My interview today is with Robin Jones Gunn who has been writing for over 3o years with much acclaim. Three of her novels have been Christy Award winners for excellence in fiction. She’s been a Gold Medallion finalist and won several awards as Writer of the Years and Pacesetter from Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference.
And in line with this month’s theme, her Father Christmas stories won the Reader’s Choice Award from Romance Writers of America two years in a row.
You first published Finding Father Christmas in 2009. Tell me about the process of it being picked up by Hallmark for a movie.
It was a roller coaster of events. A producer contacted my agent when she was on the hunt for Christmas stories. My agent sent her Finding Father Christmas. Nearly a year later the producer said they weren’t able to use the story because it wasn’t enough of a romance.
My agent said, “Well, then you need to read the sequel!” The producer read Engaging Father Christmas and was able to direct the screenwriter to combine bits from both books to create the script for Finding Father Christmas. It took over five years and more than once seemed as if it might not actually happen.
I wrote about the process and experience in How My Book Became a Movie. Proceeds from sales of this 100-page book are going to LittWorld for scholarships to train writers and publishers in difficult places in the world. The book has been very helpful for other writers who want to know how to get their book considered as a movie.
You've written so many books previous to that one. What made you choose a Christmas theme?
I talked about this in the book, How My Book Became a Movie. I ran into an editor I knew when we were at a large publishing convention. I handed him one of my books for teens from the Christy Miller series. He asked if I’d ever considered writing a Christmas novella because the publisher he worked for was looking for some Christmas stories. I said I had a few ideas so he contacted my agent after the convention and all the pieces fell into place after that. I went on to write a total of three Father Christmas stories.
Hallmark is now doing the sequel to your Finding Father Christmas novel. Didyou have that story already written? Or did it come about as the result of the movie?
The producer was able to once again combine the stories in the first two Father Christmas novellas and the screenwriter drew the second story from the parts that hadn’t been used in the first movie. It’s fascinating to see how different the screenwriting process is from the novel writing process.
Did you see some of the production for either of these movies?
Yes! It was so fun. My agent and I were invited to go on set for both films and we got to be extras both times! We were only allowed to be there to observe for three days. During those long days on set we had some wonderful and memorable conversations with the actors and the crew.
It was an emotional experience for me to see a story that had blossomed in my imagination be brought to life by such talented actors. Erin Krakow is the perfect Miranda. Wendie Mallick brought so much depth to the role of Margaret. Watching them do what they do so well was an amazing experience. It’s kind of like listening to an echo. You send out a story and as you’re standing on set, you watch it come back to you in flesh and blood.
What was your reaction to seeing your story on film?
The movie is different from the book in many ways but the core theme didn’t change. The first time I watched it I cried happy tears. I thought it was so well done and heart-warming. I was very pleased with how it turned out. I also hoped that if viewers enjoyed the movie they would read the book because that’s when they’ll discover all the added bits of the story that weren’t included in the screenplay.
Could you give me a short synopsis of the new Christmas movie for my readers?
In Engaging Father Christmas, Miranda returns to the small town of Carlton Heath eager to see how her yearlong relationship with Ian will unfold. She connected with family there the Christmas before and is now welcomed back with open arms. The warm welcome is quickly threatened when a reporter is determined to reveal Miranda’s identity. If the story comes out, it could deeply hurt many people she has come to love. Miranda is afraid that Carlton Heath will no longer be a place she can call home and the Whitcombe family will no longer include her in their clan. Only by “Grace and Truth” will the conflict be resolved. These words are the clan motto and are written not only on the wall of the family cottage but also in their hearts.
What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions?
Baking cookies. Sugar cookies, to be exact. It was my favorite Christmas preparation when I was a child and it still is. I love Christmas Eve service at our church. Over the years, we’ve attended a variety of candlelight services on Christmas Eve and every one of them has been very special.
We have lived in Hawaii now for 7 years and my favorite Christmas Eve candlelight service is an outdoor serve we go to with our beach chairs. Nearly 1,000 people gathered on the grassy area around a 200-year-old church the last time we went. The Christmas carols sung under the stars were unforgettable and hearing the Christmas story from Luke chapter 2 read in Hawaiian was just about my favorite Christmas moment ever.
I’ll be speaking at the Oregon Christian Writer’s Conference in August, 2018.
My next book release is Sunset Lullaby, which is #3 in the Christy&Todd: The Baby Years series. Readers who grew up reading the Christy Miller series continue to ask for more stories about these memorable characters. It’s been so much fun writing the College Years, Married Years and now the Baby Years.
In March, 2018, a new book titled, A Pocketful of Hope For Mothers will release from Tyndale Publishers. It turned out beautifully! It’s a gift book for moms of all ages and contains a collection of stories, poems, and verses about motherhood. I just finished reading the book in the studio for the audio version that will release in March as well.
What’s the best writing tip you’ve learned or been give that you’d like to share?
I’ve been writing for publication for over thirty years. Once thing that has never changed is that I must discipline myself to sit down and get the work done. Every writer I know who has gone the distance and been writing for many years has admitted to me at one time or another that they still struggle with procrastination. I guess creative minds are easily distracted.
Since writing is such an isolating process, it’s easy to give in to discouragement and give up way too soon. Writing is hard work. Once a new writer understands that they must keep going when the initial delight is gone and the criticism is cruel, they will begin to hear that true inner voice that will keep them going.
What do you know now about writing and publishing you wish you had learned
Hmmm. I’m not sure. Maybe it’s that words have immense power and they can affect a life for eternity. I’ve seen that happen many times through letters I’ve received from readers around the world. They read one of my books, connected with the story and the character and by the last page, they had made a life-changing decision. That astounds me. As one of my favorite characters, Katie Weldon, would say – it’s a God thing.
Any last words or tips?
My heart’s desire is that what I write would bring honor to God. One of the most important steps in the writing process for me happens before I even type “Chapter One.” I pray. Or to be more specific, I write out a prayer as if I’m writing a letter to God. I dedicate each new book to Him and ask for wisdom and direction. Years later I’ve gone back and read many of those written prayers and have seen exactly how God answered them in the theme of the story or from the mail I’ve received from a reader.
If you would like to learn more about the many books that Robin has written, here are some ways to get connected.