A Writer’s Flashback: My 2005 Interview With Author Richard Paul Evans

He’s a writer for all the right reasons.

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“If you’re able to take care and provide, the muses are going to speak to you better.” — Richard Paul Evans

I interviewed author Richard Paul Evans in 2005, along with nearly 75 other creatives, for a motivational non-fiction book, “How to Survive a Day Job.” My intent with the book was simple: I would interview a number of successful writers, actors, and others who have worked in a given creative arts field, to motivate those of us who had not yet attained our own artistic career goals.

At the time of his interview, Richard was already a multi-time bestselling author.

An edited version of the original introduction to his interview follows:

Richard Paul Evans wrote the runaway best seller, “The Christmas Box,” never intending to become an internationally known author.

More than eight million copies of “The Christmas Box” have been printed, a veritable publishing phenomenon. The award-winning 1995 CBS television movie based on the book starred Maureen O’Hara and Richard Thomas and went on to be the network’s highest-rated television movie of the year.

Richard’s second book, “Timepiece,” was produced by Hallmark as a made-for-television movie starring James Earl Jones and Academy Award-winner Ellen Burstyn. “The Letter,” Richard’s third book in “The Christmas Box Collection,” was on the New York Times Best Sellers List for sixteen weeks and was ranked number eleven by Publisher’s Weekly for its list of the Top Best Sellers of 1997.

During the spring of 1997, Richard’s Christmas Box Foundation conceived the idea for The Christmas Box House, a shelter for abused and neglected children. Such shelters are operational in Moab, Vernal, and Salt Lake City, Utah. The Christmas Box House in Ogden, Utah, is presently under construction, and the foundation has also begun exploring sites for homes in other parts of the U.S. and China.

As an acclaimed speaker, Richard has shared the podium with such notable personalities as President George W. Bush, President George and Mrs. Barbara Bush, former British Prime Minister John Majors, Ron Howard, Elizabeth Dole, Deepak Chopra, Steve Allen, and Bob Hope. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife, Keri, and their five children.

For updated information on the career of Mr. Evans, please visit his website, http://www.richardpaulevans.com.

Richard Paul Evans:

I guess I set out to be a writer, just not a published writer. The spark to write “The Christmas Box” really was the emotional tie to my daughters, the love I felt for them. It just … it affected me so greatly that when I decided I would write a book, it would be about something I cared the most about.

To me that was the most profound experience, the love they brought into my life. I sat down to write a story just for them. When I was done, I saw how people responded to the book and its message, and that was when I decided that I would publish it.

It started out as a Christmas present. I had twenty copies that I made at Kinko’s. They were handed out, and within weeks those copies had been read hundreds of times. Then bookstores started calling with orders for the unpublished book. I sold four hundred thousand copies before I was picked up, and the Internet wasn’t around back then.

There was no amazon.com. It would have changed things immensely if there had been. It would have sped things up. I had a small local distributor that tried to get books out. Initially, I started with a small market, until it became the number one book in Salt Lake, and then it became the number one book in Utah. It just started to grow from there.

I thought it was a fluke. It wasn’t, but first of all, it took three years for it to hit the level it did. And when it finally sold, it was for $4,250,000 for the publishing rights. At that point, the year before it had made $400,000. It’s like, Okay, this is a really good start. It just goes on much more, but you can’t retire on $400,000. I planned to keep doing advertising, but you can retire on $4,250,000. And so, when that hit, then I got a second contract. Then it’s like, Okay, I definitely can quit the day job.

I was in advertising, and I worked as an animator. I was looking for anything that I enjoyed, really. I didn’t think I could ever just keep just one day job, so in this case, I enjoyed doing things in the margins. I was writing political campaigns, doing the advertising for them, when I wrote “The Christmas Box.” I would do that in the morning or nights, and then during the day just do my job.

The book struck a chord. As USA Today said, at a time of a fractured society and fractured families and fractured homes, that here was some-thing that was unifying, that was coming out and giving credence to the family and bringing back feelings of love and maybe just old fashioned values.

I actually didn’t quit my day job until after probably about four or five months after I signed a contract with a publisher. That was actually about three years after I first published “The Christmas Box” on my own. At that point, when I sold the rights to a major publisher, I signed a contract for a second book. They wanted two books, so that’s what really started it all. I thought, I guess I’m a writer now. At the time I was doing advertising. Retail and political.

I had to survive all the early jobs. I was cleaning construction sites, for example. I had jobs I wouldn’t wish on anyone. At some level I was always looking for more. In fact, the most creative I ever was, was when I was doing a job I didn’t want to do. Then all of a sudden you have great motivation. You want to get out of there.

I had lots of work early on. I worked at a dry cleaners, worked at a Taco Time, worked at the construction site, to name a few. Later on I worked in clay animation. The biggest ones we did were actually for Japanese advertisers. I think, frankly, they came to us because we were the cheapest. We certainly weren’t the best.

I know too many artistes who basically let people support them who have no business supporting them. It’s just the idea of kind of hiding, you know, the tortured artist … Too many people just don’t have any talent. So they consider that’s who they are. The reality is that if you’re able to take care and provide, the muses are going to speak to you better. I think of some of the really successful writers now, like James Patterson. James Patterson was running one of the largest advertising agencies in the world when he wrote his first book. Now, this is a man who did not have a lot of time, so he was giving up sleep. He was making sacrifices, because he cared about the craft.

And so for that matter, it happens a lot. There are a lot of single mothers or widowed women who become writers for that reason. They’re trying to support; they’re trying to find a way to supplement their income. I think it’s the honorable way to do it — put first things first — provide for yourself, and then do it.

Christmas Box House International builds shelters for abused and neglected children. The concept is that we’re a public/private partnership. We go into a community. We build a facility and invite child applicants to come into it for free as long as they uphold a high standard of service. And then as a community shelter, the community starts to rally around it with money and programs and donations, and it’s really remarkable. This year around Christmastime you’ll have twenty groups a day come down to help. We’ve just begun.

Now I aspire to the next best thing. I haven’t written my best book yet. I’m always aspiring to reach something higher and better. I’m actually working on a book on finance right now, which is completely out of the market, completely different, but I’m starting to see the same kind of response that I saw with “The Christmas Box.” You know, people call me and say, “Well, five people read my copy so far.” Or I’m speaking, and someone orders a hundred copies.

It’s a good sign.

Richard’s story was very inspirational to me, as he started out as yet another self-published author.

I hope you enjoyed his interview.

Thank you for reading.

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Joel Eisenberg is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and producer. The Oscar in the profile pic isn’t his but he’s scheming. WGA and Pen America member.

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