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Lights, Camera, Novel: Louise Shivers’s Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail

Here to Get My Baby Out of JailTransitioning a work from page to screen is a complex process full of decisions from small details to large abstractions about what to include, what not to include, and what to add. In some of the past posts, there were instances of authors involved in both sides of the process, novel to screenplay. But in many cases, the author of the original work isn’t overseeing the adaptation. Sometimes, like in the instance of Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail and Summer Heat, the story doesn’t translate well between the mediums.

Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail was Louise Shivers’s first novel. Her bio on her publisher’s site notes that Shivers was born in Stantonsburg, but grew up in Wilson. The towns bear a close resemblance to Tarborough, the fictional East Carolina town featured in Shivers’s novel. After a year at Meredith College in Raleigh, Shivers was married. She and her husband relocated to Augusta, Georgia, where they raised their three children.

Shivers was a literary world late-bloomer. At age 40, at the encouragement of her children, she took a creative writing class that eventually produced her first novel. Following its release in 1983, Shivers’s work was selected by USA Today as the “Best First Novel of the Year.” A review in The New York Times praises Shivers’s work. The story is simple and compact; Shivers wrote poetry before she ventured to writing novels. Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail is the tale of a love triangle spun out of control. Roxy Walston is a Depression-era woman stuck on a tobacco farm with her husband Aaron. She’s a young mother, 20 with a 2-year-old daughter, Baby. When Aaron hires a drifter named Jack Ruffin, it leads to an affair that will change all their lives drastically.

The film adaptation was released in 1987, just four years after the novel’s publication. Mitchie Gleason wrote the screenplay and directed the movie. Lori Singer played Roxy. Singer at the time had already starred opposite Kevin Bacon in Footloose. Anthony Edwards, of Revenge of the Nerds, Top Gun, and later ER fame, played Roxy’s husband, Aaron, and Bruce Abbott played Jack Ruffin. Kathy Bates appears in a supporting role, but doesn’t appear in the trailer, which focuses on the three leads. The movie was filmed in North Carolina around Nashville, Robersonville, Tarboro, and Wilson.Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail 20th

Reviews from The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times by Janet Maslin and Shelia Benson recognize good qualities in Summer Heat, the big picture adaptation of the slim novel, Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail. Performances by the actors are commended and Mitchie Gleason’s visuals are appreciated. But the critics complain that Gleason’s script is the weak link in the final product. Maslin observes that “the script is a string of one-idea scenes; sometimes a whole episode seems designed to allow a character to deliver a single line,” and notes that the film’s pacing is off.  Benson also notes that despite the fact Gleason’s script adheres closely — even “slavishly,” she suggests – the force behind the story isn’t there. Sticking straight to the story in this case did not benefit Summer Heat. Benson remarks that the adaptation “lollygags” to its final conclusion rather than showing a “fevered rise and fall” of a pair of doomed lovers tangled in a frenzy of passion.

Benson chides Gleason, whom didn’t take enough risks in re-telling Shivers’s story. The most obvious liberty taken during the adaptation process is the title, which was revised from the longer, song-inspired Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail to the more benign and blockbuster-friendly, Summer Heat. The trailer brandishes the steamy side of the story. The title is emphasized, the words are shown individually between scenes of passion and aggression, and then together. Here’s a link to one version of the movie poster. The visuals, particularly the positioning of Roxy and Jack, are sultry and provocative. However, the writing on the poster skims over the top of the purpose behind the story. Plus, it basically gives away the twist. They’re quite different from the novel’s covers from 1993 and its 2003 pictured in this post in their raw sensuality. Then again, film operates, and profits on, on a more visual level.

Read the original blog post on Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail. The novel is available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog, but the film is not. The film does not appear to be available through the Chapel Hill or Durham County Public Libraries. The film is listed on Amazon for sale.

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Filed under 1980-1989, 1983, 1987, Edgecombe, Historical, Shivers, Louise

Diane Chamberlain. Necessary Lies. New York: St. Martin’s, 2013.

Necessary LiesJane Forrester’s (née Mackie) husband, Robert, can’t understand why his new wife wants to work. Neither can her mother nor any of the stay-at-home wives in her imposed social circle. When Jane and Robert first met, her quirks beguiled him. She wasn’t cut from the same cloth of the prototypical 1960s woman. Now that they’re official newlyweds, Robert wishes that Jane would join the Raleigh Junior League and derive satisfaction in being a physician’s wife, as well as the future mother of his unborn children. But Jane wants a chance at a brief career before children. She is sensitive and idealistic and interested in helping others through work. She gets hired as a social worker in the Department of Public Welfare shortly before their wedding. Robert tolerates Jane’s job, however he makes his desire for children and his short timetable known. With an M.D., Robert has ascended the socio-economic ladder and he is concerned acutely with fitting into his more well-heeled surroundings.

Robert is not thrilled when he learns that Jane will conduct field work alone in the fictional rural Grace County. Field work entails visiting the families of the cases that the social worker manages to monitor their needs and progress. The social worker executes any actions or files any paperwork considered necessary for the greater good. Jane’s two first cases are the Hart and Jordan families who live and work on Davidson Gardiner’s farm. She neglects her boss’s advice and becomes invested emotionally in the Hart family, leading her to a series of choices that could violate the procedures of the Department of Public Welfare and negate the defined purpose of her position. But Jane feels unable to accept the rules as they’ve been handed to her. She is disturbed by how the department enforces its own code of morality and communicates its actions deceptively to the parties involved.

According Charlotte Werkmen, Jane’s boss and former social worker in charge of the case, fifteen year-old Ivy Hart is the last chance for the Hart family. Ivy’s older sister, Mary Ella has already given birth to a baby named William. Mary Ella is beautiful and slow, which Charlotte regards as a dangerous combination. Ivy and Mary Ella’s father is dead and mother is an institutionalized schizophrenic. They live in a farmhouse with their diabetic grandmother, Nonnie. Ivy worries about her family’s security in the farmhouse. Nonnie is increasingly unable to work and she has little regard for her health, indulging frequently in sugar. Because Nonnie is petulant and ornery and Mary Ella is unreliable and often missing, Ivy is the nucleus forced to mother and to hold the family together. By government standards, Ivy qualifies at a functioning level, but barely. She has an IQ of 80 and Petit Mal epilepsy. Charlotte warns Jane to watch Ivy carefully — if Ivy winds up pregnant, all her opportunities will evaporate.

Veteran novelist Diane Chamberlain deals with the sexism and racism prevalent during the 1960s and provides a historical basis to Necessary Lies. She alternates the story between Ivy and Jane’s points-of-view primarily. The novel explores the issue of people’s authority over their bodies. Chamberlain illustrates this point from both perspectives: a doctor refusing to prescribe Jane birth control without her husband’s permission to a eugenics program masked to its recipients as benevolent healthcare. The themes of control and consent reappear over the course of the novel, where institutions and people are given the power to make personal judgements for others. Additionally, the book questions the idea of people who are classified as “incapable” or “unfit” by official sanctioning. Who, if anyone, should have the agency to make decisions for those deemed “incapable” or “unfit”? Chamberlain offers an absorbing read on a fictionalized portrayal of a regrettable segment of North Carolina’s history.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Chamberlain, Diane, Historical, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont, Wake

A. L. Provost. The Trust of Old Men: The Coastal Plain Conspiracy. New York: Xlibris, 2010.

This complicated mystery, set in North Carolina during the Roaring Twenties, begins simply. UNC Hill freshman Alan Barksdale has labored diligently all first semester, with the dream of one day becoming a banker like his esteemed father, Marvin Barksdale. Mr. Barksdale is currently both the trust officer and manager of the enormously wealthy Commerce Bank in Raleigh due to the terrible death of the previous manager. Impatient to be reunited with his family for the winter holidays, young Barksdale hops in his brand-new, 1920 four-door Ford the minute classes end on the evening of December 20th. The snow falls thick and fast, and Alan tragically fails to see the young woman waving her hands in the middle of the road until it is too late. At least that’s what the Good Samaritan who stops to help tells the distraught young man.

Speaking of tragedy, seventeen wealthy, elderly men and women have passed away during 1920 on the Coastal Plain. But these deaths are no mystery: the Lenoir County Medical Examiner has carefully determined that each death was simply the result of age. Heart attacks, a misstep on the stairs, and falling overboard during fishing expeditions are only to be expected when men and women pass their seventies! Unfortunately for the departed, it’s possible that their ends were hastened by a lack of living kin on whom to spend their time and considerable fortunes–kin who might have prevented these accidents.

At first glance, no honest citizen would ever think that these deaths and Alan’s fatal car crash were related. But Norman Bates, a hotshot young reporter from Kinston, smells a rat. Now he’s on the tail of the biggest heist in North Carolina…maybe even America. But will he survive long enough to discover the truth?

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

 

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Filed under 2010, 2010-2019, Historical, Lenoir, Mystery, Provost, A. L., Suspense/Thriller, Wake

Katy Munger. Money to Burn. New York: Avon Books, 1999.

Sassy P.I. Casey Jones takes a job bodyguarding a tobacco scientist who has been receiving death threats. When he’s killed after only one day on the job, Casey takes it personally. She’s just considering looking into his murder when his fiancé hires her to find out two things: first, was he cheating on her before his death, and second, did her rich tobacco magnate father have him killed. Her complicated investigation takes her into the some very different settings, including Triangle high society and the rural countryside. This is the third book in the Casey Jones mystery series.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 1990-1999, 1999, Durham, Munger, Katy, Mystery, Novels in Series, Piedmont

Louise Shivers. Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail. Winston-Salem: John F. Blair, 2003.

Roxy Walston is a young wife and mother on a Tarborough, N.C. tobacco farm in 1937. Farmlife is simple and tough, and Roxy feels restless, especially when Jack Ruffin is hired to help with the harvest. Roxy feels an instant attraction to Jack and is soon faced with choices that could change her forever. When Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail was first published in 1983, it was praised for its tender evocation of life on a tobacco farm and was named the best first novel of the year by “USA Today.” It was also made into the North Carolina-filmed movie Summer Heat in 1987.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC Library Catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2003, Edgecombe, Historical, Shivers, Louise

Eric Martin. Luck. New York: Norton, 2000.

Mike Olive and several classmates from Duke spend the summer in fictional Cottesville, N.C. alongside Mexican migrant workers on a tobacco farm. The students are working on a project to document the living and working conditions of the workers, and find that conditions are even worse than they imagined. As they began to protest the abuses they see, the locals are none too happy, especially Harvey Dickerson, Mike’s childhood friend. To make things even more complicated, Mike has fallen for the daughter of one of the Mexican workers. As the end of the summer approaches, Mike finds that there are now several people out to get him.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC Library Catalog.

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Filed under 2000, 2000-2009, Martin, Eric

Kaye Gibbons. A Virtuous Woman. Chapel Hill: Algonquin, 1989.

Ruby Pitt Woodrow and Blinking Jack Stokes tell, in alternating chapters, the stories of their lives. Ruby’s chapters are told from her perspective as she is dying of cancer at age 45, while Jack’s reminiscences are set during the period just after Ruby’s death. These stories are set largely on tobacco farms in eastern North Carolina and describe a fondly remembered marriage, which stands in contrast to the characters’ otherwise difficult lives.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC Library Catalog.

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Filed under 1980-1989, 1989, Coastal Plain, Gibbons, Kaye