Debbie Macomber, author of more than 130 books that have sold more than 100 million copies, hit a new milestone in September: The latest book in her Cedar Cove series, "74 Seaside Avenue," locked in the No. 1 spot on the New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly and Bookscan best-seller lists, knocking the final "Harry Potter" book out of that spot.
The highlight came just weeks after the publication of her first Christian book, the nonfiction "Knit Together: Discover God's Pattern for Your Life" (Faith Words, $22.99).
Why would the successful, prolific author of women's fiction switch gears?
"It wasn't my idea," Macomber said. "My friend Wendy Lawton came to me and said, 'Debbie, you really need to write a book and share some of the things God has done in your life.' "
Lawton, an author, collector-doll creator and book agent from Hilmar, met Macomber through one of the Lawton Doll dealers in Port Orchard, Wash., where Macomber lives.
"When I met Debbie, there was an instant click; we became kindred spirits," Lawton said.
Later, Lawton heard Macomber talking before 2,500 people at a Romance Writers of America meeting as the keynote speaker.
"It was absolutely amazing because Romance Writers Of America cover everything from sweet romances to erotica," Lawton said. "Debbie was there talking about what
God had done with her life. I began encouraging her to share her faith story."
The best part of that story, Lawton said, is how a dyslexic girl who said she "felt stupid" throughout her school years could turn out to be such a successful author.
"When she raised her hand that first time and said she wanted to become a writer, the teacher said, 'Debbie, you can't be a writer; you can't even spell.' That's the story I think children need to hear, because when God plants a dream in your heart, it's not for somebody else to say, 'That's not your dream; you can't do that.' ...
"The best part is Debbie's humility. Despite having her novels on the New York Times best-seller list, Debbie never loses sight of the fact that it's all because of God. It's a miracle."
Macomber said she was raised a nominal Catholic but didn't develop a personal faith until she was 23 years old and the mother of two children. She and her husband had moved into a new neighborhood; one of the moms on the street invited her to go to Bible Study Fellowship, an international in-depth study group. She said becoming a Christian through the study had a huge impact on her.
"I started going down one path and changed to another," she said. "It changed the complete course of my life. Having that personal relationship with Christ is so completely different than having a relationship with the church. That's basically what I had (before).
"Having Christ as part of every decision I make, along with the guidelines of the Bible -- my goodness, it's just changed everything."
She said she hopes her readers -- 70,000 of them her loyal fans -- can tell from her secular fiction that she has a deep faith, even though it's not overt in her stories.
"I think (it's evident) simply by the messages that are there," she said. "I have a book (published in March) called 'Back on Blossom Street.' They're knitting a prayer shawl. The theme of the book is forgiveness. And I don't ever paint Christians in a negative light -- you know, make the bad guy the pastor. I do what I can to build up the kingdom and not tear it down."
Still, Macomber added, some Christians haven't reacted kindly to her work. "I've gotten so much negative mail from Christians," she said. "Just last week, I got a horrible letter from a woman who was not only mean-spirited but vengeful. She read my Harlequin Sweet Romances and counted 40 vulgarities. I think that must be the word 'hell.'
"I do have sex in my books, but if it's outside marriage, there are always consequences. In the past 10 years, there hasn't been any graphic sex. I'm married. I don't know anything about it," she said with a laugh.
Fans change course of books
Macomber gets about 100 e-mails and letters a day from people, and said she answers "almost all" of them. She credits her faithful readers for her success and said she's made three changes in her books because of her mail.
The first came after she published her first Christmas book.
"It was a little, itty-bitty hardcover," she said. "It was 100 manuscript pages and it was $12.95. The mail I got said, 'Love you, Debbie, but I don't want to pay $12.95 for 100 pages.'
"I was contracted for three of those books. The publisher didn't pay me a penny more, but I made them 250 pages long, and the sales of those have escalated amazingly ever since."
The second, she said, came after she wrote several book series -- six set in Alaska, six in Texas, etc.
"Every single day, I get letters, even now, saying, 'Couldn't you go back? And what happened to so and so? Can't you give us an update?' I thought, my goodness, they really love these characters. That's when I started the Cedar Cove series. It has no ending. The eighth one is coming out, and they've been gaining in popularity. Number nine is plotted and I'm going to contract on 10 and 11."
The third change initiated by her readers was similar.
"I wrote 'The Shop on Blossom Street,' about a yarn store," Macomber said. She's been knitting since she was 12 years old and decided to incorporate her avocation in the story.
"It was supposed to be a stand-alone book, but the reader feedback was just overwhelming," she said. "I had already written -- because I'm always a year ahead -- 'Susannah's Garden,' and I just kept getting all that mail. I thought, boy, if they love those characters that much, maybe I should do a sequel, so I called my editor. I had sent her a bunch of the mail. She said, 'Well, you know we've already got "Susannah's Garden" in production. We've already got the cover and everything.'
"I said, 'I know. What are we going to do?' She took it to the mucky-mucks so they said, 'All right, but she's got (only) six weeks to write it.' And I did. So Blossom Street became a series that I never intended to be a series."
You would think, after so many books, it would be hard to pick a favorite, but Macomber doesn't hesitate.
"Probably the most fun and the most challenging is a book called 'Between Friends.' I love, love, love this book," she said. "This was such a special story to me, the story of two friends who meet in kindergarten and are best friends their entire lives.
"It's told as if you're looking at a scrapbook of their lives. There's no dialogue; there's no description. It starts out with birth announcements. One is from a very wealthy family; she's the daughter of a judge. Gold-plated birth announcement. The other birth announcement is circled in the newspaper, and the family lives on Railroad Avenue. It just sets it up right away. It was the most challenging book I ever wrote, and I'm probably proudest of that."
Most reader responses from women around the world are positive.
"The comment I get most is that these books are shared across generations," Macomber said. "The mother will read it and give it to her daughter, who reads it, too. The themes are universal. I work very hard to have characters who are all ages because of that.
"The other thing that I get a lot is that readers say they feel good after reading my books. They're uppers, and the readers feel more positive about their lives and their future. That's my goal as s writer, to show a heroine or a woman who is like them who confronts a problem that seems overwhelming, yet finds a way to do what's right and honorable and come out good from it.
"Some people may say (the books) are too Pollyanna for them, but we need positive messages in a negative world."
Like the message of 'Knit Together,' which speaks of dreams and a God-plan instilled in people when they are still in the womb.
"Debbie gives people permission to dream," Lawton said. "When you see her life story, you can see how God gave her the dreams. The book is about reaching out and seeing the possibilities. It's not just feel-good, motivational stuff. It's grounded in Scripture. ... It's only when we reach the dreams God created us for that we realize what God created us to be and life becomes so satisfying."
The book was offered through Christian bookstores but sold mainly to Macomber's secular fiction fans. Many of them wrote to the author.
"One said, 'I'm going to go dust off my Bible,' " Macomber said. "One lady wrote and said, 'I pushed God away. I'm going to take a second look.' Those kind of comments."
Will she try her hand at another nonfiction Christian book?
"Yes," she said. "I'm really thinking I should write about grace."
For more information about Debbie Macomber, visit her Web site, www.debbiemacomber.com.
To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2012.