Tag Archives: Gabriel Garcia-Marquez

Goodbye, Gabo, old friend

Today, one of my favorite writers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away. He greatly influenced my writing, my understanding of literature, and today, I feel like I’ve lost a friend.

We are friends … It’s a funny thing, writers. I mean, I feel like I get to know them, to understand how they think, to see what they see, and to understand what they loved, hated, and feared most in the world. In any other context, I would call that person my friend.

We’ve all had it where we lost one of our favorite writers. Most of my favorites are dead now. I had a dream of meeting Gabo (though I know this is kind of ridiculous), or at least, I hoped that somehow I could tell him how important he is to me. His short stories speak the most to me, stories like “Artificial Roses,” “There are no thieves in this town,” of course, “A very old man with enormous wings,” and so many more. His collections like Big Mama’s Funeral are weird, yet exciting, and the stories seem to find a way to tie together.

Influence, you say? I don’t see it. I think the very biggest thing that Garcia Marquez gave me was the license, the opportunity, to add wonder and the surreal to my work. I feel like he proved to me that sometimes the bizarre can speak more to real human emotions than straight realism.

And of course, that makes sense. There comes a place in the lives of characters, an emotional breaking point. They are emotions that cannot be said. Our poor and limited language tools aren’t sufficient, and they need to be expressed in a different way. Garcia Marquez’s use of magic and wonder in an oppressed and impoverished world, a world dominated by colonialism … somehow, it seems like it would be inappropriate, but it works. It’s dirty, it’s grimy, the world is so earthy, I believe it, and so, when he throws an angel onto the scene or he has characters that live forever or whatever he chooses to do, I don’t flinch. I jump on board because he has caught me in his world.

Not just Magical Realism. And that’s one of the things about Garcia Marquez. It wasn’t all magical realism. That’s the biggest thing he’s known for, but the fact is, the man could write compelling, believable, and flawed characters. And he had such a sense of place. When I read 100 Years of Solitude, I felt like I knew the town of Macondo. I knew the people. I could see the houses, the streets, the trees. The man could wholly immerse me in a dream, and that’s what his stories were like: dreams.

Maybe let someone else speak. Well, I don’t know. I’m very sad he’s gone. His impact on me, his opening up of my eyes to fresh ways of writing and reading I will always be thankful for. I’ve written a lot about Garcia Marquez on this site, and because I have Google Analytics connected to this site, whenever I’d see that I got some hits from Mexico City, I liked to pretend it was him.

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My Approach to Writing

I have been challenged by a writing group to write down a sort of writing philosophy. This felt like a rather daunting task, but it was productive to think about what I do, and maybe more importantly, what I am trying to do. Here is what I came up with.

My writing is typically about characters who feel great solitude, even (perhaps especially) while among others. My stories are about characters who want, and it’s from these wants that I derive my conflicts (a necessity in my stories). I feel like I’ve been heavily influenced by the wide physical expanses of New Hampshire and the wide emotional breaks in the Midwest. There is an inability to connect between characters, a miscommunication, an ongoing struggle to find meeting points.

I often throw magic in my stories to accentuate the conflict(s) in the story. Magic, for me, is heavily influenced by Garcia-Marquez’s short stories (duh), and often, they come at a place of emotional break for a character. As in, I write from a very traditional and realist approach, but when strain has hit its peak for a character, the surreal will often enter one of my stories, though not always.

I feel like my stories rarely have what some people call “a satisfying ending.” The bad guy usually doesn’t get it in the end, the guy almost never gets the girl, though if he does, watch out for strings attached. My characters grow, but it may feel small or disappointing or negative. Not all growth is positive, and my characters often feed on hope and fall prey to leaning on such hope.

I write in a plain style. As Orwell says, “Never use a long word where a short one will do,” and I try to abide by that. I’m not trying to impress people with my word craft but with my narratives, my conflicts, and most importantly, my characters. Yes, I do try to put things in ways that allow people to see the familiar in a new way, but my emphasis on language is purely functional to communicate as best as I can with the reader what I see in my head. I typically write in scene, and usually one story for me means one scene. I’m not wedded to this idea, in fact, I’d like to write longer pieces, but my impulse is to write about a singular event.

I try to layer my stories in meaning and symbols, but sometimes I can be clumsy with that (either being too on the nose or too subtle). My hope is to never let go of my plain-spoken and simplistic approach, yet pen stories with an extremely heavy emotional impact. That’s what I want: emotional impact. And what I mean by emotional impact is this: I want my reader to be impacted emotionally by the main character’s struggles, weaknesses, fears, loves, and hates, as well as the tone of the piece and the use of symbolic imagery, and I want that impact to start at the heart and work its way up to the brain, and I want, eventually, to change the way the reader thinks about some small aspect of the world they live in.

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One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez

I’ve read a ton of Marquez’s short stories and a couple of his novellas, but this was my first attempt at one of his long novels. In this post, I put my spin on Marquez’s nobel prize-winning novel.

So, you loved it, right? Well, it’s not so simple. This book took me way too long to read, and I must say, it was difficult. I’m not sure where I fall on the like it/hate it scale for this book, but it has gotten me thinking about different ways to approach a novel.

What was so difficult? Well, a couple of things. First of all, it does not follow a central character. It follows a family, but just as you start to fall in love with a character, Marquez kills him or her off. It’s frustrating at times, but the family carries on. Going through the book, we follow generation after generation of this family, and one of the difficulties is that most every male character is named either Aureliano or José Arcadio. At first it’s pretty easy to follow, but as the generations go on, the family branches out and there are adulteries and bastards and incests (there’s a disturbing amount of this) and strange relations, and the Aurelianos and José Arcadios start to become muddled and confusing.

The book is also rather bleak and depressing (which I often am drawn to). The women in the book are relatively sane and live amazingly long lives, while the men all essentially either die young or go out of their mind as they get old. It’s strange, the pattern of the characters in the book, both male and female, is that they come into a task, whether that be making gold fishes or starting civil wars or reading cryptic parchments, and they become obsessed. Eventually, this is all they do until they die. By the end, there are many literal ghosts in the house, yet the characters that are still living remind me of how people talk about ghosts. I’ve heard it said that ghosts often repeat one act again and again and again, like they’re stuck that way, and in this sense, Marquez almost creates living ghosts.

Solitude, huh? Sounds like a lot of people are in this book. Well, it’s true, there are a number of characters, yet, like I said, they so often become obsessed with a task that they become withdrawn from the family. Often the characters die alone, and sometimes a character is thought to be dead only to be found alive but haggard and emaciated.

This terrible pattern of living is applied to the family, and no one seems to be able to break it. It’s a very insightful way of looking at the family dynamic, because we all live out patterns we learn that our parents learned that their parents learned, and so on.

Well, what did you think? I … am still not sure. It has gotten me thinking so much about the novel form, yet I must admit that it was tough-sledding for me at times. I was relieved when I was through with it. I mean, like all of his works, it was masterfully written, and his characters are so wonderfully flawed and real, yet set in a dream-like state. In that way, it was great to read. Still, the central conflict was hard to pick out, and lacking of a main character to follow made it hard to come back to at times.

I think it is a great book to read, but I would recommend doing so in a healthy and positive mental state.

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Writing About Faith II: This Time It’s Personal

So, I had a great response, as well as a few good conversations, about my last post concerning writing about faith, so I thought I’d continue the thought.

But isn’t faith a personal thing? One thing that was brought up that got me thinking about why faith can be difficult to write about was its very personal nature. It’s true, I think. It’s only proven at the individual level, but then again, isn’t everything? Isn’t 2+2? “It’s 5!” shouts Winston Smith.

No, I don’t think this is much of a holdup, necessarily, but it’s true, if the person has not internalized this aspect of their lives, if they simply put it on, as a friend of mine said, “Like an Abercrombie sweater,” they’ll be about as interesting to hear from as someone who parrots the talking heads of political media. So, in this way, yeah, writing about faith can be restricted by the very personal nature, but in general, I’d say no. It is that personal proof that is so compelling, that wish to see what others see or to understand why they see the world as they do.

What’s been done? Well, I talked about Flannery O’Connor and her use of faith in her works the other day. A good friend of mine brought up the excellent book by Graham Greene, The Power & The Glory (one of my favorite titles in fiction), and I began to think about Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’s famous work, “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings.” I’d like to focus on this story for a moment, as I think it is representative of all of these works.

Marquez is critical of the way we carry out faith. This seems to be the commonality. Essentially, (spoiler alert) an angel drops into this town, and no one knows what to do with it but poke it with sticks, treat it like a freak show, and make money from it. Kind of like how people treat faith? Maybe. Even the town priest doesn’t know what to do. You’d think if anyone would see it for what it is, he would, but he doesn’t. We can often use writing as an indictment of how people use faith, but rarely are we able to see it in a positive light (without being corny) or to bring up other conflicts.

Well, what can the conflicts be? That’s a great question. I mean, if we write a story that includes some involvement by the Judeo-Christian God, we must then accept the things that define God. In which case, where can the conflict be? We’ve just established that there is an all-powerful, all-good, all-just agent in the story, so that doesn’t exactly leave the reader hanging on the edge of his seat in suspense.

No, it seems, as it often does in the Old Testament, that the conflict is exactly as O’Connor or Greene or Marquez imagine it: how man carries out his faith. In Job, the conflict is not man against his trials or man against God, really, but it’s a story where a man must come to grips with the fact that there are things he is not given to know. The conflict seems to always be with himself. In the New Testament, we see this when Jesus says things like “Oh ye, of little faith,” or “If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.” The problems always come down to man and his perpective on life, on God, on problems, etc.

There are exceptions. Fiction rarely, though sometimes, takes on God directly. Some would argue that Paradise Lost, terrible as it is, does this very thing. A few other famous books have done this as well, though, having not read many, I will reserve comment, but this approach seems more the exception than the rule.

So, what’s hard about this? I’m not sure exactly. It’s just a funny thing to me that faith can be so central to peoples’ lives, and yet, we struggle to write about it in meaningful and personal ways. The best writers seem to be able to come at this topic through curiosity, human interest, and personal experience, but that skill seems rare. Why? Perhaps it comes down to identity. Maybe faith, even more than politics (these two things becoming far too wedded for my liking), is so central to the core of our identities that we struggle to talk about it fairly or with any distance. At best, we talk about the worldview of others, but even then, we can often do no better than to act as a skeptic. And writing that only acts as an intellectual bludgeon to tear down another’s worldview serves little purpose.

Believe in him or not, God is an interesting character. He’s far more complex than any of us like to grant him, and he affects all of us in some manner or another, whether by personal experience, belief, or simply being affected by a person of faith close to us. I do try to explore faith, as I do most topics, in my writing, but I wish I was better at approaching the topic more honestly and more personally.

Besides Greene, C.S. Lewis, O’Connor, Marquez, Tolkien, or Marilynne Robinson, are there other writers that grapple with this topic effectively? If so, how?

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“Artificial Roses” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Cool little story. If you follow my blog at all, you’ll know that I’ve been talking about Garcia Marquez a lot lately. He’s been very influential to my writing these last couple of years, in more ways than just “magic.” Although, this gets me to thinking … maybe he’s not so much influential on my writing as he is validating of my writing choices. It’s like I’ve found a kindred writing spirit who feels the same limitations, and feels the need to make some of the same choices I do … like this one for example:

Hints. One of the things I love about Garcia Marquez is that he sets up the reader to be ready for something supernatural to jump into the realistic story, but sometimes, he leaves us wondering. A great example of this is the story “Artificial Roses” from his collection, Big Mama’s Funeral. In “Artificial Roses,” Marquez hints that a character has a supernatural skill, yet, he leaves open the possibility that it could simply be a coincidence or maybe the character is just extremely shrewd. Nevertheless, he has the ability to leave us wondering because of the context of his catalog.

I love how he takes Realism and bends it and twists it until we can’t be entirely sure what we’re seeing, as readers. He does successfully what so many genre writers seek to do, in my opinion. He reinforces his conflicts by pressing against the limits of Realism, yet, his characters and the problems they face are as real as a gravelly road.

How I use it. Right now, I am getting my MFA applications ready to send out, and I have two stories. One of them has a supernatural element, and the other does not. Still, the reading of one will affect the reading of the other. Obviously, this bears out better in a collection or in a catalog of work, but it’s wonderful to make the reader question. Isn’t that the goal in the end? Make the reader question something? Orwell challenges us directly, Vonnegut forces us to face harsh truths, making us question what we believe, but Garcia Marquez makes us question what is laid out directly in front of us in clear, plain text.

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Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Chronicle Of A Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A strange little detective story. So, in a day or so, I polished off Garcia Marquez’s 120 page novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold. It’s a strange little novel, in that it’s a sort of detective story, yet without all of the Noir elements. The story seems to be centered around a main character’s reconstruction of an event: an honor killing.

We don’t really get to know the main character. He was around at the time, but he seems to be the only player in the town that did not have some impact on the final outcome. Garcia Marquez does an excellent job making the entire town into a character. Everyone takes part, and in the end, a man is dead, but fault is hard to pinpoint.

I’ve read detective stories before. I know you have, but what makes this one pretty cool is that from the beginning, the reader know who dies, how he gets it, who does the killing, and why. You might ask, “So, why would I need to read the book?” Well, I’ll tell you.

Garcia Marquez constructs a town and a culture that is both fiery in its righteousness (willing to defend it to the point of violence) and frozen by inhibition and fear. By going on through the story, he troubles the easy fault-finding of the murderers, and he challenges the reader on notions of loveless marriage, abuse, sexism, and virginity.

This book is violent and it does not leave the reader feeling like the bad guys lose in the end. As with real life, the result of violence is pain for all involved. Garcia Marquez does a masterful job creating a real-as-the-gravel-beneath-my-feet town with human characters.

Give this book a read. It’s quick, but it’ll stay with you.

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Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’s “There are no thieves in this town”

I have a great book of collected works by the author Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. He has become one of my favorite authors. It is his work that inspired me to work on my current NH Stories project.

I just read this great story called “There are no thieves in this town.” The title says it all. It talks about mistrust of strangers, of others. In the story, a black man gets blamed and punished (much harder than a native would be punished) for a crime that was committed by a townsperson.

It’s easy to point the finger at others. I see this as a religious person who hears way too often that it’s the fault of some person or group that the world is as it is. I see this as someone who (an independent) pays attention to politics, and I see how much people find identity in party, and these parties spend their days faulting the other side.

The main character in Marquez’s story is a handsome man who is short on brains and mercy. He’s violent and drunk all of the time, yet it’s hard to blame him. He lives in poverty, as does most of the town, and covets things for himself (and for his pregnant wife as an afterthought).

Marquez creates a story where the main character is also the villain that the reader hates. This story (outside of the strange cat character that only shows up when the main character is breaking and entering … guilt?) is not Magical Realism. An interesting break from most of his works.

Though the cat … I need to think about the cat. What’s up with the cat?

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