I slid a bottle of McAllan 12 into my pocket and prepared for battle when I entered the hotel where the writer’s conference was being hosted. At once, I was impressed. There were a couple of men around my age. Quite a few attractive women who instantly stirred something in me. A large majority, like at the one other writers conference I attended, were stuffy mom-types on the warpath to become the next JK Rowling. This was about 80% of the people there.
I paid for four pitch sessions, so I spied a little on the agents to see if they were human.
They were human.
I ditched the writing workshops and, instead, crossed the street to the Japanese restaurant I’d already done recon on during a google search. To my dismay, it was now a Chinese restaurant.
“What do you have on draft?” I asked the guy who greeted me.
“What is it?”
“Draft,” I said, and pantomimed with my hand. Once I’d poured the imaginary beer into the imaginary glass, I drank it down my throat.
He still didn’t get it, so I walked right through his bar and ignored the older Chinese man who started shouting at me. I pointed to the draft and said, “Draft.”
This was his first time hearing the word, so he wrote it down on his notepad. He did not smile though, nor did he smile when he seated me. “No sushi,” he said.
Then his father, the owner, also stopped by to remind me “No sushi.”
When the son took my order, I asked for a Kirin Draft. He didn’t know what it was. I pointed to his notepad, but he didn’t get it. Then his father explained it to him. Also, his father was someone who did not smile for anything.
Various writers showed up and sat at separate tables. I was disappointed each time, wishing someone would sit at the bar with me so I could test out my theory that writers are all quiet people, just waiting to be cracked open.
Finally, a young woman sat at the bar, two stools down from me. She played on her phone for a while. After she ordered, she continued stroking the screen.
I ordered my second Kirin and considered getting wasted instead of talking to agents. That’s what I wanted right at that moment. Instead, I took a few sips of the new draft, paced myself, watched the Chinamen for any signs of smiling, and then introduced myself to the young woman.
I am 41. If I had to guess, she was thirty-five and attractive in a sexy librarian kind of way. Gregarious, but in a reserved way. In other words- a writer.
She’d written a memoir about failing relationships. We talked about that for a while and I sprinkled in pieces of my own experience. She sympathized. Her experiences saddened me because I could see her vision as clearly as if it was my own. Nothing is worse than a couple travelling abroad just to be miserable together.
I sipped my beer.
When she asked me about my books, both stories sounded retarded when I explained them. And I knew this inability to articulate my work was going to cripple me when I tried talking to the agents.
I chugged my beer faster now.
She told me about her blog. I handed her my composition notebook with erratic writing scribbled upside-down, left and right, right and left, and at weird angles. She didn’t seem to judge me for it as she wrote down the address of her blog.
Maybe women understand they can be a muse to men; maybe they don’t. Either way, the little bit of conversation with her helped bolster me for the rest of the conference. Each time I lost heart, I was happy that an attractive woman had talked to me for a little while- like a kind officer soothing me, a death row inmate, during my walk to the electric chair.
As soon as I sat down with the first agent, I began to meet headwinds. Actually, the agent seemed almost as nervous as I was.
“What are you pitching me today?” she asked.
I leaned in and moved my hands around. “Two autistic freshmen wage a psychological war on each other in a Maryland high school. When one turns up dead, the other must use his dark intelligence to track down the killer before it’s too late.”
From studying a ton of YouTube videos, I learned you tell them 2-3 sentences, then let them ping pong the conversation back at you.
So after I said those two sentences, forgetting what the rest of the story was about, I smiled and waited.
“I don’t really handle suspense,” she said.
My heart sank a little. “Well, let me tell you the background on it.”
I told her how I’d been bullied as a kid, and how a third grade teacher taught me to write. I’d won a bunch of contests and written my whole life. What I learned from that is that there is always some kind of weapon somewhere. I think kids can relate to that.
She wasn’t too into it. Still, she gave me her card. Told me to send her the first 20 pages.
I considered it a strike out. But I had three agents to go.
Instead of going to workshops and classes like I should have, I went to the bar. I talked to various writers. I spoke to someone who looked Amish, whose gender I’m still not certain of. I spoke to an older woman with tortoise shell, round spectacles and zany hair. I talked to a guy with a cool baseball jacket, and an Asian guy who spoke to me in Italian but could not make direct eye contact. In other words- writers.
The next agent was super sweet. I was almost ashamed to tell her of my dark suspense novel involving a serial stalker. When she asked why my story was unique, I told her it was based on a true story.
She looked horrified.
“The good thing is, he’s not the worst person in the story,” I said.
This surprised her, but not in a good way.
A voice in my head said, “Dummy, she thinks you’re a maniac writing about your own life and trying to pass it off as fiction. You flunked!”
Still, I got her card. She told me to send her a sample chapter and synopsis.
I drank another beer because, well, I remembered I was born, or developed, a mouth that doesn’t work. I could write the next War and Peace, but my mouth can’t discuss it properly. So, I’d wasted a bunch of money, time, and effort to do nothing more than make a fool of myself. The lie that I could pitch my novel(s) coherently quickly faded away, and I was left feeling alone and retarded. But I remembered that I’m around others who suffer that same feeling. So, I got friendly with other writers, as if we were prisoners thrown in a cell together. I liked hearing other people talk about their books. Maybe that took the edge off a little, getting others to pitch their books to me. Maybe it even helped practice for the big, bad agents.
When I went to get yet another beer, I discovered a tray filled with Italian breathmints. I don’t know what they are called, but they are my favorite. I haven’t had one in probably five years. I ate about 20 of them in the span of five minutes and completely forgot to drink that next beer.
My next meeting with an agent was a disaster. The fourth went shaky as well.
I ate another 20 breath mints.
Then I ran into the woman who I’d eaten lunch with at the bar. “Here,” I said, handing her a bag with a jacket in it. “I brought this as a gift for someone, but they are much…. um… larger than I anticipated.”
“Someone here, at the conference?”
“Yeah. It’ll fit you though.”
I also gave her my card, advertising the international library I secretly run at my casino-lending out books in Japanese, French, German, Italian, and Arabic.
She thanked me, then we parted ways. And honestly, that interaction was the only thing that kept me from losing my shit.
On the way out, I exited with one of the agents I’d pitched to earlier. She looked angry and insane, like she wanted to murder all of the fledgling writers with their shitty Game of Thrones and Gone Girl knock-offs.