LAFAYETTE -- John Fuller, launching his debut novel "Fly Car" at Lafayette Library's Community Hall last month, had more energy than Eli Martin, his book's 10-year-old protagonist.
Striding in front of projected images showing Modesto-based artist Shane Burke's black-and-white comic book-like illustrations, Fuller seemed to be at a loss about what he'd done.
"I'm suffering from impostor syndrome," he said.
His wife, Jacquelline, in the Community Hall audience, insisted her husband is indeed a for-real writer. In a brief interview, "I knew he had it in him to write. He'd come home (from work) and complain about the lack of books the boys in his class would read."
Counterposing his inaugural self-published, standalone book to a recent spate of other series books hitting the young-reader marketplace, Fuller said he wove vignettes from his life into the single narrative.
A native of Bellevue, Washington near Seattle, Fuller moved to Orinda in 2007, and is a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Oak Knoll Elementary in Menlo Park.
His daughters Hosanna, 20, and Sophie, 18, are likely relieved their father decided to write a book.
"They told me I needed a hobby, so I started Google-searching my family," Fuller said. Soon, he was posting embarrassing photos of his family on Facebook. His family retaliated; Fuller showed a less-than-flattering photo of himself, wearing a dog image-emblazoned T-shirt and holding Teddy, the family Pomeranian.
Abandoning his social media blitz and bundling his boyhood love of cars -- specifically, a 1966 Mustang and 1974 Cadillac Eldorado -- with a lifelong devotion to cherished family traditions, Fuller said it took two years of sporadic writing to complete "Fly Car."
"Accumulatively, it was probably nine months. In summer, I could write for six hours; when I was in school, (the manuscript) went into hibernate (mode)."
But even when he was driving to work, or listening to "goofy things kids say" while in the classroom, his memory and imagination were engaged. Childhood Hot Wheels races with his older brother teased his inner Evel Knievel desires to cruise a looping racetrack. A long-ago trip with his father, a Navy Reserve pilot and Boeing employee known as "Cappy," to an aviation museum translated directly into his book. An exhibit at that museum included a 1949 Taylor Aerocar 3, a "roadable aircraft" resembling a sports car with rooftop-sprouted wings.
"Fly Car" tells the story of friendship, achieving greatness and the importance of a father figure in a young boy's life. Young Eli Martin's father is an auto exec, desperately trying to keep the family car company, Martin Motors, from bankruptcy. He has little time for his son, who latches onto a surrogate, Grady, and with the older man's help, begins to build a flying car to soothe his adolescent turmoil and to capture his father's attention. Filled with action, history and a crash landing in Old Man Murphy's Pond, Fuller said he wrote and designed the book to attract boys' interest. When an early reading in his classroom resulted in applause, he knew he was onto something.
Fuller, a reluctant reader during his childhood, wrote in an email he didn't have a joy for reading until after entering high school. Surprisingly, the gruesome tale of "Oedipus the King," (a boy who tragically kills his own father) was the book that transformed his disinterest into devotion.
Twenty-five years of teaching have taught him that entertaining and educating can "peacefully exist" in the classroom. He chose to self-publish because he wanted to "get the book into readers' hands as soon as possible." He's enjoying presenting the book and interacting with people during signings.
Tamara Stone, a neighbor and author of two companion novels published by Hyperion ("Time Between Us" and "Time After Time"), said she owed Fuller a debt of gratitude. His daughters served as sounding boards during early drafts of those two time-travel novels. When she heard him talking about writing a book, she said, "If you really want to do it, you should."
Fuller said the most rewarding part of writing the book was working with good people. If "Fly Car" helps bring about a father-son reconciliation, or a kid understands his parents better, he'll be happy. He'll also be busy: a sequel, he said, is not out of the question.