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Holladay Journal

Richard Paul Evans’ latest novel reflects the true meaning of the holiday season

Dec 02, 2022 01:25PM ● By Collette Hayes

By Collette Hayes | [email protected]

By the time Richard Paul Evans was 21, he had lived in over 12 places. Leaving California to move to his grandmother’s abandoned home when he was 9 years old was a traumatic event in Evans’ life. In his book, “A Christmas Memory,” Evans takes a step back in time and reflects on the challenges of beginning life in Utah. When things seem to be at their worst, being bullied at his new school and the unraveling of his home life and family relationships, Evans meets an elderly neighbor and his dog Gollum who quickly become a beacon of light and hope in a world where Evans feels he has nothing left to lose.

The New York Times bestselling author has called Utah home for the last several years. He attended Cottonwood High School and is raising his family in the Holladay area. While living here, Evans has kept a watchful eye over the abused, abandoned and neglected children of Utah by providing funds to build a safe haven for those children in need of love, protection and shelter. The Christmas Box House, named after Evans first book, “The Christmas Box,” has provided shelter for over 136,000 children in need during the last two decades. In its infancy the Christmas Box House struggled to find community support and secure funding. After the sale of “The Christmas Box,” Evans came forward with personal funding to take on the responsibility of trying to provide a safe place for those children in need. 

“I used most of the money I received from the sale of my first book, ‘The Christmas Box’ to fund building the Christmas Box House,” Evans said. “After the book funds were gone, I began taking out personal loans to cover the cost which about bankrupted us, and there was no guarantee there would be another bestselling book. I was continually being advised to shut the project down. During this time, I had two really cool experiences and because of these experiences, I decided, if the ship is going down, I’m going with it.”

Evans has more than 35 million copies of his books in print worldwide translated into more than 24 languages. His most recent Christmas novel, “A Christmas Memory” is a heartfelt story about forgiveness, the power of hope and the true meaning of the holiday season.

“The first of December of last year, I came down with pneumonia. I have never been that sick in my life,” he said. “I stopped eating, and then I caught Covid on top of all of that. At the same time my friend had what I had and died. He was the same age as I was. I started thinking, I might not make it through this. My wife Keri was terrified. During all of this, a book idea started coming to me. I was literally on my stomach starting to scrawl this book down on paper. I was so foggy headed at the time; I thought it probably was all pretty awful. Then in January, I finally began to get better, and I went back and read it and realized this was the most beautiful thing I had ever written. When I wrote the book, I couldn’t get through it without crying, because I deeply feel for the little boy and everything he had been through. The book is similar to a memoir. Most of it is based on my life. It is my absolute favorite book I’ve written since ‘The Christmas Box.’ It’s definitely a special book.”

Evans first feature film based on his book “The Noel Diary” will be released in November. Netflix gave “The Noel Diary” their prime opening on Thanksgiving Day. The film is directed by Academy Award nominee writer and director Charles Shyer and stars Justin Harley in the lead role as Jake Turner.

“My first feature film based on my book ‘The Noel Diary’ is coming up this year,” Evans said. “I’ve had seven television movies produced based on my books, but this is my first feature film. My book ‘The Christmas Memory’ comes out on Nov. 22 and two days later on Thanksgiving Day, ‘The Noel Diary’ will be released on Netflix. I’m very excited.”

According to Evans, he writes when he is in the mood and has an approaching deadline. At times he will go to a hotel where there are no distractions and will write for 18 hours a day. He usually has food brought in and doesn’t go anywhere or see anyone due to the fact when creating a fictional universe, it is difficult when writing to leave the universe and then return. When writing one of his Michael Vey novels, he was struggling with an Amazon jungle scene. From the hotel where he was staying, Evans called and booked a flight to the Amazon and went to the jungle. He got what he needed, and it changed the book.

“I started writing young adult science fiction just for fun,” Evans said. “People who knew me thought it was strange that I was writing sentimental things because they see me as more of a science fiction writer. Actually, both are part of my personality. I wanted to write a story about a boy who had Tourette syndrome. Both my son Michael and I have Tourettes, and I wrote it for him. I originally set Michael Vey in Holladay around Walker Lane but then decided to move the setting to Idaho. There are still parts of Holladay in the book. I have a Michael Vey fan club in Iran, and I have Skyped with students in Saudi Arabia where it was the most popular book in the school. Michael Vey books are also in Russia and South Korea. It’s amazing how books have the power to unite people.”

Here in Utah, Evans helps bring people together with the annual Christmas Box Angel candlelight service to remember lost children. The event is held at the Salt Lake Cemetery on Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. Evans commissioned the angel monument in response to grieving parents who were looking for a place to grieve and heal. The service is open to the general public.