CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART® 24

BLOG #42, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART® 24
October 21, 2015

NEWS RELEASE

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Joe L. Wheeler, Ph.D. has a new book out: the 24th consecutive yearly collection of Christmas in My Heart® stories. This is his 91st book and 76th story anthology. It was released in mid-October by Pacific Press Publishing Association in Nampa, Idaho, and is part of what has become the longest-running Christmas story series in America.

Like its predecessors, this new collection stays true to what has helped it to survive for so many years: horizontal trade paper format, Currier and Ives covers, old-time woodcut type illustrations, spiritually compatible stories that deeply move the reader, and stories for all age groups.

If this will be your first Christmas in My Heart® book, you will quickly discover that there is no connection between books: each is a stand-alone. Nevertheless, once you immerse yourself in this book, in all likelihood you’ll want to pick up earlier collections. Untold thousands have them all—unthinkable to face another Christmas season without the newest collection!

In this particular collection, you will find the following:

● Catherine Parmenter’s poem, “Holy Night.”
● Wheeler’s Introduction: “Our Top Twenty Christmas Stories.”

Over several years now, completists (those who own the entire series) have been mailing in their candidates for inclusion in a definitive list of the Top 20 Christmas stories ever written. In this introduction, you’ll find the results. There are actually two lists: One voted for by our readers, and the second consisting of Wheeler’s personal favorite 20 stories.

● “A Wood Crowns the Waters,” by Eric Philbrook Kelly
● “Little Cherry’s Star,” by G. M. Farley
● “The Christmas Kink,” by Lucille Adams
● “Flight Before Christmas,” by John Scott Douglas
● “Denny’s Christmas Revelation,” by Faith Freeborn Turner
● “The Belated Christmas Train,” by William McGinnies
● “Joy to the World,” by Mary Russell
● “The Lighted Path,” by Temple Bailey
● “Let Nothing You Dismay,” by Goldie Down
● “The Lost Child,” retold by Mabel Lee Cooper
● “Celestial Roots,” by Thomas Vallance
● “A Story for Christmas,” by Jody Shields
● “The Baby Camel That Walked to Jesus,” by Walter A. Dyer
● “Choices,” by Isobel Stewart
● “The Dream Catcher,” by Joseph Leininger Wheeler

You may order the book from us. After many years at $13.99, the publisher has raised the price to $14.99. But you may get it from us at a discounted cost of $13.99, plus $4.90 shipping. Inscribing, when specifically requested, at no extra cost.

Mailing address: P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433

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Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions This Year

BLOG #1, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DON’T MAKE NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS THIS YEAR
January 1, 2014

I don’t mean that we should skip that annual ritual (for the obvious reason that we rarely keep them anyway). No more than we can stick to a diet long-term. Just think backward through time: how long has it been since you actually followed through on a list of New Year’s resolutions?

Recently, in a Success magazine, it was postulated that perhaps we ought to focus on a different approach. Zero in on one perceived deficiency in our lives at a time. For instance, we’re all aware that Americans are killing themselves at an unprecedented rate thanks to our sedentary lifestyle. Studies have confirmed that the more we sit, the sooner we die. The longer you stare at a screen without getting up out of your chair or off the couch, the shorter your lifespan. We know this, but most of us fail to act on it.

So, how about, this year, scrapping the resolution list, and concentrating on a small thing? Just one small thing. One thing that you could so concentrate on, and stay with long enough to make it habitual. If you make it habitual, you will have conquered the problem. So you determine not to sit down anywhere for longer than thirty minutes at a stretch (ideally, it ought to be fifteen minutes at a stretch, but it is wise not to settle on anything you’re unlikely to follow through on).

Let’s say the phone rings. Rather than reach for it, you stand up, retrieve it, and walk around until the conversation is over. That would represent one huge way to deal with the issue.

How about determining to take control of electronic intrusions that are gobbling up your creativity, and not coincidentally weakening your job performance? Electronic email and text-messaging beeps have become the new tyrants in our lives. What if you relegated all but the essential ones to a back-up holding pattern, to be dealt with when the day’s main demands and opportunities had been met?

Such single determinations may seem small, but in reality they are anything but! Reason being; There is no small anything in life. Tackling deficiencies in our lives, just one at a time, has the potential to revolutionize our life’s journey, and dramatically increase our creation potential. If you are interested in a fuller expression on this subject, I suggest you pick up a copy of my new book, Christmas in My Heart #22 (Pacific Press, 2013), and study my novelette-length story, “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” In it, in a fictional format, I deal with the fullest exploration of motivational stories, mantras, poems, quotes, etc., that I have ever discovered. It is extremely unlikely that I will ever take the time to do this again, given that the gestation for the story stretches out over virtually my entire lifetime (one year which was concentrated on the evolution of the story itself: 20,000 words in length). Oh yes, all you romantics, the story is also a Christmas love story.

* * * * *

So welcome to a new year, all you cherished members of my extended family. I’m honored that so many of you take the time to check out the latest blog each Wednesday of your lives. I do not take this weekly decision on your part lightly, and will continue to do my level best to be worthy of it.

A blessed 2014 to each of you!

CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART TURNS 21

BLOG #40, SERIES #3
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART® TURNS 21
September 26, 2012

It has arrived. As I sit in my writing rocker, on my lapboard is the reality that for so long has been so much less: first Christmas stories I read and re-read, wrote their titles down in Draft #1, discarded some and substituted others for Draft #2, repeated the process for Draft #3, again for Draft #4, kept discarding other stories that all but demanded to be included that ended up in Draft #5, repeated the process in Draft #6, began feeling better about the collection in Draft #7, better yet with those in Draft #8, almost got there with Draft #9, and only with Draft #10 did I prayerfully conclude that God was pleased with that menu of stories.

Once decided on, I began playing with the order. It is at this stage that I’ve sometimes concluded, for one reason or another, that one story had to go. Sometimes because two stories were too much alike or one of them just didn’t stand up to the competition. Always in the back of my mind is the vow I made to God many years ago: Lord, if any future collection of Christmas stories is less powerful than those that went before, give me the guts to hang it up right there, because I must never, never, never coast!

But this collection stood up under such a re-reading. So which one should be placed in the lead position? A crucial question, for if the lead story fails to suck readers into it, then we risk losing them completely. There were a number that competed for that position in my mind, most notably, Isobel Stewart’s “Christmas in the Heart” —no wonder she loved the series! What jubilation reigned in her house in Helderberg, South Africa when Pacific Press’s Karen Pearson hand-delivered the newest collection to her a year ago. But this year, her story faced tough competition with that battle-hardened veteran, Temple Bailey. I’d just recently stumbled on her wondrous love story titled “The Christmas Quest,” and it just plain dug in its heels and tantrummed its path to the lead position. So I then positioned Stewart’s story next to my own at the end. Always I try to feature one of our strongest stories in that position. Sadly, not long after I sent the manuscript in, Isobel’s husband e-mailed me that the love of his life had passed away. Never in this world would she get to light up with the arrival of another Christmas in My Heart® collection carrying one of her magical stories—often Christmas love stories (a genre our readers treasure above all others!).

Once those two positions were decided, I began wrestling with organizing the rest of them. There is always a rhythm to their appearance: Don’t position two long stories together, but separate them by shorter ones; ditto short ones; normally, I don’t position two tear-jerkers sequentially; don’t place the most powerful ones at the front, the middle, or the end; above all, don’t leave the weaker (of course we try our best to have no weaker ones!) for the end of the book, for the stories ought to reach a crescendo that culminates with my own story. A real challenge, believe me! Especially this year when I made such a departure from my norm and turned to a non-fiction account of the most memorable Christmas of my lifetime. Six of the fifteen finalists turned out to be love stories.

Two stories, Pierre van Paassen’s “Uncle Kees’ Christmas Rebellion” and Willemm Brandt’s “The Candle,” had been in the running for years and years, but each time failed to make the final cut; but this time I felt God saying to me, Their turn has come: include them! Though short, each of them is a masterpiece.

One genre I have usually avoided—other than featuring my own—is the long Christmas story, reason being that to include two long ones in one book results in too few stories in the 128-page collection. But since my own story wasn’t as long as some this year, I was able to include Lucy Agnes Hancock’s unforgettable romance, “Christmas Gift,” one of the longest Christmas stories we’ve ever featured. I’ll be really surprised if it doesn’t do its best to run away with this collection.

I also make a point of featuring contemporary writers as well as time-proven ones; these add vibrancy and uptodatedness to a given collection; this year, making that tenth cut were Virginia A. Johnson’s “Ornament of Grace,” Harriet LaBarre’s “The Magic Key,” Katharine Swartz’s “Star of Hope,” and Jill Hoefler’s “The Empty Box.” Johnson writes from Crabtree, Oregon; LaBarre (96 years old and still writing!) from Sag Harbor, New York; Katharine Swartz from St. Bees Vicarage in Cumbria, England; and Hoefler from Firth, Nebraska.

The oldest story in the collection, first published in 1891, Ella F. Mosby’s “The Christmas Inn,” is set way back in 1465 England.

Then there are other ever so special authors we’ve never featured before: Lola Lamorreaux, Lawrence York, and Leslie Peters. It is always a joy to bring back to life from the very edge of extinction authors whose work deserves to live on!

And I must not forget the bookmark! I just spoke two days ago to Doug Church, Pacific Press’s Vice President of Marketing, who confided in me that he and his marketing team have concluded that one key reason why last year’s collection, Christmas in My Heart® 20, sold out of its first-printing before Christmas was the stunningly beautiful bookmark that was given to each purchaser of the collection. A Barnes & Noble manager told me, “Joe, that bookmark is as beautiful as any of those we sell for $5 each!” The bookmark was taken from the center of the Currier & Ives-ish cover crafted by Steve Lanto. And some people coveted the bookmark so much they bought the book just to get it! So, on this basis, Church told me, they did the same for Christmas in My Heart 21. And he sighed, “Do you have any idea how long it takes for our entire staff to hand-tie all those thousands of tassels? It takes everyone, beginning with the front-desk receptionist, to tie them!” Isn’t that uniquely special? A hand-tied artifact in this age of mass market digitalization!

You can order your copy (copies) from us at P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433. $13.99 each, plus shipping. Or go to our web page and send us an email through the web page: http://www.joewheelerbooks.com. Or send directly to our email: mountainauthor@gmail.com. Let us know if you want your books to be personally inscribed.

May you and yours enjoy a blessed Christmas season!

AN UPDATE ON OUR UPCOMING BOOKS

BLOG #38, SERIES #3
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
AN UPDATE ON OUR UPCOMING BOOKS
September 19, 2012

We have been receiving so many queries having to do with whether or not we have any new books coming out during the coming months that I am writing this explanatory blog.

We haven’t even updated our master listing since fall of 2011, reason being that we are in the process of updating everything about our website (it badly needs it!).

The reality is that after a number of years of coasting along with two series (the Christmas series and Animal series), book-related action has cranked up with a vengeance! As you’ll see when you look over the following list of books in the current pipeline:

(1) Christmas in My Heart 21 (now entering the third decade of its life). An advance copy just arrived at our house, and all who have seen it love it. We should have it in stock very soon. It is our 77th book.

(2) Stinky the Skunk and Other Strange and Wonderful Animal Stories (#9 in “The Good Lord Made Them All” animal series) will be arriving mid to late December. It will be our 78th book.

We have contracted with eChristian for six story collections, each with twelve stories. They’ll be published first in electronic form, and second in paper. We have already completed the manuscripts for all six and sent them in. They will be published in this order, beginning quite soon:

(3) Showdown and Other Sports Stories for Boys. It will be our 79th book.

(4) A Bluegrass Girl and Other Horse Stories for Girls. It will be our 80th book.

(5) The Mother’s Face is the Child’s First Heaven and Other Motherhood Stories. It will be our 81st book.

(6) Only God Can Make a Dad and Other Fatherhood Stories. It will be our 82nd book.

(7) The Talleyman Ghost and Other Mystery Stories for Girls. It will be our 83rd book.

(8) Secret of the Desert and Other Mystery Stories for Boys. It will be our 84th book .

We have just completed a monumental book for Howard/Simon & Schuster, a companion book to my Lincoln biography (Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage, 2008). A hundred years of collecting (first, during my mother’s life; and second, throughout my own) has gone into searching out these elusive, little-known treasures from the past. We sent in the manuscript (with 32 stories about Lincoln, five introductory chapters written by me, and 37 vintage photographs or illustrations) during the last week. Nothing comparable has ever before been published.

(9) The Greatest Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories Ever Written. It will be our 85th book.

A contract is being processed with Howard/Simon & Schuster for a collection readers have been urging me to put together for many years. It too is due to be released by fall of 2013.

(10) Actual title is not yet settled on, but it will feature the most beloved and moving Christmas love stories ever to come out under my own name [if it goes well, a second such collection may follow]. It will be our 86th book.

* * * * *

So now you can see why we have been so anchored to deadlines during the last year!

What an exciting publishing year the good Lord has granted to us!

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.

* * * * *

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.