116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
If you think a bearded man with white hair writes the happy Hallmark holiday movies, think again.
Marion native Rick Garman, 55, of Savannah, Ga., has no hair, a trim build and tribal tattoos on his left arm that spell out inspirational words, wrapping under his shoulder and continuing a bit on his chest and back.
“There’s 32 words, I think — I've lost track. I call them ‘My words to live up to,’ things like integrity and courage and perseverance and generosity,” he said by phone from his home.
“I fail at living up to most of them on most days, especially patience. I had it put specifically on my arm in the place so I could look at it when I was driving.”
Where he doesn’t fail is in his career.
A prolific creator of travel guides, novels, stage plays and screenplays, the 1984 Linn-Mar High School graduate has been writing since his 20s when the then-acting student turned his attention to writing plays. His first effort, the drama “17 Days,” debuted at the Colony Theatre in Los Angeles in 1993 and was produced at Theatre Cedar Rapids in January 1995.
Despite a resume that includes more than 20 television movies for the Hallmark Channel and several more for Lifetime and PixL, he said, “I didn’t get successful at it till just a few years ago.”
And now he’s returning to his roots Dec. 5 and 6 to share his successes and help raise money for Marion’s community holiday lights.
He’ll moderate screenings of two of his Hallmark films at Giving Tree Theater — “A Shoe Addict’s Christmas” at 2 p.m. Dec. 5 and his first Hallmark film, “Christmas In Homestead,” at 6 p.m. Dec. 6. Tickets are $25 in advance at bit.ly/merryiniowa and a VIP meet and- greet with Garman after the Sunday matinee is available for $100.
Screenings: Giving Tree Theater, 752 10th St., Marion: “A Shoe Addict’s Christmas,” 2 p.m. Dec. 5, 2021; “Christmas in Homestead,” 6 p.m., Dec. 6. Cost: $25 each, donated to Marion Chamber Foundation to support community holiday lighting, bit.ly/merryiniowa
VIP meet-and-greet: Following Sunday’s matinee, with drinks and appetizers, and a Merry in Iowa gift, in Marion Memorial Hall upper-level residence above Uptown Snug, 760 11th St.; $100, bit.ly/merryiniowa
Writer’s Workshop: For adults and high school students, 10 a.m. to noon, Dec. 5, Lowe Park, 4500 N. 10th St. Marion; free but registration and writing sample required at bit.ly/merryiniowa
Rick Garman’s website: rickgarman.com
He confessed he didn’t even know Iowa had a town named Homestead, let alone that it was so close to home in the Amana Colonies. He had used that name for a TV script he titled “Homestead,” set in Iowa. It didn’t get made and was totally different from the movie that hit the Hallmark Channel in November 2016.
“Since it was my first Hallmark movie, I was looking for some sort of a touchstone for myself,” he said.
Also on Dec. 5, aspiring writers can learn tips and tricks from the pro when the Marion Public Library presents a writer’s workshop with Garman, 10 a.m. to noon at Lowe Park. It will be open to adults and high school students.
Admission is free, but registration and a writing sample are required. Click on the link at marionpubliclibrary.org/events.
“One of the pieces of advice that I always give writers, especially young writers, is never stop writing because, even if you're not going to get paid for it, keep writing,” he said, which has allowed him to build up a body of scripts that can fit many scenarios.
Garman went to high school with Marion Mayor Nick AbouAssaly, who reached out to the writer in 2019 about coming back to town.
”He said, ‘Hey, you write all these Christmas movies, we do a big Christmas thing every year, would you want to come back and be a part of it somehow?’ I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ ... .
“I have become known as sort of the Christmas guy. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but here I am.”
His path has been as rocky as Iowa’s rural roads.
He kept working odd jobs after graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles, wrote two award-winning plays and then “it just didn’t happen,” he recalled. His writing career didn’t take off the way he thought it would, so he kept writing and working in the entertainment industry.
“And then life got in the way,” he said. “I didn’t have strong advocates and I’m not great at selling myself.
In the 2000s, he got an agent, which helped him pitch a show “that NBC almost bought.”
He kept plugging away and entered the internet world, until “a friend of a friend of a friend sort of stumbled into this weird little world of writing TV movies,” he said, and in August 2016, his screenplay for “Late Bloomer” aired on PixL, followed by “Christmas in Homestead” three months later on the Hallmark Channel.
Then the cameras started rolling, and by the time he was 50, he quit his day job to writer full time.
He’s healthy now, but in 2012, he battled esophageal cancer, and then like everyone else, holed up during the pandemic last year. Both trials fueled his creative fires and ended up bringing him from the West Coast to the East Coast.
“After cancer, the first thing that I wanted to write was this idea — and don't ask me where it came from — this idea for a novel popped into my head. And it's not just a novel, but a novel series of seven books. I needed a place to set it and, for some reason, Savannah popped into my head.”
He had only been there once, and ended up writing the entire book in Los Angeles, using Google Earth, Google Street View and Google Maps to research the locations. Before it was published, he traveled to Savannah to go to all the places he wrote about in his book.
“And I fell in love,” he said. The most haunted city in America was not only perfect for the ghosts in his book, but by actually going there, he discovered “it’s a magical, offbeat, beautiful, historic, fun, funny, odd city. It's a really unique place, so I started coming here often.”
He bought a home there as an investment, and began splitting his time between Los Angeles and Savannah, until COVID-19 killed a “perfectly healthy,” 34-year-old friend who had no pre-existing health conditions.
“It freaked me out,” Garman said. “I thought, if it can take down him, what chance does a rickety, at that time 54-year-old cancer survivor have? It was getting really scary in Los Angeles, so I came here to sort of hide out.”
He discovered he could live anywhere and write, and with Zoom, he didn’t need to be in L.A. to make connections. He also had stayed home in L.A. anyway, juggling 10 writing projects at once, so being at home during the pandemic was no different.
“There would be days when I wouldn't leave my home in L.A., so when the pandemic rolled around, it's like I've been carbo-loading for this year. I've been training for this,” he said. “Do you want me to stay at home and not go out or see anybody? I can do that. I’ve been doing that.”
He writes when the spirit hits him, but tries to treat it like a job, setting an alarm to get up, get to work, then write pending assignments during the day, and his own pet projects sometimes at night. He knows the Hallmark movies aren’t “cutting edge entertainment” and won’t garner awards, but he doesn’t care.
“I love telling stories,” and fans tell him all the time that these stories make them happy.
“It's two hours where you know nobody's going to die. You know that the couple’s going to get together at the end. You know they're going to have a kiss. You know that the bad guy, if there is one, isn't really bad, they're just kind of misguided.
“In a world gone crazy — it's impossible to look out your window and think anything other than the world’s gone a little nuts. It's nice to have this two hours of comfort. And the fact that I can be a part of that, the fact that I've written things that have made literally millions of people happy, how many people get to say that?”
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