Rocky Start, Chapter One: Rose

We’re around 70,000 words on Rocky Start–look, stuff happened/is happening to both of us, and it’s slowing us down–so it’s time to start getting some feedback. Here’s Chapter One. Have at it. (Lian, I stole your name for this.)

Chapter 1

I was on Day Three of what was shaping up to be the second worst week of my life when my best friend, Lian, called to see how I was doing.

I was behind the counter where I worked in the secondhand store that belonged to my late boss, Ozzie Oswald. Oddities is the best (and only) secondhand shop in Rocky Start, Georgia and Tennessee, but I’d put the CLOSED sign up because Ozzie had died the day before yesterday and I was not in the mood to have Mrs. Baumgarten come in and try to bargain me down a dollar on a two-dollar tea cup. Most of the time, that’s fun, but today I was tense. I would not be good at customer service. I might start screaming at any minute. Instead, I was trying to glue a doll’s head to a bottle of paregoric with the wrong kind of glue, something I did not notice until much later because I was frantic and trying to pretend that I wasn’t. I have heard that if you fake an emotion, it becomes real. This is not true of calm.

So when Lian asked me how I was doing. I told her I was gluing a doll’s head to an antique bottle.

“No,” she said, patiently. “Not what are you doing, how are you doing? Ozzie died just two days ago—”

“I’m fine,” I lied, getting the glue tube out of my apron pocket to add more to the bottle lip. I always wear aprons in the shop, not the tie-behind-the-waist kind, the kind you put over your head with the straps crisscrossed in back. Camouflage. Nobody pays any attention to a middle-aged woman in a big, loose apron. Also my aprons have huge pockets. Pockets are very important in my life.

“You’re lying,” Lian said.

“Yes,” I said because my life was a mess that involved sudden death, poverty, homelessness, and possible jail in my near future.

That’s when I heard heard somebody rattle the front door to the shop. “We’re closed!” I yelled at the door without looking up (that glue was not working and I was concentrating), and Lian said, “Ouch,” because I hadn’t moved my mouth away from my bluetooth headset.

The door rattled again, and I looked up and saw through the window that it was our next door neighbor, Coral Schmidt. Coral’s shop, Ecstasy, is definitely the best coffee shop/bakery in Rocky Start. I was pretty sure she’d named the shop that so she could say, “This is Coral in Ecstasy,” every time she answered the phone, but she says it’s because her baking sends people into bliss, which is true.

“It’s Coral,” I told Lian. “And I’m making lasagna because Poppy and I are having a private wake for Ozzie tonight.”

“She owns a bakery. She doesn’t need your lasagna.”

“That’s my position, too. I doubt it’s Coral’s.” Then I felt guilty. Coral was a good person who had fed me lots of times, I could spare some pasta. Just not tonight.

The door rattled again.

“Coral has many positions,” Lian was saying. “Most of them under Ozzie and Pike. Did we ever find out what she did before she moved here? Because she’s very limber for a seventy-something woman.”

“No, she never talks about the past.” Much like you and me and everybody else around here, I thought. “I should give Coral some lasagna. She’s a good friend.”

“The woman’s a human Hoover,” Lian said.

“All of Coral’s appetites are strong. But I also want to keep working on this assemblage I just started.”

“You’re making another saint? I love those.”

Lian’s voice sounded different, I realized. Tense. Clipped. “What’s up? You sound stressed.”

“I’m fine,” Lian said, clearly not, but here is a key fact about Rocky Start: We do not ask about each other’s pasts. We don’t volunteer anything, either.

So I said, “I’m not making another saint. I don’t know what it is yet. I started it when I found an old paregoric bottle in the shop. I had to look up what paregoric was, and it turns out it was a medicine that was very popular in the first half of the twentieth century, possibly because it was made of opium, alcohol, and honey. Fifty per cent alcohol, in fact.” The head on the bottle wobbled and fell off. Definitely the wrong kind of glue. “I’ve been thinking about seeing if there was any left in the bottle because it sounded like exactly what I need. And maybe what you need.” I picked up the doll head before it glued itself to the marble counter. “Tell me what’s wrong, and we’ll fix it.”

I heard a key scrape in the lock, and then Coral came in. “What the hell, Rose. Why didn’t you open the door?”

“I was coming,” I lied and then stopped because Coral was dressed head to toe in tight shiny black. She looked like the Angel of Death. If the Angel of Death was a voluptuous blonde in her seventies.

“That’s a lie, you haven’t come in years,,” she said. “I don’t know how you stand it.”

I took a deep breath. Coral was a good person. It would be bad if I strangled her. “That’s what you came to tell me?”

“I worry about you, honey,” she said, coming to stand on the other side of the old marble-topped counter. “It’s not good to go without sex for years. And years. And years. Probably because you dress like an old woman.” She looked closer. “Is that one of Mrs. Baumgarten’s old dresses under that horrible apron? You’ve been thrifting again, haven’t you? Are you braless? You’re fifty years old—”

“Forty-nine,” I said. “I’m not fifty until Saturday. And the shop’s closed, there’s a sign and everything, so underwear is unnecessary. And uncomfortable.” I looked down at the top of my loose apron. “How could you tell I’m braless in this?”

“Things were shifting under there,” Coral said. “Beauty is pain. Put on a damn bra.”

I surveyed her with skepticism.

She was flashing enough seventy-three-year-old cleavage over a wasp-ish waist to cast doubt on her mourning, although I had to give her credit for maintaining her figure or at least corralling it with powerful undergarments. She would have pulled it off, too, except for that thing on her head, resting on her faux blonde upsweep: a wide-brimmed black picture hat full of black tulle bows with a black spotted veil swathing her face.

“That hat needs a crow,” I told her, squinting at it. I would have put a crow on it, first thing out of the box.

“Oh, god,” Lian said in my ear. “Is she in mourning?”

“Yes,” I said to Lian.

“No,” Coral said, rejecting my crow idea, but thankfully moving on from my non-existent sex life and my equally non-existent underwear. “Have you heard from Barry?”

“Oh yeah, just what you need,” Lian said. “A shifty lawyer.”

Lian is the other lawyer in Rocky Start. The good one.

“Why would I hear from Barry?” I asked Coral.

“About Ozzie’s will.”

She sounded breathless and avid, not a good look for mourning. Coral really loves drama. I think it’s the heat from the ovens at her place and all the caffeine.

“Coral, he died two days ago. Give the body time to cool.” I saw her flinch and felt bad because she really is a good egg. “I’m so sorry, Coral, that was thoughtless. It’s just not a good day. No, I have not heard from Ozzie’s lawyer. I don’t even know if Ozzie made a will. I’m pretty sure he thought he was immortal.”

“He was wrong,” Lian said judiciously in my ear. “Everyone needs a will.”

“Let’s not speak ill of the dead,” Coral said at the same time.

I wanted to say, I wasn’t speaking ill, I loved the cranky bastard like the father I never had, but that would just get me into more conversation, and I had a doll’s head to glue to a bottle of opium.

“You should call Barry,” Coral said. “You need professional help to handle Ozzie’s estate.”

Barry was not a professional kind of lawyer, which is probably why Ozzie had liked him. Most of Barry’s local clientele came to Rocky Start from out of town. Usually after dark.

“I’ll talk to him,” I told Coral.

“Don’t you dare,” Lian said in my ear. “You’ll get legal cooties.”

“Ozzie would want you to call Barry.”

Coral looked at me soulfully through the spotted veil, and I wondered how long she was going to be in mourning. I knew she truly missed the old grump. Not like my daughter Poppy and I did, but still, she’d cared for him. Kind of. Well, she’d slept with him a lot.

“Do you think he left anything to me?” Coral went on.

She leaned forward, and her breasts came with her, threatening the black satin that bound them. Ozzie used to call her The Couch because he said she was well-upholstered. “I’m spending the night on The Couch,” he’d say, “If anybody calls, tell them I’m in Ecstasy”, and then he’d head over to her apartment above her bakery. He didn’t call her the Couch behind her back; that was his nickname for her, in front of her face. Ozzie didn’t go in for tact. He didn’t go in for people, either, although he went into Coral with surprising frequency for a seventy-eight-year-old misanthrope.

Pike, her other friend with benefits, was her younger man. Seventy-two.

Coral must be buying Viagra and lube by the case.

That sounds snotty, but actually, I was envious. I didn’t know anybody I’d be willing to take my clothes off for—small town, limited population, much of it weird—and Coral had two guys on the line, both of them perfectly willing to share her. Of course, Pike and Ozzie had also shared a past before Rocky Start which they had never talked about.

“I have no idea if he left you anything,” I lied to her to be nice. Ozzie wouldn’t leave anything to anybody. He accumulated things, he didn’t give them away. As my daughter Poppy once said, ‘If you crossed a pack rat with a raccoon, you’d get Ozzie’. “He didn’t leave me anything, either,” I added.

Coral frowned. “Of course he did. Why would you think that?”

“He said so. He kept telling me to make plans for the future that didn’t include this place.” He’d tried to make it sound like he was doing me a favor, a sort of “You’re better than this place,” but he was also pretty obviously telling me I was temporary and not to get any ideas about permanence. Even though Poppy and I had been there for nineteen years.

“That sounds like Ozzie.” Coral shook her head, making her hat swivel a little on her head. It really needed a crow. “Do you know what this building is worth? If there’s no will, which there probably isn’t knowing how Ozzie was, then Norman is probably going to sell the whole thing.”
“Norman? Really?” Ozzie loathed his brother, I didn’t see him leaving that moocher anything.
But if there was no will . . .

“He’s the only living relative Ozzie had.” Then Coral leaned in and whispered, “But if there is a will and Ozzie left the building to me, I’ll give you some of the money when I sell it.”

“Coral,” I began, about to tell her that I wanted to discuss my lack of money even less than I wanted to discuss my lack of intercourse and undergarments, but then the bell rang again as the door to the shop opened, and a man came in: middle height, pale and dark-haired, slick-looking, probably in his mid-thirties, expensive suit (bespoke cut), air of superiority, a Rolex (a real one, I can tell) your general upper class weasel sharing Coral’s inability to read a CLOSED sign.

“Who’s that?” Lian said in my ear, having heard the bell.

“We’re closed,” I said to Beady Eyes.

“You’re right,” he said. “I was just going to tell you that. My name is Oswald, and this place belongs to me.”

I was so surprised that it took me awhile to react, but once I got my brain working again, I frowned at him. “What?”

He smiled but there was nothing friendly about him.“I’m Ozzie Oswald’s son, Oswald Junior, and since he’d dead, all this is mine now.” He looked around the shop, sneering. “So I’m taking over. I’m closing this place down. You need to get out. Now.”

I just stared at him for a moment, at his feral smile and tiny eyes.

Then he added, “You have no legal standing to be here, honey, and I doubt you ever earned your salary anyway, so you’re no loss. Get out.”

He smirked and I hate smirkers, and he was ordering me around, and if you want to see me go ballistic, try telling me what to do, plus under all that bravado, he was nervous, so this was a scam. I dropped the doll’s head onto the counter, walked around him, opened the door, and pointed outside. “Out, Limb of Satan.”

His smirk got smirkier. “You really think I’m going to let a middle-aged woman throw me out of my own property? Get over yourself, grandma.”

“What the hell?” Lian said in my ear.

Coral was appraising the stranger with narrowed eyes behind her veil.

Junior went on as if talking to a simpleton. “Do you understand? I own this place now and the business is closed for good.” He looked around the shop as if calculating its worth.

“The hell he owns that place,” Lian said in my ear. “And even if he does, you have tenant rights. I’m calling Pike.”

“This is a scam, a truly stupid one,” I said to him. Twelve years traveling with Poppy’s father and then nineteen years working with Ozzie, and I had mad skills for spotting the crooked. Just not for avoiding them. I picked up the only heavy thing on the shelf by the door, a reproduction of the Maltese Falcon, and gestured to him with it. “Get out, Junior, and I won’t beat you to death with a movie prop.”

“Ozzie never mentioned a son,” Coral murmured from behind Junior. “He would have mentioned that.”

“Look.” He reached into an inner pocket, retrieved a picture and held it out.

Coral hustled over to take the picture and drew in her breath. Then she came forward and showed it to me.

A young man with a sharp face, dressed in dull green fatigues, was looking at a tall slender woman next to him wearing khaki with the blackest, straightest hair I’d ever seen, framing skin so pale she looked dead. Beautiful but dead. Morticia Addams in the flesh.

“My mother, Serena Stafford,” he said. “And my father, the man you knew as Ozzie Oswald. We thought he was dead all these years.”

“That could be anybody,” I said, getting even more irritated, but Coral shook her head.

“It’s Oz,” she whispered as if seeing a ghost. “I remember. God, he was so handsome then. Six-pack abs. He could crack a walnut with his glutes.”

I frowned at her, not pleased to know about Ozzie’s glutes and even less pleased that she was supporting Fake Ozzie Junior. “I don’t care if it is Ozzie. He’s just standing next to a vampire, that doesn’t mean they made this guy together.”

“I’ve got a lab sending a DNA test to Dad’s lawyer,” Junior said. “But you need to get out of here now, or I’ll call the cops and have you arrested for trespassing on my property. Women of your age don’t do well in jail.”

“I don’t like this,” Lian whispered in my ear. “Stall him, Pike’s on his way.”

“Nobody does well in jail, you moron.” I opened the door wider. “Ozzie’s estate hasn’t been settled yet, so nobody has any idea who gets what. And I have a bottle of opium that needs a head. Get. Out.”

Junior looked annoyed. He’d obviously thought it would be easy bullying some middle-aged counter clerk in a small Appalachian town. Dumbass.

Coral was still staring at the photo lost in her walnut-cracking memories, but Junior pulled it back from her and tucked it away in his coat.

“Mom?” Poppy said from the doorway, just home from high school, tall and blonde and beautiful and eighteen and not like me at all. Well, I’m tall.

“Hello,” Junior said to her, and then started toward her. “You, on the other hand, can stay.”

I moved around him fast to block him from my daughter, and Poppy’s voice pitched up. “Mom!”

“Rose,” Lian said in my ear. “Be careful. Let Pike handle this.”

Junior grabbed my arm to shove me out of his way, and it was just not the day to do that to me, okay? I shoved him back as Coral reached up and pulled something out of the crown of her hat. Poppy came toward us, and he turned to her, and I swung the Falcon with enthusiasm and whacked him hard on the shoulder.

He yelled and dropped my arm and staggered as I drove him toward the open doorway, swinging the Falcon again and again, yelling “Stay away from my kid, you perv!” as he fell back.
Then he grabbed me, dragging me with him as he stumbled outside onto the steps.

Poppy said, “Mom!” and Junior backhanded me with one hand as he let go with the other.

“MOM,” Poppy yelled.

I slapped my hand on his chest to push him away, dazed from the blow, and started to swing the Falcon again, and when his eyes followed my arm, I slid two fingers onto his wallet in his jacket. Then when he swung back to me, half a second later, the movement of his body pulled it away from the wallet so it was out of his pocket. I pressed closer and dropped the wallet into one of my lovely, large apron pockets as I shoved him away again and swung the Falcon low and hard, aiming up for his hot spot, just like Ozzie had taught me, with only one thought in mind.

The best thing about my week was going to be neutering Junior.

69 thoughts on “Rocky Start, Chapter One: Rose

  1. Where’s the rest of it? I’m hooked. It has all the hallmarks of a Cruise /Mayer.

    The sentence regarding the best secondhand store in Rocky Start, Georgia and Tennessee, (it’s 4:30 am when I started reading), it feels clunky. The best in Rocky Start, Georgia the town and all of Tennessee? Rocky Start is on the border of the two states?

    I have many questions which need answering by reading the rest of it.

    1. Read the sentence again and which is jam packed. It implies it is the best secondhand and ONLY shop in Rocky Start,Georgia and Tennessee. Tennessee doesn’t have secondhand shops? Not an editor so I’ll just go back to sleep maybe.

      1. Rocky Start straddles the line between the states, so it’s Rocky Start, GA and Rocky Start TN, one town. I’ll have to clear that up.

    2. I stumbled on that line too, but for a different reason — not sure what the connection is between being the best and being closed for the day, so the “but” in between confused me.

  2. This is going to be GREAT.
    One question. Rose says Poppy and I had been there for 19 years but poppy is 18.
    Is that meant to be a hint that Rose arrived pregnant ?

  3. As always, I love the voice. I have a few thoughts:

    1. Maybe too many names for an opening chapter: Norman, Lian, Ozzie, Mrs. Baumgarten, Coral, Pike, Rose, Barry, Poppy, Serena, Ozzie Jr…
    2. Rose keeps telling us Coral’s a good person, but we don’t see it. I would like Rose more if she had kinder thoughts toward people. (Let Coral have the lasagna! Let Mrs. B be her quirky self!) Then, when Ozzie Jr walks in, her reaction to him might be more impactful.
    3. Ozzie Jr comes in hot, over the top.
    4. I felt the tension in this scene, but it wasn’t focused. We know Rose’s life is a mess, we know she’s had a big loss and her financial security might be threatened. She’s high-strung, and in order for her to be more likable, I’d like a reason to root for her. So, to combine #3 & 4, I wonder if Rose could be anxious at the start because of a letter she got letting her know the place will be closed down. Maybe Lian could say she’s never heard of that law firm and Coral could reassure her that there’s no son…and then Ozzie Jr shows up? If he’s set this in motion, coming in hot makes more sense–why are you still here? I thought I told you to get out…? This thread might focus the tension and let it escalate?

  4. I forgot it was just a sample & couldn’t believe it just ended. I’m ready for the whole book, edited or not!

  5. I love that line, “Beauty is pain.” It’s a whole philosophy in one line. Wow, these characters are over the top. There is enough quirkiness and snark in this first segment to get my juices going. I have no suggestions for you. I do want to know what the shop, the street, and the town look like, but later for that. I am so glad Rose has Lian, because it looks like she needs her a lot, and she might be the only sane person in this setup, so far. Well, maybe besides Poppy, who is an unknown at this point.

    I looked on a US map, and you are just moving next door! New Jersey is right across the line from Pennsylvania. In my mind, it seemed a lot farther. Hmmm.

    1. Well, no, from northern NJ to south-central PA, four hours. I mean, technically, PA is thirty miles from me, but the two towns are far apart.

  6. What was Cora reaching for in her hat? A hatpin? A small Derringer? I’m just wondering.

  7. Also I love the show on how she picked his pocket and the way it makes sense of her pockets….

  8. Hi! I hope this is an okay question, but didn’t you two finish three books recently? Can you tell us when we will be to read those??? 🙏🏼 ❤️ I’m dying to know! Thank you!

    1. Yep. And multiple editors said the first one was well-written and they loved the characters, but they didn’t connect to the story and rejected it. Our agent didn’t send out the other two because if the first one didn’t get them . . . So we’re still in limbo on those.

      1. Confused. If the editors loved the characters and voice, why couldn’t agent send out one or both of the other stories? Was it the overall storyline that threads through the series that the editors didn’t connect to or that first portion?

        I’m thinking that even though it’s meant to be a set, it may be possible to rework them and just start in a different place if an editor actually took to one of the later books. Kind of like deciding to truncate the opening chapters in a standalone when the story actually gets going on chapter 10, so the writer edits to get to the real story launch sooner. Only in this case, it may mean starting the trilogy in a different point or doing a restructuring.

        Probably publishing these books as is as an indie set is the way to go, but just curious about why the agent would automatically assume future editor disinterest in something where, not just one, but multiple editors liked the characters. Confusing because connecting to the characters is usually so key and story can often be adapted.

        1. If nobody gets hooked on the first one, they won’t read the sequels. So no point in publishing something the editor doesn’t find compelling and definitely no point in buying the sequels.

      2. F them. That sucks, I’m sorry. I will buy any you publish independently. In the mean time I will go back to re-reading my favorites like I do every year. Welcome to Temptation and Faking It always top the list, and then Charlie All Night, Maybe This Time, Crazy For You, Strange Bedpersons, Trust Me on This, Cinderella Deal…you get the idea. Your work is a bright spot in my life I return to like an annual pilgrimage. Remember all of us here are behind you no matter what, even if you never publish another thing. ❤️ Thank you for the wealth of stuff we already have tucked in our minds, hearts, and bookshelves.

  9. In the aftermath of Oz Jr’s visit could Rose switch from gluing doll’s heads to empty paregoric bottles to putting together Voodoo DIY kits? BOGO?

    1. She’s an outsider artist, so she doesn’t take it as a joke. In fact, she’s pretty protective of her work, doesn’t show it to many people, and she wouldn’t make a joke of it. That’s something I have to develop better in there, but not in the first scene. There’s too much happening there already.

      1. You know, the only part that felt too much to me was the son walking in and immediately ordering her out. The rest felt like a really good fast paced start that would sweep people into the story and make them want to know more. But the son’s immediate overt hostility without even learning her name or who the geriatric blond in black was —that came on a bit fast.

  10. I was super excited to read this first chapter! I loved it! I read it twice. The first time for pure enjoyment, and the second time to take notes because I know you wanted feedback.

    I am no pro on this. I’m just the average everyday reader.

    The first line sets the stage on what is going on with Rose and what to expect from this chapter. I am not familiar with Georgia or Tennessee, but the introduction of Oddities as the best secondhand store was clear that it was the best because it was the only one; it gave it a small town feel.

    Coral’s character is one that we all love to read about; she’s quirky, dresses to get attention, promiscuous for her age. Coral is mourning the death of Ozzie so it lets us know that it was more than just booty calls between the two of them and she cared about the man.

    We don’t know what is bothering Lian, but that’s ok. It’s only chapter one.

    Oswald, when introduced, immediately we know Rose is not impressed. We know he is coming off as an ass, but it’s for show. Oswald is trying hard to be ruthless to take over the store. We don’t know if Oswald is the true love interest of the story; he is not shown any admiration from any of the characters.

    At first introduction of the two main characters that are going to develop this love/hate relationship there is some hint of admiration, attraction, or spark underneath the annoyance or distain toward each other but that was absent. Maybe someone else will be entering the story to fill this spot, and maybe I have to wait for chapter two to find. out. 🙂

    Rose’s preoccupation with gluing the doll’s head to the bottle screamed avoidance of what was truly bothering her. Rose is tough and short tempered. She defends her child like a momma bear who she has raised alone in that same town working in that same store for 19 years. Now her boss is dead and his son, or so he says, wants to kick her to the curb and she’s not going without a fight.

    That is my take on the characters. It’s pretty positive but that is no surprise because I love your writing. I think if I have to give a critique I would say that I would have liked a little more about Rose. Show me why she is wearing those awful aprons hiding her body. Why has she stopped caring about her appearance at only age 50. I know it’s only chapter one, but just a little more of that.

    I loved it! I can’t wait to read more about rose and this pain in the ass Oswald.

    Thank you for sharing with us!

    1. Jennifer Crusie would never have a love interest named Oswald! 😁 He’s the villain for sure. I suspect he is doomed.

  11. I was sure that Coral was getting a long deadly hatpin, and that when Rose smacked him, he’d back into it and die. And the hatpin, being old and a bit grungy, breaks off leaving weapon embedded in Junior’s meagre brain. Immediate mess: recent death, pending panic, Junior’s accidental death immediately following his insults and threatening behavior. Perfect setup for ‘oh holy shit, just what I needed…” A bit more backstory on Rose might make her more likable, which would be good. Knowing she’s coming from you, I’m ready to like her, but from this… not much.

  12. I’m going to enjoy this very much!
    I like the characters (a deal breaker for me) and the idea
    of an antique shop opens many possibilities!
    I can only nitpick:
    “She sounded breathless and avid”–I don’t think that’s possible.
    Avid is not a sound; it’s a look or an attitude.
    It’s also one of your signature words; I re-read your novels
    often, and that word comes up in several of them, sometimes multiple
    Sorry to nitpick. Please post more soon!

  13. I enjoyed this very much. It does, however, feel a bit all over the place. I’ve got a feeling this is your discovery draft, so there will be much editing. I’ll echo what others have said

    – Rose seems on edge, and you’re slowly building to the reason – her world has been upended by this sudden death. But it seems she’s too quick to start beating someone over the head. I expect that we need to know she’s protective of her daughter (points for her there).

    – Coral is more brash than solicitous. She appears to be concerned about what’s in it for her. I still don’t know why she wanted to come in the store.

    – I’m guessing that Oz Jr is a scam artist – hence trying to bully in and take over before things get settled. I’m interested to see what his wallet holds. BUT – I didn’t see the pickpocket skills coming. I would think those get rusty, especially after 19 years in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business.

    Look forward to reading more.

    1. Yes! Foreshadow the pickpocket skills— instead of dropping the doll’s head on the counter, she cocked a hip and the doll’s head tumbled into her apron pocket, where it no doubt would leave annoying gluey residue.
      I see the apron pockets being across between a sword’s sheath and theTardis— bigger on the inside than the outside.

      This has off-the-chart comedic potential.

      Coral – if the Angel of Death was a voluptuous blonde in her seventies with an incurable Miss Clairol habit?
      – her attire ‘disciplining’her figure? The hat — that monstrosity on her head rather then that thing?or that mistake on her head?
      Deep down or at bottom , she really is a good egg. How do we know? Could she bring in a latte or muffin or something?
      – ‘a breathless ( or breathy,girlish) voice and an avid gleam in her eye? Not a good look etc.
      Cora is Marilyn if she had been more careful in the bath

      she reaches into her hat- maybe a ‘metallic glint’ suggesting a hatpin?
      Evil Oswald enters-
      ‘I was so surprised’ (show, don’t tell) …perhaps: ‘My mind stuttered over that surprise (or statement) for a moment, and once it had rebooted, I frowned.’

      Oswald- oddly pale, he smiled-the least friendly excuse for a smile I’d ever seen-
      Rolex- (real, you can always tell…)
      Could the first mention of the picture be ‘creased, dog-eared photograph’ or is that too adjectivy?
      Also possibly adjectivy suggestion- the photograph mom-Morticia Addams in the ‘pallid’ flesh?
      He smirked. I hate smirkers, and he was ordering me around. If you want to see me go ballistic…
      Poppy -instead of beautiful- glowing, or luminous? Vibrant with youth?
      Poppy comes in “Hello” he said, eyebrows shooting upwards as he started towards her “you … schmooze schmooze. – a reddish haze blurs mom’s vision.
      Perhaps the first hit with the Falcon can be fortuitous rather than 100% purposeful? He turns or swings around and the obsidian statue connects forcefully with his shoulder, or funnybone? She is giving off Cranky Agnes vibes here pretty quickly without perhaps sufficient provocation. When he rounds on her with a snarl, she can commence togive him another one where it would do the most good…

      Just doing the line editor thing because I thoroughly enjoy it, ignore all that you want!

      1. Can the apron, if it is going to feature further in the story, have an image or words on it? A doll’s head on each boob or something?
        Or Oddities by Ozzie

          1. Is Rocky Start a town where people with murky pasts go to get a new start? And neighbors don’t ask too many questions?
            The kind of place you don’t want to waltz into and stir up trouble. Are Ozzie Jr’s days numbered?

  14. Immediately gripping, and I am totally chuffed to be Rose’s best friend! Love the teasers: Rose’s life involving possible jail in the near future, no one paying any attention to a middle-aged woman in a big apron, pockets being important in her life – and the payoff to this last one! Plus the hints that pretty much everyone has some dodgy/difficult stuff in their pasts that they don’t talk about.

    Coral is gorgeous and hilarious and I want to live next door to her. Lian is interesting (well, of course) and clearly a good friend, and I want to know why she’s stressed. LOVE the hints about Rose’s past and how she knows a scam when she sees one.

    A couple of things that made me pause. The first mention of Poppy – I got a bit confused with her and Coral and the lasagna. My first thought was that Poppy was a typo and you meant Coral. Had to reread that bit a couple of times to figure out what was happening.

    I think Ozzie Jr comes on way too strong straight away. He’s so obviously a villain – his entrance felt cartoon-ish. And I know you’ve set up Rose’s tension and bad day, but the violence still felt as if it escalated very suddenly.

    1. Nope. That was mother bear protective violence, added to all the other stresses. I totally get that.

  15. I adore the descriptions of Coral. ‘She leaned forward and her breasts came with her’ – I just love that line, and the sense that her breasts have a life of their own.

    And Rose picking Ozzie Jnr’s pocket while she beats him out of her store with a Millennium Falcon is fabulous.

    I love the line, too, about Rose having mad skills for spotting the crooked, but not for avoiding them. There’s so much history and character packed into those few words, and I’m looking forward to seeing that play out.

    1. I don’t know, I kind of feel the opposite about Coral. She sounds completely focused on What’s Best for Me & Can I Have Whatever’s Best For You Too?

      1. I don’t disagree, but I do find her an interesting character, and the descriptions of her are vivid and funny.

  16. That last line just made my day. Possibly my week, month…

    Thank you for this! I’ll look forward to the acquiring it!

  17. So excited about new books from you!! Automatic preorders for sure!

    And I love that you used Lian’s name; feels like a nod to your cheering section/blog followers.

    One thing confused me- the guy we automatically don’t like came in saying he was Ozzie Oswald’s son, Oswald, Jr., but when he shows them the photo he refers to his dad as ‘the man you knew as Ozzie Oswald.” Maybe this is meant to be suspicious? But if not, why would he be Oswald, Jr., if his dad’s name was something else entirely?

    1. That’s what happens when you change the plot a lot. You end up with a lot of leftover detail that doesn’t fit. Will fix.

  18. Oof! That’s a lot! I am, as always, completely invested. While also being anxious, a bit unnerved (so much hostility / unhappiness / conflict) and inclined to assume this will be a comic thriller with romantic elements rather than a comic romance with thriller elements. Must see more. 🙂

  19. Far be it from me to rain on this parade, but doesn’t the scene with the Maltese Falcon replica remind you of Cranky Agnes with a pan of hot raspberry sauce? And her beautiful daughter reminds me of Lisa Livia’s daughter that Agnes helped raise. Of course, this is just the very beginning, so the parallels might not continue, but it does feel rather familiar.
    That being said, I loved the tone and the fact that her best friend’s name is Lian.

  20. Am just sitting down to read and enjoy it at leisure but stumbled over one thing right off the block:

    How on earth do you pronounce “Lian” — is it like the male name “Liam” but with “n” instead of “m” (which, for me, invokes my grandfather’s name “Leon”), or is it like “LeeAnne”? Or something else…

    (Having a struggle trying to parse it as “not-Liam”, must admit…)

    Sorry, dumb question….

    1. I’ve been saying, “Lee Ann,” but we should probably get Lian to give us the official pronunciation.

  21. I love reading these in-process scenes so much! It’s always a master class in writing. I love the sense of place and community that’s already forming. And all the references to people’s shady pasts and new starts create fun story questions.

    Re: the characters, I agree with the person who said Oswald is a bit cartoonish. I assume he’s not the real villain but only the distraction while someone smarter and more sinister pulls the strings, but he was still a bit much for my taste.

    And then there’s Coral. I love that we get to see a fun and interesting 70-something woman. I’m rooting for her to have a central role in the story! But in this scene, we keep being told she’s kind and caring, which flies in the face of what we’re seeing. Maybe her behavior on this particular day is out of character due to the circumstances, but why doesn’t Rose ping on that? Rose seems sad and worried, but not in a mental fog, so how would our smart Crusie heroine miss that her old friend is “off?”

  22. I want a picture hat with a crow on it now.
    And your new books, including the not yet written ones.
    And a hat.

  23. I don’t find Rose unlikable — I think there are enough references to how she normally is and the fact that she’s under an enormous amount of duress that her less charitable thoughts feel relatable rather than a turn-off. Same with her reminding herself to be nice and that the other person doesn’t deserve her ire.

    The first line feels a bit awkward. It starts off great, but I think the bit about Lian falls a bit flat. Maybe mention gluing the doll head to the paregoric here instead? I’m not sure if that messes with your flow.

    I like the part where she places herself between Jr and Poppy. I think moms in general, but especially ones with the street smarts Rose does, know instinctively when a creep is creeping on their child, especially when she can tell he’s slimy in other ways.

    I also really like the sort of multi-way conversation going on between Rose-Coral, Rose-Lian, and sometimes Lian–>Coral when Lian infers something from the conversation.

    I also really like the “Let’s not speak of the ill” interchange (sorry I’m being quite repetitive I’ve just realized with “I also really like” haha).

    I agree that Jr’s a bit overly villainous, but I like that you have multiple references to Rose’s history with people not quite on the straight and narrow, which means she would definitely have the insight to know Jr was pulling something shady and to notice that he was nervous underneath it all. But actually, because of this experience, I think it might be ok to turn Jr’s personality down a knotch to a level “normal” people might not notice his scheming and still have her notice things are off.

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