Island Magic: Let it go…unless it’s a misplaced comma.

commaThis is the story of how a misplaced comma very nearly brought down all my plans to publish Island Magic on time. Okay, maybe not really, but it did cause a very frustrating morning for me.

I spotted the comma in one of my “extra” rounds of editing. I call them “extra editing” but I don’t really have a name for them. It’s what I do when I’ve finished all the other rounds and want to spend a few minutes re-reading and admiring what I’ve done. “Patting myself on the back” doesn’t sound as good as extra editing.

And what I definitely do not expect is to find a mistake. A glaring error. An imperfection in the form of a tiny, itsy bitsy punctuation mark…a misplaced comma.

THE misplaced comma.

I knew immediately where this comma came from. It was stuck in the middle of a sentence between the subject and verb. How on earth did I do that? In no realm of alternate punctuation would I ever think a comma belonged in that spot. But in this particular instance, it was a sentence I’d rewritten on my last pass through the document. I rewrote the sentence because it struck me on that last pass as being too long and complicated. I deleted a clause, but somehow I neglected to delete one of the commas that went with it.

But what to do about this comma? I could leave it. Everything else in my document was perfect. At least as far as I’d seen. But I knew that comma would haunt me. I couldn’t let it go.

So I opened up the document and fixed it. Then I downloaded the fixed file to Createspace and KDP.

That’s when I noticed a mysterious tab had appeared on the left side of most of my document. Where it came from I didn’t know, but it definitely threw off my page count. Which threw off my cover. The tab had to go. Unfortunately, not only was it a mysterious tab, it was also a stubborn one. No matter what I did, it remained.

And then, as suddenly as it appeared, it disappeared. Taking with it all of my formatting. Line spacing, first paragraph indent and all chapter headings and scene break indicators (you know: ****).

During the course of the morning as I fixed the missing and messed up formatting, I cursed myself for ever touching that comma. Really. It was like a zit on your nose that you squeeze and make a big red mark instead. About fifty percent of my readers would never have even noticed that comma zit and forty-five percent of the others wouldn’t have cared. I can only think of a couple who’d ever have mentioned it to me.

I’m not really certain what my take away from all this was. I’m not the type to ignore little zits, even if messing with them causes bigger problems. But the end result, I hope, of striving for excellence is at least a step closer to it.

What about you? Do you let the little mistakes go or are you willing to cause bigger problems to fix them?

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Sleight of Hand Continues: A brief intro to Rachel and Logan from Island Magic!

In just thirteen days, the magic starts again! Island Magic, the third novel in my Sleight of Hand series, releases on October 31. I’m a little excited about this, and not just because the covers (designed by the amazing Farah Evers), look great together:

CloseUpMagicEbookRevEscape MagicEbookIsland Magic eBook

For those who don’t know, I started the Sleight of Hand series a couple of years ago with the release of Close Up Magic. Close Up Magic tells the story of handsome and successful magician Andre Hawke and Stacey Matthews, the scandal reporter looking for a scoop of gossip about Andre and his drug-addicted brother, Tony. Needless to say, attraction leads to passion which leads to complications, and, finally, a satisfyingly magical conclusion. I continued the series a year later with the novella Escape Magic, the story of a cleaner and stronger Tony, who finds himself challenged by an old friend, the inimitable escape magician Lady Lydia. I called this my “anti-50 Shades” bondage romance because, well, Lydia is an escape magician. Makes sense she’d be into that kind of thing, though she’s such a strong heroine, she’s more than capable of turning the tables on any partner who might try it with her.

Island Magic is a bit of a departure for me in that it doesn’t involve a practicing magician. The hero, Ian Logan, retired from the magical life after the death of his wife, which he blames himself for. He’s happy in his retirement until Rachel Duvall, his wife’s best friend, arrives at his island resort, freshly divorced and evidently determined to party her way down a self-destructive path of men, drugs and drink. Logan wants to help her, but first he has to deal with his own attraction to the sexy goddess he barely recognizes.

Rachel is the single most unlikely heroine I’ve ever written, but I absolutely love her. It was hard to get her just right. The things she does aren’t things I could ever imagine doing, so at first I had a hard time relating to her. I had to achieve a balance in her personality that somehow made her worth redeeming, and it was very difficult! Have a look at this excerpt to get a taste of what Rachel appears to be at the beginning of the book:

Three floors down from Rachel’s window handsome, tanned men dressed in white moved around the pool, setting up chairs, sweeping away small bits of trash, piling clean white towels on bamboo stands. Rachel watched their smooth movements with all the admiration she would feel for a ballet. They were coordinated, efficient, pleasant to observe.

They reminded her a little of the cast members she’d seen at Disney World when she was last there. The memory brought a jab of pain sharp enough to penetrate the morning fog. She’d been so full of hope then. So sure it wouldn’t be the last time she believed in magic.

The bedsheets rustled and a tousled dark head emerged. The handsome college kid grinned at her, teeth white against his olive skin. Where was he from again? Spain? She struggled to remember at least that much. His name was out of the question. She never remembered names. How old was he, anyway? She hoped at least twenty-one. She didn’t want to think she’d spent a passionate night in the arms of anyone technically young enough to be her son. He’s still too young for a thirtysomething divorcee. Her years weighed on her for a second before she shook them off impatiently.

He held out a hand. “Come back to bed.”

The invitation was eloquently stated and absurdly inviting to have been uttered by someone so young. However old he was, he certainly had experience in the area of making love. And he had the face and body of a fallen angel. Curly, jet-black hair, brown eyes, lush lips. His bare skin smooth and his muscles rock hard… She shook herself out of the memory, making her voice cold on purpose. “You need to go.”

He laughed and rolled over onto his back, stretching. “You don’t mean that, mi reyna.”

My Queen. Spanish. She’d at least remembered that right. Rachel felt ludicrously relieved, which firmed up her determination. She needed to get this kid, ah hell, this boy out of her room before she fell back into bed with him. Drunk sex was one thing—the only thing she could afford. Making love sober the morning after was another. She turned away. “It’s late. I have things to do.”

He was silent. She’d hurt him. She closed her eyes. It was better this way. If he fell into the dark hole of her heart, he’d never survive it. She turned, finding his clothes in a pile on the floor. She picked them up and tossed them to him. “Here you go. You’ve got a room here, right? Go take a shower.” She let herself smile gently at him. “Look, I don’t mean to hurt you. Last night was…mmm.” She laughed a little. “You’re very good. But you’re barely old enough for me. Take my advice and stick with girls for now. Give yourself another ten years before you try with a woman my age. At least by then you’ll be interesting.”

I think you get the idea that Rachel has a long way to go from here. Fortunately, she has Logan to help her on the journey, and he’s a hero who’s more than up to the task. Don’t believe me? Here’s a little excerpt to introduce you:

Logan held the burning cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, even though he wasn’t a smoker. He could go days without smoking and never even think about it. Smoking, like most everything else in his life, was an affectation.

Except this place. This is real. Isla Foriscura, his little haven in the middle of the Caribbean, was the only thing real about him anymore. The rest was illusion. The lustful looks of the women, the nights he spent drinking a little too much trying to forget, the mornings when he could very easily have stayed in bed. None of that was real.

She was real. Rachel. She was really here, but it wasn’t really her. He frowned at the cigarette, aware that the others had finished the job he’d started with them, but not ready to move yet. He turned the problem of Rachel over and over in his mind. I stopped believing in magic a long time ago.

That wasn’t the Rachel he remembered, not that he knew her except for Nora’s description: beautiful, carefree, loving and loveable. She’d sent him an invitation to her wedding a few years ago, but he hadn’t gone. He’d sent her a lovely crystal vase instead with a card wishing her well. Who was the guy? Keith? Ken? It didn’t matter. Obviously he was out of the picture and he’d taken most of the woman Nora had loved with him.

What happened to you, Rachel?

And then there was this day. His birthday. Nora always made a big deal out of birthdays. Probably why Logan hadn’t celebrated his since her death. He looked down at the cigarette in his fingers and wound it through them, watching it with interest as it moved, seemingly of its own accord, although he knew it was little flexes of the muscles he’d developed over his years performing sleight of hand magic tricks.

Tricks. The word gave him a sour taste in his mouth. It was all tricks. He tossed the cigarette on the tiles and stepped on it as he stood. He could sit there all day brooding or he could get up and live. He’d always known those were his choices, and he’d chosen life a long time before.

Intrigued yet? In case you’re wondering, Tony, Stacey, Andre and Lady Lydia all make appearances in Island Magic, and you find out where their paths have led them. So if you want to catch up on the story before Island Magic‘s official release on October 31 in print and on Kindle, you can find their books on Amazon. Both are available for the bargain price of 99 cents! Island Magic is available for pre-order for $2.99 for Kindle now.

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Nothing to fear except irrational fear: The monster under the bed

I get ready for bed. I turn out the overhead light and realize I forgot to turn on the bedside lamp. No big deal and certainly not worth turning the overhead light back on for the short, uncluttered distance to my bed, right?

I walk bravely through the dark room to the bedside. I reach for the extra pillows and toss them aside. It’s very dark. And very still. My ankles feel particularly exposed.

Too still. Without waiting to pull the bedcovers down, I jump on the bed and laugh at myself. I’m not four. I’m forty-four. And I’m still afraid of the monster under the bed.

I think about the monster under the bed quite often. I’ve never seen him, but he’s been with me since I was little, moving from one bed to another, one room to another, one house to another. I imagine him as two long arms with grasping, reaching, pincer-like, warty, green hands. What’s at the other end of those arms is a mystery because, of course, he doesn’t exist. He’s the curse of too much imagination.

Or is he? I think the monster under the bed is irrational fear, and irrational fear comes in many forms. In today’s world, irrational fear can seem frighteningly realistic. Ebola. EV D68. Russia. ISIS. All of them grasping, reaching, strr-etcchh-iinn-ggg to reach bare ankles from under our beds.

My monster hasn’t reached me yet, but maybe that’s because I’m too fast for him. I can still jump up on the bed and snatch my ankles away too quickly for him to get me. But what will happen as I age and slow down? In spite of what you might think, forty-four is still pretty spry. Maybe I should test my irrational fear, stand by the bed in the dark with my bare ankles and feet pointing toward the monster. If he grabs me, I can give him a good, sharp kick in the face, right?

And maybe he wouldn’t since I know he’s not really there. Probably.

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Island Magic: My Winter Wishes on Paper

As I leaf through my advance copies of Island Magic, I remember writing it, and it’s a bit funny. Last winter was one of the coldest and snowiest I’ve experienced since moving to eastern North Carolina. Every other year I’ve lived here, we’ve been lucky to get even one significant snowfall. Last year, if I remember correctly and didn’t lose count, we had three. And though temperatures here can dip into the twenties almost any year, the average low is probably closer to fifty, and that’s a cool day. I’ve seen seventy degrees in December. But not last year.

Last year was cold. And our house is drafty. The windows need to be replaced, and I have a particularly bad one in my office. It’s large, old and on cold days, you can actually feel the wind coming through it. Right in front of this particular window is my desk. And that’s where I sat last winter writing about warm, blue Caribbean seas and skies. Romance on a deserted island. I would sip my coffee, blow on my cold fingers and transport myself there through the magic of my tapping fingers on the keyboard.

Ironic? Maybe. Fun? Yes. Challenging? Absolutely!

Writing about lying on a beach in a bikini is a very difficult thing when your feet are cold. Imagining warm sun and sand when snow is falling is near impossible. But somehow, I think I pulled it off. Check this out:

Rachel stretched, trying her best to enjoy the warmth of the tropical sun on her skin, but she couldn’t stop thinking about Logan. Jesus, Nora, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be flirting with him like I did, but damn… She remembered the night before when he’d placed her hand over the glass with the glowing blue-white light in it and her frustration intensified.

A star. How the hell did he do that? She felt uncomfortably hot at the memory of his touch. Maybe she’d been right to walk away last night after all. What the hell? When she’d come here, he’d been nothing but the husband of her dead best friend. Even if she had remembered the way he’d spoken of the island as a place of healing. Even if she had thought at the time that maybe he was her salvation. I still can’t want him. Not like that. Not this bad.

So bad, in fact, she wasn’t certain she’d be able to relax in the warm sun for thinking about the feel of his hands on her skin. And the fact that she didn’t actually know how his hands would feel only frustrated her more.

She sat up, looking around her. Time lost meaning in the tropics, she’d found, and right now what might have been hours must only have been minutes. No other guests peopled the pool deck. Logan had disappeared, too, although a few white-clothed, very beautiful people who were obviously staffers bustled around the little poolside bar. None of them acknowledged her at all, making her wonder if Logan had warned them off. Not a single quirked eyebrow or smirk was cast her way.

Island Magic will be released on October 31. Join me on Facebook for the party and lots of prizes!: https://www.facebook.com/events/1914633948677278/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming

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Island Magic excerpt: Leave a comment for your chance to win an autographed advance copy!

Magic week has been grand, but now it is finished. To celebrate, I’m posting below an excerpt from Island Magic. Island Magic, book three of my Sleight of Hand series, won’t be released until October 31, but if you want more than the prologue posted below, leave me a comment. One lucky winner will receive an autographed advance copy of Island Magic!

Prologue

Night fell slowly in the Caribbean, and when it came, it was complete. Especially in the little bar on the beach that Logan loved. Even the tiki torches on the boardwalk only spread small radii of flickering glow around their poles. The rest was a dark, secret haven.

From his lighted oasis beneath the thatch-roofed bar, he watched the patrons of the resort milling around, coming in from the dark beach, usually hand-in-hand with someone else. Occasionally a group of young men would collide with a group of young women and soon they would pair off and head into dark corners. All Logan had to do was make their drinks and chat. No interference required on his part. He was like a voyeuristic benefactor, watching them leave with nothing but good feelings.

When he first spotted Rachel in the bar, then lost sight of her in a crowd of college kids, he thought he must be mistaken. He frowned, craning his neck. It certainly had looked like Rachel. Nora’s best friend, the maid of honor at his wedding to a woman who was now dead. But what would Rachel be doing there? He hadn’t seen her in years, but he didn’t believe in coincidence. Magic, but not coincidence.

He recognized the long, luxurious hair and the lovely features, even though they had a hard edge he didn’t recall. And what was up with the slinky dress? Rachel had always seemed so strait-laced he’d figured she would be a suburban soccer mom by now. This was no soccer mom. This wasn’t even the beautiful, gentle woman Nora had known in the years after their marriage.

She sat at a table not far from the bar. She was alone, but everything about her said she had no intention of remaining that way. Logan noticed several men glancing her way. He couldn’t blame them. Her raven hair fell over one bare shoulder, her sleeveless red sundress setting off her tan. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, and he shouldn’t be looking at Rachel that way. Not Nora’s best friend.

When the waitress took her order for a frozen margarita with salt, Logan intercepted it from Ramon. “Sorry, man.” He grinned at his friend and fellow bartender. “I’m gonna deliver this one personally.”

Ramon gave him a mock growl. “Earn me a good tip if you’re gonna pull rank on me, amigo.”

Logan flashed him a smile and vaulted the bar neatly, landing on the other side to appreciative looks from a group of young women. He saluted them, picked up the margarita and crossed to the table. “Your margarita, señorita.”

She raised beautiful dark eyes to meet his. The raw sensuality in that gaze left him breathless. She smiled, playing along as if she had no idea who he was. “Muchas gracias, señor. To what do I owe the special delivery?”

He glanced left and right, then sat across from her, leaning over the table as if to keep their conversation covert. “Between you and me, I’ve been told I’m overly concerned with our guests’ satisfaction.”

The curve of her lips deepened and he knew she’d sensed a double entendre in his words. He wanted to laugh but didn’t give in to the impulse. He wasn’t even certain he’d meant to flirt with her, but it had come out that way. He’d spent so many years on stage, his career so dependent on reading his audience, yet he couldn’t seem to see through Rachel’s carefully guarded exterior. She was so unlike the woman he remembered, it worried him. Enough so he stepped over a boundary he hadn’t crossed in years.

He beckoned her closer. When she obliged, her expression highly amused, he said quietly, “Do you believe in magic?”

****

The light touch of his breath on her ear sent a pleasant tingle of electricity through Rachel’s body. Maybe it was the way he pretended not to know her instead of demanding instantly what she was doing there and why she looked the way she did. He’d have every right, of course. She probably shouldn’t have just shown up this way. Why the hell did I? There are thousands of resorts in Cancun, but here I am on his island, a hundred miles away from those resorts and reachable only by plane. I might as well be on Fantasy Island.

The idea of this exceptionally tall, dark-skinned, very handsome man as a modern-day Mr. Roark was close enough to the truth of what Rachel knew she’d come searching for so she shied away from it. Magic wouldn’t help her now. Even if she did believe in it.

But maybe it had been what had brought her here to Isla Foriscura with her life in shambles around her. She’d told herself she wanted nothing but fun and a chance to spend her alimony, but in her broken heart, she knew the truth lay in the question the widower husband of her dead best friend had just asked her.

Do you believe in magic?

To the best of her knowledge he hadn’t performed magic since Nora died. Since he’d retired to his private island turned reclusive resort in the Caribbean. But she had no intention of asking him about it because that would break the little spell of pretense between them.

Instead she sipped the margarita, enjoying the tangy drink mixed with the salt from the rim. She let her lips part a little just before answering, noticed the way he focused on her mouth. “Should I?”

“Maybe.” He snagged an empty glass from a passing waitress and set it on the table in front of her.

She frowned. “Am I supposed to do something with that?” She glanced around, noticing that a little crowd of interested onlookers had gathered, including the waitresses. Did they know something she didn’t?

He shook his head, taking her hand and pulling her to her feet. “Not that.” He twirled her around so she stood with her back to his chest, one of his hands on her waist. She wasn’t a short woman and she was wearing heels, but Logan was exceptionally tall. Over six feet tall and well built, he dwarfed her, but he adjusted his stance so his head was just over her shoulder.

She could feel the heat of his breath on her neck and she closed her eyes. If he weren’t Ian Logan—if she really didn’t know him—she would have enjoyed this. She would have let her body mold against his, felt his response, reveled in the feel of his firm body…

She forced herself to open her eyes, maintain her distance. Dear God, how had she forgotten what a sexy man he was? Ian Logan had everything. Money, talent, looks, confidence…and a broken heart the last time she saw him. Still, she wondered what it would be like spending the night in his arms. Would it be different from all the other nights? She remembered Kevin and her heart shuddered. Her voice came out sounding slightly more acidic than she’d intended. “What, then?”

Unperturbed by her change of tone, he raised his free arm and pointed at the stars. “Those.”

She frowned. “I beg your pardon?”

“Pick one.”

“Just one?” His gentle mysterious tone intrigued her, but she couldn’t help mocking him a little bit.

He laughed. “Just one. I can only catch one at a time.”

“Oh, you can catch one, can you?” She snorted, scanned the skies and decided to play along. Obviously she’d been wrong about him not practicing magic. He had a little bar trick he used to amuse the crowd and probably to pick up women. Well, it wouldn’t work well on her unless she wanted it to. She chose a bright star low on the horizon. “That one.”

“Perfect.” He moved away, leaving her bare back surprisingly cool in the evening breeze. He handed her the glass. “Hold that.” He gazed into the distance for a moment, then reached out as if plucking something from the air in front of him. It reminded her of the days when she used to catch fireflies as a child and she fended off the jolt of nostalgia with difficulty.

He turned back, his hand closed and a mischievous expression playing on his features. She’d forgotten the other people clustered around them. She’d almost forgotten that she knew Logan and he knew her. They were two strangers in a bar and she wanted to believe the expression in his warm brown eyes was just for her. That he wasn’t still a showman and that all of this was for her benefit alone.

He raised one eyebrow, holding his hand close to his face. “You didn’t answer my question earlier.

Do you believe in magic?”

She thought of everything that had brought her to this point, everything that had gone wrong in her life and what she’d lost. How could she believe in magic now? Without pausing to doctor her answer, she replied honestly. “No. Not anymore.”

His smile faded, but not as if he’d lost confidence. More as if he felt her pain. She looked away, uncomfortable, wishing he hadn’t spotted her. Or maybe that she hadn’t come. He didn’t falter, however. Instead he placed his closed hand over the glass and took her free hand, placing it on top of his. In a swift, practiced movement, he opened his hand and pulled it away, pushing hers down on top of the glass. “Do you believe now?”

She gasped, looking at the blue-white light hovering in the glass. What could it be but the star she’d requested? She turned the glass in her hands as the little crowd applauded and he bowed. No matter which way she turned the glass, the light shimmered back at her. She stared in amazement, barely feeling it when he led her back to the table and helped her put the glass down without taking her hand away.

She tore her eyes away from the glimmering light, trying to focus on him. “This is a trick, right?”

“The best magic always leaves you wondering.” He smiled a little, but she could see the shadow of sorrow still hovering in his eyes.

“What happens if I move my hand?” She glanced back at the glass.

“The light goes out.” He shrugged. “You can’t keep a star captive forever.”

“No. You can’t.” His words filled her with sadness and she knew why she’d come there. To his island. To him. Because of all people, Ian Logan knew that nothing lasted forever. Love, life, stars. She gave the light in the jar a final look of regret before taking her hand away from the top. It flickered and died. She raised her eyes to Logan’s. “It’s a neat trick, Logan. And thanks, but I stopped believing in magic a long time ago.”

Summoning a flirtatious smile and a little wiggle into her hips, she moved out of the circle of light around the bar, feeling the darkness descend in a wave of welcome obscurity. She knew another bar down the beach where the young men were sexy and ready to get laid and didn’t bother making her feel like she mattered to do it.

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So where did Lady Lydia come from, anyway? Escape Magic Free Today!

Escape MagicEbookWhen I started out to write Escape Magic, I knew I wanted my hero to be Tony, brother of Andre in Close Up Magic. Tony’s a much more serious character than his talented magician brother. He’s managed Andre’s career and helped him achieve stardom, but he’s always in the background. Tony struggles with substance abuse issues, which figured heavily into the plot of Close Up Magic, but by the beginning of Escape Magic, he’s got those issues under control and is a much stronger man because of it.

Of course, though Tony has been associated with the magic world for a large portion of his life, he’s not a magician. And my Sleight of Hand books need a magician. So I created Lady Lydia, escape artist. She’s got a past with Tony and Andre. She’s performed with them, and—not being the most honest heroine I’ve ever written—she’s “borrowed” tricks from them. She’s fiery, talented, strong and stubborn. And when she meets the new improved Tony, sparks fly!

I often call this my anti-50 Shades of Grey bondage romance. I mean, hey, my heroine is an escape magician. She’s about as far away from Anastasia as you can get. And Tony, though he is a strong male hero, has a major weakness when it comes to addiction. It frightens him that he could fall back into that same trap again. He needs a strong heroine like Lady Lydia to show him that not all addictions are bad for him.

The one complaint I’ve gotten about this book is that it is too short. It was my first attempt at the novella format. And I truly did feel that I told Lydia and Tony’s story completely in it. Anyway, it’s free today and tomorrow and if you don’t get enough of Lydia and Tony, rest assured, they (and Andre and Stacey!) make an appearance in Island Magic, too!

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Close Up Magic and my crush on David Copperfield

Okay, so now you know. That’s the real reason I wrote Close Up Magic. I had a crush on David Copperfield.CloseUpMagicEbookRev

I shouldn’t be ashamed to admit it now. I mean, I’m 44 years old. And my crush started when I was about seven. And who could blame a little seven-year-old girl for crushing hard on a suave, cute twenty-something magician? I’m quite certain I wasn’t the only one, either. (I might be the only one of those seven-year-olds who then went on to write a romance series based on that crush, though…)

I did get over that crush. Mostly. (Though seeing him live was one of my bucket list items I marked off with a great deal of satisfaction.) But I can without doubt say that David Copperfield began my lifelong love affair and fascination with magic. And though I’m all grown up and happily married with three kids and nowhere near the figure I used to have, I continue to live out my magical fantasies through my Sleight of Hand series.

In case you haven’t heard, Close Up Magic is free for the Kindle today. Tomorrow, Escape Magic, the second in the Sleight of Hand series, is free for two days and then on Friday, join me here for a special preview and a chance to win a free Advance Release Copy (ARC) of Island Magic, Book 3 of the series. Join me in my magical obsession. And know it was born on a quiet evening in my childhood home while I watched on a little black-and-white tv set while David Copperfield pull a rabbit (or was it a duck?) out of a hat.

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