Hello, and welcome to day three of the Imaginary Blog Tour. Thank you to Pants Off Review for having me!
I’ve had some readers ask about why I write the kind of stories I do, so I thought that today I would talk about what genre I see my stories inhabiting, and why I’m drawn to these kinds of narratives.
In my Less Than Three bio, I describe my style of writing as “magical realism.” If you look at my stories, you’ll see that they all have a supernatural angle – two modern-day fairy tales, one story of dragons, and now Imaginary. I enjoy fantasy that’s grounded in the real world rather than an entirely fictional realm, where I can explore the possibility of magical things happening every day. I really enjoy taking things like monsters or mermaids and plopping them down into an otherwise realistic setting, and then trying to imagine how the characters would behave.
Fairy tales naturalize the fantastic – when Beauty finds a talking beast, or Cinderella’s fairy godmother shows up, none of the characters are surprised. The fun of modern-day fairy tales is to take the same events, but show ordinary people reacting to them as any one of us would – with surprise and disbelief.
Imaginary isn’t as fantastical as my stories Beast or Part of Your World were: In Beast a human man inhabited a wolf-like body. In Part of Your World a merman washed up on the shores of an ordinary town. In contrast, Imaginary is just about a boy finding the perfect friend – but one that only he can see. There are no mermaids or witches or magic spells here. But the central concept of Imaginary is one of the reasons I find ‘magical realism’ so interesting: when something supernatural happens, do the characters just accept the unexplainable, or do they try to find an ordinary reason for it?
That’s one of the main concerns of Imaginary – does Aaron just accept that he can see James when no one else can? As he grows up and the idea of having an imaginary friend becomes less and less tolerated, Aaron struggles with believing what his senses tell him: that James is as real as any of his other friends.
Even more than that, though, the reason why I like magical realism is that it grants me the ability to explore what the magical creatures might feel, trying to navigate the real world. As I mentioned in my first post of this blog tour, I decided to write Imaginary after wondering what an imaginary friend might feel, trapped in a world that revolves solely around one person – the person that can see them.
In all my stories I try to make the magical person as real as possible – complete with human emotions and worries and insecurities. Whether it’s a monster or a merman or an invisible boy, I want readers to understand what it feels like to be them. I hope that, even though Imaginary is told from Aaron’s point of view, all my readers come away from it with deep sympathy for James. I try to avoid the romance cliché in which a misunderstanding paints one party as a jerk or a heartbreaker. Rather, I want my characters to come across as sympathetic, but only human. Capable of hurting each other, but also capable of great love and affection. Whether they’re natural or supernatural.
Aaron is in the grocery store, following Tiffany mostly by the clack of her high heels on the dingy tile floor, his eyes fixed firmly on the shelves and shelves of food he knows they can't afford.
Tiffany tosses another can into her cart and Aaron winces, gaze straying back to the produce aisle and the rows of fresh fruit. His mouth waters slightly.
"Aaron!" Tiffany snaps. "Keep up." She stops to drop a packet of hot dogs on top of the stack of cans in her cart and Aaron sighs, stretching his legs to close the distance between them.
As he nears his foster mother, he catches sight of a familiar head of brown hair out of the corner of his eyes.
James stands in the cookie aisle, staring contemplatively at the stacks of brightly coloured boxes. Aaron would almost laugh at how serious his expression is as he looks at the sweets, except that seeing James in public always unnerves him.
The way people's eyes sweep over and through him, seeing nothing but the shelf of food he stands in front of, is unsettling to Aaron still.
The first time he and James had run into another person, a neighbor walking down the street past where they played, Aaron had cried afterwards, confused and upset by the way the man looked only at him, asking him why he was out playing all by himself. It stung that everyone thought he spent all his time alone, unable to find another child to play with.
Two years later he had come to accept the way adults and even other children looked at him, the weird kid with no friends.
But he hadn't quite been able to get used to the way James was invisible to everyone but him.
A woman reaches right over James's head to pull a box of Oreos off the shelf, the sleeve of her sweater ruffling his friend's wavy hair, making it stand on end as she pulls away.
She doesn't feel the touch, though.
Aaron throws a quick glance at Tiffany, busy comparing the prices on cuts of meat, and sidles toward James. "What are you doing here?" he hisses.
James turns around with a sunny grin. "I got bored."
Aaron doesn't know how it's possible for an imaginary boy to get bored just because he's alone. But then again, James always insists that he's not imaginary, that he remembers everything he does when Aaron isn't around.
The evidence isn't in his favor, though.
"I was going to come play with you later," Aaron offers under his breath.
"I know." James shrugs. "I just thought I'd see what you were doing."
"Tiffany's making hot dogs and baked beans tonight," Aaron tells him with a grimace, making James laugh.
"That doesn't sound so bad."
"Maybe if I didn't have to eat it all the time," Aaron laments. That, and pre-made, frozen lasagne.
James makes a sympathetic face. "We can look for apples in the orchard when you get done here," he offers.
Aaron grins. James always knows how to cheer him up.
"Who are you talking to?" Tiffany's voice is sharp behind him.
Aaron spins to see his foster mother looming over him, hands planted on her rounded hips.
"Oops," James says.
"Then why did I see your lips moving?" she demands.
Aaron shrugs helplessly. "I wasn't doing anything."
Tiffany looks around them quickly and then stoops, bringing her face close to his. "You were pretending James was here again, weren't you?"
"Don't lie to me." She frowns. "I saw you talking to thin air." She huffs out a breath, her platinum blonde hair swaying in the breeze of it. "I can't believe you'd do this in public! I've told you again and again, people are going to think you're crazy, they're going to think we're bad parents. They're going to talk."
Aaron fights the urge to roll his eyes. James doesn't. Tiffany can't see him anyway.
They both know she's not worried that Aaron is crazy—not really. She's only worried that people will look down on her for having a crazy kid living in her house. Aaron may only be seven, but he listens when people talk.
He knows what the neighbors have said about him, every time they see him sneak off to play "by himself." He knows what they say to Shaw and Tiffany, the way they laugh, and the way his foster parents grimace.
"I told you, I wasn't doing anything," he says stubbornly, folding his arms across his narrow chest.
James frowns in sympathy. "I'm sorry," he says from beside Tiffany. Aaron struggles not to let his eyes stray to his friend.
Tiffany would notice for sure.
Check out Jamie’s journal for a chance to win a copy of Imaginary, and stop by World of Diversity Fiction tomorrow as the Imaginary Blog Tour continues!