took a script on if I didn’t understand its casting potential from both a creative and an economic standpoint.

Because of this history, it’s impossible for me to have a dreamy-eyed vision of my perfect cast. Of course I think first about creative fit. But past that, I inevitably weigh a litany of other factors, starting with box office appeal, both domestic and foreign. For example, if I’m trying to fund a project through the pre-sale of foreign distribution rights (a typical practice in independent filmmaking), I have to gauge an actor’s appeal in each individual market. How an actor performed in past movies or television shows of a similar genre is one consideration in the determination of that appeal. I also have to look at the balance of the value of one actor to the ensemble as a whole, and then those relative values must be weighed with respect to the budget. While spending extra for a star director or “name” cast certainly happens (it’s called “breakage” because it “breaks” the budget), every project does have its budgetary limitations.

Scheduling is also an ever-constant concern. The most sought after actors and directors, the ones most likely to get a project a “greenlight,” are also the busiest. Getting the planets to align around the right combination of director and cast creatively, financially and logistically is a Herculean task, so one learns to be flexible.

I adapted my first book, Just Fall, for television and have done a variety of “lists” for my lead, a woman who discovers on the night of her wedding that her husband is a contract killer. She’s written as a blonde (who quickly dyes her hair black while on the run) in a conscious inversion of the Hitchcock blonde trope. We’re currently discussing a variety of actors including many dark-haired women and I’m prepared to adjust the script to fit.

My new thriller, The Burial Society, is about a woman who lives off the grid and helps abused women, whistleblowers and others whose lives are endangered escape into new, safe lives. The themes of the novel are self-reinvention and the need for courage in order to face change. My protagonist is a woman of many identities and disguises. And while I have too much information in my head to commit to a dream of one actor, I do hope that if I’m lucky enough to sell this book for an adaptation that the part instead will be an actor’s dream.
Visit Nina Sadowsky's website.

Writers Read: Nina Sadowsky.

The Page 69 Test: The Burial Society.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 9, 2018

Jane Corry's "Blood Sisters"

Jane Corry is a writer and journalist and has spent time as the writer in residence of a high-security prison for men–an experience that helped inspire My Husband’s Wife, her suspense debut.

Here Corry dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest novel, Blood Sisters:
This would be my dream come true! However, I have to be honest here. I’m more familiar with older actors and actresses.

I still pine for Robert Redford - as a teenager, I dreamed of him sweeping me off my feet! So I would like a young RR to play Crispin. I think his boyish good looks and charm would be perfect.

Similarly, a youthful Tom Hanks would be just right for Robin. I can just see him being rather awkward at the beginning and then growing into the more self-assured adult towards the end of Blood Sisters.

Alison is more of a challenge. She needs to appear traditional but have hidden depths. I’d like a total ‘unknown' for her. It would be great if someone made their name from taking her on.

As for Kitty, someone really special would need to play her. Blood Sisters came out in the UK last summer and ever since then, I’ve had lots of emails from readers to say how much they love her. I think a young Goldie Hawn would fit the bill perfectly. I know that she would be both funny, sad and shocking - which is just what the role needs.

Director-wise, I’d be really interested in Jodie Foster. She would be able to delve into the shocking, sensitive issues in Blood Sisters. George Clooney would be good at this too. If nothing else, it would give me a chance to tell him that his wife went to the same school in the UK as my daughter!
Follow Jane Corry on Twitter and Facebook.

My Book, The Movie: My Husband's Wife.

The Page 69 Test: Blood Sisters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 8, 2018

C. M. Wendelboe's "The Marshal and the Moonshiner"

C. M. Wendelboe entered the law enforcement profession when he was discharged from the Marines as the Vietnam war was winding down.

In the 1970s, his career included assisting federal and tribal law enforcement agencies embroiled in conflicts with American Indian Movement activists in South Dakota.

Wendelboe moved to Gillette, Wyoming, and found his niche, where he remained a sheriff's deputy for more than 25 years. In addition, he was a longtime firearms instructor at the local college and within the community.

During his 38-year career in law enforcement he had served successful stints as police chief, policy adviser, and other supervisory roles for several agencies. Yet he always has felt most proud of "working the street." He was a patrol supervisor when he retired to pursue his true vocation as a fiction writer.

Here Wendelboe dreamcasts an adaptation of The Marshal and the Moonshiner, the first book in his Nelson Lane Frontier Mysteries series:
I frequently have actors in mind when I develop characters, only because it helps to keep me focused. In my recent novel, The Marshal and the Moonshiner, I envisioned John Goodman as my lead sleuth, Nelson Lane. Nelson is a middle-aged U. S. Marshal, a big, husky former Marine in WWI. When John Goodman portrayed Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski, he took scheming to a new level. And as “Big Dan” in O Brother, Where Art Thou, he depicted a ruthlessness while maintaining a dry sense of humor as he makes short work of Everett and Delmar, robbing and beating them. I can see Goodman bulling his way past moonshiners and bootleggers to get the information he wants.
Visit C. M. Wendelboe's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Rebecca E. Zietlow's "The Forgotten Emancipator"

Rebecca E. Zietlow is Charles W. Fornoff Professor of Law and Values at the University of Toledo, College of Law, where she teaches Constitutional Law, Federal Courts, and Constitutional Litigation. She received her B.A. from Barnard College, and her J.D. from Yale Law School. In 2012, she received the University of Toledo Outstanding Faculty Research Award.

Here Zietlow dreamcasts an adaptation of her new book, The Forgotten Emancipator: James Mitchell Ashley and the Ideological Origins of Reconstruction:
If they made my book into a movie, the actor who I would like to play the lead role is Jeff Bridges. Jeff Bridges is a charismatic actor who exudes passion, and, if necessary, extremism. Plus, Bridges has the hair to play the leading character in my book, James Mitchell Ashley.

James Ashley was a staunch anti-slavery advocate from the time he was a boy, when he witnessed slavery first hand as he worked on boats in the Ohio River. Ashley ran away from home because he disagreed so strongly with his pro-slavery father. Eventually, Ashley became a leader in the fight for the abolition of slavery. He represented northwest Ohio in the United States House of Representatives from 1858 to 1868. He was one of the founders of the anti-slavery Republican Party, and a leader in Congress during the Civil War and early Reconstruction Eras. As chair of the House Committee on the Territories, Ashley presided over the abolition of slavery in DC and the territories. Ashley introduced the first Reconstruction measure, and was the first member of Congress to propose amending the constitution to abolish slavery. At the side of President Abraham Lincoln, Ashley led the fight for the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, in the House of Representatives. According to noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “In every phase of the great conflict over slavery, [James Ashley] bore a conspicuous and honorable part. He was among the foremost of that brilliant galaxy of statesmen who reconstructed the union on a basis of liberty.”

Ashley was a character in Steven Spielberg’s movie, Lincoln, about Lincoln’s role in the congressional approval of the Thirteenth Amendment. In Lincoln, Ashley was played by David Costabile as a mealy mouthed moderate, a foil to the radically impassioned Representative Thaddeus Stevens. In real life, however, Ashley was as radical as Stevens, if not more so. He was a single-minded opponent of slavery who seized on the Civil War as an opportunity to end it by any means possible. Ashley advocated voting rights for Blacks as early as 1856, and he supported woman’s suffrage. Ashley also supported workers’ rights, saying he would not be a slave to a corporation.

Ashley was known for being passionate and a bit over the top. When he arrived in Washington in 1859, Ashley was very popular, known for his good looks, charm, and great mane of hair (in which he took great pride). He was an influential leader during the Civil War and early Reconstruction era. Towards the end of his time in Congress, though, Ashley was too radical for his party. Ashley led the first unsuccessful attempt to impeach President Andrew Johnson. There were rumors that Ashley believed that Johnson was behind Lincoln’s assassination. Ashley lost the election in 1868. For a brief time, he served as governor of the Montana territory, where he angered former confederates by speaking out against the use of Chinese “coolie” labor to build railroads.

As you can see, Ashley was a fascinating character whose life was full of drama. However, Ashley is not the only reason why The Forgotten Emancipator would make a great movie. The book also describes the political anti-slavery movement and the nascent labor movement in the first half of the nineteenth century. Anti-slavery constitutionalists argued that slavery was unconstitutional even before the 13th Amendment. They formed the Liberty and Free Soil Parties and, eventually, the Republican Party. Labor leaders argued that they were subject to wage slavery and fought for better wages and a shorter working day. Leaders in both movements developed a theory of rights that influenced Ashley and other members of the Reconstruction Congress.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, The Forgotten Emancipator is about the Reconstruction Congress. Ashley and his Reconstruction colleagues amended our Constitution to end slavery and become the rights protecting document that Americans revere today. Yet, these heroes of our history remain virtually unknown. Ashley and his colleagues deserve to be not only known, but celebrated. The Forgotten Emancipator tells their story, a victory for liberty and equality over the dark force of slavery and oppression. Movie producers, take heed!
Learn more about The Forgotten Emancipator at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue