I spent the bulk of May working on revisions to Icarus Down, which now pulls the story to a word count of 93,000. I hope that these changes will seal the deal. We shall see what we shall see.
But with the draft of Icarus Down now done, I’m back to thinking about The Night Girl. In an earlier post, I talked about how T.P. Earthenhouse might be rewritten to improve his contribution to the story. Now it’s Perpetua’s turn.
The Night Girl lives and dies on Perpetua. The person I make her will determine what type of story this is. In the initial draft, she was a determined young woman, whose sardonic wit masked some deep insecurities and a deeper compassion that was woken up when she came face-to-face with the goblin’s plight. She anchored a story that I considered to be a comedy with deeper elements. I modelled her a lot on Jaye Tyler from the television series Wonderfalls.
The big problem, however, was that Perpetua was nineteen. Why was that a problem? Here’s what one editor said:
“Perpetua is far too old for a character in a YA novel. Some authors can get away with older characters (usually those authors have strong track records), but for the most part it’s virtually impossible to find a YA audience for a book with a central character as old as 19 or 20.
“Seventeen is possible, but it’s a stretch. Really, for this to work for the audience, Perpetua would need to be 15 or 16, and that presents some obvious problems in this book.
It does indeed. With Perpetua at nineteen, she can have her own apartment. She can live apart from her mother without raising eyebrows. That simplified the narrative structure. By estranging her from her mother (and by keeping her father absent), I was able to put an edge on the character without delving into that complex relationship. Unfortunately, if Perpetua stays nineteen, then I’ve basically written a book for adults. Maybe The Night Girl is better suited for a non-YA publisher? Maybe I should just start sending the book there.
But I am intrigued by the editor’s suggestion about dropping Perpetua’s age to fifteen. If I did that, then her mother, at least, has to come into the picture. And I’m intrigued by this because Perpetua’s mother (named Felicity) was in the picture in an earlier draft. There are a lot of questions about Perpetua at 19 that I simply don’t answer: why is she estranged from her mother? Why is her father absent? But I set these aside to focus on her influence on the goblins’ story.
So, if I bring Perpetua’s mother back into the story, how does that change the picture? How does Perpetua cope with living with her mother? Why does Perpetua have to find a job? How does she juggle working full time and going to school at the same time? What if Perpetua’s mother can’t work? What if Perpetua takes the night girl job in order to support her? And given that Perpetua is only fifteen, and is taking care of a mother who can’t provide parental support, what sort of balancing act does she have to go through in order to keep social services from stepping in? And should she be engaging in this balancing act?
There’s intriguing stuff here, including things that I might be able to tie into the goblin plot. It makes Perpetua’s situation seem more desperate, however. From a writer’s perspective, that’s a good thing, though I wonder if I risk cutting the humour out of the book?
If we go with taking Perpetua’s age down from 19 to 15, how does that change the book? Let’s see.
What Does Perpetua Want?
Perpetua wants to keep her family together. Right now, that’s just her and her mother, Felicity. Perpetua has been the primary caregiver of her household since Felicity had a mental breakdown that has left her unable to work. The struggle to earn enough money to keep a roof over their heads, especially in the heated real-estate market of Toronto, is almost more than what Perpetua can cope with. Her guidance councillor is getting suspicious, and Perpetua fears that Children’s Services may be coming to put her into a foster home.
So Perpetua counts it as an amazing stroke of luck to find a job that both pays well and has hours that allow her to stay in school, even if they do keep her up way into the night. So what if her boss is a goblin? So what if the clientele is made of stone? So what if she spends her nights sitting on a sentient desk chair? It’s a job. It pays money. They can keep a roof over their head.
But it isn’t as easy as that. With working, schooling and keeping house now taking up most of the hours of her day, Perpetua finds lack of sleep becoming an issue. Her grades still suffer, and the guidance counsellor is more suspicious than ever. And the job comes with unexpected challenges. She’s moved by the plight of the goblins, and the fact that Earthenhouse can’t find work for them all. She feels a kinship with them, as one of the struggling overlooked people of society. And as Earthenhouse’s venture spirals towards a conflict between goblins and humans, Perpetua can not help but take up their cause.
What Does Perpetua Learn?
Perpetua is already no stranger to overcoming adversity, but what the goblins teach her is that she is not alone. Though some have it worse and some have it better, everybody struggles and everybody could use a sympathetic hand. Sometimes you have to fight for others in order to help yourself.
She also learns to understand her mother. Though she loves her mother enough to take care of her, that’s different from understanding her and accepting her as she is. Possibly her mother’s breakdown is related to her father’s absence, and perhaps we learn more about that as well.
How Does Perpetua Save Earthenhouse? How Does She Save the Day?
By taking up the goblins’ cause, Perpetua shows Earthenhouse that there is hope for humanity. This may not be enough to stop him from trying to wield a big and dangerous stick as he tries to new deal with humanity. She’ll need to think fast and earn the goblins’ trust in order to prevent Earthenhouse’s plan from hurting people, and bringing the humans and goblins to war.
These are only just the start of the questions. There’s more here to explore. I wonder if the new path charted by having Perpetua be 15 will give the book the extra edge I need to make things work, or if something else is needed entirely.