CH@T: Local author’s book, ‘Midnight, Christmas Eve,’ addresses unconditional love

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Liberty native Andy Clapp is a pastor and speaker who’s just published his first book, a Christmas story set in the N.C. mountains. This week, we spoke with him about the book and its origins and message.

Clapp graduated from Southern Alamance High School and attended the University of Mount Olive, where he played tennis. He’s now the senior pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Liberty and is pursuing his Master’s Degree at Liberty University. He and his wife Crystal have three children.

You’ve done a lot of writing for various publications and websites, but “Midnight, Christmas Eve” is your first book. Can you walk us through the process of the creation of this book?

The book began with an idea. I wanted to tell a story of what unconditional love truly looks like. Unconditional love endures disappointments, pains, hurts, and so much more. As I saw the story line unfolding in my mind, I truly allowed the characters to tell the story, to let them guide the story to its end.

You’re a N.C. native, growing up in nearby Alamance County and now pastoring in Liberty. But you’ve set the book in West Jefferson. What drew you to the N.C. mountains as a setting?

To be honest, I love a story that is set in the mountains. The North Carolina mountains feature numerous towns that I find inspiring. I originally took my family through Virginia, searching for the perfect setting, but failed to find what I envisioned in my mind. When we returned home, I remembered hearing that my great grandparents vacationed in West Jefferson over 40 years ago. Prior to 2017, I had never visited there. I drove up one morning and after topping the hill to descend into downtown, I knew that West Jefferson would be the setting for the book. I located the bench outside of the Old Hotel and the story unfolded from that very spot.

The book has a Christmas theme and involves a love story, but you use it as a retelling of some of teachings from the Book of Hosea in the Old Testament, which deals with subject of unfaithfulness. What prompted that?

In Hosea, the Lord tells Hosea to marry a promiscuous woman and through the events, Hosea learned of the love that God has for His people. There is a redemption aspect to the end of Hosea as well. I believe we encounter and experience conditional love more than anything else in this world. But what if there is a deeper level to the love that we show others? What if there is a love that continues even through the deepest hurt and despair? The story tells of one that learns that a love truly worth experiencing is one that endures to the end.

I wanted to write a book that is an experience of the love God has for us. And I wanted it to be as authentic/realistic as possible. Brady learns more about unconditional love with each passing day. Sarah looks for love, much like we do, in so many different places, trying to find something that satisfies. At the conclusion of the story, though their experiences were different, Brady and Sarah are stronger people as a result of their journeys.

How did you develop the book’s main characters — Brady and Sarah, high school juniors who have a chance encounter on a park bench on Christmas Eve?

Those characters are built from aspects of people I know and situations I have witnessed, to some degree. There were aspects of Brady that I saw in friends over the years. His sense of loyalty is a tribute to a few lifelong friends I have had. His job as a woodworker also comes from individuals who are a part of my life. For Sarah, she, too, resembles various women in my life, from the past to the present. Her character baffled me in the writing. I struggled to write parts of her story as I questioned why she would choose that which she chose. When I pinpointed that she was struggling to find her true value, her story developed a little easier. That fact, though, made my heart break for her while writing her story.

Both characters exhibit a growth over time. By starting their stories in high school, we see the transition that many of us endure over the years. I found it incredible to try to shift back into the mindset of that age though I am a few years removed from high school and college.

The book earned accolades before it was even published. As a first-time book author, what was that experience like?

Absolutely amazing. I entered the story into a contest at a writer’s conference in 2019. To be honest, I doubted it would even place. I entered it just to give myself a standard by which to evaluate my writing career. When it won first place, I was blown away. At the same conference, I submitted the screenplay for this novel, and it won first place for the screenwriting contest.

The success of the novel and the script adaptation of the novel provided me with the hope that it would one day be published. For writers, any glimmer of hope pushes us to keep writing, to refuse the urge to scrap a project and begin a new idea. To be honest, the awards came at a time when I needed reassurance and it gave me that reassurance.

What do you hope readers will take away from the experience of reading the book?

First, I hope they like the story. The earliest readers enjoyed the story and have requested a sequel, which may be in the works. I jotted down some ideas for the next part of the characters’ story.

From the book, I want readers to understand their value. Regardless of the mistakes we make or what we endure in life, we hold value. Sometimes, it takes a journey for us to see that truth, but it is my hope that each reader knows they are valuable.

Lastly, I hope it challenges the readers to love others deeper. As we look at the reality of the world today, loving unconditionally is a powerful choice we can all make. When we love unconditionally, others feel the effect and others find inspiration to love likewise.


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