The surprising journey of two of Robin Jones Gunn’s beloved Christmas novellas from the page to the screen.
Robin Jones Gunn is probably best known for her Christy Miller series but after writing 90 books and selling nearly 5 million copies, there was one thing this author had never done. She’d never written a book that transcended the pages onto the screen. This November that will change when Finding Father Christmas premieres on the Hallmark Channel.
When Robin decided to write Finding Father Christmas (FaithWords) two years before its publication in 2009, she would later recall the event as a writing spree. She wrote the complete 160-page manuscript in just 10 days. The inspiration spilled onto the pages after a trip she took to London with her daughter and a friend. London is the charming setting of this book about a young woman who is searching for the father she never but ends up finding something she wasn’t looking for—a sense of belonging.
When the novella was sent to the publisher, she committed to a sequel. She had many more ideas of where this story could go. So she sat down to write. When it was complete she sent it to her editors who asked her to do a total rewrite. A complete rewrite was atypical for someone of Robin’s status. After all, she is a best-selling, award-winning novelist. But rewrite she did. Upon submission of the second draft, she was given startling news again: another rewrite was necessary. Robin struggled and persevered to present a third draft to her publisher. When she was told she needed to do a fourth rewrite Robin considered quitting.
She knew she had struggled and pushed through to develop the second and third rewrites and she just didn’t understand what more she had to give to the story. But as Robin explains it, this is when God stepped in and provided a way. Just when she was burning out, she and her husband were given the opportunity to house-sit for some friends in Hawaii. They jumped on the chance and Robin used that month to rewrite Engaging Father Christmas again. This time it was accepted by her publisher. Robin said she finally felt free of the project and although she had dreamed of writing a third novella in the series, she was happy to let the story end with just two books.
Then one day Robin got a call from her agent. A film producer had contacted her looking for a Christmas story to turn into a movie. She sent her Finding Father Christmas. The producer returned saying she had interest, but did not think the book would translate due to the lack of romance in the plot. That’s when Robin’s agent sent her Engaging Father Christmas, which is truly a romance.
Robin admits in her eBook How my Book Became a Movie: A True Story, which details the experience, that she wasn’t overly excited at this prospect. For years her books in the Christy Miller series had been optioned by producers, but the projects never flourished into movies. Months dragged on and Robin didn’t hear from the producer, but inside of her a seed had been planted. It seemed everywhere she turned she was challenged to believe that God would do something on her behalf if she only had faith to ask. So she began asking and believing and eventually that dream came true.
Robin and her agent were invited to be on set during filming and she described the event as “surreal.” There was one moment on set when I was watching Erin and Wendie do the first take on a key scene and I thought, ‘Wait. How can this be take one? I’ve seen this before.’ At one point, Robin was even consulted about the script, which she did not write. Her suggested was used in the film, much to Robin’s delight. She and her agent also had the chance to star in the film as extras. It was a proud moment for the writer who noted “I haven’t seen the film yet but I heard from the producer that we are ‘noticeable’. I have a feeling we were both grinning more enthusiastically than any of the other extras. Our film debuts may have started and ended right there.”
Robin did in fact decide to add to the story of her characters in Finding Father Christmas and Engaging Father Christmas with yet another novella. Kissing Father Christmas (Hachette Books) is a romance for Anna who returns to England to find a certain someone she just can’t forget. Robin says of the project, “What I liked about writing this winsome tale was returning in my imagination to the world first created in Finding Father Christmas. The influence to set these three cheery Christmas stories in England came from British writers.”
FROM BOOK TO SCREEN AND BACK AGAIN
Following the process of seeing the Hallmark channel adapt her Christmas stories, Robin Jones Gunn now recounts her experiences in the book How My Book Became A Movie: A True Story. Proceeds from sales of this book will go toward scholarships for international writers to attend the LittWorld Conference. Print versions of the book are currently available in my online BookShop.robingunn.com.
Q: Why did you choose to share your experiences like this?
I was so euphoric after being on set for the filming of “Finding Father Christmas” that I started writing about the experience on the plane ride home. I thought I was writing a blog. Over the next few weeks I kept writing. I pulled out my journals from the past ten years saw what a journey this had been. So many ups and downs. So many prayers.
The theme of this very personal little book is that God can do anything. He can do more than we could ever hope or wish or imagine. If you’re about to give up on a dream I think this little book will warm your heart and encourage you to trust God in new ways as you see the scope of His bigger purpose for your life.
Q: Tell us about the organization where you’re donating the proceeds.
The LittWorld Conferences and regional workshops provide training for writers and publishers in difficult places in the world. They are working diligently to tell stories that bring hope and light to their culture and are writing in the heart language of their people. Some have experienced serious persecution for producing written materials that honor God. Many of them create their art at great personal risk and expense.
I’ve seen the expansive benefits of what happens when writers and publishers gather at the tri-annual LittWorld conferences. The ripple effects are powerful.