EVEN THOUGH SHE WAS RAISED A Catholic, Joan Wester Anderson, 55, never paid much attention to angels—that is, until Christmas Eve 1983. That night her then-21-year-old son, Tim, was driving home to Arlington Heights, Ill., from Connecticut through a blizzard when his car broke down on a deserted Indiana road. Suddenly, a tow truck appeared. The driver calmly hitched up the stalled car and towed it to Tim's friend's house in Fort Wayne. When Tim went out to pay him, the man had disappeared; the only tracks in the snow belonged to Tim's car.
"I called the highway patrol and tow-truck companies in the area," says Joan, the mother of five. "No one had any record of it." She let the matter drop and continued to write freelance magazine articles on parenting until several years later, when she began hearing stories of divine intervention. Then one day, a red ceramic angel arrived in the mail from a pen pal. Even though Anderson worried that an angel book would tarnish her credibility as a journalist, she took the fragile gift as a sign and decided to write Where Angels Walk. That was in 1990, before the heavenly messengers became a national obsession—a phenomenon she attributes to a kind of mass sadness. "Angels have a way of lifting us and giving us hope," she says.
They've certainly worked their magic for Anderson. While she is delighted with her recent climb up The New York Times best-seller list, she says the money isn't the best part. "One of my children said recently, 'The best thing about your success is that you'll never have to write another article on potty training.' That just about sums it up."