Christmas In My Heart Turns Twenty!!!

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

 

CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART® TURNS TWENTY

 

For Dec. 7, 2011

 

In this strange journey we call “life,” certain years loom larger than others—2011 is one of those for Connie and me.  Mainly because of an event we never saw coming.  Not with that first book of Christmas stories in 1992, for none of us ever expected there to be another—why, there was not even a number printed on that horizontal trade paper book, with a Currier & Ives cover and woodcut illustrations for the stories inside.      But miracle of miracle, four years later the series had its fifth birthday.  Not only was that not the end, but five years later, here came its tenth birthday.  Each of those anniversaries, we’d inwardly wonder, Is this the end?  And then came its fifteenth birthday—and it was still alive.  One year later, Review and Herald® signed off after sixteen wonderful years; serendipitously, in only hours, Pacific Press picked up the torch—and here we are at twenty, still under full steam.

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Along the way, other publishers bought into the series:

Doubleday/Random House with seven hardback collections—they it was who insisted we trademark the title.  We’re grateful; otherwise, several years ago, we’d have lost control of the brand.  RiverOak/David C. Cook published one hardback.  Focus on the Family and Tyndale House published one vertical trade paper and seven hardbacks.  And, more recently, Howard/Simon & Schuster published three hardbacks.  All told: 38 books bearing that series title.  And the manuscript for Christmas in My Heart® #21 was just sent in to Pacific Press to launch our third decade.

We’ve never felt the series to be our own for it was born over my protests; we didn’t become pro-active rather than re-active until two years later.  And again and again, during the years that followed, we’ve seen a Higher Power step in and keep it going against what appeared to be overwhelming odds.  A number of them having to do with my own body, that all but shut down on me twice; a head-on accident that should have ended everything; and several others so close a call that it was clear God was preserving my life, for what He considered to be “an unfinished task.”

            THE 20TH CELEBRATION

It has been an eventful year: Last Christmas I was on Hope TV’s “My Story, My Song,” reading Christmas stories each of the fourteen days leading up to Christmas.  Four months later, Don Schneider’s “Really Living” hour-long interview was broadcast by Hope TV.  Several months ago, Jim Gilley’s hour-long interview was broadcast on 3 ABN-TV.  All three were world-wide.  Just a couple of days ago I recorded several Christmas stories for a Focus on the Family podcast.  Only a week ago, for the 21st year in a row, I was interviewed by Dr. Gerry Fuller on “Breakaway” on WGTS-FM (the second most powerful Christian radio station in America) for an hour.  On Dec. 13, I’ll be privileged to join Janet Parshall on her syndicated radio program, “Janet Parshall’s America” (a yearly tradition going clear back to the beginning of Christmas in My Heart®).  I’ve had so many book-signings lately, I’ve begun to feel like a wind-up doll.  Miraculously, God has so far preserved me from carpal tunnel, a miracle given that I’ve often signed for eight to twelve hours at a stretch. But I consider it an honor to have been invited into so many thousands of households over the years.  I take great care to make each of my book inscriptions a work of art.  I tell people the real reason: “Fifty years from now one of your descendants may find this book in a musty old attic trunk, dust it off, look inside, and say, ‘Look!  This was given to Grandma when she was young half a century ago!”  Then family members would almost kill for this book, considering it to be a cherished artifact of family history.

Each of our now 75 books (60 being story anthologies) has its own distinctive inscription, each of which I must remember whenever I do a book-signing.  Many, no small thanks to the worldwide web, Facebook, my website and weekly blogs and daily tweets, take place at home as people everywhere ask for that scarcest of commodities in our digital age: a personalized inscription to a book.  We never charge for these..

CHRISTMASAHOLIC COMPLETISTS

Just a week ago, in marathon East Coast signings, I came across a new phenomenon: completists.  People who have all twenty of the Christmas in My Heart® series.  They’ll stand in line for hours waiting for me to get to them and their stacks of books.  Almost invariably they’ll have a big stack of books for me to inscribe to their families and friends.  One lady in the Northwest gives away over 200 a year, to her nursing staff.

It is deeply humbling to me to be thus assured that so many cherish every last book in this series.  Reasons completists give: that they’re spiritually based, you can’t read them without reaching for the Kleenex® box, the values incorporated are worth living by, they are very difficult to put down, they run through the entire gamut of emotions, they feature authors whose work deserves to live on [many are virtually unknown today], and taken in their entirety, they add up to the greatest treasure box of such stories—perhaps in the world.

If you have not yet discovered this series, I invite you to join our world-wide family of Christmasaholics—for us, Christmas lasts all year long!

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Next week, we’ll move back to the journey through our Southwest national parks.

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CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART® MEANDERS

“Meander” is the most apt verb I can think of to describe the journey of the last nineteen years. Nothing about it can remotely be classified as being predictable (perhaps the most exciting and frustrating aspect of turning over the navigational role of one’s life to God).

If I ever doubted the confusion generated by this meandering, the reactions of those who stop to look at the blur of Christmas-related titles and publishers at book-signing tables would set me straight. Goodness, sometimes I get confused myself just trying to explain all the twists and turns. But let’s try anyhow.

Christmas in My Heart

First of all: what I’ve come to call the “core series.” Fortunately, Review and Herald Publishing’s commitment to the series was unwavering (for a decade and a half); this provided the stability the series needed in its formative years. Unbeknownst to me, that very first year, I was locked in to what became the series’ defining template: old-timey Currier and Ives covers (horizontal rather than vertical format), old-timey woodcut illustrations inside, and old-timey (even when stories are new ones) stories that touch the heart. As time passed, and more and more Christmasaholics bought into completion (keeping their own series complete by buying the new collection every Christmas season), the template became so iconic I couldn’t have altered it even had I wanted to do so.

Focus on the Family’s involvement began early, and has continued with unbroken commitment ever since. Indeed, well over half the time, the Focus Christmas story of the year has been taken from the pages of Christmas in My Heart®. Most years, the books have been offered as premiums to ministry supporters, as part of seasonal mailouts reaching millions every Christmas.

Because of Focus on the Family’s involvement and because the first four books were a GOLD MEDALLION Finalist in 1995, the series rapidly expanded into Evangelical Christianity.

Which led to the seven-year partnership with Doubleday/Random House, beginning in 1996. Their books were re-scrambles (some stories taken at random from each of the first four collections), with old-timey (but not Currier and Ives) covers, woodcut illustrations (but different from those in the core series), vertical format rather than horizontal, and hardback with dust jacket rather than trade paper. With the entry of Doubleday, the series was marketed in chain stores everywhere, thus becoming a staple in the broader secular market.

Concerned that someone else might try to steal the title, Doubleday insisted that we Trademark it (which we did, after considerable legal choreography, effort and money). We renewed that Trademark at the end of five years, and again after ten years. Fortuitously, it turns out, for during the last 24 months, someone (a major player in today’s marketplace) moved in on the title. Only the Trademark saved us.

Christmas in My Soul

Doubleday/Random House published four Christmas in My Heart® Treasuries (1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999); at the end of that period, they moved on to a new series title, Christmas in My Soul for their gift books over the next three years (2000, 2001, and 2002), each book a re-scramble of stories taken from the first six books in the core series.

In 1998, Tyndale House co-published with Review and Herald the core edition of Christmas in my Heart® 7 (both publishing house imprints on the title page). In 1999 Tyndale House joined forces with Focus on the Family to publish a vertical trade paper edition of the core series (with different cover and introduction, but otherwise remaining the same content and illustration-wise).

But when Doubleday switched series titles in 2000, Focus on the Family and Tyndale House pounced on the hardback rights to the core series. Those vertical hardbacks with dust jackets were also beautiful works of art, just as Doubleday’s were, with old-timey non-Currier and Ives covers; but otherwise, inside, the same stories and illustrations as those used by Review and Herald in the core series. These editions continued to be published through 2006 (Christmas in My Heart® 9 – 15).

The 12 Stories of Christmas

In 2001, RiverOak/David C. Cook published The Twelve Stories of Christmas (the first twelve Christmas stories I wrote personally); for the only time, I also told the story behind the story—how I happened to write each one.

In 2006, storms assailed Christmas in My Heart®. Review and Herald wavered in its commitment to continuing the series, thus opening up the possibility of Focus on the Family/Tyndale House taking over all markets for the core series. Needless to say, Focus on the Family and Tyndale were delighted. But, at the last minute, Review and Herald decided to publish Christmas in My Heart® 16 after all. Result: Tyndale House and Focus on the Family ceased publishing their hardbacks of the core series. But then, even though they were still selling the same number of books as before, Review and Herald decided that Christmas in My Heart® 16 would be a nice number to conclude the series with. Not sharing this perception that the series had reached its terminus, I asked Pacific Press Publishing if they were interested in picking up the series with Christmas in My Heart® 17. The answer, in only hours, was a resounding, “In a heartbeat!” Same format, same Currier and Ives covers, same woodcut illustrations as before—all agreed upon. Thus the series has continued; this year with Christmas in My Heart® 19. The manuscript for Christmas in My Heart® 20 has already been sent in.

In 2007 and 2008, Howard/Simon & Schuster published three beautiful retrospective collections (rescramblings from Christmas in My Heart® 1 – 16): The Best of Christmas in My Heart® 1, Christmas in My Heart® 2, and Candle in the Forest and Other Christmas Stories Children Love.

Christmas in My Heart® 1 was published in Spanish and the first six books were published (rescrambles) in Norwegian.

St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas

Besides this, I edited Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol and Abby Farwell Brown’s Christmas Angel for Focus on the Family/Tyndale House in 1997 and 1999. I partnered with Canon James Rosenthal for our book St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas for Thomas Nelson in 2005; just off the press is another St. Nicholas book, my Saint Nicholas, part of Thomas Nelson’s Christian Encounters biography series.

This incredible story would have been much more difficult without the steadfast support and innovative placement of our collections by my cherished agent and friend, Greg Johnson, president of WordServe Literary Group, Ltd.

A special note: because of editorial differences of opinion (as to specific story-inclusion) in Review and Herald and Focus on the Family/Tyndale House, those who wish to acquire the complete core series of stories—so far—would need to secure the following:

Review and Herald Christmas in My Heart® 1 – 16.

Focus on the Family/Tyndale House Christmas in My Heart® 13 and Christmas in My Heart® 15.

Pacific Press Christmas in My Heart® 17, 18, 19.

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So this blog brings all these meanderings up to date. Connie and I have no idea as to how long the series may last—we leave all that up to the good Lord. We take no credit for the first nineteen years of its story: we’ve only been taking orders from our Commander in Chief. When it is His will that the last Christmas in My Heart® book rolls off the press, then it will be time to write “Finis” to its story.

But not until then.

I’ll conclude this blog with a line from one of James Dobson’s many personal letters to me, “You’re right, Joe: Neither of our ministries belongs to us—but isn’t it a great ride?”

That it has been—and continues to be.