Sunday, March 31, 2013

Margarita Engle's "The Lightning Dreamer"

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American winner of the first Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino. Her award winning young adult novels in verse include The Surrender Tree, The Poet Slave of Cuba, Tropical Secrets, and The Firefly Letters.

Here Engle dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest novel, The Lightning Dreamer, Cuba's Greatest Abolitionist:
As a Cuban-American poet, I love writing novels in verse about the island’s history. I feel most inspired when I am writing about someone who was far ahead of his/her own time, yet has been forgotten by history. My newest book is a biographical novel in verse about Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, one of the world’s earliest feminist/abolitionist writers. Celebrated during her lifetime, she is now practically unknown outside of Cuba, and deserves to be re-discovered. Unlike male abolitionists in Latin America, Avellaneda--also known by her childhood nickname, Tula--paired her pro-emancipation stance with a daring campaign against arranged marriage, which she viewed as the marketing of teenage girls.

Tula’s real life was as dramatic as her works of fiction. After refusing an arranged marriage, the young author was sent to a country estate as punishment for hysteria. There, she met the real people who inspired her interracial romance novel, Sab, which was published eleven years before Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and was far more influential in Europe.

For a movie version of The Lightning Dreamer, I would choose America Ferrera to play the role of Tula, who was intelligent, emotional, and bold. Writing in defiance of the wishes of her strict mother, she had to destroy her early poems and plays, yet she still managed to create and direct a theater for orphans.

I hope that diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba are soon restored, so that Hollywood can film The Lightning Dreamer in an authentic setting. In the event of continued political intransigence, the Dominican Republic would be my second choice. March would be the perfect release date, since Tula’s life story is such a meaningful addition to the literature of Women’s History Month.
Learn more about the book and author at Margarita Engle's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Margarita Engle & Maggi and Chance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 30, 2013

James Conaway's "Nose"

James Conaway is a former Wallace Stegner writing fellow at Stanford University and an Alicia Patterson journalism fellow, and the author of three novels, The Big Easy, World’s End, and the newly-released Nose.

About Nose:
In a gorgeous wine valley in northern California, the economic downturn has put a number of dreams on hold. But not so for wine critic Clyde Craven-Jones, a man whose ego nearly surpasses his substantial girth. During a routine tasting in advance of his eponymous publication’s new issue, he blindly samples a selection of Cabernets. To his confounded delight, he discovers one bottle worthy of his highest score (a 20, on the Craven-Jones-on- Wine scale), an accolade he’s never before awarded.

But the bottle has no origin, no one seems to know how it appeared on his doorstep—and that's a problem for a critic who’s supposed to know everything. An investigation into the mystery Cabernet commences, led by the Clyde’s wife, Claire....
Here Conaway shares his choices for the leads in an adaptation of the new novel:
When Nose is made into a film I'd like to see Alec Baldwin as Craven-Jones (if he can master an English accent) and Scarlett Johansson as his wife, who's both smart and hot.
Learn more about the book and author at James Conaway's blog.

Writers Read: James Conaway.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 28, 2013

D. A. Mishani's "The Missing File"

D. A. Mishani is an Israeli crime writer, editor and literary scholar, specializing in the history of detective fiction.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of The Missing File, his first novel and the first in a series featuring the police inspector Avraham Avraham:
The setting of The Missing File is my Israeli home town, Holon, but it was written far away from there. I wrote my first detective novel, in which a teenage boy goes missing, in a small peaceful village in England during a long and very cold winter. And I think it was that cold weather, unfamiliar to an Israeli used to short warm winters, which made me look in Iceland, of all places, for the right music to listen to while writing.

That's how I discovered two musicians – young Cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir and composer and pianist Ólafur Arnalds. Their albums were the soundtrack of writing The Missing File and the first fantasy of how "The Missing File: the movie" would look like, or to be exact, would sound.

Their music is haunting. Guðnadóttir's cello is emerging from depth, as if from dark forests, and leaves you with an unsettling sense of fear, exactly like good crime novels do. Arnalds's piano is just as haunting, full of sadness and hope, as if reminiscent of a better world that once existed.

This was the first thing I knew (or imagined) about the adaptation of The Missing File. It should open with Arnald's "Lost Song", which would accompany my detective, Inspector Avraham Avraham's search for the missing boy, and would end with Guðnadóttir's "Unveiled", which erupts like a cry with the movie's last scenes, as the solution of the investigation is revealed.

The fact that my fantasy of the cinematic adaptation of the novel starts with the soundtrack is not coincidental. Although books fill my life in many ways - I not only write but also teach literature – I always thought cinema's advantage over the novel wasn't the moving true-image (a good novel can be just as descriptive) but the use of music.

Since one of my favorite cinematic moments is the final scene of David Fincher's Fight Club - the couple (Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter) hold hands while the whole world collapses to the sound of the Pixies singing "Where is my mind?" - I thought Fincher would be the perfect director for my novel, which also ends with a new couple facing a tragedy (Fincher also directed a great realistic thriller – Zodiac - and lately The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). But what about Martin Scorsese, my favorite American film-maker, who brilliantly adopted Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island? One of the characters in my novel, a strange schoolteacher who tries to tell the police something about the missing boy and gradually becomes a suspect, was influenced by a character in a Scorsese movie: Rupert Pupkin, the protagonist of his The King of Comedy, played by Robert De Niro. Only later on, after the book was finished, I saw Martha Marcy May Marlene by Sean Durkin, and thought he would also be a perfect director for the film. I felt that just as I tried to do, he created a thriller that emerges from the deepest mystery, that of the human soul.

And who could be my protagonist, Inspector Avraham? There's a small scene in Clint Eastwood's Absolute Power that I like very much. It's a wonderful investigation scene: it takes place in an art museum, of all places, and both the investigator (Ed Harris) and the suspect (Eastwood) are enjoying themselves, clearly fond of each other. I can see Ed Harris doing Inspector Avraham – his sensitivity and wisdom are manifest in his eyes and smile, his passion to know the truth. When I come to think about it, maybe it's even the other way around and my Inspector Avraham is doing Ed Harris in the novel?
Learn more about the book and author at D. A. Mishani's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Margaux Froley's "Escape Theory"

Margaux Froley grew up in Santa Barbara, California, and attended not one, but two boarding schools during her high school years in California and Oxford, England. She studied film at University of Southern California, and has worked for such television networks as: TLC, CMT, Travel, MTV, and the CW. She currently lives in Los Angeles and still loves Nutter Butters.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of Escape Theory, her first novel:
I always imagined Escape Theory as a TV show while I wrote it. Since that's more of my background, that's where my head goes more easily. The first five chapters or so of the book would be almost the pilot episode, with a few adjustments along the way. While I was writing the early drafts of Escape Theory, The Killing was in its first season on AMC, so tonally I was heavily influenced by The Killing. In terms of actors, I imagined people like Dave Franco as Hutch and Lily Collins as Devon our main character. But, in world of having a darker more grounded TV show, I would happily take the everyman version of both Dave Franco and Lily Collins. Someone relatable that's maybe not quite as stunningly beautiful as those two. Directors? I actually ran into a director the other day and didn't quite realize until later how perfect he would be. It was Roger Kumble who wrote and directed Cruel Intentions. While the YA audience these days might not have grown up on Cruel Intentions like I did, that sinister noir while still being sexy vibe that Kumble achieved in Cruel Intentions would be a great fit for Escape Theory. I'm still kicking myself for not talking to him more, but hey, maybe Roger Kumble will read this and we can make the thesis of your blog come true?
Learn more about the book and author at Margaux Froley's website.

The Page 69 Test: Escape Theory.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 25, 2013

Jeanine Cummins's "The Crooked Branch"

Jeanine Cummins is the author of A Rip in Heaven: A Memoir of Murder and Its Aftermath, published in 2004 and a surprise bestseller. The Outside Boy, published in 2010, was her first novel.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Crooked Branch:
When my memoir, A Rip in Heaven, came out in 2004, the publication generated a lot of film-rights interest , but I didn’t feel comfortable selling the movie option. I have no such qualms about my new novel, The Crooked Branch. I would love to see a film adaptation of this book. Here is my dream cast:

Majella – this is the contemporary female lead. Majella is a feisty, successful, thoroughly modern woman, who is struggling to find her way after the birth of her first daughter. Majella has a dark sense of humor and a potty-mouth, which are not the most agreeable characteristics for a new mama with a tiny, helpless, adorable little baby. So I think her character has to be played by someone who is incredibly likable no matter what, like Jennifer Garner, who, as far as I can tell, can do no wrong.

Ginny – this character is Majella’s ancestor, who is living during the famine years of the 1840s in western Ireland. I think it’s important for this woman to be played by an Irish actress. Ginny’s character is pretty naturally sympathetic, given her dire circumstances, and the impossible choices she faces, in trying to keep her children alive during the worst years of the potato famine. The part of Ginny should be played by someone who can perform acrobatics of nuance without evening opening her mouth. Someone like Olivia Wilde.

Supporting cast – I’d like to see Kathy Bates play Majella’s mother because she is both hilarious and incredibly talented, and she could deftly handle both the comic and serious sides of that complex mama character. I would like the therapist, Dr. Zimmer, to be played by Janeane Garofalo because she is New York. I would like Leo (Majella’s husband) to be played by Edward Norton, and the historic Irish male part, Seán, to be played by Cillian Murphy, because my strong female leads deserve only the best supporting eye candy. The part of baby Emma should be played by some very cute baby who screams a lot.
Learn more about the book and author at Jeanine Cummins's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Crooked Branch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Tanis Rideout's "Above All Things"

Tanis Rideout’s work has appeared in numerous publications and has been shortlisted for several prizes, including the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award and the CBC Literary Awards. Born in Belgium, she grew up in Bermuda and in Kingston, Ontario, and now lives in Toronto.

Here she dreamcasts an adaptation of Above All Things, her first novel:
I totally admit to casting characters in my head while I’m writing them – it’s part fantasy, part useful characterization, part easier to do than actually writing.

Above All Things was so long in the writing process that my imaginary movie version has had to be recast at least once. So, who would I imagine in the roles? Who should write it? Direct it? Where to even begin?

Let’s start with the writing – without a decent script you can’t have a good movie. You can have a great script and still a terrible film, but I don’t think it can ever go the other way, so... I’d take a jab at the first draft, alongside my husband, who actually is a screenwriter, just to try my hand at it. And then I’d happily pass it to Alex Garland. I like Garland a lot – both as a novelist and screenwriter. He certainly knows how to ratchet up the tension – but is also great with quiet intimacy. There’s something about the tone of Never Let Me Go – that I think would suit Ruth’s sections of the story particularly well.

So – clearly we’ve got a great script – which means it’s easier to get a fantastic director. I’d love to see what Danny Boyle would do with Above All Things. Boyle’s a master at the hallucinogenic and using light and shadow that I’d love to see his version of the oxygen deprived climbers high on Everest.

The role of George Mallory has already resulted in some fierce debates at book clubs I’ve attended and if you believe the Hollywood hype machine Tom Hardy’s already been cast as George in the Jeffrey Archer take on this story. But my money for an ideal Mallory is on Michael Fassbender. He’s a spectacular actor and also has the physicality that would work for George – all sharp angles and long limbs.

And for the love of his life, Ruth – I imagine Carey Mulligan. There’s something about the softness of her face that seems to be right for Ruth. She’s probably a little young right now, but these things take a while to get off the ground. By the time we’ve got a green light she’ll be perfect.

Ever since watching The Social Network I’ve known that Armie Hammer would make a terrific Sandy Irvine. Physically his Winklevoss twins were the spitting image of him – blonde, athletic rowers. Can he do an accent? Well, let’s hope so! If not there’s always Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens.

On Ruth’s side of the story there are only a couple more characters I can imagine casting. For Will, Ruth’s support and friend I can see someone like James D’Arcy – good looking, charming, seemingly rock solid. And for Hinks – the bullying head of the Mt. Everest Committee – Geoffrey Rush could no doubt craft a wonderfully unappealing version.

So all that’s left is a few more of the expedition members. Teddy Norton the head of the expedition could be played brilliantly by Ralph Fiennes – who truth be told was my choice for George back before I was even writing a book, followed for a while by Jude Law. And maybe to round out the team – Dominic West as the occasionally antagonising Noel Odell and David Thewlis as Howard Somervell.

I’d go see that movie! Even if it wasn’t based on my book.
Learn more about the book and author at Tanis Rideout's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 22, 2013

Megan Marshall's "Margaret Fuller: A New American Life"

Megan Marshall's first biography, The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism, won the Francis Parkman Prize, the Mark Lynton History Prize, the Massachusetts Book Award in Nonfiction, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography and memoir. Marshall spent twenty years researching and writing the book, traveling to archives in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Virginia, Ohio, California, and Washington, D.C., and finding answers to longstanding mysteries in the Peabody and Hawthorne families.

Here Marshall shares some ideas for casting an adaptation of her second biography, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life:
Margaret Fuller was born thirty years before the invention of photography, but she lived the most cinematic of lives. An intellectual prodigy and brilliant conversationalist, she talked her way into the genius cluster centered around Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau in mid-nineteenth-century New England. But the life of the mind wasn’t enough for her. At thirty-five she took a job as front-page columnist for Horace Greeley’s New-York Tribune. The only woman in the newsroom, she sought out the seamy side of the great metropolis, visiting its prisons, mental asylums, and orphanages, interviewing prostitutes, Irish immigrants, and the insane, and made these characters the centerpiece of her passionate advocacy journalism.

After two years in New York, she persuaded Greeley to send her to Europe as a foreign correspondent, reaching France and Italy during the 1848 revolutions, where she befriended all the important radicals of the time. She was the lone American journalist in Rome during the brutal 1849 siege, and she tended the wounded revolutionaries as a hospital nurse while carrying on an affair with a young soldier who became the father of her son, conceived out of wedlock and born in secret in a hill town outside of Rome. When the short-lived Roman Republic collapsed, the three sailed for America only to be drowned in a shipwreck 300 yards offshore at Fire Island in a near-hurricane. Margaret and her lover’s bodies were never found; two-year-old Nino washed to shore where the few surviving sailors buried him in a trunk in the sands.

These brilliant lives deserve a brilliant, slightly eccentric cast. Rebecca Hall would make a perfect Margaret–not a classic beauty, but luminous, wry, infinitely captivating. Her young lover: Emile Hirsch. The emotionally guarded Ralph Waldo Emerson, a man of vision and orphic pronouncements: Jon Hamm. Giusseppi Mazzini, the ascetic Italian soldier-intellectual who led the revolution and relied on Margaret to promote his cause in the American press: Adrien Brody. And Adam Mickiewicz, the sybaritic Polish poet-in-exile who tempted Margaret to fulfill her earthly passions: Javier Bardem.

In Europe Margaret had two significant older female mentors–the brilliant French novelist (and Chopin’s lover) George Sand, a charismatic woman who liked to wear men’s suits: Meryl Streep; and the refined radical, Princess Belgioioso of Rome, who appointed Margaret to run the ancient hospital on the Tiber Island during the siege: Helen Mirren.

“The scrolls of the past burn my fingers still,” Margaret wrote of an intimate series of letters she’d exchanged with Emerson. The story is as hot today as it was in 1850, when the whole world mourned and was scandalized by Margaret Fuller.
Learn more about the book and author at Megan Marshall's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Peabody Sisters.

Writers Read: Megan Marshall (October 2007).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Linda Olsson's "The Memory of Love"

Linda Olsson was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1948. She graduated from the University of Stockholm with a law degree, and worked in law and finance until she left Sweden in 1986. What was intended as a three-year posting to Kenya then became a tour of the world with stops in Singapore, the U.K., and Japan, until she settled in New Zealand with her family in 1990. In 1993 she completed a bachelor of arts in English and German literature at Victoria University of Wellington. In 2003 she won the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Competition. Olsson's first novel Astrid & Veronika became an international success, selling hundreds of thousands of copies in Scandinavia, Europe and the United States. It was followed by the heartbreaking and moving Sonata for Miriam.

Here Olsson dreamcasts an adaptation of her latest novel, The Memory of Love:
Because I write in English, rather than my native Swedish, I often get the question: When you write, do you think in English or in Swedish? I always reply that I don’t think in words, I think in pictures. Now, as two of my novels are under option to be made into films, it is a little like waiting for the re-make: I have already seen the original.

The Memory of Love was written here in New Zealand where I have lived for over twenty years. I have not severed the links with my native country, though, and it returns in my books, too. In The Memory of Love, one of the two main characters, Marion, was born in Åland, a cluster of islands in the Baltic, now a province of Finland. Like my character, I have fond memories of childhood summers there. Marion moves to Stockholm, where I was born and lived for almost forty years, and then on to London where I came to live for a few years in the late 80’s. And, just like me, she ends up in New Zealand. But unlike me, Marion settles in a remote, desolate place on the west coast. So, place is a central part of the casting of my film, in fact I think it is one of the main characters.

Marion is a woman without proper roots. She is insular and comes across as self-contained, I think. But she carries a weighty emotional burden. The little boy she encounters one day, Ika, is in many ways similar to Marion, shy and introvert, with poor social skills. But unlike Marion, he dares to reach out. When he physically throws himself in Marion’s way one day, his act comes to trigger an emotional journey for both of them.

In the background, there is George, a man whose life has been put on hold since the death of his wife. It is when he, too, gets pulled into Marion’s and Ika’s world that his life finally stirs again.

Here is my dream casting for the film based on The Memory of Love:

Marion -- Lena Endre

Swedish actress who projects the integrity and strength of character required for the part.

Ika -- Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu

Just how I saw Ika in my mind – shy and vulnerable, yet with an unbeatable inner strength. We may have to hurry up to get this film made, though, or he will be too old for the part.

George -- Harvey Keitel

One of my absolute favourite actors. I would like to see him in a part like this – requiring subtle acting and a measure of restraint. Oh, and I would really like to meet him!

With a cast like this, I think success is a given.
Learn more about the book and author at Linda Olsson's website.

The Page 69 Test: Sonata for Miriam.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Glenn Frankel’s "The Searchers"

Glenn Frankel is director of the School of Journalism and G.B. Dealey Regents Professor in Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He was a longtime Washington Post reporter, editor and bureau chief in Jerusalem, London and Southern Africa, and he won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for “balanced and sensitive reporting” of Israel and the first Palestinian uprising. He also served as editor of the Washington Post Magazine, deputy national news editor and Richmond, Va., bureau chief. His first book, Beyond the Promised Land: Jews and Arabs on the Hard Road to a New Israel, won the National Jewish Book Award. His second, Rivonia’s Children: Three Families and the Cost of Conscience in White South Africa, was a finalist for the Alan Paton Award, South Africa’s most prestigious literary prize.

Here Frankel shares some ideas for adapting his new book, The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, for the big screen:
My book has an unusual issue when it comes to casting: it’s a non-fiction book about a classic movie, so it’s been cast once already. Truth is, unlike True Grit or 3:10 to Yuma, no one’s ever had the nerve or foolhardiness to try to remake The Searchers. For many cinephiles, it’d be as sacrilegious as rewriting the Bible. The one time anyone tried to remake a John Ford Western, a woebegotten version of Stagecoach, the tragic results merely proved the point.

Still, since we’re having fun--and no Hollywood studio would ever take us seriously--it’s worth a discussion. John Wayne gives one of the most towering performances in the history of cinema as Ethan Edwards, the avenging uncle seeking to reclaim his niece Debbie from the Comanches who abducted her. Ethan is a force of nature--charismatic yet capable of murder. He doesn’t plan to restore his niece to their shattered family, but to kill her because she has grown into a young woman and has been polluted by marrying a Comanche. The actor must make us identify with Ethan yet at the same time reject his hatred.

A number of actors wanted the Wayne role, most notably Kirk Douglas, who lobbied John Ford for the part and certainly would have brought a manic intensity to it. Among modern actors, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Costner and Tom Hanks all have the gravitas, but none of them quite bring the anger. Harrison Ford comes closer (see Cowboys and Aliens). An actor who has all of these qualities in abundance is Denzel Washington. He can play hard and soft in the same character. And what about Brad Pitt? John Wayne was 48 when he took the role, roughly the same age Pitt is now.

The other searcher, Martin Pauley, is a callow youth when the movie begins who grows into the moral center of the quest. On the surface this is an easier part, but the actor has to be able to hold his own against the Wayne character. Jeffrey Hunter did his best in the original--his performance has a rugged realism and aggressive quality that endures despite some flaws. Still, in recent years I’ve wondered if Montgomery Clift, who fought Wayne to a draw in the classic western Red River (1948), would have brought more subtlety to the role.

Fess Parker and Robert Wagner each wanted the part (thank heavens, neither of them got it).

I find it hard to imagine a modern young actor who could handle it. Ryan Gosling’s a bit too old. Taylor Kitsch has the dark features and can play young (see Tim Riggins of Friday Night Lights). But since Martin represents the feminine side that seeks to restore Debbie to her family, why not go all the way in the 2013 version and cast a woman? Jennifer Lawrence would be a natural. The only problem would be in convincing Ethan to take her along on the quest.

As for director, no one alive would be foolish enough to take John Ford’s chair. But my vote would go to Martin Scorsese, who’s already made Taxi Driver, the modern, urban version of The Searchers. He’s got the talent and reverence for the original needed to pull off this impossible remake.
Learn more about the book and author at Glenn Frankel's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 18, 2013

Lisa Black's "Blunt Impact"

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland 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’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department. Her books have been translated into six languages. Evidence of Murder reached the New York Times mass market bestseller’s list.

Blunt Impact, Black's latest novel featuring forensic scientist Theresa MacLean, debuts on April 1st. Here the author dreamcasts an adaptation of the novel:
Blunt Impact is the 5th in the Theresa MacLean series, and my opinion on casting my main character has not changed: Julianne Moore. Her aura of intelligence, common sense and modesty would bring Theresa to life. And I’m sure she can take dangling from the 31st floor of a skyscraper under construction since she handled dangling over a cliff so well in the second Jurassic Park movie. As for Theresa’s first cousin, homicide detective Frank Patrick, my thoughts sometimes waver. I’d love Bruce McGill if he were 10 years younger. Thomas Kretschman, if he could do an American accent. Ooohh—Tim DeKay of White Collar. He’d be perfect. Or perhaps Nicholas Bishop of Body of Proof, for that ‘basically a good guy but you know he has some issues that will eventually crop up’ vibe.

And lush but sensible Valerie Cruz as his partner Angela Sanchez.

But the fun of casting Blunt Impact would be in the guest stars. For the first time I had a child in the story: fearless, irrepressible but shockingly vulnerable eleven-year-old Anna, nicknamed Ghost. As the story begins Ghost witnesses the murder of her mother, a hot young construction worker (picture one of the GoDaddy girls). Ghost has made a habit of roaming the inner city in the wee hours, looking for the father whose identity has never been revealed to her. I would love the best child actress ever, Dakota Fanning, but at eighteen she’s far too old for the role, so I would ask for younger sister, Elle. She’s three years older than my character, but so talented.

Construction manager Chris will have to be played by his namesake, Chris Bauer, with whom I fell completely in love as he played the doomed union leader in season two of The Wire.

But my favorite character is homely but intelligent prosecutor Ian Bauer. (I poach names, yes.) Ian has spent a lifetime ignored or outright avoided by the opposite sex, but he senses in Theresa an ability to see past the surface. I wrote the character after falling in love (I tend to do that a lot, yes) with Zeljko Ivanek on the first season of Damages. He played the defense lawyer for the scumbag rich guy, and yet seemed to be the only character in the series who possessed an actual soul. It was a meaty role for him after playing largely psychos or sad sacks (and the loyal representative from Pennsylvania in the HBO miniseries John Adams).

Now if Hollywood would only call….
Learn more about the book and author at Lisa Black's website.

Black's previous Theresa MacLean novels include Trail of Blood and Defensive Wounds.

My Book, The Movie: Trail of Blood.

The Page 69 Test: Trail of Blood.

Writers Read: Lisa Black (September 2010).

My Book, The Movie: Defensive Wounds.

The Page 69 Test: Defensive Wounds.

Writers Read: Lisa Black (October 2011).

Writers Read: Lisa Black.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Annapurna Potluri's "The Grammarian"

Annapurna Potluri was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and moved to New York to attend New York University where she studied comparative literature and linguistics and went on to earn an MPhil in theoretical linguistics from Cambridge University. She has lived in Italy and India and is currently working at the South Asia Institute at Columbia University.

Here Potluri dreamcasts an adaptation of her debut novel, The Grammarian:
I’ve been told The Grammarian is a very visual novel and would lend itself very easily to film. I’m a visually oriented person, and place and time settings are very important to me, so that makes perfect sense. I have a very strong sense of what Alexandre looks like in my mind, and that image doesn’t align itself perfectly with any actor I can think of, but one of my dad’s friends mentioned Jean Dujardin. I could certainly see that working. I saw Jonny Lee Miller in an adaptation of Emma, in which he played Mr. Knightly, which seemed like odd casting to me, but he pulls it off beautifully and has very emotive eyes, which do much of the heavy lifting for him. In the many fantasied world in which The Grammarian was made into a movie, and also attracted actors of that caliber and I had that much say over casting, those two would definitely be among my top choices.

As for Anjali, I have no idea. Most Indian actresses are very conventionally beautiful, which, aside from being a bit uninteresting, is also just not right for Anjali. She has to be a bit plain.
Learn more about the book and author at Annapurna Potluri's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 15, 2013

Becky Masterman's "Rage Against the Dying"

Becky Masterman is the acquisitions editor for a press specializing in medical textbooks for forensic examiners and law enforcement. She grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and received her MA in creative writing from Florida Atlantic University. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband.

Here Masterman shares some ideas for casting the lead in an adaptation of Rage Against the Dying, her first thriller:
I got the idea for her when I saw the first model with gray hair in a clothing catalog. Brigid Quinn, the heroine of Rage Against the Dying, is fifty-nine years old, and prematurely white from her days as an undercover FBI agent. She wears that hair in a long ponytail, flaunting it, maybe as kind of a badge of honor. She's a small woman, but physically vibrant, and hides her heart with a tough, earthy style and acerbic wit. These days she's trying to fit into newly-married life in Tucson and prevent her book club from discovering she can still kill a man with her bare hands. Publishers Weekly compared her to Clarice Starling, so Jodie Foster is the obvious choice to play her, but she may be too young. With our glorification of youth, who ever thought we'd reach a time where actresses might be too young for a good role? No, the best advice I would give a casting director is that she needs to find a cross between Bruce Willis and Sarah Jessica Parker. Although Steven Seagal does have that ponytail. . .but he may lack the comedic timing.
Learn more about Rage Against the Dying at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Stephan Talty's "Black Irish"

In Black Irish, Stephan Talty's debut thriller, "a brilliant homicide detective returns home, where she confronts a city’s dark demons and her own past while pursuing a brutal serial killer on a vengeful rampage. Absalom 'Abbie' Kearney grew up an outsider in her own hometown. Even being the adopted daughter of a revered cop couldn’t keep Abbie’s troubled past from making her a misfit in the working-class Irish American enclave of South Buffalo. And now, despite a Harvard degree and a police detective’s badge, she still struggles to earn the respect and trust of those she’s sworn to protect. But all that may change, once the killing starts."

Here Talty dreamcasts an adaptation of Black Irish:
Casting a film of Black Irish would actually be strange for me. I don't see a face when I picture Abbie, I only think of a mood. Restlessness, pugnacity, and a desire for something that's always out of reach. That's how I think of Abbie, as always being in this permanent state of searching and getting desperate when she doesn't find what it is she wants. I would imagine that's a fairly common description of people who never knew their own parents. Abbie is an orphan and an exile and that's what drives her.

I think Jennifer Lawrence would be super. There's one scene in Silver Linings Playbook where she's standing behind a door listening to Bradley Cooper talk about her, and the range of different kinds of pain and hope that flit across her face - well, that would be perfect for Abbie.

Her father? I wish I could say Morgan Freeman, because he's so damn good that he can tell a thousand-year-old story with his eyes alone, and he hasn't had a decent part in ages. But the actor has to be white, for obvious reasons, so I'd go with the British actor Jim Broadbent. I'd like to see him play a tough guy who's got secrets.

The killer couldn't be a pretty boy. I'd love for it to be an unknown, because the character has been in darkness, literally lived in darkness and solitude, his whole life. An unknown, a guy from my old neighborhood, who plays the role and is never seen again would be ideal. A real-life Boo Radley. And I know some guys back there who need the work.
Learn more about the book and author at Stephan Talty's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Robin Burcell's "The Black List"

Robin Burcell, an FBI-trained forensic artist, has worked in law enforcement for over two decades as a police officer, detective and hostage negotiator. The Black List is the latest installment in her series featuring Special Agent Sydney Fitzpatrick.

Here Burcell dreamcasts an adaptation of The Black List:
An interesting notion... When I start a novel, I don’t always give much thought about the men and women I’d cast, but the longer I’m working on a piece, the more I tend to have specific images in my head without even realizing it. In talking to readers, I find they have similar experiences with the characters as they delve into a book. But their images of actors they see in the roles don’t always match mine. They’ll tell me who they see as a certain character, and I nod and smile, telling them that’s a great idea, when the truth is that it’s not who I envisioned at all. Of course, once someone puts me on the spot, asking me whom I would cast, I discover it’s not that easy to turn my mind’s eye into something more concrete. (Anyone know a good sketch artist?)

The worst part of casting for me is that I really don’t retain names. (Really! Even names of people I’ve known for years. It’s a running joke at my house. I know faces, but that’s it.) Naturally I turned to the internet and started looking at photos of leading actors, whether TV or the big screen. It felt a bit like looking at mug shots for a police lineup. “Ma’am, is this who you saw?” Well… no. He’s too young, tall, thin-faced, eyes too close together, dark, light… and the list of faults goes on.

But occasionally I’ll run across a photo of someone and think, yes… that could be him. Or her. Of course I’d have to see them in action, hear them talk to know for sure. But based on photos alone, here’s who passed my mug shot test.

Special Agent Zachary Griffin is one of those rather quiet guys with a past that not everyone knows. He doesn’t share his feelings openly, but one thing I do know about him is that you don’t want to be on his bad side. Christian Bale, now that he’s aged up a bit, lost some of that prettiness, would make a standup Griffin.

Special Agent James “Tex” Dalton can deliver one liners with the best of them. Timothy Olyphant of Justified looks great in a cowboy hat and boots, which is what Tex prefers to wear. Of course, I’m torn. I think Olyphant would also make a great Griffin…

Special Agent Sydney Fitzpatrick: I have no idea… Jennifer Lawrence, who recently won an Oscar for Best Actress is a bit too young, but in a few years I could see her in the role. But I also like Alison Brie. Sydney isn’t one of those frou-frou pretty girls. She’s been around the block and knows how to take care of herself. And do not tell her she can’t do something. To her, that’s like a direct challenge.

Of course, ask me again in a month who I’d cast, and I’ll have changed my mind completely!
Learn more about the book and author at Robin Burcell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 11, 2013

Patricia Dunn's "Rebels by Accident"

Patricia Dunn was the managing editor of, America’s most popular Muslim online magazine from 2003-2008. She has an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College where she also teaches.

Here Dunn dreamcasts an adaptation of her young adult novel, Rebels by Accident:
Before the book was finished, I could imagine it on screen.

I gave a lot of thought to who would play the two main characters in by book. I think Summer Bishil would be wonderful as Mariam. She was in the movie Towelhead, about an Arab American girl who is dealing with, well, let’s just say, a lot.

Of course, she was the same age as my character is, when she did the movie in 2007 and now may be too old for the part, but I think she’s wonderful.

If I was given free rein, I would use the actress who plays Mariam in the book trailer. The first time I saw her was outside my publisher’s office. I looked at her and thought, “I know that girl.” I couldn’t figure out from where. By the time I got to my car, it hit me. “That’s Mariam.” She looked exactly like I had always pictured Mariam. I ran back to my publisher’s office and introduced myself and found out that was meeting my publisher to talk about the trailer. My publisher asked a friend of hers from the Sarah Lawrence College’s theater program if he had someone he thought would be good to do the trailer, and he sent over Arielle Strauss. She not only has the right look, but she is an amazing actress. She totally embodies Mariam’s sprit.

Jennette McCurdy, from iCarly, would be the perfect Deanna. Her dry sense of humor and her take-no-bull attitude is precisely Deanna. And just like her character on iCarly always has her best friend’s back, Deanna always has Mariam’s back.

The director I would choose for this film is Ang Lee. He does an incredible job of taking the written word, and bringing it to life on the screen. He finds a way to be true to the book, yet make great movies. That is an art.
Learn more about Rebels by Accident at Patricia Dunn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Gareth Crocker's "Journey from Darkness"

Gareth Crocker, a former journalist, lives with his wife and two children in Johannesburg, South Africa. He wrote Finding Jack, his first novel, in the company of his three dogs, Jill, Rusty and Jack.

Here the author shares some suggestions for the talent to carry his latest novel, Journey from Darkness, to the big screen:
In Journey from Darkness, I would love to see either Leonardo DiCaprio or Edward Norton in the lead role.

In terms of the bad guys, my first choice would be the brilliant Christoph Waltz. His ability to broadcast a sort of unspoken menace is almost without parallel.

In terms of directors, Frank Darabont (director of The Shawshank Redemption) would be my first choice.
Learn more about the book and author at Gareth Crocker's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Finding Jack.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Gareth Crocker & Jill, Hannah, Rusty and Jack.

The Page 69 Test: Journey from Darkness.

Writers Read: Gareth Crocker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 8, 2013

Phillip F. Schewe’s "Maverick Genius"

Phillip F. Schewe works at the Joint Quantum Institute, located at the University of Maryland. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Scientific American, The Humanist, American Scientist, Physics Today, and Physical Review Letters. He is also a playwright. His previous book, The Grid, a history of how society uses and loses electricity, was named by NPR as one of the science books of the year for 2007.

Schewe’s present book, Maverick Genius, tells the story of the life of Freeman Dyson, a protean scientist-essayist who helped to reinvent quantum science, to design a best-selling nuclear reactor model, to design a nuclear-powered rocket ship used by Stanley Kubrick (at least at first) as the model for the spaceship in 2001, to launch the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (“Dyson Spheres”), to craft the limited nuclear testban treaty of 1963, to keep tactical nuclear weapons out of Vietnam, to invent adaptive optics (now used on most large optical telescopes), to prove the chemical stability of matter, and to introduce field theory into condensed matter physics. Dyson has been a frequent writer for The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. He won the million dollar Templeton Prize for writing on religion and science.

Here Schewe dreamcasts an adaptation of Maverick Genius:
Most readers will form their own cinematic equivalent of a book--imaginatively casting actors and filming scenes in their mind’s eyes. Left to me, the casting for this book would look like this: For the boy Dyson the young Daniel Radcliffe is natural--worried, brave, searching. For the Dyson as a young-man, I’d go with a somewhat smaller version of Benedict Cumberbatch--penetrating gaze, Sherlock Holmes’ lightning calculation ability. For the elderly Dyson, Ian McKellen--wry, visionary as wise as Gandalf but without the beard.

The women in Dyson’s life include his aristocratic, prim mother--played here by Maggie Smith; his first wife, Verena Huber, is beautiful, brilliant, and intense--who else but Claire Danes (forty years ago it would have been Ava Gardner or Katherine Hepburn); and his second wife, Imme Jung, supportive, wholesome--Laura Linney or Tina Fey.

Dyson’s scientist colleagues are often famous in their own right, and make repeated appearances in the story of Dyson’s life. These include Robert Oppenheimer (Patrick Stewart, with his bony face and pithy Capt. Picard comments); Edward Teller (already perfectly played once by actor David Suchet); Richard Feynman (George Clooney who possesses the needed puckish humor and generous gestures); and Ted Taylor, with whom Dyson designed the nuclear rocketship and whom Dyson thought of as the most moral great man he’d ever met (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Finally, I specify cameo appearances by some of the historical characters who--with their largeness of vision--have inspired and haunted Dyson’s career and lent an ethereal aspect to the book/movie. H.G. Wells (Jeremy Irons), for example, prompted Dyson’s interest in novels; the science fiction writer Olaf Stapledon (John Malkovich) helped Dyson think about the largeness of the universe and the future of the human race; philosopher William James (Sean Connery) taught Dyson to view other people’s views with empathy; and biologist/essayist J.B.S. Haldane (Christopher Hitchens), who was a model for Dyson’s effort to relate scientific and technological progress with ethical considerations.
Learn more about Maverick Genius at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Ronlyn Domingue's "The Mapmaker's War"

Ronlyn Domingue is the author of the newly released The Mapmaker’s War. Its sequel, The Chronicle of Secret Riven, is forthcoming in 2014. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, was published in ten languages. Her writing has appeared in The Beautiful Anthology (TNB Books), New England Review, The Independent (UK), and Shambhala Sun, as well as on and The Nervous Breakdown. Born and raised in the Deep South, she lives there still with her partner, Todd Bourque, and their cats.

Here Domingue shares some suggestions for casting a big screen adaptation of her second book, The Mapmaker’s War:
At no point in the writing did I seriously think about a film adaptation for The Mapmaker’s War. This seems ridiculous considering how popular epic tales are right now, such as Game of Thrones. My book fits in that category because it takes place in an ancient time in a faraway land—think the Dark Ages. It’s about an exiled mapmaker who must come to terms with the home and children she was forced to leave behind.

Considering the story’s arc follows Aoife (pronounced ee-fah) from childhood to old age—maiden, mother, crone—this would be a difficult book to make into a movie. However, I did manage to gather a list of actors with some help from friends.

Aoife—The Mapmaker’s War is written in the spirit of old legends, but Aoife’s story isn't told by historians or bards. This tale is her autobiography. She’s intelligent, serious, and resilient. A person who knows her own will. Jennifer Lawrence of The Hunger Games fame could pull off a younger Aoife, and Nicole Kidman, who plays smart, intense women so well, would be a good fit for the older Aoife.

Wyl—He’s the prince Aoife has known since she was a girl, whom she describes as “more interested in pleasure than power” and “beautiful and virile.” Aoife and Wyl don’t escape their attraction to one another or the consequences of it. He’s a good-natured, decent fellow with a sensitive side. I’d pick Ryan Gosling for this role, although he’d have to dye his hair.

Raef—This is Wyl’s younger brother who likes to wield influence at any opportunity. He may not be truly evil, but he is malicious. The actor who portrays him must be able to manage a certain darkness. I’m torn between Jonathan Rhys Meyers, wonderfully strange in Gormenghast, and Rob James-Collier, the mercurial Thomas Barrow on Downton Abbey.

Leit (pronounced lite)—After Aoife is exiled, she finds refuge among the very people her kingdom provoked into war. In this community, she meets a great warrior who was scarred physically and emotionally in that war. Leit is a noble, wise man, profoundly good at his core. I struggled to cast this part until I saw Rufus Sewell in The Pillars of the Earth mini-series. Yes, him—please.
Learn more about the book and author at Ronlyn Domingue's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Mapmaker's War.

Writers Read: Ronlyn Domingue.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Matthew Goodman’s "Eighty Days"

Matthew Goodman's nonfiction books include The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York and Jewish Food: The World at Table. The recipient of two MacDowell fellowships and one Yaddo fellowship, he has taught creative writing at numerous universities and workshops. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and children.

Here Goodman dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World:
Eighty Days tells the true story of two young female journalists who in the year 1889 set out from New York – one heading east, the other heading west – each of them determined to break the around-the-world mark of eighty days set by the fictional character Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s popular novel of the time.

Right from the very beginning I recognized that this was a highly cinematic tale, and pretty much everyone I tell about it immediately asks if I’ve yet sold the movie rights. (I haven’t!) The story has all the makings of a great film. The lead characters are two strong and complex young women, very different from each other but each one independent and attractive in her own way. It’s got exotic locations – such as, for instance, the crowded streets of Hong Kong and Canton, a moonlit Suez Canal, Jules Verne’s walled French estate – and physical danger, including a storm-tossed Atlantic Ocean crossing, a night-time ski expedition across Sierra Nevada mountains blockaded by snow, and a railroad train careening wildly through the Italian Alps. And of course, it’s got the thrill of the race itself, which is neck-and-neck right up to the very end.

One of the two central characters is Nellie Bly, the legendary undercover reporter of New York’s World newspaper. New York had never seen a female reporter quite like Nellie Bly, someone so audacious, so willing to risk personal safety in pursuit of a story. (In her first exposé Bly went undercover, feigning insanity so that she might report first-hand on the mistreatment of the female patients of the Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum.) Bly was scrappy, courageous, ambitious, tough-talking, a regular patron of O’Rourke’s saloon on the Bowery. She came from the coal country of western Pennsylvania; she was attractive but not in a glamorous way; and she was twenty-five years old when she set out around the world, though she claimed to be younger. I could easily see Nellie Bly being played by one of today’s most talented young actresses, Jennifer Lawrence.

Elizabeth Bisland, on the other hand, had grown up on a Louisiana sugar-cane plantation ruined by the Civil War. With only fifty dollars in her purse she moved to New York, where she contributed poetry and essays to a variety of magazines; she was tall, erudite, genteel, soft-spoken, and was commonly referred to as “the most beautiful woman in New York journalism.” (Rudyard Kipling was among her many male admirers.) At the time of the race Bisland was twenty-eight years old. Assuming that she could handle a soft Southern accent – and I have every confidence that she could – Keira Knightley would make a perfect Elizabeth Bisland.

To play the part of Nellie Bly’s employer, World publisher Joseph Pulitzer – thin, cerebral, cultured, bedeviled by a nervous disorder that made all sounds physically painful – who better than my Brooklyn neighbor John Turturro?

And as for Elizabeth Bisland’s employer, Cosmopolitan publisher John Brisben Walker – middle-aged but physically vigorous, with a barrel chest and a handlebar mustache, with a genius for making money and finding free publicity – I think that one of my very favorite actors, Kevin Kline, would have a delightful time with that role.
Learn more about the book and author at Matthew Goodman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 4, 2013

Kim Boykin's "The Wisdom of Hair"

Kim Boykin was born in Augusta, Georgia, but raised in South Carolina in a home with two girly sisters and great parents. Today, she's an empty nester of two kids with a husband, three dogs, and 126 rose bushes. She write stories about strong southern women because that’s what she knows.

Here Boykin dreamcats an adaptation of her new novel, The Wisdom of Hair:
Everybody dreams of having their book made into a movie, operative word made because most books that are bought never make it to the silver screen. Emma Stone would make a great Zora, she’s young and beautiful and is the best at playing smart but vulnerable. The yummy dark brooding Winston Sawyer would be played by Bradley Cooper only he’d have to grow his hair out.

Zora’s BFF Sara Jane Farquhar is a hard role to cast, which is kind of sad. Even my editor didn’t buy that a woman like Sara Jan could be drop dead gorgeous but 80 or 90 pounds overweight. My editor is a size two and suggested twenty or thirty pounds overweight was enough. But Sara Jane Farquhar is a big woman with a big personality, I told Leis to think of her as a amazingly beautiful Melissa McCarthy. So Sara Jane ended up 50-60 pounds overweight and is still a big personality.

Mrs. Cathcart, the dean of the Davenport School of Beauty would be played by Meryl Streep because she gets all the really good roles for women of a certain age. Zora’s mother would be played by Charlize Theron, Mama’s a little twisted and Charlize has an Oscar to prove she plays twisted well.
Learn more about the book and author at Kim Boykin's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Wisdom of Hair.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Dana Sachs's "The Secret of the Nightingale Palace"

Dana Sachs is the author of the novel If You Lived Here and two books of nonfiction, The House on Dream Street: Memoir of an American Woman in Vietnam and The Life We Were Given: Operation Babylift, International Adoption, and the Children of War in Vietnam.

Here she shares some insights for adapting her new novel, The Secret of the Nightingale Palace, for the big screen:
Asking a writer to “cast” their novel as a movie is a little bit like taking a hungry person to a fabulous restaurant and inviting them to eat whatever they want. Even if it’s a fantasy, it’s a temptation that I imagine most of us will want to indulge. So, here goes.

The Secret of the Nightingale Palace tells the story of 85-year-old Goldie Rosenthal and her 35-year-old newly widowed granddaughter, Anna, as they drive from New York to San Francisco to return a collection of Japanese art to its original owner. The novel also follows Goldie back in time to San Francsico during World War II, when she was a young woman trying to make it on nothing but ambition and a terrific sense of style. For the movie, I’m going to cast four parts: Goldie (young Goldie and elderly Goldie), Anna, and the original owner of the art collection, a San Francisco antique dealer named Henry Nakamura.

For the older Goldie, I’ll cast Maggie Smith, who can do imperious better than anyone, but can also show a softer side (and is a good enough actress, I believe, to pull off an American Southern accent). For Goldie as a younger woman, I’ll pick Reese Witherspoon, because she can mix longing, drive, and wit with an edge of ruthlessness, while always looking fresh and pretty (she’d need to become a brunette, however). I’m giving the part of Anna to Natalie Portman, because I like the peculiar combination of loss and resilience in Portman’s eyes, plus she has a hint of the imperious as well, which would connect her to Goldie (and Maggie Smith). Finally, for Henry, I’ll hire the great Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune. I know that you imagine him with his hair in a bun because of all his Samurai movies, but check out these photos of him in a suit. Debonair and gorgeous.

In writing the character of Goldie, I was inspired by my 100-year-old Grandmother, Rose—I say “inspired” because Goldie has my grandmother’s style and drive, but The Secret of the Nightingale Palace does not tell the story of Rose’s life. Because there’s already such an important family connection here, I’ll ask my sister and brother, Lynne Sachs and Ira Sachs, to co-direct. Lynne is a documentary and experimental filmmaker whose latest work, Your Day is My Night, delves into the lives of Chinese immigrants in America. Ira’s most recent film, the narrative feature Keep The Lights On, tells the story of the love affair of two gay men in New York City. The family connection is only one reason why they should direct this movie. We also share interests in the themes of cultural change, love, loss, and the fear that makes us all keep secrets. Also, nobody will know better how to put Goldie up on screen and, because they’re family, I can force them to introduce me to Maggie Smith.
Learn more about the book and author at Dana Sachs's website, blog, and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Secret of the Nightingale Palace.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 1, 2013

Bruce Macbain's "The Bull Slayer"

Bruce Macbain holds degrees in classical studies and ancient history, with a specialty in Greece and Rome. Upon retirement a few years ago, he decided to give up writing scholarly monographs which almost no one read, and turn to the more congenial realm of fiction. His debut mystery, Roman Games, set in first century AD Rome, was published by Poisoned Pen Press in 2010. His second novel, The Bull Slayer, comes out this month. Macbain is also a book reviewer for the Historical Novels Review.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of The Bull Slayer:
What is it about the Romans that makes us imagine them speaking with British accents? Presumably, all those fine British actors who have played them over the years in films and on television. So it will come as no surprise that I have cast Derek Jacobi in the leading role in my fantasy film of The Bull Slayer. My sleuth is a historical character, Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Younger), who was a Roman senator, a provincial governor, and a compulsive letter writer. His hundreds of letters illuminate the world he lived in as well as his own personality—tolerant and compassionate, yet at the same time rather vain and fussy, and often perplexed. The Derek Jacobi of I, Claudius and Brother Cadfael would get him exactly right.

In my latest novel, in which Governor Pliny tracks down the murderer of an unpopular tax official, he is assisted by his adjutant, Suetonius. Here I have cast Jude Law (as he looks today, thinning hair and all) to play the cool, urbane, sardonic biographer of The Twelve Caesars.

Continuing with the Brits, I like Christopher Lee (as he looked circa 1966 in Rasputin, The Mad Monk) for the role of Pancrates, a cultist and faith-healer who knows everyone’s secrets and sells them for a price. And, in the role of Diocles, an orator and power broker, whom I describe as a small man with a deep voice and silver hair, who struts like a cock with his chest thrust out—who else but John Thaw of Inspector Morse fame?

But, lest we have no Americans in the cast, I have chosen Winona Ryder (as she looked circa 1999 in Girl, Interrupted) in the key role of Pliny’s young wife, Calpurnia. She is half the age of her elderly husband and has accompanied him to his province, where she feels cut-off, lonely, inadequate--and ripe for seduction by a handsome Greek youth (played, incidentally, by a young Billy Zane). I think Ryder’s winsome vulnerability captures Calpurnia precisely.

What would we fiction writers ever do without Google Images and Wikipedia to jog our memories of faces long gone?
Learn more about the book and author at Bruce Macbain's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Bull Slayer.

--Marshal Zeringue