Looking for feedback on my first novel chapter. How does the dialogue flow and does it feel like there are info dumps? Is there any staleness between scenes? All criticism is welcome.


“Cody! Put out that cigarette and get the hell back in here! A family is waiting on you, ya shaggy-headed moron. Let’s go,” Chef yells before waddling back into the kitchen. The screen door to Dolphin Cove Grille slams behind him. I refocus my gaze on an inverted lizard that’s inflating his red dewlap in an attempt to attract the female at the base of a palm tree. I press my lips for one last drag of my cigarette and flick the filter into the five-gallon bucket of brown water and plastic wrappers.

   I push my sunglasses up over my forehead and swish the dry nicotine taste from my mouth with a rum soda I’ve concealed in a styrofoam cup. I rush through the kitchen striding behind the cooks while dodging food runners on my way back to the tiki bar. I pause and scan my table section on the patio deck checking if any tables need refills on ice waters or beer.

   Since April, the daily lows in south Florida haven’t dipped below 90-degrees and this past week with spring break in full blaze, I’ve sweat for every dollar and spent it just as fast as I earned it. Between late nights wandering the beach strip and serving impatient tourists in the afternoons, the end of senior year is around the corner and I avoid every thought of restaurant life becoming my only future. 

   I kill another quick minute acting busy behind the bar, discretely mixing another styrofoam cocktail for myself. I fill a hoard plastic water cups for a new table, then balance the drink tray in a speed walk to take a new order. 

   The shaded tiki bar overlooks two lanes of traffic and between running food and drinks, I recognize some of the cars from school zipping by. Expensive lifted trucks and luxury sedans wait at the red light that hangs perpendicular to the patio deck where I wait tables across the sidewalk. When I first started working here, I feared people from school would see me in my goofy, flowery uniform, but once the cash started rolling into my pockets the anxiety kind of just faded. 

   The red light burns for an eternity as radio-rock commercials, pop songs blare through car speakers over hyena-like laughter from pre-gamers in backseats on their way to the beach. Most cars race each other cutting across the two lanes as teenager yelp and yell to each other out of sunroofs. Spring break becomes rowdier every year and the older I get, I find myself stuck waiting tables than standing in the sand. Lunch shifts are a living hell, especially if you are hungover. After last night’s sleep over in the Fort Myers Beach drunk tank I just want a few hours of peace and quiet to myself. 

I introduce myself to the table of four. A middle-age couple and two pudgy children in sandals that are too small for their feet. They sit between their parents studying the kid’s menu and none of them reach for the water cups or acknowledge a thank-you when I set them onto the table. The red-headed trophy wife looks up for a second while examining the menu list. She looks confused by the seafood entrees and I wait for her question about the calamari and fried oyster medley appetizer.

   Her lips are disproportionally large and smooth, and her transparent beach cover-up outlines her toned body. Not ashamed to show off what she earned from the gym or her plastic surgeon. Her husband’s smug face reads, Worth it. He looks up at me after I drop the drinks and introduce myself.

     “Does any have any questions about the menu or our cocktail list?” I can tell the little girl is trying to get a better look at my black eye behind my sunglasses. Her parents notice the large bruise too and for a moment they appear confused. They look past it and don’t mention it.  

   The middle-aged mom flops the menu on the table and peers over her horn-rimmed sunglasses. 

     “So tell me, Cody,” her mouth is open, revealing a piece of gum stuck to her bottom molar. 

     “How large is the Grouper sandwich? Like, what’s the calorie count? It’s not printed on the menu for some reason.” Her family stares, also anticipating an answer.

     “It’s a good portion�" About the size of my palm,” I say, holding out my swollen hand and cut knuckles. I pull it away quickly hoping they didn’t notice the remnants last night’s fight.

     “As far as calories�" I’d say three hundred, maybe less?”

     “Okay. Well, I’ll have the shrimp scampi. It isn’t farm-raised shrimp, is it?”

   I adjust my sunglasses sitting slightly crooked on my swollen cheek.

     “Nope. Everything we serve here ma’am is straight out of the Gulf of Mexico.” 

   I lie. Our restaurant serves Gulf shrimp, but we ran out two days ago. Our reserve shrimp is from the frozen food aisle at the supermarket. The restaurant still sells it for the same price as our Gulf-caught shrimp but the head chef warns us not to say it’s from the convenience store around the corner. The heavyset husband smirks with an awkward twitch of his goatee. 

     “See guys? This is why we vacation down here. You just don’t get this quality of seafood back home.” 

     “We do carry a reputation for our fresh market, sir.” I grin clicking my pen.

   I’m the used car salesman of selling mediocre seafood during peak tourist season. After a few years of waiting tables, I’ve learned to read people. Their body language and eye movements. The way they share information with each other, hold back or fumble a question. It’s easy to stay one step ahead when you see similar patterns of a hungry group and I’ve come to realize if I have to lie or fake a smile for an extra buck, so be it.

   I grew up in a town of fibbers and liars. I’ve listened to the same overly exaggerated sea stories and one-night stand tales from tourist and bar regulars on a weekly basis. I’ve learned more about life working at the Dolphin Cove Grille than I have inside a classroom and I wouldn’t change who I am or where I’m from for the world.

   Like Bob Dylan said one time, The times, they are a-changin. The misfortune of living in a flood zone deemed uninhabitable has cut my time short along the Florida Gulf Coast and with rising rent and home prices, the once seafaring Garcia legacy will survive elsewhere from here on out. Once they tear down the ole’ neighborhood, that’s a wrap for the few of us still living there.

    I scribble down the last food order for a fish sandwich and seasoned fries. An obnoxious caravan of muscle cars and pickup trucks pull up to the red light across the sidewalk from me. I recognize the vehicles from my school’s parking lot. Some behemoths from the football team hang out of sunroofs and doorless Jeep Wranglers as they fling ice at each other. The light turns green and two freakishly large defensive linemen drive off hollering to a country song. 

   A yellow truck picks up in speed and rolls onto the sidewalk chirping its tires. The horn blares as the hood swerves before hitting the light pole. The gasp from the eating families and day drinkers startles me more than the horn and as the truck peels away, a voice yells out of the truck. I watch the road with my pen and order booklet in hand as the scene unfolds right before my table section.


     “Hey, Fish S**t! Shuck us some oysters, you b***h!” The intrusive scream followed by the obnoxious music volume and truck’s Flowmaster exhaust pipes speeds by in a yellow blur. Everyone stares at one another in utter confusion. As if looking for a manager to tell them that everything is going to be okay. Luckily the name tag on my shirt only reads my first name. 

   A few regulars at the bar cackle and point as blood floods into my cheeks. I pretend the verbal assault wasn’t directed at me and take down the rest of the order. I head back to the kitchen and take a quick sip of my rum and Coke. I readjust my hat and start hanging up order tickets for the cooks, wondering if the truck of idiots would be back later to try and fight me in retaliation from the scrap we had last night.

   Ever since I was a kid, I’ve eaten a much of the catch my friends and I would pull in off the beach or from the backwaters. People who have never gutted and filleted their own fish aren’t aware it’s nearly impossible to completely rid of the fishy gut smell that sticks on your hands and being the serious angler that I am, I’ve been called every name in the book. Shrimp S**t, Bait Bucket, Cody-Crab-Crap, Fish Fingers�" you name it.

   The lame insults from the collar-shirt-kids could never penetrate my world. The realm of school, sports, or whatever the newest T.V show people were raving about never interested me either. I never fit in much at school and I never really cared to. My mind is always on the ocean. Inside a space of physical and mental freedom. Catching fish is the only thing I’ve actually been great at and poling through wide open mangrove bays in search of rolling tarpon made school feel like a prison cell. A waste of my time. An air-conditioned control and oppression that demanded obedience and attendance.   

   Everything I ever really wanted was right in my home backwaters that lead out to the gulf. A full tank of gas, fresh tackle, and some cold beers in the boat is the pursuit of happiness where I’m from. The idea of making a living as a charter guide was a dream growing up and in my neighborhood, generations of fishermen made a living on the water. Even my old man revived a dwindling mullet-fishing business and had a decent run until a few ugly red tides decimated the fish population below the Caloosahatchee. 

   It took years for the large schools of fish to return to normal and even today some of the fishery feels like it hasn’t fully recovered. Since our family boat is out of commission and our neighborhood basically went to s**t after the last storm surge, my dad started working construction and has poured concrete ever since.

   Every year our neighborhood erodes a little bit more after a brush with tropical storms and hurricanes that trail up the Gulf coast. The older homes sank into the canals or were damaged and many of the old salts abandoned the area after gathering what money they could from their insurance company.  

   Aside from our disappearing neighborhood, larger commercial fishing companies soon plundered Southwest Florida’s charter scene and the laid-back private fishing charter I envisioned was sucked out of existence like the outgoing tide. Like many of the remaining coastal locals balancing a steady paying job and a life indulging in the pleasures of paradise, I play harder than I work. I’ve come to realize that the consistent partying and avoidance of reality doesn’t end well for most. 

   I survive alright for a second-time senior waiting tables and pulling party favors for tourists and restaurant staff. Last year, school was a place to nap on the days I showed up. I was held back from walking with the class of 02’ but because I wasn’t legally an adult the guidance counselor felt I was neglected. She gave me a second chance at graduation and I took it. 

   I didn’t mind getting held back on my last year. Not only did I get another year of free school lunches, but it was the first time I had any classes with my two best friends, Jay and Chaser. This year, I haven’t missed a day of school and have actually passed every test I’ve taken so far. In two months I’ll be walking across the stage in the auditorium where our principal will hand me a piece of paper stamped with a tiny overly-aggressive buccaneer mascot above my name. 

   Well aware that waiting tables leads to a financial cycle of BS and dead ends, I’m ready to leave the restaurant scene behind and do what I’m destined for. Even if the week-by-week pay keeps me afloat and the opportunity to manage is around the corner, there’s no way in hell I’m sticking around town, to serve people food. 

   A high school diploma is all I need to get my captain’s license and if I can’t make money in the fishing industry, it’d be dumb of me to deny my chances of captaining a yacht or something commercial.


Author's Note

First chapter of my novel that takes place during spring break in Southwest FL.

My Review

Would you like to review this Story?
Login | Register

Share This
Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


Added on April 3, 2021
Last Updated on April 3, 2021
Tags: fiction, novel, first chapter



Austin, TX

Hey writers and readers. I write short stories, and fiction but most of my time is spent writing for and It's my dream to release my novel, but still working on some.. more..