They say write what you know. And when you grow up in the Pacific Northwest what you know is rain. Days that begin and end with grey skies and that misty drizzle we all know so well, the kind that clings to your eyelashes and paints your clothes with its damp dew. Our suede boots are always stained with watermarks, our hallways slick with puddles. A deluge of water, pounding our windows, clogging our drainpipes, so often hinders our sleep. It’s no wonder it seeps it way onto the page. In fact, it would be quite surprising if it didn’t.
When I started writing my novel, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, I had no intention of setting the story in Seattle, but the secret to magical realism, or so I’ve been told, is to write in a way that your reader will believe the real as much as the magic, to weave the two worlds—the mundane and the magic—together seamlessly. I think of it as a constant balancing act. I had a collection of peculiar characters—a woman who turns herself into a canary, another who disappears into a pile of blue ash, a young girl born with wings—I needed to give these remarkable characters some historical context and a setting that was true to life. I needed to counter the weird, so to speak.
And then just like the perpetual puddle outside my front door, the rain crept its way into the story. It became the backdrop for these peculiar characters of mine to grow. I liked the thought of my protagonist hunched over those lovely unwieldy microfilm readers at the Seattle Central Library, the rain dancing down the outside windows, searching for her ancestors in the blurred backgrounds of archived photographs. I liked the thought that these strange ascendants could be obscure characters in someone else’s story. That it could be their umbrellas abandoned in the lobby of the glorious Lake Crescent Lodge, their rain jackets discarded on a fallen tree in the Hoh Rainforest, their frozen embrace forever immortalized in the backdrop of some long lost snapshot. Perhaps they too had spent hours staring out into the rain, contemplating the magic that could exist inside all those falling drops. That’s the thing about magical realism, sometimes the mundane is magic. Sometimes the magic is mundane.
And perhaps all this rain is a little bit of both.