Expectation and First Scenes

We talked about expectation last week, but I didn’t mention the most important place to set up expectation: the first scene.

The problem with expectation is that while you can manipulate it to some extent, you can’t control it. If your reader thinks she’s getting a romance and she gets a ghost story, she’s going to be upset. She wants to be surprised, she doesn’t want to be disappointed. That means the first scene sets up the expectation for the rest of the story by using

PoV Character & Internal Monologue
Conflict & Dialogue
Scene Ending.

The voice of the PoV character and her internal monologue will set up the tone of the story, the setting will tell the reader what kind of people the protagonist is apt to encounter and what kind of environment she’s in (urban, rural, cold, hot, safe, dangerous, etc.), the conflict and dialogue with other characters will set expectation for future events, and the ending that propels the protagonist into the next scene pulls the reader into the story. At least, I always hope it will.

So here’s the first scene of Lavender’s Blue. If you want to play along, tell me what expectations you have for the story based on just this scene (I know you know a lot more about the story, you probably know more about the story than I do at this point, but pretend, please.)



I saw the Welcome to Burney sign around two o’clock one gloomy Thursday afternoon when the air was crisp with the scent of rain that might turn to snow (the end of March in Ohio is iffy), and in spite of the fresh air and the tree-crowded landscape, I felt sick. You know your hometown is bad for you when it gives you stomach cramps. So at the last minute, I floored the Camry past the turn-off, running like the coward I was. The old car coughed a little because it does not like being stomped on, but it was hurtling along like a champ when I heard the siren. I looked in the rear-view mirror, saw a cop on my tail, said, “Oh, hell, no,” and pulled over onto the muddy edge of the two-lane highway.

It was my own damn fault for coming home.

My palms were clammy which was ridiculous: I was not eighteen any more. I was perfectly fine. I took a deep breath, shoved back the five-foot purple teddy bear in the passenger seat so I could open the glove compartment, and prayed that whoever was about to bust me didn’t know me. I’d been gone for fifteen years. It was possible.

When I popped open the compartment, a bunch of papers slithered out before I could catch them, and I unbuckled my seat belt and leaned over to sort through the mess on the floor, and then somebody knocked on my window.

At first all I could see was a nice expanse of uniformed chest. Then I shut off the stereo—Terri Clark singing “Bigger Windows,” so appropriate—rolled down the window letting in the cold air, looked up, thought, Thank you, God. The cop wasn’t anybody I knew, which meant I wouldn’t get any ‘Well, here’s trouble back in town’ crap, although he did fit the general description of ‘Burney Guy’: a good old boy with eyes narrowed in exasperation over a nose that had been broken at least once.

I smiled up at him, cheerful and innocent as all hell.

He didn’t smile back, but he didn’t look particularly upset, either. And when he said, “Ma’am, do you realize you were going eighty in a fifty-mile-an-hour zone?” he sounded more bored than anything else. Well, he was doing highway traffic in Burney on a dim Thursday afternoon.

“Yes, officer,” I said, holding onto that smile. “I wasn’t thinking. I apologize and I certainly won’t do it again.” Because I am sure as hell never coming back here again.

He held out his hand. “License and registration, please.”

I got my license and insurance card out of my billfold and handed them to him, and said, “I’ll be just a second with that registration.” I shoved the bear back again, stuck my head between its legs and into the space under the dashboard, and sifted through a couple of dozen old repair bills, insurance cards, and expired registrations as fast as I could before I found the current one. When I straightened up again, he had bent down to look through the window.

“Nice bear,” he said with no expression at all.

“Thank you.” I handed him the registration.

He took it and looked at it and then at the license. “Your name is Elizabeth Danger?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Any relation to MaryBeth Danger?”

Oh, hell. “She’s my mother.” Don’t tell her I’m here.

He nodded. “I’ll be right back.”

He walked back to his cruiser, and I rolled up the window and watched him in my rear view mirror to see if he was going to call my license in. He had a nice ass, but that was peripheral to the fact that he got in the car and of course he was going to call it in. It didn’t matter because I was going to take the ticket, mail in the fine, and never come back again, so really, anything that happened next was immaterial and irrelevant and nothing at all to worry about. Unless my mother heard I was there and came looking for me.

Maybe he wouldn’t call it in.

The worst thing about traffic stops is the waiting. You’re sitting there like an idiot while people drive past, and you really can’t do much because the cop’s going to come back, so you’re stuck with your thoughts. My thoughts were generally Fucking Burney, and I missed lunch, and I can’t believe I panicked like that, must be Post Traumatic Burney Syndrome, and I wonder if it looked like I was blowing that bear, and Fucking Burney, and That cop was cute in a Neanderthal kind of way, and Anemone hasn’t called me in twenty-four hours, I wonder if she’s trapped under someone heavy, and Fucking Burney. Well, you get my drift. You can’t do anything worthwhile because at any minute—
He knocked on the window again and I rolled it down.

“Since you’re a local, I called the station. Mike Crider says hi.” He passed back my registration and license.

“Mike’s a cop now?” I said, surprised. The police department was not where I would have guessed Mike Crider would end up.

“Yep. He wants to know if you’re in town for the wedding.”

“There’s a wedding?”

“I’ll tell him no.” He sounded bored now, like he wanted to be gone. “He also said not to give you a ticket and to say hi to your mom for him.”

“Good old Mike,” I said, with real enthusiasm. “Tell him I said thank you. Except I can’t say hi to my mother.”

He raised his eyebrows, clearly in question, so I went on: “I was stopping by home because it was on my way to Chicago, and then I decided I didn’t want to, and that’s why I gunned the car, and once I’m done here, I’m going to keep on trucking, so I won’t be telling my mother anything for awhile, and I definitely won’t be speeding in Burney again.”

He nodded. “Wouldn’t it have been easier to say, ‘I sure will say hi’?”

“That would have been a lie.”

His eyebrows went up again on that one, but then he was a cop, so he probably figured everybody lied. Then he said, “Is your mom going to worry when you don’t show up?”

“She didn’t know I was coming.” I glanced at the bear beside me. “It was going to be a birthday surprise.”

He nodded. “Then you’re good to go.”

“Uh,” I began, and he waited. “Could you ask Mike not to tell my mother . . .” I stopped, realizing how lame I sounded. I’m thirty-three and I’m asking the cops not to tell my mom I got busted. “Never mind.”

“Too late anyway. The grapevine here makes sound look slow.”

The way he said it and the accent, which sounded a little bit New York City-ish, made me think he was still getting used to it, so I said, “You’re not from here, are you?”


“How’d you end up here? People usually leave this place, not move in.”

He frowned at me, and I remembered I wasn’t the one who was supposed to ask the questions.

“Sorry,” I told him. “I’m used to interviewing people. Forget I asked that. Thank you very much for not giving me a ticket. You’re a good person. I hope you enjoy living in Burney.”

“Oh, yeah,” he said, and stepped away from the car.

I turned the ignition and the car sputtered, as usual, and then the engine kicked in. Good old Camry, I thought. I stepped on the gas pedal, and my tires spun. Hell. I’d forgotten I was in mud. I looked in the rear view and saw that the highway was still deserted except for the cop walking back to the cruiser behind me so, apologizing to the Camry, I floored it. The car spurted out of the mud and onto the highway, fishtailing a little, and then it coughed in mid-surge and died.

I steered it back onto the shoulder using the last of its momentum, feeling guilty and stupid and cowardly. I knew that was no way to treat a twenty-year-old car, but it was Burney for God’s sake. I tried to restart it. No go. “Come on, come on,” I said and tried again. No go. No, no, no, I thought, panic rising, please, not in Burney, and cranked the ignition again but there was nothing there.

I put my head on the steering wheel and tried to stay calm while my stomach churned. I was not trapped in Burney. This was not happening. A minute later, the cop knocked on the window.

I rolled it down.

“How bad is it?” he said.

“I think it’s dead.” Because I was stupid. And because I’m in Burney.

He nodded. “I can call the Porters.”

The Porters. Their mom Kitty had baby-sat me. I’d baby-sat their little sister Patsy. Their big brother Cash had felt me up in the front seat of the blue truck they’d probably send to tow my car. And they all knew my mother.

“Or not,” the cop said.

The problem was, I didn’t have that many options. It would take hours for some out-of-town tow truck to find its way to Burney, and by that time, my mother would have heard and driven out to the highway to find me. “That would be . . . fine. Thank you.”

“How about this,” he said. “I give you a ride into town, you talk to the Porters in person and ask them to keep it quiet, and you’ll be back on the road by dinner.”

I squinted up at him, back lit as he was by the weak winter sun. He mostly looked monolithic, and his ears kind of stuck out, but I was warming to him. This was a man who understood the importance of avoiding family. “Thank you,” I said. “That’s very kind of you.”

He opened the door for me, and I got out into the cold and looked up into his sharp brown eyes and realized there was something going on there. He’d give good interview, I thought, and then I realized he was staring at my chest.

I looked down at my T-shirt that said Attempted Murder with the silhouette of two crows on a branch under it. “I’m not advocating murder,” I told him. “It’s a play on words. A bunch of crows is called a murder, like a bunch of seagulls is called a flock, but there are only two crows on the branch so they’re just trying for a murder.” When he didn’t say anything, I said, “I’m not going to murder anybody, I swear.”

“Better get a coat,” he said.

I reached in for my hoodie and my laptop bag and saw the bear. Hell. I could just leave it in the car. If somebody stole the damn thing, I wouldn’t have to mail it to my mother. But it had cost almost two hundred dollars.

“Wait a minute.” I handed the cop the laptop bag and pulled the hoodie on. Then I went around to the passenger side of the car, opened the door, and tugged on the bear. I’d jammed it in there before I’d left Pittsburgh that morning, but evidently in Pittsburgh I’d had more muscle mass because when I put my arm around its non-existent waist and pulled, it didn’t budge. I yanked again, and it popped out, and I stumbled back and lost my balance and let go of the bear as I flailed my way down the embankment and fell on my butt in the mud.

I checked my hoodie. No mud. It’s a Wonderfalls hoodie that says I Surrender to Destiny and it’s a collector’s item so that was important. Then I looked back up at the road and saw the cop holding the bear, my bag still under one arm.
“It’s fine,” he said, holding the bear higher. “I got it before it hit the ground.”

“My hero,” I said.

“Should I cuff it?” he asked.

He was definitely not from Burney.

“We’re good,” I said. “Give me a minute here.”

He took the bear and my bag back to his squad car while I climbed to my feet, examined the damage to my jeans—there was a laundromat in my future—and began Plan B. The Porters had a bathroom at the garage. I could wash out the dirt in their sink, leave town, and hit a laundromat when I stopped in Indiana for lunch. I was pretty sure my mother wouldn’t follow me to Indiana. She was still at work. I wiped the worst of the mud off on my jeans and began the crawl back up the embankment, and when I looked up, the cop was there again, holding out his hand.

I looked at my hand and said, “Mud,” and showed him.

“No problem,” he said, his hand still extended, so I put my dirty paw in his nice clean cop hand and let him drag me up onto the highway.

Once I got there, I held on for a moment. He had those eyes, and he’d hauled me out of a ditch, and he’d saved the damn bear. I could spare a moment.

“I’m Liz,” I said.

“I’m Vince,” he said.

“Vince, I’m going to get mud in your car.”

“You can sit in the back with the bear,” he said. “There have been worse things back there.”

And that’s how I came home to Burney after fifteen years gone, sitting beside a giant purple bear in the back of a cop car, praying nobody would notice I was there before I could get out of town again.

68 thoughts on “Expectation and First Scenes

  1. Okay, I expect the book to be funny, because that was. I expect her mother to find her within, oh, 10 seconds of her getting into town. I wouldn’t be surprised if her mother’s waiting for her at the garage. I expect her and the cop to fall for each other and for the story to mainly be a romance. I expect a fair bit of the story to revolve around resolving things with her mother and with Burney in general. But this is a Crusie so I expect a snarky resolution, not a sweet one.

    What I don’t expect from that is a murder. I can’t remember if the murder’s the subplot? If it is, I don’t think it matters that I wouldn’t expect it.

    Burning rivers and zombies would startle me too.

  2. From this, I get a good strong sense of snark (I’m sold!), a whole lot of issues going on with Liz and her past, a solid hint of attraction with Vince that was heightened as soon as he started helping with the avoiding her mother thing and offered her his hand in spite of the mud. There was a definite sense of sympathy and connection there.

    I don’t know if this is because I know a bit about where the story is going, but the moment that Liz was joking lamely to the cop about not planning to commit murder I was thinking, “Yup, there’s going to be a murder.”

  3. From this first scene I’m struck by the first person point of view (a shock for me); the fact that Liz is within Burney town limits (a place a tow truck couldn’t find) which is the place she doesn’t want to be — talk about approach-avoidance; the conflicting facts that Liz is both incredibly anxious about returning to Burney (like a teenager) while also a competent professional interviewer (like an adult); and, that she and Vince instantly get along (not like a Crusie opening — I like it).

    So, I’m expecting romance and small town personalities. I don’t expect much humor because humiliation doesn’t strike me as funny. I expect a slow read; however, this is just the discovery draft that hasn’t been tightened yet. The stakes seem low.

    Expectations I brought with me: I’m leery of Vince because Shane and Ethan were deeply tortured souls and I dreaded that Vince would be one too. So, I wondered why Vince was so kind and almost even chatty — I really want to know why he is hidden in Burney.

    1. Vince is kind because he’s not Shane or Ethan. Chatty, no.

      This is the problem with author expectation. It’s a double-edged sword. People read an author because they like what she writes, but they don’t want to read the same book again, but they do expect it to be the same . . .


      1. The quotations below are why I see as a scene in which the comedy is based on humiliation. Of course, Northrup Frye would say that’s what comedy is all about. And I often read things wrong — note how different my responses are from everyone else. I’m not to be used as a control.

        I wonder if it looked like I was blowing that bear

        “Uh,” I began, and he waited. “Could you ask Mike not to tell my mother . . .” I stopped, realizing how lame I sounded. I’m thirty-three and I’m asking the cops not to tell my mom I got busted. “Never mind.”

        Their big brother Cash had felt me up in the front seat of the blue truck they’d probably send to tow my car.

        I stumbled back and lost my balance and let go of the bear as I flailed my way down the embankment and fell on my butt in the mud.

        My problem is that I can’t forget other Jenny Crusie heroines, like, say, Tilda. She has a terrific opening scene which spells out everything before I see her among her family and Davy — all of whom obscure her for awhile. Other heroines, like Sophie, have things happen to them. Even others are so overwrought by a sudden change in circumstances that they do something out of the normal for them.

        I just feel really badly for Liz instead of chuckling over the straits she’s in. I think this is my problem, not the scene’s.

        1. Huh. It’s a perception thing, I think.
          Nobody is making fun of Liz and she’s not upset. There’s nothing shameful about any of those things, so there’s no reason for her to be embarrassed about them, but that’s my take; I can see where some people might be upset and humiliated because they’d be embarrassed by those things.
          It takes a lot to embarrass Liz. And me.

          1. OK Elizabeth, I love that you referenced Northrop Frey so much that I can’t resist saying that I took two classes with him at the University of Toronto In my undergrad. Not that I had an overgrad. That man was a genius.

          2. I didn’t get any whiff of humiliation. None. I got humorous angst.

            Based on only this chapter, I would guess a book on relationships but not necessarily full-on romance. Relationships with family, school friends, etc.

          3. Good guess.
            Tonight I’m rewriting for romance. Keep your fingers crossed for me (g).

  4. I haven’t read many of the versions you showed before, so I have no expectations.
    Already I’m pro-Vince from “Shall I cuff it?” I’m waiting for Liz to calm down, but I like her voice. Attraction is established, mostly because Vince is competent, kind and funny, and then hunky.
    I would not feel betrayed by a murder in the plot, but if it were gruesome, or if someone was sexually assaulted I would. I would be furious at the death of a dog or child. Those seem to be the expectations you’ve set.

  5. Love this! Such a fun exercise!

    I absolutely expect romance.
    I love Liz and Vince combo already.
    I expect Liz to stick to her, ‘I don’t lie’ policy and have trouble because of it.
    I expect that her mom already knows, and will either show up at a low for Liz (like when she’s mid washing mud off of her jeans) or will give her a hard time for not showing up as soon as possible.
    I want to know why Liz chose a giant bear.
    I want to know who Anemone is.
    I want to know who is getting married, and I assume there’s a reason it will be important to Liz.
    I don’t know if I would expect a murder from this opening, but I’m not great at picking up that kind of hint, but when it happens, I would remember. Also, I would expect a murder because of the subtitle and blurb (currently on Amazon).

      1. OMG, there is. Audible bought the book when I went to contract on it with SMP and never took the pre-order blurb down. Must do something about that.
        Date: 2012. I went to contract on the original ten years ago. Argh.
        For some reason the title there is “Lavender’s Dead.” Not a good title.

  6. Expectations from this:
    Liz will get stuck in Burney and have a hard time with that.
    Her mother will definitely hear about her being there, and will feature heavily in the story.
    Vince has a suspicious mind but will turn out to be an ally to Liz and a decent guy.
    Vince will have a solid and possibly traumatic reason for being in Burney.
    Anemone is going to be someone important.
    The wedding will be a major plot point.
    There will be at the very least an attempted murder and Liz will come under suspicion.

    The beginnings of the romance are on the page but I don’t get a strong “This is a romance novel” vibe. It reads more like women’s fiction or a small town mystery.

    1. I think it’s an interesting analytical exercise to try to only look at what’s on this particular page, because then you can also see what isn’t on the page. It works better on someone else’s writing though, I can’t say I’m any good at it with my own.

  7. Things I am expecting based solely on this beginning:

    A romance between Liz and Vince
    Liz to be stuck in town for the entire novel, and has to deal with a lot of old issues
    Her mother finding out she’s there extremely fast and/or at a very inconvenient moment
    Lots of humor, but not necessarily a comedy

    If I didn’t already know it was a murder mystery from the blurb, I would not be expecting that from this beginning, but I don’t read a lot of mysteries so those clues could easily go over my head. Without knowing about the murder, the t-shirt just tells me she’s smart, educated, and snarky. Knowing there’s going to be a murder, the t-shirt makes me wonder if she’s going to be a suspect.

  8. I am trying not to read these because I’m waiting for the book.

    But before I could stop myself I zipped through this and thought two things:

    1) I could do without the intro sentence. For me this felt like the stronger opening line and set tone, character, and expectation:

    “You know your hometown is bad for you when it gives you stomach cramps.”

    2) The rest sets expectation re story. I’m thinking light romantic mystery with attitude and quirky small-town characters to come.

    Aside from that the promise I’m getting is that Liz and Vince will couple up and that Liz will face whatever is in her past with her hometown.

    So if that’s what you’re going for, I’m on board:)

    1. That opening bit is an interesting question in writing.

      You hear a lot about the opening hook, the line that grabs people. The problem I have with it is that then you have to explain the hook. So you hit them with the snappy sentence, and then you go back and set up what it means and then you continue on with the story. I’ve tried it a couple of times, and I don’t think it suits my style. Hooks always seem gimmicky to me.

      The way it’s written, you don’t have to explain the line, and the hooky part comes in the second sentence, so it’s not a long wait for it.

      That is, if you start with your hometown gives you stomach cramps, the reader thinks, “What hometown? Why stomach cramps?” but if it follow the first sentence as written, it’s just a commentary on the first sentence and the reader doesn’t stop to ask questions, she just keeps reading (fingers crossed).

      1. Totally get it. It is fun to play with the lines, though:)

        I went back and flipped the two first lines and reread it and it worked for me even though as you say it does raise questions. I think it still works for me because I’m used to that with a lot of books and so long as the questions make me curious rather than disoriented I’m okay with that aspect.

        I remember the first time I read the opening lines of books like Pride and Prejudice or Rebecca those lines raised questions for me, too, but in a good way.

        Either approach you take works for establishing tone, etc. Probably my leaning came more from a first reading here where that “stomach cramps” line felt so impactful and drew me in.

  9. I haven’t read any of the drafts, discussions, etc, yet. My expectations are:

    Liz has mother issues
    Liz left town under a cloud
    Liz has money problems
    This will have a romantic element, scope to be determined
    Anenome is important but may be friend or antagonist
    There will be a murder and Liz will be a suspect (at least in the eyes of the town)
    Vince doesn’t want to be in Burney either
    Vince has competence: good cop (suspicious), catches bear, helps her solve a problem already
    Overall, this is a snarky murder mystery with perhaps a romantic relationship.

    (The wedding only seems like evidence of Liz’s distance from town happenings.)

  10. Expectations:
    Liz is going to be stuck in Burney, with the whole town as the cast of characters (look how many we have already heard of in a smooth, digestible form).

    The wedding is going to be a factor. Mom will be a problem. Vince will be the love interest.

    What would actually make me keep reading is that, while we are obviously not seeing Liz at her best, he behavior in this bit:

    I looked at my hand and said, “Mud,” and showed him. “No problem,” he said, his hand still extended, so I put my dirty paw in his nice clean cop hand and let him drag me up onto the highway.

    This is the first thing that makes me feel I know a bit about her character and puts me on her side, rather than observing her. Also now feel that Liz and Vince have believable potential. That’s where/why I am hooked.

  11. The only thing I disagree with in above statements is – I think the story could go anywhere – including a murder mystery.
    And a murder has been foreshadowed by the t-shirt & Liz’s reaction to Vince seeing it.

  12. See above.

    I also expect many things to “go wrong” with the repairs on her car so beyond the murder and Vince keeping her three, she can’t leave.

    Question about the last paragraph. Is it supposed to sound like she’s talking to someone other than the reader? I could be the odd one out but that’s how it felt to me.

    1. No, it’s just part of generic first person. It feels more like direct address than the rest?

  13. The last paragraph doesn’t strike me as different. I did notice that while the cop has nice hands, Liz has a paw. Not sure women refer to their hands that way, even when said hands are dirty. I usually think of big men as having paws. Paw makes me wonder about the purple bear. Who is it for? So that pulls me into the story, too. And why on earth would it cost so much?

    Also, would Liz remember a garage bathroom after 15 years? Did she hang out at Porter’s (I’m thinking Quinn and Max/Nick’s garage) before she left, and will that place/family (there’s a lot of them referenced briefly) factor into the plot?

    I wasn’t in on the earlier discussions/versions, and I can’t find the book on Amazon, so I come to this without many expectations, though if Bob is writing Vince, I do expect some level of violence/crime. And Vince is a cop, so, duh. I look forward to reading this book!

    1. I don’t have kids, so dogs have been the main source of mud in my vehicle and home. I am one woman who would make connections between my own muddy feet and muddy paws.

  14. “And that’s how I came home to Burney after fifteen years gone, sitting beside a giant purple bear in the back of a cop car, praying nobody would notice I was there before I could get out of town again.” Liz getting pulled over for speeding *and* rescued by a cop creates an expectation that she will be involved with the police – that the police and/or the law will be both friend and foe to her, perhaps? The five-foot purple teddy bear creates some expectation about the tone – I now expect some humor, some absurdity. And the musings about the blow-job let me know this book might get a little dirty.

    “He had a nice ass” I am a romance reader, so the protagonist admiring the physique of the first man she encounters in town does create the expectation of a romantic plot (or subplot) of some type.

    1. After reading the other comments, I agree that a murder or attempted murder is definitely foreshadowed.

  15. I expect a romance between Liz and Vince.
    Liz has to come to peace or resolve something from her past.

    I love the Wonderfalls hoodie. I love that show.

  16. Should I cuff the bear? Bwa ha ha!
    I expect humor!

    I get romance vibes, but just lightly so far.

    I’m not really getting murderous vibes yet. But later I will realize that the attempted murder discussion is a great piece of foreshadowing.

    Bottom line, you’ve intrigued me and amused me enough that I’ll keep reading regardless of what genre this turns out to be.

  17. I tend not to pick up on foreshadowing, so the t-shirt part doesn’t compute to it being a murder mystery. I definitely get a romance and a trouble in a small town vibe though. Oh, and mother issues…

  18. I’m expecting that somehow because of the muddy clothes maybe? And the car being dead?that somehow Liz needs a place to stay and doesn’t want it to be with her mom and so she take Vince up on an offer of his spare room.

        1. No, that was because Liz hadn’t gotten to his place yet. So you didn’t know where and how he lived.

          You can be an author, Tammy, go for it.

          1. I dunno. They say you have to write what you know. I’d be writing about people who are consultants, slaving away for the Dark Corporate Overlords. Can’t imagine anyone wanting to read that.

          2. You make a good point. Okay I’m going to write my novel about a sad consultant who says “that depends” in response to any question from the client and produces great PowerPoint decks and yearns to see the results of their work after their engagements are over.

  19. Written before reading anyone else’s comments, and in critiquing mode, rather than in escapist, happy-to-just-get-sucked-into-the-story mode:

    Well, I expect that our protagonist will get together with this presumably eligible man who’s appeared.

    The dim and slushy weather — interesting. The sun will come out eventually, but I might have to wait for it. It’s a Thursday; the climax will come over the weekend, probably with the timing structured around the wedding (if a wedding is introduced in the first chapter, it has to go off, one way or another?).

    Others in town seem to accept/appreciate her mother, so why doesn’t she? So far, I’m a little more suspicious of the protagonist being a bad person than of her mother. [not precisely expectation: I’d like to know more good about the protagonist — maybe through her thoughts about Anemone? I like those protagonists who are already in the habit of rescuing others & solving problems. Possibly one or two fewer f-ing’s — she’s reminding me too much of my new neighbor, who has a loud but limited vocabulary, though perhaps that’s just due to the recent overdose from the new neighbor.] But I’m expecting some sort of complicated, nuanced conflict between Liz and her mother.

    [stomach cramps? Couldn’t it be acid in her stomach, or bile? do people really get cramps in a situation like this? This makes me wonder whether she has her period, which I don’t really want to be wondering while reading an opening scene.]

    The $200.00 price tag for the bear raises my eyebrows. Either Liz makes decent money (though still driving a 20-year old Camry means she might not) or . . . . If she has a $200 stuffed bear, let alone a 5′ purple one, there’s got to be a reason. a regrettable impulse buy? It’s stuffed with diamonds? I’m also expecting puns and comedy and possibly something sinister related to the bear. Surely it has a name.

    The male lead — that he looks like a “good old boy” doesn’t draw me in. The lack of any conflict between him and L seems too good to be true — it’s great that he “gets it” — that’s enticing — and with a straight face, no less — but there’s not much grain of conflict between them. (Plus, he just doesn’t give her a ticket for being 30 mph over the limit? That sounds dangerous on her part. (I know — danger’s her name : ), but endangering others?) That seems immoral/playing favoritism/unjust on his part. There’s gotta be a story there, but she doesn’t much respond to the name of the guy who said to let her go (“I said, with real enthusiasm”?), and V’s readiness to unequally apply the law as a police officer doesn’t make him very attractive. If it were only 11 mph over the limit, maybe. But still.

    The person who said to let her off — why? It seems like we should know something more about his motives. But there’s something there that I want to learn more about — effective hook, if not much of a clue. We learn more about the Porters. I expect them to play a supporting role.

    The car that so much depends on — maybe it just ran out of gas? Do neither of them think of that? Or is it just the starter? If it’s an easy problem like running out of gas, couldn’t she fix it herself? Or if the battery’s dead? Can’t she even consider solving this problem on her own? And is Vince completely inept also? They don’t even try. I want more promise of competence and problem-solving ability in these lead characters.

    Windows. Mirrors. Hmmm.

    1. The first thing that occured to me was she flooded the engine and just needed to wait for it to drain a bit.

  20. Like Gretchen, I normally jump right into happy-to-get-sucked-in mode but I tried to pay attention to my inner delight/ what? voice as I read.

    To summarize the delight part: broad chests, deadpan humor, working brain, profound decency are my catnip too so I identified with Liz’s attraction to Vince (and my attraction to her) right off the bat. I also LOVE that the likely mud mess weighs on Liz a bit (just like Trudy guilting slightly over not restacking the doll boxes but leaving that to Nolan, in Hot Toy. I attribute that to environmental consciousness, also cementing me to her.)

    What did throw me a bit: “The worst thing about traffic stops is the waiting.” Maybe insert “for me” in there? I thought a black male stopped by police might have other ideas. Then too, like others have said, the last paragraph has a wrap-up feel to it when I’m still in forward-drive. Is it even needed?

    1. Sake, I thought the same thing about the traffic stop line but apparently forgot to write it down. It jarred me out of the story for a second and I’m not even American.

    2. Yeah, the traffic stop thing gave me a little friction in terms of my ability to slide into the story.

      Pros: I like seeing the ordinary, unglamorous, small-town side of police work. It tells me about the town, and about Vince.

      Cons: My mind instantly goes to all those fatally racist traffic stops in the real world. I think if this was a broader-style story (i.e. fast and funny but not realistic) the traffic stop meet cute wouldn’t give me pause. Because this is more of a slow-burn love story that (so far) sits firmly in the believable, realistic world, I’m automatically comparing it to what I know of the real world, and that makes me think of things that are way more serious than what I assume is going on in this novel.

  21. I am very pedantic so not to be used as a control. I got thrown because I couldn’t figure out where she was. The Welcome sign at a turnoff didn’t make sense. A state highway could roll through town and the sign would be at the town limits (so 50 would make sense) or there is a highway with a directional sign and a turnoff and the welcome sign would be later. It nagged at me the whole scene, stupid, I know.

    1. Two-lane highway. It’s basically a road, not an interstate. Let me see if I can make that clearer.

      Aha. It was already in there:
      “pulled over onto the muddy edge of the two-lane highway.”

  22. I love this. I expect snark and chemistry and some local family drama reading it. I really want to read this book and have for years. There might be a murder…or just crows 🙂 Does remind me of WTT as well.

    That said, I might suggest (but up to you) that you make “You know your hometown is bad for you when it gives you stomach cramps. ” be the first sentence rather than the second one. That line had punch to me.

  23. I loved reading the opening, and feel that there’s a lot of overthinking here. I have read most of your books, and don’t think of other characters or being derivative when I read things (mostly). You write good stories that are amusing and that have a unique voice, not The Great American Novel (although that is not a slur. I hate “GANs”) I thin that you will get farther if you just write the darn thing. Have you seen what’s out there? People can’t string 2 words together, nor can they spell. I’d rather read an “imperfect” well-written book by you than just about any other writer. If you don’t finish this book, you cant start the other.
    And PS–I love Calamityware.

  24. Expectations: Liz is fighting to get out of town (where the story is set) so I’m expecting her to have a lot of negative goals (avoid her mom, avoid town, etc.) and have her be thwarted and dragged into the story against her will. Early on, that’s going to put a lot of weight on her voice being entertaining + supporting characters being captivating to make me enjoy spending time in the story. Right now I mostly like her voice (the blow job joke, the rundown of how she knows various townspeople, etc.) but there are also small bits that for whatever reason feel like Liz is narrating her motions (her diving for paper on the floor) instead of sticking to the stuff that moves the story forward. But I’m assuming those bits would get naturally trimmed later on. I like Vince eventually (see below) so I have hope I’ll like the side characters, but it took me a bit to feel interested in him, so I’m thinking the side characters might be the onion model (they get more interesting as the story goes on and you see their other layers).

    Basically, I’m along for the ride because it’s a Crusie, but at this stage I’m expecting the story will feel (to me) a bit slow until Liz shifts into a positive goal (i.e., solve the mystery).

    Re: Vince expectations: I wasn’t actually sure he was the hero until we get to the part where he’s from New York/ he’s offering to give her a ride. Prior to that, it felt like he could be the hero, or he could be radioing back to his boss back at the station who’s going to turn out to be the hero. (Obviously she thinks he’s cute, but I thought he could be the person she flirts with casually before the real hero shows up.) While obviously I don’t NEED to know it’s the hero right away, I think I had doubts because Liz is in such a drab mood, and Vince is so contained, that I didn’t really feel any sparks between them.

    But once she realized he’s from New York (an outsider somewhat like her), starts getting curious about what it would be like to interview him, I started getting more interested in him. And then he offers to drive her to town and notices her shirt and I a) believe he’s the hero and b) I’m happy about it. I wonder if trimming some of the exchange to get to those parts faster, or sewing her curiosity about him as a person (or his about her) earlier in the scene would help me feel the spark sooner?

    I think maybe it’s just that with first person POV, if she’s not interested in someone/something, I’m not interested in them. I mean, if she’s in denial about being interested in something but I as the reader can tell she cares, then I’m interested (i.e., what’s up with her mom??? Inquiring minds need to know). But when she’s genuinely not interested in someone/something I’m not curious about it either.

    Lastly, I’m expecting more good details (the t-shirt, the bear, etc.) that make the story feel visual, specific, real, and funny.

    Thanks for letting us read your writing!

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