Today I’d like to return to an author I’ve spotlighted before: Jon Clinch, whose latest novel MARLEY hit the shelves earlier this month. I’ve known Jon for a dozen years or more, and have always admired his dedication, his work ethic, and his damn good writing.
Jon’s “serious author street cred” is undeniable, with his debut novel FINN earning him acclaim from the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Christian Science Monitor, and the American Library Association, among others. Oprah’s “O” magazine praised his next novel, KINGS OF THE EARTH, as “masterful and compassionate.”
With MARLEY, Jon offers us a reimagining of the characters made famous in Charles Dickens’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL, exploring the complex and ultimately toxic relationship between Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley. Make no mistake: This is not a retelling of the Dickens classic; rather, it sets the stage and helps us understand what made Ebenezer such a, well, Scrooge. And we finally learn why Marley’s ghost kept rattling those infernal chains.
To get a sense of the reading experience that awaits within the pages of MARLEY, check out this to-die-for New York Times book review, in which reviewer Simon Callow praises how Jon “endows Dickens’s snapshots with a three-dimensional, often alarming, life,” and concludes that “Clinch has done something remarkable in ‘Marley,’ not merely offering a parergon to Dickens’s little masterpiece, imagining the soil out of which the action of ‘A Christmas Carol’ grows, but creating a free-standing dystopian universe.”
(No, I’m not jealous of that NYT review. Not at all.)
Ahem. Back to Jon. He was gracious enough to take a break from the whirlwind of activities and obligations that accompany a major book launch to answer a few questions for our WU audience. Read on for a thoughtful glimpse into the mind of a master storyteller.
Keith: MARLEY marks your second time developing a character from a major novel written over a century ago, in each case fleshing out what was previously a supporting character into a memorable and compelling protagonist. When working with such well-known source material, how do you make it a springboard for creativity, rather than a straightjacket?
Jon: The key, for me, is always to take the novelist’s word as gospel—and therefore to work within his world as if it’s a real place occupied by real people. The first requirement, then, is to study the original work in a particular kind of way.
In an essay I wrote for a book of fresh looks at HUCKLEBERRY FINN, I described the process as “a reading of the original that was both close and expansive, an approach that instead of being critical or scholarly was engaged and sympathetic. It would be the willful act of a reader prepared to enter the author’s world via both the text on the page and the text left unwritten. Such a reading of HUCKLEBERRY FINN could not focus directly on Twain’s technique or methods. On the contrary: my intent was to be captivated only by the narrative, immersed completely in Huck’s story as if it had actually taken place and could be discovered in full if you believed in it completely enough.” [Read more…]