The Leap Year Boy by Marc Simon. What If?
This is the question fiction writers invariably get. Ask a hundred writers and you might get a hundred different answers. But I believe there are basically two places that generate ideas: The real world. And the what if world.
Throughout his sophomore and junior years in high school, my brother Jacob lived in a tepee on the roof of our apartment building.
When Stuart turned 15, he inherited a Harley Davidson from the deceased father he never knew.
Carla’s mother had six husbands by the time she was 19—two of them twice.
I would classify the above as real world ideas. These things could happen. Maybe they did. You never know.
In the wealthy town of Dover, Massachusetts, vampires masqueraded as kindergartners.
In 2013, the earth’s gravity began to go off for one minute a day, at different, unpredictable times every day.
These events haven’t happened. I don’t think. But what if they did? Where would it take the writer? The reader?
My novel, The Leap Year Boy, happens to be a combination of the two. In the real world, I have a cousin, Steve, who was born on February 29, Leap Year Day. As a joke, we used to have special birthday parties for him every four years, so that when he was 24, for example, we had a party as if he’d turned six. We had a clown that did balloon sculptures and face painting. We also had keg of beer. We were committed to the tradition, but there were limits.
So when I began to write, an idea from the world of what if came to me: What if a child born on Leap Year Day was only one-fourth the size of a normal child, and grew at one-fourth the normal rate? So that after four years, he’d be only as big as a three-month-old? O.K., but that wasn’t enough. What if his mind grew much faster than his body? Good, but I thought, there had to be more. What if certain parts of his body grew out of proportion and enabled him to do some pretty amazing things? How would the world around him regard him—as a freak or a miracle?
This formed the premise of the novel. As the backdrop, I chose Pittsburgh at the turn of the 20th century. It was a time when the city was experiencing many powerful influences: A massive wave of new immigrants. Unprecedented industrial growth. Religious fanaticism. The plague-like spread of deadly infectious diseases. Labor unrest. It was also a time when the spirit of entrepreneurship was in the air. All of these forces affect the characters in the novel. Again, the real world.
Of course, we like to read about conflict and characters in trouble. How Alex Miller, the Leap Year Boy, saves himself from the designs of others—his religious fanatic grandmother, who sees him as the new Messiah; his money-grubbing immigrant doctor, who wants to put him on display; his unstable nanny, who believes Alex is her lost child; and his father and father’s mistress, who are eager to tap Alex’s commercial potential—is at the heart of the novel.
What if what happens at the end of the novel happened in the real world? I’ll leave you with that question. But I will say that ultimately, a family that has been fractured by ambition and circumstance rediscovers loyalty and love, thanks to Alex’s courage.
The Leap Year Boy by Marc Simon
Published by Untreed Reads
Thank you to author Marc Simon for a wonderful guest blog.