Leanna James Blackwell
Leanna James Blackwell asked Michael Cunningham:

What inspired you to write about spiritual/mystical experiences in your recent book, The Snow Queen, and what challenges did you face doing so?

Michael Cunningham My mother was raised Catholic. She left the church when she married my father, but as a child I was forever being taken to visit ancient aunts who lived in a perpetual dusk of incense, surrounded by dozens of statues of garishly bleeding saints.

I found it terrifying, and fabulous.

And, as it happens, one of my oldest friends is a practicing Catholic, though that doesn’t mean she’s not a lot of fun.

You could say I’m… curious. You could say I come from a line of believers, without exactly believing, myself. You could say that I’d love to find religion, but can’t seem to make the leap. You could say I have too many questions to which organized religion seems to offer too few answers.

Which, come to think of it, may address the question, right there. I wondered what would happen if a secular, regular guy – a guy with a job, a string of love affairs gone wrong, an ordinary citizen who, like me, subscribes to no formal system of belief – saw something inexplicable, and yet something that powerfully implies…something larger than the collective cohort of human beings, some perceiving entity that might or might not be God but is clearly paranormal.

It seemed important – I’m honestly not quite sure why – that the apparition reveal itself, but impart no message. So many of the Annunciations of which I know involve some being vaguely like a giant Christmas ornament who appears, and tells the chosen one what to do.

What, however, if you’ve been seen, if some kind of Annunciation has manifested itself, but left you with no instructions of any kind?

I suppose I was thinking, somewhat vaguely, of a kind of celestial whale. Because I’ve been out in boats and seen whales, up close. I wouldn’t call them gods, but they’re by far the most god-like beings I’ve ever encountered, in that they live in a world of their own, are possessed of a deep and profound consciousness that does not in any way resemble that of human beings, and that, when seen close up – when one gets eye to eye with a whale – they are only mildly curious, and not in any way threatened. Oh. A little being in a boat. Well…

I wanted something of that regal unconcern for Barrett’s vision. That manifestation of the natural world, which nurtures us but does not exactly care about us, not in the more traditional, sentimental way.
Michael Cunningham
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