It’s a placid morning on scenic Hood Canal, a fjord near the Olympic Mountains in Washington State, and Debbie Macomber is at her weekend home, getting ready to go clam digging.
“The tide is low, which is fabulous,” Macomber cheerily says via Zoom. “The clams here are the size of butterflies and very abundant.” Hood Canal is 30 minutes from Port Orchard, where Macomber’s main residence and the offices of Debbie Macomber Inc. are located, and the author has invited her team to come out for the day. “We have 600 feet of beach property,” she says. “Everyone gets a pail and boots and a rake with a claw on it. We’re going to dig for clams and have pizza. It’ll be fun.”
A monumental figure in romance and women’s fiction, Macomber has written some 200 works, including novels, several of which have been adapted by the Hallmark Channel; inspirational and nonfiction books; and cookbooks. (“I’m a frequent eater, so I love to cook,” she says.) There are more than 200 million copies of her titles in print worldwide, according to Ballantine, her publisher, and they’ve been translated into 36 languages.
Macomber publishes two books per year: a full-length novel and a shorter, Christmas-themed story. Her latest feel-good charmer, The Christmas Spirit, out in October, concerns a pastor and a bartender who trade places one week before the holidays, and marks the 25th year in a row that Macomber has released a Christmas book.
“I’ve always loved Christmas,” Macomber says. “There’s something amazing about that time of year. We’re more vulnerable, more openhearted. It’s about giving instead of receiving. It’s the closest time when heaven comes to Earth.”
A born storyteller, Macomber is famous for churning out heartwarming, hopeful plots. “I have lots of ideas, all the time,” she says. “It’s sort of like you collect all this yarn, but you can only knit so much. I’m never going to win a Pulitzer Prize. My books aren’t going to change the world. But they’re going to make somebody’s afternoon better. Somebody’s going to pick up that book and come away thinking, I could see myself in this situation, and if someone else made it through, I can, too.”
“Debbie is sunshine,” says Shauna Summers, Macomber’s editor. “She’s a favorite of every person who comes in contact with her. She has the biggest heart. The whole package is exactly the way you’d hope she would be. And she’s a never-ending story fountain. Every time I talk to her, she has a new idea.”
Born in Yakima, Wash., in 1948, Macomber struggled with dyslexia as a child and didn’t start reading until she was in fifth grade. “At 10, something clicked in my brain and I understood the concept of sounding out words,” she says. “Until that time, all I did was sight-read. I felt dumb. I didn’t attempt to go to college. I failed all the way through school.” Still, her love of narrative flourished. “When I was a teenager, I was the most popular babysitter in the city. I told stories and made the kids the key characters. I was paid 50¢ an hour and in demand. I was always the storyteller.”
Macomber married at age 19 and had four kids in five years. When she started writing, she had little ones running around (“I’m used to interruptions,” she notes) and no money. “My husband was out of work, and we were living on food stamps,” she recalls. “He told me I had to get a job, and I told him I think I can make it as an author.” She published her first novel, Starlight, in 1983. “It was his belief in me, and the power of my determination, that led to that. If I had given up, I would’ve lost a piece of my soul.”
From the beginning of her career, Macomber had a singular goal: “I wanted to be one of the world’s bestselling authors.” She remembers going to bookstores to find out which novels were selling, and why, and she picked apart her favorite fiction to see what made it tick. “I always felt I needed to be a business woman,” she says. “I’ve never dreamed small.”
Theresa Park, Macomber’s agent at Park & Fine Literary and Media, marvels at the author’s focus and energy. “If I could be her age and be as productive, that would be my dream,” she says. “She has time for everybody, she never forgets your birthday. She’s a deeply caring, moral person. She lives her faith and walks the walk. She tries to be as generous as possible, to always be humble, and forever to have hope.”
A devout Christian and a philanthropist, Macomber says her mission in life is “to be a blessing.” She works with World Vision International, a humanitarian organization, reads the Bible daily, and keeps a gratitude journal. In 2011, her faith and her writing helped her to survive the darkest period of her life—when her son, Dale, died unexpectedly at age 36. “The pain is so hard, so profound, it should kill you—that’s how it feels to lose a child,” Macomber says. “Before Dale died, I had been plotting a novel about healing that would become my Rose Harbor series. After his death, I didn’t know how I would ever write again. But I had that story, and it was through writing it that I started to heal. Dale’s death was the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with. I know he’s in heaven, and I have the hope that one day I’ll be able to embrace him.”
“My mother is my hero,” says Adele LaCombe, Macomber’s daughter and the CEO of Debbie Macomber Inc. “She’s such a boss. People might look at her and think, oh, there’s this sweet little author. But no. There’s so much strength in her. She’s a forerunner, a pioneer, and, in her mind, she’s still the struggling romance writer she once was. She has that same hunger to be the best. Nothing stops her, and she does it all with a smile and kindness in her heart.”
Macomber plans to keep telling inspiring stories for seasons to come. Her husband wants her to retire, and she recently gave it a shot—but that lasted all of six months. “The house wasn’t any less cluttered,” she reports. “I didn’t start that sweater I was going to knit. I didn’t do a single jigsaw puzzle.” The two bought an RV, but it hasn’t been used. “If there’s one thing I learned from taking a six-month hiatus, it’s that I’m happiest when I’m writing. I’ve been blessed, and that blessing continues every time I sit down at the computer to write.”
Elaine Szewczyk’s writing has appeared in McSweeney’s and other publications. She’s the author of the novel I’m with Stupid.