Never Shake Down The Chef in Their Kitchen

The studded mace landed with a thud on the chopping block, no doubt causing dents in the surface.

Tinder didn’t know what this was about, but she suspected it had to do with the shady dwarf who employed her. Tinder was thankful for the opportunity to cook straight off the boat, with but a few coppers to her name, and knew that asking questions would just lead to unsavory answers like this.

The kitchen was a small thing, practically a closet, attached to a pub that was made more for drinking than eating. Their menu had four things on it. Potato Hash Bites, Fried Mushrooms, Fried Bacon Fried Sandwich, and Roasted Nuts. By all accounts, Tinder didn’t have to actually make the roasted nuts which were bought by the five-pound bag and the Fried Bacon Fried Sandwich was her addition to the menu, having grown piss-bored of just frying bacon and mushrooms since she was hired last week.

It wasn’t technically much more cooking than she had before, and now she had to actually manager her time on the stove, who’s dying enchantment could only manage heating three burners at a time. The modicum of challenge had been enough to find herself frying bread for the eighth sandwich of the night. She would run out of the bread, which she bought herself, soon.

The challenge of the two brutes –  a surprisingly broad Human and the a reedy, red-feather-crested Lizardfolk, both in leather armor so ragged that they wouldn’t pass inspection at a volunteer militia – was something new. That they dented the only chopping block she had in this hot, poorly ventilated kitchen was really what annoyed her though.

“Hey, staff only. Go to the bar if you want something.” Tinder flicked the shitty copper skillet that held the frying mushrooms, tossing them so they wouldn’t just crisp on one side. She didn’t bother with a pot holder or rag for the metal handle.

“‘Ey!” The Human said, more indignant than he had any right to be. “We ain’t here to eat Slovens’s shit-for-food. We’re here for his cook.”

“If Slovens doesn’t serve food, then how can he have a chef? The latrine is down the hall.” Tinder asked, blithely as she glanced at the hash bites and wondered if she ought to help the batter stick together better with another egg, distracting herself from the men who more than likely would kill her if she was worth any coppers dead. She also felt a little insulted, given that she was fairly certain she’d elevated the food since she got here.

“Fuck you.” The Lizardfolk was clearly the more eloquent of them.

“Listen, tree wretch. You are going to come with us right now or-”

“I’m not an Elf. And you probably want the last chef. Slovens said the last one left suddenly. I guess I know why now.”

“You got pointed ears.”

Tinder tossed the mushrooms again, frowning back at him in particular, “What are you talking about? So do Orcs and Underfolk?”

“Yeah, but no burrow Human has red hair and you ain’t taller than five feet, girl.”

“Doesn’t that mean I can’t be an elf?” Tinder picked out a single slice of fried mushroom, still sizzling in the pan. She shook a little of the grease off and popped it in her mouth. It was fried in bacon grease, of course, because Slovens was cheap and lazy, but it was alright. She’d gotten the batter even better today, wiping the grease on her apron.

The Human, leering, said, “Yeah, about that. It don’t matter who you are. I am supposed to collect money from Slovens cook. I wasn’t told who it was, or what they were. I’m jus’ here to collect and I-”

“Watch it, that’s hot.” He’d reached out to take a piece of fried mushroom from the copper skillet, same as her. He’d paused at her words. He thought he could do the same. His eyes narrowed and she insisted, “Really, let me take it out to cool in a dish first.”

His hand thrust into the skillet to grab a couple and his flinch was immediate. Tinder grabbed the hot metal handle before the skillet flew off the oven. “Fuck! Shit! How did you touch that?” He now stood a few feet away, cradling his singed fingers.

“No self-respecting chef cooks with popping grease without a heat-resist charm.” Tinder did not have a heat-resist charm, but he didn’t need to know that. She tossed the mushrooms one last time, before grabbing a spatula to dole out the fried mushrooms onto a cheap wooden bowl that Slovens used to serve his food.

Tinder placed the order into small window connecting her kitchen to behind the bar, speaking out to Franklon, who was working tonight, “Franklon, Mushrooms up. Where’s Slovens tonight? I got a few people looking for his last chef.”

Franklon waddled over, a fat hobgoblin with little patience for being interrupted but able to tend bar and act bouncer in the same night. “Fuck-if-I-know-god-damn-doesn’t-even-run-his-own-hovel, Got-two-more-sandwich-orders, and-don’t-fuckin’-know-who-or-where-that-shit-chef-is.” He spoke as fast as he expected everyone else, but Tinder had gotten used to his muttered rapid speech.

“I told you I only had bread for one more sandwich last time. Tell one of them they are just getting bacon.”

“Goddamnit-Tinder-fucking-cheap-ass-Slovens…” He continued to mutter obscenities with the fried mushrooms in hand as he wandered away, and Tinder turned back to the thugs that were still waiting on her.

“Listen, guys,” The Human was still looking at his finger tips, and the Lizardfolk gesturing for him to focus. While they were distracted, Tinder’s hand wandered over to the tiny sink where she’d been strategically placing bowls and utensils so she could wash them when the near-midnight lull began. “I am not the cook you are looking for. I just started this week. Hell, I just got off the boat into Direport this week from Wiserland.”

Her left hand stayed under the counter while she spoke, her right looking to flip the sandwich before it burnt, a difficult proposition one-handed. She went ahead and just used her hand, unaffected by the boiling, popping grease, still.

“We don’t care.” This was the Lizardfolk, who’s mace had damaged the cutting board. “We are Falstaff’s Gang, and we are owed. Sloven’s chef made a deal. They’ve broken it. Someone has to pay up.” The talk, slinky Lizardfolk leaned forward, one hand on the cutting board. “We’ll take it out of your hide if we have to, Sloven’s chef.”

Tinder’s left hand shot above the counter and flashed back down, the knife that she’d grabbed from the sink sinking point first into the cutting board, just between the Lizardfolk’s hand and his mace.  Before anyone could react, her right hand already grabbed the same copper skillet that held the mushrooms, still half full with bubbling grease and bits of breading. She had not turned off the stove. “Don’t move or I dump this shit all over your lovely crest.”

Tinder was ever so thankful she didn’t just accidentally cut the Lizardfolk’s pinky off. In the end, she was fucked either way, but she’s learned enough from small castle politics to know that if she just let these peons win the first engagement, she’d never be respected. And Tinder didn’t expect to win the war, she just wanted to make sure they took her seriously.

“So-” she said, “You want something from Sloven’s chef. Well, I’m her. My name is Tinder.” She stared into the wide-set eyes of the Lizardfolk who probably would be sweating – if he had sweat glands. The bacon fat was still popping held above her head and poised to dump. “Right now, I can’t go with you to meet your boss Falstaff or whoever.” The Human looked a bit aghast at that, though he did appear to be spending as much time watching the grease slosh near the edge of the pan; Tinder’s grip shook a little at the weight and awkward angle. “I don’t get paid by the cheap-ass Slovens until I work a full week, ending tonight. My shift ends just after an hour after midnight.”

She would have words with Slovens when he finally shoved his wide ass through the door too, about that pay.

“I will go with you then, no fuss, no fight, and I will try to work something out with you then. Pay back what is owed, if possible. Can you cool your heels until then?”

The Human looked at the Lizardfolk, who was clearly in charge, or at least had the weightier opinion right now, given his precarious situation. The Lizardfolk’s eyes were narrowed into slits, as if trying to determine if Tinder was trying to play something over on them. She added, “If you guys cool your heels, you can even have a free beer on the house.”

The Lizardfolk considered a few seconds longer, before relenting, “Fine. One after Midnight. No later.”

Tinder unstuck the knife and the Lizardfolk retreated back to being next to his cohort, mace in hand. She put the skillet down, for which she was thankful because it was getting hard to hold above her head in a threat.

She shouted out the little serving window, “Franklon, sandwich up. And get a beer and a cider for the two folk leaving the kitchen now. On the house.” The Lizardfolk wouldn’t be able to digest the wheat beer that was on tap.

Franklon began objecting in full obscenity, but she interrupted, “Don’t give me that, and act like I don’t see you drink at least five pints during the night under the counter. Just fuckin’ do it.”

A few of the patrons at the bar chortled, and Franklon’s grumbling subsided into general protest rather than objection. He did remind her she had another two orders to fill.

Tinder looked back at the two toughs. “Now, please leave the kitchen? I damn well won’t sneak out the back. I need to wait on Slovens if I am expected to pay anything.”

The two toughs glanced at another before nodding, heading back into the bar proper.

Tinder rubbed at the dents and nick in the cutting board, and looked the knife over to make sure it’s durability enchantment still held. It was fine, though she probably need to sharpen it. She then went back to orders, making the last sandwich and starting some bacon on the last functional burner.

My Writing Focus

(Note: this has opinions of one person generalizing to the entirety of the field of writing, so salt to taste.)

“In a dismal bog where a city sleeps, where only the crows speak the truth, a soul returns to find the body it was wrought from.”

“Instead of going nuclear, World War 2 was punctuated with accelerated biological warfare.”

“The CEO was put into a coma using the company’s newest robot assistant product and only five people could have done it, but who?”

“Its a romance but the Frog Prince accidentally turns their true love into a likewise magical frog, but she’s cool with it.”

These are great, interesting ideas, but the last one is most likely to be written by me. It does something that I feel most defines me as a writing. It focuses on a character.

I love characters. I’m helplessly dependent on focusing on building a character first, and then thrusting them against a world. This may not seem like much of a revelation, but so many writers have so many billions of ways they go about their work. All stories must have world building, characters, plot, and ambiance (and if you consult other “essentials of writing” there are a billion other must-haves), but not all authors start from the same source.

I gravitate towards characters, because ultimately, that’s what I like most about what I read. In a lot of ways, being so focused on characters makes my life much easier. In a lot more ways, I am super jealous of other types of writers. (I think every writer is secretly or, as is my case, not-so-secretly jealous of every other writer for something. Each writer does something, or many things that another writer wishes they could do as well. This, in my opinion, is a truism. Anyone who thinks they aren’t jealous of another writer is likely not looking hard enough, or isn’t actually as good as they think.)

World-building focused writers tend to be locked into a fantasy or sci-fi setting, because there’s not as much world building necessary in a realistic modern setting (that isn’t to slight those that world build in that very setting, it can and does happen! And historical fiction is so intrinsically tied to world-building “correctly”! I am not trying to start a fight!) World building takes so much time, and I tend to build organically, as the story needs, rather than lay out four hundred pages of rules, maps, and acceptable deviations from science-as-it-exists-today. I don’t have the patience for it, but the worlds out there are so rich and full and lived in that I am constantly in wonder of their ability track it all.

Plot writers can often exist in any world, at any time, but they have to focus so much on getting the reader from the beginning of the story to the end, believably and entertainingly. I actually (and I am not an expert in writing – like I say in my About page, I am an engineer by trade) kind of classify both thrillers and romance in this same very “writer focus” class. Both of them are tied to building to the big reveal, and the plot is formed by throwing the obstacles in the way. I understand how to plot, but I am not confident in my ability to twist and wind in that serpentine circle that brings the reader to the huge reveal that allows them to finally take that breath they’ve been holding since page 1.

Ambiance writers exist in all worlds, but are masters of the subtle. A creeping sense of unease, the flow from despair to a small triumph, they build a world not of objects and history but of emotions. Horror does this, when done well, but so do most surrealism stories. Ambiance, in my mind, is the ultimate refinement of style, where the reader doesn’t need to understand the plot, the character’s choices, or the world, but still be compelled to see where the author takes them. Ephemeral, and very much a trained skill, its also hardest to condense, materialize or describe to a reader or another writer. I’ve yet to see a plot/story outline contain an “ambiance” section for each scene, because its something only the skilled author can materialize into a world.

I am a character writer. Of course, I want to master all of the above. But… But when I write, all of the above are always centered around that core lens of a character. I care primarily about worlds when I have characters worth rooting for, good or bad. I struggle to see a plot unfold without knowing who the central figure navigating it is. Ambiance is set by the resident characters, who set that tone by their reactions.

I want you to meet someone, find out their struggles, and then hope as hard as they do for their success. I want my Frog Princess to hop into the spotlight, much to the surprise of everyone, and then we will see what else follows.

I want you to see the stories I write, period, which is why I am still here, writing this blog.

Have a good day and sincerely yours,

RUA Rubin


About RUA Rubin, the blogpost

Eventually, I need to add an About page. I will probably crib from this post some, in a condensed format.

I’ve never been good at telling people about myself. I was raised in Oklahoma. I was raised Jewish, but am not particularly religious anymore. Growing up, after having gone through the various dreams a child has of being an astronaut, or a super scientist, or a fireman, I settled on a career path at about age twelve. I wanted to be an engineer, a novelist, and a stand-up comedian.

Even then, I knew the easiest one was being an engineer, and I was lucky enough to have the kind of support growing up that made going to college to get an electrical engineering degree was possible. (I chose electrical engineering to try to learn how our world’s magic works, with mixed success. But a post on that later.)

Becoming a novelist is what I am working on now. Doing this is definitely the hardest part of my twelve-year old’s career path. I knew this even when I was twelve, clambering further up my father’s old shelves full of used books, reading material far too old for me, but devouring the content regardless. I love to see a world unfold for myself, and it will always be my dream to unfold worlds for others to read and enjoy.

Other things about me: My favorite colors are green and purple. I drink coffee with cream but no sugar. My favorite authors are Ann Leckie, A Lee. Martinez, and Robin McKinley. I love science fiction and fantasy in equal measure, though my writing lends me towards science fiction. I am 28 years old as of March 2018 and married to the most wonderful spouse in the world.

What else do people share in their about pages?

I haven’t written anything published yet, but I will. Yes, I have released works under an online screen name, but no, I am not going share that here, just as a matter of trying to keep those inkwells separate. I never was part of the group of people to obsessively share about myself, so blogging will be hard, but I intend to keep it up. (but no promises).

I think that’s all for now.

Have a good day and sincerely yours,

RUA Rubin