During the December 2011 residency at Antioch, I had the pleasure of introducing Francesca Lia Block, who graciously read a selection from her young adult fiction. Before writing the introduction, I read a variety of her work and found a kindred spirit there. So when the opportunity to interview Ms. Block for Lunch Ticket arose, I was happy to oblige.
Yolanda Bridges: You have been quoted as stating that your writing is “contemporary fairy tales with an edge.” What is it that gives your stories that edge?
Francesca Lia Block: Sex, drugs and rock and roll? No, seriously, these are usually present in some form. The line “Any love that is love is right” from Baby Be Bop exemplifies my attitude toward love, including sexual love, in my books. It goes without saying that I define love as consensual and non-exploitative, when I say any love that is love is right. This has been considered radical by some people, including the Christian organization that tried to ban the book–a gay male coming of age story–in libraries a few years ago and then wanted to burn it! I write about drug use because it is part of the reality of this world and many people use it as a means of escape. I write about music, and all art forms, because I consider art a healing force and a positive means of escape.
YB: In which of your works, if any, do you address issues of social justice or activism? When you are creating the story are these themes that you consciously consider?
FLB: I never start writing with a moral message but I hope my beliefs about social justice and equality (that everyone is entitled to these) come through in the stories themselves.
YB: What made you decide to draw on mythology to your write stories?
FLB: My father used to tell me The Odyssey as a bedtime story and I grew up looking at art depicting the Greek and Roman myths. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is one of my favorite books. These universal themes are so inspiring to me.
YB: Fairytales reflect our collective nighttime dreaming where archetypes, such as monsters, show up. Have you ever incorporated your own dreams in your stories? If so, in which stories do your dreams show up?
The inner voice should ALWAYS come first. After it has had the chance to speak, the writer can evaluate the market and come up with strategies.FLB: I had a recurring dream about giants that is in a few of my books including my new one, which is a take on the Odyssey with a female heroine. I feel that writing is often like dreaming for me, where images and dialogue show up of their own accord.
YB: What is your opinion regarding the changing face of the publishing industry? Is it harder than ever to break into this industry or have recent developments, such as self-publishing, made it easier to become a published author?
FLB: It is harder than ever to be published by a mainstream publisher but self-publishing is a blessing and can give writers a chance to reach wide audiences and make some money.
YB: How do you think that electronic media–Kindle, the Nook, etc.–has affected the publishing industry or book writing on a whole? Has it made it better or encouraged the book to go the way of the dinosaur?
FLB: All I know is that since this development my books are not selling as well as they did before and they are not as available in bookstores, however, my new publishers are working to address this issue and ultimately I think it can be a good thing as long as people are still reading. I also believe that real books will never go away altogether because many people still love the smell and feel of them.
YB: With the type of stories that you write, do you think that you would ever incorporate experimentation into your writing, e.g. links that open, and books that have to be read electronically in order for readers to follow the storyline?
FLB: I am open to all new media. For instance, I am fascinated with making collages of my character’s clothing on Polyvore, doing song lists on Spotify, etc.
YB: Do you think that it is wiser for writers to follow their own muse when it comes to the stories/genres they write or should what is publishable/trendy supersede the author’s inner voice?
FLB: The inner voice should ALWAYS come first. After it has had the chance to speak, the writer can evaluate the market and come up with strategies. Conversely, you can sometimes assess the market and see if your inner voice loves any of the trends and can find a way to create something of integrity from them.
YB: What is your opinion on writer retreats? Do you think that they are worth the investment for new authors?
FLB: I think they can be wonderful if you find the right group leader.
YB: Out of all the stories and characters you’ve created, do you find that you have a favorite? If so, what makes that story or character so special for you?
FLB: Witch Baby is close to my heart because she expresses my frustration and sadness with the state of the world, and also the ferocity of my love. Echo’s life is the most like mine. My new favorite character may be Ariel from The Elementals, my adult novel coming from St. Martin’s Press in October because I have been trying to write this book for almost twenty years and I am very proud of it.
YB: What are your words of advice to anyone trying to find their way in the publishing industry?
FLB: Read what you love, write what you love, find a mentor and a writing group, work hard, be able to handle constructive criticism, avoid destructive criticism and people, don’t be a perfectionist on the first draft–just get it done, be enthusiastic about rewriting or do it anyway, develop connections with people in the industry you admire, self-publish if you can’t find an established publisher, build an audience with social media, don’t give up, write because your heart requires it.