About the book:The life of a magician isn’t all kiddie shows and card tricks. Sometimes it’s murder. Especially when magician Eli Marks very publicly debunks a famed psychic, and said psychic ends up dead. The evidence, including a bloody King of Diamonds playing card (one from Eli’s own Ambitious Card routine), directs the police right to Eli.
As more psychics are slain, and more King cards rise to the top, Eli can’t escape suspicion. Things get really complicated when romance blooms with a beautiful psychic, and Eli discovers she’s the next target for murder, and he’s scheduled to die with her. Now Eli must use every trick he knows to keep them both alive and reveal the true killer.
Interview with John Gaspard:John, how did you come up with the title The Ambitious Card?
As soon as I decided to write a mystery about a working magician, I discovered that I had way too many cool options for the title. Magic is filled with fun words and phrases, and the tricks alone could offer a full series of titles: The Balducci Force, The Hindu Shuffle, The Linking Rings, Six Card Repeat, The Double Lift, The French Drop … just lots and lots of great titles, just waiting for stories.
After doing a ton of research, I landed on The Ambitious Card. It sounded like a great title and was a trick that would lend itself to leaving clues after each murder because in the trick, the same card keeps turning up again and again. I thought that would be a fun clue that is found at each murder site.
How did you create the plot for this book?
It came to me in bits and pieces, while doing the research or just walking around. In researching psychics (all the victims in the story are psychics), I came across the term Askashic Records – that sounded like a record store to me, so I made one of the characters a psychic who runs a new-agey record store. The use of helium was important for the plot, so I created a character who is a children’s magician, knowing that he would have a need for helium for his balloons.
Once you stir all the ingredients together, the story starts to form itself and tell you the direction it wants to head.
Which character did you most enjoy writing?
The main character, Eli, is divorced and has moved back in with his Uncle Harry, an old magician who runs a magic store. Harry spends much of his free time hanging out at the bar next door with his performing cronies, old-time magicians and mentalists, who spend their days playing cards, reminiscing, and trading barbs. They call themselves The Minneapolis Mystics, although Eli’s aunt Alice dubbed them The Artful Codgers. They were great fun to write, because of their crusty banter and playful personalities.
Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.
Many, many favorites, but one in particular: Eli is forced to perform a magic show for children (a notoriously tough audience) at the last minute, without the proper props and no time to really prepare. Uncle Harry steps in with a solution that is both lovely and magical and really helps to give Eli a glimpse at what an amazing performer his uncle had been.
Who are your favorite authors?
In the mystery genre, my favorite would be Lawrence Block – his Burglar books were a great inspiration for The Ambitious Card. Jasper Fforde is a favorite as well. For newer writers, I like Simon Rich; older favorites are James Thurber and Robert Benchley.
You get to decide who would read your audiobook. Who would you choose?
Neil Patrick Harris. I would love to see him do a movie version of the book as well. He brings just the right mix of sarcasm and sensitivity to his work – plus, he already knows how to do all the magic!
What’s one of your favorite quotes?
From Groucho Marx: “Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.”
I love that one too! Okay...spill it--what are you working on now?
I’m in the thick of the second book in the Eli Marks mystery series, The Bullet Catch, which picks up a couple months after the conclusion of The Ambitious Card and puts Eli and Uncle Harry into two murder investigations – one current and one from 25 years before.
Can't wait to hear more about it. Puleease come back!
Excerpt from The Ambitious Card
Ask anyone and they’ll tell you I’m generally a positive person. But even I had to admit, this was a bad situation.
After the heavy wooden door closed behind us with an unforgiving finality, I’d come to a sudden insight—when it comes to being in the dark, there’s dark-dark and then there’s inside-a-cave dark.
We were definitely in the latter.
I’d never been in a place so dark, where the blackness of the space jostled up against us like an aggressive, surly crowd on a subway during rush hour.
My head was spinning from the lack of oxygen, and even though I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, I was starting to see spots in front of my eyes. My lungs ached with each breath I took, the carbon monoxide that filled the cave a poor substitute for the oxygen I’d foolishly taken for granted until this relatively late point in life.
We shuffled and slogged through the inky darkness. My foot slipped on a loose rock, hurdling me forward, where a stalagmite—or is it a stalactite?—connected with my forehead, breaking my fall. My head was now covered with small scrapes and contusions, and in the darkness I couldn’t tell whether it was blood or sweat running down my face. I imagine it was a pretty even mixture of both.
Oh, and did I mention the bats? Well, I don’t know how I could have forgotten them.
The flurry of winged pests had been just as surprised to en-counter us as we had been to encounter them, leaving us the warm and sticky recipients of a rich shower of bat guano. It covered our hair and shoulders, a warm stream that slithered down my spine, making me wish I could actually remove my skin and send it out for cleaning. And as luck would have it, moments after the first battalion departed to points unknown, we were hit with yet a second wave of bat pee, the furry winged bastards slicing across the tops of our heads while their piercing screeches whizzed past our ears.
Even though I had more pressing concerns at the moment, I once again rebuked myself for getting us into this situation. It could have been avoided, I really think it could have.
Things would have turned out quite differently, I’m convinced, if I’d closed my act with something other than The Ambitious Card.
Had it been the cups and balls or the linking rings or a cut and restored rope or any of a hundred other tricks, I might be sitting home in front of the television right now happily munching popcorn, instead of asphyxiating in a cave while marinating in bat pee. But, as they say, hindsight is twenty/twenty, a lesson I appear to be learning and re-learning every day—even in the deadly pitch blackness of this stupid cave.
About the author:In real life, John’s not a magician, but he has directed six low-budget features that cost very little and made even less – that’s no small trick. He’s also written multiple books on the subject of low-budget filmmaking. Ironically, they’ve made more than the films. His blog, “Fast, Cheap Movie Thoughts” has been named “One of the 50 Best Blogs for Moviemakers” and “One of The 100 Best Blogs For Film and Theater Students.” He’s also written for TV and the stage. John lives in Minnesota and shares his home with his lovely wife, several dogs, a few cats and a handful of pet allergies.
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Buy the book:
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