November 16th Update: I made some progress this week rewriting and editing my new story, but I may have to postpone posting the first chapter until Friday, November 30th. I need a break from the story this weekend so I won’t know for sure until the middle or end of next week. In the meantime, I’ve now posted a brief synopsis of the story over at The Annex. Hopefully it will whet your appetite without giving away too much.
November 11th Posting: It was around this time a year ago that the idea occurred to me. As those of you who were reading Connected at that time may recall, we were close to finishing Part II of the story and things were up in the air a bit.
Josh was beginning to relax after learning that he had been accepted at Williams College and would be receiving the full athletic scholarship he needed to attend. Then, one evening on his way home from school, he had come across Tommy hanging out at a bus stop closed for the winter and learned the younger boy was being abused by Coach Johnson. One thing led to another and it wasn’t much later before Tommy was hitching a ride south to what turned out to be Washington, D.C.
In Connected, this was all taking place in that brief period of time between winter and spring. However, you were reading about all of this in November. The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were rapidly approaching; and while the audience for Connected was small, what I was hearing from readers was how much you were enjoying the story. That made me want to do something special for you for Christmas, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what.
It was right about then that I happened to stumble across A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens again. I had always enjoyed that story and reading it again made me wonder how Dickens would have written it if he was alive today and gay. The idea occurred to me that perhaps I should take a stab at rewriting his story, but this time in contemporary America and from the perspective of someone who is gay.
I started working on a story that would do that, but it proved to be a pretty daunting task. I had no illusion about being anywhere near as good a writer as Dickens; and even though I wasn’t about to let that stop me from trying to write something, the idea posed a lot of challenges.
To mention one, no one really believes in spirits anymore and that was a problem because the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future and their interaction with Scrooge are what makes A Christmas Carol so memorable to us in many ways. Trying to talk about past, present and future in a short story without the spirits was hard.
In any event, I never finished the story back then because Connected was absorbing so much of my time and energy. Subsequently I did finish a draft, but decided to set it aside until this holiday season because I had some doubts about just how good it was.
Recently I went back and took another look at what I had written to try to decide whether it was good enough to share with you. Although I still have a lot of doubts, I’ve decided to post it online nonetheless. If nothing else, maybe you can help me understand why it doesn’t quite work and I can take a stab at rewriting it for the next holiday season.
It was interesting looking at what I had written again. If and when you read it, you’ll see how much it was influenced by Connected. Like that story, this new story takes place in Washington, D.C. and features a main character who works on Capitol Hill. He doesn’t appear in Connected, but some of the characters and places from that story do show up in this new one as well in cameo roles.
That doesn’t make very much sense to be honest, but Christmas is a magical season and sometimes it’s just uplifting to suspend belief and enjoy something for the happiness it provides.
You don’t have to read Connected to read this new story, of course. But if you have, it will help orient you to the new one. If you haven’t, you still have a couple of weeks to do so because currently I’m planning to publish the first chapter of the new story on November 23rd, the day after Thanksgiving here in the United States.
Like A Christmas Carol, this new story is relatively short. A Christmas Carol has five somewhat longer chapters or what Dickens calls “staves”, that is, song stanzas or verses (in keeping with the title of the book). It runs a little over 28,000 words. I wanted to keep my own story short as well. If Dickens could write a classic as a short story, who was I to write something longer?
In the end, I didn’t succeed. My story will probably end up having eleven chapters that are somewhat shorter than those Dickens wrote and run around 50,000 words; and it goes without saying, of course, that mine is nowhere near as good as the original. Except I feel compelled to say it nonetheless 🙂
Hence the title I’ve chosen for the story: With Apologies Mr. Dickens.
Regardless of how it turned out, it was an interesting challenge and I’m glad I did it. But there are a couple of things I learned along the way. For one thing, writing a short story is a lot different and in some ways much harder than writing a longer story like Connected.
A big part of any story, long or short, is introducing the main characters and setting the stage for the story you want to tell. In a long story, you can spread this out a lot more. For example, Tommy doesn’t appear in Connected until Chapter 14 and Andy doesn’t make an appearance until Chapter 30.
In a short story, however, you don’t have that kind of luxury. You have to move at a much quicker pace. Dickens does this extraordinarily well in A Christmas Carol. By contrast, I can see I had a much harder time of it and didn’t do it nearly as well in looking back at what I wrote.
A second thing I learned is that a short story requires you to be, well, in a word, short; and as some of you already know and this post illustrates so well, I have a problem with that 🙂
You work hard to introduce and develop some characters you hope will be interesting and that readers will care about; and then you have to rush through their stories quickly and without the kind of context and detail you would like to provide. In the case of this new story, my latest reading of it makes me feel that acutely. There is so much more I could do with these characters, so much more I think you as readers would find interesting about them; and yet, if I’m going to remain true to the spirit of what Dickens did, I can’t really do that.
The bottom line is that, no matter how imperfect, I would like to put this story online as a gift to you this holiday season. If nothing else, it will be a testimonial to my weaknesses as a writer. At the moment I’m not planning to publish it on Nifty or anywhere else; and since the audience at this web site was always small and has grown smaller still as the months have passed, it’s not like I’ll totally ruin my reputation. I’ll just ruin it with my most loyal and dedicated readers 🙂
But try to bear with me. Like I’ve mentioned before, I am working on another longer story that I hope will be better.
Please also keep in mind that With Apologies Mr. Dickens is only a loose adaptation. I spend more time on the past than the future, but I think the story probably works best in the present; and while there’s talk about sex, there isn’t that much real sex in the story. I find it hard to get steamy around the holiday season, at least online 🙂
The story still needs lots of work and I’ll try to improve it the next couple of weeks. I’ll also try to post a little synopsis of the story late next week to help you figure out whether it’s one you’ll like reading. In the meantime, tell your family, tell your friends, a new story is coming. It will be embarrassing if only five or ten people show up. Of course, it won’t be the first time I embarrassed myself.