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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.

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