Illusions of Magic

The Illustrated Novel by J.B. Rivard


Frequently Asked Questions




Q. Why was the author so interested in Mayor Cermak?

A. The wounding of Mayor Anton Cermak during the attempted assassination of President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 is not well known. It is rarely covered in history books and seldom mentioned in accounts of the life of the 32nd President. When the author uncovered details of the attempted assassination, he became fascinated by the tumultuous events during the month following the shooting. As is covered in more detail in the Research section of this website, the Mayor’s life hung in the balance for nineteen long days, throwing the politics of Chicago into chaos. The author saw those three weeks, as the Great Depression ravaged the U.S., the gangster era lingered, and Prohibition finally neared its end, as ideal background material for a novel cast in 1930’s Chicago.


Q. A personal inquiry—how does the author view romance and devotion and commitment?

A. Love, both the broad, universal concept as well as the bond between two individuals, commands the center of our humanity. It is the intellectual and emotional “glue” that underlies our faiths and is the basis of civilization—for without love, barbarity rules. Romance may describe the feelings that lovers experience, while devotion and commitment are just two of the essential aspects of enduring relationships between individuals.


Q. Why cast Nick as a magician?

A. The occupations of leading characters in novels span extremes from farmers to pharmacists. However, twentieth century magicians like Harry Blackstone and Harry Houdini — before the television age—were accorded the public’s adulation as they seemed able to perform impossible acts. Yet privately, each was a fallible human, prey to all the foibles of other citizens and susceptible to the emotional storms of life during times of change and anxiety. So it is with Nick Zetner, a skilled professional, yet a man beset by unemployment, marriage problems, and a baffling and dangerous quest. Through it all he seeks the return of the love of his life.


Q. How did the author know about magic tricks and illusions?

A. As a youth, he was fascinated with prestidigitation—the stage magicians’ slight-of-hand tricks and illusions. He studied and practiced until he was sufficiently proficient at various tricks to perform them as a teenage ‘magician’ before the public. He has maintained a lifelong interest in magicians and conjuring.


Q. Are you the Rivard who is still well-known in New Mexico and the Southwest for western paintings and landscapes?

A. Yes. As is covered on the Author page of this website, Mr. Rivard lived in Albuquerque for nearly thirty years, during which he developed expertise in numerous techniques, including sketching, pen and ink rendering, oil painting, ink and acrylic, and etching. His artworks have won numerous awards and prizes. Examples of his artwork can be viewed on the Other Art section of this website.


Q. Where did the idea for Liver Jack come from? Are there historical characters like this?

A. Liver Jack is entirely a creation of the author. However, Chicago was undergoing severe change during the early 1930s, as the Great Depression undermined its financial base and unemployment sapped its productivity. This turbulence spawned politicians like Anton Cermak, who promised a return to a better life while skillfully marshalling a diverse ethnic following that powered him into the mayoralty. In a few years he developed, with the aid of lower-level politicians like precinct captain Liver Jack, the organization that became the basis of what is termed ‘the Chicago machine,’ an organization which persists to the present day.


Q. Did the author have access to newspaper accounts which made the conversations among the reporters sound authentic?

A. Yes. As is explained in the Research section of this website, the author studied newspaper- archived articles describing the events following the wounding of Mayor Cermak, including those concerning his treatment in the Miami hospital, the concurrent political machinations in Chicago, as well as the huge, city-wide, multiday rites attending his death and burial. The daily reportage in the Chicago Tribune archives were especially helpful. In evaluating these sources, Rivard relied on his personal experiences as a newspaper reporter and magazine writer.


Q. Where did the author find the medical information used by the reporters?

A. See the answer to the previous question. The author also considered medical data contained in histories of the period, especially Blaise Picchi’s 1998 book, The Five Weeks of Giuseppe Zangara: The man who tried to kill FDR,” which contains, in addition to the experiences of the major participants in the shooting and its aftermath, the opinions of medical professionals interviewed in 1993 concerning the diagnoses and treatment of Mayor Cermak.


Q. The bicycle bell—was that an incident from the author’s own life?

A. No. (This bell attaches to a bicycle’s handlebar and is thumb-actuated.¬† Its design dates from the late nineteenth century.) Rivard employs a bicycle bell in Chapter Three where its presence in his magic equipment baffles and confuses Nick. The bell’s early unexplained presence foreshadows a later revelation, creating suspense.


Q. The biography says author Rivard is an engineer. How does that affect the way he writes?

A. As a research engineer at a National Laboratory for 25 years, Mr. Rivard’s work was usually ¬†presented in reports, monographs, or other technical publications. Besides demonstrating technical progress, this written material was reviewed by management and peers in industry, academia and the scientific community. This process, and its feedback, teaches the values of writing directly, simply, factually and above all, understandably. It thus illustrates competence in expression, whether for fact or fiction.


Q. The clothing in the illustrations looks authentic. What sources did the author consult?

A. In addition to the many archival photographs from the period accumulated during his research, the author consulted Fashionable Clothing from the Sears Catalogs: Early 1930s, by Tina Skinner and Tammy Ward, Schiffer Publishing Ltd, Atglen, Pennsylvania 19310, USA.


Q. How did the author recreate the slang of the thirties, corny or not?

A. Internet slang dictionaries, other sources too numerous to list, and memories of word usage by his parents and others who lived through the period. The author says, “I’m glad if it sounds corny—that puts you in the time period.”


Q.  Is J.B. Rivard the artist who drew trains?

A. Yes. Mr. Rivard produced a series of four old locomotives in ink and acrylic for Arthur A. Kaplan Co. in New York City (one of these may be viewed in the Other Art section of this website). They were reproduced in color and sold throughout the U.S. in the 1970s.


Q. Was the author ever actually in the Chicago & Northwestern train station?

A. Although he had more than a passing acquaintance with trains in and out of Chicago, he never entered the station before it was demolished in 1984. However, extensive research uncovered plans, facts and photographs describing this huge and monumental Renaissance-style structure. Completed in 1910 at West Madison and Canal Streets, it occupied thirty-eight acres of land in the densely urban district west of the Loop. Its most impressive feature was the main waiting room, with marble columns reaching to a barrel-vaulted skylight three stories above the floor. During most of its time, steam trains arrived and departed the two-blocks-long train shed, where sixteen railroad tracks converged to serve 50,000 passengers a day. A scene in the train shed was re-created as one of the illustrations in ILLUSIONS OF MAGIC.


Q. How did the author get the feel of Chicago’s ‘zeitgeist’?

A. As a youth, the author visited Chicago often with his grandmother (she lived not far away), and with other relatives. He also attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, which was located at 18 South Michigan Avenue, and sometimes explored the city on his own. For the novel, he did extensive research into the city, its politics and society during the early 1930s, as explained in the Research section of this website. He considers Chicago “an alternative home town of mine.”


Q. The book mentions a band fronted by Eddie Condon. Is this made up or did he really exist?

A. Born Albert Edwin Condon (1905-1973), he was a jazz banjoist, guitarist and bandleader. He led the early development of the “Chicago school” of Dixieland jazz. See The History of Jazz by Ted Gioia, Oxford University Press, New York, 1997, for more information about Eddie.


Q. A lyric to “I Don’t Have to Love You” appears in Chapter Four. What’s the history of this song?

A. It was written (words and music) by the author in 2012. A performance of the song was recorded April 27, 2012, produced by John Adams. The recording featured Jennifer Barnes, vocal, John Adams, bass, Noel Johnston, guitar, Sean McCurley, drums, and Brian Piper, piano. It is displayed and heard on the Song section of this website.