The Night Girl: Earthenhouse's Story


Since finishing the latest draft of Icarus Down back in January, I’ve largely been “between books” when it’s come to my creative output. After spending the better part of three years working on both Icarus Down and The Dream King’s Daughter, this is a frustrating experience. Ideas have been rolling around in my mind, but no new project has emerged. Until now. Now, I’m giving serious thought to how to rewrite The Night Girl to make it sellable.

Erin’s not entirely sure if this is a good idea. I’ve been working on The Night Girl since 2003. Shouldn’t I be tackling something new? But the thoughts that have been rolling around in my head have generally coalesced around this story. Given the reasons behind its failure, how could I make it better?

It’s entirely possible that I might start rewriting The Night Girl only to have another idea come along to take me in a new direction with a totally different project. If so, so be it. This could be the equivalent of shaking the ideas loose. So, whatever is to be, here are my first notes on the changes The Night Girl might need.

Most of the weaknesses identified by the thoughtful editors that looked at the story and took time to critique it centred around Perpetua’s age, but if I’m honest with myself, part of the problem rests with Earthenhouse’s plan. In describing what he wanted and what he was doing to get what he wanted, I found myself stumbling a lot, struggling to make the character make sense. Which means that I don’t have a clear picture of what he really wants, and that’s a problem.

I’m told a lot of writers do this a lot: note down their thoughts in a journal. I don’t have a journal. I have a blog. So, here are my thoughts:

What does Earthenhouse Want?

Earthenhouse is a goblin. Goblins, along with trolls, are people. They’re very ugly people, but they’re people nonetheless: part of the human genome. For the past millennia, since they — as a stone-age tribe — were conquered by the Celts in Ireland, they’ve lived on the fringes of society, shunned by “normal” people who built up legends around them, relegated them to the land of fairy tales, and accused them of stealing and eating babies. As a result, goblins and trolls are experts in hiding. Most people can look straight at a goblin standing by a wall and, so long as the goblin doesn’t move, that goblin won’t be noticed. It’s kept them alive, and the goblins by and large cling to this isolation, but it’s also kept them on the fringes of society, feeding off of the scraps that the rest of the human race leave behind.

But Earthenhouse has changed that. Through his contacts with goblins who have managed to pass themselves off as normal people, he has made deals with Toronto City Council to cast an economic lifeline to the goblins and trolls in the city, in exchange for the goblins and trolls’ special abilities (in the case of the trolls, the ability to dig deep tunnels fast and cheap, causing a boom in new subway construction). The deal works well; money flows into the local goblin/troll community, and Earthenhouse starts to lay the groundwork for the goblins and trolls’ rise towards what he hopes is open acceptance by the rest of the human race as equals.

However, things get complicated. Earthenhouse’s success leads to a gold rush, as goblins and trolls from outside the region flood Toronto looking for work, and Earthenhouse can’t provide work for everyone. The homeless population explodes. The deal that he worked out with Toronto City Council starts to sour; yes, the local government can offer additional employment, but the new jobs have sinister implications: spying on citizens from the cornices of buildings as a crime-fighting tool. Earthenhouse realizes that he risks bringing the goblins and trolls into the open as a slave race. He doesn’t know what to do. One alternative in particular is very dark…

Why Does He Hire Perpetua?

He tells Perpetua that he wants her to act as his company’s human face, but does he? She does very little official interaction with Earthenhouse’s human clients (perhaps this should change). It’s possible that he hired her to observe her, to see how humans would react working side by side with goblins and trolls. Perpetua’s enthusiasm for her work and her compassion impresses him, and offers him a bit of hope for humanity’s response to his people.

What Sets Him Down a Dark Path?

He comes to believe that open acceptance of goblins and trolls is impossible without some big stick. The old scenario he lived under was unacceptable (hiding from human intolerance), and the new reality is equally unpalatable (to acquiesce to it). So he tries to make a stronger statement, which could put the goblins and the trolls at war with the rest of humanity. Again, what causes that change in belief? Previously, the trigger was that he discovered that his people were being studied as if they were animals in the wild, but this seems not to be enough. Possibly there is a need for a stronger human antagonist to push things to a crisis point. How does Perpetua contribute to that?

These are some of the questions I’ll have to answer as this rewrite progresses…

Next up: Perpetua.

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