When unpublished writer, Richard Paul Evans, sat down to a write his breakout novel, he had no idea that he was writing a bestselling novel. He was just a man at a loss in his own life. All his prior career pursuits wound up as failures, often with debt attached. On the evening of his final failure, his wife Keri, asked him, "What are you going to do now?" Out of his mouth, entirely unexpected, he said, "Write a book." Even he was astonished by his words.
Unlike Dickens, and other Christmas book writers, Evans had no idea what his story was about, what the plot was, or if he could write a book. However, he soon learned the book was doing its own writing. Evans recalls,
The story came to me like a jigsaw puzzle, with pieces here and there, while the final book remained a mystery. For four weeks I wasn't sure what the book was about - until early one December morning, around 4 a.m., when the story woke me.
I climbed out of bed, retrieved a pen and paper and, in the predawn still, sat down at the kitchen table and began to write. Suddenly there came to mind something I had heard from a neighbor of mine.
The elderly neighbor recounted playing with her sister in a local cemetery when they were little girls, even though playing was forbidden. One day while passing through the cemetery they passed a woman "kneeling at the base of a sandstone angel, clawing at the ground as if it held something she desperately wanted." Once the woman had gone, the girls went to look and saw an angel statue etched on the base were the words, "Our Little Angel".
As the above recollected story from the aged neighbor came to Evans mind that December morning, he knew what his story was about, "the pain of mothers who lose their children." If that recollection wasn't enough, Evans had his own Dickensian moment, when suddenly a spirit, or angel, or essence joined him in his silent kitchen that morning. The spirit was of his own departed sister, who barely arrived stillborn to his childhood family, when he was still a toddler. His mother, he was later told, was sent home from the hospital with a rose and a promise that there would be more babies. The promise was broken. There were no more babies, and there was no funeral nor grief process for the family. Instantly, Evans knew how to put all the strange disparate notes and story ideas together. He would write a Christmas book.
Not For Sale
Evans book was initally a stop gap while he figured out his next career pursuit. A mere six weeks before the miracle in the kitchen Evans had been a major marketer for a failed mayoral race in his city. Suddenly in early November he was unemployed. This book he had chosen to take a stab at was being written solely, as a family and friend Christmas gift. When he understood the purpose of the plot and characters who had been sprinkled wildly through his last six weeks, he compiled them together in breakneck speed, took them to a copy center, had a friend design a simple cover, then wrapped it, and put them under trees and on friend's porches, just in time for Christmas. He thought the story was fulfilled.
The story had a different agenda. In the days leading up to and just beyond Christmas, Evans was inundated with compliments, comments, and questions. His brothers who always picked on him, and assumed the worst were moved to tears. His father - in -law who barely tolerated him, waved him off mid cry, and said, "It's a damn good book." For any creator compliments from people closest to you mean the world. Evans was floating on cloud nine. Yet, before the euphoria could die off, the book made a turn of its own. Many of the close friends who had received the self-printed book as a gift, were moved to share it with their friends, family, and co-workers. Suddenly, Evans was receiving voicemails from people he didn't know asking, "Is the story real?" "Where can I get a copy?" "It changed my life." Among those was an attorney who noticed the book wasn't registered, and suggested Evans do so quickly, that the book was seeking broader audiences. It was.
Before long private mom and pop bookshops wanted copies, as well as hairdressers, libraries, and so on. Evans answered those requests, simultaneously sending to book to publishers and receiving rejections. Weighing the options before him Evans took the plunge and broadly self-published his book. He then began the task of marketing it. During the marketing process a new question arose. "Where is the Angel? I want to lay a rose on it."
Angel Statue (Spoiler Alert)
As Evans wrote the book that winter morning, he included a similar version of his neighbors cemetery story in his book. Now months later, he received requests to find that cemetery, and visit the statue with "Our Little Angel" on it. Since Evans had never seen it himself, he asked the now elderly neighbor who told him the initial story, if she could help him find it. The search was an ordeal as the neighbor was very aged, barely mobile, and the cemetery had changed. Among the changes they discovered was the lack of an angel statue. In its a place a basic marker.
The lack of any statue, brought a new ache and yearning. Evans went to work to create a memorial statue matching the one he had written in his book. The goal of the statue was to be a public statue for all grieving parents. It was an unheard-of risk. Yet, the risk garnered a huge reward. Evans had only planned for the first angel, however, again, once word got out, the requests by cemeteries for the angel spread like wildfire.
The first request came from Elko, Nevada. Not long after, I received a call from the Oklahoma branch of the American Red Cross. They wanted an angel for the survivors of the Murrah Federal Building bombing.
Today, one hundred and thirty-eight angel statues dot the world. Most in the United States, but they have reached as far as Japan. In 2000, Reader's Digest,
selected the image of the Christmas Box Angel statue as their cover image for the century overview. They titled their piece, "He Made Hope a Bestseller."
We All Crave Hope
As this season of merriment wraps itself around us, many of us silently crave hope. The hopes we seek are myriad. In my experience they can rarely be purchased or fully filled with things. The hopes we seek are intangible yet necessary. My wish for you is that you find your hope or an emblem of your hope. That longings may be healed, wounds bound, and hearts held.
Merry Christmas and Hopeful Holidays to You.
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