It is a pleasure to host the multi-talented Jim Averbeck today. I first met Jim on the “red carpet” at the Newbery-Caldecott banquet — I was in Adrianna Papell and he was wearing Armani. I cannot wait to read his latest book, his first middle-grade mystery.
Stories that Laugh in the Dark:
Why I Wrote “A Hitch at the Fairmont”
Some kids laugh at slapstick. Others like knock-knocks. But some prefer their humor a bit darker. I was such a child. I had been that always-ill kid whose mom, loving but perhaps a little overprotective, had kept me safe by mentioning the million ways I might die. So is it any wonder that when I first met Alfred Hitchcock in my family room (on the TV) I welcomed him like a slightly macabre uncle. Here was a guy who could get me shivery scared and then crack a joke to make me laugh at the fear — just the right antidote for too many ways to die.
“It’s a marvelous city for a murder.” That’s how I paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock’s documented assessment of San Francisco in my new book A HITCH AT THE FAIRMONT. Few cities have stockpiled so much treasure and tragedy in so short a life as this one. It is a city whose past is present around every corner. Look! There’s the fountain where 1906 earthquake survivors left notes for family and friends; there’s the hotel where the United Nations was created; there’s the bookstore where the Beats hung out. When I moved to “The City” as an adult, like so many newcomers, I was intrigued. I wandered its streets, seeking out the stories to be found on its bright hillsides and shadowed valleys. I’d feel a chill in the park above the Cliff House, the foggy wind gusting past me, or photo-bomb tourists on the cable cars from a street downtown, or get buzzed tasting samples of bitter green tea in Chinatown. Sometimes I’d come across a spot that looked familiar, though I had never been there before. These places would haunt me. I had no explanation for how I knew them. Was it a past incarnation? One thing was sure, this newcomer wanted to stay. My own assessment was more cheerful than Hitchcock’s. It’s a marvelous city for a life.
One night, I went to see a cabaret singer at the city’s famous Plush Room, in the Empire Hotel. Approaching the hotel I was again gripped by the feeling that I had been there before. But this time the building was willing to divulge its secret. A little plaque on the wall informed me that this hotel had been the home to a character in the Alfred Hitchcock classic Vertigo. I realized I had likely crossed the street right where Alfred Hitchcock had stood to film the scene. So many of those haunting places I’d first seen in his films. I was struck by how we are all constantly crossing paths with history, following footsteps from decades ago.
My love of San Francisco history and my fascination with Alfred Hitchcock collided, like tectonic plates. And I knew a story was to be found where they rubbed together. What if I could snip out those intervening years, let my child-self meet up with the great director in my new hometown. I could tell the story of a boy with fears learning to vanquish them with cinematic advice from the master of suspense. And that boy could teach the director a thing or two that just might show up in later films. It’s a story I would have wanted to hear, or even experience, as a child. A story that could remind kids today that sometimes the best way to conquer a fear is to do so with a laugh.
Jim Averbeck works, plays, and evades the law in San Francisco, California. Between dodging the falling bodies of vertiginous blondes, crouching to avoid killer birds, and taking quick, fearful showers behind a triple-locked bathroom door, he writes and illustrates for children. His first book, In a Blue Room, was a Charlotte Zolotow Honor book. His popular books, except if and OH NO, Little Dragon! feature charming protagonists with pointy teeth. His book, The Market Bowl, was a Junior Library Guild Selection. A Hitch at the Fairmont is his first novel for middle-grade readers. Spy agencies can find Jim online at jimaverbeck.com.