A promise is a promise. And there can be something magical, even sacred, in a promise made and a promise kept.
That's the premise of Richard Paul Evans' newest Christmas book, "Promise Me" (Simon and Schuster, $19.99).
"Promises transcend this life," he says. "I really believe that."
The book looks at one of life's difficult questions: what if, after unimaginable heartbreak, you finally find true love — and then have to choose between that love and the only thing that could be more important?
Love brings blessings, said Evans; but genuinely loving another per-son sometimes means sorrow, even agony. So it is for his protagonist Beth Cardall, a mother whose life is turned upside down during the winter of 1989, when a broken promise and double tragedy leave her alone to raise a young daughter who's slowly succumbing to a mysterious illness. And then, on Christmas Eve, she literally bumps into a mysterious and handsome stranger who will change her life.
Despite the underlying tensions and premises, the book is lighter than some of Evans' recent books. This is a romance, a fairy tale, even.
"It's magical realism," says Evans. "It was very fun to explore some of the things I did." Like time travel. Like happy-ever-after. There's even a strong food element. "This book is all about experiences and food is a big part of our experience. Food tells you everything about a person," he said.
He not only mentions specific dishes, he offers the recipes on his website (www.richardpaulevans.com). "I had no idea so many people would go nuts over recipes," he said, "but I do have to say my fried rice is the very best." He learned it while on his LDS mission to Taiwan. "We actually made up the recipe for Blueberry-Buttermilk Muffins. And they are good, too."
Something else that makes "The Promise" different from any other of Evans' books: it is told from Beth's first-person point of view.
"That's the way the idea came to me," he said. "I was really nervous about writing from a woman's perspective, but I talked to my agent and she said to try it." Since the book has come out, "I've had a lot of mail from women, saying that I nailed that perspective, and wondering how I did it."
The secret, he said, is that "I realize I live in a largely female world: his wife and four daughters (although there is one son), most of his staff, most of the people he deals with in the publishing world. "Other than my son, I have to look for men to bond with," he jokes.
Christmas provides a backdrop for the story, but does not have as big a presence as some of the seasonal books that have come from the man the New York Times calls "the king of Christmas fiction."
Evans started the idea of releasing a "little Christmas book," with his first "The Christmas Box." Since then his 14 novels have each appeared on the New York Times bestseller list; there are more than 13 million copies of his books in print, and they have been translated into more than 22 languages. Several have been made into movies. And the idea of releasing little Christmas books has become a standard throughout the industry, with books from authors in many different genres.
Even as "The Promise" has been released, Evans has been at work on the next installment of his spring project, "The Walk," telling the story of a man who has lost pretty much everything, who decides to walk across the country. "Miles to Go" will pick up in Spokane, Wash., where Alan Christoffersen ended up in volume one.
"The Walk" was well received, doubling the publisher's expectations, Evans said; "although I did get a lot of e-mails from people asking how I could make them wait a year for the next installment." (It will be out April 5, 2011.)
Writing two books a year was something that Evans started mostly for health reasons. He had been diagnosed with diabetes, had some other medical problems and found himself being stretched in too many directions, so decided to focus more on writing.
"I'm really blessed to be writing this long," he said. "My readers are awesome people, and they allow me to keep doing what I feel I should be doing in this life."
These days, he connects with lots of those readers on Facebook. "The Internet has changed everything. Writing used to be a solitary thing, like living in a cave." It took about nine months from the time a book was finished and it appeared in print.
But now, he keeps in touch with readers all along the way. They vote on possible covers, get updates. "It's not, 'I'll see you in a year.' I can have a dialogue with my readers. There's more talk, more sharing."
Lately he's been adding about a hundred people a day to his Facebook list. "It has become a real community, creates its own culture. I don't play golf. I don't watch TV. This has become like a hobby. I really enjoy that kind of stuff," he said.
Evans already has ideas for his next Christmas book. And for the one after that. It is very exciting to have the freedom to "write about the things that are important to me." The message of all his books, he said, is that "there is always hope, even in dark times." It's one of life's greatest promises.
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If you go . . .
What: Richard Paul Evans book signing for "Promise Me"
When: Saturday, Nov. 20, noon
Where: Sam's Club, 1313 S. University Ave., Provo