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Authors: Judy Fitzwater

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Dying to Get Published

BOOK: Dying to Get Published
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Dying

To Get

Published

 

By Judy Fitzwater

 

 

 

Copyright 1998 and 2010 by Judy Fitzwater

 

Cover art copyright 2010 by Vanessa Garcia

 

This is a work of fiction.  All characters and events described in this novel are fictitious or are used fictitiously.

 

All rights reserved. This book, or any part of it, cannot be reproduced or distributed by any means without express permission in writing from the author
.

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

The jail cell was cold. Cold and gray and ugly. Jennifer ran her hands through her long, taffy-brown hair and sank wistfully against the wall. The chill reached through her sweater and embraced her shoulders. She shot straight up on the backless bench and shivered. She felt as though something were crawling down her back, something with many legs, but she knew it was her imagination. She prayed it was her imagination.

She thanked God that she was alone in the cell—no gun moll, no whore in wig and fishnet stockings, no runaway street kid whose innocence had just been ravaged. She knew them all so well, but not in the flesh, never in the flesh.

She wondered how she had come to such a state, how she would ever explain to Sam or Dee Dee or Mrs. Walker. Or anyone else she had ever known in her twenty-nine years.

And what would all this mean to Jaimie, her unborn child? She patted her stomach and sighed. She had promised Jaimie she (or was it he?) would someday be born. He (or she) had yet to be conceived. "Don't give up hope, little one," she whispered. "We've been through so much together." Not for the first time, she wondered about her own sanity. She was talking to an unfertilized egg.

Jennifer would like to pretend that her arrest had been a complete misunderstanding. She didn't belong in a jail in Atlanta, Georgia. She'd only toyed with the idea of murder. A mere whim. An elaborate game.

Okay, so she'd planned the whole thing, but that wasn't the point. Except for a brief dalliance with Buddhism, she was a good Baptist girl. She knew right from wrong. The Ten Commandments were clear. They were even numbered for easy reference, and number six left no room to hedge.

And hadn't she promised God when she was immersed in the baptismal pool that, if He didn't let her drown, she would always be good? By the third dip she truly believed in miracles, and came up sputtering with a new understanding of what it was to be "reborn."

Jennifer Marsh was no murderer. She was a caterer and a novelist—a mystery novelist. True, she had committed murder twelve times in eight novels—if you didn't count Sir Conrad's death which turned out to be the result of natural causes. Eight novels that were stacked neatly on the shelf in her hall closet—eight novels collecting layers of dust—nearly three thousand manuscript pages.

Stacked next to them in a pile that seemed to tower over the manuscripts were rejections from some of the best publishing houses and most prestigious agents in the country. The story was always the same: "While your characters are interesting, I feel they are not unique enough to carry a series," or "I'm sorry but while your material is exceptionally well written and plotted, I could not become sufficiently enthused with it to take it on."

So they wanted unique. She gave them unique in her last book. Her heroine, Jolene Arizona, was a left-handed, blind-in-one-eye, bareback-riding circus performer turned Hollywood detective who took stunt gigs on the side when her client list dwindled. And she slept with all of them—every solitary client—employing a few tricks she'd learned on the circus circuit.

Jennifer sighed and settled back against the wall, letting the cold creep into her bones—she didn't deserve any better—and let her mind wander back to the day just three weeks ago when she set in motion the events that would inevitably lead to that cold jail cell: the day she decided to commit murder…

As usual, she'd been hard at work, writing most of the morning. A little after eleven o'clock she had typed the words THE END on page 293 of Jolene Arizona's first adventure. Tears of joy stung Jennifer's eyes. This one, she promised herself, this one would sell. The elation was suddenly washed away with a wave of nausea. She pushed back from the computer and ran to the bathroom where she stripped off her clothes and let the warm water of the shower flow over her, mingling with her tears. She would not sell her soul just to be published. She would not.

The roughness of the fresh towel brought her back to reality. She dried off, folded herself into the warmth of her royal blue terry-cloth robe, and wrapped the towel about her head. She caught her reflection in the mirror that ran the width of the small bathroom. She looked tired, bereft of vitality. Who was she fooling with her dreams of being a novelist? Maybe it was time to settle, time to make a little fire in the fireplace, time to clean the closet.

She sighed, wiped a final stray tear from her cheek, and walked barefoot into the bedroom. The remote control was where it always was, between the pillows on the unmade double bed. She sank onto the sheets, not caring that the damp from the towel was seeping into the feather nest of her pillow. She touched the
on
button and the face of Dr. Phil loomed before her. Another show about prostitutes. How quaint.

She touched the
channel up
button and the ladies of The View appeared right in the middle of a discussion of romance gone bad. What a unique idea!

Another flip of the button brought Oprah's smiling face onto the screen. She was talking to an author. Jennifer lay paralyzed on the bed.
Turn it
, she ordered herself, but her finger lay still.
Turn it
, she demanded again, but it was fatally too late.

This was no celebrity book this woman was promoting. She had been unjustly accused of murdering her husband. The trial had been in all the papers. Jennifer remembered it vividly. It was such an involuted case, she'd clipped several of the articles for her idea file. But the woman had been exonerated.  She was not guilty after all. Not only was she not guilty, she had written a book released just last week that was already in its third printing. She was famous, she was acquitted, and she was on her way to living happily ever after.

Jennifer pushed the power button and the screen went blank. Her eyes fuzzed out of focus, a nervous twitch settled into one corner of her mouth, pulling it upward into a half-crazed smile, and her thoughts… her thoughts strayed in a direction that would lead her straight to jail.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Choosing someone to murder was not as difficult as Jennifer thought it would be. The first criterion was obvious: the world must improve with the victim's absence. Second, she felt the death should be symbolic for all those poor souls struggling to publish the masterpieces that no one would ever read because of someone else's whim. Third, she felt an obligation (for Jaimie's sake) that the victim be childless and preferably spouseless. Fourth, he or she must be a true career S.O.B.

Jennifer adjusted the bulky towel threatening to slide off her wet hair, pulled open the drawer of the file cabinet cramped in the back of her closet, and riffled through the file marked AGENTS. The rejection letters were neatly stacked on the shelf, but the lists of agents, names copied laboriously from lectures, professional newsletters, and
Literary Marketplace
, were all kept neatly within the file. Next to each name was a date and a notation reflecting their replies to her queries and sample chapters: FL, form letter; PR, personal reply; PRWP, personal reply with praise; and GAANWAW which stood for Go Away and Never Write Another Word.

Most agents were polite. Some grew less polite with time. Her eyes wandered to the name of one agent with half a dozen notations in the margin. Jennifer's stomach began to quease. She had spent more than a year in correspondence with Penney Richmond. First, the query that took three months for a reply, then another four for the glowing response to the first fifty pages of
The Corpse Found a Home
, her fourth novel, and finally another six months before she read those awful words: "I just didn't
love
it enough. I'm sure you'll have no trouble placing it. It's a great book." And a year older.

The phone call had been hell.

 

JENNIFER: "What was wrong with
The Corpse Found a Home
?

PENNEY: "Let me see. I read so many things. Was that the book with the body that kept getting shuffled from one place to another?"

JENNIFER: "Yes. Four friends had gone out together, one died, and each of the other three thought something they did had killed him."

PENNEY: "Cute idea. It made me laugh. It would never sell. Everything is reality-based now—gritty.

JENNIFER: "Couldn't you tell it was funny from my query letter or at least the first fifty pages? You could have saved me nine months."

PENNEY: "I don't have time for this."

 

The phone clicked off.

The woman had tied up her manuscript for a year, and she couldn't give her five minutes on the phone—five minutes to vent some of the pressure that had been building for years—five minutes that now might have made Jennifer pass over her name on that list of agents. Instead, her finger tapped ominously in the margin. Penney Richmond met criterion number two; the death of an agent would certainly be symbolic for any struggling author.

Richmond was an Atlanta agent, which was perfect, little more than an hour and a half away from Macon. It would be a piece of cake to check out her family history. Maxie Malone, the sleuth in her first two novels, was a former actress with a talent for voices and an expert at collecting information.

Jennifer slipped into the bedroom, clutching the paper with the agent's name and phone number. She sat down on the floor with her legs crossed and punched the number into the phone that lay on the walnut night table next to her bed. Muffy, the greyhound she'd saved from death after its racing days were over, nuzzled up against her on the floor.

"Richmond Literary Agency. How may I help you?" a voice asked.

"Ooooooh,
guten morgen
," she said in an exaggerated, sing-song fashion. Muffy wedged her head between Jennifer's elbow and her side. "I was given this number. I'm Mrs…. Mrs. Smith's nanny." She winced, unsuccessfully trying to push Muffy aside. Silently, she cursed herself. Couldn't she come up with something more original? Probably not with an emotionally needy greyhound at her side. "They are leaving the country for a year in Europe," she continued. "Frau Smith said Frau Richmond might need me."

The woman at the other end of the line began to laugh, first a titter that gave way to a guffaw. Jennifer felt the heat from her cheeks spread all the way to her navel.

"Boy, lady, have you got the wrong Richmond. Ms. Richmond doesn't have any children, bless their little unborn hearts, and she disposed of husband number three at least a dozen years ago."

"But surely she is the Frau Richmond who lives at that most lovely of places the… the Magnolia…."

"Couldn't be the right one. Ms. Richmond lives downtown at O'Hara's Tara."

"So sorry to bother. Excuse the ring." Jennifer slapped the receiver back into its cradle, pushed the dog away, and crawled up onto the bed. It worked. It actually worked—just as easily as it had in her book. Maxie would be proud.

No children. No spouse, although from the receptionist's reaction, a husband probably wouldn't have been a hindrance. He might have offered her a hand. Richmond met criterion number three.

She reached down, opened the top drawer of her nightstand and extracted her address book. Tucked neatly in the front flap was a scrap of paper saved from a writer's convention she had attended in Columbus. On it was scribbled the name and number of a multi-published author she'd met who generously suggested that she feel free to contact her with questions. She called the Savannah number. A pleasant voice answered the phone, and Jennifer asked to speak to Agnes Weathers.

"This is she," the pleasant voice answered.

"I know you don't remember me, but I met you at the Midnight Dreary Mystery Convention last fall in Columbus. I'm looking for an agent, and I thought perhaps you could offer me a bit of advice," she said in a tiny, breathy, little-girl voice. She covered the mouthpiece with her hand and rolled her eyes.  Where had that come from—"a bit of advice?" She sounded like someone from
Masterpiece Theater
.

"Oh, dear. I'd like to help but I really can't recommend anyone to you unless I've seen your work, and I'm afraid I just don't have time—"

"Actually, I just wondered if you might give me your opinion of an agent I was considering approaching—Penney Richmond."

For a moment, Jennifer thought the woman had hung up.

"Are you there?" she asked.

"I don't know of any specific complaints about Penney. She certainly has never done anything illegal, such as fraud or withholding payment, at least not that I know of."

BOOK: Dying to Get Published
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