News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 25, 2012

Yuletide yarn: Valley author pens Nativity book from alternate perspective

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Just in time for the Christmas holiday season, a new book by a Terre Haute resident presents another look at the tale of the birth of Jesus.

“The Innkeeper’s Wife” by Muriel Drake Ryan is a family-friendly holiday book that envisions a larger cast of characters talking about and interacting with a special baby boy born in a stable in ancient Israel.

Looking at the story from another point of view, Ryan said she realized that more people were involved in the Christmas story than what was told in the Gospel of Luke. That brought about the perspective of Hannah  — the innkeeper’s wife — as well as that of the father Joseph, who played a large role in traveling with a pregnant Mary to Bethlehem, but seems to have little voice in the story.

“Joseph gets a chance to tell his story,” Ryan said. “He has a star part.”

Ryan said she wrote the basic story about eight years ago. She dreamed of it as an alternative to the traditional children’s pageant about Christmas — which in addition to the traditional Mary, Joseph, Jesus, wise men, and a few shepherds — usually has a big cast of extra angels and shepherds “witnessing” the presentation of Baby Jesus in the stable.

“I sat at this pageant and thought, ‘there’s gotta be another way to tell it other than having 180 angels and 93 shepherds on stage,’” she said.

She also gave a name to the innkeeper -- Aaron -- who reportedly turned away Joseph and Mary when they showed up at the inn seeking shelter. But Aaron did allow the travelers to bed down with the animals. The story told by Aaron’s wife Hannah shows her having a dim view of allowing the couple to stay in the stable.

Hannah is a Jewish woman who has advantages over many people in her culture, including knowledge of the Torah.

“She is learned. She has heard the prophecy. She doesn’t have children, but she has a business that does well,” Ryan said. “At the same time, her attitude at first keeps her from piecing things together.”

As the story moves along, Hannah comes to see the birth of the child as a blessing for everyone.

“The point of the story is attitude,” Ryan said. “We can have crummy attitudes that preclude us from being blessed, or from being a blessing to others.”

“The Innkeeper’s Wife” is Ryan’s first book, though she said she has 13 others in the planning stage.

With this book, the publishing company supplied artwork to illustrate Hannah’s tale. The artwork will become a coloring book for the 2013 holiday season, Drake said, and a DVD and musical production are also being planned.

The coloring book will also give children cues to write to inspire young writers to tell stories.

Ryan, who has an education background and carries credentials as a reading specialist, said she wrote the story for high-functioning second- and third-graders, but fourth- and fifth-graders will not be bored by it.

She said she is pleased that the illustration of the book shows the characters ethnically drawn like real Middle Eastern people in a Middle Eastern culture with Middle Eastern skin tones. The story respects historical heritage and the birthplace of a faith, she said.

Ryan likes to point out that Mary and Joseph were essentially homeless at the time of the baby’s birth. That situation fits with her post-retirement occupation of founding and operating Families By Choice, which now has three shelters in Vigo County to assist people who are at a distance from their family, either geographically or emotionally.

All proceeds from the sale of the book, as well as T-shirts, will go to the work and expansion of Families By Choice. The organization supports Deborah’s House, a shelter for mothers and children, and Timothy’s House, a home for men. In September, Project Jonathan opened in a rural location as a home for mentally handicapped people who had been abused or abandoned by their families.

And, Ryan and her husband Bernard are in the planning stages to open Joshua’s House, a place for homeless veterans who need more than a roof over their head.

The Ryans founded Families By Choice in 2006. She said she drew upon her education background to look at what makes an effective family, and she came up with two things. First, the configuration of a family is not what matters. And, other segments of community -- such as schools and churches -- can be more responsive to help families nurture their children.

“It’s not a matter of being politically correct,” Ryan said of the “definition” of family. “It’s a matter of being inclusive. The adults should be responsible for moving you forward, not holding you down or pushing you back.”

With the recent release of “The Innkeeper’s Wife,” Ryan has already done book signings and plans to do more.

The book sells for $16.95 and is available locally at Open Door Christian bookstore and at Books-A-Million. It is also available online at and

Ryan also has her own Facebook page dedicated to the book. For more information, visit


Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.