Harry Houdini Speaks from the Grave in New Novel

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Harry Houdini promised on his deathbed to send a message from the grave. Novelist Michelle Cushing uncovers the message in her new book soon to be turned into a film.

The new novel, Rosabelle, Believe (published by Mulberry Bark), tells the story of a man who believes he is the reincarnation of Harry Houdini and his quest to find his beloved Bess Houdini.

The third novel by Michelle Cushing delves into Houdini’s own interest in the after-life. “He spent part of his career calling attention to fraudulent spiritualists and mediums, who were in vogue at the time,” Cushing said, who is also the author of the novels From a Vine (2007, Mulberry Bark) and Faith Orion’s Field (2008, Mulberry Bark). “Houdini knew most of their tricks, which were just as easy to recreate as a magic show. I think there was a part of him, however, that hoped he would find a glimpse of real magic, at least some idea that life had more meaning than the physical.”

He did this, Cushing said, by asking his loved ones to send messages from the grave via mediums. If this could be done, that would be Houdini’s proof of life after death. In the novel, Rosabelle, Believe, the character of Eric Pilot searches for proof of the after-life in a very different way.

“I think if Houdini had lived in our time, he would have looked for spiritual messages outside of the mediums. Eric Pilot, who is a poet, believes that real magic is possible, but he’s not talking about rabbits out of hats, or messages sent by psychics. His philosophy is about the type of magic we see in our every day lives, that many of us ignore. The little cosmic nudges, signs, and coincidences that guide us, tell us that we are on the right path,” Cushing said, who credits Tennessee Williams as an influence.

Houdini never gave up his hope, however. Before the magician’s own departure, he promised to send his wife a message, one that was private, one that only she would understand.

“That’s the love story part of the novel,” Cushing said. “How wonderful it would be to receive a message from your beloved after death. It would be such a comforting gift. But how do you convince someone that he/she is your reincarnated lover? It sounds ridiculous,” Cushing said, who is a native of Arkansas. “One character is very mystical, while the other remains strictly logical. One is fire, the other is cold. How do they find balance, or come to an understanding? Most of us want to believe in magic, but the logical part of our brain tells us it is impossible. That’s the crux of this story, the balance between the spiritual and the logical.”

For romantic souls, Rosabelle, Believe is a tip of the hat to old-fashioned courting.

“We live in a world of compatibility matches that we find on paid, dating web sites. I wanted to write a book that encouraged people to search for the mystical connections, the element of the meant-to-be, or the destined,” Cushing said. “I definitely believe in soulmates, and I wrote this book to inspire others to find their great love.”

It was originally written as a screenplay, and it may soon be made into a film.

“I’ve met with a few production companies about the prospect of turning it into a film,” Cushing said. “I’m quite particular about how I want the movie made. It’s important to understand the novel and stick to the book’s message.”

“In the beginning,” she said, “I was worried about how it would be perceived by the public. My work is so personal, and I feel vulnerable. It’s like standing naked in a crowded shopping mall.” She added, “I didn’t know if the book would sell. Is it too weird? Too romantic? Our world is so cynical. Are people ready for this type of story?” To quell these fears, she sought advice from one of her favorite authors, best-selling writer Richard Bach (Jonathan Livingston Seagull). “He told me not to think about those types of things, just to be myself, and the right audience would find my work and understand it. There is only one Michelle Cushing and my originality would sell itself,” she said, and added, “His books have changed my life, so I take his words to heart.”

The book has indeed found its audience. “Houdini’s fans have been wonderful and supportive,” she said.

The book has been praised by everyone from avant-garde writer Jonathan Shaw (Narcisa), who said Cushing’s writing is “infused with a lyrical hopefulness,” to best-selling authors Brad Steiger & Sherry Steiger (Real Miracles), who called the book “enchanting” and “charming.”

If the book is turned into a film, is there a magician Cushing would like to play the character of Eric Pilot? “Well, Eric isn’t a magician in the book. He’s a poet. My dream would be to have Johnny Depp play Eric, but I’m not sure how to magically conjure that into reality just yet. When the right people and finances are involved, we’ll see. Johnny Depp is a brilliant actor, someone I respect a great deal, and he has this feel to him that he belongs in another time. He is a real movie star like Clark Gable or Cary Grant,” she said. “Besides, both Johnny and Eric Pilot wear a fedora, that’s got to count for something!”

Cushing isn’t a stranger to film though. With her sister, XT (The Mask of Aubrey Clover), she co-produced Scars at the Spook House, a 2010 Cannes Film Festival “Short Film Corner” Official Selection.

“That movie was a lot of fun to make – I loved seeing the characters come to life – and I’d love to see the world of Rosabelle, Believe on the big screen too,” she said. “Hopefully some day soon.”

Until then, Cushing continues to focus on her writing. Currently, she’s working on a children’s novel, along with a love story for young adults. She has an bachelor’s degree in journalism and has published several articles.

For more information on Cushing, her novels, or Mulberry Bark Publishing visit http://www.mulberrybark.com, or check out the author’s blog at michellecushing.wordpress.com.

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