The Origin of The Astonishing Essays

By Joshua Jay - Monday, February 18, 2019


Here’s how many of the best Vanishing Inc projects come about: we envision a product we’d LOVE to have, but doesn’t exist. It might be a book that a magician hasn’t yet written, or a prop that’s no longer easy to find. For example, soon we’re going to bring out the absolute BEST wine glass to hold a pack of cards…unbreakable and collapsible for travel…for the simple reason that I’ve been breaking glass and acrylic wine glasses in my suitcases for years, showing up to shows with shattered glasses. There’s a need, and we’re in a position to fill it. The reason Astonishing Essays exists is that, quite selfishly, there were some unwritten books we really wanted to read. So we commissioned them.

I’ve had this feeling for a while that there ought to be a format in magic between a magic book and lecture notes. The real-world equivalent is a short story collection, or a novella. Magic books, whether theory or trick collections, can take months to go through properly. And little lecture pamphlets are usually so short that they serve as little more than reminders of what you saw someone speak of. But there’s room, it would seem, for a magic book you can read in one sitting. One slowly sipped tea and you’re done.

We wanted to the series to feature the most esteemed writers in magic, exploring topics they either couldn’t or wouldn’t in their previous forms. This opened up a world of possibilities. Steve Cohen, who hasn’t written much for magicians, shared his approach to a solo show, which he understands better than anyone. His Astonishing Essays book, which we chose as the very first volume, is essential reading for anyone writing their own show.

Then things just started to domino. I’ve been writing to a magician serving a life sentence in prison, and I’d felt for years that he had a strong voice and unusual descriptive powers. Out of nowhere, he sent me a complete manuscript about his life on the inside, and how magic factored into it. Another Astonishing Essay. Boom.

Rob Zabrecky astounded us with a lecture entitled “The A,B,Zs of Magic,” and we asked him if he would be willing to flesh out this lecture in written form. Distilling what he learned assembling one of the most unforgettable acts and characters in magic, his Astonishing Essays volume is instructive for anyone developing a new act.

In all there will be ten Astonishing Essays. There were plans for more, but there’s a flipside to passion projects. We reached out to our favorite authors and personalities in magic and were surprised that nearly all of them agreed. It’s just that along the way, a couple we felt were unsuitable, one author pulled his back, and several have been telling us for eighteen months that they’re working on it (I’m looking at you, Handsome Jack). These hiccups aren’t unusual; there are always delays and roadblocks on a project. But we’ve never undertaken a project that involved ten magicians, and it truly has been ten-times the headaches.

Andi Gladwin is, as usual, the man behind the curtain. He took each author’s words and spun them each into gorgeous volumes. The cover art (with some essential help from Steve Cohen and his design team) is uniform and embossed in foil, was designed with the whole collection in mind. When all ten volumes have been released, they’ll live in your magic library in a uniform, attractive look.

But the results are worth it. These booklets are beautiful, and we’re proud of them. Time will tell if the magic market will embrace these unusual little volumes, but for those of you who do, you’ll have a collection unique in both format and content.


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