Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Resolutions: Procastination, Writing Style

By Annette Lyon

A recent article in Newsweek discussed the psychology behind procrastination. Go ahead and read the piece later, but here's the upshot (or a least what I got out of it):

When an activity or goal is stated in nebulous terms, people are more likely to procrastinate doing it.

But, when an activity or goal is broken up into concrete steps, people are more likely to get the thing done.

The example the piece gives is with exercising (a common resolution this time of year). If you think, "I really need to exercise," that's too vague. It's easy to ignore.

But if you turn the thought into, "I need to put on my exercise clothes, tie on my shoes, and get on the treadmill for 30 minutes," you're more likely to do all of the above and get in the workout you know you should.

Reading the piece, I had a light bulb moment regarding writing, which is quite possibly one of the most procrastinated activities ever. I constantly hear aspiring writers say, "I want to write a book," or, "This year I'm going to finish the book I started," or something similar.

And . . . they procrastinate and procrastinate. Even published writers get caught in the trap.

"I'm going to write a book" is too vague . . . and too BIG . . . of an activity. Something of that magnitude is easy to put off until later. It's just too intimidating to sit down and face the beast.

I've seen that with my writing, the more I break down a writing goal, the more likely I am to achieve it. Just like breaking down exercise into getting dressed and getting onto the machine, I'm more likely to get the job done if I can imagine the concrete steps involved.

The trouble with writing is that there really are few concrete steps. Much of what we do is nebulous already.

How about breaking it up anyway? In addition to a big goal like, "I'm going to finish this draft by April," add those little steps such as, "I'm going to write 1,000 words a day" or "I will edit ten pages of this draft every day."

Focusing on nothing but the next small step makes the entire project less intimidating.

"All I have to do today is one thousand words, and then I've succeeded." That thought is freeing, isn't it?

For that matter, it's much harder to justify procrastinating 1,000 measly words (or whatever your smaller goal is) than it is to put off an entire book.

This year as you make your New Year's resolutions, try to cut them up into small, concrete pieces. How many words per day will you write? How many queries will you send out?

Make each step concrete, and, more importantly, make each one doable. Allow yourself small successes, because added all together, they lead to the big ones.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sculpting to Perfection

By Julie Wright

A friend of mine, Matthew Buckley, posed a thought to a writing group we belong to.

When you carve something, you are basically taking away what doesn't need to be there. First you start with a block and you take things away until they are just right. At that point, if you take off more, you are damaging the product. If you keep working, eventually you just have a pile of sawdust or marble shavings.

So at what point do you stop tweaking your writing? Is it easy for all of you to think, "Yep, that's done. It's perfect. If I change it anymore, it will be a weaker book."

I am one of those authors who could "tweak until it's weak." I could, but I don't. I'd love to say it's because I'm brilliant enough to know when to say, "when," but really I think it is my lack of patience that is to blame. I want to see my book on a bookstore shelf NOW, never later.

So the fine line we walk is knowing when to stop tweaking and whittling away, and when to start putting it out for public consumption. For every person I daresay the answer is different. But for me, after several years of stupid manuscripts, I came up with a five reader rule. If my book hasn't been workshopped through five readers, then it isn't ready to hit the desk of someone with buying power. And I don't mean five readers who like you and are afraid of hurting your feelings. And typically, I don't recommend your mother ever being one of your five. Pick five readers who you trust to be straight shooters.

How many drafts should you write?

I write two initially, rework the manuscript several more times as reader reports come in and once more for the publisher. My attention span isn't long enough to do more than that. What's right for you? I could not say. Maybe more, maybe less.

But I know people who have been working on their masterpiece for years, tweaking, adding commas, changing modifiers, removing adverbs and dead words. I wonder if they are tweaking because they are perfectionists, or are they tweaking because they are afraid of submitting?

It is a fine line, because you must turn in your best work--you MUST. The competition is fierce. But you also must actually get to a point where you let go and TURN IT IN, because if you don't, you will forever be a dabbler and never really an author.

This thought of sculpting to perfection, of whittling away until you are truly done is subjective. Every writer needs the luxury of having his own way of doing things. The freedom to create offers limitless possibilities. But if you're worried your whittling your manuscript to a pile of sawdust, you might just be guilty of being afraid to move on. Only you know the answer to that. But in my household we have a saying, "Courage is being afraid, but doing it anyway."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Survival Tips for the Parent Slash Writer

By Heather Moore

“How do you write novels with four kids?” I’ve been asked that question many times at book signings and author events. Sometimes I coyly answer, “When I wrote my first novel, I only had three kids.”

The truth is . . . I’ve only seen one entire episode of American Idol. None of Lost and only the first episode of 24, but now that the seasons are out on DVD, maybe I’ll try to watch a couple . . . at midnight . . . or not. My laundry takes three days to do, and then it’s time to start over again.

Dinner is, well . . . lacking on most days, but I wasn’t that great of a cook before I became so obsessed.

But really, I am lucky. I don’t have to write to earn money. So why do I write when my kids are ages four through fourteen? Why don’t I use my down time to relax and watch a favorite program or catch up on several years of scrapbooking, or even my ultimate desire—read a novel without worrying about research, editing, or my daily writing goal?

Well, because I breathe easier when I write. It rounds out my identity even when I’m writing this blog and have no idea if it will ever be read by another person. I reap joy and fulfillment . . . and incredible busyness so that by ten in the morning I am left literally breathless with all the things I want to accomplish.

One day at a time. That’s survival tip number one.

2. Laptop. When you can afford this luxury (or necessity, says I), invest in a laptop. You can sit on your couch or at your kitchen table and tap a few paragraphs here and there. At the same time you are keeping a watchful eye on your preschooler. (Note: when she starts to hit the computer screen, it’s time for a break.)

3. Wireless internet. Another luxury, but it makes the laptop all that more accessible when you want to check your email every so often, or every five minutes . . . just in case that NY agent is just dying to see the remainder of your manuscript and must have it within the hour.

4. Carpet Cleaner. What? Recently while I was in the shower (not writing, so there is no guilt associated with this mishap) my four year old dumped the orange juice onto the carpet. Now, I can wipe up a mess on the tile faster than the Bounty hunk, but carpet? That could take a good twenty minutes of blotting, rinsing, blotting, spraying, scrubbing, rinsing . . . A carpet cleaner, maybe five minutes. And it’s really clean. Did I mention I have a do-it-all-herself four year old?

5. Peanut M&M’s. Now I don’t recommend buying the five pound bags at Costco, but if you are trying to save shopping trips maybe it’s all right. Pick your poison, and you’ll be surprised at how a yummy treat can help to motivate you as you write. “If I keep writing, I get to keep snacking.” Or if you are concerned about the calories, don’t read the ingredients. Worse case scenario, pop some butter-free popcorn. I thought about dedicating my next book to Peanut M&M’s . . . I still might . . . Just remember to rotate your hiding place in case your spouse gets a hankering for them too.

Oh, I just thought of number six. A good friend. Even better—a good friend with kids who are similar ages to yours. You can pick a day or two during the week and switch. This gives the kids play time and when it’s your friend’s turn . . . sacred writing time . . .

I hope this helps at least one parent in his/her writing quest. As for me, I’m taking one day at a time and keeping a bag of Peanut M&M’s in my desk drawer.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Trust Your Gut

by Annette Lyon

In light of the holiday, this will be a brief post, but it's something I've been thinking about ever since a recent edit job.

The manuscript was non-fiction. I spent quite a lot of time working with the author over several months. Then she sent me a chapter that didn't feel like the rest of the book. The flow was gone. The topic felt off target. The entire chapter just rang untrue.

I was hesitant in how to approach my comments, so I tried to be as gentle as I could when I told her that, in my opinion, she should cut the entire chapter. It didn't work, and the book didn't need the information in it.

Her reply surprised me. She basically said, "Actually, I was wondering about that. And I agree."

Her gut was already telling her the chapter wasn't working. Why didn't she just pull it out on her own? She needed an outside confirmation that she was right.

Writers need that. The longer we write, the better we get at feeling those gut instincts and acting on them. But no matter how long we write, we still need outside feedback. While not all feedback will be something you agree with, it's all valuable.

And quite often, it'll be something that'll make you think, "Yeah, I knew that." The commentary resonates, and you just know they're right.

As you move on with your next writing project, try to trust your gut. That means having trust whether it's telling you positive or negative things.

A caveat: Your gut isn't your internal editor. Don't confuse the two. Get rid of the editor/censor (it's the loud voice yelling at you) and listen to what the work is telling you, what your instinct whispers.

Then, after you get outside reviews, you just might realize your gut knows what it's talking about.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Revise for Impact

by Heather Moore

News Flash: Registration is open for the 2009 Storymaker Conference.

This fall I attended the League of Utah Writers conference and took a 6 hour editing seminar. I think it took me this long to recover. So now I'm ready to share the love.

The seminar was taught by Elizabeth Lyon, who has a half-dozen books published on writing and editing.

So today, I'd like to share the notes I took on "Revise for Impact" since every writer will enter the dark abyss of editing at least once or maybe one-hundred times on each manuscript produced.

Remember, this comes after your first draft is finished. Go through your manuscript with an eye for the following things--it will tighten up your story and prepare it for your beta readers.

1. One word sentences (to emphasize, as a question)
*One word sentences brings a reader to a complete halt.
*It’s a stop sign. Make it an important word.

2. Take out repetitive words

3. Watch out for common words: look/walk/saw/turn are the most used words.
*These have no emotional or descriptive value

4. Use synonyms for common words like "walk": sauntered, scuttled, stumbled, tromped, scurried, ambled, skip, trudged, side-step
* Or "look": stare, regard, view, peer, gazed, stared, glance, examine, study, glare, leer

5. Power positions. Words that will gain more impact at the beginning and the end

6. Alliteration—rhyme or several words in a sentence starting with same letter--only use when you are doing so for a purpose.

7. Clich├ęs—take them out

8. Repetition: former/past/history: This comes with reading the second draft and having a beta reader go over your story. Watch for those ideas, a beliefs, or desires that are repeated too many times. Remember--your reader is smart.

9. Watch the Telling first, then Showing. This shows that the author doesn’t trust the reader. Keep the scene and dialog that shows. Get rid of the advance sentence of telling. (I see this A LOT in novice manuscripts.)

10. Imagery
*Similes: as/like
*Metaphors: complete substitution
(E. Lyon recommends that you have a simile or metaphor on your first page).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Have a Merry Writerly Christmas

by Annette Lyon

Here are some last-minute Christmas gifts for the writer in your life.
(If you're reading this, you're probably the writer, so forward this post to your loved ones . . . or buy some of these for yourself!)

An AlphaSmart Neo.
I can't live without mine when I'm in drafting mode. Read all about this handy toy tool here.

This may be an inexpensive item for normal people, but for the writer who goes through a lot of reams, this is a welcome gift.

You do have a laser printer, right? Ink Jets go through ink way too fast and end up costing you more than lasers in the long run. Toner cartridges may cost twice as much, but they last four times as long. Another welcome gift for people who print a lot (using that paper).

Most writers are book freaks. 'Nough said.

Books on Writing
Check out this post for some of my favorites.

On which to put the book freak's books. It's hard to have too many bookshelves.

This site has tons of really neat ones. Like these. Aren't they cool?

Shirts, mugs, and more

Cafe Press has lots of fun products with goofy writer sayings, like "Will write for chocolate" and "Please do not annoy the writer. She may put you into her novel and kill you." Just search for, "writer" or "writing" and see all the fun stuff that pops up.

New York Public Library Gift Shop

Check out their ties, book earrings, bookmarks, and two really cool totes, one with a stylized image of Shakespeare and the other with a collage of stylized female writers.

They've got an entire jewelry section that include typewriter key bracelets and Scrabble tie cuff links. Fun stuff.


Get a nice hardback book (preferably with a spiral inside so it can be laid flat). Perfect for brainstorming and jotting down ideas on the run.

Sony voice recorder
Catch those ideas on the fly while driving or doing laundry. You can find several digital recorders that are reasonably priced. This one's under $60.

The Oxford English Dictionary (The OED)
This is the most exhaustive dictionary in the English language. Use it to find the earliest known use of a word, look at date charts for the most common uses, discover etymologies, and more. Subscribe to it online or get it on CD here.

Writer's Digest subscription
Get it. Read it. Don't let your subscription lapse. It's a great magazine for both beginner and expert. Get the actual magazine; the newsletter is good, but it's not as complete as the magazine itself.

Some ideas for Stocking Stuffers:
Paper Clips
Sticky Notes
Sticker Flags
Nice pens.
Red pens

And finally, the best thing you can get for any writer: TIME
Organize a writer retreat for overnight or even just an afternoon. Give your writer a chance to get away from distractions and just WRITE!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Characterization: More than Rice

by Annette Lyon

In my pre-published days, I attended a small writing conference with a very successful novelist as the keynote speaker. She discussed characterization and how important it is to know your characters.

She went to the lengths of saying that you need to know your characters so well that, if given the choice of mashed potatoes or rice with their meal, you'd know which they'd pick.

Wow, I thought. You'd really know your character then.

Years later? I think that so what if you know that Jenny prefers rice to mashed potatoes?

That's not necessarily good characterization; that's taste.

I agree that you need to know your characters well, to the point that you'll likely know a lot more about Jenny or Peter than the reader ever will.

But really, is rice versus mashed potatoes relevant to creating a well-rounded character?

Maybe, if there were a deep reason for Jenny preferring it.

What if rice reminds her of those two life-changing weeks she spent in Hong Kong? Or she hates mashed potatoes because that's what she had for dinner the day her father died? If there's a good reason for it, maybe it's a detail worth knowing about her, regardless of whether your reader ever learns it.

But to me, having full characters is about knowing what makes them tick rather than what menu choices they make.

Take your main character(s) and think through some of these questions:

What were the most forming events of their childhood, for good or bad? Why? Who was there? How did they feel?

What person (or people) have impacted them the most (again, for good or bad) and how?

What moment from their past scarred them forever and impacts how they act today?

What experiences created their belief system?

I'm sure you can come up with more. You don't need to know all of these things up front. For me, half the joy of writing novels is discovering these kinds of things about my characters as I go.

Relatively early in one of my books as I drafted a scene between two brothers, I was still trying to discover more of who my characters were. Out of the blue, the POV character remembered a life-changing event that happened to him as a child.

The event was a huge revelation into what made him the man he was, and it impacted much of how he had already interacted with his brothers and other people. It was huge for my ability to "get" him and make him real.

Understanding him this way helped me write him better for the rest of the book, and, in fact, that bit of history ended up playing a big part in the rest of the plot and the conflicts that followed. I think I uncovered that part of him because I was looking for it and because I was focused on him, his thoughts, his feelings, his motivations. In other words, what made him tick.

Somehow I doubt his character would have been nearly as likable and real to readers if, during that scene, I'd been more worried about figuring out his favorite color than what made him who he was.

There is a place for taste-type characterization as well, of course.

Let's use an example. Knowing that Greg loves John Denver definitely says something about who he is. But you can't rely on preferences alone to create characters who come alive on the page.

What if I tell you that Greg's wife died from a gun shot at a convenience store when their little girl was just a toddler? That he's now the single father of a first grader? That he became a police officer after his wife's death in hopes of preventing someone else from having the same kind of loss he'd experienced?

Suddenly you know much more about his past and what drives his future actions.

Knowing he likes John Denver is a pleasant touch, a fun addition, but far more important is knowing the big events that shaped his heart.

Think of characterization details this way:

Dig deep to uncover what makes your characters tick. That's the cake.

Then add the fun, fluffy details like Coke versus Pepsi or rice versus mashed potatoes. Those details are the icing.

Plain cake is okay. Iced caked is much better.

Just be sure to give your readers more than icing!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Don't Panic

One of my favorite writers for science fiction, Douglas Adams, wrote the book Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Across the front of the guide is written in big friendly words, "Don't Panic."

This is good advice for all of us. I know a lot of people are worried right now about the economy and what the economy is doing to the publishing world, but I think we are like chicken little running around saying the sky is falling when we're just getting a little rain. I know there are many would-be authors who are rethinking finishing their books because they think the market is too sour right now and no one is acquiring new work.

Dave Wolverton (aka David Farland) is a friend of mine and he has a "daily kick in the pants" email he sends out for writers on writing. Last week he sent out an email regarding the state of the publishing world in these economic times. I am going to paraphrase him and outright quote him here, because he had some good logical things to say. Have the bookstores and publishers taken a hit recently? Yes. Of course, they have. We have all the bad news about the layoffs and book returns flooding in. However:

A decline will occur any time that a huge national "event"
occurs. if you had a book that came out during 9/11, your sales
dropped through the floor. I had a novel that came out during the first
Gulf War, when pictures of missiles exploding over Baghdad played on television
every night. Sales were down by more than 32 percent across the country on
books, and I took a hit. If your book comes out during the Olympics, you
need to worry. Similarly, when O.J. Simpson was on trial, people were
glued to the television, and book sales plummeted.
In short, any huge, extended national event like this will cause
authors some grief: but it has nothing to do with the recession!That's why in
Canada, sales were up modestly at the same time they were down in the United
States. The Canadians weren't glued to the television trying to figure out
which politician to vote for.

There was a report recently that a large book chain that services the
airports had disappointing sales a couple in September and October―about a 12.6%
decline that affected mostly nonfiction, while fiction sales were actually up by
one percentage point.
But guess what? Another report by
mainstream news organizations mentioned that air travel in the United States was
down that month by about 12.8 percent. So of course book sales were down
in airports proportionally!

Thanks, Dave. This is all very good information to help give us perspective. In essence, the message is, "don't panic."

The market will bounce back; it always does. And editors at publishing houses ARE acquiring new work. I'm part of an email list for youth writers and I swear, every day, someone is writing in about their new book sold.

But if you're still worried, may I suggest you contribute to the solution and buy someone you love a book this year for Christmas? My kids get books for every Christmas and Birthday. And I usually get them signed books (this is a benefit of having lots of friends who write for the children's market). Check out your local bookstore and see what authors are going to be signing over the next couple of weeks. Stop in, say hello and get a perfect gift.

Save the industry--buy a book.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Expand Your Characters

by Annette Lyon

When writers think about point of view, they often focus on keeping the action and thought process inside one person's head throughout a specific scene. As well they should.

But there's one aspect of point of view many writers forget about, and it's one that, when handled well, can really bring characters to life.

How does your character view the world?

How does he/she relate to it?

What kind of things are in his/her background?

All of these things and more should have a great impact on how your POV character in any given scene tells the story and relates to the other people and events in it.

One great example is Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. He has many point of view characters and a complicated world with many cultures. But no matter whose head he's in, he's firmly entrenched in their way of thinking and viewing the events.

Perrin, who began the series as a blacksmith's apprentice, often uses blacksmithing imagery in his thoughts, speech, and comparisons: the fire, the anvil, and so on.

Elaine, on the other hand, grew up in a palace as a princess. She's also trained in the use of magic. Much of the way she thinks and talks is based on her background: epithets from her childhood nursemaid crop up frequently, as do how she can handle situations as a woman and with her magic.

A common theme in stories is the fish-out-of-water concept: a person taken out of their element and put somewhere else. The displaced character needs to relate to the new situation in terms of their old one, because that's the only frame of reference they have at first.

Be careful not to impose the new frame of reference onto the character too early.

What if Mork from Mork and Mindy had run into some major problem and made some joke about calling 9-1-1? He'd be more likely to refer to his own planet's way of handling an emergency.

In the first Harry Potter book, we're in Harry's head when Hagrid arrived at the shack on the island. When Hagrid sends a letter by owl, Harry describes the situation as if Hagrid had just made a phone call. For the time being, the Muggle world is Harry's only frame of reference. A phone call is exactly what Harry would compare it to.

If you put your own frame of reference into the POV character's head, you're sticking out as the writer. It's what you would think or feel in the same situation rather than your character.

I read a manuscript once that had a junior-high-aged farm boy looking at a rusted wheel-well of a truck. He compared the holes in the rust to the beauty of a lace doilie. That pulled me right out of the story. A 14-year-old boy is not going to be thinking of pretty lace doilies. He'd be far more likely to see a piece of Swiss cheese on his favorite sandwich or something else more boyish.

Listen to people talk: Men and women will use different phrasing and vocabulary to talk about the same thing. So will adults compared to children. Put yourself deeply into your character's situation, into their head, and figure out how they'd really react, think, and feel.

What specific words or images would they use?

An exercise:
Think of a single situation (breaking a bone, getting a flat tire, getting fired, failing a test, whatever) and then put several different characters into it. (Say, a football player, a cop, a fourth-grade girl, a lawyer, a fashion designer, a stay-at-home mother, a cheerleader.)

How would their reactions differ? What specific images from their backgrounds could you use to compare the bad situation to?

The football player might use images of tackles, fumbles, or interceptions.

The lawyer might feels as if his case had been thrown out or that he'd been given a bum jury.

The SAHM might decide she prefers changing a flat to changing dirty diapers.

Basically, what unique elements do each of your characters bring to the table that you can draw on? Make each one different. Make each one specific.

And they'll all stand out.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Multi-Person Narrative

By Julie Wright

No, we are not talking about schizophrenia (even if most of us have this ailment).

Melissa C has asked a question on narrative and POV (Point of View).

She is writing the manuscript in first person, but has a point of view that needs to be in the story that is from a differing point of view than that of our protagonist. The question is:

That second storyline is vital to the story, in my opinion but I don't know
what tense to write it in. Do I use third person or what? OR should you even
have a second storyline going in if the book is in 1st?

The answer is you can use a multi-person narrative mode in order to make your second storyline come through. You can do it one of two ways (there are other ways, but these two are the most common as well as the easiest to keep clear for the reader).

  • First person POV with main character/storyline, and first person POV with secondary character storyline.
  • First person POV with main character/storyline, and third person POV with secondary character storyline.

As Heather mentioned in the comment section of the previous blog, the absolute most important thing when you're switching point of view is to make sure the reader knows within the very first sentence that we've switched. You need to change scenes or chapters so the reader knows we're starting somewhere new. There are several successful authors who use multi-person narrative.

It is natural to move into first person narrative when we're story-telling. It keeps us closer to the character and makes us feel like we know exactly what's going on. The problem comes when you need the reader to know things the character doesn't know. At that point we end up contriving stupid scenes that could never happen in anyone's reality in order to put the character in the right place to overhear/see/be-in-on whatever we need them to know.

Having another point of view helps us as writers to avoid the absurd contrivance of maneuvering our characters into places they wouldn't logically or believably be. Even when real life seems contrived. Your manuscript cannot.

So if you need to add another point of view in order to carry along your secondary plot line, go ahead.

One last tidbit of advice: if you're secondary plot line is told by the antagonist or bad guy, you will likely want to do that POV in third person (even if your main storyline is told in first and you want to keep things all equal). The reason for this is that it is very hard for many readers to be too closely in the mind of the bad guy. It's causes a repulsive reflex that is hard to overcome.

Clear as mud?


Monday, December 1, 2008

An Interview with Richard Paul Evans: The King of Christmas Fiction

Although this post isn't strictly about writing, I thought I'd share some of my own recent work with our readers. Rick's story gives all new writers hope that a little story idea can take off and become something that brings much joy to readers around the world. I hope all of you enjoy the holiday season.

From December Issue of DESERT SAINTS MAGAZINE,
Please visit them ONLINE.

by Lu Ann Brobst Staheli

Nearly sixteen years ago, Rick Evans wrote a book—The Christmas Box—as a present for his daughters, Jenna and Alyson. But like all good things, this story soon took on a life of its own. Passed from hand to hand among friends and neighbors, the book was an instant favorite with those who read it, and soon they were begging for copies to give to their friends
and family. Unable to find a traditional publisher, Evans self-published the eighty-seven page novella in paperback and distributed copies to bookstores in the Salt Lake City area.

The Christmas Box became a local best-seller, and the next year it hit #2 on the New York Times best-seller list, despite it’s humble beginnings and self-published status. National publishers clamored for the opportunity to release the book in hardcover. After a bidding war that is now historic, Simon & Schuster came out victorious, releasing the book in hardcover and paperback in 1993, where both editions hit the number-one position on the Times lists simultaneously, a feat never before accomplished. And The Christmas Box has been a seasonal favorite ever since.

I had the opportunity to interview Rick, the undisputable king of Christmas fiction, and I learned about not only The Christmas Box, but also about his family.

How did The Christmas Box change his life? Evans was quick to respond: “I could write an entire book on this…in fact I did—The Christmas Box Miracle.” But, all joking aside, he also says, “Besides taking me away (from home) every Christmas since I wrote the book, it fundamentally changed everything.” Evans had been in marketing before, but with a run-away bestseller like this, his new business became writing.

But not all of his books carried on the theme of Christmas, although recently he has returned to his literary roots. I asked Rick what brought him to focus so strongly on this season as the focus of so many of his novels. “There is wisdom in the saying, ‘Dance with who brung you to the dance,’” he said. “After The Christmas Box trilogy, I tried to distance myself from Christmas. (The Last Promise, The Locket, The Carousel, The Looking Glass, The Letter) It was a mistake. I’ve now reclaimed the season and my books have done even better.”

And the theme of Christmas has become a centerpiece for both Evans’ life and work. In addition to his novels (Timepiece, The Locket, A Perfect Day, Finding Noel, The Gift, and this year’s best-seller, Grace), children’s books (The Christmas Candle, The Light of Christmas), non-fiction (The Christmas Box Miracle), and special publications (Christmas Every Day, First Gift of Christmas), Evans has inspired the dedication of Christmas Angel statues in the U.S., Canada, France, and Japan, as well as Christmas Box Houses across America and a sponsored orphanage in Peru.

With all this Christmas spirit surrounding him all the time, it might be easy for Evans to want to step away, becoming more like Scrooge than feeling like Santa, but he tells me, “When it comes to Christmas in my own home, I’m more like…Santa? Definitely Santa. I love Christmas and giving.”

I asked about a typical Christmas in the Evan’s household, and discovered they are very traditional. “My in-laws are Italian, my mother Swedish,” Rick says. “So we’ve taken the best of both of these worlds—celebrating Christmas with my mother on Christmas Eve after a festive Italian dinner at my in-laws. Unfortunately with the recent passing of my mother and Keri’s father, the traditions we’ve so cherished will change somewhat. But we’ll do our best to keep them.”

One tradition has always been to keep the kids close to home, and even though their oldest, Jenna, recently married, Evans thinks this Christmas will be even better than before. “We didn’t lose a daughter, we gained a son,” he says. “Jenna’s been gone away for school for quite awhile, so she’s actually closer now.”

This year, the Evans family—Rick, Keri, Alyson, Abby, Michael, McKenna, Jenna, and her new husband—plan to honor their traditions, and celebrate the memories of the family members who have passed away, while Rick’s fans enjoy yet another Christmas story by their favorite author.

Evan’s most recent novel, Grace, opens with the story of The Little Match Girl, then takes readers into a poor neighborhood in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1962, where we meet two brothers who spend as much of their free time as possible looking for treasures in the garage and working on their tree house. When the older boy, Eric, meets a young runaway girl, Grace, and decides to help her by allowing her to stay in the tree house, he doesn’t realize that it will be his life that is changed forever. And so will yours as you read Grace.