word craft


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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