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When Charles Dickens published Sketches by Boz, his previously serialized tales about 1830s Londoners, he subtitled the book “Illustrative of Every-day Life and Every-day People.”

How did the bourgeois Dickens know so much about Every-day People? Maybe because as a boy of twelve he watched his father sent to Marshalsea debtors’ prison, followed shortly by his mother and younger siblings, as was the quaint custom of the time. The future Boz was forced to leave school and work ten-hour days at Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, using his meager wages to pay his board and help his family crawl out from under mounds of debt.

Boubat Photo

Photo by Edouard Boubat

This is the long explanation for why I have riffed on Sketches by Boz in putting out my writing. Anyone trying to make a living by words has a trace of Dickens’s DNA: you may get cash in your pocket, but you can never completely exit that no-man’s-land between respectable and desperate.

I’ve written an award-winning story collection, work as a government speechwriter, and have been making up characters since grade school. In this age of rampant appropriation, the biography I would happily appropriate comes from one of Dickens’s literary progeny, another erstwhile Londoner and no stranger to slender means:

Born in ice cave of southern Tyrol year 609 B.C. of centaur stock, mother descended Venus. Muriel Spark rose from the waves as is well known. Demands fabulous fees.