© 2009, Kidlett Productions, LTD. All Rights Reserved

Family Acts

September 2007 Pulpwood Queen Book Club Selection


Chapter 1

New York City 2006

Some genius at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences decided that
that they should do a tribute to Katie’s mother at the daytime Emmy Awards ceremony that spring. At first, the timing was a mystery to Katie. Her mother, Rosalind Harder, had died four years earlier, and she’d retired three years before that. In the world of television, seven years was a lifetime. But when she thought about it, Katie understood. Daytime television was in trouble, audiences were shrinking, and two shows teetered on the brink of cancellation. There wasn’t a hell of a lot for the academy to celebrate, so why not take a few minutes to remind everyone of the good old days when Rosalind Harder had over forty million loyal fans tuning in to watch her play Tess Jones on the massively popular soap opera All Our Lives?

They asked Katie, who worked as a writer for All Our Lives, to speak at the tribute. Katie dutifully penned a ten-minute speech that captured the charismatic woman who had been her mother, while not dwelling on the fact that the late Rosalind Harder could also be, in the words of one of her harried producers, “the diva from the dark side.” When she finished writing
the speech, even Katie realized it was one of her best efforts. Which meant
it was damn good—her standards for her own work tended to be pretty brutal.
In honor of the great event, Katie had her nails done, renewed her prescription
for her contact lenses so she wouldn’t have to wear her glasses,
and, in a moment of wild abandon, bought a new evening dress. The saleswoman
admitted it was an “unusual” shade of green, but she assured Katie
that the skirt was slenderizing. Shopping wasn’t one of Katie’s skills. Normally
her ensemble for awards shows consisted of her trusty black chiffon
palazzo pants paired with a loose-fitting tunic when she was feeling chunky,
and a glittery chemise tucked in at the waist when she was feeling more
svelte. But, carried away by the excitement of the moment, and the saleswoman’s
flattery, she forked over a small fortune for the gown and took it
home, telling herself that it would look better on camera than it did in real
But two mornings before the Emmy Awards show, she woke up in
the throes of a full-blown anxiety attack—something that had never
happened to her before—and when she finally started breathing again, she
knew there was no way she could face standing up in front of the entire daytime
industry, plus whoever might be watching at home. So in spite of the
new gown and the snazzy manicure, she conned Teddy Raider, her mother’s
longtime agent, who also represented Katie, into delivering the speech in
her place. On the great night, Katie planned to sit in the audience with the
rest of the All Our Lives writing staff and listen to someone else deliver her
words. That was what she had been doing most of her adult life; Katie was
one of five dialogue writers working for the show her mother had made
Being a scriptwriter in daytime television wasn’t exactly a glamorous gig.
The writing stars in the wonderful world of soap opera were the head writers,
who thought up the stories that played out for months—or sometimes
years—on the shows. Those who turned out the daily scripts, like Katie,
were the invisible drones. The only reason people in the industry knew the
name Katie Harder was because of her high-profile mother. So, on Emmy
night, when she took her place in the auditorium of Radio City Music Hall,
Katie expected to be, as she always was, anonymous. She and her colleagues
were relegated to the bad seats at the back of the auditorium because
no one ever wanted a picture of the writers.

The tribute to Rosalind Harder took place halfway through the show, at the
moment when the highest number of viewers would be watching. The testimonial
kicked off with the actor who had played her last husband trotting
out onstage to inform everyone that they would now be treated to a montage
of scenes from her oeuvre as the star of All Our Lives. The lights
dimmed, a huge screen descended onto the Radio City Music Hall stage,
and Katie waited in the darkness with the rest of the audience to watch her
Suddenly, there was Rosalind on the screen in front of them, doing her
first show; a lanky, eager girl with a mane of silver-blond hair, amazingly
blue eyes—her press releases always claimed they were turquoise—legs designed
for the era’s short skirts, and a set of cheekbones the camera loved.
She seemed to burst through the screen, bigger than life, and the familiar
light, high voice filled the music hall.
For the next few minutes, as clips from one scene followed another, the
audience watched the adorable youngster grow—God forbid anyone say
Rosalind had aged—into an adored icon. Katie closed her eyes, knowing the
sentimentalists around her would assume she was grieving for the loss of
her mother.
The video finally ended, and as the entire house rose to its feet for the
obligatory standing ovation, the screen showed a still shot of Rosalind’s first
entrance as Tess. When the audience sat down again, she was frozen in
front of them in her heyday, forever young and beautiful, and oh so incredibly
The final item in the festivities was Teddy reading Katie’s speech. Without
wanting to, Katie felt herself sit up straight, her manicured nails digging
into the upholstered arms of her seat. There was a pause while a mic was
set up in the center of the stage, and then Teddy walked out and stood in
front of the image of Rosalind.
The speech was as good as Katie had thought it was, and by the time
Teddy finished it, there wasn’t a dry eye in the hall. Satisfied, Katie
slouched down into the bustier that made up the top part of her green
gown, and relaxed. She’d done her best and now the ordeal was over. She
could sit in obscurity through the rest of the show. After it was over, Teddy
would find her, and they’d go to the must-attend parties. She’d keep her
head clear for the political schmoozing, and then drink champagne until
she could get the hell out and go home.
As one of the two most successful agents working in daytime, Teddy had
other clients he should have been sucking up to, but going to the Emmys
with Katie was a tradition he’d started when she was twelve. She’d needed
an adult to sit in the audience with her while she watched her mother win
that year, and he had offered his services. The fact that he still kept the tradition
going was one of the many reasons why Katie loved him mindlessly.
Teddy walked off the stage, and Katie looked up at the screen, waiting
for her mother’s picture to fade so daytime television could get on with
the business of giving itself awards. But Rosalind’s face didn’t fade. Instead,
the talk show host who was acting as master of ceremonies walked up to the
microphone and said, “I know we’ve all been moved by this fabulous memorial
for one of our great leading ladies. Before we move on, I’d like to ask
someone special to come up here. Ladies and Gentlemen, Katie Harder,
our beloved Rosalind’s daughter.” Then three handheld cameras appeared
out of a nightmare and descended on Katie, who realized that someone
somewhere had decided to go for an unscripted TV moment. At the same
second, she realized just how hideous her dress was.
There was no way out. Grinning like cold death, she sucked herself up
in the bustier so her little rolls of underarm fat smoothed out, and hoisted
herself out of her seat. Grabbing a handful of her heavy satin skirt—what
the hell had possessed her to deck herself out in fungus-green with a train,
for God’s sake?—she stumbled down the aisle which had suddenly become
longer than the Bataan Death March, and somehow managed to get herself
onto the stage and behind the mic. And there she was for all the world to
see, a troll standing in front of, and in contrast to, her glorious mother.
According to Katie’s last run-in with the scale, she was nine pounds
overweight. Her dark brown hair had never been tamed by brush or man,
and her brown eyes were blinking behind the glasses she’d worn because
she wasn’t going to be appearing on the stage that night. Only, now she was.
There was applause—considerably less than there had been for Rosalind’s
montage, she noted—and then the place got quiet. Still hanging on to her
death grin, she racked her brain to think of something to say. It had to be
something charming and loving about her mother, and the industry that had
been so good to both of them. And she had to do it now, on her feet, without
her computer to hide behind.
The mic hadn’t been adjusted to her height of 5'3". She reached up on
tiptoe, risking leaving the bustier behind, leaned in, and said to the crowd
in Radio City Music Hall and however many millions of her mother’s fans
watching at home, “Hi. I’m much prettier in person.”

Order Family Acts >

Read Chapter 1 of Serendipity >

Read Chapter 1 of The Three Miss Margarets >

Read Chapter 1 of The Ladies of Garrison Gardens


Praise for Family Acts

Family Acts by Louise Shaffer

"This is a wonderfully written novel. Family Acts is a charming and engaging read. - Caroline Kubisz, Booklist

"Shaffer has a nice touch with characters and the feel-good ending doesn't disappoint." - Kirkus Reviews

"Delightful... sweet, fast-paced, and full of heart. " - Publishers Weekly

Order Family Acts >