Category Archives: Reading

Magical Realism: Where Fantasy and Literary Fiction Meet

When most people hear magical realism, they immediately think of Gabriel García Márquez and his book One Hundred Years of Solitude. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Márquez tells the story of the fictional town of Macondo and the generations of families that live there. It includes people coming back from the dead, a plague of insomnia, and thunderstorms of yellow flowers. If not Márquez, many know of contemporary writer Isabel Allende, arguably the most popular current writer of magical realism. But, some well-known books, authors, and movies also fit into the magical realism category – ones you might not expect. Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, Sherman Alexie, Haruki Murakami have all written magical realism. Movies like The Green Mile, Chocolat (as well as the book by the same name by Joanne Harris) and Big Fish (also a book by Daniel Wallace) can be grouped in the genre as well as the TV series The Leftovers on HBO. Books like Life of Pi, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Lovely Bones, and 11/22/63 can also fit into the genre of magical realism.

Then what is magical realism exactly? Is it fantasy? Literary fiction? The simple definition of magical realism is when a story is set in the real world, but the people in the world accept that some magical elements exist – when magical elements are a natural part of the world as we know it and are accepted as such. Stories in this genre may include retellings of fables and cultural myths to bring them back into contemporary social relevance, such as the book The Alchemist. Latin American writer Alejo Carpentier coined the phrase “lo real maravilloso” or “the marvelous real,” but Maggie Bowers is often credited as the originator of Latin American Realism, from which all magical realism stems.

When considering the definition, it becomes clear just how broad and inclusive magical realism really is. It’s also a genre that tends to overlap with other genres. Many books in the magical realism genre are also part of other genres, usually literary fiction and fantasy. There aren’t very many set rules as to what makes a book magical realism, but there are a few.

One of the rules or exclusions of magical realism is surrealism, a different genre that has more to do with psychology and the mind. Magical realism deals with the material, tangible world. Another widely accepted rule of magical realism is that the story takes place in the world as we know it, and the characters have the same needs and limitations as we do. This differs from fantasy where the setting is typically a far-away land and magic is wide-spread and known, and tends to be a power that comes from within. Magical realism simply adds a magical element into the story, such as a man with giant wings (“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel García Márquez) or an epidemic makes an entire city go suddenly blind (Blindness by José Saramago).

Magical realism presents a very interesting opportunity for literary fiction and fantasy authors. Authors can enjoy a blending of both worlds by creating a playful and unorthodox story that sparks readers’ imaginations.

Recommended reading to examine magical realism in different cultures:

  1. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
  2. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
  3. Blindness by José Saramago
  4. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  5. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  6. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  7. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

You Had Me at Nitrogen Pentoxide

A guest post by Jacqui Talbot

When I was ten, my uncle gave me a chemistry set, and with my first successful experiment, I was hooked.

There were a few less successful endeavors.

Like the time I decided to make a homemade stink bomb. Nothing too difficult. Just cut the heads off some matches and stick them in a bottle with some ammonia. Give it a swirl and then leave it for 3-4 days. Et voila! A perfect tool with which to prank my older siblings.

UntitledThat is, of course unless a certain person—who shall remain nameless—decided to alter the recipe for maximum stench, and then forgot about it, leaving the bottle in a kitchen cupboard for two weeks during one of the hottest summers on record. And if that nameless (and blameless) child’s stepmother happened upon said bottle, gave it a little shake, and then opened it…. You get the picture. I was grounded for a month and the kitchen was uninhabitable for almost that long.

And then there was the incident with that batch of super-charged homemade gunpowder. (I was trying to make my own fireworks and wound up losing the porch and my eyebrows in at the same time.)

The point is that I have two great loves in my life: chemistry and the written word.

Untitled2So, as you can imagine, when I discovered Alan Bradleys’ intrepid protagonist, Flavia de Luce, I was entranced. A beguiling cross between Pippi Longstocking and Sherlock Holmes, Flavia is an eleven-year-old sleuth with a passion for chemistry (specifically poisons) and a penchant for crime solving.

You can see why I love this kid.

She stars in seven novels, each one told in first person with some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read. To say that Bradley has a way with words is like saying Michelangelo was handy with a paintbrush. The way he crafts the language is mind-blowing. Here’s the first line of the fourth book in the series: I AM HALF-SICK OF SHADOWS:

“Tendrils of raw fog floated up from the ice like agonized spirits departing their bodies. The cold air was a hazy, writhing mist.

Up and down the long gallery I flew, the silver blades of my skates making the sad scraping sound of a butcher’s knife being sharpened energetically on stone.”

*Sigh* See what I mean?

If Flavia sounds like a character you want to meet, I recommend starting with book one in the series, THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE:

Untitled3Reading one of Bradley’s books is like diving into a soft bed covered in silk sheets and down comforters. It’s like a hot bubble bath after a long day’s work.

Just be careful when you dive in. Because when it comes to Flavia, you never know what lurks beneath.

But when it comes to memorable characters, that’s not really a bad thing, is it?


About the Author:
Jacqui Talbot is a book worm, devoted Whovian, and certified fantasy geek. When not pursuing her dream of becoming a full-time writer, she spends her time learning different languages (six and counting) and being a nuclear chemist. Her current projects include SPINNERS, a YA supernatural thriller set on the Choctaw Indian reservation where she grew up, and KARMA AND CHEMISTRY, a MG fantasy adventure featuring a twelve-year-old protagonist who uses science to battle dark magic. 

Pages of Inspiration: Books for Writers

The creative well runs dry. The heart is as desiccated and desolate as a dusty Old West street, because you’re certain your Work in Progress is utter cowflop. You shout into the endless black void, listening mournfully for a few spurious, uncertain echoes. Where can writers go when they need to pour some fire back into their souls? The same place that got us into writing in the first place: Books.

At various points in your life, you’ll encounter books that are like a blessed bowl of warm chicken soup on a wintry day when your nose is crammed with snot and you ache in every bone. You’ll encounter books like the smooth, sweet burn of good whiskey that warms you from the inside. You’ll encounter books like a smart kick in the buttocks from that hot personal trainer.

Allow me to be so bold as to suggest some books for writers that have made an impact on me.

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury is a short, sweet blast of poetic inspiration. Bradbury was a consummate master storyteller, and being able play with techniques he’s used to cultivate the creative soul is incredibly valuable. This book is less a nuts-and-bolts how-to than techniques for cultivating the creative soul.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a swift little kick in the pants. Each short chapter puts a finger directly onto the throbbing wounds of all the reasons we do not write, all the reasons we hold ourselves back from achieving our potential. The book provides a useful psychological framework for overcoming all of those excuses.

On Writing Horror by the Horror Writers Association is collection of essays from the luminaries of horror fiction. Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Ramsey Campbell and many others tackle aspects of effective storytelling that go beyond writing horror. Much of this book is simply about writing good fiction, and I still reference various chapters.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a great companion to Stephen King’s book below. Part how-to manual and part memoir, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, every chapter is spot-on. The chapter on first drafts is worth the cover price alone. In fact, I give that chapter to my English composition students as a lesson in how to get past the psychological blocks common to beginning writers.

Few writers can boast the impact that Stephen King has made on American fiction. On Writing is part memoir, part how-to. There are chapters on specific writing and revision techniques, but it’s also a memoir of his writing life. I found great inspiration in his writing life because he talks about the course of his career. Much of it is incredibly familiar, forming parts of every writer’s path. He had the skill, the drive, the support of a partner, caught a couple of lucky breaks, and his career exploded. And if he could do it, so can I. So can you.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron was a life-changing experience for me. This book is a twelve-week program designed to reignite the sparks of a creative person’s soul, whether the person is a writer, graphic artist, musician, etc. It helps examine and reprogram all the ways our creative impulse is squelched–by our own fears, by our families, by the outside pressure of society. If you work through all twelve weeks of this program faithfully, you will experience a sea change in the way you approach writing, the way you approach life. I had already been writing for two decades when this book was given to me by a friend, and I found it so transformative that a few years later I went through all twelve weeks again. It was fascinating to see how much of it I had internalized. And also how far I still had to go. The Artist’s Way treats a creative life as a spiritual journey, making writing into your art, into a way of life, not something you try to do in between your day job, kids and soccer games, and your next session of World of Warcraft.

I hope someday to discover another gem and be as enlightened, invigorated, and inspired as I was when I discovered these books. Everybody needs a shot in the arm sometimes.

About the Author: Travis Heermann

Heermann-6Spirit_cover_smallTravis Heermann’s latest novel Spirit of the Ronin, was published in June, 2015.

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, he is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of Death Wind, The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Perihelion SF, Fiction River, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including content for the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and EVE Online.

He lives in New Zealand with a couple of lovely ladies and a burning desire to claim Hobbiton as his own.

You can find him on…


Flashes of Halloween

As a token of appreciation for our readers and fans, we present a series of flash fiction stories to entertain and scare you. We hope you enjoy them, as does that ghostly figure reading this over your shoulder…



Guy Anthony De Marco

Bob hated driving ‘cattle’ trucks. He liked the cargo, but the other drivers drove him mad. Soccer moms cutting him off on their way to the hairdressers and belligerent teenagers flipping him off all contributed to Bob’s loathing of city dwellers. He held his tongue for years, biding his time.

On Bob’s final run, the day he’d retire, he made a detour towards the old Quonset hut on his property. He would butcher and freeze this load to keep him in steaks for months, maybe years.

As he turned the crowded schoolbus into his driveway, he began to drool.

Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

Pamela K. Kinney


“Want a unique experience?” asked the woman in a tight mini dress and stiletto heels.

The man grinned. “What do you have in mind?”

“Something I know you never had done to you before and can only be done once.”

He followed her down an alley. They stopped beneath a sickly yellow light.

The man said, “I’ve done every sexual position you can imagine.”

“This is not about sex.”

The prostitute vanished, replaced by a monster. Before he could escape, it ate him.

Costumed as the human woman again, the monster patted her belly. “Now, you experienced being my meal.”


Guy Anthony De Marco


“All right, you horrible jerk.”

The Mrs. is pissed off at me again. I rack my brain, trying to think of what she could have discovered. My mistress died suddenly, so she couldn’t have squealed about our affair. Nobody saw me hit the crippled guy with my car last year.

She’s not crying, so it has nothing to do with the jerk she was having an affair with while I was at work. I killed him too.

“Okay, I give. What did I do this time?”

She held up a severed, partially gnawed woman’s hand.

“I thought you were on a diet, dear?”

 Trick Or Treat

Frank Morin

He hated Halloween, with all those grasping, selfish children.

This year he prepared a special treat. The children would gobble them down, not even tasting the ricin. They’d die painfully in a few days, and no one could ever trace the source of the deadly toxin back to him.

Halloween night, he hosted a party of dear friends, but when he went to fetch the bowl of poisoned chocolate, he found it filled with different candy.

His wife called, “Give the brats the cheap stuff.”

“Where are my chocolates?”

“Gone,” she laughed. “They were the hit of the party.”

After the Crossroads

Mary Pletsch

I am sorry, my friend…but you are a mother too. You will understand—I couldn’t leave my daughter alone. You often said how you couldn’t comprehend what I was going through, watching my little girl wither away.

You would not have laughed at me if I had told you that in my desperation I had gone down to the crossroads with four black candles and a Club Pack of chicken breasts, $4.99 per pound on sale. You would not have made fun of my sacrifice. You would have known that even at that price, I would be skipping meals for the rest of the week.

You, if anyone, would have held my hand as I invoked Him. You would have reassured me. You would have told me there was no fault in trying.

The next morning my daughter drank from the bottle He gave me in exchange for the soul of the head of the house. My friend, I am so sorry… On my way to the hospital I walked past my own door and drew the mark on yours.

I will watch over your sons as you would have watched over my daughter, had the situation been reversed.


Guy Anthony De Marco

The lines were longer than expected. It took a while to dock with the geosynchronous auction house, where robotic transports shuttled bidders to the main deck. The inner wall of the doughnut-shaped vessel displayed flashes of upcoming items; the outer gave the occupants a view of incoming ships.

Hun-Rey appreciated the attention to detail provided by the auctioneers. Disposable holo-vids of the major pieces, organic foods, and many intoxicating beverages — the house expected to pull in big numbers.

Most of the elite stopped by, pumping each other for inside information. Hun-Rey greeted each one, and divulged misinformation with a smile. He was a professional, a bidder with clairvoyance and charm.

A small bell tolled three times, and the auction began.

“Today we have a rarity. One certified dead world, with many antiquities intact. We will start with item one, a tubular underwater vehicle with all sixteen nuclear weapons unfired…”


Kristin Luna

The tabby strolled down the steps, weaving between the banisters. She hadn’t been fed for days, and her short hair began to suck to her body to display her ribs.

When she reached the ground level of her domicile, she peered into the kitchen and sat on her haunches. She stared at her owners sitting still in their chairs. She approached the youngest one that usually had bits of leftover breading from chicken fingers or cheese or cookie bits stuck to her fingers. She smelled the little fingers, but there was only the smell of acrid pickles. All the same, she rubbed against the little fingers and the rope end that dangled from the girl’s wrists.

She quickly passed by the one with the slick, black shoes that kicked her often and went straight for the one in the slippers and nightgown who poured her cat food every morning. She rubbed against the slippered feet, but again, was given no pats or rubs in return.

Demanding as she was, the feline jumped up to the table, as the action demanded attention in the past. But no one batted her away or placed her back down on the floor. Her presence unprotested, the cat sniffed a puddle of a strange liquid, and paused. She looked at the pool as if considering. But after a moment had passed, the tabby bent her head farther and drank from it anyway. At first slowly, the reddish brown coagulations catching on her tongue, and the sharp flavor different from water or milk. But the tabby was hungry, and this red milk would have to do.