In my 20+ years as a writer, the experience of bringing The Curious Snowflake to life was the most unique. No other idea ever came to me in this way, no other idea stayed with me so long before finally coming to fruition, and no other idea devoured me so completely once I started it.
Most of my ideas are visual or auditory, not conceptual. When I get the itch to write something, it usually starts with an image or a conversation in my head. Some of these bounce around once in my noggin and then disappear, but the good ones stay, rattling around like marbles in a bucket until I get them out and put them on paper. TCS was different. It started out as an idea rather than image or dialogue, or more accurately, it began as two ideas that collided, one from my childhood an another from my spiritual readings.
My mother is a very unique woman, as anyone who has met her can attest. She always believed in challenging me intellectually and never dumbed anything down for me. The place where this was most evident was in her choices in my childhood literature. Yes, I got the typical staples, Seuss and such, but from a very young age my mother also read to me from the Bible and from books of poetry and classic literature. I enjoyed these immensely (loved the plagues of Egypt story as a kid) but one of my absolute favorites was a collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling (best known for writing The Jungle Book) called The Just So Stories. These were stories written by Kipling that he read aloud to his own daughter, whom he refers to throughout the collection as his Best Beloved. The stories are universally charming, but the one I liked the best was one called The Elephant’s Child. It is the story of a young elephant who “was full of ‘satiable curiosity, which means he asked ever so many questions” who then goes on a journey to discover what crocodiles have for breakfast. Needless to say, this almost ends disastrously for the Elephant’s Child.
The second idea is one familiar to anyone who reads New Age literature, the image of souls as snowflakes. My basic life philosophy is pantheistic; I believe that All Is One, appearing separate and linear for the purpose of creating experience. Souls as snowflakes is a perfect parallel to this concept. All snowflakes are made from the same thing, and yet every snowflake is unique because the possible variations is equal to the number of individual water molecules in the flake factorialized. For you non-math people out there, that would be S times (S -1) times (S – 2) and so on all the way down to 1. So mathematically speaking, even considering the millions of snowflakes that fall in each snowstorm on Earth, the amount of time it would take for an exact replica of a snowflake to appear is longer than the age of the universe, and that’s assuming that all snowflakes have exactly the same number of water molecules in them, which they obviously don’t.
Anyway, math nerding-out aside, the ideas of souls as snowflakes and the dangers and wonders of curiosity coexisted in my mind for many years until one day about 8 years ago. I’d been on one of my spiritual reading kicks at the time, and I was cleaning out the bedroom my wife and I share in anticipation for the birth of our daughter. Lo and behold, I come across the old copy of the Just So Stories my mother had given me when our oldest was born. I sat down on the bed and started thumbing through it (I am one of the world’s greatest procrastinators) and I come across The Elephant’s Child. Suddenly these two ideas collided in my head and the idea of The Curious Snowflake, a spiritual children’s parable was born. I rummaged around in the bedroom until I found a spiral notebook and pen (not difficult, I keep some in every room, which drives my DW nuts) and start writing.
I got about a page in and the idea died. Utterly. But it still itched at me, so I filed it away in the back of my head and forgot about it. It stayed there, simmering away, for about 4 years, until a birthday present brought it back with a vengeance.
For 2 1/2 years I had an 80+ mile daily commute, a long, lonely, and incredibly boring drone up and back Interstate 80 five times a week (and don’t get me started on the gas costs). My lovely wife knew this, so for my 35th birthday she bought me a nice stereo for my car and paid to have it professionally installed. One of the neat features of this stereo was its ability to play burnt MP3 CD-ROMs. Not a fabulous feature in this day of iPods and smart phones, but one that appealed to me because of a quirk of an old job of mine. I once worked in the Interlibrary Loan department of one of the biggest libraries in the Chicago suburbs, and nearly every new CD that the library added to their collection went through my hands (this was around 2003, back when CDs were still a thing). So I would snag any CD that held any appeal for me, bring it home, rip it onto my computer, and then bring it back and send it on its merry way. Over time I accumulated a massive library of music, far more than any early-2000s computer could hold, so I started archiving them onto disc. Now you understand the appeal of a car stereo that could read MP3 discs.
During my digital excavations, I came across some audiobooks I had copied during my library tenure, so I started working through those as a change of pace. Lo and behold, I find audio versions of Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations With God books. I’d read the books themselves once, and found them interesting but, at the time, a bit esoteric for my tastes. I decided to give them another shot and fell in love. Part of this was because in the intervening 7 years or so my personal philosophy had matured considerably, part was because the production was excellent. Walsch himself reads his own parts with Ed Asner and Ellen Burstyn alternately taking the voice of God, Asner’s gravel contrasting wonderfully with Burstyn’s mellow contralto. I can’t recommend them enough.
In any case, I dove wholeheartedly into the series, and what did I find about 2/3rds of the way through Book 1 but my old friend, the snowflake-as-soul metaphor. All of a sudden, TCS came soaring out of the back burner of my mind with a big old DONE on it, grabbed me by the scruff of the neck like a lion attacking a gazelle, and informed me in no uncertain terms that I would begin writing it. NOW.
Never before and never since has an idea consumed me the way TCS did. My lovely wife told me after the fact that I was impossible to live with during the writing process because I was utterly and completely somewhere else. I knocked the first draft out in 9 days, and over that time I did nothing but write, think about writing, and (no joke) dream about writing. I suppose I worked, cooked meals, functioned as a human being, but all I remember of that week and a half is an unprecedented obsession, a complete mania.
I believe with all my heart that creativity is not a process of bringing something new into the world, but a process of bringing something through from a higher plane of consciousness. In my moments of clearest and best creative power, I feel like nothing so much as a conduit, a pipeline, a scribe taking dictation. From what? I could conjecture, I suppose, but anything I could call it would be just a label. The Muse, God, the Great Creator, an angel sitting on my shoulder and whispering in my ear (or in the case of TCS, screaming it’s little feathered head off), it doesn’t matter. All I know is that my creativity comes through me, not from me. I am, to quote Paul, not the Potter, nor the Potter’s wheel, but the Potter’s clay. Sexist bastard with an ego to crush a mountain, but he had his moments. 😛
Over the intervening years, TCS has gone through significant changes, most recently a complete rewrite where I nearly doubled the length of the original manuscript. But I will never forget those frantic 9 days in March of 2010 when she first introduced herself to me and took me on this incredible journey. Every once in a while I will pull out my copy and read it through, just to reassure myself of its existence. Each time, I am filled with awe and gratitude that I was capable of bringing it into being as well as I did. I am not proud of TCS. I am humbled by it.