Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Faint Glimmer in the Twilight

Ever since my short story was published ("The Mysteries of Death and Life"), I've been thinking long and hard about genre.

Most of us write in the genre we most love to read. I've been a speculative fiction reader since the age of four. Of course, I had no idea that was even a "thing". I loved magic and unicorns, dragons and dinosaurs. I loved space and ghost stories and anything weird and wonderful.

Fast forward and you see a young girl writing (terrible!) science fiction with her best friend in middle school and (even worse!) ghost stories with her sister. Creep a little further along and you'll see a young woman in her first apartment, sitting on the floor on the furry, brown carpet, writing feverishly on a fantasy novel she believes will be a best seller.

I've flung my sword at high fantasy, science fiction and horror. I wrote a short screen play in college based on an alternate telling of the Wizard of OZ and wrote my final project as a modern day ghost story. My first published piece is about the Angel of Death, a young woman down on her luck, and a lady who has lived for centuries under the imprisonment of love.


Or is it?

Oh trust me, that first drivel was definitely OUT THERE! I had space ships and talking china dolls and boys discovering a power to control fire because of his fairy ancestors. I say drivel not because of the genre. I say drivel because they were TERRIBLE!

About a year ago, during my Writing Sabbatical, I came across a term I'd not heard before. Magical Realism seeped into my thoughts. It's poetry when you say it and makes you reconsider every shifting shadow in your driveway, every faint glimmer in the twilight. I began to wonder what it was all about. I found LISTS of magical or magic realism authors. Most of them are Spanish or Latin American but there are others who have adopted the tradition. Salman Rushdie leaps to mind. As does Alice Hoffman. As I dug deeper (read, gave Google a run for its money with my very long and detailed search phrases), I uncovered some wonderful articles written on the topic of magic realism and several books on the subject.

Author Stephanie Carroll has a marvelous three part introduction to magic realism that I highly recommend reading if you are even remotely interested in the subject. Oh, and that's another thing: it's not a genre of itself. It's an aspect of another genre. In other words, any genre - literary fiction, romance, historical fiction, crime fiction - can have elements of magic realism. The key is not to let the magic outweigh the realism. Too much magic and it's fantasy or horror; too much realism and it's plain, old fiction. It's a balancing act and one that I'm enjoying researching.

Back to my more recent works. Are they fantasy? Or are they magical realism? The short screenplay is, as it stands, magic realism. If I were to take it further, turn it into a novel, it would cross the line and become fantasy because it requires me to cross into another world. Boom! No more realism; it's off to the land of OZ. The short story I submitted for my final university project IS magical realism and it stands as such, even when I try to expand it. It is firmly rooted in this world with a very human protagonist. The magic element is the hitchhiker she picks up who was of this world but isn't any longer. Why is this not fantasy? Because it doesn't detract from the realism. The appearance and disappearance of the old man is as believable as you reading this text. He's there. He talks to the young woman. He's gone and leaves her a task. She's startled but doesn't really question the happening and she finishes the task without any internal or external struggle. If I'd expounded on the mystery, taken it further, had her research the why and the where and the what, pulled her out of reality and into the realm of the spirit, then it would cross the line and BOOM! We're back in fantasy land.

See what I mean by balance?

As for my current story, I'm unsure. I feel upfront, it's magical realism but I do delve into a bit of explanation as to why the centuries old woman is still there. Still, it's a simple explanation and the protagonist doesn't question it. She doesn't question the Angel of Death too much either. She's startled but accepting, acquiescing into the tale and letting each character become a part of her story.

And I believe that's the key: don't explain too much and don't have your characters run around trying to expound upon or theorize about what is going on. They have to blink, shrug a shoulder and move on, accepting that there are, indeed, "...more things in heaven and earth, Horacio, than are dreamt of in your philosophies."

What are your thoughts? Have you ever written magic or magical realism? Do you read magical realism authors? Or do you prefer to be swept away into a world of Other, where the realism of the everyday melts away and things are unfamiliar?

strange lights in the woods. 
not the best picture but neither are those Bigfoot photos... :P

Happy Wednesday and happy writing,

If you're interested, here are two more links to thoughts on Magical Realism:

Elements of Magical Realism by Michelle Witte
What is Magical Realism and How Different is it from Fantasy by the Gotham Writers

And, if all else fails, get Google to work for you. I Googled "how to get started writing magical realism" and found a wealth of knowledge!



  1. It was a big magical realism. But you were dealing with Death and an angel, which gave it a spiritual aspect. At least for me.

    1. Thank you. Yes, it did feel spiritual to me as I was writing it. I didnt know enough about magical realism when I wrote it to see it as such. Thank you for the feed back!

  2. I mean to drop by more often. I'm sorry. :(

    I really am very picky about magical realism. I believe my first experience with it, TRULY, was in AP English my senior year of high school. We read Like Water for Chocolate, and I gotta say... I hated that story. There were certain things that it did that I understood why it did it, and it was intriguing from an analytical perspective, but I hated having to bite through it for the story's sake.

    Having said that, there are other stories I've read that probably could be classified as magical realism, that I like and didn't realize. I need to explore it again as an adult.
    - Jen

    the golden days |

    1. No worries! I dont drop by your place nearly enough!! And I keep meaning to uphold our penpal idea!

      I understand the frustration people have with it. I love it because it doesn't explain things. Magic just happens, it's entwined in the everyday and that's how I feel life should be viewed. But most people I know want the explanation, the why and the how. That's when it gets frustrating.

  3. Thank you for this great explanation of magical realism. I guess I've wondered exactly how to define it for a while now and have been a bit nervous about asking. I read fantasy so therefore I should know what magical realism is, right? Um, not until now. I guessed it had something to do with what Charles deLint writes, but that's about it.
    I loved your story and it's definitely magical realism.
    It makes me wonder where my current WIP is in that spectrum - if I cut out the small explanation I wrote (for myself) about why the main character has a super-power, does it make it more magical realism, or does the idea of super-powers just take it into a different genre. I'm not sure where superhero type characters should go in these genres. Some consider them sci-fi (but really, I don't see how much science is behind The Flash) and some consider them kind of an urban fantasy or urban mythology.
    What do you think?

    1. You're so welcome! Thanks for stopping by.

      I'm just learning about MR and I'm really enjoying the exploration. I found a list of 700(!!!) MR titles yesterday that I'm going to post. I need to read more to feel I have a grasp on it.
      Hmm...superpowers are tricky but I dont see why they couldn't work with realism. In Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman does an excellent job of weaving the fact the main characters are witches with special powers and you never wonder how it could be true. It just "is". I think as long as you keep the story, even the superpowers, grounded in reality and dont give too much "wow!" to them, you'll lean more to MR. Still, I have a lot more to learn!!

  4. Great intro into magical realism. I have to confess that I don't know much about it, although I do enjoy reading books that feature magical realism. I like your take on having characters not fuss to much about the weirdness they encounter and just shrug their shoulders and move on.

    1. Thank you so much, Ellen. I didn't know much about it either until I started feeling pulled to it. Strange. I don't even know what made me want to learn more about it in the first place. But, I've learned that when something starts tugging, I'd better listen to it!

  5. I like magical realism. It's a little like paranormal only more hopeful.

    1. That's a great way to look at it! And I still love fantasy, especially high fantasy, but I find that I don't have the focus for all the world building right now. I have a fantasy series that I've been working on for 20 years (yipes!) but it's just never solidified. It's scattered and untethered. I'm hoping that playing in a new genre will help me create more believable and seamless fantasy world as well as learn to appreciate the magic that is around us (or potentially around us) in the every day.

  6. I discovered magical realism with Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Since then I've realized it cuts across artistic disciplines: poetry (I have an anthology of Mexican poetry - so much passionately irrational, but beautiful verse), film (Like Water for Chocolate), art (Frieda Kahlo). I don't know what it is about the Hispanic soul, but is seems as if these artists are wearing the unconscious on the outside.


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