Let’s say good-bye to the old year with two pensive haikus from David Bader’s Haikus for Jews:
BLT on Toast–
the rabbi takes his first bite,
then the lightening bolt.
The same kimono
the top geishas are wearing–
got it at Loehmann’s.
Let’s say good-bye to the old year with two pensive haikus from David Bader’s Haikus for Jews:
BLT on Toast–
the rabbi takes his first bite,
then the lightening bolt.
The same kimono
the top geishas are wearing–
got it at Loehmann’s.
Agatha Christie, the Queen of mystery stories, not only wrote dozens of novels, but over 150 short stories as well. Recently, four of her short stories were read at New York’s Symphony Space, as part of the estimable radio series Selected Shorts, featuring a cast of well-known actors, and including commentary by essayist Fran Leibowitz. Click on the grey triangle above to hear my review, as broadcast yesterday on WBAI radio’s Arts Express.
I was happy to welcome back poet Constance Norgren yesterday to the Arts Express radio program on WBAI 99.5 NY to read from her latest collection of previously unpublished poems, Late In The Day. Click on the grey triangle above for some wonderful short poems.
Before Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth had already written two very accomplished novels: Letting Go and When She was Good. I’ve previously written about my appreciation of the former novel, but When She was Good is an equally intriguing, though quite different book.
In this novel unpleasant, not one of the eight major characters, neither man nor woman, is someone with whom the reader can sympathize. It is Philip Roth’s Ship of Fools. Each character is deeply flawed, but not in the grand tragic manner—for their lives are far too small, shallow, and petty to be tragic. Their problem is that they are ordinary human beings trying to make a life, dealing the best they can with their inevitable inadequacies.
The novel, set in small town, post-war America of the nineteen-fifties, describes the life of Roy Basart, just back from the service, his future uncertain, a young man of more desire than ability. He is at that awkward age in his early twenties when he is expected to become serious, find a career, marry, and make a family. He meets and marries a young woman, Lucy Nelson, whose life has been shaped by her alcoholic father. Lucy vows that she will never be the weak-willed woman her mother was, and that her child will have what she never had—a stable home, with a father who earns a steady living. But it is exactly her impatient and uncompromising will that leads her and all in her path to misery.
For her husband Roy is no hero, but an ordinary man with a wandering will who dreams of becoming an artistic photographer, though his head is full of cliches and other people’s ideas. His parents are strait-laced paragons of local virtue, emblematic of small town prejudice and narrow-mindedness. Lucy’s father, the ne’er-do-well alcoholic, beats Lucy’s forgiving mother, and in the defining action of the book, Lucy calls the police on her father, vowing that she will never forgive him.
Roth’s power as a writer is evident from the very beginning. His method of turning on the tape recorder and letting it run is in full effect here, as it was in his previous novel, Letting Go. Roth lets his characters talk—and talk and talk—but it is his brilliance as a writer that it is this talk that reveals everything we need to know about a character’s personality. The talk here is not just the talk between people, but the self-talk used to convince themselves. More than anything else, this book is about the power that we have for deceiving ourselves. There is not a character in the book who is not full of delusion, misconceptions fueled and propagated by what they say to themselves. Talk, for Roth, is not so much to persuade others, but to persuade ourselves of our own goodness, and especially of the reasonableness of the compromises we’ve had to make. In Shakespeare, it takes the most brilliant evocative words and imagery to persuade others; in Roth, it only takes the most mundane and unimaginative words repeated endlessly to persuade ourselves. The cliches that fill our self-talk are what allow us to continue our self-deceptions.
Not that the characters aren’t transparently foolish to others as well. Lucy can barely contain her sarcasm at the hypocrisy and blindness of her family. She is merciless in her dissection of their faults and expects them to live up to higher standards. She demands that they exert themselves more forcefully. But in her own relentless expression of her will, she comes to disaster. In her uncompromising demand for her own way at all times, she drives away the people closest to her, including her husband and child.
Roth clearly believes that it is inhuman to expect people to live without compromises, to believe in one’s own certainty, and to demand that others live that way, too. But Roth does not let the other side off the hook either. Lucy has good reason to be disgusted at the mediocrity and slackness of others. For much of the book, Lucy seems to be the most reasonable character out of all of them. It is really only in the last part of the novel where Roth chooses sides, and then he comes down heavily against Lucy. As if the reader might miss the point, Roth, in an uncharacteristically overdetermined way, has Lucy die in a frozen patch of snow, a result of her unrelenting obsession. It’s a misstep, I think, by Roth: in real life, such situations don’t usually lead to such histrionic endings, but continue with the dull repetition of recriminations and petty bickering on both sides. It’s surprising that Roth doesn’t just allow that, after being such a faithful observer of his characters’ lives.
While the book is a tragedy of personality, it also exists within a specific social and political milieu. It contains more than a little influence of Sinclair Lewis’s 1920s Babbit and Main Street: rural and suburban America coming of age under capitalism; however, in this later work, the post-world War II context is clearly the McCarthy era with its stilted vision of success, and its strictures on what people may say to themselves and others. The unspoken subtext of the novel is the inability to achieve the American dream: the dream is a fake, shored up by anti-communism. Roy has some inklings that maybe socialism is not as bad as everyone says, but it is no more than a vague thought, ultimately just a talking point for himself, another excuse for his own personal failures.
Strikingly, this is one of the few books by Roth where Jews and Jewish culture play no obvious part. Still, in a way, it’s a parable of Old Testament judgement versus New Testament mercy. Lucy represents the vengeful willful God of the Old Testament, while her grandfather, mother, and husband lean towards the charity and forgiveness of the New Testament. They are in a sense competing strategies for survival. But both ways under American capitalism in this novel lead to tragedy. There is no way to be. Neither ruthless will, nor temperate charity, can insure happiness or survival.
Because Roth as a novelist is as uncompromising as Lucy is as a person, the book can feel pitiless. Roth refuses to turn his head away from what he sees and hears. But the skills with which the 33-year-old Roth delineated the knots of relationship is bracing in its own way. To lay it all out on the table without flinching is a powerful achievement, and left this reader, at least, more sober and in a more reflective state about his own life.
The Devil is back, and the Devil is all in the details.
The Devil, in the guise of card man Greg Chapman, has returned with a new volume of mischievous pasteboard knowledge, Details of Deception: Artifice and Entertainment with Cards. If you thought Greg’s first book, The Devil’s Staircase, was a tour de force of gambling-themed card magic ideas, you’ll be even more delighted with this follow-up. The new book can certainly stand alone as a contribution to the literature, but when seen as a companion book to its predecessor, it really makes its full impact. (Full disclosure: I gladly did some proofreading on this as well as the earlier book.)
Dai Vernon liked to quote Da Vinci, “Details make perfection, but perfection is no detail.” Vernon knew that especially in the art of magic, the difference between the right detail and the wrong detail could mean the difference between success and failure. As Teller once pointed out, magic is very binary in the sense that an effect either fools an audience or it doesn’t. There’s no “sorta” or half pregnant in magic. A slight detail can be the difference between the audience experiencing a sense of verisimilitude or not.
Greg takes on a relatively narrow slice of the magic universe and focuses sharply on the details that make a difference. As he did in his first book, Greg here first introduces the tools he will be discussing: the peek, the key card, the stack, the crimp, even the humble ribbon spread. If you think you know everything about those tools, odds are, you are in for a pleasant surprise.
Greg’s focus as he circles back to these subjects is always how to get ahead while maintaining naturalness in action and speech. To this end, Greg is all about learning how to feel comfortable in one’s habitual environment—in Greg’s case, at the card table. His style is low-key, innocent, and absolutely fooling.
The second chapter of the book introduces effects which require little to no set-up (except for, in one case, the introduction of a gaffed card). Some of them, such as “Rubaway Switch” and “OHSD Switch” are transposition effects which can also be used as utility moves. Others, such as “Any Pair” and “Card at Number,” are basically self-working tricks with a strong impact. And with just a little more faro-ing effort, “The Accomplice” and “PUnDoM” are impressive quick demos of card control.
The following two chapters are, for me, the heart of the book. In the chapter entitled Stacks, Greg goes into greater detail regarding the tools that he mentioned at the beginning of the book. There is a lengthy and invaluable discussion of estimation that opens the chapter, and I can say that for me personally, it took a skill that seemed mysterious and out of my reach, and turned it into something achievable and usable. Greg even provides outs for those times when one’s estimations are a little off. I don’t have to tell anybody who does MD work what a valuable skill estimation is to have.
Equally useful to me was Greg’s discussion of the Ribbon Spread. It really opened my eyes to the devious uses to which this ubiquitous little flourish can be put. In the sections on peeks, shiners, and deck switches, there is also much of use: not only concerning the sleight-of-hand aspects of the moves, but also the timing and body gestalt as well.
The next chapter is devoted to memorized deck routines. There is a clever ACAAN, which has some important features: the spectator can genuinely name any card, and also has a wide range of numbers from which to choose. More importantly, the spectator can do the final countdown deal to the card. And . . . the method is essentially sleightless. Other tricks that I especially like in this section are “One Card Missing,” a snappy determination of a card missing from a deck under seemingly impossible conditions, and “That Old Trick,” a discovery of a selected four-of-a-kind that is quite enjoyable to perform, and is a painless and safe way to practice your Mexican Turnover.
The last chapter of the book is called Second Thoughts. It is a detailed mini-treatise on how to perform Greg’s version of a push-off second. This is painstaking, nuanced work, and probably will most interest those who can’t afford the slightest inkling of suspicion. If that sounds up your alley, there are lots of diagrams, advice, and encouragement here for those who decide to tread the path. The good news for the rest of us is that Greg includes in this section an excellent gambling deal effect, “Stacked To Win,” which while requiring some quick thinking and quick second dealing, actually demands less skill than the overall impression of the effect conveys.
Greg ends the book with a wonderful Cards to Pocket that will likely fool most magicians. It incorporates a very clever, efficient gaff. I don’t know if the gaff is original to Greg, but I’ve never seen it before, and I can well imagine its use in other situations as well.
If you have any interest in improving your card magic skills, I highly recommend that you sit down to a deal with the Devil, Greg Chapman’s Details of Deception.
Yesterday, WBAI-FM radio’s Arts Express broadcast part two of my interview with Peter Frase, author of the new book Four Futures.
Frase has an intriguing set of ideas about what the future might look like after capitalism destructs, given the ecological constraints of abundance/scarcity and the political constraints of equality/inequality. In this final segment we talk about what might happen if the world’s resources turn out to be strictly limited.
Click on the grey triangle above to tune in.
You can listen to Part One here:
Yesterday, WBAI-FM radio’s Arts Express broadcast part one of my interview with Peter Frase, author of the new book Four Futures. Frase has an intriguing set of ideas about what the future might look like after capitalism destructs, given the ecological constraints of abundance/scarcity and the political constraints of equality/inequality.
Click on the grey triangle above to tune in.
You can listen to Part Two here:
Andy is now well into year two of The Jerx, and Issue #4 of the JAMM monthly newsletter. While the first year’s blog had quite a number of very strong effects, some of which made it into The Jerx book, the second year saves most of the tricks for the newsletter. Now the blog is for the most part Andy’s attempts to flesh out a theory of amateur performance (interspersed with ads in support of his website). Leaving aside the newsletter for now, I thought I’d link to some of my favorite second-year blog posts.
A few things first, though. Number one: I have no idea what sort of human being Andy is in his other lives, but in his Jerx life, he has been, contrary to the expectations of many skeptical magicians, a model citizen. He has delivered everything that he has promised—two books, a monthly newsletter, other paraphernalia, and most importantly in my opinion, his blog—in a timely manner. While this is the normal expectation in most spheres of commerce, sadly, for some reason in the magic world, it’s too often the exception rather than the rule. So although Andy would probably cringe at the designation, he has been a man of integrity.
Number two: I’m sort of done with telling folks how good some of this stuff is. There’s enough for free on the blog to decide whether it’s your kind of thing or not. Andy takes a kind of cost-analysis approach to his magic that basically asks: what investment of time/money/practice will best improve the experience of magic for the audience? Andy’s real strength is that when he puts forth an idea, he really explores it and puts it into practice, rather than just giving lip service to the concept. But because improved audience impact often has nothing to do with issues of method, and rather results from focusing more on presentational issues, some will bypass The Jerx. All I can do is shrug my shoulders.
So, here are some of the Year Two blog posts I’ve enjoyed:
Othello demands from Iago the ocular proof, and I’ve spent the last month or so providing such, in a manner of speaking. I’ve been proofreading and copy editing an excellent new magic book, Details of Deception, by Greg Chapman, and I’m quite enjoying the process. That must seem a strange thing to say for such a potentially tedious assignment, but the book is so intriguing, and the author such a gentleman (not always the case in the niche world of conjuring), that I was glad to take on the assignment.
I’ve written before about some of the challenges of copy editing and writing a book of magic. Stephen Minch, one of the great writers and publishers of magic literature, has given magic writers a unique style guide. Because of magic’s technical nature, the text of a book about card magic in some ways more closely resembles that of a car repair manual than that of, say, a novel, so by all means if you are about to embark on writing a magic book, your first stop should be Minch’s guide. You can download it for free here.
I’d like to just briefly mention a few other practical things that I’ve learned to watch out for in an endeavor like this. Much of this can be applied to non-magic literature as well:
I hope these few pointers will be helpful. But more, I think if you’re a card person you’re really going to like this book. I hope you find it a good read.
The past few months I’ve been enjoying a number of magic books, old and new, which I’d like to share with you.
First is St. George’s Hall: Behind the Scenes at England’s House of Mystery by Anne Davenport and John Salisse. This is a fairly specialized book, but it’s very well done. It’s a history of the London theater venue run by several generations of Maskelynes, starting with the patriarch, J.N. Maskelyne, in partnership with the magician David Devant from 1905 – 1935. Devant of course, along with Nevil Maskyelene, wrote one of the seminal books about the theory of conjuring called Our Magic. That book was unique in that it understood that conjuring was part of the theatrical arts, but at the same time also had its own particular requirements. Devant and Maskelyne, perhaps more than anybody before or since, delineated just how the magician should best walk that fine line between theatrical narrative and conjuring necessity. St. George’s Hall makes clear with its extensive details and photos of thirty years of St. George’s entertainments, that the theory of Our Magic was borne out of hard struggle and daily practical knowledge of what worked and didn’t work. Many of the entertainments were short plays centered around an illusion that Maskelyne or Devant had created and worked into some fantastical plot. The most surprising thing in the book for me were the photos of Devant in the various costumes for his plays; it is clear from the variety of characters and make-ups that he used that he was as interested in the techniques of acting as he was of those of conjuring, and saw them both as allied arts.
I like the idea of having little magic pamphlets to read on a subway ride, and recently I came across an old pamphlet called Bunny Bill. The booklet by Robert Neale is an easy to follow origami project that teaches you how to fold a dollar bill into the shape of a top hat. When you squeeze the sides of the hat, out pops a little paper rabbit. It’s all done with one bill without any cuts, tears or tape. Cuteness factor is high, and children enjoy it.
Magician Dai Vernon was the greatest influence on close-up magic in the twentieth century, and for over 25 years, Vernon contributed a column to Genii Magazine called The Vernon Touch. His columns have all been collected in a compilation also called The Vernon Touch, brought out by Rickard Kaufman. The Vernon Touch had an extraordinary run considering that Vernon was in his seventies when he began the column, and he was over ninety when he contributed his last one. Much of the column was devoted to his reports on the scene at The Magic Castle, where he was in residence. Lots of history and anecdotes, along with many insights into the Vernon conception of magic, but I liked the photos the best, many not published before, of Vernon with his fellow magicians, and Vernon’s Harlequin and Chinese acts. If you subscribe to Genii you can purchase the book at a bargain price.
A few years ago I had the good fortune to be involved with the proofreading of a wonderful book of card magic called The Devil’s Staircase by Greg Chapman. Fans of that book will be very happy to learn that Mr. Chapman is about to release a new book of card magic, kind of a companion piece to TDS, called Details of Deception. It’s an excellent title, because in this book Chapman focuses on the fine details of what makes a sleight, and a performance of card magic, deceptive. As in the last book, most of the material is gambling-themed, but a careful reading of the book will be highly instructive for any intermediate-to-advanced card worker. There are some excellent memorized deck effects, poker demonstrations, an extensive section on estimation with information which to my knowledge has never seen print before, and a large chapter on the second deal which gives detailed instructions of how to do several kinds of push-off seconds, along with some killer tricks that utilize the sleight. While most of the effects are difficult—the ability to do three perfect faros in some routines is taken as a given—there are a few effects for the mere mortals among us, including a very clever ACAAN routine. I highly recommend this book if you’re looking to improve your card magic, if you’re a memdeck guy or gal, or if you just want to see how deeply a guy like Chapman can think about card magic.
I have not written a real letter for over thirty years. A real letter—not a condolence card, a thank-you note, or an email.
I don’t think I’m alone in that. There are those of generations after mine who have never written a letter or received one. More, not been part of the whole process of letter writing. A letter is not just the object itself and its container— the envelopes, enclosures and clippings, circled pieces of newspapers, glitter, stickers, ink smudges, stationery—“-er-” like “pap-er,”—little 2×3 photos, scrawled identification on the back—but also the whole rhythm and trust of back and forth, the framing of communication in bursts of captured time, even as time passes.
And pass it does. Or did. Now, there is no time, for we can access anyone, anytime, instantly. We see the whole of the universe like a map before us, able to point our finger to any star. But then, time existed, meant something in human terms. Waiting, for example. We knew that even as we were writing that it wouldn’t be received for days, maybe weeks, and who knows when we could get the reply to our comments, our bits of news, our declarations, our entreaties, our losses? What to do, in the meantime, while waiting, was a real issue. How different our lives were. Now our communication is nearly all in almost-real time: over Skype, over text, over email. There is no anticipation anymore, what we see is what we get, albeit screen-mediated: if not now, then never.
The letter reminded us of this essential fact: there are gaps in our perception of the lives of the other. The hard thing in human relationship is to assimilate the fact of mutual change, how both of us are always changing, have changed.The continuity of modern communication lulls us into a false familiarity. But when waiting two weeks for a letter’s reply and two weeks for the reply to the reply, one can rightly wonder whether the person on the other end is still the same and knowable.
I was set thinking about this by a Denise Levertov poem, “Writing to Aaron,” which I read recently with a group of friends. In the poem, the narrator struggles to find a way to respond to a letter that she has taken too long to answer. The narrator understands that with each passing day, the gap between who we were and who we are is growing greater and greater. In those letter-writing days that awareness fostered in us a kind of responsibility, an obligation to answer in a timely manner. If you didn’t, then there was the double problem of not knowing how to explain your tardiness, and the fear that the person to whom you were responding may have changed beyond all recognition. And for the more literary of us there was still another fear: it was too easy for us to fall in love with our own writing, so at times we wrote to and for ourselves, rather than to and for the person whose name we put on the envelope.
Faced with this, the letter-writer must develop methods of how to talk about the gap, how to talk about all that has occurred in the time that has passed, and equally how to talk about what will happen until the next communication occurs.
Levertov’s narrator suggests several strategies. Her narrator considers just putting the dry facts of change up front, then rejects that plan as inadequate, the external facts don’t account for the internal ones:
“…Which beginning to begin with? ‘Since I saw you last,
the doctor has prescribed artificial tears, a renewable order…’ But that leaves out
the real ones.”
She also considers a chronological narrative, but too much time has passed, and that too would be inadequate, too much to tell in too little space:
“Or chronological narrative? ‘In the spring
of ’73,’…’That summer,’
‘By then it was fall…’
All or nothing—
and that would be nothing,”
So this too is inadequate. She finally thinks that perhaps she can only bridge the gap by calling upon a shared memory, hoping the recipient can fill in the rest.
“Maybe I’ll leave the whole story
for you to imagine,
telling you only, ‘A year ago
I said farewell to that poplar you will remember,
that gave us its open secret…”
After reading this poem, I started to imagine myself writing a letter. This act of imagination sent me to a place, a consciousness, in which I hadn’t been in a long time. I felt myself in an intimacy before I had even written down a word. I rebelled, I wanted to write an email. It requires so much less of one. A letter is an act of intimacy and truth, and I haven’t the emotion anymore for that. To see my own scrawl of a handwriting in ink, on paper? Too naked, too unseemly, at this age. I don’t even write down a shopping list anymore.
But what I can’t get away from is how excited my poetry friends, Connie, Evelyn, Teresa, and I got talking about letters, the thrill of pages double-sided leafed through again and again, folded and re-folded, stuck in pockets and books to take out on a windy bus-waiting day, or found years later, at the bottom of the untouched stuck drawer, the ink a witness to the truth of that moment, because I’m looking at your handwriting and I’m deciphering the distance and time that separates us but joins us, as if some part of your presence were truly here in this paper in this time, with these words, in this letter.
This is what we talked about Sunday, and I don’t know that I can bear to write one more letter.
(You can view Denise Levertov’s poem by clicking here: https://www.questia.com/read/93938346/life-in-the-forest and doing a bit of navigating.)
Monday, Phil looking back at us, singing a song inspired by Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie.
“Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’ — I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build — why, I’ll be there.”–The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
“Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.”—Pretty Boy Floyd, Woody Guthrie
Thanks to YouTuber HiddenFormula
Crowds and Party by Jodi Dean is a fascinating must read for anyone interested in how political change happens, and what the left must do now. In this book, Professor Dean talks about those “beautiful moments” that have happened throughout history—think The Paris Commune and Occupy Wall Street—where The Crowd has created a disruption in the usual fabric of capitalist society. But those “beautiful moments” are short-lived, ephemeral, and seem to disappear into forgotten hope. How can a movement hold onto and build on these precious historical moments? Jodi Dean tackles crowd theory and the concept of a working people’s political party, reviews the relevant literature, and presents her analysis in her new book, Crowds and Party.
The book is not always easy reading, so I was happy to have the opportunity to engage in a spirited conversation with Professor Dean, broadcast on WBAI 99.5 FM NY radio yesterday on the Arts Express program. Dean was so interesting that we decided to do two parts to the interview, broadcast one week after the other.
You can listen to Part One by clicking on the grey triangle above.
Rejection, and a peculiar sort of acceptance: two poles of life that I swung through in one day, last Friday. Writing is a solitary art, but in the end it’s a narcissistic pursuit and how can I not care what others say? I suspect the major requirement for someone doing this, more than talent even, is persistence and the ability to keep on going after being rejected.
Yes, I got my first rejection slip today for my novel. Well not a slip, that’s old school, but an email that started off “Unfortunately…” One thing I can categorically say, emails that begin with “Unfortunately…” are not going to end well either.
This was a submission to a literary agency that said on their website that they would only reply if they wanted to see sample manuscript pages. They don’t want you to send any manuscript pages with your submission—just a project description and author’s bio. So, I guess even though they had said they would not reply if they were rejecting it, my project must have sounded so extra special suck-y, they figured that they had better break their own rules and make sure I understood that there was no doubt that my project was worth rejecting. I feel so special.
But I’m not bitter; at least this was the one submission of the seven that I had sent out that didn’t have any manuscript pages attached. So at least I can tell myself that they didn’t really reject my novel per se.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Now ironically, on the same day I received the rejection email, I also got a weird affirmation and acceptance of my writing. Sort of. I found out I had been plagiarized. It gave me a weird thrill to think that someone would want to rip off little old me. I have to say, I felt more flattered than disrespected. In fact, what had been plagiarized was a post on this very blog that you dear reader are viewing—it was a review I did some time ago of a mentalism magazine. (I’m not going to link to it, because, well, although I’m telling this story publicly, I don’t want to make it too public).
It turns out that another magic magazine had published a review of this same mentalism periodical. So I’m reading this first paragraph and holy crap, that’s word for word my review. The rest of the review follows the structure of my review, paraphrasing a paragraph here, inverting a sentence or two there, grabbing key ideas and key words for the rest. Actually, I’d rather they had just swiped the whole thing without trying to make it look like they were stealing it, because they really did a crap job trying to re-write it. It was kind of at the level of a high school student who copies an article from the Internet and changes the font because he thinks his teacher won’t realize what he’s done.
So, I’m upset, but I’m thinking I don’t want a big confrontation with the editor of the magazine. The review was unsigned so I figured it could have been some overworked subordinate who was getting close to deadline and had to come up with copy quickly. But I was irked, because if the reviewer had just asked me I would have gladly let them reprint the review. After tossing it about in my mind, jumping from the poles of wanting to write an angry missive, to writing instead a mild supplicating letter, I finally decide on a stark statement of fact that would throw the ball into their court:
“I was flabbergasted to see that my review of blah blah blah was plagiarized in your latest issue of blah blah blah. Is that Standard Operating Procedure?”
I sent if off with some trepidation.
Two hours later I came back to my email and saw three emails in a row from the editor:
Please let me know where?
“Ahh I know where. I actually didn’t know it was a review but part of the blurb of the book — I Googled the magazine to find out where I could find info on it and that came up — it read like it was a blurb to sell the book so I used part of it.
Sorry about that
“Jack if you can send me the link to your review and I will put it at the end of the review.
Again sorry—I really thought it was part of the magazines home page as I was searching the net to find where it was being sold and that popped up. I can’t remember what i used from it —
What can I say? It was a real shaking my head moment. He couldn’t tell the difference between a review on a blog and a publisher’s advertisement? And then he paraphrases the rest of it? The boob was absolutely blase about the whole thing. He thought I would be happy to have my link as an attachment to his plagiarized version. Jesus. He’s a lazy incompetent idiot who had actually nicked the review himself, and then tried to play it off as if it were no big deal.
Well, truth is, it really isn’t a big deal. But I’ll take it as an acceptance of my writing from at least one editor. “Good Enough To Plagiarize.” I shall make up the lapel pins forthwith. That’s me. Yes, “Good Enough To Plagiarize.”
… said Shakespeare’s Thane of Cawdor about his bloody deeds. Well my deeds are not bloody, but after more than three years of battle with my novel, The New World, and 15 drafts, I have finally said, “enough.” This is it: best I can tell, it’s done. Yes, I could keep tinkering, but I no longer know whether the tinkering is doing any good. It’s time to get on to the next phase.
The manuscript is sitting there in a pile next to me.
Now, to get this published. I think it’s very good. I still enjoy reading it, even after reading it through for the 100th time. So that’s one person who likes it. I still love my characters, and I still want to keep my promises to them.
I could self-publish, and maybe that’s how this will end up, but I suspect that would seem like a disappointment to me. So the next step—and God knows I’ve only been approaching this one step at a time, but at least that’s got me this far, to a point I would never have thought myself capable of—the next step is to get myself an agent. And in order to do that, I have to put together a query letter and synopsis to send out to prospective agents.
After writing a 90,000 word novel, you’d think it would be a breeze to write a one page query letter and a two page novel synopsis, but it seems intimidating to me, and here I find myself without much of a compass. I’ve read a bunch of books on the subject, and the query letter is supposed to tell all the reasons that you think this particular book would be the right book for this particular agent, the subtext always being, “Here’s the reason why my novel is going to make you money.” To that end, you lay out what genre your novel is, and how it is just like popular books X, Y, and Z, and here’s the plot, where a, b, and c happen,” and maybe you’re subtly highlighting why this would make terrific movie material, and so on.
I’m not sure that my novel necessarily falls into any of these categories. It’s not particularly plot-driven, and I’m not sure it can fit into any well-defined category. I suppose one could say it’s what the agents call Literary Fiction, but even that designation doesn’t tell you too much. Is it a Domestic Drama? Maybe, but I’d like to think there’s too much humor in it to be considered strictly a drama. Maybe the kind of thing Anne Tyler writes. I recently read her A Spool of Blue Thread which I greatly admired, and thought, “Damn, that’s the novel that I’ve been trying to write!” Well, I’ve got to accept my limitations and understand that I’m no Anne Tyler, but at least I feel some kind of kinship with her book, so maybe the people who like Anne Tyler’s books will like mine.
Anyway, best I can tell, my work is now just beginning, and I’m about to plunge into a whole new world of learning about publishing. I never expected to get anywhere close to where I am now in terms of my writing, so anything else is gravy. I’ll just take the next step and tell myself: screw your courage to the sticking point and we’ll not fail. (Hmmm, note to self: maybe I want to rethink quoting Lady M as my inspirational source.)
Those who enjoyed the first issue of Ron Chavis’s mentalism publication, Mystic Descendant will be pleased to know that Issue #2 is now hot off the press. You can read a list of the contents here, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Ron interviewed your humble correspondent concerning mentalism and performance, and the results are contained therein. But the real treats are contributions from Mereaux Dantes, Neal Scryer, Todd Landman, Anthony Heads, Connor Jacobs, and Ron himself. You can order here.
Well worth the new lower price of $19.95 per issue, it continues the entertainingly eclectic mix of mentalism-related articles, interviews, essays, effects, and presentations found in the first issue. Kudos to Ron for making it to the second issue, and here’s hoping there are many more.
This edition of Book Nook is going to be of interest primarily to magic geeks, so if that’s not your thing you can scroll on to another post. None of these books is particularly new, but they’re what I’ve been reading lately, and some of them may have escaped your attention.
Further Impuzzibilities by Jim Steinmeyer is another in Steinmeyer’s series of little pamphlets that describe mostly new takes on self-working tricks. Most of these tricks I treat as “cute” throwaways, but this time there is one very good three-phase blackjack deal that is easy to learn and very effective. It uses just ten cards, and it would be quite easy afterwards to switch out three cards either covertly or openly, and go into a Ten Card Poker Deal. You may also enjoy “The Great Silverware Scam,” which is the venerable Piano Card Trick as applied to knives and forks.
Naked Mentalism by John Thompson is a bold attempt to make psychological forcing more scientific. Every mentalist has his or her pet psychological force, but what Thompson does here is to back up his choices with statistical data. So there are tables and tables of data listing the responses of thousands of people to “favorite” this or “favorite” that, and combinations thereof. In the latter half of the book, he extends his ideas into the concept of a perfect booktest. It’s not foolproof, and your results may vary, but if you are able to take on all the memorization work involved, you have a pretty good shot at succeeding at a gaffless, sleightless, anytime, anywhere booktest, where a spectator can choose any word.
Caution: Practical Joker Ahead by Bruce Walstad is a compendium of 76 practical jokes that Walstad played on his fellow police officers with suggestions for the reader to follow. These are fairly simple, innocuous pranks. One of my favorites ideas was to put an inch-and-a-half-high stack of pennies under each leg of a colleague’s desk; then when someone accidentally bumps into the desk a bit, the whole desk comes clattering down in a lopsided manner. You can see one of the pranks outlined here in a video I created and posted a few days ago.
ParaLies by Joshua Quinn is a book filled with a wealth of clever mentalism ideas and techniques. Highlights include a detailed section on equivoking a single card from a full deck, and then a very clever way to reveal it, as well as a section on using ambigrams for magical effect. The bulk of the book, however, covers the same territory as the Thompson book mentioned above, more or less, but with a different approach, one which I prefer. With Quinn’s technique, a performer can not only do a sleightless, gaffless booktest, but using his “chunnelling” technique, the performer can have a spectator choose any word mentally, have the spectator change the word several times in a genuinely free but limited way, and yet still the performer can reveal the resulting word accurately. Highly recommended.
In my early twenties, I read The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, and now decades later, I’ve come back to it. I finished reading it again, and I have to say, I’ve spent the last two weeks hypnotized by it. But aside from the luxurious language, and the sensuous world created, the larger conception of the four volumes is audaciously ambitious and deals with themes that have haunted me for most of my life.
Durrell says the structure of The Quartet was based on Einsteinian principles: the three dimensions of space and one of time. Not in any literal sense, but rather metaphorically: the first three books describe a tale from three different points of view, and the fourth picks up the story later in time. In describing The Quartet, I’m about to give a kind of spoiler, but I think it’s necessary, because without a full description of the plan of The Quartet, you might be tempted to bail after the first volume. That would be a mistake. So…
The novels are set in Egypt, between the two world wars. The first volume, Justine, is told in first person by a somewhat struggling British school teacher and writer named Darley, whose circle of friends includes civil servants in the Alexandria Foreign Office. Durrell’s Alexandria is a city of intoxication and deception: it’s a major character in the love story of Darley with the mysterious Justine, a Jewish woman married to a rich Arab banker. The story is told in exquisite language, and Durrell has an almost Dickensian ability to sketch characters who are distinctly humorous and memorable set within the city brought to life in all its frenetic, teeming activity.
But it’s not until the second volume that the larger plan of The Quartet begins to unfold: in volume two, Balthazar, the same story is re-told, but this time from the point of view of a friend of Darley’s, Balthazar. Balthazar sends a letter to Darley which completely upends Darley’s view of what had happened during his affair.
Volume three, Mountolive is told in third person; it too recounts the events of the first two novels, this time largely from the point of view of the chief British ambassador to Alexandria, Mountolive. Not only are the first two versions of the story completely upended, but the misunderstandings are now played out on the macro level, a result of world power politics of which the narrators in the first two books had no understanding. By the end of this volume, the true nature of The Quartet becomes clear. We are actors in a world of incomplete information and so, necessarily, the lives we live are fictional creations of our own construction.
The fourth volume, Clea, moves on in time. It is about six years later after the events of the first three volumes, and Darley, eventually learns most—but not all—of what really happened (even the reader does not get to know the complete story). But again he is forced to reassess the events again, and especially his own feelings towards Justine and the others. He returns to Alexandria, trying to pick up the threads of his life, and here the novel becomes a meditation on the confrontation of the past with the present, and coming to terms with what has changed and what has remained the same. This volume is slower, told more leisurely, with more asides. I think this makes very good sense. The ending is very satisfying as the hypnotic spell is gently broken. I felt as if I had been in the meditation flotation tank; the music is slowly coming back on, gently waking me back to the present reality.
I don’t really know what the present reputation of The Quartet is among serious writers and critics of modern literature. Perhaps there is something old hat about it now. I don’t know. There is, definitely, a certain amount of casual racism, Orientalism, and British colonial attitude through much of it. But I know also that for two weeks I lived in a dream, not able to let it go, mesmerized by the intoxicating tale(s) of Lawrence Durrell.
My interview with author Judy Blume was broadcast yesterday on WBAI radio. The gracious writer talked about her new novel, her first attempts at writing, her writing process, and finally, her wise advice for would-be novelists. Listen to the warm voice of Judy Blume speaking about her art and craft by clicking on the grey triangle above.
Mystic Descendant is the name of a shiny new periodical for the mentalism community, published by mentalist Ron Chavis. Ron, among other hats that he wears, is the genial web host of a deliberately not-so-well-known mentalism website. He has taken on the formidable job of producing a mentalism quarterly of 50+ pages, no small task, and his first issue is a low-key, but enjoyable read.
You can tell right away that Mystic Descendant is going to be different from other mentalism periodicals, because unlike The Jinx, Magick, or Syzygy, MD is not a newsletter or stapled mimeographed affair, but a perfect bound, glossy color-covered magazine (some of the publicity material likes to call it a book, but I think that’s stretching it), printed on decent quality paper.
Mystic Descendant casts its net wide, covering traditional mentalism, but it’s also not afraid to cover such topics as psychic readings and bizarre magic presentations as well. The one thing it is not interested in is mental magic, so if that’s what you’re looking for, look elsewhere. While there is discussion of methods, the focus so far is really on compelling presentations for casual and close-up performance. The periodical describes itself as aimed at “a beginner, a part or full-time performer, or a hobbyist,” and I think that’s a fair description. I think all of the above can find something to appreciate and enjoy here.
The contents are an eclectic mix of interviews, effects, presentations, stories, and random thoughts and that is part of the charm of the magazine. It’s the kind of thing you sit in the lounge chair with, and chuckle to yourself as you’re reading it. It’s imaginative in its diversity, and firm in its conviction about the importance of storytelling.
You can get an idea of the full contents by clicking here, but I’ll just mention that the highlight of the issue for me was the interview with Swedish mentalist Anthony Heads. He is primarily a stage performer, and it was fascinating to read about how he overcomes the reticence of his Swedish audiences to express emotion. Here’s hoping to the continued success of Mystic Descendant.
Next Thursday is the centenary of the death of the great Irish revolutionary, James Connolly. Artist-activist Tom Keough wrote and illustrated a wonderful graphic remembrance of his life, A Full Life: James Connolly, the Irish Rebel that you can read more about here. I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom for radio station WBAI, and Tom’s wide-ranging knowledge about Connolly and the history of socialism made for a fascinating talk.
You can hear the interview by clicking on the grey triangle above, and you may purchase the book here.
It’s always exciting for me when I can learn, in a fun and interesting way, more about something that I know very little of. I’ve probably learned more about the revolutionary James Connolly and the Irish Easter Rebellion in my one hour’s pleasurable reading of writer and artist Tom Keough’s new graphic remembrance than in all my previous decades of schooling. In A Full Life: James Connolly, The Irish Rebel, Keough tells the story of a truly remarkable man, putting his life into its historical, political, economic, and philosophical context.
Connolly was born into poverty in the slums of Scotland; he devoted his life to improving the lot of working people and to freeing Ireland from British rule. For someone with little formal education, Connolly was amazingly prescient—and persuasive— in his views about socialism, feminism, and internationalism. With the 100th anniversary of the Connolly-led Easter Rebellion upon us this Easter, it would do well to make acquaintance with this man and his ideas. You can get it here at popular prices. I bought three!—one for myself, one for my wife, and one for my son.
Note: The ordering website has been updated and should be working for most now.
Johnny Carson was always quick on his feet, but he was at his best when he had someone like Charles Grodin with which to duel. In the above clip from The Tonight Show, the two have a wonderful 15-minute parry-and-thrust that is just hilarious. Click on the above video to play.