Friday, March 23, 2018

Damian Dibben's "Tomorrow"

Damian Dibben is the creator of the internationally acclaimed children's book series the History Keepers, translated into 26 languages in over 40 countries. Previously, he worked as a screenwriter, and actor, on projects as diverse as The Phantom of the Opera and Puss in Boots and Young Indiana Jones. He lives, facing St Paul's Cathedral, on London's Southbank with his partner Ali and dog Dudley.

He he shares some ideas about the above-the-line talent for a big screen adaptation of his new novel, Tomorrow:
My background is in screenwriting, having worked in the UK and Hollywood for ten years before I started writing novels. (Actually my first book, The History Keepers, was originally intended as a screenplay & when it was completed, Working Title bought the movie rights) That said, Tomorrow may just be un-filmable. It is filmic certainly, taking in an epic sweep of history from the reign of Elizabeth I of England, through the gruesome wars of the 17th century, Versailles, the golden age of Amsterdam and up to nineteenth century Venice, but it is also narrated by a dog and his voice, its reflective, philosophical quality is vital to the power of the story.

Of course, having originally been an actor too, I always think of casting. I would hold open auditions for the two principal dogs of the story, 'I' & 'Sporco', - the latter an endearingly eccentric stray from the alleyways of Venice - but the equally important human characters of 'the Master' and 'Vilder', both middle-aged but immortal, would provide great opportunities for two heavyweight British actors. 'The Master' would be Daniel Day Lewis, if he could be coaxed out of retirement. He would bring gravitas to this honourable, brave, but flawed gentleman. Colin Firth would do an excellent job too. 'Vilder' needs to have an altogether more dangerous, unpredictable edge and I would cast either Ralph Fiennes or Gary Oldman. (All four you'll note are Academy best actor winners.)

As far as directors are concerned, to tackle the tricky balance of epic, historical sweep and distinct narrative voice, it would need to be a visionary of the likes of Ang Lee (who did such a great job of another un-filmable book, The Life of Pi) or Guillermo del Toro. Personally I would never have started writing stories if it were not for the early films of Spielberg. The way he brought together real life, fantasy and profound emotion in films such as E.T. would make him an ideal choice.
Visit Damian Dibben's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Dennis Palumbo's "Head Wounds"

Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), Dennis Palumbo is a licensed psychotherapist and author of Writing From the Inside Out. His mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Strand and elsewhere, and is collected in From Crime to Crime. His series of mystery thrillers (Mirror Image, Fever Dream, Night Terrors, Phantom Limb, and the latest, Head Wounds, feature psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, a trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh Police.

Palumbo applied the Page 69 Test to Head Wounds and reported the following:
After writing five books in my Daniel Rinaldi series, I have a pretty good feel for the continuing characters who populate my “mean streets” of Pittsburgh.

My lead character, Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, is an Italian-American psychologist who---like his author---was born and raised in the Steel City. He’s passionate about his work treating crime victims, is stubborn and opinionated, and has a snarky sense of humor. He’s also a former amateur boxer (Golden Gloves, Pan Am Games), so casting him for a film isn’t easy. I could see any one of Hollywood’s “usual suspects” like Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac or Michael Fassbender, though I really like Viggo Mortensen. A few years ago, he played Sigmund Freud in the film A Dangerous Method. I thought then what I think now: if Mortensen was good enough to play the father of psychoanalysis, he’s good enough to play Daniel Rinaldi.

For Noah Frye, a paranoid schizophrenic and Rinaldi’s best friend, I think I’ll stick with the actors I envisioned the last time I did this exercise: either Zach Galifianakis or Jonah Hill. Both are fine comic actors with just the right amount of pathos and lunacy in their eyes. Then there’s Joaquin Phoenix, another solid choice.

For Eleanor Lowrey, the beautiful Pittsburgh PD homicide detective whose relationship with Rinaldi goes from professional to personal, again I like my previous choices: either Kerry Washington (from Django Unchained and the TV series Scandal) or award-winning actress Viola Davis (from the film Doubt and the TV series How to Get Away with Murder). I also think Halle Berry would work in the role.

In Head Wounds, I depart from the usual structure of my novels and reveal the identity of the killer quite early on: a delusional computer genius who engages in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with Daniel Rinaldi. I could definitely see Ewan McGregor (American Pastoral, The Ghost Writer, etc.) as the obsessed Sebastian Maddox, though either Michael Shannon, Sam Rockwell or Jude Law would make fine choices, too.

Finally, as the gruff, seen-it-all veteran police sergeant Harry Polk, I’d be happy with either Michael Chiklis or Woody Harrelson. Though, as I’ve written previously, the perfect choice would be one of my all-time favorite character actors, the late, great Jack Warden. In fact, he’s who I envision as I write the character.

Thanks for indulging my cinematic imagination!
Learn more about the book and author at Dennis Palumbo's website.

The Page 69 Test: Head Wounds.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 19, 2018

Jerry Gershenhorn's "Louis Austin and the Carolina Times"

Jerry Gershenhorn is Julius L. Chambers Professor of History at North Carolina Central University.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Louis Austin and the Carolina Times: A Life in the Long Black Freedom Struggle:
It’s March 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression, in Durham, North Carolina, where African Americans are segregated and oppressed by Jim Crow-era white supremacy. Blacks attend segregated, woefully under-financed primary and secondary public schools. There is also a black public college in Durham, North Carolina College for Negroes (NCC), which suffers because of weak financing from the state government, and unlike the nearby white institution, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), NCC has no graduate or professional programs. The movie opens with four black men driving a 1928 Model A Ford from Durham to nearby Chapel Hill. In the car are two local lawyers in their early 30s, Conrad Pearson and Cecil McCoy; a black journalist, 35-year-old Louis Austin, the editor and publisher of Durham’s Carolina Times; and 24-year-old Thomas Raymond Hocutt, who dreams of becoming a pharmacist. However, no black college in North Carolina offers a pharmacy program. So Hocutt, backed by Pearson, McCoy, and Austin, has decided to mount the first legal challenge to segregated education in the South. A courtroom scene follows the opening scene, in which UNC’s registrar rejects Hocutt’s application.

Although my book chronicles Louis Austin’s life in the black freedom struggle in North Carolina from the late 1920s to the early 1970, the movie focuses on the Depression and World War II eras, highlighting the early decades of the long black freedom struggle before the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. In addition to Hocutt’s lawsuit, scenes would include a white soda jerk’s 1931 attack on the state’s most prominent black businessman, C. C. Spaulding, because Spaulding transgressed the color line; an early voter registration movement led by Austin in the early 1930s, with tremendous opposition led by the white supremacist editor of the Raleigh News and Observer Josephus Daniels; and the 1944 murder of a black soldier, Booker T. Spicely, by a white bus driver, Herman Lee Council, following the soldier’s refusal to move to the back of the bus, and the subsequent trial of the bus driver.

Optimally, the film would be directed by the incomparable Ava Duvernay (Selma, 13th), with an amazing cast: Thomas R. Hocutt (Michael B. Jordan), Louis Austin (David Oyelowo), Louis Austin’s wife, Stella Austin (Tessa Thompson), C. C. Spaulding (Dennis Haysbert), Josephus Daniels (John Goodman), Conrad Pearson (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Booker T. Spicely (Anthony Mackey), Herman Lee Council (Brad Garrett), and Louis Austin’s father, William Austin (Morgan Freeman).
Learn more about Louis Austin and the Carolina Times at The University of North Carolina Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Louis Austin and the Carolina Times.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 16, 2018

Matthew Restall's "When Montezuma Met Cortés"

Matthew Restall is Sparks Professor of History and Director of Latin American Studies at Penn State. He is the author of Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. He has had numerous conversations over the last thirty years with screenwriters and filmmakers in the US and Mexico interested in making a feature film, mini-series, or documentary on the Conquest of Mexico.

The challenges they faced are similar to those Restall considers here, as he dreamcasts an adaptation of his latest book, When Montezuma Met Cortes: The True Story of the Meeting that Changed History.
It would seem simple to cast three central characters in the epic tale of the Spanish invasion of the Aztec Empire: Benicio del Toro playing Hernando Cortés as a ruggedly handsome, fascinatingly flawed hero; one of the current Latina rising stars, like Ana de la Reguera (already a telenovela star in the Spanish-speaking world) to play Malinche, Cortés’s native interpreter and lover; and a Native American actor like Zahn McClarnon or Raoul Max Trujillo to play a brooding, doomed Emperor Montezuma.

But it is not that simple. Such a casting reflects the racist romanticism of the traditional narrative, in which Montezuma surrenders his empire and Malinche her heart to an irresistible Cortés—a metaphor for the providential inevitability of Spanish triumph. Such a movie might have worked in the mid-20th century, but today it would seem absurdly and offensively outdated. The reality of the co-called Conquest of Mexico was a brutal war of invasion, marked by massacres, mass enslavement, and horrific mortality rates among combatants and civilians. The true tale was dark, not romantic.

Cortés should thus be played by an actor who can foreground his flaws and insecurities (if it must be a star, Gael García Bernal or Diego Luna); in fact, the conquistadors should be an ensemble cast, with Alvarado, Sandoval, and several others given equal screen time (so, ideally, García Bernal and Luna). Malinche was a child of 12 or 13 when conquistadors acquired her as part of a grim trade in sex slaves; it would be a travesty to cast an adult star, especially a “hot” one, in the role. Both her and Montezuma should be played by native speakers of Nahuatl, as they should be speaking that language for most of their screen time. Trujillo spoke passable Yucatec Maya in Apocalypto (2006), so I’d enjoy seeing him manage Nahuatl as Montezuma or another of the Nahua protagonists, such as Ixtlilxochitl—an Aztec prince to whom I would give a central role, as he was more of an architect of Tenochtitlan’s fall than was Cortés.

In an endnote in When Montezuma Met Cortés, I speculate that one reason projected movies of the last thirty years on this topic were never made was because of the logistics and costs of re-creating and then destroying the Tenochtitlan of 1519. Advances in CGI now make that technically possible, but perhaps no less expensive. Two potential solutions that would also avoid the trap of the traditional narrative would be either to structure the movie as a Rashomon-style series of survivor perspectives (placing much of the movie in a more manageable post-Aztec early Mexico City, and reducing the screen time of the traditional big three characters), or to borrow the artifice used in También La Lluvia (2011), which was partly a film about making a film set in the Spanish Conquest era. In several scenes the actors playing actors debated the treatment of native peoples, permitting an airing of contrary perspectives that would be anachronistic in a movie set entirely in the 16th century. If When Montezuma Met Cortés were to be structured that way, García Bernal could reprise his También La Lluvia role as a Mexican film director, and Benicio del Toro could be deliberately miscast as Cortés.
Learn more about When Montezuma Met Cortés at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: When Montezuma Met Cortés.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Alma Katsu's "The Hunger"

Alma Katsu is the author of The Taker, The Reckoning, and The Descent. She is a graduate of the Master’s writing program at the Johns Hopkins University and received her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University. Prior to the publication of her first novel, Katsu had a long career as a senior intelligence analyst for several US agencies and is currently a senior analyst for a think tank.

Here Katsu dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Hunger:
It’s fun to play this game this time around because The Hunger, unlike my previous books, has already been optioned for film. And by none other than Ridley Scott. His son Luke Scott is going to direct, and they’re working on the script now for Fox. I still can’t get used to saying that. Still, whether it will actually be made into a movie one day is a long shot, or so I’ve been told, and so being a ruthless pragmatist I’ve refused to dwell on it. This is actually the first time I’ve let myself think about it!

The Hunger is an ensemble cast and with few exceptions, the characters are based on real people. One of the main characters is Tamsen Donner, wife of George Donner, feckless leader of the wagon party. I’ve portrayed Tamsen as a bewitchingly beautiful, intelligent woman who is tired of being subject to the whims of men—which, given the times, can only lead to trouble and frustration. In an earlier era, Vivian Leigh would be the perfect Tamsen, but among today’s actresses, Jessica Biel (The Illusionist) or Olivia Wilde would be good choices for their cool beauty.

Charles Stanton is the closest thing to a hero in the novel. A bachelor, he makes a long, treacherous journey through wilderness to get supplies when the wagon party first runs out of food. He returns even though he has no familial ties, nothing to compel him to come back. There are a lot of actors I could see in this role but I’ve picked Scott Eastwood (Suicide Squad). He looks like he could play someone haunted by a terrible incident in his past and, let’s face, given his lineage probably looks good in a cowboy hat.

I changed James Reed’s character for the book, giving him a fatal flaw that I’m sure he didn’t have in real life (and which I won’t reveal here so you’ll be surprised when you read it). An Irish immigrant who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, James Reed became the de facto leader when George Donner crumbled. This may seem like a funny choice, but I could see Joseph Morgan (The Vampire Diaries) in this role. A little devilish, a little cunning, and hiding a big secret.

Several women in the wagon party emerge as leaders once things start going badly, and Mary Graves is one of them. It would be a great role for any young actress. The only requirements are that she should be tall and have a sincerity to her.

It will be hard for the setting not to run away with the movie: the story of the Donner Party transpired over flat-out gorgeous territory, from the red rock spires of Chimney Rock in Wyoming to the desert of the Bonneville Salt Flats to the lush mountain greenery of the Lake Tahoe area. The actors will have to work hard not to be outshone by the scenery.

If the movie ever gets made, let’s make a date to check back and see how accurate my picks were.
Learn more about the book and author at Alma Katsu's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Taker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 12, 2018

Phillip Margolin's "The Third Victim"

Phillip Margolin has written over twenty novels, most of them New York Times bestsellers, including Gone But Not Forgotten, Lost Lake, and Violent Crimes. In addition to being a novelist, he was a long time criminal defense attorney with decades of trial experience, including a large number of capital cases. Margolin lives in Portland, Oregon.

His new novel is The Third Victim.

Here Margolin dreamcasts the leads for an adaptation of The Third Victim:
There are two major characters in The Third Victim. Robin Lockwood earned part of her tuition at Yale Law School fighting in mixed martial arts tournaments, so I need a very athletic, mid-twenty-year old in the part. Alicia Vikander from Ex Machina and the new Lara Crof movie would be perfect.

The other lead is Regina Barrister, a dynamic criminal defense attorney and Robin’s idol, who is experiencing the onset of dementia in the middle of a death penalty case. Sigourney Weaver would be excellent in the role.
Visit Phillip Margolin's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Woman with a Gun.

My Book, The Movie: Violent Crimes.

Writers Read: Phillip Margolin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 9, 2018

John Marrs's "The One"

John Marrs is a freelance journalist based in London, England, who has spent the last twenty years interviewing celebrities from the world of television, film and music for national newspapers and magazines. His novels include The Wronged Sons, Welcome To Wherever You Are, and, newly released in the US, The One.

Here Marrs dreamcasts an adaptation of The One:
The One is the story of five men and women who scientifically find their soul mates by being Matched by their DNA. That gives me five lead roles to fill. Growing up in the small working class town of Northampton, England, as a teenager I was obsessed with the escapism of watching American films, and in particular, anything starring the Brat Pack. The Breakfast Club, St Elmo’s Fire, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pretty In Pink … you name it, I’d have it recorded from it’s television broadcast and on to videotape.

So even though The One is set in the UK in the present day, I’m going to relocate my story to the US, choose five actors I grew up in awe of and retain them at the ages they were at the height of their fame.

One character that readers of The One are quite fascinated by is serial killer Christopher. He has made it his mission to murder 30 people one summer, however, he doesn’t count on falling in love in the middle bloody spree. Christopher is suave, handsome, educated, charming and women adore him. He has 1980s Rob Lowe’s name written all over him. And while I can’t quite recall seeing Rob clad in a black balaclava, brandishing cheesewire and murdering girls he’s been stalking in About Last Night or The Outsiders, there’s a first time for everything.

Character two is Nick. He’s a geeky good guy who’s about to marry his fiancée Sally. But when they take the DNA test, they discover he’s matched with a man. And when he tracks down his muscular, heterosexual supposed-soulmate Alex, so begins an awkward attraction. For their parts, I’m turning to The Breakfast Club and picking Anthony Michael Hall and Emilio Estevez. One’s a nerd, the other is a jock and I think they could play both the physical and mental awkwardness required absolutely perfectly.

Elsewhere, Mandy is in her early thirties and is looking for love. But after a failed marriage and watching her sisters find their Matches, she turns to science to locate her other half. Demi Moore is my pick to play her. Mandy has the joyous naivety of Demi’s character Debbie in About Last Night, and the potential to go off the rails like Jules in St Elmo’s Fire. And at the risk of giving a little of the plot away, she has much in common with Molly in 1990s Ghost.

Next up is Jade – a feisty, gutsy girl whose Match lives on the other side of the world. She takes the bull by the horns and surprises him with a visit – only she learns he’s been lying to her about something pretty huge. Molly Ringwald is my choice here. Anyone who has seen her in just about anything she did on film in the 1980s will know she can play spirited, scrappy, fiery and vulnerable at the drop of a hat.

Finally, there’s Ellie. She’s a strong, work-obsessed woman who runs her own multi-million pound business empire and is shocked to discover she has been Matched with Tim, her complete opposite. He’s a happy-go-lucky, fun kind of guy with little ambition. For this coupling, I’m going to cast Winona Ryder and Christian Slater circa 1989’s Heathers. While Winona’s Veronica wasn’t sassy or gutsy to begin with, by the end, there’s no doubt who was in charge. And as Tim isn’t quite who we think he is, Christian and his ability to out-side eye any of his co-stars off the screen is the perfect way to complete my retro casting.
Learn more about The One, visit John Marrs's website, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Writers Read: John Marrs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

James Garbarino's "Miller’s Children"

James Garbarino holds the Maude C. Clarke Chair in Humanistic Psychology and is Senior Faculty Fellow with the Center for the Human Rights of Children at Loyola University Chicago. He has served as an adviser to the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, the National Institute for Mental Health, the American Medical Association, the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, and the FBI. He is the author of Listening to Killers: Lessons Learned from My Twenty Years as a Psychological Expert Witness in Murder Cases and Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them.

Here Garbarino dreamcasts an adaptation of his latest book, Miller's Children: Why Giving Teenage Killers a Second Chance Matters for All of Us:
Were there to be a movie made of Miller’s Children, I would want the Director to be Martin Scorsese because he is expert at wrestling with the dark and the light of important human issues. I would want Liam Neeson to play my role, because he is not “flashy,” but rather “deep.” Here is the pitch:

The movie opens to a courtroom in 1998. A judge asks the defendant—a 17 year old boy named Mark who murdered “the girl next door” to rise, and then pronounces sentence: “The law in your case requires a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.” Teenage Mark is led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

Flash forward to 2018, in an interview room of a prison. Now 48, Mark sits across the table from Liam Neeson, the psychologist who has been asked to help the Court engage in a re-sentencing hearing as the result of a U S Supreme Court ruling that declared mandatory life without possibility of parole for teenagers who commit murder to be unconstitutional. It is up to the judge to impose a new sentence on Mark, a sentence that could range from 20 years (which would mean that Mark would walk free for “time served”) to life without possibility of parole.

Mark and Liam review the life Mark led up to the day he committed the crime for which he has spent more than half his life behind bars—the trauma, the rejection, the rage that propelled him to commit the crime and to be a disruptive and sometimes violent inmate for the first decade of his incarceration—but do not stop there. They talk about how Mark’s life changed when he reached his mid-20s (and his brain matured), how he begun to educate himself through a program of reading, how he began a serious spiritual practice of meditation and prayer, how he became a mentor to younger inmates, and how he participated in a wide range of programs—everything from anger management to substance abuse prevention, from getting his GED to becoming certified as a law clerk. Mark talks about his remorse for what he did and who he was then, and how he appreciates life in a new way now. At the end of the interview the two men embrace to celebrate the progress Mark has made towards leaving the world of darkness and joining the community of light.
Learn more about Miller's Children at the University of California Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Listening to Killers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 5, 2018

Anthony Grooms's "The Vain Conversation"

Anthony Grooms is the author of Bombingham: A Novel and Trouble No More: Stories, both winners of the Lillian Smith Book Award for fiction. Born in Charlottesville, Virginia, he has taught writing and American literature at universities in Ghana and Sweden and, since 1994, at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.

Here Grooms dreamcasts an adaptation of his new novel, The Vain Conversation:
Unlike my previous novel, Bombingham, I haven’t thought much about The Vain Conversation in cinematic terms. Though there is plenty of drama in the story, I see it largely in lyrical terms. There are three main characters, two of whom we see during a wide expanse of time. So for young Lonnie Henson, the novel’s protagonist, who at age 10 witnesses a lynching, I would need a child actor who can portray innocence corrupted, someone with dark undertones. River Phoenix comes to mind, but of course he is no longer with us. But I think Hunter McCraken (The Tree of Life) is a subtle enough actor to pull it off. As Lonnie in his thirties, I would look to Garrett Hedlund who played a restive WWII vet in Mudbound, and I would choose Jason Mitchell, who also played a vet in Mudbound for the role of Bertrand Johnson.

My character Bertrand, a black WWII vet like the Mitchell character, is looking for a fresh start in the Jim Crow South. Paul Bettany has the look of the reclusive planter Noland Jacks as a younger man; but I think Gary Oldman should play him as an old man.

I would want someone with the intensity of Viola Davis to play Luellen, Bertrand’s wife—though Oprah could play her because Oprah can play any role she wants in my book!

As for a director, I admire Raoul Peck, who is the current Haitian minister of culture. His film about the Rwandan genocide, Sometimes in April, was absolute genius. I think few can take on excessive and brutal violence and portray it in a matter that keeps it sickening and yet necessary to the plot. I also liked his film on one of my writer heroes, James Baldwin, called I Am Not Your Negro.
Visit Anthony Grooms's website.

Writers Read: Anthony Grooms.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 2, 2018

Shoba Narayan's "The Milk Lady of Bangalore"

Shoba Narayan is an award-winning author and columnist. Her books include Return to India: an immigrant memoir, Monsoon Diary: a memoir with recipes, and the newly released The Milk Lady of Bangalore: An Unexpected Adventure.

Narayan graduated from the Columbia Journalism School which awarded her a Pulitzer Fellowship; and is an alumnus of Mount Holyoke College and Women’s Christian College.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of The Milk Lady of Bangalore:
The hardest part about making my book into a movie is to figure out who will play the main character, which is the cow, Anandalakshmi. We have had dogs act in movies, but not necessarily cows. For this reason, my book will have to be an animated movie. I would love the voice of my cow to be emoted by either Whoopi Goldberg or Chris Rock, preferably both because who is to say that cows have to follow our human protocol and have just a single-gender voice.

My Milk Lady, Sarala, can only be played by an Indian actress and for that I would choose Shabana Azmi, whose aura and work I love. In the film, Morning Raga, she transformed herself into a conservative South Indian aunty. I bet she’d have fun transforming herself into a milk woman.

As for who would play me, a girl can dream, can’t she? I love Isabella Rossellini and would love to see her morph into a middle-aged cranky Indian woman. The other actress I adore is Priyanka Chopra. Watch her in the film, Barfi, to see how she turns into a totally non-glamorous woman-- and what a killer performance.
Visit Shoba Narayan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue