When the biblical prophet Hosea sat down in the 8th century B.C. to pen a prophecy of the relationship between the Israelites and God, his self-named book didn’t exactly fit into the genre of romance. But with a modern spin, and a Christmastime setting in the cozy mountain town of West Jefferson, local pastor and author Andy Clapp has taken to adapting the book’s millennia-old message for a modern audience.
Beginning just moments before Christmas Day on a frozen bench, Clapp’s first romance novel, aptly named “Midnight, Christmas Eve,” introduces readers to the lovesick yet hopeful Brady, who, after making a pre-college pact with his high school sweetheart, Sarah, is spending another Christmas Eve waiting for her to appear.
Years after the two promised each other that they would meet at the spot and marry if they hadn’t chosen someone else during college, the male lead has become increasingly discouraged, while his counterpart has had her own share of setbacks – the largest being her internalized belief that she’s undeserving of the love that Brady has to offer.
“[The story of Hosea and Gomer] set the basis for the book, because I wanted the characters to have two central understandings, or two central storms,” Clapp told The Alamance News. “For Brady, it was to learn to love unconditionally. That means that sometimes you have to continue to love someone when you get rejected, or you have to continue to love someone when they choose other things over you. … See, unconditional love is not something that’s based on situation, but it’s based on the person.
“That’s what Hosea would have to learn, and Hosea learned that throughout the course of his relationship with Gomer and throughout the course of this prophecy.”
For Sarah, the representation of Gomer, the author says that her personal lesson was to learn to accept unconditional love following a string of abandonment, abuses, and heartbreaks that had left her doubting her worth.
“I wanted her to grow as a character to where she understood that she was worthy of being loved in that manner. … Her story is one of ‘everything leaves.’ All these things seem so great, but they all leave.”
‘I think we live in a conditional world’
The story, which was published in October, also serves as a message from Clapp to his two daughters, aged nine and seven, not to doubt their own worthiness when it comes to accepting love.
“As they grow up and read it, I want them to understand that they are worthy of being loved for who they are, and that they don’t have to be that prom queen. They don’t have to earn the affection of other people,” he says.
“I think we live in a conditional world,” he adds. “We really do. We’re taught conditions from the time we’re born. If you do these certain things, you’ll be head of the class. If you do these certain things, you’ll be what the world deems successful. Everything is about earning it to where we’re almost conditioned from culture that you and I have to earn some level to even be worthy of being loved by other people. That’s not true. We’re worthy of being loved just because we were created. Our very fabric is worth being loved.”
That pressure, he explained, surfaced time and again throughout his own life – until his perspective changed.
“I guess I woke up one day and said, ‘I don’t have to earn the love of God. It’s there. It’s always been there.’”
Murphy’s Law meets romance fiction
The storyline – which features abuse, heartbreak, a photo smashed against a wall, and even a death – seems more suited in the mind of Nicholas Sparks than a country pastor who’s been married for 13 years. But that’s where ideas from his friends helped Clapp shape Brady’s and Sarah’s hurdles and detours.
“I think you get tunnel vision in that,” he explained, referring to his marriage. “You can’t imagine scenarios outside of the scenario that you’re really living in.
“I called a friend and said, ‘Hey, just give me some bad relationships. What would mark these horrible relationships?’ And she gave me a list.”
Just like ideas for the storyline were gathered from his peers, the book’s characters are developed from attributes of those in his life which Clapp has taken note of. For Brady and his closest friend, Luke, the brotherly relationship stems from the ones he’s had with his cousins and friends. The book’s pastor, Todd, draws on two influential ministers in the author’s life: a youth pastor and a retiree who attends his church, Mt. Zion Baptist, in Liberty.
Sarah’s character, he explains, is built from the experiences of friends he’s had whom Clapp always hoped would see the worth in themselves.
“The ones who struggled to see inside themselves what I could see in them. I watched them and always wanted them to get to that place that they understood that there was so much more to them than what they saw in themselves – and maybe even what they had been told of themselves in their lives.”
As for Brady, the lead acted as both a reflection of the author during various points in his life, as well as the vision of what Clapp wishes he had at times been.
“I just took pieces, because I think the pieces of all of us combine to tell stories,” he concludes. “There’s this overlap of our lives that comes together at some point. It tells a much bigger story.”
Keeping the presses running
While “Midnight, Christmas Eve” stands as Clapp’s second book – the first, in 2011, was a non-fiction Christian living piece – the author has been gearing up for what could become a loaded 2022.
Already there are three projects on the calendar for next year; hopes to sign off on a 12-book contract; and, as of last week, interest in four more projects – one of which would be a book co-written with his daughter.
More exciting for readers of the romance novel is the prospect of a film adaptation of the book, the screenplay for which is currently under review by a director.
The success, he notes, has hardly been achieved on his own. Rather, he says, cranking out any book involves encouragement and inspiration from fellow writers that he meets both at out-of-town writing conferences and closer to home at the annual conference his church holds each year.
“I got lucky,” he says. “I had a lot of people pour into me and in turn I got to pour into their journey as well.”
His favorite scenes to write
Asked about his favorite scenes to have written in the book, Clapp points to two which center on Brady’s deep, soul-searching struggle with determining whether to hold out hope for a reunion with Sarah.
The first and most difficult to write, he recalls, showcases an overflow of frustration from the lead after time spent on the freezing bench waiting results in him coming down sick. Upon arriving home, disappointed, Brady flings a photo of the couple, dancing at their high school prom, against his bedroom wall.
“Unconditional love doesn’t mean there’s not frustration,” Clapp explains. “It overcomes the frustration.
“It wasn’t that he was angry, he just couldn’t make sense of it all. How he could love someone so much. How he could put himself out there year after year after year. How he could endure the questions – ‘All right, why are you doing this to yourself?’”
Still, his favorite scene shows Brady going off on his own to wrestle with the decision of whether to stay or go.
“He knows that deep down he’s got to live with himself and the choices that he makes, and he’s got to go deal with that. So he does,” the author says. “To me, that’s one of the most heroic things we can do.”
Midnight, Christmas Eve is available through Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Barnes and Noble.