A new book by author Diana Zimmerman opens a world of magic and mythical creatures for young readers. The writer, who was once a professional magician, says the theme of magic has guided her career. Mike O'Sullivan spoke with her in Los Angeles.
The adventure-fantasy Kandide and the Secret of the Mists brings together many themes that are part of the writer's life. Zimmerman has long been fascinated with faeries, the mythical creatures of European folk tales. She has built an extensive collection of faerie art, from the 18th century to modern times.
Her other passion is magic. At the age of eight, she was impressed with a magician who was able to produce money from thin air. She started learning magic herself, and by the age of 13, was very good at it.
"I won a magic competition and I discovered that there weren't any other girls doing magic. And I was the only one I could find because the other girls were handing the trays or jumping in the boxes, and I was actually doing the magic. And I thought, wow, this could be kind of fun. Maybe I should do this for a living," she said.
Zimmerman moved to California, performing magic to work way through college. She became a leading stage performer, billed as the world's foremost lady magician. She had a magical revue in the resort town of Lake Tahoe, and appeared on major variety and talk shows on television. Behind the scenes, she created illusions for other top performers, including David Copperfield.
Zimmerman was a member of the famous Hollywood magic club, the Magic Castle. With the help of a fellow member, the actor Cary Grant, she set up a training program for young magicians, seeing magic as a way to teach self-confidence.
"That was 33 years ago. We've had over 2,500 kids go through the program. And some of our kids are starring in Las Vegas. Neil Patrick Harris, the actor - a wonderful talented actor - he was a member of our program," she said.
She says Harris, who has appeared in dozens of movies and television shows, is one of many young magicians who have built successful careers as entertainers.
Zimmerman says her passions for myth and magic led her to write a fantasy book about a magical land, and an arrogant and spoiled faerie princess. The princess, named Kandide, is expelled from her perfect kingdom when she suffers a deformity as her wing is damaged. The character struggles to rebuild her confidence, and realizes that life is more than a quest for physical perfection.
The book touches on fantasy themes found in many stories for young readers, with its make-believe places peopled with elves, gargoyles and wizards. Other books have been made into movies, from The Spiderwick Chronicles to the Harry Potter series. Zimmerman says these stories and films have a special appeal in our technological age.
"We're looking for escapism. Harry Potter, of course, is the classic example. And there too, there's a young man who was put down, he didn't live with his own family, and yet he has these powers. And in reality, each of us do have special powers. I've never met a young person or an individual that didn't have something very, very special about them. And that's the real magic," she said.
Zimmerman has left the performing stage to become a motivational speaker and marketing expert. But her first love is magic and the mist-shrouded worlds of mythical creatures.
She says magic -- whether presented through fantasy books or stage performances -- gets youngsters to move beyond conventional thinking and set their sights high.
"Magic teaches you to say Why? instead of Why not? It teaches kids to think I can instead of I can't - I can float a lady in the air. Well, if I can float a lady in the air, I could become president and CEO of a major corporation too," she said.
Zimmerman's book Kandide and the Secret of the Mists is the first in a trilogy. The second book will be released next year.