Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

I'm not making this up... (part 3)

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I have been writing (in posts 1 & 2) about the effect coincidence can have on fiction and about the role it played while I was writing my YA novel Snakes & Ladders. In my first post I wrote about discovering the eastern hognose snake. In my second, I wrote about how I learned that my depictions of the moon’s transits were off by less than a week, as compared to the moon’s actual transits during the week in which my novel is set in 1971. In this post, I want to tell you about how that discovery about the moon led to the third, final, and strangest coincidence I encountered while writing Snakes & Ladders.

While writing Snakes & Ladders, I wanted to infuse the book with a spirit of the era, so after adjusting the time frame forward by one week to align it with the moon’s actual transits (something I didn’t need to do), I began researching that period of the summer of 1971, looking for touch points to insert into the novel—songs, clothing, cars, movies, events. It was while conducting this research that I encountered the strangest coincidence.

There was already a lot of verticality in Snakes & Ladders. Characters climbed ladders to defend trees and descended steep gullies to battle snakes. But as I researched the year 1971, I came to discover that by shifting the novel’s story forward five days, unbeknownst to me, I had landed the tale of Paige and Toby exactly on the dates of one of mankind's greatest feats of verticality: NASA's Apollo 15 moon mission, which ran from July 26 to Aug 7, 1971, and was the fourth space mission to see humans walk on the moon.

Remember, I didn’t have to move the story forward five days. I didn’t even have to check to see if the book had an accurate depiction of the moon’s transits. And, once I’d discovered it, I didn’t have to put the Apollo 15 mission in the book. But then, there it was, one of the greatest events from 1971, and I’d landed on it—albeit completely by chance—like a lunar module touching down. How could I ignore that? Even today it sends chills up my neck to think that the Apollo 15 moon landing, which became such a crucial element in the story—tying Paige and Toby's internal fantasies to the outer world and human achievement—found its way into the text purely by happenstance.

Or was it indeed a gift of providence?

Who knows? I certainly don't. All I know is that as I discovered these facts about snakes, the moon and NASA it felt as though an external force was guiding my work. That sounds weird even to me, but there is no other way to state it. For some reason Snakes & Ladders is now infused with a herpetological and astronomical accuracy that, from the reader's perspective, might make me seem like a veritable font of knowledge. Such is not the case. I am only a storyteller, anything beyond that remains outside my explanation.

2 comments

Are you saying that the Apollo Moon Landing was happening while the Moon was visible in the daytime sky? (Not to be confused with the Moon Landing being visible haha)

Now you have me quite curious to read the book - I haven't yet, so I will be running out to snag a copy and see how this all fits together. Thanks for another interesting post.

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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