by Elizabeth Clark-Stern

ARIA OF THE HORNED TOAD is about the power of the creative mind to combat the tragedy of addiction. I have worked with many children in the foster care system, and many adults who grew up in addicted families. I heard so many powerful stories, I wanted to create fictional characters who embodied their tragedy and inspiring resilience.
    I began working on the story in 2002, searching for the right approach, the right characters. The story got darker and darker. I found it hard to get myself to finish it. Something was missing. I gave up and put it away.  
    Then I had a dream. A tiny lizard crawled out of my eye, and dived off my nose onto a downed nurse log. A score of impish gremlins joined him, jumping up and down, squealing with delight. I woke, laughing, and saw it in a flash. What allowed me to survive my own childhood with an addicted parent: play.
    I started journaling, giving the lizard from my dream free reign. An amazing story began to emerge, from the dusty suburb of my own Texas childhood. The characters were modern day, an imaginal blending of many children I had worked with, and my own child self.     
    I brought the early chapters of this “rewrite” -- actually an entirely new book -- to a workshop entitled, Writing as Conscious Dreaming, facilitated by Robert Moss. I had read his wonderful book, THE SECRET HISTORY OF DREAMING, and knew I was about to encounter an imaginative and enlightened soul. I wasn’t prepared for the deep immersion I was to encounter, with my own creative process.
    Robert Moss is an elegant figure, tall, graceful, powerful in figure and voice. I was instantly struck with the similarity between him and a fictional character who had emerged in my story. Coincidence? I was soon to discard this notion in favor of the old proverb, “Everything happens for a reason.”
    He brought us into a circle and we began to create, telling dreams, sharing visions. When it was my turn, I read a chapter from this emerging story about three children and their horned toad on an adventure in the dream country.
    “We must get this on its feet!” said Robert, with characteristic aplomb.
    I asked him to play the devilishly theatrical character he so outwardly resembled. He agreed with gusto, and for a magical afternoon, I watched as Robert and the other writers-turned-actors played out my story. They all had ideas - new images, new moments, plot additions, characters beats I had not thought of. It was divine.
    The next day, Robert gave us an exercise that proved transformational for me. We were to imagine ourselves walking into a book store, encountering a favorite author, and engaging in a  dialog. I closed my eyes, and listened to Robert’s golden voice guiding us into the bookstore, to the moment when I rounded a corner to find....C.S. Lewis! He greeted me as an old friend, offered me a chair and a cup of tea, and asked me all about my book. I asked him about creating Narnia. He emphasized how important it is to use imaginal creatures to portray archetypes of the soul. “But, that is clearly what you are doing in your story, Elizabeth,” he said.
    I started crying for joy, and thanked C.S. Lewis for his wonderful insight. “I didn’t realize I was doing it,” I said to him. “Now, I know.”
    I completed the workshop with a strong dose of inspiration, and carried a vision of Robert Moss, and C.S. Lewis, one on each shoulder, into the writing process. ARIA OF THE HORNED TOAD, a story of survival, was born.