Christy Miller Comes to the Next Generation
by Robin Jones Gunn
I would like to tell you a story.
It’s the true story of something unexpected that started twenty-five years ago on July 3, 1988. That’s the day the first Christy Miller paperback novel was released by Focus on the Family Publishers. None of us had any idea at the time how God would bless this little book and the many that followed. No one imagined the series would expand to encompass almost 40 books about these characters. We never anticipated that the books would eventually be published by three other publishers, be translated into five languages and sell nearly 4 million copies.
Best of all, we never dreamed that thousands of teenage girls around the world would come to know Christ as a result of reading a Christy Miller novel. That’s what makes this story such a beautiful God story.
From the very beginning there has always been one constant, heart-pounding passion and reason for why I write these stories.
It all started on a youth group camping trip with three teen readers. My youth pastor husband asked me to check on some girls who were squirreled away in their tent reading a stack of books they’d checked out from the library. When I saw all the evocative novels these 13 year-olds were devouring, I pleaded with them to read something else. Certainly they could find other books that would fill up their young hearts with truth and provide role models that would show them how to honor God and love others.
The girls told me they couldn’t find any books like that. This was back in 1986. Some of you remember how few Christian novels were on the shelves back then. The girls quickly challenged me. “Why don’t you write a book for us? We’ll help you. We’ll even tell you what to write.”
And so they did. Every week I would read what I’d written to a group of teen girls and they would rip it to shreds. I’d rewrite, return with another attempt and they would demolish it again. It was a brutal way to learn the craft of writing but it worked. That first novel, Summer Promise, became the kind of story they wanted to read. I wrote Psalm 102:18 on a card and placed it by the kitchen sink so that I could prayerfully remember why I was doing this. It was for the readers.
“Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.”
It took two years to finish that first book. Ten Christian publishing houses turned it down before Focus on the Family picked it up. What a happy day that was! The girls in the youth group came over and we had a grand celebration. Within a few weeks, I received the first letter from a teen reader who wrote, “When I got to the part in Summer Promise where Christy realizes she isn’t a Christian and she prayed and surrendered her life to the Lord, I prayed right along with her and now I know that my forever relationship with God has begun.”
This was more than I’d ever dared to dream.
The publisher asked for a second novel and then a third. Soon we had a 12-book Christy Miller series followed by the Sierra Jensen series, the College Years and the Katie Weldon series. In order to carve out time to get the writing done, I started getting up at 3am, three days a week so I could write when the house was quiet and our two children were still sleeping. The reader mail kept coming in by the hundreds. More and more readers were coming to know Christ. I kept writing. Teens kept reading and asking for more.
I was suddenly a full time writer.
Over the last two and a half decades I have received thousands and thousands of letters from readers around the world. Young women continually tell me how they came to know Christ through these books and how the stories motivated them to “hold out for a hero” the way Christy did. Several times a month I block out a full day to answer all the mail that comes in. Lots of readers send emails but many send hand written letters. Every single letter makes my heart soar. So many lives changed! So many young women who were ushered into the Kingdom through truth smuggled into a novel. As Christy’s best friend, Katie, would say, “It’s a total God thing!”
The reason why I write these stories has been the readers and their tender, vulnerable hearts. They are still the reason I keep writing. That’s because with any ministry it’s the people and not the project that will spend eternity with the Lord.
Nearly every week I am asked by readers of all ages if I will write more about Christy and Todd. The answer is: I hope so.
As you might imagine, I have a few ideas about what might happen with these characters. They seem real to me and I often wonder how they’re doing. I’ve learned, however, it’s always best to wait on the Lord for His timing.
With every book, the first thing I write is a prayer of dedication. I offer myself to the Lord. I tell him I’m willing to take on the task of chasing and capturing the best ideas for a new story as they flit around in my imagination. I ask Him to use the story to draw many hearts closer to Him. Then deep in a quiet corner of my spirit I wait, listening, hoping the Lord will say, “Yes. Today. Start writing this new tale.”
When I have that confirmation I put my fingers to the keyboard and go for it, joyfully writing my little heart out for the readers. Always for the readers.
Just recently I heard the affirming echo I’ve been waiting for, and I’m over-the-moon happy to say that I’ve started writing a new tale about Christy and Todd in their married years. I’ll post all the particulars about the publication on my website as soon as I’m able to share the details.
I stand in awe of God as I see how Psalm 102:18 has been fulfilled in such an amazing way. When you have a look at a few of the letters I received last week, you’ll see what I mean.
Hi Robin, The first time I wrote to you I was around 15 years old and now I’m almost 36! You wrote me back and I still have your letter. I want you to know that your books helped keep me on the straight and narrow when I was growing up. Christy was such a role model for me. Even when she messed up she figured out what to do next and I learned so much from her. It was also because of these books that I became a Christian so I am eternally grateful that you wrote them. I’m re-reading your books this summer with my daughter now that she’s old enough to meet Christy and Katie and the rest of the gang. She loves these stories as much as I still do because they’re classics. They’re timeless, really. I hope that God will somehow bless you as much as you have blessed a whole generation of teen girls. Now it’s time for your stories to bless the next generation.
Dear Mrs. Gunn, You will never know how your books have changed my life. I was so alone and didn’t have any friends at all. Then it was like Christy became my friend. And Katie. And even Todd and Doug and Rick. (Well, maybe not Rick. I still don’t see why Christy went out with him! What was she thinking?!!?!) I just want to read more about all these characters. Please write more. I am secretly wishing you’ll make these books into a movie so that I can rent the DVD and invite some girls over to watch it because I think that would be a good way to share with them the relationship I now have with Jesus.
Dear Robin, (I hope I can call you Robin. I feel like we’re friends!) I have to tell you what God did. He used your books to totally change my life! I was getting into some bad stuff with some of my friends at school, like witchcraft and other stuff I’m ashamed to talk about. Then I had to do a stupid book report and I don’t know why but I picked your book from the library. It was the first volume in the Christy Miller series. I started reading and couldn’t stop. It was like there was power in the words. More power than in all the other stuff I’d been reading. I discovered God in the story. I saw how much he loved me and I decided to ask him to forgive me for what I’d been doing and come in and take over my life. And you know what? He did! (You’re probably saying, Of course He did!) He is so real! I know you must hear this all the time but thank you for writing these books because otherwise I don’t know where I would be right now. I’m sure I would not be in a good place. All of this happened two years ago and I’m about to start my junior year in high school. I go to a great church (I go by myself because my mom doesn’t believe in God yet but I’m praying!) I have Christian friends who are awesome (as Doug would say!) And I love Jesus! I can’t wait to meet you in heaven and give you the biggest hug ever!
Dear Mrs. Gunn, We are a group of eight girls who are going into seventh grade this fall. We did a Christy Miller book club this summer and memorized all the Bible verses you put in each book. It was so fun! All of us loved the books and one of the girls told us last night that she gave her heart to God because of the books!!!!! We had to write and tell you and also ask just one thing. Would you please, please, please keep writing until your hand falls off?!! Thank you. We mean it.
Robin Jones Gunn and her husband live in Hawaii and have been married for 36 years. Awards for her best-selling novels include a Gold Medallion finalist, a three time Christy Award finalist and a Christy award for “Sisterchicks in Gondolas”. She is a frequent speaker internationally as well as in the US and Canada. Her newest non-fiction title, Victim of Grace provides deeply personal insights on her writing journey paired with tales of her favorite women in the Bible. Visit Robin Jones Gunn on Facebook and read her blog.