Coming to Town, post-visit edition: Deborah Johnson for The Secret of Magic

Mississippi author Deborah Johnson has spent the last few weeks on tour, since the publication of her second novel, The Secret of Magic, in print and ebook from Amy Einhorn Books. From Mississippi, through Alabama, Georgia, and this weekend in western North Carolina with events in Boone and Winston-Salem, leading up to two events this past week in the Triangle Area: Monday night at Quail Ridge Books at 7:30 pm and Tuesday night at Flyleaf Books at 7 pm. The novel is an historical fiction set in Mississippi of the 1940s around a real NAACP legal defense fund case, and featuring a fictional fantasy novel which shares the real book’s title. In that novel-within-the-novel, black and white children play together in the quasi-mythical Magnolia Forest. The book gains national renown, inspires a young lawyer, Regina Robichard, who travels from Thurgood Marshall’s NAACP offices to investigate the case of a black Army Lieutenant murdered on his way home after WW2, and is banned throughout much of the deeply segregated South. Johnson’s novel does not flinch whatsoever from the reality of that South, the era of Jim Crow laws, “separate but equal”, unpunished lynchings, and Confederate Flags flying proudly above the steps of the courthouse. I’ll admit to at first being partially pulled into the book by the back cover copy’s idea of the “parallels” which Robichard begins to discover between the fantasy-novel-within-the-novel and the events of the case, but there is no magical realism here — “just” realism, powerful and compellingly told, with that magical garnish of The Secret of Magic and the pull of childhood’s reading.


The Secret of Magic
by Deborah Johnson
Amy Einhorn (Penguin)
January 2014

Interview by Samuel Montgomery-Blinn:

Q: Both of your novels have taken place in your fictional town of Revere, Mississippi, albeit 20 years apart. Does anything tie the two towns together, 1946 to 1966, or are they each their own separate fictional creations?

The town of Revere Mississippi is the same in both novels. I wanted the setting to remain the same but the people to be different. Hopefully, each set of characters brings out the point that I most wanted to address within the frame of a particular time and set of circumstances.

Q: Your actual home of Columbus, Mississippi shares a similar population and geographic location — at least in its close proximity to Alabama — to the Revere of your novels. Is there a real-life analogue for Magnolia Forest, or any of the houses and streets? Read the rest of this entry »

Friday Quick Updates: Mur Lafferty tomorrow, Deborah Johnson next week, a Book Club Moveable Feast this weekend, Jeremy L.C. Jones writes about Manly Wade Wellman, and more

Friday, February 7, 2014: Three “NEW-NEW” events this weekend, added to the calendar since sending the February newsletter barely a week ago, including Mur Lafferty’s Durham County Library (Southwest Regional Library) event on Saturday and a “Bookmarks Book Club Moveable Feast” event on Sunday in Winston-Salem, for which very, very limited tickets remain. Several more new events were added further down the line, including the 15th Nevermore Film Festival at The Carolina Theatre of Durham on Feb 21-23 and a really intriguing-looking panel on H.G. Wells at the Orange County library in early March.

Speaking of Lafferty, more news there including:

  • Her novel The Shambling Guide to New York City is a newly announced Orbital Drop, meaning her publisher Orbit has dropped the ebook price to $1.99 for the next three weeks; a fantastic time to pick it up and get ready for The Ghost Train to New Orleans which “drops” in early March, and speaking of The Ghost Train to New Orleans…
  • Lafferty is hosting a contest for the best drink recipe for her fictional “Captain Spaulding”, which is gin with (purportedly) demon blood. She’s planning to video taste test the entrants and award the winner(s) a prize pack drawn from “copies of Shambling Guide, Ghost Train, and more necklaces from Surly Amy

Meanwhile, South Carolina writer Jeremy L.C. Jones’ tribute to Manly Wade Wellman (“Dark Hearts and Brilliant Patches of Honor”) was published in this month’s Clarkesworld Magazine. It features an essay by Jones as well as his in-depth, round-robin interview of eight additional writers on Wellman’s work and influence, including Pittsboro author David Drake and Hertford, NC author David Niall Wilson, as well as Mike Resnick, John R. Fultz, Kenneth Hite, Darrell Schweitzer, James L. Sutter, and even yours truly. Do go check it out.

I hope you took in some of the fantastic events in a packed first week of February, including Wendy Webb at Flyleaf Books, George Saunders at Duke University (no, I didn’t even know about this one until it was too late, either), and Sheila Turnage at Quail Ridge Books just yesterday. And Turnage’s The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing wasn’t the only highly-anticipated sequel out this week from a regional author, as Megan Miranda’s Vengeance continues where her 2012 debut Fractured left off — and Miranda will be in the area later this month as part of the “Lovestruck” tour. See you out and about!




8 (Saturday) 3 to 5 pm — Durham County’s Southwest Regional Library hosts a “Meet the Author” event with Durham author Mur Lafferty. More info:

8 (Saturday) 10 am to 3 pm — The High Country Festival of the Book hosts a special February event in Boone, NC, bringing fiction authors Deborah Johnson and Ed Williams to the area. More info:

9 (Sunday) 3 pm — Bookmarks NC “Book Club Moveable Feast” in Winston-Salem, NC with authors Wilton Barnhardt, Arien Djanikian, Deborah Johnson, Wendy Welch, and more changing tables every 10 minutes to meet with and discuss with readers. Tickets (4 remaining at last check) are available at:

10 (Monday) 7:30 pm — Quail Ridge Books hosts Deborah Johnson – The Secret of Magic [Facebook event link]. Johnson’s novel is amazing; it’s an historical fiction set in Mississippi in the late 1940s as a black GI returns home from WW2 to the segregated South, built around an actual NAACP Legal Fund case and a fictional fantasy novel within the novel. (Fiction.)

11 (Tuesday) 7 pm – Flyleaf Books hosts Deborah Johnson discusses her novel The Secret of Magic. (See above for my brief thoughts on this fantastic book.)

16 (Sunday) 2 pm — Flyleaf Books hosts Joyce Allen launches her young adult novel The Threads of Earth, part two of the Threads trilogy.

17 (Monday) 7:30 pm — Quail Ridge Books hosts Alice Hoffman – ‘The Museum of Extraordinary Things’.

19 (Wednesday) 6:30 pm — McIntyre’s Books hosts Alice Hoffman for The Museum of Extraordinary Things.

20 (Thursday) 7 pm — Quail Ridge Books hosts The Lovestruck Tour – Four Passionate Authors. (See below for list.)

21 (Friday) 7 pm — Flyleaf Books hosts The Lovestruck Tour, featuring YA authors Megan Hansen Shepherd (Her Dark Curiosity), Megan Miranda (Fracture), Kasie West (Pivot Point), and Robin Constantine (The Promise of Amazing).