Francesca Lia Block

c307e2cf505fbd4b585b1f26101f17fb_400x400Interviewed by Genevieve Michaels

The work of California-based writer Francesca Lia Block creates its own universe: a dreamy, gorgeous parallel reality that blends magic and danger to haunting effect. Among her many remarkable books is the Weetzie Bat series. The series was collected in the omnibus Dangerous Angels, which The New York Times called “transcendent” and Buzzfeed referred to as “a quintessential book of the 90s.” Block is a recipient of the Spectrum Award, the Phoenix Award, the ALA Rainbow Award, and the 2005 Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award. She is also a gifted teacher, which is no surprise – her warm, empathetic nature is evident in her compassionate treatment of both her readers and characters. I first came into contact with Block as a fan, when I sent her a piece of my writing in 2014. To my surprise, she responded  with thoughtful comments, and we have kept in touch ever since. In fact, I think of her as my virtual fairy godmother.

Weetzie Bat is a cult classic. What is the experience of being the author of such a well-loved book? Does it in any way “overshadow” the rest of your books? Is it still your most popular book, or do younger fans tend to start off with your newer works?   

Yes, it does overshadow everything! Usually when I meet a new person, they know all about Weetzie but aren’t familiar with much of my other work.  It can be frustrating. My fan base is definitely older now and those are the readers I’m in touch with so I don’t know what books of mine the younger ones are reading. In terms of sales, currently, Weetzie Bat, Dangerous Angels and Girl Goddess are my most popular, in that order. I really want people to take a look at The Elementals. It’s an adult book published by St Martin’s and I think it’s one of my strongest novels.

You’ve written over thirty novels and many more works of nonfiction, short fiction, and poetry. Does it come naturally to you to be so prolific

Yes. I write to cope with stress and there’s never a shortage of that. I always reference The Midnight Disease by Alice Flaherty as a great study of hypergraphia, which I think I have.  She’s a neurologist who suffered emotional trauma and couldn’t stop writing. When she recovered she studied the phenomenon of how the brain uses writing to cope with pain.

Your writing ranges from YA, like the Weetzie Bat series, to very dark, adult works like Beyond the Pale Motel. What are the differences between writing for these two audiences? Has this been a natural transition?

I never set out to write for young adults but was published that way at first. My intention was always to write mostly for people in their twenties and thirties.  There isn’t much difference in how I approach the projects, though in my adult work there is graphic sexuality and sometimes more violence. I am also less concerned with making sure that my endings are completely hopeful. But my goal for all my books is to include sympathetic characters, strong plots, lyrical language and an original voice.

Many of your works have dealt with issues around queerness and sexuality. Have LGBTQ issues always been important to you? Did you specifically plan to write a book depicting the experience and struggle of queer youth?

It’s important to me on many levels. I have many LGBTQ characters and will probably write more, though my characters are getting older now. Love in the Time of Global Warming has four LGBTQ protagonists. Baby Be Bop is a coming out/coming-of-age. (A group in Wisconsin petitioned to burn it!)  I didn’t write these books with the intention of depicting a particular experience but because I loved the characters  and the people they were based on; they happened to be queer and I wanted to tell their stories.   

From what I’ve seen of your web and social media presence, you have a very loving, open relationship with your fans. Is that kind of generosity ever tiring? What do your fans mean to you, as a writer? How much time do you tend to put into interacting with your readers?  

I interact daily.  I love my readers. They inspire and support me. I try to be supportive of them. I wish I could adopt them all, or at least have them over for dinner!

You are particularly well known for using imagery to create a lush and immersive world. Would you say your plots grow out of the universes you create, or are you driven more by character and action, with the setting forming naturally around your story?

I have become more plot-focused as I’ve gotten older but character and setting are easier for me. The essence of a place can be very evocative and inspire a whole novel. The San Fernando Valley in the 80’s is the whole impetus behind Wasteland.  Joan Didion has a great interview in the Paris Review that talks about the importance of place in her work.

LA and California are an integral part of much of your work. Your exquisite yet dangerous version of these places is so vivid, it’s as much character as setting. From Chandler to Didion, writers seem so drawn to your place of birth. What’s your opinion of California as a land of myth and reinvention?

It’s the West, so there’s a feeling of breaking away from tradition, taking chances, forging new territory. My dad, who was a painter, moved here to be free of the weight of the art world in New York. There’s a lot of paradox here, a certain tension that lends itself to the arts.  The ocean, the mountains, the desert, the canyons and the urban landscape co- exist and struggle against each other. Hollywood still symbolizes glamour and broken hearts.  The oleander is a perfect metaphor for L.A.—beautiful and yet toxic. I always refer to the gorgeous, dangerous pink smog as another good L.A. metaphor.

Violet and Claire was a book of yours that was particularly important to me as a teenager for its depiction of female friendship. The seemingly unrestrained femaleness of your perspective is something that’s always drawn me, and I’m sure many others, to your work. Do you think of yourself as writing for a female audience? Do you think that distinction even needs to be made, when the gender of so many male authors is never even part of the discussion?

Most of my readers are female and my books tend to focus on female characters. I like your point about male authors not having to address this. I’m hoping more men read my work, especially Beyond the Pale Motel.  It’s an erotic psychological thriller.  Some men do read me and I love those guys!  I made a T-shirt  that says “Real men read FLB.”

You are currently writing the script that will bring Weetzie Bat to the screen! I’d love to hear more about this exciting project.

I’m working with director Elgin James on the Weetzie movie. It is a long time coming but I think it will be worth the wait. He’s amazing! If he gets this made, he will be my biggest hero.  Right now I’m helping him figure out what she wears in each scene. I’m in heaven. When I grow up I want to be a costume designer!

I’d also like to mention that I’m working on a lot of other cool projects  – Danishka Esterhazy made a short film called The Singing Bones, based on my story from The Rose and The Beast, I’m starting a media company called dangerous angel which is publishing a Weetzie cookbook and an anthology called Rough Magick coedited by Jessa Marie Mendez.  I’m teaching at UCLA Extension, Antioch University and privately.  And I have a line of T-shirts and a tote bag with designs by my favourite international artists.  Check out my blog; I’m on there almost daily!

Genevieve Michaels is a student, freelance writer, and art gallery worker in Vancouver, Canada. She enjoys fiction and nonfiction, and her work has been published on The Toast, xoJane, Beatroute BC, Sad Magazine, and The Huffington Post BC Blog.

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