Casting the Book
The first time someone asked me, “Who would you like to see play Austin Carr in a movie?” the actor I immediately thought of was Vince Vaughn. Tall, good looking, smart enough in appearance to dish out top-notch, cackle and chuckle-producing wisecracks. That’s the guy—Austin Carr to a T.
And then years later I saw this picture of Johnny Depp.
My world ripped to pieces. Vince Vaughn was already embedded in my psyche, a mainstay visual as I wrote the next Austin Carr adventure. How could I change? I had a few drinks that night and put my e-purchased glossy photo of Vince Vaughn onto the wall with a thumbtack. (My wife was not pleased.) Beside him, I attached a poorly reproduced version of the above, movie-promo shot of Johnny Depp. I stared for long minutes, first Vince. Then Johnny. My thoughts crystalized: Johnny was Austin Carr — cute, smart and goofy. Look at that hair! Vince was not goofy enough.
Goofy isn’t exactly right. More precisely I mean Vince isn’t Bugs enough. See, Austin Carr’s character is patterned a bit after Bugs Bunny. He gets in tight spots, then makes you laugh as he wiggles out. No one ever pins him down. Many years ago, while I was re-writing the first Austin Carr book — Big Numbers — to make him more likeable, my agent suggested I read a book called How to Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat. In that wonderful collection of writing knowledge, Ms. Wheat suggested writers consider making their lead characters bigger than life — almost cartoon-like.
She mentioned Bugs Bunny in particular, I believe (it’s been a decade), because Bugs is a great wisecracker, and no matter how bad the situation looks for him, he always gets out alive, often in better shape than before. I realized while reading Ms. Wheat’s book that Austin Carr was already like Bugs Bunny, but maybe — as a top agent used to tell his writing students — I needed to “make Austin more Austin.”
So when I saw the above picture of Johnny — that hair — I realized he was Bugs, er … Austin. Both are fun, in part because of their silliness.
My other main character, Angelina “Mama Bones” Bonacelli is still evolving, particularly since I’m working on a historical mystery right now with Mama Bones as the protagonist. She’s seventeen when her father dies, leaving her his bookmaking operation and a clue to the grisliest murder in Asbury Park history. That’s another tale we’ll offer Elizabeth in the future, but right now when I put words in the mouth of Mama Bones Bonacelli as a young adult, I use the above portrait of a friend’s mom, circa 1950, to help me.
In Big Shoes, my fourth and latest Austin Carr adventure, Mama Bones turns 70, but I know she’s aged pretty well, not adding many pounds and remaining extremely fit for her age. She works out on a treadmill daily, something Austin only finds out early in Big Shoes. She’s going to need her strength later in the story.
Elizabeth suggested Cloris Leachman for a current visualization of Mama Bones, and while Mama only wears black dresses, and I know she wouldn’t dye her hair blond, Cloris’ face is strong and tough enough, weathered by time as well as harsh events. Love to hear what any of Elizabeth’s readers think …. other suggestions for an aging Italian beauty?