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Seminole author gives Christmas movie a novel treatment

Tuesday evening, when many of her friends and neighbors are caught up in everyday tasks, Angela Hunt hopes to be hobnobbing with Hollywood stars.

Hunt has been invited to the U.S. premiere of The Nativity Story, a movie that was set to premiere at the Vatican Sunday.

Hunt, 48, has earned her special status. She was commissioned to write a novel based on the movie's screenplay.

The Seminole wife and mother eagerly accepted the invitation to this week's star-studded event in Los Angeles. "I bought a few things, but I'm going to let my fashion-designer daughter figure out what I'm going to wear,'' she said.

Hunt is no fledgling author. More than 100 of her books have been published, but her 50,000-word novel based on the story of Jesus' birth is the broadest national exposure her work has received so far.

She learned about the project in May. That's when New Line Cinema approached Tyndale House Publishers about developing a novel from The Nativity Story screenplay by Mike Rich. Rich is known for films such as Finding Forrester and The Rookie.

Since she was preparing for a cruise to Alaska to celebrate her 26th wedding anniversary when the publishing company proposed the book, Hunt said she put the project out of her mind until she got back home. She returned June 6 facing a tight deadline. The book, which was to be translated into Spanish, was scheduled to be in stores before Christmas. That gave Hunt less than eight weeks to finish her final manuscript. She completed two drafts by July 5 and submitted the final manuscript by month's end. The Nativity Story, "a novelization,'' was published Nov. 1.

A highly disciplined writer whose work has won the Christy Award from Christian publishers, Hunt said she had an advantage as she worked to meet her most recent deadline. "Plotting is fully half of the work, and all I had to do was follow the scenes in the screenplay,'' she said.

She read four versions of the screenplay, which tells the story of Mary's miraculous pregnancy, Mary and Joseph's arduous journey to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus. "They kept filming as I was writing,'' she said.

Hunt, whose biblically based novel about Mary Magdalene was published this year, believes she knows the reason Tyndale House selected her for the project. "They know I'm fast, and I'd just finished Magdalene not long before, so I still had that first-century information rattling around in my head,'' said the former high school teacher who began writing for a living in the 1980s.

Hunt, who became a Christian at 6 and whose husband, Gary Hunt, is the middle school youth pastor at First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks, said she was impressed by Rich's screenplay. "Mike Rich is a believer and once I found that out, I was reassured that it wasn't going to go off in some crazy direction,'' she said.

Hunt, whose books convey a subtle Christian message, said as she wrote her novel, she found herself moved by Mary's faith. "She accepted without any questioning, without any second-guessing. I'll never think of her in the same way again.''

Director Catherine Hardwicke of the Lords of Dogtown and Thirteen fame took the helm of The Nativity Story. Working on the movie gave the Christmas story more meaning to her, Hardwicke said.

"Mostly, we don't think deeply about it or read the real passages of the Bible,'' she said. "This helped me to get much closer to that and to understand it in a much deeper way.''

As for Hunt, when she returns from Los Angeles, she will see the movie again. This time, she'll watch it with her neighborhood book club, which happens to be reading her novel. "We'll have our own little premiere,'' Hunt said.