Friday, August 20, 2010

Is it Magical Realism or Fantasy?

Magical Realism is a term first used by a German art critic, and over time, it evolved into a literary term. Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude) is usually the writer most referenced when discussing Magical Realism, but other authors have employed his techniques, and now there are several whose work is held up as an example of the style of writing.

Sometimes, as authors, we use the term to describe a genre, but the elements of Magical Realism can be found in several genres. There are, however, similar threads that run through stories generally recognized as being Magical Realism.

Erroneously, Magical Realism is often described as fantasy, or science fiction. It is neither of these. Fantasy is speculative, allowing us to wonder, “What if vampires were real?” or “What if there were werewolves?” Magical realism, on the other hand, is always serious, and never escapist. It tries to convey the reality of a world view that exists, or did exist.

Magical Realism tells a story from the perspective of people who live in our world and experience a different reality. It shows the world through others’ eyes. In Magical Realism, unreal elements are very real. It invites the reader to see the world like fellow humans might see it. Elements of story portray the ordinary as astonishing, and the astonishing as ordinary.

Perhaps it is best explained by saying the reader of Magical Realism remains grounded in the real world, while experiencing a scene as another might see it. Fantasy, on the other hand, is not grounded in reality, but rather in the unreal.

Only by reading authors like Marquez, or a book like Leslie Silko’s Ceremony, can we fully understand what Magical Realism is. When well done, levitation and flying carpets, such as Marquez used in One Hundred Years of Solitude, leave us sorting through the experience long after the book is finished, trying to return to what we see as objective reality. As an example, read an excerpt from one of Marquez’ short stories. It opens with this:

“On the third day of rain they had killed so many crabs

inside the house that Pelayo had to cross his drenched courtyard

and throw them into the sea, because the newborn child had a

temperature all night and they thought it was due to the stench.

The world had been a sad thing since Tuesday. Sea and sky were a

single ash-gray thing and the sands of the beach, which on March

nights glimmered like powdered light, had become a stew of mud

and rotten shellfish. The light was so weak at noon that when

Pelayo was coming back to the house after throwing away the

crabs, it was hard to see what it was that was moving and groaning

in the rear of the courtyard. He had to go very close to see that it

was an old man, a very old man, lying face down in the mud, who,

in spite of his tremendous efforts, couldn’t get up, impeded by his

enormous wings.”

The writing and scene is grounded in the real world, where an old man with wings lies on the ground.

Leave a comment and let me know if you've read any of Marquez’ books. Authors, do you use Magical Realism in telling your stories?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Do Authors Need a Fan Page?

At the RWA National conference, I sat in on an informative workshop about building your career with Facebook and Twitter. The speakers were Sheri Brooks, Cissy Hartley, and Jayne Ann Krentz. Here are some key points they made, and a few hints that might be helpful for other writers who, like me, are scrambling to keep up with how we can best use our time to market our books.

I don’t Twitter (not yet, anyway) so most of my notes were about utilizing Facebook as a tool to make friends in the reading/writing community.

The speakers emphasized the benefits of a Fan Page on Facebook. Even though you may not have “fans” that you know of, a fan page is a place to update what is taking place in your writing life. Before you say, “Whoa. I don’t have time to keep another page up,” let me explain. You can add an RSS feed on your Page, so that updates go there without you having to do it individually. It holds your book covers and any other content you want to put there, such as upcoming releases or signings.

Put Widgets on your FB page so entries will go to your Home Page. Also, use the Discussion Tab on your Fan Page. The speakers suggested holding a writers’ workshop, where people can pose questions.

Fans can interact with each other by using the Wall or Discussion Board on your fan page. Also, as admin, you have access to stats on the traffic for your fan page.

On your Fan Page, you can have a Favorites Pages box, where you highlight other pages you like. It could serve as a link-exchange tool and bring you more fans.

Once you get your Fan Page up (and you can do it all behind the scenes before you click “Publish”), put out an announcement that you’ve opened a Fan Page and that there is a contest there. A prize offering will guide them to your fan page.

So, now that I’ve told you what I learned, I’m going to try to build a Fan Page myself. Authors: Let me know if you have one already, or if it’s something you want to do. Readers: Would you like your fav author to have a fan page, where you could keep up with her books and discuss them with other fans?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Publisher information at RWA

In a departure from my usual blog postings, I'm going to offer a quick replay of what I learned in various Publisher Spotlight sessions at the recent RWA conference in Orlando this past week. In spite of the change of venue, necessary because of the floods in Nashville, the conference went off smoothly. For my workshop on Researching for Historicals, the room had been prepared and all was in readiness. That, combined with my capable moderator, Megan Kelly , herself an author with a later workshop, made the workshop a success, if I can judge by the comments afterward.
     Before attending national, I was familiar with local chapter conferences, where I honed the craft and improved my writing skills. To this day, I strongly recommend  RWA workshops to any aspiring author, no matter the genre.
     That said, the RWA National offers not only wonderful workshops about the craft, career choices, and marketing, but also includes something that smaller conferences cannot justify, financially. Bringing top-notch N.Y. editors from popular publishing houses to present panels on what they're looking for and how to submit, makes the price of the conference fee worth every dime.
     To my surprise, I learned that Sourcebooks, Grand Central, and St. Martin's all take unagented material from published authors, if done according to their guidelines. (Email me if you need further info.) Since my previous agent and I have parted ways, my ears perked up when I heard this. 
     For unpublished authors, talks by agents like Ethan Ellenberg, Kristen Nelson, and others, gave an insight as to how to write the query and synopsis that will grab their attention. They are, after all, looking for that next great author who will rise from the slush pile to the NYTimes best-seller list.
     So save your pennies (well, okay, dollars) for next year's RWA National in N.Y. City. I promise you, you'll not be disappointed.