“Nuh-uh!” she nodded furiously, confirming my initial response: I liked this woman, and although I was no suspense novelist, she was my new partner in UN-crime. (And, this tall author was anything but a sissy: she trained horses for a living and made me look short.)
“Get over there and pitch your work!” our male table member directed, pointing at the clusters of bodies now condensed onto the left side of the room next to the decimated hors d’oeuvre buffet. Nervous tension obviously fed the appetite, and the cash bar had a continual line.
“This is why they're here,” the veteran conference-attendee insisted like some frothing coach who had trained his athletes to compete in the Olympics and they had frozen on him, refusing to perform when it counted most. “You paid for access to them so go get a piece of that action! Believe me, by Sunday they will be dead and lifeless like dried mackerel.” (Okay, I have paraphrased generously here, my analogy, not his.)
“But it’s like a feeding frenzy,” I defended, wanting to be separate from that phenomenon as much as I needed to wend a magical connection with an agent who was interested in the book I had distilled into two sentences, a novel about four generations of women whose stories I was to present. “It’s like a pool of sharks spun crazy on chum. Look at it! At them. It’s like there’s blood in the water.”
Tamara and I listened to the coaxing but remained glued to our seats on the now-abandoned right side of the room, neither of us about to dive into that. (Had we been on the top deck of the Titanic, the boat would be listing port.) This was not only our first conference, it was the first event of the first night--and we were proud to have netted each other from the anonymous sea of hopeful faces. We had met a few short hours before and were now clinging to the same mossy rock as the wall of water battled us on all sides. I was glad I had spoken to her when she had walked out onto the patio, looking as scared and as lost as I felt but trapped in these seemingly-able adult bodies.
“Quick!” another stranger ran over to the table to demand, flipping his hand impatiently. “I need a pen. I have three agents who are interested in my mystery. I gotta write down their information.”
Tamara was kind enough to dig through her purse (when the conference planners had been forward-thinking enough to gift us all two pens in the complimentary bags we’d received upon signing in), and I was happy for the man whose face was aglow with possibilities without wanting to be him. I was relieved not to have to rise to pitching cold loglines to the “unsuspecting” (probably not, as they must get this at every conference) agents who had trickled in to the room to replenish themselves after flights into town from San Francisco, England, and New York. (Even if wrestling packs of jackals came with their territory, I could not bring myself to hound them.)
Now, my immaturity can crash any social engagement, appearing like a dimensionless Athena—the full-grown clone sprouted from my own head, and there is no telling when that imbecile will show up, God help us, but my mother also taught me to be polite, a straight jacket I cannot always escape. Still, I could not imagine a positive response resulting from swarming any tired human who was buzzed at head and feet by other gnats whenever he/she, publishing employee, had the courage to exit the sanctity of the hotel room. All I could picture were the telemarketers who called at dinner because they knew I'd be home. On principle alone, this was a strategy that would only end in doom for them from me for having the nerve to bother me then. No, call me a fool, but I would wait my turn and pitch to the agent who was expecting me, as scheduled.
(Tomorrow: "(I've Got a) Golden Ticket")