A Gift from García Márquez

by Sirena

One of my favorite writer interviews is a YouTube video my Fiction II professor showed our class. The video, directly titled “Neil Gaiman: Where do you get your ideas from,” gives a small look into the most famously asked but vaguely answered question that many writers, and artists in general, come across. As Neil Gaiman quite humorously puts it “we [writers] don’t really know.” Readers or admirers of any artist often wonder how someone could come up with an idea that produces something so beautiful but, more so than writers, we, as onlookers, barely know. Yes, we can often see, at the very least, a loose connection between an author’s life and their writing. But that, after all, is only rooted in assumptions. Even if our assumptions are correct, we cannot, as outsiders, pinpoint the exact moment in time when an idea sparks with life—not without the help of the artist.

‘Stop by there and see if you can come up with anything.’

In reading Gabriel García Márquez’s Of Love and Other Demons (translated by Edith Grossman), fortunate readers will find a letter, preceding chapter one, which explains how the idea for the novel was born by García Márquez himself. If you were not so fortunate enough, here is a scanned copy. In this letter, García Márquez states that Of Love and Other Demons developed from a journalism assignment for a newspaper. He highlights the foreman’s indifference to the discoveries of the unearthed tombs, a missing body and the incredible length of a dead female’s hair, reminding his readers that there, in the mundane and the forgotten, might lie something magical. It’s in this moment when García Márquez recounts a legend his grandmother told him. The pages following reveal the result of this encounter, in which reality and legend merge. “Magical realism” goes beyond the definition of magical elements being presented in a realistic setting. In that definition the word “magical” acts as an adjective for reality, “realism.” But as shown in García Márquez’s letter, through the melding of our world and the unknown, both words coexist to create a new form of reality.

Where do we go from here? As readers and as aspiring writers? If there is any lesson to be learned or skill to steal, that is to search for inspiration everywhere. García Márquez’s final line reads “the idea that the tomb might be hers was my news item for the day, and the origin of this book.”  Do not limit your imagination to the limited understanding of our world. Be amazed at the length of a skull’s hair. Create a fantastic reason as to why a tomb might be empty. Bring the dead back to life, even if only to kill them once more.

“The trouble is you can’t forbid what I think.”

— Sirena