Snow Child: A Letter From the Author
Several years ago I was working an evening shift at Fireside Books, an independent bookstore in my hometown of Palmer, Alaska. It was late afternoon, but winter had arrived so it was already dark outside and inevitably snowy and windy. I was pregnant with our second daughter and feeling the fatigue of having been on my feet all day. As I took a stack of books to the children's section to shelve them, my eye caught on one of them. It was a simple picture book featuring artwork by Alaskan artist, Barbara Lavallee. Having grown up in Alaska, I was surprised to come across a local title I hadn't seen before. I stood there among the shelves and read it.
In a handful of sentences and illustrations, the story described an old man and woman whose greatest sorrow is their inability to have a child of their own. But one winter day they go into their yard and build a little girl out of snow, and she comes to life. Having worked as a journalist for nearly a decade, I very much believe in the hard work and craft of writing. And yet, this was a rare, magical moment of pure inspiration. My pulse quickened, I paced around the bookstore, and I thought, "This is it. This is the story I want to tell."
I love Alaska, but it is a complex love. As a writer I want to explore its duality as a place both beautiful and frightening, a landscape dominated by snow and dark winters and a certain brutality, but also full of unexpected life. For years, I had been trying to write about it through essays and a long-unfinished novel. But that evening in the bookstore, I was certain I held the key: Snegurochka.
Snegurochka is the classic Russian fairy tale of the snow maiden. It tells of a girl being born of snow and ice and becoming a beloved daughter. As I researched the story, I discovered that its long history encompassed hundreds of years and many art forms: fairy tale, lacquer painting, opera, ballet, film.
Many aspects of the story spoke to me. Here, for the first time, I had a fairy tale that could be set in my own backyard among snowstorms and spruce forests. But my connection was deeper than that. Earlier in my pregnancy, my husband and I had been told by doctors that our unborn child likely suffered from a rare genetic disorder that would result in her death within days of being born. For an excruciating week, we waited for the test results and imagined how terrible our loss would be. We were fortunate -- it was a false alarm and our baby girl was healthy. But I would never forget the sorrow, the same sorrow I would find in my main character, Mabel.
My novel The Snow Child begins with Jack and Mabel's move to Alaska in 1920. They are aging and struggling with their individual grief. When they learn of an opportunity to homestead in the Last Frontier, they decide to travel north with the hope that they will build a new life together. The landscape, however, proves unforgiving, and rather than facing the challenge together, they are drifting farther apart. It isn't until one evening when they playfully build a little girl out of snow that they begin to uncover the secrets of the wilderness.
Beyond the northern setting and the characters' hardships, there was something else about Snegurochka that set my imagination alight -- the fantastical. This was the final piece I had been missing in my earlier attempts to write a novel. I am drawn to fiction both as a reader and writer because it can carry us away to distant lands and place us in lives very different from our own. But I also love that it allows for the impossible. In our imaginations, in our stories, there are no limitations.
Who is this little girl who appears in the snowy woods? How will Jack and Mable come to know and understand her? And is she the answer to their sadness? As you venture north into the Alaska wilderness, I hope you enjoy discovering the answers.
Happy winter and happy reading,