Celebrating a joint 115th birthday with Grandma Mary Sullivan, 1989.

Celebrating a joint 115th birthday with Grandma Mary Sullivan, 1989.

It’s time for me to contemplate the marking of another year on this planet. The past 365 days have been exceptional, as they embrace the publication of my first book, sci-fantasy novella Small-g City. This event has prompted the neighbors to ask why I’m attracted to writing “that kind of book,” especially since they associate me with the western genre.

I’ve always loved speculative fiction, the umbrella term for sci-fi, fantasy and horror. In my author bio I identify The Narnia Chronicles and The Twilight Zone as early influences, but lately I’ve asked myself why, exactly, did these works appeal to me in the first place?

The answer: I was born on November 1. It’s a magically positioned day, smack between Halloween and All Souls Day, properly called All Saints Day (at least if you were raised Catholic, like me). Being born on or near a holiday seems to affect how people perceive themselves.

A famous example: the (late) author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., was born on November 11th, now known as Veterans Day. It’s a holiday that has survived being Monday-ized by the federal government and remains firmly in place on November 11, no matter what day of the week it falls. This confirmed Vonnegut’s lifelong belief that it was really his day. Never mind that it started off as Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I.

So where does that leave an All Saints Day baby? Happily lodged between ghosts, goblins and souls and all that goes with them. And if you haven’t read The Lives of the Saints lately, those folks were pretty scary, too.

Other birth date aspects influence who we become. If you have a winter birthday chances are, when you were a kid, you were short on summer clothes and outdoor toys (except sleds). If you were born during the summer, it’s likely you’ll celebrate under clear skies with a picnic-friendly menu. In my particular case, I was born one hour and forty minutes short of my maternal grandmother’s birthday. For the rest of her life she inferred that I was an independent hard-head, and that’s what I’ve become.

If you write fiction, birth date is one more way to explore the characters you create. In my western historical novel, Mary Benton, Pioneer Girl, the protagonist’s birthday is May 15. The world of the story involves agriculture and mid-May is, in my experience, a time when crops begin to thrive. Mary, herself, grows from age 10 to 16 in the course of the novel and learns to stand on her own. In 1850s Oregon Territory there aren’t enough resources to provide Mary with a new summer frock every year, but her mother always makes a special butter cake (for which Mary’s enthusiasm declines as she grows up).

I hope that Mary Benton, Pioneer Girl will be on its way to publication the next time my birthday rolls around (and so do my neighbors). It’s been an exciting month, with two different editors requesting the full Mary Benton manuscript. There are worse things I could wish for when it’s time to blow out the fifty-six candles.

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