Wiscon: Saturday Early: Working, Reading, Magical Realism

Waiting for breakfast with Yolanda. One more of our party, Julie, fell to the flu, and it scuttled her evening of dressing up and going to the dessert salon, but my friend Laura had Immodium in her room, so after a walk over to the Inn on the Park, I hope we procurred a solution for her. Didn’t do much in the way of parties last night, because I thought we might be down on the flu farm. 🙂 But Sunday will wait its turn.

Warning: Panel rant about magical realism and the academy ahead. If you’re interested, click more. If not, stick with the nice stuff above the cut.


Saturday morning, a batch of us went to the farmer’s market, an Arabic spread out by the Capitol. I was keen to recreate my wholesome experience from last year and sought out the whole wheat muffin and a giant coffee. Dan, Lisa, Yo and I ate by, on, and around modern art while Julie scoped the bazaar. We talked about Yo’s job, Dan talked technical, I ate what tasted like Kansas. Then it was back to the convention for our first panel.

Yo and I visited Balancing Creativity and the Day Job. We heard much of the usual, but we didn’t learn a whole lot that was new. We learned not tips on how to balance, but rather heard a lot about how hard it was balance. It felt like a support group for busy people who wanted to write. A lot of the old chestnuts were presented: Set some time to write. How do you get back to writing and working out if you sacrifice it? Do you tell your work about your writing? How does your family feel about your writing?

It was interesting to hear degrees of openness and what other’s experience was. On this panel, Caroline Stevermer, half of the Sorcery and Cecelia team, said at the end something that was meaty, something that I’ve been chewing on all convention. I paraphrase.

“When I was working, I spent every spare cent on eating out and travel, trying to numb the pain of the day job.” The overall implication seemed to be that we might be poorer without work, but we might have happier lives if we were doing what we wanted, and it might be easier than we think, if we could release ourselves from the illusion of security, which Stevermer suggests could be popped at any time. *blink* How’s that for an existential exercise? She’s right, but most of us are in the security/hoarding/horribleness of being penniless state. (Boy, that was some sentence. I must be exhausted!) Some of the other panelists thought they could never do that. I myself think I can’t right now. It is, however, a perspective to mull. Am I held prisoner by my work, rather than my work allowing me freedom and financial independence? Hmmm…

Next up: a reading. Julie and I went to hear Forrest Aguirre, Mark Teppo, Darin Bradley, and Robert Wexler. The English major gene was happy. Aguirre read a Baroque piece highlighting a peasant attack on a noble; Teppo read an essay on why, once you establish that there is no fantasy in the universe, you are the fantasy, and thus magic begins (which is not available anywhere at the moment. The operative word being grrr). Bradley also read a piece which is no where–small town red necks trying to make a living selling illicit ginseng, against a backdrop of small tragedy and crisis. And Wexler read Swiftian political announcements coated with a polite satire that was worthy of Gulliver.

It goes without saying that I went out to find some representative samples of their work and bought some. These guys can definitely be read by my students of the fantastic any time.


I should mention that I was sick throughout this. No, Wisconites, not the flu. I’m not going to give you TMI. Longtime Tamago readers remember that the gall bladder evaporated around January. Actualyl, it was forceably evicted. I find my parameters, and I hit some sort of barrier this weekend: alcohol, lack of sleep, rich snacks, sneaky butter in the shepherd’s pie of Friday night, too many variables for a good experiment. I was parsimonious Saturday and spent the day tiptoeing on egg shells. Alert, but listening to the tiny crunches underneath my feet. I’ve pretty much determined it’s not inherent to lack of sleep, by the way.


After lunch, Julie, Dan and I went to a loaded panel. Check this title out: “Magical Realism: Threat or Menace?” Well, sure, I thought, we could still have a meaningful discussion. I had to leave early on. Tired, ill, and just plain cranky, I was sure I would say something that would be awkward. Here’s why.

1. The panelists did not know about Magical Realism. They didn’t know where it came from, who wrote the genre, or what had been done with it. In some sort of 2008 Wiscon conspiracy (not the only panel to be haphazardly researched that our crowd attended, alas), the entirety of Magical Realism was represented as originating in literature of the oppressed. There is a branch of it that is coded satire and inequity, but that’s not the origins and that’s not the entirety.

2. Ivory tower as a term was bandied about snidely and broadly. I am, alas, a member of academe, and I know the problems that lie therein. However, there are many groovy professors who like literature of the fantastic, genre fiction, myth, and magical realism, and we are not all dragon-like gatekeepers who try to keep out your genre fiction. Ironically, if you believe that stereotype about us, maybe karma has decided you deserve to hear the old genre fiction stereotype and be excluded. Come on, would there be an academic track at Wiscon if we didn’t want genre fiction? We don’t need to have a pretend label to read or teach it! We certainly don’t keep it out of our classrooms!

3. One of the reasons genre fiction isn’t taught in the academy is sometimes your stories aren’t good enough. Kapow, but there it is. If you spend more time on world building than human relationships, kapow, I’m not teaching you. If the tropes are more important than the human experience, it ain’t happening.

Let’s make this clear though: if you are not included in our academic classrooms, it’s not a question of labels (ie we teach magical realism; we don’t teach genre). There are genre courses. There are genre works in classes frequently. If you read my breakout novel/literature series at the Tamago recently, you’ll see what teachers want often is something that is a conversation starter with students. Genre fiction can do that if it speaks to the human experience. Sometimes it can do it because of its very conventions. We are no longer elistist, tweedy staid wrinkled cookie cutter zombies who stereotype these works. If we ever were.

There is a Popular Culture Association. There are genre courses. We don’t abide by the label for legitimization. Actually, that brings me to my final point.

4. Some of the panelists seemed to REALLY wanted to be oppressed by academia. Heads up, folks. You’re at a convention this weekend, engaging in intellectual exercises, surrounded by books and smart colleagues. Yeah, you’re really oppressed. I’m getting kind of cranky about the intellectual “romance of the outsider.” We all want to be outside. We all want to be on the road with Jack Kerouac.

Newsflash: I’ve been on the outside, in serious and painful ways. I don’t know where my fellow conventioneers have been. I accept and understand how privilege works. There are legitimate factors at work here. However, if your worst problem is that you believe the academy discredits your published genre fiction, and you feel disenfranchised because you’re not labeled Magical Realism and are not therefore accepted, I don’t think you can really paint yourself as a discriminated against minority of an unjust system. Just sayin’. I think that smacks of insecurity and whining, rather than a discriminatory problem that needs to be addressed by an unjust privileged system, or a romance with being on the outside.

If it were true that the system excluded you, okay, I’d listen and nod. I really don’t think this is the case. To assume that your story is not included in academe because it is genre is proposterous, given the wide acceptance of genre fiction in courses and in research. To assume exclusivism among changing academia is naive. To not know the roots of your subject at a panel lacks credibility. Institutions, including the one known as Wiscon, have trouble thinking conceptually outside themselves. The academy is getting there. Ask yourself the same question. Is your model of exclusive academia outdated, and do your assumptions need examining? That’s a very Wiscon question I’m asking, and I hope you’ll think about it.

More to come, although some of you might be turning your television off after that one…


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

2 thoughts on “Wiscon: Saturday Early: Working, Reading, Magical Realism”

  1. >> “…once you establish that there is no fantasy in the universe, you are the fantasy…”

    This is a delightful summation of that piece, thank you for that. As for its availability, we’re not intending to be coy about putting it out there, we’ve (and this is I and the publisher, and not me suffering from the royals) just been remiss on figuring out the best way to accomplish our master plan. I will, of course, let you know where it lands.

  2. Happy to be your sound bite girl! Use freely…

    I appreciate you letting me know where it lands. I remember you said that it would be out there, so I’m looking forward to it. Alas, I can not get it NOW…my husband and my friend Dan would truly appreciate it, and I’m eager to share with them.


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