A new book by David John Marotta and Brendon Marotta makes you rethink what is happening in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Published just in time for Christmas, The Haunting of Bob Cratchit is now available for purchase on Amazon as a Kindle, paperback, or hardcover.
As David’s daughter, I enjoyed the opportunity to interview my father about this triumphant accomplishment years in the making. Whether you are a fan of the original or just curious about the kind of fiction book David Marotta has authored, you are in for a treat if you pick up a copy.
The Haunting of Bob Cratchit has finally been published! Can you summarize the plot for us?
In the same night in which Ebenezer Scrooge is haunted, the spirits also visit Bob Cratchit. They show him his past, present, and potential future spurring him to learn his own Christmas lesson to save the life of his beloved son, Tiny Tim.
When did you first come up with this idea?
I’ve always enjoyed stories based on Charlies Dickens’ A Christmas Carol writing my first article, “Holiday Joy Doesn’t Cost A Fortune“, in 2003. Every character has a memorable attitude toward money, but the mystery of the book involves Bob Cratchit. Why couldn’t Bob Cratchit live off his salary? Large Families were normal in that period, and he made enough money that he should have been able to support them.
As a financial planner I began looking at Bob Cratchit’s budget to see why Bob couldn’t live on a salary that half of London could only dream about.
That was when I realized that Bob’s financial personality type was that of a spendthrift, the opposite financial personality type of Scrooge. Bob is both fearful and careless with his money. Compiling these thoughts together in 2005, I wrote the Christmas article “Why is Bob Cratchit So Poor?” explaining Bob’s financial personality.
The Cratchit family is clearly living beyond their means. By the time I wrote “What was Wrong with Tiny Tim?” in 2011, I’d already come to the opinion that Bob Cratchit needed the help of Christmas spirits just like Scrooge. Both men’s relationship to money was unhealthy and unsustainable.
Once you sat down to plot and write it, how long did it take you?
Written by Todd Kilck, Something Startling Happens describes the 120 story beats that every successful movie follows minute by minute. Named after the 8th minute when something startling happens, it is considered a cheat sheet for screenwriters. When a movie is dragging it is often because it fails to follow the beats.
Eric Edson’s The Story Solution is famous for creating the “23 Steps All Great Heroes Must Take,” a powerful writing tool for understanding how to make your main character worthy of your readers’ affection. In his book, Edson introduces a list of nine possible hero attributes and suggests all great heroes must have at least five for readers or the audience to like them.
After reading these two books, I developed a generic outline with all the major plot points and began mapping my ideas for The Haunting of Bob Cratchit onto my outline. I knew some of the scenes that should be included, and the outline helped suggest other story beats that could fill the idea out. I have found this a great way to outline several story ideas.
My son Brendon was traveling the country working on his first documentary. When Brendon’s travels took him to the city where I live, we began turning my rough ideas into a movie screenplay. We decided to write the movie screenplay first because it helped us concentrate on refining the dialog and plot. (That movie script is completed, and interested parties are more than welcome to contact us regarding the move rights!)
For a year and a half, Brendon and I met at Citizen Burger for dinner and discussion. My view was that any project that includes having burgers with your son is a great project regardless of the outcome, but what I learned from the process was remarkable.
At first, I was presenting the notes I had for the story while Brendon asked lots of questions and recorded the process. Then, he wrote a first draft of the story. I gave him notes over the course of weeks of review and revisions. We worked to get the story straight and then to perfect it.
During that process, we took our least favorite scene and rewrote it until it was one of our favorites. We tried deleting scenes to see if anything was missing from the story without them. Then, we rewrote the scenes with those points in mind. We looked at each character in the original story and developed them in light of our new story.
For example, what do you know about Emily Cratchit in the original? In Scrooge’s story, she is a side character, but in ours we knew she had to play a much stronger role. The same went for Tiny Tim, Marley, and even the characters we lifted from other Dickens stories like Fagin, the pickpocket in Oliver Twist, and Gabriel Grubb, the gravedigger from “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole the Sexton.”
We talked a great deal about the emotional journey of Bob. In the original story, Bob is more likely to be pitied than liked. If Bob was going to be the main character, we had to like him, not just feel sorry for him. Scrooge would not have hired Bob unless he was an excellent employee. Scrooge isn’t that kind of man. He doesn’t just pay anyone to be insulted. Bob had likable qualities in the original; it just wasn’t emphasized enough. Bob has a sense of humor, a loving family, and enough skills to be hired by a boss as demanding as Scrooge. We highlighted those qualities throughout the story.
At the end of 2015, we had finished the script. Although Brendon is an award winning director, we realized we’d written a period piece set in Victorian England with crowd scenes and visual effects. That is not a simple production! However, the story was good and everyone we shared it with loved what they read. We knew turning it into a film might be a challenge. Before A Christmas Carol became a dozen different film adaptations, it was a book. We began exploring the idea of turning our story into a book as well, mirroring the style of Dickens’ original publication.
We enlisted the help of Aaron Carver to adapt the script to novelization. Aaron is a friend of Brendon’s who is currently working with the Indiana University of Kokomo Writing Center. Not enough nice things can be said about Aaron. We are so thankful for his help on this process of conversion and additional editing. Aaron helped us capture the literary style of Dickens’ work. Many times during the editing process, I’d find a long run-on sentence, only to discover it was lifted directly from Dickens. Other times, I’d discover a really elegant piece of writing, only to discover it came from Brendon or Aaron. The fact that it was hard to tell the difference between Dickens’ work and theirs is a testament to their talent.
The process of creating this work made me realize both the joy and toil that goes into writing. I have always thought that the task of producing a book is a herculean effort. Now, I know each step in that process and have a special thank you to Brendon for embarking on this journey with me.
Who did most of the writing?
With a few holes in the story, I had outlined every beat per minute as a sentence or two. Then, Brendon did the first draft of the screenplay, expanding those brief sentences into settings and dialog. It was good from the beginning. From that point on, Brendon drove the story onward.
We would meet and pick a section to work on. Early in the process, Brendon was teaching me the techniques of revision and story improvement that he used. There is a process to every discipline, and when artists say you need to practice your craft, I now understand better what they are talking about. You get better by doing, not just by reading and studying. The first time you put pen to paper you won’t be good any more than the first time you put paint on a canvas or sit at a piano. You need time as well as a forum to be bad.
Ray Bradbury gave this advice to new authors, “If you can write one short story a week—it doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least you’re practicing, and at the end of the year you have 52 short stories, and I defy you to write 52 bad ones. Can’t be done.”
The beauty of the short story is that it is quick. If you are going to be bad, you will do it quickly and be done with it. In a year, you will get much better.
My habit, by training and experience, has been to write as clearly as possible. While this works as technical writer for financial topics, it doesn’t work well for creative writing. I tended to write “on the nose ” dialog which describes exactly what is happening. Then, Brendon would translate that in a more oblique method of describing it.
In doing such work, I found tools such as The Emotion Thesaurus valuable in translating emotions into the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses that people experiencing such emotions might have. This is the technique of “show, don’t tell” that makes good stories great.
Bob Cratchit is funny in the original. But for many readers who have the original memorized, his jokes from the original were not going to be funny. We needed to experience additional humorous elements which while they were not in the original would be consistent with what we found in the original. This is just as difficult a task as it sounds.
Fortunately, Brendon has a quick sense of humor. Making Bob more likeable meant making him even funnier than he was in the original. In this way, both Brendon and I added to the humor that Bob Cratchit experienced in the original.
Perhaps the most important part of any creative work is not to censor too early. The “yes, and” principle of improvisational comedy improves the effectiveness of the brainstorming process and moves the ideas along. There is always time later for eliminating vast quantities of creative work, which, while funny, do not add to moving the story along.
How does the story begin?
As much as possible, we wanted to capture the spirit of the original.
The original A Christmas Carol opens as follows:
Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
That’s why we begin The Haunting of Bob Cratchit:
Tiny Tim was sick to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The signs of ill health were present in his cough, his crutch, his unsteady gait, and most evidently the unnaturally shrunken stature of his six-year-old physique. His father knew it, and no one cared for Tim more than Bob Cratchit. Tim was as sick as a dog.
Mind! I must confess that I have known many a mutt in my day that was more discernably healthy than poor Tiny Tim. Indeed, I have never been inclined myself to regard the dog as a categorically unwell species of animal. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile, and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat emphatically that Tiny Tim was as sick as a dog.
What makes Bob Cratchit’s haunting different from Scrooge’s?
Ebenezer Scrooge had to be haunted. He was the only one who had been a sufficiently diligent saver. No one else in the story was financially prepared. His haunting takes him on an emotional journey warming and opening an otherwise cold and closed heart. He needed to realize that all of mankind was his business.
Bob Cratchit has a very different lesson he needs to learn. In the beginning of the story, he feels helpless and believes that there is nothing he can do that will make any difference. As his journey continues, he opens up about what he can do in order to take responsibility and provide for his family. His was a journey of responsibility and gratitude.
While Scrooge’s haunting brings him to generosity and especially generosity towards Bob Cratchit, the spirits prepare Bob Cratchit so he is ready to receive Scrooge’s growing kindness and make the most of what he is given.
It is a well known fact in financial planning that sudden wealth is short lived. People who are not acquainted with wealth think that living with wealth is just one string of being able to buy what you want after another. But that is like riding the pony without cleaning the stall. Anyone who has learned to build real wealth through savings and hard work will tell you that the more money you have the more work and responsibility you have stewarding that money.
Bob’s heart needs to be prepared to be content with whatever he has and make the most of it for his family.
Which character is your favorite?
I’d like to say that Bob Cratchit is my favorite character, but I don’t think that is true. As a second choice, I’d like to say that young Tiny Tim Cratchit is my favorite, but even then I think that would not be true.
In the end, I think that twelve-year-old Peter Cratchit is my favorite. Even in our story, he is a side character mentioned just 21 times. In the story, he is starting to work to help support the family, but he sees clearly enough to say truthful things in a humorous way. In that way, he reminds me of Brendon at that age.
Which character are you the most like?
Who would you cast as Bob Cratchit and Ebenezer Scrooge in the movie?
As I do hope this screenplay is made into a movie someday, I imagine that I will be delighted to see what talent the casting director finds.
In my mind’s eye though, Patrick Stewart would reprise his 1999 role of Ebenezer Scrooge, and Hugh Grant would be a great Bob Cratchit. Grant’s humor in Music and Lyrics is the type of humor that Bob Cratchit has.
Who is the publisher? What kind of help did you have in self-publishing?
We decided to self-publish the book because most modern publishers rely on their authors to do their own marketing. The publishing industry has changed over the past 30 years, and an author can do better self-publishing today than ever before. Additionally, a publishing house keeps most of the revenue for themselves.
That being said, we didn’t do the whole process alone. We found Joel Friedlander who gives away a great deal of free information about self-publishing. From there, we were put in contact with Tracy Atkins of The Book Designer. Tracy helped us with the mechanics of self-publishing, and we knew we could do our own publicity.
I am so pleased to have a large readership of fellow A Christmas Carol fans who come back to read the series that began this story year after year. I am hoping that this new work is just as enjoyable for them.
We were pleased to find that in self-publishing, the start-up costs were small and the potential rewards are great. Besides, regardless of the outcome, I am giving all the revenue to Brendon.
What advice would you have for others who want to write a book?
A book is a very powerful thing. A book can change the course of your life. It can help you be a better husband, father, or human. It can provide insights into your character, cause you to change careers, or change the way you handle money. It can inspire and bring people to action.
Joel Friedlander put it this way, “Writers change the world one reader at a time. But you can’t change the world with a book that’s still on your hard drive or in a box under your bed.”
I write for Marotta On Money so that people can handle their money better. Such advice can have great effects. In fact, my definition of wealth management is the small changes which have great effect over time.
When you look at the effect of fiction verses nonfiction, a great timeless piece of fiction can have a different, often more powerful effect, than non-fiction.
We are at a place in time where publishing a book is a relatively easy process and certainly easier than it was thirty years ago. Having something to say is the more difficult part. I thought The Haunting of Bob Cratchit was a story worth telling, so I told it.
If you have a story worth telling, tell it.