Everyone knows that even “glamour” careers aren’t glamorous. They only look that way from the outside—and your job is to tell the inside story. So include the slog. And the eye-roll. And the heavy sigh.
Because work just isn’t that rewarding. Yes, I’m a teacher, and yes my job is meaningful—in the grand scheme of things. But in the day-to-day? It’s like mental guerrilla warfare! And yet I cannot tell you how many teacher-heroines I’ve encountered who luuuv their job and see each child as wondrously special. Right. Obviously the writers of such novels have never spent time in a classroom. Don’t make a similar mistake in your writing.
And then there are coworkers. Hoo boy, talk about a goldmine. There’s nothing stranger than people, right? The office martyr, the sleep-my-way-to-the-top, the petty tyrant, the sigh-and-wait-for-retirement. Using coworkers in a novel—cleverly disguised, so as not to invite a lawsuit—can be therapy for the writer. And for your readers, too. They’ll shake their heads as they turn pages, but they’ll be smiling. (Remember Roz in Disney’s Monsters, Inc.?)
Today’s excerpt is laughable, since my principal characters don’t have jobs. Because the heroine’s workaday world centers on social maneuvering, I divest it of the glamour.So today we have McGillvary in his guise as “Mr Gill.” He’s been to a luncheon at Belsom Park—hosted it as himself, in fact—and he slips up and tells Elizabeth where he’s been. Naturally, she wants to know more.
“A luncheon?” said Elizabeth. “Famous! What was on the menu? That is to say, what were you served?”
The question was innocent enough, but for the life of him, McGilvary could not remember the meal. “Beef?” he said. “Lobster-something-or-other? Some sort of soup?” The truth was, he’d barely tasted the food. “I was so intent on the conversation,” he confessed, “that I don’t exactly recall.”
“Indeed?” A frown appeared in Elizabeth’s eyes. “Describe the table,” she said.
This took him completely off guard. “The what?”
“The table,” she said, with exaggerated patience. “Tell me about the china.” She raised her eyebrows at his silence. “The design on the plates—what did it look like?”
“I don’t precisely…” Plates? Why should he notice plates? “I don’t recall a pattern.”
Elizabeth tried again. “Think,” she said. “Was there something painted on the plates? Or were they plain, with a gilt band?”
“Honestly,” he said, beginning to laugh, “I have no idea.”
She sighed. “Very well. What sort of sound did the cups make when you stirred your coffee?”
He grinned. “Does it matter?”
“Of course it matters. When bone china is struck with a spoon, it makes a chiming sound, rather like a bell. What is more, the most expensive china is thin and translucent.” Elizabeth lifted her saucer to the light. “You see? This is cheap earthenware.”
“You cannot be serious!”
“Very well, tell me about the table linens. Were they plain white, like this, or was there a brocade pattern woven into the fabric?”
“Why the devil should I care? What difference does it make?”
“It makes a great deal of difference, Mr Gill,” she said. “I am attempting to discern the degree of importance Admiral McGillvary placed on your visit! Were you ushered in with fanfare and a red carpet? Or were you let in the service entrance with the dogs?”
Patrick McGillvary gave a crack of laughter. “Oh, with the dogs, certainly!”
“Well, it sounds like a Public Day to me,” she said. “Second-best silver, everyday linens, barely-passable china, and an unremarkable meal. In which case, you were being patronized, my dear.”
This was dead-on; McGillvary could barely contain his mirth. “Do you think so? The Admiral seemed pleased to entertain us.”
“I rather doubt that.” She lifted her teacup. “I daresay he is skilled at disguising his displeasure when the need arises.”
[excerpt from Mercy’s Embrace: So Rough a Course by Laura Hile, 2009]