Breakfast with Sid Fleishman

Sid Fleishman passed from this life on St. Patrick's Day, March 17th. I had breakfast with him today. We've breakfasted together many times before. Sometimes he was the Whipping Boy or the Abracadabra Kid. Always, he's a good friend, welcoming and honest and approachable. Our first breakfast together was in January 2009. The morning after a writing conference is always tough—like the morning after a wild party. I wake with a head stuffed with impressions, ideas, information, and a vague feeling that I may not have used my time as wisely as I could. While conference hangover may not come with a headache and dehydration, it always takes a few days to recover. The morning after the SCBWI-Florida winter conference in Miami 2 January’s ago, my writing bud Marty and I were sitting in the hotel restaurant, debriefing and nursing our post conference headaches, when Sid Fleishman walked in. Cheryl Zach had accompanied him to the conference, but for whatever reason, she wasn’t there now. He, Sid Fleishman, was alone, looking around, and, so it seemed to us,  looking a little lost.

Maybe because Marty and I were staring at him like expectant pups, Mr. Fleishman smiled. His smile was warm and welcoming, like one you’d give old chums. A few minutes later we were sharing his table. Mr. Fleishman –I’d never be so cheeky as to call him "Sid", although that is what he asked to be called. Considering the high esteem with which we regarded him, "Sir" seemed more fitting—Sir Sid with his twinkling eyes and open, curious, interested countenance wanted to know all about Marty and me: where we lived, what we wrote, how we came to be writers….

The three of us shared Southeast Asian connections: Marty had lived in Indonesia, as I do now, and Sir Sid, had spent time in Singapore, Jakarta and other spots in Southeast Asia.  We talked about our families, our lives, our children. He shared a story about his son, Paul, and how, after a lifetime of no apparent interest in writing, one day, out of the blue Paul handed his father a story and asked if he wanted to read it and how he (Sid by now), had taken it, expecting it to be a usual teen story, and was totally blown away. Having grown up surrounding by writers, hearing writers talk writing, story, dialogue, seemingly by osmosis, Paul absorbed all he needed to write fabulous stories. As he went on to share how Paul was always pushing himself, trying new things, pushing his talents the admiration and love in Sid Fleishman’s words was more than fatherly—it was writer for writer.

As it inevitably does when writers get together, the conversation turned to books and writing. To issues Sid was having with a story he was working on. (There is something so comforting about learning “real” authors have trouble writing, too.) This led to my writing, specifically to a novel draft I’d buried after a confusing critique. No telling how many conferences Sid Fleishman attended during his lifetime of writing, publishing, and award-winning, how many eager writers, like me, he had met (including the several hundred at this weekend’s event) and how many writer’s stories he’d heard, he still encouraged me to tell mine. He listened intently, showing genuine interest in me and my story and its problems. He asked questions, gave suggestions, and sent me on my way eager to dig my story out of the drawer, dust it off and get back to it.

At the end of our breakfast, which stretched to lunch, Marty and I shared goodbye hugs with Sid Fleishman, our chum. And we felt like chums, new-old friends. And now, we say a final goodbye to our chum, Sid Fleishman. How fortunate we were to share this journey with him.

Sid Fleishman, 1920-2010.

We'll meet for breakfast again, soon.