“The Christmas Note” just hit the New York Times Fiction Bestseller list, and author Donna VanLiere couldn’t be happier.
The former Medina resident and 1985 graduate of Medina High School is no stranger to receiving recognition for her work. In addition to being a frequent flier on the bestseller list, she’s received the Retailer’s Choice Award for Fiction, a Dove Award and an Audie Award for best inspirational fiction.
VanLiere tells “The Christmas Note” story through the voices of two women whose backgrounds and personalities couldn’t be more different. Gretchen Daniels, an Army wife whose husband Kyle was seriously injured while stationed in Afghanistan, is an adoptee who grew up in a loving family. Melissa McCreary endured a tempestuous relationship with a dysfunctional, alcoholic mother and never knew who her father was.
They meet while Gretchen’s husband is overseas recuperating and Gretchen, who wants to be closer to her mother, moves her family into the condo next to Melissa’s. Their unlikely friendship begins when Melissa’s mother, Ramona, dies and Gretchen offers her sympathy and help in cleaning out Ramona’s apartment. It is Gretchen who finds the note Ramona started but never completed, telling Melissa she has a brother and sister who were given up for adoption. And it is Gretchen who eventually convinces her to search for them.
Much to the surprise of both women, their friendship grows as Melissa is slowly drawn into the circle of Gretchen’s family.
VanLiere, whose own children are adopted, said most of her research focused on the military aspect. A friend in the Army guided her efforts in getting the details just right.
“I wanted to pay tribute to our fighting men and women, to our military,” VanLiere said in a telephone interview from her home in Franklin, Tenn. “That’s why I took Gretchen’s viewpoint as an Army wife” to allow readers to see and experience what she was feeling. It also was one of the reasons she wrote the book from a first-person viewpoint.
“I do love first person,” she said. “First person draws me in with the character.”
But, she explained, you have to find the character’s true voice. If you don’t have it right, she said, the reader will pick up on that.
“I like bringing characters to life so readers see and feel what the characters are seeing and feeling,” she said. “I like putting the reader on the page. I love to write.”
Before becoming a full-time writer, she had careers that revolved around her degrees in theater and broadcasting. But she constantly wrote on the side.
“People would call and say they needed a play for a charity event, and did I know someone who could do that. So I would write a play or whatever was needed. I did that for years and years.”
She began to write short pieces and soon gathered them into a book about the Apostles, her first published effort. A few months later, she wrote “The Christmas Shoes,” the first in a line of books celebrating the small miracles of the heart.
Faithful VanLiere fans will recognize some old friends and places in “The Christmas Note” that appeared in her previous “Christmas” books, but brand-new readers don’t have to backtrack and read them before enjoying this one.
Local readers also will recognize some Medina landmarks, said VanLiere, whose parents, Archie and Alice Payne, still live here. She draws on her memories of the area to set the stage in the books.
“Growing up in Northeast Ohio enabled me to write snowy scenes, capture the small-town flavor,” she said, laughing. “I couldn’t write about them otherwise. The Medina square, the shops, the gazebo, inspired the town in the books.”
Although the book has subtle Christian elements, VanLiere doesn’t classify herself strictly as a Christian writer. She said she’s Christian, and she’s a writer, but her work appeals to a much wider audience.
VanLiere’s next book, “The Good Dream,” published by St. Martin’s Press, will be released in July. The story, set in 1950s East Tennessee, tells the tale of a single, 30-year-old woman.
“In the ’50s, if you were 30 and single, you might as well be dead in the eyes of the community. You’d be a spinster,” VanLiere said, laughing again. “She sets a trap to try to catch whatever has been tearing up her garden and discovers a feral boy who comes down from the hills. The story is about their relationship.”
Although she said getting started is one her greatest writing challenges, VanLiere already is working on her next book, due out in 2013. Fans can follow her career by visiting her Web site,
Contact Judy A. Totts at email@example.com.