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Date: Oct 17, 2009

The "balloon boy" drama is fortunate timing for a Chatham Township author whose new novel centers around a 13-year-old boy who gets swept away in a hot-air balloon.

"It's a complete coincidence," said Ann Tufariello, who is signing copies of "The Breakthrough" next Friday in Madison. The mother of three girls, ages 12 to 15, was at home Thursday when cable news began tracking a giant Mylar balloon that was floating across Colorado, supposedly with 6-year-old Falcon Heene trapped inside. Tufariello was immediately struck by the "uncanny" resemblance to her fictional storyline, in which a boy named Jack sneaks into a hot air balloon at a carnival in Mendham and is swept into outer space, eventually landing on the planet of Venus. "Even though I didn't know (Falcon), I felt connected to the kid," she said today.

Tufariello, along with the international audience following the saga on television, was relieved upon finding out Falcon was not inside the balloon and was hiding inside an attic at the family's home. While debate is raging today on whether the incident -- his family previously appeared on a reality-television show -- was real or a hoax, Tufariello said there is no way to know for sure.

"Who knows," she said. Falcon certainly fared better on Thursday than Jack, her fictional character, who tries to escape Venus only to wind up on Pluto, under the control of a "tyrant" named Danko. "It does end well, but there's an awful lot of things that happen along the way," she said of her novel, which is geared at middle school students.

It is the second book written by Tufariello, 42, a 10-year Chatham Township resident who grew up in Florida and later moved to New York. "The Breakthrough" is being published by Arctic Wolfe Publishing. She will be signing books next Friday from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Sages Pages in Madison.

Rob Jennings: robjennings@gannett.com

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