beyond the pale motel small version

"Francesca Lia Block is a bright, golden thread in the literary landscape of Los Angeles. I have looked to her novels as inspiration for myself as a writer; she is a wizard of metaphor and imagery while at the same time deftly constructing stories that compel a reader forward. Francesca's work stares unblinkingly into the face of human complexity, of suffering as well as love and joy. She's a master (mistress?) of the craft. Would that my muse give me half the talent she has.”--Samantha Dunn Camp, author of Failing Paris

 

Beyond the Pale Motel is sadder, darker, grimmer [than anything Francesca Lia Block has written], yet still glinting in spots with ethereal light and her trademark belief in the saving power of love.”--Denise Hamilton, author of Damage Control and L.A. Noir

 

"What exactly is happening at the Pale Motel?  The answer arrives in a fever dream of a narrative that at once fascinates and repels.  Love, a staple in Block's earlier novels is fugitive here, replaced by disappointments and ever present danger." -- Michael Cart, Booklist

 

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           When planning your story, ask yourself, What is the character arc?

       mary-badham

       To define the arc, think of the state of mind that the character is in at the beginning of the book and their state of mind at the end.  Often it is from a "negative" state to a "positive" state (i.e. fearful to brave, isolated to connected, selfish to loving) unless you are writing a tragedy.  Think of your book as a series of scenes of conflict between the main character and the antagonists that push the main character toward the culmination of their arc.

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         3-To-Kill-a-Mockingbird-quotes  

      What does the character need? Unlike the want, which the character is very aware of, the need is the thing that they are unaware of, the thing that is necessary for them to achieve in order to grow and reach the culminationof their arc (something we will address next time).  The need is important because it teaches the reader about the qualities that are essential to surviving in the world, but only if the character almost doesn’t survive.  We will look at this idea of danger and its importance in questions #6, #9 and #10 to come. 

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To-Kill-A-Mockingbird-Quote-to-kill-a-mockingbird-25969404-500-358

What does the character want? This is important because it gives us something to care about and vicariously fight for through the protagonist, especially if we sympathize with them—see Question #1. This can even help us identify with an unsympathetic character because basic wants humanize people and help us feel connected to them.

For example, if a father desperately want to take care of his family, we can understand his motivation for doing illegal and immoral things to get money. (This blog series is about books, so I won't mention a certain very popular TV show that deals with this, but I bet you can guess!) 

Remember that forming a connection between the reader and the character has "surival" purposes because a character who engages us also encourages us to want to keep reading and glean the important meaning from the story.

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       scout flaw

       The next question to ask yourself: What is the character’s flaw?  It is helpful if the flaw is the negative extreme of the gift.  In TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Scout's flaws (the extremes of her strength and loyalty) can be seen as her stubbornness, wilfullness and pride, all of which get her into trouble.  The extreme of her innocence can be seen as naivete about the true nature of good and evil.  

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To Kill a Mockingbird

The first question to ask yourself is: What is the main character’s gift? Often my students have written whole first drafts and don't know the answer to this question.

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wired for story

I often throw around the statement “Writing saved my life.” But what does this really mean? Below, I’ll be talking about one very specific way that writing saved me, and how important it is to all humans.When I was a little girl I used to walk in circles around my backyard, twirling my curls around one finger and sucking my lip and, most importantly, telling myself stories. When I made a “mistake” I forced myself to start over from the beginning. Obsessive Compulsive or Aspiring Writer? You be the judge.

Jokes aside, later I realized that this activity served a very specific purpose for me as a child—it alleviated my anxiety. But why?

In WIRED FOR STORY, Lisa Cron argues that story was crucial to our evolution, providing templates for survival in a dangerous world. “Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it.”

So by telling myself stories I was “preparing” myself for my future. I was helping myself “survive.” But I wasn’t content just telling myself these stories. I wanted to become a writer and share my stories with others so I would feel less isolated and alone. But how can we “seduce” others to care about our stories? We need to write stories that guide them in their own lives, that teach them how to “survive” too.

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Corrie-Greathouse-9619-RT copy

Corrie Greathouse (@cgreathouse) is the author of the novella Another Name For Autumn, Saturday editor of The Rumpus, founding member of the Hollywood Institute of Poetics, and an Oxford comma devotee. Her work has been published in The Toronto Quarterly, Falling Star Magazine, ism’s Still Developing: A Story of Instant Gratification, and others. Her next Black Hill Press novella will be released in January, 2015.

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Go Gos Portrait a l

 

My dearest friend Tracey and I were talking about punk and she said, “It’s the thing that shaped it whether we like it or not. It’s a gift or an affliction, depending on how you look at it.”

When I was a teenager my friends and I frequented a club in the valley called Phases where they played new wave and some punk bands. A group of real, hardcore punk boys went there during the week, when they weren’t at shows in Hollywood. They’d sit on the carpeted steps around the dance floor watching us dance wildly in our mini skirts, pink go-go boots and plastic jewelry. Once they wore T-shirts with the words Sick Pleasure written on them and we countered by wearing T-shirts that said Healthy Pleasure. But we never talked to these boys.

Eventually I got to know one boy named Alex who had a broken nose, pale skin and the best Mohawk I had ever seen. He lived way out in the valley with his mom on the estate of a cheesy actor for whom she worked. Alex and I won a 1950’s dance contest together. I wore my mother’s gold damask wedding dress. 

I should have asked Alex to my prom but instead I lay in the sun until my skin blistered and asked a coked-out curly-blonde, tan surfer dude from Camarillo. We had sex on my parents’ couch and I got horribly sick the next day.

That summer my dad found out he had cancer. I bought a pair of black steel toed engineer boots at a thrift store for $15, a pair of black ski pants and a 1950’s pearled and sequined sweater and went over Laurel Canyon to hear bands like Oingo Boingo, The Weirdo’s, The Circle Jerks, The Adolescents, Black Flag, the Cramps, X and The Go-Go’s who were chubbyish and raw and rough and played every song twice as fast as they did on their first album.  

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“Everything is unheimlich that ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light.” Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling

THE UNCANNY VALLEY

Francesca Lia Block

When I was born my parents tried to kill me.

They put me in a bucket to see perchance if I would drown.

            They put me in a bag and left me out overnight on a hill to see if I would suffocate.

They put me in the fireplace to see if I would burn.

            Three times I refused to die. Iggy says I have a lust for life, to quote his nick-namesake, Mr. Pop. He says I must have known I had to survive so I could meet him and we could escape, someday, to the Uncanny Valley.

            Because my face looked wizened, wild and pale, my teeth were sharp and my hair grew in robin’s egg blue dread locks, my parents believed I was an old faerie swapped for their perfect human child.

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