20 years after ‘The Christmas Box,’ faith still fuels Richard Paul Evans

Published: Tuesday, July 9 2013 10:10 p.m. MDT

In 1993 Richard Paul Evans published "The Christmas Box," an 87-page paperback he originally wrote as a gift for his family that would eventually yield a $4.2 million advance from Simon & Schuster. Twenty years removed from his very sudden success with “The Christmas Box,” Evans is still selling beaucoup books — except that now he’s concurrently producing best-selling titles in very distinct genres via his The Walk and Michael Vey series.

The Walk is inspirational fiction, a five-part series about a man who walks from Seattle to Florida after losing everything important in his life. (In May the fourth installment, “A Step of Faith,” reached No. 5 on The New York Times best-seller list for hardcover fiction.) The Michael Vey series, on the other hand, centers on a boy with supernatural powers and really resonates with teens. Last September “Michael Vey 2: Rise of the Elgen” debuted at No. 2 on The New York Times best-seller list for children’s chapter books.

Evans, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently sat down with the Deseret News to talk about his current projects and future plans, including how faith and family have been driving forces throughout his career.

Deseret News: As a writer, how have you changed during the 20 years since “The Christmas Box?”

Richard Paul Evans: When “The Christmas Box” hit really big and I had this massive book, I told my publisher I wanted to meet Mary Higgins Clark. So we went to lunch, and I asked her, "I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder. What’s the secret to staying around?" And she said, "Your latest book always has to be your best one." So I made a decision back then that I would improve my writing over the years.

There was a certain magic to (“The Christmas Box”) and a certain pureness to it, which I never want to lose. But it’s been interesting, because I look back now and I can see where I’ve evolved. My writing has become more sophisticated: It has gone through some major things and just last year I won four awards for my writing, so it’s like I’ve reached this new level. I hope I never lose that joy of writing — that’s the most important thing.

DN: How much does your faith come out in your writing?

RPE: It’s impossible to separate me from my beliefs; it’s always been an interesting tightrope I walk. Some Mormons think, “Why don’t you push Mormon-dom?” And then the other side: “You’re pushing Mormon thought.” The truth is, 98 percent of people lie in the middle and they just want to read something that’s inspirational and that brings them closer to God, and that is my key. I’m not trying to proselyte, but I want people to know that God loves them. And that’s the most important thing that can come out of my writing on some level — I don’t come out and say it, but I hope they feel that and I hope they feel hope.

What’s maybe more interesting is watching how people respond to Mormons these days. After the (presidential) election, it’s changed. It used to be you’d tell people you’re Mormon, they’d get this weird look and be afraid of you. And now they ask questions.

DN: When you’re conceptualizing your writing, how do you fine-tune your stories to be inspirational in a faith-based way without coming across as overly denominational?

RPE: Most of my characters, like Alan in The Walk, are people who are explorers — people who are searching. Because by doing that, you don’t create these preconceived notions. If I come out and my character is Roman Catholic, then they’re going to have certain expectations of where they are and they can’t explore things that are simple because they should’ve at least already figured out in their own lives what they believe.

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