How an Ugly Christmas Tree Became a Book

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Pastor Damian Chandler's book, The Crooked Christmas Tree, reminds readers of what's really important at Christmastime.

Question: You have published a short book called The Crooked Christmas Tree: The Beautiful Meaning of Jesus’ Birth. How did you get the idea for the book?

Answer: The world is a complicated place but I don't believe that a relationship with God has to be. In fact, I believe that the deepest things about God are revealed through simple everyday things all around us, so I am always looking for God to reveal himself in simple things.

And one day that simple thing was the tree my kids chose for Christmas.

The Crooked Christmas Tree is an unusually short book and the chapters are short, making it an easy read. The format of the book is also a little bit unusual, as you have taken really just one event — the purchasing of a family Christmas tree — and used different points in the process to reminisce and philosophize about spiritual themes. Have you used the book as a sermon?

Actually, I first told the story as a part of a sermon. I can't even remember what the sermon was about. No one who was there does. But to this day people tell me that they remember the story I told about our ugly Christmas tree.

How long did it take you to write the book? Did it come together bit by bit, or all at once?

Well, I believe God called me to put the story to paper at the beginning of 2013, which was strange because at that point I couldn't say I loved to write. But I told Him that if He wanted me to write a book He would have to take it to the world.

I felt impressed that I needed to finish the book by the end of the year. And so I got up almost every morning at 4:30 a.m. — and I am not a morning person.

But by 9:30 p.m. New Year’s Eve, I put the final word on the page. I still have the screenshot I took.

Is the family portrayed in the book your family?

Yes. This a true story of my family with just a tad bit of writer’s embellishment!

Who are your target readers for the book? 

The target for the book is amazingly wide. Because it is a narrative it has reached from kids to adults. If you like a well-told story, this book is for you. 

How did you find a publisher for the book? I believe it's published by FaithWords, a division of the Hachette Book Group? How many people have bought the book so far?

How the book got to FaithWords is a complicated story. After I finished the book a friend of mine sent me an article from Thomas Nelson [a subsidiary of HarperCollins and one of the biggest publishers of Christian content]. The article mentioned that any authors who wanted their manuscripts considered needed to hire a book agent. I had never even heard of book agents before. 

I immediately started calling agents, with no luck. Not even one of the agents answered the phone. I paused and prayed and was led to call one agent in particular. He not only took my call but he also read my manuscript. 

Weeks later I was sitting across the table from him. He said he seldom took cold calls because they never yielded great books. But for some reason he took mine and he was glad he did. He made me an offer to become my agent that day. This was the start.

From there, my book and I went through a twisted three years of learning and growing. Great moments and great rejection. 

The book finally did get to Thomas Nelson Publishing. They loved the book but turned it down because my platform was too small. No one knew who I was. But they liked it enough to make some calls to get another agent for me. That agent's name was Dan Balow — a well-known name in the Christian publishing world. He called me a few weeks later and told me a publishing house called FaithWords was interested in my book. To be honest I did not know who they were, but I didn’t really care. I was just glad that someone was willing to give me a chance.

It was only later that I found out that FaithWords was the third-largest Christian publisher in the world. Man. God keeps his promises!

So this is your first book? Are you now starting to think about other books? 

This is my first book. The one I reluctantly wrote. Now I've caught the bug and have too many book ideas. But I am currently working on one in particular.

I was honored to be chosen as the nightly speaker for the International Pathfinder Camporee in August 2019 and I am working on a book called I Am Jon, which I hope to release there. It is a contemporary teen book about Jonathan, a man most people only know as the friend of David and the son of Saul. But there is so much more to him than that. I can't wait to share it with everyone.

Have you thought of making a kids’ version of The Crooked Christmas Tree?

I have not thought about writing a kids’ version of The Crooked Christmas Tree but I have thought about a cartoon. I would love to see the book depicted as a short animation. I think the story would be great in that medium. So anybody out there with the skills give me a call.

How long have you served as pastor of the Capitol City Church? What do you enjoy about the congregation there? What do you find to be a challenge?

I have been proudly serving as the senior pastor of the Capitol City Seventh-day Adventist Church here in Sacramento, California for the last four years, and I have to tell you there are so many things to love.

First of all, when you walk into our church you can feel the love in the building. I think we really like each other and love to serve God together. I love the fact that we are a part of our community. 

When I first came we talked about "Taking Sacramento for the King" and that became our mantra. It is more than just words. Community service is not an en vogue program. It is who we have been for the last four years. We still have a way to go, but we are well on our way to our mantra being our reality. Our youth. Our Kids. Our leaders. And on top of all that I get to work with two of the best pastors in the world in Chanda Nunes and George Tuyu. We have a blast.

What are your favorite Christmas traditions from your family growing up? What Christmas traditions are you most interested in passing on to your children now?

I was born in Canada, and then grew up in Barbados. In Barbados I still remember going to Queen's Park on Christmas morning after church and seeing everyone all dressed up. It was as if the whole island was there on Christmas morning. Unfortunately, I also remember going to church at 6 a.m. Christmas morning. I think every child in the church was fully asleep halfway through the service. Thinking about it makes me laugh.

There are a ton of things we do at Christmastime. But for our kids, I think the family time is what they love. Choosing the Christmas tree is a family activity that they really look forward to. We always do it the day of Thanksgiving.

 

The Crooked Christmas Tree is available at most major book retailers in the U.S. and many major retailers worldwide.

Image credit: Hachette Book Group / SpectrumMagazine.org

Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.

 

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