Havisham – Just a Really Long Piece of Fan Fiction?

Miss Havisham

Miss Havisham – Does this look like a Catherine to you?

The audio version of this post appears below. Just click on “play”.



I would never, ever take part in writing fan fiction of any sort and I haven’t decided on how I feel about other people doing it. Personally, I feel any creativity is good creativity and of course imitation is the highest form of flattery, so I think its better that I stick to my policy of not judging. But, to me it would seem as if I was raping the mind of the original author and I just couldn’t do that. In fact, when writing my own characters I spend far too much time agonizing about whether or not a specific character has the traits of another writer’s creation. Last year in a short story meant for the follow up to 5 Tales one character didn’t make the cut as I thought he was way too much like Elmore Leonard’s Raylan Givens. Probably wasn’t, but it was close enough for me.


I feel from everything I’ve read about Ronald Frame’s Havisham, it appears to be a very long piece of fan fiction and I’m vexed as to whether or not I should read it. My love for Dickens as documented in this blog by how much I fawn over his work should be well known to those who read this drivel. Therefore, I’m feeling somewhat assaulted by what I’m reading in the reviews of Havisham. I’ve never before let reviews taint my decisions on what to read, but this is Dickens for goodness sake and Dickens just shouldn’t be screwed with.


Anne Bancroft performed my favorite version of Miss Havisham in the 1998 movie Great Expectations

Anne Bancroft performed my favorite version of Miss Havisham in the 1998 movie Great Expectations

From what I’m reading in the New Yorker and the New York Times, the writing is good but the plot falls apart towards the end as Frame’s Miss Havisham meets up with the Dicken’s version. Both reviewers felt that Miss Havisham the narrator was far too sane and sensible to fall so quickly into insanity as the inevitable begins to unfold. That’s a pretty big flaw and really makes one wonder if the time should be spent to trudge through and possibly ruin the Miss Havisham back-story that certainly every fan of Great Expectations has created in their own minds.


It would seem to me that the merging of the two plots is exactly the reason I would never take on a project like this. When I read those reviews the image I had in my mind was of an underpowered sailboat trying to push through Plum Gut during a storm. Plum Gut is the area off Long Island where the Atlantic Ocean meets Long Island Sound. You can see where the two bodies of water meet which is tumultuous and dangerous and feels like the gates of Hell if you’re the person on the boat. The collision of the two plot lines would scare me to death and I know I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. Why? Because I ain’t Dickens and no one else is either.


There’s one other problem I have with the idea of reading this book and its small but to me it matters. Dickens never gave Miss Havisham a first name. Now, obviously if you’re going to write a back story to an iconic figure you’re certainly going to have to give her a first name, or so it would seem. However, I think it would have been really cool if the author could have found some unique tool by which he never revealed the name – but hey, that’s just me. Frame named her Catherine. Catherine doesn’t work. My daughter’s name is Catherine but that’s not the reason I don’t feel it’s right for Miss Havisham. It doesn’t sound right; it doesn’t feel right for the Havisham personality we know, and in my case, love. I don’t know what it should be, but I know I spend a lot of time naming characters and rarely do it myself because I suck at it. My good friend Holli names most of my characters because she’s amazing at it. Perhaps Mr. Frame should have found a Holli, because the name stinks for this character and if you’re going to take on the greats – you really need to do them justice. If you couldn’t get the name right, why should I buy your book?

By the way, here are some of the names Holli thought would be good: Hilda, Eudora, Eunice – any of these would have been acceptable.

Writers: Ditch Shakespeare

See ya Billy Shake

See ya Billy Shake


Enough Shakespeare.

Christ, how long has the guy been dead? I know he was an amazing timeless classic, but criminy how many more books, movies, poems, plays, tv shows, etc need to be based on all those tedious themes of his? It’s time for something else. There must be other more interesting platforms from which one can launch their art, or how about this: your own platform. If I see one more modernization of a Shakespeare theme, I may have to buy a thousand antique copies of his works and burn them on the town square.


I’m picking on Shakespeare because his is the most prominent name out there for thematic abuse by artists from the last four centuries. There are plenty of other examples out there with Dickens being one of them, but I chose Billy Shake to rant about because his stuff seems to scream be laborious with your words and situations and beat every scene into tedium as best you can at those who choose to base their art on his body of work. It was bad enough we had to suffer through it the first time let alone having to relive it again and again in the work of many millions of copycat stories throughout the ages.


So, what set me off on this tirade on surely the most famous author of all time? I was chatting with some stranger at my favorite watering hole in Woodstock, VT near where I live. The woman sitting next to me started up a conversation and we exchanged the usual “what do you do?” niceties and she said she was a writer. Now, I never tell anyone I’m a writer straight away because I like to study people and once you launch that missive I’ve found people tend to tighten up a bit and not be themselves. I usually use the stay at home dad thing, or go the retired private detective route.


The woman seemed pretty interesting so I asked what she was working on and found that she was just about done with her first novel, which was very Shakespearian in nature. Made me want to puke. The worst part being she mentioned a fear that the story may be too recognizable as having its genesis in Hamlet. “Bartender? Check please.” I don’t ever like to be rude and said nothing and instead listened briefly to her outline while waiting for the bill. She was worried for good reason and I really was dying to say something to her about coming up with her own thing, clearly she was smart enough and everyone has their own story in them and blah, blah, blah… But, I really didn’t have the energy.


I would rather have heard her say something like: oh, it’s a basic good vs. evil story, or it’s a Cinderella type love story, it’s a rags to riches thing (just don’t say Dikens-like), it’s a supernatural thriller, mystery, self help, calculator manual, Swahili translator – whatever, anything but, its Shakespearian. God, it makes my freakin’ teeth hurt. It’s time to ditch the Shakespeare. There is so much talent out there and so many great stories that surely we no longer need to rely on this dead fossil to be the foundation on which to build our own work.







Dickens 2013

DickensIt’s that time of the year again: Dickens season. I love the holidays despite my dark nature. We don’t mince our holiday spirit around here. We celebrate Christmas, tell our kids Santa’s real and we have a Christmas tree not a holiday tree, although I’ve considered a Festivus Tree. I also go on a Dickens bender.

One would read this and figure I’m talking about the obvious Christmas classic and I do revisit A Christmas Carol every year and always take something else away from it. But, it’s his letters I like to read. Like Twain, Dickens was one hell of a letter writer and some of his most interesting and entertaining stuff is contained in these scribblings to friends, family and business associates. These writings more than any others in his body of work give real insight into his motivation in life and work. I also look for any new biographical material showcasing his amazing grasp on the business of making money from his craft. Believe it or not, people are still writing about Dickens after lo these two centuries.

Dickens as a youth was himself the classic Dickensonian waif, dirt poor with not much of an education and forced to go to work at a very young age, which fostered a tremendous passion to succeed. Dickens became extremely creative in monetizing his endeavors while also studying the wants of his readership and tailoring his work to their desires through his innovative use of serializing his work. By putting out portions of his novels weekly or monthly he could capitalize on the feedback he would get from readers in the interim. It also created anticipation, which is always one of the best marketing tools. Think iPhone launches. Often Dickens would gently change a characters’ nature based on information he received from readers between installments thus allowing him to create a better product – very innovative for the times.

When I first learned this, hell – I don’t know, probably in high school, I remember thinking that’s not very sportsmanlike. There’s no risk in that, like shooting fish in an aquarium. That’s not art, its just business. It’s funny that a guy like me – in commerce all my life, hadn’t caught onto that idea immediately – the guy was driven to make money. I think my young self was probably a lot more romantic about writing and I wanted to think all my heroes were just literary genius’s who weren’t in it for the money. I realize how stupid I was now that I’m trying to make a living in a writing career.

I don’t think anyone would argue that Dickens was a pretty successful guy. But, just imagine how successful he would be if he was starting out in 2013. Blogs, social media, the Internet in general – Dickens would be a billionaire! He wrote like crazy so imagine with the advantage of instant feedback from his readers and all the other tools of modern society how much output he would have today. His business model applies today more than ever before. In a world (Don LaFontaine just possessed me for a second there) where self-publishing is becoming more and more the norm and author’s are gaining success by doing their own marketing thanks to social media, a dude like Dickens would succeed like the dickens.

Imagine what a day for Dickens would be like now. Wakes up in the morning, checks his Facebook, pops off a private message of “f u 2” to Charlotte Bronte then tells his followers in a little synopsis what he’s working on today and to be sure to read his blog post and like his author page if they haven’t already. Then he spends a couple minutes coming up with hashtags to plaster all over everything for the day. He spends half an hour putting up his WordPress and Tumblr posts and tweeting about it at exactly the right time for his demographic, followed by checking out his sales rankings on Amazon from where he goes to Bookbaby to see if they owe him any dough for last month’s book sales. Reluctantly, he goes to Goodreads to see who has added his work to their list and decides whether or not to forgive Virginia Woolf and add one of her books to his list (she wasn’t THAT bad to him after all). By this time Dickens has to ramp up the webcam and tell the servants to be quiet because he’s conducting a webinar on how to be a successful writer in the 21st century. After that, he takes ten minutes to check all his blog views and traffic. Everything is up of course because, well, he is Dickens. Now, it’s finally time to write. He whips out a blog post for tomorrow with awesome content and hashtags because again, he’s Dickens. The next few hours are for the big works followed by dinner where he infuriates his wife by checking the mobile apps on his iPhone tapped into his social media numbers. Then it’s a sherry in the parlor followed by a few notes typed into Evernote for tomorrow’s ponderings before popping off to bed.

Oh yeah, you bet your ass Dickens would rock this age.