Deborah Johnson is the author of The Secret of Magic and The Air Between Us, which received the Mississippi Library Association Award for Fiction.
Excerpt from book:
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***
Copyright © 2014 by Deborah Johnson
Joe Howard Wilson jerked and his hands went straight to his face, and then to his body, for his gun. Groping. Feeling. Saying his prayers. Checking to make sure that he was awake and what had happened in that forest in Italy, all the killing, was over. Checking to make sure it wasn’t happening now.
“You all right, mister? Need any help?”
Did he need help?
He opened his eyes then, but he didn’t turn them to the voice, didn’t answer it, because it was a child’s voice. Light, like L.C.’s voice had been in the dream. And Joe Howard didn’t want to go back to the dream. Instead, he put a hand on the hard thing right in front of him and realized it was nothing more menacing than a window and that this window was on a courier bus and that this courier bus was passing through Alabama on its way to Mississippi, and that it carried him home.
Outside, it was coming on night. Twilight. “The magic time,” his daddy called it, “the make-a-wish moment between the dark and the light.”
And the dusk, the gritty Southern grayness of it, its harsh gathering, stopped Joe Howard from seeing out beyond the solitude of his own ref lection, a soldier’s ref lection: dark hair, a trimmed mustache, eyes he didn’t bother looking into, and farther down from them, the ghostly shadow of a khaki uniform, of lieutenant’s bars and a medal. There was no brain, no blood, no bone, no friend called L. C. Hoover sprayed all over this Joe Howard Wilson—at least not anymore.
Other than that, it was already too dark to see much of anything, but Joe Howard didn’t mind. This land wasn’t foreign to him. It wasn’t war. It wasn’t Italy. He knew the ways of it, the slow progression of Alabama as it gave way to Mississippi. At its own pace, red clay soil gave place to black, trees grew greener, hills flattened themselves into plain and prairie, into delta.
At last, Joe Howard turned to the boy. They’d been sitting side by side since the two of them had gotten on the bus together in Birmingham. He had promised the boy’s mother to see to it that her child got safely to Revere, Mississippi, all in one piece. The boy’s mama, who had worked at the Mobile Dry Docks during the war, was on her way out to Oakland, California, to see what the world might hold for her there. She was sending her son back to her parents in Macon, Mississippi, for what she called “The Duration,” until, she told him, she could get herself established.
No way was she ever going back to Mississippi to live. No way was she going to have her son grow up there. Onto the front of his clean overalls, she had pinned a piece of sack paper with his name on it. Manasseh. “Came straight out of the Bible. Revelations,” the boy had told Joe Howard. Belo
Praise for The Secret of Magic
"There are a million metaphors I could use to describe Deborah Johnson's writing in The Secret of Magic—but all of them are inadequate in conveying the ebb and flow of her phrasing or the care in crafting her characters.... If you liked The Help, you'll love this one! ... [T]he cadence of Johnson's writing is an absolute joy.... I can't think of any other recent book in which I have so enjoyed an author's actual stringing-together-of-words." —EW.com
“I found this story about race, The South, our country, part history, part mystery—never disappointing. Like The South she tragically portrays, The Secret of Magic is a layered tale of the best and worst of our history, beautifully wrought by a master storyteller.”—Robert Hicks, New York Times bestselling author of Widow of the South
“The secret (and magic) in The Secret of Magic is in Deborah Johnson’s powerful writing, creating character and story that will linger long after the reading.”—Terry Kay, author of To Dance with the White Dog
“I am mightily impressed with her work. Johnson’s story brings authentic history to light, yet suggests a seed of reconciliation. Fantastic!”—Augusta Trobaugh, author of Sophie and the Rising Sun
“You can almost hear the rustle of Spanish moss and the clink of ice cubes in glasses of sweet tea in Johnson’s novel, which captures the duality of the Jim Crow South…As Regina navigates Revere with both horror and wonder, Johnson interweaves her story with a novel by a local matriarch, steeping the reader in town mythology…[A] rich portrayal of Revere and its inhabitants.”—Entertainment Weekly (A-)