Guest Post & Book Giveaway: Magic Realism… Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary!

Welcome to Author Kimberley Giffiths Little

When I was a kid I always wanted to be one of those authors that “lived” inside the card catalog. Let me tell you, it’s a fun place to hang out!
 I adore Louisiana, Paris, Bulgaria, England, Scotland, Egypt, and anything old and musty and delicious.
 I grew up in San Francisco, but now live in an adobe house on the banks of the Rio Grande. I think I’ve drunk so much Land of Enchantment water that some of that ancient magic got into my blood and now spurts out my pencil–I mean ergonomic keyboard.

Magical Realism…Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary!

Guest Post and Book Giveaway by Kimberley Griffiths Little.

Gosh, I love that term, Magical Realism. When I think about elements of Magical Realism added to a story, it brings to mind all sorts of delicious and unexpected story plot or twists, whether delightful, creepy, or just plain enchanting. Unexpected or unusual being the key term here.

*** (Magical Realism is a subgenre of Fantasy. For a Guide to Fantasy and it’s Sub-Genres download this free PDF from my website: The View From Under the Fantasy Umbrella.)

In today’s publishing climate, especially the children’s and young adult realm where vampires, werewolves, fairies and mermaids have been the staple for several years now, a reader might say that any book with a supernatural twist falls under the category of “magical realism”. You might even put ghosts into that category, as well as super-powers, and creatures raised from the dead, but I beg to differ. 🙂

The term Magical Realismwas coined several decades ago, but began to be more widely used in the 1990s. Up until that point, bookstores and libraries were filled with well-defined categories such as, “Contemporary” “Mystery”, “Romance”, “Western”, “Science-Fiction”, etc.

The basic definition of Magical Realismis, to me, a story where the author creates our very normal, regular world, populated with ordinary, regular people (no Vampires or Centaurs, Klingons or Doctor Octopus) but then adding a touch—mind you, just a touch—of something surreal, fantastic or bizarre that turns the story upside down while staying grounded in that regular world setting. Magical Realism is an added element, NOT in huge doses—but often that one magical realism element turns an otherwise regular story into something entirely different because it affects the characters and the plot in such a unique way. That one element ends up bringing an edge or slant that doesn’t line up quite right with the real world. Instead of looking at the story straight on, it makes the reader look at things in a new light—where the story bats its eyelashes and looks askance, perhaps almost coy, and helps the reader understand the truths of the story in an entirely different way. It might look like a contemporary story, smell like a contemporary story and act 90% like a contemporary story, but that magical realism element takes it somewhere brand new.  

I love me some edgy contemporary stories and read them a lot, in both the middle-grade and young adult genres. I also read widely in the paranormal  and dystopian genres. Titles such as the Forbidden Sea by Sheila N. Nielson, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, Possession by Elana Johnson, or my good friend Carolee Dean’supcoming novel, Forget Me Not (S&S, October 2012).

Forget Me Not uses some unique twists on structure as well as magical realism elements in the plot.

But! None of these titles just mentioned are stories that use Magical Realism in the Classic sense. Here’s another great link defining Magical Realism.

Reaching into the depths of my often fuzzy mind, I would have to say that the very first book I read that contained magical realism was Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, a wildly popular adult novel that came out almost 20 years ago. It is still selling well in hardcover as well as paperback, audio, and Kindle. The author mischievously appropriates the techniques of magical realism to make her heroine of the story, Tita’s, contact with food sensual, emotional, and often explosive. Love, food, and magical recipes in a kitchen where the character’s emotions and fate are determined by the emotions of the cook. If Tita is sad, then everybody who eats her food is melancholy and weeping. If Tita is happy, then her dinner guests are joyful. Twenty years ago, this novel came out of the blue—who would have thought you could do something like this in a book? And it’s done brilliantly. The story is set in turn of the 20th century northern Mexico on a ranchero and it’s a love story and a story filled with family dynamics. But the author adds that one singular magical realism element of a cook whose emotions affect the food she creates, turning the story upside down. 

A few years later, we got the scrumptious novel, Chocolat by Joanne Harris, performing similar dreamlike plot twists through a chocolate confectioner who works her magic on an unsuspecting French village.

Hmm, all this food talk is making me hungry. (*Takes break to eat a Snickers*).

I personally believe that time travel books could fall into a sub-genre of magical realism. You may disagree, but time travel books are grounded completely in ordinary or historical events, but then turn the story upside down by throwing their characters into a vastly different time period from their own where they must often cope with explosive events and try to get back home in one piece.

My newest novel, Circle of Secrets (Scholastic, 2011) is grounded in the very real but often spooky world of the Louisiana bayous with its murky waters and hidden alligators. The story is about a girl and her family in crisis—and almost everyone is hiding a secret. City girl Shelby Jayne has to go live with her estranged mother deep in the bayous—and she’s got the weirdest mamma in town! A mamma called a traiteur, or a healer who uses charms and potions—or is it just plain old herbal medicine? 

The blue bottle tree in the backyard is filled with secret—and danger-filled—notes and Shelby is desperate to learn who wrote them—and why. She also finds a mysterious charm bracelet in which every dangling charm has a hidden meaning. After a series of weird events, Shelby realizes that her mamma holds the key—and the secrets—to all the mysteries that surround her. But is Shelby living in a fantasy world and best friends with a ghost—or is Gwen a real, live girl who’s parents have deserted her?

I loved writing this book and I loved reading books like this as a kid. (I’ve been thrilled to learn that it’s a bestselling title in the Scholastic Book Fairs, too).

I take the elements of Magical Realism a step further in my upcoming 2013 novel, When the Butterflies Came (Scholastic, April). Take the richest girl in town, her eccentric scientific grandmother, a box of letters written from the dead, ten mysterious keys, an island in the South Pacific, a pesky older sister with blue hair, an island boy—and anything can happen! 

In the comments, please share one of your favorite Magical Realism books! (Anybody read NINTH WARD or BIGGER THAN A BREADBOX? Some more great MG Magical Realism books.)

You can also win a gorgeous signed hardcover copy of Circle of Secrets by commenting! 

Please find me in all these other cool places, too:

Website: Trailers, Teacher’s Guides, Mother/Daughter Book Club Guide)

Meanwhile, keep working on your own terrific speculative fiction, whether it’s a dystopian, some sort of outer-space zombie, or just an ordinary ghost with a terrible secret that lures you into the swamp to die . . .


Circle of Secrets:

Critically acclaimed author Kimberley Griffiths Little weaves a haunting story of friendship and family and the power of faith, once again set against the lush backdrop of the Lousiana bayou.
After her mother walked out on Shelby Jayne and her dad, Shelby thought she’d never speak to her mamma again. But with her dad leaving the country for work, it turns out she doesn’t have a choice: Shelby has to move back into her mamma’s house, deep in the heart of the Louisiana bayou.
Her new classmates tease and torment her, so Shelby’s relieved to finally find a friend in Gwen, a mysterious girl who lives alone on the bayou. But Shelby can’t help wondering if Gwen has something to do with the puzzling messages she finds hidden in the blue bottle tree behind her house. The only person who might be able to explain is her mamma — but Shelby’s not ready to ask. Not yet. It may take a brush with something from the beyond to help Shelby see that the power to put her own ghosts to rest is within her reach. 
Kimberley Griffiths Little’s haunting and powerful tale brings one girl’s attempt to grapple with family, friendship, and forgiveness to beautiful, vivid life.

Giveaway Details:
1 copy of Circle of Secrets
Open to US only
Ends 9/5/12

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