Illusions of Magic Blog






Personal Note from J.B.

This edition is written as we prepare the launch of Illusions of Magic –the eBook—on Please see “The Big Launch” below!

Don’t be misled. You don’t have to have an e-reader (Kindle, Nook, etc.) to read this $2.99 eBook. There’s a FREE app on Amazon that allows you to read on many devices—an ipad, iphone, computer, etc.

Novels labeled ‘historical’ try to translate into the present day the feel and meaning of being alive at a particular time in the past. They may succeed, or they may not. I wrote on this topic in the March 18 edition of The Washington Independent Review of Books. My essay suggests a useful distinction that would help readers select suitable books.

Below, as usual, is “Wisdom with a Smile”, a couple of ideas to lighten your day.

Later on I write about military veterans and Veteran’s day.

In my wanderings on media, I ran across this: After almost fifty years, a deluxe novel on perhaps the most iconic Sci-Fi movie ever made has been published. And it’s illustrated!

I hope you enjoy these musings. Please take time to comment, about the website, the blog, or any other topic. (Be sure to tell me who it’s from.) Simply send an email to:



Artist corrects Tolstoy

War and Peace is set in the early nineteenth century. In 1866, as Tolstoy prepared for the book’s publication, he corresponded with artist Mikhail Bashilov, whom he’d asked to illustrate the tome. Tolstoy claimed to believe that the Russian military of the time no longer wore powdered wigs, saying “I wrote on that basis.”

Bashilov disagreed, saying military officers of the time should be depicted wearing powdered wigs.

Tolstoy’s reply, in slightly tortured language, said, “…[I]f there is positive proof that powder was in use in 1805, I can correct the new edition…it’s probably necessary to draw people wearing powder and in historically accurate uniform, to which I shall try to be faithful…”



Movie Monster Upstages Live Magician

As Illusions of Magic opens, Nick and Connie have just returned from their matinee performance of live magic at the Minerva movie theater. The movie being shown is “Frankenstein,” starring Boris Karloff.

Connie complains to Nick, “…people aren’t coming to the Minerva to see the ‘Amazing Mr. Z.’ They’re coming to see Frankenstein.”

People found this towering monster from the 1931 movie irresistible. They saw his flattened head, awkward stagger and heedless vision both frightful and fascinating. Assembled from parts of exhumed corpses in Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, this ‘thing’ appears to come alive amidst the crackle and rumble of electric discharges. “It’s moving!” the Doctor famously shouts, “It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s ALIVE!”

The movie was the top movie at U.S. box offices following its release. It was named Frankenstein after the book by Mary Shelley. However, the creature’s appearance was solely the work of make-up artist Jack P. Pierce, who invented the flat head, electrodes in the neck and droopy eyelids. Applying the makeup to Karloff reportedly took four hours.

VideoHound describes Frankenstein as “the definitive…Gothic horror classic that set the mold [for horror movies],” although the term ‘horror movie’ was not in common use at the time. Rather, it was advertised as “a supernatural fiendish thriller” in which the crazed scientist exclaims, “I made him with my own hands!! And I gave him everything a man could have…except a soul!”

A different ad described the monster as “a creature doomed to aimless havoc—without a conscience—without pity—without remorse—without love!”

The Video Movie Guide says, “Boris Karloff gives a strong, sensitive performance…with only eyes and an occasional grunt to convey meaning. It still stands as one of the great screen performances.”

One movie house even went so far as to advertise “…if you cannot stand intense excitement or sudden shock…we advise you not to see this production…”

So it is little wonder that audiences flocked to theaters to see this classic in the early 1930s.



Wisdom with a Smile

As some of you may know, I spend part of each year in Arizona, where I recently learned that a three-inch rain means three inches between drops.

In my last blog, I quoted a couple of Groucho Marx’s hilarious quips. Upon reading Christopher Bray’s review of a recent biography of Groucho (, I found out he didn’t really care for his showbiz persona. He thought he was better suited to a literary career.

As Bray tells it, “How else to explain that excruciating evening in June 1964 when Groucho and his wife dined at the home of Mr. and Mrs. T. S. Eliot and Groucho thought to lecture Eliot on King Lear?”

Still, I’m afraid I prefer the funny to the fabulous, as when Groucho said of S. J. Perelman’s first book, “From the moment I picked your book up until the moment I put it down I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend to read it.”



Another Illustrated Novel

The Folio Society has just issued an illustrated edition of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. This novel was written following the famous movie of the same name, starring Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, which captivated audiences world-wide. Although director Stanley Kubrick and Clarke collaborated on both the movie script and the book, Clarke was named the book’s official author, perhaps because of its basis in his short stories.

The illustrator of this new edition is Joe Wilson, based in the UK and trained at Leeds Metropolitan University. The illustrations feature bold zones of color representing light and shade. Of the work on this, the first-ever illustrated edition, Joe says, “It was an honor to be asked to take on a dream project like this, as a Sci-Fi fan it’s probably the Holy Grail of jobs.”



Veterans, Fictional and Real

In Illusions of Magic, fictional protagonist Nick Zetner describes his experience in the U.S. Army in France during World War I. That war ended Nov. 11, 1918, and celebrations of its anniversary were named “Armistice Day.” The name was later changed to “Veterans Day” to honor all who have served in America’s military.

During Veterans Day 2015, I sat next to a fellow vet who had served as a swimmer in one of the U.S. Navy’s SAR units. This is the Search And Rescue service that aids people in life-and-death situations: a man overboard, a boat in distress, or a pilot in the water after losing his airplane at sea.

These intrepid rescuers typically jump 10 to 15 feet into the water from a helicopter, and assist the victim into rigs that allow them to be hoisted from the water’s surface up to the hovering rescue helicopter.

This vet told of an operation on the East Coast that placed him and a fellow swimmer in the Atlantic Ocean some miles from shore, where they were to be “rescued” by a SAR unit as a part of a practice exercise.

For some reason, the SAR helicopter that was supposed to pick them up was delayed. After what seemed like a very long time wallowing about in the Atlantic with no boats or aircraft within sight, his fellow swimmer hollered at him, saying, “Maybe we should start swimming.”

The vet replied, “Look around. You see land?”

The fellow swimmer peered around, shook his head, and said, “No.”

My seat mate hollered back: “So. You gonna swim for the U.S.—or for England?”

He and I shared a laugh at the dark humor. The vet said that after some more minutes in that cold water, the SAR helicopter finally arrived and returned the two men to shore.

This, the tale of a real, rather than a fictional, veteran.



The Big Launch

The eBook Illusions of Magic goes on sale on Amazon Kindle late in April.

More than a decade ago I stumbled across Guiseppe Zangara’s botched attempt to kill President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. Chicago’s mayor, Anton Cermak, was among those shot, although he lived for nineteen more days. This uncertainty, plus the lack of legal means for replacing a deceased mayor, caused immense civic turmoil. I thought this true-life situation was an ideal backdrop for my story of love and intrigue in those days.

 A first draft was completed in 2007. Three more drafts were done, and publishers sought. Lacking success, I abandoned the book in 2010. Four years later I envisioned major changes that resulted in a complete rewrite. The rewrite was completed in 2015 and I began drawing illustrations. Other pre-publication tasks took the rest of the year. Publicity and promotion efforts are in progress, as well as the uploading of the book and other items to Amazon.

If you’ve read some of Illusions of Magic on this site under the Preview button—or even if you haven’t—I think you’ll find the book exciting, informative, and entertaining. Please go to Amazon’s Kindle Store and buy the eBook—it’s only $2.99!

Buy Illusions of Magic NOW on




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