“Are you a presenter?” the pale blonde asked, judging my dress and overall age and appeal, and although I wanted to lie, Yes, or to ask, Would things fare better for me if I was?
“No,” is what I told her—and then the rifling began and things unraveled.
“Then I’ll have to check your bag.” She’s already pulling out a basket and a wooden clothespin to give me in trade for my emptied laptop case.
“What?” and “Why?” and “I don’t understand” are all versions of what came out of my mouth as I involuntarily dumped my personals into the blue grocery handcart, while a string of women with purses more voluminous than the slim laptop carrier I toted, so cavernous that they may, indeed, have had entire guest bedrooms stowed in their pleather back panels, waltzed on by unmolested. Meanwhile, the clock ticked.
“So, you’ll be here until I return?”
“Someone will,” she answered cattily, not once looking in my face, which was lost. “6th floor.”
As I walked up those six flights, I couldn't help but think of Kennedy and how the sixth floor brought him nothing but bad news, and when I mounted that last step the sixth floor meeting room was now packed and hot—but loud because giant fans mounted against the walls were busy churning out noise if not a redemptive breeze. I got the last seat in the middle of a row of grey-haired women who wore long, beige socks under Birkenstocks. Seeing me stow the handcart against the wall because there was no room for it under the seats, one of them teased, "They must've taken your bag because you look so dangerous." I smiled and glanced back, wondering what kind of fiction each wrote.
Although the overstuffed-room was there to hear pointers on “how to prep your pitch” for the annual agents’ conference scheduled in Austin for mid-June, the two panelists wandered off topic into their bios, which ended sounding more like pitches for their own horror-genre and independent presses than like actual tips that might help losing-hope-fast fledgling writers. (Then, they turned off the fans because the speakers weren't miked.)
As the self-dubbed Gothic writer of female zombie stories waxed on about her incredible discovery—although she’d pursued alternative publishing routes and gone about it “all wrong,” every writer and “genre” she mentioned was part of a subculture or a fetish group, and I started to fear that no one was writing about real characters in lifelike situations anymore, that my simple but literary boy-meets-girl love stories had been run aground by post-apocalyptic populaces and violent fantasies. (“Oh, yeah, and YA; I hear YA novels are selling like mad. Whyn't you write one of those?”) I felt like a dinosaur with boots and a good sheen of cherry Chapstick on. I pictured myself trying to convert one of my stories, to set it on another planet in a blue desert where people shot each other for gasoline but fell in love while sorting through a refuse pile.
The apex of her advice boiled down to this: "Sell yourself. Make of yourself a corporation--and don't write in ALL CAPS."
“Bag number three,” I said to the dark man who now perched at the counter, handing him my grimy clothespin. “There was a girl here when I arrived, a little over an hour ago,” I mumbled to no one with a pulse. –But, the best news of the day was that, in reclaiming my bag, I discovered that I had (at some point in the forgotten past) stashed $100 in the case and