On my twentieth birthday, a friend gave me a collection of Garcia-Marquez short stories. One in particular, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” changed me in a fundamental way. It didn’t make me wiser; it didn’t make me ponder the great wonders of the universe. This story of a winged man, crab-filled skies and astral-bottomed women with green-glowing eyes, gave my soul permission to speak. Till then, I didn’t realize it had anything to say
Over time, I discovered that being a writer was a lot like raising a child with a stern grandmother standing behind you: the minute one stage ends, she points to a worse one coming up. Or so I thought until I attended a university lecture. The speaker of the night was the infamous and notorious Junot Diaz. Of the many profound insights he offered, this one made the biggest impression: writers should ignore other people’s opinions. Pondering his lecture helped me enormously when writing a first NTBP (never-to-be-published) novel because it turns out I couldn’t remember anything else he said. For a while, his advice enabled me to indulge in soliciting feedback from others and then ignoring it entirely.
After decades of writing for the pure joy of it, I can say one thing for sure: a good yarn is hard to come by. I can assure you I have many other pearls of wisdom, and am confident that because of this I need not fear that you will be influenced solely by my lack of impressive credentials, publishing credits or celebrity endorsements.
In order to share a little more about my influences, two footnotes come to mind.
First, I never planned to be a writer. In fact, I had reading challenges in my early years. It wasn’t until high school that I learned to read fluently, an achievement to which I give Franz Kafka partial credit. You see, I could not put down “The Metamorphosis.” After this, I simply could not not write. This led to a series of notebooks, adolescent reflections on living in a perpetual state of underwater.
Second, after getting my first NTBP novel and screenplay out of the way, I interned and later wrote freelance for a local newspaper. Writing human-interest stories, restaurant, movie, and book reviews on deadline taught me a very important lesson: stop niggling and get the first draft down.
Around that time, magical realism took me hostage, literally. To begin with, I was raising a son who did things differently. He walked, talked and learned differently than most inhabitants of this galaxy. This experience caused me to question every reasonable belief, opinion, and judgment I had accepted about the nature of reality and God. It sent me on a wild quest for answers, a long, fruitful adventure into spiritual study and practice, a degree in literature and writing, gushing first drafts and furious ruminations, and the first fruits of which was a collection of short stories involving a leopard who dreams he is a businessman, a lovelorn medical resident who gives cadavers psychic readings, Euripides and Sophocles jotting down inspired lines while girl and boy watching at an outdoor café.
Still hostage, I constantly snatch words and phrases out of the ethers to record them like they were potent charms. Magical realism allows me room to explore themes of love, identity, power, social/political concepts, and the nature of reality from a fresh point of view. It gives my imagination freedom to run. It lit the spark of a thirteen-year fire that fueled the writing of The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman, my debut novel.
This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop 2017. Lots of blogs are taking part this year, all posting about magic realism in some form or other. Just click the links below to “hop” around the blogs. Have fun!
The Hop runs from 28th – 30th July, although you will be able to visit after that. Posts will be added throughout the three days, so do come back and see what’s new.