Paranormal Interests: Dickens and Me

7A241F6E-D057-4BE3-8D35-3CB616A54869I’ve mentioned before that I loved A Christmas Carol from an early age. I first read this copy, which belonged to my father and is one of my most treasured possessions.

Looking back, I’m not really surprised that I fell in love with that story. It starts out with a ghost, and that’s a definite interest I’ve always had—along with magicIt’s an interest I evidently shared with Charles Dickens, a famous skeptic who helped found The Ghost Club, a club dedicated to investigating the paranormal.

As for me, I rabidly consumed those little dime store pulp magazines—the ones that told of the bloody history of the countess of Bathory and explored creepy urban legends like the spiders in the wig and the vanishing hitchhiker. This obsession grew into a full-fledged love of local legends and lore. I have a jampacked shelf with ghost stories from every place I’ve ever visited.

I figure Dickens and I don’t have to be too reserved about our interest in the paranormal, though. It was, after all, shared by notables like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, among others. And while Doyle was known to be a believer, Houdini and Dickens were both skeptics. And me? I’m somewhere between. I don’t know what I don’t know, and I’m not afraid to admit it.

Have I mentioned that Dickens Magic is available today?

 

Kept in the Dark: The dark twin to Dickens Magic

My “magic consultant” R.J. (Arjay) Lewis just happens to have released his own book today, possibly more appropriate to the date than mine is. I was lucky enough to get to read this book ahead of time so I could post a review for him. If you like horror at all and want an extra chill today, give Kept in the Dark a try. Plus, it’s free!

My review of R.J.’s “dark twin” of Dickens Magic:

Kept in the Dark“Everything will make sense once you know what I know.”

Arjay Lewis draws that line in the sand that you just have to cross. You have to know what he—and his protagonist Jake Hurd—know. And once you know it, maybe it makes sense…or maybe you wish you didn’t know it anymore?

Kept in the Dark is Arjay’s latest foray into the psychological thriller/horror genre. A delightfully frightening mix with well-developed characters and a chilling plot, it takes you through the experiences of Jake as told to his psychiatrist Dr. Sam Lucas. Sam has to face the fact that Jake may not be the delusional night guard who’s afraid of the dark, but instead a man who’s been damned by his glimpse into another dimension—and the monsters he accidentally released.

I loved the tie-in to the Ecuadorian legend of El Cucuy and the tragic and the chilling view of mental illness. Well done!

Full disclosure, I was provided a free copy of this novel, and Arjay has worked with me on a number of projects. But I have enjoyed his work since before I met him when I first read The Muse. I think you will enjoy this novel, too.

Happy birthday, Dickens Magic!

dickens-magicHappy birthday, at long last, Dickens Magic! I feel like I’ve been waiting forever! And what better way to celebrate my latest book in my magic series than by indulging in a little of the magic of the day?

I try to release my magic books on Halloween for a couple of reasons. First, it’s Samhain, the day the Celts believed the veil lifted a little between this world and that of the dead. It’s a sort of “in between” time and magic abounds. For instance:

  • Bat magic. Bats are messengers. Did you know you can send a message with a bat to the other side of the veil on Halloween? Just ask when you see one out and about tonight.
  • Spider magic. Don’t squash spiders on Halloween! If you find one inside, it’s probably a dead relative come to visit.
  • Black cat magic. If you find a stray black cat curled up on your doorstep, don’t scare it off. It’s there to guard your house against evil spirits. Or it’s a witch’s familiar sent to spy on you.
  • Jack-o-lantern magic. You probably have one guarding your front door. My favorite legend of the jack-o-lantern comes from the Southern Appalachian Mountains where I grew up. One of many “Jack Tales” I read and heard over the years. I especially like the one from Richard Chase’s timeless collection. In this version, Jack the troublemaker made the first one when, after tricking the devil into agreeing not to take his soul to hell, he was also refused entrance to heaven. The devil, taking pity on poor, homeless Jack’s soul, tossed him a coal from hell and Jack put it into a hollowed out gourd to light his way as he wandered the earth. If you haven’t read the Chase collection, it’s available here: Jack Tales.

Second, it just so happens that the master of escape magic, Harry Houdini died on Halloween. Even he couldn’t avoid the inescapable clutch of death, it seems. Or could he? Toward the end of his life, Houdini was alternately fascinated and disgusted by the “mediums” of the day. He spent a large amount of his time studying their tricks and exposing them.

And yet, he and his wife Bess promised each other that whoever passed away first would find a way to contact the other with a secret code that spelled “Believe”. So, after Houdini’s death, Bess arranged a seance on the anniversary of his death every year until her own death, after which it was taken up by other believers.

I wonder about the death of Houdini. What better way for an escape magician to cross the veil than when it is, by Celtic belief, at its thinnest? And surely, if he so desired, he could escape that veil. Yet so far, no one has heard from him. If you’re curious about this year’s seance, you can find out more here: Houdini seance.

Maybe this year he’ll tell everyone to buy Dickens MagicIt’s not totally out of the realm of possibility, you know. He and Dickens shared a real interest in the paranormal. More about that later.

What’s the Date? Writing for a Different Season

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Charles Dickens began writing A Christmas Carol in October 1843. It was published December 19, 1843 and sold 6,000 copies by Christmas.

One of the things I used to love about reading Stephen King books was the way he would put in the dates of when he started the book versus when it was published. Cujo, for instance, was September 1977 through March 1981. Three and a half years he spent on that book.

I think I must know how he felt when he got the idea. It was September and, in Maine, at least, the season is fall. (In eastern N.C., it’s hurricane season.) The dead leaves were skittering across the pavement leaving a wet smell of decay behind, and all the sounds were louder, crisper. Like the bark of a dog. A really big dog.

Of course, that’s all conjecture, and far from how I conceive my own ideas. I decided to write Dickens Magic right after I starred as “Woman 3” in our community theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol. One problem. There’s no time to write around Christmas. Seriously. National Novel Writing Month takes place in November for a reason.

So I ended up putting it off starting the book until spring. By then I’d gained some more stage experience but the Christmas spirit was worn down and put away until this year. I’m only starting to want to put that spirit back on. So how do you write about Christmas in seventy-, eighty-, and ninety-degree weather?

It’s a question every writer eventually has to answer. How do you put yourself in another time? It helps to think of the things you like about that time—sights, smells, sounds. I listened to a lot of Christmas carols, which actually helped me with the magic show at the end of the book. It also helps that snow isn’t really a thing here in eastern N.C., and especially not at Christmas. You might see some in January or February, but not December.

And of course I have to thank Charles Dickens. His story is timeless in more ways than one. It does the soul good no matter what time of year you read it. Considering he sort of self-published it (and did not make the fortune he should have), it does make sense that I would feel a sort of kinship with him about this story.

So, though I didn’t keep exact track of my writing, I think I can guess what the dates at the end of Dickens Magic would be. March 2018-October 31, 2018.

Shout it from the rooftops chimney-sweep style!

Three days to publication of Dickens Magic, book 6 in Sleight of Hand, and I’m doing all the normal stuff. Facebook, Twitter, blog… I’ve currently got a web tour going for Becoming Magic, and I won’t lie, I’ve plugged Dickens Magic several times in that tour.

But how do I get you guys as excited as I am?

Whenever I publish a new book, I think of the chimney sweeps dancing on the rooftops of London in Mary Poppins. If I could convince Dick Van Dyke to shout the news from the rooftops on Wednesday, would that get the word out? That’s what I feel like doing when a new book comes out. I want everyone to know!

It’s a strange world, the publishing world of today. It’s easier than ever to put your words out there, harder than ever to convince someone to read them. The best way to accomplish this now is word of mouth. So, if you’ve ever read any of my books or short stories or poems and liked them, consider telling someone I have a new book out. It’s called Dickens Magic. Shout it from the rooftops!

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Not London… But imagine me standing on the roof shouting about my new book and dancing the chimney sweep dance from Mary Poppins. That’s how I feel when a new book comes out!

 

Dickens Magic: My Exception Proves Nothing

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This picture has nothing to do with this post. It’s just a pretty picture I took and posted here to catch your eye. Do you like it?

I’ve never liked that phrase “the exception that proves the rule”. If there’s an exception, then it proves the rule is faulty, right? Or does it prove that there is a rule to begin with? Or is it that you’re “testing” (proving) the rule with your exception?

No matter what, the expression is rife with possibilities for misinterpretation.

Which is why I’ve decided that Dickens Magic, which is most definitely an exception to my normal formula for Sleight of Hand books, proves nothing. Nothing except that I will go where my characters and their story lead me.

But how is Dickens Magic different from my other books? First of all, the hero and heroine are not magicians. Neither one of them. They aren’t involved in magic (at first, at least) in any way.

Second, Dickens Magic does not take place in any exotic locales like Las Vegas or the Caribbean or Hollywood. There is one very brief scene in New York City. The rest of the book is set entirely in New Bern, N.C., one of the least exotic locales you could ever want to visit.

Third, Dickens Magic’s setting centers around a building. It’s actually a building I love. The Masonic Theatre where RiverTowne Players performs. And it’s based on my own theatrical exploits. I tell everyone my recent desire to be an actress is my midlife crisis. And I’m good with that. But the truth is, if I had never walked into that theater with my daughter when she auditioned for The Little Mermaid, Jr. at the age of five, that midlife crisis would probably have lain dormant forever. I couldn’t do it anywhere else, I’m pretty sure.

Finally, I never put myself in my books. I can honestly say I’ve never read one of my books and seen myself in it. But this one, I kind of did, although I didn’t realize it until the final round of editing. It startled me at first when I noticed it, and certainly it’s not a real clear portrait of who I am, but it’s there. I’m not one of the main characters, though, so don’t think I think I’m the multitalented Kate.

So, my exception is out there. It doesn’t prove a thing. I’ll return to the rules (or most of them, at least) next time. Though maybe I’ll decide it’s more fun breaking the rules, especially the rules I’ve made myself.

 

Time to Get Excited about Dickens Magic!

I’m super excited to share Dickens Magic with you all in a few days! It comes out on October 31 and it’s set in a place that’s become very special to me. The historic Masonic Theatre where Rivertowne Players performs is a very old building with so much history it’s practically got a personality of its own. The people inside the building are awesome, too, but it’s the place itself that has magic for me. I’m convinced that if the Masonic Theatre were a person, she and I would be the best of friends.

That’s probably a result of all the creative energy and wonderful people who have filled

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Me, backstage in my party dress, ready to go to the Fezziwig’s!

the building through the years, but whatever it is, I’ve wanted to set a book there for years. When I finally gave in and auditioned for a part in A Christmas Carol last year, I got my chance to see how the theater’s magic really works first hand. The spirit of that old place got into my blood and I started writing Dickens Magic almost as soon as A Christmas Carol wrapped up.

It’s difficult putting into words what that theater is actually like. And I’m sure some can go in and just see an old theater. Others can admire the architecture and history, but not really feel the magic. But if you go to a play there, let yourself open up to the magic…it’s an amazing thing. And if you can’t make it there, try my book, Dickens Magic. See if I did my friend justice.

To get you started, here’s an excerpt from the book, before the romance between hero Alex and heroine Kate really gets going. For fans of Close Up Magic, yes, the Andre in this excerpt is Andre Hawke!

dickens-magicAs though energized by the way they had begun, the cast fell together almost instantly and the resulting rehearsal was one of the best Alex could ever remember being involved in. Especially considering no one was actually off-script, the run-through went smoothly, as if everyone already knew the blocking that hadn’t even happened yet.

Wisely, Kate let it happen, stopping them only between scenes to make notes about performance and blocking. As Scrooge, Alex was on stage nearly the entire play, which afforded him plenty of time to take note that Andre stayed for the rehearsal. He sat comfortably next to Kate in the front row, his long legs crossed in front of him. From time to time, he’d say something to her that almost always made her smile.

And every single time, Alex felt a jolt of jealousy that threatened to push him out of character. He managed to hold it in check, incorporating it into his character of Scrooge. At least it made it easier to play a jealously guarding old man. And besides, Kate hadn’t given her script to Andre, had she? She’d given it to him. And tonight, he’d read it.

In a strange way, he felt very much like a miser—a kinship with Scrooge he hadn’t expected. But it wasn’t money he wanted to hold tight. If he really had any money, he’d give it all to her to erase the worry lines from her forehead. But he hadn’t really been able to do that, in spite of the fact that he had called Andre to get him to come early. No, Andre had done that. And now Andre was cuddled up with Kate in the front row.

Except he wasn’t. When Alex looked again, Kate was alone. She looked tired though. Her face was pale, and he could see lines of pain around her eyes. Just as it struck him that it must be nearly nine o’clock, Andre reappeared next to her with a glass of water. She gave him a quick smile and took a sip of the water. He bent down next to her and she nodded, looking back at the stage. “We’re going to call it for the night, guys. Sorry, this has been one of the best run-throughs I’ve ever seen so early in rehearsals, but I’m fading fast.”