How far are you willing to go in the name of research, John Gaspard asks.
Are you willing to take a bullet for your book? That’s not a question most authors face, but it’s one that was recently put before me.
I started the Eli Marks mystery series with a simple premise: Each book would be titled after a traditional magic trick. That trick would then play a pivotal role in the story, as our hero – magician Eli Marks – struggles to solve whatever crime he finds himself mixed up in.
To add more fun to the process, I also decided that I (a non-magician) would learn to perform each titled trick as part of my writing process.
That idea worked without incident for the first book, The Ambitious Card. The Ambitious Card is a trick that can be as simple or as complicated as your sleight-of-hand skills will allow. In the trick, a selected card repeatedly moves to the top of a deck of cards, regardless of how far (or often) you attempt to bury it in the deck.
But my brilliant plan then hit an immediate roadblock when I landed on the title (and the trick) for the second book in the series: The Bullet Catch.
There is no illusion in the history of magic that comes with as deadly a pedigree as The Bullet Catch. More than a dozen magicians have died while performing the trick. As recently as a couple years ago, New York-based magician Steve Cohen was seriously injured while performing The Bullet Catch for a History Channel documentary.
What makes the trick so dangerous? Well, in its most basic form, it involves handing a loaded gun to an audience member and telling them to point it at you from the across the stage and pull the trigger. The magician’s role in all this? Catch that speeding bullet. With his teeth.
There are plenty of variations on the trick, but that’s always been the basic premise. And in every permutation, there is always plenty of margin for error.
In the book, Eli’s high school buddy is now a successful movie actor and in his latest film he’s playing a magician who dies while performing The Bullet Catch. The actor is convinced that the producers plan to shoot him for real and cash in on all the publicity that this will garner for their low-budget movie. Eli’s task is to monitor the production and ensure that the trick is achieved via movie magic and not via a real bullet.
At the same time, Eli becomes entangled with his high-school crush whose husband has just performed a bullet catch of his own – only this bullet catch was part of a mugging and the end result was fatal. However, closer examination by the police suggests that the mugging might have been something more than just a mugging.
These two interlocking threads introduce Eli to a host of shady characters and plunge him into more than a couple of life-threatening (and life-changing) situations.
So how do I feel that my pledge to learn and perform every title trick in the Eli Marks series has come to an abrupt, untimely end? Honestly, I’m relieved. Magicians work darn hard to learn and perfect their tricks and I can either spend hours practising and dropping cards and coins … or use that time more productively and plow ahead on the next book in the series. I think the choice is clear and I’m already deep into crafting the third book in the Eli Marks mystery series.
And what trick provides the title for that book? I’m not going to say, but I will tell you this: even if I did the trick completely wrong, the worst damage I could inflict upon myself would be a broken toe.
I’ll take that over a bullet to the brain any day!
Newly single magician Eli Marks reluctantly attends his high school reunion against his better judgment, only to become entangled in two deadly encounters with his former classmates. The first is the fatal mugging of an old crush’s husband, followed by the suspicious deaths of the victim’s business associates.
At the same time, Eli also comes to the aid of a classmate-turned-movie-star who fears that attempting The Bullet Catch in an upcoming movie may be his last performance. As the bodies begin to pile up, Eli comes to the realisation that juggling these murderous situations – while saving his own neck – may be the greatest trick he’s ever performed.
In real life, John Gaspard is not a magician, but he has directed six low-budget features that cost very little and made even less – that’s no small trick. He’s also written multiple books on the subject of low-budget filmmaking. Ironically, they’ve made more than the films. His blog, Fast, Cheap Movie Thoughts, has been named “One of the 50 Best Blogs for Moviemakers” and “One of The 100 Best Blogs For Film and Theater Students”. He’s also written for TV and the stage. John lives in Minnesota and shares his home with his lovely wife, several dogs, a few cats and a handful of pet allergies.