Story Behind the Story #8:
Man From the Sky

Man from the SkyOn November 14, 1971, a man who came to be known as “D.B. Cooper” hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft when it was flying between Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington. It was the first plane hijacking in the US. The man leaped from the plane—when it was flying—and parachuted somewhere with a mass of stolen money. It is not known if he survived, who he really was, or what happened to the money.

All those unknowns did not keep any number of people from investigating the event, and trying to find out—or invent—what in fact happened. I can recall talking to a crime reporter who told me he knew the whole story, having “just interviewed” D.B. Cooper. But the reporter would tell me no more. “Saving it for my newspaper,” he said. Oh, sure.

One of those people who used the story was me. It appears in the short novel, The Man from the Sky which was first published in 1980 by Knopf, then republished by Morrow.

While the hijacking is very much part of the story, that was not the essential part of my book. I was much more interested in my hero, Jamie Peters, aged eleven. He is dyslexic, and since he cannot read well, he reads the sky, in particular, clouds. In so doing, he invents stories, which he is happy to share, though understandably no one believes his tales to be true, certainly not his friend Gillian.

It is while Jamie is watching the sky that he sees a man parachuting down to earth. Does anyone believe him? In a cops and robbers plot, this man from the sky captures Gillian, and seeks to use her as a hostage. Gillian, however, manages to leave a note for Jamie, saying where she is being taken. Jamie finds the note—but, being dyslexic—he can’t read it. Or can he?

For that is what I was most interested in relating; Jamie’s dyslexic struggle to read that note.

Sorry, I won’t reveal the whole plot here.

I came to write the book shortly after I learned that I had dysgraphia. It has some of the same symptoms of dyslexia, but the problems have more to do with writing, not reading. I had been severely frustrated by this condition ever since I began school, but did not know why I did so poorly, such that my high school English teacher informed my parents that “I was the worst student he ever had.”

Man from the Sky was subsequently rewritten under the title Reading the Sky, and widely serialized in newspapers by Breakfast Serials.

As I write this, a publisher is seriously considering reissuing the book.

Podcast: The Christmas Rat

Avi The Christmas Rat

Listen as Avi reads the beginning of his novel The Christmas Rat.

Not your usual Christmas story, this thriller takes place during Christmas vacation. With nothing better to do, Eric joins Anje, the exterminator, on a mission to destroy the rat living in the basement of his apartment building. But as Christmas Day draws nearer and the temperature outside keeps dropping, things in the basement go from weird to deadly. And Eric learns how valuable life truly is.

The Challenge of Writing a Mystery

Avi_The Challenge of Writing a Mystery from Mackin Educational Resources on Vimeo.

Thanks to MackinVia for this excerpt from a longer interview I did with them recently. You can view more of Mackin’s videos here.

If you haven’t already read my mystery Catch You Later, Traitor, here’s more about the book.

Catch You Later, Traitor Book Giveaway

Catch You Later, Traitor, my new noir detective novel, will be available on March 10th. From now until midnight on that day, you can enter to receive one of four signed, hardcover, first edition copies of this book. Good luck! http://bit.ly/1DUeN2o

Catch You Later, Traitor is published by Algonquin Books for Young Readers and available at booksellers throughout the United States and online in both hardcover and e-book formats.

Avi Book Giveaway

The key to suspense

suspenseful readingMolly, a seventh grader from Santé Fe, New Mexico, asks, “I want to write suspenseful books. How do you make them that way?” 

Molly, there are many ways to answer this question. First, your plot has to have an aura of potential disaster, danger, or threat. While there is nothing wrong with making that danger concrete, far better to make it a bit vague. That will engage your reader to use his or her own imagination to heighten a sense of danger, of menace. 

Secondly, you have to make your reader care about your characters, and absolutely embrace your main character. You want to write in such a way that the reader wants to protect that character, as in, “No, no, don’t go through that door!” But you want to do it without saying those words. 

Third: You need to structure your story in such a fashion that the reader is compelled to go on. Here, chapter breaks are a vital tool. Don’t end them by writing, “What was lurking behind the door?” Create action that has the reader ask that question. If you want to create a cliff hanging break, you first have to create a cliff. 

Fourth: What academics call foreshadowing—I call it subtly informing your reader—is vital, because it allows the reader to anticipate risks—even if they don’t happen. 

Fifth: Selective choice of words is crucial. Don’t fill your text with …”Suddenly, a …” Or, “to her great shock …” If a character is “terrified,” use that word once. Better yet, have the character act in a terrified manner. 

Over all, I think the key to suspense is making your reader a partner in the story, getting him/her to perceive potential misadventures. Think of it this way: Your primary task is to fill your reader’s mind with the anticipation of alarming possibilities. If you do not do that, you will ….

Disbelief

Midnight MagicA magician who doesn’t believe in magic? That’s the premise of Murder at Midnight and Midnight Magic, two books about Fabrizio and Mangus the Magician which are also mysteries. Two more good books for holiday reading.

Here’s what I have to say about Midnight Magic on my website: “I know where the setting for this book entered my imagination—Naples, Italy, which I once visited. But the book came about because I wanted to write a scary book that wasn’t really scary, a ghost story, that may or may not have ghosts, and a tale of magic, that might, or might not have magic. But what really makes the book fun is the relationship between Mangus the magician, who does not believe in magic, and his servant boy, Fabrizio, who does believes in magic a great deal. The prequel to this book, which tells how the two came together, is called Murder at Midnight.”