Lynn Austin has sold more than one and a half million copies of her books worldwide. A former teacher who now writes and speaks full-time, she has won eight Christy Awards for her historical fiction and was one of the first inductees into the Christy Award Hall of Fame. One of her novels, Hidden Places, was made into a Hallmark Channel original movie. Lynn and her husband have three grown children and make their home in western Michigan.
From the bestselling author of If I Were You comes a nostalgic and endearing holiday story that reminds us that sometimes the most meaningful gifts are the ones we least expect and don’t deserve. In this interview Lynn discusses her new historical Christmas novel, The Wish Book Christmas.
FF: What prompted you to write a Christmas novella?
I love Christmas stories and the Christmas movies that our family watches year after year. (My favorite is How the Grinch Stole Christmas.) I have always wanted to write a Christmas-themed book but never had time—until the pandemic struck and all of our travel plans, family get-togethers, church events, and other fun activities were canceled, giving me plenty of extra time. My idea was to write a Christmas novella that was a mini sequel to one of my full-length novels, giving readers an enjoyable update on some of their favorite characters. The Wish Book Christmas brings readers back to the people and setting they first met in my novel If I Were You.
FF: In The Wish Book Christmas, what message do you hope to convey about Christmas?
Christmas is about the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ, given to us in love by our heavenly Father. He should be the focus of all that we do to celebrate. Christmas shouldn’t be just a spending spree with long lists of all the presents we need to buy and the gifts we hope to receive. Instead, it’s a time to return God’s love by freely giving ourselves, our time, and our talents to others, expecting nothing in return. This is the best way to glorify God and celebrate His Son’s birth at Christmas.
FF: Please tell us a bit about the setting of your novella.
The Wish Book Christmas takes place in a small Connecticut town in December of 1951. Christmas is one month away, World War II is in the rearview mirror, and Americans are enjoying renewed prosperity along with a “baby boom.” The main characters, Eve Dawson and Audrey Barrett, are British war brides who are struggling to raise their fatherless sons in the postwar bungalow they share. Readers first met Eve and Audrey and their five-year-old sons, Harry and Bobby, in my novel If I Were You, but this novella also reads very well as a stand-alone story.
FF: Can you provide a brief backstory of your characters?
Eve Dawson and Audrey Clarkson Barrett were childhood friends in England, where they grew up. Audrey and her wealthy family owned Wellingford Hall, a huge estate where Eve and her mother worked as servants. Their friendship flourishes in spite of their differences, and when World War II begins, the women enlist in the British army together, driving ambulances. They each fall in love with an American soldier and give birth to a son. But Audrey marries her son’s father and Eve does not. Audrey prepares to join her husband in America, but her plans end in tragedy when her husband dies suddenly. She decides to remain in England. Eve, who has no way to support her son and herself, decides to steal Audrey’s identity and move to America in her place. Eve’s deception is uncovered four years later when Audrey and her son arrive in America unannounced. Unscrambling the mess and restoring the friendship provides the plot for If I Were You.
FF: Your novella is set in 1951. Why do you feel the themes of this story are so relevant, both then and now?
I think 1951 and 2021 are both times of great change and also prosperity. In both eras, the values and traditions of the past are being questioned and, in many cases, discarded for something new and modern. This is especially true of biblical values. As suburban life becomes busier and more secular in both time periods, the true meaning of Christmas as Christ’s birth is lost as the holiday becomes commercialized. In both 1951 and 2021, we long to recover the simple beauty and meaning of the holiday.
FF: This story is a nostalgic harkening back to the iconic Sears Wish Book catalogue. Was this catalogue part of your childhood Christmases? Please explain.
Oh yes! The Sears Wish Book was something my two sisters and I looked forward to every season. I remember the three of us poring over it together the way the two boys in my novella do, choosing among page after page of toys and dreaming of finding them all beneath the tree on Christmas morning. Like the mothers in the novella, our mother also made us limit our choices—which was often difficult to do! The catalogue would be limp and dog-eared by the time we gave Santa our final lists.
When I was researching this novella, I was surprised and pleased to find back issues of the original Sears Wish Book online, dating back to the 1940s and ’50s. It was great fun to be reminded of all the toys from my childhood. And although the prices seemed ridiculously cheap by today’s standards, parents probably found them costly at the time.
FF: If someone is standing in a bookstore considering your novella, what might you say to them to encourage them to read it?
We all need a reminder now and then that Christmas isn’t about creating the perfect “Hallmark Christmas” with all the trappings and trimmings—and exhausting ourselves and our credit card limits in the process. The Wish Book Christmas offers inspiration for keeping the true meaning of Christmas at the forefront as we celebrate Christ’s birth. Readers with children and grandchildren will find some ideas for managing their kids’ expectations and teaching them to give.
FF: What is your hope for this novella?
My hope is that The Wish Book Christmas will rekindle the joy of giving and inspire creativity in shaping our Christmas traditions. The beauty of Jesus’ birth can be celebrated in simplicity and should be shared with neighbors who don’t know Him. I think most children are naturally generous, and I hope the story inspires parents to teach their children new ways to give at Christmas.
FF: What lessons from this story do you hope will resonate with your readers?
One of the characters in the novella, Eve Dawson, has a difficult time accepting God’s forgiveness for her past mistakes, feeling that she has to do something to earn it. I hope the message is clear that Jesus is God’s gift of grace to us so that our past can be forgiven. Like Eve, we can have a new life and a new beginning in Christ.
FF: How did writing this story change you and your own perspective of Christmas?
I love to lavish presents on my children and grandchildren, but writing this story reminded me that it’s more important to teach them, by my example, how to give generously to others. I want to reach out to my neighbors in new ways this Christmas and pare down all the expectations of what makes a “perfect” holiday.
The Wish Book Christmas
Genres: Historical Christmas
Release Date: September 7, 2021
Best friends Audrey Barrett and Eve Dawson are looking forward to celebrating Christmas in postwar America, thrilled at the prospect of starting new traditions with their five-year-old sons. But when the 1951 Sears Christmas Wish Book arrives and the boys start obsessing over every toy in it, Audrey and Eve realize they must first teach them the true significance of the holiday. They begin by helping Bobby and Harry plan gifts of encouragement and service for those in their community, starting by walking an elderly neighbor’s yellow Lab—since a dog topped the boys’ wish list for Santa. In the charming tale that follows, Audrey and Eve are surprised to find their own hearts healing from the tragedies of war and opening to the possibility of forgiveness and new love.
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