Blog by Christopher J. Sparks

Like any writer, I know how important craft can be. Straw Dog Writer’s Guild, a group of the Valley’s own writing talent, offers workshops by our, often quite accomplished, neighbors. In mid-March, I attended a lecture on crafting Magical Realism with Andrea Hairston. Andrea is a playwright, novelist, and professor of theater at Smith College. Andrea knows that writing magic must live with or within the body, that shared experience between all readers. Even the magic of metrics, while cerebral, indulges in the physicality of sound which is where its real power lies. Were it anything less, meter would be mere word math.

Magic through the body allows the reader to use their senses and experience to make it real. I have read Sci-Fi and Fantasy that often suffer getting too caught up in their own ideas rather than the interior, rather than what we all share and can relate to. Magic then becomes an increasingly hollow cerebral task like phasers, lasers or whatever. Trained as a mathematician and physicist as well as a playwright, Andrea explained, perhaps more clearly than I can recount, how authors may have an interesting invocation or spectacular spell, but that the transmission fails or becomes stagnant because the writer must convince the reader to see as they see for even a simple summoning to have any real emotional impact.

Andrea introduced the works surrealist artists Remedios Vera and Dorothea Tanning, whom fame passed over because they were women, to illustrate magic graphically framed by the body. The paintings echoed some of Andrea’s own work, some of which is still in process, that she was kind enough to share with the group. Her descriptions are as beautiful as they are visceral.

Realism is the illusion of reality, tenuously strung between points of status quo. So like any world-building, there are steps and processes to fashioning the frame, even if the intention is that those underpinnings be invisible. Andrea demonstrated how important it is to balance what is perceived as realistic without getting too caught up in details such that the flow of the narrative is broken, potentially overwhelming the reader in one’s striving to seem authentic.

Andrea brought these lessons together in her own vivid writing. The workshop demonstrated how writing magic through the body allows the reader to use their senses and forces the writer to frame invocations in our common experience. So written, the spell only grows in power as it branches out into your world, not only shifting narrative but becoming a thread of the fabric of your characters. Valuable lessons.

— Christopher J. Sparks is a local writer with a passion for poetry and history.

Meaning awaits in the desert of truth,
blue and deep as deep can be.
— Christopher J. Sparks