Rewriting the First Scene: The Devil in Nita Dodd

I just went back and looked at the first scene of Nita, to see how bad it was. It was bad. (Click here if you want to see how bad.). Nita was humorless, it read like I was setting up Chloe to Mort’s love interest (I wasn’t), there were a ton of names, and there was very little conflict. It sucked.

Then I read the latest version from this week, six years after the first version. It’s better, but I’ve rewritten it so many times that I think I can recite it in my sleep. It’s Nita vs. Button (Chloe) so at least I have conflict, Button trying to convince Nita not to get out of the car, and Nita determined to get out to help somebody. There’s still a lot of characters, and I’m not sure it’s focused enough (I think the conversation with Frank is still part of the Nita/Button conflict, but not sure about the conversation with Jason), and it doesn’t have any echoes of the last scene which I need to fix.

But I’ve been rewriting this sucker for six years so . . . The latest version of the first scene is below, should you want to compare what’s changed in six years. Short answer: EVERYTHING. Well, everything except the setting.

And of course, you all will weigh in on this in the comments. It’s the Argh way.

First Scene of The Devil in Nita Dodd, March 22, 2022

At half past midnight in the early morning of her thirty-third birthday, Detective Nita Dodd squinted through an ice-streaked car window at the worst dive bar on Demon Island, drank the awful coffee the stranger beside her gave her, and shivered while she tried to sober up.

Okay, she told herself. Do not share any ideas you’ll regret with the new hire who already thinks you’re an idiot lush. A good first impression, that’s what we’re going for here. Look sharp, be sharp. And don’t throw up in her car.

“Detective Dodd, what are we doing?” the woman beside her said.

Projecting normal as hard as she could, Nita turned to look at her new partner.

Detective Chloe Button. Young. Blonde. Round blue eyes behind rounder glasses. And moderately hostile in spite of her perky little voice.

Nita pointed her coffee cup across the street at the old brick row house, now glowing red in the darkness thanks to the pitchfork-shaped neon letters in its bay window. “We are across the street from Hell Bar, a once great dive bar in the old part of Deville, the main town on Demon Island, home of the world-semi-famous Devil’s Playground Amusement Park and many other tourist traps with equally stupid names. Welcome to the island.”

“Thank you,” Detective Button said, her voice flat.

“Judging by the size of the body on the pavement there in front, the bar’s owner, Vinnie Smith, has left one Hell for another. His criminal activity on the island is legendary, and he deserved to die for that neon alone, but that does not mean it’s okay that somebody offed him. We must find the off-ee.” No, that wasn’t right. “The off-er.” That didn’t sound right either. “The guy who killed him.”

“Detective Dodd, this is not our case,” Button said, with admirable focus.

Nita pointed her cup to the SUV that had crashed into one of the Mayor’s prized vintage streetlights a short way down the cobblestone street, a vehicle now partially blocked by a big guy in a jacket looming over a smaller guy in uniform. “This case undoubtedly belongs to the large detective yelling at the patrolman over there. That detective is Jason Witherspoon, who is not happy with me at the moment, so we are avoiding him. It appears he is also not happy with Frank Wu, although why he’s yelling at Frank is beyond me. Frank’s a good guy. When Jason is done bellowing and goes elsewhere, I will go into Hell Bar to find out what the hell is going on. And then I will fix it.”

Up the street, Jason Witherspoon turned and strode off, looking disgusted. Frank Wu shrugged and headed in the other direction.

“And there he goes.” Nita opened the passenger door, letting in more late March cold.


Nita stopped, one foot outside the door.

The new kid was frowning, probably trying to look stern and just looking cute. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to be here. This is not our case. And you’re wearing pajamas.” Detective Button paused. “They have poodles on them.”

“I know, but this is an emergency. Somebody in Hell Bar texted me for help, so I was in a hurry.” Nita closed the door against the
cold and pulled out the front of her huge black hoodie. “I thought this would obscure the poodles. And let’s be positive; I’m not wearing my bunny slippers.” She hesitated. “Although I am wearing my Bad Ass socks.”

“Pardon?” Button said.

“My Bad Ass socks. They say ‘Bad Ass’ on the back with arrows pointing up. I think they’re a good subliminal message. Or body shaming. I’m not sure which–”

“This is a crime scene,” Button said, an edge to her voice.

Don’t be odd, Dodd. Nita nodded, trying to look focused and sober. “Yes. Vinnie’s body was a dead giveaway.” She frowned. “I don’t think he’s the one who called for help, though. He’s more likely to just bash whoever was scaring him—”

Button took a deep breath. “Look, maybe it would be better if we talked about this in the morning and made a plan so I could provide back-up.”

Nita blinked at this evidence of clear-thinking. “You are going to be an excellent partner. I apologize again for drunk dialing you. When I got this mystery text that said the Devil was in the bar and the texter was afraid, I tried to call the number back to find out who it was and accidently hit your call in ‘Recents’ and–”

“I don’t care. I just don’t want you to hurt your career. Or mine.”


“Drunk. At a crime scene. In poodle pajamas.” Button enunciated each word carefully. “Not to mention, investigating the Devil, who I’m pretty sure is a myth.”

Nita nodded, trying for sober and adult this time. “I don’t usually drink this much. At all, actually. I had a tea toddy because I was sick from a bad doughnut this afternoon and then my mother called and said I had to have dinner with her tonight because it’s my birthday, so I had another . . .” Nita let her voice trail off as Button looked exasperated. “As for the Devil in the bar, when the amusement park opens in May, every asshat tourist in green make-up will swear he’s a demon, so that’s pretty much business as usual around here.”

“It’s March.”

Nita shrugged. “So we got an early asshat.”

Button frowned at her, looking like a disapproving dandelion. “I talked to some of the guys at the station this afternoon. I got the impression that things might be a little dicey for you there.”

Nita remembered the new captain scowling at her that morning. “Not so much.”

“Which means poodle pants are not a good move for you.” Button handed her a Styrofoam cup. “Nor is talking about the Devil.”

“You’re missing the point. Somebody is scaring somebody in Hell Bar. I’m against that. I must fix that.” Nita frowned at the cup Button was poking at her. “I just drank that.”

“I thought two might be good.”

“I hate coffee.”

“Drink it anyway,” Button said.

Nita blinked at the menace beneath the fluff. “Iron Butterfly. Steel Magnolia. Unobtainium Button.”

Button didn’t look amused.

Act normal, damn it. Nita took the cup, drained it, and handed it back to her, grimacing. “And now I must go.”

“Wait,” Button said.

“No.” Nita opened the door and put one foot out into the cold, and then stopped as somebody came to stand next to the car. “Hello?”

A patrolman stooped to look inside. “Ma’am, you’ll have to move . . .” he began, and stopped. “Nita?”

Nita nodded up at him. “Hi, Frank. Don’t tell Jason I’m here.”

“Uh,” Frank Wu said and then smiled past her. “Hey, Chloe!”

“Hi, Frank.” Button pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose and beamed at him like a little sun. “Could we just have a moment here? Detective Dodd is . . . showing me the island. You know. Because I’m new.”

At one in the morning? Nita thought. Like Frank would buy that.

“You bet, Chloe.” Frank winked at her and closed the car door.

Nita wrapped her hoodie closer around her and regarded Button for a moment. “How friendly did you get this afternoon?”

Button’s eyes slid away. “Not that friendly.”

“Frank was damn near licking the doorframe.”

Button shrugged. “Men like me. They say I’m cute as a button. Then they tell me things. So I go with it.”

Nita shook her head sadly. “Nobody ever tells me I’m cute as a button.”

Button surveyed her. “Well, you got that black helmet hair and those pointy eyebrows. And you don’t smile. You’re not working the cute thing.”

“I smile.” Nita smiled.

Button pulled back a little. “We should leave–”

The back door opened and Jason Witherspoon folded in his six-foot-plus bulk, bringing more cold air with him.
“So, of course, you show up,” he snarled at Nita. Then he frowned. “Is that my hoodie?”

Nita regarded him with disfavor over the back of her seat. “You leave it in my laundry, it becomes my hoodie. I suppose Frank ratted us out. Button, this is the partner who preceded you. Jason, this is the partner who succeeded you. Talk amongst yourselves while I think about throwing up in the street. Or maybe peeing. I’ve had a lot of coffee.”

“Hello, Chloe,” Jason said.

“Hello, Jason,” Button said cheerfully, doing the sun thing and making him smile.

“Really,” Nita said to Button.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Jason said to Nita.

Nita frowned at him. “Don’t say ‘fuck’ in front of Button. She’s just a child.”

“Are you drunk?”

“Yes. Are you annoying?”

Button looked from Jason to Nita.

“We used to be a thing a long time ago,” Nita told her.

“Seven and a half weeks ago,” Jason said.

“His mother celebrates our break-up nightly.”

Jason scowled. “I have a new girlfriend. Who is waiting for me while you delay me by screwing up my crime scene–”

“If all I have to do to screw up your crime scene is park in front of it, you have much bigger problems than me.” Nita’s head began to pound as Jason kept talking which would have made any normal person angry, except no anger, no anger, anger was bad. She reached for one of the soft peppermints in her bag to have something to crunch down on, thinking, I should leave, Button was probably right, but whoever had texted her from the bar had been afraid. Nobody should be afraid on her island —

“Are you listening to me?” Jason demanded loudly enough that Button pulled back away from him. “We know who did the shooting, the guy in the SUV, and he broke his neck when the SUV hit the lamppost, so that’s the end of it. I’ll file my report, and this will be over.”

“Shooting?” Nita bit down on her mint in her surprise and turned around again to see him better. “Shooting? With a gun? How the hell did somebody get a gun on this island?”

“I don’t know, Nita,” Jason said with exaggerated patience. “I just know we got the guy who did it and he’s dead.”

Nita frowned as she really looked at him now. He was lying about something, she could smell it on him–flop sweat, panic, guilt—and see the blood vessels under his skin expanding, making him go red. It was very unattractive and not at all like Jason who was usually terrifyingly confident and competent, so something really bad was going on. Damn it.

Plus this was a really bad first impression on Button, arguing with her obnoxious ex. Not professional, but still . . . none of this made sense.

She narrowed her eyes. “A lot of people didn’t like Vinnie, but I don’t see anybody smuggling a gun onto the island to kill him. There are so many easier ways–”

“Vinnie’s fine. He’s in the bar, drunk as usual, talking to a guy he says is the Devil.” Jason rolled his eyes. “Go home, Nita, you don’t belong here.”

Oh, like that’s news, Nita thought. Why are you lying?

Button tried to hand her a cup of coffee.

Nita frowned. “What the hell, Button, I just drank that.”

“I bought three. You were pretty out of it on the phone.” Button shoved the cup at Nita who ignored it.

“Well, I’m in it now.” She turned to Jason. “Vinnie’s inside? Then who’s that dead in front of the bar?”

“Jimmy Murdock.”

Nita went cold, even colder than usual, and straightened in her seat. “Jimmy? I just talked to Jimmy today. He gave me a doughnut this afternoon. I yelled at him because it made me sick. He can’t be dead. I haven’t apologized for that yet.”

“This case is open and shut,” Jason said, exasperated. “The guy in the SUV shot him in a drive-by and then his tire blew out and he hit the streetlight and died in the crash. Go home, Nita.”

Nita shook her head. “No. Nobody would kill Jimmy. He’s the nicest bouncer Vinnie’s ever had. This is another wrong thing. Nobody would kill Jimmy.”

“Well, somebody did,” Jason said. “And we got the shooter. Case closed. Now, leave.”

Nita set her jaw and concentrated on clarity. “Get out of this car so I can figure this out. This car is only for people who want to solve this crime. Like me.”

Button sighed and turned off the ignition. “And me.” She turned to Nita. “What did you mean by another wrong thing?”

“Not this again,” Jason said.

“Wrong things have been happening for the past year,” Nita told her, worry sobering her now. “Random vandalism, dumb graffiti about demons, people selling businesses they love and being really unhappy about it, so I’m thinking harassment, blackmail, extortion, but I can’t prove it because nobody will talk. And now Jimmy’s dead and somebody’s afraid in there–”

“This is not your case,” Jason said. “I’ll file a complaint if you interfere.”

Nita took the third coffee from Button in a show of partnership and drained it. It was vile. “If you’re not going to help,” she told Jason, making a face over the coffee cup, “go away.”

“Yeah, you’re good at telling people to leave.” Jason began, but then Frank Wu knocked on the window, and Jason got out and slammed the door behind him. He frowned down at Frank as the patrolman talked and then looked incredulous. He strode off, Frank behind him, and Nita turned back to Button.

“For the record, I didn’t tell him to leave. He left on his own when I wouldn’t agree to bear his children. Which–”

“I don’t care,” Button said. “I care about the shooter . . .”

She kept talking as Nita leaned back in her seat to get a grip on the situation. She’d made Jason angry which meant the new captain was going to be angry which meant she was going to get grief when she got to work when the sun came up, but this was not something she could let go. Jimmy was dead, somebody was afraid, things were wrong. Attention must be paid.

It was something Button could let go, though. The kid was new. No point in kneecapping her the first day.

She turned to Button, interrupting the little detective’s flow of questions. “Detective Button, something very wrong is happening on my island, this mess is part of it, and it is my responsibility to fix it. This will cause trouble with Jason, which will cause trouble with Captain Mann, which you do not need your first week on the job. Leave now and request another partner. Nobody will be surprised.” She handed Button her empty cup and opened the car door, bracing herself against the cold and the dark.


Nita stopped, one foot out the door, and looked back at Button.

Even in the dim light from the streetlights, there was a lot of steel in that blue gaze, and while the chin was round, the jaw was set.

Button pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose again. “I’m confused about what’s going on here, and I’m not happy that you’ve been drinking and you’re wearing poodle pants, but I’m coming with you anyway. We Buttons do not walk away from our partners.”

“Uh,” Nita said, but Button plowed on.

“I don’t know much about being a detective, so I’ll watch while you interview this Vinnie, and then we’ll go home and get some sleep, and then when we start work later today, we’ll be rested, and we’ll figure it all out.”

“Oh.” Nita said, taken aback. “Thank you for saying ‘rested’ instead of ‘sober.’”

Button shrugged. “Same thing.”

Nita nodded. She wasn’t sure what to say next, so she got out of the car, the cold night air hitting her like a shovel, and started carefully across the icy cobblestones toward the bar, Button’s car door slamming behind her as she followed.

Jason yelled, “Do not go into that bar.”

I’m goin’ into that bar,” Nita yelled back and then remembered she was faking sober and normal. No yelling. No yelling. Don’t be odd, Dodd.

Jason glared at her from across the street. “Go to hell, Nita Dodd!”

“That’s my plan,” Nita said, and opened the door.

115 thoughts on “Rewriting the First Scene: The Devil in Nita Dodd

  1. I hate to say this, but…why is it important that Nita show up drunk? Like I get that it was her birthday/she was off duty, what have you, but why is it so crucial we meet her when she’s drunk and maybe not doing so good of a job in this situation?

    1. At this point,I’m about down to “because I said so,” which is no justification at all. There are reasons it’s important:

      1) It shows Nita had a bad day so she had two drinks, which means she’s susceptible to booze.
      2) It’s the reason she misdials and gets Button instead of whoever texted her from the bar.
      3) It’s the reason she’s in poodle pajama pants.
      4) It’s the reason she thinks and talks the way she does in that scene.
      5) It’s motivation for her making a third drink in the later scene that’s crucial to the plot.

      Yes, I know that’s plot driven, not character driven.

      Character driven:
      1) Her mother calls her and she drinks.
      2) Even tipsy, she goes to save people.

      I also like that it makes her flawed and vulnerable, and strips away a level of sophistication. She’s blunt when she’s sober, but she’s not a blurter.

      Imagine this scene with her being professional. It not only doesn’t work, it wouldn’t exist because she wouldn’t have called Button by mistake, she wouldn’t have come out in pajama pants and Jason’s hoodie, and she wouldn’t invade his crime scene. She wouldn’t be there at all. This scene doesn’t exist unless she’s drunk.

      1. Hmm. I don’t like meeting a character when they’re not acting like themselves. If drink made her act a bit more like herself I would go for it, but meeting her as an unprofessional wacky babbler isn’t for me. The whole pyjamas thing seems wilfully manic-pixie-dreamgirl on top of everything else. I know from what you say that isn’t the case, but I wouldn’t get that from reading the book. I would prefer it if she just happened to be in the area having a drink or something, and they treated her as a potential witness while she disrupts the case. She could still say much the same things. They could call Button to take her home, so she could be there too.

        1. ” I wouldn’t get that from reading the book”

          That’s the key, right there. It doesn’t matter what I know, what matters is what’s on the page.
          Also I can give you a million reasons why I need that stuff, but it’s not about me, it’s about what the reader needs, which is story.

          Sigh. I’m never going to finish this book.

          1. Please please please finish the book! I came late to this party, but I want to read more. And I want books about Anna, Nadine, and all the rest you have cooking. I am sober, but I am greedy!

          2. I think this is the best version ever of the book’s opening.

            Most of your books start with a heroine who is behaving completely differently from the way she usually does — usually, the heroine is surprisingly looking for a man when she has just been dumped.

            Nita is like that, too. So is Macbeth. We barely see the outlines of the usual Nita, just like we barely see the greatest true-to-his-king warrior in Macbeth.

            What makes this version better than the previous ones is that it’s cleaner — the description of the drunkenness is cut yet has full effect. The scene’s power comes from what makes Nita sober up — that this event is a continuation of something evil that’s damaging her island.

            I’m sticking this in now before reading other responses. I can’t wait to read the entire book!

            Kudos, Jenny!

      2. Could you slot in a comment by Frank or Jason that this is not like her? Jason implies this is exactly like her.

      3. Her being susceptible to booze is necessary because it contrasts her not being susceptible at all to the delicious sparkly hell booze later on.

        1. Right, it’s a set-up for the scupper, but that’s something I need for the plot, not necessarily something the reader wants.
          My head was exploding so I switched over to Liz.

  2. I think you have 2 conflicts.
    1. Nita vs Button- stay in the car
    2. Nita vs Jason- leave

    1. I have a scene plot and a scene subplot that serves the main plot.
      Scene plot: Nita vs Button.
      Subplot: Nita vs Jason that (returning to the main scene plot) forces Button to take a side, and therefore puts her in danger with the new captain, which makes Nita tell her to ask for a new partner, and spurs Button to commit to their partnership.
      Jason’s a catalyst more than an antagonist.

  3. I agree with Nic and partially agree with Jennifer. I don’t like the drunk bit but she needs something besides her poodle pants as reason why Button doesn’t want her to get out of the car.

    1. Button gives her reasons:
      It’s not their case.
      They haven’t thought it through (let’s talk about this in the morning)
      Nita is unprofessionally dressed and tipsy.
      Her actions may hurt their careers.

  4. For me, it kicks in when Button says “Wait” the first time. The welcome to the island speech is good, but feels a bit expositiony to me.

    I buy Nita turning up tipsy (she didn’t know she was going to be called on when she had those drinks), although it feels like there should be more sense of urgency in her response to the phone call that overcomes the alcohol, the pyjamas, and the disapproving partner.

    I love the snark between Nita and Jason.

      1. It feels like the moment when Nita first starts to get out of the car, and Button says “Wait”, is when things start. Before that is sitting and talking, and given that Nita got a mystery call that someone’s scared and there’s a dead body there, it feels odd that she’s sitting still and chatting, even if she’s waiting for Jason to get out of the way.

        1. Krissie said to cut the “Welcome to the island” stuff, too, so I’m starting to think the scene is just too long. It’s 2800 words, which isn’t long for a first scene for me, but I think that’s the problem. Maybe.

          1. I find the “Welcome to the island” stuff funny and informative. Nita is giving the info that every visitor gets when she arrives on the island — it’s a different world. It’s a litany that every island child knows. I need to know that it as a reader.

          2. I’m late to this party so you may not see this comment, but I think Nita would’ve done the “welcome to this island” stuff on the drive there.

  5. I agree with Emily. The welcome to the island bit sounds like a brochure. On first reading, not knowing how snarky Nita is, it doesn’t read with sarcasm; just earnestness.

    I like the drunk bit. It gives depth to Nita. She’s a booze lightweight who can hold it together while drunk. Unusual enough to be quirky, amusing enough to get a chuckle.

    The interplay between Nita and Button is good. One can see the direction they’re heading in, especially when Button switches from “I” to “we”.

    The interplay with Jason is also good, albeit a tad strained. Feels almost forced. And how is Nita (and Button, for that matter) not amazed that he’s already dating someone new after 7.5 weeks?

    1. Some guys find somebody new before the break-up. I don’t think there’s a standard time, plus he’s clearly doing it to make her jealous. I think.

      1. I liked that detail. It felt like Jason making the point that he could get another woman, Nita’s loss, didn’t affect him at all, nope.

  6. I have confidence you are going to finish this book. You shot down our notions about not liking her being tipsy.
    It just has to come across in the scene and I’ve seen you write such things with skill I envy. You’ll get there.

  7. Here are my random thoughts: I latched onto the fact that Jason knew it was exactly seven and a half weeks since he and Nita broke up. There’s still a lot of angst there for him. We might assume that the new girlfriend is part of a rebound. While Nita says it was a long time ago, maybe also expressing angst, or anger?

    I also latched onto the “very wrong” theme, which sets up the whole book, right? Put it right out there in the beginning.

    This is better than the first version. That thing about the third body, and the waving and the confusion over who really got shot was a little much. This has more humor and snark, which I always revel in in your books.

    Were the poodle pajamas a gift? I can’t picture Nita in poodle pajamas. Or bunny slippers, although that adds to the humor. Maybe she has a whimsical side that we don’t know about yet?

    Frank seems extraneous at this time. That would be one less character and name to remember so early in the book. Frank could be there, but just in the background.

    So, a guy drives by the bar at the same moment the bouncer happens to be outside, so he shoots him, and then his tire just blows out? Is this a clue? Did someone shoot his tire? Had he been watching for the bouncer to come outside? Why was the bouncer outside all by himself? Did he go out for a smoke? The guy was driving slowly enough to get off a shot, but he dies when his SUV hits a lamp pole? This whole set up seems pretty gratuitous. Maybe we will get these answers when Nita goes inside the bar.

    Uh. Why doesn’t Button “know much about being a detective”? If so, why is she Nita’s new partner? Is she getting training? Is she being disingenuous? Is Nita not a detective?

    I apologize if these topics have already been discussed. I’m coming into this in the middle, so I don’t have the background. It’s so exciting to see how Jenny works, and how drastically things can change in the process. I’m already drawn into this story. I think the “many wrong things” really sets it up well and sparks curiosity.

    1. Reading this comment after the others is the first time it clicked for me (slow on the uptake here) that Nina showing up drunk might be another “very wrong” thing .

      Like it could almost make her list of odd things that have happened on the island that she would be drunk & at a crime scene.

      Not sure that’s relevant/helpful but I wonder if thinking about that &/or labeling it that way would be another way to help justify that’s why these weird confluence of things that happened to get Nina there in that state.

      And potentially provide an opportunity for more foreshadowing some of the ways all this “wrongness” is more personally & physically impacting her too.

      1. To clarify- I previously was focused on the “very wrong thing” in her physical condition being the initial donut sickness…not that she had drunkenly decided to try to help someone at a crime scene.

        But that she would let her need to help/protect overcome the reality that she’s not in the best condition to be that helper tracks for me.

        1. As much as you’re looking to jump into conflict… this reframing almost has me wondering if there’s maybe an establishing scene before this that we’re wanting as readers. (not a prologue)

          But if Button & Nita met slightly earlier in the day maybe when she got the donut from Joey – so that Button knows Nita isn’t a total hot mess generally and so you get that plot point in – but then we experience what she goes through from there to end up drunk at a crime scene that isn’t under her purview… we might better understand the effects of how weird that makes her at the crime scene later.

          An earlier scene might help you establish the “real” Nita and the “weird” Nita better, give her less tortured reasons to end up with Button driving her to the crime scene shoving coffee down her throat and let you be able to breathe a bit more in terms of what information has to be revealed at the crime scene.

          1. I think that would kill the pacing even more. What I need to do is get to Nick and Nita meeting faster. I think.

            I still think I started in the wrong place with Faking It. Should have started when Tilda and Davy were upstairs in Clea’s bedroom, searching for different thing. The Cute Meet if you will.

            But I don’t think I can do that here. (Thinking is not my strong point at the moment.)

    2. “So, a guy drives by the bar at the same moment the bouncer happens to be outside, so he shoots him, and then his tire just blows out?”

      Nope, the shooter was waiting for Nick to come out and shot at Nick.

      “Is this a clue? Did someone shoot his tire?”

      Nope, Nick melted it with a smite to keep him from getting away, didn’t mean to kill him. (Button and Nita notice the tire is melted when they drive by leaving the bar in a later scene.)

      “Had he been watching for the bouncer to come outside?”

      Waiting for Nick.

      “Why was the bouncer outside all by himself? Did he go out for a smoke?”

      Nick had asked him to find information for him, and they went outside so Vinnie wouldn’t interfere. (All of this comes up in the next scene and in the breakfast scene, so the reader doesn’t have long to wait to get clarification.)

      “The guy was driving slowly enough to get off a shot, but he dies when his SUV hits a lamp pole?”

      He hit the gas to get away, his tire blew out, and he hit the streetlight. He’d taken off his seat belt to shoot.

      “Uh. Why doesn’t Button “know much about being a detective”? If so, why is she Nita’s new partner? Is she getting training? Is she being disingenuous? Is Nita not a detective?”

      Button doesn’t know much about being a detective because she’s never been a detective. The Witherspoon in charge hired her and promoted her to detective because of her inherited skills, which she doesn’t know about yet. She was stunned to get the promotion, but she grabbed it because she wasn’t stupid.

      The real key here is when to release this information. Obviously, this scene is too long already, so I can’t put any of it in here, but the next question is “Are these questions something the reader will wait for, or will they throw her out of the story?”

      1. Whoa!! I am learning that there’s a lot more to this than on the surface. This is a supernatural story. All right, a lot more things make sense, now. I really am coming into this in the middle. This is going to be a wild ride! Can’t wait to see more. No wonder this first scene is so difficult to write. That’s exactly it: when do you give more information, and how do you fit it into the plot without it being boring exposition. Much of what I asked about didn’t bother me initially, but became an issue as I reread it. The pajamas puzzled me, but I assumed we’d learn more about Nita’s personality, and why she went to the scene like that, as time passed.

        1. Do not go away, Jan. Most of the people here have been reading this for six years but you are a New Reader. I need you.

          How could I not have set it up that this is supernatural? WTF Jenny?

          1. Oh, yes, thank you, Audrey, just what I needed, somebody with a long memory.

            Although now that I think about it, if I had just given up six years ago, I wouldn’t be in this mess now.

          2. This is in the tradition of horror. You don’t know what’s behind the door, or down in the basement, or lurking in the forest until it’s too late and you’re already sucked in.

      2. Thanks for your patience and for explaining all that. I really am jazzed about this premise.

  8. It’s much tighter than it was before. Having said that, could you just abandon this scene and start with the next one?

    1. I thought of that, too, since it’s the advice I give people a lot of the time.

      In this case, I can’t, because so much of the next scene rests on what happened in this scene. I’d end up trying to explain things that happened in the first scene and it wouldn’t work because the people in the bar don’t know what happened in the first scene. I can rewrite the first scene, but it has to open with Nita.

      The third scene is Nita walking into the bar and meeting Nick, and that would be a good place start, first meet, except sweet Jesus, the stuff I’d have to get in there would be impossible.

      So I think I fix this first scene.

        1. I’m thinking about posting the scenes as I do a last (ha) run through.
          That was kind of fun when I did the Surprise Lily stuff, although I was writing first drafts on that one.

  9. I loved it! I loved the snark, I loved the Chloe character descriptions, and the conversations between Chloe and Nita. It dragged a little for me when Jason got into the car, but I would happily read the rest of the book!

  10. Two questions:
    1) Why doesn’t Chloe question why Nita feels so strongly that it’s up to her to fix the problem on the island? Are we assuming that all cops are control freaks?
    2) When Nita misdialed and got Chloe, why didn’t she try again? A misdial is a strike, not an out.

    And a suggestion:
    Have Chloe express skepticism that Nita only had two drinks. Then Nita can admit she’s a lightweight–though not usually this much of a lightweight.

    It’s less subtle than your usual approach, but subtle doesn’t seem to be working.

    1. Chloe (Button) is cautious all the way through the beginning. She just got to town, she just met her partner, she’s not going to come on strong. Nita would, but Button holds back and watches.
      I don’t think Nita’s a control freak. Somebody called her for help and she’s a cop. What’s she going to say, “Sorry, I’m off duty, you’ll just have to be terrified.”

      She didn’t redial after Button because they talked and Button realized she’d been drinking, so she went to get her, picking up coffee on the way, so she could talk Nita out of interfering. She tried to talk her out of it on the phone and Nita was determined to go, so she said she’d drive. NONE of that is in the book because there’s already too much stuff in that first scene.

      I don’t see Button telling Nita she’s lying about how much she had to drink. It’s not in her character.

  11. Here’s another random question. What is Chloe wearing? It would be funnier if she was also wearing some kind of cutesie sleep/lounge wear in her hurry to get to the scene. And since Nita did not drive, (she opened the passenger door to get out) and had to wait to be picked up, then she had time to change clothes. Why didn’t she? This gets more and more interesting.

    1. That’s funny, I never thought about it. I don’t think I mention what Chloe is wearing all the way through the book. I’ll have to look at that.

      I think the only reason I mentioned what Nita was wearing is because it’s odd (as in “Don’t be odd, Dodd.” I think the only other time I talk about what Nita’s wearing is when she has to go clubbing with Nick to investigate something, and her sister gives her a sequined top, which kind of bemuses Nick and Vinnie because it’s so not her.

      Do I ever describe clothes unless there’s a reason? I’ve never thought about that. I just reread Maybe This Time, and Andie’s wearing an awful jacket in the first scene which she throws away at the first opportunity; Alice’s clothes get a little more time because Andie goes shopping with her and what Alice does with the clothes traces the arc of her relationship with Andie. Min in Bet Me had shoes, and changes her clothes as she becomes more adventurous, but I don’t remember going into detail on anything but the shoes, and they all played roles in the plot.

      Huh. I think the only time I mentioned Tilda’s clothes is when she got dressed to pretend to be an art dealer as part of a scam. I must do clothes when they’re part of the plot and ignore them the rest of the time because it doesn’t matter to me. I’m guessing because I never really looked at that. Maddie’s underpants are a symbol in Tell Me Lies. Mae’s suit isn’t hers in the first scene because she’s trying to scam Mitch, so it’s a costume. Tess and Nick have fights about her clothes, but that’s about their differences, not about the clothes (although she has a dress that I owned when I was writing it). Liz has twenty-eight T-shirts, but again that’s characterization, twenty-eight tees and one suit jacket.

      Crap, now I’m going to be obsessing about character clothing all night.

      1. You mention Lucy’s clothes in Getting Rid of Bradley, and I think it was Crazy For You where you talk about the dual wardrobe, and the bright underwear underneath if Quinn has to dress like a docker. Most of your books have pencil sketch descriptions of the clothes in them, and most of those are very telling about character, if not tied in to the plot. Actually, all the ones I can think of, I can give at least one item of clothing that I remember from it.

        1. Clothes, food and houses. There’s a strong sense, for me, of each of those as a very telling facet of character in all your books, Jenny, and I love that.

          1. Oh, good. That appears to be my default method of characterization. That and animals. Oh and thank you.

        2. Huh. I’ve honestly never thought about it. Not a clothes person in real life.
          I’m conscious I use animals to characterize. And food, although that’s mostly because I like to write about animals and food. Completely missed the clothes thing.
          Oh, and living spaces. I realized late in my career how often my heroines move to make a life change. Nita does, too.
          The thing about Button’s clothes really took me aback. I don’t think I ever describe her clothes in the book. Huh.

          1. On my goodness the hot pink dressers in Agnes, and the apron and anything LL had on. And Nadine’s Lucy Ricardo dress. Brenda at the wedding.

          2. I can’t remember a mention of what Margie was wearing in Fast Women, except the time she tried on one of Suze’s sweaters and loved it. But I can picture Margie, easily, because of her personality. It wasn’t needed. I loved the dog wardrobe in that book, though.

      2. I think you’re right about just mentioning clothes when they are part of the plot. Min’s checked jacket in Bet Me is a descriptor of her outlook on life. In Man Hunting, Kate arrives in a suit and silk blouse, and as she loosens up, she wears a cowboy hat, and cuts off her skirt, and dons the low cut halter top for helping in Nancy’s bar. In The Cinderella Deal, the focus on the white dress tells us how differently Linc views life, compared to the technicolor clothes Daisy prefers. I really don’t give a hang what the characters wear most of the time, but their clothes really do define them, and add to the understanding of how they interact with life.

  12. There are so many things I love about this scene—fun community, great banter, a very cool world and the promise of a supernatural mystery—but if I browsed it in a bookstore and didn’t know it was a Crusie, I’m not sure I’d buy it.

    Firstly, I’m not sure what story promise the scene is making. I think the title offers a fun supernatural mystery but then I’m reading for a strong character who’s going to spark off Nita to shape that story and make it crackle. Most promising is the guy in the bar who says he’s the Devil, but he only gets a brief aside in a scene full of characters and banter. If the book is principally a cute, snarky buddy story about Nita and Button plus their community then the scene sets that up beautifully and it’s fun but I’m not desperate to read on.

    Secondly, I’m not invested in Nita. I don’t mind whether she’s drunk or sober, or what she’s wearing, but she’s all smart remarks and no action. I don’t care whether she gets out of the car because I can’t picture her doing anything fascinating when she gets into the bar.

    If the opening scene was Nita in her poodle pajamas powering into the bar to find out what was going wrong and fix it, shrugging off all opposition and facing down the Devil, then I’d have to read on.

    Having said all that, since I DO know it’s a Crusie, I’d preorder it and read it as soon as I could download it 🙂

    1. The thing is, I agree with you in theory and principle. You’re right. The best romances start with the meet.

      And yet I often write books that show the heroine in the first scene and the hero in the second to set up expectation when the meet. That pretty much relies on the romance readers who knows Character In First Scene will meet Character in Second Scene, as she settles in for the ride. Outside of romance, maybe not so much, although I think that dropping “the devil is in the bar” and then having Nita open the door to the bar pretty much sets up the meet expectation.

      So my first thought when I looked at it again was to do that, cut the first two scenes and start with Nita going into the bar. And I cannot make it work. It’s too boring, Nita looks like a humorless bitch, and everything about the bar is a mystery–who’s Nick? Who’s Vinnie? Who are the two guys who work for Nick? Why is the woman sitting at the bar so nervous and why does Nita tell her to go home? Who’s Jimmy? Who’s Mr. Lemmon? Why is that brown bottle important?

      By the time I find a way to get all of that in that third scene, it’s dead in the water. I can reconceptualize the beginning–okay, there’s no shooting, they’re not in the bar, Nita hasn’t been drinking, etc.–and cut the first 15,000 words or so, but that will shift everything in the book, and I’ll dump the book before I do that. There’s a point at which if you keep writing, you kill the book.


    2. “Firstly, I’m not sure what story promise the scene is making. ”

      I’ve been thinking about this and you’re right. (I listen to you guys, I really do.)

  13. I think you’re compressing too much information in this scene that is not necessary yet. We don’t need her mother, just a mention she drank due to family issues. We don’t need the name of the new Chief yet. We do need Jason and Frank, and Button and Nita (whom I adore). And maybe it’s just me but Nita doesn’t sound not-sober. But then I rarely drink and a single drink makes me so giddy a bartender refused to serve me another until I waved my hotel room key for upstairs of the bar. Nita can carry us into the scene, Nita and Button. Nita keeps digressing from Get Into That Bar — is that distractibility common when drinking? I’m more used to single-minded drive when there’s an issue to answer.

    I finish this scene with a huge NEED to get inside that bar and see what’s happening in there. Which is great. And I like Jason.

    1. See, but saying she drank due to family issues is much less interesting than “I drank because I have to see my mother tonight.” The specific is always more interesting.

      I think the affects of drinking depend on the drinker. I get loud and uninhibited (which is why I never drink now). Some friends of mine get slower and slur their words. Nita isn’t as tactful drunk as she is sober, and she shares more than usual; drink basically relaxes her. Which come to think of it is what it does to me. Badly.

      But I agree with you that there’s too damn much in this scene. So the “welcome to the island” gets cut definitely. I’ll have to go through and cut lines and phrases to clean it up.

      1. The one line that threw me out (bet it’s a darling) is the sentence that ends with ‘Unobtanium Button’. I assume it’s a film or TV quote, but I don’t know it, and the ‘unobtanium’, especially, sent me off trying to work out what you meant.

        1. Yeah, that’s probably a bridge too far. It’s from Avatar, a movie I haven’t seen. I’ll cut it when I start hacking.

  14. I am having a hard time being objective. I tried to stay away from Nita as the story was progressing because I want to read the book in it’s entirety. I love the first time through a book. But I have picked up bits of the plot on the way, so now I Know things.

    Anyway, I trust you, Jenny, implicitly and will read anything you write. I trust you not to take the story somewhere I don’t want it to go. I think that if I was reading this cold for the first time, I would sort of breeze through it to get to the meat of the story. That’s not a criticism, it’s just how I am, and I would miss a lot. Like, obviously the crime scene is fishy. A bad donut is fishy (how does one mess up a donut?) Button’s behavior is fishy. Why does she keep pushing coffee on Nita? Three cups seems like a lot.

    I don’t mind that Nita is tipsy. I like her. I like parts of Button. She could go either way as a character. It’s too soon to tell: likable villain or slightly irritating good person? I don’t like Jason much, but I am sensitive to the kid issue. I doubt Nita was ever less than clear about her opinion on that topic, so he was probably trying to wait her out or throw down an ultimatum…

    Anyway, I would pick up the book and plan to read it all the way through. The opening scene isn’t usually make or break for me. That comes in the middle and usually depends on the romance or the conflict arc.

    1. Doughnut make people sick if there are iron filings on them and the people aren’t completely human.

      Button gives her a cup of coffee, waits to see if that’s made her more sober, gives her another one when she’s still babbling, gives her a third when she’s arguing with Jason in hopes that will keep her from antagonizing Jason more, etc. Button is a planner and a watcher, which makes her a great partner for Nita who seizes the moment and charges in.

      1. The doughnut bothers me too. I mean, you (obviously) have a backstory for the doughnut, and the reader eventually will find out about the doughnut, but at this point, the doughnut would be the very last thing that I would think of as being “off” if I was feeling queasy. ‘Cause as Lupe says, how can you mess up donut? (Yes, we know you got it all figured out, but we only get this, what four chapters later?? ) Does it absolutely have to be a doughnut?

        Also, if I am feeling queasy because I have eaten something that doesn’t agree with me, the last thing I am going to do and dump alcohol on top of it to make me feel better. I mean, it just seems so wrong. If you’re feeling nauseous, you go for something soothing, not alcohol which would just make it worse. (The tea without the toddy…)

        And then three cups of coffee on top of a nauseous stomach? Heck, the acid from chugging three cups of black coffee would make me barf even without a “bad” doughnut. 🤪

        I mean, this is the opening bit of the story and this is where we should get sucked in — characters are great, dialog is, as usual, zippy and so, but the donut-alcohol-still more alcohol just seems, well, a bit unbelievable.

        I too will buy and read because I love your stories, and I have re-read them so many times that I have ended up buying multiple copies of pretty much every book. But this one so far just hasn’t really grabbed me and a lot has to do with drunk Nita at the beginning. I know you want drunk because you want the coffee stuff, and I would certainly plow through this first bit full of faith it’ll get better and I’ll get pulled into the story. As I inevitably will!

        (I wish her brother was still in there, sigh.)

  15. I’m a new commenter here although I read all the time. Hi!
    Anyway, if I read this scene I would DNF right away. Sorry Jenny, I love your books. But it is TSTL, plus really beyond the bounds of my beliefs anyway, for a cop to show up at a scene drunk and in pajamas. Instant suspension and/or firing. I would have a terrible time respecting or wanting to know more about such a heroine. Sorry, I really do love your books!

    1. I hate to be a naysayer too, but I’ve worked with a number of police departments over the years, and if I read this scene without knowing the author I’d drop the book too. Nita is just being irresponsible and unkind. She sounds like somebody who thinks she cares about other people (if they’re on the phone saying “help”?) but who treats her brand new subordinate partner really badly. She accepts several coffees from her without even thinking “huh — new kid — probably won’t get her first paycheck for at least two weeks — better hand her a fiver for the damn coffee,” and does one thing after another to jeopardize the partner’s chances to succeed in what — let’s face it — is still a male profession.

      The fact that Jason is of equal or higher rank and (a) she’d dated him (very bad idea), (b) she badmouths him to a new kid, and (c) she challenges him directly on one of his assigned cases in front of somebody else all make no sense for a seasoned cop. The arrival at a working crime scene in embarrassing clothing is just a stupid rookie mistake that a good cop wouldn’t make. Jeans & a stained T-shirt maybe. Joggers or workout clothes sure. But not bunny slippers & decorated pajama pants.

      Plus she just doesn’t act like a detective. I don’t care what plays on TV as a detective — I’ve never known one who wasn’t basically quiet, observant, tight-lipped, and really really aware of the basic rules that cops have to pay attention to — rules of evidence, laws of search & seizure, and above all, careful treatment of crime scenes & the people in them, because if you f___ up the small stuff, you can ruin cases fast.

      And Nita just strikes me as kind of an entitled, self-centered Donald Trump type. I’m so sorry to say this about a Jenny book draft that has so many other fun & interesting things about it, but I don’t like Nita, and on top of the police issues I have with her world, that would make me abandon this book as a naive reader.

      Sorry!! I’m just awfully sorry I had to do this comment, but that’s my reaction.

      1. This is the first of all the Cruise books where I don’t particularly like the main character at the start of the book. She leaves me cold. I may learn to like her, but the beginning here is not so auspicious. I know she’s supposed to be odd — Tilda was odd and quirky but likable, so was Daisy, so were the others. Nita, well, the odd is there. (I understand why you had to axe her brother, but he did make her more approachable in the opening bits…)

        Anyway, do what you need to do to get this book done so you can go on to finish up Surprise Lily or the follow-on to Maybe This Time or any of the others you have in the pipeline… 😁 I’m about due to have to buy new copies of your old books because they’re falling apart again.

      2. Good points, but I think this sets up the premise that she is not normal, and this small town police force is not normal, and they are dealing with abnormal behavior. It seems like they are in survival mode, trying to keep some kind of order, and rules of evidence just slow that down. They are living in a different reality. But, what do I know? I just got into this morass!

  16. I like it a lot, but a lot of the opening seems umm… filler? I mean, I know it’s not filler. But if this is a romance, then the main plot is Nita and Nick. Everything else is a sub-plot, right? As a reader, I’d skip past all of this to the scene where Nick and Nita are on page together.

    I guess I’m saying that I’d kick off the main plot before layering in the subplots.

    Also, it’s bonkers that I’m critiquing a Jenny Crusie story when I’d pay money to read your grocery list.

    1. It’s not bonkers at all. That’s what we do here. I use you all for sounding boards.

  17. Trust your instincts, Jennifer Crusie. I like every word of this revision.

    Some of the comments and what-ifs strike me as coming from those who don’t yet know what lies ahead. Beside liking every word, I like each detail. Nothing but good times ahead.

    Please do write on.

  18. I have to say I am more interested in Button as a character. She’s new to the job. She has a new partner that shows up at – not her crime scene – drunk. People find her appealing and she is willing to use that to her advantage. There is a lot going on and she takes it all in and says “I’m confused about what’s going on here, and I’m not happy that you’ve been drinking and you’re wearing poodle pants, but I’m coming with you anyway. We Buttons do not walk away from our partners.” I want to see how Button handles all the crazy that is bound to happen. I read the first draft a long time ago, but haven’t read any of the others since then. This time, I feel invested …in Button. Probably not helpful, but true for me.

    1. No, I’m good with that. Button gets the subplot romance which is mostly fun, more fun than Nick and Nita, but they’re not supposed to be fun, they’re supposed to be the deeper romance. I like Button, too, but Nita is the one I find interesting, probably because she’s the most like me. Not me, but I’d wear pajama pants in an emergency, too. And I have bunny slippers. And bad ass socks. And a driving urge to fix things. Like this book. Argh.

      1. WHERE DO YOU FIND BUNNY SLIPPERS? I was obsessed with them after Bet Me. Sorry. I know this is irrelevant.

        1. You used to be able to still find the website where the ones described in Bet Me were sold, even after they stopped selling them. Don’t know if it’s still there but they were truly to die for!

  19. I think part of what makes my take on the scene different from that of so many others is that I need the context that the car conversation gives. I need to know who everyone is, what they are doing, and where we are. My brain does not like to be dropped into the deep end.

    I like the Welcome to the island moment because it tells me so much: this is a small-ish, probably slightly insular community that relies on tourist dollars and probably resents the hell out of them. Tourists explain why they have so many cops.

    Nita doesn’t need to change out of her poodle pants because she knows that everyone she’s going to interact with, outside of Button and her opinion doesn’t matter yet, already knows she’s a smart, determined detective and she can shut them down if they give her grief.

    Nita is a cop because it’s the simplest way to protect her home. Button, on the other hand, is a career cop and comes from at least 2 generations of career cops. Her attitude is completely different and not just because she’s the new kid. She knows How Things Are Done and Nita is not it. That wars with her beliefs about partners and since she’s stuck with Nita, she’s going to make it work. Just like she makes being cute work. Button is ruthless and no one should get in her way. Button did all the work in group projects in high school because no one else was going to bring her down, even if she did resent it that everyone else got the A too.

    There’s all kinds of gold in the Jason bit too, including the sense of unease that something is not right at the police department because a detective isn’t concerned about how a gun was brought onto the island. Jason doesn’t say he doesn’t know how a gun got on the island *yet* implying that he’s going to be investigating that, he just does not care.

    Now that I have context and I know who everyone is, I’m ready to go into the bar and meet the early asshat who may or may not be the Devil.

    That’s just my take on it, my brain is a little off kilter and I know that.

    1. That’s exactly what I was going for. Maybe I’ll just send you the finished book and forget about publishing it.

  20. I have read every scene you have posted from Nita and this is the best one yet. (Has it really been six years?) I love the snark and the characters, and I am bursting with questions that only reading the rest of the book will answer. I love the poodle pajamas and Bad Ass socks, and the impression I get is that Nita does not usually drink enough to get drunk, these are just unusual circumstances.

    Would I buy this book just from reading this scene? Oh, hell yes. I would snatch that book off the shelf so fast it would leave skid marks.

    1. Okay, I’ll send the book to you, too.

      Six years is too long to work on a book. Of course four thousand characters are too many for one book, too.

  21. I would…and have….buy any book with you as author…your books are timeless and have gotten me through many a long night by immersing me in other worlds!!

  22. So, Jenny, I love your work and I will line up to buy anything you care to put out, IF and when you care to! No pressure one way or another!!!

    In terms of the above scene, this is just MY opinion. I know some of my esteemed Argh colleagues have different ones. So, feel free to keep or toss my comments, especially if I am overstepping any boundaries!

    I do think this scene is a lot tighter now, and some of the dialogue is really fun! You do great dialogue, Jenny! However, the scene seems like it’s trying too hard, and you’re cramming too much info into it.

    Also, I really don’t like the drunkenness, or the pajamas. It makes Nita seem really unprofessional and unlikeable. Which is sad because I want to like your romantic lead! Moreover, the pajamas are illogical because, as someone already mentioned, Nita could’ve just thrown some clothes on while waiting for Button to arrive.

    I wonder if you really need the drunkenness or the pajamas? Maybe save them for a scene later on?

    In terms of how to do without the drunkenness, from what I seem to recall from earlier readings, the police department is corrupt, right? Including Nita’s boss. Can’t the first, very brief, scene be a panicky phone call for help to Nita from someone at the bar (who knows she’s the only one in the PD who will help)? Can’t Nita then call her new partner Button for a ride because Nita’s car is in the shop, and Nita’s usual people to call for a ride are all unavailable? Can’t there then be some comment from Button that Nita is not on duty, that Jason is the one on duty, that this is therefore Jason’s case, and that their boss has already warned Nita (for reasons nefarious and otherwise) from interfering in other detectives’ cases. Can’t Nita then get Button to buy into the partnership and drive Nita to the bar by telling her that it was Nita, not Jason, that was called for help, and there was a good (but perhaps odd) reason for that which Nita will tell Button shortly? Can’t Jason behave so ridiculously and/or atrociously to Nita at the scene that it pushes Button further into partnership with Nita?

    If so, why do you need Nita to be drunk? Seems to me you already have all these elements and this is enough to get Nita and Button where you want them without the drink and pajamas.

    1. I need Nita to be drunk because . . .

      She normally would not be this tactless, especially with Jason.

      I need to show that she’s had a Very Bad Day and not coping.

      I need a vulnerability there to get her and Button plus the formal introduction. Button would not feel superior to Nita if Nita were sober.

      I need Nita to make the mistake of mixing herself a drink in the bar, which is a major turning point (I know, that’s for me, not the reader).

      I need Nita to be drunk for her to do what she does during the home invasion.

      Basically, if Nita is sober, everything changes. You change one major thing in the first scene, and the whole ball of wax falls apart. Remember when we talked about first scenes? First scene eliminate 95% of all story possibilities. If Nita isn’t drunk, I gain some story possibilities, but I lose story possibilities that are crucial.

      1. This is YOUR book. If you feel that strongly about it, then go for it! Just a quick note, you’re talking about Nita’s normal. Which you know but the reader doesn’t. If we had a baseline or normal for her, we might be more understanding or forgiving of the drunkenness and unprofessional behavior. But we don’t; for all we know this IS her normal. And it doesn’t seem very likeable.

        On a related note, Georgia’s idea, below, is intriguing. I, the reader, might be more forgiving if drunk Nita just rushed out to respond to a friend’s urgent call for help. Although I’d be wondering why Nita didn’t also call the “office” for formal backup, if the call was so urgent and distressing that Nita had to rush right over. It all depends on what they said in the call. But, maybe that’s the way Button gets involved. Nita says to Button that she needs a ride and some informal backup because she’s not ready to escalate to an official request for backup but at the same time she doesn’t know what to expect…

        Either way, I still don’t buy the jammies, lol.

  23. I seem to be in the minority in that I like that Nita’s drunk. It brings her guard down, opens her up further than she usually would be, which is helpful for establishing a relationship with the new partner fast. It’s made clear that she’s not on duty and is responding to a private call for help directly to her, not the PD. Maybe all that’s missing there is a remark that she wasn’t expecting a crime scene? Would that help people get past the coming out in your pyjamas in an emergency after you’ve had a drink part?

  24. To me, this sounds like the opening scene to a typical (long-awaited) book by my favourite author. If Nita was straight, instead of being drunk and wearing poodle pyjamas, she wouldn’t be classic Cruisie.

  25. Tighter is good. Even tighter would be…gooder? Because yes, it felt slow until Jason got in the car. The thing that really made me go “oooh” is how Nita can tell he’s lying.

    Looking at other comments, seems like what’s working is the Button “wait” three-beat (although I think the second beat is too soon for Nita to see steel) and the convo with Jason. Frank adds nothing – we see Chloe charm Jason, so that’s covered without Frank.

    What if you get to those bits faster? An opening visual of pajama-clad Nita starting to get out of the car would catch me.

    Good luck! Surely you know we’re all counting on you.

  26. Since Wednesday, I’ve been thinking about why this scene does feel bogged down for me.

    I’m a fan of the poodle pjs and the socks. But poodle is mentioned 5 times in this short scene. It’s become a bone of contention between Nita and Chloe, so, for me, it kills the initial humour. I think if Chloe brings up the pjs and Nita responds and both of them don’t argue about it any more, you would keep the humour in that initial scene. The same with Nita being drunk. Nita was not supposed to be on duty and is only drunk because of the bad doughnut. I keep wanting to tell Nita to stop apologising and being so hard on herself. Yes I get why Chloe is not happy, especially as she is career driven, but Nita has explained that this is not her normal behaviour and again she wasn’t supposed to be on duty! I’m a fan of Nita but I want to slap Chloe, but I’ll come back to that later.

    There is a repetition of cold, hell and coffee, too, which bogs down this scene for me. I’ve been fortunate to be a member of the Argh community for 5 years and so have read several drafts of this story. I know that Nita has a metabolic problem and that Nick brings heat into her life, in more ways than one. But ‘ice on the window, shivering, March cold, closed the door against the cold, Nita went cold, colder than normal, and cold night air’ is a lot of mentions of cold in such a short piece. I understand that Nita feels the cold in a way the other characters don’t, but Nita is not just cold because of the weather. I want to shout: Chloe put the heating on in the car and the defroster so you can stop the ice from building up on the windows. Jenny you are the queen of dialogue, could you not do a scene with Nita wanting the heat increased in the car, which would baffle Chloe because Nita has on Jason’s thick jumper and those warm pjs, whilst alerting the reader that Nita has this problem to which Nick will be the answer.

    Coffee is mentioned 7 times and 2 of those times it’s used as a pointer. For me, the continuous reference to the coffee kills the joke. I like the fact that Nita is drunk and Chloe keeps giving her coffee to try to sober her up, but maybe the third coffee could be given in the bar so it doesn’t all happen in the car during that short period of time. I also like Nita’s responses to Chloe as she keeps giving her the coffees.

    Finally, for me, Chloe is bitchy. She has only just met Nita, yet she tells Nita that she knows that Nita is not popular right now at the station and comments on Nita’s appearance, whilst admitting that she uses her own looks to get men to do what she wants. I understand Jason falling all over her, but Frank too. I would understand if some of the characters were shy or intimidated by this new, beautiful and confident woman joining the force, but cute was not the adjective that came to my mind. I don’t mind Chloe having these opinions, but in the earlier drafts she made these observation about Nita much later after she had gotten to know her.

    Keep going please because I really want to read this book.

  27. It’s so interesting to me everyone’s different perceptions as to whether this is slow pacing or not.

    I feel like there’s so much story & information coming at me I can’t quite keep up with it all without going back and re-reading to get it all straight. (and I’ve been reading since the first iterations and should already know a lot of this stuff) So it doesn’t feel slow to me, if anything I wouldn’t mind a little more breathing room for some of the information to unfold as I try to figure out where I am and who I’m with and all of what they’re dealing with.

    Is it just because the car isn’t moving and they’re literally sitting there that it feels slow? And if they were having the conversation as they drove up, and then saw the crime scene and parked and then had the people in and out of the car and then got into the bar the physical action would be building too ?

    Or is this pacing questioning just back to some of what you had struggled with earlier in terms of whether the main plot of this story is a romance that starts with Nita & Nick and has a supernatural mystery subplot or if it’s a buddy cop investigation into the supernatural weirdness happening on the island that begins with Nita & Button and has a romance subplot?

    I hope it goes without saying, that any comments I make aside – I am all in on Nita and this story ultimately. I almost hate commenting because it feels like we’re just making it worse for you, and getting so invested in obsessing over pieces in isolation when it could be that as a larger whole, it works.

  28. As Button cuts off Nita when she starts telling her about why she drank too much/what she drank, it wasn’t obvious to me that the 2 tea toddies she mentions before being cut off were all the alcohol she drank.

    The off-ee, off-er confusion makes her sound quite drunk. So does taking the time (off-screen) to talk enough with Button that she decides to pick Nita up (and for Button to pick up 3 coffees-to-go on the way), but not managing to put on some pants in the minutes this must have taken, before heading out to help.

    Unless Button and her car and the coffees were already at Nita’s door when she misdialed, there is time to put on pants, and that is usually a very strong impulse before leaving the house.
    For Nita to still be in pyamas, and coming across as drunk enough to need 3 coffees on the phone to Button, implies to me that she is very, very drunk, has knowingly drunk enough to incapacitate herself to this extent (or maybe an alcoholic, if she can’t regulate her alcohol intake), is at the moment quite incapable of doing a useful job of helping anyone, and also quite incapable of correctly assessing her own capabilities, is stupidly headstrong and insisting on injecting her drunk presence into a scene in order to “save someone” while on-duty police are already there; when adding very stupidly drunk extra participants into any kind of trouble is not likely to make things better, as I expect all police officers would agree with.

    Altogether it means I get a very negative first impression of Nita, her capacity for self-reflection and self-control.
    After this first scene, I am not inclined to ‘root for’ Nita.

    There might be mitigating circumstances:
    – if she really only drank two alcoholic beverages and didn’t know she was such a light-weight and that a second toddy would make her so very drunk;
    – and if she knew the responding officer would not do a good job of protecting the person who called her for help;
    – and she tried to mitigate the effects of her drunkenness, to get other help sent, to send in Button to talk with the one who phoned her, take extra care thinking out what to do because she knows her thinking is impaired, maybe talking it over with Button, instead of both sitting and waiting for the responding officer to leave and then insisting on rushing in personally, in her pyamas.

    I know you want to get to the first meeting fast, and you want conflict in your scenes, but I do feel that getting to know the characters is important, without immediately setting them off on the wrong foot because we see her at her worst before we see the real Nita.

    If this bad impression is immediately followed by a good impression from the sober, intelligent ‘real’ Nita that might be quick enough to hang on for that. But the next scene will be a follow-up of this one, with Nita still drunk and irrational.

    I understand that for some reason you find it really essential for her to be in silly pyamas, but it just sets her character too drunk, too negatively for me from the start. Not that Nita wears silly pyamas, but that she didn’t put on some quick clothes while Button was on her way to pick her up, and then still insists she personally needs to interfere in whatever is going on, because she feels she is better capable of doing so than e.g. Frank or Button, who are both sober, on the scene, and her direct colleagues.
    Could she not have quickly put on some really silly outdoor clothes while waiting for Button to arrive? Grab the first thing off the shelf or the laundry pile, put on a silly neon Hello Kitty T-shirt and bell-bottom hippy pants, or a glittery birthday skirt and those sneakers with lights in their heels, or purple exercise pants with fresh tomato sauce stains and the high heels she’d worn for her birthday or whatever?

    The dichotomy of extreme urgency – no time to put on pants, something is wrong, I need to go in there now, this can’t wait until tomorrow – with taking the time to talk with Button on the phone, waiting for her to get 3 coffees and come pick her up, then sitting in the car waiting for the attending police officer to leave, then sitting in the car some more for conversations with both attending officers as well as Button; all that doesn’t jibe well for me.

    Perhaps it would all work better as a flashback. Start with Button and Nita talking things over the next morning, soberly and rationally, then flash back to what happened. Then we get to meet sober Nita before drunk Nita, and you don’t have to cram too much explanation into what is going to be the start of the action.

    Sorry, I am not a writer, so maybe I’m being stupid here. Ignore whatever doesn’t sound reasonable, as you’re the professional at this.

  29. I know I’m late to the party here, but I’ve been mulling this scene over, and I think I’ve finally put my finger on what I feel is missing: I don’t have a good sense of Nita’s thoughts, or her attitude toward the events, and when I went back over the opening scenes of some of my favorite novels of yours, that’s what I really clicked with. Sometimes it’s the italicized thoughts of the character (generally snarky), sometimes it’s the dialogue, sometimes it’s the narration (free indirect discourse?), but I almost always feel like I know what the heroine is thinking or feeling from the first sentence. Here, I know what Nita is doing: she’s sipping coffee. She’s nodding. She’s frowning. (There’s a lot of frowning in this scene.) And that’s obviously not without a certain amount of knowledge about her, but it’s not the kind of connection we get in Bet Me, or Welcome to Temptation, etc.

    I think in a way that’s why I was feeling that Button is more central here than Nita–not that she is more important but that that I feel like I know more about what makes her tick at this point.

    1. I felt very similar: that I wasn’t close enough to Nita; wanted to be inside her head, feeling what she’s feeling.

  30. I agree that this scene is much tighter than the first one I read way back when. And I agree with commenters that it seems a little slow with Nita and Button just sitting in the car.

    I like the idea that the action starts with Button picking up Nita – and a comment on the appropriateness of her attire there could work well, along with conveying Nita’s sense of urgency in getting to the bar. I especially like her not knowing it was a crime scene before she gets there. What we would get would be Nita’s dedication to the island – even if she is having a bad night, she’ll go if someone calls her. As they’re driving, Nita could work in her standard “welcome to the island” speech. (Although that bit, along with the Unobtanium comment both felt a little forced.)

  31. This has given me much to think about. I’ve cut a lot of the stuff that felt like infodump to some of you and you were right, it’s better without it. A Georgia’s idea that she wasn’t expecting a crime scene (because of course she wasn’t, how did I miss that) helped a lot. I need to diagram the beats here to tighten it and keep the conflict Nita vs. Button, including the beat with Jason.

    All of which is to say, the reason I’m not in here discussing this is because I’m spending my time trying to fix the scene, taking everything you’ve all said into consideration. (Jane, the obtainium is gone.)

    Writing is hard. ARGH.

    1. I think it’s because back when Mort was around, she was expecting one. A vestigial tail, I think you called it once.

  32. As my earlier too-long rambling comment is stuck in moderation I’ll try to summarise.

    2 things bother me in this scene, and give me a very bad impression of Nita, enough so I can’t connect with her.

    1) She seems Very* drunk, and as Button cuts her of after she mentions the second tea-toddy it’s not clear that she has had no more than 2 drinks. As far as I get from this scene she may well have drunk more, and/or be incapable of gauging her own alcohol intake and her capabilities after having partaken.
    Knowing she’s drunk and her judgement is impaired, but having several sober colleagues present, she doesn’t take the option of carefully talking over the problem or options; no it’s full steam ahead with whatever she’s got the bit in her teeth about, but doing plenty of waiting on the way…. Possible alcoholic? Or problematic drunk?

    2) The disconnect between urgency and dawdling, twice in this one scene (heavily implied in the first case, present in the second).
    – She takes the time to talk to Button on the phone instead of immediately hanging up and trying again to reach her contact, then has time to wait while Button comes to get her, picking up 3 coffees on the way. But her leaving immediately is so urgent (or she is so very drunk) she doesn’t take the time to put on pants instead of pyama bottoms before leaving the house – so what is she doing during that waiting time?
    – Then, arriving at the scene and seeing her on-duty colleagues already there, she doesn’t volunteer her possibly-relevant information about the phone call (though she might have a reason for that). She takes all the time needed to wait for her colleagues to leave, and to have conversations with 3 people (just to brush them off instead of strategising) while waiting in the car.
    But then her getting into that bar personally, now, is so urgent she can’t wait to come up with a better option, with at least Button and Frank available to talk this over, and needs to rush in in her pyamas.

    * Apart from point 2, also the off-ee, off-er, rambling, and Very pushy to get her own way, not up for a rational discussion with any of the 3 non-impaired colleagues at the scene; nor taking time to consider her actions even though on-duty police colleagues are already at the scene before her, so the immediate urgency should have gone down.

  33. As my earlier too-long rambling comment is stuck in moderation I’ll try to summarise.
    2 things bother me in this scene, and give me a very bad impression of Nita, enough so I can’t connect with her.

    1) She seems Very* drunk, and as Button cuts her of after she mentions the second tea-toddy it’s not clear that she has had no more than 2 drinks. As far as I get from this scene she may well have drunk more, and/or be incapable of gauging her own alcohol intake and her capabilities after having partaken.
    Knowing she’s drunk and her judgement is impaired, but having several sober colleagues present, and time with Button while she waits, she doesn’t take the option of carefully talking over the problem or options; no it’s full steam ahead with whatever she’s got the bit in her teeth about, but doing plenty of waiting on the way…. Possible alcoholic? Or problematic drunk?

    2) The disconnect between urgency and dawdling, twice in this one scene (heavily implied in the first case, present in the second).
    – She takes the time to talk to Button on the phone instead of immediately hanging up and trying again to reach her contact, then has time to wait while Button comes to get her, picking up 3 coffees on the way. But her leaving immediately is so urgent (or she is so very drunk) she doesn’t take the time to put on pants instead of pyama bottoms before leaving the house – so what is she doing during that waiting time?
    – Then, arriving at the scene and seeing her on-duty colleagues already there, she doesn’t volunteer her possibly-relevant information about the phone call (though she might have a reason for that, if she thinks her colleagues are corrupt). She takes all the time needed to wait for her colleagues to leave, and to have conversations with 3 people (just to brush them off instead of strategising) while waiting in the car. But then her getting into that bar personally, now, is so urgent she can’t wait to come up with a better option, with at least Button and Frank available to talk this over, and needs to rush in, in her pyamas.

    * Apart from point 2, also the off-ee, off-er, rambling, and Very pushy to get her own way, not up for a rational discussion with any of the 3 non-impaired colleagues at the scene; nor taking time to consider her actions even though on-duty police colleagues are already at the scene before her, so the immediate urgency should have gone down.

  34. Thoroughly agree with Thea way up in the comments. I know you like feedback but Jenny not all feedback is valuable. And things get in your, sorry I should own this, my head and twist.
    I am worried that if you put too many scenes up here and get these type of comments, you really won’t finish this book.
    You have 20 best sellers. Trust yourself.
    I say this with affection.

    1. Thanks, Judy, I know you’re right.

      Still, there are obvious problems here. I just DNFed a book because the writer kept stopping the story to info dump, and even though I’m doing it in dialogue, I’m info dumping here. So I need to take a step back.

      At the same time I’m doing this, I just dumped the mess that is Liz on Bob, and he’s being extremely helpful while talking me off the ledge. I don’t know if I can fix Liz, but he says he can, so that’s what I’m doing tomorrow, talking through Liz with him. I’m going to owe him big; he’s spending hours on it.

      The thing that the comments here have reminded me (along with being extremely helpful) is that no book ever written pleased everybody, so there’s no way I can make everybody like this one (although no author ever had more my-kind-of-reader betas than I have here). I just have to fix the big problems and let the smaller ones ride.

      Later. Tomorrow, it’s Liz all day.

  35. I seem to remember you explained the pajama pants earlier by saying she didn’t expect to have to get out of the car because she was just picking her brother up. That reason’s gone now. Are the pajama pants really that worth including? If you want her to look unusually unprofessional, I think being drunk’s enough to do it.

    I agree that having rushed to get there, she spends a lot of time sitting in the car. For me, the start of this scene’d work better if it happened while they were driving. She could be on coffee #2 by the time the car stopped. And the movement would create a sense of urgency too, because I wouldn’t know what they were going to find once they got there.

    1. It’s funny, you all remember so much more of the start of this book than I do. You’re absolutely right, she was called to the scene by her brother. I don’t remember whether she was wearing pajama pants then, but I trust your memory.

  36. I’m sorry, now my comments got let out of moderation and they are posted three times it looks way worse than it was intended.

    I thought the trouble was on my end, with a change in my e-mail address, which is why I tried again, specifically because I didn’t notice others mentioning the urgency/waiting disconnect.
    If I am the only one bothered by this Jenny may do well to ignore my comment, but as most people here seem to be a lot more familiar with where this story is going, and that might influence their perception, it seemed useful for me to mention it.

    Those two things really do bother me about this scene, but a lot of the bad impression they create can be undone in the following scenes.

    And I will buy any book Jenny publishes, I’ve enjoyed reading all of them and they are on my reread-shelves. I fully trust her to make this book good, and hope she will continue with it!

    1. Very well said. I, too have reread these books now into the dozens of times, for some. They are thoughtful and they are great writing. Maybe because of all the rethinking that goes on. Do not despair and keep writing! (I hate the autocorrect on this site!!)

    2. Hanneke, don’t worry about it. I don’t put drafts up here for fun, I do it so some of the best readers in the world will be honest with me about it. You’re just fine. I can go back and delete two of your comments if that would make you more comfortable, I just didn’t know which one you’d prefer to leave up.

      And thank you for playing along (g).

  37. Maybe Nita called Button was incoherent and hung up, then rushed out in her pajamas and started walking because – urgent and drunk. Button is alarmed and drives out to find her walking and some of this conversation and coffee takes place in the car. Then there is no long wait at the crime scene and the pace and urgency increase. I also like the idea mentioned above that she is responding to a personal plea, not professional – and maybe the opportunity to apologize to Johnny?

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