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SLEIGHT OF HAND by Anthony J. Rapino

Music is magic.  I tell my English II students this little known fact before delving into the deep waters of literary fiction.  I do this because writing is also magic, but to make them believe this, I have to start out with something they’re more likely to believe, and music is it.

I tell them to forget for a second that they’re trying to look cool for everyone else in the room and pay close attention.  As you can see, there’s nothing up my sleeve.  I tell them, “Be honest with yourself for just this one moment, if you can.”  

I ask, “Has music has ever made you tap your foot.”

Hands shoot into the air.  

“Has it made you shake your booty in the most ridiculous fashion imaginable?

Laughter and more hands.

“How about feelings?  Does it make you feel, well, anything?

This time they want to participate, and I get all manner of answers: love, fear, anger, sadness, happiness. Yes, all of it. The entire range of the emotional spectrum is represented here. And isn’t that amazing, that a few musical notes, some lyrics, and a beat can elicit so much action and emotion? Isn’t it magical how it makes you feel?

Angry, oh yeah

Pay attention now.  Watch for the sleight of hand.

Fiction and poetry can do the same, I tell my students.  It’s meant to do the same.  It’s not as immediate as music, but if you’re open to its magic, if you’re accepting of the wonder it can create, then there is no denying its power.  Entire worlds are manifested out of nothing.  Characters become people.  Readers transform into friends, loving parents, saviors.  

The convergence of music and writing is what informed much Soundtrack to the End of the World.  I wanted to inject the immediacy and power of music directly into my novel, like a shot of adrenaline.  I wanted portions to play out like action sequences in movies, with the driving bass line of Rage against the Machine and the melodic, hypnotic power of Maynard James Keenan’s vocals.  I wanted the readers’ brains to kick into overdrive and pump out mass levels of fuck-juice.  I wanted fingers to grip the binding and tear into pages while screams built deep inside, probing for escape.


I wanted you to feel the magic that I feel every time I write.  

That’s part of the addiction of writing.  The reason you’ll often hear a writer say, “I’d write even if I wasn’t paid to.”

Now, you tell me.  Is this a stacked deck?
My theory is this:  there’s no point in writing if your end goal does not involve provoking an intense emotional reaction in the reader.  Disgust, fear, love, hate...is “horny” an emotion?  Well, that too.

The worst fate I can imagine is someone reading my work and reacting with the scariest three letter word known to man: meh.  It’s so apathetic, it doesn’t even make sense.  I’d much rather a reader was venomously opposed to my work, declaring it to be “minus a million stars!”
“Two thousand thumbs down!”  

At least then I’d know I hit some kind of nerve.  At least then I’d know some of the magic rubbed off, even if it didn’t reach the reader in the intended fashion.

At least then I’d know you’re paying attention, because while you’re busy watching for the trick in it all, you slowly realize the trick is that you’re still here, reading, wondering--

What will happen next?


Anthony J. Rapino resides in Northeastern Pennsylvania, somewhere between the concrete of the city and the trees of the forest.  On occasion, you’ll find him moderating the feverish battles between the creatures of these two arenas.  Whose side he’s on is anyone’s guess.

His newest fiction can be found in Black Ink Horror, On Spec, Arcane Anthology, Electric Spec, A cappella Zoo, Space Squid, TQR Stories, and carved inside a variety of autumn gourds.  His short story collection, Welcome to Moon Hill, is currently available, as is his first novel Soundtrack to the End of the World.  Proof of his psychosis can be found on his website: http://www.anthonyjrapino.com

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December 2012