The Things We Bring To The Table By Rod Palmer


It was a Cinderella love story: diamond-in-the-ruff beauty, Cree, swooned by the charming and wealthy Russ Rutledge. Now a decade later, the fairy dust collected on the ceiling fans, Cree finds herself married to a man who refuses to even touch her. She’s now giving up after betting on love, but then she encounters a parallel-world version of the person she would’ve become had she bet on herself.

The Grammy nominated singer with the stage name Lulu McQueen offers to trade places. Cree opens that Pandora’s box and falls in. She has ready-made fame and has inherited a steamy entanglement with, ironically, this world’s bachelor version of her abstinent husband. But things unravel quickly as Cree learns that Lulu left her world to flee pending criminal charges, financial ruin, and a bounty on her head; Lulu’s gritty issues now become problems for the more delicate Cree.

 In this high-stakes, reverse-romance thriller, Cree has no choice but to enlist the help of a few colorful and opportunistic characters likely to double-cross her for their own second-chance at life. Out of Cree’s journey comes startling discoveries for herself, and for Russ, a man who can have any woman he wants, and yet sees so much value in Cree.


Cree takes a napkin from her purse. On it, she writes Window Seat, walks over and lays the napkin at the foot of the stage like a prayer on an altar, but when she turns to go back to her table, she bumps into a woman with a nose ring and a raspberry beret, who pushes a microphone to Cree. Apparently, it’s open mic, with Cree as the evening’s only taker, but Cree waves her hands in refusal. “I was submitting a request,” she says, but when Cree checks across the room and finds Russ looking in disapproval, when earlier he wouldn’t look to her for conversation, Cree changes her mind. She kindly takes the microphone to the stage.

Band members queue each other with nods. The feisty drummer tumbles on the snare. On the keyboards, the Nubian woman with locks falling away from the shaved side of her head, lays the intro like butter on toast. The bass player, in just five plucked chords, claims the lead.

Cree holsters the mic. She lay her head back as if standing under a relaxing shower. Although the entire dining room looks directly at Cree, she stuns them with her whistle-clean pitch.

So, presently, I’m standing

Here, right now, you’re so demanding

Tell me what you want from me

From the very first frame, the audience knows they’re in for a treat, how Cree delivers you’re so demanding, with the back of her hand to her forehead in feigned exasperation. On the long note, when Cree leans away, stretching herself as she stretches the word me, she is everything that twenty-years of at-home broomstick concerts have been waiting for.

By the time the piece reaches its abrupt end, where drumsticks pop the snare and a closed hi-hat, Cree has made witnesses of them all. Those exiting patrons that had doubled back at the sound of her voice, now stand by the bar, clapping with keys in hand and purses on their shoulders, satisfied with their decision to stay.

Cree bows under the weight of validation. Her brow settles on Russ as she walks off the stage through the standing ovation, misty-eyed but invincible, as if she’d just pulled Excalibur out of stone.  Cree is out-of-body for the remainder of dinner, lost in the world-building of the life she could have had as a singer, had she followed her passion: the fail-safe for happiness, even if love goes bust.


Son of a carpenter and a nanny, Rod Palmer was born in a historic Gullah Geechie community in Charleston, SC. He received his degrees in creative writing and Afro studies at the University of South Carolina before becoming an author, and growing a list of seven published novels and counting. Currently he resides in Europe where he is a dedicated husband and girl-dad, enjoys travel and writing the next novel.

His other works are:

A Pimp In The Pulpit

The Work-Husband Caper

The Harvest

Karma Wears Versace

KWV II: Man Eater

The Waymaker

Author Interview

1. What does The Things We Bring To The Table, bring to the table for the reader?

For any reader, the payoff is a story that is unputdownable, with characters that jump off the page. It starts strong and stays strong to the very end. It’s a story of redemption, and fighting for your best life. For black women specifically, it’s affirmation against all the negative attacks they’ve been getting on social media. It seems as if black women are the target of some sort of disinformation campaign perpetrated by this new black male chauvinism.

2. Give us a brief description of your book?

On the one hand, The Things We Bring To The Table, is a story that puts on display how, like the heroine, Cree, there’s just one or two fears barring most of us from our best life. On the other hand it’s a thriller that’s a low-key stress-test for “the things” that people believe to hold so much value in relationships. It opens as Cinderella love story already gone sour. Cree has security and a luxurious lifestyle due to her “high value” man Russ, who is a contemporary translation of Prince Charming. Things begin to crumble when Cree, this perfect wife, finds herself – in more ways than one. She must then examine what truly fills her heart. Detective Ryan sums it up best when he says, “No man ever fell in love with a table.”

 3. So now you’ve told us what your book is. Can you also tell us what it is not?

I’m glad you asked that. It’s not a reboot of those battle of the sexes books and movies that came out in the early 2000s such as Think Like A Man or a Two Can Play At That Game, and no, it is not a playbook on how to bag a “high value man.” I just felt like all this rhetoric around what someone “brings to the table” in terms of looks and career are merely the icing and not the cake. To further clarify, I’ll have to get personal here, and say that it took me years to realize that the reason I chose my wife is rooted in fear. I didn’t want a woman with attitude because I was afraid she would turn me into my father, who was abusive to my mother. Yes, it’s an irrational fear; everyone has them; just look deep enough. So, in the early stages of dating, when my wife and I had our first real disagreement and there was no yelling or name calling, and we simply had a discussion, is when it dawned on me that I was dating my future wife, because for me, nothing held more value than a woman whose anger doesn’t make her forget that she’s talking to a grown ass man. So with The Things We Bring To The Table, I wanted to devise a plot that brings out examples of those deep-seated motives behind why people choose each other, instead of all these surface matters swirling around on the internet.

4. What is your favorite passage in the book and why?

It’s the hospital waiting room conversation where Staysha sheds some light on what quite a few brothas are doing now in real life. They call it fleeing the matrix, which is code for rejecting black women altogether, to go mate-seeking in third-world countries. They often vacation in the company of prostitutes and sometimes bring them back as wives and will proceed to flaunt her in the face of black women, as if his ex-prostitute is what black women ain’t. 

 5. Why parallel worlds?

I couldn’t risk leaving too much up to the readers’ imagination. With two worlds to compare and contrast, it allowed me to show, in black and white and with mathematical certainty, through the value of Rutledge Enterprises how the company faired when headed by the bachelor Russ, versus the Russ who had the benefit of a good wife. More importantly, there is the comparison of emotional maturity and personal growth for both Cree and Russ together versus apart.

6. There seems to be a profound investment in the supporting characters, like Staysha, Detective Ryan, Charlene and even Jett Johnson. While writing, did these supporting characters reel you in, or was that the plan at the outset?

It was the plan from the outset; here’s why: The supporting cast is where true suspense lies. We all know the main character will fare well in the end; it’s the supporting characters that can possibly lose it all, so I fully exploit that. Is anyone really afraid for Cree, the main character, when she’s being held hostage? I bet readers fear for Staysha’s life when she tussles with the police officer. My supporting characters are more than just teasers of suspense, or helpmates of the main characters though. A selfish supporting character is much more entertaining than a self-less one whose entire existence seems to center around the main character.

7. The idea of self-fulfillment from pursuing your passion is strong in your book. What about that idea moved you?

My passion as an author. There was a time in my life where writing wasn’t even on my radar. I was a line cook and aspiring bodybuilder when a car accident gave me a sprained back, which helped me realize that writing was something I had to do. I was training for my very first bodybuilding competition. I called my mother who, at the time was a nanny for a powerful family (who I will not name). Her employers offered a hand by calling their lawyer, who wasn’t even an accident lawyer, but the most revered trial lawyer in Charleston, Andy Savage the 2nd, I believe. The father, son and grandson are all lawyers – heck, maybe even the great-grandfather. So, I wrote a letter detailing my injury and this powerful lawyer personally called me on the phone and said that that letter was the best “thing” he’d ever read in his life. My school teachers always told me I was a great writer, and I even won the only writing competition I’d ever entered, but it never really registered until Andy Savage told me over the phone that maybe I should think about becoming a writer. Expeditiously, I enrolled in college to pursue an English degree. As an author, I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, and I know for myself that there is nothing more fulfilling than that. I often wonder if I were to encounter a parallel-world version of myself that had never been in that car accident; I wonder where in life would he be.

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