Thursday, January 2, 2014

Magical Realism and the Phantom of the Opera

Posted by: Jeffe Kennedy
Today is release day for Passionate Overture, Act 1 of my six-episode serial novel, Master of the Opera!

In this series, the magic builds slowly. As a modern retelling of Phantom of the Opera, it's also grounded in the theater. My ingenue is not a singer, however. She's a recent college grad headed to Santa Fe Opera as an intern in the business of running the theater. Her job is a prosaic one - sorting the massive and terribly disorganized inventory.

Of course, various superstitions and tales circulate, theater folk being who they are. So it's easy for my Christy to dismiss the creeping sensations and strange singing. There's no such thing as ghosts.

As the story progresses, she begins to believe that not all is in her imagination.

Or is it?

The beauty of the Phantom of the Opera story is all the layers of reality. How much of what occurs is really in Christine's mind?

Magic is in the eye of the beholder. What is simple technology to some is supernatural to others. Most "magic" tricks are sleights of hand and misdirection. Other times, what seems magical to one is a sign of insanity to another.

But what is real?

More, what is truly magical?

Playing with a story like Master of the Opera allowed me to explore levels of magical realism that I haven't in other stories. I anticipate different readers will read the episodes through different lenses - from literal to fully fantastic.

I'll leave you with a little excerpt.

* * *

  She flicked on another set of lights, the fluorescents taking a moment to catch, then flickering on with an insectile buzz. Beyond it, she caught another sound, a whisper of movement. A draft of colder air brushed past her, making the small hairs on her arms stand up and her scalp prickle.

Mice or rats, most likely. Or pack rats, in this country. The woman who ran the hotel had warned her about the pack rats.

Still, for a moment, she’d thought she heard music.

An echo, perhaps. The expectation of the space, the perfect acoustics. She fancied that the building absorbed all the music and played it back to itself, when everyone was gone, the timbers saturated with it.
Soon, real music would crash through—out of tune, cadence and context. The same phrases repeated in cacophonous opposition to someone else’s practice run. Chaos and tumult.

There it was again. A whisper of song. A honeyed tenor.

Curious, compelled, she followed it down the corridor, passing the various storage rooms, holding their eclectic treasures in darkness. The hallway ended abruptly in a dead end, a good thirty feet past the last light bulb. Christy consulted her map in the dim light. If this was the right level, the hall should keep going to another set of storage rooms.

It didn’t.

She retraced her steps, frowning at the map, then at the end of the hall again. The featureless wall hadn’t changed. Had the door been covered over or sealed? She set the map and inventory notebook down and walked back to the end of the hall, ran her hands over it. Not drywall, but solid plaster, cool and damp to the touch. If it had been closed off, it didn’t seem to be recent.

Her fingertips caught on a small flaw in the smooth surface and she bent to see it better in the shadowy green light. A circle cut into the plaster, with what appeared to be a set of links dangling from it, like a collar and chain. It was crossed by a whip, the braided design painstakingly worked in.

She gasped, then swallowed it, glad no one had heard her.

She glanced around, uncannily convinced that someone watched, listened. Unable to help herself, she traced the emblem with her nail, wondering what it meant and why it was here.

And why something about it thrilled her, sent her blood percolating with intrigue and a desire to know more. Along with a strange familiarity.

A breath of cold air swept across the back of her neck again, and she stood abruptly, spinning on her heels and putting her back to the wall.


No one was there.

And yet. That tenor voice, golden and sweet, sang somewhere far in the distance, too distant for her to make out the melody, but the notes strummed across her stimulated nerves, soothing and arousing. She wanted to find it, to hear better.

The song ended in a soft laugh. And then a whisper.



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