Magic Realism Blog Hop 2016: Northern Exposure – all things mystical in the 49th state

mr bloghop small 2016allonymbooks author Cadell Blackstock ponders the value of rules in magical realism.

I’m a complete sucker for beauty. Beautiful landscape, beautiful women and men, beautiful stories. I’m old enough to know better than to tell you how old I actually am, but if I tell you I was old enough to appreciate beautiful storytelling when I saw Northern Exposure when it first aired in the early 1990s, then you can figure that out for yourself.

For those of you who have never seen this gem of innovative, creative, just really funny writing that celebrates beauty in all its forms, Northern Exposure is a classic ‘fish out of water’, ‘stranger comes to town’ story. If you’ve seen Bill Forsyth’s movie Local Hero, you’ll get the idea quick enough. Joel Fleischmann, a newly qualified doctor from Queens, ends up in deeply remote and rural Alaska to pay back the costs of his education. Not only is he far outside his comfort zone, but his down-to-earth, Jewish rationality is constantly flummoxed and defied by the apparent absence of rules in this tight knit community; at least that’s how Joel sees it. Everything is crazy, no-one seems to do anything the right way, and Joel is frequently prevented from doing or getting what he wants. He can’t seem to get on anyone’s wavelength and no one seems to share his values.

NExp logoAgainst the major driver of Joel’s attempts to survive his isolation are set a number of sub-plots, interwoven with the themes of nature, independence, native American culture, isolation and ‘being your own person’. This last is cleverly set against the strength of the community in which Joel now lives – Cicely, Alaska – for in fact everyone in town has very clear rules of their own, but these are rules which are somehow both synergistic with each other and with the environment, while also acknowledging the fundamental differences and conflicts between the perspectives of many of the characters: Maurice and Holling, Maurice and Chris, Joel and Marilyn, Joel and Maggie.

The native American elements would be an obvious source for spiritual, mystical or magical realist elements, and there is in the series a very strong undercurrent of the continuity of native American spiritual belief as a kind of rule set of its own. What intrigues me as a writer is the way this undercurrent seems to infuse everything, both ‘bending the rules’ of story telling and upholding them. I’m a huge fan of magical realism because it’s all about bending rules, it’s all about saying some stuff is possible even if it defies belief. My own hero Crash Cole is, I guess, a version of Joel Fleischmann because his rational head says ‘this is just crazy’ while he has to learn to live within the ‘crazy’ if he is to function at all. That process of compromise and attrition is kind of fascinating to me, because it’s the opposite of the process of negotiation that goes on between magical realist author and their reader. Readers of magical realism go straight into the premise open-minded and open-hearted, living within ‘crazy’ and embracing it completely from the outset. I guess they are smugly willing the hero on to ‘get it’ too.

4-13-ed-one-who-waits2A great example of the fusion and (con)fusion of rules Northern Exposure-style is found in the Series 2 episode, “The Big Kiss”. Chris loses his voice to a beautiful woman who is passing through town, and Ed gets help from a 256-year-old native American spirit to find out more about his parents: these are two essentially magical realist concepts. We are ‘permitted’ to accept the native American spirit guide because we can respect other belief systems, but Chris having his voice stolen goes way beyond a belief system. It breaks the rules of rationality, but in Cicely, anything is possible. Perhaps the remoteness helps – surely this wouldn’t happen in a commuter belt town or an inner city?

Yet whether you see these two story strands as similar or contrasting, they are both managed in the episode by elegant references to story-telling. Chris is told stories by two different people in which a hero who loses his voice must have it restored by intimacy with the most beautiful woman in the village. Ultimately, he tries to recreate the story for himself in order to see if it will work for him. Meanwhile Ed reconnects with the narratives of his native American culture: the spirit One-Who-Waits is always telling him stories or fragments of stories, but none of them actually meets Ed’s purpose of learning about his parents. But at the end, when Ed happens upon a man who might be his father, the man tells his own miniature story of his life since Ed’s birth.

We long for Ed to find what he is looking for: the rules of disruption and resolution demand it, and yet we almost don’t get it because the rule-bending of One-Who-Waits’ existence is actually more fun to watch, though our eyes water a little when Ed realises who Smith is. We long for Chris to get his voice back – the whole of Cicely does – but the sexual tension between him and Maggie means that Maggie almost can’t go through with the intimacy required, and follow the rules of the story into which she has been written.

It occurs to me though that magical realism might, paradoxically, give us a chance to ignore those rules altogether. Would we let that happen? Or are we relieved that the very rules that are flouted are also adhered to so carefully? That stories that start must also end. We need resolution, I suppose. We need outcome. But could the rule-bending of magical realism overcome the rules of story-telling?

Perhaps. But ultimately, it’s still 42 minute TV, folks.

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Cadell Blackstock is the author of the magical realist novel Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’, available through all Amazon sites. He also wrote a blog a couple of years ago for the Blog Hop which he thinks is worth a second read …Crash Cole in 'The Rake Spared' cover

This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2016) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the frog button below to visit them and remember that links to the new posts will be added throughout the blog hop, so do come back to read more.  


 

Magic Realism Blog Hop 2016: Mortality and eternity in writing

mr bloghop small 2016Magic realist novelist Evie Woolmore ponders the permanence of words and the distillation of ideas.

I have lost two people very dear to me this year, and have suffered two more bereavements of a different sort. And as so often follows witnessing the mortality of people and situations, I found myself planning my own funeral and the things I wanted to remember. Yes, that I wanted to remember, not that I wanted others to remember about me.

My personal beliefs are, in a sense, irrelevant in this context but when I lose something important, I always end up back with my writing again to remind myself of what still belongs to me and is unaltered by the passage of what others do and are or don’t and aren’t. So I re-read all my books and a lot of my other unpublished writing, and picked two passages that I want to be read at my funeral, not because I want to impress, depress or profess to others, but because they crystallise what I feel the greatest sense of possession over: my ability to capture what I most want to say in my writing, and how magic realism allows me to do that.

Magic realism is, for me, the opportunity to go beyond the limits of others’ imagination and test only my own. Can I capture the potential of an idea without constraining it? So here is a single paragraph that I think shows what magic realism does best, and what I think it has allowed me to do best: to catch the most nebulous and intangible of ideas in a fleeting moment of sense.

This extract is from the first chapter of my novel The Salt Factory, about a little girl who has extraordinary healing powers. Thelonia Jones, reluctantly returned to England to face up to her past, has just observed the girl bring a dying seagull back to life. The extract I’ve chosen however is not the healing itself, but what happens shortly afterwards as Thelonia’s worlds of wintry Colorado, an English summer, her past and her present begin to coalesce around her. Thelonia has just met the little girl’s protective relative, and the hostile reception has disorientated her.The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore

I shiver in the baking heat of the yard, slow to notice that the little girl is tugging at my hand. I bend down quite in spite of myself, and feel the girl’s lips brush my cheek. The smell of the sea and the cry of seabirds blossoms and fades like a night-flowering cactus, and for the briefest of moments I wonder if this is what the gull felt like when the little girl put her hand on it.

 

There is nothing strikingly magic realist about the sentences in this paragraph. It could be taken quite literally that a rush of blood to Thelonia’s head has augmented her sense of reality, her senses themselves, much as I outlined in last year’s blog hop post. But for me, magic realism often relies on that very conflation I described when introducing the paragraph. It is about the layering of one thing on top of another, images, senses, ideas. Thelonia shivers in the heat. The sensations of being beside the sea remind her of something altogether more exotic from the dry heart of the America she has come to call home. She dislikes children but she allows the little girl to kiss her cheek. It is the promise innate in the contrast, in the space between the two extremes. And in magic realism, the ‘extremes’ are reality and magic, the actual and the possible. They push each other further away and pull irresistibly towards each other.

In this short paragraph from another of my novels, Equilibrium, Epiphany – an Edwardian medium – is about to conjure up the physical form of her spirit guide Rosina in front of a packed theatre and several close witnesses.

equilibriumThrough the strands of her loose blonde hair that fall in front of her face, she can see the conductor’s beady gaze peeping over the edge of the orchestra pit. He has watched her a dozen times already but still his eyes widen when he glimpses her ankles, so distracted by this enchantment that he is oblivious to what he really sees. But that is at the heart of Epiphany’s success and she has learned to be glad of it.

 

Do our eyes widen when we read magic realism because we want to be distracted by the enchantment? Do we wish to be confounded, transported, challenged, thrown out of our imaginative literary comfort zones into some place we have never been before? And are we willing co-conspirators in our own oblivion, determined not to see the joins between the magic and reality?

I think so. In fact I depend upon it. I relish it, love it, respect it and cannot really live without it in my writing. I’m playing a game with reality, I suppose. But that game is ultimately about contrast. It is about the eternity of ideas juxtaposed with the very temporaryness and mortality of words. There is a theory in creative analysis (I think) that suggests that art works or pieces of music only actually exist when they are seen or heard by someone. I am certain that my writing will cease to have relevance after I have died. But the ideas will live on, and for a fleeting moment when my words are read, the magic in them will become real.

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Evie Woolmore is the author of three magic realist novels, available through all Amazon sites. To find out more about Evie and her writing, have a wander around the allonymbooks website searching by the tag Evie Woolmore or magical realism, or download some free samples for your Kindle. You can also find some great novels by other allonymbooks authors here too.

And if you follow this link, you can read fellow allonymbooks author Cadell Blackstock’s magic realist blog on Northern Exposure.

This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2016) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the frog button below to visit them and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.  Zoe does a great job curating this every year, and the blogs are always worth reading!  

 

 

Magic Realism Blog Hop 2015: Heightened senses of reality in the magical realist novels of Sarah Addison Allen

allonymbooks magical realist author Evie Woolmore peeks, sniffs and cranes to hear the faintest hints of sensory perception for this year’s Magic Realism Blog Hop.

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Magical realism is often about stretching our definitions of reality, but one of the things I most like to do as a writer of magical realism is to plunge the depths of the most tangible features of our reality: our senses. The magical aspects of MR are often enabled by challenging what we see or hear, or harnessing the sixth senses of intuition and perception beyond the other five. But there is a kind of enchantment to be found in the most everyday of the senses, particularly smell and taste.

I mentioned in last year’s Blog Hop that that is one of the qualities I most admire in the novels of Sarah Addison Allen. Her plots may be uncomplicated with respect to some of the storytelling in the genre, the settings domestic, the life challenges identifiable, but within them lies the magic, much of which is crafted by the way Allen uses the senses to describe her characters’ experiences.

Food plays an important part in Allen’s books, indeed Garden Spells is essentially a love letter to the sensory pleasure that food can bring, and many characters cook or bake, seducing themselves and others into states of calm, romance, safety. Allen uses flavours and scents to evoke memory, which isn’t in itself unusual: “cinammon…was a calming scent, reminding him of mulled wine, baked apples, and winter nights.” (Lost Lake).

But it is not merely one sense that Allen uses but senses in combination, connected, fused together.

“His words surrounded her like perfume.” (The Sugar Queen)

“Snow flurries began to fall and they swirled around people’s legs like house cats.” (The Sugar Queen)

“Lisette loved the flavors of old, simple recipes…[that] tasted soft and sure of themselves.” (Lost Lake)

“Her mom used to take her coffee like this. So sweet it could kiss you, she used to say.” (Lost Lake)

Incidentally, that same fluidity between states of sense is also found in Allen’s management of time in her books. Time is crafted, manipulated, rewound to reset the past, the present and the future, and memory and anticipation, the past and future versions of ourselves are also key to the magic of Allen’s story-telling.

I could write all day, picking out lovely sentences and ideas from Allen’s books. But I suppose the reminder for me in my own writing is that magical realism thrives on creating the imaginative and extraordinary from the everyday components of experience.

The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore

Evie Woolmore is the author of three magical realist novels: Equilibrium, The Salt Factory, and Rising Up. You can find out more about Evie here on the allonymbooks website and buy her books on all Amazon sites.

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This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2015) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the button below to visit them and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.

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You can also read Magic Realism Blog Hop posts by allonymbooks authors from previous years:

Facts and Fiction: Historical Magical Realism – 2013

Evie Woolmore on the Six Senses

Magical Realism for Men? – 2014 (Cadell Blackstock)

Visionary Fiction: Does the same wine taste different out of a new bottle?

allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore has recently joined the Visionary Fiction Alliance. She ponders how this might affect her ongoing questions about genres and labelling.

Years ago, when I was a student, I took a class on artistic criticism – literature, art, music and so on. We spent some time criticising stuff, and we spent some time reading other people’s criticism of stuff, all the while a-pondering who we were as critics and the impact of that on how we criticised. In many respects, it was quite a revolutionary class at the time, for reception theory was not all that widely taught, and because I was also interested in movies, I began to think a lot about how who we are impacts on the way we retell stories that we read or see on screen.

The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore

Decades on, as a writer, this idea has come to pre-occupy me a lot, and as anyone who has followed the excellent blogs on the Magical Realism Blog Hops (2013 and 2014) will know, those of us who call ourselves magical realist writers spend a lot of time thinking about what this genre means, and how it is defined. We think a lot about what readers bring and expect when they pick a book that belongs to our genre, and how expectations can be both enhancing and problematic to us as writers. We think also about how different themes in our stories are picked out and remembered by reviewers, quite often unrelated to what we intended as writers. I think I’ve disappointed a fair few magical realist and historical fiction readers along the way, so I was curious when someone suggested to during the last Blog Hop that perhaps what I wrote could also be defined as Visionary Fiction.

One of the interesting aspects of writing anything with a paranormal, supernatural or otherworldly element to it, is just how many labels you can apply to the finished book, and how many of these categories overlap. Amazon makes my life very difficult by over-simplifying its categorisations, though they are just one sieve through which my books will fall. I’m better at defining what my books aren’t – at least by looking at what other books fall into that category – than I am at defining what my books are. A quick swipe through the Goodreads ‘Historical Paranormal’ list made me realise that I definitely don’t belong there, and yet my books are definitely historical fiction with a paranormal twist.

equilibrium

So what I like about the idea of Visionary Fiction is the idea that VF is a tone of writing, as much as it is about content. In writing historical fiction, I could hardly be described as an architect of the future, which is often considered an aspect of VF, but what makes my writing very definitely VF is “the emphasis is on our limitless human potential, where transformation and evolution are entirely possible“.

A more long-winded way of saying that is something I’ve quoted of myself before: “The [magical realist] aspects in my novels do not exist in parallel to our world, they are right here in it. They are discoveries like electro-magnetism and radiation in the nineteenth century, and the Higgs-Boson particle in the twenty-first; they are part of the fabric of this all-too-real world, visible all along if only you would just tilt your head a little further to one side and set yourself free of some of your pre-conceptions.”

For me that is the tone of writing. What I write is entirely possible. smaller_ru

So, while I do not have the vampires or exoticism that so often feature in the outlying areas of paranormal and magical realist fiction, I do have “dreams, visions, paranormal events, psychic abilities, and other metaphysical plot devices”.  And perhaps, in having them, I have at last also found the right home for my novels.

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You can download samples of all Evie’s books by clicking on the cover images, or you can go to her webpage and find out more about her novels. Evie Woolmore‘s novels are available on all Amazon websites.

Magical Realism Blog Hop 2014: Cadell Blackstock responds to Leigh Podgorski

bloghop button 2014 small

Leigh Podgorski wrote a really interesting blog for the Magic Realism Blog Hop yesterday, in which this quote caught my eye:

In today’s literary marketplace it seems at times that it is all about the label—though in truth, Magic Realism does not seem to entice anyone to pounce upon the BUY NOW button.”

Leigh had started her piece by sharing some different definitions of magical realism, and I liked Susan Napier’s suggestion that magical realist fiction “takes the supernatural for granted”. It sort of got me thinking about genre again, a topic which we argue about regularly at allonymbooks and which my stablemate Evie Woolmore has blogged about before: is magical realism the principle genre of the books she writes (and I dabble in), or is it just one of several?

In this incredibly crowded market for fiction, aren’t all writers looking for something that makes their work stand out? And yet, as Leigh implies, that’s thinking like a writer, not thinking like a reader. Readers – and I’m no different – look for the familiar, something they’re going to feel comfortable with, a bit like not sitting next to the panic-stricken guy on the plane. I was surfing through the top 100 Kindle books last week, looking for some holiday reading, and I was kind of mad at myself for drifting towards the familiar all the time. But unless your reading mindset is deliberately adventurous, and you want to be challenged all the time, you’re probably not the sort of reader who does press ‘Buy Now’ when you see a book is magical realist.

Crash Cole in 'The Rake Spared' coverSo I’m thinking some more about this idea of taking the supernatural for granted. Is that like saying that in magical realist fiction, the supernatural is the least remarkable thing about the book? I know Evie’s approach is to normalise the supernatural stuff, to make it seem like it’s been there all along. Now by contrast, my lead character, Crash Cole, (let’s not pretend the guy’s a hero!) knows that what’s happening to him is anything but normal, but in all honesty I was more interested in writing innovatively about the lack of social and emotional boundaries we have now, and using the supernatural element (that Crash can hear everyone’s thoughts) as a way to show that. I was taking the supernatural for granted. But as a writer. I’m still not sure what readers think about that.

Leigh goes on to say “Still, a category is a category, or a label is a label, and it would matter to the loyal group of readers.” Which makes me wonder if readers are clinging on to the genre elements they can more easily relate to – the romance, the history – and they let the magical realism be the sprinkles on the cupcake. A kind of fancy add-on which doesn’t stand out as a flavour but makes the cake a bit more special. Would you buy a cupcake because it had yellow sprinkles rather than green ones? You might do if you were five (which is why kids are great audiences for magical realism), but as an adult you’re thinking “Is that red velvet under all that goo?”

I’m no further on in answering the question I set myself, but I’d like to thank Leigh for making me think about it. And actually, I kind of like the idea that we can take the supernatural for granted. It might make marketing my next book a bit easier too.

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Cadell Blackstock is the author of Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’, a contemporary satire on sex and celebrity (with a bit of supernatural thrown in, but don’t make a big deal out of it).

MAGIC REALISM BLOGHOP 2014
This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. Twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (6th – 8th August) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the link below to find out about the other posts and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.

 

 

 

 

 

Magical Realism Blog Hop 2014: Evie Woolmore on the Six Senses

bloghop button 2014 small

For this year’s Magical Realism Blog Hop, organised again by author and reviewer Zoe Brooksallonymbooks author and magical realist novelist Evie Woolmore discusses the significance of the Six Senses in her writing.

One of the joys of blog-hopping, rather than just surfing, is the structured way in which new insights come to light. Not that I have a problem just rambling through the byways and back lanes of other people’s consciousness, you understand, but it is easy to get lost in the blogosphere if you have no general sense of direction (as I don’t), and a few signposts are always useful. Last year, through one thing and another and all because of Zoe Brooks’ first Magic Realism Blog Hop, I discovered the American magical realist writer Sarah Addison Allen.

“Crumbs!” I hear you cry, “how could you possibly have failed to discover her until then? Call yourself a magical realist writer?”

Well, yes, as it happens I do. But I stray towards the literary end in my own writing and reading and, as readers of Ms Allen’s lovely books will know, her writing falls equally into the category of romance as it does into magical realist. But once discovered, never forgotten, and I gobbled up her books as eagerly as the residents of Bascom gobble up Claire’s extraordinary cooking in Garden SpellsFor one of Ms Allen’s great talents as a writer – and indeed the common theme in all her books – is the power of the sensation of taste. Not the enjoyment of eating, but the sheer evocative glory, pleasure and mystery of taste and all the sensory delights that go with it.

Much as a stalwart of the Women’s Institute annual baking competition might envy the crisp crust and succulent juicy filling of cherry pie made by the newcomer to the village, so I wished that I could have written a book like Garden Spells, purely because I don’t imagine anyone else would ever be able to capture that sense with quite the same immersive quality. It is not the joy of eating that Ms Allen celebrates, but the utter power of taste to captivate, motivate, engulf and endure.

And then, quite without warning, like a cherry stone stuck in my tooth, I realised that Ms Allen and I were not quite so far apart as I had first thought.

equilibriumWhen I first started writing magical realist fiction some years ago, I did so because it felt like the best ‘home’ for the sort of writing I wanted to do about matters of spirituality and the sixth sense. In fact, in the blog I wrote for last year’s Blog Hop, I observed that I chose magical realism because of that very deliberate juxtaposition of the familiar and the unfamiliar, the believable and the challenging. I wrote that “[t]he magical realist aspects in my novels do not exist in parallel to our world, they are right here in it. They are discoveries like electro-magnetism and radiation in the nineteenth century and the Higgs-Boson particle in the twenty-first, they are part of the fabric of this all-too-real world, visible all along if only you would just tilt your head a little further to one side and set yourself free of some of your pre-conceptions.

The five senses are a perfect example of that very juxtaposition. Medical science has helped us understand the way those senses function biologically, and yet it is powerless to rationalise why we can feel the presence of others with our eyes shut or why I hear the name of a person just before they phone me. I wanted to explore each of the five senses individually in my novels, but with ever-present reference to the sixth sense, the one that I feel connects the implicit power of those five senses together, the one that ‘makes sense’ of the information they offer that is beyond the merely cognitive, the one that plunges us into the less charted spaces of memory, emotion, insight.

The Salt Factory by Evie Woolmore

 

I didn’t want to make an explicit claim for ESP or a certain school of parapscyhology – though I never stop hoping that scientists and sceptics will be more patient and admit that in all science there is still so much we don’t know and understand – but I did want to say that nothing is never as simple as it looks, and to propose a loosening of our intellectual corsets in favour not merely of imagination but possibility. I don’t expect readers to go away from reading my books with a revised view of the world, merely a more heightened awareness of their own world, a greater attention to detail. And what Sarah Addison Allen does so precisely and so perfectly in books like Garden Spells is to focus on every tiny detail of the sensation of taste. That she does so in different ways in her books shows how much there is to express and explore in that one sense alone, how taste does not exist without smell or sight or that sensory awareness that does not yet have a universally accepted label.

In my first three novels, I have chosen to write about three different senses. Equilibrium is about sight, about what we see, Continue reading

Coming Soon: Magic Realism Blog Hop 2014!

bloghop button 2014 small

allonymbooks is delighted to have been invited to join this year’s Magic Realism Blog Hop by magical realist author and reviewer Zoe Brooks. Last year’s blogs were fascinating, a rich range of perspectives from talented writers of atmospheric and engaging writing. If you are a magical realist author and you want to sign up, then you can visit Zoe’s blog and register yourself here.

The Blog Hop runs from 6th-8th August, so come back and see us then, when allonymbooks’ own conjuress of magical realism Evie Woolmore will be talking about her relationship with the sixth sense…