The Gamages and the Martinkas despise each other, because of a family feud handed down from generation to generation. Nevertheless, to escape a foster home, newly orphaned Bo Gamage steps off the bus in the California desert to meet his distant cousin Madeleine, a genuine on-the-hoof Martinka.
About his own age, Madeleine wears big sunglasses and calls herself Mzzz Mad. The name sounds to Bo like a mosquito in the air, about to attack. "You one of them ornery Gamages?" she asks. "Where's your horns and your mangy tail?"
Enemies at first sight, they find themselves under the same roof in a ghost town presided over by cantankerous Charlie Martinka, a former cowboy movie star turned prospector. Bo is quickly caught up in a razzle-dazzle of goings-on, which include a wild battle for a missing map, the mystery of the tattooed head, and a daring search for the legendary Pegleg Smith gold mine. And before they know it, Bo and Mzzz Mad find themselves handcuffed -- together!
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Newbery Award-winning author of The Whipping Boy, Sid Fleischman is surprised that he grew up to be a writer. "I had a childhood much like everyone else's," he writes in his newly published 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." Today he divides his time between writing films and children's books.
Fleischman says that when he knew very little about writing, he wrote very fast. Now it takes him longer: three months to a year to complete a short book, and sometimes much longer if he can't figure out how to get his characters out of the jams he has 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 is going to happen."
Fleischman finds 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 says, 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 feels 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 more than 35 books to his credit, some of which have been made into motion pictures, Sid Fleischman can be assured that his work will make a special impact.
Sid Fleischman writes his books at a huge table cluttered with projects: story ideas, library books, research, letters, notes, pens, pencils, and a computer. He lives in an old-fashioned, two-story house full of creaks and character, and enjoys hearing the sound of the nearby Pacific Ocean. He has always lived by the ocean and now lives in Santa Monica, California.
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