Exploring the Real Within the Surreal with Francesca Lia Block

Award-winning author Francesca Lia Block knows novels. She has published over 30 ground breaking novels—postmodern, magic-realist tales that transport readers to the unfamiliar within the familiar, the real within the surreal.

 
If you’re interested in writing a bestselling novel of your own, Francesca is offering a special online Novel Writing class starting Monday, Feb. 10! She’ll share fun brainstorming exercises that take the pain out of coming up with a plot for your book. You’ll craft an outline, write great scenes, and get feedback on 1200 words every other class.
 
Francesca was kind enough to take time to answer some questions about her writing process and what inspires her.
 
You’ve written over 30 novels. Can you talk a little about what your brainstorming process is like and how you’ve been able to generate so many ideas? 
 
I usually combine my life experience with a myth, fairy tale, current event, etc. I am inspired by people, locations, music and art. The process is akin to collage–layering different disparate elements that fascinate me.
 

Setting (specifically, the city of Los Angeles) plays a big role in your novels. How can writers utilize setting to enhance their stories? 
 
“I think of setting as a character. Los Angeles is a character in many of my books. Setting is also a way to express conflict directly through action (a dramatic event taking place during a storm, for example) or symbolically through description (using tense, terse language and dark imagery to describe a landscape to foreshadow a dramatic event). Lyrical and tension-laden description of setting can be a great tool to move the story through time. In other words, if you want to skip over a few months, you could summarize using setting.

 

Here’s an example from the book I’m working on now:”Spring moved into summer like a child resentfully becoming an adolescent, mortified by sweat glands, acne and pubic hair. The excessive heat we’d had in April was worse and set everyone on edge. The air smelled flammable, gasoline prices and unemployment jumped again, fires still raged through the canyons, murder rates went up. At Body Farm, I switched back and forth between the news (explosions, fires, floods, tornadoes, rapes, shootings) and, when it got too depressing, reality shows, which sometimes made me equally depressed, if in a very different and ludicrous way.”
 

You utilize magical realism in your novels. Do you have techniques for tapping into the surreal side of your imagination and for surprising your readers?

 

The key word is surprise!  I try to surprise myself as I write, to scare, shock and delight myself. I like to look at magic as a metaphor for real emotions and events.

 
If you could give advice to your younger self, what would the accomplished author tell the aspiring first-time novelist? 
 
Dear Little flb (Francesca Lia Block),
Follow your heart, passions, and obsessions, don’t be devastated by harsh reviews but try to learn from them, share your work with a trusted few first, read a lot and widely, develop a writing community, write daily, get an MFA if possible.
 
Here at Writing Pad, we’re obsessed with process. Tell us about your writing routine.
 
I have two kids so my schedule revolves around them. I also teach quite a lot. I write whenever I can, usually daily unless doing a teaching or promotional intensive but I don’t have a strict schedule. The writing is usually a pleasurable escape/stress reliever and I seem to be able to get it done without having to put aside specific hours to do it.
 
Thanks, Francesca! We can’t wait for your Novel Writing class.