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Author Topic: Revised Commercial Fiction FOOD BABY  (Read 12990 times)

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« on: August 01, 2016, 01:15:31 PM »

Hi all.  I've been revising my novel for the past year. I changed the name, too.  New title is FOOD BABY. Here is the new first chapter. Thanks for any feedback.

Chapter 1
Willpower is overrated, Bad Wendy whispers.
Gorgeous batter clings to the head of my spatula as it hovers mid bowl. I’m going in for a lick when breaking coverage interrupts the banter on Good Evening, Boca.  There’s unsteady video of the handcuffed husband getting shoved in the back of a police car while the scene cuts to lots of yellow caution tape and the camera zooming in, getting just a peek of the tarp covering the body of his wife, Lisa Goldfarb. This is no sleazy drug thing either. The husband was a banker and his soon-to-be ex-wife was a breast cancer survivor who volunteered regularly at the Humane Society in Dania.  I was hoping poor Lisa went off to Vegas like her husband claimed the two weeks she was missing. 
Crap. I’m still holding the spatula when Good Wendy chimes in: You don’t need another taste. It’s perfect and you know it. Just like that, I snap out of the chocolate trance. Anyway, I’m not all that hungry in the first place. Which is weird because I hardly ate anything all day.
There’s a clamor as I scrape the batter into cake pans. Who, me?  Licking chocolate cake batter like a five year old?  Nothing to see here. Bad Wendy, move along.
   Tiffany glides into the kitchen flanked by two pretty girls, a collection of long legs, headbands, lip gloss, braces. My daughter has Steven’s height; her friends are each a half a head shorter than she is. Her hair is flat-iron straight, shorts fashionably small and tight. She does a ballet thing with her arms and her friends laugh.
   “I need more glitter glue.”
   Glitter glue, glitter glue. “If there’s any left it’s in the big bag and if it’s empty you don’t need more.”
    “Wow, it smells like a restaurant in here,” Tiffany’s friend says.
   “Thanks, Summer.”
“I’m Ruthie. That’s Summer.”
Tiffany rolls her eyes and makes a face. “She mixed up my friends back home, too.”
“Wow,” Ruthie says, pointing to the laminated paper on the refrigerator. “Look at the menu.”
“She worked on it for a week.  I wouldn’t let her use my glitter glue.” The girls giggle as Tiffany lifts the magnet holding my typed and color coded menu.
“Don’t mess it up.”
“You know it by heart anyway.”
“Yeah but I’m saving it for the scrapbook. I made up a menu for our very first anniversary dinner,” I tell Tiffany’s friends. No wonder I got them mixed up. They’re both blonde, but Ruthie wears glasses. Or is that Summer? “It’s a tradition.”
As soon as these words are out of my mouth a memory pops into my head: me, veiled in a heavily beaded dress borrowed from Cousin Beth, about to walk down the aisle with my parents on either side of me; mother fuming at the insult Steven’s mother hurled at her, dad sniffling, a little soppy from nipping at the Manescheviz.  Thinking about my dad makes me even more nostalgic. “Fifteen years, can you believe it?”
“I know, mom. You said fifteen years about a thousand times.”
“Fifteen! Oh, wow.” Ruthie seems impressed. “My mom says the average marriage only lasts eight years.”
“She should know,” Tiffany says, “She’s a divorce lawyer.”
Memo to self: Ruthie has freckles and Summer is the one with the glasses. Ruthie’s mom, Alice Powers, the woman in the power suit hustling into open school night late, when everyone was signing up for committees.  Turns out “committee” is another word for “mom clique.”  Bake Sale, Book Sale and Carnival Night were all filled up before I even got there.
 “Your mom and I are going to start planning the class trip. We’re meeting tomorrow for coffee.”  Who is tutoring PSATs, she wanted to know and I thought, wow. I’d like to be friends with a serious person like that. 
Ruthie tilts her head. “Really?  My mom is in Tampa for a conference. Anyway, she usually gives those kinds of jobs to Keisha.”
“Is Keisha another attorney?”
Ruthie laughs. “No, she’s my mom’s personal assistant.”
“I wish my mom had a personal assistant,” Summer says. “She’s on deadline. I’m lucky if she remembers to pick up my granola bars for lunch.”
Deadline? Granola bars for lunch?
“Summer’s mom writes for the South Florida Herald. She’s a food critic,” Tiffany says.
 “What do you do, Mrs. Katz?”
 My face flushes as I fish onion and garlic bits out of the roast drippings. This is what pops out of my mouth: “I develop recipes.” 
“Oh, a food blogger,” Summer says, approvingly. “My mom reads them all the time.”
“Since when?” Tiffany eyes me suspiciously.
“Oh, yes. Recipe developer. Developing lots of recipes for my blog. You’ve been too busy with your campaign to notice.”
“Look at all the cupcakes,” Summer says while I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that her mom is a professional writer, Ruthie’s mom is a power attorney with a personal assistant. And I just lied to my daughter and her twelve year old friends. I’m not even sure what a blog is.
“I sent a picture of the practice ones to Camilla and she said her mom said maybe next semester they’ll let you join the bake sale committee,” Tiffany says, still skeptical like she’s waiting for me to say “just kidding!”
“Wow, they look so professional,” Ruthie says of the several dozen bake sale cupcakes on the kitchen table, still too warm to frost.
“It’s like I have a personal assistant, too,” Tiffany says and her friends laugh.
“Well, your personal assistant here has to finish dinner and get cleaned up.” The oven timer goes off and I pull out the roast. “Put my menu back.”
I check on the appetizers, poking the crust to make sure they’re chilled enough. When I close the refrigerator door, there’s Ruthie and Summer, staring at the roast like little hungry kids with their noses pressed against a restaurant window.  “You girls are welcome to stay for dinner.”
“Great! Thanks!” Both are instantly on their cell phones. 
“Oh, hey, Keisha. I’m not coming home for dinner,” Ruthie says
This reminds me that I’m apparently meeting a substitute Alice. I’m disappointed. I’ve been having imaginary coffee conversations with Alice Powers for a week, bonding over twelve year old daughters and the stuffy staff at their school. 
“What are we having for dinner?” Jordan appears, cheeks flushed, hair damp. He clutches a piece of paper in one hand and there’s a thick comic book tucked in the opposite armpit.
“You can’t have a cupcake. Mom made them for my bake sale,” Tiffany says to Jordan.
Jordan, who didn’t notice the cupcakes sure notices them now. “You’re not the boss of me. One? I can have one, right. mom?”
Tiffany’s friends are watching the way onlookers rubberneck a car accident. “Yes, you can have a cupcake.”
   “Mom!” Tiffany glares at Jordan. “If you were really my personal assistant I’d have to fire you.”  She pirouettes out of the kitchen and her friends follow, laughing.   
   “Can’t you leave the room like a normal person,” Jordan shouts after his sister. He takes an unfrosted cupcake still holding the paper, and finishes it before Tiffany slams her bedroom door. “Can I have another one after they’re frosted?”
   I’m not paying attention. I’m thinking about what Tiffany said about firing me. Fire me? Really?  Tiffany gets gourmet lunches compared to poor Summer’s granola bars. “What’s that?” I nod toward the paper in his hand.
   “From my teacher.”
   “Jor, what’s a blog?”
   “It’s a personal website where people write all kinds of stuff.  I’m on the Tenjido Torture blog all the time. Working on codes.”
   “Huh. All this time I thought you were doing your homework.”
   “Homework takes about five seconds.”
   I turn my attention to the note, which says:
Dear Mrs. Katz.  We would like to speak with you regarding Jordan. Please meet us in the conference room, Tuesday morning at eight a.m. Sincerely, Mrs. Lesser.
   The note is wrinkly and smells like Jordan’s lunch.  This can’t be good. I’m about to prod for information, but the sight of my Jordan, his round red cheeks, the worried look on his face, I go soft like microwaved butter.  An unpleasant bubble of guilt gets thrown in, too. Since we relocated to South Florida from New York two months ago, Jordan hasn’t made a single friend.
   “You can definitely have another cupcake after they’re frosted.”
   “You’re the best.” He hugs me. “I’ll totally help you set up a blog. You have to name it. Are you going to write about food?”
   What can you do with a blog, other than brag about it to twelve year old girls, I wonder, snipping strings from the meat.  The roast is a gorgeous deep caramel color, and the juices around it steep in herbs. The cake bakes in layer pans and I whip up the frosting. I’m so fluttery.  Is it the meeting with Jordan’s teacher, or the anticipation of a romantic night with my husband?  What could Mrs. Lesser want to talk to me about? What am I going to wear?
   Well, I’m going to forget about all of it for tonight. It’s our fifteenth wedding anniversary.  I conjure up the teenagers we were twenty years ago when we started going out, mad for each other, when our only worry was finding someone with an ID willing to buy us beer. 
   I don’t have as much time as I thought to get ready. Instead of a long, soapy soak in the tub I take a fast shower, scraping the razor up and down my legs.  As I’m lathering up, hot water pounds on my back and this makes me think about sex. When was the last time we had sex? Huh. Well, Steven has been working long, long hours since we moved. And I’ve been distracted with Tiffany’s campaign for Eight Grade President, and so worried about Jordan fitting in.  Well, there’s no better time than our anniversary to get back on track. I finish up the shower and towel off.
   I’m on the soft carpet in the walk in closet (an unheard of luxury in our New York apartment) sifting through clothes and getting frustrated.  The long stretchy skirt that seemed perfect for tonight is snug and I don’t like what’s going on in the hips.  I’m not going to feel romantic if the underwear I somehow shrunk is digging into my side and riding up my ass. I decide to go commando and pull on some leggings.  There’s a roomy silk top I bought awhile ago and forgot about. Perfect! I snip off the tags.
   The serene mental picture of me in my fluttery top doesn’t gel with the situation; I’m still sweating from the hot water and dismay as the buttons strain across my boobs. Maybe I should have waited to cut the tags, but I’m sure this top fit when I tried it on a month ago.
There’s the front door. Crap! I wanted time to do my makeup and hair. I rush the eye shadow and lipstick. Instead of blow drying and straightening, I settle for gel and non frizz spray.   The outfit needs something, so I add diamond studs Steven gave me a few anniversaries ago.  As I’m admiring my sparkly earlobes, the movement of my arm threatens to pop a button, so I open another one. Essh, too much cleavage with the kids around.  I swap the top out for one with no buttons. It’s riding up in the back, but now I’m super impatient.  Don’t worry about it, I tell myself. I’m only going to need clothes until we get to the real celebration.  My eyes swivel to the bed, beautifully made up with clean sheets and plumped pillows.
 I’m ready! I glide down the stairs, pause halfway and wait for Steven to notice me, but he doesn’t. Tiffany and her friends crowd around him and there’s a lot of laughing.
   “You’re so lucky!” Ruthie says as Tiffany carefully unwinds a huge bow on a large box.
   The girls make “ooohing” noises as Tiffany extracts a bejeweled skating dress. “Oh my god, dad, I love it!” She side hugs him and allows him to peck her cheek.
   “My assistant picked it out. She used to figure skate,” he says, and calls out for Jordan.
   Gina used to figure skate?  Picturing plump, middle aged Gina in a skating costume gets me smiling. He’s got a gift for Jordan, too, and while my son is thrilled, I’m not.  It’s the new video game, Tenjido Torture Two, which Jordan has been nagging me about since it came out a week ago.  I’m worried Jordan is digging deeper into games. It seems all he wants to do since we moved is play video games and eat. He’s ten; it doesn’t seem healthy.
   I’ve been posing on the stairs so long my calf starts cramping, but Steven finally notices. He smiles in that long, lazy way that’s etched in my heart and makes my knees wobble. The combination of calf cramp and weak knees made my entrance awkward, but he’s waiting at the bottom of the stairs like we’re movie stars.  To further enhance this fantasy, he kisses my hand, a super romantic gesture, but the bristles of the moustache he’s had since he could grow facial hair irritate my delicate skin.
   “Wow,” breathes Ruthie. “I never saw anyone do that in real life.”
    Summer says, “Tiffany, you’re so lucky your parents are still married.”
   Steven hands me a lush, colorful bouquet, wrapped in gauzy fabric. My mouth goes soft and I tilt up for a kiss, but he twirls me instead. Well, sure.  A deep kiss is awkward with the girls watching.
   My cheeks are on fire. “Hungry? I have appetizers.”
   “I’m going to change first,” Steven says. He whistles going upstairs.
   Everyone’s happy: the girls are laughing on their way back to Tiffany’s room. Jordan disappeared the minute he opened his game, and I’m sure he’s deep in the world of Tenjido Torture.   
   Steven is such a great dad! I turn up the heat on the oil in the deep pan and take the jalapeno pepper appetizers out of the refrigerator.  I’m embracing Latin flavors; hot peppers are a big thing.  In my local supermarket there are plantains, whole coconuts, fruit I never heard of, spices to try.  Hmm, food blog.  It might be an interesting hobby. Maybe it could be like a modern recipe exchange? What would I call it?
   The breading on the peppers turns a lovely brown while the seasoned cream cheese layer bubbles out. Oil splatters; instantly a dime size stain blossoms on my silky shirt. sh**! I grab an apron to prevent any further damage before I scoop the peppers from the hot oil to a plate lined with paper towel. Steven’s coming – I hear him on the stairs.  I transfer the peppers to a small, pretty tray and add a few springs of cilantro for decoration.
When I turn around, the sight of Steven’s face is so shocking, I nearly drop the tray.
   “What do you think?” Steven smiles at me with a clean upper lip. 
   “You shaved your moustache without telling me?” I’m blinking rapidly, trying to take in the transformation. Part of my brain says, wow! He looks good!, while another says, hold on, too many changes!
    “Part of my new image,” he says reasonably, as though discarding the moustache is about a big of a deal as changing socks. “What’s that?” He’s looking at my offer of jalapenos suspiciously.
   “You’re so funny,” I say, still staring at his face. “It’s a jalapeno pepper. Try it,” and hand him one on a dainty napkin.  “I might post the recipe on a food blog.”
   “I don’t like peppers.” He doesn’t seem to hear what I said about the blog. Instead, he’s sniffing the beautifully, perfectly fried breadcrumbs. “Is this fried?”
   “Yeah.” So? Steven eats fried food all the time. His favorite is my French Fry Bomb. Ooh, another idea for the blog. 
   “I decided to cut out fried food.” He pats his gut, which tents out the tee shirt he’s wearing. “And sugar.”
   I laugh before realizing he’s serious.    “I just made the best chocolate cake in the entire world. Why don’t you start tomorrow?”  This seems like a logical suggestion given the rich and fabulous meal I plan to stuff him with.  We’ll be full and warm when we head upstairs…..“Just taste it.”
   “You’re like a crack dealer,” Steven says, and takes the pepper.  He nibbles the crust and bites in. Coughs a little.
   “The pepper is a little hot.” I shake up a martini, pour, and when I turn around to hand him the glass, he’s sweating and the skin around his mouth is red. Is that a rash? 
   “My mouth is itchy,” he says. He spits out the pepper instead of swallowing it and he throws it away like it really is crack and he’s chairman of Al-Anon.
   “Maybe it’s from shaving,” I say hopefully, but I’m watching large red welts rise up on Steven’s lip and chin.
   “What the hell!” Steven gulps down a large glass of water.
   I race for the Benedryl. 
   “Thanks for driving my friends home. You’re the best,” Tiffany says to me as I walk in. “Summer texted me to tell you her mom loved the cake.”
Already? That must be one hungry food critic. Yeah, now I’m a little grouchy. Ruthie’s power attorney mom is in Tampa so I can understand why she couldn’t pick her daughter up, but Summer’s mom is home and claimed she was working on a hard deadline. So I’m the designated driver.
Be happy she has friends, I instruct Bad Wendy who is busy grumbling.  At least you got out of the kitchen and away from the cake, Good Wendy says, loftily.
Also, I figured it couldn’t hurt to give Steven’s rash some time to go away. When I left, he was upstairs waiting for the Benedryl to kick in. I gave him a shot glass full, and also applied cream. I thought it was kind of funny that instead of a regular moustache he had a Benedryl one, but instead of laughing about it I got a Look.
“Okay, you’re welcome. Don’t stay up too late.”
“I was only kidding about firing you.”
“Firing me?”
“Yeah, you know. Firing you as my personal assistant.”
“Thanks a lot. Don’t stay up too late.”
“I might have to. The poster is due tomorrow.” And off she goes to her room, where I have no doubt she will stay up too late.
With Tiffany up, Steven and I will have to be careful about the bed squeaking, I’m thinking while I tidy up the kitchen. My family and Tiffany’s friends did the dinner justice.  Time to put away the rest of the chocolate cake. 
I want another piece of that cake so badly I have a mental picture of picking up a fork and digging in.  My stomach is full from the roast and the potatoes a little taste is all I need.  Then I hear the toilet flush upstairs and remember Steven is waiting for me. I’ll rub his shoulders, he’ll tease me with his hands and we’ll be wild for each other when the lights go out.  No to more chocolate cake! 
Steven is in bed flipping channels and sipping a martini.
I plop on my side, cuddle up close. The Benedryl moustache is gone and so are most of the welts, but the newly clean skin above his lip is still red.
“How are you feeling,” I whisper in his ear and nip at the lobe. 
“I hope this damn rash goes away before my meeting tomorrow morning.” I reach out my finger to run over his clean upper lip, but he pulls away. “Wen. Come on, it’s still sensitive.”
So he’s still a little mad. “Sorry.” I rub his shoulder.  Gently run my nails across the back of his neck. I was right about the leggings, they’re comfortable, but as I’m settling in close to him, I get a whiff of garlic in the fabric of my top. Not exactly romantic so I get up to change. Here’s Steven’s favorite little black nightie.  I peek, but he’s not watching me shed the clothes.  He looks a little droopy. Probably from the Benedryl and martini mixture, I’m thinking.   
It’s a good thing Steven isn’t watching, because I’m tugging at the nightie. What the hell. Did my boobs get bigger? It’s past my chest, but tight across my hips. Oh, well, it’s not going to stay on for very long, anyway.  I brush my teeth and wish I could dab a little fragrance on my wrist, but I’m allergic to perfume the same way, as it turns out, Steven is allergic to jalapeno peppers. There’s only the glow of the T.V. I light a candle.
Steven’s eyes are closed. I gently extract the remote from his hand and settle under the covers. He makes contented noises that turn me on so hard I’m swooning. His hands find the silk  nightie and bunches it up.
Except something happens.  Or to be more accurate, something doesn’t happen. For a good ten minutes, I’m stroking, rubbing, sucking, but Big Bob won’t wake up.   
“Sorry, Wen. It must be the allergy stuff.” He pecks me on the cheek and turns over.
And I’m left a mushy, turned on mess. Even after a self produced orgasm, my brain is whirring and my body is terribly, terribly disappointed. It’s our anniversary!  I’m lying on the soft, clean sheets, breathing in the romantic scent of the burning petrulli candle and what pops in my mind is chocolate cake. I can’t get that cake out of my head, it’s stuck there like a popcorn kernel between a couple of molars.  I should’ve had that second slice when I was cleaning up the kitchen so I wouldn’t be craving it now.
   Worries start leaking in: there’s the meeting with Jordan’s teacher tomorrow and I forgot to cancel with Keisha, Ruthie’s mom’s personal assistant. What would it be like to have a personal assistant?  Did I pick out the right finish on the tile for the new house? How much of the deposit money did I spend?
I practically have no choice. The only thing that’s going to stop the torrent of unwanted worry is another slice of cake. Before my brain has a chance to keep up, my body is out of the bed and into sweats and a tee shirt.  I’m quiet on the stairs, tip toeing down, and I don’t flip on the light. 
A slice takes up most of the small plate.  Isn’t that a thing?  A small plate is supposed to trick the mind into thinking you’re eating more. The chocolate is wickedly delicious and my mind is not at all tricked. The proportion of dark chocolate to semi sweet is genius! A nanosecond later, I’m cutting another slice as Tiffany appears and turns on the light.
“What’s going on?” 
“Why are you still up,” I counter as Tiffany is eyeing the cake, and looking at me. Don’t ask about the cake, don’t ask about the cake.
“Why is the cake out?”
And then there’s Jordan, too. “Are we having a snack?” Jordan asks, hopefully and yawns, shouldering past Tiffany.
“For your information, I was slicing it up so you could each bring some to school for your teachers,” I lie, and hope there isn’t any chocolate on my face.
“Mom, don’t give the cake away,” wails Jordan.  “Is there any left? I love that cake!”
“There must be a million calories in that cake,” Tiffany says.
“I don’t care how many calories it has. It’s the best cake ever,” Jordan says.
“Don’t worry about it. Go to bed. I’ll make another cake.”
“Oh, are you experimenting for your food blog?” Tiffany looks hopeful.
“Yes, exactly.”
I’m digging frosting out my tooth as I put the rest of the cake away. Next to the cake stand is the bouquet Steven brought home for our anniversary.  A small card I overlooked hangs from one of the stems.  Happy anniversary, it says, and is signed, simply, Steven.  It’s not his handwriting, but whatever.  He probably had his assistant, Gina order them and was signed by her or the florist. The important thing is, he’s so thoughtful. So what if he wasn’t up to rocking my world tonight, even if it is the first anniversary this has ever happened. He’s working so hard at this new venture to make a beautiful life for me and the kids.
I press my nose into a velvety petal, but there’s no smell.
Jim Williams
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« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2016, 07:25:15 PM »

I don't do a lot of crits, so I'd take this with a grain of salt.

I was surprised to see how you lived as a woman (from a view I never see) and was left wondering how much was a story and how much was real life. I didn't warm up to the story until Jordan got the cupcake, then found the story interesting from that point on.

I would change the ending unless there is a point to the lack of smell. Overall I found it enjoyable and am glad for a perspective I don't get to see.

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« Reply #2 on: August 01, 2016, 09:35:27 PM »

Thanks for the input but don't really get what you were saying. This is fiction. Yes there's a point to the lack of smell.
Jim Williams
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« Reply #3 on: August 02, 2016, 09:08:47 AM »

Thanks for the input but don't really get what you were saying. This is fiction. Yes there's a point to the lack of smell.

I realize this may not help, but sorry if I put you off. I'm not an expert at criticisms. I'm saying no more than I like the perspective and want to read more. Your relationship with food stands out to someone who only thinks about eating it.


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« Reply #4 on: August 02, 2016, 09:52:41 AM »

It's all good. This is my third revision with this novel and I'm sincere in thanking you for your input.  I literally didn't understand your comment and I appreciate the clarification. 

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« Reply #5 on: May 08, 2017, 10:06:52 AM »

Hi Debbie. I'm new to this forum, and just stumbled onto your pages. Wow. In my opinion, you've created a livng set of characters, and you write very well indeed. I want to read more. What else can I say?
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