Even short books can sometimes take a long time.
A long time ago (well, nine years, but that's 72 in "writers years"), I'd hobbled out of the hospital, and during my sedentary recuperation felt I needed to write something. Given that the alternative options were a) watch more television, or b) eat, the decision to write wasn't a hard choice, though I must admit that watching television while eating held a certain sway. And still does.
I wasn't in the mood yet to tackle another full-fledged screenplay. And a novel was even more out of the question. A short story wasn't what I was looking for either. So, my enthusiastic idea suddenly hit a few pitfalls. ("Pitfalls" shall herewith be defined as "a brick wall.")
For reasons I can no longer remember, I instead decided to write a parody of A Christmas Carol. The best I can recollect is that a novella would be short enough to be manage. I also loved the works of Charles Dickens, having read all his novels, and it would be comforting to convalesce with such a friend. But I also suspect that a significant impetus was that I didn't have a clue what to write, and a ready-made plot likely held a whole lot of appeal. Whatever the reason, a parody of A Christmas Carol it was. God bless us, everyone. Or at least, Charles Dickens.
Reality again reared its head. After all, there were so many ways to attack this. In the end, I didn't want this to be my take on the story, but done as if a real, "lost" work by Dickens himself that had never gotten published for some mysterious reason
I finally finished. (Okay, "finally" shall herewith be defined as "hubris.") The comic tale began five years after Ebenezer Scrooge has passed away and left his firm to his former clerk, Bob Cratchit. However, Bob's over-benevolence drives the company towards bankruptcy, and the ghost of Scrooge returns one Christmas Eve to teach Cratchit the true meaning of money.
One other thing particularly appealed to me. Dozens of characters from other Dickens novels are woven throughout the story. Oliver Twist, Mr. Pickwick, David Copperfield and more.
I gave this first draft to four friends and insisted on their honest reaction. (Note to aspiring writers -- honest reactions are the only ones worth getting. Most writers do ask for an honest opinion, though what they want to hear is, "Okay, this is my totally honest opinion -- not since William Faulkner has literature moved me this much.") That doesn't mean all criticism is valid. But everything should be considered, and -- most of all -- if a lot of people make the same comment, they're probably right.
A lot of people made the same comment. And they were right.
The first person loved the book, God bless him, everyone. And I do mean "one." The only one. The others had near-identical reactions. They were impressed by the writing, laughed at the humor -- and were so utterly lost by the unknown Dickens characters that they gave up reading after 30 pages.
This isn't what most authors are looking for. You have to trust me on this. Among other things, you can't even ask, "How was the final chapter?" Because none of them even got to the middle chapters.
One reader thought footnotes would help, but that idea gave me the willies. The truth is that I didn't know what to do. So, I did what most self-respecting writers do -- I put it on the shelf until I could figure out how to fix it. I loved the story and all the Dickens characters interacting. But if it didn't work, it didn't work. Yet.
I'll save you a lot of time. Seven years passed.
One day, a friend approached me about a new publishing company she was involved with and asked if I had any books that would be appropriate. I mentioned my Dickens tale, and she insisted she wanted to include it. "I know you'll fix it," she said in a burst of blind trust not seen since Moses told his followers, "Really, this sea is actually going to part."
There's a tip I always tell aspiring writers. When you finish your first draft, let it sit in a drawer as long as possible. Whenever you finally pick it back up, the strengths and weaknesses will leap out. More so the longer it sits unread.
Seven years is a long time to sit unread. And the strengths and weaknesses leaped out. I easily saw the problem: parodying Dickens's style rambled endlessly. It was like an ocean's undertow, dragging you farther and farther away from the story. If you remove what's extraneous, the story is all that remains - and that story itself is pure parody. I cut about a third of the book, and the story jumped to the forefront.
And remember what I said before about listening even to criticism you don't agree with? I figured out how to make that footnotes suggestion work. A concept that I had dismissed seven years earlier.
The footnotes wouldn't just identify characters. They would tell an entirely different, second story. Taken from letters between Dickens and his fictitious-publisher, and from notes that Dickens had supposedly left, the footnotes together would comically show the disintegrating relationship between Dickens and the publishing house, which ultimately explains the "mysterious" reason why the book was never released.
I sent the now-finished (finally) effort around -- including to some who had tried to read it before, and breathed a sigh of relief. Actually, I think the ones most relieved were those who bravely agreed to read the book a second time. This time, they gave me great quotes to use.
And so, after only nine years, A Christmas Carol 2: The Return of Scrooge, at last has entered the world.
(They say you can't tell a book by its cover. All the more reason that I lucked out with the work by Bryan Larkin.)
If there must be a Dickensian lesson in a tale of Christmas and the holidays, it is this -- patience, it seems, is indeed a virtue.
And money can't buy everything. Though it can finally get you a copy in paperback or ebook edition
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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