Friday, November 9, 2018

Another Tantalizing Question!


See if you can. 


That Time I Did A Show With Harry Houdini

Thank you for letting me visit today! The third Lila Maclean Academic Mystery, The Spirit in Question, is set in a haunted opera house. For research purposes, my family journeyed up to the famously “active” Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, which was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining

And there, master magician Aiden Sinclair performs at the Stanley in Illusions of the Passed: A Theatrical Séance. It was a truly remarkable experience.

Before the show began, we were invited to browse a table set up with various historical artifacts which Aiden has collected over time—for example, items from the Titanic and objects from the hotel’s original owners. But as I circled the table, it was Harry Houdini’s playing cards that drew my attention immediately. 

If you read the author’s note at the end of The Spirit in Question, you’ll see that the opera houses in Colorado did in fact host an array of luminaries, such as Harry Houdini, Oscar Wilde, and others. Fascinating stories—and pictures—kept surfacing in my research. And there were Houdini’s cards, right in front of me! Truth be told, I was itching to lift up the glass and touch those cards but managed to restrained myself. Barely.

During the show, we witnessed one amazing thing after another, performed with the help of audience members. (And maybe some ghosts? Seriously, it all remains inexplicable.) At first, we suspected the people in the audience were planted. But then Aiden asked if anyone knew what Harry Houdini looked like. My hand was in the air before I was even aware of moving—it was all that research—because yes, I did know. When he consequently invited me onstage, I immediately regretted it. Stupid hand. But it was too late, so up I went. 

Aiden pulled out the deck I’d seen earlier and reminded everyone that these belonged to Harry Houdini. After a thorough shuffle, he asked me to draw a card and look at it without showing anyone, including him. He gave me the entire deck and instructed me to place the card on top, put both hands around the desk, and think about what I’d drawn. He also told the audience to think of a card—any card—and to concentrate on it.

“Now imagine,” he said to me, while strolling around the room, “that Harry Houdini is standing behind someone and you’re going to tell me who it is. Concentrate on the card and also see him here with us now.” 

Now this part is extra-weird. As I sat there, thinking of Harry Houdini and my card, the deck seemed to generate energy—within moments, my heart was racing and my hands shook, as if I’d been given a shot of adrenaline. 

I am not making this up.

After a few minutes, Aiden asked me to point out the person I saw Harry standing behind. To be honest, I didn’t actually seea figure, but I wascompletely drawn to someone sitting in the middle of the room, so I identified her. Aiden asked her to stand and tell us what card she was thinking of, which she did. It was the king of diamonds.

Then he invited everyone who had chosen the king of diamonds to stand and, out of the hundred or so audience members, only two did. 

When he asked me to reveal my card, the whole room gasped. It was the king of diamonds. 

So, to recap, only three people had the same card in mind as the one that I’d pulled. Three. And I’d led Aiden to one of them on the first try. 

I cannot explain it. And I most certainly was not a plant. 

So...thank you, Harry Houdini.

HANK: Oooh. HOW did that happen?v I always think people are plants (you know what I mean), but Cynthia was not!  Reds and readers, what do you think?  Cynthia, on further reflection, what do YOU think?

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Cynthia Kuhn writes the Lila Maclean Academic Mystery series: The Semester of Our Discontent, an Agatha Award recipient for Best First Novel; The Art of Vanishing, a Lefty Award nominee for Best Humorous Mystery; and The Spirit in Question. Her work has also appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Literary Mama, Copper Nickel, Prick of the Spindle, Mama PhD, and other publications. She is professor of English at Metropolitan State University of Denver, president of Sisters in Crime-Colorado, and member of the multi-author blog, Chicks on the Case. For more information, please visit cynthiakuhn.net.

The Spirit in Question is now available at booksellers and online:
Amazon:amzn.to/2unzWF9
Barnes and Noble: bit.ly/2NlGFXe
IndieBound: bit.ly/2vH7ChC
Kobo: bit.ly/2NVbi71

Website: cynthiakuhn.net
Twitter: @cynthiakuhn
Facebook: www.facebook.com/cynthiakuhnwriter
Amazon Author Page: www.amazon.com/Cynthia-Kuhn

Blog: chicksonthecase.com

84 comments:

  1. Congratulations on the new book, Cynthia. Could you tell us a little bit about it?

    Okay, that whole magician thing is pretty eerie. But I suppose those sorts of things happening are the reason we find magic is so captivating . . . .

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    1. And when we try to figure it out, I think we inevitably focus on figuring out the wrong part, you know?

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    2. Hi Joan: It WAS eerie! And sure (thanks for asking): the book is about English-professor-turned-amateur-sleuth Lila Maclean, who is consulting on a play--in a haunted opera house--when murder takes center stage. :)

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    3. Excellent point, Hank! And thank you SO much for letting me visit and for your lovely introduction! xo

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  2. Hello Cynthia. You are a new-to-me author and, after reading your blog, I can't wait to dive in to your series.
    I'm curious if you've had similar experiences prior to this or did you go into the performance as a bit of a sceptic? I imagine that the setting of the show must have had a considerable impact as well. What is the conventional wisdom to writers about the setting being as much a character as the actual characters? We have the Magic Castle in Los Angeles and the "ambiance" definitely puts you in the mood for the unexplained.
    Time for me to order "The Spirit in Question."

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    1. True! But still you have to wonder…

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    2. Hi Lyda: Nice to meet you! I've had some slightly weird experiences in the past, but this was on a different level. Honestly, I went into the performance just expecting some cool magic tricks because we'd seen him on America's Got Talent. Great point about the ambiance/setting. The Stanley Hotel is definitely unique. And Hank, I'm still wondering! :)

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    3. Whoa. We have got to figure it out!

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  3. Oh Cynthia, I think that experience is so creepy cool. (I have a board on my Pinterest page that is entitled "Creepy Cool," and it's for those pictures that are deliciously spooky, but not in a monster-like way.) I am skeptical of magic, but in my heart of hearts, I want to believe in it some, too. You have made a great case for there being some things that really do defy explanation. Did you and your family spend the night at the Stanley Hotel? I would love to do so, even though I probably wouldn't sleep a wink.

    Congratulations on your new book. Looks like The Spirit in Question is going on my TBR list.

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    1. Gosh, I would never have stayed overnight there! Or, I agree, not slept at all :-)
      I have to check your Pinterest page!

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    2. Thank you, Kathy! (I am going to check your Pinterest page too later...that sounds delightful.) We did not spend the night there--opted for the (ghost-free) hotel half a mile away. ;)

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    3. Here's the link to my Creepy Cool board on Pinterest. I haven't been paying much attention to Pinterest lately, but I'm starting to update some. https://www.pinterest.com/kru2do/creepy-cool/

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    4. Ooh, it's fabulous! Thank you for sharing. I am so drawn to all of those mysterious bird-and-lamp pictures, especially.

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  4. That is so freaky. I have no explanation either, but, wow, what an experience!

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  5. Oh my word! I have goosebumps now! What an amazing experience! I love magic and do believe in ghosts and spirits.

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    1. Great… I keep wondering how it could’ve happened. It is really, excuse the expression, haunting me.

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    2. Deb, now your having goosebumps gave me goosebumps again! If you're ever in Colorado, you would love the Stanley (or maybe you've already gone).

      Hank, HA!

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  6. Wow, Cynthia! What a special thing, and so mysterious. This also reminds me I am behind on your series. Must fix that, stat. Congratulations on the new book!

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  7. I'm a huge fan of magic. Houdini who was not only a great magician but a great debunker. Today's king of debunking: James Randi. I love Love LOVE books that have 'magic' in them. So hmmm... It's either a plant or all of the cards she chose from are the same.

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    1. One of my high school classmates, Barry Conrad, has spent his last fifty years as a cameraman and photographer, starting in high school. He has a deep interest in the paranormal, and has also hunted ghosts for decades. His IMDB page is impressive, and includes both camera work and producer credits for shows about all kinds of woo-woo topics.

      I'm hoping Barry attends our 50th reunion next year, and that I get a chance to talk ghosts with him.

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    2. there is definitely a book in your reunion with Barry in attendance karen! the possibilities are endless...

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    3. Thank you! Hallie, will check out James Randi. Houdini is fascinating, agree! It is kind of funny that he was so interested in debunking everything and yet in this show he was the starring ghost. ;)

      Karen, Barry sounds very interesting! Will look him up as well. Agree with Roberta--would love to read that book!

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    4. ps: Hallie--did you notice the doll on the piano? Made me think of your book...

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  8. What an extraordinary experience! However did you sleep that night!

    I'm willing to believe there are many, many things we do not understand. How could we, truly, know everything there is to know? That would be a pretty arrogant attitude, don't you think? I'm often struck by how confident so many human beings are that they know it all.

    Personally, I've had at least two supernatural incidents, and possibly more that did not fully register. We do have to be open to the possibility, after all, before we can acknowledge the probability.

    Speaking of which, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Mrs. Harry Houdini, Bess, who held seances hoping for his psychic presence on the anniversary of his death, for ten years. They had made a death pact that he would return, if he could.

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    1. That story always makes me so sad…

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    2. OMG there is another book to write Karen...that's a heart-wrenching story!

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    3. Lucy/Roberta, are you trying to tell me something? LOL

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    4. I don't think I did sleep very well! Ooh, will you please tell us about your experiences? And oh, the Bess story is heartbreaking.

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    5. Yes—because they both believed it would happen....

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  9. an aside: one of my favorite WRITING resource books is actual a book on magic: MAGIC AND SHOWMANSHIP by Henning Nelms. A ton of useful information in it on out how to distract the from the real clues and get people to attend to the red herrings. MISDIRECTION! It's what mystery writers (and magicians) do.

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    1. And now I MUST read that book! Thank you for the recommendation.

      YES re: misdirection, mystery writers, and magicians...recently made that same comparison in a class...but now realize (*smacks forehead*) I should have brought in some cool magical props to up the showmanship factor! Next time...

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    2. I never thought about the comparison before, but you're right. I'm going to have to check out that book too.

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  10. Wow! Like everyone else I am truly amazed! There's nothing better than a good magic show. Wish I had been there. I'll be looking for your books for sure.

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    1. Thanks, Judi! And it was amazing. Every illusion he did seemed inexplicable.

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  11. I love magic, too! We went to a David Copperfield performance years ago, and it was jaw-dropping. But then, I thought him do the same show on TV, and he made exactly the same jokes, and… Exactly the same kid was in the audience! So there’s always an explanation, and it so deflating when you figure it out, isn’t it?

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    1. I can see how repeated viewings would suck the surprise out of everything. (But the same kid was in the audience? A plant, do you think?)

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    2. Yup. Absolutely. And I remember his name was Matt. So funny.

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  13. it’s also hard to do magic on TV, because it is hard to believe that it’s not edited, or altered somehow. There are all these trucks and I’ll wear a magician starts onstage and poof—ends up outside. Or the other way around. I interviewed Penn and Teller once, and they were absolutely hilarious! And they taught me a trick!

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    1. I'd love to hear Penn and Teller's comments on the Houdini cards.
      Libby Dodd

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    2. Agree...and how wonderful that you met Penn and Teller. They are fabulous! (What is the trick?)

      Libby, I would too. Good point.

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    3. It was how to whap a cutting board out from Under six eggs, and drop them all into glasses of water without breaking them. Shrugging. I’m not sure what’s so magic about that. :/) And there was also a cool trick about how to tell which hand something is in. But that’s secret I cannot reveal.

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    4. I can barely handle an egg without breaking it normally, so I'm impressed. :)

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  14. Congrats on the book, Cynthia.

    I love a good magic show. Yeah, I'm sure a lot of it is misdirection. The Boy tries to "catch" the magician, but I think that takes the fun out of it.

    And I have no explanation for your Houdini experience. Weird.

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Thanks, Mary! Weird seems to sum it up for sure. :) Does he catch some? Once this summer, we definitely figured out one trick on tv: the guy made the tiniest revealing move by mistake and the camera angle caught it, we replayed it seven times until we were sure we'd figured it out, and we felt triumphant for about a minute, then we kept watching the show. HA.

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    2. It was a big production number, where he was supposed to reappear on a platform suspended midair over the stage. But we saw him hide behind one prop on the lower part of the stage and not leave, so the person who "reappeared" above (and was wearing a motorcycle helmet) was not him...

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  15. Cynthia, I loved your first two books. Can't wait to read this one!

    I have no inspirations to contribute about how the trick worked. But I can resonate with that feeling at the moment you were called on stage. We recently went to the show of a magician at our local Funny Bone, and I somehow ended up on stage. My experience wasn't anywhere near as mysterious as yours, but oh, that moment when you realize you are actually about to walk up on that stage!

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    1. That's so kind--thank you, Susan, and I hope you enjoy! And oh my goodness, YES, that moment...you're brave. What happened onstage? I hope it was fun!

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  16. You've been on my radar, Cynthia, but haven't made it to my TBR pile yet. I'll remedy that in just a moment, because your books sound delicious.

    As for the magic, I'll suggest a couple of things. Although Cynthia was clearly not a plant, the woman Cynthia chose from the audience might have been. On the other hand, I firmly believe in the "magic of the theatre" which allows perfectly rational people to gather together and create a collective illusion so real to their hearts that they may get angry, fall in love, or whatever right alongside the people they know are actors. And everyone walks out happy about the whole experience! The energy you and your compatriots raised in that theatre that night was completely real, and energy can do remarkable things. Sometimes an explanation isn't really necessary.

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    1. I like that Gigi, that sometimes an explanation isn't necessary. I keep thinking of Ron, the man on whom my character Lorenzo is based. He is tuned into the world and people around him in a way that most people are not, or not able to be. And I think that explains a lot...

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    2. Yes, never underestimate the power of eye contact. It's very possible that the woman Cynthia picked was concentrating all her energy into being picked. Some humans have a much more compelling presence than others, actors, in particular.

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    3. Thanks for giving them a try, Gigi! And I like the everyone-walking-out-happy part.

      Ron is a very cool example.

      Love these theories! Hmmm...let's see...the room was dark, so I couldn't see anyone's eyes. No one saw the card but me (and the deck had all different cards in it...was handed to me upfront and I was asked to confirm that, then the deck never left my hands until after the trick was over) so if she were a plant, how would she know? I'm thinking so hard right now...

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  17. Congratulations on your new release! Magic is misdirection and shared energy. I love misdirecting readers with bogus clues.

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    1. Thank you, Margaret! I love that definition, "misdirection and shared energy."

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  18. Welcome Cynthia. Your books and your life sound magical.

    I'm an inveterate skeptic, but I am drawn to the notion of parallel universes and certainly to ESP. So it's not a great leap to magical thinking.

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
    - Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio


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    1. One of the best quotes ever! Thank you, Ann. (And I am drawn to the idea of ESP too...ooh, maybe THAT was involved in the illusion.)

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  19. I love live stage magic, and the supernatural aspect is creepy-cool, as Kathy Reed says. Isn't it delightful that in an age when anything can me made to seem real digitally, we can still wonder at the inexplicable performed live?

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    1. Oh, that's *such* a great point, Julia! It is absolutely lovely.

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  20. That is the coolest story ever, Cynthia. I got chills. How fantastic! How can it be explained? Ugh, I'm going to be thinking about this all day. And I can't wait to read The Spirit in Question. Congratulations on your release! Yay!

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    1. Thank you very much, Jenn! Have to say, it's so much fun to think about this with all of you!

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  21. What a cool fun experience. You can certainly wish Harry was there helping. It wouldn't work too well on me. I don't think I could concentrate at the level necessary to help Harry. Think of the card, think of Harry, the card, did I turn off the oven, did I mail that bill, Harry, card, do I have to renew my license this year. . . .

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    1. Thank you for the comment, Pat! I hear you. So many things to concentrate on...

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  23. Shalom Reds, I found The Summer of Our Discontent on sale at Amazon (Kindle) today, so I figured why not start at the beginning.

    When I was very young, I learned of a retailer of magic tricks in the center of Manhattan. The shop was named for its owner, Lou Tannen’s. He sold a catalog for $25 in the mid-sixties describing the tricks and illusions he would sell you. Theoretically, you could shop by mail. However, I loved to go into the city as he would show off the sleight of hand for you in person. The shop was mostly for professional magicians but he would sell to anyone. And over the years, I would scrimp and save to buy one or two every now and then. He would sell you the apparatus but the valuable thing of the purchase was the instructions for performing the trick. Lou and his brother have long since passed but the shop remains to this day, now in the Herald Square neighborhood whetting our appetite for the supernatural.

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    1. So wonderful that you got to experience that!

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    2. Agree with Hank--David, that is a wonderful story! Do you still remember how to do all the tricks (and do you still perform them)? Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy the book. :)

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    3. I remember many of the tricks but many of the ones that I purchased at Tannen’s require props that I have long since lost over the years. But more than the props, close up magic performed with household objects requires practice. And I don’t practice so I rarely try them on others. As an adult (in my twenties and thirties) I would perform one of the card tricks which I learned from a book and another with four shiny new pennies which would fool adults. I’ve grown more shy as I get older not inclined to take the spotlight. However, they are all good memories. I recently found a documentary about a Magic Camp for tweens and teens and it was fun to watch the kids as they practiced for each other.

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  24. Magicians are amazing. I know most of what they do is sleight of hand or distraction, but to have the ability to do what the most talented of the guild can do is simply astounding. Wish I could have seen your face that day, Cynthia! Oh, and I just ordered THE SPIRIT IN QUESTION--can't wait to read it!

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    1. Agree, Leslie! They are so interesting. And my face that day, ha ha, was probably just plain stunned. Hope you enjoy SPIRIT--thanks so much.

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  25. Thanks so much for hosting me, Jungle Reds, and thanks to all who stopped by! ♥︎

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