Get Your Knives Out

So I’m not a fan of scenes that run on too long. I’m not a stickler about it, but in the first act, I try to keep my scenes under 3000 words, 2500 even better, and then in the last three acts never top 2500, in the last act even shorter. I’ve been rewriting the breakfast scene which has to do a lot of heavy lifting, and I like it. But it’s 4400 words. That’s ridiculous. It must be cut.

I am still in the darling stage with it. I want EVERY DAMN WORD. But at least a thousand words have to go. Your job, should you choose to accept it, it to tell me where it lags, where it’s confusing, where you’d cut it. Feel free to be brutal. As always, I won’t respond for twenty-four hours–YOU WANT ME TO CUT THAT??????–because I need to detach for distance, but all feedback is more than welcome.

Yes, I know I keep exploiting you. But you keep coming back. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

Scene is here.

71 thoughts on “Get Your Knives Out

  1. I think I’m missing something by not having read the previous scenes. You need to post those so we have everything!

    (it was worth a shot…)

    I had a problem with jumping from food to grampa’s bar. It kind of felt like 2 different lanes and I wanted to pick one. Preferably the one that didn’t have oozy eggs as I’m a scrambled or over hard eggs girl. I did appreciate Sandy’s comment about Nick’s egg whites though.

    I don’t think my comment is helpful though.

  2. I’m not going to be helpful either. I tried to find something extraneous, I really did. But everything I eliminated screwed up my learning curve or was too funny to leave out. I’m just glad I read it before it goes under the knife.

  3. To me there’s a little too much Sandy. Every time Nita and Nick start to establish a rhythm (or make a connection) here comes the waitress to break it up and make the scene stop flowing. Don’t get me wrong, the Sandy stuff is all really good. It really establishes how embedded Nita is in the Demon Island community, and shows how good Nick is at manipulating people who aren’t Nita, but it’s where… I was going to say it’s where my attention wanders, but that’s not it. Every time Sandy shows up I have a little less patience with her because it feels like a retread. “Okay, we’ve been here, get back to Nita and Nick.” I know she needs to keep coming back because every new order is a new wake up call for Nick, but maybe combine/condense some of those wake up calls?

  4. The Daphne/Button part at the beginning is cute but seems out of place in the scene.

    I love Sandy when she’s talking about food but I don’t know about her drooling over Nick because he’s good looking. I think it’s enough she wants to feed him, and that Nita thinks he’s attractive.

    I feel the question/answer about Joey and what he said/didn’t say before he was shot might be repeated one too many times.

    And I get that Nick is “becoming real” and the food is kick-starting it, but I think some of those exchanges could be tighter.

    But I had to think really hard to come up with the above, though! Such a fun scene, with great transfer of info that moves really quickly!

  5. On first pass, I don’t want to cut any of your darlings either. Will go through again after a bit.


  6. You’re right that it runs long. I think it’s the amount of questions/answers in the last third of the scene. Some of it such as the local names and where the agents were last could probably be delayed until a later scene, I think. It drags, going from banter and (I love how you worked in that he’s only now getting into food/getting real again!) eating to slow interrogation on boring stuff. Well, boring for this moment, since the missing agents aren’t shooting at her/him or bleeding in the scene. And there are I think a couple too many food exchanges (unless he can’t just steal from her plates?) because ‘yeah yeah we know’ said my reader brain at a certain point.

    I think it was the Jesuits who said Give me a boy until he’s seven and he’s mine for life. Therefore I was wondering if Nick’s childhood wouldn’t have imprinted his reaction to Nita a bit — he seems too Millennial and not enough Pope’s Bastard From 1500. Too many contractions, no extra grace in dealing with a woman, clothes that he craved when he was young (poet sleeves, wide belt that could have possibly supported a rapier, the colours the rich wore then, Fluevog pointed toe boots, modern stuff but echoing his origins). He doesn’t feel foreign enough yet to me. But I adore the heat and Nita loving that and the Who Was Your Father line of questioning because yes!

    Side things you didn’t ask for: according to the articles I’ve read about describing skin tones, food is considered iffy. I loved the tied head scarf as a signifier though. And I keep thinking Min when you write Dodd. Minerva imprinted on me strongly, and Calvin calling her Dodd so often that I hear him saying it when it’s this book instead.

    It’s a great scene and I love the food. And the heat, being a heat-sponge myself.

    (His shoes could be:
    or something off

  7. GAH. Why am I in transport?! Gonna read anyway…

    Also, I’m in transport, and this is usually when I listen to podcasts, like Popcorn Dialogues, but they’re not available! Whyyyyyyyy?! (I wasn’t sure where to actually send this question, which is why it’s posted here)

    1. Something happened to PopD? Let me go investigate.

      You’re right. I’ve emailed Lani who handled that end of PopD. They’re on iTunes, too, and I can’t get them there, but that might be the fault of my awful WiFi signal.

    2. And it turns out that when Somebody moved Storywonk to a new server, he took PopD, too.
      That explosion you may have heard was my head.
      I’m sure it was by accident, but we’re getting those podcasts back.
      And thank you very much for the head’s up.

        1. Yeah, I’ve been snappish all night because of that.

          Probably an accident, nothing to get upset about.


  8. At the beginning you mention that Daphne is “cute as a button” and then Nita says it must be nice to be young and cute. The repetition of “cute” was too close together for me.

    This sentence, “The world looked blue and cold, in part because of the sunglasses she was wearing but mostly because that was how her world worked.” seems overly gloomy to me versus Sandy’s friendly hello. The fact that Nita is hungover and still feeling ill, gives me an idea of where she’s at. That sentence, takes her from sick to depressed. Hmm, I’m commenting as I read and the fact that she leaves her sunglasses on until the french toast reminded me that you wanted her to wear sunglasses often because she had “weird eyes” and if I remember correctly they may be sensitive to light? So, perhaps you need to keep this sentence for reasons. That said, then it seems weird that Nick was commenting on how he liked her eyes while she was still wearing sunglasses. I’m going to trust he has had thoughts on her eyes already so this will make sense if I had read all the scenes before as they now are.

    Since I’m allowed to be brutal, although this is more nit-picky, “old-fashioned steam” – I understand that the “old-fashion” part is in reference to the method of heating a place and is probably the shortest way of phrasing that the radiator heat is helping her. However, what is “new-fashioned steam”? Would removing “old-fashion” count as 1 or 2 words cut, if you think you can cut it?

    “He still had that uncanny valley thing going,” – are we talking like a California valley girl thing here or is this a reference I’d get if I was reading the story in order? Because I’m not understanding it at this point. “and that probably added to the distance he projected.” This doesn’t help and makes me more confused. What distance is he projecting. My assumption is this is about him not seeming “real” to Nita, which she’s translating into being distant.

    Nick’s jacket not having holes in it… Does Mort still get Nick’s shirt with holes in it from Hell’s bar in scene 3? Because if so, drop the whole bunch of words around Nick’s jacket not having holes and it being because he wasn’t wearing it.

    How many slices of bacon does Nita get for breakfast? Most diners only provide 2 slices. Nick ate at least 4, which is still a valid amount and Nita is in good with Sandy having a standard order in place, so this is just me wondering. Doesn’t Nita eat any of her own bacon?

    This summary paragraph doesn’t seem to add much but does give the reader a break and orients us back into Nita’s mind, but I wouldn’t miss it.

    “She frowned at him. He still wasn’t real, but he was chomping down on real bacon, and his story about Hell was definitely a con, but he seemed invested in it. The real question was, what was he getting from this charade? It had to be a con, but unless his goal was taking over Grandpa’s bar, which made no sense . . .”

    I agree with people who said Sandy seemed to hang around too much but only in the first interaction. It definitely seemed like she was looking for excuses to stay near Nick. So, perhaps some of her interaction there could go, fewer times asking Nick if he needed anything.

    It also seemed like Nick gave up WAY more information than he pursued from Nita. He completely dropped who’s her father question without getting an answer. I’m assuming that is intentional because her father will be important as to who/what she is.

    I’m also trusting that the Hell’s Bar being her grandpa’s is important and needs to stay.

    It strikes me that there was a fair bit of repetition concerning why Nick was there. To look for his missing agents who were looking for a hellgate. Daglais and Rab were looking for the missing agents. Joey was looking for the missing agents. Joey wanted to talk to him outside. Why did they go outside, because Joey wanted him to. He’s here to find the missing agents. So, perhaps tell us about the missing agents a few less times?

    I do like how the scene has changed and more information has been provided. Even though it was a bit odd, her checking for his pulse, it was really nice to see it. She can actually touch him and he’s solid. This is good and will dispel future ick factors. I’m also assuming that the uptick in heat was his taste buds forming, but only because I read this blog.

    Good luck!

      1. It’s a reference from earlier in the book where it’s explained. I can also take it out here. Not a big deal.

        Here’s the piece from about 2AM that morning:

        “Sure. What would you like to know, Detective Dodd?” Rab sat down at the bar but kept one eye on his boss.

        “I would like to know why this guy . . .” Nita pointed at Nick. “. . . looks like bad CGI.”

        Nick looked at Rab. “CGI?”

        “Movie special effects,” Rab told him. “I’m sure she doesn’t mean it.”

        “I mean it,” Nita said. “You got a real uncanny valley thing going on there.”

        Nick looked at Rab.

        “Uncanny valley. It’s when a fake human like a robot looks almost like a real human but not quite, so it’s creepy.”

        Nick looked at Nita. “I’m creepy.”

        “Yep,” Nita said. “You are not life-like.”

        “No.” Button tried to take Nita’s mug from her. “He looks fine.”

        So the reference was a callback to that, but I can cut it.

        1. Actually, with the explanation having come before, it’s fine and I’m good. However, you are looking to cut things out of the scene. So, your choice.

  9. Thank goodness I don’t get carsick…

    “Coffee with cream face?” Is this how you’re telling us she’s black? I found it awkward, though I guess I do know the exact shade you’re talking about…

    What “uncanny valley?”

    There’s something clumsy about “And then weirdly he got hotter.” Maybe cause that’s something Nita would be thinking, but we weren’t really with her then, we were watching Sandy and Nick? Also, I’m guessing his memory of hunger just kicked in? Heh. I worry about what temperature he’ll reach once he’s a “real boy.” Uh oh, does the heat go away once he becomes real? Will that dampen Nita’s love?

    “…looked down at his plate…” there’s the tastebuds! See, this is fun now cause we were clued in via earlier post

    “I’m remembering.” Way to lay down the breadcrumbs

    You’ve got extra bacon floating around. He takes the last one, she signals for more from Sandy, but before Sandy comes, he’s taking more bacon off of her plate. “‘He said he might know something…'” And then again after the “not a natural smiler” observation.

    Wait, how does she know that Vinnie has dealt with Lemon only via email? Is that in the prior chapter and we just forgot?

    Her French toast or her half? I guess it doesn’t matter.

    When they finally start talking about Joey, one does realize how long it’s taken to get to the point of the scene. But everything that’s come before is really believable. Nick does have more than the goal of finding out what Nita knows and I can believe that gutting the bar would throw Nita, though she was doing a good job trying to figure Nick out. I’d worry that if you cut out too much, the enjoyment of the book is gone. Then it’s just the characters exchanging strictly necessary info and while useful, not really fun.

    I really hope she crumbles soon after feeling LACK OF PULSE. Give in already.

    1. “Coffee with cream” face – I totally didn’t catch that. Hmm. “Coffee-with-cream face rosy” – I think I saw that and it didn’t make sense so I skimmed over it and kept going because this seemed to be a throw-away section. Sandy’s daughter is in back cooking, looks cute, and she and Nita communicate a greeting to each other and then we move on. Not important so I didn’t need to work out what that sentence meant.

      1. I TOLD people this was going to screw things up. I know Sandy’s black and Daphne’s black, and I know if I don’t indicate it that the default will be that they’re white, but this is why I’ve never indicated it. Nita’s known them both her whole life, she babysat Daphne, she’s not going to look at them and think, “Oh, look, they’re black.” The coffee-with-cream bit is awful, but at least it belongs in a diner.


        I’m a little tense right now because of PoP D. Lani is talking me off the ledge. I think I’ll go have some chocolate.

        1. Any chance that someone else can have the observation? How many people of that skin tone has Nick seen, being a 1500s Italian kind of guy?

          1. Lots. He been all over the earth, short trips, but still. He doesn’t have the detailed knowledge that Rab has, but he can pass pretty easily.

            ETA: Forgot to mention: his grandmother was black. I think that’s historically accurate, but at least there were Moor somewhere in his father’s background. And his maternal grandmother was definitely black because I made her up.

        2. You have Sandy blushing later, so you might do something like, “He smiled and she blushed, brown cheeks turning rosy.” Since Nita is noticing a skin color change with a blush, it’s a perfectly reasonable place for her to also notice a skin color.

        3. I’d contrast Sandy with Nick when they’re at the table. Then Nita has a reason to think about her warm, human complexion against his weird, waxy dead look. Two birds with one stone.

          1. Should also say, I’m enjoying it! Probably could cut some Nick to make him less chatty/repetitive and sound more different to Nita. Don’t need so much Sandy unless there is some other reason I don’t get. I got the uncanny valley reference. Also, I am now hungry…

        4. When I was writing my latest novel, which has a mixed-race woman in it, I was told (both by my CP, and then by my agent who confirmed what she said) that it is now considered offensive by people of color to have characters who are POC described using food metaphors like “coffee and cream” or mocha, or whatever the hell it was I used.

          I don’t really understand it, but then I’m not a POC. So now I just try to use some other way to make it clear that the character is black or part black, or whatever.

  10. Too much Sandy (especially Sandy smiling), too much bacon, and too much repetition on the Joey questions. There’s an easy 650 words of tightening and cuts, after that it would get harder. I… well, I would think you should just hand this off to an editor and see what you miss when it comes back to you 1000 words shorter. But I guess that’s a very magazine approach. (When I was a magazine editor, people routinely gave me stories over their word count and I had no choice but to shorten them — we didn’t get extra pages because authors were wordy.)

    Easy cuts:
    He looked up. “I’m fine, Sandy. Thank you.”
    Sandy blushed. “You bet, Nick.”
    He looked back at Nita’s breakfast.

    (That becomes: He was staring bemused at the food. “Is she going to eat all of that?”)

    He cut into his omelet and took a bite, and then his face changed.
    “Not good?” Nita said.
    He swallowed. “No, it’s fine.” But he looked down at his plate as if he’d never seen it before.

    (That becomes: “You’re putting out more heat. I don’t get you at all.”
    He shook his head and took a bite of his omelet.
    “So,” Nita said, cutting into her eggs, “what did you ask Joey to find out?” — you fix a repetition of both of them cutting into eggs, but mostly his food stuff becomes apparent without him disliking the omelet, it doesn’t add anything necessary IMO.)

    “Stuff?” she prompted him.
    “Oh,” he said. “I’d asked him for help on this problem I have.”
    “Which is?” Nita said.
    “You don’t believe I work for the Devil, so you’re not going to believe my problem.” Nick picked up his fork and cut into his omelet again.

    The Devil line is great but it comes up again when he says “you’re going to have to pretend you believe I work for the devil”, so you can cut it here without really losing it.

    Unless there’s some hugely relevant thing about the two ways on and off the island, that conversation could become: “I needed somebody who knew the island. Joey was born here. I asked him if he knew anything about Sadiel and Furcas, my missing agents.”

    You could lose the Chinese restaurant paragraph; the Nita burger comes up later so you’d be keeping that.

    I wish there was an easy way to do a track changes version of your file. A couple hundred of my easy 650 are tightening –ie, “It’s why the street in front of the municipal building is called Lemon Avenue. And the road in front of Mr. Lemon’s house is Lemon Drive.” vs “It’s why the municipal building is on Lemon Avenue. And why his house is on Lemon Drive.” Or “The only time you smile at me is when you want something. ” vs “You only smile at me when you want something.” Or “Nita lied, and then waved at Sandy’s daughter at the register.” vs “Nita lied, waving at Sandy’s daughter at the register.”

    You can definitely get this shorter. But it’s very fun! I’ve been avoiding reading all the Nita stuff, because I’d rather read the book when it’s published, but it was fun to play with this.

  11. I haven’t read the other comments, so apologies if I repeat something someone else already said.

    I love this scene, in all its versions. Please don’t change too much of it. 🙂

    I loved the whole discovering food part and the interactions with Sandy – that really worked for me. Love, love, love the dialogue between Nick and Nita.

    To me, this scene seemed to be about Nita getting info about the demon world and Joey and Nick discovering food. At one point, Nick and Nita are discussing where to eat lunch. That felt like it sidetracked the focus of the scene and I found myself wanting to skip it. The same where Nick complains about the crazy names on the island and Nita talks about the amusement park. Also the bit where Nick asks about Nita’s parents. I cannot imagine why Nita would answer such a personal question from someone she’s known for less than 24 hours. And if I was a cop, I would definitely be careful talking about my family, especially to anyone I didn’t know well and who is as odd as Nick.

    Did Nick take Joey’s cell phone before Jason closed the crime scene? If he did, it doesn’t matter that the case is closed, he is guilty of interfering with a crime scene. And is it necessary for Nick to attempt to coerce Nita into cooperating with him? They’re already sharing info pretty freely. Nita is going to keep coming back to him for answers to her increasing questions. He has a legitimate reason to keep in contact with her regarding his missing people, even if she thinks he’s crazy. It feels like they are already well on the way to cooperating.

  12. I am certainly not a writer, but I am a fabulous reader. As in, I’m retired and I spend most of my time reading. I was hanging on every word of this and I wouldn’t tell you to cut a word. You built a scene in my mind like a movie, and I wanted to act in it. I wouldn’t have you cut a word. I always wish your books were much longer. Not much help, am I?

  13. You wrote, ” The world looked blue and cold, in part because of the sunglasses she was wearing but mostly because that was how her world worked.”

    I suggest “The world looked blue and cold, in part due to her sunglasses, mostly because her world worked that way.”

    You wrote, “Sandy said as she bustled past. I suggest, “Sandy bustled past with a tray full of carbs…”

    You wrote, “Nita lied, and then waved at Sandy’s daughter at the register.” I suggest “Nita lied, waving at Sandy’s daughter at the register.”

    You wrote, “the heat from the early morning sunlight and the old-fashioned steam sank in.” I suggest, “the early morning sunlight and the old-fashioned steam heat sank in.”

    You wrote, “The problem with The problem with the smile was that it didn’t reach those dark, hooded eyes. He was still classically handsome, with that great bone structure she had seen in hallucinatory detail earlier that morning, but he was also still not quite there. He was still classically handsome, with that great bone structure she had seen in hallucinatory detail earlier that morning, but he was also still not quite there.” I suggest “The smile didn’t reach those dark, hooded eyes. Classically handsome, with great bone structure she had seen in hallucinatory detail earlier that morning, but he was also still not quite there.”

    You wrote “He still had that uncanny valley thing going” What does that mean???

    You wrote ” But the real giveaway was that there was no human warmth there in spite of all the heat he was giving off. ” I don’t understand what the giveawy refers to, is he possible unhuman? If he is human, then I suggest ” despite the heat he exuded, he had no human warmth.”

    A really simple way to cut the number of words is to avoid the passive voice. You wrote, “He was watching her eat” when it could written as “He watched her eat.”

    You wrote, “She took off her sunglasses and put them on top of her head and picked up her fork again.” I suggest “She took off her sunglasses and put them on top of her headand picked up her fork.

    You wrote, ““I sent two different agents to find out what was going on, Sadiel first, and then when she went missing two Hell days later, Furcas.” I suggest “I sent Sadiel to find out what was going on. When she didn’t report in after two days, I sent Furcas.”

    You wrote, ““That’s the place Furcas thought was most likely for the Hellgate.” I suggest ““Furcas thought it was the Hellgate.”

    You wrote, ” Nita said, putting an edge on her voice.” I suggest ” Nita said, an edge in her voice.”

    You wrote, “He still wasn’t real,” I suggest, “He still wasn’t human,”

    You wrote, ” I’m seeing a pattern there so you might want to be careful.” I suggest, ” I’m seeing a pattern so you might want to be careful.”

    You wrote, “I should have police protection,” Nick was saying, smiling at her.” I suggest, “I should have police protection,” Nick smiled.

    You wrote, “She pushed back her chair and stood up, picking up her bag, and putting her sunglasses back on.” I suggest,” She stood up, picked up her bag, and put her sunglasses back on.”

  14. I guess I must not care for the passive voice. The sentences you suggested seem lifeless and dead and would not be interesting to me personally. What people love about Jenny’s work is her individual style. She makes her stories LIVE. Have you read any of Jenny’s books? Your sentences sound like they are from a whole different genre. Just my opinion.

  15. Beverly Williamson, are you addressing me? If so I am confused. Because I took a lot of sentences out of the passive voice because not only does that add to the word count but, in my opinion, it slows the action and weighs it down.

    I’ve read everything she has written, to the best of my knowledge and have no desire to interfere with her distinctive and much appreciate style. She asked for help getting the word count down and my sole goal was to make suggestions for her to take or leave.

    1. There weren’t any sentences in passive voice. Said the former English teacher.

      Active: She ate the bacon.
      Passive: The bacon was eaten by her.

      You wrote:
      “A really simple way to cut the number of words is to avoid the passive voice. You wrote, “He was watching her eat” when it could written as “He watched her eat.”

      That’s not passive, it’s active, a construction called “past continuous,” and it implies that when Nita looked up, Nick was in the process of watching her eat. It’s what she realizes because the scene is in her PoV. “He watched her eat” on its own shifts into his PoV. “She felt uncomfortable as he watched her eat” goes back into her PoV. I need to keep this firmly in Nita’s head.

      I use the continuous past a lot when I’m juggling time and multiple characters. If I write “He was watching her,” it implies that he’s been watching her all along, that even though she was doing something else, he wasn’t sitting there waiting for her to look up to do thing. If you look at my stuff, there’s a lot of continuous past, along with past perfect continuous (“He had been watching”) to show that the next scene moves back in time. The first scene in the book happens at half past midnight, the second scene starts at the same time, so the first sentence has a past perfect continuous verb. I’m a big fan of continuous verbs because they give the impression that all the other people in the scene have goals and actions of their own.

      I should mention every time I put up a scene that we don’t rewrite other people’s work here. We savagely point out what’s wrong–and I’m agreeing with pretty much everything everybody has said so far–but we do not rewrite somebody else’s words. But since I didn’t put that in the post, you didn’t know.

  16. Huh, my comment got posted in the middle of the sentence. Anyway, I thought I was doing exactly what was asked, but since my contributions are so very unwelcome, I will not post here again and try to forget this unpleasantness when I read another book bu Jennifer Crusie.

    1. I didn’t say they were unwelcome.

      I said those verbs weren’t passive.

      Also, I didn’t ask for help in cutting words, I asked for help in cutting the scene: “Your job, should you choose to accept it, it to tell me where it lags, where it’s confusing, where you’d cut it.” As in, “cut some of that Sandy crap, it just gets in the way” or “I’ve heard enough about eggs.”

      I really have to start writing that “do not rewrite words” thing before I post stuff.

    2. I wouldn’t have known passive vs. past continuous or any other option in tenses. I tend to write run on sentences and change tense within them.

      I can totally see why you understood the request for help as you did, and therefore offered the suggestions as you did, especially if you haven’t been hanging around the blog and reading the comments for quite a long time.

      I do hope you’ll return and not feel upset because of this experience. It is hard to capture tone in print and I know I’m not skilled enough to do it. Please also skip down in the comments where Sure Thing, who was having nesting issues, left her comment. Here’s hoping my comment goes in the right spot.

  17. Love this scene. It’s tighter and funnier than last draft.

    Bits that made me laugh out loud even though I’m at work:

    My turn. Explain Mr. Lemon to me.”
    “You don’t get a turn. What information did you send him after?”

    Save the butter for the toast.

    I see Hell is still patriarchal. Fuckers are everywhere.

    “Okay, here’s a tip,” Nita said. “Real people? They blink.”
    He blinked.

    Things I tripped on, though none of them badly:

    I could’ve done with fewer interruptions from Sandy, it took away from the Nita/Nick flow.

    The talk about lunch got in the way too.

    The only part of Nita’s food that seemed excessive was 3 eggs instead of 2. So Nick asking if she was going to eat all that felt like food-policing to me.

    They both seemed too laid back. Nick wasn’t showing a lot of determination about getting answers, and Nita was surprisingly unfreaked about his lack of pulse.

    1. hmm, now that you mention it, the lack of pulse in a talking and eating human would freak a normal person out. Perhaps you do need to leave in that uncanny valley comment.

  18. Impressions: I felt like the first few paragraphs lagged a bit (Nita staggering in 5 hours later tells me she didn’t get much sleep, and doesn’t feel good without the repeated details about the donut, if we already know about the donut). The blue sunglasses world part seemed to slow it down to me, too. Sandy slows things down a bit with some information rehashed after her interruptions, and I thought they covered Joey’s (lack of) conversation with Nick a few times (not sure if they did, but it felt like it).

    Just a nit-picky thing, but you mention Nita’s plate of carbs, and eggs and bacon (which they talk most about) aren’t carbs. The French toast and toast are, of course, but that’s only half the plate. I realize that it wouldn’t trip most people up, but it bothered me, so I’m adding in a teeny demographic point for what it’s worth.

    I’ll second Reb’s point that Nita took Nick’s lack of pulse more in stride than I would have thought. If we’re in her head, she should be a lot more freaked out, moreso than by the heat generation (though I understand that’s personally interesting to her because she’s always cold).

    It’s fun to read, but those are the spots I’d look at if you need to tighten it up. You, of course, are welcome to look where you’d like, and thank you for sharing it with us!

    1. I’ll second the egg and bacon thing. It occurred to me too, but I just kept going.

      And the pulse thing again. I know I mentioned it in my own comment, but maybe not clearly: shouldn’t the lack of pulse have gotten more of a reaction (like maybe wondering if there’s something more going on?)

  19. Ah, Gloriamarie, you are one of my fave Smartbitches commenters so don’t go because of one interaction.

    This is not one of the blogs where you can’t read the comments.

    There was a disconnect between asked and answered. It happens when we can’t read the inflections in words.

    Second try at posting. If thia is extra, just delete it.

  20. For me it’s not the length that’s the problem, it’s the lack of physical variation in what they’re doing. I had a playwriting professor once who said that if you were watching the scene play-out on television, you should be able to turn down the volume completely and still be able to catch the basic beats of the scene just by watching the movements that are happening. Obviously less true in a novel, but it really helped me when Nita stood up and checked Nick’s pulse. Whatever else you cut, keep that part.

    The Nick having the cell phone thing also really worked. That was the first thing I’ve read that made me believe they’re going to be partners, not just expect that they’ll end up partners because the book demands it.

    In general with the amount of information – it all works for me, so if something needs to leave, I’d look more at which pieces of information could go into other scenes instead, and then just sort of process of elimination it for what gets to stay in this scene.

    I also like that the Nick remembering stuff is clearer.

    Re: describing characters skin tones with food – Writing with Color has a good post about why it’s problematic enough to throw some readers out of the story at I’ve read posts like that often enough that now when ever I see someone’s skin color described via food, it throws me out of the story.

    Also, if someone said they were gutting something I valued I would not let them have my bacon. At least not until they had agreed to keep the things I wanted them to. Then I would graciously signal Sandy to bring more bacon at which point we can resume sharing breakfast. But people who are thwarting me do not get bacon.

    Maybe Nita is nicer than I am.

    1. I wanted to scream the entire time I was reading that.
      Okay, I understand why the food comparisons should be out, and even if I didn’t understand it, her obvious distaste for them would be enough. But pretty much everything she gave me as an example of how to do it wouldn’t work for me. A lot of it was just observation set into the narrative, almost omniscient/authorial intrusion. The stuff that might work called for the PoV character actively noticing and describing the character, like a love interest who’d come in from running with a flush on his cheeks.
      But when Nita sees Sandy, she thinks “Sandy,” not “coffee-colored,” so the whole mess is wrong for me. It’s like Dag is Asian, but there’s no way for me to get that in until he comes into the bar while Nita’s there and she pays attention because he’s green.

      “Nita ignored her to look at the guy from the back room. Young, like Rab. Taller. Slimmer. Dark hair. Korean, maybe.
      And green.”

      The first time Dag comes into the story, in Nick’s PoV, Nick doesn’t notice he’s Asian because he’s been working with Dag for centuries. Vinnie things Dag is there to beat him up and says, “I know how you people fight, I’ve seen Jackie Chan movies,” and Dag just looks at him as if he’s nuts. That’s it. Then later he comes in and Nita looks at him and thinks, “Korean. And green,” and goes on from there. That’s the sum total of my “Dag is from the Korean part of Hell” description. And that only happens because Vinnie and Nita have never seen him before.

      Now I’m wondering if maybe Rab can’t describe Daphne as black when he’s spilling the beans to Nick earlier about Dag’s crush. “Real pretty black girl at the diner.” Still sounds clunky. Oh and the kerchief wasn’t meant to indicate race, it’s a callback to Rosie the Riveter. Probably should mention that.

      This is why I don’t describe people. I’m having a helluva time with Nick, too Crap.

      1. Why can’t Dag say something like, “and her skin! Man, you should see it, just the prettiest shade of [x], like coffee with cream in it.”

        Also, and yes, this is me outing my racist thoughts, but I have friends that I will look at and have thoughts along those lines. For girls, they’re usually wearing some color I wish I could pull off, and I admire it in my head, then sigh, knowing my skin tone won’t work for that. Hair gets me too.

        1. Technically, because Dag is trying to get Rab to shut up about Daphne.
          From a character point of view, that’s not Dag’s voice.
          I get that the whole PoC = food thing has a bad subtext, so I’m okay with cutting that (actually, it’s already gone), it’s just bending the narrative to get in description that nobody in the scene would be thinking.
          I have never looked at my friends who were of a different race and thought about their skin. And I’m basically a racist since I was raised in an uber-racist social pool. It’s just hard to figure out how to get this stuff in, when what I really want to say is, “She’s black. He’s Asian,” because in the context of the story, it does not matter. There’s a race issue here, but it’s human/demon.
          I know diversity is important. But it screws up my narrative. I’ll figure this out.

          1. It’s probably a bad idea, but could you indicate race by describing something about her clothing color that would never look as good on a pale white person? All bad wording on my part, but I guess you’ll get my idea? But for the record, I actually liked and followed your original description.

            I am confused about whether Sandy is feeling motherly or lustful about Nick. I agree that there was too much Sandy, but I couldn’t tell you which of the Sandy bits were unnecessary.

            It would feel more natural for me if Nick’s questions about Nita’s parentage came as a followup to Nita’s exclamations about “her Grandpa’s bar”. To me, that would be a natural lead-in to questions about heredity and it threw me that Nick didn’t take them.

            I had no problem with Nick being modern. Possibly there could be a few odd references along the way to something historical, but honestly, I followed the storyline that Nick has been active since the Renaissance so I expected him to be modern.

            I also love the lines Reb loves. I also liked:
            ‘I’m remembering,” he said.
            “You really want to slosh it on,” Nita said.
            “Oh, good,” Sandy said. “We’re going to have him eating like a real man in no time.”
            “Heaven, then Hell, then Earth. Down.”

            I liked all the “I’m the devil” and explanations of hell/devil sections and don’t think they should be cut back. I also liked the paragraphs about the lack of bullet holes.

            I love the bit about pigs. I especially love the followup “Nita picked up another slice of happily-deceased pig.”

            I didn’t have a problem with the amount of bacon. I think 4 strips would be ok with the kind of breakfast Nita normally orders.

            I’d be ok without the sunglasses bits.

            While I enjoyed the entire scene, I felt there were many parts that were a bit (although not entirely) repetitive which include:

            1) Nick not looking real was mentioned maybe one more time than I needed.

            2) Nita refusing to be a partner/cooperate by answering questions (and why does she say “shortest distance between two points is never an argument”, give one piece of information and then go back to resisting answering questions?)

            3) The introductions in the beginning (of Sandy, Daphne, the diner, etc). It just felt a bit like I was being told everything twice.

            4) The food. While I adore many of the lines, somehow it was a bit too much.

            Things that left me confused:
            Why did Sandy blush and hesitate before leaving when taking the order?
            Why did Nick get hotter after the lunch discussion?
            The “son of a bitch” comment at the very end sounded too hostile for me on the 1st and 2nd readings because I thought they’d established a bit more of a relationship by the end of the scene. On the 3rd reading I established a tone that worked with their relationship, but it took work on my part.
            For some reason it confused me that Dag and Rab have been on Earth longer than Nick, but that’s possibly just because in earlier drafts they arrived at the same time? But if they’ve been there longer, where have they been staying?

      2. Things that threw me: coffee with cream skin that is also rosy, something simpler (just brown maybe) would work better for me; the number of times Nick took bacon from her plate; what felt like info dump to me as she was giving a history of the island as she explained who Mr. Lemon was; I could picture Daphne’s outfit but wondered why it was important; is the happy pig conversation needed?; what to order at Me. Shen’s felt skippable to me also.

        Loved Sandy saying they would make a real man of him yet; loved Nick putting off heat and her missing that heat when she moves back to her side of the table after taking his pulse; I liked Nick taking food from her plate, it’s a nice indicator of how comfortable they are with each other.

        Thank you for sharing your discovery if this story. It has changed so much from your initial reacting to the tv show Lucifer. Every time you post a scene I like it more.

      3. I think something like “really pretty black girl” would work as a description from Rab to Nick. In his voice, of course.

        I feel like I, as a white person, am often very reticent about wanting to describe anyone by race because it feels wrong to me. But it really can be just a descriptor and avoiding it becomes more obvious and ridiculous. (When I was in grade school there was ONE black girl in my class. I was trying to explain who she was by using hairstyle, outfit, ANYTHING rather than saying, “Oh, she’s the black girl over there.” It was incredibly awkward and probably unnecessary.) Thinking of it as just a descriptor, you can toss it in, maybe, and then what matters about her will still be her character and the way she interacts with Nita and Nick.

  21. Things I loved:

    All the one-liners: Reb’s list is my list.

    Love the ending of the scene where Nick seems to finally take Nita seriously and engages with her.

    I liked the way the mechanics of Hell and his particular mission (finding the hellgate) are explained. That could have felt like an infodump and instead it was natural.

    The pulse stuff. Nita’s lack of reaction didn’t bother me. My kids watch a magic prank show where all kinds of impossible things happen (and the host plays it straight), so I could see Nita thinking it’s probably something like that. Actually, an old friend of mine had a way of getting rid of the pulse in his wrist by sticking a wad of paper in his inner elbow that cut off the blood supply.

    Things that stopped me:

    As others mentioned, too many Sally interruptions.

    Too many heat references – I know it’s important to Nita’s character, but after the first few, it called attention to itself. Although I loved how you slipped in the fact that her French toast comes pre-buttered so it will melt – those sideways references are like little shining gems ☺

    This line: It must cost the earth – I’ve never heard that expression so I stumbled over it.

    I didn’t understand this “When you’d run through the two un-secret ways onto the island …“ The thought never gets completed. Is the idea that once Joey mentioned those two ways he would have revealed all the secret ways?

    The first part moved slowly for me. It picked up when Nick entered and started the ball rolling.

    Here’s an odd one: I somehow misread “her coffee-with-cream face rosy as always” as “her peaches-and-cream face rosy as always” so not only wasn’t Sandy black, she had creamy white skin, LOL! Lesson: You can’t stop your readers from being idiots. Sorry!

    Looks like this scene ends in a kind of draw, which works. But honestly, I don’t feel all that curious about what happens next between these two. I think the romance reader in me wants a little more emotional connection between them. It starts to happen during the cell phone conversation, where he uses leverage over her to keep her interested. That banter shows he thinks she’s worth his attention. But it comes very late in a long scene, and she dismisses him pretty much out of hand. Maybe if her response showed she was starting to give him some credit, that would give me something to wonder about and look forward to.

    Thank you for sharing!!!!

  22. Nothing really useful to say. I could see by the end that you’re right, it needs a little tightening – and I think people have pinpointed a few places where points have been made perhaps once too often. It reads well, though, and could easily stand. For me, the beginning lacked intimacy (I’m a romance reader, too, and it’s intimacy with characters that makes me happy.

    I’m a bit surprised that you feel the need to do this kind of line-editing at this stage – or perhaps that’s what my feedback really is: I don’t think there’s anything that seriously needs cutting here; a little tweaking is all that’s needed.

  23. That link rocks so hard. Especially part 2.

    Goes to show, we absorb what we read in terms of descriptors and regurgitate. Note to self “Must do better”.

  24. Okay, I haven’t been around here much lately because there were things to do and places to see (Barcelona in particular, where my husband took me for my 60th birthday). Also, I’ve just been through a round of galley reworks so I can feel the pain of having to cut things. So, basically just a few short comments:

    – I love your one-liners when they are funny banter. In this case, after a while I felt they were slowing things down.

    – Someone already mentioned that the whole breakfast topic was getting too heavy. I understand that you want to demonstrate Nick getting back into the joy of eating, but it kept interrupting the main issue There is so much that needs to be introduced because you need to stake out the paranormal aspect of the story. We wouldn’t have that problem if it was just Liz and Vince in their “normal” world at the diner, but this story has more levels to it: the “normal” vs. the “paranormal”, plus there is a crime which must be solved so the reader feels that everything might be an important clue.

      1. Ah, the Rockaway Mall. My parents used to own a restaurant there when it first opened in the 70s. I spent a lot of time there. My parents still live in the town.

    1. Liz and Vince? Aren’t they from the mystery series?

      Having just returned from Puerto Vallarta, I’m only a little jealous about Barcelona.

  25. This is my second time posting on arghink. I love this process and look forward eagerly to the completed book.

    a) First time I read it I missed entirely that it’s SANDY’s Diner, and also the “coffee-with-cream face,” so I imagined her as an employee. If she is the owner and African-American, I want her to have lots more agency. I look forward to the moment in chapter 13 where she says, “This is not happening in MY restaurant,” and pulls out the cleaver. Crushing on Nick seems to diminish her.

    b) Would an average white person notice when a black person flushes? OTOH, Nita is surely an excellent observer.

    c) A very tiny hitch when Sandy has walked away and “she” sighs, before I realized it was Nita.

    d) The couple paragraphs about Sandy’s daughter and Button seem extraneous to the flow of the story. And since there’s a character named Button, please be cautious about the number of times you use “cute.”

    e) There was a jerk when Nita took off her sunglasses and Nick had already complimented her eyes.

    f) I’m not sure about the questions about her parents. I understand that they’re needed at some point, but somehow they seem out of left field here.

    g) Nita seems too serious to make a joke about a used car agency. But she needs to loosen up by the end of the book. Too much information about Mr. Lemon, especially since it turns out he’s only an email address, and may not really be Mr. Lemon at all.
    h) Too much information about Joey.

    i) Yes, there is magically renewing bacon.

    j) There are other people like me who will be bugged by the return of the three-storied universe and the discussion of “Satan” versus “Lucifer.” But this is part of our folk theology. Sigh.

    k) There is some minor doubling up. Worrying about Nick’s con, Nick’s goals. Nita and Nick each repeat questions.

    Really all of my comments are picking incredibly tiny nits.

  26. Testing for nesting. Responding to Jenny about description of Daphne.

    It might seem clunky on the page but not in speech. At least not where I’m from. People here frequently use Black, White, Coloured and Indian because those are descriptors of physicality.

    It is on almost all our forms we fill, essentially for demographic purposes. We have legislated employment equity to undo 300 years of oppression. (Aside, I’m ok with not getting a job under such circumstances. Made 3 shortlists, I didn’t meet that criterion so no new job.)

    The USA and maybe even UK seem to have politicised description to the point of extreme euphemism lost in adjectives.

    FYI- Coloured here does not have the negative connotations it has in the US. It is a descriptor for mixed race individuals descended from colonists, indigenous people, indentured and enslaved people. There’s a funny song some of our famous musicians made called “Show dem, make the circle bigger” because that is a common club call here.

    Gah. This was NOT supposed to be a primer on SAfrican race descriptors.

  27. I do love this scene and can see why you’re having trouble reducing it.

    I missed the Coffee with Cream description on the first read, but I was thinking later maybe because I’m used to Cafe au Lait as a description.

    Sandy, for me, is intruding on the focus of the scene as pointed out above, but I like the counterpoint of the food arriving and distracting Nick.

    Love the re-appearing bacon (wish it would happen in real life).

    The part that I’m still stuck on though (and this isn’t part of this scene) is that I have a picture in my head that Nick is basically a walking skeleton with a ‘fake’ skin – and that his skeleton is physical whereas the skin is memory/illusion.

    Based on that picture, if he’s been shot 17 times then those bullets would have hit bone at some point. It hasn’t killed him – as, hey, already dead – but it would have chipped, put a hole in, or at least pushed him off balance, so he would have been affected in some way.

    The other part I can’t get my head around is: if the bullets passed through him to get to Joey and he would have been facing Joey when they were talking, in my head this means that he had his back to the street, which I can’t see him doing, not as an ex enforcer.

    These two are things are really picky, and probably not helpful, I just get stuck on them whenever the “shot 17 times” comes up…

  28. You have Daphne dressed Aunt Jemima and you’re fussing about coffee-colored skin? Woosh.

    I like the scene, have a few nits myself, but a hit of Crusie is worth a few nits. I’ll mourn the losses from this scene, but I understand when Crusie tightens the flow improves.

    I don’t mind the Sandy interruptions because she comes across as an interrupter to the Nita/Nick cross-questioning, part of the fun. I would like a tighter focus on what the questioning is and the determined way it’s gone about on both parts.

    A great joy for me in reading Crusie is the sweet, knowing use of the “continuous” verb form. Fun! The form adds dimension and texture.

    1. No, I have Daphne dressed as Rosie the Riveter. Jeez.

      See picture added at end of post.

      ETA: I went back and checked. It even says “Rosie the Riveter head scarf.” Where are you people getting Aunt Jemima?

  29. I like the dynamic building between Nita and Nick and I’m getting a sense of who they are and it’s entertaining as hell. They have some good banter and Nick trying to charm Nita and failing while Sandy is smitten is funny. I liked Nita’s first food scene where she’s savoring that first bite of her food I thought it emphasized how much comfort she takes in eating at Sandy’s. I also love the sequence when she finds out Nick stole Joey’s cellphone at the scene and she snaps into cop mode. I feel like this is when we see that the two of them are getting a read on each other and we see why they have to work together; Nick needs an insider to get what he needs and Nita is working outside of her authority on the case.

    I noticed a lot of repetition when I was reading this and was thinking this could be where you can shed some words. Most of the repetition is in their conversation about what happened at the bar but there’s also a fair amount of repetition about the food as well. I found I was stopping to go back and check that I had read something like this before and not that I was rereading a line, so it really stood out to me.
    Nita and Nick have an exchange early on where she asks questions about what happened the night before and then there are variations on the main points made repeatedly through the rest of the scene. There were 3 main points that kept popping up.

    “..What did Joey tell you?”
    “ We got shot.”
    “What information did you send him after? ”

    After this sequence Nita asks Nick about what he “sent Joey after” 8 times. I get why she repeats it the first couple of times, Nick is trying to deflect and Nita’s not having it but the other times read more like she’d forgotten she’d asked before.

    Nick repeats his statement about getting shot several times and they discuss him sending out his agents several times. I found it distracting that they kept having the same conversation, especially as it was interspersed with appearances from Sandy.

    While I liked the initial scene when Nita starts eating I found there were a lot of descriptions of one or the other cutting and biting their food which I felt disrupted the flow for me.

    Sandy asks Nick several times if he wants something and she beams at them just as many times. I can see where this is to show the influence Nick has but I found it just added to my confusion since it’s more repetition.

    Nick mentions Sadiel going missing two Hell days later and Nita doesn’t ask him how long that is in earth time which seemed odd to me. Maybe this is covered in an earlier scene and I missed it?

    At one point Nita prompts Nick with “Stuff?” which confused me because it felt like the sort of thing you do to resume a conversation by repeating the last thing the other person said but Nick never said it.

    I was also confused by Nita saying that Nick works for Satan in one paragraph but near the end she’s calling Nick the Devil so one of us is confused and it might be me but I think it’s Nita. I’m really uncertain as to whether Nita believes in supernatural occurrences and beings or if she’s humoring Nick despite having seen some obviously supernatural things. This could be because I’m coming in after the initial introduction for both characters.

  30. Late to the party, chiming in anyway. The one part that really threw me was when Nick took a bite of his omelet. Wait, when did that get there? I reread the food delivery twice, and then I went hinting, and oh , nick has coffee and a plate, and I really wish it had said breakfast or food or something, because I had forgotten all about it.
    But then I missed the skin tone thing entirely, and so… Sandy was white until I got to the comments. But since Nita’s world is blue, could Sandy’s clothes “pop” for her, especially next to her skin Tones? Everything’s drab, and then Sandy brings food and color (yikes, bad pun) with her?
    The eggs, the French toast, the bacon- by the end, it was ok, I got it with the food and the halvsies and the ordering already. Sandy, just bring out another order, lets move on. I just reread Agnes, as you do, and maybe it was the contrast in pace, because dang, the food our Agnes makes. But her syrup falls in thick ropes, and Nita’s just splashes and sloshes, and it feels incidental, like that’s what you do in a diner. So maybe the real stuff isn’t in the food, but in Nick’s reactions? And gods help me, I don’t need to know what’s for lunch, we’re not through with breakfast yet.
    So yeah, opinions, I have them, even late in the game. But yea! A new JC scene.


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