Simply 7 interview with Lynne Marie–The Star in the Christmas Play

It’s not quite Christmas time yet, but as we near the holidays I’m always on the lookout for a new Christmas book that captures my attention (and isn’t just trying to be commercial).  Today’s Simply 7 is about a VERY cute Christmas book that I just had to share.

LynneMarieLynne Marie is both a writer and a travel agent in Florida (my near polar opposite in the US!).  She has stopped by my blog to discuss a previous book once before. She has written several magazine articles and picture books to date. You can learn more about her at her website, her Facebook page, or her Twitter page.

STAR coverHer latest book “The Star in the Christmas Play” is about an adorable giraffe named Raffi who is too tall to play any of the usual roles in the Christmas Nativity play.  The solution to his dilemma is … well, it’s spot on.  I HATE to give spoilers!  This is definitely a book you will want to read.

Welcome back Lynne Marie!

Me: Little Raffi doesn’t quite fit in with his peers.  What inspired his character?

sad raffiLynne: Raffi is a culmination of several children, including my own two. However, I think it’s more of a self-esteem problem in connection with fitting into the structure of the nativity play than an inability to fit in with his peers. But, as a result of that, he separates himself from them emotionally. They are excited/happy about the play and he is worried/sad about the play, so that fuels the divide. It’s hard to be an active participant in a group when you are not positioned on the same “side,” whether or not those people are your friends.

Me: That is SO true.  When you first started writing this story, did you already know the solution for Raffi’s character in this predicament?  Or was that something that developed over time?

Lynne: This story started with wanting to write a Christmas story about a camel (I love camels), but that just didn’t work.  I just couldn’t get the new and different factor to take seed. So to changed it up I went with characters that would NOT be in a nativity pageant to play characters in the pageant. At that point, I definitely had the character and the problem (a giraffe being too tall was the obvious one), but I had to figure out a way to make the situation more unique and then, to figure out a satisfying resolution.

animals tryout

Because I have a background in theatre, I also toyed around with the idea of being a star in a theatre production instead of a nativity play (it’s easy/conceivable to be too tall, too small, too skinny, too wide or too something for a part). But I also didn’t want Raffi to come off self-absorbed or focused on becoming a Broadway or movie star as that didn’t fit with the personality he seemed to have. I brainstormed to take it down a notch and also to be able to keep the thought/image of being a star/reaching for the stars.

To take it in a different direction (and possibly one that worked better than desiring to be an actor LOL), I jotted down stars. North Star. Star of Bethlehem. As soon as I wrote the second phrase, everything came to me and I knew my original concept of a nativity pageant was just right. He could be too tall to “star” in the Christmas play, but not too tall to play the “Star of  Bethlehem,” which tied in my original concept neatly and tightly. It was one of those Kismet moments — everything came together!

Me: This is SUCH a cute Christmas story.  Is Christmas one of your favorite holidays?  Did you always intend for Raffi’s story to be a Christmas story?

Lynne: I am big on holidays and yes, Christmas is a favorite. I was always the first one to want to put up the tree when I was a child and often did it by myself. It was also always important to me to set up the Christmas manger. I loved doing that, and while I did, pondered the stories those animals could tell. Although I have not quite figured out complete, unique stories for each, including the camel. Someday…

happy raffiRaffi kind of came a bit after the origination of the concept (the camel came first), although he was in our lives as a blanket pet that I bought my daughter from the San Diego Zoo when she was four. Because Raffi was a beloved  blanket, in her childhood, I did hope for him to be in a story one day.

And further, as to holidays, I do have a Halloween-inspired book (but for any time of year), Moldilocks and the 3 Scares, coming out Fall, 2019 from Sterling. As as I think about it, my other books also have holiday/event tie-ins — Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten (First Day of School), Hedgehog’s 100th Day of School (100th Day of Kindergarten) and Let’s Eat – Mealtimes Around the World (World Children’s Day).

Me: The illustrations by Lorna Hussey are adorable.  Were there any illustrating surprises for you?

Lynne: Not exactly a surprise. Since she was the illustrator of my second book, Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten, I knew her work and how amazing she is and honestly expected great things. It was nice to see she created the characters much like I envisioned, but even better! I am so thankful that she was assigned to bring these characters to life and pray for more projects with her.

Me: What is one thing that surprised you in writing this story?

Lynne: Because this was a book about coming to terms with your perceived flaws and was basically an important book for anytime of year, BUT had religious connotations and a tie-in to Christmas, I really wasn’t sure where it would fit in the market. So, I didn’t submit it anywhere. Then, when Sparkhouse (now Beaming Books) had their 1st annual contest, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to send it in. While it didn’t win first place, I was told it was a close second and was offered a publication contract nonetheless. So I was both surprised and pleased that they saw the value of this book so clearly.

Me: Any advice or inspiration for new picture book writers and/or illustrators?

Lynne: My advice on this is pretty static and very basic. It can be summed up in “Do the Work” and “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming” (do the work and don’t give up).  And that means (with repeats for emphasis): Reading, reading, reading (mentor texts, new releases, classics, research books — anything and everything) and learning, learning, learning (go to conferences, read craft books, practice and even fail), and critiquing, critiquing, critiquing (critique and be critiqued), revise, revise, revise (as many times as it takes for there t o be a consensus in your critique group that you should send it out) and often re-vision, re-vision, re-vision. And by that, I mean amending your original vision in order to let the story come alive.  It’s important to let your story evolve into what it needs to be. What happened with my nativity camel is a great example of this.

I do want to mention Mentor Texts. For each of my published or soon-to-be published projects I read 50-100 Mentor Texts (comp books) on the same topics and themes. As a general rule, I do this with all projects I aim to send out.  It’s so important to know what’s been done before by what publishers and whether your story is unique and fresh as well as whether or not your story is as good as, if not better, than what’s out there.

Me: What future projects can we look forward to seeing from you?

Lynne: I actually have two new books coming out in Fall, 2019. Moldilocks and the 3 Scares is a fractured retelling of the Goldilocks tale, with monsters and another level. The way this story is set up, Moldilocks isn’t necessarily an intruder. I am super excited about this project because it’s one of my quirky stories (but still with heart). In addition, Let’s Eat: Mealtimes Around the World is coming Fall, 2019. I am excited about this book as it highlights information learned through my job as a Travel Agent (and research), and promotes learning about and accepting other cultures than our own. Plus, there may be associated books which will explore other aspects of different cultures, which are fun to write and to share! I do hope to have other exciting announcements soon!

That sounds exciting.  I can’t wait to check out Moldilocks.  I’m now incredibly curious as to how she’s not an intruder in your version.  If you haven’t had a chance to check out this cute story yet, dear readers, I would recommend tracking down a copy to read.  It’s a great way to start the holidays!

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