Handbook for Mortals: Takeaways from Idobe Interview with Lani Sarem

So Lani Sarem did an interview with Idobi Network, an Internet radio station last night. The only reason I listened to it was because I checked her twitter and it was happening in like five minutes, and I had nothing better to do than listen along. In my defense, it’s been a while since we’ve heard any developments on the HfM movie front, and I was thirsty for answers.

EDIT: To listen to the interview yourself, click HERE

1: Lani is going HARD on the #feminism thing

Right off the bat, the interviewer asked Lani about her history as a creative person, and, unsurprisingly, she brought up her history as an amateur screenwriter. As you probably know, Lani Sarem began writing her own screenplays (in which she would naturally cast herself as the lead) at the age of 11. However, instead of saying “why wait for someone to write a role for me” as she did in her ThreeGeeks interview, this time, she said something about how even at the age of 11 she knew there weren’t a lot of great roles for women, and therefore wanted to write her own:

My dream and desire as a child was to make movies and I began writing scripts at 11 because I knew that there weren’t a lot of great female roles. As an 11 year old, way before this was like a bog topic of discussion, so that’s why I started writing scripts (3:48)

Later, while talking about the production of the film that is supposedly actually happening (color me skeptical), the interviewer followed up on Lani’s assertion that there would be a female director by asking if there were any directors officially attached to the project.

The official answer is. . . No. This movie does not yet have anyone attached. They are, however, “in talks” with a few female directors, one of whom, according to Lani, has directed a female-led movie in a franchise before. No names were specifically mentioned.

But Lani is super psyched about her #feminist movie, say something along the lines of

“When have we had a brand-new project with a female character? Probably Hunger Games.

I don’t have the interview on-hand, so I don’t know if that’s an exact quote as of yet. I wrote it down as she said it. It was in the context of how Wonder Woman just came out, but Wonder Woman’s been around forever. What I love about this bit though is that it shows how narrow Lani’s cultural radar is. The first Hunger Games film came out in 2012. Since then we have had three female-led Star Wars, a female-led Pixar film, Hidden Figures, HBO’s Big Little LiesWestworld, and the last two seasons of Game of Thrones have been really fucking big on Stronk Empowered Wimmin. Lady Bird has been nominated for best picture, as has Three Billboards(. . .). There was Atomic Blonde, and then this year we’ve got Ava DuVernay doing A Wrinkle in Time (GET HYPE). Not all of these were feminist works. I didn’t even like all of them. And I’m not even saying that women have reached equal representation in film. My point is just that having a female lead isn’t exactly novel.

2: Fun Fact: The Plain White T’s were originally 100 Monkeys

And this is how we ended up with Jackson Rathbone as the lead vocalist in the Plain White T’s:

Originally (as I FUCKING CALLED), Jackson was not a significant character. In fact, Jackson was initially ACTUALLY JACKSON RATHBONE.

You see, originally, Jackson Rathbone and his band 100 Monkeys were imagined to have a cameo role in Lani’s screenplay. Then, I guess when Lani went on to manage the Plain White T’s, she changed the cameo band to that. I guess Jackson had a minor role, though, so Jackson Rathbone was kept in. BUT THEN the Love Triangle was introduced (again, as I FUCKING CALLED) and that must be when Jackson Rathbone became Jackson Milsap. She didn’t even bother changing his first name:

If I’m gonna write a script, why shouldn’t I—originally I’d written it kinda a small cameo idea, and then really like the idea of—originally it was less of a love triangle and then just kinda really liked the idea of—once you start writing, characters kind of have a life of their own, so as I kept writing and writing they kind of became their own sorta characters. And then actually when the band became no longer 100 Monkeys I had changed that character’s name from Jackson and then just really changed it a couple times and then realized that his name was Jackson, that this character was supposed to be Jackson, so I changed it back. So at that point it wasn’t really related to Jackson Rathbone at all anymore. (9:03)


When the interviewer asked if the Plain White T’s would have a cameo in the film, Lani replied that she thinks so, barring “scheduling conflicts.” (7:57)

3: We got to hear a defense of the cover art plagiarism

Finally, someone asked her about the conspicuous similarity of HfM’s cover art to Gill Del-Mace’s The Knifethrower. 

Lani’s rationalization:

“We didn’t do anything illegal”

According to Lani, she had the idea of a girl sitting in front of a “death wheel” and thought that Del-Mace’s piece looked better than other reference images she could give to her artist (or something?). She talked about how there are only so many ways for someone to sit on a stool (or something) and about a heuristic for figuring out if you’re veering too close to plagiarism (make a list of similarities and differences, if there are more differences than similarities you’re good? Something like that), and how she’s talked to lawyers and they’ve all given her the OK. Then she said something about it being an intentional homage. She also said something about how comic book artists rip each other off all the time, so yeah.

She also said that she doesn’t think anyone would have cared if the book hadn’t gotten such negative attention.

4: More of the same misrepresentation of her critics

So we’ve all heard Lani’s many retorts to her detractors. Basically, she doesn’t think that any of her critics have ever read her book. Or they’re specifically looking for reasons not to like it. Or they’re getting bent out-of-shape about a few typos here and there. And there are people who hate Twilight and 50 Shades, but those are still massively successful franchises.

Oh, but

“I get fan mail from girls about how they love Zade and want to be her!”


She also talked about the Facebook writer’s group drama, making it seem like people were looking down on her for having written HfM as a screenplay first, rather than, you know, publishing a book with zero redeeming qualities as a stepping stone to movie stardom:

I noticed sometimes that even in writer’s groups—I’m a part of one writer’s group on Facebook and there’s like 75000 members—and you know we all talk about our projects sometimes and I was talking about my project, and somebody got really angry and was like “SHE’S JUST A SCRIPT WRITER! She doesn’t belong in here” and the admin was like “this is for any kind of writers. We don’t care what you write. (11:50)

5: Babby’s first demarcation problem

As you may remember, there has been controversy over exactly what genre HfM falls under. Is it Young Adult? Is it New Adult? What is “Young Adult,” anyway? Is it “New Adult” if the most salacious it gets is a knee-popping kiss and the language puts it at a weak PG? Lani and the interviewer seem thoroughly perplexed. It’s kind of cute. It’s like watching people become postmodern Cultural Marxists in real time. Maybe one day we’ll get Lani Sarem’s woke views on how gender is a social construct.

Basically, Lani argues that the NYT classified it as Young Adult, but in her heart of hearts, she agrees. She talked about how, like, age of the character is super arbitrary. And like, if age of the protagonists defines the target audience, then isn’t Pixar’s Up for senior citizens? (Fun fact:  According to someone who went to her “How I Navigated the NYT Bestseller List panel at Agile Writer’s Conference,” she touched on this there as well. )

I’m not going to argue the point that genre is a horribly imprecise, ill-defined taxonomy. I’m fairly sure that anyone who has done much reading has thought about genre and how arbitrary it is, so it’s kind of funny to hear someone wrestling with it for the first time.

That was everything vaguely interesting from this interview. There was a lot of victim-complex-ing on display, and the only way anyone could ever hate her book is because they were prejudiced from the start, etc. She did a lot of rationalization about how people bought the books at cons because the just love Thomas Ian Nichols so much (I’d literally never heard of him before this drama started). But we’ve heard all that before.



Casting the movie!

IwishI knew

I’m back because I couldn’t get this book out of my head. And as of now, I’ve had a couple beers, and am therefore taking this opportunity to be the casting director of Handbook for Mortals.

Zade: Early 20’s. Blonde hair dyed “a multitude of fun colors” and “perfectly cut bangs.” Pretty. Beautiful, even. Hourglass figure, but not too skinny: she does NOT have a thigh gap. Round face. 5’9″. T H I C C.

Basically, this: sarempink

But let’s be honest: Sarem is a 35-year-old woman who’s most notable role has been “Roxie” in “Trailer Park Shark.” No one in their right mind would cast a highly maligned unknown for a part in a controversial movie (unless it’s an independent art film, which, let’s be real, Handbook is not.)

No, we need a celebrity. Someone who can appeal to 20-somethings, someone who can believably portray someone around whom the world revolves, and has experience being in the middle of tedious love triangles. Someone exactly 5’9″, and slender, if not supermodel-skinny. She does NOT have a thigh gap.


For these reasons, Mischa Barton is perfect for the role. When was on The O.C, her character was a similar black hole with whom nearly every male characterwas obsessed. Furthermore, I think she could bring some darkness to Zade. She’s 31, yes, but I believe that this will allow her to also allow her to play Dela more believably, and unlike Sarem, she’s actually well known. Also, I think she could be convinced to act in Handbook, as she does plenty of smaller films these days.

Charles Spellman: As Jenny Trout pointed out, Charles is definitely based on David Copperfield:


He’s older, but still handsome, and radiates charisma. He has a thing for younger women, but we later find out that he is deeply emotionally damaged. Jenny Trout also noted Ty Burrell’s  resemblance to Copperfield. Now, this would make his an excellent candidate for the role, but I honestly think that there’s another man in Hollywood who fits the bill:


That’s right: Charlie Sheen.

Think about it. He’s been famous since the 80’s. If you think think David Copperfield is handsome, you might think Charlie Sheen is too. For all his problems, he is certainly charismatic (I think? I’ve only seen him in Wall Street). Charlie Sheen, who is 52, is dating a 26-year-old as of the writing of this post. He, like Charles Spellman, has had substance abuse issues, and I think he could really bring Spellman to life, and imbue him with some of the creepitude that makes the character even a little bit interesting.

Mac: Sandy-brownish hair, hazel eyes. At least 6 feet tall, if not more so. Muscular, but not too much. He’s intense, and hides his sensitivity with sarcasm.

Also, he’s supposed to be of an age with Thomas Ian Nichols, who is 37. Even though canonically he’s 29. So realistically he can be anywhere from 29-40.

With that in mind, I cast:


Joshua Jackson.

I’ve only seen Jackson’s work in Fringe, but that’s essentially the part he plays there. We also know that Lani Sarem loved him as Pacey in Dawson’s Creek (ThreeGeeks Interview, 17:29). And according to the Dawson’s Creek Wiki,   Mac’s characterization is also quite similar to Pacey’s.

Jackson: “Tall, dark, and Handsome.” Extraverted lady’s man, flirtatious and funny. Sings and plays guitar. Probably Zade’s age? Sparkly eyes.

Now, the obvious man for this part is Jackson Rathbone, as we are almost certain that this was who Sarem had in mind. But this cast looks awfully white, doesn’t it? Fortunately, I know an actor who has all of Jackson’s charm and charisma, is musically talented, and can make the ladies swoon with ease. This isn’t simply a diversity cast, though.

And for this one, I’m going to need to use video, because Vincent Rodriguez III is so perfect for this role.

(I finally learned how to embed youtube videos. Hooray! Also, go watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend right now because it is everything).

Now, I’m not sure if Charlie Sheen, who is an old, racist, sexist, awful white dude, would ever shape-shift into an Asian man, but there’s no way the incest sub-plot will be in the film, so that doesn’t matter.

Sofia: Sofia is “undeniably beautiful.” That’s pretty much all the physical description we get of her. She’s defensive and insecure, though, and opens up to Zade the minute Zade reaches out. She also has a beautiufl singing voice. For this role, we need someone who can play mean, but also vulnerable. I also get the feeling that she has dark hair, on account of Zade being blonde.

This one has honestly stumped me. My first instinct was Megan Fox, but I don’t know if she can sing. I thought about Demi Lovato, but I feel like Sofia’s meant to be quite short and stick thin (so that Zade’s tallness and relative curviness can be portrayed as superior).

But who’s an actress-turned-powerhouse-vocalist who’s incredibly petite, a sex symbol to thousands of men (despite her arguably childlike appearance), and is known for being a bit of a diva?


Ariana Grande. Now, I’m skepical as to whether she would sign on for this nothing movie, but these are reach goals.

Mel: Due to the ambiguous number of Mels, there has been some speculation that Scary Spice and Sporty Spice both work on the Charles Spellman Show. However, I’m pretty sure there’s only one Mel. Like Sofia, though, Mel’s only physical description is “hot.” And her only other characterization is that she’s a mean, sexually liberated woman.Also, as commenter DoveCG has pointed out,  it could be that the unnamed redheaded woman described in Chapter 2 is Mel, I’ll assume she’s a redhead. And so, I cast Bella Thorne as Mel


She’s known as something of a wild child, and has already played a mean girl role in The DUFF (a film that was also based on a really shitty novel).

Zeb: All we know of Zeb is that he’s about Charles’ age and has red hair, and that Zade thinks he’s sinister to the point that he even looks evil. Since Zeb is easily one of the most interesting characters I think it’s important that we get an actor who’s really compelling.

In short, I think that  Jackie Earle Haley is the man for this role. Just put him back into his Watchman outfit, and let him glower around the set as much as he wants:


He’s perfect.


I would say Philip Haldiman, the actor who played Denny in the Room:


But no. This is him now:


So I’m actually going to cast him as Drew. But also, I think we can probably just edit in clips of Denny circa 2003, because I don’t think there’s anyone better for the role.

That’s all I’ve got for tonight.

Oh, and obviously Thomas Ian Nichols plays Tad.

Is Jackson just a Glamoured Charles? Part Two: Something’s weird between Charles and Zade

Until act 3, Charles makes very few appearances. In this theory, Charles stops actively wanting to bang Zade as soon as he reconciles with Dela, and since there are only a few instances where Charles appears prior to his trip to Tennessee, there aren’t too many moments that show anything inappropriate between Charles and his daughter. But they are there (if you squint). While it’s possible to read all of this as simply a father and daughter reconnecting, that’s certainly not the only way to read it.

Continue reading “Is Jackson just a Glamoured Charles? Part Two: Something’s weird between Charles and Zade”

Is Jackson just a Glamoured Charles? Part One: Motive and Means

in Lani Sarem’s Handbook for Mortals, there’s something strange about Jackson: He’s the lead singer of a band that already has a lead singer. He doesn’t seem to be friends with the rest of the cast and crew—except for the mysterious Zeb. He is only ever seen in the same room with Charles once, and when Zade does a tarot reading on him, she gets the feeling that there’s something more about him they’re trying to tell her.

All of this can easily be explained if we assume that Jackson is actually Charles (or, on one occasion, Zeb) magically glamoured to look like Jackson Rathbone. It might sound crazy, but let’s take a look at the evidence.

This was originally going to be just one essay, but I think it’s too long for a single post. In this one, I talk about the reasons why Charles might want to dress up as Jackson to seduce Zade, and how he manages to do so.

Continue reading “Is Jackson just a Glamoured Charles? Part One: Motive and Means”

Handbook for Mortals: An Autopsy

You probably know that Lani Sarem’s novel  Handbook for Mortals is a total mess. The prose is repetitive, given to stream-of-consciousness tangents about seemingly meaningless details. There are numerous typos, comma splices, and a conspicuous fondness for em dashes. Point-of-view shifts mid-paragraph, only to revert a sentence later; Psychic powers are introduced and then vanish in the space of a single chapter. The love triangle that makes up the bulk of act 2 is utterly inconsequential, as is the magical duel in a mall parking lot. And there are hints strewn throughout that certain characters are not who they seem, but none of this is ever developed, leaving the reader to wonder if they hallucinated entire plot points.

Writing a book is hard, and writing a good one is harder. Most professionally published novels go through countless rounds of revision: anything superfluous is surgically removed, bits that don’t work are tweaked until they do, and, after dissecting every line of their work, the author has to stitch it all back together well enough that prospective readers don’t notice the scars.

My point here is that Handbook for Mortals died on the operating table, and I am here to figure out what even these quacks were trying to accomplish.

Which I guess makes me the coroner?

Continue reading “Handbook for Mortals: An Autopsy”

Handbook for Mortals: Book 2 of the series TEASER (it’s p r o b l e m a t i c)

Previously, on Handbook for Mortals: Zade and Mac went to Charles and Dela’s wedding. Zade caught the bouquet! OR DID SHE?

So, like I said, the teaser chapter begins literally seconds after the first novel ends. This is how the transition is formatted in the Kindle edition:


Continue reading “Handbook for Mortals: Book 2 of the series TEASER (it’s p r o b l e m a t i c)”

Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 21: The World

Well, this is it, folks. The final chapter of Handbook for Mortals: Book 1 of the series is upon us, and it is literally three and a half pages long. Fortunately, we get a teaser chapter that picks up precisely where this one leaves off, so I’ll do them together.   Lol no, sorry, real life stuff got in the way and I wanted to get what I’ve written up today, so the excellent teaser chapter which features a prophecy, implies that Zade is the Chosen One, and is more than a little bit transphobic will be up tomorrow/later tonight(?) After those, though, I’m planning to do some post-mortem essays/analyses/predictions for Book 2 of the series over the next week or so, so check for those if you want.

But, without further ado:

Continue reading “Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 21: The World”

Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 20: Judgement

Previously, on Handbook for Mortals: The time finally came for Mac to perform the resurrection ritual, which consisted of tying Zade to a stone table, anointing her with “dragon’s blood,” chanting in what is either Bosnian or Croatian (and, of course some Latin (?)), and stabbing her through the heart with a magical dagger, all while a lightning storm raged around them. After some more hours, Zade regained consciousness and everyone felt lots of things.

This is the penultimate chapter, everyone! And it’s short!

Continue reading “Handbook for Mortals: Chapter 20: Judgement”