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?

 

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.

Admiring the mystery and magic of life

Harry Houdini once said, “I am a great admirer of mystery and magic. Look at this life—all mystery and magic.” He also claimed that scientists could not accept magic as a science simply because they couldn’t understand it. And though he worked for years to discredit fake mediums, the anniversary of his death (October 31) is still celebrated by some with a séance in the hopes of that he will send a message proving he’s still out there…somewhere.

Houdini guarded his secrets closely, even having his assistants sign secrecy agreements. He obviously knew that the magic of his performance lay in the ignorance of his audience to his methods. So why—to this day—does his name still bear so much magic? I believe the answer is simple. Houdini believed, and that belief carries on.

Magicians are performers and magic is a science that combines performance with physics, chemistry and even biology. Every trick has a secret, but when you see it performed by a capable performer—magic. But as Houdini said, life is full of magic. The Celts, as I was recently reminded, believed in “thin places” between the living world and the eternal world. For the Celts, most of these were fixed places, but I believe you can find them anywhere.

For instance:

  1. The double rainbow I saw over the bookstore the week Steve Jobs died.
  2. The smell of honeysuckle.
  3. Hummingbirds.
  4. The rainbow I saw in Germany when we were unintentionally sidetracked.
  5. Some sunsets. Here’s one:IMG_5926
  6. Moonlight on water. Almost always. Case in point:Juneau moonlight
  7. Flowers in general, but specifically daffodils. And some roses.
  8. Some movies.
  9. Some books.
  10. Alaska. I realized this when I saw salmon swimming upstream. It may be one of the last of the truly magical places, certainly in the U.S.

I could go on, but I’m really more interested in what magic means to you. Which is why I’m running the contest inviting you to share your favorite “thin place”/magical experience. (See “Movie Magic Contest”—above right—for rules.) Leave me a comment below to enter!

Whoops…there it is: Rewriting, the true test.

I’ve been offline for far too long, trying to make my Facebook and a few Twitter posts make up for my lack of blogging. It’s not that I’m not writing, it’s that I am. I’m actually writing and having a lot of fun with it.

And something else is looming on the horizon.

My current work in progress is lovely. I’m in love with my characters and it’s set in New York, which is a city I love to write about. Not sure I’d want to live there, but I do love writing about it. I get caught up in the storyline, and the twists and turns of it reveal themselves a little more to me each day, so every time I sit at the computer, it’s an adventure.

But every now and then something else lifts its head like Nessie the sea monster and smirks at me with seaweed-stained teeth. Something that will take the joy—at least temporarily—out of my writing.

It’s the first draft of Movie Magic.

I don’t know if you remember Movie Magic. I wrote it way back in November during National Novel Writing Month, which was only the second NaNoWriMo I’ve ever finished. I have no delusions. Movie Magic is bound to be a mess since it actually started out as Pirate Magic and took a turn a third of the way through…and I obeyed the unwritten NaNo rule not to go back and fix what had gone wrong but just to plow through and get it done.

So it needs to be rewritten. Edited. Reworked. Sweated and bled over. I still owe this book a pound of flesh.

I know it’s coming after I finish the first draft of this as-yet-untitled new book. I plan to publish Movie Magic on October 31 (Halloween to the rest of the world, but always Houdini’s birthday to me). So eventually I must face it.

If you’re asking what the big deal is, you’re not a writer. Mark Twain once remarked that the best writers are the best rewriters. Because that’s the true test. Writing a book is one thing. Being able to open it up six months later and face the mess AND fix it…well, that’s a test of courage and willpower and skill.

Greatest Escape Magic Tricks and Your Last Chance to Win!

Today I wind up my week-long magic celebration and I figured what better way to do it than by counting down a few of my favorite escape magic tricks. Actually, it’s not really a countdown because they’re just in the order I happened to think of them in, but these are the ones that stuck with me. Maybe you have one of your own that you’d like to add to the list.

1. Houdini’s crate escape. I’ve seen pictures of this one. Houdini shackled in a packing crate that is padlocked, nailed shut and bound with rope before being dropped into a river. Of course, he escaped!

2. David Copperfield’s escape from Alcatraz. It’s like a mini-movie and really just fun to watch. Copperfield uses what’s available (surely not props left there for him) to escape Alcatraz in (spoiler!) the police helicopter!

3. Criss Angel’s “Buried Alive”. Give him his due, it takes a lot of guts to allow yourself to be padlocked in a glass coffin and buried in cement.

4. Dorothy Dietrich straitjacket escape while suspended from a burning rope. Enough said.

5. Kristen Johnson’s Full View Water Torture Cell Escape. Houdini was suspended upside down, but his audience could only see him from the front. Johnson’s audience can see all around, witness her efforts, hold their breath along with her.

Don’t forget to leave me a comment below! Today is the last chance to win one of my fabulous magical prizes. 🙂

My Favorite of Houdini’s Magic Tricks

I’ve always said that half the reason I write about magic is so I can spend hours on Youtube watching magic. And it’s true. I do love watching magic, and if it’s part of my research, then I have a viable excuse, right?

Escape Magic was particularly fun to research because I’ve always been fascinated by Harry Houdini. He’s a legend and you can actually see him perform on Youtube. It’s sort of like he really did find a way to reach out from beyond the grave. Houdini was known for his water escapes, but I think my favorite will always be the suspended straitjacket escape. He would perform this trick outside, sometimes in front of the local newspaper office of whatever town he was performing in. Of course he made headlines, thus generating free publicity for his shows, which then sold out. The pure genius of the marketing strategy is what really gets me, but the ease with which he slipped out of the straitjacket is also pretty impressive. Check it out here: straitjacket escape.

How about you? Do you have a favorite escape magic trick (by Houdini or someone else)? Leave me a comment below for a chance to win a magic trick, special deck of cards, a magic wand or one of my Sleight of Hand books!

Magic Fun Week Celebration Kick Off! Win a prize!

Today I kick off a week-long celebration of magic, in particular escape magic, in honor of the launch of my novella Escape Magic. Escape Magic is Book 2 of my Sleight of Hand series, in which either the hero or the heroine is a magician, so I’m not going to limit myself to celebrating just escapology. However, I did want to kick off the week with a list of the ten most intriguing things I’ve discovered about Houdini during my research on escapology:

1. Houdini was not an instant success and after years of trying various magic bits and tricks, he actually ran an ad offering to sell all his tricks and equipment for $20. Fortunately, no one took him up on it.

2. Houdini began his career as the greatest escape magician very humbly. He started out by challenging the crowd to present him with a pair of handcuffs he couldn’t get out of. Houdini’s “Challenge Act” quickly became a success and launched his career as an escapologist.

3. Houdini was fascinated with the occult but also dedicated to debunking every “spiritualist” he encountered. Being a magician and a former “spiritualist” himself, he knew all the tricks, would attend seances in disguise, then expose the illusions in his own shows.

4. Magic tricks could not be copyrighted, so Houdini introduced his “Chinese Water Torture Cell” in a one-act play, which he copyrighted, thus preventing other magicians from using the effect.

5. Houdini was one of the first movie stars, having starred in an experimental film in 1901. He later went on to produce, act and in many films through his Houdini Pictures Corporation.

6. Houdini’s interest in water escapes led to his development of a diving suit that a diver could take off quickly in case of emergency.

7. Although a great deal of controversy surrounds the events leading up to Harry Houdini’s death on October 31, 1926, the actual cause of death was peritonitis, brought on by untreated appendicitis.

8. Several days before his death, Houdini is rumored to have been punched in the stomach several times by a university student, who had heard that Houdini could withstand any punch to the abdomen.

9. Houdini and his wife, Bess, had made a pact to try to contact each other from the afterlife. Bess remained true to her husband, holding seances for ten years after his death. Finally, however, she gave up. Seances continue to be held by Houdini afficionados and fans every year on the anniversary of his death.

10. Houdini was buried in a bronze coffin he planned to use in a new underwater effect he was never able to add to his act.

Sources:
Wild About Harry
Harry Houdini Biography
10 Facts About Houdini

Now it’s your turn. What do you know about Harry Houdini? This week I’m awarding prizes to my commenters! These prizes include a pack of Archangels Bicycle playing cards, a pack of Love Me playing cards by artist Curtis Kulig, the famous Magic Rings trick and one of the best coin tricks I actually know the secret to, Scotch & Soda, which I actually purchased at the Houdini Magic Shop in Las Vegas. I also have magic wands and several paperback copies of both Close Up Magic and Escape Magic, although you get either one of those for only 99 cents for the Kindle!