I thought it would be fun to give you a glimpse inside of The Conference Catastrophe! I leaned on my love of conferences and events as I wrote this book. You never know what will happen when you drive to another city or get on a plane and travel to a conference where you don’t know a single soul. All sorts of magic happens at conference: new life-long friendships are started, ideas that lead to a breakthrough, times of deep rejuvanation and inspiration.
Melody goes to the Create Conference with all sorts of hopes and dreams inside of her. What she wasn’t hoping for was another mystery! But mysteries are attracted to Melody like she’s attracted to an iced coffee with a generous amount of cream.
I hope you enjoy this.
Melody walked as fast as she could, breathing hard and maneuvering between strollers, couples, and businesspeople on the crowded sidewalk. A car accident on I-80 had delayed traffic for more than an hour, throwing her hopes of being punctual to the wind. She had left her car in a general parking garage four blocks away to avoid the hefty hotel parking fee. That was a mistake. What in the world was I thinking? She dragged her suitcase behind her, feeling beads of sweat start to leak through her shirt and trickle down her back. Great. I’m showing up at the conference of the year looking as if I’ve been standing in a hot kitchen for the past three hours.
Her breathing increased as she picked up the pace. She hoisted her computer bag over her left shoulder and yanked her rolling suitcase behind her. Hurry up, Melody, you’re almost there. In her right arm she carried a large box full of individually wrapped brownie truffles. Not only was today the start of the Create Conference, the conference for artisanal entrepreneurial women, but she was also participating in the Pitch-It sessions, an opportunity to share her book idea in front of a panel made up of agents, editors, and others from the food industry. Sending in her application to present her book idea to the panel at the Create Conference had been one of the most nerve-racking things she’d ever done, mostly because she was afraid she’d be chosen to present … and she had been.
I’m probably going to stutter through the pitch, but at least my brownie truffles are delicious. Maybe that will win some points with the judges. She tried to go faster, trying to remember her presentation. Her calves burned, and her feet felt as if they were on fire. Maybe wearing three-inch turquoise heels wasn’t such a hot idea after all.
Melody reached the walkway to the Crown Plaza, hugged the box of truffles close to her, and started up a second flight of stairs to the hotel. She kept her eyes down, looking at the stairs to avoid tripping. A loud voice from several feet away made her jerk her head up.
“Watch out!” the man’s voice projected over the noise of the bustling street.
Too late. Melody ran right into a woman who was looking down, tapping away on her phone. She tightened her hold on the box of truffles and tried to swerve, but they collided. All she saw was a sea of brown as her face smashed into the woman’s pea coat. Melody stuck her free arm out as she started to lose her balance. She landed with a thud. A bolt of pain shot through her arm.
The box of truffles landed on the stair next to her. Melody winced. “Are you okay?” Melody asked as she reached out to the woman in the brown pea coat. She was hunched over, pulling her coat tightly around her. Melody forced her eyes away from the fallen box of truffles. Jiminy Crickets. If they’re ruined, there goes the distinctive touch of my presentation.
Melody touched the woman’s shoulder, her concern rising. The woman didn’t move for a few seconds; she seemed stunned. Melody spoke again. “I’m so sorry, I should’ve been looking where I was going.” Melody moved to the side, noticing the woman’s bright green earrings sticking out from under her brown newsboy hat.
“Just get out of my way,” the woman snapped, suddenly aware of Melody next to her. She turned away from Melody, pulled the newsboy hat farther down over her face, and jumped up. Melody caught a glimpse of a small butterfly tattoo under the index and middle fingers of the woman’s right hand. The woman muttered something Melody couldn’t hear and pushed away Melody’s extended arm. She jogged down the stairs and into a crowd of tourists. Melody watched her continue her fast trek. Within seconds the woman was enveloped by the crowd moving along the busy San Francisco sidewalk. I guess I didn’t hurt her. She picked up the box, held her breath, and opened it. She sighed with relief. The dark chocolate brownie truffles looked relatively unharmed. The pink sprinkles decorating the tops were mostly intact. She smiled in silent gratitude, then looked back to the street where the woman had disappeared into the crowd on Mission Boulevard.
A voice startled Melody. “I saw you and the other lady heading towards each other. I was afraid you were going to be hurt.” A man in black slacks, a white shirt, and a dark red vest said as he descended toward Melody. His salt and pepper hair was cut short; his eyebrows were furrowed together under controlled (but still bushy) white eyebrows.
Melody blushed, feeling a bit ridiculous. “I’m running late and was looking at my feet instead of where I was going. I should know better. I’m carrying so many things, I was afraid I would fall or drop something.”
The man’s words rolled off his tongue with a smooth French accent. “It is no problem, mademoiselle. I do not want any accidents to interfere with the enjoyment of your trip. I am Pierre, the manager of this hotel.”
His voice relaxed Melody, and she took in a deep breath as she picked up her luggage. “Nice to meet you, I’m Melody Note. I’m here for the Create Conference.”
“Which has only just started—or is about to start.” Pierre smiled warmly and took Melody’s suitcase from her. “You may not be late after all. This way.” He opened his arm and gestured toward the lobby as Melody walked through the door. She smiled appreciatively as she stepped into the expansive lobby of the Crown Plaza. She gulped and made a mental note not to look awestruck. This has to be the fanciest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. This is not the local B&B of my college road trip days. She stared at the decor and the layout of the impressive hotel lobby and tried not to ogle.
Huge beige marble tiles lined the floor. The ceiling was at least thirty feet high, and massive windows lined the wall letting in the morning sun. The natural light bounced off the European art on the walls. Bouquets of exotic flowers, three feet high, decorated the center table. To the left was a long hall with signs for various ballrooms and events; on the right was an ornate staircase leading to the second floor. A sign with the words “Create Conference” pointed up the stairs. Beyond that was a bar with a coffee lounge.
“Oliver!” Pierre called out. A young man came out from behind the lobby desk. His suit looked a size too big for his tall, gangly body. He smiled broadly, his dark eyes sparkling as he walked over. He reached out and shook Melody’s hand. “I am Oliver, at your service.”
Pierre looked sternly at the young man. “Oliver, take Ms. Note’s bag, label it, and set it in the security room. Ms. Note is attending the conference and will be checking in with us later.”
Oliver grinned boyishly showing broad rows of white, shining teeth. His eyes sparkled as he made a half bow and took Melody’s bags. Melody reluctantly released the box of truffles. I’d have an easier time giving up my clothes than these truffles!
Melody cleared her throat. “Please be careful with this box—it has edible items in it. I’ll be putting it in my refrigerator in the hotel room.” She bit her lip as she let go of the box.
“I will be most careful with your belongings,” Oliver said, making a sweeping gesture with his arm. He disappeared into a room behind the front lobby counter.
Pierre said, “We will keep your items in our security room with your name on it. You’re staying with us? Check in today?” Melody nodded twice.
“Very good,” Pierre said. He walked behind the counter and quickly typed something on the computer keyboard. “Come and see me. I will make sure you and your belongings get to your room this afternoon.”
They crossed the lobby of the hotel. Melody could feel her chest relax. She inhaled slowly, trying to decrease her rapid heart rate.
Pierre pointed down the hall. “Go up those stairs. There are signs pointing the way to the ballroom. Coffee is against the wall.”
Melody thanked Pierre and walked up the stairs, taking deep breaths. I’m finally here! I’ve waited for months for this conference, and it starts today. Her mind ran through the list of speakers and workshops she’d be attending. She smiled to herself at the people she would meet and, she hoped, the new friends she would make.
Melody could hear the smattering of polite applause as the first speaker took the stage. She quickened her stride up the stairs and approached the registration table. She smiled at the woman, handed her ticket over, and rocked back and forth just slightly as the woman looked for Melody’s name. The woman gave Melody a laminated Create Conference badge and pointed to the door at the end of the hall. “The attendees are going through an icebreaker activity right now. Pull out your business cards and get in line. It’s ‘Speed Networking.’“
Melody’s heart fell into her stomach, and her desire to get into the ballroom came to an immediate halt. “Speed networking? You mean I have to talk to people?”
“Oh, it’s a blast.” The woman said and waved Melody on as she helped the next person in line.
Melody stood frozen, processing this information. Jiminy Crickets, don’t we get a gentle warm-up? I wanted to meet people slowly, not go into this like a cowgirl at a rodeo. Speed networking? I’d never even do speed dating!
Melody’s breathing went into hyperventilation as she thought about talking to other people about her book and blog. Her normal preparation before a presentation was to take a few minutes to be quiet, then review only a bulleted outline of her notes and finally, breathe in deeply, three times. It’s what she always did, and it calmed her nerves down immediately. Without her usual buffer, her nerves shook like jelly. A tap on the shoulder from the woman behind her forced her to take a step down the table, but she didn’t move any farther than that. She dug into the pocket of her light blue jeans to pull out her lipstick. An extra layer of lipstick always boosts the confidence level.
“Sounds intriguing. I’m glad I remembered my business cards,” she said, more to herself than the woman at the desk who was pointing her to the door. Melody picked up her bag and moved toward the door. Her feet felt as if she were wearing combat boots, trying to slog her way through a miry mud hole.
There was a tall mirror by the door. Melody took a quick glance at herself to make sure no bits of the energy bar she had eaten on the way up were stuck in her teeth. She flipped her curly hair behind her shoulders. It was getting longer, hitting a few inches below her shoulder. Her wardrobe was simple and chic—white fitted blazer over a pink T-shirt, faded jeans, and pale turquoise heels. Her jewelry was light, dangly, and silver—all pieces from Natalie’s (her new employer) jewelry line. She applied a layer of her fave lipstick, Perfect Plum, stuck the tube back into her pocket, and took her business cards from her purse.
She took a deep breath, walked to the doors, pushed them open a few inches, and peeked in. Women were in two long lines that weaved loosely in and around the tables along the perimeter of the room. Most were talking to whomever was directly across in the opposite line. Melody bit her lip and stepped back from the door.
Her initial excitement was eclipsed by a maddening rush of nervousness. Everyone looks so polished, so together. Melody felt her armpits beginning to drip sweat. Her whole body felt shaky. Besides Brandon, her new kind-of boyfriend, and her friends in the Chocolate Croissant Club, she had told few people about her creative dreams. I should have practiced more before I left. These women probably have started their own creative business, and here I am with my fledgling blog! She took another breath and shook her head. She pinched her arm. This was her big dream coming true. Knock it off! This is a dream come true. You can do this, Melody.
Fearful her insecurities would overwhelm her gumption, Melody tried not to let her emotions get the better of her. She shoved the door open again, this time with more gusto. To her dismay, someone on the other side of the door gasped. A thump followed.
“Oh my word,” Melody cried. Heart racing, she peered around the door and winced at the scene on the floor. For the second time that morning, she had knocked over a woman.