Under A Texas Star - Character Sketches

Jezebel Revealed

  Hanging above the mirrors behind the bar was the biggest painting she had ever seen. Rendered in vivid oil color, a voluptuous, auburn-haired Amazon was draped and posed in a suggestive manner. It was so lifelike that Marly's jaw dropped and a deep flush rose in her cheeks.
   "If the boy's like that over my painting," a deep,  throaty voice said, "what's he gonna do when he meets the real thing?"

When I first envisioned Jezebel - the proprietor of The Oasis, Fortuna's classiest saloon and bordello - I pictured a young Jane Fonda crossed with Mae West. Now I add Catherine Zeta Jones to that mix for the sake of visuals, but mostly Jezebel is her own woman.

In the beginning, Jezebel's sole purpose was to make my heroine, Marly Landers, jealous. Not only did Jez have a past with Texas Ranger Jase Strachan, she was unmistakably a woman while Marly was successfully playing the role of a boy.
"Marly felt sick. It wasn't just the smell of perfume. Jase was ruggedly handsome, regardless of trail-worn clothes and untrimmed whiskers, whereas she looked plain and dirty. The only consolation she had in seeing her image in the mirror was the knowledge that her masquerade was safe."
Jezebel was every woman who ever undermined my confidence by making me feel plain and unattractive.

The Jane Fonda connection was very specific. My first favourite western was Cat Ballou. Cat dressed to seduce the man who ordered her father's death was my first working image of Miz Jezebel. There's a line in the movie when she admires the artwork in her mark's rail-car boudoir: "It's a regular Tintoretto!" That inspired Marly's introduction to Jezebel via her painting.

Getting back to women who undermined my self-confidence, I learned a few things between drafts of Under A Texas Star.

The most eye-opening lesson was finding out that one of those gorgeous women was equally in awe of me. She was tall, slim, and always had flawless hair and nails. Her hair and nails were her vanities. She was convinced she was too tall and too straight to be really pretty. Most of all, she didn't think she was  interesting. I doubt she would have traded her figure for mine - though we agreed that splitting the difference would work for both of us - but she envied my intelligence. She was about to start university classes part-time and was scared to death.

My most profound lesson was that projecting self-confidence is a survival trait. I started thinking about what Jezebel's past would have been like. She was the madame of a house in Richmond during the Civil War. Only a few years older than Jase, she would have had to been strong-willed and business-smart to rise to that position by her mid-twenties.

What did she have to do to survive when the war turned against the south? What connections had she forged that allowed her to not only survive, but flourish during the Reconstruction? I came to admire Jezebel. As I did, I allowed hints of Miz Jez's past to be revealed so Marly would respect her too.

As Cat Ballou would say, she's "a regular Tintoretto."

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