" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "
" A wildly inventive, consistently engaging, and amusing comic novel, but under its bright exterior lurk darker undertones and truths.... "
" Indicative of the title, the poems in All This range from the conventional lyric/narrative that captures an intense moment of emotion, an epiphany glimpsed briefly out of the corner of the eye, to the more experimental. "
In a recent issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, I read “The (Magical) Voice of Community in Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger” by Jordan Dotson. Since much of my fiction falls into the magical realism category, I was interested in what Dotson had to say about Twain’s final novella and how I could apply what I read to my own work, especially my novel Curva Peligrosa.
As a fiction writer, I often ask myself why people read novels and how can I convince them to read mine? That question occurred to me again recently when I finished a novel that had me questioning why I read fiction. The book was engaging enough. The writer was competent and had created characters that seemed believable (though that isn’t necessarily a criterion for me). There was enough tension to keep me reading in order to discover more about these lives I had immersed myself in. But the experience felt flat, and I wondered why I had spent several precious hours on something that wasn’t more satisfying.
I visited Venice for the first time in 1994, and it was love at first sight. It reinforced my notion that our ego consciousness is surrounded by the waters of the unconscious, and I had found a city that demonstrated this perspective. Daily life goes on while the city’s structural foundations are rooted deep in the Venetian lagoon, just as our ego, our conscious perception of ourselves, floats on the collective unconscious, the inner sea that surrounds us.
In the latest issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, I read “The (Magical) Voice of Community in Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger” by Jordan Dotson. Since much of my fiction falls into the magical realism category, I was interested in what Dotson had to say about Twain’s final novella and how I could apply what I read to my own work, especially my latest novel Curva Peligrosa.
Kasper Mützenmacher’s Cursed Hat, by Keith R. Fentonmiller
Berlin hatmakers threatened by a veil-wearing Nazi known as the “stealer of faces” must use the god Hermes’ “wishing hat” to teleport out of Germany during Kristallnacht. They won’t be safer in America, however, unless they break the curse that has trapped them in the hat business for sixteen centuries. Set in the Jazz Age, Nazi Germany, and World War II Detroit, Book One of the Life Indigo series is a family saga about the fluidity of tradition, faith, and identity. It will appeal to fans of Everything is Illuminated and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
Kasper plunged his hand into the safe’s darkness and retrieved the hat. When he put it on, the warm scaly leather conformed to his skull like a blanket of heated wax. He closed his eyes and recalled his father’s instructions: First, think of the place. Then make the wish. Not the other way around. Kasper breathed deeply and then exhaled as much air as he could, a precaution to stave off the overwhelming nausea that surely would follow. Before the next inhalation, he thought, Take me there. In an instant, he was compressed to a point, drained of all material substance. The world went dark and silent. He felt only a sensation of impossible acceleration and then nothing at all.
Kasper wished himself from cabarets to booze cellars, concert halls, and boxing venues all over Europe and North America. Although hat travel made him queasy and headachy, whiskey took the edge off. Then, after a week of around-the-clock hat travel, the nausea and head pain receded, and he began to enjoy the rush of compression, expansion, and acceleration.
Well, labeling the experience “enjoyable” would’ve been a vast understatement. The nascent drug addict doesn’t merely “enjoy” a shot of heroin or a puff of opium; he relishes it, embraces it, becomes one with it. Using feels like an act of self-creation—conception, gestation, and birth wrapped into a singular, lightning-strike moment.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Keith is a consumer protection attorney for the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C. Before graduating from the University of Michigan Law School, he toured with a professional comedy troupe, writing and performing sketch comedy at colleges in the Mid-Atlantic States. His short story, Non Compos Mentis, was recently published in The Stonecoast Review and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His short story Exodus was just published in the Running Wild Anthology of Stories.
Though I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I recently did readings while spending a week at Sea Ranch, a coastal community in Mendocino about three hours from my home. The conventional wisdom is that readings are more productive in areas where we have family, friends, or acquaintances. That might be true in some instances, usually at bookstores. But there are exceptions. And that’s what this post is about.
I thought that while I was in the Sea Ranch area, I would try to book events so I could get a broader readership for my novel Fling! I first contacted the only bookstore in Gualala, a tiny town just a few miles from where we were renting a house. I was surprised at how enthusiastic the owner was about reserving a late Saturday afternoon slot during our week in the area. He told me that the venue has a healthy clientele of mostly regulars but also of those visiting the coast. Since there isn’t much entertainment locally, many residents are eager to attend something out of the ordinary. The owner also recommended that I contact the Point Arena library, a half hour drive further up the coast. And he put me in touch with Peggy, the host of one of the local radio stations so she could interview me.
I followed up and was delighted when Julia at the library signed me up for the Sunday afternoon at the library series. She was also eager to offer her usual visitors an inspiring talk and/or reading. I had planned to frame my discussion of Fling! with a talk on “The Magic in Magical Realism.” Again, Point Arena is another small town whose inhabitants are hungry for enriching programs.
Each of these venues did a great job of advertising its event with flyers, notices on their websites, and postings in the local papers. I happened to pick up the Coastal Observer when I was there, eager to read the local news, and was amazed to find a quarter page write up about myself, something I didn’t expect.
While I was at Sea Ranch, KGUA, the public radio station, did a 25-minute interview with me that featured my upcoming readings and allowed me to give extensive info on myself and my work. I later learned there is another station in Gualala, KTDE, a commercial one, that also would have interviewed me if I’d contacted them, which I will do in the future. In addition, I discovered that authors should submit some sample questions beforehand to the station so the interviewer has material to work with.
This experience helped me to broaden my horizon for doing readings and giving talks. Intimate rural towns can be great resources. They often are hungry for the kind of events that big city residents take for granted.
What has your experience been in booking readings outside of the mainstream?
So much has been said about magic realism that it’s difficult to add anything new to the conversation. However, I wondered if putting on my poet’s hat and parsing the two words might crack open another perspective.
The term magic implies some slight of hand, an ability to make things appear and disappear at will. In a magic show, magicians exercise their ability to draw viewers’ attention away from what the magicians are doing so they can convince those watching that a rabbit really does appear at random out of an empty hat, or that any number of equally fantastic events can occur. In this case, the magic isn’t really magical in the sense of a supernatural intervention because there’s a trick at its foundation based on perception and how skillful the magician is at keeping the audience distracted enough not to notice the hoax involved.
Something similar happens with writers. They capture our attention through assembling strings of words that become a compelling narrative we follow. Just as a viewer at a magic show sets aside his/her momentary doubts about what’s happening before his/her eyes, so too do readers enter the narrative dream. That enables the writer to convince readers that the setting, characters, and events taking place are actually happening in real time when, in truth, they aren’t. They only come to life in the readers’ imagination as readers let go of their immediate world to undertake this journey into the unknown. Put this way, reading can seem like a potentially dangerous endeavor, and it can be if a writer’s ideas and images shatter some preconceived notion about the world and about us.
Magic also has the ability to temporarily take people out of the constraints of everyday life and make them feel they can transcend it. Instead of being locked inside the usual routines that structure our days, we find release when something magical happens, such as when we watch a play in a theatre and suddenly our world is transformed. We’re no longer our daily selves, but we begin to identify with what’s occurring on the stage and participate in all of the characters involved, good guys and bad guys.
Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo is a good example of this dynamic. An unhappily married Depression-era waitress played by Mia Farrow tries to escape her dull marriage by visiting picture shows and becomes transfixed with the movie The Purple Rose of Cairo and its lead character, archeologist Tom Baxter. When Tom literally steps off of the screen and into her life, both realities are thrown into chaos. As happens with Mia’s character, we’re under the actors’ and director’s spell, convinced that the action unfolding in front of us is real, though it’s only make believe. It’s as if the characters can step from the screen and interact with us.
From these examples I’ve given, it’s easy to see that any writing, whether it’s a novel or a play, has a magical component to it. The primary storytelling goal is magic, achieved by mysterious means. Words themselves are transformative in that they can so easily metamorphose into other words: world contains word and old. Add or subtract a letter here or there and we’ve landed in a different meaning. Words in themselves are slippery and magical, calling forth images just by naming things: red chair, oak table, 2006 Honda Accord, green plaid coat, eucalyptus tree. Read the text and suddenly something appears in our mind’s eye. Amazing!
And then there’s the way the wind can blow open a door, filling the house with a gust of cold air, or the sun can illuminate a field and immediately transform our experience of that place. Or the timer on our living room lamp switches on silently and the room is now swathed in light, creating a totally different atmosphere. That’s one reason we talk about something magical happening, or of a place as being magical. In fact, the world is magical not only in its inherent changeability but also because of our interaction with it.
That’s where “realism” enters the discussion. Reality is both magical and “real,” if by real we mean something that isn’t imagined. I’m not a philosopher, but this computer I’m typing on has a life distinct from mine. My husband, who is sitting reading in a chair across from me, can see it and agree on its reality. But it also exists in a world where objects can become symbols for something else, so while my computer retains its identify as a writer’s tool, it also can represent a window into another universe. It can become a metaphor for many things, just as most objects can.
This, then, seems to be the foundation for what we call magic realism. Language by its very nature is magical, transforming our everyday reality in multiple ways, carrying us aloft on the wings of thought. The writer confronts reality and tries to untangle it, to discover what is mysterious in things, in life, in human acts. The principle thing is not the creation of imaginary beings or worlds but the discovery of the mysterious relationship between our circumstances and us. The magical realist does not try to copy the surrounding reality but to seize the mystery that breathes behind things.
This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. About twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2015) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the button below to visit them and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.
I recently finished a novel that had me questioning why I read fiction. The book was engaging enough. The writer was competent and had created characters that seemed believable (though that isn’t necessarily a criterion for me). There was enough tension to keep me reading in order to discover more about these lives I had immersed myself in. But the experience felt flat, and I wondered why I had spent several precious hours on something that wasn’t more satisfying.
So why do I read? For me, reading isn’t necessarily to escape my daily life. I read to deepen it. If a book doesn’t take me somewhere new emotionally and intellectually, I feel cheated. Why would I go on this literary journey if I remain the same person at the end?
I also want my knowledge of the world broadened and intensified. I love many naturalistic novels—ones that recreate everyday life and give me new glimpses (novel=make it new) of familiar settings and things. Often that happens through the writer’s expert use of metaphor and symbol, devices that automatically expand our perceptions. Or s/he has a masterful way with manipulating sentences and images.
But I also love works that employ magical realism, as many of my fictions do, because they point to something other, something not quite articulable. They lift the lid on ordinary experience and suggest other possibilities.
I hope I’ll hear from others on why they read. That too will expand my horizons!