Monday, October 31, 2011

"The Kingdom of Childhood"

A New Yorker by birth, Rebecca Coleman grew up in the close suburbs of Washington, D.C., in an academic family. A year spent in Germany, at the age of eight, would later provide the basis for the protagonist's background in The Kingdom of Childhood. She first learned about the Waldorf School movement at age 14 and quickly developed a fascination with its culture and philosophies. After studying elementary education for several years at the University of Maryland, she graduated with a degree in English, awarded with honors.

Coleman applied the Page 69 Test to The Kingdom of Childhood and reported the following:
In the original (much longer) draft, I found that pivotal points-- four of them-- appeared with near-perfect precision at 100-page intervals. If that sounds like a sign that I should improve the pacing, well, my agent certainly thought so. Page 69 deserves a NSFW-language warning:
I reached into my canvas school bag for twine and scissors just as the screw gun let out a high-pitched whine that indicated it had slipped. I looked up in alarm to see Zach throw it out the window of the structure, then roll onto his back and clutch his face with both hands.

"Mother fucking fucker," he said, loudly but in a level voice.

I ventured toward the house. "Is everything all right?"

"No. I just spent an hour putting this shit on backwards." He slid out of the house and ripped off his headphones. They hung around his neck as he sat up, his knees against his chest, and rubbed his eyes. "And I got sawdust in my contacts."

"You didn't have your safety glasses on?"

"No," he snapped. "I was too occupied with messing shit up to remember them."

I sat cross-legged on the floor beside him. "What's the matter with you?"

"I'm just tired of this. I didn't get enough sleep, and then I overslept, and my mom came in like the wrath of Khan to get me up. I didn't have breakfast." He wrapped his arms around his knees and rested his forehead against them. I rubbed his back in a firm, comforting way, and he leaned his whole huddled form against me. His skin was drum-tight over those lanky bones of his, with not an ounce of fat for padding. "I'm starving," he repeated. "I'm never going to make it 'til one. My mom'll be picking up my corpse."
You see, Judy-- the 43-year-old narrator-- means well. She's the responsible adult, supervising 16-year-old Zach as he works on a playhouse for the school bazaar. As the teacher of the kindergarten class, she is accustomed to showing sympathy toward frustrated students and expressing concern for their safety. But at the end there-- well, something's just not quite right. And it will get worse. Much, much worse.

As it turns out, page 69 is a good representation of the novel as a whole: Judy hovers on the edge of making some very bad mistakes, while Zach reflects both mental immaturity and a prurient interest in Judy's attention. These two characters are stomping down the last fractured boundaries that stand in the way of disaster, and very soon-- before the chapter is over-- we'll be way past "not quite right."

And 25 pages earlier than in the original draft. Nice editing work there, Agent.
Learn more about the book and author at Rebecca Coleman's website and blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue