By Breeana Greenberg
Dana Point resident Leonard Szymczak has always been a big fan of Charles Dickens.
So, when he began to wonder what would make Bob Cratchit work for a man such as Ebenezer Scrooge for decades, he had the idea to delve into the minds of characters from the beloved A Christmas Carol, drawing on his wealth of experience as a psychologist.
Szymczak has looked to accomplish just that in his new book series titled “Untold Miracle of Charles Dickens’ Classic,” which, at its core, is about overcoming hardship and adversity.
The first book Szymczak wrote, Bob Cratchit’s Christmas Carol, came out in fall 2021 and follows the character of Bob Cratchit. The second in the series, which he released in October, follows Tiny Tim. The third book is due out next fall.
Szymczak has published six books in all so far—two that tell fictionalized tales from his experience as a child and adolescent psychologist in Australia; two self-help books; and the two Christmas tales following characters from A Christmas Carol.
In telling each character’s story, Szymczak dives into his own struggles with overcoming adversity.
“My father left the family when I was young, first time when I was 6 and second time when I was 9,” Szymczak said. “I remember the most horrific time was my father was chasing my mother with a knife.”
“There was a time when my mother took myself and my siblings to an orphanage to say, ‘Well, if I can’t take care of you, this is where you’re going to be,’ ” Szymczak continued.
Growing up, Szymczak experienced anxiety over whether his home could be taken away. In writing Bob Cratchit’s Christmas Carol, Szymczak wove his own background and adversity into Cratchit’s story.
“I think my background helps me really dive into the characters, and then as I dive into the characters, I get to dive into my own character,” Szymczak said. “By being in those characters, I needed to overcome my adversity.”
Writing the series has been therapeutic, Szymczak said. Echoing a quote from author Stephen King, Szymczak said that writing is therapy.
Just like Bob Cratchit, Szymczak said he was just in survival mode growing up. Writing about the character, Szymczak came to learn that “to change the past, you have to realize that the past influences me.”
“Everything is just a strategy, a survival strategy. Scrooge’s was a survival strategy,” Szymczak continued. “And there’s a certain sense of compassion for all these characters.”
In the first book, Cratchit must give up his own dreams to provide for his family, taking on a job working for a “miser,” Scrooge. Szymczak pulled from Dickens’ own past to write Cratchit’s story.
“When I researched Dickens, Dickens’ father left; he was imprisoned,” Szymczak said. “So, Dickens was in Blacking’s warehouse, which when Bob goes back with the Spirit of Christmas Past, he ends up working—his father’s an alcoholic—and he has to go into Blacking’s warehouse, like Dickens, and that’s where he gave up his dreams.”
The Spirit of Christmas Past helps Cratchit come to terms with having given up his dreams, encouraging Cratchit to believe in himself, Szymczak explained.
“He’s got to let go of the past, all of his suffering, and in the present discover what is his dream, and all this is part of the Christmas Spirit, to find out, what is the spirit of love,” Szymczak said. “He’s got to find the love within himself.”
“He loves his children, his family, but does he really love himself enough to live his dream, to find his purpose?” Szymczak said.
Ultimately, the message of Bob Cratchit’s Christmas Carol is “never give up on your dream,” Szymczak said.
Delving into Tiny Tim’s character, Szymczak was able to grieve his own lost childhood, having to grow up fast to help provide for his family.
“I can be a bit like Tiny Tim. Very positive, very optimistic, but underneath, to give time to grieve … grief is a natural part of life,” Szymczak said, adding: “There’s some grief about not being able to, like Tiny Tim, be like everybody else. There’s some grief about my lost childhood. I lost my childhood.”
For the latest book in the series, Tiny Tim is visited by three holiday spirits in the form of children who help him on his journey to regaining hope.
Through the process of writing about these characters, Szymczak said he gets to play the different parts, “helping them interact with each other out on the page.”
“Any writer has to feel the characters; if I want my readers to cry, I’ve got to cry while I’m writing,” Szymczak said. “All of my books are a part of me, and so I’m Bob Cratchit, I’m Scrooge, I get to be my greedy miser, and then put that out there and have fun with it.”
“Just being a therapist, I’m able to get into the psyche,” Szymczak continued. “So, I know Bob’s psyche. I know Scrooge’s psyche. I know underneath, what was the patterning to have created a man like Scrooge and what was underneath to create a man like Bob Cratchit.”
The books are intended for a wide audience, though Szymczak said he’s had readers tell him it’s a book they read to their family.
“It’s a very family-friendly, uplifting (book). You have to kind of descend, ‘Oh, no, poor Bob, poor Tiny Tim’; you have to go into that depth of despair before you move to the top of the arc,” Szymczak said.
If there’s any message Szymczak would like to convey from this series, it’s to look for miracles.
“A miracle could be as simple as noticing a sunset, could be as simple as a friend reaching out to you; it could be as simple as a feeling, swelling of love,” Szymczak said. “If you don’t look for the miracles, you may not see them, because they’re really everywhere.”
Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org