Q: Grace takes place during the darkest days of the Cuban missile crisis. What led you to set the novel during that turbulent era of American history?
A: I initially chose the era because it was a time when society had still not accepted the existence of child abuse and, historically, there were thousands of youth in America roaming the streets. I chose the October of the Cuban Missile Crisis because I wanted to show the contrast of global destruction juxtaposed against the destruction of an individual life. As someone once said, “If the entire universe should explode, the moon and stars disappear and the earth collapse on itself, you still only die once.”
Q: How do the characters and plots you explore in your novels germinate?
A: First, the characters. With the exception of Richard in The Christmas Box, Eric, the novel’s male protagonist, is probably more like me (as a boy) than any character I’ve ever created. Grace’s character just came to me–a beautiful, strong yet damaged female character who is, like all my favorite characters, a study in contradictions. She is smarter and more mature than Eric, but beholden to Eric for his goodness. I’m not sure where the plot came from. I started out writing a story about a wealthy man who takes a bet to live homeless for a month and I ended up with Grace. I’m always amazed at the inspiration that comes to me.
Q: Grace’s character remains elusive in the novel, though we get a glimpse of her innermost thoughts in her diary excerpts. Was it your intent that she remains something of a mystery to your readers?
A: I chose to keep Grace somewhat mysterious for the sake of the book’s climax. The twists near the end have surprised most of my early readers. Also, the story is told from Eric’s perspective for obvious reasons—Grace isn’t around at the end to tell her story. I included Grace’s diary to get some insight into her experience that wouldn’t happen otherwise in a novel written in first person.
Q: Why did you decide to allude only indirectly to Grace’s abuse?
A: Again, I wanted to lead the reader into her story. It would have weakened the impact to begin by laying out her whole experience. Also, this is told from Eric’s point of view. As he learns more about Grace he grows and matures. In this way the reader, and Eric, have the same experience. (Though I expect my readers are much more likely to figure things out in advance.) The reading experience is like turning the burner on full and watching the water start to boil.
Q: If Grace were made into a movie, as several of your novels have been, what actors could you happily envision playing the roles of the protagonists?
A: I’m a huge Dakota Fanning fan, so I would cast her—though she’d have to age up to the role. I’m not sure who the boy would be, though Haley Joel Osment would be good if he’s not too old by now. I could see Mary Steenburgen as the mother.
Q: To what extent do you set out consciously to examine or explore religious themes in your novels?
A: At one time in my career Barnes and Noble bookstores categorized my books as religious fiction. Though I am active in the LDS faith, I am fascinated by all religions and have studied many of them. I find myself seeking out the commonalities of our different religious experiences with hopes of encouraging, through my writings, the most hopeful, loving and redemptive qualities in all of us.
Q: In your experience, how do readers who are not religious respond to your work?
A: Quite well, actually. I don’t remember ever receiving a negative letter from someone in that regard. (Although I have received letters from people angry that I don’t promote a certain religion.) I’ve never been accused of promoting a religious agenda. They usually say things like, “though Evans is obviously a Christian, he doesn’t flog you with it…”
Q: Who are some of the authors you most admire and why?
A: That depends if you mean as writers or people. In terms of writers, I tend to read more non-fiction than fiction and I love the works of Marianne Williamson (brilliant), the late M. Scott Peck, and one of my new favorites, Erik Larsen.
Q: What were some of the challenges you faced in narrating Grace from the perspective of an adult looking back on his experiences as a fourteen-year-old?
A: It was a little tricky, as Eric the boy was frightfully naïve and I had to be careful not to allow him knowledge he wasn’t ready for. I just put myself in his shoes. I guess I haven’t lost the inner child. ;-).
Q: Can you discuss in a bit of detail the Christmas Box House International, its aims, and your involvement?
A: I am the founder and Chairman of the Christmas Box International. Our original goal was to build emergency shelters to help abused and neglected children. We’ve done well in that regard and to date we’ve housed nearly 20,000 abused children. Our goals have taken an ambitious leap this year as we launch the Christmas Box initiative, our objective being to give aid to every youth in America transitioning out of foster care. The statistics on these youth are appalling and I believe we can help these youth break the cycle of poverty and abuse and live productive, happy lives.
The Gift Richard Paul Evans
A Conversation With Richard Paul Evans
1. What kind of research, if any, did you do for your story? Did you find that there were actually people who exist with these powers?
I began by researching stories about children who claimed near-death experiences. After my book The Christmas Box was published, I was contacted by many adults who claimed to have NDE’s [near-death experiences]. What intrigued me is how differently children, who aren’t as set in their ways, viewed the NDE. Some of them seemed incapable of living what we consider a normal life.
The concept of spiritual healing was something I was raised with. My grandfather, a devout Christian, had the gift of healing. On three different occasions I saw him give blessings that resulted in miraculous healings, to the point of completely astounding the doctors who were involved. One doctor said, and I quote, “There is a power at work here much greater than any doctor’s.”
2. What drew you to telling this particular story?
Perhaps with the recent losses in my life I was looking for healing myself.
3. Was writing the book in any way healing for you? Do you think people can be healed by reading a story about healing? If so, how?
I think the book made me consider not my own healing but others. Was I doing everything I could to bless the lives of those around me. Yes, people can definitely be healed by books. Again, in reference to The Christmas Box, I received hundreds of comments from people telling how they were healed.
4. Can you discuss what you find so healing about children?
Raising or caring for children requires sacrifice and service, which, I believe, heals us from the destructive forces of self-centeredness.
5. Do you think that someone can heal him- or herself? Or must healing necessarily involve another person?
I believe, on some level, that all healing and all life comes from a single, universal source. God. But we are the initiators of the process.
6. In the story, you seem to touch lightly on the morality or ethics of healing. In the Christian spirit, aren’t we all God’s children and thus each deserving of divine healing? Was it difficult to decide whom Collin should heal? Why or why not? Did you struggle at all with Collin being able to change another being’s destiny with his gift?
A couple points to consider. From a Christian perspective, this life is a temporary estate, so the most important goal in life is not to prolong life, but to magnify life. That being the case, physical healing isn’t nearly as important as spiritual healing.
Also, I’m not so fatalistic to think that everything bad comes from God. I think I expressed this in Miche’s words. “Sometimes things just are the way they are.”
7. How would you describe love?
I believe that love is the choice we make to raise ourselves and others to the highest planes of existence.
8. Have you ever done any work with Tourette’s patients? What does it mean to you to have the main character suddenly cured?
Daily. My son, like me, suffers from TS. After I was diagnosed with Tourette’s, my wife and I started to attend some TS events. My son and I found them horribly depressing, so we don’t go anymore. In truth, I no longer look at my TS as a disability, so Nathan’s greatest response—that he had lost his identity—was actually how I would feel.
9. What are you working on now?
I can’t tell you. But I think my readers are going to love it.
A Conversation with Richard Paul Evans, Author of The Walk
1. What message are you trying to share with this novel?
I believe that we were meant to live as social creatures, to reach out and bless each other’s lives. To paraphrase what Dickens wrote, “…it’s required of all men to walk abroad among humanity.”
2. Why did you decide to write in diary form, rather than another styles?
I began writing in diary form nearly 15 years ago with my second novel Timepiece. I enjoy doing it and it makes for a very readable, interesting book.
3. There is a spiritual side to the novel as Alan wrestles with his feelings toward God. Why did you choose to add this aspect to the story?
It is my experience that almost everyone who suffers a major loss, whether a professed believer in God or not, wonders about God and struggles with either blame or confusion. It was an issue I wanted to address head-on, especially with Ally, the waitress, who asks: why do we blame God for the bad things but not the good?
4. Are you like Alan, who said that everyone has a deep desire to leave everything behind and just keep moving? Or do you prefer to stay close to home?
Seeing I’ve been in 13 cities in the last three weeks I suppose I’m more like Alan than I want to believe. But as I get older I long to just be home.
5. Why did you choose to call out certain parts of Alan’s diary to start each chapter?
It’s a style I’ve used before in my writing and one that is very popular with my readers. As I write the focus is on creating a story that flows quickly, so the reader becomes lost in the experience. More prosaic passages can stop that flow. I discovered by pulling them out and putting them at the beginning of a chapter heading, where the reader is already transitioning, makes for a more enjoyable read.
6. You write a very descriptive narrative about Washington State where Alan travels, and seem to have a lot of knowledge of the area. Have you traveled there before?
My daughter, Jenna, and I rented a car and drove the route, carefully observing what he would see, where he would stop and what he would eat. I initially tried to write this story in my den and realized it was impossible to do without being there. This means that over the next four years my daughter Jenna and I will travel across America together, something I’m very excited about.
7. Alan contemplates an important question on his walk that is good for you as well: Who really does have the greatest milkshakes?
I honestly don’t know. I’m diabetic so I didn’t try any. My daughter liked Zeke’s.
8. The Walk is the first book in your planned series. What other adventures are in store for Alan on his trip?
You’ll have to wait and see.
9. You’ve written a number of best sellers. What is it about writing that you enjoy? What is your process in creating stories that people enjoy so much?
I suppose I have an active imagination and writing allows me to live it out. I truly feel as if I’m a conduit for these stories and there are times that I don’t even know what I’m writing until it’s poured through me and I can confront it on the page. People are looking for inspiration and my books are sometimes the vehicles of what people are looking for. It’s my job, however, to make it entertaining.
10. What are you working on now?
A love story called Promise Me, due out Fall 2010.