Tag Archives: Magical Realism

Putting the Magic into Magical Realism

bloghopSome of my favorite books are standards of magical realism and I especially enjoy the magical narrative elements. But, for narrative devices,  some magic works better than other magic, and much of the supernatural in fiction isn’t the sort of magic I associate with magical realism – not just any magic will do. There’s something special about the magic in the best of magical realism – something…well…magical.

To clarify this idea, I collected some favorite magical elements in magical realism stories, intending to look for common characteristics. This list is terribly limited, of course, and subjective to boot, but it’s a beginning. I’m interested in others’ favorites too – please post comments below.

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, José Arcadio II comes home after work, goes into his bedroom, closes the door, a gun goes off, and…

A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendía house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining-room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta’s chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano José, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Úrsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread. “Holy Mother of God!” Úrsula shouted.

In Laura Esquivel’s Like Water For Chocolate, heroine Tita despairs because her lover marries her sister, and worse, she’s responsible for much of the wedding preparation. Predictably, her tears fall into the ingredients while making the wedding cake, and…

When she finished beating the meringue, it occurred to Nancha to lick some of the icing off her finger to see if Tita’s tears had affected the flavor. No, the flavor did not seem to have been affected; yet without knowing why, Nancha was suddenly overcome with an intense longing.

Finally, in Linda Hogan’s short story, Descent (also her novel, Power), the one-legged old woman, Janie Soto, is so full of life…

…she has a wooden leg that is made of a tree that used to bloom I heard after she first started wearing the leg, it leafed out and blossomed.

Each of these depicts life force so intent it cannot be thwarted, though the rules of everyday experience must bend a little to allow it. By life force I mean the underlying stuff of life that is the font of creativity, love, all intense emotion. Substitute soul, spirit, vital energy, vitality, élan vital, if you prefer. Janie Soto is so full of life her wooden leg sprouts leaves. Tita De La Garza’s sorrow is so profound her tears infuse the wedding cake with inexorable longing…

The moment they took their first bite of the cake, everyone was flooded with a great wave of longing. Even Pedro, usually so proper, was having trouble holding back his tears. Mama Elena, who hadn’t shed a single tear over her husband’s death, was sobbing silently. But the weeping was just the first symptom of a strange intoxication-an acute attack of pain and frustration-that seized the guests and scattered them across the patio and the grounds and in the bathrooms, all of them wailing over lost love. Everyone there, every last person, fell under this spell, and not very many of them made it to the bathrooms in time those who didn’t joined the collective vomiting that was going on all over the patio. Only one person escaped: the cake had no effect on Tita. The minute she finished eating it, she left the party.

José Arcadio II is so full of vitality his blood flows from his dead ear all the way across town to inform Ursula of his demise. Judging from her reaction (“Holy Mother of God!”) Ursula understands how extraordinary is this event, but she treats it as a natural expression of the life-stuff that makes José Arcadio II the extraordinary man he is.

I didn’t present my last novel, Only Breath, as magical realism though (arguably) it fits Zoe Brooks’ definition: “Magical Realism is a literary genre that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.” Instead, I called it a ghost story. The ghosts who haunt the pages of Only Breath are supernatural, extraordinary, otherworldly, and slip into what is otherwise realistic fiction without explanation, but they don’t seem magical to me in quite the right way for magical realism. In my opinion, the transition of the old man, Wesley Dubois, into a butterfly in Mikawadizi Storms better fits the bill. Wesley is so intent to engage the evil seeping from the depths of the open pit mine, he undergoes metamorphosis:

Orange and black butterflies began to swarm around him as Wesley moved through the woods, with each step more butterflies. Soon a cloud of butterflies the size of an open parachute followed him. He looked over his shoulders as he walked and laughed to see the orange cloud filled with flapping wings. As he approached Patriot mine, the thunderous noise grew louder and more menacing. A cold wind blew into his face, scattering the butterfly cloud for a moment but they quickly regrouped and moved forward behind the old man. Wesley lifted his arms and pointed his fingers straight out. His feet fell lightly on the ground. He turned his shoulders like an airplane banking and swooped to his right. His feet left the ground altogether. The swarm of butterflies grew thicker and larger. Flutter of a million wings filled the air with a feint hiss, which grew in volume as this orange cloud moved over the parking lot outside the main gate.

Wesley’s transition into a butterfly is the sort of magic I look for in magical realism, as are other magical elements in that novel – the whore house where residents age slowly, the mining engineer whose hands won’t stop growing, the explosion of darkness from the depths of an open-pit mine — so, I classified Mikawadizi Storms (and Zoe Brooks reviewed it) as magical realism. Though I often use magical elements to boost the intensity of the narrative in my writing, I’ve classified most of my other work differently – it’s just not the right sort of magic.

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.



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Discussion Questions: Mikawadizi Storms

BookCoverImageSomeone suggested I provide discussion questions for Mikawadizi Storms. These would prove useful (the suggestion went on) for book clubs looking for winter book selections. Here goes…

  1. A dark cloud forms over Evie Arnold early in the book and follows her around. What does this cloud symbolize? What purpose does it serve in the larger narrative?
  2. Several cats show up in the narrative, Ghost Cat, Stuffed Cat, and Fluffy the Cat. Are these the same cat? Is there (to paraphrase Nikos Kazantzakis) ‘only one cat in the world, with a million faces?’
  3. Business mogul Clive Gready forms a men’s chorale group of politicians helping him with his mining project, the Restoration of American Prosperity Chorus. What does this symbolize? What is the purpose of this group in the novel?
  4. Bart Gready develops at first distracting, eventually painful noises in his ears and doesn’t free himself from them until late in the novel. Where do these noises come from?
  5. According to the two old women, Betty and Bitty La Quin, brothers Ed Commercant and Ward Commercant were born one person, Edward. How did Edward become two people? Why? Will he restore his unity one day?
  6. Lotta Moore and Cheryl Pepin confide in Evie they are mother and daughter and, despite appearances, are 130 and 92 years old respectively. Are they pulling Evie’s leg? How is this possible?
  7. What is the purpose of the fable about Namekagon and Makwa the Bear early in the novel? Is the Namekagon who shows up later in the story the same character? Is Makwa?
  8. There are several short narratives regarding college students (April Le Boeuf, Alison Martin, Sarah Laurent, and Louis Dubois) in the novel. They appear to be peripheral to the main story. What is the purpose of these side excursions and what is their relationship to the main theme of the novel?
  9. Wesley Dubois appears to undergo metamorphosis into the butterfly Wesley Danaus Plexippus and migrate to Mexico. Does he? Or is this a fantasy of his aging brain?
  10. Karen Prescott worries Indians will cast a spell over her baby in the womb and he’ll be born without a heart. What is the source for her worry? The resolution?

Incidentally, if you’re considering Mikawadizi Storms as a book club selection, email me (Dennis.Vickers@pobox.com) and I’ll see if I can arrange a discount with the publisher.

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Mikawadizi Storms by Dennis Vickers

Kindle Cover

Mikawadizi Storms

Available at last!

The title, Mikawadizi Storms, comes from an Ojibwe phrase (miikawaadizi) meaning she is beautiful.

The plot draws energy from a conflict between those who would dig an open pit mine in scenic Mikawadizi Hills and those who oppose them. The former include the KAMS (Keep American Mining Strong) consortium and its principle member, Gready Metals. The latter include La Roche Verde Indian Nation. As the book’s preface reveals, a similar conflict is underway in Wisconsin, USA, pitting Gogebic Taconite against a slate of environmental groups led by the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, over an open-pit iron-ore mining project in Wisconsin’s Penokee Hills. Mikawadizi Storms is not, however, a report on the Wisconsin conflict. It is purely a fictional piece (magical realism, in fact) that draws on the energies such conflicts generate and uses those energies for literary, not political, purposes.

The novel is organized into 45 chapters, each named for a separate character (almost), and each telling the story of someone entangled in the main conflict. Each chapter begins with an illustration (mainly character portraits) drawn by the author. In effect, the novel’s narrative mainstream is created from 45 smaller narratives that cluster around it, as an image might be drawn by coloring the spaces around it. One character (Evie Arnold, freelance journalist) appears in many of these clusters. She agrees to report on the conflict and so touches the lives of many who are more engaged in one side or the other. Her life is the thread that binds much of the narrative together.

Through this structure (mini-narratives creating a larger story), the novel explores personalities and values associated with the mining conflict. As in real life, smaller stories make up larger ones, and, in the end, personalities and idiosyncrasies of individuals project onto a larger screen.

A third of the way through the story, another character tells Evie, “If you claim you don’t have an opinion you’re being disingenuous; that, or you don’t give a shit. Either way, nobody cares what you have to say about it.” In fact, Evie doesn’t treat the two sides in this values contest evenhandedly; she comes to support, and eventually adopt, ideals represented by the anti-mine group. The same might be said of the novel itself. That’s good, because the magic that fuels the magical realism resides there.

Copies available in paperback or kindle format.

Here’s the video trailer.

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Magical Realism Bloghop Coming Soon!

Coming in a few weeks… the Magical Realism Bloghop (like a pub crawl, but more literary). This event is organized by Zoe Brooks, who writes wonderful reviews of magical realism books: Zoe’s Blog

bloghop button 2014


So far sixteen blogs have signed on. I’m looking forward to reading the posts and beginning to assemble my contribution.

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Another Aperitif from Double Exposures

Here is another clip from one of the short stories in Double Exposures, available from Amazon in paper and kindle.

From How Maria Caridad Found Passion:

“My father married the lustiest woman in the village,” Sister Maria Caridad confided to Father Jiménez through the confessional lattice. She ran her fingers back through her hair, which had grown back thick, black, and shining long before. She kept it cut short, since long hair invites conceit. She sat up straight, as she always did, her breasts pushed up and forward.

Father Jiménez was quite old, twenty years past any sexual desire and blind as a potato. At seventy-seven, his only vice was the chocolate cookies the women of the parish baked for him. “I remember your father,” he answered.


“It was the same with my father’s father, and his father, always the lustiest girl for his bride, no one else would do.”

“I remember,” Father said.

“While my mother married the kindest, saintliest man she could find,” she continued. “And my mother’s mother, and her mother, and so on as far as anyone remembers, always the kindest, saintliest man in the village.”

“What is your point,” Father asked, thinking about the cookies waiting in the rectory.

“Do you remember how Armando Ortega took seeds from the hottest habaneros and inbred them fearlessly until his pepper plants glowed like red fireflies in the night? Each year his chilies grew hotter?”

“I remember.”

“While his wife, Luciana Ortega, took sweet chilies for seed, and pollinated with even sweeter chilies and did this until her’s were the sweetest chilies in the valley.”

“Your point?” Father repeated.

“Armando succeeded because he walked in one direction. Luciana the same – one direction.

“Yes, success of a sort.”

“My parents crossed their purposes. My father took my mother as wife because her character was what he wanted, and she took him for husband for the same reason, yet the characters they pursued are directly opposite – mules hitched to the front and back of one wagon, one pulling north, one south.”

“Did they get along?”

“Each loved the other; of course they got along.”

“So that worked out well for them, no?”

“A chili can’t be sweet and hot.”

The old priest smiled. “People are not chilies.”

“But how…?”

“You will never find peace so long as you deny your nature. I know we priests talk that way, advising our flocks to avoid intense pleasure except the pleasure of communion with God, but we only do that to get attention. None of it is true.”

“What do you mean?”

“Temptation can be God’s tool as well as Satan’s.” He paused and looked up at the ceiling of the confessional as if he could see it.

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Aperitif from Double Exposures

Here is a clip from one of the short stories in Double Exposures, available from Amazon in paper and kindle.

From How Carmen Maria Became Two Women:

From her birth, Carmen showed righteousness not seen before in the village. She learned Bible lessons so well her teachers feared questioning her lest she turn the table and take up the questioning. Brother Pedro, who taught Sunday school for five years, once proclaimed Jesus’ observation about rich men having as much chance to get into heaven as through the eye of a needle was about greed, not wealth, the former being a sin, the latter not. “Do you suppose Jesus didn’t know the difference?” she asked Brother Pedro. “Do you think with his disciples standing by recording every word he had a little slip of the tongue?”

“One day she will be a saint,” some predicted, but puberty swept over her like late summer storms and drove churning, muddy waters into the ravines down her west slope. When her fiesta de quinceañera came, already her dark eyes burned like hot coals when she fixed them on a young man.

The old women who managed affairs in the village watched with apprehension as Carmen grew up, wondering if her fire would consume her, or a man would come to feed her beast, or God would have mercy and intervene. One day, under the Ceiba tree by the market, Senora Gutierrez remembered, “Armando Ortega fed his donkey hot chilies and worked the animal’s manure into the soil in his garden, all in a proud attempt to grow the hottest chiles in the village. It’s unnatural, chiles so hot. Soon his garden could be seen from miles away. His habaneros glowed in the dark.”

“Still he didn’t stop,” Senora Motejo added, “not until a kitchen fire destroyed his house.”

“A bowl of his chiles burst into flame in his kitchen and set fire to the house,” Senora Gutierrez completed the story. The other women nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same with Carmen Maria,” Senora Gutierrez continued. “If she doesn’t find release one day her body will burst into flames like Ortega’s chiles and her kitchen will catch fire.”

“Consuming her and whoever is fool enough to awaken her beast,” Senora Motejo added. “Someone might die eating that chili pepper, ridden to death like a borrowed donkey.”

“Perhaps she should wear a sign,” Senora Gutierrez suggested.

“A bell around her neck,” Senora Motejo said.

The men and boys of the village took the old women’s warnings seriously. They might taste Ortega’s chilies, when drunk or on a dare, but they kept their hands off the budding she-pepper Carmen Maria.


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Double Exposures here!

And, now, the second shoe drops! The paperback is available through Amazon:


I’m delighted to report my short story collection, Double Exposures, is now available in the Kindle format. The link is


The paperback format should follow in about a week. The cover includes an image Becca Vickers took from a video she shot while riding around Bangkok on the back of one of those motorcycle taxi’s the guys in the orange jackets drive (ride?). It’s a beautiful image with startling colors. The cover also has cuts from two reviews — one from Tracy St. Claire (Editor, Changing Minds Weekly) and Ryan Winn (Tribal College Journal Columnist and Media Reviewer). These cuts now open the video trailer. The reviews themselves are inside the book cover.

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April 10, 2014 · 12:20 am