Big Barnes & Noble Surprise! It Celebrates Lincoln

BLOG #38, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BIG BARNES & NOBLE SURPRISE!
IT CELEBRATES LINCOLN
September 23, 2015

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Some months ago, my editors at Howard/Simon & Schuster alerted me that a big serendipity would be coming our way on August 8. And sure enough, it happened.

My Abraham Lincoln biography, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage, was first published in 2008, and has done very well; it is still in print. Since that time many thank-you letters have come our way, a number coming from adolescents, tweens, and teens. The common denominator: Thank you for bringing back the spiritual dimension of Lincoln’s life. I prayed daily that this would be so during the research and writing of the book. Readers also point out how readable it is—hard to put down (unlike most ponderous biographies).

Something most interesting has been gradually taking place during the last two years: Barnes & Noble managers tell me that more and more browsers are searching for spiritual books (young readers as well as old). Apparently, under the radar of the secular hedonistic media leaders of our time, a spiritual awakening is beginning to make itself felt.

So much so that key leaders of Barnes & Noble’s Sterling Division singled out this seven-year-old biography as one worthy of re-emphasis. Worthy of a special proprietary printing that they have now made available at a bargain price. Not only that, but since August 8, they have sent—not single copies, which is the norm—but 8 – 10 copies of each to their 500 plus stores across the nation!

My Howard editors are thrilled with the honor implied by this unexpected event. I am merely humbled and view it as an answer to prayer. For some time now I have asked God each day that, if it be His will, the Lincoln biography will sweep the nation—but only if it be to His honor and glory—not mine! For if ever the values represented by Lincoln’s selfless life should come back, it certainly ought to be now!

So here’s the big opportunity for each of you. The regular Howard/Simon & Schuster printings are still available at $22.99. They will continue to be sold at this price. However the Barnes & Noble limited edition of 5,000 will be available at about a 65% reduction (lower by far than regular wholesale): $7.98 each [Barnes & Noble members will be able to take an additional 10% discount, picking them up at $7.18 each]. Should the first-print-run sell through, they will either leave it at that or ask for another printing. If they do not reprint, the regular edition will still be available at $22.99.

I just heard from someone who bought nearly all the copies available at his closest Barnes & Noble outlet; he plans to give them all away. If each of you should take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get these inspirational biographies into the hands of friends and young people, what a blessing that might be! Since the Barnes & Noble edition looks almost the same (hardback with dust jacket) as the First Edition, and since I certainly can’t afford to sell them at that price, I would encourage our readers to buy these from Barnes & Noble rather than from me. What wonderful Christmas presents they’d make! To schools public as well as private. Both as Corporate or personal gifts.

Now here’s how you can tell them apart:

Barnes & Noble Edition: Copyright Page

Copyright © 2008 by Howard Books
This Howard Books proprietary edition August 2015
Howard and Colophon are trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau paragraph
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 [Howard’s regular printing currently indicates 4th printing]
Instead of the regular ISBN numbers, this Barnes & Noble printing has three:
ISBN 978-1-4165-5096-9
ISBN 978-1-5011-2271-2 (prop)
ISBN 978-1-4165-6431-5 (ebook)

Will be interested in hearing back from you as to responses you get by availing yourself of this printing.

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Washington and Lincoln: Are They Still Relevant?

BLOG #7, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WASHINGTON AND LINCOLN
ARE THEY STILL RELEVANT?
February 18, 2015

Are they ever! Again and again, I hear back from readers of my two Lincoln books: Abraham Lincoln, A Man of Faith and Courage, 2008; and Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories, 2013 (both published by Howard/Simon & Schuster), comments such as these: “Do we ever need another Lincoln today!”, “I was deeply moved by your new Lincoln book.” Just ten days ago, a Parmalee Elementary School fourth-grader who walked up to me and asked, “Are you the writer of the animal books”? When I answered that I was, his face brightened as he said, “I have all ten of them–I love them all!” When I then asked him which one he liked best, without a moment’s hesitation, he said, “Best of all? . . oh, that has to be the Lincoln book—I read it over and over!”

Though I haven’t yet put together a Washington story anthology, over the years I’ve gradually tracked down many of the most powerful such stories—they’re hard to find for they were written for a much more patriotic age than ours today. Sadly, neither civics nor American history are taught much any more.

Washington’s role in our history is every bit as significant as Lincoln’s, for he was the reason why we (with the timely help of the French fleet) eventually won our independence from England. Furthermore, without him, it is doubtful the perpetually squabbling colonies would ever have agreed to support any one leader as President.

So one man, more than any other, made possible the establishment of our republic, and another man, more than any other, made possible the preservation of our republic.

Which brings us to a key question: Just what are their most significant character traits?

I’d say, selflessness . . . persistency . . . determination to see something through to its desired end, no matter the cost, no matter how long it would take . . . strong belief in God and Providence . . . Humility (Washington refused to be crowned King) . . . Solid as a rock Integrity . . . accessibility to all . . . Fear of Power . . . Consideration for others . . . Ability to motivate thousands of people to join him in common cause . . . organizational skills . . . tact . . . love of family . . . far-seeing . . . ability to see the forest as well as the trees . . . fear of a permanent military establishment . . . visionary: could see far ahead . . . kindness . . . empathy . . . loyalty . . . willingness to be used, then gladly step aside for others . . . Wise foreign policy . . . fiscally astute . . . wise use of spoken and written words . . . consistency . . . unwillingness or reluctance to abridge freedom for longer than necessity demanded . . . no daylight between the talk and the walk.

These qualities and more are the key reasons so many people wish Lincoln and Washington were still with us today.

Of course, in a very real sense, they still are!

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Should you wish to pick up a copy of either or both of my Lincoln books from us, here’s how:

 

Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories: $22.99 (plus shipping – $6.00)

 

 

Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage: $22.00 (plus shipping – $6.00)

Both books are dust-jacketed hardbacks. Specify if you wish them to be personally or generically inscribed (no extra cost).

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

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.

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.

ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS: THE NEXT STEP

Again and again in life, I’ve seen it happen: God never does anything by halves! And I was about to experience the second half of a plan I knew nothing about. I took my creative writing class on a field trip to Maryland’s largest publishing house, Review and Herald Publishing Association, in Hagerstown. Once the guide had my students safely in tow, I escaped. As I wandered around, I chanced to peer into the doorway of then Acquisitions Editor Penny Estes Wheeler (I figured that with a last name of Wheeler she couldn’t be all bad).

We small-talked for some time. Turned out she was already familiar with my writing in magazines and liked what she’d read. After a time she said, “Well, what have you been writing lately?”

“A couple of Christmas stories.”

“What kind?”

“Oh, they’re Christ-centered rather than Santa Claus-centered.”

“What else?”

“You’ll laugh.”

“Try me.”

“Well, you can’t read them without crying.”

“Just what we need. But you’ve only written two?” She replied.

“Yes. But I’ve been collecting others all my life – in fact, I was raised on them,” was my response.

That’s all it took. Being very good at what she did, she leaned back and said, in just as deceptively casual a tone as Naomi had used a couple of years before, “You know, there’s a real vacuum for that kind of story today in the market today. Why don’t you just package up your favorite stories and send them to us? We’ll do the rest. Piece of cake.”

Although it sounded easy, I suspected I had a lot of work to do. Penny bulldogged me by mail and by phone until I assembled a big stack of Christmas stories and sent them to Hagerstown.  Then, happy to be done with my part, I all but forgot about it.

Several months later, I was jolted back to reality with a phone call. She said, “Joe, the committee has cried its way through your manuscript. We’d very much like to publish it.”

From there on, events moved quickly – but no thanks to me. From the title of the book to the Currier and Ives winter scene on the cover to the woodcut illustrations inside, my good editor pushed the book through.

The finished book was beautiful. People loved it.  But most of all they loved the deeply-moving stories inside. The collection was called Christmas in My Heart, and it was intended to be a stand-alone book

But gradually sales began to build. People realized that the collection was different from anything else available. When it went through two printings before Christmas, my editor got me on the phone and said, “Joe, can you put together another collection right away so we can rush it into print before next Christmas?”

“Sure, no problem,” I answered.

So it came to pass that our second collection bravely bore a “2” on its cover. It would not be a one-shot book after all; it would be a two-book series.

Right after Christmas in My Heart came out in 1992, I became convicted that I ought to send a copy to Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family. I knew him to be as sentimental about deeply-moving stories as I was.  I inscribed a copy to Dobson and sent it off. He didn’t respond, but one of his vice presidents did – she loved it! When Number 2 came out, I sent him another. Dobson didn’t respond, but the same vice president did.

Late in ’93, I came to my personal Rubicon – on the phone was my remorseless editor: “Joe, Number Two is selling so well, we’re wondering if it’s possible for you to put together a third collection of Christmas stories?”

The ball was now in my court. I was out of stories as well as illustrations for the covers. If the series was to go to three, I would have to seriously dig in and find the stories that would grace it. Fortunately, by now readers had begun sending me their favorite stories, their way of letting me know they wanted another collection. So I was able to put together a third collection. As for the illustrations, I began buying old books illustrated with woodcuts (most of these books were at least a hundred years old).

So it was that I belatedly moved from a passive role into an active one. For the first time I began to realize that I was part of something big. That it was big enough to commandeer the rest of our lives, however, was mercifully withheld from us.

In the fall of ’94, Christmas in My Heart 3 came out, and I once again sent a copy to Dr. Dobson. In my naiveté I assumed that all you had to do was address a book to Dobson, mail it off, and he’d get it and read it. The reality was that Focus had thirteen hundred employees; that over eighty Christian publishers barraged the ministry with their books; and that it took almost six hundred employees to answer mail and phone calls from people like me. The chances of getting through to the great man himself were almost nil. Yet, in spite of those facts, now came the third life-changing day. The telephone rang and a voice I’d never heard before was on the line. The voice turned out to be my correspondence friend at Focus on the Family, Diane Passno.

My relationship with Focus on the Family ministry really began that day when they asked to use one of my stories called “The Tiny Foot” by Frederick Loomis. They called again later and asked if the story could also be used on the air. Again I agreed. But I still had no idea of what those two requests would really mean for me. I did remember that Diane Passno had warned me, “Joe, if Dr. Dobson ever really uses you, your life will never be the same again.”

Truer words were never spoken. By the time that story had gone out to about three million homes and it had been read on the air around the world, life as I had known it was over. The series was a Gold Medallion finalist the next year.

Twelve publishing houses, and 73 books after inception, here we are in December of 2010. Christmas in My Heart®, now the longest-running Christmas story series in America, has been made so by seven publishers: Review and Herald, Pacific Press, Focus on the Family, Tyndale House, Doubleday/RandomHouse, Howard/Simon and Schuster, and RiverOak/David C. Cook. I’ve never taken credit for any of it, for it is not a Joe Wheeler-thing, but rather a God-thing. What a joy to be given the privilege of co-partnering with the Divine.