Thu, Apr
16
2009

Is Less More?

Thu, Apr 16, 2009

Perpetua, the Night Girl

The photograph above is entitled Alien Exposure Test by Caleb Sconosciuto, and it is used in accordance with his copyright restrictions. Thanks again for another excellent photograph, Caleb!

A few months ago, my literary agent sent off The Night Girl to one of her readers, who wrote up a report. The reader drafted a summary of the story’s plot before following up with her comments, and it was instructive to see another person’s interpretation of what the story was about. Her first comments were also quite supportive:

“The Night Girl is a generally charming story that, with some revisions, would engage young readers….

“In general, the story seems to be one that would appeal to children between the ages of about nine to fourteen.”

What followed was a number of comments and suggestions which indicated that I was running into the same problem that dogged Rosemary and Time before it was accepted for publication and became The Unwritten Girl; that being a clash of styles, some of which appeal to middle grade readers while others appealed to young adult readers. I needed to pick my audience more carefully, and write to them.

In practise, this has meant that the biggest changes to the story take place in the last half. This is also the part that Erin has identified as problematic, where the threat seems grafted on, and where the story hasn’t yet decided what it’s truly about. The set-up of the first five chapters, on the other hand, seems as good as I can make it, and aren’t bearing more than the smallest changes. This is one reason why the rewriting is going so quickly, but I am still rewriting the earlier chapters in order to maintain a consistent understanding of the novel, and to try to incorporate the later elements more smoothly into the earlier narrative.

But there are three scenes in the first chapter that I did write from scratch. I’m including these below for your comment. This section occurs early in the first chapter and covers Perpetua’s fruitless search for employment. This segment is from the current draft as it now reads:

Perpetua Viktoria Collins.

She typed it out on the computer screen, at the top of her newest resume, and stared at it a moment. At the back of her mind, the thought came automatically, “My mother named me; it’s not my fault.”

But then people weren’t turning her down for jobs on the basis of having a weird name, were they? If so, I’m screwed. I could go by my initials, and the only people who’d take an interest in me would be plastics companies and adult entertainers.

She tapped her most recent position into her resume, and wondered if she should include the company’s contact information. Around her, the library whispered.

There was no way she was going to get a good reference out of her last employer, so after some thought she typed, “Reason for departure: company bankruptcy (moral).”

Honesty was the best policy, after all.

She saved her resume and pressed print. The library printer hummed to life. She grabbed up her copies and swept out into the street.


“We’ll be in touch”


Perpetua glanced at her watch. Another hour until her next interview, and this one clear across town, but first she had some work to do.

Looking up from her study cubicle, she made sure nobody was watching, and pulled out two old transit day-passes from her rucksack. She hesitated before she set them down, then she took a deep breath and pulled out a hole punch.

Carefully setting one pass behind the other, she punched through the holes that had already been punched out of the top pass to mark the day of its use. She collected the punched out pieces of the bottom pass and taped them into place on the top pass. Then, using the hole punch, she punched out new holes marking today’s date. She looked at her handiwork critically. Not perfect, but it would pass muster from a harried transit driver in the middle of rush hour.

She nibbled her bottom lip a moment, then stuffed the forged pass into her rucksack and went out to catch her streetcar.


“We’ll be in touch”


Toronto was so hot, the cornice gargoyles were sweating. Perpetua pushed past business suits and power dresses, avoiding the huddled clothes snoring in the service entranceways. Cars growled and honked. Streetcars clanged their bells. She shielded her eyes and looked for the next temp agency. Then she pushed through the oven-like streets into the meat freezers of Toronto’s downtown office buildings.


“We’ll be in touch”

So, as you can see, fairly quick and to the point. However, the editorial letter recommended an expansion, to deepen the characters of the goblins, to get a better sense of the setting, and also to get a better sense of Perpetua. And at least one person when I workshopped this original scene said that she wanted to see the job interviews rather than have them told in passing. With that in mind, I’ve crafted these three scenes below to replace the “We’ll be in touch” moments.

(scene one)

Perpetua frowned at the way the manager looked appraisingly at her chest. She opened her mouth to tell him off when he abruptly asked the next question. “So, Miss Collins, you have a fine resume for office experience, but what about experience in the food industry.”

She blinked at him. “Food industry?”

He nodded. “You know, waitressing, serving drinks, and the like.”

“But I’m applying for a clerical job.” She paused, then looked over her shoulder at the logo showing in reverse on the street-facing window, wondering if she’d missed something. “At a bank!”

“I know,” said the manager. “However, our company has recently invested in a restaurant chain. A kind of a sports bar. Perhaps you have heard of it—”

Yeah, thought Perpetua. In the news! “You don’t mean—”

“That’s the one,” said the manager. “To advertise our connection with the restaurant, we’d like all employees wear this t-shirt as part of their uniform. This is the female model.”

He held it up. Perpetua’s mouth dropped open. It was small, and she could see the building across the street through it.

“So,” said the manager, giving the shirt a shake, “Could you see yourself wearing this in the near future?”

“I could,” said Perpetua, her voice low. “Will you be wearing one too?”

The manager saw the look in her eye, coughed, and stood up, offering his hand. “Thank you, Miss Collins. We’ll… er… we’ll be in touch.”


(scene two)

Perpetua sat bolt upright in her chair and raised her hand. “Woah, stop right there.”

Her interviewer looked up from his notes. “What? What’s wrong?”

“What the heck do you mean by ‘actualize my potential’?” spluttered Perpetua. “You’re interviewing me for a job at a burger stand!”

The pimply-faced manager looked sullen. Around him came the clatter of business, and fries on the side. “You can actualize your potential at a burger stand,” he muttered.

Perpetua folded her arms across her chest and sat back hard in her moulded plastic cafeteria seat. “I refuse to believe that my potential can be realized at minimum wage.”

The manager said nothing for a long moment. “Oh, well,” he said. He stood up and offered her his hand. “We’ll be in touch.”

Perpetua left without shaking it.


(scene three)

“So, Miss Collins, do you have any objections to working with radioactive materials?”

Perpetua opened her mouth to object, then halted. After a moment, she leaned back in her chair. “No,” she said. “None at all. Much. May I assume there’s safety equipment involved?”

Dr. Wiseman looked up, distracted. He shrugged and nodded. “Oh, yes, absolutely. You may.”

“Huh,” she muttered beneath her breath as she watched the man behind the desk hold her resume while wearing surgical gloves, peering close at the printing through thick glasses. She took a shaky breath. It was amazing what you could sit through if the job at the other end of the desk was for a decent salary. It was even more amazing what you could sit through if it’s the last job interview at the end of a day full of job interviews that had gone nowhere. She fixed her smile to her face as though it were made of plaster.

Dr. Wiseman set down her resume, then peeled off his surgical gloves, casting them into his waste bin. Then he pulled two more gloves from a dispenser on his desk and pulled them on with a snap.

He looked at her. His thick glasses made his eyes boggle.

“Well,” he said. “Your credentials all seem to be in order. And you are satisfied with our proffered salaries and benefits?”

Perpetua kept up her smile. “Absolutely, Dr. Wiseman.”

“Our warehouse is fairly remotely located. I’m afraid there’s a bit of a commute.”

Her cheeks began to hurt. “I could start work tomorrow, if you want.”

He stood up. “Well then. That’s all I need to hear, Miss Collins.”

Perpetua stood up with him. “Thank you, Dr. Wiseman—” She held out her hand to shake his before realizing her mistake.

“Uh,” he said, looking at her fingers with distaste. “No, thank you. We’ll just get the contract ready to sign, shall we?”

Just then, the intercom on Dr. Wiseman’ desk piped up, and the secretary’s voice came through. “Dr. Wiseman? There’s a Mr. Connery here to see you?” She lowered her voice. “He doesn’t have an appointment.”

As Perpetua stared, the colour drained from Dr. Wiseman cheeks. “Oh, drat,” the man said. “And we were so close! So close!” He looked at her apologetically. “I’m sorry, Ms. Collins, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to cancel this interview.”

Perpetua blinked at him. “But, wha—”

“You were a most promising candidate, but it appears that I have to run,” said Dr. Wiseman.

There was a thumping on the office door. “Silas Wiseman! I know you’re in there!”

“Literally,” Wiseman added. He pressed a button on his desk and a bookcase slid aside with a whoosh, to reveal a metal door. He ran for it, then paused as he grabbed the handle.

“If we should set up in your area again, I’ll be sure to look you up,” he said. “Until then, um… we’ll be in touch!” Then he was gone, leaving the door swinging on its hinges. Perpetua looked around, bewildered. She started back to the reception area, when the door burst open, and she found herself face to face with a man in a fine black suit. “Which way did he go, miss?” he said.

“Uh,” said Perpetua. She pointed at the metal door. “Huh?”

The man thumped the wall in frustration. “Drat! He’s always one step ahead!” He shouted behind him. “C’mon men!”

With that, he charged around the desk and through the swinging metal door. More people charged from the reception area after him, mostly tall men, but some women, wearing black suits, sunglasses, and some talking on walkie-talkies. Perpetua watched them go. Then she leaned across the desk, snatched up her resume, and turned to leave. She had to duck back several times as more people ran past her and after Mr. Connery.

Finally, she stumbled out of the office and into the reception area. There, she found the secretary madly shredding documents.

The secretary looked up from the shredder and gave her a winsome smile. “I’m sorry the job didn’t work out,” she said. She dropped another few sheets of paper through the shredder, which buzzed. “Shall I keep your resume on file?”

“Um—” Another man in black charged through the office. Perpetua backed out toward the corridor. “No, nono, that’s fine! Don’t do that on my account!” She ran out the door.

She stood in the mall corridor lined with shops, and stepped aside as more men wearing black suits and sunglasses and hoisting walkie talkies ran in. The crowd of commuters streamed past, unaware. Perpetua hesitated a moment, looked back at the office, and then hoisted her rucksack and ran away as inconspicuously as she could.

I like these three scenes, even though I worry that they might be too self-indulgent. I also wonder if adding about a thousand words slows down the opening narrative too much. On the other hand, it builds the quirkiness of the opening, and it prepares the way for some of the more… interesting questions T.P. Earthenhouse asks during his interview.

So, I’m torn. Should these stay or should they go?


On This Day

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