Director of Florida International University's Creative Writng Program Les Standiford has been influencing crime fiction for decades as the author of more than twenty books and as the mentor to up-and-comers like Dennis Lehane, Barbara Parker, and Neil Plakcy. Standiford has helped shape this "blue collar school of creative writing," where it's not just taught but actually done. He's shaping tomorrow's writers, inspiring them, and yet, he's still exploring on his own.
In The Man Who Invented Christmas, Standiford shared a story about "how Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol rescued his career and revived our holiday spirits." Now that the non-fiction work has been translated onto the silver screen with Dan Stevens as Dickens and Christopher Plummer as the emobodiment of Scrooge, Standiford's decades-long love for A Christmas Carol is being shared with audiences everywhere.
Our conversation began with a friendly debate over the best film or television version of Dickens' Christmas parable out of the dozens of translations. While Standiford preferred the 1951 version starring Alistair Sim, I have always held the George C. Scott version with the highest esteem; neither of us choose the animated Jim Carey version, which comes as no surprise. Standiford deserves the final word though, given his lifelong study of Dickens.
"I studied Dickens as a grad student at the University of Utah, as, of course, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and Great Expectations were highlighted. But we never discussed A Christmas Carol, like it was dismissed. And I always wondered, 'why has that book stayed around for 175 years? Why are families dedicating time every year to read this story together?" Standiford shared.
"Dickens literally makes the impossible seem possible, as even the hardest of hearts experiences the power of redemption."
On December 19, 2006, Standiford was sitting at his desk, wondering what he would write about next, when an email lit up his inbox. It asked a series of questions, about whether Standiford knew that the Carol had been published on that day many years before, that Dickens was broke when he published it, that the author had considered giving up writing, that he'd self-published the story.
"I didn't know any of that," Standiford said with a chuckle. "So I went to see if it was all in one book, and discovered it wasn't. No book had collected all of this information, but my own struggle began because I received the same reception from publishers that Dickens had. They all said, 'Everyone knows everything they want to about the story already, so why write a new book?'"
After writing sections of the book that would become The Man Who Invented Christmas to prove the concept, Standiford received the greenlight. Several years later, Bleecker Street proposed that a film could be made, bringing the truth about A Christmas Carol to a broader audience. The longtime author is overwhelmed by the way it has all played out, like waking up to something completely different in the morning, or recognizing that there's power in Christmas that defies expectation.
"'It's the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys,'" Standiford said, quoting A Christmas Carol. "Christmas has always been presented that way within my community, but it was more than just giving or receiving gifts. If you re-read A Christmas Carol, you can see that it's not about gift giving - there's only the prize turkey given - but it's about the redemptive power of love."
Now, audiences can explore the narrative in theaters, as Dickens and Scrooge debate the value of Christmas in The Man Who Invented Christmas, and see if they can't find some inspiration of their own.
The Man Who Invented Christmas hits theaters on November 22nd.