Q&A: Ace Collins (The Christmas Star)
Can the broken heart of a child be healed by an unexpected Christmas letter? Robert Reed gave his life for his country in the early days of World War II. His sacrifice was honored when his widow and son were presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor. Each Christmas, the final decoration Madge Reed hangs on the family’s tree is that medal and rather than being a symbol of honor for young Jimmy Reed, that shining star represents loss, pain and suffering. But a letter delivered by one of Robert’s fellow soldiers, and a mystery posed in that letter put a father’s sacrifice and faith into perspective and bring new meaning to not just the star hanging on the tree but the events of the very first Christmas. Then when least expected, a Christmas miracle turns a final bit of holiday sadness into a joy that the boy has never known.
Ace Collins has crafted a novella that prompts memories of Christmases past and shows the power behind the hope and faith of children.Why did you want to write a Christmas novel and why set it in the 1940’s?
Consider what Christmas 1945 must have been like in the United States. For millions of families it was the first time they had been together in years. For hundreds of thousands of men in uniform it was an incredible homecoming. Now think about what the Christmas would have been like for those whose loved ones died during the war. The loneliness they experienced during the war would now be magnified as they watched others experience this reuniting. Thus, because Christmas 1945 was one of the most unique in history and the emotions that accompanied that holiday season were likely running the deepest, it seemed the perfect time to set a novel that focused on the real message of loss, sacrifice and faith.
You are able to capture the time period so vividly. What type of research did you do?
I have long had a fascination with the Depression era and World War II. This was a period when folks were forced to dig deep to survive. So much was asked of people and many had so few resources to answer that call. So my past reading, talking to those who lived through that period and watching a host of documentaries served me well. But to get even a better handle on the time period, I visited specifically with folks who lived in the area where the book is set and gained a knowledge of that local history. I also listened to scores of radio dramas, comedies and variety programs from 1945 to give a feel for slang, pacing, music and the interests of that particular year.
How much of you is in Jimmy Reed’s character?
I don’t see much of Jimmy in me. He is much more wounded than I have ever been. He lost the most important guide in his life and has had to face adult challenges much quicker than I ever did. But I do see Jimmy in a lot of the kids growing up today in single parent homes. These kids are handicapped because they lack the adult mentor they need to provide the compass to properly filter their choices. So while Jimmy might not be me, I have seen him in a thousand other kids.
You successfully write both non-fiction and fiction. Do you have a preference as to which you enjoy more as a writer?
Because of the nature of how I write fiction, it requires the same kind of research as my nonfiction books. And, as I am really just an Arkansas storyteller, my nonfiction books contain a narrative that is much like the style found in one of my novels. In both cases I hope that when a reader finishes my books they feel like they have had a meal with me and I’ve shared the story during our visit. Yet, if I had to choose between the two genres, and thankfully I don’t, I would lean to fiction. The only boundary in fiction is your imagination and to me pulling from my imagination is the ultimate challenge.
How does your faith impact your writing?
There is no doubt that I often boil living a life of faith down to following Christ’s charge found in Matthew 25:35-40. I think, therefore, you will find the message of that verse subtly interjected into each of my books. But much like some of the themes found in Frank Capra films, my themes are more felt than spelled out. I’m not going to hit you over the head with faith, but give it to the reader in small doses. Thus, I think I come across more as a Christian who writes books rather than as a Christian writer. The difference? My messages are not deep theology, but rather simple life lessons woven into an often complex plot.
What is your perfect writing environment?
I write while looking out of my office window at Timber Ridge. As the seasons change, so does my view of the Arkansas hills. There is a peace about that view that opens my mind for creative work. So that is where I write, but my ideas for books are born everywhere, especially when I’m either out jogging or driving my car.
What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring writer?
I think I would give them two pieces of advice. Never give up on a good idea and don’t worry about rejection.
What’s next for you?
Two contemporary issue-oriented novels, a courtroom drama set in two different eras that looks at racism, a comedy-whodunit that unfolds just after World War II and a romantic novel set in 1930’s Hollywood. It also looks like I might be penning my first devotional book as well.