Writing is a Refuge. And, thoughts on Magical Realism.

We all have our reasons for writing. I’ve long told people that I write because I have stories to tell. But writing is also a refuge from my frequently frantic existence.

I’m googling Tennessee Williams, having been intrigued by posts on Facebook promoting Follies of God, by James Grissom, a series of interviews with Williams and people he worked closely with. Tennessee has said:

“Why did I write? Because I found life unsatisfactory.”

“I’m only really alive when I’m writing.”

“. . . living at a tilt against reality, because reality is simply too much to handle.”

Here’s the quote that first caught my eye:

“I once dreamed of escaping to magical places: Movie sets; fairy kingdoms; lovely homes with lovely people. I wanted to escape the abuses, the taunts, the grinding, onrushing tide of meanness that rolled over me all through my early years. I never got to the magic castle I insisted was deep in the woods, but I escaped through words, through images on a screen. Every day–and you need to remember this–you can sit before the pale judgment and strike words on its surface and escape and rise and find the magical places you wanted. The magical places that are within all of us broken, desperate people.”

Williams was born into a turbulent household. His father, a drinking, gambling father with little patience for his sensitive son, traumatized him and his sister Rose. He found his safe haven in writing. Poor Rose was given a prefrontal lobotomy in an effort to alleviate her increasing psychological problems.

His writing was a therapy for him. He wrestled with his demons in work full of grotesques, but also full of humor and compassion for the weirdos, the brokenhearted, the misfits, the losers, for those of us who can’t always cope.

My writing is also a therapy. Every one of my characters has a large portion of me in their makeup. I’ve slammed my upbringing through them, I’ve commented on my ongoing relationships, and I’ve softened my judgements of my own less than delightful traits by explaining them to myself through the lens of my weirdos, in whom I don’t fail to find redeeming qualities, though I admit many of them are creeps and scoundrels. Adorable creeps and scoundrels.

I’ve been telling people I write Magical Realism. But I honestly don’t know what to call it.

Magical Realism is a narrative strategy that is characterized by the matter-of-fact inclusion of fantastic or mythical elements into a seemingly realistic world. 

Matthew Strecher (Who dat? I googled him: Professor of Modern Japanese Literature and Chair of the Department of Liberal Arts at Sophia University in Tokyo) defines it as “what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe, that is not explained, but treated as a normal occurrence.”

I have been under the impression it includes some kind of social or political relevance. Maisie is pure escapism.

In the end, what does it matter? That I am able to pigeonhole Maisie, position her in the literary landscape, that is. I’ve pretty much given up on trying to sell her to an agent or a publisher, the folks who insist on slapping a label on everything.

Tell people you’re writing about a talking mouse, they think Disney. Tell them it’s fantasy, they think wizards and dragons. Tell them it’s magical realism, they probably think Harry Potter, at this point.

Will anyone be debating whether Maisie is Magical Realism? I don’t think so. I hope folks are going to consider it absurd fun, featuring a character they care about.

I care about her. I live in her world. It’s a lovely world. I don’t want to live anywhere else. The real world is full of disappointment. Maisie never lets me down.

I write because it’s the best game in the world. I write because it’s a space I feel at home in. I write because I love the craft of writing.

Like–probably–most of you, I can’t get my family to read my work. I send them a chapter, hear nothing back, and think: I’m doing what you couldn’t do in a million years, you creeps. And you’re not smart enough to realize how good it is.

Does being dismissed deflate me? Not a bit. It strengthens my resolve. I’ve tried my hand at many a creative endeavor. I feel writing is the one area in which I’ve done outstanding work. It has improved my self-esteem tremendously.

I’m a pantzer. I start my tales without knowing where they will go. I create my characters, fall in love with them, and write to work out their destinies for my own pleasure, and to satisfy my own curiosity.

I don’t write because I hope I’m going to make money out of it. I write for the joy of it.

How about you?


18 thoughts on “Writing is a Refuge. And, thoughts on Magical Realism.

  1. “…I can’t get my family to read my work. I send them a chapter, hear nothing back…” I do sympathize, Mimi. I have a couple related-by-blood family members (yes, a captive audience) who sometimes allow me to read my stuff out loud to them, but I find that members of my chosen family are more reliable reviewers.

    I like to pay attention to what goes on around me and in my head because reality — as I understand it — often triggers unlikely associations in my brain. Unrelated words compound to form ideas that tweak the way I see the world. Unrelated ideas, concepts, and events beg me to ask, “What if…?” Of course those things happen to people all the time, but when they happen to me and amuse me, I write.

    Carrying things to their logical extremes is both satisfying and fun. Constructing what I think of as intricate plots with complex, believable characters is a skill I admire and think I see growing evidence of in my own writing. So I keep writing.

    Liked by 3 people

      • Starting with a plot is only one way I might begin. Sometimes I begin with a character or an interaction between characters who will reveal their depth to me as I write. I think it’s true for most writers that plots are always directed by the lives and authenticity of those who play them out. My co-writer for a YA sci-fi that quarter-finalled in a major competition this year recently told me, “I know you are big on character growth arcs and your characters are subtle and realistic and complex and never who they seem to be to begin with…” (geeze — maybe I should try writing mysteries.)

        But that description pleases me because those are the characters I find most worth getting to know. But I had to laugh, too, because his writing background is musical theatre, where most characters are portrayed as having one gimmicky characteristic so you can recognize them from the back of the house. (Jan, in “Grease”, for example, is always eating something.) And in a short story or a novel, we get to see them from much closer up.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Perry Palin says:

    My stories are a refuge. I’ve written here before that when I was growing up we were poor. We lived in the country, and I had no friends close by. My mother died when I was 10. My dad was an alcoholic. He tried, but he didn’t know anything about raising two girls and a boy. I was on the outskirts of school society, the awkward kid with the cheap haircut and the mismatched ears. The trauma of losing my mom made it hard for me to make attachments to others, for fear of other losses. I was an early reader, and I began to make up stories that made more sense to me than the life I had.

    I never planned to show my stories to anyone, much less publish them. A fishing club needed things for the newsletter. I wrote some things, and members said they were good.

    I sold an article to a magazine in the 1980’s for $100. Then I started collecting rejection notices. Eventually I identified an audience and studied the preferences of editors and publishers, had more things appear in magazines and journals, some paid and some not, and I was a regular contributor to a local newspaper for a couple of years. My connection to the publisher of my two short story collections was a fortunate accident.

    My first and only novel may never be published, because while it might be done, I enjoy going back to replace a word with a better one, or to change the tone or the cadence of a phrase.

    I’ve made a little money at writing, but not much. Enough to replace a printer or a computer occasionally, and to buy supplies. Maybe enough for a new pair of shoes, or a special meal in a restaurant in town.

    I’ve been negligent in writing for the Showcase. I don’t have a good excuse. I’ve spent my writing time on something for a local writing group, and working on the larger story behind my earlier Showcase “License” offering, which I may enter in a writing competition. Or maybe not. I wake up at night dreaming of new endings to that story.

    I now have a safe and sensible life. But the habit of going to this refuge can’t be broken.

    Liked by 4 people

    • mimispeike says:

      “. . . I enjoy going back to replace a word with a better one, or to change the tone or the cadence of a phrase.”

      This is exactly what I do.

      Liked by 4 people

  3. mimispeike says:

    Sue says: “Constructing what I think of as intricate plots with complex, believable characters is a skill I admire . . .”

    Sue, the complexity doesn’t spring fully formed from my brain. It grows as I move along.

    Example: I plugged mentions of Elsa Maxwell and Tallulah Bankhead, at the last moment, into ‘Nothing.’ I was flipping though a book I find invaluable: ‘The Long Party,’ dealing with the social scene of the exuberant nineteen-twenties.

    I latched onto Somerset Maugham, perfect for my purposes. He led me to Elsa and Tallulah. (She starred in the film of his ‘Rain’ five years later.)

    All these folks were part of the Euro-smart-set. They all knew each other. There is much to tell about them, that I did not cram into my Showcase entry. But I’m going to use it sooner or later. It’s too delicious to dismiss.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. mimispeike says:

    I have several pieces of Maisie’s story posted in Showcase. I would appreciate it if anyone who has read some of that could tell me: do I have any right to call it Magical Realism?

    I’m thinking ahead to when I will be promoting the thing.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. victoracquista says:

    Thank you, Mimi, for a nice post with gritty authenticity!
    I write because I have something that I want to share with other people, because it is a means of self-expression, because it is an outlet for creativity. I’m sure there are other reasons but I certainly don’t write primarily to make money. I don’t think any of these types of motivations require a specific genre label. I understand the desire and reasons to label things. I think your work can fit into the magical realism category. It doesn’t change the quality or value of the writing. Heck, the Bible has talking bushes that are on fire but not consumed, a talking snake, and a host of other story elements. Can we call that magical realism too?

    Liked by 4 people

    • mimispeike says:

      Thank you, Victor. I always thought Magical Realism had a philosophical component to it. Otherwise it might be called Horror, right?

      Is A Christmas Carol Magical Realism? Fantasy Magazine says: . . . mainstream, only grudgingly edging into magical realism.

      Whatever that means.

      Liked by 2 people

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