Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Interview with writer Francesca Lia Block

photo by Nicolas Sage photography
When I was in sixth grade (in the early nineties), me and my mom bought a book called Weetzie Bat about a teenaged punk girl growing up in L.A., and I read it straight through, crying when I finished it, from exhilaration and the relief at having found such a blueprint for the person I wanted to become.  It really did change my life, both by helping me define a sense of aesthetics (I LOVED the title character’s punk-whimsical fashion) and by giving me a more positive outlook and the idea that I could and would lead a charmed life.  I did end up leading a charmed life after reading that book, and a lot of it was thanks to the author Francesca Lia Block, who graced my fan letters with prompt and engaged responses, and who, when I ended up being friends with her through a mutual friend a couple years later, would invite me to the readings and events that would make my month, or sometimes my year.  Over the years we lost touch, as happens, but I have of course remained a fan, making anyone I decided to really get close to read Weetzie Bat so they’ll know what informs my nostalgia when I miss some building or vibe that is gone from my hometown of Los Angeles, or when I miss some old sense of magic I grew out of due to some horrible practicality.  Prolific and adored by an enthusiastic fan base, Francesca remains approachable and kind.  Here is the interview she so sweetly granted me:

What inspired you to recently write the Weetzie Bat prequel Pink Smog, when the novel that introduced the character was written over 20 years ago? 

 I live with those characters almost every day because I've been writing and re-writing a WEETZIE screenplay for years and because my readers often send me Weetzie inspired images and stories. It felt natural to return to the characters and I always wanted to write about the 1970's, since most of my work takes place in the 80's, 90's and 2000's.

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of references to your work, often in the form of people using the slang your characters use in the Dangerous Angels series; if you google “Witch Baby, “Secret Agent Lover Man” or “Slinkster,” for instance, the search yields jewelry collections, blogs, photos of people dressed up like your characters for Halloween and a garage rock band.  What is the weirdest Weetzie reference you’ve ever come across, like have you ever seen a hotdog named after Slinkster Dog or met a couple who legally changed their names to Duck and Dirk?  Have you ever heard of any one naming a child after one of your characters?  

 Wow, I'd love to meet a hotdog named Slinkster or a couple named Dirk and Duck.  I haven't met a kid named Witch Baby or Weetzie which is probably a good thing.

Would you ever write another sequel to your science fiction novel Ecstasia?

No, but I always thought those novels would make interesting films. If I were to write them today I"d make them contemporary magical realism rather than straight fantasy.

I’m excited to read your most recent novel The Elementals; is your next book another adult novel or a return to Young Adult literature, and is it hard to draw the line between the two?  How do you draw that line?  What do you consider inappropriate for young adults that you enjoy writing about in novels intended for adults? 

It's an adult book. I don't think much about the differences as I'm writing. THE ELEMENTALS is a darker book with fairly graphic sexuality and an ambiguous ending so  it might not work for some younger readers but some of my more mature teen readers would like it, I think.  I try not to worry about what is appropriate or not and just write a strong story, then let others decide how to publish and distribute it.

Has there been a resolution to your Bank of America mortgage woes yet, and if not, is there anything that your fans can do to help?  Is there any petition people can sign online or anything like that?

Thank you! Thanks to my readers and friends and the power of the internet, I got my first loan modified and am now working on the second. For anyone in the same position, let me just say this:  Twitter is your friend!  

I’ve often heard people theorize that artistic talent is something that a person is born with and can’t  be taught.  As a writing teacher, do you find that to be true? 

 It can be taught! If you have the burning desire to create you can learn the tools to make something beautiful and powerful.  The key here is the burning desire.  That can't be taught.

If you hadn’t become a writer, what do you think you’d be doing professionally right now?  

I always wanted to be a therapist. I also love fashion design.  My latest interest is publishing so that I can get my students' work out there after I've helped them hone it.

Do you have a favorite character of yours?  If so, who?  I think all of your fans that I’ve known over the years have loved Witch Baby best, by the way. 

I love Witch Baby and I'm grateful to Weetzie for opening the door that let me in to the world of publishing.  Currently I'm kind of loving Pen from my upcoming novel LOVE IN THE TIME OF GLOBAL WARMING.

When do you know that a novel you’ve written is done?
When my editor tells me?

Years ago when I interviewed you when I was a teenager (in 1993 I think) I asked you if there was ever going to be a Weetzie Bat movie, and it was a maybe.  Do think there ever will be one, and if so, who would you cast as the main characters?  

My screenplay has been optioned so we'll see.  My dream cast keeps changing, getting too old. I used to want Joseph Gordon Levitt for My Secret Agent Lover Man. In the 80's I wanted Winona Ryder or Patricia Arquette for Weetzie.  I like Elle Fanning and Chloe Moretz now. They are young but by the time it gets made...? 

What is your least favorite thing about Los Angeles?  

Freeways, but I don't drive them very often, and almost never at rush hour.  Air quality, but it's better than when I grew up here.  The fact that it's difficult to meet people sometimes, especially if you work at home but I've started meeting some kindreds through my teaching at UCLA extension, Antioch and privately.

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