Christmas found me on a hot, sweaty day in July. My husband and I drove four hours in July of 2000 to see a friend sing in concert in Knoxville, Tennessee. We parked at the back of the arena and ran inside the loading dock where we were greeted by our friend Eddie. The opening act was finishing on stage and he was moments from going on, but we asked what he’d been up to and he told us he was writing songs for a new album. He looked at me and said, “I’m actually thinking of putting a Christmas number on it as a bonus cut.” He rattled off a two-sentence premise (the opening act was closing) and asked if I thought that would make a good Christmas song. I said, “I actually think that’d make a good book.” The crowd liked the opener and cheered as they left the stage so Eddie leaned close to my ear. “Then get to writing it,” he said, yelling above the noise. “You’re the one with the computer!”
Plenty of people over the years have told me they have a great idea for a book (a complete stranger talked at length about an idea this week. It didn’t matter that my 3-year-old had to “go potty really, really bad” and was bouncing up and down with each plot point), but for whatever reason, those ideas have never struck me as a good idea. Maybe it was because Eddie didn’t present it as a good idea for a book that something clicked in me. Maybe it was because the set-up for the idea was so short and we didn’t have time to whittle it down to nothing that the plot came alive in my head. Eddie finished the lyrics and by that time I was already deep into the writing of my untitled book. “I’m wondering,” he said, after playing the song for me. “Should we call this Christmas Shoes or The Christmas Shoes?”
“The Christmas Shoes,” I said.
I sent my outline of The Christmas Shoes and several chapters off to a literary agent in NYC. I was painting the walls in my husband’s new office when she called a few days later. “When can you have this finished?” she asked.
I put down the roller. She sounded, dare I say, interested! “When do you need it?”
“Yesterday would be good,” she said. I finished painting the office and stayed up late each night to write the remaining chapters.
Christmas found me again sometime around Easter. I had begun work on a novel I’d been writing off and on since college when my editor called. “Have you thought about writing another Christmas book?” I hadn’t. She called again a few weeks later. “Have you thought any more about writing another book to follow The Christmas Shoes?” I hadn’t. When she called a third time I knew something was up.
“Do you want me to write another Christmas book . . . because you keep calling.” She did—and so I did! It was a good call on her part. I had thought I was done with the Christmas stories, but now realize I would have missed several great journeys along the way. I have managed to write non-seasonal books in between the Christmas novels (I’m currently working on another non-seasonal novel set in Morgan Hill, Tennessee, where The Angels of Morgan Hilltakes place) and I enjoy the process for both.
A reporter recently asked me if I liked writing books set at Christmas—five books in, with the release of The Christmas Secret, I’d say the answer is obvious. Even if you don’t believe in miracles, somehow the most hardened cynic suspends his disbelief in that season of goodwill toward men. Christmas is difficult for so many, but it brings out the best in so many others. I started work on The Christmas Secret with that in mind. . . life can be hard, but people can be infinitely good. In The Christmas Secret, Christine Eisley is a single mom with a jerk of an ex-husband. I have an ex-brother-in-law who makes Christine’s ex look like Santa himself. Somehow, single mothers juggle kids, work, grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning, paying bills and even going to night school without spousal support. It has to be the most difficult job on earth, yet no reality series is dedicated to following them around. Christine encounters one roadblock after another but comes across people who won’t sit on their hands while she struggles to get around them.
A friend told me last week that if I kept this up I would start to be known as “The Christmas Lady.” I suppose there are far worse things to be known as; for instance, “The Gastric Bypass Lady” doesn’t conjure up images of coffee and scones on a wintry day and the “Scary Cat Lady” culls up visions of long, waxy fingernails, harsh make-up and incessant meowing. Who wants Scary Cat Lady to speak at their book club or annual convention?
CBS picked up both The Christmas Shoes and The Christmas Blessing and turned them into “movies of the week.” When CBS ditched their movie department, Lifetime picked up the third novel, The ChristmasHope, which will air this year. I never imagined any of that on that sweaty day in July 2000, by the way.
I’m grateful that Christmas found me. I just hope I’m leaving a body of work that will leave readers grateful as well!
Donna VanLiere is the New York Times best-selling author of the Christmas Hope Series. The Christmas Secret is her 10th book. Lifetime will air movie adaptations of her books on Sunday, December 13. The Christmas Shoes and The Christmas Blessing will be followed by the world premier of The Christmas Hope (starring Madeline Stowe).
Photo courtesy of Sheri O’Neal Photography.