Aimee Bender is a fan of both magical realism and surrealism, meaning that she likes to put magical characters into mundane and even boring situations.
The key to making this move work for readers is languaging the “quotidian,” or every day. This is, for example, what makes her story “Drunken Mimi” (from The Girl in the Flammable Skirt) work so well.
Try this exercise:
1. Write a matter of fact report about your early morning.
Teeth brushing, breakfast prep. Chores. Commute. Sights, smells, sounds, tactile. Make it as long as you want. But give us details… the smell of the toothpaste, the clatter of the breaking coffee cup. The touch of the plastic subway seat.
2. Now use that same material and language to begin a story about a the early morning of a:
b. Medieval knight or damsel
c. Ancient god or goddess from whatever mythological system you like.
You’ve just followed one of the basic tenets of magical realism and one of the methods that many of Bender’s stories use—juxtapose magical/impossible elements with a workaday world.
Write a number of small pieces—either self-contained stories or pieces of a longer work—in the class Write Like Aimee Bender, where you’ll read selections from Bender’s collections to learn more about how the short story works.
Stephanie Barbé Hammer is a four-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Her work has appeared in Pearl, Hayden’s Ferry, the Bellevue Literary Review, and S/tick, among other places. She is the author of a novel, The Puppet Turners of Narrow Interior (Urban Farmhouse Press in 2015); a poetry collection, How Formal? (Spout Hill Press, 2014); and a chapbook, Sex with Buildings (Dancing Girl Press, 2012). She’s working on a new novel about a repentant drug dealer and a new poetry collection about being a city dweller attempting to deal with nature.