Or in my case, it’s not. Not really.
My magical worlds aren’t all that much different than the real world, in fact, some people would say they’re just the same as the real world. Ever so slightly skewed – but still perfectly recognizable as the world we inhabit every day.
Think of Alice Hoffman, Barbara Kingsolver, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Umberto Eco. Those are the kind of worlds I love – the worlds of magic realism. What in the heck is that, you ask?
Our world, slightly skewed. That’s the easiest way for me to explain it. Maybe there’s a ghost, or a world (like Brigadoon) that appears only once in a hundred years. Think of An American in Paris – how much of that movie is reality? How much Gene Kelly’s imagination? It doesn’t really matter, because what’s important in the world of magic realism is that whatever happens seems perfectly natural, just a part of the world of the story.
Say for example, there’s a young man who died on his sixteenth birthday by crashing his car into a tree. And say that he (his non-temporal self) has spent the past twenty years trapped in that tree. He can see the world around him but can’t participate. But the tree grows and grows and grows and he gets a little sadder and a little lonelier each year. No one has picnics under this tree, everyone avoids getting near it. It’s not that people call it haunted, and it’s not just the people who remember the boy’s death, it’s just one of those places people don’t feel comfortable around. And then one summer, the young girl who works in the donut shop next door needs to decide whether she’ll leave her mother and take the chance and go to college. She ends up under the tree. She talks to it. And the boy, finally, reaches out emotionally to tell her that she has to leave or she’ll end up like him, trapped in the tree forever. Alice Hoffman’s TURTLE MOON has that scenario.
Much of my writing has that touch of magic realism. A house that’s so perfect it helps heal broken lives. A woman carrying her mother’s ashes and communicating with them. A woman who runs along the beach and almost manages to turn herself into a selkie – just by wishing it so. A man who pours his soul into letters and can’t get it out of them. A woman who sees death in photographs. A young man who truly is a pinball wizard.
This type of magic heals the damaged, helps us unbury the things that we know somewhere deep inside but are incapable of reaching. Jung or Freud might say that this type of magic is really just the subconscious reaching up to the conscious. Maybe it is, maybe it’s just a way for my characters to acknowledge their deepest desires and a way for them to attain them.
In another way, it’s like dreaming. Sometimes we dream of the thing – peace, joy, love – we are incapable of asking for when awake.
So how do I do this when I’m writing? Well, see, there’s the rub. Because, like my characters, much of what I do is buried so deeply in my brain that I don’t know I’m going to write it before I do. But because I think this way, believe in everyday magic, so do my characters. They may not expect it, but they believe in it when it happens.
Can I explain the process more clearly? Not really. All I can say is that I see this kind of magic every single day. In the way that there’s a single cherry tree in my neighborhood that blossoms weeks before all the rest even though it’s the same type of tree. In the way that a dog or cat might come up to a complete stranger and lay their head on that stranger’s lap, knowing, beyond all doubt, that the stranger needs them. In the way I pick up the phone just before it rings and know who’s calling. In the way I sometimes know exactly what is going to happen before it does. In the way that writing down your plans or dreams or wishes can help make them come true. In the way that some people are lucky at cards. Or love. Or work. Or relationships. In the way that any of us – in a world of 6 billion people – are fortunate enough to meet our perfect mate.
And because I see this magic every single day, it ends up in my books. It’s part of my real world and naturally part of my fictional worlds.
Wishing you magic…