My Apologies to Zimmerman, how I Wrote the Snallygaster
Sometimes I like to know how writers come up with the ideas for their stories, so I'll explain about this one in case you're curious. But first you've got to go back and read my story, The Curse of the Snallygaster, so you know what the heck I'm talking about.
And also, I'd like to apologize to the real Zimmerman, who was not married, probably did fine with chickens and did not live to be 186 years old.
was curator of the Gate House Museum, but I was also a guy who had written about Sykesville, and some people got the idea I could write. Sykesville has something called a design committee and one evening they visited me at the Gate House. They were Stacy Link, who is mayor now, Julie Del Mar, who runs the Main Street Association, and Rick, who has a design firm called Trembling Giant.
If I understood their idea, they wanted to create a book with a story inside about trains. There would be murals (or paintings really) all over town, depicting scenes from the story. Each artist would get one or two pages of the book and do a painting based on those pages. The cool part was, they wouldn't know anything about the overall story or get to see any other pages. And also, the paintings would be in the book near the pages that inspired the particular painting.
They wanted to know If I'd write the story, and I said, "Yeah, but I'm not writing about trains." They said, "What then?" And I said, "How about the Snallygaster?"
No one had heard of the Snallygaster. So I told them it was a monster and that there were stories about a Sykesville monster and that I thought I could come up with one.
And so, the Snallygaster was born. Well, at least my Snallygaster.
I used to work for a company named RedXDefense. There was a brilliant guy there named Tom. Every morning Tom McVeigh would come down to my office and say "good morning" in a different language. And I would try to guess the language. I think I got English, Spanish, German, and French. Maybe Japanese, because I lived there for a year.
Tom's the one who first mentioned the Snallygaster to me. He read about it somewhere. The Sykesville Snallygaster. Well, I couldn't find anything written about, but I did find some things about a Sykesville monster, but this monster was more of a Bigfoot sort. In fact, in Sykesville Stories, Volume 1, we have a very good story about a guy who had a close encounter with said Bigfoot.
But I wasn't writing about Bigfoot, I was writing about the Snallygaster. I did a little research. Saw some pictures. It seemed like the thing might have had German origins, wings, and a lizardish appearance.
I decided, man, I'm just make it up. Somehow I was going to make this monster central to the history of Sykesville and use it to tell the story of the great flood and the town's early years. And thinking about all the floods and fires that hit the town over the years, I decided there would be a curse on the town, the curse of the Snallygaster.
I sat in my special writer's chair in the dark in my basement and wrote a story fairly quickly that wasn't any good. It was sort of an adventure story about a mysterious man in black. He's running for the Snallygaster, and he has something in a black sack that the Snallygaster wants. And the man, the bag, the Snallygaster and the flood would all converge on Sykesville at the same time.
It was a pretty good basic idea, but it was no fun to read. It was just serious and boring. And I had no idea what the man was carrying in his bag.
Now when the flood hit on that July day in 1868, it washed out the hotel of James Sykes, this huge hotel with 47 rooms, in a manner of minutes. Just crushed it and swept it away. I also happened to know that a man named Zimmerman had a store beside the hotel, and that got swept away, too, along with Zimmerman's safe, which was never found.
I decided I would add Zimmerman and his lost safe to the story. And even better, the mysterious man would put something in the safe before it washed away, and that whatever was in the safe, the Snallygaster wanted it. It was getting better, but still, no magic.
And then Zimmerman started talking. I could hear him in my head. Zimmerman's voice was the missing ingredient, the magic thing that would carry the story.
I heard Zimmerman say, "Now you gotta understand something you might be inclined to resist understanding, but don't let it throw you none." Who the hell talks like that? "Fact is, I was born in 1832, which means I'm over 186 years old, which is a mighty strange thing..."
From that point on, I just let Zimmerman go. And from wherever that weird point in my brain is where Zimmerman spends his lonely nights in his shop drinking whiskey because he doesn't want to go home and face his wife because she's always complaining about his mishandling of the family chickens this story just rolled out.
The German in the yodeling pants, all the chicken jokes, the man who ate snakes. Zimmerman had a story to tell, and I just let him tell it until that safe burst open and I finally realized what the Snallygaster was chasing all that time.