What is magical realism?
Magical realism takes place in a world like the one we know, but there is one thing that makes it unreal. Perhaps there are lurking vampires, or the main character is cursed, or you can buy magic spells from the store on the corner. The trick with magical realism is the reader has to believe the world really does exist. The master of magical realism herself, JK Rowling, made us all have hope that our letter for Hogwarts would one day come in the mail. We believed wizards existed in our world. (believed in the past tense? Some of us still believe).
A World for Your Book Within the Existing World
Writing magical realism might sound easy since most of the decisions about the world are already decided, but I think its the opposite. Similar to using real people in a fictional story (as I wrote about in my last post), there is a ton of fact-checking that needs to be completed in order to convince your readers the world within our world is real.
Question #1: Where do you build your world?
The proper setting is tough. How many times did you read about Harry taking the Hogwarts Express and wonder where the final location really was? Or read about Percy Jackson heading out to Montauk toward Camp Halfblood and try to picture it in your head?
Vita Post Mortem Academy
When writing my magical realism novel, The Light of Supremazia, my editor and I went back and forth on the school’s location. The world around Vita Post Mortem Academy was exactly like the one we know today, except there needed to be a remote section of the woods, North of San Francisco, where a creepy institution run by spirits was located. We had a discussion about whether redwood trees grew in the area and if it was anywhere near Bodie, a real life ghost town. In the end, we realized that if you couldn’t see spirits, you wouldn’t notice much more than a massive institution surrounded by an endless necropolis.
Can you picture this edifice as your high school?
Vita Post Mortem Academy:
To see more pictures of The Light of Supremazia’s setting, check out the (after)life lessons pinterest page.
Don’t be mad. I just googled the band, Mötley Crüe. I know its a heavy metal band formed some time in the 80s, but why were they a “motley crew?” One picture solved the mystery for me:
Don’t be surprised, but this is where I relate Mötley Crüe to young adult fantasy books.
I’ve been doing lots of research on character introductions and came to the realization that most of my favorite books have some sort of motley crew – a group of underdogs who beat all odds and save the day.
The obvious one is Harry Potter. Wasn’t Luna a little looney? Neville Longbottom accident-prone? And Ginny Weasley just a little girl? But you loved the ragtag bunch.
Percy Jackson wasn’t any better – his best friend was a satyr and his brother was a cyclops.
Don’t even get me started on Lord of the Rings.
How about the New Directions in Glee? Definitely your standard geeky bunch.
Well, my next book series starts the same way – a mismatched gaggle of kids, looking for a brave leader, getting into trouble, and of course, attending a school taught by famous ghosts. Look for it soon, called (after)life lessons.
I feel like real life isn’t so different. Didn’t everyone in San Francisco cheer for the 49ers?
I take jazz classes with a talented teacher named Ann twice a week. There are a group of us who joined about a year ago. We started in the back of the class, our own version of a motley crew, tripping through combinations and embarrassing ourselves. Through dedication and hard work, we improved. Most recently, the teacher suggested we stand in the front of the room. I felt like my own personal underdog, able to keep up with her challenging routines and perform next to beautiful dancers without missing a beat. [Perhaps I’ll attache a video soon!]
When I look back at pictures, will I be cringing at my chunky necklaces, peplum dresses, and other trendy styles of the day? The answer is probably yes. When I look at photos of my mom with thick-rimmed glasses in the ’70s and poofy Madonna hair in the ’80s, I giggle (a little). Don’t get me wrong – she was adorable, and she was stylish, but now I’m laughing at the trends.
This week seems to be about the ’90s. In the most recent chapter of my new book series, Bone-Chilling, the reader is introduced to two grandma-aged spirits named Roberta and Shauna. You wouldn’t know it from their jovial dispositions, but both women died abruptly in the ’90s while visiting their alma mater and haunted-mansion-turned-school, Vida Post Mortem Academy. Spirits who have not passed on through the light look like frozen images of themselves the day they die. My question is, what did grandmas wear in the ’90s?
To figure it out, I thought about my life in the ’90s as a middle school student. I had a minor breakdown when my sponge brain seemed momentarily saturated, and I couldn’t figure out who was my 7th grade English teacher. Have no fear, it was Ms. Mayer. But I wasn’t any closer to an answer about grandmas in the ’90s.
And then Saturday afternoon, the problem was solved. I attended an amazing ‘I heart the ’90s’ Zumba class and realized the decade was about grunge and saying no to scrubs and young people as well as grandmas doing ridiculous dance moves like the tootsie roll and hammer time. The class was uplifting and a fantastic workout, and just like the ’90s it was a sweaty party.
Thank you Zumba teachers!
As Halloween approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about monsters. Ghosts, mummies, and zombies will haunt the streets in a few weeks, scaring children and tricking homeowners for treats, but just like a 9-year old boy in a werewolf costume, is there a little sugar sweet kindness beneath all that blood and gore?
Today’s popular fantasy fiction tells us that sometimes the monsters are the heroes. Perhaps they are actually selfless, innocent victims, fighting their instincts to protect the ones they love. Here’s a few examples.
Lena Duchannes, from the book and movie, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, is a Caster (in layman’s terms, a witch). Due to a family curse, she will find out if she is a light or dark Caster on her sixteenth birthday, and there is nothing she can do about it. Of course, before all this happens, she falls in love with a non-Caster. Serious trouble.
Witches are bad, but how about aliens? Daemon Black from the book Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout, is the hot, arrogant alien who lives next door. An entire galaxy of enemies want to kill him, and Katy can’t keep her hands off him.
Lastly, I can’t write a blog post about monsters fighting their instincts without including my main squeeze, Edward Cullen from Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Vampires were made to love and kill. Very dramatic.
As I write my next book series about a girl who goes to school in a haunted mansion, I struggle with the definition of monster. Who is the bad guy? Who saves the day? It might be the same person! (Or ghost!) Stayed tuned for more on my Bone-Chilling series.