When Donna VanLiere writes about single mothers struggling to have Christmas for their children, or a small-town department store owner with a heart of gold, she knows whereof she speaks. The Franklin, Tennessee, writer has become the queen of Christmas with a series of holiday heart-warmers that continues with her new novel, The Christmas Secret. After earning a degree in theater and doing commercial and voiceover work, VanLiere began her writing career by adapting the hit song The Christmas Shoes into a bestselling novel. As she tells Chapter 16, both the struggles and the miraculous turns of event throughout her books are based upon real people and her belief in the power we all share to affect the lives of others. VanLiere will read from and discuss The Christmas Secret on Sunday, December 13, at 3 p.m. at Landmark Booksellers in Franklin (114 East Main St.) That day, the Lifetime network will also air a marathon of holiday films based upon earlier VanLiere books. The series will culminate in the premiere of Christmas Hope, at 8 p.m. Any of these events, plus a Snuggie and a cup of hot cocoa by the tree, are bound to melt all but the very Grinchiest of hearts.
Chapter 16: In The Christmas Secret, a tightly knit social community is a vital part of the story, and Wilson’s department store is a thriving, local downtown business. You live in Franklin, Tennessee, a community that maintains a bustling downtown center with the feel of a small town. Is the community in The Christmas Secret modeled on Franklin, and, if not, what real life places have you pulled from to create your fictional settings?
VanLiere: Franklin is very much like my hometown of Medina, Ohio, and I pull from both of them to create the setting for the books. My hometown has a gazebo right in the middle of the town square, and I’ve utilized the gazebo for each book. I also grew up with a locally owned department store on the square, and that was my inspiration for Wilson’s Department Store. I worked at a restaurant on the square in high school and modeled Betty’s Restaurant and Bakery in The Christmas Secret after it and a couple of downtown restaurants in Franklin. I’m fortunate to have lived in such inspirational settings that when I sit down to write I can see the settings so clearly in my mind!
Chapter 16: On a related note, Glory’s Place in The Christmas Secret is a wonderful, loving haven for single mothers and for their children. Is there a real-life Glory’s Place somewhere that you knew of in writing the book?
VanLiere: I don’t know of a real Glory’s Place but I’ve met a lot of Gloria’s in my life who have inspired her character. There are some people who have turned their sorrow or suffering into hope for others, and that’s what Gloria has done. Her life wasn’t easy for many years (as I wrote about in The Christmas Promise), but she didn’t become bitter. She used her experience to help other people. Thankfully, Christine is on the receiving end of that in The Christmas Secret.
Chapter 16: The holiday setting in your books helps to create the sense of possibility and hope that seems stronger at Christmas than other times of the year. Can you share with us any particular story that has inspired you in writing the books?
VanLiere: There is a tremendous sense of hope around Christmas. Even if people are cynical through the previous eleven months, they suspend a little cynicism around Christmas because there’s a buzz in the air. People look beyond themselves and reach out to help others at this time of year. I keep that in mind as I write each book: life can be hard but there are people who care. All of the books have been inspired by something or someone. I had a cousin who was born with a hole in his heart, and the doctors gave his parents a grim prognosis. That become the inspiration for The Christmas Blessing. My husband and I have three children we’ve adopted from China and Guatemala, and the hope and joy of adoption was the inspiration for The Christmas Hope. I have a couple of friends who are single mothers (my own sister is a single mother), and watching their lives and all they do became the inspiration for The Christmas Secret. Single mothers have the most difficult job on earth, and I wanted to honor their work and the dignity and character they do it with through Christine’s life.
Chapter 16: Social networking is the phenomenon of 2009. How have tools like Facebook, Twitter, and Skype changed your availability to readers? How do you view the future of the author book tour and its role in promoting new works?
VanLiere: Facebook has been great fun because I can send a quick message to readers or send a post that several people comment on within seconds. I wish I were more tech-minded and could play a greater role in social networking but I don’t do much beyond Facebook. With three small children I don’t have time for Twitter but certainly know people who utilize it! The publishing world has had to change due to the Internet and social media, and as a result you see more and more books and authors promoted online, as opposed [to] bookstores, and I’m not sure what that means for bookstores down the road. I’m old school: I love to go into the store and sit with the book and thumb through it and then wander the aisles of the store for another book. There’s something peaceful about that. I understand that the rise of the Internet and social networking sites have forced all of us to change somewhat, but it’s my hope that they don’t obliterate all of the old ways. I hope [there will] be room for both.