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**** Thaddeus Rutkowski’s “Dinner Prep” is #196 in the never-
ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt. All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece
What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? I wrote this piece of fiction in one sitting. According to my computer files, the first draft was done February 22, 2020, and the second draft was done April 3, 2020. The two versions are very similar: The second has only five more words than the first.
I revised the story because the editor (Ellen Parker via Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ellentparker) of FRiGG magazine (www.friggmagazine.com) had asked me to submit new work. I didn’t see much to change when I looked at the story a second time.
Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work? And please describe in detail. And can you please include a photo? My desk looks rather plain and cluttered—it’s made of a door panel laid over two file cabinets. The desk is in a corner room—also our living room—so there is a lot of light. I feel guilty about this arrangement, since my wife’s desk is not in the corner room, and our daughter’s desk (when she is with us—she is away at college now) is likewise not in the corner room.
What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? Another look at my files tells me I completed the first draft early in the morning and the second draft in midafternoon. I work best in the morning and lose steam as the day goes on. I do work in the evenings, but it is minor work, or work that I must do. I work best in silence, but that is not a given in downtown Manhattan. Music is good when I’m not working too hard. A cup of coffee is always on my desk.
Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference. This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer. I’m attaching the entire story, “Dinner Prep,” which is about 700 words long. I believe the story is easier to read/grasp than an excerpt from a book.
I’m thinking about how to make a dish from rice and mixed vegetables. I’ve forgotten how to make a dish from these ingredients, but I want to switch what I eat and become healthier. I usually am not vegetarian, but my daughter usually is, and I am cooking for all of us—mother, daughter, and myself. However, I don’t know how to get past step one: making the rice.
“How much water should I use?” I ask. “How much rice?”
“Look at the directions,” I am told by my wife and daughter.
I see: Measure twice as much water as rice. Boil, then simmer, with the lid on. I apportion the water, then the rice. I add a spoonful of butter and turn on the burner, not to high heat, more like medium. I look for a lid, but the one I find doesn’t fit. Even so, it doesn’t fall off the pot, so I let it balance there.
I hope the water is the only thing that will simmer. Any one of us could flip our lid—well, not my wife, she wouldn’t do that. She is the calm one—my daughter and I can talk to her in a reasonable way.
I am so wrapped up in making the rice that I ignore the mixed vegetables. I start the chopping, careful not to slice a finger. I have the idea that professional chefs have scars on their fingers from many wayward blades. I’m no chef; I want to keep my fingers as they are: intact. I end up with colorful piles of crudités. I oil a pan (I used to have a wok, but it left my life long ago. Maybe it was not my wok) and shovel in the vegetables.
My next task is to set the table. I am tempted to lay the napkins out flat, but I know my dinner companions want their napkins folded along the diagonal. There must be something aesthetically pleasing about the triangular shape of a diagonal fold, something more attractive than what you get with a horizontal fold. Personally, I don’t see the difference: The napkins are going to be messed up anyway.
I have to jump from the table setting back to the sizzling mixture. I stir the vegetables as they fry. I whisk the simmering rice, then return to the vegetables. The heat is too high. I am getting char-broiled green and white pieces, when I want them slightly browned. I almost forget to add the sesame seasoning and the soy.
Busy at the stove, I neglect the table. There is the matter of drinking glasses, and not just any glasses—the personal glass for each drinker. I find the correct vessels and look for ice. I’m lucky: There is ice, but not much. It’s time to freeze more water. I wonder how long it will take water to solidify in this particular freezer. We have a cold icebox, but the temperature setting is probably not all the way down to coldest. I don’t know the setting, because I don’t know where the thermostat is. I have not seen or touched the control knob in years, and I’m not about to look for it now. I slide in the ice tray and wait. However, I cannot focus on waiting for ice to freeze; that is like waiting for water to boil.
The next step is to bring the chairs to the table. Our table is too large for the space it occupies, so one chair (a rocker) has to be slid in, another chair needs to be unfolded, and a third chair must be carried (by me) over the back of the couch. While carrying the chair, I need to watch for the head of my daughter, who might be sitting in the unfolded chair. If I miss her head, I have to be careful not to bump the table. A sharp blow might cause the tabletop to come loose from its support, and the flap might collapse to its original, downward position, and everything on it might fall to the floor. But I carry the chair successfully, and we begin our meal of rice and stir-fried vegetables.
Our daughter looks at my plate and says, “You are eating too much.”
Why is this excerpt so emotional for you as a writer to write? And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? Here is the emotional situation: The man of the house has to figure out how to please the women of the house (who outnumber him), but he’s never going to truly succeed. The story follows the narrator’s effort to make dinner for my wife and daughter and recounts the mistakes he makes along the way. The narrator (the husband and father) exaggerates the steps, the missteps, and the anxious moments. At the end, the dinner is presumably ready to enjoy, but we don’t know this, because the piece ends before anyone actually sits down to eat. To write the story, I imagined a dinner that I might have trouble making—I have not cooked stir-fried vegetables in recent years.
Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked-up rough drafts of this excerpt. There were no deletions, and, as I said, only a few words were added to the revision. Here are the added words:
“Look at the directions,” I am told by my wife and daughter.
The editor had asked who was speaking in this sentence, and I clarified.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of seven books, most recently TRICKS OF LIGHT, a poetry collection. His novel HAYWIRE won the Asian American Writers Workshop members’ choice award and his memoir GUEST AND CHECK won an Electronic Literature award for multicultural fiction. He teaches at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. He lives in Manhattan with his wife Randi Hoffman.