The Young City Passes 50,000 Words... Going in the Other Direction

Back when I announced that I had completed the first draft of The Young City, I told you that the word count was 53,297 words. This made it the longest story I’d ever written (though not the longest story I’d ever worked on. Greg Gick’s Crescent, Cross, Star and Pentagram still holds the record at over 66,000 words). Passing 50,000 was, in some ways, breaking a psychological barrier; it’s a decent length for a novel, and much longer than Rosemary and Time and Fathom Five, both of which settled in at around 40,000 words.

But this was only a first draft. First drafts are notoriously wordy, and I also felt that the story had structural problems. Its opening chapters drag and, when things finally get moving in chapter eight, they move like the wind. I wanted to try and even out the pacing a little. Whole scenes were removed (including some scenes of Peter and Rosemary adjusting to their first apartment; fun, but too much of it. Things were dragging), so that The Young City now stands at 49,906 words, a reduction of 3,391 words or over thirteen pages.

And this is just my own editing. The moment I hand the tale over to an editor with actual talent (see Erin), expect further reductions. At a minimum, I find that the final draft of a story should be at least 10% shorter than the first draft.

The story is tightening up nicely, but there will be some scenes that I will have to rewrite, to better incorporate the fantasy element of the river into the main plotline.

The Young City to the Writers Reserve Grant

Over on her blog, Erin describes how she has sent out her applications for the Writers’ Reserve Grant. The Writers Reserve is a program of the Ontario Arts Council where emerging and established writers send off ten page samples of their works in progress to a list of publishers and request a grant. The publishers have been given a certain amount of money by the Arts Council to hand out to whatever writers they deem worthy, and if you receive a grant, the money is almost without strings. When your book is published, you have to acknowledge the support you received from the Ontario Arts Council and, six months after you receive your grant, you are expected to report to the council how the money was spent, but you are under no obligation to publish your book through the publishers who give you the grants.

Erin has done well with the Writers Reserve before. Funding for Ghost Maps and Seal up the Thunder helped to support us while she worked on her poetry, and I’ve decided to go for the grants myself.

I can go for these grants because I’m now a “real” writer with a publication history. You don’t need to have a book published in order to qualify (although you do need to be a Canadian citizen or landed immigrant as well as a resident of Ontario). My paid bylines in Metro newspaper and Alternatives Journal are enough. The Young City is definitely a work in progress that could use some paid time to polish, revise and research. So, yesterday, I sent out five applications.

The two paragraphs describing my project are as follows:

Rosemary Watson and Peter McAllister are high school sweethearts about to leave for separate colleges. Their lives change when they fall through a time portal and end up in 1884 Toronto. There, they must overcome destitution and culture shock while adjusting to a life together they may not be ready for.

The Young City is a young adult historical fantasy about two teenagers thrust into an adult relationship and a modern woman confronted by a repressive society.

And the sample I sent was a pared down version of chapter three:

THE YOUNG CITY: by James Bow

Chapter Three: Faith, Hope and Charity

A bell jangled as Rosemary entered. She blinked in the wavering lamplight.

There were no display cases; an oak counter cordoned off the narrow customer area. A desk, a dresser and an armoire stood back to back in the middle of the shop floor, surrounded by a swarm of stacked chairs. Sheets of newsprint listed watches, jewellery and other items for sale. A young man sat hunched in the corner, his face in his hands.

Rosemary cleared her throat. “Excuse me—”

The young man flinched. “For the love of—” He raised his soft voice and its hint of Scottish brogue. “We are closed this Lord’s Day! Do you not know—” He stood up, knocking his chair back. “Good God, woman, you’re hardly dressed!”

Rosemary flushed. “I know. Can you look at this ring?” She thrust it out to him.

Peter burst into the shop. “Rosemary, there has to be another way—”

She rounded on him. “Like what? Sign up at a poorhouse? Peter, have you read A Christmas Carol?”

“This is not London, England, this is Toronto, Ontario!” He swiped at the ring.

“A fat lot of good that does us when we have no money!”

The shopkeeper cleared his throat. “Excuse me!” Peter and Rosemary stopped in mid-struggle. “First of all, this shop is closed. If the police thought I was doing business, here, I’d face a fine. Second, how do I know this ring belongs to you?”

“I don’t believe this.” Rosemary held up her hand, showing the crease the ring had left behind. “I’ve had my ring on this finger for a year! If I could steal, wouldn’t I have stolen clothes?” She spread her arms. The shopkeeper averted his eyes.

She grabbed his hand and pressed the ring into his palm. “So, you, look at this ring and tell me what it’s worth and you—” She rounded on Peter “—keep quiet until you come up with a better idea of how to find food, clothes and shelter!”

The shopkeeper looked from seething Rosemary to cowed Peter and back. “Right,” he said at last, and pulled a magnifying glass from the drawer.

“Gold,” he muttered. “No diamonds. A claddagh. Oddly stylized. The detail work is—” He stopped, stared, then dropped his magnifying glass and put a jeweller’s glass to his eye. His eyebrows shot up. “Exceptional! The goldsmith that made this must have had a rock-steady hand! How could you afford such a ring?” He stared at them, then looked back. “Ah, an inscription. March 21/98 — odd misprint that — ‘To Rosemary Forever, Love Peter.’”

The jeweller’s glass fell into his hand. “Peter. Rosemary. Those are your names.”

Peter and Rosemary nodded.

“This really is your wedding ring!”

Rosemary’s mouth dropped open. Peter spluttered. But before either could say anything, the shopkeeper thrust the ring back. “I canna take this!”

“What?” gasped Rosemary. “You have to! It’s all we have!”

“But to give up your wedding ring?” the shopkeeper cut in. “I know times are bad, but this is a treasure beyond money. I’ll not take it from you. As for food and shelter…” He took out paper, pen and an inkbottle. “There is a church up the street; the priest will help you. With my letter of reference, you may find shelter, perhaps work. What’s your name?”

“Rosemary Watson,” replied Rosemary. “But—”

The man dropped his pen. “Watson?” he repeated. “Mr. and Mrs. Watson?”

Peter started to say something, but Rosemary pressed her heel to his toe.

The shopkeeper levered up the oak counter and pressed the promise ring into Rosemary’s palm. “My name is Edmund Watson. Come back with me.”

As Edmund led them through a door to the back, Peter leaned close to Rosemary. “Why did you tell him we’re married?”

“I didn’t,” she whispered. “I just didn’t correct him.”

“Great! Now I’m Peter Watson.”

“Fine, you explain the quaint twentieth century custom of hyphenated last names!”

The smell of wood smoke and stew struck them as they entered a bright, cluttered kitchen. The setting sun set the shelves and canisters aglow. They heard a bubbling on the pot-bellied stove, and the sound of a woman muttering in the pantry.

Edmund cleared his throat. “Faith, let me introduce Peter and Rosemary Watson.” He turned to them. “My sister, Faith.”

Peter blinked. “Faith? It couldn’t—”

The woman stepped out of the pantry. She froze. Then her flour-covered arms crossed her chest. She may have changed into a faded brown dress and a frayed apron, but she was still the same woman who’d tended to Peter after the accident. Rosemary swallowed hard.

“We’ve met,” said Peter.

“Yes,” said Faith. “I recognize the back of you.”

“Umm…” said Rosemary. “Sorry about that.”

“Faith?” Edmund looked from one woman to the other. “Why do you frown?”

“This was the young couple I found on the street after church,” said Faith. “The same ones who ran as soon as the constabulary arrived, leaving me to look a fool.”

“In our defence,” said Peter, “we were facing a hostile crowd.”

“Making me look a fool before an audience,” said Faith.

“I-I’m sorry!” Rosemary backed away. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you. We’ll leave—”

Edmund blocked her path. “Faith, these two are destitute; they tried to sell their wedding ring. They are Watsons — family! We must help them.”

Faith’s expression kept its edge. “We should help the destitute, but I’ll not have fugitives under my roof. I demand an explanation.” She turned on Rosemary. “Why do you fear the constabulary?”

“Well,” said Rosemary. “You saw how people reacted to us. How do you think the police would have treated us?”

“I would have spoken for you,” said Faith.

“And if they didn’t listen?”

Faith’s glare softened. “All right, I can understand why you may have run, but let me be sure: who are you and where are you from?”

Rosemary bit back her answer. “Uh… from away.”

Edmund stepped around and stood by Faith’s side. “You’re just off the boat?” He turned back to Faith. “We have to help them. Alone in this vast country—”

Faith silenced him with a raised hand. “You do not sound Scottish, English or Irish.” She frowned. “You do not even sound American. You’re not from here, but where are you from?”

Peter opened his mouth, then stuttered. “Away,” he said at last.

Faith stepped forward. “Show me your hands.” Peter and Rosemary obeyed. Faith examined Peter’s fingers first. “You’ve not done a day’s work in your life!” She snatched up Rosemary’s hand. “And you have a fine wedding ring. How came you to be in such a state?”

“Did you elope?” asked Edmund. “Are you running from your families?”

Rosemary opened her mouth, then stopped. “No,” she said at last. “I won’t lie to you. But I won’t tell you where we came from, either. You wouldn’t believe it. All I can tell you is that we’re not criminals, we’re just lost. We need help. If you don’t want to give it, I’ll understand.”

Faith looked Rosemary in the eye. Rosemary met her gaze. Silence stretched. Then Faith nodded. “We will help you.”

Peter let out his breath.

Faith added water to the stew. “Supper will be ready shortly, but first we must get the stink of the street off you.” She snapped her fingers at Edmund. “Get another bucket of water immediately. We have to run a bath!”

“Bath!” said Peter. “That’s great! Where—” He stopped short as Faith dragged a metal tub out of a corner. She stared at the two teenagers, standing with their mouths agape.

“Well, go on!” She motioned to the tub. “Decide between you who uses it first. Edmund will be back with water and then you will have the kitchen to yourselves. Leave your clothes by the door, and Edmund and I will have fresh clothes ready when you’re done.”

“Um,” said Peter.

“I— er—” said Rosemary.

“I’ll return with a towel and soap. Do not dally.” And Faith went upstairs, her hard-soled shoes clicking up the steps.

Peter and Rosemary stood in the centre of the kitchen. They looked at the tub. They looked at each other. Peter gulped.

Rosemary pulled at her collar as she clopped down the steps wearing a brown gingham dress. She felt like she was clad in curtains, wrapped in a metal cage. The corset held her so upright, she felt as though her posture was on permanent trial. The skirts hid her feet and the edges of the steps. She kept one hand firm against the wall.

At the base of the steps, she saw Faith hanging clothes near the stove. The woman fingered Rosemary’s halter-top, stretched out the elastic fabric and marvelled as it snapped back into shape. Tentatively, she measured the garment against her chest.

Rosemary jumped into the kitchen. “Hi!”

Faith crumpled the halter-top into the hamper. “Ah, you are dressed! Let us see how my old gingham fits you.”

She planted Rosemary in the centre of the kitchen and worked over her as though she was a clothes mannequin. “You are just my size. I was worried, but now you have a selection of clothes to choose from. And you fill them out very well.”

“Thank you.” Rosemary could only imagine how she looked. Something between a schoolmarm and an aristocrat. Probably closer to the former. “How do you think Peter’s doing?”

They heard footfalls in the hallway leading to the storefront and Edmund’s bedroom. The door opened a crack. “Don’t laugh.”

Rosemary rolled her eyes. “I won’t. Come on out.”

Peter entered the kitchen. His expression soured and Rosemary knew he’d spotted the quirk in her mouth. She bit her lip, but her shoulders betrayed her.

While Rosemary was Faith’s height and girth, Peter towered almost a foot over Edmund. Cuffs bit into his wrists and his trousers ended halfway up his shins. Peter’s glare hardened as Rosemary struggled to hold back her giggles. Then Faith burst out laughing.

[The four have dinner. Rosemary and Peter are offered shelter]

“How are we going to pay you back for all this?” said Rosemary.

“I have a suggestion.” Faith picked up a sheet of paper from the counter. She passed it to Rosemary. Edmund peered over her shoulder. “Your University application?”

Rosemary blinked. Then she understood. “You’re applying to University?”

Faith shook her head. “I’m already attending, I’m only applying for more classes. I take a class here, a class there, fitting things around my work. It is a slow way to get an education. But now you are here.”

Edmund stared. “Faith?”

“You can cook?” Faith asked Rosemary.

Rosemary drew into herself. “Some things.”

“And you can man a shop counter as well as I could,” said Faith.

“Faith,” Edmund cut in. “It takes skill to sell in a shop! You know that!”

“I’ve manned counters before, though,” said Rosemary. “I helped staff a library… where I was before.”

“See?” Faith beamed at Edmund. “If Rosemary could take three hours a day, or four, I could take two extra classes and graduate a whole year sooner!”

Edmund sat back. He picked up his spoon and stared on his third helping. “Time is one thing. What of money?”

“There is my sewing,” said Faith. “I could take on another batch, to pay the extra cost.”

Edmund grunted. “That solves money. Now back to time. More sewing and more study?”

Faith waved Edmund’s comments aside. “It means a few late evenings of work, ‘tis all.”

“You will ruin your eyesight.”

“‘Tis a small sacrifice.”

“‘Tis not!”

“What are you studying?” Rosemary cut in.

Faith drew herself up. “I am at the Women’s Medical College.”

Rosemary set down her spoon. “You’re going to be the first woman doctor in Canada!”

Faith’s smile widened. “Hardly the first, my dear! I do not have the strength to change the world, but I do have the wit to follow the path cleared by Miss Stowe and Miss Trout.”

Edmund leaned towards Peter and gave him a conspiratorial grin. “You see my sister’s stubborn streak? Such passion about becoming a doctor! Stay off the subject, my lad, or she’ll go on about the vote, next.”

“And why should I not have the vote?” Faith thundered. “I voted in the civic election this year. Did the Dominion fall to its knees?”

“That’s different,” Edmund cut in. “You can be trusted with civic matters; it doesn’t require you to think on the fate of the country.”

“And voting to Ottawa requires more thought than voting to City Hall?” Faith glared across the table. “It might do this nation good if women could vote. Then perhaps we could pass the temperance. Perhaps our prime minister might sober up enough to realize that we won’t stand for his scandalous government!”

Edmund was about to continue, but Rosemary cleared her throat. “Aren’t your dinners getting cold?”

The siblings stared at their stews. Edmund chuckled and cleared away the dishes.

“I apologize for my brother,” said Faith. “He likes to antagonize me, though not usually before guests.” She shot Edmund a glare, but he kept his back to her.

Rosemary grinned. “When I fought with my brother, it was with pillows.”

[Rosemary and Peter are shown to their room]

The centrepiece of the room was the bed, singular, narrow, laden with quilts and jutting from the wall into the middle of the room.

“Huh,” said Rosemary at last. She closed the door behind them and began undoing the buttons on her dress. “I’m turning in.”

Peter stared at her, then strode to the window, taking a deep interest in the world outside. “Gee, that’s a lot of stars!”

Rosemary pulled her skirts over her head. “Hmm?”

“No light pollution,” said Peter. “The view is as good as Clarksbury—”

Rosemary cast the corset in the corner with a thump. She breathed deep and rubbed her sides. She blew out the kerosene lamp and slipped beneath the covers, dressed in a camisole and bloomers. She felt more dressed than on a day at school. “Night, Peter.”

“Good night.”

Rosemary stared at the ceiling. Her mind whirled too much to go to sleep. Then she became aware of the silence in the room, and looked up.

Peter stood, staring at the bed. Finally, he turned and stepped to the straight-backed chair at the other side of the room. He stripped down to underpants and undershirt, folding his clothes and setting them on the floor. Then he sat down.

He leaned back and stretched his legs, but the back of the chair pressed into his shoulder blades. After several minutes and several different positions, he stood up, huffing, and pushed the chair into the corner. He sat back, and leaned his chair into the wall. He folded his arms across his chest and breathed deeply.

With a scrape, the chair slid out from the wall an inch, and then another, lowering Peter bit by bit until he was flat on his back, his feet in the air, his head wedged in the corner.

Rosemary rolled onto her elbow. “Peter?”


She nodded over her shoulder. “Come to bed.”

“Nope! No room! Quite comfortable here, thanks!”

Rosemary sighed. “Come on, Peter, get in bed before you hurt yourself.”

Peter picked himself up and came over. Rosemary made room for him as he slipped under the covers, but even with their arms touching, each felt the edge of the bed on their other side. They pressed as close to each other as they dared, and stared at the ceiling.

“Well, this is interesting,” said Rosemary.

“Isn’t it,” said Peter.

She looked at him sidelong. “Is it?”

He grinned sheepishly. “Actually… I sort of think about this, sometimes.”

She stared at him. “You do?”

“Not the time travel parts, but… you know… the rest: us, together, no family around… that sort of thing?”

Rosemary lay back. “Yeah.” She laughed. “Be careful what you wish for.”


They lay in silence a moment. Then Rosemary took a deep breath. “You remember what we talked about…? About how we’re not ready… that still stands, right?”

Peter thought for a long moment. “What do you think?”

“I asked you first!”

They laughed. The tension eased from their shoulders. Then Peter took a deep breath. “I think it still stands.”

“Good,” said Rosemary.

“Good,” said Peter.

Silence stretched. Then Rosemary rolled onto her side and looked at him. Peter stared back. She leaned in and Peter leaned back. “What are you doing?”

Rosemary sighed and kissed his cheek. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” he croaked.

She rolled away. “Good night.”


Wish me luck!

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