When I discovered that Erin Krakow would star in Finding Father Christmas, a Hallmark Movies and Mysteries production, I set aside time to watch. Like so many others, though, when a movie is based on a work of fiction, I have to read the books first. In the pages of that novella, I discovered an author with incredible faith who takes her readers on journeys of hope, love, and self-discovery. Robin Jones Gunn, author of 90 books that have sold almost 5 million copies, shares with us the blessings of taking a book from print to screen and how unshakeable faith continues to guide her steps.
ATG: Finding Father Christmas was Hallmark Movies and Mysteries’ most watched telecast in network history when it aired last year. How would you describe your own response to Finding Father Christmas?
Robin: It was over a 5-year process, so I anticipated it a bit more. At first, a producer contacted my agent, asking for Christmas stories. My agent sent Finding Father Christmas. Two years later, the producer (who was from England) contacted me, mentioning how she loved the attention to detail. However, Hallmark said they just couldn’t do it because “we do love stories, and it isn’t a love story.” My agent sent them Engaging Father Christmas, and they were able to work the two books together into a script. It took me two days to go over the 36 page contract, but it just felt right. It was such an opportunity, and the script stayed true to the original theme of searching for belonging.
When it aired, I sat down with my husband, my son, and my daughter to watch. It is such a heartwarming story about truth and the peace of reconciliation.
ATG: I have to agree. The movie is so much more than “just a love story.” You’ve mentioned that Erin Krakow portrays Miranda wonderfully, and we know you’re a Heartie. Were you a Heartie first, or did Erin’s involvement in Finding Father Christmas lead you to When Calls the Heart?
Robin: I’ve been a big fan of Janette Oke for a long time. I’ve had a connection with her since the 1980s. Back then, she was doing something that no one else was doing and the Christian Fiction market was new. I read all her books, so when the When Calls the Heart movie was made, I had to watch. It was a really well done movie, and I enjoyed it. I hadn’t watched season one of the television series, but after watching the movie and hearing everyone talk about the show, I finally recorded and watched season two. I started like any other Heartie.
Have you met Erin?
ATG: I have. In fact, I just got back from the Hearties Family Reunion.
Robin: You know, when I met Erin on the set of Finding Father Christmas, I had that feeling we all have about her. It’s like we already know her from watching the show. Now, I’ve been watching for years. There is something compelling about her. I’ve really enjoyed that about the times I’ve spent on set with her. She is just real – she carries such grace and elegance about her. And she has a great sense of humor. You know, I asked her once what other role she would like to do next, and she said she really loves comedy. She’d like to do something along the lines of a romantic comedy.
ATG: I’m sure you have something along those lines.
Robin: Funny you would say that. I’ve thought my book Waterfalls would be a fun romantic comedy for the screen. Erin would make a great Meredith.
ATG: One aspect of Finding Father Christmas that resonated with the audience was the human need to belong and feel a part of a community. Now, Engaging Father Christmas is set to air this month. How would you describe the theme for Engaging
Robin: They used pieces of my book Engaging Father Christmas to create the romance for the Finding Father Christmas movie, but there was still so much more they could pull out and embellish. The phrase written above the door of the house, “May Grace and Truth Reside Here,” has really been incorporated into the story. Being on set, I was able to see what that meant for the characters, and that it’s how I want to live, too. It comes from the first chapter of John. We want to be filled with grace and truth. Seeing this phrase come full circle in my own heart – that’s what Christmas means. It’s about finding that deeper truth that becomes an anchor for our lives.
ATG: We know Miranda’s story resonates with both readers and viewers. How has Miranda’s story blessed your own heart?
Robin: I have these two friends I met with for 16 years. We prayed together every Tuesday. That was a sacred time set apart for each other. It got us through a lot. One of the women received a message that said “You don’t know me, but we share the same birth mother.” It turns out their father was very well-known. I watched her go through the process of discovering her birth father, just like the story in the Father Christmas books. How did that change me? It pulled me closer to God. I discovered how deeply we all want to be wanted. We want to know, deep into the spiritual realm, that there is a purpose for our existence, that there are no mistakes and every life is valuable. No life will make sense unless you know Who created you.
ATG: Being on set for part of the filming was another huge blessing for you with the first movie. You mentioned being on set again. How did that affect you this time
Robin: Ok. So I’m on the set of Engaging Father Christmas. I’m outside the house,
talking with Wendie Malick, and she says to me, “Your stories just make a difference.” Then she turns and walks into the house to continue with filming.
It wasn’t actual filming yet, it was more of rehearsal and setting up the shots. A few moments later, in the middle of rehearsal, Wendie just stops, points at me, and says, “I love the way you tell stories.” Everyone turned to look at me, wondering who I was. Wendie has actually stayed in touch, too. To have my stories mean so much to them, it’s amazing.
ATG: One of the central points in your books is the character’s discovery of their own faith journey. Often in film, that journey becomes an undercurrent to a larger story. How does this affect your own desires for your story’s message?
Robin: You know, I discovered that plenty of people will find the deeper story. This whole process has created so many connections with people, people who wouldn’t normally pick up a Christian book. With every book, I tell God “I’m offering up my story to use in any way you want. I want to turn it over to you.” There were so many God-moments in the movie process, and I laughed a lot. I’ve realized that my stories are reaching a broader audience.
ATG: In a prior interview, you told a story about receiving a letter from a girl in Brazil who read a Christy Miller book in Portuguese who gave her heart to Christ as a result of the book. You said that what really got you about this letter was that she said, “I realized God has dreams for me.” You then prayed, “Lord? Do you have any dreams for me that haven’t yet come true because I’ve been hindering You with my sin and rebellion? Forgive me. I don’t want to quench Your Spirit. I want all Your dreams to come true.” In addition to redemption stories, in what other ways have you seen your books bless others?
Robin: I belong to this amazing church here. When Finding Father Christmas first aired, we had a viewing party. It was such a blessing to see so many people gathered to watch the movie. I was able to share the whole process of taking the book to a movie, and all of the deeper meaning I’d found on the journey. At the end, there was a table set up where people could buy a book and I could autograph it.
While at the table, I noticed a lady who stood back and waited. She seemed to be holding back tears. She was probably in her sixties, and she came up to share her story with me. As a teen, she had a son and gave him up for adoption. It became a big family secret. She had never contacted him or put her information out there for him to find. After watching the movie, she realized what a gift it would be to contact him and tell him that she had thought about him every day of her life.
These stories have grown my faith. A couple emailed me about adopting and how everything fell apart. They read my book How My Book Became a Movie and realized that God wanted to establish a family through them. He gave them that dream. As they were praying, another door opened and closed. Eventually, 9 months later, the boy they had longed to adopt came to them. Everything came together beautifully, in God’s time. Tomorrow they are going to get their son. They said they would have given up, but they read about my book and it encouraged them to ask God again, and to keep asking.
ATG: From your social media posts, it’s pretty clear that you have been busy this year. Engaging Father Christmas airs November 12 and Sunset Lullaby releases November 10, which is the newest book in your Christy Miller Series. How did this come about?
Robin: My kids tease me. They say I’ll be in a care center and they’ll come to visit me, but I’ll call them Christy and Todd. I’ve lived so much of my life with these characters. I’m on the same side as the readers. I want to see what happens next. I never really know what is going to happen until I sit down and write. It is such an organic experience. The Christy Miller series started as a challenge from the girls in youth group. They were reading all of these evocative romance novels, and it concerned me. They told me to try writing a book for them. The whole process for the series has been to create a real role model for them, one who seeks God and honors Him with her life.
ATG: I love that. One of my students is a huge fan of your Christy Miller series. She has exhausted the library and is now buying online.
Robin: What astounds me is how relevant the series still is. That has to be God. There is no other explanation. I met some girls at a book-signing a while back. They wanted me to sign their books. I asked them if they had realized that Christy doesn’t even have a cell phone. They replied, “Have you met her dad? He wouldn’t let her have one anyway!” These stories, the coming of age, it transcends generations. I wrote the first book in 1988, and I gave it to my grandma to read. She was born before the Titanic in a little town in the midwest, in Iowa. She told me, “that’s exactly how my teenage years were.” Growing up is the same for all generations: girls wanting to make friends, feeling insecure, wondering if the boy likes her.
ATG: Aside from picking up a copy of Sunset Lullaby and tuning in to Engaging Father Christmas, what other projects do you have coming down the line that we can support?
Robin: I actually have a new book coming out this March, with Tyndale House publishers. It came out of a project I did years ago. I wrote a book called Mothering by Heart when my children were young, exploring what it meant to be a new mother, but the book has since gone out of print. Over the years, I’ve received many requests for stories or snippets from the book, and I just send them out. When I mentioned that to my agent, she suggested that we put it back in print or even expand on it. From that came this new book called A Pocketful of Hope for Mothers. It is a sweet gift book full of poems and stories about the whole journey of motherhood. Now that my kids are grown and have children of their own, I can really speak to the experience. The book is like a beautiful patchwork quilt, stitched together by my publisher from pieces I’ve written. I feel that it is really a testament to the legacy in my life of God’s faithfulness.
ATG: An over-arching theme for your own life has been “ask for the moon.” You talk in depth about that idea in your e-book How My Book Became a Movie. For me, being able to talk with you like this is my “ask for the moon” moment. What is yours? If you “asked for the moon” now, what would it look like?
Robin: That’s a great question. I suppose it would be the Christy Miller project. I still believe that God has plans for the Christy Miller series. We’ve been working on getting it into [television] production for ten years, and there have been many ups and downs. I have seen God open some amazing doors and seen some of those doors shut. My producer sees getting Christi Miller into production as a mission, and we’re not going to give up. We also don’t want it to go to just anyone. It’s been such a long journey. When it does happen, it will be so clearly a result of God’s timing, especially with what I know now about how the film industry works – how much work comes across their desks and the multitude of obstacles we face – it will be a miracle. We need a show for girls that shares hope, truth, and light into this dark world.
ATG: We do. These girls need better role models than the ones they see on television now. You know, your own journey is certainly a testament to the blessing of God on your life, and how giving our dreams to Him will bring peace, joy, and incredible blessing.
Robin: It’s all about learning to let go and to give it over to God. If you think your dreams have to be realized a certain way or look a certain way, that’s not so. Pray, dedicate your path to God, and just go along for the ride.
Robin’s incredible faith and gracious spirit are gifts to each of the readers who join her on the journey she started years ago. If you haven’t yet joined the journey, you can visit https://bookshop.robingunn.com/ to discover for yourself the blessing of Robin’s writing. Engaging Father Christmas airs November 12 at 9/8c on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries.