Mr. Gangemi's interview published originally August, 22, 2005
\Joseph Gangemi, author INAMORATA
Copyright Viking Books
Have you planned a sequel to Inamorata? Is that the reason for the ambiguous ending? Or did you
have another reason?
JG: No sequel in the works, I'm afraid. The ambiguity was for thematic and
dramatic reasons: If I'd said conclusively that ghosts exist, it would have
become a ghost story shelved in the horror section of Borders; if I'd said
conclusively ghosts don't exist, it would have collapsed into a simple con
artist/mystery/crime story. By keeping my ending ambiguous, the story
remained (to my mind at least) truer to real life, where we don't have
answers to the big metaphysical questions. Also, I wanted to put readers in
the same position as Finch: Forced to take a position on what's going on,
without enough conclusive evidence one way or the other to make it an "easy"
choice. (Because in life answers aren't easy.) My hope was that after
readers close the book they form their own opinion about whether or not Mina
was genuine, a fraud, or an unconscious fraud (suffering multiple
personality disorder)... realizing of course that the opinion you form says
a lot about the bias and beliefs you bring to the puzzle.
Of all your writings, including fiction and screenplays, which is the one
most satisfying for you to see produced? Did it or do you think it will
meet your expectations
JG: Film and fiction deliver some of the same satisfactions (writing a good
sentence, coming up with a surprising or true bit of observation or
dialogue). Also some of the same frustrations (the fickle taste of the
marketplace, the thickheadedness of some editors and movie execs.) Novel
writing is the more solitary endeavor, and perhaps more satisfying to the
ego: when writing a novel, I'm writer, director, producer, set designer,
etc, all rolled into one. And there's only one name-- mine-- on the cover!
That said, I really enjoy the collaborative side of film making, working with
talented actors, directors, and creative executives. When you work with
artist-friendly folks like Infinitum Nihil (Johnny Depp's company) it's a dream. And
when you work with other talented and experienced artists who are as
perfectionist and painstaking as yourself, it raises your game. I'm a better
novelist as a result of being a screenwriter and working with world class
directors and actors.
I can see from the back story on your website that you did quite a bit of
research into the real "Crawleys", the Crandons. In addition to researching
the written documents, were you able to speak to any of the participating
peoples' descendants about any tales that had been passed down?
JG: Not really. Everyone directly involved is long dead. I was contacted by the
real Mina Crandon's great-granddaughter after the book was published. She
was surprised by the number of small real life details I'd managed to work
into the story, and was curious how I'd uncovered them. Which was a spooky
moment for me, because by and large I didn't research the real story too
much-- I wanted to allow my imagination free reign to reinvent the tale for
my purposes. So perhaps I'm a little psychic myself!
There are memoirs by various participants in the true life story, but I made
a point of not reading them. The only books I read that directly related to
history were one on "Margery" by Thomas Tietze, and another recent title
about the friendship between Conan Doyle and Houdini. (And I was just at
Borders today and noticed someone else has just published this week a novel
about Houdini, spiritualism, and "Margery." Sure am glad I beat him to the
bookstores & film producers.)
Congratulations on your book sold to Hollywood, what did you think when
you first learned that this could become a movie?
JG: Well, I should say first that I have been working in Hollywood for eight
years now, have sold a script to (and spent time with) Mel Gibson, having a
movie about to go into production produced by Steven Soderbergh and George
Clooney, and have worked for all the major studios at one time or another,
so it wasn't quite the giddy "winning the lottery" experience other first
time novelists might have. A lot of the mystery of the Tinseltown biz is no
longer a mystery for me, since I've been to film sets and met celebrities.
And Johnny came very close to starring in another film of mine that's being
made early next year by Mel Gibson's company, "Eliza Graves." That said, I'm
not yet so jaded as to not have been over the moon when Johnny responded to
my work. I've admired his offbeat choices for years, especially the smaller
films like "Don Juan De Marco" and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" and "Dead
Man" and "Finding Neverland." So it was an extraordinarily flattering and
gratifying moment to know an artist I admire enjoyed one of my works enough
to want to produce it... and maybe play a cameo role.
WOW! Have you had an opportunity to visit with Mr. Depp about turning your book
into a screenplay and then a film? Did he tell you what attracted him to
JG: Alas, not yet: Johnny's been a busy guy over the last year, and we haven't
managed yet to connect. Whenever I'd be in L.A. it would turn out he was
off, say, promoting "Finding Neverland" or shooting "Pirates" 2 & 3. And
complicating matters further was the fact that I usually live in Philly and
spent a big part of the year living in Italy. Fortunately, my wife and I are
spending the summer here in Hollywood, so I'm told I'll be meeting JD at
some point in the very near future. So I'll be sure to ask him your question
when we finally do connect!
If you had your choice of any actor and actress to play Finch and Mina,
who would you choose, and did you have them in mind when you wrote the
JG: Well if it were up to me, I'd create a time machine and bring a 23 year old
Johnny forward in time to play Finch! But failing that, I'd love to see
Cillian Murphy (BATMAN BEGINS, 28 DAYS LATER) play Finch, and Kate Winslet
play Mina. But there are a lot of interesting actors and actresses out there
who I think could do justice to the parts, and at the end of the day I defer
to folks who are expert at spotting actorly excellence. The trick will be
finding people who are both artistically gifted yet also represent the kind
of box office draw that the producers need to get a film seen by as large an
audience as possible. Even for a movie of modest budget like this one, the
practicalities of the marketplace are always considered. It is "Show
Business" after all-- not "Show Hobby."
I loved the book, but the whole part about the pigeon got me confused.
Finch was so thorough in his investigation, so it seemed strange that he
would let Crawley take charge of getting the substance on the pigeon tested.
Also, the pigeon flew well enough when Finch released it, but it was dead by
the time he reached it, along with all the others. It couldn't have been
starving or it would have eaten at the Crawley's house, and if it was very
ill, would it have been able to fly back to the coop? I am wondering if I
maybe missed something, or if the pigeon was just used as a way for Finch to
meet with Stanlowe.
JG: The pigeon appeared quite mysteriously out of my subconscious imagination --
it wasn't in the outline. So I can't say exactly why or how it came to be.
But I seem to recall wanting something in the story you wouldn't find in a
traditional procedural mystery or private eye novel: a more intuitive,
spooky, slightly unexplainable "clue" the hero would have to follow on
faith, that would lead him on a journey into the seedier parts of town and
Mina's backstory. And I wanted to unsettle Finch -- a man of science -- by
having this unexplained coda to the sequence occur: finding the pigeon dead.
Why? I don't know. Can pigeons die of a broken heart? (He returns to the
roost to find his fellow pigeons dead.) I know goldfinches have notoriously
weak hearts and, when domesticated, are often found dead after large parties
due to overstimulation.
So my answer is: No, you didn't miss anything here, it was meant to be
slightly "off" and intentionally ambiguous, like so much else in the book.
Hope this doesn't seem like a cop out. I've written plenty of more
procedural works, so I could've cooked up a more unambiguous bit here. But I
was trying to walk the tightrope between playful ambiguity and readerly
How soon can we expect your next novel, the one set in the 1950's?
Are there other projects that you are working on now, can you share anything
JG: The 1950s novel is on hold, alas. Found out there was another novel out
there with too similar a plot line. I am cooking up a new novel, but it's too
early to discuss. (I'm superstitious; don't want to jinx it.)
However, I'm pleased to be able to discuss several upcoming film projects.
"Eliza Graves," a romantic drama set in an asylum in 1895, and based on an
Edgar Alan Poe story called "The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether", is
scheduled to begin shooting in April, under director Mike Van Diem, for Icon
Films and Lions Gate. And a tiny little snowbound ghost story "Wind Chill"
(which may undergo a title change) will start shooting in late-January in
Candada under the direction of Greg Jacobs; it's being produced by Stephen
Soderberg's & George Clooney's company Section 8.
Unfortunately, I'm not at liberty yet to mention the name of the director
who will be shooting "Inamorata" (hopefully around January or February) just
yet. But I'm very excited about the fellow who's been chosen-- so keep your
eyes peeled on the trades, as I expect there will be casting and other
production news announced in the coming months.
Knowing that novel adaptations for the screen can sometimes be difficult
for the author, is there anything not in the INAMORATA screenplay that you
would have liked to have carried over from the novel?
JG: The funny thing is, much of what I cut out -- the surgery scene, the
Christmas shopping expedition -- Infinitum Nihil and the director asked me
to shoe-horn back in! I was trying to be a good screenwriter and economize.
So this note from the producers was a fun one to implement. But I was forced
to cut the long scene where Finch ventures to Kirkbride asylum, and I think
that one will remain on the cutting room floor. However, there will be a few
new surprises for readers, though, in the movie version, including at least
two scenes that aren't in the book.....
My grandmother was a spiritualist when I was a young child, and while
in California with her, I did watch what was later identified to me as a
seance. I have to admit I remember very little about this, but I do
remember the fervor of belief in the seances and being able to speak with
those no longer living. In the course of your research, did you participate
in seances, and if so, what is your opinion of them? What was the strangest
JG: I did almost no hands-on spiritualist research during the planning and
writing. However, a few years earlier I had visited a parastudy group
(during a very atmospheric thunderstorm), and once I took my mother to a
famous Philly psychic as a Christmas gift (she seemed to be a
well-intentioned fake... the psychic, not my mother). And I did drop in on a
Theosophists meeting once, just for kicks, though theosophy is only
tangentially related to the 1920s spiritualist movement.
What part of the Inamorata story are you most excited to see translated
JG: I have my own favorite little moments that just make me laugh, like Dr.
Munson, the chiropodist who demonstrates the dexterity of the "pedal
extremities." Also the Dr. Vox scene. But I think the sequence/scene I'm
proudest of is the one where Mina meets Finch in the hotel room, and he
hypnotizes her. It may be the best scene I've every written, in anything.
I'd love to see that filmed...
I read that your book's story was based on fact, how did you decide how much of
the factual info to put into his book? Obviously some facts were left out,
what key fact or facts did you decide to leave out and why?
JG: I decided early on to leave Houdini out -- He was actually part of the real
investigating committee -- because I thought he'd be distracting for
readers, a kind of cutesy historical cameo. Unless you are a genius, like
E.L. Doctorow, that kind of thing can read "silly." Besides this, I wanted a
more sympathetic and complicated Mina than the real life version, who seemed
a rather sad and slippery customer, more of a fame-seeker and seductress.
(Though a more cynical reader could argue my Mina is all of these too.) I
tried to cram as much period detail as possible into the story to make it
feel real, and to use details that you don't typically find in period
fiction: food, brands of cigarettes, slang. Also to weave it as artfully
into the narrative as I could, so it didn't stick out as PERIOD DETAIL!!! In
fact I hired a friend who is a costume designer/clothing historian just to
design a detailed period wardrobe for my characters, since I don't know
crepe du chine from crinoline.
You left the ending of your book very open for us to make our own
decisions, but I would like to know if you think the Real Mina was genuine?
JG: Sorry, I don't answer that question when people ask (and everyone asks)! Not to be coy. Truth is, I honestly don't know. I realize you're probably
rolling your collective eyes as you read this, but I swear it's true:
Whenever I found myself making too strong a case one way or the other while
writing the book (Walter is Real, or Mina's a Fake) I made certain to shore
up the opposing argument in the very next scene or soon thereafter. This "Is
she or isn't she?" dynamic was the engine under the hood of my story, and
the reason I embarked on the book in the first place, so I tried to remain
true to it and trust it throughout.
However, if you're asking me whether or not I believe in ghosts, I can say
this: I've never experienced one myself, but I remain cautiously optimistic
I may do so someday. I'm a true skeptical inquirer.... not unlike Houdini.
It appears that Houdini was convinced of Mina Crandon's fraud, yet he
apparently firmly believed that he would reappear after his death. Did you
formulate or find any reason why he felt he could succeed while others could
merely pretend? In your opinion, was he somewhat attracted to Mina, as many
appeared to have been?
JG: Well if Houdini was convinced he could come back, he's been proven wrong.
His wife held seances for many years after -- until her own death in fact --
on the appointed night (Halloween), at a hotel here in Hollywood, and never
heard a peep from the Other Side. As to whether Houdini was attracted to
Mina or not... I can only assume he held her in respectful professional
admiration, as a gifted and clever con. (Which is what the real Mina seems
most certainly to have been.) I believe the real Mina had affairs going with
several members of the committee, perhaps even with her husband's blessing.
Again, this was why I decided to take a sharp left turn from the truth,
because I wanted a Mina my Finch, my readers, and I myself could believe in,
As always, I thank Mr. Gangemi for his time and thoughtfullness.