Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I gave it a bright, new cover today.

It's quite PG -13 so acceptable for all audiences except little children who would be bored silly.

Here's the blurb.

Ariel Robbins is being swept away on a sea of soap.  As a staff writer for the daytime serial, Tryst, Ariel finds herself between feuding headwriters, the show’s need for good ratings during the all important tri-annual sweeps weeks, an out of control producer, and actors who can’t act.  Things take a turn for the worse, if that’s possible, when the matchmaking begins.  Attractive and simmering with unexpected passions, Dr. Dorsey Rees is brought on board the show as the medical consultant.  Try as she might, Ariel can’t avoid Dorsey, as is the intention of every good matchmaker, but there are times when both of them wish they were a globe apart.  Like when a parody story for the show is mistakenly submitted, approved enthusiastically and goes on to be a rousing success.  All at the expense of Dr. Rees, or Dr. Docktor as he’s known on air.

Against the backdrop of a revolving door of producers, each one less competent than the last, a near-death by an over- indulgence of champagne truffles, a trip to a Caribbean paradise gone terribly awry, an embarrassing Christmas ornament accident, a calamity of miscues, misspoken words, and a lawsuit for defamation of character, Ariel and Dorsey still find it possible to finger-paint their way to love.  Her parents adore him, his parents send him to Europe on business to keep him away from her.  Ariel can’t help but question whether love is enough to hold a relationship together when such great differences threaten to separate them.

  So here's the first chapter to enjoy.


We are so screwed.  Today I wrote a scene for a show that taped Friday.
I went to Margie, a production assistant, and said “When the heck does it air?”
She shrugged.  “TBA.”
“What do you mean, To Be Announced?”
She motioned me closer and whispered.  “I was told to say that if anyone asked.  In real life, it airs next Tuesday.”
They’re going to bring Frances Sternhagen back at the cost of about $1000 a day to tape this one scene tomorrow so it can be inserted in time.
Of course, the show makes no sense if this scene isn’t in there.  Why it wasn’t in there to begin with is beyond me but let’s call it a slight oversight.  Slight.
I don’t know why they’re worried about the show making sense at this point.  We’ve completely lost control.  The audience is chucking spears at us on the internet newsgroup.  They stopped calling us TPTB (The Powers That Be) and now refer to us as TIIC (The Idiots In Charge).  They’ll be picketing in front of the studio before long.  You can’t buy publicity like that!
In the private conference room, the back stairwell, the three of us underlings, Michie, Zander and I, said that there was no way production could stay this far behind the taping schedule and not have the network find out.
Guess what.
Only the sneakiest of exec prods would fudge the schedule, so that’s what Julian Kaye did.  He sent it to the head of daytime programming and convinced her everything was perfect here.
In the last story meeting, Baxter had his head on the table most of the time.  All he talks about is going to Venice.  How does a show operate with a headwriter who can’t pick up his head?
What are anti-psychotics and could he be on them?
I may have to send to www.prescriptionmedsoffshore.com for my own supply of uncontrolled soporifics if I stay here much longer.
I don’t have time for a personal life.  I think I’ve lost ten pounds since I’ve been on this show because I don’t have time to eat.  I’m starving most of the time but I’m too wound up to be sure.  Last night I had a pear for dinner and fell asleep with it in my hand.  Boy, what a mess on the sheets this morning.
Six months ago, I was down to my last few pennies and could hardly afford to buy a package of gum.  Now I’m making thousands of dollars a week and can’t go buy a package of gum.
The vast majority of members of the Writers Guild of America are out of work, quit complaining, Ariel.
I’m not complaining.
I just want a hot meal.

Michie followed me into my office and closed the door behind her.  It was 9:55 and we were on the slippery slope into another work day.
“I could have been an actress,” she said.
I took off my coat.  “No, you couldn’t have,” I replied, slid the paper off the straw and poked it into the container of freshly squeezed vegetable juice I purchased around the corner.  Tall.  Carrot, apple and orange.  No celery.  Celery spoils it.  I was desperate for nutrition but even if I ate cardboard, it would be more than I usually got.
Talented and funny, Michie was too good a writer to be an actress.
“If I hadn’t been an extra that day on METROPOLE, I’d be doing Theater in the Round.”
“Was that an under-five?”  I asked.
“You know it was.”  She sat on the narrow ledge and looked down at the side street. 
We had all heard the story before.  George, the producer of that now dead soap, desperately needed a script writer and who better to know about dialog than an actor.  I thought there was a glitch in that logic overall but in Michie’s case it was true.  She was a good writer and a good storyteller.
“People always want to know how you get a job writing for a soap,” she said not looking away from the city.  “No one believes me when I tell them the truth.  You fall into it like Alice fell down the rabbit hole and you wind up in Dunderland.”
I laughed as I pushed he power button to my computer.
“Why don’t they tell you when you go to college and waste all that money on a Bachelor’s Degree in English that you will be prepared for nothing?  Nothing.”
“I got this gig through my rabbi,” I replied as I sipped my vegetable juice.  “The son of one of the members of the congregation is an agent.  Now he’s my agent.  It’s called networking.”
Michie nodded.  “Everyone thinks I’m Jewish with this nose.”  She turned to give me her profile.  “What do they think you are?”
She snorted in disbelief. 
I nodded as I sipped my liquid vegetables.
“If you could tell what people are by looking at them, everyone would think Julian has a Napoleonic Complex and insecurities over the size of his apparatus.”
“That’s what people do think!”
She opened the door.  “See how wrong I can be?”  With wave imitative of Queen Elizabeth II, Michie was gone down the hall.
It was Monday.  We had a story meeting with the network every Monday morning at ten when Diane DuClos and Jennifer Maines-Jaeger would walk across the street from headquarters to our door.
DD was the head of daytime programming.  JMJ was the VP of daytime programming and nothing happened without their approval.
Nothing happened without their knowledge.  Everything we wrote went past them.
I’m not sure they read everything.  I’m not sure if it was humanly possible to both read and understand the wealth of material that had to pass over their desks each week but that’s what you get the really big bucks for. 
But, nevertheless, they showed up and made comments on everything turned in by Friday at 6 p.m. the previous week.
Michie, Zander and I were in the meetings but we were not supposed to say anything.  We were there to take notes only, not add to the discussion.  We were third tier.
There was a hierarchy to the hirelings.  Baxter Tate was the king of the mountain.  Under Baxter were his associates, Eleanor Hartzler and Ryan O’Brennan.  They could speak at meetings.  They told story.  The third tier individuals only implemented orders.
It was like the Army.  You have commissioned officers and you have enlisted personnel.  But even in the Army there are grunts.  In daytime, those were the dialogue writers.  They didn’t even have to show up.  They just had to send in a script every week.  We didn’t care what they thought, looked like or did in their spare time, we just wanted them to turn in lines actors could speak.  Unfortunately, this didn’t always happen since I was a script editor as well and spent far too much time rewriting.
The wall clock said ten.  On my television monitor there was a feed from the studio where they were blocking that day’s show.  The actors weren’t in costume yet but the women had curlers in their hair.
I had been in DD’s office, once, when I was hired.  She had two television sets on at all times.  One had a studio feed and one had the network air.  Intravenous television like a hospital patient dragging a carrier with a needle drip attached to their arm.
I hurried down the hall to Julian’s office where the story meetings were held.  I had long since given up the notion of bringing anything to eat or drink in there.  You’d think people would be slurping at coffee or eating bagels that were provided every morning down at the end of the hall near the casting office, but I’m one of those totally clumsy and inept individuals who cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.  I don’t mind admitting the truth about myself.  Taking notes and trying to nibble at a danish or carefully sip bottled water without knocking it over and flooding a week’s worth of breakdowns for everyone was so far beyond me that I vowed never to attempt it.  After the first horribly embarrassing incident.  Michie, the veteran to these wars, had looked at me over her pad holder and winked that morning as everyone rushed at the mess with those nonabsorbent napkins.
This week, I found my place as unobtrusively a possible, sort of like a geisha girl who enters a room trying to be invisible yet ready to serve.
What could have been a fascinating process was as complicated and boring as conceivable.  Often we went through the material line by line, word by word.
“She shouldn’t be angry, she should be...indignant.”
It was as though you needed a thesaurus in your head ready to scroll through listings at a moment’s notice to find another degree of anger, affection, concern or disdain.  TPTB could get stuck on a word for twenty minutes without it ever occurring to them that once the outline was sent to the dialogue writer, anger could become anything.  And once that script got to the floor the director could make anger anything.  And once one of the actors got a hold of it, just pray there was some emotion tacked to the scene at all.
But we took the notes and made the changes that afternoon and late that day the breakdowns would be sent to the dialogue writers who would return a product by Friday mashed and hashed.
Eleanor was in fine fettle, knowing Baxter wasn’t going to speak up or speak at all so had been shouldering more of the defense of the story.
Put it this way: there was no defense for our stories, but we had to live with them.
I had to give Eleanor credit; it was plain she knew how to play the game as she had been in the business for years.  She was a woman, too, and that gave her a slight edge with DD and JMJ.
We didn’t even get as far as Wednesday’s show when the discussion turned to the November Sweeps.
When I had been a civilian I had heard of sweeps and knew they were somehow important but I didn’t understand how one lived or died on the ratings of a sweeps period.
Three times a year the advertising rates are set based upon how many viewers are watching each show.  If no one’s watching, the rates drop, profits drop and the network loses money.  If the audience is huge, the advertisers will flock to air their commercials at that time and profits will soar.
Network television isn’t about the shows.  The shows are there just as bait to get the audience to watch the commercials.  It’s crucial for the bottom line to have the largest audience and the most valuable airtime.  The network will do anything to tinker with a show hoping to improve the numbers; unfortunately, they often don’t know what to do.  But it’s imperative that they to do something otherwise why are they getting paid?
That day the notes reflected the desire to do something and it was suggested that two people who had known each other for ten years and had never expressed the vaguest romantic interest would suddenly fall in love.
How can that happen I wanted to ask but I had learned my lesson.
I had spoken up one of the first weeks I had been on the show and everyone had looked at me in shock.  I was given a cursory answer, a wink over her pad holder from Michie and a stern talking to later.  I wasn’t there to speak up!
Okay, so there was the note.  GRACE and DOUGLAS will now fall in love so they can have this very stylish interlude at Christmas with the extravagantly decorated sets Julian has envisioned.  How do you write that?  How do you convince anyone?
They look at each other one day and say “Wow, I’ve never seen you in this way before!”  Be a little realistic.  But it has to happen fast because we only have a few weeks before we start shooting Christmas shows.
In the real world, we’re actually only two weeks behind script, most shows are four.
GRACE and DOUGLAS have to fall in love immediately with not a second of airtime to waste.
Yawn.  Who’s going to care?
But the problem is that we can’t afford to hire anyone new for GRACE to fall in love with and she’s been in love with every other male on the show by now.
How is it possible, I want to ask, that a woman has been married seven times and has had numerous affairs, is still considered in her right mind?  I don’t bother as I know the answer.  Things are different in Jericho Valley.
I must remember that.
Eleanor talked a good story of it though, painting this burgeoning affair in such glowing terms that I know she’s been discussing it with Julian.  He must want this liaison between GRACE and DOUGLAS.  Why, I wonder.
Finally, at noon, the meeting draws to a close and the peons hurry out.  I feel lightheaded and dehydrated and only want to stick my head under the water fountain for two minutes.  I went to my office instead, switched from the feed to air, which was the local news and reviewed the notes.  It could have been so much worse.
A half hour later Michie entered.  “Baxter’s gone missing.”
“He probably went to lunch.”
“Actually no one saw him leave the floor.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“I think he’s in Julian’s office and someone has to go collect him.”
Michie nodded.  “Everyone else is gone.”  She wasn’t exactly on speaking terms with Julian and there was a necessity for her to avoid him whenever possible.
I went out into the hall and walked down to Julian’s office, pausing at the door.  What if Julian was in there?  Then I’d have to talk to him.
I knocked tentatively, then a bit louder.  No answer.  I grasped the door handle and pushed open the door. 
Baxter was in there with his head on the desk.
I went to him.  “Baxter?”  I put my hand on his shoulder.  “Are you okay?”
He raised his head.  “I must have fallen asleep.”
How is this possible I wanted to ask but didn’t.
“Eleanor is trying to take over the show,” he said attempting to straighten himself out.
“Are you sure?”
“I’ve been in the business forty years.  I know a coup d’etat in progress when I see it.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“Will you go to a thing with me tonight?”  Baxter asked as I walked from the office with him.
“A thing?”
“A charity dinner, I should make an appearance.”
“Thank you for asking but I’m not sure...”
My rabbi says people don’t ask for help unless they really need it.  “I don’t have anything to wear.”
“Tell Edouard in wardrobe I sent you and to give you something.”
That’s how I came to go to the charity thing at La   Auberge de la Cloche wearing a stylish cocktail dress in a size eight but it was big on me.  SABRINA had worn it six weeks ago to the ritzy country club dance when she discovered her stepson had impregnated the nanny.  Not to worry, there was a miscarriage soon thereafter because none of us could bear the thought of one more show where a woman is sweating and screaming in birth pangs.  Been there, seen that.  So what was it all for?  To take up airtime.  You have to do something every day.  Five days a week, 52 weeks a year, forever and ever.  A life sentence.
I met Baxter in the lobby of his extremely exclusive apartment building.
“You look very nice,” he said in a most gentlemanly manner and I realized not everything is as it appears to be in the studio, especially not Baxter Tate.  In a well-cut suit, he stopped resembling...well, the derelict he usually looked like in his baggy sweaters and corduroy trousers with the nap worn off.
He hailed a cab quickly, opened the door for me and soon we were zooming across town to an establishment I’d only read of in Global Gourmand Magazine.  They’d done an article on the chef and how he differentiated between the different varieties of caviar.  It was all fish eggs to me and I had pretty much gone vegetarian out of necessity.
Auberge de la Cloche was mind-boggling, created to look exactly like its namesake in Paris of the 1920s.  I could easily imagine the likes of Malcolm Cowley chatting with Ernest Hemingway in a dim corner while Djuna Barnes danced with Harry Crosby or Caresse Crosby, what difference would it make in a Jazz Age Paris?
It was impossible for me to not feel like the novice to this that I was.  Normal people are just not prepared for this level of society and I considered myself very, very normal.  I had an excellent education and a nice middle class background but these people were what Paul Fussell termed over the top.  This crowd was beyond upper class; they had old money, owned their own tuxedos and didn’t rent them like ordinary people would have to.  Suddenly I knew how Margaret Mead felt when she first met the natives of Samoa.  These people are not like me.
What was next?  Was someone going to come up to Baxter and greet him as “Old Sod?”
Baxter put his arm around my shoulder in the most fatherly of ways.  “Into the fray,” he said quoting from Hank Cinq and pushing me into the throng of beautiful people.
We were given drinks, and I was introduced to a series of people whose names I could not possibly remember.  In a brief lull, I happened to look across the room and that’s when I saw him.  He was tall and devastatingly handsome, at least from a distance, and wore his impeccably tailored tuxedo with a casual indifference.  You just don’t think people like that exist.  Yeah, they do in magazines and on catwalks of fashion shows but those individuals aren’t real.  Even Cindy Crawford’s legs are not as long in real life as they are in magazine ads.
He saw Baxter, gave a nod of acknowledgment, said something to the equally attractive female with him and made his way toward us.  I must have bumped into Baxter, or started to collapse against him because he murmured, “Buck up, old girl.”
The WASP Adonis from Mount Albion extended his hand, looking even better up close.  “Baxter, good to see you again.”
“Good to see you, too, Dorsey.”
This Dorsey turned to me.
“Yes,” Baxter said, smiling.  “Ariel Robbins, this is Dorsey Rees-Bourne.  Dorsey, this is my writing assistant, Ariel.”
He held out his hand to me.  “How do you do?”  He shook my hand.
I think I gulped but I’m not sure.  It’s a given I didn’t say anything witty.
The female companion glided (only word for it) over, weighed down with gold jewelry that had to be calculated not in grams but ounces if not pounds.  “Baxter!  How nice to see you.”  She air-kissed him on both cheeks.  “Where’s your wonderful wife?”
Dorsey managed to step ever so slightly between the Botticelli Venus and Baxter.  “I believe Sylvia is in the country, isn’t she?”
Baxter nodded.
“This is his assistant, Ariel Robbins.  Ariel, this is Susan Didier.”
Susan didn’t even bother to shake hands with me.  “So you have her working on that dreadful show with you?”
“Susan, it is entertainment.”
Look down your all too aristocratic, patrician nose, why don’t you?
“Oh, it is dread full,” Baxter too quickly admitted.
“There’s a literary tradition of long-form storytelling.  Daytime serials are simply an extension of works like The Iliad and The Odyssey.”  I had rapidly reached my day’s quota of critical remarks lobbed my way without being able to defend my position.
“My God!  You don’t mean to compare your show to Homer!”  Susan roared with laughter.
I must have turned fifty shades of red and she struggled to control herself.  I just hoped Susan Didier was wearing panties or the floor was going to know how hilarious I had just been.
“Susan went to Oxford,” Baxter explained quietly. 
“Then she knows how popular Homer was with the masses of his time,” I commented, not being able to stop myself.  I put my hand on Baxter’s arm.  “But, after all, we do have four million people watching every day and that’s not so bad.  How many people read Homer today?”  I gave the WASP deity a look and turned away to the appetizer tray that was being offered, picked up a carrot stick, turned back and crunched into it with a snap for punctuation.
You can’t take me anyplace.

“Then she looked at me like I was a pitiable idiot and with a toss of her head, dragged Mr. Triple Name away,” I reported to Michie the next morning as I tried to decipher Baxter’s handwriting on the breakdown I had been given.
“What was her name?”  Michie asked.
“Susan Didier.”  I remembered that quite clearly.
“Oh darling,” Zander commiserated having sneaked into my office with the newspaper to have ten minutes to himself.  “You can’t spar with someone like that.  She wrote the book on it.”
I looked up.  “What?”
“No, literally.”  He stood, flipped through the newspaper and opened it to the literary section.
There it was, hailed as the seminal work on modern society.  Recently published!  Destined for the bestseller charts!  Breaking all records!  POPPING POP CULTURE: How American Standards Have Deteriorated in the Age of Television.
“Who the heck is she?”  Michie asked, interest piqued.
“A professor at NYU.”
“The Botticelli Venus is a professor?”  I asked in amazement.  “I didn’t have any professors that looked like her.”
“She’s an expert authority.”  Zander skimmed an article. 
“And you compared this show to The Iliad?”  Michie asked.
“Not exactly,” I replied while reading the glowing review, feeling like Baxter might have the right idea and putting my head down on the desk for a few days couldn’t hurt.
“Not to worry,” Michie said brightly.  “You’ll never see either of them again.”
Margie entered the office without knocking.  “The overnights are in.  We have just achieved the lowest rating in history.”

We barely survived sweeps.  Not only were the ratings terrible, the lectures we got were worse.  We were harangued, I mean given pep talks, by everyone, repeatedly.  We were ordered, I mean encouraged, to come up with something new.
That’s the whole thing about soap operas after fifty years.  There is nothing new anymore.  It’s all been done. 
The third Thursday of the month found me where I usually volunteered my free time, what little there was of that.  The Henry Hudson Homeless Shelter.  Early that morning, I had walked down the empty streets entered the old building and started to help with the cooking.  All morning we worked in the steaming kitchen over vats of boiling turnips, mountains of mashed potatoes and ovens full of silky pumpkin pies.  By two p.m., we were ready to serve our residents and guests.
Halfway in I looked up and nearly fell into the gravy.
The Botticelli Venus had entered with Mr. Triple Name and a photographer.
Ted, the director of the shelter, was showing her around, giving her the guided tour. 
What was she doing here?  Publicity, obviously.
I just put my head down and paid attention to the task at hand, serving meals.
“Ariel?  Is that you?”
I looked up.  Dorsey Rees-Bourne was standing near the table with a huge grocery bag in his hand.
I tried to push at the hair that was straggling into my face.  I sure couldn’t do anything about the dishcloth I had wrapped around me so I wouldn’t keep wiping my hands on my jeans.
“Afraid so,” I replied.
Susan approached with a great publicity smile on her face.  “How lovely to see you again.”
Click click.
Oh good.  I would be immortalized in some magazine looking my absolute worst.
“Do you work here?”  Susan asked smiling at the camera.
“Yes,” I replied smiling at a guest as I tried to sneak a plate between Susan and the photographer.
“I thought I’d bring some goodies to the needy.”
I nodded at Susan.  “Isn’t Thanksgiving amazing?  It’s the one day a year homeless people are hungry.”
Susan snapped me a look.  “Dorsey, darling, we’ll be late for the Auchinclosses.”
He handed me the sack of food.  “There’s a check in there, too.
“Thank you,” I replied. 
Click click.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” he said.
“You, too,” I answered as brightly as I could manage.
Where’s a portal into another dimension when you need one?

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