Last year when editor Chris Barrett and his wife brought home their Christmas tree little did they know it would inspire a fictional book.
But in fact it did.
It all started with a birds nest Barrett found deep within the tree. The nest is known to bring good luck to a family throughout the following year. But when a large spider -- from the same tree -- showed up in one of his daughter's room he wasn't so sure about that luck.
But both of those findings got Barrett thinking about how many creatures had once called that tree home. And how often there can be both darkness and light within the same story. Barrett spent the next year penning a story about a little mouse named Samuel who tries with all his might to save his home, which is also a famliy's newly purchased Christmas tree. Barrett recently shared some interesting details about himself and his new book with Patch:
Patch: What was your favorite holiday story/movie growing up?
Barrett: Rather than Christmas movies (My favorite now is the first Home Alone), my siblings and I never missed Rankin and Bass' stop-motion televisions specials. I loved Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and still have a thing for Clarice. My favorite Christmas story, however, is Clement Clark Moore's A Visit from St. Nicholas. It still makes me smile to hear it. It was an important enough inspiration that I reference it in the first two lines of my story.
Patch: What's the lesson you'd like kids to get from this story?
Barrett: I’m enthralled with the themes of darkness and light that permeate all northern cultures’ celebrations in December -- and how they tie into the darkness and redeeming light that exists in each of us. While those are key themes underlying Samuel’s story, asking their kids to wrap their heads around them is a bit much. Nevertheless, they’re there -- and I hope the story inspires as much as a brightly lit home, decorated with Christmas lights, does when a child passes it on a dark night (the same motivation and themes are present there, of course, however unconscious they may be to the homeowner and visitor). The story’s more obvious lesson for children concludes the book, as Samuel is walking with his newly found friends Ana and John. “No matter how long or terrible the darkness or problem,” Samuel realizes, “there is always a steady star – a shining light of hope and direction.”
Patch: With all you do, how did you sketch out time to get this done?
Barrett: I’m a nerd. I really don’t watch much television, sports or otherwise. My story ideas and plot developments generally come to me when I’m driving carpool or out for a run and mulling them over. Then when I have a story in my head, I discipline myself to sit down each night when my youngest two daughters have gone to bed. I don’t allow myself to get back up until I have a minimum of 500 words written. Once I get rolling, most nights go well beyond this minimum. A notable amount (about 20 percent) of A Mouse’s First Christmas: A Holiday Tail was actually written when we were on vacation in Puerto Rico and visiting my in-laws, who live there.
Patch: How much did your children help with the story?
Barrett: My daughters read voraciously. They helped quite a bit with the first third, although they still have no idea how it ends (I’m giving it to them on Christmas Eve as their advent calendar gift of the day). I actually handed the initial draft of the first chapter, written last December, to my middle daughter, who promptly pronounced it terribly boring. So I went back to the drawing board. When I came back to her with my second attempt, she loved it and has repeatedly pestered me ever since to let her read the rest. That’s when I was confident I had a story that would appeal to kids.
Patch: Where can people find the book?
Barrett: Next year I hope to have it in different formats available in many different outlets. Currently it is on Lulu.com (Simply search for the title A Mouse’s First Christmas), although shipping in time for Christmas at this point may be a pricey challenge. I do, however, have some extra copies and can arrange for Westchase area residents to stop by and pick them up. They’re $20 (includes tax). Anyone who would like a copy before Christmas can simply e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out Barrett doing a reading from his new book at Learning Express Toys today, Dec. 16 at 7pm. Learning Express is located at 12950 Race Track Rd #109 in Tampa.