It was a blessing in disguise that I put my radical rewrite of the book formerly known as The Very Last on hiatus in mid-2015. At the time, I was frustrated because I couldn’t locate enough information about the Portuguese World Exposition of 1940, and I felt exhausted at the thought of researching and writing about the 1939–40 World’s Fair only a few years after doing it for Dark Forest. Now I realize I couldn’t have rewritten that book the way it needed to be had I continued on in 2015.
Though I wasn’t shy about cutting out garbage, adding new and improved material, and tweaking storylines by 2015, I still had a major blind spot regarding certain things. This included Kit’s relationship with a much-older boy who originally had a crush on her sister Conny.
A big part of Kit’s character is that she’s like a young Samantha Jones, but now I’m too disturbed by her dating a high school boy when she’s in elementary school. Even if she’s aged up two years, she’d still only be eleven.
Originally, Conny’s future husband, an 18-year-old violinist named Thomas McCartney from Andover, England, showed up on the Greens’ doorstep on 1 June 1940, and he and 15-year-old Conny were instantly taken with one another. Kit decided to tag along to their first date with a date of her own, Jerry Wasserstein, a Catholic boy from Ohio Avenue.
This date went so well, Conny and Tom had sex in the guesthouse while Mr. and Mrs. Green were away. Kit led Jerry into her parents’ bedroom, took down their “boring” paintings and replaced them with erotic art, and went to third base with him on the bed. They fell asleep partly-clothed.
In the morning, cops showed up (having been alerted by the stores where Conny bought sexy clothes and condoms) and made all four of them parade naked through the city as punishment for illicit sexual activity (Conny and Tom) and shocking, disreputable conduct (Kit and Jerry).
Beyond the obvious creepiness (to say the very least!) of a 15-year-old dating and getting physical with a preteen, Conny and Tom’s meeting, and his immediate move into the guesthouse, is so unrealistic. I was starting to rewrite that chapter with the changed detail of him showing up at the Greens’ doorstep because Kit’s lifelong rival Violet gave the address as a flophouse, but even that felt silly. Don’t even ask about the evil twin storyline which results in Tom leaving town and being presumed dead until 1957!
The storylines about Kit and Conny’s dating drama were somewhat better-incorporated in the first and second drafts of 1997 and 1999, but since I cut out a lot of cluttery chapters and seriously toned down Kit and Jerry’s relationship, they feel more like a tacked-on afterthought. Their beaux also aren’t even developed very well.
Many people, regardless of religion, are familiar with I Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I reasoned as a child; but when I became an adult, I put away childish things.” This is a sentiment everyone can relate to, and it’s particularly relevant to how my writing changed as my cognitive development reached its final stage.
However, probably not so many people are as familiar with the line following it, “For we now see obscurely through a mirror, and then face to face; now I know in part, and then I will fully know, as I was also known.” Becoming an adult isn’t just about putting away childish things, but attaining the kind of wisdom and hindsight that only come from years of life experience.
When I edited the third draft of How Kätchen Became Sparky in 2011–12, in my early thirties, I knew enough to significantly tone down a lot of the wildly age-inappropriate content. It was toned down even further during the fourth draft of 2014–15, and more still during the fifth and final version of 2017–18. I also deliberately made the characters’ age ambiguous.
Things I thought were funny or hard-hitting satire as a teen and in my early twenties horrified me once I was in my thirties. Germane to this post, Kit and Jerry’s relationship screams child abuse and taking advantage of a minor. Even if Kit were to lie about her age or Jerry were to assume she were 13 (the age she looks and acts) and never be corrected, that still wouldn’t make it right.
At 42, I understand so much more about child safeguarding, and don’t want to give any impression I approve of such a massively inappropriate situation. I kid you not, in the first two drafts, Kit and Jerry frequently drew and photographed one another naked and in sexual situations. One of these “artworks” was inspired by a scene in a Victorian erotic novella, Kit urinating into Jerry’s mouth.
Unfortunately, this does mean losing a lot of great dialogue and scenes with the Greens, esp. Kit’s unhappily married parents (who are also third-cousins), but maybe I can recycle them in other books. I’m also planning to reuse some of them in the chapter “The Wrath of Conny,” which will take a much different track than originally written. (I just had to keep that chapter title!)
Conny and Tom will still start dating in this book, but under much different circumstances, and with the twist that she’s lying to him about her age. In place of Jerry, Kit may start dating her original first boyfriend Haakon much earlier.
The one time Kit does date an older boy, Robert Valli, they run into serious irreconcilable differences immediately, largely because they’re at such different places in life. Why would Jerry be any different?