Writing a book—sort of—and Besmirching a great writer

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead by Mark Twain and Don BorchertBy Don Borchert

I like the whole idea of mash-ups. The first time I heard the Grey Album by Danger Mouse (Jay Z’s Black Album mashed up with the BeatlesWhite Album), I thought: genius. You hear the whole thing in a completely different way, a new way that was unintended at its inception.

After Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I wondered what other books would be fun to zombie up. My first thought was something by Jack Kerouac. I loved reading his stuff in college. Fifty pages in and I was ready to drop out and hitchhike to the West Coast. And then I found out about copyright laws, and the rules of copyright infringement. What would happen to me would be what happened to Danger Mouse. So that was out of the question.

My daughter suggested Charles Dickens, maybe changing Great Expectations into “Grave Expectations”. Charles Dickens had been dead a good long time and legally speaking, you can trammel his good name completely unfettered… But I am not a Dickens fan, having been taught to enjoy him in high school. So Dickens was out.

Mark Twain seemed like such a natural. The bulk of ‘Tom Sawyer’ is made up of warm, sunny remembrances of times long gone. A Lake Woebegone of the 1830’s.

The first draft of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead was a little different from the finished product. For example, in a tip-of-the-hat to the kind of fun Twain might have had at the expense of political correctness, I changed Injun Joe to Native American Joe, and Becky Thatcher became a Korean orphan whom the Thatchers picked up when they were Christian missionaries overseas – Becky was just her American name. However, early readers found these little jokes a little off-putting, so I got rid of them them. There are still some little jokes here and there, but no one’s caught them yet.

 

Tom Sawyer and the Undead is almost completely a faithful chapter-by-chapter retelling of the book, with the exception of the chapter where a single powerful zombie overpowers a guard and invades the one-room schoolhouse. In the original, the nostalgia factor is huge, but nothing really happens, so just like in the home improvement shows on television, I took it down to the studs and re-did the electrical. When Becky whispers to Tom “How could you be so noble!” at the end of the chapter, it’s because he has just saved her from being torn limb from limb by an angry Zum, not because, as in the original, she spilled some ink on a primer and Tom graciously took a whipping for her.

The ending of my version reeks of a sequel, which doesn’t happen in the original. I did that on purpose. Someone might want one.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead by Mark Twain and Don Borchert will be available August 3, 2010.

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