Who was Charles Dickens?

Christmas Carole Cover Design kindle

Who was Charles Dickens: the man, the husband, the father? It’s a controversy that will never end. After doing extensive research, I’ve come to my own conclusions which I talk about in the forward to my novella “Christmas Carole.” I believe that Charles Dickens loved his family. It seems that his and Catherine’s personalities were very different, and they were not a good match for each other. I think Mr. Dickens didn’t always handle the pressures of fame, work, worries, and family well and he certainly had flaws, but who doesn’t? I also think, just like today, the things the public think about celebrities are only half-truths. One thing I can tell you with certainty was that Charles Dickens often devoted his time, his craft, and his money to many charitable causes. And no one can deny that he provided the world with quality literature.

Here is the forward to “Christmas Carole.”

There have been many books written about Charles Dickens and just as many opinions as to the type of man he was. There is also much speculation as to the nature of his relationship with his wife, Catherine. They range from a loving relationship between two emotionally damaged individuals, to one of deceit and heartbreak. Given that the accounts written are about someone who was, and still is, a public figure, I can only assume that the truth lies somewhere in between. Since I haven’t lived in his home, I can only speculate. I have come to my own conclusions based on all the research I’ve done, and use that as my basis for the Charles portrayed in this story.

Some things are less debated, and seem fairly clear. Charles Dickens was a brilliant, creative, driven, hardworking man. He was haunted by his experiences as a child, and the time he spent in a boot blacking factory to support his family while his father was in debtor’s prison. He used those experiences in his quest to enlighten the public about the plight of the poor and underprivileged. Those experiences also drove him to succeed, always fearful of living in poverty once again.

Regardless of little education, Dickens was a man of wisdom and great talent. I can only hope I have done the great author justice.

Reviews – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

amazon-5-star-review-2Reviews good and bad, are something every author is familiar with.  We beg for reviews because they help to sell our books. We cringe at the bad ones. We cheer at the good ones. If only all of them could be good…or maybe not.

Any author can relate with the bad review that makes no sense. It’s frustrating when the reviewer complains that the story is short when it was published as a short story. Hopefully other readers will be smart enough to see through those. But false good reviews can be just as damaging. Often when a bad book gets good reviews, we have to wonder if all the good reviews came from friends or family.

I recently came across a book for Kindle that caught my interest. First the cover attracted me, and although vague, the description grabbed me enough to look at it closer. It had 45 reviews with an average of 4 stars. I started reading the reviews, both good and bad. I rarely give much weight to reviews that don’t give enough information. I’m not convinced by comments like ” I didn’t like it.”  Books are subjective, so I need to know why the reader didn’t like it. In this instance, in the one star reviews the book received, I was seeing comments about punctuation, format, and story structure that gave me pause. So I clicked on the “Look Inside” link.

What I read was absolutely terrible.  The first page was enough to convince me that I didn’t want this free book to take up space on my Kindle.  The first thing that smacked me in the face was purple prose by the wheelbarrow full. What is purple prose? It’s when you use too many descriptive words. For example – “The glossy bird, black as midnight, soared like a jet across the cerulean blue sky dotted with opaque clouds, wispy and ethereal, as they drifted by.”  My daughter calls this word salad. When an author spends too much time with a thesaurus and dictionary and tosses in every word they can find, some words so obscure, the reader will need to keep a dictionary on hand to understand what they’re reading. There’s a fine line between quality descriptive narrative and overkill. To be honest – I have skirted on the edge of using purple prose, not to that extent thank goodness, but it’s something I try to keep an eye on.

The second issue that jumped out at me was punctuation. I’m not talking about a few typos. The only punctuation the author uses is periods and maybe a few commas. Even at the end of questions, he uses periods, not a question mark to be seen. There are no quotation marks for dialog.  Some of this author’s long, run on sentences are paragraphs. I can’t claim to be an expert at punctuation either.  My nemesis is comma usage, I either use too many, or not enough. But the absence of any other punctuation becomes confusing, and when the reader is confused it pulls them out of the story.

The third problem that I noticed were tense changes. The author switches from present tense to past tense and back again, sometimes within the same paragraph. This is something most authors have done at some point in an early draft, or early in their writing life.  I certainly have. But it’s something I have learned to be conscious of. Yes, I still slip up from time to time. That’s why I have my manuscript read by as many people as possible before the final draft.

I didn’t download the book, and I won’t leave a review. I feel bad for this author. These problems are not subjective. I ‘m not criticizing style, story line, or whether or not I like the ending. These are fundamental issues that this author will need to work on, if they are serious about being an author. I don’t think this is a terrible author. Perhaps he has some interesting ideas and creativity.

So which reviews are the bad ones? The painful one star,  negative reviews? No, it’s the glowing five star reviews left by well meaning friends and family.  It’s hard to tell a friend that you don’t like something that means a lot to them. Unfortunately, if we aren’t honest, and give wonderful reviews just because we don’t want to disappoint, we do more harm than good. It sets the author up for a painful fall. They believe the good reviews which make the bad reviews unexpected and painful.

I’m not saying all good reviews are bad, or all bad reviews are constructive, it can go either way. What authors need are honest reviews.  Why didn’t I leave a review, even though I think it would be an honest review? Because at this point, the author will use those good reviews as a shield. They are his reason to dismiss the bad reviews. Which in the end will hurt him, not just because they will be a dagger to his heart emotionally,  but because he may dismiss what they are trying to tell him.

What I’d like to do, is send this author a personal message. One with praise for the bravery to put himself out there, but also with the gentle advice that there are issues in his writing that need improvement. In the end all writers improve with every word written. It never ends, at least it shouldn’t.  However, it’s not my place to do so. It was the place of those who let him down, whether that was their intention or not.  He thought they loved his book. I shouldn’t make assumptions, maybe they did, but I don’t even want to go there.

So what do I want to say about all this? Be honest with those you care about. Do I think if you hate a friends book, you should plaster it on Amazon? No. Tell them before they get to that point, or if you don’t have that option, in private. Do it gently, and be specific. Balance it with what you did like.  For example, ” I love the dialog, but don’t understand why this character was introduced in the last chapter,” or, “This story is fascinating, but on page 48 I wasn’t sure who was speaking.”  If there are specific areas where there were problems, mark them and point them out, sometimes it’s just an oversight and the author is happy to know it was caught, and want to fix it. This type of critique is important and will help them to be what they really want to be, a good author.

Authors, if you don’t have the money to hire an editor, have as many people you trust to give you an honest opinion read your book before you publish. Not just close friends, but other authors who have been in your place at one time. Perhaps, like me, you have some friends or family members who have experience editing.

Read books about writing, read books in general, lots of books. In Stephen King’s book “On Writing,” he says if you don’t have the  time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Join writer’s groups, take writing classes and seminars. Surround yourself with as many people as you can who will not feel obligated to praise you. Try not to be defensive. I know it’s hard. This is your baby, and no one wants to hear that their baby has an unsightly wart on its nose. Sometimes when we see something everyday, we stop seeing it altogether. By the time we’ve finished a book, we’ve seen those words so many times, we aren’t really reading them anymore, and we can miss things that are glaringly obvious to others.

As for myself I find I have a knee-jerk defensive reaction, (I probably owe my editors an apology or two.) but if the criticism is good constructive criticism, I go back and take it to heart, and it inevitably improves my writing. I watch that my descriptions are well worded and not over-the-top purple prose, because someone, who did so in my best interest, told me.  I have editors that correct my punctuation when I mess up., and trust me, I mess up plenty. They also let me know if there are passages they don’t understand, or continuity errors. I don’t always have to agree with everything they suggest, but it makes me take a second look and ask myself if my readers will understand what I’m trying to get across.  Does this make me a good writer? It depends on each persons opinion, some reviews say I’m the next best thing out there, and some say I’m crap. What it does is make me a better writer. I will use everything I learn over time to continue to get better, for that’s all I can really strive for.

Addendum: While searching for an image to go with this post, I accidentally came upon a website that offers 5 star, compelling reviews for any kindle book for the price of $5.00.  Maybe I was wrong about the author above. I hope not, and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. All I can say is, if an author feels the need to buy positive reviews for their book, they aren’t really an author at all.

 

 

Now in Paperback!!!!

Christmas Carole is now available in paperback for just $5.95! Just in time for Christmas!


Just click on book cover below to purchase.


“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”
-Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Carole is a modern day, career-driven woman who has little time for love and even less time for Christmas. While escaping the flirtation of a co-worker and the trappings of an office Christmas party, she meets a mysterious stranger. With this man, she travels back in time to 1843 London. There, she becomes a guest in the home of Charles Dickens, as he writes “A Christmas Carol.” People and events that inspire Mr. Dickens become part of Carole’s life. The secrets she learns about the man, his life, and his writing affect her in ways she could never have imagined.

This novella is a story about love, life, the Christmas spirit, and redemption.

Christmas Carole

 

IT’S HERE!!!!

Christmas Carole

E- book available on Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com (Paperback coming soon!)

Only 99 cents!

 

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”
―Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Carole is a modern day, career-driven woman who has little time for love and even less time for Christmas. While escaping the flirtation of a co-worker and the trappings of an office Christmas party, she meets a mysterious stranger. With this man, she travels back in time to 1843 London. There, she becomes a guest in the home of Charles Dickens, as he writes “A Christmas Carol.” People and events that inspire Mr. Dickens become part of Carole’s life. The secrets she learns about the man, his life, and his writing affect her in ways she could never have imagined.

 

The Pickwick Papers Continued: The Madman's Tale

I am starting to get a better feel for Mr. Pickwick and his band of followers, and especially found it interesting when Mr. Pickwick went to speak to his widowed landlady only to have her mistake his words for a marriage proposal. But again, I can only get so deep with the world that Dickens paints where every man seems like a stout, jolly fellow. But, the tales they discover along the way are such a stark counterpoint, I can’t help to be instantly drawn in.

In Chapter 11, we hear of the madman’s tale.

Quote:  “‘Yes!–a madman’s! How that word would have struck to my heart, many years ago! How it would have roused the terror that used to come upon me sometimes, sending the blood hissing and tingling through my veins, till the cold dew of fear stood in large drops upon my skin, and my knees knocked together with fright! I like it now though. It’s a fine name. Show me the monarch whose angry frown was ever feared like the glare of a madman’s eye–whose cord and axe were ever half so sure as a madman’s gripe. Ho! ho! It’s a grand thing to be mad! to be peeped at like a wild lion through the iron bars–to gnash one’s teeth and howl, through the long still night, to the merry ring of a heavy chain and to roll and twine among the straw, transported with such brave music. Hurrah for the madhouse! Oh, it’s a rare place!”

The opening above grabbed me, and I couldn’t stop until I got to the end. This is a story about a young woman who is given up to a madman to marry by her father and three brothers in order to “cash in” on the madman’s wealth, told from the point of view of the madman himself.  It becomes clear from the beginning that perhaps the madman was only mad because he believed it was something he was predestined to.

“I remember days when I was afraid of being mad; when I used to start from my sleep, and fall upon my knees, and pray to be spared from the curse of my race; when I rushed from the sight of merriment or happiness, to hide myself in some lonely place, and spend the weary hours in watching the progress of the fever that was to consume my brain. I knew that madness was mixed up with my very blood, and the marrow of my bones! that one generation had passed away without the pestilence appearing among them, and that I was the first in whom it would revive. I knew it must be so: that so it always had been, and so it ever would be: and when I cowered in some obscure corner of a crowded room, and saw men whisper, and point, and turn their eyes towards me, I knew they were telling each other of the doomed madman; and I slunk away again to mope in solitude.”

He spends his days, convincing himself he is mad, although to the reader, he does not seem so. His wife spends her days wrapped in melancoly. The madman eventually finds out that his wife can never be happy with him, not because he is mad, but because when her family married her off for money, she was in love with another. The man, in his madness, or perhaps his broken heart, plans ways to kill his wife, but before he can do so, she collapses. After a bedside vigil and many doctors, the madman is told to prepare for the worst, since his wife is mad! His wife dies on her own, the very next day. The father, who so heartlessly forced his daughter to marry, followed her to the grave. In the end the madman is confronted by one of the brothers, and he tries to kill the brother in a fit of rage at what they’d done to him and the sister they claimed to have loved. Before he is successful, he is stopped, and he runs for his life realizing that they have discovered the secret of his madness.

‘My secret was out; and my only struggle now was for liberty and freedom. I gained my feet before a hand was on me, threw myself among my assailants, and cleared my way with my strong arm, as if I bore a hatchet in my hand, and hewed them down before me. I gained the door, dropped over the banisters, and in an instant was in the street.

“Straight and swift I ran, and no one dared to stop me. I heard the noise of the feet behind, and redoubled my speed. It grew fainter and fainter in the distance, and at length died away altogether; but on I bounded, through marsh and rivulet, over fence and wall, with a wild shout which was taken up by the strange beings that flocked around me on every side, and swelled the sound, till it pierced the air. I was borne upon the arms of demons who swept along upon the wind, and bore down bank and hedge before them, and spun me round and round with a rustle and a speed that made my head swim, until at last they threw me from them with a violent shock, and I fell heavily upon the earth. When I woke I found myself here–here in this gray cell, where the sunlight seldom comes, and the moon steals in, in rays which only serve to show the dark shadows about me, and that silent figure in its old corner. When I lie awake, I can sometimes hear strange shrieks and cries from distant parts of this large place. What they are, I know not; but they neither come from that pale form, nor does it regard them. For from the first shades of dusk till the earliest light of morning, it still stands motionless in the same place, listening to the music of my iron chain, and watching my gambols on my straw bed.”

It’s a sad tale, of a sad man, who was given the belief from young on that he was destined to be mad. In the end, that belief lead him to his demise. The power of the mind overrode reality.

The Charles Dickens Project and The Pickwick Papers

As promised, here is more facts and information about both Charles Dickens and his first novel, The Pickwick Papers.

(Sorry about the lack of space between some paragraphs, seems to be a problem with the site.)

 

I have a little trouble connecting with Mr. Pickwick and company. They are the typical overly dramatic Dicken’s type characters. But the “stories” they hear and report to the Pickwick Club instantly catch my attention. Especially the darker ones. What can I say? It’s my dark side. I was completely pulled into “The Convict’s Return” as told by a clergyman.

It’s the tale of young John Edmunds who grows up protected by his mother from his violent father. His mother takes the abuse to spare him. He is very close to his mother, and goes to church with her regularily. As he grows older, he drifts from his mother’s side, and no longer goes to church with her.

Once grown, John Edmunds is accused of a crime spree and sentenced to death. His mother’s heart is broken. His sentence is commuted to 14 years in prison.

Despite his hardened attitude, his mother visits him everyday, until she grows ill. He suddenly realizes how much he loves her and how sorry he is when she stops coming to the prison gate to see him. The clergyman tells John Edmunds that his mother is ill and tells him of her love and forgiveness, and the clergyman tells the man’s dying mother of his repentance. During the night John Edmunds is moved to another prison and the clergyman has no way to tell him that his mother had passed away. She was buried in the corner of the church graveyard without even a headstone.

Although John Edmunds had written letters to his mother via the clergyman, none had ever made it and the clergyman had assumed that John had died in prison. John’s father never visited, or cared what happened to his son.

Once released John returned to his village, looking for his mother. He went to the church, but the familiar pew they always sat in together was empty. He went to his childhood home, but someone else lived there. He didn’t have the heart to enquire further, and wandered on, sad and alone.

Quote: ‘On a fine Sunday evening, in the month of August, John Edmunds set foot in the village he had left with shame and disgrace seventeen years before. His nearest way lay through the churchyard. The man’s heart swelled as he crossed the stile. The tall old elms, through whose branches the declining sun cast here and there a rich ray of light upon the shady part, awakened the associations of his earliest days. He pictured himself as he was then, clinging to his mother’s hand, and walking peacefully to church. He remembered how he used to look up into her pale face; and how her eyes would sometimes fill with tears as she gazed upon his features — tears which fell hot upon his forehead as she stooped to kiss him, and made him weep too…’

Later, John Edmunds came upon an old man. At first he didn’t recognize the person who had caused him and his mother so much pain. Then, when the man cursed him and hit him with a stick, he knew it was his father. Although he wanted to choke the man, John couldn’t bring himself to harm his father. The man collapsed on his own of a burst blood vessel right there and then. He died before his son could even raise him off the ground.

The old clergyman finished his story with – ‘In that corner of the churchyard,’ said the old gentleman, after a silence of a few moments, ‘in that corner of the churchyard of which I have before spoken, there lies buried a man who was in my employment for three years after this event, and who was truly contrite, penitent, and humbled, if ever man was. No one save myself knew in that man’s lifetime who he was, or whence he came — it was John Edmunds, the returned convict.’

I actually teared up a bit. Not only is the story heartbreaking, but Dickens creates art with his words. His poetic style brings real emotion to the page.

And now to Mr. Dickens – Here’s one of many interesting fun facts about Charles Dickens. Hans Christian Andersen was Dicken’s close friend and mutual influence. Andersen even dedicated his book Poet’s Day Dream to Dickens in 1853. But this didn’t stop Dickens, a bit of a jokester, from letting Andersen know when he’d overstayed his welcome at Dickens’s home. He made a sign and left it on Andersen’s mirror in the guest room. It read: “Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks, which seemed to the family like AGES.”

The Charles Dickens Project

Over the past several months I’ve been joking around about how I’m “Channeling Chuck.”  I have been posting all kinds of fun facts on similarities between Charles Dickens and myself on my facebook page.  Click here: D.L. Marriott Facebook Page

As it turns out we have quite a few similarities.  Now if only success as a writer was one of them!

Okay, so even though I can’t hope to compare, I can share other facets of his life.  For one, we are both self-published authors. Yes, although he had a publisher, Mr. Dickens was unhappy with his pitiful share of the money, so he went out and self-published a book.  It turned out to be one of his most successful books.  I could give you many more interesting facts and parallels, and over time I will, but for now I am concentrating on writing a book in which Mr. Dickens, himself, is a major character.

In preparation for this, I am reading all of Charles Dickens works, in order.  Either that makes me extremely intellectual, extremely brave and adventurous, or extremely crazy. Whatever you want to call me, feel free to follow me on my quest to better understand a great classic author.  To share what I learn I’ve launched a new facebook page. Click here: The Charles Dickens Project

It’s a public page so you don’t need to be a facebook-er (is that even a word?) to check it out.

I hope you do.  I think it’s going to be fun!  Or as Mr. Dickens would say – It will be a jolly undertaking that will, no doubt. bring forth much spirited repartee.

Coming Soon!

Finding Life, the second novelette in the Finding Hope series.

An only child, Hope spent most of her life, if not pampered, certainly comfortable. When tragedy strikes not once, but twice, shaking the very foundation of her existence, she is rescued by a long lost family friend, Steve. During her ordeal, she learns that by finding any thin thread of life to hang onto, she can survive, but surviving is only the beginning. Sometimes the aftermath of the tragedy is just as terrifying as the tragedy itself. Steve is there to help Hope put her life back together. Instead of falling over the edge of despair, Hope falls in love. Now all she has to do is convince Steve that he is her life.

Happy Birthday Chuck!

Today is a significant day in history. Today we celebrate a legend. An author who’s works have been read, heard, or seen in either play or movie, by nearly everyone. If you look at the Google logo for today, you might get a clue. Two hundred years ago today, on February 7th, 1812, Charles John Huffam Dickens was born. He was the second of eight children born to John and Elizabeth Dickens. As a small boy he was a voracious reader  (a common affliction of most, if not all writers).

If you have ever read David Copperfield, you know a bit about Dicken’s life. It is said to be the closest to an autobiography of all his works, although many of his characters in many of his stories were taken from his own experiences and the people he knew.

At the age of twelve his father was sent to debtor’s prison  and Charles was sent to live with a family friend, and later in the back attic of a court agent. He was forced to leave school and work ten hour days in a blacking factory to pay his room and board, and to help his family.

This harsh existence at such a young age had a lasting impression on Charles, and became the mainstay of his writing. He often wrote about the terrible conditions of the poor and orphaned.

Later he was quoted on  how he wondered how he could be cast away at such a young age. He also mentioned how no one was around to give him any help.  It is obvious by his stories, that these experiences left an indelible mark on the man.

Although a bequeath from the passing of his paternal grandmother released his father from prison, Charles was not immediately sent for by his mother, and was forced to continue to work in the boot-blacking factory. He was eventually able to go to school, although it too was anything but a good experience. The school was run down, and the headmaster brutal. At the age of fifteen he was again forced to leave school (his father was arrested, and his family in need, often throughout his life)  and went to work in a law office as a junior clerk, and a year later became a freelance reporter and reported legal proceedings for four years.

In 1833, at the age of 21, Dicken’s first story ‘A Dinner at Poplar Walk’ was published in a monthly periodical. He continued to write short serial sketches which became his first collection of work titled ‘Sketches by Boz’ published in 1836, and then led to his first novel ‘The Pickwick Papers’ in March of 1836. And so began the career of a legendary author.

So today we celebrate the life of a literary great, and next week I’ll tell you just why this little old author (meaning me) has an interest, and possibly a connection with this often downtrodden yet brilliant man!

Happy Birthday Charles!