Friday, March 22, 2019

May This Blog Haunt You Pleasantly (Part 3) by C. Kevin Thompson

C. Kevin Thompson

We’ve arrived. Part 3 completes this blog trilogy revolving around my reading of Les Standiford’s The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits (You can read Part 1 and Part 2 here). As I stated before, if you want to learn about the writing life and how other writers who have gone on before us have endured the trials and tribulations therein, reading about them is just as important as reading about the craft itself. For one thing I found when learning about Dickens’s life was how universal some things are. It truly is a small world.

So far, we have covered the first two “gleanings” I gathered from my reading of this work. Gleaning #1 (found in Part 1 above) was: Authors have always wished to get their works in as many readers’ hands as possible, sometimes at the chagrin of their publishers (if they are traditionally published) or themselves (if they are independently published). And if not handled properly, it can become an all-consuming fire.

As much as this writing life can become a soul-wrenching conflagration, this mindset can worm its way into the writer’s business relationships as well, which led us to Gleaning #2 (found in Part 2 above): The constant tension between authors and publishers will always be a constant.

If an author like Dickens, who made such an impact of the art of story in relationship to the downcast and poor among us, then who are we to think that everything we write should be loved and adored by every editor and publisher who reads it? It’s actually quite the tip of the hat to arrogance, if you ask me. And believe me, I’ve asked me a lot. We all think, if we’re honest with ourselves, that what we write should be adored and published with an air of delight. It should be venerated and lavished with contracts fit for a king or queen. So, when we are told by an editor or agent, “I’m not interested,” or “It’s not something our house can support,” our proud belief in our work explains the utter incredulous nature of the expression on our face. It’s definitely something we need to work on, for sure.1

This brings us to my last gleaning from Les Standiford’s book.

Gleaning #3: Crooks abound in publishing, and sometimes in the unlikeliest of places.

Did you know Charles Dickens had to deal with pirates? Not the Jack Sparrow, “Where’s the Rum?” brand of pirate. He probably could have more easily accepted the “Yo-ho-ho,” parrot on the shoulder kind of buccaneer than the scallywags he faced.

Dickens had fought for years to have an International Copyright Law. He saw the practical and legal need and lobbied for it every chance he got, for the problems crossed the Atlantic—heading both east and west—and didn’t seem to play favorites. However, the pirates had their preferences, and popularity was always the key.

American authors popular in England watched as their works were literally stolen and reprinted in England. Edgar Allen Poe was a common victim. Such works as The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) and The Masque of the Red Death (1842) were both bootlegged from Poe’s pen by English publishers and sold to a British audience without Edgar receiving any compensation at all.

Dickens was Edgar Allen Poe’s contemporary, as well as his fellow quarry. His works traveled abroad, from England to America, were retooled, and sold for a pittance with no recompense heading into Dickens’s bank account. The one foray into plagiarism that caught my eye, though, was when A Christmas Carol landed in Boston, and was subsequently harvested by the publisher known then as Harper and Brothers.

Does the name of that company sound familiar? It should. Harper and Brothers later merged with Row, Peterson, and Company in 1962 to become Harper & Row. In 1987, Rupert Murdoch purchased the company for $300 million and merged it with his News Corporation. Then, three years later, he purchased William Collins, Sons & Co., a British company (ironically!), and HarperCollins was formed as a means of creating a worldwide English-speaking book market that has great potential, according to one analyst.2

The article I found went on to say, “Harper & Row evolved from a publisher of books on religion and ethics—its first title was Seneca’s “Morals”—to books by Mark Twain, James Thurber, E. B. White, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Moshe Dayan, Allen Dulles, Svetlana Alliluyeva, Erich Segal and Sylvia Plath” (emphasis added).3 Apparently, religion and ethics didn’t play a huge part in the company’s earlier days. There didn’t seem to be any feeling of remorse about the act of thievery. Even though copyright laws existed in both America (Copyright Act of 1790) and England (Statute of Queen Anne in 1710), they only applied to authors within their own borders.4

How convenient, right? There have always been legal loopholes…

Dickens, like others, knew there was little they could do about the literary poachers of their day who operated across the pond, much like we cannot do much about the ones that exist today.5 However, when a British publisher known as Lee & Haddock had planned to publish a “re-originated” version of A Christmas Carol—which turned out to be the book in its entirety with a few lines of introduction added and a few minor things changed—for two pennies a copy in their Parley’s Illuminated Library, in the January 6, 1844 edition, Dickens wrote his friend and legal counsel, Thomas Mitton, who filed a formal complaint with the courts.

That didn’t stop the pilferers, though. Because of Dicken’s enormous popularity, other works of his were lifted in a similar fashion, many of which being done so in a not-to-flattering manner. Such titles as The Posthumous Notes of the Pickwick Club, by “Bos,” Pickwick in America, Oliver Twiss, Nickelas Nicklebery, Barnaby Budge, and more were allegedly written by “Bos, Buz, Poz, and others.”6

Dickens, more than upset over Lee & Haddock’s actions, spent over a thousand pounds on legal fees in his court battle—a tough ride, considering Dickens was always on the verge of bankruptcy. He eventually won his fight against Lee & Haddock, and decided it was their fault he had accumulated these legal fees. So, he filed another lawsuit to recoup his funds. He won that case as well. That was when Lee & Haddock filed for bankruptcy, thus forcing Dickens to drop the case and absorb the legal fees when he was already in debt.7

So, what’s an author to do? Those, like Dickens, have gone on their crusades and fought for themselves and those writers who have come after. But there are two things that have come out of this Gleaning #3 for me.

1. There will always be pirates. Always have. Always will. And even the courts can’t eradicate them all. Sometimes, it seems, the laws of the land protect them with the loopholes that can be used as escape hatches. “There is no justice in the justice system,” one of my characters says all the time.

2. We are Christian writers. Most of us write Christian literature. Dickens didn’t (Neither did Poe, for that matter). And he was taken advantage of by unscrupulous publishers. In this ever-darkening world around us, I’ve often wondered how long it’s going to be before our works are rejected because of the emphasis on Jesus. I believe a form of censoring is coming that will be allowed (If Jesus doesn’t return before that happens!). The courts will declare the message of Christ anathema to all human beings and to be avoided at all costs.

So, what’s an author to do? I believe the answer is as simple and as complicated as this: write. In the admonition of Ephesians 5, “redeeming the time because the days are evil.” To use our talents to help as many people as possible see the light of Christ as it shines brighter and brighter in a dark world before our window as a writer closes. Take advantage of the avenues God supplies to get your word out about the Messiah.

And in the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless Us, Every One!”

1  My wife ran across a book that deals with this very issue recently, titled Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You, by Sharon Hodde Miller. This book should be on every Christian writer’s shelf.

2 McDowell, Edwin. “Murdoch to Buy Harper & Row in Surprise Deal.” New York Times. 1987 March 31. 2019 March 18.  

3 Ibid.

4 Standiford, Les. The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits. Broadway Books; New York, NY, 2017. pp. 140-141.

5 Clark, Grant, and Shelly Hagan. “What’s Intellectual Property and Does China Steal It?” 2018 March 22. 2019 March 18.

6 Standiford, Les. The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits. Broadway Books; New York, NY, 2017. pp. 142-143.

7 Ibid., pp. 144-152.

(The Blake Meyer Thriller Series, Book 3)

A Perverse Tale. A Precarious Truth. A Personal Tribulation.

Supervisory Special Agent Blake Meyer is at an impasse. Bound and beaten in a dilapidated warehouse halfway around the world, Blake finds himself listening to an unbelievable story. Right and wrong warp into a despicable clash of ideologies. Life quickly becomes neither black nor white. Nor is it red, white, and blue any longer.

Every second brings the contagion's release closer, promising to drag the United States into the Dark Ages. Tens of millions could be dead within months.

Every moment adds miles and hours to the expanding gulf between him and his family. What is he to believe? Who is he to trust?

C. KEVIN THOMPSON is a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a kid at heart. Often referred to as “crazy” by his grandchildren, it’s only because he is. He’s a writer. Need he say more?

The first three books of his Blake Meyer Thriller series are out! Book 1, 30 Days Hath Revenge, Book 2, Triple Time, and Book 3, The Tide of Times, are now available! Book 4, When the Clock Strikes Fourteen, is coming March 2019!  Also, the second edition of his award-winning debut novel, The Serpent’s Grasp, is now available!

Kevin is a huge fan of the TV series 24, The Blacklist, Blue Bloods, and Criminal Minds, loves anything to do with Star Trek, and is a Sherlock Holmes fanatic, too. It’s quite elementary, actually.

Kevin’s Writer’s Blog:
Instagram : ckevinthompson
Twitter: @CKevinThompson
Goodreads: C. Kevin Thompson