Congratulations! Your first book got published. That writing workshop was memorable.
Ten aspiring writers met every Monday. Sitting at a round table, sharing feedback about your stories.
There was another incentive; the best author from the workshop would win a publishing deal. But you never thought that your path to publishing would walk this murderous way.
You all met at a historical, two-floor building in Venice, California. An idyllic garden with sunflowers, fruit trees, and native flora surrounded the building. You thought this was the perfect place to get inspired. And to make things even more inspiring, you brought a fresh batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Feedback seemed sweeter this way.
“Let's look at the manuscripts,” Mr. Evans, the professor leading the group, said, “Carla, you go first. Read your first two pages.”
When you finished, the feedback was brutal, “Don't write from a second-person point of view. It does not work. And show, don't tell,” then he continued to the next writer, “Nora, you are next.”
Nora, although still learning, shined in every session. That week, Mr. Evans praised her.
“Bravo! That's a perfect 10.
At the end of the workshop, you approached her.
“I loved what you read today. You are getting great feedback every week. I think you are the one getting published.”
“Thanks, Carla. I love your cookies. So kind of you. And yes, getting published would be great. Regardless of who wins, I am interested in feedback, improving my writing, and making friends with fellow writers.”
You realized you had a darker plot in front of you.
“I am here looking for the same. Go to my place this weekend? We can write together, drink something, and get to know each other better.”
Every Saturday morning, Nora went to your place. She enjoyed writing on your balcony overlooking the ocean, sipping some drink, and savoring chocolate chip cookies. With that ritual, you became friends.
Your manuscript improved rapidly with her help, but still, Nora was leading the race.
“Nora, there is a party this weekend.”
“I don't go to parties.”
“I heard that Lisa See, Charles Yu, and other writers will be there. It's more of a networking event.”
Dirty little liar.
The swimming pool was illuminated by huge lit-up beach balls floating on the water. The music was loud enough to make Coachella seem shy. Cannabis aroma poured into the attendees' lungs by osmosis.
“Where are the writers?” Nora asked you?
“They'll probably be here any minute now.”
“I don't feel comfortable here.”
“Relax, I'll get us some drinks.”
You had a mocktail, Margarita. You mixed legit cocktails for her.
“I also brought some of my awesome cookies,” you handed the drinks and cookies over to Nora and picked up your phone.
“I need to take this call, I'll be right back.”
That was the last time anyone saw you at the party that night.
Nora's place at the round table was empty that Monday.
“We are already ten minutes late. Let's begin.”
This time, your feedback was the best.
“Everyone, remember, next week is the final deadline for your manuscripts. Remember to upload the final version by Monday at 11PM.”
At the end of the meeting, Josh, the only guy at the workshop, gave you a small piece of paper.
“My feedback,” he said.
The note read:
DATE TONIGHT? CALL ME: 555-123-4567. Josh.
You never paid much attention to what Josh was writing about. His broad shoulders, buff biceps, and defined jaw were all you care about in his manuscript.
That night at the restaurant felt refreshing. It was your first date after a long time. You talked about writing, Mr. Evans, and the other people at the workshop.
“Rumor has it, Nora has been unconscious for 2 days, at the ICU,” Josh said.
“Shit, this went out of control,” you thought. You grabbed your phone and said, “There is a sudden emergency I need to attend to; I had a lovely evening. Raincheck?”
An email from Mr. Evans popped up that Sunday. He reminded everyone about the deadline. Only 24 hours left to finalize the manuscript. The email also confirmed what you suspected. After 5 days in the ICU, Nora passed away.
You never wanted to hurt anybody. The idea was to get a small headstart. Was all the mess worth it?
Now it was too late to worry about it. The clock was ticking; the manuscript still needed to get finalized before the deadline.
Nora could not help anymore with your writing.
You decided to resort to your cooking skills.
The recipe for success?
Mixing a bit of Jane Austen, sprinkling a pinch of Stephen King, and just the right amount of Virginia Woolf's secret sauce.
You won! The best writer of the workshop. You and Josh felt elated with the good news. Your first book was going to get published.
But unfortunately, your happiness did not last for too long.
The publishing house had found plagiarism. They were rescinding the award.
An unknown number is calling.
“Tomorrow? At the FBI headquarters? To chat about Nora's death?”
Things were getting gray.
Suddenly, a text from Josh popped up on the screen of your phone:
“I can't believe you cheated all of us. We are done. I don't know how you'll be able to sleep tonight."
That night you did not sleep at all. That night you became an author; by your own merit.
Dozens of pages, written with vivid imagery and dialogue.
This time, you did not write fiction in your diary nor contained plagiarism; the plot was 100% yours, including the recipe you used in the lethal cookie.
That night, after writing, you baked the last batch that put your problems to sleep. Forever.
The room was full of young aspiring writers. No open seats at the round table.
"Welcome everyone to the workshop. Only one author will be published."
“But before we begin, have you read The Chronicles of the Venice Writing Workshop yet?”
"A posthumous bestseller by a graduate from this workshop's last year version," Mr. Evans said.