Friday, December 11, 2015

Holly Messinger's "The Curse of Jacob Tracy"

Holly Messinger enjoys books, silk dresses, molten chocolate cake and well-balanced edged weapons. She lives on a Liberal reservation in Kansas with her Sparring Partner and a cat who knows more than he's telling.

Here Messinger dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, The Curse of Jacob Tracy:
The titular hero of The Curse of Jacob Tracy was partly inspired by and named after country singer Trace Adkins. Years ago when I was constructing the character, a friend showed me Adkin’s music video for “I’m Tryin’,” which is an anthem about the difficulties of blue-collar life. Adkins was about 38 at the time and the poster-boy for roughneck masculinity: tall, lean, craggy, solemn. In the video he looms around the edges of the sets like one of the angels from Wings of Desire—outside of the characters’ lives, but listening and sympathetic. And that was how I saw my character Trace—a big man who cared deeply about the troubles of the world around him but felt constrained from action. And of course his overcoming those constraints is the arc of the book.

Adkins is a little long in the tooth these days to play Jacob Tracy, and I just haven’t seen an actor in the current thirty-something set who has the same combination of manliness, world-weariness, and country-boy charm. Chris Hemsworth is probably the closest option. Chris Evans and Jensen Ackles are also contenders, though they are both prettier than I would like. I figure somewhere in Texas or Oklahoma is a frustrated actor, working oil rigs and playing Curly McLain in community theater, who would be perfect to play my cowboy.

For Trace’s partner Boz, I like Mahershala Ali. I’d seen him on the SyFy series Alphas and in Predators, but neither of those roles allowed him to shine and so it took me a while to realize they were the same actor. I love Ali’s gunfighter-cool gaze and expressive mouth, and his graceful self-possessed carriage. All too often in period movies the black man is the servant or the runaway slave or some exemplar of Black Success, but Boz is just a working guy, and I find a certain heroism in that. Like so many men of his time, Boz went to war, lost a wife, and now focuses on the day-to-day grind. He doesn’t expect the world to give him anything, but he’ll fight for what’s his.

The actor who plays Boz has to carry the heart of the movie. He has to convey toughness and pragmatism and a growing sense of dread, because he’s also the everyman who’s bewildered by all this bizarre supernatural shit Trace has dragged him into. I think Boz realizes more than Trace that their friendship has been a sort of cocoon, which they both cling to in lieu of growing and living full lives. But he stays out of loyalty and does what needs to be done while Trace is still brooding over the morality of his actions.

Miss Fairweather was the last character I fully developed in the book, because I didn’t know at first if she would be an out-and-out villain or a more ambiguous anti-heroine. But from the moment I set eyes on MyAnna Buring in Ripper Street, I said, “That’s my Sabine.” It was eerie to see a living face so perfectly lifted from my brain, as if by Silly Putty: her catlike face, her wide blue eyes, her cynical little mouth. Buring can go from a warm smile to withering scorn to cool calculation to big-eyed horror on the turn of a dime. And of course she’s a marvelous actress; my only fear would be that she’d be reluctant to take on another role so similar to that of Long Susan. But I sure would like to see it.
Visit Holly Messinger's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Curse of Jacob Tracy.

--Marshal Zeringue