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Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday Flash Fiction: First Date

I read a novel excerpt as short story recently on the Narrative Magazine site that impressed me so much I thought I'd try something similar. This is from my completed (revision in progress) novel A Perfect Man. I'll add some more commentary to the end. If you're interested in more flash fiction, search the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter.

First Date:

"Chardonnay and Brie. Chicks'll be impressed every time!"

Albie's words echoed through Seth's head while he shopped, and since Julie wouldn't arrive for another half hour, he stopped by the wine and cheese shop next to the grocery store. If Albie had been married twice, he must have some knowledge of women, right?

Seth gasped at the array of Chardonnay – American, French, Australian, and even Macedonian – priced from eight to eighty dollars. Finally he grabbed one of the cheaper ones from the chilled case and went to the cheese cooler, where the brie selection overwhelmed him with double and triple cream, wine or whiskey flavoring, or chewy bits like dried fruit or herbs. He bought the only one he could afford, a basic double cream. He made it back to his place at 5:45 and found Julie waiting in front of his door.

"I got done early, so I figured I'd come over. Do you need help with your groceries?" she asked.

"Um, sure." He tried to cover the logo on the plastic wine and cheese bag by hugging it to his chest and felt the soft squish underneath his bicep – the Brie! Shit! The Chardonnay seemed to have been chilled to near-frozen, at least to his left nipple.

She grabbed the other grocery bags and shut the trunk for him. He followed her up the stairs, noting how her rear end swayed beneath the grey fabric of her skirt. The black heels showed off her legs nicely. He imagined her kicking the heels off and freeing her hair from its ponytail.

Julie put the bags in the kitchen and sat at his dining room table. She looked out the window at the small houses on the bluff across the street. "This isn't bad. It'll be pretty when the leaves change."

"I think so, too." Seth mentally kicked himself for not saying something more intelligent.

Julie unfastened the ankle straps on her shoes, stretched her legs, and wiggled her toes. "Man, I'm tired! Those heels are killer."

"I don't know how you women stand those," Seth said. "I bet I know what would help."

"Oh?" She raised an eyebrow and smiled.

"I'll be right back."

He debated offering her a foot massage, but instead went into the kitchen to retrieve the Brie and wine. Let her loosen up first. He didn't have a fancy wooden board or cheese knives, so he put the Brie on a blue plastic cutting board with a paring knife. At least he had wine glasses, although he preferred beer.

"Can I help with anything?" Julie asked. Before he could respond, he saw her looking at him from where she leaned against the door frame. She had unbuttoned the top two buttons of her blouse, and he could see the full curves of her breasts through the gap in her shirt. Her hair hung like a gold silk scarf over her head and shoulders.

"Brie?" he asked. His voice cracked. "I've got wine, too. A Chardonnay. It's, ummm…" He grabbed the bottle and looked. "A California. Napa Valley. I hear they're good."

"Great, I'm starving!" She put one hand on her flat stomach. "I didn't eat lunch today."

"Please, help yourself. I'll pour the wine."

"Do you have any bread or crackers to go with it?" she asked. "If not, that's okay."

Shit! Crackers! He looked through the pantry shelves and found some Saltines he'd brought with him from Atlanta. One of the sleeves was unopened, and he hoped they weren't stale. He put a few on the plastic cutting board with the slightly flattened cheese and turned to open the wine.

The counter seemed too small, the glasses too big. He imagined the wine bottle slipping and knocking the glasses into the sink or on the floor. The little pull-tab on the cork foil broke off when he got a good grip on it with his shaking hands.

He heard her chewing, and the hair on the back of his neck prickled. Was she watching him make a fool of himself? He set the butterfly corkscrew on top of the bottle, allowing the end to puncture the foil covering on the cork. He twisted the key and removed the cork through the foil, which flared out in jagged edges that he tore off. Triumph! He poured two glasses and turned to give one to Julie with a bow.

"Wine, milady?"

A drop of blood spattered on the white linoleum.

"Seth, omigod!" Julie pulled Seth's right arm so that he bled into the sink from the deep gash on his right thumb. He held the counter's edge with his left hand and bit the inside of his cheeks so he wouldn't throw up or pass out. Pain and humiliation warred in his chest while Julie ran water over it, but he got control and cleaned it as best he could with some antibacterial soap. She folded a dry paper towel to act as a temporary bandage.

"That looks pretty deep," she said. "Maybe you should get stitches."

"I…" The thought of a needle piercing his skin made Seth's stomach flip again. "I'm not sure I need stitches. Let me just sit for a second."

"Whoa, I've got you." Julie guided him to the couch. She took his shoes off and helped him lie down with his knees higher than his heart. The rushing sound in his ears subsided, and he wondered if she'd been a Girl Scout. Did they have naughty badges?

"Do you need anything else?" she asked.

He tried to say no, but his tongue felt like a piece of heavy, raw meat in his mouth. He looked at his injured thumb and saw that the blood had seeped through the bandage in a straight line. Damn! It throbbed with the heartbeat he could feel in the middle of his head.

"I think you're right," he said. "I think I need stitches." With that decided, he stood, and everything went black.

Author's note:

Before anyone asks, yes, I've cut myself on wine foil, although not to the point I needed stitches.

Here's the beginnings of the query blurb for the novel:

MFA student Karen is seeking the perfect man, both for herself and to star as the male lead in her novella project for Romance Class. Her classmate Seth can't seem to please the women in his life, and even his muse has deserted him. After he dreams he's in Karen's project and writes it from the male POV, the professor makes them work together. This horrifies Karen, who wants to win the best novella competition prize: dinner with her favorite author. Together they find that art may imitate life, but life can be infinitely stranger.

The genre is Romance. Yeah, I got 40,000 words into it, and nothing strange had happened yet! Comments on excerpt and query blurb are welcome.


  1. I cut myself opening a bottle of wine once, but it was on the edge of the screw-cap.

    Nice story, C. I like to think of myself as somewhat more debonair than the guy in this piece, but probably not.

  2. This except flows really well, like a good glass of wine (I assume--I'm not a wine guy, myself). The set-up for the novel looks like it could be a winner--could be a lot of conflict in it if she wants to succeed so badly. What will she do to win?

  3. I cut myself trying to use a corksrew on what turned out to be a screwcap. I like that you portray him as a nice guy. So many times we see this situation and the guy seems like an asshat, but you've painted a basically likable guy with a few flaws. He's interesting and I want to learn more about him.

  4. It's nice to see your love of wine in your fiction. The piece is smooth and well done. Poor Seth, but it looks like he's in capable hands. :)

    Good job, and the query looks great, too. Good luck!

  5. I love the voice and how accessible it is. So natural...

  6. Tony and Monica, thank you -- I'm so glad that I'm not the only one who's had a wine-related accident!

    Eric, thanks for your comment! I appreciate your wine analogy attempt. :)

    Thank you, Gracie! My goal is to have it revised by the Romance Writers of Georgia conference, which they're having in my corner of Atlanta.

  7. Poor guy, I was pulling for him, though!

  8. Poor Seth, he's a likable bumbler. :) This read very smoothly and it's enjoyable. Good luck with it!

  9. Adding to everyone else's comments, I would say, as a non-male, that you do male POV very well. He's a bumbling but very likable character.

    Just a small clarification on the query: "After he dreams he's in Karen's project and writes it from the male POV," does he write it in the dream? A tweak should make it a little clearer.

    Nice work, Cecilia.

  10. i agree - seth IS very likable. :) and congrats on getting 40,000 words in!! i've only written about 400 words...so you're my inspiration. :)

  11. Shannon and Laura -- thank you for your comments! I definitely wanted Seth to be likable. He's the kind of guy who just can't get a break.

    Thanks, Kim! I was a little nervous writing from the male POV, so I'm happy it works. Thanks for your feedback on the query as well.

    Linz, keep going! I wrote the 40k, set it aside for a little over a year, and when I finished the first draft in January, it weighed in at about 100k. Time for some editing and trimming!

    Glad y'all found this since I flaked out and didn't add it to the collector. Whoops.


  12. This flows as smooth as a '93 Brunello. You do good guy POV, and the entire premsie sounds unique and fun. Congrats on the 40k words -- a tremendous accomplishment. And glad I found you again -- I've been lurking on your food blog, not realizing the words and the wine had parted ways. (Great dessert profile on the Buckhead restaurant). Peace...

  13. It flows very well. I really like the voice and the comical bits. 40K is awesome. The query doesn't flow as well for me though. Of course, that can always be revised once the ms is complete. Good luck!

  14. It works! I love your MC and his blood phobia. I'm sure his date will end up fine when he wakes up. ;)

    One comment. Since your character is a complete ignorant (as myself, heh) maybe you could transfer the wine/cheese info to a knowing character, otherwise it's clear that it's the writer showing an unusual knowledge on her fiction. Just a thought. :)

  15. Linda, thanks so much for the compliments, both on this piece and the dessert profile! Yeah, it's a tough job... ;)

    Danielle, I agree about the query. It's still a work in progress.

    Mari, I'll make the adjustment re. wine and cheese. He'd gotten it as a recommendation from another character, so I'll make that more clear.

    Thanks, all!