My Own Personal Soap Opera (by Libby Malin) is up on Kindle and the serial fiction app Radish now, revised and updated! Below is a very short excerpt. Let me set the scene:
Frankie McNally, head writer for the New-York-based (and failing) soap opera Lust for Life, is about to head into a press conference to explain why the show isn’t pulling a jewel thief story line even though a real thief is imitating it in the city. She’s interrupted by Luke Blades, an actor on the show who recently broke his leg, triggering a rewrite of his character’s (Donovan Reilly) story arc, which will have to be further rewritten as he takes a sabbatical to do an off-Broadway production of Hamlet. Meanwhile, Frankie’s often-absent administrative assistant Kayla tries to help Luke, while Victor Pendergrast, nephew to the soap heiress whose company sponsors the show, tries to help Frankie. Phew! Got that?
EXCERPT FROM MY OWN PERSONAL SOAP OPERA BY LIBBY MALIN (copyright Libby Malin Sternberg 2018):
The press conference would have started okay, thought Frankie as perspiration beaded on her upper lip, if it hadn’t been for Luke crashing it. As in literally crashing. Just as Mary had finished the introductions and Frankie had started repeating to herself, “You’ll be okay, you’ll be okay, just ten minutes, that’s what Victor said, try not to pop the buttons on your blouse, don’t breathe too fast, but don’t forget to breathe,” Luke had entered the back of the room and stumbled over a microphone wire.
Ka-boom. All control vanished as reporters scrambled to help him.
“Luke!” An anguished cry from the doorway stopped them all in their tracks, as a redheaded angel of mercy swooped into the room to tend to the fallen actor.
That’s no angel of mercy, Frankie realized, squinting at the gal. It was Kayla!
She’d changed her hair color and was dressed in a white skirt and blouse with a white scarf around her neck.
“We should help,” Frankie mumbled to Victor, before rushing through the gaggle of news reporters to see if Luke was okay.
Not only was he okay, he was holding court.
“Can’t comment for sure on the Hamlet thing,” he said, dusting off his leg as Kayla helped him with his crutches. “But should have an announcement soon. The show’s been great about it so far. Don’t anticipate any scheduling problems.” Then he looked up at Frankie and smiled. “Right?’
Frankie blushed with rage. Dammit. He’d deliberately sabotaged the press conference so he could get his Hamlet job on the record along with her promises to accommodate his time off. She’d look like Scrooge the distaff version if she said anything other than “How proud we are of our top actor, Luke Blades.”
Someone was sticking a microphone in her face, waiting for an answer.
Victor stepped in. “The character of Donovan Reilly is currently a key component on the show,” he said. “We’re sorry we can’t have Mr. Blades stick around, but he needs to get checked out after this latest fall.” There was no missing his emphasis on Luke’s show name, and the meaning was clear. Donovan Reilly would stay. Luke? Hmm…
With a strength that looked both heroic and yet effortless, Victor grabbed Luke’s good side and glided him from the room. Frankie scurried after, unwilling to stay by the lectern without him.
In the hallway, Victor didn’t hold back.
“I don’t know what you thought you were pulling in there,” he whispered harshly, “but I’ll deal with it later.” Then he more clearly articulated his earlier statement: “Donovan Reilly will be in many stories to come. Whoever plays him.” He let go of Luke’s arm. Kayla rushed to stand by him, her face a mask of worry.
“And what are you doing here?” Frankie asked. “In that getup?” She pointed to Kayla’s outfit and hair.
“She was auditioning for a part,” Luke said, not hiding his anger. “She’s only a temp, after all.”
“Wha—” Frankie tried to compute this. “Only a temp?”
“For two years?” Frankie asked, thinking back to when Kayla came onboard. Why didn’t she know this? The boss should know this. And she was the boss. Why did she have to keep reminding people about that? And what about the—
“Auditioning?” Frankie asked. “For what?” At least this explained the woman’s constant absences, her lack of dedication to her job, her “studying” at her desk.
“For the role of Florence Nightingale,” Kayla said defensively, stroking Luke’s arm. “In a play directed by Mishka Palonovitch. Luke told me about it.”
Frankie looked at Luke, who shrugged and said, “My agent passed it on.”
“We don’t have time for this, Frankie.” Victor looked at the door to the room where the press conference was set up.
But Frankie was undeterred. She’d get to the bottom of this. Kayla was an aspiring actress…
“Is this the guy directing Hamlet, this Mishka Palomino—”
“Palonovitch,” Kayla repeated slowly as if Frankie herself were slow. “He won a Tony last year for War Songs.”
When Frankie registered a blank, Luke said, “The musical set at Walter Reed Hospital. All the soldiers are in wheelchairs. Big dance number at the end of act one.”
“So you both want to run off and do stage work with this comedic genius,” Frankie said, disgusted.
“Comic?” Kayla matched Frankie’s disgust and raised her one. “War Songs is a very moving tragedy about the perils of modern life as seen through the eyes of the wounded warrior. I find new levels of irony and insight every time I see it. I cry each time, too. Reviewers say—”
Frankie held up her hand. “Save it.” She glared at Luke. “If you’re so interested in stage work, buster, maybe Donovan Reilly isn’t such an integral part of the show.”
“Frankie, we’ll deal with him later.” Victor grabbed her by the arm, but she shrugged away.
“And as for you,” she said to Kayla, “if you’re interested in acting, why didn’t you tell me? I could have arranged an audition for Lust.” Well, maybe, maybe not. But hell if Frankie would look less than magnanimous.
Kayla’s reaction was anything but grateful. “Thank you, but I’m not ready to settle yet.”
“She’s done some small parts off Broadway,” Luke explained.
Settle? Kayla wasn’t ready to settle for Lust? Red-hot rage lit up her body and her voice as she turned to face Kayla. “You’re not willing to settle for acting on a daytime serial?”
“You see, this is exactly why I didn’t say anything,” Kayla said, her tone sweetly condescending. “I knew you’d offer to help, and, as I said, I’m not really interested in your kind of work yet.”
Inside, Frankie was an erupting volcano of hurt, anger, and outrage. Kayla, the secretary—the very bad temporary secretary, at that—thought her art was too good for Frankie, that her art was better than Frankie’s art. What was the world coming to?
“I… I…” Frankie sputtered, unable to give voice to the cauldron of indignation choking her throat.
“Come along,” Victor said through clenched teeth. He grasped her arm and wouldn’t let go. “We have more important things to do.” He steered her toward the press conference door. She called out over her shoulder, “Lust for Life is moving and touching! Just as moving as any dancing wheelchair farce that that Mucho Parmigiano can come up with! Just as good! Just as touching! Lust for Life is art, too! Damn good art!”
This last bit carried into the room as they entered, triggering the first question from a reporter.
“Ms. McNally, is that the reason why you’re not pulling the thief story, because you’re unwilling to sacrifice your artistic vision for public safety concerns?”
Frankie bumped Victor out of the way, rushed to the lectern, grabbed the mike, and leaned forward, causing the top two buttons on her blouse to pop open.
“Let’s get this straight, bub,” she seethed at him. “Art doesn’t rob people. People rob people!”