Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Time to say a few words about my new book, The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits. The publication date is November 4, which hopefully gives everyone plenty of time to pick up copies for every reader on your holiday list. The title pretty much says it all, but I should add that much of what is in this book came as a real surprise to me--yet one more instance of how all this recent work in history has been making up for those days I dozed through class in high school and college. I had always assumed that Charles Dickens had it pretty easy once he became established as the best-selling author of his time, but that is not the case. By 1843, he was broke, his critical reputation was shot, and his once-fabled popularity was at an all time low. By chance, he came up with a story that he believed would turn his fortunes around. But the fact is that A Christmas Carol, the most popular Christmas story of all time, very nearly did not happen. When he went excitedly to his publishers to pitch his story, Messrs Chapman and Hall listened patiently, then suggested he lie down until the urge to tell "a ghost story of Christmas" had passed. Angry but undeterred, Dickens resolved to publish the tale himself, even though he had only six weeks to finish writing it, have it designed, illustrated and printed, and copies delivered to the shelves. But he managed, and the story of how this self-published book became at one time second only to the Bible in readership gripped me like Jacob Marley fastening on Scrooge. There is much in here about how this book came to shape Christmas as we know it today; but it is also very much about writing, and the publishing industry, and personal courange and conviction...I hope you will enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed writing it. Do let me know.
I will close with a final word on the fabulous job that the good folks at Crown have done with the design of my own "little book." The cover is obviously pretty cool, but wait until you have a look at the book itself: the layout, the colored ink, the uncut pages...forget the words inside, this would make a great gift as a holiday decoration! Kudos to my editors Rachel Klayman and Lucinda Bartley and everyone else inside Crown Publishers for all the hard work and care.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Great news: the 900-plus members of the American Booksellers Association have selected THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS as an "Indie Next" pick for November, one of only twenty titles that will be featured in every quality independent bookstore across the country. Here is an advance peek at that list:

The November Indie Next List & Notables Preview
Oct 02, 2008

Here's a preview of the November Indie Next List now on its way to ABA member stores in the IndieBound movement.

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits by Les Standiford(Crown, $19.95, 9780307405784 / 0307405788)

"Les Standiford gives us the chance to understand Dickens not only as an author, but as a person struggling to save his career, who, in the process, reinvigorates the Christmas spirit. Standiford excels at telling the story of historical figures in a way that reads like a novel, so we learn almost in spite of ourselves. This is an irresistible read for the holiday season!" --Rona Brinlee, The Book Mark, Atlantic Beach, FL

(C) Copyright 2008 American Booksellers Association. All Rights Reserved

Monday, October 13, 2008


From Miami to Mobile to New York to Amherst to London, and points in between:

(keep checking back, as details will be added--that is an 1839 portrait of Dickens on the left, by the way--my author photo is in much sharper focus)

Tour Schedule for Les Standiford
The Man Who Invented Christmas

Fri, Nov 7 Miami

8:00pm: Books & Books
Contact:Cristina Nosti
Ph: 305-444-9044

Mon, Nov 10 Mobile, AL

7:00pm: West Regional Library
Reading, Q&A and signing
Contact: Nancy Anlage
Ph: (251)208-7097

Tues, Nov 11 Fairhope, AL

6-8:00pm: Page and Palette Bookstore
32 S. Section St.
Fairhope, AL 36532.
Tel: 251.928.5295

Sun, Nov 16 Miami

11:00am: Miami Book Fair
Contact: Penny Thurer, Author Liaison
Ph: 305-237-3564
With James Atlas, Nancy Milford, Stacy Schiff & Edmund White

Thurs, Nov 20 Ft. Lauderdale

1:30pm: Florida Center for the Book
Broward County Main Library
100 S. Andrews Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301

Tues, Dec 2 Amherst, MA

2:00pm: UMass Amherst
Contact: Maddy Blais
Ph: 413-687-5161 (cell) or 508-696-8970 (landline)

6:00pm: Williston-Northampton School
Contact: Maddy Blais

Wed, Dec 3 Northampton, MA

7:00pm: The Odyssey Bookshop
9 College Street South Hadley, MA 01075
Contact: Emily Russo
Ph: 413-534-7307

Thus, Dec 4 NYC
6:00pm: University Club Library

Contact: Jane E. Reed, Assoc. Library Director
Ph: 212-247-2100

Sun, Dec 7 Palm Beach, FL

2:00pm: Lecture and Signing
Whitehall Museum Christmas Tree Lighting
Contact: John Blades, Director
Ph: 561-655-2833

Mon, Dec 8 Tampa, FL

6:00pm: Lecture and Signing
Plant Museum, University of Tampa
401 W. Kennedy Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33606
Contact: Gianna Russo, Curator of Education Ph: (813)258-7304

Tues, Dec 9 Sarasota, FL

1:00pm: Circle Books
478 John Ringling Blvd Sarasota, FL 34236
Contact: Eric Lamboley
Ph: 941-388-2850

Sat, Dec 12 Vero Beach/Jacksonville, FL

1:00pm: Vero Beach Book Center

2145 Indian River Blvd
Vero Beach, FL 32960
(772) 569-6650
Contact Cynthia Grabenauer

6:00pm: Book Mark, Atlantic Beach (Jacksonville Beach)
299 Atlantic Blvd
Atlantic Beach, FL 32233
(904) 241-9026

Contact Rona Brinlee

Tues, Dec 16 Highland Beach/Palm Beach, FL

2:00pm: Highland Beach Public Library
Contact: Rae Stempel
Ph: 561-417-7460

6:00pm: Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach
Contact: Molly Charland and Brandy Stevenson
Ph: 561-655-2766

Sunday, Dec 21 London

3:30pm: Everyman Cinema--Belsize Park
203 Haverstock Hill
London,NW3 4QG
Contact: Louisa de Albuquerque T: 0203 145 0514
Showing of A Christmas Carol (1951), followed by discussion & signing

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Yes, Virginia, I do read the reviews (the good ones that is.) And that is me on the right, pensively waiting for this one to show up.

The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's a Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits
Standiford, Les (Author)
ISBN: 0307405788
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group (NY)
Published: 2008-11
Binding/Price/Pages: Hardcover, $19.95 (256p)
Subject: Biography & Autobiography Literary; Literary Criticism Regional, Ethnic, Genre, Specific Subject English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
Reviewed: 2008-09-01

What would Christmas be without the yearly viewing or reading of A Christmas Carol? It is a classic of the season-perhaps the most memorable Christmas tale of all time-that captures the spirit of the holiday. Thriller and nonfiction writer Standiford (Bone Key: A John Deal Novel; Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Changed America) attempts to address what prompted Dickens to write this much-loved tale in this affectionate portrait of a once-successful writer trying desperately to revive his career. After a triumphant beginning, Dickens struggled as his later works failed to gain any critical or monetary success. Verging on bankruptcy and looking for inspiration, Dickens agreed to speak at a fund-raiser for the Manchester Athenaeum. Dickens left the event inspired and walked around Manchester until he had the fully formed Carol in his head. Standiford deftly traces the many influences in Dickens's life that led to and followed that momentous event, weaving an entertaining tale that will delight Dickens and Christmas lovers alike. Recommended for public libraries.-Deborah Hicks, Univ. of Alberta Lib., Edmonton

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Here is a link to a great slide show presentation of the recent FIU writers conference at Hutchinson Island, Florida. People, parties, and places...enjoy!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

In Memoriam: Jim Crumley

We have lost one of the true originals of the past century, my friends. If you have not read The Last Good Kiss, then set aside what you are now consumed by and find it. It is among the finest mystery novels written, as evocative of latter Twentieth Century America as any book to come out of the period.

I taught with Crumley at the University of Texas at El Paso for several years and being around him made me vow to myself to succeed. Besides it was a hell of a lot of fun.

Of course, Crumley and I had several hundred adventures in the El Paso days, and the stories seem endless to me. Here is one:

I remember one cool fall evening we were sitting in--where else--a bar, on Montana Street--when he remembered it was the night of a notable metor shower. We HAD to go out into the desert so we could watch, he told me. I told him that I was already seeing plenty of stars, but he was having none of it. Off we went, down Montana, into the Upper Valley and across the Rio Grande. A half hour later we were bumping along a sandy ranch road up the steep escarpment to a proper vantage place. "This is good," Crumley announced after a bit, and I pulled the Beemer over. Behind us, twenty miles or so to the east were the lights of El Paso, but to the West, there was nothing but blackness. Did I mention that we'd stopped for a couple of six-packs on the way? Well, we hauled them out, climbed up on the warm hood of the Beemer, and leaned back against the windshield to watch. I am sure there were plenty of meteors.

After a bit, Crumley climbed down and ambled off into the brush to meet a call of nature. I heard some unzipping, and rustling, and muttering...and then I heard a cry, followed by a series of thuds and crashes as something heavy went tumbling down a steep hill. There was another cry as the sounds stopped. "Goddamit, Standiford. Help!" I found a flashlight under the seat of the Beamer and made my way down the hillside to the big mesquite bush that had interrupted Crumley's tumble down the escarpment. If he hadn't gotten snagged there, he might still be rolling. As it was, he was lodged in one of the branches, pants around his ankles, almost as if he'd intended to sit down there on purpose. He couldn't pull himself out of the tangle because every branch was full of two-inch long thorns. But with me holding to some bush that didn't have thorns and the other hand on Crumley's, we managed to get him out, and back up the hill. Did I mention there was cursing?

After that, there was the matter of finding a pair of needle nose pliers in the trunk, and then a half an hour or so of pulling mesquite thorns out of Crumley's butt, lit up like a moon in the glow of the flashlight, him leaning over the hood of the Beemer and repeating, "Stop laughing, goddammit." Some people might assume that after we got done with the thorns, we would have climbed in the Beamer and gone back home.

But anyone who thinks so obviously does not know Crumley. There was a meteor shower, goddammit, and there was still plenty of beer. Some things are not meant to be missed. There are stories in which he comes off far more as Crumley the Invincible of course, but he knows I'd always tell this one first. I loved him like a brother. Peace.

Monday, September 29, 2008

FIU crw program alumni read at books and books

Here are Cindy Chinelly, Kimberly Standiford, Les, Lynne Barrett and John Dufresne at the annual alumni reading at Books & Books in Coral Gables on September 28. Eleven grads read, including Rita Martinez, Ian Vasquez, Lynne Bonasia, and Susan Briante, all with new books of fiction and poetry out this past year.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Welcome to Grand Standiford Station

--Miami, Florida--
Greetings from about as web-challenged a writer as you are likely to come across these days. While my website is undergoing a do-over, I thought I had better get a little information out there in the meantime, especially given the fact that I have two (2) books coming out in 2008. I'll fill you in on those elsewhere on this site, and I'll also do my best to let you know what has been happening since the publication of Miami Noir, news of which constituted the last breaking information posted on the old site, back in late 2006. For those of you who have checked in on Les previously, welcome back. And for those of you newbies who have ducked in here for whatever reason, thanks for taking the trouble. I'll do my best to make the trip worthwhile. By the way, this photgraph is the work of a very alented photographer by the name of Marla Cohen .

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


ON MAY 13, Crown Publishers (a division of Random House) will bring out the third in a series of narrative histories that I have published, following up on Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad That Crossed an Ocean (Crown, 2002) and Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America (Crown, 2005).

This new book is entitled Washington Burning: How a Frenchman's Vision of Our Nation's Capital Survived Congress, The Founding Fathers and the Invading British Army. The "Frenchman" is of course Pierre Charles L'Enfant, and the book tells the story of the struggle to bring his concept--a great new capital for a great new nation--into being.

While there have been a number of books dealing with the founding of Washington in the 1790's, as well as a number detailing the dramatic story of its burning by the British during the War of 1812, I had not read any that connected the two threads in any substantial way when the idea began to form in my mind. Until the British thought enough of Washington D.C. to reduce its public buildings to rubble in 1814, the new capital was a source of great friction in our new nation--Northern interests found it too "Southern," and Southerners found it not "Southern" enough. But that action by the British, meant to frighten an ill-prepared United States military into capitulation, had the opposite effect of what was intended. Americans were outraged, not intimidated--and when the British moved on from Washington to a true military target at Baltimore's Fort McHenry, they were soundly defeated and the tide of the war changed. Washington D.C. was transformed from a locus of division to a symbol of pride and unity, and in essence, it was the desire to avenge the destruction of our "national city" that led to the final break from Great Britain.

In one way, the city itself is the "main character" of this book, though the attempts of George Washington, and Pierre L'Enfant and others to see a new capital rise from a wilderness (despite the heated opposition of Thomas Jefferson, for one) form the human story that came to fascinate me. L'Enfant was a brilliant man, but an eccentric and difficult one as well, and he was utterly consumed with the correctness of his "Grand Plan." In essence, he was a poet, and though W.H. Auden has suggested that "poetry makes nothing happen," L'Enfant made Washington happen, and exactly as he sketched it out on a couple of taped-together scraps of paper more than 200 years ago.


  • Society of the Four Arts (Palm Beach, 561-655-7226, 2:30 pm Fri May 9
  • Vero Beach Book Center (Vero Beach, 772-569-2050) 12 noon, Sat May 10
  • Book Mark (Atlantic Beach/Jacksonville, 904-241-9026, 7pm, Sat May 10
  • Maryland Historical Society (Baltimore, phone # to come), 6pm, Mon May 12
  • Politics and Prose (D.C.--5015 Connecticut Ave NW, 202-547-2665) 7pm, Tu, May 13
  • The Trover Shop (D.C.--221 Pennsylvania Ave SE, 202-547-2665) 12:30pm, Wed, May 14
  • Books & Books (Coral Gables, 305-442-4408) 8pm, Fri, May 16
  • Please check back regularly for updates to this list

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Here is what the folks at Kirkus Reviews had to say about Washington Burning. Whew! That first one is always worrisome...

Kirkus Reviews—March 15, 2008

Standiford, Les
WASHINGTON BURNING: How a Frenchman’s Vision of Our Nation’s Capital Survived Congress, the Founding Fathers, and the Invading British Army

Novelist and accomplished armchair historian Standiford (Writing/Florida International Univ.; Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America, 2005, etc.) gives a sprightly account of Washington, D.C.’s improbable genesis and survival.
The author frames his account with the sack of the brand-new Federal City on August 24, 1814. The British army was prompted by “the intent of teaching the upstart Americans a lesson in ‘hard war’ and reducing their capital to ashes,” he writes. President James Madison would never again inhabit the White House, and a divided Congress voted against the government’s relocation to Philadelphia; rebuilding the devastated capital became a priority. After sketching these events, Standiford returns to the beginning, dwelling at length on the states’ squabbles over where the nation’s capital should be situated. French architect and Revolutionary War veteran Peter Charles L’Enfant, fresh from his success remodeling New York’s City Hall into a Federal Hall, was enthusiastically endorsed by President Washington and others for the planning of a magnificent Federal City to rise out of the swampy wilderness along the Potomac River. L’Enfant envisioned a design that would “give an idea of the greatness of the empire,” allowing dramatic vistas for the appreciation of majestic public buildings and emphasizing the natural beauty of the land as well. However, after his power struggles with the district commissioners came to a head in 1792, he was replaced by successors who came and went through a revolving door, and Washington’s retirement and subsequent death deflated the enthusiasm for the capital’s construction. (L’Enfant spent the rest of his days in hopeless litigation to get remuneration for his work.) The British attack of 1814 was a wake-up call for the fledging nation, which had grown complacent, and Standiford does a fine job bringing to life the urgency of events.
A nice complement to Fergus M. Bordewich’s broader survey, Washington: The Making of the American Capital (2008), offering a more intimate look at L’Enfant and the crisis provoked by the British. (Agent: Kim Witherspoon/InkWell Management)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Eight Things You May Not Know About the Real D.C.

1-- true or false? the first major international terrorist attack on U.S. soil took place on february 26, 1993, when a truck bomb exploded in the underground garage of the World Trade Center in New York, killing six people and injuring more than a thousand. (False: The first terrorist attack on the country took place nearly 180 years previously, on august 24, 1814, when a commando force under british general robert ross and admiral george Cockburn invaded washington, D.C. and burned every public building to the ground. the operation had no tactical significance, and was undertaken, in the words of the commanders, “to teach americans a lesson in hard war.” There were about 600 casualties on both sides.)

2-- true or false? washington d.c. was defended valiantly in 1814 by u.s. armed forces, many of whom had served with distinction during the revolutionary war. (False—there was in fact no u.s. army to speak of at the time. while authorized by congress, no money had been found to fund it. the poorly trained and equipped state militia men who were thrown into action against the british were outnumbered more than two to one and quickly fled when confronted by the advancing british. the white house was abandoned so hastily that a dinner prepared for president madison was still on the table when british troops burst in. the invaders ate the president’s dinner, plundered his closets for fresh shirts, and drank up his wine cellar…then burned his house down for good measure.)

3-- Who was the first american president to cut a backroom deal in support of a pet political project of his own? a) Ronald “arms for contras” reagan. b) bill “Whitewater” clinton. c) warren “teapot dome” harding. d) George “I cannot tell a lie” washington. (Answer: D). In order to secure support of northern congressmen for his proposed capital site on the potomac, washington agreed to support legislation calling for the federal government’s assumption of debts accrued by states in the fighting of the revolutionary war. washington’s deft horse-trading became known as “the great compromise of 1790.”

4-- true or false? the first secessionist movement in the u.s. had nothing to do with slavery. (True--As early as 1790 southern states threatened to leave the union if the capital of the new government was placed in new york or philadelphia).

5-- true or false? the first u.s. capitol was located on wall street. (true—Federal hall at 26 wall street, the refurbished city office building, housed the first congress assembled under the constitution in 1789. the government moved to philidelphia in 1790, and remained there while Washington D.C. was under construction. of course, some say that the capitol still resides on wall street.)

6-- true or false? pierre l’enfant was offered several manhattan city blocks as payment for his work on the nation’s first capitol. (true—but he declined the offer. in the late 1700’s only the lower tip of manhattan was settled. l’enfant considered the offer of 10 acres of distant pastureland in the middle of what is now the upper east side—E. of 3rd Ave bet. 66th and 70th sts--to be an insult unworthy of consideration.)

7-- what do peach bottom, pa., richmond, va., newark, n.j., newburgh, n.y., Wilmington, De., & georgetown, md. have in common? (answer—they were among the 50 or so towns proposed as alternatives to locating the u.s. capitol in washington on the potomac.)

8-- true or false? l’enfant, who laid out the plan for the city of washington, was well rewarded in cash and property for his work there. (False—l’enfant was fired in the midst of his work on the project, less than 2 years after he began. he had no contract and had been paid no salary. after he was fired, president washington offered him $2500 for his efforts, but l’enfant refused the offer as beneath him. the planner purchased his own city lot, not far from the site proposed at public auction, but later lost it in bankruptcy.)