First Scenes: A Ramble.

So I finally, finally, FINALLY got my rewrite of One in Vermillion to Bob, and he’s trying to format it now, which is not easy because the chapters numbers are all screwed up, but he’s just glad to have pried it out of my tense, panicking hands. And so now I am finally, finally, FINALLY back to Rocky Start. Which is no longer Excellent Oddities. Now it’s Rocky Start again.

And I’m looking at the first scene, which I wrote, and I think it’s too long.

Here’s my theory of scene length: I think scenes should get shorter as a reader moves through a book.

That’s not always possible of course, Vermillion’s scene are all over the place which worries me, but when you’re talking about first scenes, those are always going to be the longest in the book. The readers aren’t tired yet, they’ll read for quite before getting impatient, but not forever, so my rule of thumb is that no scene including the first scene should ever be more than 3000 words.

[Just to be clear, that’s my rule for me, not for anybody else. I have a hell of a time plotting (enter Bob) so I need rules to hem me in; many other writers do not. Do not take that A Rule. It’s what I use to keep myself from nattering.]

So here we are with the first scene of Rocky Start, which I like, and it’s 3357 words. I really need to cut a couple of pages. (A page is about 250 words.).

So the first thing I do is figure out the conflict which here is Rose vs Junior. But there’s a whack of words at the beginning where the conflict is Rose vs Coral (1060 words). And then there’s a bit at the end where the conflict is Rose vs Max (873 words), followed by a coda that’s Rose vs Lian about Max (275 words).

Obviously the solution is to cut everything that’s not Rose vs. Junior. But I don’t wanna. I like the way Rose and Coral’s friendship is introduced because it also sets up Rose’s world. I like the stuff with Max because it establishes his character before the next scene, which is his, and also connects him to Rose so that reader has a romance contract right off the bat. (I think the reader sees Max as the love interest. I hope the reader sees Max as the love interest. That’s the plan.) And I like the coda with Lian at the end because it rounds off the beginning stuff with Coral: The reader knows these are her two closest friends and Max is her love interest (I hope), so the character set-up in in place.

But that’s what I want. What the reader wants might be something entirely different. Anytime I find myself saying, “I really need to set this up,” I put the brakes on. Reader don’t give a damn what I need to set up, they just want a story. And a story that starts with a 3000+ word scene starts slow.

On the other hand, it’s a first scene. So maybe . . .

I don’t know. So I’m putting it up here again. I might have done this before, but there’s been a lot of rewriting since then, so if you have some spare time and want to read this, what I need to know is:

Is this too long?

Does the conflict switch too often? Rose’s goal never changes, but the antagonists do. I think.

What parts read slow and you think should be cut?

And I thank you for your help.

Chapter 1

It’s very difficult to glue a plastic doll’s head on a glass bottle when you’re tense. I mention this because that’s what I was doing on Day Three of what was shaping up to be the second worst week of my life, right before the moment my world went totally out of whack. And it was pretty much devoid of whack before that.

I was standing behind the marble-topped counter in Oddities, the secondhand store where I was the sole employee, having just made a pan of lasagna for dinner—don’t forget to put that in the oven later, Rose—trying to glue the doll’s head on this paregoric bottle I’d found buried in the shop—lotta things buried in this shop—trying to keep from smearing glue on my work apron—not the tie-behind-the-waist kind of apron, the kind you put over your head with the straps crisscrossed in back—and trying not to give up and just scream with anxiety. The apron’s a little frumpy, but that’s good because nobody pays any attention to a middle-aged woman in an apron, and the last thing I wanted was for anybody to notice how upset I was. I don’t get upset. Other people get upset and I fix things for them. Also my aprons have huge pockets. Pockets are very important in my life. If nothing else, they were someplace to put my hands so I didn’t tear my hair out as I tried to figure out where the hell my daughter and I were going to live for the next eleven months, seeing as we were a little short of cash and possibly about to be evicted from our longtime home above the shop. I mean, we have friends, we wouldn’t be living on the street, but this was our home and my job and Ozzie was dead and . . . .

As I said, bad week.

The bottle was my latest attempt at Outsider Art, which is just a fancy way of saying that I never went to art school so I was making it up as I went along, which is also pretty much the story of my life. I wasn’t even sure what this was going to be, I was just sure that bottle needed a head. Possibly because I was losing mine. And the glue wasn’t working. Nothing in my life was working.

Somebody rattled the front door to the shop, and I thought, Just come in, it’s unlocked, we’re open, and then I realized I’d forgotten to unlock it and flip the CLOSED sign to OPEN. I looked up and saw through the window that it was Coral Schmidt, the proprietor of Ecstasy, this amazing German coffee shop and bakery next door. The food there is truly orgasmic, although I’m pretty sure Coral named the shop that so she could say, “This is Coral in Ecstasy,” every time she answered the phone.

I started around the counter to let her in, but before I got there, I heard her key scrape in the lock, and then she came in, saying,
“Rose? Why didn’t you open the door?”

“I was coming . . . ” I started 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, Rose,” she said as she closed the door behind her. “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 from rage, anxiety and sexual frustration. That I did not have because who needs sex? All that naked thrashing about with somebody who lies to you? I mean, really.

“I worry about you, honey,” she said, standing on the other side of the old 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 Betty 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 Halloween. 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?”

“You’re a C cup and things were shifting under there.” Coral shook her head. “Beauty is pain. Put on a bra. Somebody wonderful could walk through that door at any time, and there you’d be. Not ready.”

Coral was always ready.

She was flashing enough seventy-three-year-old cleavage—D cup—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 long faux-blonde hair: 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.

“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 Ozzie’s lawyer yet?”

“Barry? Why would I hear from Barry?”

“About Ozzie’s will.”

Coral really loves drama. I think it’s the heat from the ovens at her place and all the caffeine.

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

I was about to tell her that I was pretty sure that Ozzie hadn’t made a will, but then the bell rang again as the door to the shop opened, and a man came in: middle height, pale and dark-haired, good-looking except for his beady eyes and air of superiority. Your basic upper class-weasel who shared Coral’s inability to read a CLOSED sign.

“We’re closed,” I said to Beady Eyes, disliking him on sight.

“You must be Rose Malone.” He smiled at me with cold eyes.

“Must I?”

“My father’s right-hand woman and who knows what else,” he said. “Unfortunately, since Oz is dead now, he doesn’t need a right hand.”

“Wait a minute,” I said, as Coral swiveled to look at him.

He smiled, no warmth at all. “I’m Oz Oswald’s son, Oswald Junior, and I’ve inherited this building and the business. I’m sorry for your loss, but you have to go.”

I just stared at the jerk for a moment, at his feral smile and tiny eyes. He looked nothing at all like Ozzie. Which was going to make it easier to beat him to a pulp for trying to kick me and my kid out of our home.

When I didn’t move, he said, “What part of this don’t you understand?”

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 (unless you’re Ozzie), plus under all that bravado, he was nervous, so this was a scam. I walked out from behind the counter and around him, opened the door, and pointed to the street. “Out, Limb of Satan.”

His smirk got smirkier. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“This is a con, 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 heavy reproduction of the Maltese Falcon on the counter, the one that Ozzie had called our security system although it didn’t do anything except look menacing . I could feel all that tension and frustration spiraling into rage. It really was not the day to mess with me. “Get out, Junior, and I won’t beat you to death with a movie prop.”

“Oz never mentioned a son,” Coral murmured from behind Junior.

“Look.” He reached into an inner jacket pocket, retrieved his wallet, and took out a paper. A photo fell out as he did, and he held the paper out to me as Coral scooped up the photo. “Here’s the DNA report. Oz Oswald was my father.”

I took the paper, which was basically a bunch of figures I didn’t understand under abbreviations I didn’t understand, but at the top it stated that Oswald Stafford was a 97% match as a son of Joseph Oswald. “This is just a paper,” I said, handing it back to him. “Anybody could have typed this up and printed it out. And his first name was Ozzie, not Joseph.”

He shook his head. “My mother gave me that. It’s real. Plus, she would know who my father is. I’m Oswald Junior.”
Coral was looking at the picture, rapt. Then she came to the door 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.

“That’s my mother, Serena Stafford,” Junior said. “And my father, the man you knew as Oz Oswald. We thought he was dead all these years.”

“That could be anybody,” I said, and gripped the Falcon tighter, 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 glared at her, not pleased to know about Ozzie’s glutes and even less pleased that she was supporting Fake Ozzie Junior and his fake DNA test. “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.”

“This is ridiculous,” Junior said. “You need to get out of here now.”

I opened the door wider and gestured with the Falcon. “Ozzie’s estate hasn’t been settled yet, so nobody has any idea who gets what. And I have a bottle that needs a head. Get. Out.”

Coral was still staring at the photo lost in her walnut-cracking memories, but Junior took it from her, put it back into his wallet with the DNA test, and tucked both away in his jacket pocket, his eyes darting all over the place as if looking for something.

Then Poppy appeared in the kitchen doorway, home late from high school, tall and blonde and beautiful and eighteen and not like me at all. Well, I’m tall.

“You’re making lasagna for our wake?” she said to me. “Ozzie would have loved that.”

“Yes,” I said, and then Junior moved toward her.

Hello,” he said to her. “You can stay.”

”No.” I moved around him fast to block him from my daughter, Falcon in hand, and he grabbed my arm hard to shove me out of the way as Poppy said, “Mom?”

I tried to jerk my arm away and said, “Get out!” as Coral reached up and pulled something out of the crown of her hat.

When he didn’t let go, I whacked him hard on the shoulder with the Falcon.

He yelled and staggered back, and I drove him toward the open doorway, swinging the Falcon, yelling “Stay away from my kid, you perv!” until he fell out the door, dragging me with him as he stumbled onto the sidewalk.

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

Coral snarled and slashed at him and I saw a line of red blossom on his sleeve, as I slapped my hand on his chest to push him away, dizzy from the blow and started to swing the Falcon again with one hand and slid two fingers of the other hand into his jacket and onto his wallet while his eyes followed the Falcon. When he pulled away from me, half a second later, the movement of his body pulled the wallet out of his pocket, the lift hidden in his motion. I pressed closer and dropped the wallet into one of my apron pockets, but then he reached into his jacket and I thought he’d felt the lift after all, so I shoved him away again and swung the Falcon low and hard, aiming up for his hot spot, just like Ozzie had taught me—

And he disappeared.

Momentum from the missed swing to the nuts kept me moving and I staggered a little, but I could see Junior sprawled out in the street now, courtesy of a new guy standing in front of me who turned to look at me with no expression at all: Middle-aged, dark hair with grey at the temples, weather-beaten, unshaven, gaunt in dusty black, a man who looked like he’d traveled far and hadn’t enjoyed it and hadn’t eaten much on the way. Another Angel of Death.

With a weary sigh, he put down a massive backpack beside a dog that looked like a big black wolf.

“I had that,” I said, annoyed because I do not need rescued and I’d really been looking forward to neutering Junior.

“You did not have that,” he said calmly, which irritated me further, another one of those Master of the Universe guys, but then I saw Junior get up off the street and charge him, and I yelled “Behind you!” and the dog barked, and the new guy took a step sideways and did a leg sweep and took Junior down again. His expression never changed. Stoic R’ Us.

Okay, I was beginning to warm to him.

Junior went with the fall and rolled to his feet, surprisingly agile. The two of them spent a moment looking at each other, sizing each other up, the dog baring its teeth by the good guy’s side, and I thought, This is getting dangerous. Junior was looking actually threatening now, but the new guy was really scary, grim and expressionless.

Then I saw my friend Lian running out of her law office across the street with her taser, and Coral was at my side with a long, skinny knife I was pretty sure she’d just used on Junior, and Poppy came out of the shop with Ozzie’s shotgun, which was a nice gesture but useless since I’d taken the shells out a long time ago. Still she looked impressive and her aim was good as she zeroed in on Junior.

“Pike’s on his way!” Lian yelled, and I looked at Junior.

“Pike’s the local law, and you hit me in front of witnesses,” I said to him. “Plus my friends are armed and dangerous. I’d leave if I were you.”

Junior ignored me, staring at the new guy who stared back. I would have said it was a “Make my day” moment except the new guy looked like he didn’t give a damn. I could tell Junior was trying to make a decision, but before he could, a darkened window in the rear of a large Mercedes SUV across the street powered down and a woman’s low voice called out. “Oswald Junior! Enough.”

Junior said, “I’ll be back for what’s mine,” and walked to the SUV. He opened the passenger door and got in, and it was moving before he shut the door.

Lian reached us, breathless, taser at the ready. “I saw what happened. Are you okay, Rose?”

“Yes.” I said, ignoring my throbbing cheek as I watched the big, dark Mercedes roll down State Street. We didn’t get a lot of vehicles like that in Rocky Start. “Did you really call Pike?”

“Yes. As soon as I saw that guy hit you, I yelled ‘Oddities!’ into the phone and grabbed my taser.” Lian looked at the good guy. “And you are?”

“Just passing through.” He picked up his backpack, shrugging it on with one practiced movement, and motioned to his big black dog. “You ladies have a nice day.”

“Wait!” Poppy called and came down the steps with her shotgun. “Your dog—”

“Wait a minute,” I said at the same time, feeling guilty now. The guy had helped and I’d snapped at him, the least I could do was . . . something. Offer him a drink? Lasagna? My body?

Okay, that last one was Coral’s fault.

But he really was sort of attractive, if you liked serious, dusty, underfed, expressionless, middle-aged men with cheekbones and an overwhelming aura of gravity and menace who rescued you.

He shook his head at Poppy, nodded to me, and walked away with his dog down State Street, the same route the Mercedes had taken, his back straight, and his stride strong, except for a slight limp in one leg.

“Stripes,” Poppy said.

That’s the family code for danger. I used to panic all the time and Ozzie would say, “Rose, if you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras. Unless you see stripes. Then come get me.” So our code for danger has always been stripes. Except now we couldn’t get Ozzie. Damn it.

“He seemed nice,” I said to Poppy. “No stripes.” Well, not a lot of stripes.

“That dog hasn’t been brushed in months,” Poppy said severely. “That’s neglect.” She handed me the shotgun and started down the street after the guy and his dog.

This was all wrong. Ozzie dies, Coral shows up looking like Elvira Queen of the Night, an asshole in a big Mercedes tries to take my home, and then a stranger with a wolf shows up just in time to protect me while fulfilling Coral’s fantasies?

No. Poppy was right, we were looking at stripes.

“What the hell is going on?” Lian asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, looking down the street after the stranger. “But I don’t like any of it.” Except maybe him.
Except I have terrible taste in men, so not him.

I looked around for Coral, but she’d disappeared, which was not like her, in the midst of drama. Coral loved drama.
“You know,” Lian said, watching the stranger, “that guy was attractive in an experienced Johnny Cash man-in-black kind of way.”
“He didn’t look anything at all like Johnny Cash.” Springsteen, maybe.

“No, the vibe,” Lian was saying. “Like he had been interesting places and done dangerous things. I find that very hot.”

“Then stop dating younger men.”

Lian waved that away. “What are you going to do now?”

I gave it about two seconds’ thought. “Go after Poppy so she doesn’t annoy the good guy about his dog. Lift his wallet to find out who he is and why he was in town just in time to interfere with Junior because two strangers here in the same ten minutes is suspicious. Put the lasagna in the oven so we have dinner tonight.” I looked at Lian. “Thank you for coming to tase the enemy. You are a good, true friend.”

“Here.” She handed me the taser. “In case a stranger gets ugly again. The good guy was not ugly, but if he catches you in mid-lift of his wallet, that might change.” She looked off down the street. “No, he still wouldn’t be ugly.”

“He’s too old for you,” I said and went to put the shotgun inside so I could go hunt zebras.

49 thoughts on “First Scenes: A Ramble.

  1. I like it, because it introduces us not just to Rose and her potential romantic interest, but also to the other important characters, her daughter and her friends, and to the shop.

    It gives the impression of a setting rich in interesting characters and atmospere, not just a cookie-cutter simple romance with cardboard characters as a backdrop for a simple 1 pairing storyline.

    Taking the room you need to introduce the other important people, not just the protagonists and antagonist, that extra flavor makes me more likely to decide I’d probably enjoy reading it.

  2. I like it. I like the ‘wandering/ meandering’ or ramble of it. I don’t know what you’d get rid of, as it all sets the characters and tone of what’s to come. Does it need to be tight? It’s only 300 odd words over your self-imposed limit.

  3. Leave it the way it is. So it’s a page over your ‘usual’ 3,000 words, it has a lot of scenes to set up. Stop obsessing!

  4. I like it as is. It reads quickly and I was drawn right in. I like the introduction of the main characters and the sense of being dropped in to a complex ongoing story.

  5. You are a marvel. What a brilliant beginning. I just outright love the entire scene and am already invested in the characters and am dying to know more about them and what happens next. Don’t cut out a thing. It’s great stuff.

  6. I read it with the mindset of what is uninteresting or slows the pace or is just unnecessary. I didn’t get any of that.

    It’s witty. I like her thought processes and the writing of it reminds me of His Girl Friday… which is a fave of mine. It’s quick and interesting and I really don’t think I would change anything.

    So I dont know that I’m much help.

  7. So nobody thought, “Is this thing ever going to end?”
    Because if so, Bob is laughing right now. He thinks I’m an idiot about word counts.

    Thank you all!

    1. Nope. We may be laughing at the fact that Bob is laughing.

      And wondering if he was clever enough to make a bet that said if you put this out there and no one has a problem with it, he gets to insert flaming pirate zombies in the story.

      1. Nope. I just asked his permission to post it and he said, “Sure.”
        But once he checks the blog, he’ll be smug.

    2. Dear Jenny,
      I loved reading that excerpt, and if word counts interfere with a great start, stop counting the damn words! Sorry to be harsh, I love everything you have written to date, so get busy and write some more for all your fans…
      Love Taf

    3. I thought it could have been longer, things escalated quite quickly. I could have read a few more lines when Oswald Jr came into the shop, he stated his claim a bit too quickly 😏.

  8. I found nothing off-putting about it. I think I’d read on even if I were trying a new author.. I presume the next scene will slow down a bit, because that pace (action, new characters) would be a little frenetic if sustained much longer. I did trip over calling a lasagna “made” before it has been baked. “Put together,” maybe?

  9. It’s great, quirky, and moves along. If you really, really, really want/need to cut something, maybe some of the self-talk that Rose is doing with the doll head and the bottle, and some of the dialogue with Coral. Some of that is not essential to know right off, and I think some of it is covered as the story progresses. For instance, I remember hot guy noticed she’s braless. Junior fills in some things. The apron could be explained later.

    I do not remember the “stripes” part from last time. I like it. I like it all. It’s truly riveting.

  10. I’m no good at this sort of thing, because your writing just sucks me in and amuses me, despite early violence. The not-named rescuer reminded me of Ford in Faking It.

    Nitpicking: I think it should be Stoics, plural, R Us, probably just because it was Toys R Us.
    All the dashes in the second paragraph, which is longer than I like to see a paragraph go, made me
    a little dizzy, but that’s just me.

    Carry on!

  11. For me, the chapter hits its stride with the paragraph “Somebody rattled…” If you want to cut words, I would look at the very beginning—especially the very long paragraph starting with “I was standing.” (You almost lost my attention in that paragraph, but I’m currently a wonderful case study in “can’t focus,” so…) But I don’t think any of the different conflicts need to be cut. Thanks for letting us read it! Can’t wait for more 🙂

  12. I think the pacing is fine. There is a lot that happens and it’s all pretty linear—not bits and pieces that feel distracting.
    You could probably do a little tightening in the first few paras—I don’t need “ lotta things buried in this shop” because you just told me something was buried in the shop for example—or the type of apron.

    But I can’t see taking out any of the elements of the scene.

  13. I like all of it but, since you ask, par. 2 to me is rambly* in a way that doesn’t track with Rose’s focus in the rest of it.

    *about the bottle, the apron, the pockets. None of those details seemed crucial to the rest of the scene.

    and maybe “He smiled at me with cold eyes.” >> something like “He smiled at me, sort of.” (I like beady eyes – two instances of beady followed by cold seemed like a few too many eyes.)

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. I think pockets is important. There’s been all the discussion about womens lack of pockets in fashion and ties in with the pick pocketing. Being a mother having to have stuff on hand. But other details could go for example “not the tie-behind-the-waist kind of apron, the kind you put over your head with the straps crisscrossed in back”. I take people thinking their clothes are frumpy but practical but this seemed like unessary detail

  14. I enjoyed it but I did find the bottle/doll’s head a bit distracting. Rose almost comes off as scatter-brained instead of almost overwhelmed because of the unsettling changes in her life.

    Once I got past the second paragraph itmoved along. You know just who the main players are going to be and how the newcomers will probably fit into the action.

  15. I like it!! Don’t cut any of the character engagement. The ramble to me was in the internal talk. I def like the setup of the various conflicts.

    Up to “someone rattled the front door” – prior that, there’s a lot of telling and not (seemingly/I assume) necessary details. Once you get into characters showing up, far more showing happens, and I like the conflicts set up.

    “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 (unless you’re Ozzie), plus under all that bravado, he was nervous, so this was a scam. I walked out from behind the counter and around him, opened the door, and pointed to the street. “Out, Limb of Satan.””

    This paragraph is a later example of the internal dialogue, to me, dragging a bit. A lot of that dialogue is also then shown in the next few paragraphs. The action is great, but the internal dialogue feels distracting/drags a bit. Maybe if it was succinct, or then not immediately shown in scene action?

    I like Lian coming to assist, and the by-play around Max with Lian (love your snappy dialogue!), but if you’re desperate to cut, maybe that if it’s not Integral to things later?

    I hope that helps! Love the new books – I’m pre-ordering everything! 😆

  16. I love the characters and I can’t wait to read the whole story, but you lost me during the second paragraph. To me, it felt too long and unfocused. The rest of the chapter did not seem too long. I was more than willing to read another few thousand words.

  17. The intro (til Coral arrives) could be halved, and some of the banter with Coral cut. Once Junior is on scene it flows well and is doing a lot of setup and intro that I wouldn’t have noticed. (I only noticed because I was reading with my critique hat on, not my reader hat.)

  18. And I had a question that may be resolved later: if Jr is Oz’s son, and he’s named after Oz, and his mom says he’s Oz Jr, why does he need DNA test results as proof?

    Also, everytime I see Oz’s name, I get pleasant Buffy feelings. 😊

  19. I did not have a problem with the length. I think you’re right that at the start of a new book, the reader is willing to have longer scenes as we learn about the new characters and world that we’re entering.

    The primary thing that I got stuck on was a minor detail. Coral is described as having a “wasp-ish waist”. That confuses me. I keep picturing a wasp 🐝 they don’t have waists. Is that the point? Or are we referring back to WASP the acronym, which I can’t fully remember, but starts with white and ends with Protestant?

    Anyway, if you do cut as you indicated you would, I would agree in doing so before Junior arrives, but it isn’t necessary.

    Also, I’m assuming the guy with the dog is Max. And yes, I do think he’s going to be the love interest.

    1. A wasp waist is term, usually used to describe Victorians in corsets. It may not be as common as I thought it was.

      1. Thank you for the explanation. For a reference point, I am a 53 years old midwesterner and I do read Regency romance a bit but I still didn’t know what the term meant. Maybe others did though. 🤷🏻‍♀️

        1. Wikipedia:
          “Wasp waist is a women’s fashion silhouette, produced by a style of corset and girdle, that has experienced various periods of popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its primary feature is the abrupt transition from a natural-width rib cage to an exceedingly small waist, with the hips curving out below. Wikipedia”

  20. I’m going to be no help. I loved it – don’t care how long it is. It drew me in from the beginning. Introduced a lot of characters, but in a few words gave enough description so that we’ll remember them. This scene gave me exactly what I want as a beginning – a great need to keep reading.

  21. Overall, I really, really liked it — this time I had a sense of a Western — the bad guy, the good stranger (with dog), and the pals coming out, armed, from all directions. That’s a terrific image.

    I suspect that the bottle and doll’s head is the equivalent of the opening phone calls in Agnes & the Hitman and other Crusie tales. I don’t think it’s necessary; it doesn’t work for me.

    Ozzie Jr confuses me. (1) Rose is already worrying about being evicted before he shows up. (2) I seem to know Ozzie already from quotations of what he had said, but Ozzie Jr is described physically. (I know that’s an odd concern.) (3) I believe Rose when she sees through Ozzie Jr as a fake, but then Coral seems to confirm that he’s Ozzie’s son. (4) Ozzie Jr talks like a one-dimensional movie bad guy. His sudden spoken lust for Poppy is jarring. Why should he lose his focus on throwing Rose out? On the other hand, if I were Rose, just a suggestive glance at Poppy on Ozzie Jr’s part would have me swinging the Maltese Falcon at him.

    I love the fact that Rose swipes Ozzie Jr’s wallet during the fight. So, Rose is practiced at this stuff, eh? No wonder pockets are important to her.

    I like the way that the next move is for everyone to follow the good guy stranger (and his dog) down the street.

    This seems very much improved since I read it last. For one thing, I’m no longer put off by Rose being a large, messy, older woman — that bothered me when you posted the first couple of chapters some time ago.

    Thank you!

      1. I did spend a lot of energy trying to visualize the doll’s head thingy. If it is not important later I would cut it. But I also wanted to follow Max when he left (unfortunately I read Max’s scene before I read this one). Not sure you need all of the clean up talk. Maybe more like “who was that masked man?” And Rose saying she was going to find out by lifting his wallet.

  22. First really, enjoyed it and want to read more!
    Overall the flow works.
    FYI I had heard of spawn of satan but not limb.
    But it didn’t take me out of the story

    1. The phrases “spawn of satan” and “limb of satan” have shown up in multiple books I’ve read, but I have been reading in excess of sixty years, so…
      Am I mistaken in interpreting both phrases as a figurative child of satan? Taf

  23. I was thinking about it (okay, I over think) and realized something. Ozzie Jr’s approximate age isn’t mentioned — after looks, I would think of relative ages when I was comparing Ozzie Jr with Ozzie. (Ozzie Jr is so absolutely NOT like Ozzie in personality.)

    I love the moment in Faking It when Gwen opens the door to Michael Dempsey and wonders if she ever slept with him, he’s between 35 and 80, or something like that.

      1. So I was picturing Junior in his early 30s which makes it less creepy when he hits on Poppy. However, knowing that Ozzie is 78 and we have a photograph of him when he could crack nuts with his butt cheeks, Junior should be in his 40s.

          1. I love that with “six pack abs” and “crack a walnut with his glutes” there is a cool “both sides now” vibe. There is a “nice scenery” visual effect with that description. My sister and I would walk around the neighborhood when I was seventeen and she was sixteen checking out the scenery (aka boy watching). Old memories can be entertaining at times. Taf

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