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Jesse Kornbluth

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Temptation Is Aptly Named. But Then It's a Hollywood Novel

Posted: 04/25/2012 9:59 am

After some of these days, I'd give a lot for a quick, mindless read.

James Patterson?

Nick Sparks?

Can't do it.

But every once in a while a book is pressed upon me and "page-turner" passes someone's lips. And once in a great while I pluck that book from the pile and put it to my usual the-first-paragraph-better-be-good-or-I'm-outta-here test. A few minutes later and -- surprise! -- off to Goodwill it goes.

The other night, I stacked the wood high in the fireplace, set out a stack of books that their publishers swore I'd love, poured a short glass of a top-grade warming fluid, and picked up Temptation, by Douglas Kennedy, a popular novelist completely unknown to me.

The first paragraph: "I always wanted to be rich. I know that probably sounds crass, but it's the truth. A true confession."

Well, you never go wrong appealing to the 99%.

I pressed on...

Around a year ago, I got my wish. After a ten-year bad luck streak -- a toxic accumulation of endless rejection slips, and 'we're going to pass on this', and the usual bevy of near-misses ('you know, we were really looking for this sort of thing last month'), and (of course) never getting my calls returned - the gods of happenstance finally decided I was worth a smile.

And I received a phone call. Check that: I received the phone call which anyone who has ever scribbled for a living always dreams of receiving.

The call came from Alison Ellroy, my long-suffering agent.
"David, I sold it."

My heart skipped five beats. I hadn't heard the words 'I sold it' for... well, to be honest about it, I'd never heard that sentence before.

"You sold what?" I asked, since five of my speculative scripts were currently doing the Flying Dutchman rounds of assorted studios and production companies.
"The pilot," she said.
"The television pilot?"
"Yep. I sold 'Selling You.'"
"To whom?"
"FRT."
"What?"
"FRT - as in Front Row Television; as in the smartest, hottest producer of original programs on cable ..."

My heart now needed defibrillation.



When asked nicely or when totally unable to stop myself, I have plied the screenwriter's trade. Along the way, I have had a call kinda sorta like that. Kennedy's dialogue seemed credible. And appropriately crisp. I kept going.

Two hours and 300 pages later, the glass was empty, the fire was ashes and I was finished. And I thought: Oh, that's why people read this stuff. [To buy a copy of "Temptation" from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle download, click here.]

The plot? Half of it is delicious. After a decade in the wilderness, David Armitage becomes an overnight success in Hollywood. He meets Sally Birmingham, a high-powered TV executive who is -- naturally -- hotter than his overworked and under-appreciated wife. Tab A goes into Slot B. Often. Divorce follows. So does even more meteoric success. And then David meets a money manager so successful that no one could possibly say no.

You know it goes: When you're on a roll, one person leads to another. The money man brings on Philip Fleck, who has a personal fortune of $20 billion -- yes, that's billion -- but wants nothing more than to be a film director.

And there is David, a deer in headlights.

David has ideas about life that are just sharp enough for clever TV patter. Philip Fleck has other ideas, and they're both darker and more complex. There's a fabulous island for a setting and legendary wines to fuel conversation, but as is so often the case with the very rich, Fleck is one sick puppy. And not in a way I found the least bit interesting.

When you're cruising at 90 miles and run out of gas, you'll coast for quite a while. In Temptation, it's easy to flip pages and get close to the end. There, you will be unsurprised to learn, David learns his lesson and acquires virtue second only to Mother Teresa. The skull on the banquet table is put in the cupboard. And David writes more great TV episodes.

Shallow as glass? That's the charm. That, and feeling you've gone to the beach when you've never left your couch. And then it's off to watch The Daily Show in bed.

A dream of an evening, in a weird way.

[Cross-posted from HeadButler.com]

 
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