Cosmic Dwellings proudly presents a special tribute which has been specially-approved by best-selling author, Raymond Benson in collaboration with writer Tony G. Marshall…
“Judy is a fantastic character, and Benson absolutely nails the way women write in their diaries. I think this sort of strong woman will be enormously appealing to female readers. The action is great, and Benson writes in a voice that’s accessible and engaging.”
“A beautiful character who not only attempted to do something about the violence on the streets, but also addressed the torture within her own strangled heart…We love you, Judy!”
The following article is inspired by a very special version of ‘The Twelfth of Never’ (below) and pays tribute to author, Raymond Benson’s crime-fighting character of ‘The Black Stiletto’ from the critically-acclaimed 5-book serial. Writer, Tony G. Marshall hosts this special tribute straight from the heart – ‘For the Love of Judy’…
April 12th, 2008…
The package arrived just before 9am; I left it on the table for later. Overnight, I completed writing ‘The Highest Steeple’ – another radio drama in which I billed myself in the lead voice role; however, I wasn’t happy with it. Now, I needed a morning walk to refresh the senses. Today was the twelfth – it was circled on the calendar as the birthday anniversary of my late grandmother – Mary Marshall.
Outside, I wondered if grandma had ever experienced any of her birthdays walking through a thin coating of snow scattered across April countryside; one thing’s for certain – it was more of a shock rather than a ‘melting heart’ moment in early spring – difficult to comprehend the romance of it all as I was glad to see the back of January and February. Some sporadic clusters of bluebells already in semi-bloom will give hope to a new season once the snow is melted. If the overstayed welcome of winter is to continue then more than likely the roses will have their fair share of early morning dew in the form of April showers. The scent of the clover would be a most appreciated freshness through the dale, as opposed to the considerable smell of ice cold atmosphere that ascended from underneath my footsteps. As I continued my walk, a light bulb went on (inside my head, that is!): I realised what was missing in ‘The Highest Steeple’! It was a combination of both nature and human nature elements that somehow I had overlooked…then, another element displayed its physical presence before me, rising above several rooftops of a nearby housing estate and between a huddle of almost bare tree tops which framed the scene of coldness: a church spire ignited my imagination like a powerful flame of an inspirational ‘beacon’ on a writer’s creative landscape. I walked towards the protruding structure as the slight intrusion of a morning sun appeared to ignite its presence on this snowy day of early spring…
After breakfast, and before preparing to re-evaluate the draft of ‘The Highest Steeple’, I decided to unwrap the Amazon ‘treat’ that had arrived through the post earlier: ‘The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection’ – 9 Disc DVD set. You see, my main reason for this purchase was to hopefully gain some form of inspiration in developing the so-called ‘heroes’ that populated my aforementioned radio drama script. However, my characters were not ‘Superheroes’ – they were normal human beings who didn’t possess any kind of ‘superpowers’ to wield against any adversary whilst pursuing their quest for justice and peace. Furthermore, being inspired by the natural surroundings of my walk earlier had instilled in me the quest to highlight the more human aspects of the story. Nevertheless, “The Man of Steel” was to prove a fine starting point whilst undertaking my research – afterall, he did possess core elements of a human character.
Perusing the contents of the discs gave me a feeling of sheer delight knowing that the original Fleischer/Famous Studios cartoons were all present and correct as extra features. These gems, made during the second World War and based on the character’s comic book exploits which began in Action Comics #1 in June, 1938, reminded me of when I was a child in the seventies and became a fan of these long-running comics along with Superman’s very own self-titled tome, both at which point had surpassed their thirty-something year in publication. For, it was my Grandmother who had introduced me to such colourful costumed performers of fantastical worlds and beyond, directly from the newspaper racks of the local newsagent; she was the one who appeared to be on ‘comic book duty’ in our household. Therefore, she played the major part of introducing an essentially fun aspect of my reading development through the ‘Bronze Age of Comic Books’. It was at this stage that the stories were returning to address the more social and cultural issues which had originally set the tone in the ‘Golden Age’ but with the inclusion of a somewhat darker twist, and also eliminated some of the more ‘campier’ aspects introduced during the ‘Silver Age’…
When you strip away all the special armour and fx of a story, and character, it all leads back to a major element of the whole concept: the human condition. For example, no matter how much ‘super’ there was in Superman, back in the beginning, his interaction with the relevant cultural issues brought him back to that realistic human element – thanks in part to ‘Clark Kent’. Furthermore, ‘The Batman’ gave us a better sense of humanity in the form of being a vigilante on the streets, a crime-busting detective, ‘The Caped Crusader’ or even moreso – ‘The Dark Knight’. Batman doesn’t have any special superpowers – he should not really be labelled as a total ‘superhero’. He was a professionally-trained martial artist who possessed considerable technological intelligence. And, it would appear that his story reboot in the ‘The Dark Knight Trilogy’ of recent years has successfully married together those human elements of a tortured soul who happens to be a billionaire industrialist who in turn invests money into becoming his crime-fighting alter-ego whenever required to do so. It is the basis of this human persona which so appeals within the depiction of these classic stories and is forever blessed with youthful nostalgia.
Perhaps it was a great sense of nostalgia to my Grandma which became the reason for introducing me to the comic book, coupled with the fact that it was a favourite reading past-time for every Grandson on the planet! Undoubtedly, she had witnessed a vast amount of comic book crime-fighters and superheroes across all the mediums: film, television and radio. Some of these characters had also been ‘Pulp’ heroes via novels and newspaper strips before making their mark in the comic book fraternity, and maybe Grandma was curious to see how these characters had developed since she was first made aware of them. Some of them donned similar styles of disguise, and consequently these disguises evolved into concepts of further outlandish ‘threads’ to suit the style of the modern-day crime-fighting hero; furthermore, in some cases, these ‘threads’ were ‘criminal-proof’. These days, the resurgence of the more flamboyant superheroes in their very own updated/rebooted action films has proven to be a successful ‘crime-fighting’ formula for several filmmakers and studios. Even so, I’m not certain what Grandma would make of them today; I would hazard a guess that she would probably hark back to the ‘Golden Age’ and say: “They don’t make ‘um like they used to!”…I smiled as I envisaged her confirmation. Grandma had been a part of all three major comic book ages but sadly passed away at the beginning of the so-called ‘Modern Age’…
Taking hold of my script of ‘The Highest Steeple’, which is a science-fiction-related story, but doesn’t bear any resemblance to a ‘superhero story’, I began to ponder. I flicked through the text some more…double-checking…observing…and still not happy. I then tore it up and threw it in the trash. The human condition still had quite a way to travel to begin to ignite this story…maybe on the twelfth day of another month…another time… (continues below)
4 years later: April 12th, 2012…
It’s just after 1am. The candle’s flame was far from dying. It still warmly lit the area of the coffee table on which it was placed within a glass holder. Next to it, the piercing brown eyes with the illuminating green specks looked back at me – longing for me to finish reading the story they were a part of. One could be forgiven for misinterpreting it for an almost sinister glare, but what I saw in those eyes was a shining soul – much more igniting than any burning candle.
My vision began to fill with a watery blur; those eyes, still looking at me, longing…but now glazed in my own pools of sight. The flame of the candle expanded within the thin film of my view – glowing. I felt emotionally drained but on the cusp of both sadness and delight. You see, today is the anniversary of my late Grandmother’s birthday and those aforementioned eyes that are piercing into me belong to a woman who is also a Grandmother. I had just experienced reading one of several wonderfully poignant moments she had with her Granddaughter. Obviously, I can no longer cherish those type of moments with my Grandma, so a natural sadness forced its way into this enlightening moment. But, I took great joy from the fact that all Grandmothers hold the key to such special moments of poignancy laced with the unconditional bond of family unity. Gina Talbot knows all about these moments – she is the Granddaughter of Judy Talbot, whose surname was once Cooper. Gina is very much her ‘Grandmother’s Granddaughter’. However, at present, she is unaware of the family secret that her father, Martin Talbot (Judy’s son) is keeping, which has thoroughly been documented by Judy in a very old diary from 1958.
I reached over for a tissue and dabbed my face. Those eyes were now burning through the candlelight even more, and true to form, I know for a fact if I was to walk about this living-room – they would follow me, no matter what. Those eyes belong to the one I refer to as Judy Cooper Talbot; they are her youthful eyes…probably from that first diary year of 1958 when she was 20 years old. Judy’s story was documented in 2010 when she was 72 years old – a couple of years prior to my experience of this moment. One further ‘twist-in-the-tale’ is that Judy suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. You see, the story I’ve been totally engrossed in reading over the past couple of nights could actually be a real story – a true story…It isn’t – but it could be. I dabbed at my face once again; however, I am happy for the fact that author, Raymond Benson has allowed me to share in Martin Talbot’s special secret about his Mom…I am happy I have made her acquaintance through the pages that are pressed lovingly together behind those eyes. Incidentally, those eyes are on the hardcover of the book that relays the story, and first diary, of Judy Cooper Talbot. It’s quite an unusual title that the author has chosen to give her story, and very much holds a double-meaning; but I now understand why he chose to name it, simply – ‘The Black Stiletto’. I looked at the calendar on the wall – April 12, circled…that was now, the wee hours, today, in its infancy. I remember four years previously when I was struggling to craft an idea for a radio drama I had written – ‘The Highest Steeple’. I never really knew why I named it that except having culled it from a song which was the source of its inspiration. Furthermore, I had always felt that certain forces of human nature were not present in the text of the script; there was a longing for a human condition – an element of realism to be conveyed through a character and the world that they occupied. I tore it up, but I still have the original file saved on my laptop; I haven’t looked at it since. However, I have undertaken the writing of several other pieces of ‘art’ over the past few years that have thankfully paid off for me – unlike ‘The Highest Steeple’. I never really discovered the moral purpose behind that one. That is…until NOW…
The very large framed colour print of the first self-titled Superman comic book from 1939 proudly decorated the wall behind me; the world’s first (and finest) superhero ever to be created (circa 1932), but very much a ‘man’ in every sense of the image. During that period and for many years thereafter it would appear that the ‘male of the species’ got all of the best titles, and jobs, and preferences the world over could ever present. It’s a common fact. Why, even ‘The Batman’ – one of the most human of vigilantes – was given all that intelligence and technology to use in order to seek justice. Things had to change, and Judith May Cooper engineered that change. The likes of these so-called ‘superheroes’ were all a considerable myth to Judy – they were all pumped-up stick figures, coloured-in and given a ‘party’ dress to wear…she didn’t quite get it. But, somehow, one day, she had no choice but to take heed of the comic books that she had access to…for there was a personal reflection of the heart that was reoccurring in her troubled life and she aimed to do something about it…
One could be forgiven for interpreting her image directly from the wardrobe of Gotham City, but Judy had to begin her transformation at a starting point which was both economical and enduring; her resourcefulness has to be applauded. Remember, she is a human being just like you and I, and she had no great wealth in order to advance her plans on a larger scale, so there was no hi-tech equipment or special flying armour for her. However, she was a product of an era which was engulfed in prosperity and conformity; the US of the 1950’s faced a number of challenges – some of them good, but in the regions of some classes, not highly-regarded as such: Rock ‘n’ Roll, Television, and ‘Playboy’ – to name but three. On a more life-threatening scale – the Korean War conflict began, Communism reached its greatest heights, and organized crime was a most profitable business. In summary, these were very exciting, but rather apprehensive times (Hmm…ring any bells?!). Furthermore, the subject of Feminism is very much highlighted by the characteristics of Judy Cooper in the fifties – it is all there in her strength, courage and determination, and this is even before she dons a mask and a deadly knife!
Raymond Benson has done a wonderful job in illustrating the period through Judy’s eyes and in turn we get to relish all of this through her diaries which are seen through the eyes of her son, Martin in a modern-day perspective. Furthermore, the story as a whole, works on many levels so please do not misconstrue this as just another all-out vigilante attack on the criminal side of mankind – for you would be very wrong to make this assumption! ‘The Black Stiletto: The First Diary’ is also an endearing tale of relationships both past and present, and a fine helping of family trials and tribulations generously sprinkled throughout the events over several years.
I reached over for the book once again, knowing that the next time I put it down I will have finished my first complete reading of it. I say “first” because I am very confident I shall be reading it again sometime soon no doubt. A writer and a reader both invest a tremendous amount of creative energy into the characters they believe in – it’s tantamount to the building of a whole new world from within the imagination of each participant. It’s a wonderful process of thought that occurs when a writer has hit that ‘sweet spot’ of a reader’s mind, be it in the form of the story as a whole, or the many fictional ‘somebodies’ that populate that whole. Sometimes, it may just be that one ‘somebody’ who engulfs the process of thought, feeling and imagination within a story. Raymond Benson has delivered in that process and Judy Cooper Talbot, has delivered herself as that ‘somebody’. It’s a curious thing to behold when one experiences both sides of Judy – as herself she is the free-thinking spirit of adolescence whom we first come to know in Odessa, Texas, but as ‘The Black Stiletto’ I personally experience a wonderful mix of charming ‘southern belle’ intermingled with a vicious vixen; Wait – ooooo…a cold breeze has just prickled my lower back! But, it is this “southern belle/vicious vixen” that evokes some of the most humorous moments of the story and there are several of these moments that shine as rich as the delivery of language in any Shakespeare comedy: Beautiful.
I looked into those eyes on the cover of the book once again. I reflect upon the soulful beauty that so encapsulates the moment of contact. They look out from beyond the cover of a mask that blends like a shroud of darkness…they could be calling your name in a friendly manner. Alternatively, you may also feel the prickly sensation of fear that criminals may exclusively feel from beyond that darkness, that calling. Those eyes could be representing a beacon of hope in a nightmare that may or may not be at its end; I anticipate the final proclamation of this “First Diary” that lies behind the cover of those eyes. Ironically, I observed three significant months in the diary which hosted major occurrences in Judy’s life from 1958 – each one occurred on the 12th day of each of those three months. Eerie. Raymond and I would now like to offer you an insight into one of those significant events via the link below…this event occurs on the 12th July, 1958…and so for your perusal is ‘The Black Stiletto’s Autograph’ as told by a witness of this event (Please click the cover image below to access the free download of the short story)…“For the Love of Judy” continues below after the story link:
I looked over at my calendar again: the 12th underlined…today…my Grandma’s birthday anniversary once again. Another reason why Judy’s story resonated so profoundly with me was regarding her suffering of Alzheimer’s as a 72 year old (my Grandma had suffered with dementia (a symptom of Alzheimer’s)). I think this also adds to my sentimental reading of the scenes between Judy and her Granddaughter, Gina – both wonderful characters that share this extraordinary chemistry. And, even just thinking about the quality time they share together immediately fills me with the most overwhelming delight.
It’s fascinating to read how music is used to such profound affect in their relationship too. We discover from Judy’s diary how much the music of the fifties was playing such an important part in her own youthful development; her favorite music was another aspect of the story that resonated with me jubilantly. It makes one consider how important the music was to her – inspiring her throughout all the ordeals she had to endure – soothing the pain, calming the fear like the comforting arms of a loved one’s affection. For Judy’s was a heart full of restlessness triggered by torment, and you can’t resist the rush of human emotions as you begin to run alongside her roulette wheel of life. ‘The Black Stiletto’ accelerates in a race to the finish line and it tempts you taste every morsel of suspense and danger of a world that got shattered in its tender years and was forever searching for that new horizon later on – pushing it farther away from that tortured past; but it was that past which held the key to the future…the key which jangled from around the neck of one of life’s demons.
Judy is a beautiful character; my investment as a reader has paid off tremendously. I am ready to open the cover once more; it’s time to read on. And, read on to the very end. However, this is most certainly not the “very end” of Judy’s story – it is just the beginning – ‘The Black Stiletto: Black and White’ is the second book of this 5-book serial! I celebrated by lighting another candle – it just seemed an appropriate thing to do. Then, a thought just occurred to me about ‘The Highest Steeple’ and how four years ago my creative thinking towards it was covered in a white sheet of blankness – similar to the white sheet of snow that covered some of those roses needing rain, bluebells in bloom, clover of perfume; I was like a poet that had run out of rhyme. However, below this article you will discover just exactly what ‘The Highest Steeple’ has become today and I sincerely hope you appreciate it. I turned to my page in ‘Judy’s Diary’ and before I commenced reading, I looked at the burning candle then smiled at the calendar on the wall and remembered: Happy Birthday, Grandma!
The title of the poetry here was originally conceived as a radio drama of sorts which never materialised. Therefore, the story of “The Black Stiletto” inspired me to develop the title as a tribute to the wonderful character created by Raymond Benson. Incidentally, the poem was inspired by elements of John Parr‘s “Restless Heart (Running Away with You)” from the soundtrack of the 1987 film “The Running Man” (based on the Richard Bachman (Stephen King) novel). Throughout the stanzas of the poem I’ve incorporated various aspects of the life and character of Judy Cooper Talbot (‘The Black Stiletto’) which includes music, family, past, future, diaries, violence, heartache and mystery references. This is – The song of the jukebox way below
With a tune for every son,
The whisper of darkness all around
With skyline above for one.
The rawness of anger tempting you
With dreams from yesteryear,
The barren pathway that lies ahead
With faces: vicious and dear.
The disguise of one that covers you
With the shine of black veneer,
The chase of screams – piercing high
With desolate souls now feared.
The past now present close behind
With crawling hands of dirt,
The stiletto unsheathed – so freely
With focus and sound alert.
The darkness of pupils piercing thru
With specks of flickering green,
The soulful journey: a darting shadow
With courage, alone to be seen.
The future of thoughts ponder anew
With journals of justice sown,
The city below the rooftops: free
With your mask of cover: unknown.
The Twelfth of Never sung in view
With hearts all broken and torn,
The years of your story unfolding
The calendar months now born.
The words are flowers all for you
With love and caring, unfold,
The affection from behind your mask
With a tear that reigns untold…
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Permission was granted to publish this not-for-profit blog article. The written content and style in this article are owned by Tony G. Marshall and Cosmic Dwellings. Copyright © 2012/2016 Tony G. Marshall/Cosmic Dwellings. All Rights Reserved. ‘The Highest Steeple’ written by Tony G. Marshall. Copyright © 2008/2012 Tony G Marshall. All Rights Reserved. ‘The Black Stiletto’ and all of its content, associated books, short story and links: Copyright © 2011 – 2016 Raymond Benson. All Rights Reserved.