Writers are always working on the next novel. One of my works in progress is a cozy mystery, set at a writers’ conference near Taos, New Mexico. Melanie thinks she’ll love assisting a big-name agent–until she meets Brandon. Brandon is rude and spiteful, and he antagonizes everyone within a day of his arrival at the conference. But only one person is angry enough to murder him, and Melanie must find out who.
I have attended numerous writing conferences, and always enjoy hanging out with my “people.” Fortunately, I have never met an agent like Brandon, but it was fun to create him!
The setting of this story is close to my heart. I have family in New Mexico, and when I was a child, we visited Taos. It’s one of my favorite places.
As Melanie tells Will, the pueblo, and its residents, have been in the same place, living the same way, for hundreds of years–since before the United States was a country. You may tour the pueblo at prescribed times unless they are having a religious or otherwise sacred ceremony.
Brandon didn’t reply. Nor did he apologize as he breezed through the door and took his seat between Joshua and me. He picked up the stack of submissions and held them at arms’ length, as though he’d forgotten his glasses, even though they were right there on his face. “Alphabetic order. First—Sophia Cates?”
Sophia raised one arm. “Yes. My book was one of the fi—”
That was as far as she got. Brandon held her pages at the right angle for me to see the ink slashes—beginning at the third word. “I wouldn’t get past your first sentence.”
Sophia might have gulped. I didn’t dare look at her.
Brandon went on. “You named your protagonist ‘Kate.’ If I’m reading your submission, I just hit ‘delete.’”
“Why?” Sophia managed. I admired her. At her age—probably mid to late twenties—meeting an industry superstar, I would have been too intimidated to ask. I might have run out of the room.
“It’s trite.” Brandon slapped the pages to the table. “Never name a character ‘Kate” or ‘Jake’ unless you’re writing a satire of bad romances. Bad fiction, period. For Christ’s sake, if you can’t give a character an original name, why would I think you can write an original story?”
Joshua interrupted, so smoothly Brandon couldn’t take offense, and tried to give Sophia some real feedback on her story. Sophia pretended to listen and take notes, but her pen barely moved on her own pages, and she never looked up as she quietly thanked him.
Donny was next. Seemingly unconcerned by the slash-and-burn of Sophia’s critique, he beamed as he named an author whose work I had seen in the library and on Goodreads. “We’re in the Oklahoma City RWA—I mean, Romance Writers of America together. She recommended you—”
Brandon cut him off. “I know what the RWA is, pal. We’ll chat later. Let’s not take up these other people’s time hearing about who you know, okay?”
Donny sputtered an apology that Brandon ignored. “Diana Edwards. That’s your pseudonym? And why do you need a pseudonym? Are you wanted by the FBI? Or are you a famous writer in another genre who’s trying to break into romance? Since I haven’t heard of you, I’m going with the FBI story.”
Two of the introverts got up and left.