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!

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