Sunday, June 10, 2012

One Writer’s Process: Francesca Lia Block

For Francesca Lia Block, the highly acclaimed author who the L.A. Times describes as “a Los Angeles writer with a unique voice that blends lush imagery, hip fairy tales and punk poetic lyricism,” the writing process is almost like meditation and very healing. 

“When I’m writing,” says Block, who is known for her Weetzie Bat books, and who has received the Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award, the Phoenix Award, and numerous other awards for her work, “I forget about my worries, physical or emotional pain. I feel centered and complete.”

Most of her work is autobiographical, she admits, the poems 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.”

Block first knew she wanted to be a writer in first grade. “I had a beautiful young teacher named Miss Atlas who encouraged me to write poetry. My parents had been encouraging my writing even before that.”

It wasn’t until she went off to college at UC Berkeley that she wrote Weetzie Bat, which she sent off to a friend who forwarded it to Charlotte Zolotow at Harper & Row. 

“She decided to publish it as a YA book,” says Block. “That opened the door for all my other stories.”

Weetzie Bat, says Block, emerged out of her feelings of nostalgia while at college for her 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.”  

Her subconscious offers her names for her characters for the most part, she says, but she will also find names in things that she notices around her. “Like My Secret Agent Lover Man came from graffiti written between the tiles in the grout at the UC Berkeley library: ‘My Secret Agent Lover Man you will never read this.’  There are names everywhere, inside of us and outside of us, waiting to be discovered.”
Block says she doesn’t want her characters to provide moral lessons for readers. Rather, she says, she simply wants the characters to be “transformed in some way.” If she writes about gay male characters, it’s just because they are part of her life, she says. “I'm not trying to make a statement. I just believe in acceptance and openness and not harming each other.” 

As a teenager, she read Anaïs Nin, who was a huge influence, and she loved the work of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, too, as well as poets like H.D. and Emily Dickinson. Her parents subscribed to a monthly poetry periodical, and in its pages she discovered the work of Denise Levertov, who was influential in her development as a writer, too.

Although music plays a large part in her work, Block says she doesn’t listen to it while writing. She remembers listening to Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens as a young girl. And she says that she loved Iggy Pop, Tori Amos, PJ Harvey, Sinead O’Connor and Patti Smith. She considers them her muses. 

In her books, which are realistic yet fantastical at the same time, she tries 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.”

As for advice to writers, she suggests: “Write your ass off. Read. Find a group to help support you through the process.  Love it as much as almost anything in your life.”

Block was kind enough to take time away from her works-in-progress to share some thoughts on writing with wordswimmer:

Wordswimmer: If writing is like swimming, how do you get into the water each day? 

Block: I don't think about it and just jump, no matter how cold it is.

Wordswimmer: What keeps you afloat...for short work? For longer work?  

Block: The treasure at the bottom of the sea.

Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells?  

Block: Dry spells are when I need water the most so I just dive in. Sometimes I bring a friend.

Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?  

Block: Finding a source of oxygen (inspiration) when you have to swim every single day.  

Wordswimmer: How do you overcome obstacles, problems, when swimming alone?  

Block: We're  never really alone. The support and inspiration of my loved ones and heroes is always with me.

Wordswimmer: What's the part of swimming that you love the most?  

Block: Everything.

For more information about Block, or to learn about the writing tutorials that she offers online, visit her website:

And to read additional interviews with her, visit:,0,1460025.story


Matsya Siosal said...

Thank you for this!

Cassandra said...

Love Francesca! Thank you for this interview :)

Bruce Black said...

Thanks, Matsya Siosal and Cassandra, for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the interview with Francesca.

Thomas Derry said...

Thanks for this interesting look into the process of Francesc Block. Have heard about her work, and, now, more than ever, want to read her books.

Bruce Black said...

Glad you found the interview interesting, Thomas.