An interview with ‘Weetzie Bat’ author Francesca Lia Block
Francesca Lia Block is a Los Angeles writer with a unique voice that blends lush imagery, hip fairy tales and punk poetic lyricism. She is best known for her “Weetzie Bat” books, which premiered in 1989 and drew critical acclaim and a rapturous fan base while helping to revolutionize young adult literature.
Her novels often feature teenage girls navigating the City of Angels while struggling with self-image, friends, boys, family, death and sexuality. Block’s latest book, “How to (Un)cage a Girl,” published by HarperTeen, is a collection of 45 poems.
Your writing is extremely lyrical and poetic, but poetry is a different thing for you. Are the poems in “How to (Un)cage a Girl” brand new or have you been compiling them for a long time?
These poems were all written within about a year. They started as part of an exercise my friend Sera Gamble suggested. In the exercise, you exchange poems with a friend for 30 days. I did it with a number of people. Some of the poems came from this and others were written specifically for the collection.
Your style is sui generis, but it also springs from a long tradition of confessional female writing: Simone de Beauvoir, Anaïs Nin. Were they influences? Who did you read as a teenage girl?
Anaïs Nin is a huge influence, and you’re right about the confessional female voice. I love Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. I also love more cerebral poets like H.D. and Emily Dickinson. My parents subscribed to a monthly poetry periodical, and as a teenager I was introduced to Denise Levertov, who was an influence.
Do you listen to music when you write? What are some of your musical influences?
I don’t listen while I write, but music plays a huge part in my work. As a kid, I listened to Joni Mitchell (the female confessional school again) and Cat Stevens. I became interested in punk bands like X when I was a teenager. I love Iggy Pop. I always list Tori Amos, PJ Harvey, Sinead O’Connor and Patti Smith as my muses.
Tell us about the girl on the cover of the new book.
She’s Moira Madden, my MySpace friend. I communicate with a lot of my readers there, and that’s where I also advertise my monthly writing workshops. Moira told me that “I Was a Teenage Fairy” was her favorite book of mine, and she sent me a photo of herself with the title written on her hand. I showed it to my publisher, and we wanted to use the picture on the cover with just the writing changed.
Your books are always grounded in reality, and yet fantastical things happen. How do you walk that razor’s edge?
I have always wanted to honor the dark and the light, the real and the fantastic. When I read “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” I was so excited to see how Gabriel García Márquez did that. I’ve always tried to include both in everything I do.
Where did Weetzie Bat come from? She and her “found” family are magical.
I wrote Weetzie while I was at UC Berkeley, feeling nostalgia for my friends, family and life in L.A. I was using the story as a way to comfort myself. It was a very personal book, a somewhat dark fairy tale I told myself, and I was surprised and delighted to see that it has continued to touch people of different ages and nationalities.
How has becoming a mother changed your writing?
Less time. More love.
Your books are often marked by profound loss. They explore themes of grief -- and not just romantic grief. What do you draw on to access those emotions? Do authors need trauma and misery to write?
Most of my work is autobiographical. The poems are almost entirely so. I think depression creates in me an urgent need to write, but I also believe that daily stress, and even the positive “stress” of intense happiness, can compel me to express myself through the written word.
Female empowerment is a recurring theme in your books. Especially for teenage girls. Is this something you’ve struggled with in your own life?
Absolutely. I still am. As the mother of a daughter and a friend to many young women, it is something I feel strongly about and I hope to set a good example.
Do you find it hard as a woman to integrate the disparate roles of being a mother, a writer and a sexual being?
I don’t find it difficult to integrate them, because I feel so strongly that they are all part of me, but I do find it hard to keep up with the demands that each of these roles put on me. I’m also fortunate enough to be able to live them all out.
In your books, it’s as if you’re talking directly to teen girls sometimes, telling them it’s OK to feel their own power. Do you hear a lot from young fans?
They are my muses too. They write to me daily on MySpace. I identify with them so deeply. It’s scary to become a woman in this world. We have to understand that some of the messages we get, messages that we are not enough, are there to keep our power in check. We can’t buy into these messages. We have to help each other create a new paradigm.
Do you think it’s harder to be a girl growing up in L.A. because of Hollywood? The culture sends such a conflicting message, glorifying sex and yet maintaining an odd prudishness about it.
I’ve been here almost my whole life. I do think it is difficult. But the more conscious we are, the more empowered we are to transcend negativity.
What’s next? The rumor is that you’re writing a Weetzie prequel.
The Weetzie prequel is about 65 pages long at the moment. It’s Weetzie in the 1970s, just after her dad leaves her mom. I’ve also finished a vampire book called “Pretty Dead,” due out next year, and a book about a changeling called “The Waters and the Wild.”
I have another book called “Forest Folk: A Mythological Dating Guide,” based on my experiences with Internet dating and my love of mythology and fairy tales, and I just wrote a proposal for a writing guide based on my workshops.
And I want to put together a punk anthology because we don’t have time to start an actual punk band with our kids and writing projects and being sexual women, so it’s the next best thing!
Hamilton writes the Eve Diamond crime novels. Her latest book, “The Last Embrace,” is set in 1949 Hollywood.
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