Four-hundred mystery writers, one-thousand editors, agents, publishers, and fans, at two Baltimore hotels, The Famous Author has to take a stool at the bar beside Tony, a talented crime writer who announces he just lost his series. The publishers said his character must die.
Inside TFA's computer case, tossed on the floor like some dying dream, my stomach knotted like that first shot of bad tequila.
"Whoa, Tony," TFA said. "But your book just came out. Were sales that bad?"
"I don't know. I haven't seen any numbers yet."
They both ordered another drink. I gasped for air. My short life -- BIG NUMBERS, BIG MONEY, and the upcoming BIG MOJO -- passed like movie clips before my eyes. Tony is with a BIG publisher. Mid-list, but a big New York mystery publisher. And it seems like six months ago he got his $25,000 advance.
I heard TFA slurp what no doubt was Wild Turkey. "Bummer, Tony. So what are you going to do?"
"That's the good news. They've offered me another series. I just have to change my name."
TFA and I have heard this tale before. Authors who don't succeed -- bad sales, or even good sales but with high returns -- don't get new orders from bookstore chains. The publishers fight back with a new name to bypass the black list.
"And pretend to be a woman," Tony said.
I couldn't breathe. My jaw gaped like a grouper. Above me, through the Nylon skin of the computer case, I heard TFA knock over his glass of bourbon.
"It's not so bad," Tony said. I'm guessing it was two minutes later. "I don't have to wear a wig or anything. They're going to use a model for the back cover."
Bouchercon Noir. My nightmare number one. Austin Carr becomes his own Redhead of the Week.