MAGIC REALISM AND THE CAHUILLA INDIANS OF SOUTHERN CALIFRONIA

wash_photos_bill_003_(402x519)Sometimes categories feel like gilded cages. Sometimes they feel like steel traps. In todays’ literary world, largely thanks to Amazon, the lid has blown off the publishing world, and anyone now has access to what once were the forbidden gates. Of course, now along with the profound, we have much profane, but that’s another story.

Now, for the Indie Writer/Indie Publisher it is incumbent upon us, and not our publisher/agent as we are they and they is us, to decide into what category our books fall.

Sometimes this is easy—if we are a strictly category writer.

Sometimes this is pure unmitigated torture and no matter what we chose, we get it wrong.

I have struggled with this placement with most of my books.

When I first discovered Magic Realism,  I heaved a heavy sigh and shouted, “Eureka!”

But as I educated myself on the parameters of this beautiful and ephemeral genre, I realized I was mistaken. Just cuz you got magic don’t make it Magic Realism.

Looking back over my work; thinking back over my years as a writer, and pondering my schooling in just what Magic Realism is as I have read about it and as I grew to understand it, I find it quite interesting and fitting that the work I have crafted about Native Americans is the work that can be truly classified as Magic Realism.

The Mexican critic Luis Leal wrote “To me, magical realism is an attitude on the part of the characters in the novel toward the world or toward nature.”

Further, he explained, it’s an acceptance, without comment, without wonder or awe, of magic in the real world.

One of the first times I experienced this type of acceptance was when I was interviewing Dr. Katherine Siva Saubel for a play I would eventually write about her and the Cahuilla Indians of Southern California entitled WE ARE STILL HERE.

I was speaking with her brother, Alvino as we were sitting at the gathering site on the Morongo Reservation that was just behind Katherine’s home at one of the many Cahuilla Festivals I had been invited to attend so that I could gain more understanding of Katherine and her People. Alvino was pointing out the craggy hills that surrounded us, dotted with jagged and rounded rock and scrub pines that bent and twisted as if wheezing for oxygen.

“See that over there?” Alvino pointed with his hand raised at eye level. “See all those marks– those indentations in the hillside? If you go up to there, walk around, you’ll see those markings are all gathered in three distinct sets. That’s because those are all places Temayawat sat down to rest. So you’ve got one place where he rested his bottom; and two places where he set his ….you know…” he indicated around his general private area. “He had big ones, of course. He was one of the Creators. Round. Heavy. So they’re gonna make big marks. You go up there. You’ll see them all over the hillside.”

Katherine Saubel was a devout Catholic. The first day I met her, she sat with me for over five hours. She told me the Creation Story of the Cahuilla Indians. She told me about the twin creators Mukat and Temayawat; about the Moon Maiden, who taught the People how to be men and how to be women, and how to wash. She told me about the death of Mukat, killed by Temayawat, and about how the people mourned and wept and rolled in the ashes.

And as she told the story, as if these people were her kin, I could see that Katherine believed every word as absolute truth.

She believed every word as absolutely as she believed every word of the story of Jesus. For Katherine held Jesus closely to her heart.

Two distinct belief systems. Some might say opposing. But she wouldn’t. Never. She held them securely at the same moment in her heart and in her mind.

She also said that Jesus, in the Bible, spoke directly to the Native People.

“He spoke to all the Nations. It says so in the Bible. And we, the Native People, Indians, are a Nation. Jesus spoke to us.”

One of the greatest gifts I was ever given was the gift of Katherine’s story. Her brother told me she gave it to me because she trusted me to tell it truthfully. And with respect.

The Cahuilla Creation Story—when the People tell it, gathered around the fire once upon a time, now more often than not at a Community Center or even at someone’s house—takes over 12 hours– overnight to complete.

I, of course, had to pick and choose which parts to re-create in the play.

At one of our early performances in Southern California close by the Morongo Reservation and Katherine’s home, Alvino was seated next to me afterwards. He leaned in close to me, but this time he was not talking about craggy hills. He was expressing displeasure with me. There was a part of the Creation Story I had left out that he felt was very important and that I needed to put in. It was a part about Coyote stealing Mukat’s heart and eating it before he returned to the People. “You need to put that in there. That’s very important that Coyote did that. And from the blood of that heart, the tobacco tree grew.” I promised I would make the amendment. When I told the cast, they were thrilled, and the changes were added for the next performance.

When I next saw Alvino, it was at the September Harvest Festival. He crooked his finger as the Indian/Cowboy band struck up, and we kicked up our heels pretty good, so I wager he’d forgiven me.

The re-enactment of the Cahuilla Creation Story is I believe one of the purest examples of Magical Realism I have ever seen.

Not written, you understand.

For I did not write it.

Great God, no.

I was merely the vessel of – as I was told – ten thousand years of the passing down through the generations of the story of this wondrous indigenous people—born—not crossed over from some land bridge up there in Alaska someplace, as Alvino told me many times– but born right here in Southern California.

And Alvino and Katherine and their brother Paul did not believe in the Creation myth– this was their story, their history. This is their truth.

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.   

Follow this link to enjoy all the other blogs!

  http://new.inlinkz.com/view.php?id=547485

blog hop 2015 dates

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Is it or Isn’t It Magic Realism and Does it Matter?

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Magical realism, unlike the fantastic or the surreal, presumes that the individual requires a bond with the traditions and the faith of the community, that s/he is historically constructed and connected. (P. Gabrielle Foreman. Past on Stories: History and the Magically Real, Morrison and Allende on Call. Magical Realism. Ed. Zamora and Faris, p. 286).

Magical Realism takes the supernatural for granted and spends more of its space exploring the gamut of human reactions (Susan J. Napier. The Magic of Identity: Magic Realism in Modern Japanese Fiction.).

Magic realism (is) a kind of modern fiction in which fabulous and fantastical events are included in a narrative that otherwise maintains the ‘reliable’ tone of objective realistic report. Designating a tendency of the modern novel to reach beyond the confines of realism and draw upon the energies of fable, folk tale, and myth while maintaining a strong contemporary social relevance. The fantastic attributes given to characters in such novels-levitation, flight, telepathy, telekinesis-are among the means that magic realism adopts in order to encompass the often phantasmagoric political realities of the 20th century. (The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms).

These are but three of hundreds of definitions one can find on Magic Realism, but if we sort through them we find, of course, a basic agreement on the basic tenets: a mixture of the real with (for lack of a better word) the supernatural, “a strong sense of contemporary social relevance,” a sense of indigenous cultures, and the very strong sense of a “taking for granted the supernatural.”

“A bit of history tells us that the term “magical realism was coined around 1924 or 1925 by a German art critic named Franz Roh…” (Alejo Carpentier, The Baroque and the Marvelous Real). Not a surprise that the term should come out of Germany in the 20’s, or that the movement should be rising there, though the literary movement is, of course, associated with Latin America. Latina journalist and social critic Isabel Allende transported the movement further in her feminist writings that protested elitism, racism, and sexism. And what better vehicle than Magic Realism to infuse and uplift her writings of a group mired in social and political powerlessness and suffering domestic brutality?

My question is—how much of the intellectual definition in fact can be transported before the genre is disfigured or transmogrified into something else entirely? Does it matter?

In today’s literary marketplace it seems at times that it is all about the label—though in truth, Magic Realism does not seem to entice anyone to pounce upon the BUY NOW button. Still, a category is a category, or a label is a label, and it would matter to the loyal group of readers.

Is Magic Realism the same as Surreal the same as Metaphysical the same as Paranormal?

Don’t cringe—of course not.

But where exactly does one draw the line?

For example, at last count there were over one million words in the English language—with new ones added and deleted continuously. Language is fluid. Are genres? And if so, how much so? Who decides?

For me, the largest question revolves around taking the supernatural for granted. Currently, I am working on a mystery series, Stone Quest in which the lead character, Luke Stone, is a psychic visionary. He has “fantastic attributes”: he has psychic visions and he has the power of healing; however, not only does he not take these attributes for granted, he fights like hell against them. As the character progresses through the series, he discovers even more “attributes”, which I won’t reveal here (spoiler alert!), and his battle with his “supernatural” self is a decisive part of the plot. I had at one time called the series Magic Realism—but have since stopped. I was for a while referring to it as Paranormal—but in today’s literary parlance paranormal means vampires and witches and things not of this series, so I have removed that moniker as well. I toyed with Metaphysical – but that didn’t seem quite right, so have now settled upon Mystical and so be it. For now.

I believe my choice to no longer designate the Stone Quest series as Magic Realism was the correct one, though, honestly, it saddened me because so many things about Magic Realism and its definition lure me: “Magical realism manages to present a view of life that exudes a sense of energy and vitality in a world that promises not only joy, but a fair share of misery as well. In effect, the reader is rewarded with a perspective on the world that still includes much that has elsewhere been lost. (David K. Danow. The Spirit of Carnival Magical Realism and the Grotesque). And of course, the master, the king, Garcia Marquez said “realism is a kind of premeditated literature that offers too static and exclusive a vision of reality. However good or bad they may be, they are books which finish on the last page. In other words…the magic text is, paradoxically, more realistic than the realistic text.” (Scott Simpkins, Sources of Magic Realism/Supplements to Realism in Contemporary Latin American Literature).

Ultimately, whatever I call it, the readers’ experience is up to me.

Unfortunately, it is also up to me, as an Indie author, to guide my readers to my books. And that is where the labels and where the accuracy of those labels comes into play.

We do owe our audience accuracy—and that means marketing accuracy as well.

Later this summer, I am planning on beginning my very first romance novel, Western Song, a contemporary western romance, adapted from an award-winning screenplay. The story has both Native American and Thai characters, and in the original screenplay, I touched upon both the religion and mythology of both cultures. Lots more room to grow these in the novel form. Lots more room to call upon Magic Realism here without jeopardy of compromising the integrity of the genre, too.

Ah…

Watch this space…

This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. Twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (6th – 8th August) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the link at the top of this post to find out about the other posts and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.

Flying High with Magic Realism

Currently, I am completing the third book, Neuri Shape-Shifter, in my Stone Quest magical realism series. Recently, Evie Woolmore of Allonymbooks reviewed the first book of that series, Desert Chimera, and followed up the review with an interview. Desert Chimera was first envisioned as the play Desert Wolf some fifteen years ago that premiered at the InterAct Theatre Company here in Los Angeles. Evie asked me some very interesting and insightful questions, one of which was: What did writing the book offer you, in terms of exploring [the] huge range of material, that you couldn’t cover in the play?

Though playwrights have experimented with play forms for as long as the craft has existed, and though we now have technology that can spark and pop and make our audiences gasp and howl with joy and wonder, in the end with any play production there are limits: limits of budget, limits of time, limits of space, in short, limits of reality.  In trying to craft the story of characters such as Luke Stone who begins the play with an apocryphal vision in the heart of Death Valley and Armand Jacobi who is described as Luke’s nemesis and a “black magician,” for the stage, one can see how difficult those limits can be. How does one show the apocryphal vision to an audience when all one has is the actor on the stage? Does he voice a monologue? Throughout the play there were several instances of “magical” effects. How to affect those? Of course the hugely successful Wicked dazzled. But I did not have that budget. Nor a fraction of it. Perhaps the greatest frustration for me was the final duel between Armand and Luke in the Desert Wolf Café. No matter how brilliantly this stage fight was choreographed, it was doomed to remain at best only a stage fight.

But as a novel? What are the limits in a novel? In the physical realm, none.

However, when you are employing magic realism, you can take your readers as high as you can fly.

As I adapted the play to a novel, I had the opportunity to widen the scope of the piece, exploring, for example, the spirituality of the characters, especially my protagonist and antagonist, Luke Stone and Armand Jacobi. For example, I was able to fully describe the apocryphal vision Luke had in the desert as well as many of his other visions. Luke tells Consuelo about the first time he remembers healing. He had been forced to shoot a bird by his alcoholic abusive father. He gathered up the wounded bird in his hand; he felt his hands grow warm, he felt the bird’s heartbeat, the wings flutter, and the bird flew suddenly away. The novel also delves into the dark magic of Armand Jacobi and the life Luke led with him while he was one of Jacobi’s lost boys It describes the rituals Armand held with the young Luke at his side, the conjuring they did, the spirits they raised, and the moment when the darkness danced so far upon the razor’s edge of evil that Luke ran for his life. During the final showdown between mentor and pupil, I could go into as much detail as I desired, taking Luke into his past, and even deep within the cries of the desert wolves that howl outside the café as rain pelts the windows and Luke fights his nemesis in a battle that will culminate either in his triumph or the loss of his soul forever.

But creating magic realism is not akin to anything goes.

If anything, the writer must be more vigilant, more careful, more particular, more attentive to detail than in fiction that does not contain this element.

The writer is crafting an entire universe unknown, at first, to anyone but her. If your readers enter this unknown land and are not quickly given the key to its existence, if they do not understand the rules under which your world operates, they will all too quickly grow disenchanted, and exeunt.

If Luke Stone is suddenly able to solve all his problems by his magical powers—where is the tension? And if Luke Stone has magical powers, why can’t he solve all his problems by simply calling upon them? Moreover, and vice versa, of his nemesis Armand Jacobi is the so-powerful black magician who was his mentor and knows him so well, why can’t Jacobi easily over-power Luke? You had better make certain you have answers to these questions, and those answers better be good and they’d better be rooted in certainty and in the reality of the world you have created in which your characters dwell. It isn’t always easy when you play around with magic; it most assuredly makes for a far more daunting  challenge,  but in the end, both the creator and the reader are amply rewarded.

I am pleased to announce that I have just joined Zoe Brook’s Magic Realism Blog Hop. The above article is my first posting for the “hop.” Below are our other members. You can also visit and learn more about Ms. Brooks’ work @ http://ZoeBrooks.blogspot.com or on Facebook/ZoeBrooksAuthor
Have a great tour!
http://magic-realism-books.blogspot.com/2013/07/what-is-magic-realism.html
http://kirstyfoxbooks.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/night-logic/
http://karenwyld.wordpress.com/sporadic-musings/
http://zoebrooks.blogspot.com/2013/07/magic-realism-or-fantasy.html
https://leighpod.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/flying-high-with-magic-realism-2/
http://www.tadcrawford.com/blog-2/
http://hearth-myth.blogspot.com/2013/07/urban-fantasy-and-magic-realism-matter.html
http://muriellerites.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/serendipity-down-the-rabbit-hole-by-rebecca-davies/
http://joelseath.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/real-magic-and-the-mythkeepers-of-the-world/
http://allonymbooks.com/2013/07/22/facts-and-fiction-historical-magical-realism-evie-woolmores-blog-for-the-magic-realism-blog-hop/
http://edieramer.com/2013/07/22/magical-realism-blog-hop-giveaways/
http://curatedbookshelves.blogspot.com/2013/07/white-is-for-witching.html
http://christinelockebooks.blogspot.com/2013/07/magic-realism-by-christine-locke.html
http://susanbishopcrispell.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/every-little-thing-i-read-is-magic/
http://jordanrosenfeld.net/everyday-magical-realism/