Lloyd C. Douglas’s Home for Christmas

November 28, 2012

Book-length Christmas stories have fascinated me almost as much as individual Christmas stories. But there has been one crucial difference between the two genres: Although thousands of writers have written individual Christmas stories, very few have tackled longer Christmas stories—and far fewer yet are still remembered today.

One of them that is still remembered—but is barely hanging on—is Lloyd C. Douglas’s Home for Christmas (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1937). The author has long been one of my all-time favorite inspirational writers. Dr. Douglas (1877 – 1951) burst into the publishing world late in life, for he’d been a pastor, chiefly in university centers, for more than a quarter century, and was more than 50 years of age, when he wrote his first novel, The Magnificent Obsession in 1932. Defying all odds, that first book became a blockbuster, both in print and in film, exceeded only by The Robe in 1943. Douglas’s novels tended to be fictionalized homilies that expounded the gospel that men and women could live good and successful lives through altruism and amity based on New Testament principles. Douglas, a Congregational clergyman, was spiritual heir to a long tradition of ministers who used fiction to popularize spiritual truths for the masses—such as Charles Sheldon, Henry Van Dyke, Harold Bell Wright, and others.

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Our readers are really going to have to seriously search in order to unearth copies of this title as it is today one of Douglas’s scarcest titles, but it will be well worth your time to do so.

Following is the introductory blurb on the First Edition dust jacket:

The Claytons spent all their childhood in a little farmhouse. Now there were Gertrude in New York, Claire in Louisville, Nan in Detroit, Fred in California, and Jim in Chicago—all prosperous American citizens. Nan had kept the old homestead just as it was when the Claytons were young, and it was her idea that they should all go back there for Christmas to live for a few days as they had done in their childhood, remembering the hardships and pleasures of those far-off years.

Nan’s project sounded a little alarming to her older brothers and sisters settled in their comfortable ways, but every one of the Claytons was a good sport. All the in-laws were banished, and the five gathered by themselves in the little farmhouse. What happened there is told in a novelette full of humor and tenderness and intertwined with a delightful love story.

Happy hunting first of all, then, on some cold winter night, settle down by the fireplace for an unforgettable Christmas read.


November 21, 2012

In all my life, I’ve never seen or heard anywhere near this level of post-election disillusion and borderline despair, the general feeling that America—that hope of the world—has reached the tipping point, and that the next steps may prove unreversible.

The catalyst, of course, was the entire unbelievably vicious and below-the-belt attack ads, paid for mostly with PAC funds conveniently hiding the identity of the attackers in walls of anonymity. Neither party came out of the fray with clean hands, but in retrospect, what is likely to leave the longest and bitterest legacy has to do with the early-in-the-campaign poisoning of the well, when Romney, who had exhausted his funding during the hotly contested primaries, found himself up the proverbial creek without a paddle, unable to fund a counterattack to the blizzard of attack ads geared not only to discredit his achievements but to utterly destroy his character. They worked: Romney was never able to fully recover.

The Supreme Court ruling that opened the door to the scorched-earth-leave-no-survivors blitzkrieg of unsubstantiated anonymous attack ads might very well be perceived by future historians as the beginning of the decline of the world’s greatest democracy. In Colorado (one of the so-called Nine Swing States), for month after month, we have had to endure such a blizzard of attack ads, from both sides, that, at the end we were left numb and nauseous. It was a veritable nightmare!

The logical result of all this would be to scare off, in the future, America’s best and brightest from even considering a career in politics. Why would any sane person subject his/her family to such vicious character assassination? Children and young people had to emerge from this mud bath with feelings of revulsion: If all politicians are unethical, unprincipled, unpatriotic, unempathetic, and uncaring, then why even vote at all? For the first time since I can remember, what a politician actually stood for or believed in, or had either achieved or hoped to achieve, was buried in layer after layer of sizzling hot verbal lava that left no reputation untarred.

Nor is the entire swing-state scenario a pleasant one to consider. Have we indeed reached the level where only nine states really matter? And the other 41 do not?

One thing I wish to make clear: I am not claiming one party can justifiably lay claim to the higher ground here. What I am hoping to accomplish by this blog is to add my frail voice to what needs to become a national movement to restore civility, not just to elections but to the periods in-between, when no one reaches across the aisle to the other side, and polarization and the annihilation of the moderates who once served as agents of synapse, has all but brought government to a standstill.

It is terrifying people I’ve interacted with, on all sides, to be reduced to near hopelessness in terms of their perception of America’s future.

But, as one near despondent Kiwanian said last week, “In all this, friends, please don’t despair: God is still in His Heaven.”


November 14, 2012

We’ve just received copies of Bluegrass Girl, the second book published by eChristian’s Mission Books. Turns out it’s everything we hoped it would be—and the evocative cover alone should sell a lot of books.

Last week, in the blog centering on Showdown, and Other Sports Stories for Boys, I referenced a life-changing discussion I had last December with Focus on the Family’s Editorial Director Larry Weeden and then Focus Bookstore manager, Bill Flandermeyer; life-changing because it changed the course of my publishing career. But it was equally significant in terms of what came next in our discussion of what the current critical publishing needs were perceived to be:

“What about girls—are we meeting their book-related needs?” “Well, partly. Girls are into sports too, just not quite to the extent that boys are. But one thing there is that is almost a universal with girls: Between the ages of eight and fourteen, girls tend to go through a horse-crazy period. They devour fictional stories and full-length books about horses. Walter Farley’s books come alive again for every generation of girls….so what do you have for them?

I answered that my anthology, Wildfire and Other Great Horse Stories included a number of girl-related horse stories, but that didn’t satisfy them, for they weren’t stories geared “just for girls.”

And thus was born Bluegrass Girl, when the opoportunity arose in our strategizing session with the publisher of eChristian, Dan Balow; his associate, Dave Veerman; and our agent, Greg Johnson.

When you give one to the girl in your life—keeping in mind the fact that girls don’t forget their love of horses just because they’ve discovered boys, horses just aren’t the priority they were earlier; but almost invariably that love for horses returns again during their adult years, thus Bluegrass Girl ought to appeal to all girls, regardless of their chronological age—, here is what they’ll find:

• “A Bluegrass Girl” (the title story), by William H. Woods
• “Oatsey Remembers,” by L. R. Davis
• “Emily Geiger,” by Nina N. Selivanova
• “Little Rhody,” by Charles Newton Hood
• “Rich but Not Gaudy,” by Ruth Orendorff
• “A Satisfactory Investment,” by Eveline W. Brainerd
• “The East End Road,” by George C. Lane
• “River Ranch,” by Aline Havard”
• “The Lone Stallion,” by Gil Close
• “In the Toils of Fate,” by Virginia Mitchell Wheat
• “Betsy’s Horse Show Ribbon,” by Lavinia R. Davis
• “Rusty Takes a Short Cut,” by Paul Ellsworth Triem.

Ordinarily, each book in this Mission Book series contains twelve stories, however, this one brings the total to thirteen; but unlike all the other stories, this is a story poem rather than prose, a genre I love but rarely feature in my prose books. In my Appendix introduction, here is what I wrote about it:

Joseph Leininger Wheeler

It is impossible to think of my dearly beloved mother, Barbara Leininger Wheeler, without also thinking about her love for story and poetry—and she loved most those that combined both, a synthesis we call “story poems.” Mother was an elocutionist, a stage performer who had memorized thousands of pages of stories and poems. But out of all of them [a number, such as Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman,” Bayard Taylor’s “Bedouin Love Song,” and Frank Desprez’s “Lasca,” had to do with horses], none did she love to recite—or we children to hear—more than Constance Fennimore Woolson’s “Kentucky Belle.”

As I read the poem today, the cold print blurs because the words—the lines—are, in memory, watered by my mother’s tears. For she could not recite this poem without crying. Because of this, because reciting it drained her so, she was always limp at the end—as were we. Yet, because of those poetic-line-induced tears, or in spite of them, it remained our constant request, “Mom, please recite “Kentucky Belle.”

Back during those growing-up years, I knew little about that bloodiest of all American wars, the Civil War (a war that was anything but civil). Nevertheless, in a very strange way, the poem so dominated my childhood that it almost predestined my career in literature, history, and biography.

It would not be possible to write “Kentucky Belle” today; only someone who had lived through that gut-wrenching conflict that pitted brother against brother, and ripped families apart. Constance Fenimore Woolson, niece of that great frontier novelist, James Fenimore Cooper (author of books such as Last of the Mohikans), was born in March of 1840, thus she was 21 when the Civil War began and 25 when it ended. She died in 1894 at the young age of 54. She was a prolific author, but is remembered today mainly because she penned one of the most emotive and deeply moving poems in the English language, “Kentucky Belle.” Of all the great Civil War poems that have lasted until our time, none captures more completely the torment of both sides than this. Nor is there another that so captures a girl-woman’s heartbreak at losing the most beloved horse she would ever know.

In order to better understand this poem, we must step back in time to an age where few Americans traveled far from the place where they were born, thus they knew and loved their land with an intensity that is all but lost today. That is why this poem is such a celebration of a meandering strip of blue called the Tennessee River (the principal tributary of the Ohio, that is the principal eastern tributary of the Mississippi). It is born in the Appalachians near Knoxville, Tennessee, and flows southwest to Chattanooga, west through the Cumberland Plateau to northern Alabama, turns north as the boundary between Alabama and Mississippi, continuing across Tennessee and Kentucky, where it merges with the Ohio at Paducah. All the land watered by this 652-mile-long river is known as “the Tennessee.” Only as we are aware of this can we fully understand this poem’s poignancy to the generations of Americans who have loved both this country and the river that gives the heart of it its name.

But all this is merely a preamble to the poem itself, and the horse it immortalizes.

The horse in the poem is also a metaphor for the all-consuming love a girl-woman had long ago for the Tennessee, and the Kentucky Bluegrass Country. And even today, when the subject of Kentucky is brought up, immediately images of the horse and the Kentucky Derby come to mind. The state and the horse are so intertwined that they are inextricable.

My mother loved Kentucky Belle the horse so much she was a living thing to her, as real and three-dimensional to her as were her three children. And the rhythm of Woolson’s lines gallops like hoof-beats through the minds of everyone who experiences the poem performed out loud by a master elocutionist such as my mother.

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Details: Publisher: Mission Books/eChristian
Publishing Date: 2012
Price: $12.98

Shipping: $5.00 first book; $1.00 for each additional book. You may secure them through us. Let us know if you wish them inscribed; and if so, to whom. Provide your mailing address. You may email us at: mountainauthor@gmail.com.

Published in: on November 14, 2012 at 6:00 am  Comments (1)  

Showdown, and Other Sports Stories for Boys

November 7, 2012

We’ve just received copies of our newest book, published by eChristian’s Mission Books, the first of six contracted books with this publishing house. For months, we’ve been eagerly anticipating this book’s release, hoping it would come out during this Christmas season. The cover alone sells this first book. Will tell you about the second next week.

Now for the story behind the book: Last Christmas season, for the sixteenth Christmas in a row, I read a story from the latest Christmas in My Heart to the staff of Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Afterwards, I signed their books all day at the Focus in the Family Bookstore. In the early evening, after the last book was inscribed, then bookstore manager Bill Flandermeyer and Focus Editorial Director, Larry Weeden, and I debriefed about the day. And then—I never cease to be amazed by God’s choreography!—, this subject came up: When someone comes into this bookstore, are there any book requests we can’t meet? If so, do we turn them away disappointed?

Without pausing for a second, Flandermeyer shot back, Yes. Books for boys! “Can’t find them. Especially story collections. Lots of books for girls, but not for boys.” We then got into a general discussion of the plight of boys in American society today. How they are dropping out of schools at an ever younger age, finding little in their classes to motivate them. Dropping out and dropping into virtual reality electronic games, videos, et al; as well as substance abuse, pornography, and crime. As a result, on today’s college campuses, there are 1.5 coeds for every male! At the rate the trend is tilting, educators fear it will be 2.0 to 1, resulting in depriving women of intellectual equal spouses and depriving adult males of top-level jobs, locking them into minimum wage jobs or unemployment. We are indeed in a national crisis where boys are concerned!

After the discussion, Weeden and Flandermeyer turned to me, and asked what I had for boys. I answered that our story collections are for all age groups. “But what do you have just for boys?” I could only answer, sadly, “I don’t have any.”

So then, we discussed subject areas that fascinate boys. Sports, naturally, being boys’ #1 interest. But I had nothing in sports to offer.

God times events perfectly in our lives: Early in the new year, the Publisher of eChristian, Inc, Dan Balow, who I’d worked with for many years when he was in marketing at Tyndale House, got together with our agent, Greg Johnson, Dave Veerman, Connie and me, to discuss a new and exciting publishing venture possibility. Would we be interested in expanding beyond such series subjects as Christmas, Animals, Great Stories Remembered, Heart to Heart, Forged in the Fire, and Classic Books into heretofore unexplored genres, drawing from our extensive story archives? Books to be released both in paper and digitally.

Would we! It would be an answer to prayer, and, if successful, would not only enable us to more fully utilize our story archives, but also preclude our ever retiring (not good news to Connie.) :-). Once we gave the green light to their proposal, the subject of which genres would come first was discussed. Immediately, that recent discussion in the Focus on the Family Bookstore came to mind, and after sharing it with them, it was concluded that Sports Stories for Boys had to be our first story anthology offering!

Together, we hammered out a collection worthy of being the engine with the potential to pull a train of future story anthologies from a wide variety of subject areas. For months, Connie and I ransacked our archives seeking out twelve of the strongest male-oriented sports stories we’ve ever found. Then we chose twelve stories incorporating twelve different sports. And here is our Contents menu:

“Introduction: “Boys and Sports “Stories” – Joseph Leininger Wheeler

“Showdown,” by B. J. Chute – Basketball

“An Hour of Victory,” by Earl Reed Silvers – Football

“Between Strokes,” by Walter R. Schmidt – Sculling

“The Captain Who Did Not Play,” by Ira Rich Kent – Baseball

“Speed Peters’ Finish,” by T. Morris Longstreeth – Hockey

“The Brat,” by Ralph Henry Barbour – Tennis

“Pompey Plays the Game,” by A. May Holaday – Track

“The Bicycle Race,” by Walter Camp – Cycling

“The Reef,” by Samuel Scoville, Jr. – Diving

“The Tiger at the Ford,” by William Hervey Woods – Fishing

“Which One Won?” by Anna P. Paret – Golf

“An Alpine Adventure,” by Grace Wickham Curran – Mountain Climbing

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Details: Publisher: Mission Books/eChristian
Publishing Date: 2012
Price: $12.98

Shipping: $5.00 first book; $1.00 for each additional book. You may secure them through us. Let us know if you wish them inscribed; and if so, to whom. Provide your mailing address. You may email us at: mountainauthor@gmail.com

Published in: on November 7, 2012 at 6:30 am  Comments (1)