The story of Richard Paul Evans's massive success is so miraculous that it could have been the subject of one of his inspirational stories if it hadn't been true. He'd written his very first book The Christmas Box as a holiday gift for his daughters in 1993. As he saw it, this story of a widow and the young family that moves into her home was a tangible, timeless expression of his fatherly love. So, Evans produced twenty copies of the novella, which he then handed out to a select group of friends and family as Christmas gifts. Incredibly, those mere twenty books began to circulate. And circulate. And circulate. By the following month, copies of The Christmas Box had passed through no less than 160 pairs of hands, some of which belonged to people who were rather influential. Amazingly, book stores began calling Evans at home, asking for copies of his little homemade opus.
The incredible story of The Christmas Box does not end there. This moving tale about the meaning of Christmas was soon picked up by Simon & Schuster and went on to make publishing history when it simultaneously became both the bestselling hardcover and the bestselling paperback book in America. Suddenly, former advertising executive and clay animator Evans was a bestselling writer with a whole new career ahead of him.
Evans followed up The Christmas Box with a prequel titled Timepiece in 1996. Timepiece was another major hit with readers, as was The Letter, the final installment in the Christmas Box trilogy. From there, Evans expanded his repertoire while continuing to focus on the themes dearest to him: faith, family, forgiveness, love, and loyalty. He published The Christmas Candle, his first book for kids. His work also often became subject to small-screen adaptations. In fact, a 1995 production of The Christmas Box starring Maureen O'Hara and Richard Thomas snared an Emmy for best costuming in a miniseries or special. The following year, a version of Timepiece featured an early appearance by future superstar Naomi Watts, not to mention choice performances by James Earl Jones and Ellen Burstyn, as well as an associate producer credit for the author, himself.
Meanwhile, Evans continued penning and publishing heart-warming mega-sellers like The Locket, The Looking Glass, and The Carousel. In 2001, he took some time to reflect on his stunning success in The Christmas Box Miracle, which recounted his most unusual journey to the top of the bestseller list.
Another string of crowd pleasers followed, including the romantic The Last Promise, A Perfect Day, and The Sunflower, a critically acclaimed account of blossoming love at a humanitarian mission in Peru. Now, Evans is back with Finding Noel, the story of Mark Smart, whose pained life is completely turned around after a chance encounter in a coffee shop. Fans of Evans -- and there are legions of them -- will no doubt be delighted and deeply touched by his latest work.
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Evans is one of the few writers in history to place on both the fiction and nonfiction bestseller lists.
When Evans is not writing bestsellers, he often makes public appearances as a motivational speaker. He has shared the stage with such notable people as director Ron Howard, writer Deepak Chopra, humorist Steven Allen, and both George Bush senior and George W. Bush.
In 1997, Evans founded The Christmas Box House International, a foundation responsible for building shelters for abused, neglected, and homeless children throughout the world. More than 16,000 kids have found homes in one of Evans's shelters.
In our interview, Evans shared some fascinating facts about himself:
"I am the father of five children, who take up most of my time."
"I am the founder of The Christmas Box House International, which builds shelter assessment facilities for abused children. The most interesting trip I have been on lately was in the jungles of Peru, where we hunted crocodiles in leaky canoes at midnight. I have lived in both China and Italy, which is why I often have characters from those lands."
"I absolutely love playing the game Risk. Also Paintball. When possible, I round up my friends and go down to our ranch in southern Utah, where we play weekend soldiers."
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In the fall of 2003, Richard Paul Evans took some time to talk with us about his favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
The book was Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. I was 20 years old when I read it. I was visiting my brother in Monterey, California, where the book takes place, and I became so enraptured by Steinbeck's writing that I decided then that I wanted to write a book someday.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee -- The characterizations in the book were flawless, the message timeless.
The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien -- The best fantasy book ever written.
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe -- A powerfully written tale that changed the world.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck -- It's the best epic story I've read. Close to that would be The Grapes of Wrath, also by John Steinbeck.
All Over but the Shoutin' by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Rick Bragg -- I think Rick's prose is some of the best being shared in America today.
The Color of Water by James McBride -- A wonderful story about racism and family.
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair -- I love any story that can evoke social change, and The Jungle was one of those.
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand -- It's just a great story that is well told.
Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz -- It was a book that had great impact on me as a teenager.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
I loved Field of Dreams and the movie Phenomenon. In both of these films, the message was as strong as the writing.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I'm rather eclectic and like far too much of my teenage daughter's music: Shakira, Jewel, and Avril Lavigne. On the other hand, they listen to my Neil Diamond, Barenaked Ladies, Supertramp, and my'70s and '80s oldies collection.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
The Return of the King by J.R.R Tolkien. We would be getting ready for the movie to come out this December.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I have a penchant for fresh notebooks and mechanical pencils. It seems every time I go to the store I buy a new notebook. I have dozens of them just sitting around. Also, in the process of writing every book I always make a trip to southern Utah and stay in a certain hotel in St. George, where I write a portion of my book. I have done this with each book since The Christmas Box. It's the closest thing I have to a superstition.
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on the sequel to The Christmas Box.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
In one respect I was one of the lucky ones. My first book became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller. However, the three years it took to get that book to the top of the charts was anything but simple or overnight. After being rejected by every publisher I sent the book to, I decided I would self-publish. I soon learned that self-published authors are not afforded a great deal of respect.
In one book show, I was not allowed to sit with the other authors and sign autographs for the booksellers in attendance. Finally, realizing that my book was never going to sell unless I was willing to take chances, I picked up my books and walked up to the table with the other authors and sat down. One of the book show organizers immediately walked over to me, and as she approached I looked up at her and said, "Sorry I'm late." She was so taken aback by my response that instead of asking me to leave she asked if she could get me a glass of water. The next year my book was a national bestseller, and I was invited to sit on the same panel. I ran into the same woman and I thanked her for not throwing me out the year before. She confessed that she was going to, but when she saw my earnestness she thought, "What will it hurt?"
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
The southern writer Daniel Wallace. Though, with the upcoming Tim Burton production of his book Big Fish, he soon will be discovered. His writing is fresh, subtle, and, at times, brilliant.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Be relentless. Be yourself. Don't try to write what other people are writing -- write what is true to you.
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