Friday, April 12, 2013

Updated Post: Magic Realism on the Brain... by Christine Locke

I'm updating this post with a brilliant quickie definition of magic realism I just read today (6/27/13).  In reading an interview with literary agent Sarah LaPolla, I noted again that she actively seeks manuscripts in this genre.  When asked for a quick definition of this "hard to define and...very specific type of writing," this is what she said: magic realism is "a subgenre of literary fiction that infuses fantastic/surreal elements to the story that are not essential to the plot."

I recently sent out a few tweets advertising my interest in young adult magic realism.  I offered to review the best of the recommendations here on the blog.  Know how many responses I got?  One.  Yup.  Even though some generous folks retweeted and helped spread the word, I only got one volunteer. 

I'm wondering why.  Do people understand what magic realism (or magical realism, as it is also called) is?  I'm guessing this could be part of it.  I recently read a complaint by a literary agent that most of her "magic realism" submissions turn out to be fantasy. 

Basically, magic realism is an otherwise realistic story with just a touch of the magical (or more than a touch, but it's a side-story) that is treated as if it were real.  So, you've got a story about witches, but the witches and their magic is not the point.  It's just a detail, an aside.  The real issue is that the witches are young and need to figure out how to live and who to love, just like you or me.  I began that paragraph thinking of the movie Practical Magic, based on Alice Hoffman's novel.  Yet, it occurs to me that the tv show "Charmed" could almost work here, too.  That was also a story that, in the end, focused on the effort to build a normal life and experience normal problems.  Yet, the individual episode plots for "Charmed" revolve so much around the magic and use of magic that it's a great example for understanding how a story with potential for magic realism actually becomes fantasy or horror.

Well known examples: Alice Hoffman and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are always the first to pop into my mind, although a couple of my recent favorites are Mary Sharratt and Sarah Addison Allen.

Practical Magic is not the only novel by Alice Hoffman to feature fascinating character who also happens to be a witch.  I almost prefer Seventh Heaven, in which a woman who is a single mother moves into a very conservative subburb to raise her children in safety.  At first persecuted for her "otherness," which has as much to do with her sexual attractiveness and unmarried state as it does with her witchy ways, neighbors eventually come to appreciate her influence, aid, and friendship.  Her magic is a part of the story, but you could still have the same story if you took the magic out.

So, if you're wondering whether your story fits into the "magic realism" genre, ask yourself this question: Would you still have the same story if you removed the supernatural/fantastic from its plot?

So, any of you know a writer of young adult magic realism who'd like a review here?  I'd love to find a sampling of several contemporaries.  Let me know!

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