Michelle Cox is a bestselling author and creator of the Just 18 Summers® brand. She is a co-author of the When God Calls the Heart series published by Broadstreet Publishing and inspired by the Hallmark Channel TV show, When Calls the Heart.
Welcome! Before we begin, would you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up becoming a writer?
I started my writing career about seventeen years ago. That still makes me laugh because I never intended to become a writer. In fact, if anyone had told me that I’d be doing this today, I would have replied, “And then the IRS will be voted most well-loved government agency and I’ll be a size two.” (Neither of which is likely to happen during my lifetime.) I was deep into politics and loved what I was doing, but God had other plans.
My first book project was just a gift to welcome my son’s bride into our family. I invited our family and friends (and hers) to send their favorite recipes, and then I complied a cookbook and wrote stories about the contributors and added letters to my son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law. I didn’t plan to sell the cookbooks, but somehow I left their wedding shower with orders for 100 books.
A few weeks later, my pastor called and said I needed to do something with my writing. I thought that was so funny, but God kept pushing me in that direction until the day I finally got down on my knees and said, “Okay, God, if that’s what you want me to do, I’ll do it—but we might have one small problem. Have You happened to notice that I can’t write?”
And then it was as if I heard God whisper, “That’s okay. I can. You just be willing and I’ll take care of the rest.” I can’t tell you what an amazing journey it’s been of God doing exactly that.
You transitioned into writing from the realm of politics. What role does God play in politics and how can Christians vote their consciences while being kind to those who make different choices?
I got involved in politics because I care about the future my children and grandchildren will inherit down the road. Faith and family have long been cornerstones of our society. Those have crumbled a good bit during my generation and I want to make sure that those principles are preserved for the future.
When I was the party chair for our county, people always seemed surprised that I had a cordial relationship with the chair of the other party. We both had strong beliefs—and neither of us wavered from those—but there was no reason we had to be ugly to each other. I’ve found that kindness always accomplishes more than the alternative. So I just decided to outwork her (and the other members of their party) because I didn’t plan on coming in at the number two slot on election day.
Why do you think humans are so primed to enjoy stories—be they told in book form, movies, or even sitting around a campfire?
Stories are the memories of our lives, the things that inspire us or touch our hearts. They’re the glue that bonds families and friends together.
Jesus was a master storyteller. We can learn from His example, because stories are a great way to share about something in a way that will stick with people or will make a difficult concept easily understood. It’s one thing to tell about how children love their pets, but describe a scene where a mom discovers her little boy has gone to bed with his arm wrapped around his new furry friend and with the puppy’s head snuggled on his chest, and the concept of love takes on new life.
Tell us a little bit about “When God Calls the Heart at Christmas.”
Christmas truly is the most special time of the year. It’s a big deal in the fictional 1910 town of Hope Valley, and in our lives today as well. What could be more important than focusing on God’s best gift to us? If ever there was a time to celebrate, this is it.
So that’s what we’re doing in When God Calls the Heart at Christmas—we’re having a celebration of faith, food, family, and friends. A big birthday party for Him.
Inspired by best-selling author Janette Oke and the Hallmark Channel original TV series When Calls the Heart, we share twenty-five devotions based on God-moments from the Christmas episodes, favorite holiday recipes, Christmas stories, traditions, and activities—many of them sent in by the Hearties—the fans of the show.
We hope folks will join us in Hope Valley as we focus on the birth of a baby in Bethlehem—and how that affects all of our lives. And then let’s join in on the excitement that the shepherds, angels, and Wise Men experienced so long ago—because as they learned on that holy night, when God calls the heart at Christmas, you can expect a celebration.
How were writing responsibilities divided between yourself and coauthor Brian Bird?
We talk through the episodes first to see what ideas stand out to us. I usually write the first draft, and then Brian adds his frosting and magic sprinkles. We keep working together on each chapter until both of us are pleased with it.
Did you find yourself especially enjoying writing about certain characters?
All the folks in Hope Valley are special to me for different reasons, but I love Abigail’s heart and how she goes out of her way to quietly bless others. It’s a beautiful example for all of us of how to live each day.
“When God Calls the Heart at Christmas” is the second of three books. Were all three volumes planned from the outset?
When we wrote the first book, we suspected there would be more, and we’re so grateful for how folks have responded to these devotional books—and for the precious stories we’ve heard about how they’re touching lives.
The third book, When God Calls the Heart to Love will release on January 1 (available now for preorder), and we can’t wait for everyone to see it. We’ve paired the devotions with stories about love (siblings, neighbors, parents, sweethearts, etc.) and many of them are from the Hearties. There are some truly amazing stories in the book, and I had to wipe tears away many times while I worked on it.
Our publisher has reached out about a possible fourth devotional book in the When God Calls the Heart series, and we should know more about that soon.
How was Beverly Lewis chosen to write the Foreword for this volume—and have you had a chance to sneak a peek at Michael Landon Jr.’s Foreword to the upcoming “When God Calls the Heart to Love”?
Beverly was a wonderful cheerleader for our first book and is such a special lady. So when Brian Bird and I began talking about the foreword for the Christmas book, she was the first person who came to mind, and we were so honored that she would write this for us.
When God Calls the Heart to Love has already been printed, so we have had a look at Michael Landon, Jr.’s foreword. Most folks who are familiar with Hallmark’s When Calls the Heart know that my co-author Brian Bird and Michael Landon, Jr. are the executive producers and co-creators of the show. We were just with Michael in Vancouver a few weeks ago at the Hearties Family Reunion, and he is such a kind, gracious—and funny—man.
When you watched episodes of “When Calls the Heart” again for the purpose of writing the devotional, did you notice anything different from when you just watched for entertainment?
I’d watched every episode of When Calls the Heart before Brian and I first talked about writing the first devotional book together, so I was already quite familiar with everything about Hope Valley. At first, going through from a writer’s mindset, I worried that we wouldn’t find enough inspiring content for the devotions, but when I started going watching the episodes focused on finding the “God-moments,” I discovered that there were amazing gems hidden there that were rich veins of faith, hope, love, and the morals and values that our society so desperately needs.
I often tell people that I have the best job in the world. I get to sit in my pajamas and watch When Calls the Heart—and officially call it work. Doesn’t get much better than that!
What do you hope readers take away from “When God Calls the Heart at Christmas”?
I hope this book will remind readers to slow down to celebrate what the season is truly all about, and to make memories with family and friends throughout the holidays.
What are you working on now?
I love juggling projects, so I usually have multiple things going at various stages of development. I’m currently working on two books for my publisher. One is a devotional book for dog moms, and the other is a devotional book for cat ladies. I have a children’s book series that I’ve pitched to some publishers, I’m working with some wonderful filmmakers to write a devotional book based on their movie, and I’m working with a producer to raise the funding to have my screenplay made into a faith and family-friendly film.
I also have a parenting blog, www.Just18Summers.com with a stellar staff of writers. Our goal is to encourage, equip, and inspire parents for the journey and to remind them to slow down and enjoy the moments. Eighteen years sounds like a long time, but there’s something about realizing that we have just 18 summers before our children are grown that really brings home how quickly the time goes by—and we don’t get the opportunity to go back and rewind those days.
More information on the When God Calls the Heart books can be found at www.WhenGodCallstheHeart.com.