This Independence Day was so mournful for me, given current events, that I basically just hid out at home reading regency romances. (On the plus side, that meant I had way less chance of getting shot. We are living in crazy times, aren’t we?)
But today is the day after Independence Day, and I need to get some real work done, something I haven’t been doing all that well lately.
So here we go, finally getting the next novel ready for publication. I thought for a long time about querying it to agents (and I did fling it into Berkley’s open submission process, which I can only assume resulted in an extremely deep slush pile). But all the reasons I self-pubbed in the first place are still true – probably even more so in today’s market.
So last week folks who subscribe to my newsletter got a sneak peek of PRIDE AND PRECARITY. It plays off Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, but sets the story in 2019 in a small, struggling liberal arts college town in upstate New York, where the heroine is an under-employed English adjunct (something I’m rather familiar with), and the hero, a higher education consultant, has just gotten his pal Bingley installed as the new college president.
I’m going to share that first chapter here, too, but if you want to see chapters two and three any time soon you need to make sure you’re on the newsletter mailing list, not just this blog’s mailing list. That’s because I have no idea who really sees this blog (unless someone comments). It all happens in the background with Jetpack or WordPress or trained internet hamsters.
BUT if you’re a subscriber to my twice-monthly newsletter I’ve got your email address! And we can have private email conversations! And because of that, you might also have a chance to volunteer to be an early beta reader or ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) reader. (IF you’re willing to commit to providing helpfully specific feedback and/or posting an honest review somewhere, that is.)
So now, here’s the current draft (not final) of chapter one of PRIDE AND PRECARITY. If you want to keep going at least two more chapters, make sure you subscribe to the newsletter, which comes out on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month. I won’t put you through a traditional “Welcome” automation if you join here, but I may circle around and try to catch up with you later.
Obviously, you can always unsubscribe. Also, you’ll probably need to confirm your email for it to work. (So check that promotions tab or spam folder or whatever if you don’t see it right away.)
(Still a working draft!)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a new college president must hold a reception for faculty.
Also true: It would be really awkward to spill a whole tray of chicken satay skewers drizzled with peanut sauce on that new college president.
But I’ll get to that in a moment.
Charles Bingley, the new guy, hired my aunt to cater. And that’s why I’m serving hors d’oeuvres at this faculty reception even though, technically, I’m a member of said faculty.
Only technically, because I’m part-time, an adjunct. I earn less than $3,000 per semester per class, with a strict limit on how many I can teach. (God forbid they should have to give me health insurance.) So I pick up a lot of catering gigs with Titi Sylvia.
I thought about saying no to this one, because of the shame factor. But then I thought about how my car has been making funny noises lately.
Circling the room in my white shirt and slightly faded black pants, I offer my faculty colleagues stuffed mushrooms on the first pass, little chorizo pockets on the second. My best friend Charlotte is the only one who smiles warmly at me. “Izzy! Do you want me to introduce you to anyone?”
I shake my head. No, not while I’m handing out appetizers, thank you.
Charlotte’s an adjunct, too, but as the daughter of Bill Lucas, long-time trustee and current president of the board, she’s comfortable with this crowd. If she’d chosen a more popular major, she’d probably be on the tenure track by now. Unfortunately, she went for a doctorate in women’s studies at the exact moment it was starting to be cut from course offerings everywhere, especially at small, struggling colleges like Meryton. It’s proven as deadly to her career prospects as that doctoral thesis on Barbara’s Pym’s satirical novels has to mine.
At the next little group, that old goat Professor Hart narrows his eyes at me as he helps himself to a chorizo pocket, possibly wondering if he’s seen me or at least my boobs somewhere before. But he’s one of the few to even look my way. I’m the help. I’m invisible. Which is ideal in this situation, frankly.
I come out with the third tray – the soon-to-be infamous chicken satay – and let some hungry adjunct door skulkers scoop up one each, then head around the room clockwise. My baby sister Lidia has the counter-clockwise circuit and is wearing the lowest cut white shirt she can get away with. “Oh, you’re so funny!” she says to some guy, and giggles. I catch my older sister Jane refreshing the beverage service and roll my eyes. She smiles in understanding but doesn’t roll hers – she’s too nice for that, even when it’s about Lidia.
Anyway, as I approach that Most Important Conversational Cluster in the Room, I somehow lose my footing and go flying right into President Charles Bingley’s chest. Tray first.
We both fall to the floor, and there are gasps as every person in the room turns to look.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry!” I say, and try to leap up, but some tall dude with an excellent grip is already hauling me to my feet.
Jane swoops in and says, “Oh, dear! Come with me, Mr. Bingley, and I’ll help you get cleaned up quickly and back to your party.”
He says, “Please, call me Chaz. Darce, bring me down a clean shirt?”
Tall dude scowls at him a moment, then nods, and asks me, “Are you okay?”
“Yes, perfectly. I’m –”
But he’s already leaving.
I bend down to pick up the tray and the scattered remains of the satay – the hungry adjuncts at the door look on wistfully – and head to the kitchen.
I walk in to find Jane gently sponging Chaz Bingley’s pants and blushing. He’s blushing, too. His shirt is covered in peanut sauce, and he’s already unbuttoning it.
“I’m so sorry,” I say again.
“No worries,” he says. “You have no idea how much I wanted a break from all that terribly, terribly polite conversation!” And then he’s back to smiling and blushing at my sister.
Okay, so maybe he’s a good guy, even if he is admin. He pulls off his shirt and balls it up on the counter. His undershirt fits nicely and he has nice shoulders and nice arms. He’s kind of goofy looking, though. Of course, that may be because of the way he keeps staring at my sister, like he’s dazed or something.
“How did that happen?” Titi Sylvia asks me, under her breath, and it takes me a moment to realize she means my collision out in the reception hall, not my sister and the new college president gazing into each other’s eyes like moony heifers.
“No idea. One minute I’m walking along fine, and the next I’m flying through the air. I’m so sorry!”
“Oh, well, it happens.” She hands me a spray bottle and a roll of paper towels. “Here. I don’t want any cleaning bills for any priceless carpets.”
“Got it,” I say, and take a deep, centering breath before I walk out of the kitchen. Because the only thing less dignified than dropping a tray of chicken satay on your new college president is having to get down on your hands and knees to clean peanut sauce out of the carpet in front of your colleagues.
I’m scrubbing the last stubborn spot when I see Bingley and “Darce” come out of the kitchen. Bingley, restored to full dress, is still smiling a bit idiotically.
Darce frowns and I hear him say, “Must she do that now?”
“Darcy, come on,” Bingley says. So maybe it’s actually Darcy, not Darce? Or maybe it’s D’Arcy? He looks like the kind of guy who might hang on to a pointless apostrophe if it were pretentious enough.
Bingley continues, “You want me to be responsible for staining somebody’s precious historic carpet in my very first week on the job? Listen, you never saw a more attractive bunch of caterers. The one who just cleaned me up in there is the sweetest, kindest, prettiest—”
“Caterer. She’s a caterer, Chaz. And I believe the least you could hope for from a caterer is for them to not splatter you with the very food you’re paying them to serve. Have you met everybody here yet? People are starting to leave.”
Charlotte’s dad Bill rushes up to them. “All’s well that ends well, is that not so? What an inspiring example of graceful persistence you’re giving us!” He sports a kind of pseudo-English accent that I associate with old money. I may be wrong about that, though, because Charlotte’s even more anxious about spending than I am. Perhaps whatever money was involved in forming that accent has been lost. She and I may be best friends, but I’ve never had the nerve to ask.
I try another energetic scrub. Is this last stubborn stain from our peanut sauce, or was it already there?
“Just promise me you’ll hire a different caterer next time,” says Darce/Darcy/D’Arcy.
Asshole. That’s what I’m calling him from now on.
Bill Lucas says, “I don’t recommend that! Sylvia Phillips is the best you’ll find around here. She’s the sister of the wife of one of our most distinguished professors – Professor Bennet, one of the world’s foremost authorities on dung beetles! Sadly, retiring this year. His daughter Isabela there is actually an adjunct professor in our English department. She’s said to be quite brilliant in the field of contemporary women’s literature.”
Asshole says, “And we can see how well that’s working out for her.”
OH MY GOD! Does he not realize I can hear him?
But he probably doesn’t care. Assholes never do. It’s their super power.
I decide the carpet’s as clean as it’s going to be and get up to brush past them. I give Asshole a glare. I wish I could spray carpet cleaner in his face. I don’t, of course, but it’s possible I wield the spray bottle a tad threateningly at him as I go by.
His eyebrows go up, and he smirks at me.
This would be a fab story to immediately regale everyone in the kitchen with, but Titi loads me up with a tray of her famous pastries.
Okay, fine. That is what she’s paying me for. I stop at the hungry adjuncts and take the opportunity to pop one in my own mouth. That’s a big no-no, but I figure I had an invitation to this thing, too. “Go ahead, take two,” I urge them.
“So delicious,” says an anemic-looking young woman I vaguely recognize as belonging to the art department. “What’s that filling?”
“Guava?” She repeats it with a blank look. We’re pretty far away from any important centers of Puerto Rican culture up here in the hinterlands of upstate New York. For their part, Titi Sylvia and my mom are only half Puerto Rican, but they still like to wow the locals with the flavors of the island. Mom also insisted on Spanish names for us girls, except for Jane, who’s named after Abu Jane because our Puerto Rican great grandparents apparently liked the English version better, too.
It’s all a bit misleading. Mom and Sylvia can roll their r’s and curse people out in Spanish, but don’t ask them to actually carry on a conversation. I have some Spanish because I needed a second language for my master’s degree, but in the four years I’ve been teaching since I got my doctorate, it’s been fading as fast as my hiring prospects.
So I’m not sure my sisters and I really qualify as Hispanic. But we sure know good Puerto Rican food.
I pop another pastelillo de guayaba in my mouth and swallow it down before I resume a slow circuit, carefully watching for stray feet in my path. The idea is to avoid dropping another tray.
Also, to run out of these pastries before I get anywhere close to Asshole.
And so ends Chapter One.
Enjoying it so far? Have some comments for me? You can leave them below or email me at sandrahutchison (at) sheerhubris.com – or, best of all, join my newsletter list here (if you haven’t already) and I’ll consider you interested in seeing more.