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It's hard to believe that a year has passed since the October 2013 issue, describing a Halloween season featuring the Bucks, Andy Dallas, Ricky Jay, Steve Valentine, Jim Steinmeyer, Corinda, John Mellencamp, Stephen King, and Francisco.
Greetings, boys and ghouls, and welcome to the Midnight Ghost Show edition of Little Egypt Magic. For most of the year, I've alluded to an alternative project that was demanding my time, time normally spent enjoying magic and writing about it in this sheet. I can finally reveal that the project was my middle grade novel, Lucas Mackenzie and The London Midnight Ghost Show. I am excited that the book is coming out through Month9Books and is scheduled for a November 18 release. Just in time for holiday shopping, it's the perfect gift for your child, the child in you, or anyone interested in midnight ghost shows. More on Lucas below.
Other topics we've scared up for this installment include Magic, Inc.'s new McCombical by Billy McComb, Bill Weimer's reminiscences on his years as a Chicago bar magician, a creepy Cyril Takayama video, and Jamie Salinas's ghostly presentation for the Outlaw Effects book test Luna.
SOON TO HAUNT A BOOKSTORE NEAR YOU -- For those who wondered what I was talking about with the Lucas Mackenzie references at the bottom of my July and August issues, I can finally clear up the mystery. Lucas Mackenzie and The London Midnight Ghost Show is my first middle grade novel, and it will be published November 18 by Month9Books. To help spread the word, zombie correspondent Gus Grime from radio station WZMB stopped by recently and interviewed me. His transcript follows.
The ad that got me interested in ghost shows.
GG: I am on the air with Steve Bryant, author of The Little Egypt Book of Ghosts and the Genii article "Zombieland," about magician Jack White and his Dr. Blood's Zombie Show. His latest offering is Lucas Mackenzie and The London Midnight Ghost Show. Tell me, Steve, what is your new book about?
Steve: It's a middle grade novel about friendship, family, and phantom romance.
GG: Are you being cryptic, or just alliterative? Tell me a little more about your book. What is the story?
Steve: Hmmm, I should probably issue a spoiler alert if we are going into details. How about this:
Emerging from four years of postmortem amnesia, young Lucas Mackenzie comes to realize that he is dead and his family is alive, and he yearns to get in touch with them. But Lucas is a ghost in the company of a traveling midnight theater ghost show, and contact with the living is against the rules.
Lucas keeps his attempts at contact a secret as he and his fellow phantoms hobnob with the celebrated dead at Forest Lawn, party in abandoned funeral homes, watch movies outdoors in cemeteries, vacation at Lily Dale, bowl in all-night bowling alleys, and frighten teenagers in old theaters on Saturday nights.
Can Lucas keep the show going despite dwindling audiences and a dedicated ghost hunter? Can he capture the heart of the incomparable Columbine, the show’s enchanting fifteen-year-old psychic? Can he find his way back to his once-forgotten family? Keep reading long, long into the night, to the final act, when the London Midnight Ghost Show plays in Lucas’s former home town, to surprising and afterlife-altering consequences.
GG: Delicious. Where is this story set?
Steve: As my magician friends know, the midnight theater ghost shows flourished in America from 1929 to 1960 or so. My story is set in 1959 Americana, near the end of that era. It was a fertile year for those of us who lived through it and loved all things spooky. It was the year we grinned over Charles Addams cartoons, cringed at classic and contemporary horror movies, searched for Bridey Murphy, scanned the skies for UFOs, worshipped Forrest J Ackerman and his Famous Monsters of Filmland, and anticipated Disney's Haunted Mansion. My cast of spooky thespians interacts with many of these elements as they crisscross the country giving performances.
GG: I'm salivating. How did the book come to fruition?
Steve: My agent is Anna Olswanger, and she's fantastic. If you hang out in the children's section of any Barnes and Noble, not that you should, you will find that many of the top titles are represented by her. That includes the recent Newbery Honor book Paperboy, by Vince Vawter. Anna hooked me up with Month9Books, the perfect home for Lucas and his pals.
GG: What is Month9Books?
Steve: Month9Books is a young publishing house (it will turn two on October 31) that specializes in spooky and fantasy fiction for teens. Its motto is "Speculative Fiction for Teens & Tweens ... Where Nothing Is As It Seems!" Month9Books is one of three imprints under the amazingly multitasking Georgia McBride. Georgia has completed over 100 publishing deals in the past two years. You might like Dead Jed: The Adventures of a Middle School Zombie, by Scott Craven. For Lucas, I spent about a year working with one of Georgia's top editors, Jackie Kessler, who has credits in the Buffy universe, and the book is scheduled for release November 18. You can preorder it today on Amazon.
GG: Now that the book is coming out, does this mean you'll be devoting more time to your web site?
Steve: Not quite. I signed a two-book contract, and the second book is due out in the fall of 2015. So the fun continues. Meanwhile, I hope everyone enjoys Lucas.
GG: I look forward to reading it. It would be faster for me to absorb it, of course, if I could just skip the reading and feed on your brain.
Steve: Thank you for having me on your program. I'll be going now.
UNCLE BILLY -- Sandy Marshall has reinvigorated Magic, Inc. as a major publisher with such landmark hardbacks as Beating a Dead Horse, Revolutionary Card Technique, Cardially Yours, and The Complete Al Leech. Add to these one of the most wonderful magic books I've beheld in a while: McCombical/The Wit and Wisdom of Billy McComb. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll learn some fantastic magic. My awareness of Billy McComb began with Bill Larsen's having met him at conventions and watching such items as Billy's Hole Routine. (I bought it once for two dollars, and it's in the book.) My last direct contact with him was interviewing him for the Genii cover story on Amazing Johnathan. Billy had just opened for AJ in a casino silo in Tunica, Mississippi. A short while before that I had published the lengthy poem A Millennium Night's Dream which praises Billy over dozens of other magicians, and I asked him if he had read it. He had, and he said he had been worried whether he was going to be mentioned at all. He needn't have!
You'll laugh and you will cry first of all because of the sidebars. Sandy obtained reminiscences from the likes of Teller, Johnny Thompson, Amazing Johnathan, Lance Burton, Simon Lovell, John Fisher, John Wade, Fielding West, Milt Larsen, Nick Lewin, Terry Seabrooke, Michael Chaut, Dave Cox, and Annabel Gray, and their stories are simply grand, most of which you haven't heard before. As you will learn, Billy was even funny after he passed away. You will also laugh and cry because the rest of the book, the magic and the essays, is in Billy's voice, and it's as if he were in the room with you guiding you along.
The magic is drawn from Billy's writings, including McComb's Magic and other sources, but it reads as though Billy had been working on this update. I don't know to what extent that is true or to what extent it is just magical editing, but it's lovely to encounter his voice, including an introduction and afterword from Billy. And the teaching! The McCombical Half-Dyed Hank is a masterpiece of instruction, with a generous history of its development through all the performance details to how to launder and pack the silks. He provides similar depth on The McCombical Stage Sponges and the McCombical Paper Balls Over the Head. It's all just excellent magic that I look forward to doing, much of it new to me. Specifically, the magic has been divvied into six chapters including Tricks with Cards, Tricks with Hankies or Silks, Tricks with Ropes, Mental Miracles (loved Uncle Will's Slates), Effects for the Stage, and Close-Up/Parlor Magic along with another chapter of Billy's Cogitations. There is enough material in this book from which anyone could develop a praiseworthy magic act.
Sandy (who provided a foreword and a sidebar of his own) and his team have done a great job with this book. It's a 210-page hardback, with plenty of black and white photos and four pages of color photos in the center. The trick illustrations appear to be from the original sources, and I find them charming because of that, and the endpapers are illustrated with John Moehring's iconic stop action photo of Billy's Slow Motion Vanishing Bird Cage. There is a separate list of all Billy's tricks and writings in the book (50 items) and an extensive index. $49.95, an essential purchase. I bought mine directly from Magic, Inc.
THE BAR SCENE -- I love Chicago. Growing up unaware of the NYC magic scene (I knew only of Tannen's) and before the Magic Castle had opened, Chicago was the center of my magical universe. Its bar magic was legendary, especially those bars featuring Frank Everhart, Johnny Paul, Johnny Platt, Heba Haba Al, Don Alan, Senator Crandall, Jim Ryan, and Matt Schulien, among others. They, along with the creative engine of Ed Marlo, created Chicago style magic: hard-hitting, fast, blue-collar mixes of magic and gags, as distinctive as Chicago style pizza.
Blue collar magic.
Eventually those bars and those magicians would be replaced by other Chicago bars and other Chicago magicians, and they are the subject of Bill Weimer's Now You See Them, Now You Don't. The locales include Little Bit O' Magic (there were three of them), Houdini's Pub, The Old Barn, Mr. C's Magic Lounge, Magic Theatre, and the New York Lounge. Schulien's, in its second location, lasted into this later era as well. The author, Bill Weimer, worked seven of this era's bars, and his writing exudes authority.
Other names working these bars were familiar to me: Terry Veckey, Glenn Bishop, Al James, Eugene Burger, Jim Krenz, and of course Bill Malone. Many of the names were not familiar to me, I assume of Polish origin, with unpronounceable strings of consonants. The common denominator was that they all performed the same commercial entertaining magic.
Best known of the above magi is Bill Malone, and it is interesting to note that the vest and rolled shirt sleeve "uniform" of the New York Lounge carried over to Malone's Magic Bar in Boca Raton.
My own direct experience with Chicago bar magic involved a weekend family vacation to the city. My wife and I took our kids to Schulien's. I must have dressed up, with a jacket, because I remember Al James doing the sponge balls up the sleeve for me. It was a nice night. (The rest of the weekend included Geno's and Uno's pizza, Rick's Cafe Americain with the singer Joe Williams, and lots of shopping.)
Interspersed with the detailed history of an entertainment era (you get the rises and demises of the various bars, the repertoires of the various magi along with their shifting alliances) are ten Chicago style magic tricks that will work today. The book is a 276-page soft cover. I confess that I wasn't totally happy with the layout. The san serif font took a little getting used to, and the copious photos, over 200, were a tad faded and fuzzy. (Loved seeing Bill Malone as a skinny kid with a huge Afro.) But these are minor objections. If you are interested in Chicago bar magic, this is a grand history, full of all the names who populated it, and brought to life through dozens of great anecdotes. $40. I bought mine from H&R Magic Books.
SENIOR SORCERY -- Every so often, lay friends send me links to YouTube clips of magicians in action. The most recent was this, of an old man performing magic in ordinary situations in Japan. He leans impossibly forward, he produces a bottle of liquid from its photograph, he turns it back into a photo, he sneezes his head off, and he floats by holding some helium balloons. Of course, we all know the "old man" to be Cyril Takayama, made up for the part. Cyril is one of the finest magicians working today, and I appreciate the clip. It's probably been around awhile, but was new to me.
Cyril ages well.
CONTACTING THE INSANE DEAD -- Scott Wells continues to brighten my morning walks in the gym with his Magic Word podcasts. A recent broadcast was "Creating the Paranormal Experience," with Scott and Jamie Salinas. Scott and Jamie produce the Houston Seance (check out houstonseance.com) and know a lot about creating a genuinely spooky atmosphere. Jamie's presentation for the Outlaw Effects book test Luna, revealed on the podcast, was an ureka experience for me. (Luna employs the 1936 patient registry for the Colney Hatch Mental Hospital in London, a spooky artifact on its own.) It's an idea that has been used for book tests before, but I hadn't put two and two together. I won't tip it, but, if you own Luna, you should check out Jamie's thinking on this podcast.
Dead crazy people.
The book that introduced me to ghost shows.
It's almost Halloween. Embrace your dark side.
Little Egypt Magic is the erratically updated web site of Steve Bryant, spawned (the site, not Steve) by a former internet magazine known as The Little Egypt Gazette/for magicians only.
Steve Bryant is an obscure magician and writer who generates this site from an iMac in Bloomington, Indiana. He used to frequently journey to and perform magic in Little Egypt, the local name for extreme southern Illinois, where the towns bear such names as Cairo, Thebes, and Karnak.
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