Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”

BLOG #22, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #41
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT’S LITTLE WOMEN
June 3, 2015

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Louisa May Alcott (1832 – 1888), was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and ended her days in Boston, Massachusetts. Her mother, Abigail [Abba] May, was born into one of America’s most famous families, in direct line from Samuel Sewall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts. Her father, Col. Joseph May, was one of Boston’s leading merchants. Between the Sewalls and the Mays, Abba was related to almost anybody who was anybody in the state—including the Greeles, the Frothinghams, and the Quincys; in fact, her great aunt, Dorothy Quincy Scott, had been John Hancock’s wife. And then there was that mystical improvident visionary named Bronson Alcott who, in terms of educational philosophy, was way ahead of his time, choosing to rule his students by love rather than by punishments. Not surprisingly life with him was one long financial struggle for Abba (in 28 years, they’d move 27 times). Yet she loved him, and would marry no other.

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Out of that union came eight children, four who survived into adulthood. The oldest was Anna; Louisa May, second; Elizabeth Sewall, third; and Abba May, fourth. Bronson homeschooled them all. Each of his children was expected to spread her wings, dare to fly with the eagles.

Always, Louisa had wanted to be a writer. She wrote Flower Fables (1854-55) when she was only sixteen. She would write prolifically all her life; she felt she had to because making a living was not her father’s strong suit. For some time, almost in desperation, she wrote melodramatic trash in order to bring in money. Her first successful book was Hospital Sketches (1863) about her experiences as a nurse during the Civil War. While serving in Washington, D.C., under horrendous conditions, she contracted typhoid, and suffered after-effects from it for the rest of her life.

The books she is most remembered for, however, are the following: Moods (1865), Little Women (1868-1869), An Old-Fashioned Girl (1870), Little Men (1871), Eight Cousins (1875), Rose in Bloom (1876), Under the Lilacs (1878), Jack and Jill (1881), and Jo’s Boys (1886).

But the masterpiece, of course, was Little Women

THE CONTINUING APPEAL OF LITTLE WOMEN.

All my life, I have loved the book Little Women. As a child, I was captivated by the tale itself. Like millions of readers everywhere, I fell in love with the March family—especially Jo—to such an extent that long before I realized it, the Marches had become almost as much a part of me as my own flesh and blood.

Years later, I read the book again, with more than a little apprehension, for so many books we first read as children end up disappointing us when we come back to them as adults. Not to worry! Little Women is a seemingly bottomless well, and the older one gets, and the more times one rereads it, the deeper and more profound the story becomes.

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Why that is so has puzzled me for many years. Each year that I assigned Little Women to undergraduates in my American Literature classes, I’d wonder: Will it hold up this time? Will this new class, a century and a quarter after the story was written, find it irrelevant or passé? Will the men turn up their collective noses at it? In this age of women’s lib, will the women find it too simplistic and stereotypical?

But each year, it was the same: I’d walk into the classroom the next class period after my exhaustive who-said-what-to-whom-about-whom tests (the only Cliffs Notes-proof tests I’ve ever devised), seat myself in the circle (all my classes are circles), and look around at the faces. It never failed—once class began, the room crackled! So intense were the discussions that sometimes it seemed like everyone in the room was talking at once, male as well as female. Needless to say, nothing would ratchet up the intensity level more than the relationship between Jo and Laurie—especially, whether or not Jo should have married Laurie instead of Mr. Bhaer.
–From my Introduction to Little Women (Focus on the Family/Tyndale, 1997).

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You can find it anywhere for it is undoubtedly one of the most-loved and most-read books ever published in America. But naturally, I hope you’ll consider securing one of mine. I wrote a modest biography of Alcott at the front, a bibliography of all her writings at the back, and also Discussion Questions at the back as well. But our edition has something else: I was able to track down Frank T. Merrill’s stunning 203 woodcuts for the 1880 edition. Merrill actually read the book before he created each one! I know, for I’ve seen Louisa May Alcott’s personal inscriptions on the backs! That 1880 edition is one of the rarest of all Alcott books–I’ve seen only two in my lifetime. And all 203 Merriill woodcuts are in my edition. Which, of course, makes our Focus/Tyndale edition a rarity too.

As well as a number of shorter works, including many story anthologies and pessimistic last books.

My edition: Large trade paper – $16.99; the large hardback – $19.99, plus shipping of $6.00. And add 5% tax if you live in Colorado.

Send me an email at: mountainauthor@gmail.com; or write me at P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.

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Why Is Brevity So Rare?

BLOG #9, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WHY IS BREVITY SO RARE?
March 4, 2015

I really didn’t know just how difficult it was to be brief until one day, in Colorado Springs, when I delivered a one-minute short for Focus on the Family. There, in that broadcast studio, the sound people were all business. Their injunction all too precise: “We need a 60-second short from you—not 59 or 58, and not 61 or 62. Just 60 seconds.” And so we did take after take after take before I finally completed my task in exactly 60 seconds.

As a story anthologist, I’m always searching for powerful short stories I can read on the air. Believe me, they are mighty rare!

Same for poems. One of my favorite poets is the late Edgar A. Guest, one of the most beloved folk poets America has ever known. In one particular poem, he pulled off a twelve-line masterpiece that captured the essence of one of the most difficult words to perfectly define in the English language. Here it is:

WISDOM

This is wisdom, maids and men:
Knowing what to say and when.

Speech is common; thought is rare;
Wise men choose their words with care.

Artists with the master touch
Never use one phrase too much.

Jesus, preaching on the Mount,
Made His every sentence count.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
Needs not one word more nor less.

This is wisdom, maids and men:
Knowing what to say and when.

From Guest’s A Heap O’ Living Along Life’s Highway (Chicago: Reilly & Lee, 1916)

Love — What Is It?

BLOG #6, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
LOVE – WHAT IS IT?
February 11, 2015

Valentine’s Day is upon us once again–and merchandisers are hoping to milk it to death before it passes. Romance is in the air – everywhere. Is not that a good thing? Of course it is! I ought to know: of our 89 books and counting – 74 being story anthologies—, love predominates. It is a key reason the Christmas in My Heart® series will turn 24 this fall. Readers young and old turn first to the love stories, and re-read them most often. They tell me about it in their letters to me.

But love – at least in America – is not what it was when I was growing up. Because of our so-called “Hookup Society,” in which sex is instant, bypassing all the traditional preliminaries and totally divorced from commitment or even long-term friendship, disillusion and heartbreak is almost a given. Ergo the current epidemic of suicides among the young.

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Perhaps it is time for me to revisit one book that features my favorite love stories: Heart to Heart Stories of Love (Focus on the Family/Tyndale House, 2000). Specifically, the Introduction: “The Many Faces of Love.”

What is love anyhow? It is the magical ingredient that no scientist has ever been able to isolate, the yeast that can transform a friendship into love, marriage, and family.

One of my favorite definitions of love came from the pen of Washington Irving, one of America’s first great writers. His only love, Matilda Hoffman, died when Irving was twenty-six. He never married but authored one of the most romantic books ever written, The Alhambra. The book contains one of my favorite love stories, “The Pilgrim of Love” (a little bit too long for this collection). In it, a prince who has been shut up in a palace tower learns the language of the birds, and a little dove teaches him what love is:

“Love is the torment of one, the felicity of two, the strife and enmity of three, . . . the great mystery and principle of life, the intoxicating revel of youth, the sober delight of age. . . . Every created being has its mate; the most insignificant bird sings to its paramour; the very beetle woos its lady beetle in the dust; and yon butterflies which you see fluttering high above the tower and toying in the air, are happy in each other’s love.”

One of the loveliest summations of what love is was written by my cherished friend, Arthur Gordon, in his great book, Through Many Windows:

“Love . . . is a shining thing, like a golden fire or a silver mist. It comes very quietly, you can’t command it, but you can’t deny it, either. When it does come, you can’t quite see it or touch it, but you can feel it—inside of you and around you and the person you love. It changes you; it changes everything. Colors are brighter, music is sweeter, funny things are funnier. Ordinary speech won’t do—you grope for better ways to express how you feel. You read poetry. Maybe you even try to write it. . . . Oh, it’s so many little things. Waltzing in the dark, waiting for the phone to ring, opening the box of flowers. It’s holding hands in a movie; it’s humming a sad little tune; it’s walking in the rain; it’s riding in a convertible with the wind in your hair. It’s the quarreling and making up again. It’s that first drowsy thought in the morning and that last kiss at night.”

THE STAGES OF LOVE

God designed us to take joy in natural stages, including the natural stages of love.

His plan is simple but beautiful. First, we watch our parents: the love they show to us is the love we shall pass on. Second, we experience the love of God, which becomes the catalyst for our philosophy of love. Third, we love the innocent and pure love of childhood—friendship in its most disinterested form. Then there is the love of adolescence. If we preserve our virginity until marriage (God’s plan for us), this teen period will be a time for developing some of life’s stronger friendships. In this time of seasoning, of gradually developing values to live by, there is no place for sexual passion, which can do nothing at this stage but destroy, disillusion, and rob us of one of God’s greatest gifts: coming to the marriage bed as virgins. Adolescence is followed by young adulthood, time for us to be blinded with the rapture of first love; time for us to get to know each other as friends and soul mates; time for us to compare our pasts, presents, and futures, in order to see if we are truly compatible; time for us to see if our families would be compatible—for we do indeed marry families; time for us to discuss God and church and how big a role we would allocate to them. Then and only then are we ready to think seriously about marriage and family. God designed the process to crescendo as the marriage day nears, culminating in a wedding without guilt, stigma, or regrets.

Today’s media leaders seem determined to destroy all of this. They sell us a bill of goods. They tell us, as did the serpent in Eden, that God lies, that instant gratification will make us gods. They tell us that modesty, virginity, purity, and integrity are for fools. They tell us that minds and hearts and souls don’t matter at all; all that really matters is self-gratification, gusto. They tell us—over and over and over—that sex has nothing to do with friendship, love, respect, commitment, or being soul mates. Instead, they claim that sex is an acquired skill, like golf or hockey, and the more teachers we have in this respect, the better. They tell us that preliminaries are for the simple: five minutes after we meet, it’s time to disrobe and show the other “how good we are” in bed!

What the media doesn’t tell us is that virginity is an absolute: one can no more be partly a virgin than one can be partly pregnant. They don’t tell us that Eve’s first response after eating the apple was not godlike euphoria but a guilty realization that she was naked. They don’t tell us that, with the sexual act, all of the illusions, all of the progressive beauty of getting to know a soul, heart, and mind prior to getting to know the body—all of that is irretrievably lost. They don’t tell us that even the marriage ceremony itself is anticlimactic if we have already lived together.

Permit me to quote here from one of my books, Remote Controlled (Review and Herald Publishing, 1993):

Last year in my world literature class we read and discussed Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I have asked many previous classes to read the book, but it had never before elicited the response of last year’s class: “Dr. Wheeler, what naive innocents Cosette and Marius are! . . . Sitting there on a park bench day after day, just talking and looking at each other!” And for the first time it really came home to me what the media has done to our conception of love—in this case, romantic love.

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There is no magic to love anymore. No hauntingly beautiful, gradual unfolding of the petals of love, leading up to the ultimate full flowering of marriage and a lifetime together. No, in today’s fiction and celluloid portrayals, there are no courtships. There are in today’s music and MTV, in today’s advertising, not even any preliminaries! Boy meets girl, man meets woman, and bam! If the chemistry is ripe—and it apparently almost always is—before the relationship is more than minutes old, before they so much as date awhile in order to see whether or not they even like each other, before they so much as hold hands, before they so much as experience the rapture of that first gentle kiss . . . before any of this, within minutes they are nude and in bed with each other! This is what my students were really responding to in . . . the courtship of Marius and Cosette.

The truth that seems to have been forgotten in our modern era is that sexual purity before marriage nurtures and preserves the magic of romantic love. . . .”

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Even though this book is today out of print, we still have new copies available. The price is $13.99, plus shipping of $4.50; $6.00 if you want priority mail). Specify if you wish the book to be personally or generically inscribed, and to whom. No extra cost.

Our mailing address: Sage & Holly Distributors, P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.

A New Family Classic – “Paddington”

BLOG #3, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
A NEW FAMILY CLASSIC – PADDINGTON
January 21, 2015

The Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2015, D1

The Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2015, D1

Paddington is an oasis of relief in a media world that has clearly lost its ethical and moral moorings. Where in the world are parents going to find family fare in today’s miasma of bone-chilling violence, obscenity-laced humor, sexuality divorced from commitments, anti-God-and-country-agendas, and pornography rapidly gaining acceptance as a new norm? I pity the plight of parents today. And even when parents take their children to see one of those all-too-rare clean films, they fear the pre-film commercials so much many are deliberately walking in late so as to avoid imprinting those chilling or value-eroding images in their children’s brains.

It used to be the parents had many choices in terms of which films they’d take their children to see. No more. Hollywood appears to have all but written off all but its R-rated films. And even Paddington was born in England rather than in Hollywood.

As for reviewers, it has almost become a given that when a G-rated family film does come along, at best film critics damn it with faint praise or scoff at its family values. This is why it was such a shock to read Guy Lodge’s Variety review, “Cinematic update of the lovable literary bear ‘Paddington’ adds action but keeps his spirit” (Denver Post, January 10, 2015), and Joe Morgenstern’s “A Bear to Care About: Paddington Delights” (Wall Street Journal, January 16, 2015): For both were unabashedly positive about the film–no negatives whatsoever!

Morgenstern’s review begins with this sentence: “When you watch a movie that was made mainly for kids and find yourself enjoying it more than most adult fare, at least two explanations suggest themselves: 1. ‘You’re going soft in the head and reverting to childhood pleasures, or 2. The movie is really special.”

Guy Lodge’s review begins with “No bears were harmed in the making of this film,” boast the closing credits of ‘Paddington’ – and happily that promise extends to Michael Bond’s ursine literary creation. Fifty-six years after first appearing in print, the accident-prone Peruvian furball is brought to high tech but thoroughly endearing life in this bright, breezy and oh-so-
British family romp from writer-director Paul King and super-producer David Heyman.” Nor should we forget the prologue set in Peru, (filmed in black and white) and voiced by Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton.

Technically, the film blew me away with its seamless portrayal of real people on real location and computer animation. I couldn’t tell where reality ended and digital began! Of course, given that David Heyman cut his teeth on the Harry Potter films, (more recently, Gravity), that technical miracle ought not to surprise anyone.

The Denver Post, January 16, 2015, 6C

The Denver Post, January 16, 2015, 6C

As for my wife and me, we were just enraptured by the story itself. I will admit it took us a little while to get used to the father of the host family, Hugh Bonneville in that role, since we were so used to his dominating presence as the Earl in the Downton Abbey BBC miniseries. Totally unexpected was his metamorphosis from staid stereotypical stiff-upper-lip, don’t-mess-with-tradition, do-it-my-way-because-I-said-so, unromantic father at the beginning, to the young at heart romantic who dares the near impossible to save Paddington, passionately kisses his stunned wife, and vicariously becomes a boy again in order to enter his son’s life for the very first time. His wife, wonderfully played by Sally Hawkins; and children, engagingly played by Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin, are so natural in this most improbable willing suspension of disbelief (accepting as fact a human-acting, talking, and thinking bear), that we accept it all as real-life.

But none of them compare to the miracle of “Paddington,” his endearing personality and ways. Originally, Colin Firth was chosen for the bear’s voice; wisely, Ben Whishaw replaced him, given that his voice was more boyish.

Nor can I forget the virago of the film, the taxidermist Millicent Clyde (Nicole Kidman) who serves as the Cruella de Vil in the heartstopping scenes when, a la 101 Dalmations, she chases and finally abducts Paddington and almost succeeds in stuffing him for a museum of natural history. Kidman outdoes herself in this most untypical cinematic role for her.

Believe me, so many families thronged the theater that they had to add a second theater to accommodate the crowds. As we listened to the crowd reactions, there were plenty of delighted adult voices to be heard. As for the children–they were ecstatic as they lived the film. Afterwards, leaving the theater, their joy was so great their feet barely touched the floor!

I am hereby making a prediction. Regardless of what awards the film does or does not get, it will go on to become one of the most beloved family films of all time. Not only that, but it is likely to become a series as Michael Bond’s other Paddington books get accessed as well.

The family–in truth, that’s what the film is really about–is really the heart of the film: In the final analysis, just what is a family?

The Talleyman Ghost and Other Mysteries for Girls

BLOG #33, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE TALLEYMAN GHOST AND OTHER
MYSTERIES FOR GIRLS
August 13, 2014

N E W S    R E L E A S E

Just out is this, our 88th book. In last week’s blog, I discussed with our readers the three-and-a-half-year fuse that led to the eventual publishing of The Talleyman Ghost and The Secrets of Creeping Desert. How it was thanks to Larry Weeden (Editorial Director ) and Bill Flandermeyer (then bookstore manager) at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs that these two books came to be.

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In this case, our discussion that December 3, 1910 evening centered on the individualized book needs for boy-readers and girl-readers. We concluded that both boys and girls love mysteries. After all, generations of young readers have grown up reading The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mystery stories. Both Weeden and Flandermeyer urged me to consider putting together mystery story collections for both audiences. Finally, three and a half years later, here they are.

I have raided the entire twentieth century for its most memorable girl-related mystery stories. I chose the very best by popular authors whose stories have stood the test of time; not easy given how few stories survive for two generations. A number of the writers were already familiar to me: prolifically published writers such as Catherine R. Britton, May Hurley Ashworth, Albert Payson Terhune (America’s greatest dog story writer), Augusta Huiell Seaman, Eric Philbrook Kelly (renowned writer of stories dealing with Poland and Europe), and Malura T. Weaver.

It is much more difficult today to choose mystery stories that uplift rather than degrade, that help inculcate values worth living by rather than those likely to darken the inner skies of its readers. Not surprisingly, I discovered that most of the best stories had been written earlier on rather than today.

Since far more girls than boys are enthusiastic readers today, I have no fears for the popularity of this collection.

Over the years it has become abundantly clear to me that, generally speaking, book covers are the determining factors in terms of which books are purchased and which are passed over by bookstore browsers. I’ve been lucky with most of our covers; however, two were just plain awful. Not surprisingly, the sales correlate. I’d guess that 95% of impulse book-buying is almost predetermined by the cover illustrations and graphics.

Which brings me to the covers for Talleyman Ghost and Secrets of the Creeping Desert. When Todd Hoyt (president of eChristian/Mission Books) sent us sample cover illustrations for each book, it gave me a brainstorm: quite a few years ago it was when Kiwanis of Conifer members decided to put most all their fund-raising eggs in one basket. Since Kiwanians recite every week this mantra: “Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers dedicated to changing the world one community and one child at a time,” our only question had to do with how we’d focus our energies. We concluded that it had to do with reading. Reason being that for several decades now our national reading test scores have continued their prolonged death-plunge. Reason being: most parents today are themselves non-readers; consequently there are hardly any books, magazines, or newspapers to be seen in their homes. And gone too, for the most part, is the traditional story hour during which parents read to their children. The results add up to a national catastrophe.

Since studies continue to show, conclusively, that if a child fails to fall in love with reading by the third grade—it’s not likely to ever happen at all, we decided to make addressing that need our first priority. Since I’ve directed our Kiwanis Reading Program since its inception, I’ve been deeply involved in helping to make it happen. We’ve raised over $70,000 to buy books for the students (third-graders, highest priority) in five elementary schools: Deer Creek, Elk Creek, Marshdale, Parmalee, and West Jeff elementary schools in the Colorado Front Range. Each year, at our annual reading celebration for third-graders, I personally invite all the kids to attend at Ron Lewis’s barn in Marshdale. We give them a great time, including a chance to personally check out Lewis’s buffalo and elk herds, get their faces painted, get to have one of my books (of their choice) inscribed as a gift from me, and be part of the receiving groups when annual checks are handed out (usually $1,500 or so per school). Last two years, since we have a vibrant homeschooling community here in the mountains, we added them in as well.

So, when the subject of choosing covers for these two books came up, I decided to corral Wendy Woodland, principal of West Jeff Elementary School, and ask her if she thought third-graders would get a kick out of helping to choose two book covers before they were published. Woodland loved the idea. “It would be a real first for them!” was her response.

She felt boys would choose a mysterious-looking cover devoid of frills, and implying overt action. But, as for girls, she prophesied that since they tend to recoil from covers that convey graphic violence, much preferring understated covers that, while they appear mysterious and perhaps mystical, lean toward beauty rather than crude or overt action. “And,” she added, “girls love cursive writing more than block writing. Mark my words, they’ll, hands down, choose the mystical green cover with swirly cursive writing.” She was right: the boys gravitated to the one you’ll see on Secrets of Creeping Desert and the girls almost unanimously chose the one that graces Talleyman Ghost. I can’t wait to show the students these covers this fall when they are fourth-graders.

Here are the chosen stories included in the book:

“The Talleyman Ghost,” by Catherine R. Britton
“The Clock Stopped,” by Mae Hurley Ashworth
“Portia and Xenophon,” by Albert Payson Terhune
“That Darling Chin,” by Grace Lyon Benjamin
“Aunt Honoria’s Legacy,” by Helen Minshall Young
“Butterfly Ranch,” by Mary Beth Oliver
“The Mallory Inheritance,” by Augusta Huiell Seaman
“A Royal Mystery – Unsolved,” by Eric Philbrook Kelly
“The Missing Chessman,” by Dorothea Castelhun
“Wings of the Wind,” by Kenneth Payson Kempton
“Buried Treasure,” by Mabel Cleland
“The Ebony Box,” by Malura T. Weaver

Girls of all ages will revel in this timeless collection. As you’re making up your Christmas stocking list, write down the names of your girls, granddaughters, nieces, godchildren, etc., and have me inscribe the books personally to them. Ditto for birthdays or other special occasions.
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ORDERING INFORMATION

Binding: Trade Paper
Pages: 144
Price: $14.98
Shipping: $4.50

Personally signed or inscribed by Joe Wheeler, if requested, at no extra cost. You may secure your copies from us, so give us a call or email or letter, and we’ll fill your order for you,

Mail your request to Dr. Joe Wheeler, P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.
Or Phone to 303-838-2333.
Or send an email to: mountainauthor@gmail.com.

THE SECRETS OF THE CREEPING DESERT AND OTHER MYSTERIES FOR BOYS

BLOG #32, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE SECRETS OF THE CREEPING DESERT
AND OTHER MYSTERIES FOR BOYS
August 6, 2014

N E W S R E L E A S E

Just out is this, our 87th book. It was born three and a half years ago and contracted for three years ago. Due to unexpected developments, the manuscript was given a three-year-nap. Result: we have a surfeit of books carrying my name out this year; such a thing is not likely to ever happen again. Here’s how it happened.

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The date was Friday, December 3, 2010. Each first Friday of December, for many years now, I spend with my extended family at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. That particular Friday, for the fifteenth Christmas in a row, for morning worship, I shared with them a story included in the latest Christmas in My Heart® collection. The rest of the day, I spent signing books in the Focus on the Family bookstore. As is true with most epiphanies, I never saw this one coming!

As I inscribed the last couple of books, my long-time cherished friend, Editorial Director Larry Weeden, walked in to debrief on my day. As God would have it, then bookstore manager Bill Flandermeyer joined us for the same reason.

After we’d reviewed the events of the day, one of us posed this question (completely out of the blue–no antecedent for it): “When people come into this bookstore, is there anything that many of them are searching for that we don’t have–and they sadly leave without?”

It was a rhetorical question, not one we expected a definite answer to. Instead, without even stopping to think about it, Flandermeyer shot back: “Yes! Books for boys!” He went on to note that buyers young and old (grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, friends, children and teens), found all too few books for boys on the shelves. Then I was put on the hot spot: “What do you have for boys? Can you step in and fill the need?” I had to admit that though almost all of our books would appeal to boys, nothing I had was geared just for boys.

We had also discussed the subject of books that would appeal just to girls. We could all think of available options for them. But the problem was even bigger than that: today, we have a national crisis on our hands that has profound implications for America’s tomorrows. Boys are bailing out of education at an ever earlier age, veering instead into escapist virtual reality–be it video games, texting, alcohol, tobacco, pornography (their options are legion) rather than eagerly preparing themselves for productive adult careers. Since their parents don’t read much themselves, and there are all too few books, magazines, and newspapers in homes today, there are few incentives for their children to read either.

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After I returned home, I couldn’t get the discussion out of my head. Was God directing me to become more pro-active rather than re-active? What could I do personally to help turn the tide? I’ve learned over the years that when God sets you up for action, you don’t have to wait long for His follow-through. In only weeks Dan Balow (the new publisher for Mission Books/eChristian) was in our home, with Greg Johnson (our long-time agent); the agenda had to do with possible book projects I felt strongly about. Fresh in my mind was the discussion at Focus on the Family. I brought it up. The result was a contract for six books, two of which came out right away: Showdown (sports stories for boys) and Bluegrass Girl (horse stories for girls). But not long after, Balow left the company, and we wondered if the other four books would ever see actual publication. Serendipitously, recently Todd Hoyt, the president of the company, reinserted the four titles in the pipeline: Only God Can Make a Dad and A Mother’s Face is Her Child’s First Heaven came out some months ago; and now, finally, here comes our second book just for boys.

In that 2010 discussion, specific emphasis had been placed on my consideration of mystery stories for boys. After all, almost every boy is fascinated by books and stories that incorporate mysteries in the narrative.

So, finally, here they are, the result of an exhaustive search for the most powerful value-based mystery stories I could find. I specifically sought out stories that were compatible with Judeo-Christian values, that didn’t veer into darkness–as all too many youth-oriented mystery stories do today. I searched for stories that were not merely good-reads but would also result in the reader’s positive inner-growth. In the process, I discovered that mystery stories for boys tend to be longer than those written just for girls. Possibly because boys revel in taking things apart to find out how they work. They want to know both how and why. In detail.

By the way, the third-grade boys at Jefferson County Elementary School in Conifer, Colorado helped to choose this cover illustration. More about how that happened in next week’s blog.

So here are the stories:

■ “Jimmy the Sleuth,” by Frank Farrington
■ “Black on Blue,” by Ralph Henry Barbour
■ “The Prisoner,” by Jeannette C. Nolan
■ “Mystery of the Missing,” by Ruth Herrick Myers
■ “Black Canyon Mystery,” by John Scott Douglas
■ “Jack’s Electric Signal,” by F. Lovell Combs
■ “Pluck and ‘Thousand Acres’,” by A. May Holaday
■ “The Egg Mystery,” by Earl Reed Silvers
■ “The Gassoway Goats,” by Ruth and Robert Osborne
■ “Scoop,” by E. Mark Phillips
■ “Four Men In Boats,” by Russell Gordon Carter
■ “The Secrets of the Creeping Desert,” by Richard N. Donelson

For this collection, I drew from the finest mystery stories for boys published during the twentieth century. I was already familiar with many of the authors, for their works were prolifically published by the leading magazines of the time–authors such as Ralph Henry Barbour, Ruth Herrick Myers, John Scott Douglas, A. May Holaday, Earl Reed Silvers, and Russell Gordon Carter.

Next week, I’ll tell you about The Talleyman Ghost and Other Mystery Stories for Girls.

You may secure copies from us; let us know if you wish any of the books to be individually inscribed. They ought to appeal to boys of all ages; they certainly appealed to me. Great stories are enjoyed by the old as well as the young. Get a head start on your Christmas stocking list by gifting a copy of this book to each son, grandson, nephew, godson, or friend.

ORDERING INFORMATION

Binding: Trade Paper
Pages: 174
Price: $14.98
Shipping: $4.50

Personally signed or inscribed by Joe Wheeler, if requested, at no extra cost.

Mail your request to Dr. Joe Wheeler, P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.
Or Phone to 303-838-2333.
Or send an email to: mountainauthor@gmail.com.

 

Book Readers Weigh In

BLOG #3, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BOOK READERS WEIGH IN
Part One
January 15, 2014

Ever since readers were asked to respond with their views of Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club, responses have been rolling in. Most of the responders clearly want to see the series continue, beginning with this first responder:

I have been following your “Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club.” I really enjoy it, and have read books that I didn’t know existed. I will have to admit that I am still in the process of reading Les Miserables. Since I haven’t seen either the musical or the movie, it is all new. I am sure that I would never have gotten into any of Zane Grey’s books without your suggestions on the blog. They are completely different from my preconceived notion.

I have read, or already own and have read, most of the books. I especially enjoyed the books by Grace Richmond–looked others up on line–The Master’s Violin, City of Bells, and My Friend the Chauffeur–also a couple of other books by the same authors.

What I think I appreciate most is having some guidance on what is worth spending time reading. I have always enjoyed reading, but in a bookstore or online it is pretty daunting to select something of value. I will have to admit to enjoying a bit of romance in the stories.
–Rosalind H.

A second responder wished more of the club members bothered to comment electronically so that there could be more give and take:

I love your book club, please, please, please don’t stop. I look forward to your selections every month. The three I did not read were Wanderer of the Wasteland (one Zane Grey was enough for me), Penrod (I tried, I really did, but I just could not get into it) and Les Miserables (I’d just seen the movie and felt that was enough. Maybe I will read it at a later time). I have read all the rest. I try to get all my books from the library so sometimes I lapse behind. I just got Lassie Come Home from the library. They purchased it for me so it took longer to get. I missed your December 4th posting for The Other Wise Man. I ordered it from the library this morning and they have it on the shelf! Hooray! Hmm, where was I on December 4th? If the library can’t locate a copy for me I then buy the book on-line.

You have introduced me to so many wonderful writings, just a few of my favorites are Anne of Green Gables (okay I’ve read that before and adored it), The Christmas Angel, Little Lord Fauntleroy and Home for Christmas. Grace S. Richmond is a new author for me and I have so enjoyed her books. My Friend the Chauffeur, how charming. In His Steps I so enjoyed. I’ve created a folder on my Goodreads account just for your recommendations.

A couple of times I’ve commented on your blog about the books, but so few folks comment, I guess I just didn’t make it a priority. I apologize for that because I do want you to know how much I appreciate your efforts. And, I don’t want you to stop….

I would love you to recommend some of the books for which you have written the Introduction and the Afterward; they are full of such interesting information as is the information you give in your blog about the author when you recommend a book for the month.

Thank you for your contribution to those of us who love to read and want to read quality, not quantity or fluff. I love to be stretched and find an author I would not have tried otherwise or have never encountered before.
–Kathryn H.

This third responder is typical of those who, while extremely busy, still find time to keep up.

I love the book club blog and faithfully have read most of the books. There are two that I have purchased, but not read yet. I am in school and work full time so these books have become my “fun vacation reading” time.

You have introduced me to several authors that I knew about for years, but had never actually read a full length book by any of them. The following are my favorite authors from the book list so far:

Zane Grey, Harold Bell Wright, Gene Stratton Porter, Myrtle Reed, Grace Richmond, Charles Sheldon.

I have read several books by Zane Grey and Harold Bell Wright beyond what was recommended in the book list. I enjoy your commentaries that include information about the authors as I am then able to search for other books by the same author. My copy of Freckles is the edition you did for Focus on the Family and I especially enjoyed your introduction in that book.

I like the format of the blog and look forward to your emails on Wednesday. I recommend books to my family based on your list. My boys have now read every book by Zane Grey in our library.

Thank you for the time and effort you put into the book club. You are appreciated.
–Michelle S.

This fourth responder is typical of those who list the books they like best but don’t say much about any of them:

I do not know exactly when I began to watch for your Wednesday blog, but have been a fan of yours ever since I bought my first “Christmas in My Heart” book. I have purchased Myrtle Reed’s “The Master’s Violin,” and also a copy of your book on Abraham Lincoln and enjoyed them both. Below is a list of the books I have read at one time or at the behest of your recommendation:

The Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (every year at Christmas time)
Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
Little Lord Fauntleroy, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon
Foursquare, by Grace Richmond
The Man Without a Country, by Edward Everett Hale
The Master’s Violin, by Myrtle Reed
Riders of the Purple Sage, by Zane Grey
The Other Wise Man, by Henry Van Dyke (every Christmas)
* Books read per your suggestions.

Please keep up the good work. I enjoy the book club as well as your other blogs about your travels, etc. May the Christmas season be the time of blessing for you and your family.
–Lillian K.

The fifth is a sample of the many heartwarming encouragers who take the time to write me about the joy this club is bringing them.

First of all, I must apologize for never responding about the book club or to voice my deep appreciation. You have brought me untold joy in the discovery of so many new (to me) authors. I have found that your and my tastes are just about the same. I love anything that you recommend and run immediately to the internet to download the book via my Kindle or find a hard copy on Amazon. So please, Dr. Joe, keep it up! I will read your recommendation and then I usually find other books by the same author and devour those as well. Elizabeth Goudge is by far my favorite. I have purchased nearly all of her works and continue to enjoy every one. I love the spirit of her books as they tell a wonderful story but are uplifting at the same time.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for continuing to bless us with your amazing knowledge and wisdom. I feel privileged to be the recipient and I promise to be better about responding to each recommendation so you know that there is someone out there.
–Julie S.

The sixth tells me that grandparents (those who pass on the traditions in their families), continue to see the value of books worth reading.

Thank you for being so faithful in selecting each book. Thank you for providing a synopsis of each book and its relevance within the world in which it was written. Thank you for giving perspective as to why it is relevant to us in today’s world.

I am a book club wanna be. I have managed to read two and have several more on my smartphone for future reading. I am curious what kind of feedback you get from other readers. I am guessing not a lot or you wouldn’t need to ask for feedback now. Is there a separate forum for the dialog on each selection? If so, I would like to be added. If not, may I suggest maybe a separate blog or Facebook page for the discussion? I would like to subscribe to it.

Your efforts have a lot of meaning to me even though I haven’t taken full advantage of the book club. I enjoy your weekly blogs and look forward to them every Wednesday morning. They have a way of lifting my spirit to a different place and time. They remind me of views and values I am trying to impart to my grandchildren. I enjoy your travel blogs. Some remind me of places I have been and some are places I am adding to my To-Go list. Smile!
–Linda F.

This seventh responder is delightfully candid about which selections and authors are favorites and which are not.

Pursued Zane Grey on your suggestion (and, sorry, wasn’t particularly impressed). Collected a bunch of Grace Richmond on my ibooks and love her stuff. Same for Myrtle Reed and Charles Sheldon; the Guttenberg Project is wonderful for allowing me to find and read many of those old books.

I already collect Harold Bell Wright, Gene Stratton Porter, and Grace Livingston Hill. I like Lloyd C. Douglas but couldn’t find the title you wrote about.

I already knew and love Lassie Come Home and The Other Wise Man, of course. And already know and cannot tolerate Les Miserables (yes, I’m sure that makes me a bad person).

So, a short answer would be, yes, I read the book club posts and follow-up when and as I can! And please continue!
–Elsi D.

I will share a second batch of responses with you next week. Then, the following blog will launch the first of our 2014 book selections.

Keep reading!

Book of th Month Club – Gene Stratton Porter’s “Freckles”‘s Freckles

BLOG #29, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH SERIES #21
GENE STRATTON PORTER’S FRECKLES
July 17, 2013

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During the first half of the twentieth century, three authors ruled America’s Fictional world: Zane Grey, Harold Bell Wright, and Gene Stratton Porter (Zane Grey as numero uno, and Wright and Porter fighting it out for second place).

Their wholesome romances have stood the test of time–just ask any knowledgeable bookseller. So have prices for their books.

Since three of Grey titles have already been chosen as club options, and one of Wright’s, it is high time I introduce you to the third of the triumvirate.

I’ve always loved Porter’s books, re-reading them again and again during my growing-up years. I wrote a 64-page biography of Gene Stratton Porter for the edition of Freckles I created for the Focus on the Family/Tyndale House Great Books Series. Before writing it, I read Porter clear through, a number for the first time. Not surprisingly, the short biography took most of a year to write.

Little Geneva, the youngest of twelve children, was born to Mark and Mary Stratton on August 17, 1863, in Indiana, during America’s Civil War. She was very much a surprise, for Mark was fifty and his wife forty-seven; and neither of them had any desire to start another child through life at that age. Since six years separated Geneva from her closest sibling, she would grow up the center of her parents’ lives.

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Her father, a lay minister for the Methodist Episcopal Church, had a prodigious memory, having memorized the entire Bible, except for the begats. Since twice each day, he would read from the Bible to the family, the rhythm of the King James translation became part of the very fiber of each child. “Geneva inherited her father’s worship of beauty–be it in faces, souls, hearts, landscapes, trees, or flowers. His orchard was a tapestry in the spring with apple white in the middle and apricot pink on the edges. His entire farm, from out buildings, barn, and carriage on down, was kept as immaculate as his wife kept the house.” (Wheeler’s Freckles, xx).

As for her mother, perhaps the greatest legacy the mother passed on to her daughter was the magic she had with all growing things. From both parents, the little girl gained her deep love for nature, especially for the then great Limberlost forests, encompassing much of Indiana.

After growing up and marrying, Geneva incorporated this spirituality and love of nature and family into her novels. Five of her books became bestsellers: Freckles (1904), The Girl of the Limberlost (1909), The Harvester (1911), Laddie (1913), and Michael O’Halloran. Children growing up in America’s Golden Age of Print who read, or were read to, from Porter’s books, couldn’t help but incorporate both the values and the love of nature woven into the fabric of each book.

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As for Freckles, I quote from the back of my Focus/Tyndale edition:

“Crippled and abandoned at birth, will he ever find someone who loves him as he is?

“Deep into a majestic, untamed forest called the Limberlost wanders an orphaned young man known only as ‘Freckles.’ Arriving at the logging camp of Mr. McLean, he convinces the skeptical Scotsman to hire him to guard the prized lumber–though Freckles has no experience, no family and just one hand.

“Despite harsh conditions and long hours, Freckles grows to love this untouched piece of nature–and the Swamp Angel, a beautiful girl he meets who has everything he lacks. Though she is kind to him, he knows he cannot hope to win her heart. Suddenly, his character is changed by a lumberman plotting to steal from Mr. McLean. Freckles’ honor wins him the love of the people who have now become his family, leading him to discover the answer to his past–and his future. Freckles is an unforgettable story of love, courage and adventure.”

* * * * *

I’m confident that it will take but this one book by Gene Stratton Porter to hook you for life on her story-people. There are many many editions of this book out there available from Amazon, the world-wide web, Bluebird Books in Denver, and other used book stores. Her primary publisher was Doubleday, Page and Company (1904). It is still possible to find first editions in near-fine condition and dust-jacketed reprints. Should you wish a copy of my now out-of-print Freckles (Focus on the Family/Tyndale House, 2000), I still have new copies of our First Edition at $16.00 (plus $5.00 shipping; or $6.00 for priority). Let me know if you’d like me to inscribe the book to you.

You can see the books on our web page: http://www.joewheelerbooks.com.

Send me an email at: mountainauthor@gmail.com.

Happy reading!

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB GRACE RICHMOND’S THE TWENTY-FOURTH OF JUNE MIDSUMMER’S DAY

BLOG #21, SERIES #3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB

GRACE RICHMOND’S THE TWENTY-FOURTH OF JUNE

MIDSUMMER’S DAY

May 23, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of all the thousands of books I devoured during my growing-up years, none did I love more than our June selection: Grace Richmond’s The Twenty-Fourth of June, a paean to Midsummer’s Day (the Feast of St. John the Baptist), at the time of the Summer Solstice.  It is a love story like no other.  The story of a rather arrogant grandson of a millionaire who flits through life with little sense of purpose. Then young Richard Kendrick sees lovely Roberta Gray—and is transfixed.  But she is anything but, where he is concerned.  For dilettantes she has nothing but scorn.

 

Richmond’s unforgettable novel chronicles the clash that takes place when a man falls in love with a woman as beautiful inside as out—a woman not in the least interested in him.  When he persists, she throws down a gage at his feet: if he cares for her at all, he must agree to have nothing to do with her, have no contact with her, send her no gifts—no flowers even—for almost half a year.

 

Until Midsummer’s Day.

 

All the suspense of the novel is woven into the fabric of those months of noncommunication.

 

How it all plays out—well, you’ll have to somewhere, somehow, find a copy of this old book, and read it for yourself.

 

GRACE LOUISE SMITH RICHMOND

(1866 – 1959)

 

Grace was born on March 3, 1866, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to a minister father, the Rev. Dr. Charles E. Smith and mother, Catherine “Kitty” Kimball Smith.  Grace was a direct descendant of the state’s founder, Roger Williams.  An only child, Grace grew up the focal center of her parents’ manse.  In 1885, after having pastored Baptist churches in Mt. Auburn, Ohio; New Haven, Connecticut; and Syracuse, New York, Dr. Smith was called to Fredonia, New York; and there he would remain for the rest of his life.  On Oct. 29, 1887, Grace married the personable young family doctor, Dr. Nelson G. Richmond, who purchased a home next door to the manse.  So after marriage, Grace merely moved next door.  And it was here in Fredonia that the bride would write her many stories, essays, and novels.

 

The home.  It all starts there, the action happens there, and it all ends there.  Because of this, Grace Richmond is known as The Novelist of the Home.”  Of the thousands of writers who have written about the home, only Richmond earned that title.  Only in her fictional world is the home the all-in-all, the core, the bedrock.

 

Among her other beloved books are novels such as The Indifference of Juliet, The Second Violin,

A Court of Inquiry, Red Pepper Burns, Strawberry Acres, The Brown Study, Red Pepper’s Patients, Red and Black, Foursquare, Cherry Square, Lights Up, At the South Gate, the Listening Post, High Fences, and several Christmas novelettes.  She was among the most prolific short story writers in America. Most of her novels were serialized as well.  For 40 years, she was never out of print.  Of the dominant family authors of the first half of the twentieth century, only Zane Grey, Gene Stratton Porter, and Harold Bell Wright were better known than she; and her name ranked up there with Frances Hodgson Burnett, Kate Douglas Wiggin, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Pearl S. Buck, Bess Streeter Aldrich, and Temple Bailey.  It was illustrious company indeed.  At the height of her popularity she was paid upward of $30,000 for magazine serializations (a princely sum back then!).  Doubleday would sell more than 2,500,000 copies of her books.

 

THE FOCUS ON THE FAMILY/TYNDALE HOUSE EDITION

 

Of the twelve classic books I edited for our Focus on the Family Great Stories Series, one was The Twenty-Fourth of June.  It was also the first to sell out; consequently, copies have always been scarce for apparently readers appear unwilling to part with the book.  At the front of it is my 55-page biography (which I researched and wrote over a year’s period) and at the back, discussion questions for families, teachers, and home-schoolers.  I also include a complete bibliography of all her books and stories.

 

Candidly, I actually feared returning to a book I’d loved so much when I was young.  I needn’t have worried: I was gripped with the same fascination as before, even though I knew how it all came out.  The title was an inspired choice; there is a symbiotic relationship between the plot and the title—each enhances the other.  How many book titles can you think of which are limited to a month and a day?  Richmond’s genius is that if you can remember the title, you can remember the plot.

 

But it is more than that, because the date represents far more than the cutting of the proverbial Gordian Knot, the denouement; it is the source of all the suspense.  All through the second half of the book, the reader reels back and forth between two questions: Will he make it?  And, if he does make it, will it be enough? I know of no other book that incorporates quite the same structure, the same crescendo, of suspense.

 

Copies are available on the web, both the Doubleday edition and the A. L. Burt reprint edition.  Since it is the rarest Focus/Tyndale classic book, I can’t help much as I have only four copies left (all new, unread) at $95 (I’ll include postage and insurance in that price; and inscribe them personally if requested to do so).

TO REACH THE PORT OF HEAVEN

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

 

TO REACH THE PORT OF HEAVEN

January 4, 2012

 

“I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it—but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.” —Oliver Wendell Holmes

As I write these words—yes, I still write with a Pilot V5 pen rather than type on a keyboard—and begin the third year of “Wednesdays with Dr. Joe” blogs, I am profoundly grateful.

First and foremost for the gift of life.  So many of my contemporaries have written the last page of their life stories.  For some reason, known only to Him, God has seen fit to extend my life beyond the biblically “three score and ten.”  The last time I was in the hospital for surgery, I watched with morbid fascination the digital zig-zagging on the screen that monitored my faithful aging heartbeats.  Each time it descended, I found myself wondering if this would be the time it would stop and never go up again.  Finally, I had to turn my eyes away; the stress was too much!

Second, for the gift of awareness.  One in every five of us will die mentally before we die physically.  That happened to my beloved mother.  Such a phenomenal near photographic memory she had!  Able to retain thousands of pages of short stories, poetry, and readings in her memory banks—then, one fateful day: the light of awareness flickered out of her eyes.  When we entered her room after that and looked into her eyes—there was no one home anymore.

Third, for the gift of family.  One of my cherished friends, an erstwhile millionaire, lost everything (job, house, bank account, solvency) in this recession.  When I asked him how he was coping, there was a long pause before he answered with, “You know, today my financial life is in shambles, I couldn’t even buy a used bicycle on credit—much less a car!  Belatedly, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only real bedrock in this unstable world is God, family,and health.  I still have God, a family who loves me, and my health.  I’m ever so blessed as long as I still have all three!”  I too am oh so grateful I still have a wife, children, and extended family who love me more than I deserve.”

Fourth, for the gift of friendship.  How bleak this world would be without friends!  Every Wednesday morning for over fifteen years now, I have met with Conifer Kiwanis!  Even though our numbers have shrunk from what they were before the recession, we still show up each Wednesday.  And each year, they grow dearer.  One is so fragile with age we rarely see him—and oh! How we feel his absence each week!  But I’m blessed with so many many friends.  My church family, my Zane Grey’s West Society family, my student/colleague family (generated during over a third of a century in the classroom), my alumni family (those who came into my life during my growing-up years), my Focus on the Family dear ones (I’ve shared Christmas with them in their Chapelteria and book store for sixteen years and counting), my publishing family (from twelve publishing houses) who continue to enrich my life.  And last but anything but least all those thousands who have come into my life because of our 76 books and counting, blogs, media interviews (between 500 and a thousand), and tweets.  One family (besides my family and agent, Greg Johnson) owns all 76 books.  But I’ve recently become aware that I have a wonderful extended family in all those who own all 20 (or 22) Christmas in My Heart books.  I call them “Christmasaholic completists.”  What can bring two people closer than a shared obsession?  By next year, I hope to have a list of as many of them as will check in with me.  I need their help as we together vote on the “20 Greatest Christmas Stories Ever Written.”

Recently, someone said to me, “Have you ever wondered how many people who’ve read your books through the years have had one-sided conversations with you?”  I’ll never know the answer to that question—at least on this earth.  So many times I’ve signed for ten to twelve hours a day—yet the Lord has miraculously saved me from carpal tunnel syndrome!

* * * * *

So, Dear Friends, whoever and wherever you might be, Connie and I are so grateful you’re taking time out of your hectic weekly schedule to spend a little time with us!  Let’s together make 2012 “a very good year!”