The Newbery Award-winning author of The Whipping Boy, Sid Fleischman was surprised that he grew up to be a writer. "I had a childhood much like everyone else's," he wrote in his autobiography, The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer's Life. "What went wrong?"
But his childhood was not so typical after all. Born in Brooklyn, he grew up in San Diego during the Great Depression and decided in the fifth grade to become a magician. Just out of high school, he traveled widely in vaudeville and with a midnight ghost-and-goblin show. "I was on the way to becoming a writer. I just didn't know it."
After wartime service with the U.S. Naval Reserve, he finished college and worked as a reporter on the San Diego Daily Journal. When the paper folded in 1950, he turned to fiction writing. One of Fleischman's novels was bought for a major motion picture and he was offered a contract to write the screenplay.
"My young children led me into writing children's books. They didn't understand what I did for a living. Other fathers, they learned, left home in the morning and returned at the end of the day. I was always around the house. I decided to clear up the mystery and wrote a book just for them." That book was Mr. Mysterious & Co.
Fleischman said that when he knew very little about writing, he wrote very fast. Later, it took longer--three months to a year to complete a book, sometimes much longer if he couldn't figure out how to get his characters out of the jams he'd put them in. "I write my books in the dark. I don't like to know what's going to happen next until I get there. It sustains my interest. I'm anxious to get to my desk each morning to find out what's going to happen."
Fleischman found ideas lurking everywhere. His novel The Thirteenth Floor began with the superstition that there is something evil and magical in the number thirteen. The Ghost in the Noonday Sun arose from the folk belief that anyone born at the stroke of midnight has the power to see ghosts. The problem for the writer, he said, is not so much in finding an idea as in figuring out what to do with it. That may take years.
As a children's book author, Sid Fleischman felt a special obligation to his readers. "The books we enjoy as children stay with us forever -- they have a special impact. Paragraph after paragraph and page after page, the author must deliver his or her best work." With almost 60 titles to his credit, some of which have been turned into motion pictures, Sid Fleischman's books made a special impact.
They were written at a huge table cluttered with projects: story ideas, library books, research, letters, notes, pens, pencils, and a computer. He lived in an old-fashioned, two-story house full of creaks and character in Santa Monica, California. He enjoyed feeling the breezes from the nearby Pacific Ocean, close to which he lived practically all his life.
He was the father of Newbery Medal winning writer Paul Fleischman, author of Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. They are the only parent and child to receive Newbery awards.