By Leslie Lindsay
You’ll find yourself immediately immersed in a mesmerizing web of illusions, secrets, and lies, as did I as you read this beautiful story, THE MAGICIAN’S LIE, just out in paperback this month. I particularly loved how the stage acts were designed and implemented (with a lot of fervor and practice!), and the dark, Victorian world painted by debut author Greer Macallister. It’s historical fiction with a toe in the murky world of a literary psychological thriller.
The Amazing Arden is accused of killing her husband in a grisly magic act that is neither what you may think. The entire story plays out in the form of a confession at a police station in the form of a frame story (or as the French call it, Mise en abyme) quite reminiscent of THE THIRTEENTH TALE.
I am honored to have Greer with us today.
Leslie Lindsay: Wow. I finished THE MAGICIAN’S LIE yesterday and I’m still puzzling out some pieces of the story. That, in my opinion is what makes fabulous storytelling! How did you stumble upon this lesser known—yet provocative—story of a female magician in the early 1900’s?
Greer Macallister: First of all, thank you! The inspiration for the book was actually an absence. Books, movies, TV commercials and other media often refer to the classic image of a magician cutting a woman in half. I began to wonder why it’s always the woman cut in half by a man, and never the other way around. Why don’t we see a female magician cutting her male assistant in half? So I decided I wanted to write that book, about that magician. Early in my research I came across Adelaide Herrmann, who was undoubtedly the most famous female magician of her time. In 1897 she performed an incredibly dangerous illusion called the Bullet Catch – I had to use that. So Adelaide is part of the story, but Arden – the one who does the Halved Man illusion – is completely my creation.
L.L.: As a kid, I had a mail-order magic kit that came to my home one summer. I had high hopes for the cardboard style tricks contained in the blue box, but never really mastered any. In reading THE MAGICIAN’S LIE, I understand why; these things are no easy feat! How on earth did you possibly research all of those illusions and then write so effortlessly about them?
“Smart and intricately plotted… a richly imagined thriller.” — People Magazine
Greer Macallister: I’m glad the writing seems effortless, because I absolutely cannot do any of those tricks in real life! I’m a real butterfingers when it comes to misdirection and manipulation. Luckily, I find it easier to render illusions in writing – which is its own kind of illusion. Researching the real stage magic of the time was fascinating. It was so physical. In order to appear to be floating in the air, you were hoisted up in a metal frame hidden under your dress, held up by a single long pole under one arm. That had to hurt! But it was a black pole against a black curtain, and with the right lighting and costumes, the audience didn’t see the secret – they just saw a woman in the air. Magic! Such as it was at the time, and to a degree, still is.
L.L.: Do you have a favorite illusion? What “magic” might you like to instill in your own life?
Greer Macallister: My favorite illusion from the book is the Fair Shake, because I like the joke, and because it’s the only one that’s completely fictional. All the others are based on something already being done at the time. As for my life, it’s wonderfully boring, so I would probably add some highly practical magic to it – could I get my dishwasher to unload itself?
L.L.: Many of the themes in THE MAGICIAN’S LIE have to do with love, secrets, and a web of lies. Was this your intention when you set out to tell Adelaide Herrmann’s story (Amazing Arden), or did they grow organically from the narration?
Greer Macallister: That all sort of flowed naturally from the initial set of characters and the situation. I always knew I wanted Arden to be telling her story, and I always knew I wanted the reader to doubt whether or not she was telling the truth. So truth vs. lies was always going to be a big section of it. And I had to have a love story – but I also wanted the reader to doubt that and to wonder where it was going. Any time there’s a dead body in the first 10 pages, everyone on the page is a suspect.
L.L.: As I read, I was struck by some familiar place names—like Moberly, for example! I understand you are from the Midwest. As a Missouri girl myself, how might the landscape and your origin affected your perception of storytelling process?
Greer Macallister: I had a lot of fun picking out the places Arden goes on tour. I did have to make a little cheat sheet for the audiobook narrator to make sure she could pronounce the Midwestern names that are less familiar to East or West Coasters, like Mackinac Island or Oconomowoc. I wanted to have a small town character, a Midwestern character, to contrast with the much more exotic and well-traveled Arden. So Arden and Virgil are clashing for a number of reasons, and hopefully that adds to the tension between them.
L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why?
Greer Macallister: This will sound out of left field, but I have gotten completely hooked on a website called Clients From Hell (clientsfromhell.net) – if you’ve ever worked as a graphic or web designer, it’s all painfully familiar. I’m working my way through the archives. Also, toast. I’m incredibly addicted to buttered toast. Multigrain, seven-seed, Canadian white, rosemary boule – they all have their charms.
L.L.: Can you tell us what you are working on next?
Greer Macallister: My next book is set in the 1850s and 1860s in Chicago, and it was also inspired by a real-life historical figure – Kate Warne, who was the first female private investigator, hired by Allan Pinkerton himself as a Pinkerton Agency operative in 1856. She’s so much fun to write.
L.L.: Thank you so very much for taking the time to chat with us today, Greer! It was a delight having you.
Greer Macallister: Thank you for the invitation! It’s always wonderful to have another chance to connect with readers, whether that’s in person or online. I’m on tour right now, so if you want to see if I’ll be anywhere near your town, check out this listing. Cheers!
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Bio: Raised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister is a poet, short story writer, playwright and novelist whose work has appeared in publications such as The North American Review, The Missouri Review, and The Messenger. Her plays have been performed at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. She lives with her family on the East Coast. Her debut novel THE MAGICIAN’S LIE was a weekly or monthly pick by Indie Next, LibraryReads, People Magazine, SheReads, PopSugar, Publishers Weekly, the Boston Globe, and Audible.com.
[Author image and cover image courtsey of author’s publicist L. Williams at Sourcebooks. Image of magic trick retrieved from on 10.06.15]