Die for Love by Elizabeth Peters
Lori's post about pen names brought this book to mind. It was first published in 1984, back when I was a wee young thing, but very precocious (I was reading before I could talk. Yup.)
Peters wrote several series, the most successful of which are the Amelia Peabody books. This series stars Jacqueline Kirby as our heroine, a single mother of adult children (she moved from NYC to Nebraska when she considered her children self sufficient and liable to present her with grandkids). She's a college librarian and she's become bored with flat fields and has a hankering to take a vacation back in her old stomping ground.
She wants it to be tax deductable (she once tried to claim a new TV set because she said she needed it to listen to writers being interviewed on the Today show) and so she chooses a writer's conference - The Historical Romance Writers of the World.
This is where the fun begins.
Peters uses every romance cliché from roses to pen names to book titles to purple prose. Interspersed between the fascinating committees and luncheons is a mystery involving the Queen of the agents, Hattie Foster, who seems to be the most hated woman in the industry.
An excerpt: Jacqueline has met a young author whose first book is about to be published. She titled her book This Blessed Plot but her editor changed it to Dark Night of Loving.
Her noncommittal tone brought a blush to Sue's freckled cheeks. "It isn't that kind of book," she said defensively.
"How many rape scenes?"
"Two. But they aren't really -"
"Got any sodomy?" Jacqueline asked. "Incest? Sado-masochistic orgies, whips, chains, dismemberment?"
Sue's face was scarlet, matching the balloon that had dropped onto the table. Jacqueline took pity on her. "You must be very poor," she said in a kindly voice.
From the ridiculous pen names to the excerpts of the purple prose and the baniality of the conference, this satire kept me in whoops. Through it all, Jacqueline manages to maintain her aura of knowing all, even when she doesn't. There's also a nice little romance between Sue and Victor Van Damm *snort* (real name Joe).
In the end Jacqueline solves the mystery and decides to write a romance novel. You just know it'll be a runaway success. LOL