In August of this year, we had the honor of interviewing Francesca Lia Block, author of numerous Gay YA novels including Weetzie Bat, first published in 1989, and our August Book of the Month, Love in the Time of Global Warming, and its companion, The Island of Excess Love.
The audio has already been released, and can be found HERE.
The interview below is between Francesca Lia Block and Victoria & Kathleen, admins of GayYA.org.
V: Hi everyone, I’m Victoria.
K: And I’m Kathleen. We’re going to be talking to Francesca Lia Block today about her book Love in the Time of Global Warming. Hey, Francesca. Thank you for joining us.
F: Thank you.
V: Before we start, we’d like to talk a little bit about this book, and why we chose it for our August Book of the Month. Love in the Time of Global Warming is a post-apocalyptic story that follows the arc of The Odyssey. It’s led by a female protagonist named Pen, who is one of my favourite characters.
K: We chose this book for our August Book of the Month because having speculative fiction that has queer characters in it is extremely rare, and when they are there, they usually end up dying, and/or are very minor characters. Love in the Time of Global Warming is the complete reversal of this, in which, throughout the book, you come to realize that almost all of the survivors of the apocalyptic event they call ‘The Earthshaker’ are queer.
V: We thought that this was a really great contribution to Gay YA, and decided to choose it for our August Book of the Month.
So, Francesca, as you probably gathered from our Twitter, we’re both really huge fans of your work–
F: Thank you.
V: So if we break out into, like, dinosaur noises or anything, we’re very sorry.
F: [laughs] I appreciate those noises, believe me. I live for them.
K: Okay, cool.
K: Our first few questions are about your book Love in the Time of Global Warming. The first thing we’d like to ask is, how did this story come to you?
F: So, I was trying to think of a kind of epic fantasy idea, and the first epic that came to mind is the Odyssey, which my dad used to tell me as a bedtime story, which I joke is maybe why my brain turned out the way it did, a little odd, but…[laughs] it was a little scary, and very fascinating, too, and it taught me a lot about story.
And anyway, I decided that I wanted to write a female protagonist, but using the…sort of general storyline, a few ideas from the Odyssey, and set it in Los Angeles, and add in things that had happened in my own life. So, mixing those things together, the alchemy of that is what created this book.
V: So, I just finished one of the ARCs that was sent of The Island of Excess Love.
V: And I really enjoyed it. And I’m really curious: is there going to be a third book?
F: Well, there was definitely, I was planning on it when I ended that one, because I have an idea for a third book based on the Iliad.
I was actually gonna base the second book on the Iliad but the Iliad is so much about wars, and the Aeneid has some other interesting–the Aeneid which the sequel that you just read, Island of Excess Love, is based on–has other things going on in it that I found very inspiring, so I picked that second, planning on doing the Iliad third, cause I want it to kinda work up to the big war at the end of the trilogy. And I left some threads hanging, on purpose. And, now it’s just about, you know, waiting to see what my publisher says about doing a third one. But I do have an idea, it’s outlined.
K: Alright. We want to know, what is the timespan of Love in the Time of Global Warming?
F: So, you mean, the time that the book takes place during? In terms of–well, I hope this answers the question. It starts around Christmas and it ends in spring. So, it’s a pretty short timespan. Is that what you mean?
V: Cool. So, one of the things that we already kinda discussed in the introduction is that most of the characters who survive this apocalyptic event are queer.
V: And that was so great as a reader, like, going through it, because at first, I thought it was just the main character, and I was like, well, this is great, but, you know, it’s just so great having the company of other queer characters in the book.
F: I’m so glad.
V: Yeah. So, I was just wondering, did you, like, discover one by one that the characters were queer? Or, did you know that from the beginning? Or, how did that happen?
F: You know, I was trying to think back on it. It sort of was organic. Ez and Ash, the two–the couple, guy best-friends, they’re a couple–they, I knew from the beginning that they would be. And then, Hex’s sexuality kind of emerged as I wrote. And then, Pen’s emerged around that.
So, I didn’t consciously go out to–to necessarily make them all, but they became who they are. They just sort of were born that way, and Hex and Ez are based on real people, so that is part of it, too, who are queer, and, y’know, and I think that…it…but it just sort of unfolded naturally, and I’m so happy to hear what you’re saying because…the book was sent out to some high school students to review, and one said, you know, she really liked it, but it bothered her that all four characters were queer. I mean, cause it was too much–
F: Yeah. She’s a very conventional teenager, obviously. But I was like, well, wait! That’s not fair! I mean, in most books, all characters are straight! And maybe there’s one–you know? [laughs] So, what’s that about? You know? And I was really glad that my publisher was totally supportive of it, and it wasn’t even a question. It wasn’t even a discussion. So, I’m very happy about that.
V: That’s so awesome. I actually–okay, I wanna add in one thing. That I did not talk about before, but…your book actually sort of inspired me to start writing again.
F: Oh, I’m so glad.
V: Yeah, cause the book I’m working on right now, all the characters are queer.
V: And I was like, well, no one’s gonna wanna read this, or publish this, or anything.
F: No, I’m so happy to hear this, like, please write it. That, there…there needs to be that. And I think that publishers are much more open-minded about it now than when I started. When I started, I was lucky to have a publisher that understood, but it was rare. And now I think there’ll be a lot more acceptance for it. Plus, you know, the audience is there, certainly.
F: And–I’m sorry, I just wanna add one thing–
V: Yeah! Go for it.
F: Most important piece for you as a writer and for anyone listening who is a writer is to write that story no matter if you think anyone’s ever gonna read it or not, because you have to write it. It’s so important. If I could leave one message to you guys all, like, that is what I would give for you, write it for you.
And it’s certainly important to connect to other people, we don’t just write for our own expression, we write because we also wanna be connected to other people, and feel that we’re less alone in the world, I believe. On a very deep, primal level, I think that’s why we do it.
And I think that even if you don’t get published in the large-scale way that you might want, and maybe you will–you not meaning you specifically, anyone–there’s still ways to reach readers and to connect to people through it. So, you’ve gotta write it. And the way you wanna write.
V: [dinosaur noises]
V: Dinosaur noises. Okay.
K: That is a fabulous message, thank you.
V: Okay, so, the rest of our questions are more about your work in general, and your history with writing. So, in all the time that you’ve been writing, what have you learned about it?
F: Hmmm. That’s a good question, and I think one thing is what I just told you, to write what you have to write.
I have students that come up to me often–not often–I have some students that come up to me, and they have a certain look in their eye, and they say, ‘I have this story, and I really wanna write it, and I really need to write it. But I don’t know if I can do it, I don’t know if I’m a good writer, I don’t know if anyone will like it, I don’t know if anyone will read it.’ And when they give me that look, [laughs] I know that they have something there, and they have to do it, and that I can help them shape it and give them the tools.
But…if you have that burning desire, for wont of a better term, to tell a certain story, you’re way ahead of the game. Even if you don’t have the tools yet to make it the polished story you want. So, starting with that passion, and if you’re not sure yet what that is, but you have an inkling toward that, really explore the things in your life, do some freewriting to really find what it is that you’re passionate about. It’s probably not too far below the surface.
I’m working with one woman now who’s had a story in her–she’s in her thirties, late thirties, and she’s had a voice in her head her whole life that was a story she’s wanted to write. And she couldn’t do it. And I just had her doing twenty minutes a day, every day, and emailing them to me, and all of a sudden in a week, this voice is getting down on paper because she’s allowing it, she’s giving it the time and attention and the nurturing it needs, and it’s emerging. And then later she can go and she can redo it and all that.
So, I think, write from that place, write from your heart and soul, and don’t be afraid–like, later in your career–so that’s how I would say as far as starting your writing. And also reading a lot, and finding a community to support you. Those are important. And then as you get farther into your career, I think, not to be afraid to grow and change. Because, for me, you know, I’ve been through so many, [laughs] this’ll be my third decade in this, you know, and I, I feel like I don’t wanna keep doing what I did before, I wanna grow, and change, and expand, and take risks. So I think that’s really important.
And the one-on-one relationships that I’ve developed with my readers are the most important thing that I’ve gained from this, and I think we have this idea that we’ll write this book and maybe we’ll get famous, and we’ll, you know, be known, and it’s not about being known on the big scale, or how many followers you have, or how many readers you have, or how much money. It’s the one-on-one relationships, and those will translate into success ultimately, but it’s more about the strong connection you make with someone else.
I have met so many amazing people through, through writing. So, you know, staying open to that, reaching out, making connections, working hard, it’s hard work, it’s exhausting. Don’t give up, never give up with it, you know, if you feel–we all feel at times like we wanna give up, that’s when you have to restore yourself, that’s when you have to find support, you have to find your people to hold you up, you have to find things that inspire and enrich you. Yeah. And those are some things [laughs] I’ve learned.
V & K: Thank you.
K: Our next question: Weetzie Bat was published in a time when Gay YA was not really a thing. What obstacles did you encounter with that, and did you get any backlash? How has that changed over the years?
F: So, I kind of snuck in the back door, it was like…YA at the time was such a small–really, smaller–field. There weren’t these giant contracts for a lot of money, and movies being made. So, you kinda got to do what you wanted, and I had a publisher that encouraged it, and I just kinda did my thing, in a small-scale way, and I was appreciated by the librarians, and by the sort of cult readership, but…there were some bannings in some places, but I didn’t really heard much about it, cause I was sort of sheltered from that, and I’m living in L.A., and doing my thing, and I just didn’t really feel it. Although I knew it was out there, and it has been on banned book lists.
But what’s really surprising, and sort of terrifying, is that that was in 1989. So in 2007–I don’t know if you know about this, I just posted today about it, cause I was remembering it–there was a big…fuss about Baby Be-Bop, which is the fifth book in the Weetzie Bat series, Dangerous Angels, it’s a tiny little very innocent coming-out story about Dirk, Weetzie’s best friend, who’s gay. And not only was it petitioned to be banned in a small town in Wisconsin, but they actually wanted to burn it.
F: So. Public burning. Yeah.
F: I mean, that’s how bad. And there were people ranting on YouTube about it, like, these very scary rants. And it was pretty…kind of…just…horrifying to me, really. Because, 2007? You know? So, it’s still there, but mostly, I’m pretty sheltered from it, and I ignore it and I keep writing. But it’s good to be aware that it’s out there, and what we’re up against.
K: Cool. Thank you.
F: Oh, and I will say one thing, too: The librarians are the reason that it survived, cause they fought for me. And they are my saviours, they are…I’ve found so much power from that community, it’s really great.
V: That’s awesome.
V: Okay, so, sort of on the subject of Weetzie Bat, this is a question we got from @queeryoga on Twitter.
V: Have you ever rethought having Weetzie wearing headdresses, as it is very culturally appropriative?
F: Yes. So, that question comes up, and it’s pretty…it’s painful to me when I hear it, because I certainly meant no disrespect, if anything the opposite, when I wrote that. I did write it in–it was published in ‘89, actually was writing it in 1986, and I had never–if I had heard questions about that from…anyone, really, I wouldn’t have put it in. I put it in, I guess, quite naively. Yeah, if I were to republish it and I had the choice to change that, would I maybe tweak it? Yeah, probably, if I had that ability.
If there’s a movie, which we’re working on, I’m certainly gonna make sure that that’s not anywhere in the movie. I’ve done Pinterests with some visuals, and I had one somebody posted with, you know, a feathered headdress, and someone else wrote me a very kind note, explaining why that was insulting to her, and to the community, and I removed it. So I’m certainly…the last thing I wanna do is offend or hurt or wound anybody in that way, that’s horrible to me. So, yeah, I…if anything, it came out of some naivete at the time.
K: Alright. The next question is, is there anything you have wanted to say to to your readers?
F: [laughs] I have a lot. I say it to you guys all the time on the Internet, but…I really…well, that thing I just said is, I think it’s important for anyone, [that question] about the cultural appropriation.
But on a bigger scale–I’m glad you gave me the opportunity–on a bigger scale, you know, this is gonna sound so corny, but I love–I love my readers. I love them. Everyone I meet, through my work, shares similar worldviews, and emotional…sort of, understandings of the world, and I just feel really lucky to have met these people, and I feel a lot of love for them, and they’ve…they’ve supported me in ways that I can’t even begin to thank them for. I mean, I have had such support on so many levels. So. That’s what I wanna say.
V: [laughs] Cool. So, what’s next for you?
F: I have, let’s see…so, a lot of things going on at once. I’m teaching, I’m waiting for two books to come out; one is The Island of Excess Love, which comes out this month, it’s actually out, I think. An adult book called Beyond the Pale Motel, which comes out next month, which I’m actually working on a screenplay of that as well. I’m working on another adult book called Pain: A Love Story, which is kind of working out some issues with it, but it’s the main thing I’m focusing on. And I’m also still working on a Weetzie Bat movie. And trying to take care of my kids and take care of myself in the spare time. [laughs]
V: A Weetzie Bat movie. That sounds amazing.
F: Yeah! Can I make a little plug for that?
F: So there’s a movie called Little Birds by a director named Elgin James, and I highly recommend it to anybody who’s interested in the Weetzie Bat movie and that’s all I’ll say right now.
V: [laughs] Cool.
K: Alright, our last question is, what would you like to see happen in Gay YA? Where should it go next?
F: Oh, I just think more! You know? Just more, more stories, no one hesitating to write their story because they’re concerned that there are too many gay characters, just a fearlessness and a acceptance, and a openness to it. You guys probably know much more than I do. What do you think is sort of missing in that field, in terms of what needs to be written about more? Or, what should writers be focusing on, do you think?
V: Do you wanna go first?
K: Sure, I’ll go.
K: I would personally say…well, quite a lot. I think just generally more. I read a study recently that said, I think about 1.4% of all books published in 2013 featured queer characters of any kind.
F: Oh my God!
F: That’s so–really?! Ugh!
F: That’s so shocking to me.
K: I know. And…yeah, that’s just last year.
K: And also, I guess, authors not being afraid to write diversely queer characters, if that makes sense?
F: Right. Yes.
K: I see a lot of gay characters and lesbian characters, which is cool, I identify as lesbian, but I would definitely like to see more…just other orientations, you know, bisexual people, transgender people, intersex, you know, everybody, everybody needs to get their share. So, that’s what I would say.
F: That’s great.
V & F: And–
V: Well, do you wanna–?
F: No, go ahead.
V: Mine’s sort of the same. I…first of all, I’m gonna agree with you on just saying ‘more’, because I think whatever books have queer characters, they have something to offer. And I think there’s going to be problems with all of them, and things that would be like, ‘Well, I just wanted to see this in that.’ So I just think the more we can get, the better it is.
V: But I also, I want to see more, like…diverse orientations. And well-done ones, too, like there’s so many books with like, bisexual characters, and they’re, you know, they’re seen as like, these manipulative, or, you know, just kind of…not great characters. And you’re like, why, why is that a thing?
F: That’s interesting. That’s a very fascinating topic, actually. Yeah. Like, what does that say about–I, um…I want to ask you guys one more thing, sorry to turn it on you guys but–
K: That’s cool.
F: I wonder if writers who are not queer are afraid to write queer characters because we don’t wanna get it wrong or offend anybody. And I just think that’s an interesting topic to open up, because, for instance, with Weetzie Bat, which–every character in Weetzie Bat is really a caricature. Weetzie Bat isn’t a fully three-dimensional…I always used to draw pictures of her, she’s like, one, you know, she’s…two-dimensional. She’s a little cartoon, almost, and sort of all of them are. And, other books of mine, it’s not that way at all.
But in that book, people said, you know, ‘Oh, you have this Native American character,’ and, you know, is that cultural appropriation, how you write that character? So then I think, ‘Maybe I better not write them.’ Now, it’s not true with the gay characters in that book, I’ve never heard any questions about that. But it’s never affected me. But I do wonder, like, what would you say to a straight writer who wants to write that but maybe feels a little afraid, even though it’s…like with me, it’s very much a part of my life. It’s not like I’m writing about someone I don’t have any connection to, these are people in my life. But, so…do you know what I’m saying?
V: Yeah, I would say, just…I would say, write it. Definitely write it, but…do your research, too. And not just research on like, GLAAD, or, you know, those kind of places. Although those are good places, I think you need to extend it to listening to what queer people are saying. I know especially, there’s a lot of that on Tumblr.
V: And there’s other places, too, but I think Tumblr is actually a great place to find that. And so, I don’t know if that’s like a ridiculous thing to ask of people?
F: No. I think that’s great.
F: Very concrete, cause it’s not just–when you say ‘research’, that can–as you say, that can be very cold and not–you know, but Tumblr, you’re getting the real opinions of people directly. And just encouraging people to talk to each other and understand each other, and…empathy. Which is really, I think, why we write. Cause we want other people to understand us, and we wanna understand other people. Ultimately.
K: Definitely. I would also add to that, as research: ask your friends. If you have queer friends, don’t be afraid to ask, and social media is great for that nowadays, too. Even, probably, if you messaged somebody, they’d be cool with it, as long as you’re respectful about it, cause…not everybody asks that kind of thing.
F: Right, that’s great, yeah. Thank you.
V: Well, I think that’s all the questions we have. Thank you for taking time to talk with us. We really appreciate it.
F: No, it’s my pleasure, you’re so delightful, in the true sense. [laughs]
F: It really made my day, thank you.
V: Thank you.
Francesca Lia Block is the author of more than twenty-five books of fiction, non-fiction, short stories and poetry. She received the Spectrum award, the Phoenix award, the ALA Rainbow Award and the 2005 Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as other citations from the American Library Association to the New York Times Book Review, School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, and her website, FrancescaLiaBlock.com.
Love in the Time of Global Warming was GayYA.org’s August 2014 Book of the Month. You can find our guest review here.