Hold Up: What the Heck is Appalachian Magical Realism?

My book Haints is an Appalachian Magical Realism story. What the hell does that mean? Just, like, magic but in Appalachia?

Well, sure, that’s part of it. But it’s actually a rich genre, and because I am a colossal nerd, I’m happy to overshare.

Magical Realism, as a Big Major Literary Genre, is defined by two main things:

  1. It’s got magic that isn’t that big a deal to its characters or setting. There isn’t an epic, separate fantasy world structured with rules to explain the magic. Cool, enchanting/creepy things happen in a fictional world that looks an awful lot like the one we live in.
  2. The story happens in a post-colonial culture. Think Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who said that surrealism runs through the streets of Latin America. Alice Hoffman is also a well-known writer of Magical Realism. Her old-world patina of magic in the modern era is definitely post-colonial.

In some ways, Magical Realism is a kind of dreamy commentary on the absurdity of life. In other ways, I think it’s an observation of things that are magical in reality, but with an extra push: love, glowing, growing things, rushing whitewater rapids, fireflies …

narrow pathway in a glowing forest
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

I’ve said it before, but Appalachian nature is magic! We have thousands of cicadas that live in the black of dirt for seventeen years and rise up to scream for six weeks. We have swarms of fireflies that synchronize–yes, they flash furiously like sunlight on rippled water before going totally dark all at once. We have soft, obscuring fog and violent storms. We have magnificent forests, salamanders called hellbenders or snot otters, depending on who’s doing the calling.

And we have a history of colonization. The original wave of frontiersmen and women who lived peaceably at first with indigenous peoples, but who eventually took what the wanted by force. Then coal mining companies, the Tennessee Valley Authority, politicians and their programs to “help,” the medical/pharmaceutical industry and their programs to “help.”

It’s this rich tapestry of history, beauty and mythology that set the tone for Haints.

I’m still working on getting the rights back officially. It won’t be long now!

Do you have questions or comments about Appalachian Magical Realism or my upcoming novel, Haints? Drop a line via email, social media (@megpalmerwrites) or the contact page on this site. I look forward to hearing from you.

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