Television host, actress and author Alison Sweeney returns with her debut novel, "The Star Attraction," hilariously skewering the frantic life of the Hollywood publicist. Here's an excerpt.
I can’t hide in here forever.
But I don’t know what waits beyond the other side of the door. Catching my reflection, I barely recognize myself in the bathroom mirror. What happened to Miss Perfect? Okay, never Miss Perfect, but I was perfectly happy. Everything I’ve worked for— my job, my relationship, my identity—is up in the air. Or destroyed.
And it’s all my fault.
Three Weeks Earlier
Basically, I am a thirty-one-year-old glorified babysitter. The elegant business cards I carry read: Sophie Atwater, Personal Publicist, but really, it boils down to the same babysitting skills I began honing in the seventh grade. Only now instead of making sure homework is done and bedtimes are observed, I arrange “playdates” with my celebrity clients and the media. And trust me, knowing how to wrangle the occasional spoiled brat or princess still comes in handy.
Don’t get me wrong— I love my job and its enviable upsides. It can feel exciting and glamorous to be in the know— even surreal, like when I’m at a checkout line and know for a fact where the line of truth falls on a tabloid cover. And no day is ever the same, so I can’t get bored. I’m not the type of person who could handle sitting behind a desk all day, shuffling reports and getting excited about the 4 p.m. microwave popcorn break. I get squirmy just sitting in a theater seat for more than a couple of hours. Plus, you certainly can’t dismiss the really cool perks, like when high-end or über-trendy designers send over free samples of clothes and makeup hoping to get them in the hands of our highly visible clients. Or simply court favor with us gatekeepers. With clients’ closets often overstuffed, I’m happy to carry home what’s left behind or “re-gifted” to me. Who would refuse “free”? Although, lately the reflection in my dressing mirror has been somewhat sobering . . . and now I find the trendiest looks better suited to fearless twenty-somethings.
But the very best thing about my job is that I am in charge of my own destiny. After starting as a lowly assistant— where fetch, copy, and collate were the sum of my responsibilities—more than seven years ago, I’m now pretty successful in my chosen field, and there is a certain satisfaction in knowing I worked damn hard to earn my status and reputation. And I work for Bennett/Peters, one of the most elite boutique PR firms in the industry. The boldfaced names you see regularly on “Page Six” or Perez Hilton? We represent most of them.
And it certainly isn’t a downside that I get to work with gorgeous men all day, and tell them what to do.
Someone just kicked me softly in the shin under the conference room table. I look up to find my assistant, Tru, Hello Kitty note pad at the ready, giving me wide eyes.
Elle, my boss, is seated at the head of the table. From the tone of her distinct New York accent, it’s safe to guess this isn’t the original query.
“Yes?” I reply confidently, tidying my notes as if I had been strategizing instead of zoning out as a couple of junior agents exhaustively detailed their upcoming events. Every Wednesday morning the entire department gathers around the long table with bullet-pointed lists and venti-sized Starbucks cups in hand for a major staff meeting.
“I wanted to be sure you are free first thing tomorrow morning,” Elle continues, “because I’ve set up an important meet-and-greet with a potential new client: Billy Fox.”
Now she’s got my complete attention. Mind you, I already represent more celebs than anyone else at my firm except Elle herself. But it is a compliment that she thinks I can secure this particular client better than any of the other publicists.
Billy Fox is a star.
Taking the Brad Pitt in Thelma & Louise route, Billy seduced audiences and critics alike with his brief yet undeniably charismatic debut as a sweet- talking, golden-haired con man in a Quentin Tarantino ensemble heist film. Since his breakout role (and Golden Globe nomination), Billy has gone on to become a versatile leading man in films ranging from a high-grossing romantic comedy to a high-adrenaline legal thriller to a surprising choice of role in a risky indie costume drama. After just a half dozen films, Billy Fox is widely considered one of the elite, bankable A-list actors— and fodder for women’s fantasies across the globe. Signing him to Bennett/Peters would be a major coup.
I knew his former publicist, an amazing woman. Really, a Norma Rae in the PR world. But she retired, incredibly wealthy and on some tropical island from what I hear, and now he and his manager are looking for another firm to represent him. Obviously, Bennett/Peters wants this account and wants it bad. Elle wants this for the firm, for her career. I want it, I mean him, I mean this account for her, for the company, but also because it would totally cement my reputation with the firm for literally ever.
“Definitely,” I say. “Count me in. I’ll prepare for the meeting this afternoon. And thanks. You won’t be—”
“With all due respect,” interrupts my coworker Priscilla Hasley, in her smooth, Gwyneth Paltrow– like inflection, “don’t you think I’d be the most appropriate choice? His prior publicist and I run in the same social circles. It might aid the transition.”
No she didn’t. Unbelievable. As if I’d be booking Billy while getting pedicures and deep-tissue massages at exclusive country clubs. In truth, I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s typical Priscilla. I hate the way she speaks— especially because her polished voice, chic auburn bob, and ridiculously perfect body disguise her total ineptitude and appalling work ethic. Not only is Priscilla a lousy publicist, she is a complete and utter bitch. I consider myself to be a pretty open-minded person, but having seen Priscilla in action for three-and-a-half years now, I think I have enough to base my judgment on. Though she’s never crossed me (other than just now boldly stepping on my toes), I’ve observed how she treats the assistants and junior publicists. Just last week she took a long look at one of Tru’s more colorful ensembles and snidely asked aloud if we’d taken on Barnum & Bailey as a new client. I couldn’t help but notice that usually confident Tru wore her jacket inside for the rest of the day. And Priscilla infamously sent a former assistant she felt had crossed her back to the drugstore to return a defective yeast infection test— which was humiliating enough for the poor girl without it being in used condition.
Now all of us in the room seem to be holding our breath, awaiting Elle’s response.
Elle is by general consensus a great boss, except when it comes to Priscilla. She is completely blind to how inept Priscilla is. Everyone knows Priscilla got the job only because her dad is the publisher of a very snazzy magazine. So far I have managed to steer clear of her, but her attitude of superiority grates on my nerves. The weird thing is, she is Elle’s “pet project.” For the most part, everyone tries to ignore it when Priscilla gets great assignments or fun responsibilities like managing the “loot locker,” the storage room of random gifts— from luxuries to personal electronics to board games— we routinely receive from companies or events, for our clients. But there are the inevitable eye rolls when Elle dismisses obvious mistakes Priscilla makes or covers for her by buying into Priscilla’s attempts to pass blame to someone else in the department. Thankfully Elle is clearheaded today. “I appreciate your enthusiasm, Priscilla, but Sophie is the best fit and my choice for Mr. Fox. Moving on . . .”
It takes all my adult self-control to refrain from smirking.
From THE STAR ATTRACTION by Alison Sweeney. Copyright © 2013,Bookmark Entertainment Productions, Inc. Published by Hyperion in May 2013. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.