Author Spotlight: Alayne Kay Christian
We are excited to feature author Alayne Kay Christian and her recent picture book, THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLEDO CHRISTMAS WEED, illustrated by Polina Gortman (Blue Whale Press, Oct. 1, 2020). Enter to win a copy!
Tell us about your background and how you came to write for children.
I’ve always enjoyed writing. Before writing for children, I wrote poetry, short fiction, and a variety of works for an assortment of professional positions in the corporate world. My sister always encouraged me to write for children, but I was never inspired until we moved from Chicago to Raleigh, North Carolina shortly after we learned our daughter was pregnant with our first (and only) grandchild. My first picture book, BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA was born out of the struggle and longing I experienced as a “remote” grandparent and my dedication to ensure that our granddaughter felt my husband’s and my love when we couldn’t be with her. That was way back in 2009, and I’m proud to say that today BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA continues to sell and touch the hearts of long-distance grandparents and grandchildren. When first released, the book won some awards and got great reviews, and I got the bug to keep writing kid lit. It has been a long, but rewarding, road.
My experience with my first book led me down a path where I spent the next several years taking children’s book writing courses, attending SCBWI conferences and workshops, and getting involved in the online writing community. I signed with an agent in 2013, and thought I had finally hit the big time. But it went nowhere, and the agent and I parted ways. I felt lost at that point. I did very little submitting while I tried to regain my confidence in the publishing world and myself. However, I continued to write, study children’s book writing, and work to grow my online presence. I also started a professional critique service and wrote an independent-study picture book writing course, Art of Arc. I also started working as a critique ninja for Julie Hedlund’s 12 X 12, which I did for three years.
In 2017, my chapter book series SIENNA, THE COWGIRL FAIRY was launched with TRYING TO MAKE IT RAIN. I continued to study children’s book writing and submit. In 2018, I helped my husband relaunch Blue Whale Press and became the acquisitions editor and creative director. I also spent a year going back and forth with an agent who I thought was going to sign me for sure. It turned out that she loved one of my stories, but didn’t fully connect with the others I offered. That set me back for just as short time because fortunately for me, I had so much going on with Blue Whale Press and my other writing related work that I didn’t have time to fall into negative thinking. In 2019, I started offering affordable children’s writing webinars. But even with all of the above, I also continued to study, write, and submit. It took thirteen years of hard work, but more than anything, it took perseverance to be able to share the following wonderful news. By 2021, I will have four published picture books and two chapter books.
In those thirteen years, I learned that the writer’s life isn’t necessarily just about writing and submitting. It’s about learning, growing, and finding ways to apply your knowledge and creative energy when it sometimes feels as though all has failed. And like in the stories that we write, finding ways through our darkest moments will lead us to a satisfying ending.
Congrats on your recent picture book, THE WEEK THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE Toledo Christmas WEED. Tell us about the book & what inspired you.
Thank you for the congrats. I’m so excited about this book! This heartwarming and inspiring tale proves that even the smallest gestures can make a big difference and transform apathy and oblivion into awareness, unity, community, kindness, and hope. I think the best way to tell about the book is to share the book trailer.
There are several similar versions of what happened in Toledo, Ohio in 2018. The following is my paraphrased version based on my memory of the day I first learned about the wondrous Toledo Christmas Weed.
It was just another Christmastime day in Texas when a little brown, shriveled up weed that was overloaded with Christmas decorations popped up on my television screen. I watched the street corner of Secor and W. Alexis all abuzz with people celebrating the Toledo Christmas Weed. And I listened to its inspiring story on the news.
It all started with one small gesture. A family on their way home from church rode past the weed, and a girl in the car commented that it reminded her of the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. The family stopped at a nearby store and bought the garland that would soon adorn the weed. Later, a woman left a small gift under the weed. From there, magic happened with the spirit of giving growing more than anyone could have ever imagined.
I thought it might be nice to share a couple videos about the real Christmas weed.
I like this one because the narrator gives a sense of the heart of the story that ended up in my book THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLEDO CHRISTMAS WEED.
I chose to share this video because it does a good job of showing the community coming together.
Deciding to deviate from the true story and write it from the weed’s perspective gave me a story that offers even more messages than the true story. It is my hope that the many layers leave readers thinking about self-esteem, selflessness, and the more important messages of kindness, giving, unity, community, hope and more. I hope you will read it and find for yourself what the book means to you and let your children find their own message from the many layers this story offers.
Polina Gortman’s wonderful illustrations deepen the story and the messages with her own visual storytelling. It really brings home the messages of kindness, unity, and community. I love how Polina parallels Weed’s story with that of a homeless man who is seeking kindness. In my humble opinion, the text and illustrations together are magic. That mix of two creative hearts coming together via text and art is what picture books are all about.
This book is so much more than a Christmas story. It is a story that needs to be read year round. Given the distressful state of humankind exhibited in 2020, I pray that this beautiful story of unity will be read by many! It is my hope that, just like in the story, the unity created by Weed will sprout around the world spreading and growing goodness and love . . . not only at Christmastime but all through the year.
You are both a publisher and an author. How do you juggle these roles?
It is not an easy task. Because I’m compelled to honor my commitments, I do my best to always make Blue Whale Press my priority. This can leave very little time for much else. There are days (and sometimes weeks) where Blue Whale Press commitments consume me. And there are some periods where I can catch my breath. I think one of the toughest things about the many hats I wear is they all rely on my creative energy, which often drains my creative reserves. So, I guess the truth is, I sacrifice my love or writing for the pleasure of seeing other writers and illustrators achieve their dreams. And when I can, I work to achieve my personal writing dreams.
I imagine the above sounds negative, but every book we publish is a pride-and-joy extension of myself as well as an honor and pleasure to see the author’s and illustrator’s dreams come true. Seeing the fabulous Blue Whale Press titles (as completed books) multiply on my office shelves never ceases to amaze me and leave me with smiles.
What projects are you working on now?
I’ve had a bit of a rough year with the recent loss of my oldest brother, a knee replacement that is more challenging than I had expected, and some other health challenges. So, I dedicate what little energy and time I have to Blue Whale Press and as much self-care as possible. I do have a request for a picture book rewrite and resubmit that I am gradually plugging away at, and I continue to gather ideas for my wished-for and anticipated return to normalcy. And of course, like many writers, I have a plethora of stories and their revisions simmering in the back of my mind.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors?
My most common advice to aspiring authors stems from my experience as my younger self, and that is “Don’t be in a hurry.” In my experience, being in a hurry to be published often leads to frustration and a journey that deviates from the joy that being a kid-lit writer can bring. I think I’ll repeat what I shared at the beginning of this interview: My experience has taught me that a writer’s life isn’t necessarily just about writing and submitting. It’s about learning, growing, and finding ways to apply your knowledge and creative energy when it sometimes feels as though all has failed. And like in the stories that we write, finding ways through our darkest moments will lead us to a satisfying ending.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I’ll offer a few of the first things that came to mind. I once worked as a railroad car repair and quality control inspector and in many other male-dominated fields. My father and grandparents picked cotton and lived in a sharecropper shanty in Alabama. I come from a family with seven children (my dad’s family had thirteen). But my husband, daughter, and granddaughter are all only children.
Where can people find you online?
Blue Whale Press: https://www.bluewhalepress.com/
Alayne Kay Christian is the acquisitions editor and creative director for Blue Whale Press, an imprint of Clear Fork Publishing. She’s an award-winning children’s book author and the creator and teacher of a picture book writing course Art of Arc. She also offers Writing for Children Webinars. Her published works include the award-winning Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book series, the award-winning picture book Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa, and picture book An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin. Her fourth picture book, Faith Beneath the Bridge will be brought into the world by Clear Fork Publishing in 2021. Born in the Rockies, raised in Chicago, and now a true-blue Texan, Alayne’s writing shares her creative spirit and the kinship to nature and humanity that reside within her heart.