Dip into the first book in the ‘Ghostwriter Series’, The Busy Body, from KEMPER DONOVAN that features a very nosy ghostwriter, who is a witty, professional weaver of lies.
Part One – The Client
I tell other people’s stories for a living.
You can call me a ghostwriter, though usually I just say I ‘freelance’, which is vague and boring enough to put an end to strangers’ polite inquiries. Among friends I call myself a ‘lady Cyrano’, which is meant to be self-deprecating. (I have an unusually large nose.)
That’s a lie, actually. Not about my unusually large nose, but about my supposed friends. I have lots of acquaintances, and colleagues, and associates – an assortment of people who pepper my existence so that if you saw me from the outside, you’d think my life was perfectly full. There are times it seems full even to me. But the truth is I don’t have any friends. Not the kind I always pictured having: friends so close, they’re family.
Oh – I don’t have a family, either. We decided years ago it would be best if we stopped talking. I’m not telling you this to make you feel sorry for me. I’m telling you because I want – I have – to be honest. It’s the only way this is going to work.
My specialty is memoir.
I spin the inspirational life stories of outrageously successful people: actors, athletes, politicians. Assholes, in other words (though I guess that’s just one word). I’ve always been nosy about other people, and I discovered in my late 20s I have a knack for spinning tales about them, and for making these tales sing.
My job is to make the assholes likable. I nip and tuck their excesses, soften their hard edges, polish whatever I and an armada of editors/publicists deem unsightly till it sparkles. But that’s exactly what I can’t do here – what I refuse to do, even though I run the risk of ruining my reputation as a grade-A professional bullshit artist. Because this isn’t about some celebrity overcoming the odds. I won’t be selling you on the healing power of love, or crystals, or some weirdo cleanse. Somehow, I managed to get myself wrapped up in an honest-to-goodness murder mystery. And for once?
The story’s all mine.
It started with a phone call.
This wasn’t the way things usually started. My agent, Rhonda, almost always e-mails me, knowing I prefer to keep my interactions limited to the written sphere whenever possible. (If I could send her handwritten notes on creamy stationery sealed with wax, I would, though at this point e-mail is pretty much the equivalent of a feather quill and ink pot, anyway.) If a phone call were absolutely necessary, she’d schedule it ahead of time. And yet here she was, calling me unannounced.
One of the few happy outcomes of the so-called Digital Revolution is that no one is expected to answer their phone anymore. So I stared at her name on my screen, allowing the vibrations to run up my arm while noting how smudged the glass was – almost greasy. Apparently I needed to wash my face more. I was still waiting for a voice mail when her text came through.
Call me back ASAP.
I was in fact lying down at the moment: in a king-size bed at the Four Seasons, with three fluffy pillows behind my back.
Uh-oh. The cortisol began chugging its way through my midsection like Drano through that U-shaped pipe in one of those animated commercials. But then, because she knows me so well, Rhonda sent a follow-up.
Good news, not bad.
Her assistant patched me through immediately.
‘Well, well, well,’ she began. I could hear a whipping sound, which meant she was doing squats or lunges or something equally horrifying behind her standing desk. Rhonda is one of those overachievers who doesn’t know when to quit.
‘Look who the cat dragged in.’
‘Why is it that I’m being forced to hear the sound of your voice right now?’ Rhonda likes to spar – probably because it burns more calories than regular talking. ‘You know how I hate that.’
She laughed – a throaty, rasping sound that would make you think she smoked if you didn’t know she ran several marathons a year. Rhonda’s laugh is what sealed the deal when she was courting me as a client. I’ve always maintained you can tell a lot about people by the way they laugh. Someone should create a dating app where all you have to do is upload an audio feed of yourself laughing, none of this ‘I like to take long walks on the beach’ crap.
Apparently that winning personality of yours has been doing you favours about town,’ she said.
‘Which town? This town?’
I was in D.C. at the moment, finishing up a heartwarming bildungsroman à la Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. My client was
a senator who wanted to be president someday – a family man who’d made no fewer than three passes at me during our time together. I’d managed not to stab or shiv or otherwise maim him, so I suppose my personality had been rather winning.
‘In a way. Not that you need to stay in D.C. for this one, I know you’re crushed.’
I’ve never much liked D.C., a city provincial enough to be subsumed by a single preoccupation – much like its soul sister on the opposite coast, L.A. It was my great misfortune that so many of my projects tended to take me to either ‘metropolis’, and yes, those are air quotes I’m using. My heart will always remain in New York City, along with my permanent address.
‘Where to this time?’ ‘North,’ she said. ‘North?’
‘Is it Santa?’ I asked breathlessly.
‘The thing is’ – she was getting out of breath herself – ‘we need to move fast.’
‘Who is this person?’ I asked. ‘Are you sitting down?’ ‘What do you think?’
I was in fact lying down at the moment: in a king-size bed at the Four Seasons, with three fluffy pillows behind my back. I moved my laptop from off my bare thighs, where the battery heat was beginning to burn them. Often I get a good hour or two of work done this way, while still in bed. Hey, it worked for Edith Wharton. Why not me?
The whipping noise stopped, which meant Rhonda had gone stationary – her version of a drumroll.
‘It’s Dorothy Gibson.’
If my life were a movie trailer, this is where the needle would have scratched the record.
Dorothy. Freaking. Gibson.
Her middle name is Chase, of course, not Freaking. Actually, Chase is her maiden name. But you already knew that.
This was a big get, a far cry from the first memoir I worked on – practically for free – about the CEO of a golf ball manufacturing company who overcame a number of addictions. (Title: Whole, in One. I tried to talk him out of it. I really did.)
‘Hello? Did you just have
When I spoke, my voice echoed because I was already in the bathroom turning on the shower.
‘Tell me everything.’
Rhonda let loose another of her fantastic laughs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kemper Donovan is the host of All About Agatha, a highly successful podcast dedicated to the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, and the inspiration behind The Busy Body.
He has lived in Los Angeles for most of my adult life. Starting out, he worked at a wonderful company called Circle of Confusion (no, really) representing film/television screenwriters and comic books. His very first client wrote the screenplay for the feature film Hanna. (If you haven’t seen it, watch it; you won’t be sorry.) Before that I went to college at Stanford University, and law school at Harvard. Technically, I am a retired lawyer, which means I passed the New York Bar and then immediately switched my status to ;retired’ to avoid fees and continuing education requirements….
I began writing my first novel, The Decent Proposal, when I was still a manager. After an extremely long gestational period and an even longer process acquiring representation and then selling the book for publication, I turned to writing full-time.
I am married, and my husband and I have two daughters who keep us extremely busy. When I’m not with them, or chattering into a microphone, or staring at a laptop with my head in my hands, I enjoy doing things that have a more obvious/tangible/short-term payoff such as running and attempting to play the violin (emphasis on the attempt).
The Busy Body is the first book in ‘The Ghostwriter’ series.