Monday, September 19, 2011

Why I Write Magical Realism

Why I Write Magical Realism
Guest Blogger: Athol Dickson

Several novels back I decided to begin including magical realism in my work. I started writing about fires that burn in spite of floods, mysterious cures, angelic interventions, and flying artists. But I’m not a fantasy writer. My novels include magical realism because I want to write more realistically about this world, not because I want to escape it.

Consider this famous quote from The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.”

Is Lewis describing the world as it actually is? Or is this merely a creative person’s whimsy, gross hyperbole with only a slight fraction of reality at the core?

I believe the quote is accurate, the way it’s accurate to say the sun is hot or rain is wet. And I’m certain Lewis intended it to be understood that way. So if I write a scene in which one character witnesses another’s transformation into something god-like or demonic, I’m not doing it because I want to create an escapist fantasy. I’m doing it because I want to describe life more accurately.

Fantasy stories need no grounding in the reality of this world. They have holistic logical systems and realities that affect every aspect of their separate universes. They can describe things that never were and never will be on the earth, without direct attachments to the readers’ everyday existence. On the other hand, magical realism by definition remains tethered to the “real” workings of this universe. In fact I believe sometimes just a touch of the magical can make a story more applicable to a reader’s everyday existence than it would be otherwise.

One classic example is in my favorite novel of all time, One Hundred Years of Solitude, where Gabriel Garcia Marquez describes a village stricken by “the insomnia plague.” This mass sleeplessness eventually affects the peoples’ memories. One man realizes he will soon no longer be able to function without help. He puts signs on everything to remind him what they are. Others do it too, and soon the signs are everywhere.

After a while the people realize knowing what to call a thing does not mean one knows what to do with it. They begin to add instructions to the signs. A cow is for milking, and milk is for putting into coffee, and etcetera. At one end of their town, they even erect a sign which says, GOD EXISTS.

Finally into this “quicksand of forgetfulness” comes a gypsy with “a drink of a gentle color.” When that cure takes hold, one healed man’s “eyes became moist from weeping even before he noticed himself in an absurd living room where objects were labeled and before he was ashamed of the solemn nonsense written on the walls . . .”

None of this is technically impossible of course, therefore it is not “fantasy” in the literary sense. It is only highly, extremely, vastly improbable; so completely unlikely to happen that we must at least call it “magical.” Yet Garcia Marquez wrings so much common sense from it, one cannot help but wonder if this “insomnia plague” might be something he has actually witnessed in the world—something not merely magical, but somehow also real.

Perhaps Garcia Marquez (the world’s best known author of “magical realism”) has simply written about life as it really is for the millions who are driven to mass insanity by labor on the treadmill of materialism, exhausted to the point of forgetting why they started running in the first place, yet goaded to keep at it by the omnipresent advertisements which remind them they need this thing and that thing in order to continue to forget who they really are.

I write magical realism because some fires do burn in the midst of floods (think of hope when all seems lost), and all cures are essentially mysterious (no one can explain aspirin), and angels do occasionally intervene (according to the beggars in Mother Theresa’s Calcutta), and there are moments in the midst of work when artists sometimes fly (just ask one if you don’t believe).

In other words, I write magical realism because most of us need to get a little distance from our lives to see them as they really are.


"Opposite of Art"
Athol Dickson is a novelist, teacher, and publisher of the DailyCristo website. His novels blend magical realism, suspense, and a strong sense of spirituality. Critics have favorably compared his work to such diverse authors as Octavia Butler (Publisher’s Weekly) and Flannery O’Connor (The New York Times). One of his novels is an Audie Award winner and three have won Christy Awards. His latest story, The Opposite Of Art, is about pride, passion, and murder as a spiritual pursuit. Athol lives with his wife in southern California.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cheryl's Musings: Writing Craft: Show-Don’t-Tell*

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cheryl's Musings: Tuesday Ten: 10 Ways to Craft a Sense of Place

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Cheryl's Musings: Tuesday Ten: Skills Every Writer Needs

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The Art of Avoiding Burn Out

The Art of Avoiding Burn Out
by Danyelle Leafty

Writing can be exhausting.

Not the kind of exhausting that comes from running a marathon, but the kind that comes from squeezing your brain inside out as you search for the right words, the right descriptions, or the right threads of the story.

Day after day. Week after week. Year after year.

Do this long enough without taking care of yourself, and you risk burning out. Pulling your creative muscle until it cowers in the corner, whimpering.

Not that, ahem, I'm doing I have ever done this, but there is a real danger in being over productive. In working too hard without giving your creative side enough time and space to recover. Setting and working toward your goals is a good thing--so long as you pace yourself realistically.

So what can you do to avoid burnout? Especially if you have deadlines looming out at you?

Take a break.

Really. I know this may sound counterintuitive, but it works. Think of your creative side as a muscle. Let's say you want to get in shape well enough to run a writer's equivalent of the 3k. You wouldn't pound your body so hard in the name of getting there that you couldn't walk the next day, would you? And you wouldn't do that over and over and over again, would you?

The human body is a marvelous thing that can take a lot of abuse, but eventually it gets tired and worn out if it's not allowed to recharge. Creativity is a lot like this. So taking a break isn't necessarily procrastinating, and it doesn't have to be unproductive.

In fact, taking a break can be one of the most productive things you do for yourself and your creativity.

The key is in figuring out what kinds of activities allow your creative muscles a chance to relax, to heal, and to rejuvenate.

Some things you can do every day that can help prevent burn out include:

* Exercise: That's right. Taking care of your body is an excellent burn out preventative. Doing meditative exercises like yoga or tai chi can help even more.
* Eat right: You are what you eat. If you eat nutritious foods and appropriate serving sizes, your body will feel better and so will you.
* Get enough sleep: If your body is anything like mine, it's going from the time you wake up until you go to bed. It doesn't function well if you don't get adequate rest, which will in turn affect your ability to think, cope with stress, and be creative.
* Manage your stress levels: The first step is being conscious of where your stress levels are at. It's a good idea to figure out what people/things/situations raise your stress levels so you can come up with coping strategies that allow you to lower your stress levels and relax.
* Managing your world perceptions: A lot of times, how we see the world directly impacts how we react to it. Learning how to see the world (and people) in a more positive light can help you feel better and not get burned out so quickly.
* Managing your self perception: How you see yourself will have a direct impact on your mental health and creativity.

Other things that can help help replenish your creative wells:

* Get inspired through music, art, and anything else that feeds your creativity.
* Go for a walk: Sometimes it helps to change your environment for a little while. Added perks: fresh air, change of scenery, exercise.
* Go out and do something: As an introvert, I have to be careful how I schedule my social activities so they don't end up *leading* to burn out. But I've noticed that if I plan them well enough, getting out and being with people fills me up mentally and emotionally. (They still wear me out, but not in a bad way.)
* Read a good book: When I'm running under tight deadlines, I've noticed that the first thing I stop doing is reading. I've noticed that when I take the time anyway, the time I spend in someone else's world actually recharges my brain, my creativity, and my energy.
* Learn how to say no: This is a hard one, but very necessary.
* Know when to say no: Not all things, people, or events are equal. Do the most important things, because they're the ones that matter in the long run.
* Try something you've never tried before: New experiences can be fuel for your creativity.
* Take a nap: Sometimes rest is all you need.
* Try meditation: Sometimes all our bodies need is for us to slow down for some peace and quiet.
* Be flexible. Extending a deadline isn't the end of the world. (Unless, of course, you have a contractual deadline you have no control over.) It's okay to take time off without feeling guilty. The important thing is getting there in one piece.

What about you? What do you do to avoid burning yourself out?

Danyelle Leafty (@danyelleleafty) writes MG and YA fantasy. In her spare time, she collects dragons, talking frogs, and fairy godmothers. She can be found discussing the art of turning one's characters into various animals, painting with words, and the best ways to avoid getting eaten by dragons on her blog. Her serial novel THE FAIRY GODMOTHER DILEMMA can be found here. The first 12 chapters of THE FAIRY GODMOTHER DILEMMA are available here.
File Under: avoiding burning out, Danyelle Leafty

Saturday, September 10, 2011

This is me in another lifetime. ;-) on Twitpic

This is me in another lifetime. ;-) on Twitpic

The Highs and Lows of a Writer’s Life (or anyone's life, for that matter!)

The Highs and Lows of a Writer’s Life
Jody Hedlund

It was a glorious day. I was basking in all the love and encouragement from blog readers. My inbox was filled with wonderful comments about my new website and redecorated blog. I was beginning to get positive reviews on my debut novel The Preacher’s Bride.

The writer’s life was looking pretty good. All that hard work was paying off. I could take a breather and enjoy the view for a little while.

Just as I was getting comfortable with a fresh cup of coffee and clicking through the pages of my lovely new website for the hundredth time, I got an email from my editor at Bethany House. He wanted to arrange a phone call to discuss Book 2 which I’d turned in a month ago, and he said, “We’ll be talking about a pretty significant rewrite, but I’m confident it’s a rewrite you’ll be able to make shine.”

In a matter of a few seconds, I plummeted off the high peak I’d been standing upon. And I crash-landed into a deep cavern. Darkness swept away the bright joy I’d felt only moments earlier.

“Significant rewrite?” What did that mean?

Surely he was mistaken. Book 2 was my newest love. It was the best book I’d written yet (or so I’d thought!). I’d spent months working on it, sacrificing my time, pouring my heart into it. And now my precious Book 2 would need a significant rewrite? Why? What had gone wrong?

Crushed, I struggled to hold back the tears.

My experience is fairly typical, isn’t it? We’ve all had those really high moments where we’re feeling on top of the world. Then something happens that topples us into the pit.

We might win a contest then fail to garner the attention of an agent. We get great feedback from one critique partner, but another can’t seem to find anything right. We have an agent ask to see more of our manuscript, but we don’t hear back from her for months. Perhaps an editor takes our book to committee, but then nothing happens.

My wise mother recently gave me some advice. She told me that there will always be really high praise and then also the really negative. It’s best to discard both and take what’s in the middle. The really highs and the really lows are often the exaggerations, the extremes, the ones that will either flatter us too much or bring unnecessary discouragement.

Here are just a few things I’m telling myself as I try to navigate the highs and lows of the writer’s life:

*Remember the path leads through both valleys and peaks. I can’t get to the next peak without going through the valley first. Isn’t that true of writing and life?

*Stand up straight and keep walking. When I’m in the valley I can look back at the past peak to remind myself of where I’ve been to give me incentive. But ultimately, I have to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward, even if the next high point isn’t in sight yet.

*Share the journey with a few who understand. Not everyone is going to be able to come along side us, but hopefully we can find friends we can trust, those willing to hear our greatest fears and highest joys, those who encourage us, but also help us stay grounded.

How’s your writing journey been lately? Have you had to weather the extreme highs and the discouraging lows? What helps you navigate through them?

TheDoctorsLady* * * (book by Jody Hedlund)

Jody Hedlund is a bestselling author of historical fiction published by Bethany House. She did the rewrite her editor requested, and The Doctor’s Lady recently released to rave reviews.