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Authors: Richard Paul Evans

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BOOK: The Mistletoe Inn
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“Hi, Dad. How are you feeling?”

“I'm good,” he said. “So are you there yet? At the inn?”

“Yes. I'm in my room.”

“How is it?”

“It's beautiful. The whole inn is beautiful.”

“The whole state is beautiful,” he said. “I've always thought of Vermont as one of the most beautiful states. Especially when the leaves turn.”

“I didn't know you'd been here.”

“Mom and I went there on our honeymoon. We went on one of those fall leaves tours. It was unforgettable.”

I hated the idea that my mother had been here. It was like discovering snakes in Eden. “It's all covered in snow now,” I said.

“I'm sure that's beautiful too. So is anything going on tonight or do you get time to rest?”

“There's an opening-night reception in about an hour.”

“Then I better let you get ready. I just wanted to make sure you had made it safe. Have a good time. And would you bring me back some of that real Vermont maple syrup? I don't know if it's the season, but there are places where you can see them boiling down the sap into syrup.”

“I'll bring you some. I think there's some in my welcome bag.”

“Thanks, baby. Have a good time. I love you.”

“I love you too,” I said. “Take care of yourself.”

I tossed my phone onto the bed, then turned around and looked at myself in the mirror across from me. I always felt bloated after flying. “You look like roadkill,” I said out loud. I undressed, then went in to shower.

I turned on the water and a cloud of steam filled the small room. I sat down in the porcelain claw-foot tub beneath the spray and closed my eyes. As I lay there thinking about my father, I felt a panic attack coming on. “He's going to be okay,” I said to myself. “Everything will be okay. Our best years are still ahead of us.”

CHAPTER
Eleven

Is it favor or folly that we don't know how far we are from our dreams?

Kimberly Rossi's Diary

The conference's opening reception was held in the inn's grand ballroom, which, according to the program material, was also where the conference's most popular sessions would take place, including the opening session in the morning and the final keynote speech by Mr. Cowell.

I walked into the lobby a few minutes after seven. I looked around for Samantha but didn't see her, so after waiting for a little while, I went inside to see if she was already there. The lights inside the ballroom were partially dimmed and there was music playing from a set of speakers attached to an iPod. The room wasn't particularly crowded. There were about fifty or sixty people, mostly clustered in small, intimate groups.

The woman at the registration desk was correct in her estimated male-to-female ratio, as the vast majority of the attendees were women. I looked around for Samantha but couldn't find her.

In the center of the room were tables with hors d'oeuvres. I hadn't eaten since lunch in Detroit, so I took a plate and began to fill it with food: quiche, deviled eggs, sausage-stuffed
mushrooms, bacon-wrapped water chestnuts, and dates with blue cheese centers.

Next to the food was a round table with beverages: sodas, eggnog in a large crystal punchbowl, and prepoured glasses of wine.

As I lifted a glass of red wine, a man, balding with a narrow, ruddy face, walked up to me. He wore denim jeans and an oxford shirt with a herringbone tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, the kind that Marcus used to wear while teaching. He was also holding a glass of wine. I couldn't tell if his face was red because he'd been skiing or because he'd been drinking.

He furtively glanced down at my bare ring finger as he stuck out his hand, his close-set eyes fixed on me. “Hi, I'm John Grisham.”

I set down my drink to shake his hand. “No, you're not.”

An eager grin crossed his face. “I know, but it gets your attention, doesn't it? I'm David.” He gripped my hand a little too firmly and held it longer than was comfortable.

“I'm Kimberly.”

“Hi, Kimberly. I'm sure you hear this often, but you're a very attractive woman.”

Not as often as I'd like,
I thought. “Thank you.”

“Are you here for the writing seminar?” he asked. It was a dumb question since this was a reception for the seminar.

“Yes. And you?”

“I'm one of the presenters,” he said, his voice taking on a slightly lilting tone. “I'm
published
.”

There is a caste system at writers' conferences—a social stratification between the elite and the untouchables, the published and unpublished.

“Congratulations,” I said. “That must be nice.”

“Yes, it is. What do you do?”

“In real life I'm a finance officer at a car dealership.”

“Living the dream,” he said sardonically.

“But I'd like to be writing for a living.”

“You and everyone else on the planet.”

“That's encouraging,” I said. “What is your presentation on?”

“It is on exactly what we're talking about—how to get published. Actually my presentation's called
Living the Dream
.”

“I saw it on the schedule. You're David . . . Bready.” I pronounced his last name like
Breedy
.

“It's pronounced Brady,” he said quickly. “Like Tom.”

“I'm sure you'll have a very popular session.”

“It's always a crowded session,” he replied. “I pack them in.” He lifted a stuffed mushroom from the table and devoured it in one bite.

“So what books have you written?” I asked.

He finished chewing, then said, “I co-wrote one of the Chicken Soup books.
Chicken Soup for the Romance Writer's Soul
.”

“I didn't know there was one for that.”

“Oh yeah. It's one of the bigger sellers.”

“How many Chicken Soup books are there now?” I asked. “I mean, hasn't it gotten ridiculous? Like,
Chicken Soup for the Bricklayer's Soul
? How many different souls can there be?”

He gazed at me blankly, clearly offended by my question.

“What else do you write?” I asked.

“I'm best known for the Death Slayer series. I'm sure you've heard of it.”

I looked at him awkwardly. “Death Slayer?”


Cave of the Slave Girls
,
Slaughter Alley, Planet Blood
 . . .”

“I'm sorry, I don't read a lot of the . . . death and gore genre.”

“I've got a film option on
Planet Blood
,” he said. “My agent says Hollywood's going nuts over it.”

“Congratulations.”

“Thanks, but you know how it is. The publisher's never satisfied. The minute you've finished one book they want to know when the next one will be finished. Got to feed the beast.”

“Actually, I don't know how that is,” I said. “I'd like to.”

“Which is why you should come to my presentation.” His mouth twisted. “But honestly, between us, being published has its downside.”

“Such as?”

“Fame. Groupies. Women following me back to my hotel after book signings.”

“That sounds pretty miserable,” I said, nodding. He either missed my sarcasm or just ignored it.

“Well, believe me, they're not always as lovely as you. So, why don't you come up to my room and I'll show you what I'm working on. I'll even let you read some pages no one else has ever laid eyes on.”

I bit my lip. “Thank you, but I think I'll just stay down here and get to know some of the other attendees.”

He nodded as if he understood. “I get it. You want to size up the competition.”

“I wasn't really thinking of that.”

“You should,” he said. “Publishing's the most competitive industry on the planet. Breaking into the business today is like safecracking. If you don't know the combination or the bank president, you'll never make it. It's who you know.”

“You mean I need to know someone like
you
,” I said.

He cocked his head. “Precisely. I know people in the industry. Agents. Editors. People with a say as to what gets published and what doesn't.” He leaned forward. “So. Do you want to come up to my room?”

“Tempting, but still no. Thank you.”

His jaw tightened. “Suit yourself. Good luck.” The last two words sounded more like a threat than a wish. He huffed off. A few minutes later I heard him say to another woman, “Hi, I'm John Grisham . . .”

I took my wine and food over to a vacant table near the side of the room and sat down. As I looked around it seemed like most of the people already knew each other. I felt like a leper. To my relief, it was only a few minutes before Samantha walked into the room. I waved to her and her face lit when she saw me. She walked over to the table. “Oh, I'm so glad you're here. Sorry I'm late. I couldn't get off the phone.”

“It's okay,” I said. “I just got here too.”

“How's the party?”

“It's good.” I tilted my head toward David, who was already well into his next pitch. “Stay clear of that guy.”

“I know,” she said. “His name is David, but he tells everyone he's John Grisham. It's the most pathetic pickup line I've ever heard.”

“So you've met him.”

“I met him in the hall after I checked in. He's one of the presenters. He's published.”

“Yes, he told me.”

“He asked me up to his room.”

“He asked me too,” I said. “What did you say?”

“I said I thought he was kind of old to be hitting on someone my age.”

I laughed. “I bet you bruised his ego.”

“Crushed it,” she said, smiling.

Just then two other women walked over to our table carrying plates of food, a tall redhead and a shorter brunette with heavy makeup. “Excuse me,” the redhead said. “Are these seats taken?”

“No. Go ahead.”

The women sat across from us. “I'm LuAnne,” the redhead said.

“And I'm Heather,” said the other.

“I'm Kim,” I replied. “And this is Samantha.”

“Hi,” Samantha said, looking unhappy that the two women had crashed our table.

LuAnne smiled at me. “Is this your first time here?”

“Yes. Is it yours?”

“No. It's my sixth.”

“It's my fifth,” Heather said. “You could say we're regulars. We noticed that you were talking to David.”

“Actually, he was talking to me,” I said.

“He was hitting on her,” Samantha said.

“Did he invite you up to his room?” LuAnne asked.

“Yes.”

“No surprise there,” she said. “He always works the pretty new ones.”

“The regulars know better,” Heather said.

“David's a regular too?” I asked.

“Pretty much,” Heather said. “He's one of the few published authors who will consistently come. I think it's getting harder to get published authors. They only found four this year.”

“They got Mr. Cowell,” I said.

“If he shows,” LuAnne said.

I looked at her quizzically. “What do you mean?”

“He has a reputation for booking events and not showing up.”

“Like
never
showing up,” Heather said. “If he comes, it will be a first.”

“He's the reason I came,” I said. “Mostly.”

“Well, he could surprise us,” LuAnne said doubtfully. “So what kind of romance do you write?”

“Kind?”

“Yes. What's your niche? Paranormal? Erotica? Nicholas Sparks wannabe?”

I wasn't sure how to answer. “Just, the usual,” I finally said, not sure what that meant.

“How long have you been writing?” Heather asked.

“About six years,” I said.

“Same as me,” she said.

“How many books have you written?” Samantha asked.

“Counting the one I'm working on, fourteen,” LuAnne said.

“Fourteen?”

“I've written twenty-two,” Heather said. “But, technically, two of them were novellas.”

“And not one of them published,” LuAnne said.

Heather glared at her. “I'm published. I've sold almost two thousand copies.”


Self
-published,” LuAnne said dismissively. “Ninety-nine-cent e-books. The book world has radically changed in the last decade. There are no such things as unpublished authors these days.”

“That's true,” Samantha said. “Amazon has like a billion books.”

“I'm still unpublished,” I said. I hadn't even considered self-publishing. I wouldn't know where to begin.

LuAnne said, “A few years ago at the Maui Writers Conference, Sue Grafton said, ‘You shouldn't even submit a book to an agent until you've written at least five.' ”

BOOK: The Mistletoe Inn
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