An Interview with Guideposts editor Jon Woodhams

Covers from AnitaWe were privileged to have the editor of A Cup of Christmas Cheer, Jon Woodhams, visit the blog this past Monday. He he told us how he came up with the idea for these heartwarming collections. If you missed his informative and entertaining post, click here.

Jon has worked tirelessly to make sure each of the stories in the A Cup of Christmas Cheer collections is pruned, polished, and ready for readers. The other authors and I thought it would be fun to learn more about this unsung hero whose fingerprints can be seen throughout the books—even though his name doesn’t appear in them. Jon is a humble fellow, but he’s agreed to an interview.

Welcome back, Jon! It’s great to have you stop by again.

When we authors first saw the covers, I’m sure your heard our exclamations of delight resounding from across the U.S. and up in Canada. They’re gorgeous!

I understand you’re the person behind the cover concepts. How did they come about? Did your memories of Christmases past play a part? Are there key elements in the eight stories in each of the volumes that influenced the images?

Each of the books in A Cup of Christmas Cheer groups the stories into loose categories. This year’s themes are Heartwarming Tales of Christmas Past and Heartwarming Tales of Christmas Present. In both sets of books, the covers really are more evocative than literal.

As I worked with our incredible design team to direct the covers, I wanted to create a feeling or mood for each cover, rather than to show a particular scene from a particular story. After all, with such a wonderful variety of time periods, characters, and settings, how could I possibly choose one?

For the Christmas Past cover, I wanted to create a strong feeling of yearning and nostalgia. I could picture eager young children peering in a toy store window, dreaming of finding their favorite toys under the tree on Christmas morning.

For Christmas Present, the challenge was a little greater. So, while we still wanted to create a sense of childlike curiosity and delightful secrets, we did so using a visual pun: Our Christmas Present cover is, in fact, an unopened Christmas present, glowing under the lights of the Christmas tree.

The illustrator for both sets of books—giving credit where credit is very much due—is the very talented Greg Copeland. He brought to life the concepts I had for all four of the covers in such a wondrous and appealing way.

We now know how the gorgeous covers were created. How did you go about choosing the stories for each of the volumes? Did you have a theme in mind when you started the process, or did you select stories you think will appeal to Guideposts readers?

Here again, as with the illustrations, it all starts with a theme. This year, dividing the stories into Past and Present categories seemed a logical choice. Christmas is always nostalgic—our foundational memories of Christmas are intrinsically bound to the past and to our childhoods—but Christmas is always new as well.

From there, I worked with literary agents to obtain submissions of story synopses from a number of authors, and we (I along with two Guideposts colleagues) reviewed the synopses and writing samples from each author. From that field of submissions, we then chose those we felt would be most appealing to Guideposts readers and would make the most cohesive and varied collection of stories. We asked the chosen authors to write short stories based on their synopses. So while the theme helped us categorize the stories, our Guideposts readers were very much at the forefront of our minds as we made our selections.

You’ve been an editor with Guideposts Books for several years, and it’s easy to see from what you’ve shared so far that it’s a good fit for you. What is your favorite aspect of the job?

I’ve always loved reading, and I’ve always loved the power of words to transport a reader to different places and different times, to help us see the world through different eyes. As an editor, I get to work with the very things I enjoy so much. Beyond that, I get to work with a group of authors whose work I admire, and that process of collaboration, as well as the relationships I build with each one, is incredibly satisfying.

Your job entails a good deal of reading, but I have a hunch you read for pleasure as well. What kinds of stories are your favorites? Are you partial to a particular genre?

Much of my work at Guideposts involves our long-running fiction series, including Mysteries of Silver Peak. I must be a perfect fit in that some of my favorite reading over the years has been with series fiction, from the Hardy Boys as a kid to more recent offerings such as Allan Bradley’s delightful Flavia de Luce mystery series.

As a child, I devoured book after book from my family’s extensive collection of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. I also love C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia and have read them many times. Some of my most beloved books over the years have included Catherine Marshall’s Julie; Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief; many of Mark Twain’s books; Katherine Stockett’s The Help; Taylor Caldwell’s fictionalized biographies of biblical figures such as Dear and Glorious Physician; J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series; and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I also enjoy biographies of well-known or intriguing people.

I heard from one of the Cup of Christmas Cheer authors who had the opportunity to meet with you at a writers conference that you have a hidden talent—something to do with a camera. When did photography capture your interest? What are your favorite types of shots?

I have always enjoyed taking pictures, beginning with my dad’s Super 8 movie camera and a small child’s 126 camera that I got for Christmas one year. I studied the fine arts in college, and while my emphasis was in music, I also had the opportunity to study design and art history and take classes that allowed me to explore various art media. But it wasn’t until I moved to New York that I began to think about photography in a somewhat more serious way.

New York is so chock full of fascinating imagery, from unique architectural details to street photography to well-known landmarks like Radio City Music Hall and the Statue of Liberty, that I felt compelled to start taking pictures of what I saw there. But every town and rural area presents unique opportunities for photography, and I enjoy exploring them all as time allows.

I’m not sure I have a favorite type of shot; my body of work comprises pop art, landscapes, macros, still lifes, florals, abstracts, and lots of shots that celebrate vintage Americana and American industrial design, such as old tractors, cars, cameras, and typewriters. My love of photography has grown and developed (no pun intended), especially since the purchase of my first Nikon digital SLR camera. I’ve had the opportunity to show my photography at numerous local venues, and I also exhibit my photos on several online galleries.

I put my Internet research skills to work and discovered some of your photographs on crated.com. Could I coax you into sharing a few of those photos with us?

Sure. Here are three examples of my work. [Note: click on an image to view it in Jon’s gallery.]

Old twin cameras - studio, backyard misc_sizeWM

Bookends

 

Various flowers, Memphis Botanic Garden 053_sizedWM

A Blaze of Color

 

Fourth of July Macy's Fireworks 008RAW_sizedWM

Verrazano Sunset

Wow! Those are awesome shots, Jon. It’s evident you’re as good with a camera as you are with words.

Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to pay us a visit. It’s been great getting to know you better. In closing, do you have any final words for us?

 I’d like to thank everyone who stopped by. I’ve answered a number of questions in the interview, and now I have a request for all of you.

In the spirit of A Cup of Christmas Cheer,
I’d love to hear about your most memorable Christmas.

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Jon WoodhamsJon Woodhams joined Guideposts Books in 2011 as associate editor of fiction and recently received a promotion to editor. In addition to creating the popular short-story collection A Cup of Christmas Cheer, he edited the popular Guideposts series Miracles of Marble Cove, launched the series Secrets of the Blue Hill Library in 2013, and created the concept for Mysteries of Silver Peak, Guideposts’ newest long-running series, which launched in July of this year. He has worked in Christian publishing for more than twenty years.

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A Cup of Christmas Cheer: The Inspiration

By Jon Woodhams, Editor, Guideposts Books

Reader's Digest A Christmas CarolSome of my fondest childhood memories revolve around Christmas. One favorite recollection involves my older brother reading Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol aloud from a Reader’s Digest condensed volume. The illustrations in that edition were so vivid that even now, I know exactly what ol’ Fezziwig looked like and can picture Ebenezer Scrooge as plain as day.

As we read, I decried the cantankerous Mr. Scrooge and his venomous rumblings, shivered at the ominous silence of the Ghost of Christmas Future, and ultimately rejoiced in the transformation brought about in Scrooge over the course of just one night of “spirited” intervention. Those readings have stayed with me, and nearly fifty years later, I find myself returning to A Christmas Carol, either in its printed form or in one of its many film iterations, as each Christmas approaches.

A Charlie Brown ChristmasAnother favorite story with comparable staying power is A Charlie Brown Christmas. No Christmas is complete without hearing its lilting and unforgettable jazz soundtrack. More than five decades after its debut, the venerable TV special is beloved by generations. Its simple message—remembering the true meaning of Christmas amid the clamor and cacophony of commercialism—resonates now more than ever.

Miracle on 34th StreetAll of us can name Christmas books or movies that have touched our hearts in indelible ways: It’s a Wonderful Life, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and a personal favorite (since working for a year and a half just down the street from Macy’s in New York), Miracle on 34th Street. Each of these stories has become a common touchstone, a personal and collective memory that unites us with others who have enjoyed them too.

Tales like these were the inspiration for Guideposts’ collection A Cup of Christmas Cheer. I wanted to re-create the warmhearted, transformative nature of those classic tales, but written just for Guideposts readers. I set out to collect a handful of inspiring, nostalgic, and entertaining never-before-published stories that would be read aloud and cherished for many Christmas seasons to come, for generations to come.

Beyond that, I know how busy we all are during the holidays. Baking, volunteering, and church activities are as time-consuming as they are fulfilling. The short stories that make up A Cup of Christmas Cheer allow readers to sit for a few moments and soak up the joys of Christmas in bite-sized portions.

Covers from AnitaIntroduced last year, the first two volumes found their way into the hands of thousands of readers, so it seemed only natural to add volumes 3 and 4. This year, our authors have outdone themselves, crafting evocative, charming, and often surprising stories that celebrate Christmas is all its many facets. I’m proud to present A Cup of Christmas Cheer: Heartwarming Tales of Christmas Past and Heartwarming Tales of Christmas Present.

These brand-new volumes contain all the elements you expect from Guideposts fiction: Inspiration, faith, friendship, and family. Wonder, joy, reconciliation, forgiveness, and redemption. Rich, deep themes like these fill page after page of the collection, with dashes of humor mixed in for good measure. I invite you to enjoy these stories and share them with your loved ones as the Christmas season approaches once again, both this year and in years to come.

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Be sure to come back Wednesday, October 15 to read Jon’s interview by one of our CoCC authors.
You’ll learn about Jon’s favorite hobby and how it played a part in the great covers on these books.

(Note: If comments aren’t visible below the post, click the green circle under the post date.)

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Jon WoodhamsJon Woodhams joined Guideposts Books in 2011 as associate editor of fiction and recently received a promotion to editor. In addition to creating the popular short-story collection A Cup of Christmas Cheer, he edited the popular Guideposts series Miracles of Marble Cove, launched the series Secrets of the Blue Hill Library in 2013, and created the concept for Mysteries of Silver Peak, Guideposts’ newest long-running series, which launched in July of this year. He has worked in Christian publishing for more than twenty years.