Since today, 25 November 2022, marks 31 years since I wrote the first of my Atlantic City characters into existence, I wanted to do a post walking through why I made the decision to age them up by two years after all this time. This was weighing on my mind for a really long time, and deep down I knew what the right decision was, despite my irrational emotional attachment to preserving them as-is.
A number of these points have been addressed in prior posts, but I want to bring them all together and sum them up.
1. I was thinking about this since at least 2011, if not earlier! It’s one thing to think about something superficially in passing, but if you still feel just as strongly for many years, odds are this isn’t just a short-term fancy and you won’t change your mind quickly. I wanted my nostril pierced for almost 12 years before it finally happened, and I still have it 19 years later. The thought of ever retiring it is completely out of the question!
2. Cognitive development. This was one of the biggest reasons I leaned so strongly towards aging them up. As originally written, their mental and physical ages aren’t synched until they’re about fifteen. Even the most mature, precocious, intelligent kid is still incapable of thinking, reasoning, talking, and acting like an adult, or even a teenager.
3. Child safeguarding red flags all over the place! Since I was in such an awful school system from K–10, I genuinely had no frame of reference to know how creepy, abnormal, and concerning it is for preteens to be having sex, doing drugs, smoking, drinking, having wild unchaperoned parties, getting into violent fights, wearing clothes suit for a nightclub, constantly skipping school, all manner of awful, age-inappropriate stuff.
4. Piggybacking off of the above, it’s creepy, not shocking and satirical for a purpose, when fifth graders are having sex. It’s obviously still very concerning when 12-year-olds in seventh grade are doing it, but at least that’s somewhat more plausible. It’s hardly unheard-of for kids that age to experiment with sex with one another, and it doesn’t always necessarily reflect a broken home or coercion.
5. Likewise, girls of nine and ten should not be dating and making out, particularly with older boys! I totally removed Kit’s relationship with Jerry because it looked so creepy to my adult eyes. Cinni’s relationship with Barry also needs toning down, but if she’s 12 and he’s 14 when they get together (after two years of a mutual crush), the weird factor is lessened.
6. Toddlers don’t give a damn about politics. Why would Cinni, at barely two, want to write a letter to Pres. Hoover? I don’t think I understood who Reagan was until I was four, during the 1984 election.
7. They never really feel their supposed age until they’re about fifteen. Is it really lampshading if even the author feels like something isn’t right?
8. It speaks volumes how I deliberately made their ages ambiguous in the first two books during the final rewrites. At most, it’s said they’re under twelve, and that they look much older than they really are. If an event associated with a specific age is referenced, like Laura’s First Communion, it’s vaguely “awhile ago” instead of given an exact date.
9. When their ages are finally revealed early in the third book, that doesn’t change anything. The reader might be used to seeing them as very advanced and precocious, but they’re still only nine at that point. I imagine many people would sit back in disbelief. Only a few people over the years had the guts to ask, “These kids are supposed to be twelve?”
10. People in my now-inactive local writing group assumed they were about eleven or twelve in the first book. They would’ve been shocked had I said they were seven and turning eight!
11. Precocious puberty! It’s a huge cause for concern when girls begin growing breasts at all of six or seven years old and start menstruating at seven, eight, nine, ten. Entirely more believable, and less creepy, if they start these processes a few years later.
12. The fourth book was originally just a very short (11K) collection of loosely-connected vignettes, with no real plot or consistent story arc. It also didn’t feel like a proper, fitting conclusion to a series or setting things up for the next series and a new stage in these characters’ lives. Now the main storylines are built around the characters’ approaching elementary school graduation and the struggle Cinni and Kit have to get permission to switch to the progressive track when their mothers disapprove.
13. It’s a really annoying, overused trope when a child is so advanced beyond his or her years, as well as highly unrealistic in most cases. Even a super-intelligent, mature kid is still only mature and intelligent for that age, not as mature and intelligent as adults.
14. It’s also one thing if a single character, like Lisa Simpson or Stewie Griffin, is a savant. Entirely another when everyone that age looks, talks, acts, and thinks like miniature adults.
15. I was young myself when I created them, and preteens and teens ain’t exactly known as very self-reflective. One of the blessings of youth is that we never realise just how young we are at any given age or stage. We always believe we’re so much more mature, sophisticated, experienced, intelligent, world-wise than we really are, only to discover in shock just how immature, inexperienced, cringey, and silly we were at 11, 13, 15, 17, 21, even 24 or 25. We rarely see ourselves the way we truly are.
16. There was always a gap between September 1945–April 1947. What better way to fill it than by giving them storylines and adventures fitting their new age?
17. It seems kind of grotesque and freakish to imagine a 7-year-old who looks and acts like a 13-year-old.
18. It would feel more believable and natural for Sparky and Cinni to start having their kids when they’re out of college. As originally written, Sparky has three kids and Cinni is pregnant with her fourth by the time they graduate. There’s zero depiction of any real struggle to juggle college and childrearing. I was only fifteen when I wrote about those years, after all.
19. Their high school years (what I wrote of them) were shallow, cliché, derivative junk. Regardless of age, I would’ve radically rewritten them anyway.
20. I suspect I hatched the angle of a deliberately over the top spoof and satire in part to cover up their shocking, age-inappropriate antics and pass them off as being there for a purpose. As music teacher Busload told my buddy Bruce when he submitted his vulgar parody of “My Favorite Things,” “This isn’t satirical. This is filth!” There was just too much reveling in the worst of human nature, and everyone looks so mean-spirited, gross, cruel, selfish, psychotic, shallow, vindictive, violent.
21. I may have written these characters all the way to 1998, but only two of those books have been published to date, plus two more where a few of them (most notably Sparky) appear as secondary characters. The frogging and retconning would be much more difficult if I had to memory-hole and reconstruct years of official established history. The worst obstacle is probably the advanced maternal age of some of the ladies when they have their final kids.
22. I’m toying with the supernatural storyline of Cinni and her friends having time stand still for two years (which would put them back at their original age eventually) if Cinni makes the right decision about the life path to take in the fourth book. She’ll have a lot of dreams about a mysterious ancestor, who shows her many possible trajectories for her life in alternative universes, including the one I originally crafted. Everything ultimately joins back together.