Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day List

Today is Leap Day. And since it only comes around every four years, I say we celebrate. (I'm always looking for a reason to celebrate. Today I'm celebrating by putting Cafe Mocha creamer in my coffee. I like to Go Big.)

For your pleasure, here are 10 fun facts about Leap Day:

1. Leap Day is basically the result of we humans trying to bend nature to our humanly calendar. The Earth actually does not orbit around the sun in 365 days, if you can believe it. It really takes 365 days, five hours, 48 minutes, 45 seconds. So we do a little adjusting. If we didn't, eventually the calendar would be so off there'd be winter in July.

2. If your birthday is today, you can join the Honor Society of Leap Year Babies. I bet you get a trophy.

3. But if you're Scottish, you're, um, not so lucky. In the olden days, Leap Day babies were called "leaplings," and were thought to be sickly and difficult.

4. In the Leap Year of 1504, astronomy-savvy Christopher Columbus used the fact that he knew there was going to be a lunar eclipse to trick the Native Americans into offering him supplies. Scoundrel.

5. In the Leap Year of 1916 in my native South Carolina, goverment officials raised the minimum age for mine, mill, and factory workers from 12 to a seasoned 14.

6. In the first century BC, Julius Caesar tried to fix the calendar with the Leap Year, but things still weren't clicking. If we'd stuck with his plan, things would be "off" every 128 days. So in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII stepped in and changed the Leap Year rules.

7. Which are: 1) A year must be evenly divided by four to be a Leap Year; and 2) Any year that's evenly divisible by 100 isn't a Leap Year... unless it's evenly divisible by 400, too. And thus we abandoned the Julian calendar and adopted the Gregorian one.

8. It's true, the old Irish tradition that states that a woman can propose to a man on Leap Day. But if the gent refuses, he's got to pony up with a gift. The Irish believed that in this case, the proper gift was several pairs of gloves... to hide the poor lady's ringless hand.

9. In Greece, it's unlucky to marry in a Leap Year, let alone on a Leap Day.

10. The Irish believe that all Leap Year traditions began in the 5th century, when a plucky nun named Brigid petitioned a powerful missionary named Patrick on behalf of all women. She believed women should play a larger role in choosing their husbands. Patrick supposedly consented, allowing women to propose every four years. Brigid and Patrick were later made saints.

Now you'll all be Trivial Pursuit rock stars. Happy Wednesday!

* * Fun facts compiled using The Writer's Almanac, Wikipedia, Project, and CBC World News.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Literary Idols and Luck

There's a message from one of my literary idols on my cell phone right now. No kidding: this man is my favorite living writer--possibly my favorite writer of all time. I'm still hornswoggled by the fact that if I dial for my messages and push "2," his voice is there. And it's not a joke.

He's on my voicemail because I recently wrote him a letter, care of his literary agent, asking if he'd consider reading a review copy of KEOWEE VALLEY, and if he likes it, possibly offering a blurb. Honestly, I never in my wildest dreams--and as my husband and anyone who's had to share a room with me over the years can attest, they are wild--thought he'd respond. I never even thought he'd get the letter. My guess is that this particular gentleman receives mounds of fan mail each year, much of it from wannabe writers who are also fans. But I've been reading his work since I was 10 years old, worshipping the way he crafts words on the page for so very long, that when it came time for my first novel to be published, I had to take the chance.

I'd tell you his name, but I'm superstitious. (This is coming from the same girl who in high school didn't change her stinky-nasty-sweaty soccer socks until we lost a game, and offers up the same exact prayer before road trips that she's been repeating since age 15.) I really want him to like my novel. If he doesn't, I'll be okay, but I don't want anyone to know that. Let me just tell you that he's a modern Southern literary icon, that all his books are bestsellers and many of them made into movies. He's the voice of the South, at least to me. His writing sings and pulses and burns, and he's the literary touchstone of my South Carolina childhood.


When I first listened to his message, I thought someone was playing a cruel joke on me. But as he kept speaking, I knew it was real. My legs literally went out from under me, and I sat in an ungainly lump on the floor in my house. I momentarily lost the power of speech. He said many things in his message, but one thing he did say was that I'd written a "terrific" letter, and that while he tried to avoid doing blurbs any more, when someone writes him a letter like that he has to read the novel.

There's a waterfall in Pisgah National Forest, near my home, called Courthouse Falls. It's about 50 feet high, and there's a deep pool at the bottom. It's dark in this part of the woods, even in daylight, and in summer everything is green, mossy, slick and growing. I jumped off those falls in near pitch-darkness for the first and only time, a little over a decade ago. Night was falling fast and deep as it does in the Southern woods, and all I could see as I curled my toes over slick rock and rotting leaves was the vague white of the water where it crashed into the pool at the bottom. God, I wanted to jump. I can hear the thunder of the falls in my ears and feel the thump of adrenaline in my blood, even now. I can still feel the frigid shock of that spring-fed water.

I'm learning, more and more with this book preparation-and-publication process, that it's necessary to go for it. To step out over the dark and the wide, even when it's scary. You never know what might happen.

Granted, when you jump off a waterfall, you're taking your life into your own hands. I don't necessarily recommend it, especially for the faint of heart. (And if my daughter ever comes across this post in her teen years I plan to deny, deny, deny.) But when you're a first-time author reaching out to your favorite published authors, seeking their approval and help, what's the worst that could happen? They say no. Or they don't answer at all.

It's still worth the plunge. Trust me.