Since I am a writer myself, I always have a special affinity for authors, and when those authors happen to have Hallmark movies premiering based on their books, I am even more enthralled. This weekend, Finding Father Christmas based on two books by author Robin Gunn, will air on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Recently, Robin agreed to answer a few questions concerning how she got started writing and the exhilirating journey of her books becoming a Hallmark movie.
RH: Why did you decide to become a writer? What kind of training have you had?
RG: In sixth grade, I won an essay contest. The topic was something like “What Patriotism Means to Me”. I still have the first place ribbon awarded by the DAR. You’d think that would have motivated me to keep going, right? Nope.
I changed my major every semester in college and aside from lots of journaling during those years, I didn’t write much again until after I was married and in my mid-twenties.
My husband was the one who pushed me out the door to take classes and attend writer’s conferences. He saw something deeper in my love for storytelling. I wrote articles, devotions and a dozen children’s books that were all published by the time I was thirty. I still didn’t truly consider myself to be an author. Writing and being published by major publishers just felt like a useful hobby.
The turning point was when we were on a camping trip at the beach with a group of teens from our church. Some of the thirteen-year-old girls were sequestered in their tent reading all week long. I asked to read their favorite books along with them and was heartsick over the content. The stories were way too evocative for their young hearts. That’s when the girls challenged me and said, “Then why don’t you write a book for us? How hard could that be? We’ll even tell you what to write.”
It took two years to write the first Christy Miller book, and those girls were brutal with their input along the way. In the end, it was the story they wanted to read, and after ten rejections, it was picked up by a publisher that asked me to write an entire series.
I haven’t stopped writing since. Kissing Father Christmas just came out in October, and it’s my ninety-third book. Total sales of all the titles are over five million copies sold.
What is your favorite book that you have written so far? Why?
I feel a deep affection for the first Christy Miller book, Summer Promise, because it was the first.
The other book I’m pretty mushy-hearted about is a little ninety-six-page book that just came out titled How My Book Became a Movie – A True Story. I wrote about the adventure of seeing my book go into production and it’s a favorite because the proceeds from sales of that little eBook are going to a cause that is dear to my heart. www.Littworld.org
Please tell us about Finding Father Christmas. How did you get the idea for the book?
Like many fans of C.S. Lewis and Charles Dickens, I’ve appreciated their winsome British portrayal of Father Christmas. I have visited England several times and knew I wanted to write about an American woman who spends Christmas in a charming English village. But why would she go there? Does she know anyone? What is she hoping to find?
In my imagination, I pictured a young woman on the hunt to find her birth father. She is armed with only a few clues. When those clues lead her into an influential family and she discovers more than she should know, will she be welcomed in or sent away to spend Christmas alone? During a candlelight service on Christmas Eve, what will she think of the Scripture that is read from Isaiah that refers to God as the “Everlasting Father”? Is He the true Father of Christmas?
Those were the story ideas that got me started. Once I “met” Miranda, I wanted things to turn out well for her. She reminded me of several young women I know who always feel the deep loss of close family the most during Christmastime.
Please tell us about how that book was optioned to become a film for Hallmark? How long was the process?
The independent producers contacted my literary agent five years ago and asked if any of her authors had Christmas stories. My agent sent them Finding Father Christmas as well as the sequel, Engaging Father Christmas. The sequel is a love story and as we all know, that’s what works best in a Hallmark Christmas movie.
It took almost four years before everything was in place for a contract to be issued for the production. The two stories had to be combined into one overlapping tale. The location of the story was changed from England to Vermont. Some characters were cut out and others were added. The beginning of the story had to be created by the screenwriter so that the important backstory could be conveyed early in the production. Many talented people did a lot of detailed work before the contract was finalized.
I remember going to see the Notary at our bank the day I finally received the contract and was ready to sign it. The Notary got so excited for me. She loves Hallmark movies and told me later that she went home and downloaded the eBooks of the first two Father Christmas novels and read them right away.
The next time I was in the bank, she asked if I had any updates and I had to tell her that I’d been warned it could be a long process. It was several months before I heard many of the details. There was a lot going on behind the scenes that I wasn’t involved with. The producers were busy with casting, location arrangements and bringing on the crew.
I went to Los Angeles to speak at a university and had the chance to meet the producers for lunch. They said everything was in motion and they were waiting for final approval and for the filming dates to be set. That was in February of this year. They started filming in June. Once it all fell into place, it went quickly.
Once the deal was made and it began the process of becoming a film, what was your role?
Typically the creator of the original content isn’t involved much beyond signing over the rights to their story so that the screenwriter and production company can do what they do so well. My agent, however, requested that I be able to go on set for three days during the filming.
I made all the arrangements and brought my agent with me. We were treated to what we thought was an exceptionally gracious welcome when we arrived on set.
Our plan was to stay in the background and just observe. On several occasions, though, we were invited to give input and I have to say, that was pretty thrilling. The director asked me what my intent was on one key scene. I explained how I saw the interaction between Miranda (played by Erin Krakow) and Margaret (played by Wendie Malick) when I wrote that scene in the book. He took my input, and he and the producer revised the scene that was scheduled for the next day.
My agent and I loved seeing the whole process unfold. We had wonderful conversations with all the actors and talked about future projects with the executive producer. We were so sad when our three days came to an end. It felt like summer camp and we had to leave early. I’m so grateful we had that experience. It was amazing to see how many people are required to create a movie and how much work goes into all the details for their three weeks of filming.
How well did Hallmark do in preserving the integrity of the book?
The screenwriter did a great job with the challenge he was given. He had to combine two books, change the location, add characters, take out chunks of the original stories and create a series of key scenes at the beginning to provide backstory. Then he had to shape it all into a cozy, snowy, Hallmark-type movie to fit the time frame. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but from the bits I’ve seen and the bits I’ve read, I think he kept the integrity of the storyline that first fluttered through my imagination.
I think the producers had a lot to do with the successful effort of maintaining the key themes of being welcomed in at Christmas and the gift of belonging. One of the producers grew up in England so of course, she and I were the ones who dearly wished the story could remain set in England. But it made sense to change the location so that it will feel like a more familiar Christmas story to the viewers.
I understand Hallmark has optioned another of your books as well for a film. What can you tell us about that?
Oh! Have you heard something I haven’t heard yet?
Actually, we’re still in conversation about that. I’ll be happy to tell all once it’s official.
Any other upcoming works you can mention?
Yes! I have written a third Father Christmas novella titled, Kissing Father Christmas.
It’s about a dreamer of a young woman named Anna. She returns to charming Carlton Heath for Christmas after being there in the spring for her cousin’s wedding. She met a certain kilt-wearing groomsman at the wedding and has been wondering for months if he’s been thinking about her as much as she’s been thinking about him. His email gives her enough hope to fly from Minnesota in order to see what might happen. Her fairy-tale ideas don’t exactly turn out the way she wishes. But sometimes reality can be the best gift of all when it comes to falling in love.
I should also mention that I’ve been writing more novels about the characters that appear in the Christy Miller series. Readers who have followed Christy and Todd through high school and college can keep reading about them in Christy & Todd: The Married Years and the soon-to-be-released Christy & Todd: The Baby Years. Readers who love to binge all the way through a series are thrilled to have so many stories to read about this unforgettable young couple.
What is your purpose or reason in writing (other than to make a living of course)?
I believe that for a story to touch a heart, it must come from the heart.
With every book I write, I pray that there will be something in the story that draws the reader closer to God. For decades I’ve received mail from readers around the world. They tell me such tender stories of what they’re going through and how one of my books gave them just enough hope or courage or renewed faith to trust God for whatever comes next.
That’s why I keep writing. I believe this was what I was created to do. I just keep writing the stories that roll around in my imagination and God uses those stories to bring hope and light, joy and comfort to millions of readers.
I mean, how amazing is that? I love being a storyteller.
What is your favorite holiday? Why?
During the sixteen years we lived in Portland, Oregon area, we hosted a grand Thanksgiving dinner at our home each year for family and close friends. We all sat at one long table with candles, music, and Aunt Becky’s crystal and china. We feasted on food that took two days to prepare. Through the big picture window we looked out on all the glorious colors of autumn in the Northwest. As we lingered over the pumpkin pie, we took turns going around the circle and sharing what God had done over the past year and telling what we were thankful for. Everyone, of all ages, participated. I loved the simplicity of those golden moments when it was possible for us to all be together.
Seven years ago, my husband and I moved to Hawaii. Our first Thanksgiving here we hosted a big outdoor dinner under the palm trees at sunset with friends and some visiting family. It was a gorgeous evening and the mix of people was very special. Two of them have passed away and four of them have moved away. I’m so glad we captured that moment when we did.
Three years ago, our daughter and her husband moved here and last year they had a baby boy. We celebrate in new ways now, at Thanksgiving and at Christmas. The one thing that hasn’t changed during this season over the years is the theme of taking the time to share what we’re grateful for and being together with people we love.
What is your advice to other authors who dream of turning their books into films or TV series?
I’ve been asked this quite a bit already. The truth is, the process is not a one-size-fits-all. However, there are some basics that I think all writers should consider when they start to dream a big dream like this.
That’s why I ended up publishing the book I mentioned earlier, How My Book Became a Movie. I started to write a blog about what I’d learned during this process and especially about my time on set. The blog kept getting longer as I added more helpful bits of this and that. Soon I realized I had a book, not a blog.
I hope authors who have this dream will read the book. If nothing else, I believe they will receive one important thing that writers never get enough of – encouragement.
I don’t know about you, but Robin’s story touched me deeply. Up to this point, I was unfamiliar with her works, but now I am looking forward to seeing this film and hopefully devouring a few of her books when I get the opportunity. For me, the most exciting thing is the reason Robin writes. Her purpose is evident, and the fact that God is the central figure in her tale engenders deep respect within me for her as a person. I believe that authors have a unique opportunity to share light and truth in such a way that those who may repel traditional messages of hope may turn to her stories and be encouraged and enlightened. In Robin’s case, she responded to the call of God on her life, and now God is blessing her in unbelievable ways of which she may never have dreamed. Be certain that you tune in on Sunday (November 13) to the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel so that you may enjoy the premiere of what is certain to be an inspiring and uplifting story. And please be sure that you check out Robin at the various links below and follow her on her amazing journey as she continues to inspire countless people with her writings!
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