Malin James is a special friend, and as far as I am concerned (and as I tweeted yesterday), she is the gold standard as a writer, and more importantly as a human. I am honored to have her as my guest today, with a decadent post after my own heart to promote her new collection, Roadhouse Blues, with Go Deeper Press!!!
My collection of linked short stories, Roadhouse Blues, came out this week with Go Deeper Press, but I didn’t want to do a standard Please Buy My Book!!! promo post, (though if you’re at all inclined to by my book, please do – you won’t hear me complain). Don’t get me wrong, I’m damn proud of the collection, but I wanted to talk about it in a different way—one that taps into some of the aesthetics Ms. F and I share. So. Let’s talk about noir.
I love noir and classic films. I always wanted to include a noir story in Roadhouse Blues, but I wasn’t quite sure how or where a story like that would fit. Roadhouse Blues is set in Styx, a blue-collar, truck stop town in the middle of nowhere. It’s dusty and oppressive and the most glamorous thing around is the tabloid rack at the local Pak ‘n Buy. It’s about as far from a gritty urban jungle full of hard-nosed men and glossy, sinister dames as you can get.
I was about ten stories into drafting the collection and had pretty much decided to save the smoky, Sam Spade feeling for a different collection, when I started writing what would become the title story, “Roadhouse Blues.”
“Roadhouse Blues” is one of a handful of stories set in Rowdy’s Roadhouse, the only strip club for miles. Mick, the protagonist, tends bar and keeps a general eye on things. At the start of the story, he’s getting over a messy divorce and has pretty much vowed never to get involved with anyone ever again, but that doesn’t mean he can’t text (and maybe sext) with a woman named Jett, whom he met on a classic film forum online. But when Jett comes to the roadhouse late one night, she upends Mick’s lonely intentions.
Jett is sultry and sassy and damn, can she crack wise. The woman walks around like she was filmed in black and white, but under the Lauren Bacall glamour, she needs to get away from a life that isn’t working, so she runs to the middle of nowhere, straight into Mick.
As soon as Mick saw her standing in the doorway, I knew I had my film noir story. A beautiful woman with a mysterious past, a good man worn down by life…. So, I stayed with it until it became clear that the whole point of the story was to get Mick from “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine” to “here’s looking at you kid”. It just took a little rough sex to get him there.
While there are no crimes or gangsters or dead bodies in an alley, there’s a lot going on in “Roadhouse Blues” that directly references or pays homage to noir and classic film—the damaged characters with difficult pasts, the spikey chemistry, and yes, rough sex. More than anything, the rough sex.
In a lot of noir and classic film, sex is a fade to black thing, but there are plenty of women getting slapped or dragged around in an implied sexual context. In the film and fiction from the ‘30’s, ‘40’s and 50’s, casual violence towards women is a window into the attitudes of the early 20th century. It’s an interesting historical snapshot, but not something I wanted to sexualize or glamorize in an erotic story in the 21st. Which is why I wrote the sex scene in “Roadhouse Blues” the way I did. As opposed to the standard trope of the femme fatale getting punished by a dominant man, Mick and Jett unequivocal equals—equals who just happen to want to slap each other around.
I like rough sex. I like it a lot, but only with the right partner. The chemistry has to be right for that kind of dynamic to work. Happily, the chemistry between Mick and Jett was right. I wanted to let consensual violence play out between two strong people, but if I was going to do that, it was important to establish the fact that they were meeting on equal ground. Mick spanks Jett, Jett decks Mick, but they do it in a way that is actively consensual, which let me dig into the dynamic to find the sweetness in the rough. I wanted to give the reader the sense that the night they spend together is full of joy for them.
Mick and Jett have a rare kind of chemistry. They naturally communicate through short hand, like the dialogue in To Have and Have Not or Double Indemnity. Because the connection they have is instinctual and highly tuned, they are able to do things that, with a different partner, would be off the table. Jett holds her own, and Mick trusts her to voice her boundaries. Jett, in turn, trusts Mick to respect them, which he instantly does. It’s an ideal version of how a dynamic like this could play out with two well-paired equals.
Unlike in noir films, when a man slaps a woman and sends her sprawling before a fade to black, Jett gives as good as she gets, and Mick falls for her because of it. I wanted to see how their dynamic would play out, especially with the ghost of black and white film underpinning the story. I wanted to see what would happen if Bogart and Bacall got a little rough with each other while they were falling in love. I didn’t think I’d have a chance to do that in this collection, but Mick and Jett surprised me, and I’m glad they did.
To read an excerpt from the story, “Roadhouse Blues” click here.
Are you swooning like me? Want more Malin? I am so happy to be part of her blog tour–here are the links to the rest of it!