There’s a moment in the book writing process that I’ve talked about with other authors … I call it the Moment of Awareness. It’s not a great title, but it’s the best I’ve come up with so far.
In the process of writing a book, there are roughly 527,000 times moments of doubt, 527,000 times when you wonder if the book will ever really happen. You never really feel on solid ground. You begin with an idea. Then you realize that idea is terrible so you come with a new idea. That idea will be worse. This keeps going for several thousands ideas before you come upon the right idea. You tell you friends and editors about this idea. They hate it. You start again. Someday, if you’re lucky, you come up with an idea good enough to be worth a proposal, and then you write a few hundred drafts of that proposal, and that gets rejected … I have no idea how any of us ever end up with an idea we love AND a publisher who believes in it.
But, if you’re a lucky soul, you get there. And that’s when the doubts REALLY kick in, the terror, the fear of those 336 blank pages staring at you, um, blankly. How in the world are you going to fill those? Do you really have anything to say? Will the words come? Will anyone talk? Will the words come? Will you ask the right questions? Will the words come? Will this idea go anywhere? Will the words come?
The Moment of Awareness feels like a miracle. That’s the moment when you realize that, yes, there are many dark days ahead. But no matter what happens going forward, you WILL have a book.
Talking with David Copperfield, that was my Moment of Awareness.
After that, I knew that one way or another I would write The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini.
I will always be grateful to David Copperfield for that amazing gift.
Copperfield is the most famous magician in the world. He has been the most famous magician in the world more than 30 years, and he’s still there, on top, working 350 shows a year even though he owns tropical islands. He is, in the best ways, the modern Houdini (you can vote for him here as best Las Vegas Show).
And he was the most important person for me to get for this book. This was true on multiple levels. For one thing, Copperfield has the world’s largest Houdini collection, which he keeps in his private museum. But for another, I believed (and still believe) that David Copperfield knows things about Houdini that nobody else could possibly know, simply because of his own extraordinary life in magic.
I HAD to talk to David Copperfield.
But there was this minor snag: I didn’t know David Copperfield. I didn’t know anyone who knew David Copperfield. I didn’t know anyone who knew anyone who knew David Copperfield. I didn’t have any idea how to go about trying to talk with David Copperfield.
So, being the savvy veteran journalist that I am and knowing just how important David Copperfield was for my book, I did the obvious thing.
Exactly … I sent him a cold-call email.
Well, OK, no, that probably wasn’t the right way to do it. But I was desperate.
And, impossibly — well, David Copperfield is the master of the impossible — he responded to me. Not only that, he invited me to come to Las Vegas to spend some time with him and his producer, sleight of hand wizard Chris Kenner. And, more than that, he invited me to his museum, which was, um, mind blowing.
I’m not going to tell you about his museum because, you know, I did write a book.
Mind. Blowing. That’s all I’ll say.
In the end, I wrote a whole multi-chapter section on Copperfield … it’s one of my favorite sections of the book. There’s all sorts of stuff in there about the museum (Mind. Blowing.) and about Copperfield genius and about the Statue of Liberty Disappearance (the photo above was an advertisement for that … love that photo). I can’t wait for you to see it.
I will tell you something that might or might not be of interest but this newsletter is supposed to have insider stuff and you can’t get much more inside than this: I will never forget day I went to see Copperfield … this would be true anyway, but it turned out that day might ring a bell: November 8, 2016. Yes, that’s right: Election day, 2016.
There’s nothing to say about that night that will not make SOMEBODY mad, so I’ll just leave it like this: After I saw Copperfield perform, I stepped out into the evening. And I recognized that for the first time in United States history, a person could do what I was doing — look out in Las Vegas night and and see a giant gold building with the name of the new American president on top.
The next day was the day I spent with David and saw the museum, and then I went to the airport feeling that miraculous author feeling. As you probably know, the Vegas airport is filled with slot machines, and I had never once thought to actually play one. But the Moment of Awareness was upon me — I knew that after talking with David and learning so much and seeing that museum, that I had a book.
And so, with that feeling of invincibility all around me, I sat down at a Wheel of Fortune slot machine and took my chances.
I lost 20 bucks.