Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

I'm not making this up... (part 2)

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In my last post I wrote about the strange coincidence of stumbling upon information about the eastern hognose snake while I was researching my YA novel Snakes & Ladders. This time, I want to tell you about a second strange coincidence that took place while I was writing Snakes & Ladders, one which came from a highly scientific source.

The moon is an important element in Snakes & Ladders. In Paige and Toby's imaginations it plays the role of their dead grandfather, gazing benevolently down at them from on high. But while writing the initial draft of the novel I did not conduct any research about the moon. I simply wanted the moon to appear in the daytime sky, representing an imbalance of nature, and since the book is set in 1971, I knew no reader would question the event.

Still, after completing the first draft of the novel, I decided to try to find out if my depictions of the moon's transits were accurate. Internet research lead me to a remarkable application on the U.S. Naval Observatory's website which can be used for calculating the rising and setting times of the sun and moon as seen from any location on Earth for any day going back centuries. The site can also calculate the moon's transit paths and phases.

I typed in coordinates for the fictional location of Paige and Toby's cottage in Muskoka, Ontario. After I clicked the site's "get data" button, imagine my amazement to discover that the movements of the moon—its rising and setting times, and its transit—as depicted in my first draft, were off by less than a week. Shifting the story of Paige and Toby forward by five days, I realized, would have little impact on the story itself, while adding a lunar verisimilitude to the novel that I, at least, would find pleasing, to say nothing of any astronomical archivists who picked up the book. (Big YA readers, those astronomical archivists.)

The moon did, in fact, travel through the daytime sky above Muskoka in the last week of July and the first week of August in 1971 exactly as depicted in Snakes & Ladders. (By August 5th it had returned to its relatively "normal" place in the night sky, rising at 7:06 p.m.) This was the second occurrence I encountered while writing Snakes & Ladders of what felt to me like the handiwork of providence. As with my chance discovery of the eastern hognose snake—a creature that would become such a crucial story element in Snakes & Ladders—the moon now seemed to be taking on a life of its own, if you will, within the novel. And that trend of coincidence was to continue.

I say that shifting the story forward five days would have little impact, but in fact it would have a significant impact, because it inadvertently led me to the third incident of happenstance encountered while writing Snakes & Ladders.

I will write about that incident in my next post.

2 comments

I agree - the moon coincidence is pretty spooky... I guess it was meant to be. It weird how much information is just "out there" floating about. I once had to find out the moon schedule for a calendar to publish and I found differences on different online sources. What is right? I don't know. Good for you for looking it up though - somebody with WAY too much time on their hands could have rained on your parade post-publication!

Wow! The moon coincidence is almost a little spooky! I'm looking forward to your next post!

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Shaun Smith

Shaun Smith is a novelist and journalist living in Toronto. His young adult novel Snakes & Ladders was published in January 2009 by the Dundurn Group.

Go to Shaun Smith ’s Author Page