Here is a tantalizing selection from a journal kept by the great Nathaniel:
“What if it were discovered to be all a mistake, that people who were supposed to have died long ago are really (not) dead? Byron to be still living—a man of sixty; Burns, too, in extreme old age; Buonoparte, likewise…
“The life of a woman, who by old colony law, was condemned always to wear the letter A sewed on her garment, in token of her having committed adultery.
“To make literal pictures of figurative expressions; for instance, he burst into tears, a man suddenly turned into a shower of briny drops. An explosion of laughter—a man blowing up and his fragments flying about on all sides….”
Wow! Sandwiched in between two whimsical passages is a one-sentence description of the classic thriller, The Scarlet Letter. Now, where, oh where, I wonder, did this idea exist before it popped into Nathaniel’s brain? Had our boy been pondering this theme for a while and then decided to finally get the idea down on paper? Or did it spring full blown from his head to his hand?
Wherever it came from, this germ of an idea landed on a page of Nathaniel’s journal. Like a seed, once he planted it on the page, did it start to grow slowly in the darkness until it formed a story that he could turn into a novel? Once he had the vision of Hester Prynne firmly planted in his fertile imagination, did the other characters in his novel start popping up as well? Or did he simply start writing the story and let his pen call them into existence?
However it happened, the mystery of the creative act is truly awesome, isn’t it? We never know when our muse will bestow a precious gift of inspiration. That’s why it’s a good idea to always have a pen and paper (or an iPad!) close at hand.