I awoke and slit one eye open. My roommate, Cheryl, was already up and humming. I read my latest pitch to her. She smiled benevolently. Dear Lord.
We scuttled the mile and a half to the convention center. During that time I decided Steve Jaquith, Jane Lotter and Ben Barrett should win first, second and third (in no particular order) Maybe that shows a certain amount of prejudice, but I liked them all so much and their book ideas that I wanted them to win.
To tell the truth, I never even wanted to be a finalist. I'm a writer, for crying out loud. It is a solitary pursuit. I'm not used to dealing with real people. I'm used to dealing with fake people in a pretend environment, in a totally different time zone--namely 1805. If one of my characters annoys me, I kill them off. The thought of having to interact with actual, live humans in real time, in an actual location terrified me. What if I forgot they were real and fired a cannon at them? What if I pointed my flintlock with one hand and sent my cutlass flying with the other?
Now I must admit that once I got to the conference, kicking and screaming, walking around with the black "finalist" ribbon waving under the name badge carried a certain thrill. It was...well, it seemed so unreal it compared favorably with my own beloved fictional people (the ones I haven't sent to Davy Jones). Total strangers approached and offered congratulations at the accomplishment. My face burns red as I write this, but...I liked it.
But first, second or third would require one-on-one interaction with agents and editors. That is carrying fun just a little too far.
More classes, more rewrites, more reading the pitch to more writers, more blank looks, more rewrites. It finally came time for my ten minutes with the agent. Walking down that long, empty hall, hearing my heels click on the uneven wooden floor and the echo of my heartbeats, clutching seventy-three yellow, damp versions of my pitch in sweaty palms, I faltered as I rounded the corner. A man in a black, hooded robe approached me, his sickle balanced on his shoulder. An unearthly, deep voice asked, "Are you here to for your last ten minutes?" I glanced at his face, hidden by the folds of the hood, and nodded. He stuck out a gnarled, skeletal hand and crooked his finger. I shuffled behind him into a dark room lit by hundreds of candles. The sulfuric odor of fire and brimstone overpowered the smell of death. I slouched into an empty chair and faced the flaming head of the agent. She bellowed out, "Why are you here?"
"I just want to go home," I squeaked out. Beside me, ten feet away, a dark curtain fluttered.
"Pay no attention to that curtain," the flaming face roared. "Tell me about your book!"
"It is about...um..." I glanced at my notes but couldn't find the latest version. "It is about a young woman who accidentally gets pressed into the Royal Navy in 1805."
"And?" reverberated into the chamber.
"And...ah...what she goes through."
Lord have mercy.
"And why are you bothering me with this," the head sizzled in the dark. I glanced under the curtain and saw a pair of expensive leather high heels. "Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain!" the head exploded.
Oh, wait. Come to think of it the agent was very nice and patient. She did suggest I should rewrite the adventure story into a regency romance, but she was kind and professional with what could only be described as a cowardly lion presentation. "I do believe, I do believe, I do, I do, I do believe." When I exited, I'm positive it was in exactly the same manner the lion used after his first visit with the great and powerful OZ. I loped the two miles back to my room and hid behind the easy chair.
The awards banquet, only an hour away, had my breath spurting out in short gasps and little beads of sweat popped out on my upper lip.