On September 2, 2021, I posted my review of The Red Button by Keith Eldred. If you missed it, you can read it here.
I also had the pleasure of interviewing Keith Eldred recently, and this post is the result of that interview.
Q: Are you a Charles Dickens fan or just a fan of A Christmas Carol?
A: I’m certainly a fan and admirer of Dickens. I’ve read a biography of him. Complicated guy! I’ve never been the kind of reader who seeks out every last work of an author, but besides “A Christmas Carol,” I have the highest of affection for “Great Expectations,” “Our Mutual Friend,” and “Bleak House.”
Q: Where did your inspiration to write a story about Ebenezer Scrooge’s life before A Christmas Carol come from?
A: Since my teens I’ve had great interest in how a person changes through life, and over the years I’ve seen the truth of the notion of “The child is father to the man,” because early decisions and experiences have such influence on what comes later. My attention spikes when a story rolls back to a character’s past, and of course that happens repeatedly in “A Christmas Carol.” I’m always moved when Scrooge sees himself as a boy and then as a young man. The scene of his broken engagement is heartrending. Belle is so kind, clear-minded and quietly strong that I trust her perception, so I have to believe that she found much to love in the young Ebenezer. It’s devastating to hear that she saw that he was becoming impossible to marry and live with. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to spend time with the two of them. I simply loved them as a couple, and I wanted to think about what they shared on their way to parting and what went wrong.
Q: Though The Red Button is a tale about Ebenezer Scrooge prior to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, at the end of The Red Button, Ebenezer still isn’t quite as harsh as he is in the beginning of Dickens’ tale. Why did you choose to allow him a glimmer of softness?
A: I imagine Scrooge’s becoming harder and harsher in subtle degrees as he ages, almost imperceptibly (particularly to himself), and that this happens because it is to his advantage as a businessman and also to protect his feelings by distancing himself from others after his heartbreak. But at the end of “The Red Button,” just after his broken engagement, young Scrooge has only begun to harden. He is still the person whom Belle was certain she would marry only weeks, or even days, earlier. He is still thoughtful and considerate. Sadly, Belle saw the earliest signs that her beloved’s worst impulses would overtake him. I tried to think of Scrooge as an actual person, and at this time of his life, it seemed to me that he would still barely resemble the flinty old man whom he would become.
Q: Do you hope readers will definitely connect your Ebenezer Scrooge with the Scrooge in Dicken’s novel and do you hope that fans, who read A Christmas Carol every Christmas season, will include The Red Button in their annual Christmas reading?
A: What a wonderful question! I’ve never imagined superfans of “A Christmas Carol” annually reading “The Red Button” along with any other re-imaginings of the story that they enjoy, but I must say that I’m taken with the idea. I do believe that “The Red Button” can reshape how you think about Scrooge when you reread “A Christmas Carol,” if only because you will have spent much more time with young Scrooge and young Belle, the latter of whom only appears for a few passages in the original story. I do want readers to entertain my version of Scrooge and think about his taking the kind of path that I describe, but I certainly do not believe that this is the only way his life could have gone. It’s just the scenario that I find most interesting.
Q: What do you really want readers to take away from The Red Button?
A: In a few words, the core idea is: Look deeper. The book is built around the simple visual that every day Ebenezer Scrooge secretly carries a red button that reminds him of his lost love. The person whom you find the most difficult might be completely different in ways that you never see.
Q: The Red Button is part of a project you and your wife embarked on in 2020. Would you please share what that project was?
A: With pleasure! Our project was motivated by Janet’s diagnosis of early-stage dementia and other neurological problems: seizures and syncope (blackouts). Her major problem is impaired memory, but Janet and I gradually came to realize that, with accommodation from coworkers, she could still perform her job as a public library director. As I write this, four years have passed since we originally thought that she would have to resign for medical reasons. However, not knowing what lay ahead, we decided to shift into bucket list mode. After much discussion, we formed a plan to blend our highest individual aims (after aiding and enjoying our children and grandchildren): Supporting Janet’s library and building an audience for my writing. I left my corporate job of 29 years to launch a project that we call THIS IS RED. Our moonshot goal is to raise $1 million for the Hollidaysburg Area Public Library, where Janet still works, by a combination of donations and proceeds from my writing. So far, we have raised about $20,000, including $10,000 from the American Library Association after Janet won its annual Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Facing Adversity and asked that the generous cash prize go directly to her library.
We launched THIS IS RED in 2019, but my special aim in 2020 (which happened to be the year when Janet and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary) was to self-publish twenty books, an effort that I called “20 for ’20.” I believed I could accomplish this because I had a large amount of unpublished writing, and I added concepts for three new books. “The Red Button” was one of those new books.
Kelly: What a blessing that your wife is still working at her library four years after your This Is Red project and thoughts that she might not be able to.
Q: Did every book for the project have a Christmas theme? If so, why?
A: It so happened that Christmas ran through much of my unpublished writing. I’d written stories for church events and an annual holiday gathering at my longtime corporate job, as well as a novella about an elf. I also realized that I could shape hundreds of haikus that I have written into collections that I could facetiously present as the work of Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and the eight reindeer, since, of course, the North Pole lends itself to downtime and introspection, the perfect breeding ground for poetry.
I have always found Christmas meaningful, but not because of decorations, parties, or even gifts. I find it meaningful as foundational to my faith but also because it’s a wistful time of year when many people face great pain and loneliness, while many also show great kindness and demonstrate tremendous sacrifice to create special memories for others.
Q: We already talked about The Red Button, which I read and reviewed. But you also wrote another book, Rubrum (Roo-brum, latin for Red), which was a sort of remix of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. What was the inspiration or idea behind this book?
A: As you say, ”Rubrum” is also based on “A Christmas Carol,” but it is nothing like “The Red Button.” It is a contemporary story, and “A Christmas Carol” is hidden in it to the point of being almost invisible, just as “Romeo & Juliet” is virtually hidden as the basis for “West Side Story.”
One of the closest comparisons that I have found to “Rubrum” is the coming-of-age drama and family saga “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” which is similarly based on a literary classic. I’m avoiding revealing more for fear of spoiling the Sawtelle story, which got a lot of attention as a selection of the Oprah Book Club.
I should say that “Sawtelle” is the closest comparison I have found in book form. “Rubrum” also has many similarities to the movie “Manchester by the Sea”: A working-class loner burdened by his past is called to a responsibility that is overwhelming but also unavoidable.
The idea that seized me was that Scrooge’s defining characteristic was not his wealth nor his greed—it was a choice to isolate himself despite a number of close and uplifting connections: his sister, her son and the lost love of his life. Something else popped into mind that was silly and yet (at least to me) revealing: Imagining Scrooge using a modern self-checkout. Perfect for a misanthrope such as he, yet it also reinforced his loneliness. I played with all of the above, creating a version of Scrooge (my character Evan Easter, who gets his name from “Ebenezer”) who is poor, amazingly generous, and loved by many, yet a particular circumstance leads him to seal himself off from nearly everyone. And man, does he feel conflicted by self-checkouts.
I drafted the story in 160 consecutive daily Facebook posts. The story led places that I could have never imagined, and it was a momentous experience. I’m very proud of it.
Q: Did you reach your goal of publishing 20 books in 2020, and were all 20 books written by you?
A: Yep, I did it! I wrote them all, and I’m fortunate that over the years on my various jobs and projects, I was able to acquire all of the skills needed for every step: writing, editing, proofreading, designing covers and page graphics, writing the marketing blurbs, and formatting the documents for printing.
Q: Is there anything still happening with ThisIs.Red today? Can people still purchase your books and will any of the proceeds still go to your library?
A: THIS IS RED will be our project for as long as Janet and I live, because $1 million is a lot to raise, and we can always find more goals if and when we meet that one. Up to that million dollars, any profits from my “20 for ’20” books will go to our beloved “Hollidaysburg Area Public Library.” To buy the books, just search my name on Amazon. I always point to “The Red Button” in particular because that has the greatest potential to become a bestseller. That’s the novel that makes me go out my way to say, “Buy that one! Buy dozens of copies for your family, your friends, your enemies and complete strangers!”
Q: Did writing 20 books in a year give you the desire to write more, and are you planning on writing any more books?
A: I have plans for lots more books, and I do some drafting every day, but right now most of my time goes toward drawing attention to “The Red Button” to turn it into a best seller.
Q: You have a website, https://thisis.red/ where people can get updates and four free books. There is a blog section on the website that I have visited, and I have to say, it is unlike any blog I have ever seen before. Can you tell us about the blog and its purpose? Would you like to share any social media links?
A: Ah, yes! I mainly use the blog for what I call The Daily Red. Each post consists of one striking photograph captioned with an acronym that spells “RED.” For instance, a recent photo shows a young woman blowing a large gum bubble, and the caption is “Reaching Explosion Danger.” Each photo is a royalty-free stock image (my favorite source is Pexels.com), and they cover countless slices of life. As I type this, I have published over 650 of these images, and all of them can be found in our THIS IS RED social media feeds as well. On Facebook, Instagram and Twitter we are @thisisdotred.
I hope to see you and lots of your followers out on the Internet, Kelly! Thanks for asking these questions and for reading and reviewing “The Red Button.”
Kelly: You are very welcome. It was my pleasure, and I look forward to reading many more, if not all of the 20 books you wrote for This is Red, as I love Christmas so the Christmas themed ones definitely grab my interest.
For all of you reading this post, I encourage you all to buy and read The Red Button and any of the other wonderful stories I have spoken with Keith about here. I also encourage you to check out all 20 of his books as well as their social media sites for This is Red.