AMERICAN HISTORICAL NOVELS discussion

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The Secret of Magic: Interview of Deborah Johnson by Martha Conway

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message 1: by Martha (new)

Martha Conway | 255 comments Mod
MC: What was the spark that started you on the journey to write The Secret of Magic?

DJ: I think, as with many writers, it was a combination of things that really got me started. First, was my grandfather’s service in WWII. He landed at Anzio and, as they say, “fought all the way up” into the Ardennes. This was in a segregated army and I have always been fascinated by his willingness to serve—he volunteered—during a time of rampant discrimination.

Secondly, was my grandfather’s absolute devotion to Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He, and actually my whole family, believed firmly in the work that they were doing and thought it would ultimately help not only African-Americans but, indeed, all of America—which, indeed, it has. Third came my own hero-worship of Constance Baker Motley, the first female lawyer hired by Marshall (in 1946). She became the model for my own Regina Mary Robichard. And, finally, while I was doing research into the League’s important work after the war, I came upon the case of Isaac Woodard. That was the inspirational tipping point for me.

MC: Can you talk a bit about the relationship your fictional character, Regina Robichard, has with the real- life figure of Thurgood Marshall?

DJ: Regina is based on the real- life figure of Constance Baker Motley, one of my early heroes. A graduate of Columbia Law School (in the same class that produced Bella Abzug and many other distinguished women attorneys), she was the first lawyer hired by Marshall at the Fund. By 1948, she was in deeply segregated Mississippi trying cases in Federal Court. From the Fund, she went on to have a very productive career as a judge in New York state. Thurgood Marshall, of course, went on to become the Supreme Court’s first African-American Justice.

MC: Your novel is part historical-fiction and part mystery. How did you juggle these different elements?

DJ: I think, in part, that there’s a mystery at the center of most novels—especially historical ones. It may not seem that way but what keeps a reader reading if not the desire to find out how things will turn out? The mystery in The Secret of Magic is less “who dunnit?”—this is something we know almost from the very beginning—but if this person can possibly be brought to justice in Mississippi at that time. This was a mystery I very much wanted to lay out, and to solve. At least as far as it was possible for me to do so.

MC: Can you talk a bit about how magic (another element in your novel) plays a part in the story?

DJ: I live in Mississippi, which is a great story telling state, and it is a place filled with folktales and folk remedies. And, of course, anything to do with “folks” generally has something to do with magic. Or at least magical thinking. I think my own best definition of the term though comes through the mouth of Willie Willie when he tells Regina that magic is anything that takes your attention from where it should be to where the magician wants you to look—and where you should be looking. This definition, I believe, is as true in real life as it is in fiction.

MC: I love that definition of magic! Sometimes when we look away to where we shouldn't be looking, we see new and strange things — delightful or troubling or thought-provoking. Thank you for a fascinating conversation!



The Secret of Magic


message 2: by Rebecca, Champagne Widows, 2021 (new)

Rebecca Rosenberg (rebeccarosenberg) | 270 comments Mod
Fascinating woman, Deborah! I'd love to feature Thurgood Marshall on my FEARLESS FEMALE FRIDAY BLOG! Email me at Rebecca@rebecca-rosenberg.com

MC: Can you talk a bit about the relationship your fictional character, Regina Robichard, has with the real- life figure of Thurgood Marshall?

DJ: Regina is based on the real- life figure of Constance Baker Motley, one of my early heroes. A graduate of Columbia Law School (in the same class that produced Bella Abzug and many other distinguished women attorneys), she was the first lawyer hired by Marshall at the Fund. By 1948, she was in deeply segregated Mississippi trying cases in Federal Court. From the Fund, she went on to have a very productive career as a judge in New York state. Thurgood Marshall, of course, went on to become the Supreme Court’s first African-American Justice.


message 3: by Beverly (new)

Beverly I agree, fascinating woman...I like that you have based your character Regina on the real-life Constance. The story does sound mysterious and engaging. I definitely want to read it.


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