Saturday, 2 May 2015

Interview with Dennis Vickers

This is a new development for this blog: interviews with writers of magic realism. First up is Dennis Vickers, whose book Mikawadizi Storms I reviewed a few months ago. Any other authors interested in doing an interview should check out the interview tab above. 

Welcome, Dennis. Before we start, here's a bit of introduction: Dennis is a member of the Magic Realism Books Facebook Group. He has quite a few books to his name, check out his Amazon Author page for more info.

1. Who are your favourite magic realist authors and why?
Gabriel Garcia Marquez. One Hundred Years of Solitude was the first Magical Realism book I read. I found the story charming, but didn’t think much about why until later. I also enjoy Isabel Allende, Jorge Luis Borges, Louise Erdrich, and Sherman Alexie.

2. What is your all-time favourite magic realist book?
Surprisingly (given Laura Esquivel isn’t among the authors I listed above) I thought Like Water for Chocolate was a marvelous story. I especially like how Esquivel infuses the magic into the characters. It’ s probably the MR book I think about most and the one I’ll most likely reread one day.

3. Why do you write magic realism?
The real world is filled with events that are beautiful or delightful in a way that seems removed from everyday life (one definition of magical), but we often don’t notice. Sometimes twisting or exaggerating these events highlights them. For example, greed often leads to consequences greedy people struggle to deal with. In my last novel, a greedy mining engineer’s hands grow, leading to all sorts of difficulties for him. This story element is my way of drawing attention to the everyday development that greed leads to life-draining consequences, usually debilitating absorption in the acquisition and retention of money.

4. Can you give us your definition of magic realism?
Magical realism is a literary genre in which two cultures are presented together, usually embedded in characters that represent both. One culture accepts magic as an everyday factor; the other rejects magic. Thus, some events are everyday events from one cultural perspective, but magical from the other. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, José Arcadio is shot in his bedroom. Blood flows out of his ear, down the street, around some corners, up the stairs of Úrsula's house, and through the rooms there, until it finds her. Garcia Marquez tells this story as if there’s nothing unusual about it, and indeed, it’s an everyday occurrence that a person would come to know that a tragic misfortune has befallen a loved one – from one perspective it’s quite real. Yet, of course, blood doesn’t do that – from the other perspective it’s magic.  

5. Tell us about your latest magic realist book?
Mikawadizi Storms tells the story of a freelance journalist who reports on the controversy surrounding an open-pit iron ore mine dug into idyllic woodlands just up river from an Indian Reservation. The plot mirrors a conflict that unfolded near where I live: Gogebic Taconite sought to put the largest open-pit iron mine in the world in the Penokee Hills upstream of the Bad River Ojibwe. Interestingly, the outcome predicted in my novel, i.e. the Earth rejects the mine, is in fact what came about – the Penokee Hills hold too much ground water for such a mine to be feasible. No doubt the conflict will resume one day when the value of iron ore has increased to the point where massive pumping of ground water seems a good idea.

I am struck by how many people are involved in conflicts like the Penokee Hills mine, and so I structured the novel into forty-six small stories, each a chapter focused primarily on one character. I found the subtle perspective shifts implied by that structure to be useful when presenting the worldview of the Native American characters, many of whom were intently concerned about the mine but only indirectly connected to the main plot (namely the politics of mine approval and the actual construction of the mine). Magical Realism elements include sentient animals (with a ghost cat), karmic developments (for example, the greedy mine engineer with growing hands), an old man who transforms into a butterfly, all set against the background of conflict between perspectives of the indigenous culture and the mining company.

1 comment: said...

I love the way Vickers draws on current socialn issues for his "bones," the expands into magical realism to show the consequences of human human behavior. Really, enjoyed this interview. Thank you.