Dear Sid Fleischman: When did you start writing? When are you going to stop?
Sid Fleischman’s early experiences were as rich and varied as the award-winning children’s novels he writes. At the age of 16, he and his best friend toured the Sierra Nevada Mountains—the setting for By the Great Horn Spoon!, Jim Ugly, and Bandit’s Moon—performing magic tricks wherever they could drum up an audience. After graduating from San Diego High School, Fleischman worked as a vaudeville magician, and even toured with the Francisco Spook and Magic show—possibly the inspiration for Mr. Mysterious & Company. He spent four years as a sailor on a destroyer escort during World War II, two years as a journalist for San Diego’s Daily Journal, and two years as associate editor forPoint magazine. At each stop along the way, Fleischman absorbed expressions, events and characters for his stories.
“Ideas are underfoot. They are everywhere. The real problem for the writer is figuring out what to do with the idea after he/she gets it. I got the idea for The Whipping Boy more than ten years before I figured out how to use it. The idea for a novel with Joaquin Murieta at its center rattled around in my head for even longer.” Bandit’s Moon is the culmination of Fleischman’s patience in developing the Murieta story. A 1999 Beatty Award winner,Bandit’s Moon tells the story of the legendary Gold Rush highwayman in novel form.
I despise reading, but The Whipping Boy is a book I could not stop reading.
I think people shouldn’t go through life without reading By the Great Horn Spoon!
Early in his career, Fleischman wrote adult fiction and has ten titles to his credit. He published Between Cocktails, a book of sleight-of-hand magic tricks, when he was nineteen—and it was still in print 50 years later! In 1955, Fleischman wrote the screenplay for his novel, Blood Alley, which starred John Wayne and Lauren Bacall. Five other screenplays followed including one for his children’s novel, The Whipping Boy.
Fleischman never planned to become a children’s writer. “I backed into the field from adult writing when I wrote a story named Mr. Mysterious & Company (1962) for my three young kids.” When Fleischman received the 1987 Newbery Award for The Whipping Boy, he knew he’d made the right choice in exchanging adults for children’s books. “The Newbery Medal is an enchantment. It’s bliss.”
My favorite character is Hold-Your-Nose-Billy because he smells like garlic
and my mother eats garlic on bread and she smells too.
Fleischman has mastered the art of the tall tale. His stories are rollicking adventures, filled with quick-witted characters and clever word play, that keep children on the edges of their seats with suspense and laughter. Fleischman’s first tall tales were part of his novel,Chancy and the Grand Rascal. He was so taken with this new form of storytelling, he created McBroom Tells the Truth—one of a dozen stories about a folksy farmer, his wife, his eleven children (Willjillhesterchesterpeterpollytimtommarylarryandlittleclarinda), and the amazing one-acre farm that can grow two or three crops a day.
“Kids, eager to help, fill my mailbox with ideas for new McBroom stories. They would like to see me take McBroom to outer space. A lightbulb idea that turns up with some frequency is ‘The McBrooms Go to McDonald’s,’ almost always followed by the line ‘You take it from there.’”
I read Jim Ugly instead of playing Nintendo.
Praiseworthy, the world’s best butler in By the Great Horn Spoon!, is Fleischman’s favorite character for “his resourcefulness, charm, and unflappable pluck!” But all of Fleischman’s characters are real to him. “Even the villains. I slip into their costumes like an actor when I create them. When I have several characters speaking and reacting in a scene, I feel like a quick-change artist.”
Fleischman, now 80 years old, was widowed in the mid-nineties. He has three grown children, one of whom is the famous Newbery Medalist, Paul Fleischman author of Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, Seedfolks, and Whirligig, to name a few. What’s his favorite book among all the ones he’s written? “Always the last one.”