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Cartoonist Turns his Pen to Novel Writing in The Charity of Ebenezer ScroogeSalem-News.com Staff Interview
Salem-News.com Cartoonist Glen Bledsoe releases a new book and accompanying promotional video; a famous Christmas tale with a new twist.
(SALEM, Ore.) - Glen Bledsoe began drawing weekly comics for Salem-New.com in August of 2006. Since that time he has created more than 170 sixteen panel comics. His latest series is the serialized graphic novel The Truant Officer.
But the cartoonist has many other talents: he is a teacher, a magician, and a writer. His eighteenth published book The Charity of Ebenezer Scrooge is his first work of fiction.
S-N: What made you decide to write a sequel to A Christmas Carol?
GB: I've been interested in the 19th century for as long as I can remember. I read and re-read all the Sherlock Holmes stories when I was a teenager.
In my 20’s I became interested interested in Jack the Ripper and tried to figure out who he was. I made lists of people who were in London in 1888. One of them, I felt, might have been the Ripper.
S-N: For example?
GB: One suspect in particular was an Indian law student. He was shy, soft-spoken and a vegetarian. He had been raised in a restrictive, deeply-religious household.
I reasoned that after coming to England and gaining confidence in himself he might have tried a taste of the European life he found himself in the middle of.
Perhaps he ate some meat. Maybe he was attracted to English women and found the easiest way to have a physical relationship with them was to pay for the experience with a woman of the night.
His conscience, however, got the best of him and after many years of repressive religious training violence erupted and he killed all those women. When at last he came to his senses he repented and swore to devote the rest of his life to helping humanity which he did.
S-N: What was his name?
GB: Mohandas K. Gandhi.
S-N: You’re not serious.
GB: Of course not. Playing “what if” is a wonderful exercise to generate ideas for stories. That kind of game was the inspiration for my Scrooge sequel.
I remember reading for the first time about laudanum (a mixture of opium dissolved in alcohol). When I read that it was widely used in the 19th century for all sorts of minor complains I thought to myself “What if Ebenezer Scrooge had those weird dreams because he was taking laudanum?”
S-N: In The Charity of Ebenezer Scrooge laudanum does play a part in the story, but it’s not the source of his famous experiences with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.
GB: The idea sat for quite a while and stewed before I put it down on paper.
S-N: You’ve co-written 17 books with your wife, but this is your first solo project. Have they all taken that long?
GB: My other publications have all been work-for-hire. Mostly books for the school library market. With my wife I collected and wrote forewords to several collections of ghost stories. None of them are books of my fiction.
We also wrote a series of books on topics of high interest to upper elementary boys but with lower reading levels. Books about long distance ballooning, the Blue Angels, Indy Cars, bicycling, The World's Fastest Trucks, that sort of thing.
S-N: Are they still in print?
GB: Some of them are. You can search for my name in Amazon and get a list along with some of my music.
S-N: How long did it take to write your Scrooge sequel?
GB: I started the book when my eldest son Gabe was born in 1983. He had apnea, and I had to watch him as he slept. If his apnea monitor went off I’d have to be at his side within a minute or so to restart his breathing. As he napped I’d write.
This was in the days before word processing. The first drafts of the early chapters were written on a typewriter. I may even have them in a box somewhere.
In the early 90’s I copied them over to my first computer, a Macintosh SE. I started writing on it in earnest in the mid-90’s. Even then I stalled.
It wasn't until about four years ago that everything clicked, and I understood what the story was really about.
S-N: You encountered writing blocks then?
GB: Not blocks, but dead-ends. Writing comes easy to me, and I write very quickly. I wrote until I couldn't move the story forward. It was the writing equivalent of painting yourself into a corner.
Later I’d go back and throw away parts of the story until I got to the root idea, and I'd start over again. I did that many times. I threw away enough text to have written several novels.
There were versions of the book in which Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first mechanical computer and Ada Byron are worked into the story. Other historical figures were awkwardly woven in as well: Chinese martial artists and a Cherokee from the Trail of Tears, for example.
In the end I had to eliminate many of these characters and only keep to the ones who were needed to push the story ahead.
S-N: You say you write fast. What’s the quickest book you’ve ever written.
GB: I just finished a first draft of a book in 18 days.The book is called Patter of the Spider, a story which takes place in 1923 about a stage magician who stumbles onto real magic. I wrote it for National Novel Writing Month. The word count was 50,000 words.
S-N: You’re a magician yourself, aren't you?
GB: Yes, I am. I perform when I get the chance, and I ,along with several other of my fellow magicians in the area, teach a children’s class for the Society of Young Magicians (SYM) at the Gilbert House several times a month on Saturdays.
S-N: Your version of the events of A Christmas Carol seems to have a specific time frame.
GB: It does. Dickens meant the story to be something of a fairy tale. He wrote it in the mid-19th century and told it as if it had happened in the not-too-distant past.
I decided to nail it down to a specific year. From meager clues about clothing I placed the story as having happened on Christmas 1821, just after the Napoleonic wars. I actually got a calendar from that year and placed the events of my book on it.
S-N: Your book takes Dickens’s story and develops it. It explains why Scrooge is the way he is.
GB: Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is just under 29,000 words long. My sequel is close to 130,000. Obviously I felt that Dickens left a lot of loose ends. I think that Scrooge's conversion would not have been quite so easy. He would have had challenges.
Scrooge was a typical 19th century man in that he thought he knew it all. He believed he needed no one else’s ideas or help. His decisions were good because he had made them. After all, he was Scrooge and he’d been successful at what he’d done in the past even though the outcomes weren't terribly moral. He’d switched sides--from sinner to saint, but his methods remained the same, and they were flawed.
My book is an inversion of the original. In A Christmas Carol the forces of Good send three spirits to Scrooge on a single evening, Christmas Eve, to recast him from a miser to a generous man. In my book Satan sends three demons in human form to take Scrooge down and gives them one year to complete their task.
S-N: Do you think that Dickens would approve of your spin-off?
GB: Hard to say. My book is as influenced by other 19th century writers as by Dickens himself.
The writing of Dickens’s friend and fellow author of notoriety Wilkie Collins shaped this story, too. In fact, one of Collins’s characters from The Moonstone appears briefly in my book. Readers who know something of the personal lives of these two writers will find a layer in the story that others will miss.
And the events Scrooge experiences on Christmas Eve 1822 would more likely have flowed from the pen of Edgar Allan Poe or be depicted in the imaginary prison etchings of Piranesi than anything Dickens could have thought of.
S-N: Where can readers find your book?
GB: It’s available digitally at Smashwords.com. It’s $5.00. You can download a sample of it to read for free in a variety of formats.
If you prefer as most readers do a hard copy, it’s available in paperback on Amazon.com for $15.95 and at better book stores everywhere.
Ironically my son at whose bedside the book began so long ago did the cover. He’s now a highly-paid graphic artist in L. A. and does work for television and film.
I created a YouTube trailer readers will find at the end of this story. For more information visit www.charityofscrooge.com.
S-N: Have any other books in the works?
GB: Yes, several. So many that I've decided to create my own publishing house: 12th Street Hill Publishing.
One book titled Man of Fear is the story of Lord Marcot, an agoraphobe who has never left his ancestral home Long Evening House on an alternate Earth. Events drive Marcot from his home, and he finds himself swept up in events which will change the face of religion and government of his world and place him in a leadership role which he wants no part of.
I have several other books close to being finished. Patter of the Spider mentioned earlier being one.
S-N: Good luck on your books.
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