Why did you want to write a Christmas novel and why set it in the 1940’s?
Consider what Christmas 1945 must have been like in the United States. For millions of families it was the first time they had been together in years. For hundreds of thousands of men in uniform it was an incredible homecoming. Now think about what the Christmas would have been like for those whose loved ones died during the war. The loneliness they experienced during the war would now be magnified as they watched others experience this reuniting. Thus, because Christmas 1945 was one of the most unique in history and the emotions that accompanied that holiday season were likely running the deepest, it seemed the perfect time to set a novel that focused on the real message of loss, sacrifice and faith.
You are able to capture the time period so vividly. What type of research did you do?
I have long had a fascination with the Depression era and World War II. This was a period when folks were forced to dig deep to survive. So much was asked of people and many had so few resources to answer that call. So my past reading, talking to those who lived through that period and watching a host of documentaries served me well. But to get even a better handle on the time period, I visited specifically with folks who lived in the area where the book is set and gained a knowledge of that local history. I also listened to scores of radio dramas, comedies and variety programs from 1945 to give a feel for slang, pacing, music and the interests of that particular year.
How much of you is in Jimmy Reed’s character?
I don’t see much of Jimmy in me. He is much more wounded than I have ever been. He lost the most important guide in his life and has had to face adult challenges much quicker than I ever did. But I do see Jimmy in a lot of the kids growing up today in single parent homes. These kids are handicapped because they lack the adult mentor they need to provide the compass to properly filter their choices. So while Jimmy might not be me, I have seen him in a thousand other kids.
You successfully write both non-fiction and fiction. Do you have a preference as to which you enjoy more as a writer?
Because of the nature of how I write fiction, it requires the same kind of research as my nonfiction books. And, as I am really just an Arkansas storyteller, my nonfiction books contain a narrative that is much like the style found in one of my novels. In both cases I hope that when a reader finishes my books they feel like they have had a meal with me and I’ve shared the story during our visit. Yet, if I had to choose between the two genres, and thankfully I don’t, I would lean to fiction. The only boundary in fiction is your imagination and to me pulling from my imagination is the ultimate challenge.