We’re less than a week away from the release of Say Goodbye To Hollywood! If you’re anticipating the book as much as I’m eagerly anticipating sharing it with you, here’s a glimpse of what you can expect. Read the excerpt after the jump, and don’t forget that you can pre-order Say Goodbye To Hollywood on Amazon now!
The cover of Lynn Baldwin’s debut novel, Beautiful Darkness, bears the words, “#1 New York Times Bestseller” and “Over 100 Million Copies Sold!”. In the glossy image, a necklace of red beads drapes over a black lacquered surface, presumably the piano the tortured hero of the story, Damian Bennet, has played since he was a boy. A twenty-nine-year-old internet billionaire and underground mixed martial arts competitor, Damian meets naive, virginal college student Ella Vaughn on page five and, through four-hundred-sixty-eight pages of flowery humping and alarmingly violent personal altercations, their destinies and hearts are forever changed.
The cover art is tasteful. The story, not so much.
I take a long, deep breath and hold it until the elevator arrives and the doors open. A short, pale woman holds the open-door button and leans slightly forward to address me. “Jessica Yates?”
I want to extend my hand, but all I can think is that she’ll release the button, and my arm will be trapped between the closing doors “Yes. And you’re Kathy?”
“Kathy Muller, yes.” She gestures me into the elevator with her. “Lynn is so excited to meet you.”
“I’m looking forward to it.” I take another deep breath and slowly exhale with the climbing floors.
“What did you think of the book?” Muller asks, a twinkle in her eyes. It matches the twinkle in the eyes of the women at yoga when they mention the book, and the eyes of the clerk at the bookstore where I purchased a copy.
The correct answer to a twinkler is, of course, positive, even if my opinion of the book is not. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before.”
She beams at me. Like Lynn Baldwin, Kathy Muller is from Oklahoma. In fact, she’s Baldwin’s cousin; that’s how she got the job as Lynn’s assistant in the first place.
I stare down at the book in my shaking hands.
Sure, I think it’s terrible. The storyline is needlessly convoluted; what dotcom billionaire had time for underground fighting rings? Why, if the heroine is so afraid of BDSM, does she make a bet to become his submissive? The writing itself comes off stilted and juvenile, and the much-vaunted sex scenes read like the protagonists are having asthma attacks, instead of orgasms.
There are so many ellipses.
But one-hundred-million customers can’t be wrong, can they? The book is a world-wide phenomenon. The last thing I wrote did well, but not Forbes well.
Lynn Baldwin was on the cover last month.
I glanced sideways at Kathy. She watches the numbers like we’re at the stock exchange. Her gaze flicks to me. She smiles reassuringly and says, “We’re almost there.”
Though Macrocosm Studios’ production offices are in Burbank, today, I’m at the Beverly Wilshire, where Mrs. Baldwin has been living during pre-production. She has to be on hand for the numerous components of the film she has unprecedented control over.
When it comes to Beautiful Darkness, everything is unprecedented. The bidding war for the film rights reached into the mid-seven figures. And, now, Macrocosm is sending me in for her approval. If this meeting goes well, I’ll be adapting the current bestselling book in the world for a major motion picture.
This is a big deal for me. A huge deal, with a whole lot on the line. I’m in demand, now, but that demand will wane if I can’t maintain commercial success. So far, my work has been acclaimed, but I’ve never really “popped”. Beautiful Darkness might give me the boost I need to keep the phone ringing.
The elevator dings, and Muller announces, “Penthouse. Please, follow me.”
It’s not magnificent talent that’s gotten me to the penthouse suite. I know the man to thank for getting me this meeting.
Jack Martin waits just inside the foyer. Whenever I hear the phrase “ruggedly handsome”, I immediately picture Jack. He has the square jaw of a hardboiled detective in a comic strip and eyes like the youngest member of a boy band, and he looks like he could wear plaid shirts and survive in the wilderness. It’s easy to see how he got his start in action movies.
He turns to me with his signature scary frown. I’ve been told that I have Resting Bitch Face. Jack has Resting If-You-Say-Another-Stupid-Word-So-Help-Me-God-I-Will-Throw-You-Off-A-Balcony face. It looks good on movie posters, but if you don’t know him, it’s incredibly intimidating in real life. Especially now that he’s in his early forties, and his default expression has gone from “beer-fueled, Boston-born Irishman who just overheard you praising the Yankees”, to “cold, distant father in a 1960s-set coming-of-age movie”. And most especially when he’s dressed like the GQ angel of death in a black suit, black shirt, and no tie. He turns, scratches his short brown hair, and greets me with, “I’m waiting for Ms. Baldwin.”
The assistant at my side makes a strained polite face. “As I said before, she’s making an appearance via satellite.”
Jack rolls his eyes. I don’t blame him. He’s not the most important man in Hollywood, but he is important. He’d made Macrocosm a killing starring as a Russian sleeper agent in their Dangerous Identity franchise, and the first feature he produced for them had been an award-season darling. Jack Martin’s name attached to anything is gold, but clearly, Lynn Baldwin has the same idea about herself.
Kathy hurries off, leaving us both to stand in the marble-walled foyer. “How long have you been waiting?”
“Longer than I should have,” is the only answer he gives. He glances sideways at me. “You look nice today.”
There’s a mirror across the hallway to our right. I sneak a peek to make sure the back of my cream-colored blazer isn’t tucked into my slacks or something. I’m wearing my favorite shirt beneath it, a dusky mauve silk blouse that brings out the “English rose” in my complexion. I do look pretty good. Maybe Jack wasn’t being sarcastic.
I straighten the chain of the Jason Wu necklace I borrowed from one of my more fashionable friends and say, “Thanks?”
Jack has never once commented on my appearance while on the clock. Which means he’s trying to boost my confidence. Which means he can tell I’m nervous.
Kathy bustles back in and gives us a way-too-enthusiastic smile. “All right, thank you so much for waiting. She will see you, now.”
Jack makes an “after you” motion, and I follow Kathy down the hall, into a spacious living room with a panoramic view. A large photo backdrop of L.A. dominates most of the room, and blazing camera lights click off one-by-one as a technician takes them down. Someone else is packing away a camera and cables.
“Just ignore them,” Kathy says with a wave of her hand that implies she’s taking it all in stride on just another day.
But Muller hasn’t always been Baldwin’s assistant, and Baldwin hasn’t always lived this life.
Kathy takes us to a smaller media room with wood paneling and a sleek television in a modern white shelving unit.
“Ms. Baldwin will be just one more moment,” she assures us, then draws the wood divider across the wide doorway like a bowing footman.
“Christ, it’s like we’re here to meet the Pope,” Jack says, and he makes a noise that I’ve come to decode as a wry laugh.
There’s one very modern armchair and an L-shaped sofa with evenly spaced throw pillows. I sit on one side, Jack sits on the other, and we both stare silently at the glass-topped coffee table that’s nearly bumping our knees.
I’ve worked in Hollywood for the past fourteen years, and the only other time I was this nervous going into a meeting was when I was still in awe of Jack. He’s nervous today, too. It’s hard to tell, but since I’ve worked with him enough, I can see the signs. He’s trying hard not to jiggle his knee, and he keeps taking a breath like he’s going to say something then never does.
It feels like we’ve been waiting an eternity when the partition slides open again, and there she is. Soccer mom turned literary superstar, Lynn Baldwin.
Lynn is in her mid-forties and is a little overweight. Her long casual pink sweater and white leggings combo gives the impression that success hasn’t removed her far from her comfortable suburban life in Oklahoma, but the sweater is cashmere, and no housewife I’ve ever seen wears diamonds the size of the one her left hand.
I assume it’s an upgraded wedding ring, not the original.
“Jack! So good to see you again!” she exclaims, and I’m instantly relieved that she’s as warm and personable as she is in interviews.
I stand at the same time Jack does, waiting in my spot while he rounds the coffee table to shake her hand and give her the customary air kiss beside her cheek.
“L.A. is agreeing with you,” he says, turning on the charming smile that’s made him People’s Sexiest Man Alive twice.
Ms. Baldwin pats her blond hair and demurs, “Oh, stop it. I feel like I’m getting such a big head since I came out here.”
I’m glad she didn’t greet me right away, because I’m in a little bit of shock trying to reconcile her appearance with the pictures I saw on the internet. Many of them were a month or more old, from her massive North American book tour. Her face isn’t as lined as it was in those pictures, and her haircut and highlights are flawless, now. She turns to me and extends her hand; the four gold bangles on her wrist clink softly.
“Hi there, Ms. Baldwin. I’m Jessica Yates.” I take her hand and shake it, and she uses this gesture to pull me in.
“Oh, please, call me Lynn.” She looks as though she’s about to say something else when she notices the copy of her book in my hands. I don’t know why I’m still holding it. She takes it from me, sighing as though she’s seeing it for the first time. “I love this cover. Don’t you love this cover?”
“Much better than the one you used on your website,” Jack says, and my spine stiffens. The self-published origins of Beautiful Darkness have been a touchy subject in interviews. Jack has to know that, right? He always does his homework.
Lynn’s smile flickers and freezes for just a moment, then she laughs a little too loudly and says, “Well, let’s not even talk about that.”
“Right!” I jump in. “We’re here to talk about the screenplay.”
“It’s exciting, isn’t it?” she gushes, taking the armchair. Jack and I sit down, as well. Lynn draws one leg up beneath the other and rubs her hands together as she addresses me. “I’m sure Jack has already told you that this isn’t going to be the usual arrangement. Macrocosm has offered me a lot of creative involvement, and I want to do right by my fans. I need to know that you’re as committed to this story as I am.”
My gaze flicks to Jack. He’s lounging comfortably with one elbow on the back of the couch, and I see the sadistic little glimmer in his eyes. He knows how I feel about the book. When we first discussed the possibility of me writing the screenplay, I told him it would make a better psychological thriller than a hot-and-heavy romance.
The diplomatic statement I rehearsed on the drive over rolls out easily. “You know, I found something so compelling about this story. While I read it, I could see the movie in my mind. Do you ever read a book and just get that feeling, that spark, that there’s more story to be told? Layers that you can’t give to the reader in words but something that has to be shown visually?”
She nods, her expression composed and serious. I wonder, for a minute, if I offended her by suggesting there was something missing from her novel, but the corners of her eyes squint a little, and she says, “You know, when I was writing it, it looked like movie in my head.”
I know this already, and so does Jack, because Lynn Baldwin has never kept it secret that a young, muscle-bound Jack Martin, fresh off his second spy movie, was the inspiration for Damian. I watch Jack shift just a little in his seat, and I have to keep myself from laughing.
“So, we’re on the same page, then?” I ask. “No pun intended.”
Pun totally intended. Jack hates them, and I like to antagonize him.
“Can you tell me some of what we’d be doing? I’ve never written a movie before, so I don’t know what should stay or go or if anything really should go.” Lynn looks from me to Jack.
He clears his throat, and I almost don’t hear it over the alarm bells in my head. Has someone told Lynn that she’ll be writing the screenplay with me? Jack never mentioned that.
“Right now isn’t the time to talk about cuts to the work,” Jack says. “I think the important thing we should discuss is tone. What kind of a film are we going to bring to the audience?”
“A hot one, I hope!” Baldwin says with an ear-splitting laugh. It’s clear that she wants me to agree with her, but I have reservations. Since I read the first of the many sex scenes in the novel, I’ve been worrying about how to get whips and chains past the MPAA.
I try not to disagree with her outright. Today is all about getting her approval, so she’ll give Jack the word that it’s okay for me to proceed.
My answer is a cautious one. “Hot, definitely. We don’t want to lose the sex appeal. But we want to make sure it doesn’t come across as too explicit. I want viewers to focus on the love story.”
“Of course, but the sex is such a visceral part of what—” She’s interrupted by the divider opening, and a flash of truly alarming annoyance crosses her face. I make a mental note of that for later. If she has a quick temper, I don’t want to be on the wrong side of it.
The man who enters is tall and lanky, with a bald head that reminds me of the shiny, pale surface of an egg bagel. He leans down to give Lynn a kiss on the forehead and tells her, “I’m taking the kids to the pool. Give me a call when you’re finished here?”
“Absolutely, baby,” she purrs back at him, and without an introduction, he’s gone. She turns to us, a naughty glimmer in her eyes, and says, “Mr. Inspiration.”
“Your husband?” Jack asks. I want to smack him.
“No, her au pair.” My snark earns a big laugh from Lynn, but it doesn’t unburden me from the knowledge that Damian Bennett is apparently some hellish mix of Lynn’s husband in Jack’s body.
“Oh, I like you,” Lynn says, as though this is the ultimate compliment. “You’re sassy. I think we’ll get along very well.”
“Jessica is one of the hardest working screenwriters Macrocosm has ever hired,” Jack says, and winks at me. “But she is a lot of fun to work with.”
Lynn’s gaze shifts between the two of us, the corners of her eyes crinkling with piqued interest. Of course, the woman who wrote the bestselling romance novel of all time would jump to a romantic conclusion, but it still brings up all sorts of icky feelings that I thought I left in the past. There’s nothing romantic between Jack and me. At least, not anymore.
Lynn studies me. “You’re very familiar with my book, aren’t you?”
“Absolutely. I couldn’t put it down.” I literally couldn’t. I had to read it before this meeting. I take my copy and flip through the pages. “I even made notes in the margins.”
Hopefully, she doesn’t ask to read them. I could kick myself for bringing them up.
“What was your favorite part?” From Lynn’s tone and the subtle freeze of her perfect suburban smile, I know this is a test.
This isn’t my first rodeo. I’ve never adapted a sure-fire Hollywood blockbuster, but I know all about writer egos. I have my own. By the time I’m done working on this script, I’ll have told her thirty “favorite” scenes I have. “When Damian interrupts the fight between Ella and Cassidy.”
Something akin to relief crosses Lynn’s face. If I were in her position, I would test people, too. It’s easy for people to flatter you, but there’s no guarantee of substance behind it. She shakes her head. “Don’t you just hate Cassidy?”
Do I hate her, or am I supposed to hate her? The bitchy blond next-door neighbor who constantly taunts Ella grows tiresome within a few chapters. “I think we can have a lot of fun with that dynamic.”
That dynamic won’t make it into the final script, if I can help it. It’s extraneous; Cassidy disappears around the mid-point of the novel and never reappears, with absolutely no explanation.
“I think this is a good fit,” Jack says, too suddenly. It probably doesn’t strike Lynn as desperate, because from anybody else, it wouldn’t be. But my eyes go wide, like I just caught someone stuffing a body into a dumpster. Jack never tries to close out a meeting with a definite answer. It’s his power move; he walks away and gives them the illusion that the ball is in their court. He wants this for me.
“Oh, I think you’re absolutely right,” Lynn agrees, and looks to me expectantly. “So, when I can I see a script?”
My brain whirls. I want this job. I want the money. I want the security. I want whatever is on the other side of the door that this job will open for me. But I’m not sure I want to spend the next three or four months of my life immersed in the extremely narrow world of Damian and Ella.
Then, I look at Jack.
I owe this man everything. He’s never steered me wrong once. Without him, the door to Hollywood would never have opened to me. Or maybe it would have, but certainly not in the way it had when it was Jack’s hand on the doorknob.
As Lynn Baldwin, the Jacqueline Susann of her time, waits with her photo-ready benevolent smile, I ask, “Does this mean I have your approval to go forward?”
She animates with joy. “Of course, you do! Do you have any idea how many men the studio heads have had in here, talking to me about my book and how they understand it?” Lynn scoffs and throws a pointed sideways glance at Jack. “I can’t trust a man to understand Ella the way a woman can. You know, a reporter said to me recently, ‘Every woman sees herself in Ella Vaughn, no matter her age or her background,’ and I think that’s true. Ella is every woman, and only a woman can really live through her experiences.”
“The reporter, wasn’t that Brian Chambers for the L.A. Times?” Jack asks, deadpan.
I ignore him. “Well, I’m very excited. I’m sure there are things that need to be worked out with Jack and the studio—” I hope he hears the cash registers ka-chinging in my head.
The sliding wall opens, and Kathy peeks in.
“Naturally,” Jack cuts me off. “But let’s save that. I think we’ve gone over our time.”
“Oh, that’s right. I have so many meetings and appearances today.” Lynn stands, and Jack and I follow suit. Jack reaches over and gives Lynn a hearty handshake, but when it’s my turn, she locks her fingers around mine and squeezes, her face contorting with emotion. “You’re the right fit for this. I can feel it.”
Instantly, I feel like an asshole. This woman believes in me. She trusts me to bring her vision to the screen. Writing is intimate. It’s raw. It’s daunting. And it’s terrifying. I’ve been viewing her as someone beneath me, as a means to an end. I came into this meeting so full of myself, so derisive about her book.
I have to do better.
We leave, Kathy making all sorts of apologies. She walks us straight to the elevator, her eyes on our every move like we’re fans who’ll hide out somewhere in the penthouse. I almost want to snap that we’re not going to steal Lynn’s underwear. As we wait for the elevator, Kathy collects a toned blond woman with a yoga mat under one arm and a Nalgene bottle in her hand.
“She’s just getting changed, but you can set up.” Kathy’s voice disappears down the hall.
Under his breath, Jack mutters, “And we’ve been dismissed. For yoga.”