I love Halloween. It’s one of the few nights a year when the veil lifts and when, supposedly, the dead can walk freely among us mortals. Can you feel it, how the air becomes electrified with possibilities and magic? Usually on Halloween I’m an unabashed witch. See that photo? That’s me there. It’s a no-brainer, given that I am actually something of a witch. Sometimes I use the more innocuous word gypsy instead, but let’s not split hairs. I’ve read tarot since I was fourteen and even recently did a blog post on reading tarot, which, as a Halloween treat, you might enjoy reading. I might be one of your few friends who will call you to say a loved one showed up in dreams, with a message about wedding rings. I can tell you that basil, blessed thistle, chamomile, or rosemary can bring you luck and success, that lavender helps with sleep, that Thursday is ruled by Jupiter and good for career-related things, and that red candles are used for love, sex, or vigor, yellow to attract and persuade, and light blue to promote understanding. I am careful during the time the moon is waning. And I try to send out my thoughts like prayers—only good—because I believe in the laws of karma, and I believe that energy travels.
Given my love of magic, I decided to write a post about magical realism. In a way this post represents a blend of recent topics, as it hits on one of my favorite genres, pointers, and risks that paid or didn’t pay off. For starters, even making the above statements is a risk. In the olden days, I might have been burned for such statements! But, too, I’ve tried my hand at magical realism once, and couldn’t quite get it to fly. (Ha, lame pun.) When I wrote my debut novel, PRECIOUS, I actually had an element of magical realism in it. In the original draft, Eva looks out her window at the end of Part I and flowers are falling from the sky, not rain. The ‘flower thread,’ as I called it, was then developed as the book progressed. It was important to me for reasons that were beyond my logical mind. It was so important, in fact, that I was scared to trust it. I trusted my rational mind to shape a plot, to write the story well, to have characters come to life, but I didn’t trust the magic I wanted—the element of the extraordinary—would spring to life. It felt ‘way out there’ to me. It required a leap of faith. In the end my wise editor looked at it and decided that the harsh reality of my novel was too much for the more delicate magical-realism thread. She was right, a point even more obvious to me when I could cut the thread without hardly any reworking/revision. I hadn’t developed it enough. I didn’t let it infuse itself, didn’t let it take over the world, the way I truly believe magic can enter into our lives, and shape us, all for the better.
I’m not unhappy that I cut the thread. Part of being a writer requires coming more and more into yourself. But you know I am very OCD about certain ideas and images and themes. So of course I have a project I’m working on that has some magical realism elements, yet again. With that in mind, a few pointers I want to hang on my own computer as I work:
1) Magic, little witch, is not for the timid! Be strong with your intentions and have them permeate the page. If you don’t believe it, no one else will. If you’re going to go for it, then dang it, GO FOR IT!
2) Never be afraid to bring out what is naturally in you. The world at large may deem you nuts, but like energy finds like energy. You will always find a home, and readers, if you write from your heart.
3) Take a lesson from John Updike, who doesn’t make his magic seem anything other than mundane. Because, in a very real way, magic IS mundane—it’s all around us, all the time. Read The Witches of Eastwick, for example. Things just happen, and the author doesn’t get mired down in justifying why that is. It just is.
4) Magic has to operate within the reality of a narrative framework and within the reality of the plot, characters, and setting. This is a truism that cannot be hampered with, as far as I can tell. It’s like a law of the (fictional) universe!
5) Magic can also be ‘other-worldly’—another door, another place. In other words, a world co-existing with this one—tangible, yet still slightly apart from the everyday world, a veil to be lifted. But it can just as easily be worldly. Practical Magic comes to mind.
6) Details build credence. Gabriel Garcia Marquez knew this. Take his gritty angel, as an example.
7) Magic can also be justified by science. Quantum physics, anyone? (See, that’s the rational part of me, again.)
8) Often magic is introduced gradually and then ratcheted up and up, as the narrative progresses, but just as easily some readers are simply put into a fully-blown, ‘not-quite-ordinary’ world.
I’m sure there’s more than this, but that’s off the top of my head. So: What do you most wish for, what magic in your life? Write it down, send it out in the world. I wish you all every success (and all a gypsy’s blessings), that what you put out there is given to you.
HAPPY HALLOWEEN! XOXO
Sandra Novack is the author of PRECIOUS and the short story collection EVERYONE BUT YOU, both available from Random House. Visit her at http://www.sandranovack.com, or on-line at Facebook.