From December Issue of DESERT SAINTS MAGAZINE,
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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.