Coffeyville, Kansas. A town famous for many reasons, including the end of the infamous Dalton Gang. But there is only one reason I came to know the name, and it was all do to my love of all things Harry Houdini.
The first professional publication I can lay credit to is a Harry Houdini graphic novel, and that book opened quite a few doors for me. I met a lot of great people because of that book, and worked on a project that was captivating. I had always planned to do more fiction work revolving around magicians in general, and Houdini in particular.
Now I have.
I just finished a short story (well, more of a novelette) that is the longest complete story I’ve written at 14,680 words…at the moment. I pushed the draft out to my fabulous first readers and I’ll be giving it another once-over when I hear back from them, so that count may change. Not, I suspect, by a lot.
The story is Coffeyville, named after the town where Houdini had one of his most facinating encounters, in my ever-so-humble opinion. I found out about it while doing research for the graphic novel, reading the superlative The Secret Life of Houdini. I had considered myself something of a Houdini expert before; I was sadly mistaken. When I traveled to do a meet-and-greet and hawk the book at Cannon’s Great Escapes (an escape artist convention! That’s right, I went to an escape artist convention. Yes, it was every bit as cool as it sounds) anyway, when I went there I met REAL experts. Folks that were actually interviewed by the authors of the book that had impressed me so, to check their facts!
So here I was, thinking I knew a thing or two about Houdini, yet I’d never heard of the events of Coffeyville. The story stuck with me, and I was determined to use the events in a short story of my own someday. And now I have.
What were the events? Here I am going to play coy, and not divulge. It wouldn’t be too hard for you to find out, but let’s just say I’m doing my part to cut back on spoilers.
I can tell you a bit about MY Coffeyville, though. The story is about what happens when Harry Houdini decided to perform the one feat he swore never to do–the bullet catch.
You know all about Chung Ling Soo, so you know how infamous the bullet catch is. Wait, what? You don’t know about Chung Ling Soo? Billy Robinson? Did you watch The Prestige? Okay, well…the bullet catch was a highly dangerous trick for the simple fact that a gun is pointed and discharged at the magician. Yes, a real gun. He uses his skills to…shall we say, obtain the bullet in a manner that makes it appear he snatched it out of the air in mid-flight. But some dastardly folks would sometimes supply their own missle (a button, a stone) and, at close range, that would be enough to end the magician’s life.
Houdini never needed to pull off the bullet catch. Tempted as I am sure he was by proving he was better than the danger inherent in the trick, wisdom prevailed. At least, until he figured out a way to pull it off in a purely Houdini fashion, and that is what my story Coffeyville is all about.
If you’d like to hear about it when it becomes available (I plan to self-publish it in all the standard e-book formats very soon), drop me a line, catch up with me on twitter, or let me know in the comments.
So…what do you think…would YOU do the bullet catch?