Posted by: Melany | October 25, 2009

Responsibility to Sources

I have been reading about the responsibility of literary journalists to their sources and this has actually started to hit home. Having spent time with the members of the magic social club, I feel it is my responsibility to represent them fairly in my article. I had not really considered this before, but I want to write fairly. Although I am also aware that it is almost impossible for people to read about themselves without feeling slightly put out by how other people see them.

I am excited to continue my writing process. I have learnt a phenomenal amount during my research of both literary concepts and the art of magic. I just hope that I can do my ideas justice in my final piece.

Posted by: Melany | October 23, 2009

Oh! What a night!

Last night I went to Hey Presto! Magic store and then went out afterwards for a magic social club. I did not know what to expect, and I’m still not quite sure what happened, but it was an amazing, eye-opening experience.

Outside of Hey Presto! Magic Studio

Outside of Hey Presto! Magic Studio

Actually talking to amateur magicians and finding out what it’s like behind the scenes has been an invaluable experience. It made me realise that there is actually good reason for journalists to immerse themselves in the sub-cultures they are writing about. Although I was only there for one night, I know a billion times what I could have learnt simply by doing some Google searches.

I went to the shop first and had a bit of a chat with one of the managers, Terence. He stood out instantly because he was wearing (what I later found out was his signature item of clothing) a red fedora. He also turned out to be an encyclopaedia of knowledge about magic (among other things). I’ll talk about him for most of the rest of my blog.

In the shop was a magic fan named Damian, he was 20 studying Engineering and Commerce at UNSW. To me, that’s about as straight as you can get so I found it really interesting that he practises magic as a hobby on the side. As he was also a big of a nerd, we got along right away and he showed me a trick. He showed me the different styles of card shuffling (Hindu, Triumph, Anti-triumph etc) and followed this with a mentalism-style card trick.

This is an example of a trick that uses Anti-Triumph Shuffling. This was just found on YouTube.

Damian asked me to pick a card from the pile that represented my personality, so I picked the Ace of Spades (I’m not entirely sure why). I then placed that card down on a table and he then started working out which card I selected. He said things like “You wouldn’t pick a heart or diamond, they’re too common. You’re quite a strong person, you like to be in charge so you’d go with something high-up, like an Ace. So it’s down to clubs or spades, clubs are too girly, you’re too strong for that. So you picked the Ace of Spades.” Needless to say I was pretty impressed. He had me picked. Although I knew he was going to trick me, and I expected to try and work it out, I struggled. He put on such a show, he spoke really fast, didn’t drop his gaze and kept going with the act. I was very amused and puzzled so I kept trying to work out how he did it. Obviously he didn’t say, but it stayed on my mind. I came up with some silly theories and ultimately decided that the cards must have been marked. He most likely knew straight away what card I had picked and made up a little story to match it. But, even though I suspected that, it didn’t take away from my wonder and my excitement at being entertained. He had succeeded. Anyway, sometimes it’s more fun not to know how they did it.

The inside of Hey Presto!

The inside of Hey Presto!

Mounted Houdini Picture

Mounted Houdini Picture

As I looked around the shop there were hundreds of interesting little gadgets and decorations everywhere. There were posters of famous magicians, including a screen-printed poster of Houdini inside of a large golden frame. This really helped to set the tone of the shop. There were funny little things like ‘Fart Lollies’, ‘Invisible Ink’, ‘Worms in a Can’ etc. Gadgets like this were stacked up on shelves and against one wall was a novelty unit of shelves that continuously rotated on the spot. The front wall had a row of novelty hats and the back corner was lined with rows and rows of novelty masks. My favourite mask was a goofy, rubber mask of Mr. Bean.
Inside Hey presto!

Inside Hey presto!

Close to the door was a small table of odds and ends. Like a kid in a magic store, I started pressing buttons and playing with things. I started up a plush hamster that started singing ‘Kung-Fu Fighting’ and swinging a nun-chuck. Terence looked at me while I was playing and told me an interesting story. Next to the Kung-Fu Hamster was a hamster that sings ‘I love Rock n’ Roll’ and beside that was another, slightly fatter hamster that was supposed to look like Kelly Clarkson. Interestingly, on Kelly Clarkson’s last tour around Australia she popped into Hey Presto! and bought $2000 worth of tricks and gadgets, including six of the Kelly Clarkson singing-hamsters. This was a highly amusing story and reminded me that so many people are interested in magic, often without making it obvious. On a pillar in the shop there was a wall of photographs of famous people who have visited the shop, including Richard Branson, Liz Hurley and Olivia Newton-John.

Novelty Table

Novelty Table

Liz Hurley Signed Picture

Liz Hurley Signed Picture

Furthermore, Terence told me that some quite famous actors are actually involved in performing magic professionally. For example, Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame, has had a love of magic since he was a child and occasionally performs in front of large audiences, such as at Magic Castle.

“Jason Alexander, a major star in the world, is doing this because he loves magic and he loves the fun of performing,” said Milt Larson. “Obviously, we can’t go out and hire a Jason Alexander, a superstar…he loves the Magic Castle, this crazy place, and we’re thrilled he can be here.”

For more info, click here.

Jason Alexander Performing Photo: google images

Jason Alexander Performing Photo: google images

Jason Alexander and Criss Angel Photo: google images

Jason Alexander and Criss Angel Photo: google images

Another well-known actor, Neil Patrick Harris is very much involved with magic. His relationship was described in an article from NY Mag written by Emily Nussbaum entitled High-Wire Act.

Neil Patrick Harris is a magician. I mean this literally: Harris is on the board of directors of the Magic Castle, that dorky-fabulous private club in Los Angeles, where the world’s magicians gather to carouse in black tie and exchange intra-magical secrets—an institution memorably parodied on Arrested Development as the Gothic Castle. He attends meetings to set club policy. Last October, he hosted the Magic Awards ceremony in Las Vegas, and recently directed another member’s one-man show. Years before he was launched into teen stardom on Doogie Howser, M.D., Steven Bochco’s late-eighties drama about a teenage surgeon, Harris was a dedicated magic geek, saving his allowance for visits to see his grandparents in Albuquerque—buying sponge balls, thumb tips, hot rods, then practicing obsessively during the three-hour drive back to the small town of Ruidoso, New Mexico.
An obsession with magic requires a particular personality type: the nerd extrovert. “When you go to a magic conference, and you spend time with 500 magician people, you start to realize … trends,” he says with an arched eyebrow. “It’s the coolest hobby in the world, but people tend to get into magic because no one would talk to them.”

Here are two clips of Harris performing little bits of magic on Ellen.

This is the one where he decapitates himself.

Very impressive.

While we were in the shop Terence showed some of the customers a cool coin trick. He asked us me to see if I could work the trick out… I couldn’t. Interestingly, my first reaction was to get slightly frustrated and say that I could not work it out and that I felt dumb. This is interesting because not long after I asked Terence why magic is so much of a ‘boy’s club’ and he said that it is because women generally don’t perform magic and they are often the worst audiences. Women (generally speaking) take magic as a challenge and feel that the magician is trying to get one up over them and prove that they are superior. This is something that I proved just moments before when I whinged about not understanding. This is what makes magic so much of a boy’s sub-culture.

By this time a few extra people had come into the store and started talking about their social club. It’s called The Cult as a play on the fact that magic is such a sub-culture. One of the amateur magicians was interested in learning the block-head routine where you hammer a nail in through your nose (ouch!) and Terence was teaching him to do it. It was amazing to watch and I completely freaked out and cringed the entire time. He said that afterwards you can smell metal for about two or three days.

Terence said that he has widened his nasal passage enough to use an ice-pick for the trick. Ew. This is not an illusion; he was seriously placing a nail through his nose. There is a certain passage that allows this to happen without killing the person. However, he did say that if you start feeling like you’re going to sneeze you should pull the nail out immediately because after you sneeze your body will then naturally suck the nail up into your head. It was fascinating to watch.

Human Blockhead Diagram

Human Blockhead Diagram

At this stage Terence started closing the shop and then we all headed down to the Paragon Pub. Curiously, I had parked my car at Wolli Creek and caught the train into the city. On my way home just as I was hopping into my car I noticed that the building that I parked in front of was called Paragon Cosmetics. This completely surprised me because it is a word that I am not familiar with. I looked it up and apparently it means “Paragon- an ideal instance; a perfect embodiment of a concept.” Is it clutching at straws to say that attending this social club is a “perfect embodiment” of the concept of this sub-culture of magicians?

When we got to the pub the theme was Teach an old dog new tricks. Each member had to perform a trick they had never performed in front of the group before. It was very interesting. They seemed to drink a lot and smoke a lot. Definitely a lot more than I expected for a bunch of self proclaimed ‘nerds’.

Terence and I

Terence and I

There are so many things that happened at the pub. I was part of some of the most interesting conversations I had ever encountered before. I will explain further in my article so you’ll have to read it to find out more!

Posted by: Melany | October 23, 2009

Short Stories

Today in class we looked at a short story and considered the narrative techniques used and how we could possibly use similar techniques in our own stories.
This exercise was particularly helpful because it reminded me of those stylistic elements of narrative writing that you usually don’t notice. They usually just enable you to progress through the story in an enjoyable way.

The short story we read was called Trapline. written by Alexi Zentner (what a cool name). This is a very well-crafted short story and captures the reader’s attention from the beginning.

Alexi Zentner Photo: Narrative Magazine

Alexi Zentner Photo: Narrative Magazine

HE HAD NOT been thinking of death that morning when he came out of the woods and into the higher meadow, stopping to rest on a rough boulder. Out of the trees, the snow and the light were set to bake him, so he had stowed his parka and mittens in his pack and then stripped down to his shirtsleeves, wrapping his woolen sweater around his waist. Already two hours from home, he was making good time. He had kept the pack light. Two new wolf traps, some files and tools, a knife, a length of chain, cord, a bottle of whiskey.

There was enough snow that he could have run the dogs, but he was not sure he would have the opportunity to do the line on foot again before spring; more snow was coming soon, and Patrick was glad for it. He was in love with the snow, even on a day like this, when the weather was not fully ready to give in to winter, when the branches hung heavy with a steady drip, drip, drip of melt. The wind had started to turn, though, and he knew that by nightfall the temperature would drop.

From the very first sentence, the author cuts through into the mind of the main character. He sets the scene: it is snowy, chilly and isolated. It is as though his only company is his own thoughts. To do this he ‘shows’, rather than ‘tells’ through his description of the environment, clothing, activities etc.

His sentences vary. Some are punchy and straight to the point. Whereas others are longer, taking you on a winding journey which ultimately concludes with a strong point. This variation adds weight to each part of the sentence and encourages the reader to really pay attention, rather than coasting along absent mindedly.

The example Marcus gave is the following sentence:
There was enough snow that he could have run the dogs, but he was not sure he would have the opportunity to do the line on foot again before spring; more snow was coming soon, and Patrick was glad for it.

Another technique used by Zentner is contrast and change. Initially the story reads slightly like a nice walk in the forest and then it changes quite suddenly with the introduction of the main character as a murderer. It throws a curve ball in the plot, but the tone and the overall feel of the story remains consistent.


I have had a look around the Narrative Magazine website and have attempted to isolate various narrative techniques that I might be able to use in my own article. This article is called Overcast, written by Richard Bausch.

Richard Bausch Photo: Narrative Magazine

Richard Bausch Photo: Narrative Magazine

HERE IS HOW Elaine Woodson attempted to describe things to herself one predawn:

It’s like those times when the whole sky is one smooth whitish dome and you’re not aware of it as cloud cover until the thing glides off in the wind and gives you blue sky. It’s like that. A form of walking pneumonia of the spirit? I’m not even quite aware of the thing until it has lifted.

She did not speak of it. Not to her mother or her father—who lived alone in Santa Monica now—or her two married sisters or her younger brother; not to friends. It was bad manners to make yourself and your troubles the subject of conversation, even with family. More than 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce.
She had never wanted to be defined by marriage anyhow.

Bausch has structured an interesting opening paragraph. He uses the direct words of his first character to immediately allow the reader to dive into the world of this woman.
He has included additional information using dashes, for example:

“Not to her mother or her father—who lived alone in Santa Monica now—or her two married sisters”

Furthermore, he has used a combination of short punches sentences with longer, loade sentences. For example, in this paragraph it starts with a short sentence, a longer sentence, a medium length sentence and a final punchy sentence:

She did not speak of it. Not to her mother or her father—who lived alone in Santa Monica now—or her two married sisters or her younger brother; not to friends. It was bad manners to make yourself and your troubles the subject of conversation, even with family. More than 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce.

Also, the following sentence includes multiple elements which alternatively could have taken numerous sentences to convey this information.

Since the divorce—from Sean, who was pretty but unfaithful and lazy, and had a drug habit, and doubtless everyone wondered what she had seen in him to begin with—she had been working behind the counter in the Memphis Belle Diner, which was close enough to Beale Street and the Peabody Hotel to remain fairly busy most of the time.

Interestingly, this sentence has been constructed to keep the reader going and to convey a sense of urgency and frenzy. This is then followed by this sentence which says this very thing.

She would say that her life was too hectic for her to feel sorry for herself, though this wasn’t really the case.

Another technique is that of description. Bausch has written the following information in narrative style, rather than a collection of made up quotes. This reads seamlessly and smoothly and is a reminder of the power of paraphrasing, particularly with literary journalism. It reminded me that spoken language is often difficult to read on a page. Here is an example:

The divorce was final almost a year ago, and aside from a dinner here and there, or a movie, she hadn’t been seeing anybody. She had been surprised to learn that Sean was getting married again, but that was something she thought was rather entertaining. She joked about it with her sisters, her mother. The poor sad girl, whoever she was, who had gotten stuck with Sean.
Elaine remarked with a kind of serious mirth that for herself, she wanted some time to rest up. And that was true.

Finally, Bausch has also used the technique of longer dialogue. Although this is fiction, it is a style similar to that of literary journalism.

She had thought fondly that she would have a child one day. For a time, that was an area of serious tension between them. She hoped for it, longed for it. He said the idea gave him the willies. “You have a child, and in a week you’re old and getting ready to die. It just makes it all go so much faster. Bang. Like that, you’re a grandfather and it’s all basically over.”
“No,” she told him. “It goes exactly as fast as it goes. And you look up and it’s gone, bang, all right, and you’re alone in a room with a urine smell coming from you because you haven’t had a shower for a week and there’s nothing but the TV. And you still die.”
He resorted to the old ersatz morality: “I don’t want to bring an innocent child into such a terrible world.” He said this in company, and one evening she called him out on it:
“Don’t lie about it, Sean. You’re afraid. Admit that you’re afraid.”
“All right. I’m afraid. You bet I’m afraid. I’m so scared I can’t take in a full breath. I can’t sigh. It’s all stuck right here in the middle of my chest, the place they usually point out as the seat of emotion. And my number one emotion just now is fear.”
Well, and she had been afraid too.

Reading this article and other short stories has been very helpful. I had previously forgotten the importance of learning using narrative techniques in literary journalism.

Posted by: Melany | October 17, 2009

Literary Guidelines

I had an epiphany and realised that a book collecting dust on my bookshelf, Writing Feature Stories, by Matthew Ricketson, may have information about literary journalism. I have found this book enormously helpful in the past and trust Ricketson’s views.

In the book he discusses literary journalism briefly and he offers the following as elements of literary journalism.

A body of critical literature has been emerging in the past fifteen years or so, developed by practitioners such as Jon Franklin and Mark Kramer as much as by critics. Between them, they have delineated the following elements of literary journalism:

Writing Feature Stories by Matthew Ricketson

Writing Feature Stories by Matthew Ricketson

1. Documentable subject matter chosen from the real world as opposed to ‘invented’ from the writer’s mind. This means no composite characters, no invented quotes and no attributing thoughts to sources unless they can be verified.

2. Exhaustive research, whether through conventional sources such as documents and interviews, or by ‘saturation’ reporting; that is, by immersing yourself in the world of your subject, often for weeks or months at a time, to get beneath surface realities. This implies a higher standard of accuracy.

3. Novelistic techniques, where a bedrock of research makes it legitimately possible to use a range of techniques borrowed from fiction, such as creating whole scenes, quoting passages of dialogue, describing the social milieu in detail and writing interior monologues for subjects (based on interviews with the subject). Literary journalists are restricted mostly to techniques drawn from socially realistic fiction.

4. Voice, which gives the writer freedom to be ironic, self-conscious, informal, hectoring, self-aware, etc. It is mainly through the authorial voice that literary journalists can move beyond a socially realistic portrayal of events and people. Daily journalism is tyrannised by the institutional voice. Hunter S. Thompson is an extreme example of the individual voice. Sometimes indulgent, he can be highly effective too; one of George McGovern’s advisers said Thompson’s account of the 1972 presidential campaign was the least accurate and most truthful he had ever seen.

5. Literary prose style, both in the attention paid to structuring the narrative and choosing the words themselves.

6. Underlying meaning. The purpose of all this work and style is to go beyond the constraints of daily journalism and find the underlying meanings in issues and events. This implies greater intellectual rigour in mounting an argument about the subject, even if that argument is embedded in an artfully constructed narrative.

What emerges from this list of elements is that literary journalism stands or falls on the quality of the reporting and research work. Without that, all the finest prose in the world has little meaning. In literary journalism the research is the iceberg, the polished prose its tip. Everybody sees the tip and it can be a truly impressive sight. Bulking below the surface is the iceberg, unseen and largely unknown.

Posted by: Melany | October 14, 2009

Relaxed Rules for Literary Journalists

I am reading an academic article by Mark Kramer called Breakable Rules for Literary Journalists. In it, he lists the collection of characteristics that he believes literary journalism article predominantly posess. However, he also states that, with any artform,  these rules are likely to be skewed, sliced or ignored completely.

Immersion research is something that interests me, but is still quite foreign. Kramer (page 27) discusses the style of relationships that will be ideally created during immersion journalism research.

Kramer Page 27

Kramer Page 27

I really like the following to guideline about the voice used in literary journalism. It is interesting to note that I can write freely from my own perspective and note my own observations. I have never really experimented with writing from my own perspective before and I’m not entirely sure how this should be done. I have a tendency to make silly little jokes in casual conversation and I was curious to know how this would be received in a literary journalism context. Kramer has made me realise that I should write in a way that would be warm and interesting to people I know, but I’m not necessarily best friends with. This makes sense to me.

Kramer Page 27

Kramer Page 27

Kramer Page:29

Kramer Page:29

Posted by: Melany | October 13, 2009

Writing Rhythm

How literary can literary journalism be?

Most examples that I have encountered read almost like articles, written in a narrative structure and style that goes on tangents. I need to work out if my article can be written almost entirely like a story with my collected quotes and the facts that I include to make up the ‘journalism’ element.

This is still confusing me. But I’m thinking that all elements of literary journalism have to be real, with no composite characters or invented dialogue. However, literary journalism simply allows room for more description, observation and colourful and creative writing style. Here is my draft so far. It is by no means what I intend to finish off with, but I am just working on a general tone for my piece. I have included long block quotes and I’m thinking of paraphrasing those and changing the quotes to mini narrative stories.


“Magic still works because one of the things that magic has to offer that other performing arts don’t is wonder. And I think that taps into something from childhood or makes you think “wouldn’t it be great if you could do that?” And there’s a delight in that. Sometimes people say that they enjoy being fooled; I think it’s probably more that they enjoy the whole experience of magic performance.

“I think that, in this high-tech world, people like low tech. And most magic is accomplished low-tech, using methods that are hundreds of years old. We rely more on the performer. When people see good magic and they have a good experience with magic, that’s when you hear that intake of breath. And you don’t hear it all of the time, but it’s neat. It’s really nice.”

Crowe’s performance harks back to another time. His traditional performance style has a nostalgic charm, regardless of where it is performed. Crowe travels across the countryside popping into an array of regional theatres, each bringing a new audience to impress. The appearance of the theatre changes with each performance, but Crowe’s timeless, classic show has the ability to transport you to a different time, a different place. For me, I imagine I am sitting in a plush theatre from the 1800s. The ambience has an excited candle-lit buzz as I observe from my sunken cushion seat. Looking like floating palaces, the private boxes, reserved for the well-to-do of society, have an uninterrupted view of the show soon to unfold before us. Stone gargoyles line the walls, guarding the magician’s secrets as if the secrets were their own.

The audience is seated, the lights are dim. Families and friends talk excitedly, waiting for the voice-of-God to announce the moment the show will start. “Ladies and gentleman, start your applause for Australia’s only unusualist, Raymond Crowe.”

As Crowe steps out, the audience makes a hurried hush; he has the impact of the eccentric Willy Wonka. The tail of his coat forks and his top hat sits slightly askew atop his curly, almost comical hair. He welcomes the audience into a world where nothing is real, yet you wish it was.

When Crowe appears he is merely a shadow. A bright yellowish light silhouettes him against a sheet of white. Graceful and comical. He waves. We laugh. As he takes off his bowler hat it appears to double, triple, quadruple in size with Crowe himself, a fragment of his original size, standing in its depths. The hat continues to grow, plunging the screen into darkness, as light reappears, so do Crowe’s hands, morphed into the form of a bird flying across the screen. Crowe presents a menagerie of animals, each more grand than the last, battling for our attention. And he has it. The audience is captivated.
“With my hand-shadow routine I do, I think that is more magical than most magic. The reason that works is that not everything is shown. People have to fill in the spaces.”

Here I will insert a story that I remember from the magic show.

Crowe had achieved the mass intake of breath that he desired. Audience members turned to the person beside them, quizzical expressions splashed across their faces. The family in front of me, a grandmother with her daughter and two grandchildren, could not contain their confusion.

I’m planning to include various ‘crazy facts’ throughout for example records for magic tricks, time spent underwater, weirdest places people have concealed themselves etc. These will be woven throughout the piece.

For example, I found out about the oldest record of witchery and magic. It was Reginald Scot’s The Discovery of Witchcraft from London 1584. This version was edited by Frank Luttmer.

Discoverie of Witchcraft Photo: Google images

Discoverie of Witchcraft Photo: Google images

“Another sort of witches there are, which be absolutely cozeners. These take upon them, either for glory, fame, or gain, to do any thing, which God or the devil can do: either for the foretelling of things to come, bewraying of secrets, curing of maladies, or working of miracles.” Book one, Chapter three
Reginald Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft 1584 Edited from the original text by Frank Luttmer.

The illustrations amuse me.

Inner Page of The Disocverie of Witchcraft  Photo: Google Image

Inner Page of The Disocverie of Witchcraft Photo: Google Image

Posted by: Melany | October 12, 2009

The Da Vinci Code

I have taken a bit of poetic licence for that title but, I found this interesting article from the Guardian UK called And That’s Renaissance Magic written by Lucy McDonald in 2007. It reveals the following information:
After lying almost untouched in the vaults of an Italian university for 500 years, a book on the magic arts written by Leonardo da Vinci’s best friend and teacher has been translated into English for the first time.

Leonardo Da Vinci Self Portrait

Leonardo Da Vinci Self Portrait

The world’s oldest magic text, De viribus quantitatis (On The Powers Of Numbers) was penned by Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan monk who shared lodgings with Da Vinci and is believed to have helped the artist with The Last Supper.

It was written in Italian by Pacioli between 1496 and 1508 and contains the first ever reference to card tricks as well as guidance on how to juggle, eat fire and make coins dance. It is also the first work to note that Da Vinci was left-handed.

Although the book has been described as the “foundation of modern magic and numerical puzzles”, it was never published and has languished in the archives of the University of Bologna, seen only by a small number of scholars since the Middle Ages.
“Sources of magic methods go back at least to the first century, but this book teaches not only the methods but also gives a glimpse into how one might perform them with an eye to entertaining an audience.”

The book was rediscovered after David Singmaster, a mathematician, came across a reference to it in a 19th-century manuscript.

“It’s the foundation not only of modern magic but of numerical puzzles too,” he said. “We don’t know why, but this huge thing has been hidden away in the University of Bologna we presume since the time of Pacioli.”

This is fascinating! I am so pleased that I found this article. Of course, I will double check all information before including it in my article, but I think that this relationship to history will add an interesting element to my article. I like the idea of offering information that the reader would unlikely be familiar with. I am also planning to include one of the tricks written about in this book. These are some of the tricks, as written in the Guardian article.

Tricks of the trade

For washing your hands in melted lead

Take cool well water and soak your hands for a while; then shake them, you can put them in a pan full of melted lead over a flame, and it will not cook you. It is even better if you put some ground rock alum in the water … to the uneducated … it will appear to be a miracle.

Make a coin go up and down in a glass

Take some magnetic powder and rub it on a quattrino [copper coin] before putting the coin in some vinegar. Then take a little bit of the magnetic powder between your thumb [and index finger] and tap the glass of water, where the coin is, and it will come up and go down … with your hand.

Card tricks

You will be able to teach the said boy, since he is closed [in a room] or at a distance, to guess which card some people have touched without seeing it, by way of the numbers you have agreed on with him: that is, by placing a number on the figures and cards according to the trick, and according to the agreement made between you … since it always appears to those who do not know the way … that all [these] things are done by the magic art of divination. And thus with spots on dice, and the ring, so you will always be able to do stupendous things with him … but you must do it cautiously, so that you might not be embarrassed, since the more secret things are, the more beautiful they are.

How to make an egg walk

[Take] an egg that has been emptied through a hole made with a pin, and then filled in with white wax, so the hole cannot be seen. And get a hair from a braid, the longest you can, and attach it to the shell with … solid wax. Fasten another bit of wax to the other end … placing the egg on the table, with the nail of your middle finger, pick up the said wax, and by moving it here and there … it will follow. This must be [done] in a place not too brightly lit, with onlookers at a distance.

Posted by: Melany | October 12, 2009

The Renaissance of Literary Journalism

An interesting article from the American Journalism Review, Tom Wolfe’s Revenge by Chris Harvey, discusses the evolution of literary journalism and the key players in this style.

I have pasted my favourite parts of the article. These are the elements that I believe relate most to my thinking of literary journalism.

Harvey has noted a few key elements in literary writing: They’re written in narrative form, with a heavy emphasis on dialogue, scene setting and slice-of-life details.

The slice-of-life element is used to intellectually and emotionally involve the reader. The goal is to “show the reader real life.” To say: “Come here! Look! This is the way people live these days! These are the things they do!”

Harvey has noted that Wolfe wrote about various subcultures with the eye of a novelist. He liked to experiment with writing styles. “He toyed with extended dialogue, point of view and interior monologue. He even played with ellipses, dots, dashes and exclamation points – attempting, he wrote, to leave the illusion of people thinking.”

I really enjoyed this last sentence. To me it linked my literary article on illusion and magic with Wolfe’s writing style. This indicates that reading the article can be an experience within itself. This also links with the idea of using different voices, motifs, repetition and rhythm. This makes the reading experience enjoyable and encourages the reader to keep going until the end.

The article then discusses the very famous example of Janet Cooke. Something went very wrong here.

In 1981, when Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke was stripped of a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing – after it was discovered the eight-year-old drug user in her lead paragraphs was not a real person, but a composite – a whole new round of criticisms was fired.

Writing in the December 1981 issue of this magazine, Los Angeles Times media critic David Shaw said Cooke had fallen into a typical New Journalism trap: She had spent too much time searching for “flashy metaphors” and not enough time digging up “verifiable facts and legitimate news.”

Shaw added: “Janet Cooke wrote very well. Too well. She forgot she was a journalist, not a storyteller – a reporter, not a creator.”

On the other hand, there is a right way to research and write literary journalism.

Others say they sometimes go to greater lengths to accurately portray what a source is thinking or feeling.

Cynthia Gorney, a Washington Post Style section writer on leave to write a book about abortion, says that when trying to explain a Catholic obstetrician’s beliefs, she immersed herself in his world.

“I did lengthy, multiple interviews with him,” says Gorney. “I read much of the literature he would have been reading,” including ethics texts written in the time he would have been in college and a journal written for Catholic physicians.

“I learned as much as I could about growing up in Catholic schools,” Gorney says. Then she read her description to him. “He made a couple of tiny changes, but said I got it right.”

Harvey discusses the joy of literary writing. He says that it is compelling because, unlike the traditional inverted pyramid style, it offers the reader a reward for reading through the entire story.

“The pleasure and knowledge that come from reading come from making predictions of what will happen in a story,” Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute says.

The form is also easily recognized by readers, because “people in general, in their own memories, use narrative all the time,” Clark says. “They use it to learn, to understand, to remember and find meaning.”

The article concludes by explaining why literary journalism will continue into the future and why there is a demand for this style of writing.

Kramer of Boston University says an even greater reliance by newspapers on literary journalism would help readers sort out the complexities of life. “The thing that’s wrong with most newspaper stories is they’re missing the human context,” he says. “You wonder what kind of person was that robber.”

Sims at the University of Massachusetts agrees. Traditionally, he says, newspapers have not valued “the report on the ordinary life and everyday culture of their own towns.” They haven’t covered ordinary lives. They have covered “extraordinary foul-ups.”

It is true that people are naturally attracted to the human element of a story. Everything appears much more honest and real when it has a human face. The exploration of ordinary things is an important element of literary journalism. I think it is interesting to find one element of a story and focus on that while allowing for additional exploration to occur if the story offers an opportunity for this.

Posted by: Melany | October 7, 2009

Getting Out of a Pickle

I have been quite confused about how to structure my literary article. I had a chat with some people from class today and they have helped guide me along with some potential ideas. Nothing is set in concrete yet, but these are my dot point ideas:

♣To start with an anecdote of my own personal first experience with magic.
♠ Example: “As a three year old, my uncle consistently tried to entertain me with his magic tricks at our family functions. He had delusions that he was Houdini and I remember bawling my eyes out every time he would seemingly detach his thumb from his hand and slide it along his other fingers…”

♣ I would then start the article from the perspective of an innocent child, in a complete stage of wonder at the magic tricks performed.

♣ Next, I would write from the perspective of the teenager – representing those people who are critical and negative towards magic.

♣ Finally, I would write from the perspective of a young adult who understands that it is all an illusion, but respects the skills necessary. Here is where I would include information of neuroscience etc.

♣ These stages will be woven throughout observations from Raymond Crowe’s magic performance.

♣ Finally, to allow the story to come full-circle I will then show a magic trick to my young niece, thus passing on the wonder to the next generation of magic-lovers. Thus, demonstrating how magic spans the ages and the generations. It is a great tool to unite different groups. It has always been a fun activity in my household and is something that I want to continue into the future.
♠ Example: “Ruby smiles revealing her growing front teeth. She looks at me, slightly perplexed because I have just turned an ordinary 20 cent coin found floating in my pocket into an over-sized, shiny silver joke coin. She doesn’t quite understand what just happened, but she looked impressed and I knew my sleight of hand skills were developing. Next week I think I’ll pull a rabbit out of a hat.”

Holding my niece when she was one

Holding my niece when she was one

♣ Throughout the article I will include interesting bits of trivia to entertain the reader.

♣ I will include my observations of the interactions between people of different ages at the magic performance.

♣ I am also contemplating including the characteristics that are common in many magicians and also in myself. For example: interest in performance to express self, silly almost lame jokes and odd ways of saying things.

Posted by: Melany | October 5, 2009

Interview with Capote

I found this interview that George Plimpton conducted with Truman Capote.

Capote comments on the book, but also on his thoughts and feelings regarding literary journalism. The following is a collection of his responses to questions about creative non-fiction. I will comment on these quotes in bold.

This is the last sentence of Capote’s response to a previous questions. The most interesting part is the response triggered from the following question.

. . .

“Still, on the whole, journalism is the most underestimated, the least explored of literary mediums.”

Why should that be so?

Because few first-class creative writers have ever bothered with journalism, except as a sideline, “hackwork,” something to be done when the creative spirit is lacking, or as a means of making money quickly. Such writers say in effect: Why should we trouble with factual writing when we’re able to invent our own stories, contrive our own characters and themes?–journalism is only literary photography, and unbecoming to the serious writer’s artistic dignity…

Of course a properly done piece of narrative reporting requires imagination!–and a good deal of special technical equipment that is usually beyond the resources–and I don’t doubt the interests– of most fictional writers: an ability to transcribe verbatim long conversations, and to do so without taking notes or using tape-recordings. Also, it is necessary to have a 20/20 eye for visual detail–in this sense, it is quite true that one must be a “literary photographer,” though an exceedingly selective one. But, above all, the reporter must be able to empathize with personalities outside his usual imaginative range, mentalities unlike his own, kinds of people he would never have written about had he not been forced to by encountering them inside the journalistic situation. This last is what first attracted me to the notion of narrative reportage.

I think that this is one of the most exciting elements of literary journalism.  It allows the writer to enter a world very much outside of their usual comfort zone. To observe how other people live and discover some of their views and experiences is truly exciting. I feel that my research into the world of magic has really opened up my eyes. I have had my own experiences with this art-form, however seeing it through the eyes of somebody else – somebody who lives and breathes their passion for magic – is unlike all other forms of journalism. Typically you would collect quotes and piece them into an article that is objective as possible. However, literary journalism allows the combination of your own experiences with those of the people you are talking to. It also allows for the use of imagination in the writing and research process.

What is your opinion of the so-called New Journalism–as it is practiced particularly at The Herald Tribune?

If you mean James Breslin and Tom Wolfe, and that crowd, they have nothing to do with creative journalism–in the sense that I use the term–because neither of them, nor any of that school of reporting, have the proper fictional technical equipment. It’s useless for a writer whose talent is essentially journalistic to attempt creative reportage, because it simply won’t work. A writer like Rebecca West–always a good reporter–has never really used the form of creative reportage because the form, by necessity, demands that the writer be completely in control of fictional techniques–which means that, to be a good creative reporter, you have to be a very good fiction writer.

This quote, “It’s useless for a writer whose talent is essentially journalistic to attempt creative reportage, because it simply won’t work,” is slightly concerning. However, I do not expect to create an article that is as intense as In Cold Blood. I believe that I am developing my skills and my ability to write creatively. That is part of the reason that I selected to take this class: I wanted to challenge myself and develop skills in creative writing. I am hoping to combine my skills in journalism with my newly developing skills in writing creatively.

What other than murder might be a subject suitable for the nonfiction novel?

The other day someone suggested that the break-up of a marriage would be an interesting topic for a nonfiction novel. I disagreed. First of all, you’d have to find two people who would be willing–who’d sign a release. Second, their respective views on the subject-matter would be incoherent. And third, any couple who’d subject themselves to the scrutiny demanded would quite likely be a pair of kooks. But it’s amazing how many events would work with the theory of the nonfiction novel in mind?the Watts riots, for example. They would provide a subject that satisfied the first essential of the nonfiction novel–that there is a timeless quality about the cause and events. That’s important. If it’s going to date, it can’t be a work of art. The requisite would also be that you would have had to live through the riots, at least part of them, as a witness, so that a depth of perception could be acquired. That event, just three days. It would take years to do. You’d start with the family that instigated the riots without even meaning to.

This response made me both concerned and comforted at the same time. My concern came because it made me think that a general ‘topic’ such as magic would be difficult to write as a literary journalism feature because it is so large with so many different people involved. Capote’s examples have primarily had only a handful of people directly involved with additional people involved indirectly. This appears logical as literary journalism calls for extensive personal involvement in the story and dedicating a significant amount of time immersing yourself in the lives of your characters. This scared me. However, I realised that if I reduce the margins of my feature and focus on an element that I can immerse myself in and have done unwittingly for my entire life – the role of the audience member. This was like a breath of fresh air. My article can be from the perspective of an audience member, a general member of the population with commentary by my interviewees (people that are directly involved in performing and creating magic). Hooray!

In addition to this, I was comforted by Capote saying that with literary journalism it is essential that ‘there is a timeless quality about the cause and events’. Magic certainly has a timeless quality – this is evident in its continued popularity over long periods of time.

You’ve kept yourself out of the book entirely. Why was that–considering your own involvement in the case?

My feeling is that for the nonfiction-novel form to be entirely successful, the author should not appear in the work. Ideally. Once the narrator does appear, he has to appear throughout, all the way down the line, and the I-I-I intrudes when it really shouldn’t. I think the single most difficult thing in my book, technically, was to write it without ever appearing myself, and yet, at the same time, create total credibility.

From my research, a significant percentage of writers do involve themselves in their work, so Capote’s decision seems to be unlike many others. I definitely intend to include myself in my work because I feel that my story calls for it. I am undertaking a journey of understanding magic and my fascination with it. So the subject matter is personal by nature. Whereas Capote’s In Cold Blood was not (supposed to be) a personal journey of discovery – it was his experience in reporting in a colourful way. The addition to the title, “A true account of multiple murder and its consequences” could not really be included if Capote had appeared in the work. It would make the book seem less factual and would significantly detract from its impact.

Older Posts »