In this novel, Leah Stewart’s characters spend a lot of time in their own heads — as any good actor does. Always seeking out their true motivations and the difference between truth and reality, Charlie and Jose push through their own struggles to find the perfect Hollywood ending.
:: Chapter 1:
New to success, 30-something actor Charlie Outlaw (yes, real name) isn’t quite sure whether he enjoys fame or not. He is a people-pleaser to a fault, and plays into an interviewer’s hands at the expense of his girlfriend, Josie. Fans and Josie turn on him, and he embarks on a soul-searching mission on a remote island. Soon after his arrival, he is kidnapped.
:: Chapter 2:
Josie Lamar, a 41-year-old actress who hasn’t had a big role since her cult teenage hit Alter Ego, is struggling with Charlie’s very public comments, and her own feelings of being washed-up. Using Josie’s encounter with a fan who thankfully demands nothing, Stewart plays with the idea of how people react to us vs. how we think they should; and which encounters stick in our heads.
Question: Have you ever been in the spotlight, for good or bad reasons? How did you react?
:: Chapter 3:
Stuffed into the kidnappers’ trunk, Charlie marvels at the fact his claustrophobia is kicking in now, when it never did when he was “kidnapped” on set. He wonders who his real self is, and who he would be without the adoration of his fans. He wonders if he could ever win back their love, and that of Josie’s.
Quote: “It’s terrifying to be worshipped, more terrifying still to imagine being worshipped no longer.”
:: Chapter 4:
Josie goes to an audition where she plays the victim of a kidnapping (heh). She is so good at the role, so believeable, that the producer makes her water the performance down.
Josie’s best friend and former Alter Ego co-star Cecilia secured the audition, on a show in which she plays the main character. Cecilia is bored of the role, but Josie would kill to have steady work. The two talk about the upcomingAlter Ego reunion, where they’ll be surrounded by adoring fans, with a mix of excitement and disdain.
Question: What did you think of Stewart’s insight into the thought that an actor gives to a role?
:: Chapters 1-2:
As his kidnappers chain him up, Charlie wonders who his attackers want him to be — what character will help him get to freedom or, at least, get him to his destination unscathed. He imagines that they kidnapped him because they know he’s a famous actor. As panic and discomfort again set in, Charlie observes himself becoming hysterical.
Quote: “He isn’t a real person anymore, he knows that. He’s the surprise cameo in someone else’s story.”
:: Chapter 3:
Charlie’s kidnappers are island natives, who want money and to scuttle yet another planned resort. Aaaand they have no idea what they are doing, and who Charlie is. This makes them no less angry, or dangerous to Charlie. As Charlie manages to hide a pocketknife in a toilet tank, lead kidnapper Darius is searching Google for tips on demanding a ransom.
:: Chapter 4:
After Denise, the gang’s enforcer, orders kidnapper Thomas to hit Charlie with the butt of his gun, Charlie finally gives them a name: Ben Phillips. It’s a character he once played on a show during which he received sage acting advice. Charlie tries to be a good boy and play on the sympathies of the youngest kidnapper, Adan.
Question: Have you ever found yourself playing a role to suit someone else? To get something you want?
:: Chapter 1-4:
Josie spends her day reading for a sitcom, and toying with the idea of a relationship with Max Hammons, her Alter Ego character’s love interest. The two bump into each other at the encouragement of a mutual acquaintance, and sparks fly. Josie spends the rest of the week waiting for him to come and see her again, and realizes how welcome the distraction is from her grief over Charlie. She also notices his uncharacteristic absence from social media.
:: Chapter Five:
Josie and Max meet for a late-night breakfast. They talk about their steamy scenes while filming Alter Ego, and share a light kiss goodnight. A camera snaps.
:: Chapters 1-4:
Charlie builds up enough trust with Adan to be chained in only one spot, to the floor by one of his ankles.
Charlie retrieves the knife from the toilet and begins attempting to weaken his chains by slowly shaving off slivers of metal. He reflects again on his fans, troubled by his need of their adoration and wishing he had placed Josie on such a pedestal. He is interrupted in his work by Mystery (yes, really), a resort housekeeper who Darius recruited as an inside woman, back before he had resolved to kidnap an American.
Mystery seems sympathetic, though aloof. She promises to bring Charlie magazines. Charlie asks why she’s involved with the scheme and gets nowhere. Nervous that she saw him using the knife, he drops it back into the toilet.
The kidnappers mail a letter of demands to police.
Question: At this point, what did you think of Mystery, and the dynamic of the kidnappers?
:: Chapter Five:
The kidnappers discover the knife. Charlie loses all the trust he built with Adan and risks the wrath of Denise, the most violent of the gang.
:: Chapter Six:
Charlie is woken from sleep by Adan. The police are coming and the gang is leaving. As they are fleeing into the woods, Charlie briefly considers running back toward the police, away from his kidnappers. Fear of the unknown, and fear that he’ll be shot in the crossfire, keeps him moving forward. Darius gets killed during the escape.
Question: Did Charlie’s decision frustrate you? What would you have done?
:: Chapter 1-5:
Josie and the cast of Alter Ego are making their way through the convention. Josie and Max continue their flirtation until Max drunkenly calls Josie by her old character’s name. Josie realizes that Max is in love with her character and everything that came with it — not her.
A question from an audience member makes her realize something she should have before: she’s pregnant. A drugstore test confirms. The baby is Charlie’s.
Josie tells Max and he convinces her to leave a message for Charlie when he doesn’t answer his phone. Max feels regret that he didn’t get closer to Josie sooner — just her character.
:: Chapter 1:
As the gang continues running, Charlie falls down a precipice and almost dies. He hates himself at his feeling of relief and gratitude when Adan rescues him. He finally decides to not take a step further, to rebel, and then Adan tells him that it was Denise who shot Darius. He moves.
:: Chapter 2:
Josie goes to a obgyn, and is recognized in the waiting room. Word spreads on social media about her pregnancy.
:: Chapter 3:
Charlie and his gang arrives at their final hideout, a remote beach. Starving and exhausted, Charlie starts becoming delirious, talking to Josie out loud. Mystery arrives in a boat with supplies and sneaks him some food. She brings him more magazines, and one of them features the photo of Josie and Max kissing. Charlie starts crying and tells Mystery that he loves Josie.
:: Chapter 4:
While waiting to audition for a part in a comedy that she knows she won’t get, Jose gets a call from Charlie’s mother who tells her of his remote vacation and asks that he find out about her pregnancy in person. During the audition, she has a meltdown and walks out.
Question: Have you ever failed in a public way? How did you react?
Mystery arrives to the beach with more supplies, and more magazines. One of them has news of Josie’s pregnancy, and Charlie can’t hide his reaction. Another magazine has a photo of Charlie Outlaw. The kidnappers discover his true identity and just how much they may be able to bargain for his release. He maintains that he is Ben Phillips, and survives a near-death experience when Denise fires a shot above his head to get him to talk.
Josie decides to go find Charlie, and leaves a note for him at his deserted vacation cabin before returning to the resort. The gang waits for Mystery to return with supplies, and starts to question their purpose and relationships with each other.
Meanwhile, Mystery accidentally barges in on Josie at her hotel room, and recognizes her immediately. Her reaction makes Josie suspicious, especially when Charlie has yet to return to his cabin. She goes to the police, who mention there is an American missing by the name of Ben Phillips.
Josie breaks into Charlie’s cabin and starts looking around, when she notices Mystery lurking outside. After tackling her, Mystery shows her a photo of Charlie and tells Josie if she goes to police, the gang will kill him. She promises to take her to Charlie.
The gang starts to lose it. One (Thomas) has already left. Denise decides Mystery has betrayed them, and leaves with Adan. Charlie gets up from the hammock where he’s playing dead and realizes he is alone.
Mystery is counting on the kidnappers having given up, and seizes the chance to bring Josie to the island. She also reveals that she has a gun. On the boat ride over, Josie decides she is playing the role of rescuer and sticks to it. At the same time, Denise decides she’s not giving up and turns around, heading back towards Charlie.
They arrive on the island. While Josie is checking Charlie over, Denise charges toward them, gun drawn. Josie throws herself in front of Charlie and hears a shot, then watches as Denise falls. She turns around to see Mystery with her gun drawn. Adan, then, brings his gun to his head and shoots himself.
They leave the bodies on the shore and go back to the main island. Mystery disappears. Josie takes Charlie to the hospital, saying he’s a dumb tourist who fell while hiking alone. The two of them vow to keep what happened to themselves, to protect Mystery.
Question: Who the hell is Mystery, and what do you think about her inclusion in the novel?
This part wraps up the novel, finding Jose and Charlie at home. Josie has long ago given birth to the baby, and the couple has added a second child to the family. Josie has gotten the part for which she auditioned and had the meltdown, and the show is critically acclaimed. Charlie, too, has steady work.
Josie puts in her headphones to channel a character, as she is accustomed to doing, and opens her eyes to find the PA, who she at first thinks is Mystery. She responds to her presence with a gratitude that makes the PA uncomfortable.
Question: How do you think real tragedy has shaped their lives, and will continue to shape their careers?