SPRINGFIELD — Each night, 7-year-old Zachary Schmidt gets one chapter closer to Christmas.
Zachary's mom has been reading him a new book, "A Night with St. Nick," by Springfield author Adam K. Nelson. The book was released this year and is available at bookstores for the holiday.
In fact, it was the Schmidts — Joseph and Jill — who inspired the story. The couple, who moved from Springfield to Plano, Texas, two years ago, had been struggling with how to introduce their young sons to Santa while keeping their focus on the story of the birth of Jesus.
"A Night with St. Nick" is a fanciful way of allowing Santa answer that question. It is the story of Jimmy, who was about the same age as Zachary when he saw Santa. But it is three years later, when he is a sophisticated 10-year-old, that Jimmy learns the magical secrets of Santa and the significance of Jesus.
"St. Nicholas was a godly man who was generous and caring, a person we should celebrate," says Nelson, who will be doing book signings every weekend until Christmas.
A project completed
When the Schmidts met Nelson and his wife, Diana, in 2006, they were relatively new Christians. Raised on a secular Christmas tradition, they began to ask other Christians how they "did Santa," Jill explains.
The answers ranged from completely ignoring the commercialized holiday or bluntly telling their children that Santa does not exist to embracing the Santa legend.
"Adam said, 'It's the magic of Christmas. You can do both; they can co-exist,'" Jill recalls.
Nelson was struck by the conversation. He thought it was sad that any child should miss out on the Santa story. That afternoon he began writing "A Night with St. Nick" as a way to help Christian parents bring Santa into the Christian story of Jesus.
With a degree in English literature from Drury University and graduate work in English at Missouri State University, Nelson always loved writing.
A banker by day, he has done some freelance writing and editing for Global University and dabbles in science fiction writing. "A Night with St. Nick" is his first children's book, and is the first of his own projects that he has completed, he says .
Nelson submitted the finished manuscript to an agent and a publishing house, and was rejected by both.
"I was a little bit downcast about that," he says. "It took some time to do it again."
In April 2008, at the urging of his wife, he took that chance one more time when he sent the manuscript to Tate Publishing in Oklahoma. Then he waited for months.
On to other projects
When the envelope from Tate arrived in the mail, Nelson's wife, Diana, picked up the phone.
"She called me at work, just screaming. I had to contain it ... and scream later," Nelson recalls.
Traci Jones with Tate said Nelson's story fit the Christian publisher's mission of finding unknown authors who write Christian-themed books.
"We just thought ("A Night with St. Nick") was such a fun and entertaining Christmas story," Jones says. "It tells the true meaning of Christmas."
Tate's illustrator Genevieve Stotler created the cover and interior illustrations, which offer a blend of the childlike wonder found in picture books and the sophistication of a story that can be read to or by an older child.
Published in paperback for $12.99, the book is also available in an e-edition for $7.99.
Nelson is now working to complete one of his other projects, a post-apocalyptic story that grapples with the meaning of life when a sole survivor must learn how to live.
"It's a story of faith," Nelson says, but his wife insists it is also a "real guy's book."
Tate has first right of refusal on Nelson's next book, and Jones says the company does have some science fiction among its projects.
A visit from Santa
In the next few weeks, the Nelsons are getting ready for Christmas. Their 2-year-old son, Asher, is excited about the Christmas tree and the other decorations that are going up in their living room.
One of the decorations is a ceramic Christmas tree brightened by tiny lights. The tree, which is featured in the book, is actually one of Nelson's childhood memories. It was made by his mother's college roommate and came out every year.
Santa was also a family tradition. The annual Christmas party at his family's church in Poplar Bluff always included a visit from Santa played by a church member. While Nelson chuckles about the times he could easily spot the Santa impostor, he admits that he always loved the charade.
"I had a good time," he says. "I was raised with (Santa) being part of my life."
While Asher is not ready for "A Night with St. Nick," that, too, will become a family tradition when he is a little older.
"I'm all for always talking about Jesus as the reason for the holiday," says Asher's dad. "But Santa is the spirit of giving that Jesus brings into the world."