Today, I stumbled across this piece of writing advice from sci-fi writer Gene Wolfe. “Start the next book.”
Yikes! I’m still editing The Temple of Lost Time with my ASA mentor. I just finished an epic overhaul involving the wholesale slaughter of darlings and ruthless culling of scenes that slimmed my pudgy 66,000-word manuscript down to a lean 54,000 words with a taut-n-terrific middle. Next we polish.
I can’t possibly start something else.
I’ve been reluctant to work on multiple writing projects at once. What if I mix up characters or lose the voice of one work or do something stupid with the files?
Erm, no. I’ve realised two things. First, it’s unlikely that I’d have two manuscripts at the same stage of development. The kind of thinking and energy required in pre-writing is very different to that of outlining, drafting, revising and finessing.
Second, I will not manage to create a significant body of work if I maintain my current ambling pace. Just as stores need stock to sell, serious writers need finished works. It’s time for me to shift gears to generate more stories.
Off the Back Burner
My Graceland (working title) project is so exciting I’m almost giggling at the prospect of sticking my fingers into its gooey belly. After some 12 months of preparatory mulling and reading, I have a protagonist named Tallulah and a cast of odd-bod characters, a cool setting I can’t wait to explore, an intriguing genre, and the first shreds of research.
Graceland will be a contemporary middle-grade coming-of-age story with a dusting of magical realism. I want to create a story that feels like Roald Dahl’s Matilda—funny and poignant, filled with heartbreak and hope, but with a darker, issue-laden backdrop. The Secret Life of Bees comes to mind, but my protagonist will be 12 or 13, a year or two younger than Lily Owens in Bees. And I want some wry Aussie humour to buoy it. Think: Cloudstreet for kids.
Why Magical Realism?
We all know the adage: Write the book you want to read. Well, the book I just described is exactly what I want to read. If I l lined my favourites on a shelf, I would see a trend – a strong leaning toward magical realism, which I love because it’s atmospheric. Think of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The Secret Lives of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Skellig by David Almond
Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Even elements of The Secret Garden could be considered magical realism.
The bigger question is what is magical realism. It’s a valid question, because just about everyone—including authors, agents and editors—is confused. It’s no wonder: magical realism is by nature vague. Simply put, it portrays a mundane world where magical (or miraculous) things happen without question or explanation.
“If you can explain it, then it’s not magical realism.” – Luis Leal
I have been reading up on the genre for a while now to prepare myself. I hope I can pull it off. It takes a light touch to get the balance of realism and magic right—subtle yet substantial. It can’t be tinsel and bobbles tossed on at the end. It has to lie in the warp and weft of the story. More reading is required. With any luck, I’ll absorb ‘it’ by osmosis.
Really Good Magical Realism Resources
Lindsay Moore‘s Magical Realism article on the Emory Postcolonial Studies site presents a brief academic overview with two examples and a useful list of characteristics.
How about an academic article that refers specifically to magical realism in children’s literature? In particular, David Almond’s Skellig. Don Latham’s paper is insightful. Particularly useful are the references to Wendy Faris’s five characteristics of magical realism. What a find this was! It came from a site called Alice’s Academy, which is an off-shoot of The Looking Glass: New Perspectives in Children’s Literature, a database which is now hosted by Australia’s La Trobe University. #RabbitHoleWarning!
Agent-Editor-Author Michelle Witte has a 5-part series that unpacks magical realism and gives some examples of texts. She boils it down to “ordinary events with a touch of the extraordinary.” Michelle’s series is comprehensive and avoids getting bogged down in the political and historical roots of the genre/movement. Those are interesting and valid points, but they don’t help with creativity.
Ted Gioia, a world authority on jazz and books, covers the latter on one of his sites, Conceptual Fiction. One year, he completed A Year of Magical Reading, reading and reviewing a book a week that incorporates elements of fantasy, magic, or the surreal. Use this one to find well-written reviews on what Ted calls Conceptual Fiction, which is literary genre fiction. I spent a couple of hours browsing his virtual shelves. #RabbitHoleWarning!
[I will add more resources as I find them.]
Going to Graceland
Now that I’ve given myself permission to work on Graceland, I’ll continue reading magical realism for grownups and children. I’ll research elements of the story (setting, themes, etc) in earnest, looking for my propelling nugget of goodness or PNG, a deliciously quirky fact that makes my story take off. And I’ll start planning my character arcs working toward an outline…
…All while polishing the other MS, The Temple of Lost Time.
Over to You
Do you have a favourite magical realism title? What do you think about working on more than one project at a time? Got any tips?
Gene Wolfe’s hand via BuzzFeed
Record Store by Yaroslav Blokhin via Unsplash
Staying Ground by Rob Potter via Unsplash