Excerpt from “Temptation”

I always wanted to be rich. I know that probably sounds crass, but it’s the truth. A true confession. 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 that 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. “I know who they are, Alison. FRT bought my pilot?”

“Yes, David. FRT just bought Selling You.”

Long pause. “Are they paying?” I asked.

“Of course they’re paying. This is a business, believe it or not.”

“Sorry, sorry . . . it’s just, how much exactly?”

“Forty grand.”

“Right.”

“Don’t sound so enthusiastic.”

“I am enthusiastic. It’s just . . .”

“I know: it’s not the million-dollar deal. But that kind of a slamdunk for a first-timer is, at best, a twice-a-year event in this town. Forty grand is standard money for a TV pilot . . . especially for an unproduced writer. Anyway, what are they paying you at Book Soup these days?”

“Fifteen a year.”

“So look at it this way: you’ve just made almost three years’ salary in one deal. And this is only the start. They’re not just going to buy the pilot . . . they’re also going to make it.”

“They told you that?”

“Yes, they did.”

“Do you believe them?”

“Honey, we’re living in the forked tongue capital of the universe. Still, you might get lucky.”

My head was spinning. Good news, good news. “I don’t know what to say,” I said.

“You could try ‘Thank you.’”

“Thank you.”

I didn’t just thank Alison Ellroy. The day after I received that phone call, I drove down to the Beverly Center and dropped $375 on a Mont Blanc fountain pen for her. When I gave it to her later that afternoon, she seemed genuinely affected. “Do you know this is the first time I’ve received a gift from a writer in . . . how long have I been in this business?”

“You tell me.”

“Try three decades. Well, I guess there’s a first time for everything. So . . . thanks. But don’t think you’re going to borrow it to sign the contracts.”

My wife, Lucy, on the other hand, was appalled that I had dropped so much cash on a present for my agent. “What is this?” she said. “You finally get a deal—at industry minimum, I might add—and you’re suddenly Robert Towne?”

“It was just a gesture, that’s all.”

“A three-hundred-seventy-five-dollar gesture.”

“We can afford it.”

“Oh, can we? Do the math, David. Alison gets a ten percent commission from the forty grand. The IRS will skim thirty-three percent off the balance, which will leave you just under twenty-three grand, plus change.”

“How do you know all this?”

“I did the math. I also did the math on our combined debt to Visa and MasterCard—twelve grand, and rising monthly. And on the loan we took out to cover Caitlin’s tuition last term—six grand, and also rising monthly. I also know that we’re a one-car family in a two-car town. And the car in question is a twelve-year-old Volvo that really needs transmission work which we can’t really afford, because—”

“All right, all right. I was recklessly generous. Mea maxima culpa. And, by the way, thanks for pissing on my parade.”

“Absolutely no one is pissing on your parade. You know how thrilled I was yesterday when you told me. It’s what you—we—have been fantasizing about for the last eleven years. My point, David, is a simple
one: the money is already spent.”

“Fine, fine, point taken,” I said, trying to put an end to this.

“And though I certainly don’t begrudge Alison her Mont Blanc pen, it would have been nice if you had maybe thought, in the first instance, about who’s been keeping us out of Chapter Eleven all these years.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry. But hey, good times ahead. We’re in the money.”

“I hope you’re right,” she said quietly. “We deserve a break.”