Fleischman's autobiography has many settings. San Diego is the place where he spent his childhood and adolescence. After he becomes a skilled magician, he tours the Sierras and other parts of California. The Francisco Spook and Magic Show takes him to Nebraska, Missouri and others Midwestern states, and they go as far north as Chicago and Michigan.
Fleischman's naval career took him to New York City, then to Norfolk, Virginia, to the Brooklyn Naval Yard, Bermuda, and finally to the Pacific, where he saw the Galapagos Islands en route to the ship's assigned destination. The USS Albert T. Harris was sent to Bora Bora in the Society Islands. The crew took part in the invasion of Borneo, a very brief battle which was over by noon on the day it began. Next they patrolled the San Bernardino Strait in the Philippines where in August they learned that Japan had surrendered after atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For Fleischman the most interesting experience of his career in the war, quite possibly, was the three-week visit his ship made to Shanghai, which he felt made a profound impact on his career, turning him into a novelist. The Japanese had herded the Jewish refugees into a shabby ghetto across Soochow Creek in Hongkew. Blood Alley was a narrow bar-lined street in this district; the name fascinated him, and he would use it later as the title of a novel.
While working on screenplays, Fleischman moved to a house in Santa Monica, where he still lives. From here he travels each year around the country to visit high school audiences.
Fleischman, like all highly competent writers, works hard to produce a style that meets his high, professional standards. When he was younger, he would often write whole chapters in a day; now he regards a paragraph a good day's work. In college he tried to write sentences in imitation of Henry James. Writing these sentences was too much like "pulling taffy," so he began using Ernest Hemingway's deceptively simple style as a model instead.
Since fiction writing wasn't part of the curriculum when Fleischman attended San Diego State College, he went to the library stacks as he had when he was a student of magic. But the existing books on story writing were not exactly what he felt he needed. The books did not tell him how to make a plot. "The trouble is every time you write page one you face a new wild set of variables." He gradually learned to let the material for his plots assume the natural patterns his imagination mapped out for him. Details were important. Working with William Wellman also taught Fleischman the value of allowing a story to unfold in a series of dramatic scenes. Wellman, with an Academy Award film, Wings, in his list of successful films, which also included A Star Is Born and Oxbow Incident, had "a superb and subtle mind for story." Fleischman has stated: "I learned for a lifetime that details accumulate and no detail is unimportant." Wellman insisted that every scene end with a strong curtain line, which became an effective writing habit for Fleischman's novels. His chapters typically end with a dramatic flourish.
Fleischman's autobiography shows how his experiences have become fictionalized in his novels. A typhoon his ship weathered in the Pacific appears as a storm off Cape Horn in By the Great Horn Spoon!; his panning for gold in the Sierras during his high school days helped him understand the lives of the forty-niners in the same book. A writer stores in his memory events and characters he can use later. Fleischman's first book, Mr Mysterious and Company, about a magician and his family, draws upon the years the author spent performing tricks to mystify audiences in California and across the Midwest.
The Abracadabra Kid gives an interesting account of how Fleischman revived the tall tale in his McBroom series. The genre had been characteristic of the frontier, but was moribund in this century. Fleischman's mentor in magic, Professor Fait, told him a story. Fait had been...
(The entire section is 1,516 words.)